Not the Monthly Post

This Thing Called Freedom

I’m not at all sure how many of my readers are aware that this year marks an anniversary of some importance in the western world’s cultural history. Three hundred years ago, in 1717, members of four old lodges of stonemasons that had met in London “since time immemorial” climbed the stair to a private room in the Apple Tree Tavern in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood, and voted to create an umbrella organization, the Grand Lodge. That’s one of the first definite dates in the history of Freemasonry.

I think most of my readers by this point know that I’m a Freemason. Yes, I’m aware that this fact is enough to convince a certain number of people that I’m really one of the sinister space lizards from Epsilon Eridani, or wherever it’s supposed to be, that haunt David Icke’s paranoiac fantasies. A somewhat larger number will take this as proof positive that I’m a Satanist, or a male chauvinist pig, or a member of the worldwide Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy, or whatever their bogeyman du jour happens to be. None of these things happens to be true, but there’s a reason, an important one, why lurid fantasies of absolute evil so often get projected onto Freemasonry; we’ll get to that in a bit.

Freemasonry is a private club for men. It doesn’t receive any public money; those Masonic buildings you see all over the United States, ranging from little clapboard-sided structures in small towns up to grand and crumbling stone edifices in the old quarters of big cities, were all paid for by members digging into their own pockets. It isn’t a religious organization, although you’re not eligible for membership unless you believe in a Supreme Being, and it’s not a political organization; in fact, discussion of religious and political issues is strictly forbidden at Masonic meetings. It exists for the laughably old-fashioned purpose of personal moral improvement: as we say, to make good men better.

It also has secrets, after a fashion. Freemasons pledge themselves not to discuss the rituals of the Craft, as we call our elderly institution, with nonmembers. Mind you, Masonic rituals have been readily available in print for several centuries now; these days, a few clicks on the internet will bring you the complete texts of just about every Masonic rite you care to name—but a brother Mason who takes his obligations seriously will not discuss those rituals with you unless you’re also a member. A few other things, such as the private business of one’s lodge and the personal secrets of one’s brethren, are covered by similar pledges.

Lawyers, psychologists, and clergy have similar rules when it comes to the private business of their clients or parishioners, and such things used to be fairly common in many other walks of life. So why have the equivalent habits among Freemasons turned into a lightning rod that so often brings claims of evilly evil evilness down on the Craft?

We can understand this by taking a closer look at those claims—and in the process, we’ll be able to examine something of quite some importance in contemporary political life.

Let’s start with the condemnations leveled at Freemasonry by the Catholic Church. I have no doubt that these are generally made in good faith; certainly I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the Catholics who’ve repeated them to me; but they’re founded on a falsehood. The official position of the Catholic Church on Freemasonry, if I understand it correctly, is that Catholics are forbidden to join it because it’s a rival, non-Christian religion.

This latter claim isn’t true.  Again, I have no reason to doubt the good faith of the Catholics from whom I’ve heard this, but the relevant officials of the Catholic Church know that it isn’t true. A church that subjects candidates for sainthood to the kind of rigorous scrutiny that the Vatican does will not have issued its condemnations of Masonry—and there have been quite a few of these, dating back to 1738—without a close reading of Masonic rituals, and if you read the rituals you’ll discover that Masonry isn’t a religion, non-Christian or otherwise.

Lacking access to the inner circles of the Vatican, where decisions of this kind are made, I have no way of knowing for sure what lies behind this particular act of bearing false witness against the church’s Masonic neighbors. Still, I can hazard a guess, because the Catholic Church, among its many other doctrines, makes a distinctive claim—it claims the right to exercise supervision  over every part of the lives of its followers.

That’s a very common claim, all things considered. For good or ill, for honest reasons or dubious ones, plenty of belief systems insist on this same right. It’s as common in secular ideologies as in religious ones, in egalitarian traditions as in hierarchical ones. You’ll find it in social justice circles that run all their affairs by consensus, you’ll find it in authoritarian religious movements where the leader’s word is law, and in everything in between and out to all sides—and when you find it, you’ve found the one thing that consistently will not tolerate Masonry, and by and large you’ve also found the one thing that Masons will not tolerate.

Now of course the Catholic Church is far from the only organization that turns that claim into a rejection of Masonry. It’s an interesting detail of history, for example, that when Hitler, Lenin, and the Ayatollah Khomeini seized power over their respective nations, one of the things they each did in the very early stages of their regimes was to impose a total ban on Freemasonry. Now a case could be made that with enemies like those, Freemasonry clearly has something going for it—but let’s look a little more deeply. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the Islamic Republic of Iran in its immediate postrevolutionary fervor all claimed, and exercised, the right to control every aspect of their citizens’ lives in accordance with their respective ideologies. That made Masonry intolerable to them.

That’s by no means entirely unreasonable from their point of view. It bears remembering that a good many of the people who made the American Revolution—George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Paul Revere, and a great many more—were Freemasons. (I had the pleasure two months ago of attending a Masonic ceremony in a Massachusetts lodge, where the elected officers for the next year were formally installed; part of the ceremony included the reading of a talk on the duties of lodge officers written by Paul Revere during his time as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.) Plenty of ideologies far more benign than the ones just named have also found Masonry impossible to tolerate, because those ideologies insisted on having the right to make and enforce rules for every part of human life.

Masonry defines itself as a separate sphere of life, outside the purview of all other institutions but those essential for public safety and the other basic requirements of social existence. What goes on in a Masonic lodge is nobody’s business but that of the brothers of that lodge, and the Grand Lodge officers responsible for seeing to it that the “landmarks of the Craft”—the rules by which we operate within lodge walls—are properly carried out. (The Grand Lodge officers also see to it that those essentials of public safety just mentioned are also taken care of; a lodge that plays fast and loose with the fire codes, or any other part of civil or criminal law, can expect to have its Grand Lodge come down on it with hobnailed boots.) Nor do Freemasons greatly care if people outside the Craft object to our rules, our rituals, our requirements for membership, our regrettable taste in neckties, or what have you.  It’s a private club, full stop, end of sentence.

What’s more, the same separation cuts the other way. You may be a Christian, a member of some other faith, or you may belong to no particular faith at all, but simply find the existence of a Supreme Being more plausible than the alternative; you may be a Republican, a Democrat, an adherent of one of the thirty-one flavors of political radicalism from left to right and back around again, or politically apathetic; your skin color may be white, black, brown, or something else (like most institutions in our society, Masonry used to have problems with this, but outside of a few deep South states those are fading history today); you may be straight, gay, bi, asexual, or something else; you may support or oppose any of the various hot-button issues in today’s society—but once you’re inside the lodge doors, you’re a Freemason, full stop, end of sentence. In point of fact, I know brother Masons who belong to each of the categories just listed, and more. I’m a fairly good test case, for that matter; as a Druid and an occultist, a moderate Burkean conservative with a fondness for democratic syndicalism, and so on down the road of my distinctly eccentric beliefs, I’m far from anybody’s political, religious, or cultural mainstream, and yet I can count on a brotherly greeting when I go to a lodge even if everyone else there’s a Bible-believing Baptist on the one hand, or an enthusiastic liberal committed to social change on the other.

Masonry is a separate sphere, a private activity freely entered into by individuals, and that’s where the gap opens up between two tendencies very widely distributed in today’s society.

Consider the following statements:

“I should be free to do as I choose.”

“I should be free to make other people do as I choose.”

The difference between these utterances isn’t small—it is, in fact, the difference between liberty and tyranny—but it’s elided astonishingly often in America these days.  On all sides of our increasingly fraught political landscape, the loudest voices generally insist that they ought to have the right to force other people to follow the dictates of some specific ideology.

I’m thinking here among other things of a post I wrote, back when The Archdruid Report was near its all-time peak readership of a third of a million page views a month. I was trying to explain Burkean conservatism to my readership, and the core example I used in that effort was the then-topical subject of same-sex marriage. I suggested that it was fair, reasonable, and appropriate to allow same-sex couples to marry, and equally fair, reasonable, and appropriate to allow people who had moral objections to same-sex relationships to refuse to provide commercial services such as catering for such weddings.

Notice the logic here: in both cases, I proposed that people should be free to do as they chose. Inevitably, I took flak from both sides. The religious and moral conservatives insisted that they ought to have the right to force same-sex couples to conform to the dictates of religious and moral conservatism, and not get married. The secular liberals insisted that they ought to have the right to force people with moral objections to same-sex relationships to conform to the dictates of secular liberalism, and provide commercial services to same-sex weddings. I’m pleased to say that there were also a significant number of people who rejected both of these views, and agreed that people should be free to do as they choose when there isn’t a genuinely compelling reason to deny them that freedom—but it was fascinating to watch the others try to finesse the fact that they were trying to deprive their opponents of rights they claimed loudly for themselves.

That statement, “I should be free to do as I choose,” isn’t an absolute rule, of course. It’s been pointed out famously that your freedom to swing your fist stops at the boundaries of my nose, and vice versa. More broadly, for human beings to live together in relative peace in a community, it’s been found necessary to impose certain hard limits on individual freedom, by banning such actions as murder and arson, and imposing penalties on those who commit them.

In democratic societies—I really do need to define that term, don’t I? The word “democracy” is not a synonym for “utopia.” It’s a label for a set of flawed but more or less functional human social customs that are widespread in the English-speaking countries and some other parts of the world’s human community, and less common elsewhere. Democracy is the worst of all political systems, as Winston Churchill once commented, except for all the others; it’s got a gallimaufry of problems, some of which are whoppers; but by and large, people in democratic societies can do as they choose rather more often than people in other societies, and certain other benefits unfold from that fact. That’s the justification for democracy: not that it’s perfect, because it isn’t; not because it privileges this or that fashionable ideology, because it doesn’t; but that it’s a little less bad than the alternatives, because it does a little better job of finding a livable balance between the opposing extremes of tyranny and anarchy.

In democratic societies, as I was saying, we have a specific custom when it comes to putting limits on freedom. We pass laws restricting what we do when it’s necessary or advisable—and sometimes even when it’s not—but laws restricting what we say are permissible only in certain very narrowly defined cases, and laws restricting what we think are completely out of bounds. Does that custom get violated from time to time? Of course. Democracy, again, isn’t a synonym for “utopia,” and it is not and will never be perfect; it picks its way across the uneven ground of time by veering first in one unbalanced direction and then in the other. The fact remains that when people look back at violations of that custom, they pretty consistently agree that those violations were mistaken.

In democratic societies, furthermore, we have another custom when it comes to putting limits on freedom. We tend to restrict governments, and government-funded bodies such as schools, from engaging in practices that most of us consider discriminatory; we tend to allow private groups such as churches and clubs much more freedom in matters such as who they choose to admit to membership and what standards they expect members to maintain. The logic here is simple enough: if it’s funded by the government, everyone (at least in theory) pays for it via taxes, and so everyone ought to have the opportunity to benefit from it; if it’s funded by people dipping into their own pockets, on the other, it’s not unreasonable that they should have the right to settle such details for themselves. Are there borderline cases and other problems to this custom? Of course, and the process of working those out has exercised courts and legislatures for centuries, in another example of that process of picking a path across the uneven slope of time.

These are the kind of compromises you make if you value a democratic society. Yes, I’m quite aware that the word “compromise” is practically a swear word these days, but that fact shows just how close to collapse our once-vital democratic institutions have come. Compromise is the lifeblood of real democracy. You want to do this, I want to do that; neither of us can have everything we want, so we come up with a compromise we can both live with. It’s messy, it’s awkward, it doesn’t satisfy anybody completely, but it beats the living bejesus out of screaming insults across the cratered and smoking no man’s land that passes for a political system today.

The temptation of tyranny is the desire to force something that isn’t a compromise down the throats of those who disagree. There’s a lot of that these days, and it’s every bit as common on the left as on the right. As a Freemason, again, it’s a source of wry amusement to me that hatred for Freemasonry is one of the few things that unites the extreme left and the extreme right. The rhetoric varies—to the left, we’re a bunch of privileged male chauvinist pigs puffing on cigars as we cook up plans to disenfranchise women and the poor; to the right, we’re a bunch of sinister devil worshippers puffing on cigars as we cook up plans to destroy Christianity—but what’s behind those lurid caricatures is the same furious rage, driven by the shocking fact that Masons have the unabashed nerve to do something they don’t like, and do it behind closed doors.

To the would-be tyrant, everything that isn’t compulsory should be forbidden, everything that isn’t forbidden should be compulsory, and nobody should ever be able to do anything out of the view of the enforcers of the one acceptable ideology. There’s no room in a tyranny for differences of opinion, much less the kind of healthy diversity of choice that leads some people to want to live one way and other people want to live a different way. It’s possible to say this in a different way, one that will raise a great many hackles: the essence of tyranny is the insistence that no one must ever be allowed to be wrong.

Freedom, in turn, means precisely nothing unless it means the freedom to be wrong—to make dumb mistakes, to try out bad ideas, to do things that somebody else considers immoral or unjustifiable or offensive. The earnest and angry social justice activists who insist that free speech only applies to those who agree with them are, if they believe that rhetoric, promoters of tyranny and enemies of freedom. So are the equally earnest and equally angry religious conservatives who insist that “error has no rights.” What’s more, dear reader, if you believe that the fact that you think you’re right about some issue justifies trying to make everyone else do and say and think what you want about that issue, then you might want to see about getting yourself fitted out with jackboots and an armband, because no matter what you think gives you the right you claim, that belief puts you on the side of the tyrants.

The traditions of democracy argue instead that no human being can be absolutely sure what those slippery words “right” and “wrong” mean in every case. That’s why we don’t just make one set of laws and keep them forever: we have legislatures to revoke old laws that don’t work well and enact new ones that we hope might work a little better. That’s why, if we believe in those traditions, we allow people to think whatever they want, even if we don’t like what they’re thinking; why, outside of certain very narrow exceptions such as libel, we allow people to say whatever they want, even when what they say offends us or hurts our feelings; and why, when the system works more or less as it’s supposed to, we impose limits on what people can do only when those limits are essential to public safety or the other basic requirements of community life.

We do these things for a number of reasons, but one stands out just now. A century from now, people looking back on our time may decide that the ones we consider offensive were right, you know, and we were wrong.  That’s happened so often in the past that it’s an act of astonishing naiveté to insist it won’t happen again, and again, and again, even—or especially—with regard to those situations in which we’re most sure of our own infallible righteousness today.

So, dear readers, I’d like to encourage you to consider the possibility that if you don’t like same-sex relationships, your best response might just be not to get into one; that if you don’t like businesses that refuse to cater same-sex weddings, your best response might just be to take your business elsewhere; and if it offends you mightily that a bunch of guys get together one or two nights a month at a drafty old building in your town to perform rituals originally created by medieval stonemasons and raise money for assorted charities, why, go do something else that night, in the serene certainty that nobody is ever going to hold you down and force you to take the Entered Apprentice obligation. Give them the freedom to be wrong, and you know what? They may just extend the same simple courtesy to you.


On a different note, I’m delighted to announce two new titles hot off the press. First, the second volume of the collected Archdruid Report essays, The Ecology of Collapse, is now available from Founders House. Whether it’s a matter of reliving those thrilling days of yesteryear when it was just a few of us gathered around a virtual campfire, talking about the end of industrial civilization, or dipping a tentative toe into the blog before the blog you’re reading, you won’t be disappointed.

Second, the latest volume from Dark Mountain, Sanctum, is also now available for sale. The theme for Volume 12 is that nebulous concept, “the Sacred,” which fourteen essayists take on and make considerably less nebulous in the context of a planet in ecological chaos. I’m one of the authors this time — the third time I’ve had something in Dark Mountain — and my contribution is titled “Confronting the Cthulhucene.” Check it out.


  1. The two statements about freedom defining the difference between liberty and tyranny reminds me of the subtle differences between the classic Golden and Silver rules:

    Jesus (paraphrased): “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

    Confucius (paraphrased): “Don’t do others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you”

    Important when you are dealing with say, a sadomasochist….or tyrant.

  2. I don’t remember who, when asked what he thought of democracy, responded that “It would be a good idea.” I am agnostic on that (in order to govern, people have to be able to govern themselves, and such people are an absolute minority in any society) but I am absolutely 100% sure that the United States is not any sort of democracy at all. That’s why everyone in the US keeps prattling on about it—to compensate.

  3. Drhooves, the silver rule has always seemed a lot more sensible to me.

    Dmitry, the comment was by Gandhi, and he was responding to a different question: “What do you think of Western civilization?” As for democracy, er, did you notice that I specifically said I was using the phrase to refer to the rattletrap but sometimes functional system that actually exists, not to some arbitrary utopian notion? The mistake you’ve made by ignoring that distinction is very common, and it’s one of the things that’s gotten in the way of sane political discourse here in the US for a good long time.

  4. With re to democracy generally, I’ve been wondering in these recent years if one of the issues we’re experiencing — in addition to those caused by the usual centralization of power in the standard imperial trajectory and the subsequent explosion of bureaucracy in the resulting administrative state — is due to scaling. That is, democracy generally works better in smaller groups where people have direct contact with one another. Of course, there are varying flavors of “democracy” which make modifications appropriate to larger groups — forms of representative democracy, for example, including layering of local, regional, and national representative groups, each with their specific spheres and limits on power. (The original federalism in the US, as you’ve discussed previously, was along these lines.) However, I wonder if even those modified forms of democracy do not also have their upper bounds in terms of the size of the community that can be adequately administered. If this is indeed the case, does it suggest that freer societies are by necessity smaller and aggregates of freer societies are by necessity looser confederations?

    As our industrial society continues to “progress,” I suspect that we will be rediscovering the values of smaller communities, more intimate human relationships, and voluntary service organizations. We must get on the other side of “peak Amazon”, however, which I hope is not too far away.

  5. I am struck by the fact that this essay is even necessary. Every point you make was communicated to me clearly and with little controversy in the public elementary school I attended in the early 1970’s, and this essential freedom was understood by all us tykes to be the core principal that bound all USAmericans together.

    Yet clearly most of my one-time classmates of every political persuasion no longer understand this.

    To the Commentariat: Was my education unusual? Or if others are similar, how it is possible that so many people have either forgotten or unlearned this?

  6. On compromise: “All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise. –Edmund Burke

  7. You wrote, ” the essence of tyranny is the insistence that no one must ever be allowed to be wrong.” The effectual truth (to borrow Machiavelli’s excellent term) of that statement is a requirement to eliminate the private life. How else can we know that you are right! In the perfect concision of O’Brien, “We make the brain perfect before we blow it out.” Privacy and secrecy (no matter how banal) are despised by tyranny.

  8. In all the hubbub over bakers not wanting to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple due to their Christian beliefs, by the same logic, a Jewish baker should be forced to bake a birthday cake for Adolf Hitler.
    On a happier note: I recently found a Masonic pin amongst my father’s things: I never knew that he was a Mason, and I suppose I may ask to join.

  9. I remember receiving corporate bulletins from my former employer, one of the big three pharmacy chain stores (now only two due to merger), forbidding us from expressing any negative opinions about the corporation on social media. Negative Facebook or blog postings “could result in disciplinary actions, up to and including termination of employment.” To me, this represents a tyranny creeping into private life from a non-governmental direction.
    While at work, there was an atmosphere of low-level terror that made everyone reluctant to speak against demands that really applied to our private lives.
    I left them for a lower-paying job elsewhere. Probably the best career decision of my life…

  10. The problem I see is that if one assumes that the US is a democracy it becomes impossible to say what *isn’t* a democracy. Any system that throws away 99% of the vote? Any system that is completely open to corporate and foreign meddling? And if by “sometimes functional” you mean that it was functional in the past, wouldn’t you have to then say that it “was” a democracy rather than “is”?

  11. When talking about democracy, I always find myself thinking of the expression “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.” I think its a very good idea here: refusing to call anything but a perfect democracy a democracy means leaving the imperfect but good enough system we have.

    With regard to your point about freedom and tyranny, the thing that scares me is how seductive tyranny is. I can admit to there being times when I want the law criminalizing something offensive, even though I know it would lead to tyrrany……

  12. Interesting, my grandfather (maternal) is a Freemason, and my dad was raised Catholic, and when I asked grand-daddy about why Catholics weren’t Freemasons, he gave a version of the response you gave: “The Masons are a secret society, but Catholics can’t swear any secrecy from the Pope, so they cannot join the Masons.”

  13. I like the Masons; I think they do a lot of good and make a significant improvement in the lives of their adherents. We have a spectacular Masonic Temple here, which I’ve toured many times with visiting friends, and I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen and heard. But as with any organization, Freemasonry’s strengths are often its weaknesses. Fraternal organizations of all sorts are beneficial in that they help to promote and support the legitimate ambitions of their members. Indeed they are often incubators for small businesses and efforts at civic improvements. Where that mutual support becomes problematic is when members promote their fraternal fellows to public employment over equally or more qualified unaffiliated candidates. It’s the same with loyalty oaths. On the one had, they strengthen organizations by giving members the freedom to speak and act with candor and without fear of reprisal. On the other, they can be used to immunize and protect illegitimate behavior. But that’s equally true of churches, corporations, universities, and among elites of every variety. We all need to be vigilant about the boundaries of loyalty and discretion, and to make sure that we apply them beneficially and not harmfully.

    As for the men only bit, I’m a lifelong feminist and I’m fine with it. I’ve been reading a history of the Women’s Institute, which is mostly known as a British organization but which actually started in Canada. Like the Masons, they are apolitical, non-religious, non-hierarchical and democratic. I would love to see Women’s Institutes springing up here.

    Finally, Harriet Fraad usefully points out that the most successful program in history for treating addiction is AA. It is non-hierarchical — doean’t matter who you are in the world, you’re equal at the meetings — non-commercial, non-denominational, and with strict commitments of confidentiality. It’s been kept alive by volunteers for a century and spread like wildfire everywhere. I find that genuinely encouraging.

  14. Hope you had a Happy Samhain! I am a long-time reader (from ADR), first time post-leaver. Love the new blog! I had to weigh in on this b/c, although I agree w/the gist of your post, I’d like to provide an additional concept: public accommodations, which adds some nuance to the analysis.

    As you say in the post, private groups have a little more lee-way, under American Law, to choose who they will allow in or out. However, if the group, business, person, etc., opens itself “to the public,” then there are some restrictions that apply. The restrictions I’d like to mention for the purposes of this post include, e.g., prohibiting a business open to the public from refusing to serve people b/c they are male or female; or, likewise, b/c they are people who are from or not from certain ancestral backgrounds. Now, this can still happen & does mainly b/c of proof problems. The business is more likely to say they’re not serving those people b/c of any other reason besides those that are prohibited by law. The only way to prove otherwise would be if a witness could testify to hearing the business owner admit the real reason for refusal (which has happened in some cases).

    The policy rationale for this traditional public accommodations law is that businesses open to the public in the US avail themselves to a lot of services provided by tax-payers (including the tax payers the business wants to exclude). These are services we often take for granted b/c the costs are paid by tax payers, e.g., public roads people use to get to and from the business, the police officer walking the beat & securing said business, etc. In exchange for tax payers footing the bill for these services, the theory goes, the business should remain literally “open to the public.” This rationale is very similar to that mentioned in the main post justifying why Masons get to exclude some folks (i.e., the lodge is not a public accommodation & it was not financed by tax payers). You could say we still use public roads to get to the lodge but here is where the traditional rationale draws the line.

    The legal controversy referenced in the main post then (specifically regarding wedding catering), is whether or not same-sex relationships should or should not be among the protected statuses enjoying legal protection in the context of public accommodations. Is it similar enough to having the status of female or that of being from a certain ancestral background, which would justify protection? Or is it different in some important way?

    We may agree or disagree over the traditional US law of public accommodations but I believe it puts the example in a slightly different context.

  15. @Dmitry

    I strongly disagree with your statement that most people are unable to govern themselves.

    What people struggle with is conforming to imposed governing systems that ignore (or worse) attempts at personal self governance. Many are struggling now with self-governance because we are living in a country where both ends of the political spectrum are imposing on us and ignoring us straight across the social, political, and economic landscape. My lived experience is that people who have the freedom and opportunity to govern themselves usually do a passable job.

    This is exactly why the freedom described in JMG’s essay is so important: It creates a fertile environment for our natural abilities of self-governance.

  16. Another way to discuss freedom in a democracy is to ask the question of when is it okay for the state to coerce individuals. It does so for people who are convicted of crimes, who can have their very freedom taken away., after some form of due process. People who do not pay taxes can have their property taken away, but not sent to prison. Then the question that you posed comes up: is it acceptable to ban discrimination, not just by explicit government action, but in commercial activity carried on in the private sector. Maybe a better way to put it is what forms of discrimination is it okay to prohibit, since the issue is often now related to adding same-sex marriage or various GLBT actions or identities are being added to that list in recent years, The line you have suggested is that if you don’t like it don’t do it, but don’t prevent others from doing it. But discrimination can have very pernicious effects on individuals, especially if they are in small minorities. It might be that a caterer in liberal Oregon will not cause as much harm as the same would in some other place where if allowed, most caterers would make that choice. But if allowing that discrimination or not, it will apply in both. Where to draw the line is the tough question i so many cases and I’m sure we could think of a lot more.

    By the way, I usually refer to the US as a quasi democracy. But in fact, if elections can result in a change of power or party, then some form of democracy exists. Democracy is often justified by values of self-determination and consent of the governed. There is a much more practical argument: no matter how bad a decision voters may make on occasion, at least they have the choice to change their mind and throw the bums out next time around, an option not available in many other systems. A key problem with smart and benevolent dictators is that they usually try to put their kids on power after them, and those kids seem to be much worse. Or else they get a lot less benevolent over time.

  17. How is a polytheist to parse the Supreme Being question? That’s always sounded strictly monotheistic to me.

  18. I agree with your definition of freedom. Practicing it daily, I vote with my wallet and my feet, and where it may produce a positive change or reflection, my words.

    I do tend to agree with Dmitry Orlov, in that what we have in the US is no longer a real democracy. Money has entered into the picture in a truly obvious and humongous way, not that it hasn’t always been so. It just seems that it has become apocalyptic (as in visible) and the actions of the political class have been illustrative in how damaged our actual practice of democracy has become. It is illustrative that corporate beings are now more influential than humans in our government, by virtue of their monies.

    I do feel that the internet has unleashed a lot of things into a new mental new wilderness that people have difficulty processing – the JFK files in particular have rung the bell of cognitive dissonance with respect to what our government is and what it has done (and thus, what it is doing). I think the war in Syria has revealed that the beneficence that government belabors us with (along with their “supporting democracy” madness) rings that same bell very loudly – and across the planet. I think the many falsehoods put upon us by our “free press” have also made people reel mentally, searching for the truth in a sea of lies, canards, obfuscations and narrowly or carefully defined words and phrases.

    I am not saying that these things are unique to the US. I think it may be unusual for all of these facades to be in global tatters at once due to the internet. I think it may be nouvelle realite’ that the modern press and governments are now considered apocryphal sources (by many) across much of the planet. I think these are likely symptoms of the pending changes coming, in particular drivers for decentralization and a return to some type of cultural norm; one that is more reasonable, vis-a-vis cultures everywhere, that have been squashed and put upon by oversize governance. ‘One size does not fit all’ is part of the beauty of cultures anyway.

    It seems to me that if people practice the simple freedom as you outline in your essay, it makes things simpler, irrespective of governments. In an era when governments are curtailing freedoms right and left to retain their illusion of control, exercising the very real and personal freedom to let our fellow humans do mostly as they wish, might be part of a return to civil discourse and thus some type of progression forward.

    I think you make a good case for how to practice freedom irrespective of government. Thus, kudos….

    Expounding on “failure is not an option” mentality and its’ consequences might be interesting, as that seems to permeate behavior areas from job expectations to civil discourse. And as you point out, the freedom to be wrong and to fail are important aspects of very real and personally exercised freedom.

  19. This is one of those things were you would say to yourself ‘I would never do that, there’s no way I would try to force anyone to think like I do’, until you consider some issue that you have a deeply held stance on, and then notice all the excuses you make to yourself which would seem to justify doing exactly that. “Because it’s ‘right'”!

    The stance in question becomes less of a personal opinion and something more like an objective truth – which makes the idea of compromise impossible. You slip into binary thinking without realizing it or caring.

    What you are describing to me sounds like the sort of practical or political application of ternary thinking (and quaternary thinking, etc) that a well-run democracy would make possible.

  20. I think a lot of people who decry the United States as not being a true democracy mistake the existence of some sort of oligarchy or deep state as proof that what passes for democracy is just a sham. Their view inevitably focuses on the very heights of power. In reality, there will always be some sort of ruling or privileged class, or several different centers or power that exist in full view of the public or behind the scenes, that have more influence upon the levers of governance than anyone else. These groups are not some monolith of power, but tend to have competing interests, and their ability to wield power and influence change over time. With a democracy, these groups tend to be more tightly controlled, and tend to check each others influence more often than compared to other forms of government. Their ability to wield power tends to be much less arbitrary as well. Sure, many citizens are not as informed as they should be, and the government doesn’t function quite as intended much of the time, and of course there is going to be corruption and abuse of power, but as I think Bill Pulliam used to say, “folks is folks.” It sure is a heck of a lot better than the alternatives!

    -Dan Mollo

  21. JMGeeeee, you triggered my psychic. The other day at work were I was sorting wood, I was thinking of how in America school children are forced to sit there and write essay after essay entitled “What Freedom Means to Me.” You must have been one of the only school children to have given the issue meticulous thought. I like your conclusion here. The other day I was filling out a survey by Angus Reid to do with political and religious issues and they actually asked that same question you reference here, about business owners serving gay clients, and as a “liberal” as you call them in America, I did in fact check “yes” knowing full well that it was wrong to do so. It was like resisting a chocolate bar from the vending machine at work. Should I force people to do what is “right?” To choose to live and let live when one actually has some influence must take some inner discipline. It might not be the natural primitive instinct. I doubt gorillas forego the opportunity to express their dominance over others, even if said dominance doesn’t have an ideological element to it like the human sphere. I will have to ponder this idea at greater length and challenge myself to see the benefits of being more laissez faire. It does help that I’m but a pawn in real life, so even when I do think that other people should be forced to do the right thing, it never translates into reality anyway, but it’s good training in view of rebirth. I could be a big shot one day.

  22. As a follow-on comment, I ought to have referred to “peak FANG” (Facebook/Amazon/Netflix/Google) — I think this is an area where Dmitry’s concept of the technosphere is a useful construct. Much of our freedom is voluntarily surrendered by us unthinkingly.

  23. One of the great disappointments of my adulthood is how few fraternal/lodge-type societies are actually fronts for the time-traveling Satanist lizard Illuminati. (Second only to my failure to actually get Satanic magical powers from playing D&D and listening to rock music, even at the same time.) Maybe the Moose? (Dad was a Rotarian, so I’m almost sure they’re not part of any such conspiracy, as it would have taken way too much time away from steak and spy novels–mostly there are many pancake breakfasts, IIRC.)

    I like the gold/silver rule dichotomy, and also want a variant or addendum of “except if they’re okay with that,” especially in interpersonal relationships. *I* may not want my theoretical partner skipping my extended-family occasions, or my friend inviting me to a party when she knows I can’t make it, but I know people who really appreciate the invitation as a thinking-of-you-gesture, and I in actually would rather not have to babysit an SO on top of making conversation with Aunt Whoever. And so forth.

    In general: I agree, with the addition that freedom also means other people are free to judge and respond. If Prudence McGee doesn’t like same-sex marriage and says so around me, I’m likely to tell her where to get off and avoid her company in the future; if her baking company doesn’t work for same-sex weddings or second marriages or interracial couples, I’m going to make sure her potential consumers know as much and can judge; etc. Prudence and her friends can then judge me to be a trampy affront to God, or a self-righteous SJW, or whatever, and avoid me in turn*…so it works out for everyone, I guess. 😛

    *I wondered when I first got published if I should be less vocal about my politics, and then figured people who didn’t like me being a pretty vocal pro-choice, sex-positive, pro-LGBTA feminist wouldn’t enjoy my novels much either.

  24. A timely post John, considering the “theater of the absurd” which passes for American governance going on right now. I’ve noticed how so many of the people who were vocally political, on both the left and the right of things during this past election, have slowly gone quiet. Its like so many people are just shaking their heads in disbelief and exhaustion.

    Perhaps we could all use a healthy dose of “I should be free to do as I choose.”

    Over on the Green Wizardry forums we spend our time with better things like growing good vegetables or learning old skills that can be used today.

    I mentioned last month in a comment that I was going to be giving a lecture on “Post Industrial Fiction” with Sophie Gale at the big Fall sci-fi convention here in St Louis the first weekend of October. It went very well, though one of the opposite program lectures was on “Cthulhuian Mythos”. We had a couple of people pop into our lecture thinking they were at that one. With your “Weird” series I almost canceled our talk and went off to listen to that one myself.

    I had slanted our lecture as a discussion on how new writers could get their first publication credit by working in the genre of “post industrial fiction” as a way to gauge interest in Green Wizardry and the subject of the Collapse as you have described. I figured we’d talk for 45 minutes on writing and only in the last quarter hour broach how to prepare yourself to actually live in a post industrial world.

    (We had about a dozen people in the audience)

    I can say that people are definitely feeling something is off in today’s society. It took the audience less than 10 minutes before we were off the writer’s track and into living green, and there were 4-5 people who were looking to write their own tales. They were among the most vocal of the people wanting to discuss actual changes in their lifestyle to down size and prepare for the Collapse.

    Makes me hopeful. Seem that alot of people realize something is seriously wrong with business as usual and are looking to adopt a better way of doing things.

    I’m looking into giving another similar lecture at an Iowa convention in the Spring run by friend.

    We’ve finally out grown the old forum software Teressa started the Green Wizard forum with, so I’m in the process of upgrading the site over the next few month. Hopefully by Spring we will see a whole new look there to spread the gospel.

    BTW to any that want copies of the “Master Conservers” pdf, please email me at dtrammel at green wizard dot info. I’ll send them right off to you.

    Green Wizardry Forum

  25. Hi JMG. Nice essay, as usual. I agree with your premise. In one of my groups, we call it “Live and let live.” I read your referenced post. Syndicalism is giving workers direct ownership of the firms where they worked. Can you give me an example of Democratic Syndicalism, please?

    Thanks for all you do.


  26. You’re not merely a druid but a polytheist, or at least you made a darn good case for polytheism in A World Full of Gods. How do you reconcile this with attesting to a belief in a Supreme Being? By the possibility that all the apparently individual gods are really just appendages of His Noodly Goodness? By arbitrary winking reference to the head of the pantheon as Supreme over the others? By telling yourself that the god of the monotheists is just as existent as any other (though nowhere near so omnipotent as threatened, thank Bastet) so you can attest to his existence without groveling before him? Or what?

  27. @Vesta

    I wish I could agree with you that most people are capable of self-governance. But that requires a level of self-discipline and self-reliance that is rare. Most people want a job, and then live paycheck to paycheck, mostly on credit. That is as far from self-governance as you can get, and much closer to slavery—wage slavery. But the alternative—to forgo comforts and pleasures for as long as it takes to achieve financial independence through self-employment—whether by homesteading or through other means—is something that very few people are capable of or even willing to consider.

  28. i would be a freemason – i love the fancy jewelry and the funny hats – but my, admittedly limited, experience with freemasonry these days is that it is an “old boy’s network” made up of, primarily, extremely rich, extremely conservative, republican old men, and young men who want to be an extremely rich, extremely conservative republican old man at some point, who, usually, have very little respect for women, when nobody else is watching, and want an excuse to get together and drink excessivly whenever possible. this is, basically, true for all of the “fraternal organisations” i have investigated, not just fremasonry, although freemasonry is the quintessential example of this.

    a band that i play in was asked to perform for a “party” at the big masonic temple south of portland, recently. we performed, and, when the performance was over, there was an immediate, drunken attempt made by a few of the masons to get us to join their club, which, upon further inquiry, was based solely upon the fact that none of the masons for whom we just performed, were anything like musicians, and if we joined their club, that would mean that we would be expected to play for all their parties, without getting paid.

    i am part of a “fraternal organisation” (for lack of a better term), which has all of the advantages of freemasonry (or the moose, the elks, the clampers, the IOOF, or…), with none of the bad parts. it’s open to anyone, women included, doesn’t have dues, and puts on fun events for the entire community, like trolloween, fire-circus shows and british pantomime.

    oh, and hi, JMG. i know you from fairhaven college (salamandir). rick klaastad says hi, too. 😉

  29. @Oilman2

    I think you are onto something here! A key ingredient in any democracy is the ability to sustain public discourse, to achieve something close to a consensus on key issues. That is why public referenda are so central to Swiss democracy—one of the oldest and best-preserved. Common public discourse makes it difficult to “fool all the people all the time.” But the internet has “fixed” this problem by shunting people into separate silos, where the people in each silo can be specifically targeted and fooled in a customized manner.

  30. Hello JMG, This has set off a couple of pathways of thought, so I may have more than one comment to follow each for its own sake.

    The first pathway touches on your concept pairing:

    “I should be free to do as I choose.”

    “I should be free to make other people do as I choose.”

    A few weeks ago, I shared the word “prole” that I use to describe regular people who place all their energy into the basket of the first – “I should be free to do as I choose”.

    As I put it then, I tend to distinguish between people who aspire to rule others, and people who [simply] aspire not to be ruled, which puts a slightly different emphasis on this pairing, but not, I think, a million miles away.

    I think if you are among those who aspire not to be ruled (and are lacking in an aspiration to rule others), you not only agree that “I should be free to do as I choose,” but you would almost certainly add: “and so should every person”. (I would add that I find this sensibility is more common than generally perceived).

    If you are among those who aspire to rule others (or supervise them) then you might believe “I should be ‘free’ to make other people do as I choose”, but you will not mean what others mean by using the word freedom – hence I have placed the word ‘free’ in quotes. If this is your preferred line, you canNOT mean freedom as a general condition for all, but instead you mean it as a prerogative or privilege that relegates ‘free’ to its thinnest sense of “no one can or will restrain me in my aspiration to make others do my will”.

    This second has never seemed to me to be freedom, not in any “thick” or fulsome sense.

  31. John, your comments about Masonry not being a religion are interesting to me, since I came to the opposite conclusion myself. Throughout my 3 degrees, small things began to bother me. The G at the front of a lodge is for God, and yet the names Allah, Jehovah, YHWH, and Jesus are all absent. Masonic prayers are ended with “so mote it be” a pagan phrase recently recycled by Wiccas, instead of “Amen”.

    There is a gnostic component to Masonry (the secret words and references to the building of Solomon’s Temple) which I find incompatible with Judeo-Christian teaching. I am not a Catholic, and yet reconciling the rites of Masonry with “have no gods before Me” and “there is no way to the father except through Me” is problematic.

    Since your writing seems universalist, I suspect these issues went unnoticed or you find them unimportant. The American founders you mentioned were mostly deists, so they would have seen no conflict either. But modern Christian aversion to Masonry is not confined to Catholicism. There are many sincere Protestants who have left the lodge over similar concerns.

  32. I disagree that the distinction between allowed behavior is NOT government versus private ownership but between private versus public clientele. Thus a private golf club can refuse to allow a Black or Jew to belong and play but a public course cannot regardless of the beliefs of the ownership. FedEx cannot deliver to one house but refuse to deliver to another where a same sex couple lives. If a business is open to the public it cannot define ,based on individual beliefs. what constitutes the definition of “public”. This concept of common carriage goes back at least centuries and for good reason. A Ferryman cannot refuse to carry someone across a river because he doesn’t like his looks or whatever or an Innkeeper refuse safe lodging for personal reasons. A church can set terms of employment consistent with it’s beliefs – a church owned tire store cannot. There is “Freedom from” as well as “Freedom to”.

  33. Another pathway of thought is around the concept of keeping protected information among a small number of initiated members, which you seem to be pointing to as the habit Masons practice that most annoys its detractors.

    A commenter a few weeks ago (thank you to whoever it was, I’ve forgotten your name) introduced me to Lynne Kelly’s study of “orality” – the myriad techniques and practices by which people who are not literate learn, process, memorise, index, use and transmit large quantities of information.

    In this (one of many articles on the subject), she touches on a common theme – the way in which information that is critical to transmit correctly, without falling to the “chinese whispers effect” is best transmitted by being restricted through various means, including initiation, performance, location, etc.

    She says: “Typically, only a fully initiated elder would know and understand the entire knowledge system of the community. By keeping critical information sacred and restricted, the so-called ‘Chinese whispers effect’ could be avoided, protecting information from corruption.”

    In this way, she has elsewhere highlighted the potential reliability of oral transmission. Apparently some aboriginal people retain memories of coastline changes due to sea level rises that can be dated to around 7,000 years ago – a corroboration of their reliability if properly transmitted. Kelly now considers “restricted information transmission” to be a key feature of orality.

    It may be that the habits the masons are practicing (as you describe them) owe much to these older oral, nonliterate, forms of passing critical information through restricted, but reliable, channels. And perhaps such transmission “societies” are among the gifts to the future we could all begin studying, and implementing, now, around things we consider important to remember.

  34. I’d love it if you dismantled this argument, because I find it very troubling. Nevertheless–

    The trouble I see with this vision of democracy is that it means diversity is extremely harmful.

    In order for a given group, on this view, to use a given facility for any particular reason, either 1. that facility has to be 100% privately funded or 2. the group in question has to submit to whatever stipulations the government requires. Because of the reasoning that says that since we all pay taxes, we all get a say, that means we’re back in the world of consensus politics, in which the tiniest minority has the right to dictate the behavior of everyone else. If a single Jew or atheist objects to a town’s centuries-old Christmas celebration, the celebration is cancelled or changed to a generic “holiday” celebration. And this must be the case because the celebration includes a parade on public streets and a tree-lighting ceremony in a public square. Thus democracy+diversity immediately becomes a kind of cultural tyranny.

    The obvious objection goes– You don’t have to cancel the Christmas celebration; only move it to a private venue.

    The trouble with this is that it still restricts the celebration’s scope– a parade of necessity takes place on public streets. Democracy thus means the prohibition of the parade! Either that or the demand that one may only parade with the permission of the government, which is, again, beholden to the minority.

    A second bit of trouble is that it’s quite likely that increased diversity leads of necessity to an expanded government. The reason for this is that diversity seems to decrease social trust. A decrease in social trust leads to a decrease in the benefits that are derived from that trust and a consequent demand for the government to fill in the gaps by providing social services, from elder care to education; this in turn leads to an expansion of government-controlled spaces and a consequent expansion of government-imposed cultural values. These government-imposed values will understand themselves as “neutral” or valueless, favoring no group or value-system, but in practice there is no such thing as a “neutral value,” and the result will always be the suppression of one set of customs, habits, beliefs or traditions in favor of another.

    Thus democracy is practical only in culturally homogeneous societies, and freedom is harmed by the introduction of cultural diversity.

  35. @ Dan Mollo…

    That is a reasonable perspective. I think a combination of Occam’s Razor and Hanlon’s Razor would elicit the same POV when directed at our current US government.

    And as most here know, we are neither created equal or born equal – we are just created and born. Same for those in the political or governing classes.

  36. Possibly slightly off topic, but re: the race thing, I’d read that these days Freemasonry is becoming really popular among African-Americans. I’m curious if this is something you’ve noticed?

  37. @ Vesta…

    When my children got to high school (1990’s), they no longer taught Civics and the history they taught seemed to start at the Civil War. The founding of the nation was relegated to 2 chapters out of 35, both short relative to the other chapters. There was no reference to any issue regarding the Civil War other than slavery, and while the text lamented the Indian Wars, they portrayed all Indian cultures as primitives.

    That may be at least part of the answer. And yes – as parents, we provided other sources for them, and that did get them into trouble at school questioning the narratives. Which was a good thing for them to see first hand.

  38. Hi again, John

    As I have expressed before, while I have no issues with you being a Mason, I’d have a rough time explaining my family that I am associating with you. My mother would be dismayed, my grandmother’d have been more circumspect, but still concerned, and I am pretty sure my great grandmother would have banished us both with the cry of: “the Devil shall put no foot in my home” (she did it, once, to an uncle who happened to marry a Jehova Withness, and Masons are way higher in the “Enemies of Catholic Faith” black list). My dad’d be ok, though… and now that I think about that, I wonder why/if he never joined himself.

    That said, I think you underestimate how willing is your freedom loving men’s club to impose their will unto others.

    Through the 19th century, the Mexican left-ish Liberal party had deep connections with the Masons of the Scotish rite. I will not say that the party was Mason itself, but they recruited heavily from the Masons and shared some of the same values. Things settled down with Porfirio Diaz’s, – almost certainly a Mason, – very long presidency. The country moved towards progress, and Catholic Church was left to ministrate over the inner lives of the Mexican people, as long as they did not interrupt business.

    Then the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1917 came, and the winners… I cannot tell they were either, none or both conservatives or liberals. They were strong-men, military types, more concerned in asserting dominance than in any particular ideology. Is in this context that the Cristero War broke.

    The point of dispute was the creation of the Iglesia Catholica Mexicana, the brain child of Mason Luis N. Morones, which attempted to reenact the success of Henry VIII in England to create a religion of state. You see, it is not that good heroic Masons wanted to liberate the Mexican people from the oppression from the Vatican; it is that they wanted the Vatican’s tool of oppression for themselves.

    It is also that Mason President Plutarco Elias Calles, may his name be long remembered, enacted laws that limit public manifestations of cult. What business has and Administration staffed with freedom loving men in dictating when and how can the people go out on the streets marching and singing? And please remember that this happened before the times of the All-merciful Car, so they did not block traffic either. More over, there was a census of priests, and he priests were ordered to concentrate in the big cities, leaving their rural parrishes unattended.

    Why exactly would any government want to do that, unless they wanted to send in missionaries from their own compeating faith? It would be bad enogh if the government drove all makers of caffeinated bubbling beverages to the point of bankrupcy with inane legislatiion and bureaucracy, while on the other hand their thinly disguised agents run around selling this new brand of PRI-cola, So much for not being a competing religion

    Then, all Hell broke loose when the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church suspended all cult and manipulated the faithful into thinking that it was the Government closing the doors. I will not blame the Craft for what came afterwards, because those were violent times driven by strong-willed, violent men with little or no oversight. I will just say that if Masonry do turn good men better, you have at least to consider the possibility that it might turn bad men worse.

  39. Synthase–

    “How is a polytheist to parse the Supreme Being question? That’s always sounded strictly monotheistic to me.”

    JMG will have his own answer and it will be somewhat different, but FWIW my view as a polytheist is that there is a difference between what is meant by “God” and “a God.” I get this question a lot, actually, and I usually respond by referencing the following scene from the movie Groundhog Day:

    Bill Murray: “I’m a god.”

    Andie MacDowell: “This is twelve years of Catholic school talking– You’re not God.”

    Bill Murray: “I didn’t say I was *the* God, I said I was *a* god.”

    Everyone gets why this is funny. And if you get this, you get polytheistic theology as you find it in, for example, Plato’s Timaeus.

  40. I never knew all that about the Masons, though my father was a member. No wonder Heinlein had them at the center of his revolution against a (notably short-lived, 2012-2100) home-grown theocracy. Bravo! Now to find an organization where a sister is a sister for a’ that.

    Thank you,


  41. David, democracy certainly works better when the people affected by a given set of issues are the ones who make decisions concerning those issues, and that’s easier to arrange on a small scale. A federalist system is one way to encourage that on a large scale, but of course it has its problems.

    Vesta, I also remember such ideas as being standard issue in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I’m as baffled as you are by the fact that they got lost somewhere along the road from there to here.

    Ruth, thank you!

    Redoak, exactly. The abolition of freedom is intimately caught up with the abolition of the private sphere.

    Peter, exactly — or a kosher deli would be required to make sandwiches for the American Nazi Party. (If you decide you’re interested in exploring Masonry, btw, drop me an email and I can point you in the right direction.)

    E. Goldstein, a lot of tyranny in today’s America is economic tyranny on the part of corporations. Congrats for making the necessary response.

    Dmitry, you’re still treating the word “democracy” as though it’s a value judgment, rather than a particular kind of political system that can be functional or dysfunctional. A monarchy is still a monarchy when the king is a drooling moron and can’t even govern his own bowel movements; in exactly the same sense, a country that elects its head of state and the members of its legislative bodies is a representative democracy even if the politicians in question answer to the same description.

    Will, dead right on both counts. The people who insist we don’t have a democracy because it’s dysfunctional right now, and doesn’t give them the results they want, are generally also the people who want to impose some “better” system that will exercise tyranny in their favor.

    Shane, interesting. Many thanks for the data point.

    Liz, I’ve been a Mason since 2001 and I have yet to personally witness an example of Masons being promoted to public office by Masons over other candidates. Here in the US, at least, Masons don’t tend to be in the class that promotes people — most of the brothers in the lodges I’ve belonged to have jobs down there in the middle-to-working classes: firefighter, construction foreman, small business owner, train engineer, that sort of thing. Things may be different where you are, but that’s what I’ve seen here. As for the Women’s Institutes, though, I know very little about them and clearly will want to look into them — it sounds like a very good thing.

    Mateo, yes, that’s the conventional wisdom on the left these days. I’m arguing against that point of view, unless you can prove actual harm. Public accommodation laws were originally enacted to keep people from being denied necessary services on the basis of race, gender, and so on; they’ve been dramatically expanded since then, and I suggest that maybe it’s time to take a hard look at what ought to count as a public accommodation and what should not. Is anyone actually harmed by having to go to a different shop to get a wedding cake?

    Dean, and the question of where to draw the line is exactly the sort of thing that should be settled by free and open debate, not by both sides insisting on having everything their own way.

    Synthase, not at all. Most polytheist faiths include the concept that one of the gods rules the others. That fits the Masonic definition well enough that Freemasonry has been huge in India since the early 19th century, for example, and it’s the way I see that requirement as well.

    Oilman, au contraire, what we have in America is a real democracy. What you’re talking about is an imaginary democracy, the kind where all the slogans come true. In a real democracy — that is, a democracy in the real world — there’s always corruption, because lots of people will sell their vote if the price is right; a lot of elections are won by chicanery and fraud; many people don’t vote, or have to be forced to vote under penalty of law, as in Australia, and even more vote for frivolous, selfish, or heinous reasons. That’s why I quoted Churchill’s comment about democracy, and why I pointed out that its sole claim to value is that it’s a little better than the alternatives.

    Jbucks, exactly — and that’s why I’m trying to encourage it.

    Dan, exactly. The word “democracy” is a description of a system of government, not a value judgment. The problem is that so many people these days use it as a meaningless noise loaded with warm fuzzy emotions!

    Merle, thank you for getting my point!

    David, so noted. Dmitry’s discussion of the technosphere is very useful indeed.

    Isabel, there’s a running joke among younger Masons — “Hey, where are my invites to the Satanic orgies? That’s why I joined, after all!” A lot of us are endlessly amused by the mismatch between the rhetoric surrounding Masonry and the rather more sedate realities inside lodge halls. As for your comments on choosing who to hang out with, etc., agreed — one of the immense advantages of freedom of speech is that it’s much easier to find out which of the people in your social circle you want to spend time with, and which you don’t!

    David, delighted to hear it! The deindustrial-SF scene may be small but it’s very lively; I’ll look forward to seeing stories by some of the attendees at those conventions in upcoming issues of Into the Ruins.

    Mac, the label “democratic syndicalism” is meant to differentiate it from syndicalist anarchism, which imagines a society run entirely by voluntary organizations. A democratic syndicalist society would be a representative democracy in which worker-owned cooperatives were the standard form for any business large enough to employ someone other than the owner and his/her immediate family.

    Dewey, as I noted to Synthase above, if one of the gods rules over all the others — and it’s hard to find a polytheist pantheon where this isn’t the case — that god is enough of a Supreme Being to pass the Masonic test.

    Przxqgl aka Salamandir, good to hear from you — it’s been a while! Say hi to Rick for me. The guys you met must have been very drunk. It’s a hard and fast rule in most Masonic jurisdictions I know of that you do not under any circumstances try to talk someone into becoming a Mason for any reason at all, least of all the sort of shoddy reasons mentioned in your story; they’d have gotten whacked hard by Grand Lodge for doing any such thing. As for your broader comment, all I can say is that I’ve met very few rich Freemasons, and quite a lot of Masons who are Democrats and people of color; I’m not sure if you’ve just run into a biased sample, or what.

    Scotlyn, exactly. It’s an interesting detail of history that Hitler constantly talked about how he and his party were making Germany free. “Free of what?” was of course the question that mattered…

    Brian, I’ve encountered the claim you’re making before, of course, and it never fails to leave me scratching my head. Do you refuse to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance because it uses the word “God” instead of some specific sectarian label? The logic’s exactly the same. So is the reasoning: if you’ve got an institution to which men of many different creeds may belong, it makes sense to use inclusive rather than exclusive language in the prayers in the ritual.

    Masonboro, here again, yes, I know, that’s the conventional wisdom these days. I disagree with it, for reasons already given. Just repeating the conventional wisdom doesn’t disprove my disagreement with it, you know!

    Scotlyn, true enough. In point of fact, Masonic ritual descends from nonliterate medieval stonemasons, who used the ritual and other mnemonic methods to pass on the secrets of their trade. Every guild did the same thing back then; ours just happens to be one that, by a set of improbable historical events, happened to survive.

    Steve, there’s a very simple response to that sort of argument, and it’s “that’s not how we do things in a democracy.” A consensus system gives dictatorial powers to every disgruntled individual, and thus places the interest of anyone who wants to game the system over the rights of everyone else. Pure democracy, in which everybody votes and the majority always wins, puts the interest of the majority over the rights of minorities. Neither of them work well. That’s why democratic societies have settled on the system of constitutional representative democracy, in which a written constitution guarantees certain rights to majorities and minorities alike, and officials are elected by majority vote but must govern according to the limits prescribed by the constitution. Is it a perfect system? Of course not. Does it always work as advertised? Not a chance. Does it work better than the alternatives, most of the time? You bet.

    You’ll notice that the argument I’ve offered here isn’t framed in abstract absolute terms. That’s deliberate. From a Burkean conservative standpoint, what matters is not whether something measures up to some arbitrary standard of abstract justice, but simply whether it’s been tested by time and proved to work more often than the alternatives.

    Bro. Kevin, thank you.

  42. Dear Mr. Greer, I would be interested to know, do the Masons think their lineage goes all the way back to the magistri comacini, “…masons from across the peninsula [Italy], steeped in a still present Roman tradition of brick and stone construction, whom the Lombard kings respected and helped to organize legally into what appears to have been the equivalent of a guild.” (McLean, Alick Romanesque architecture in Italy, pub. in Toman, Rolf, ed., Romanesque, Architecture Sculpture Painting)

    About the Masons being nothing more than a club, I would suggest that much the same is true of organizations like Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta, which is a medieval remnant, and even Opus Dei. Now, my favorite of the guys getting together clubs is the Clampers, which is frankly a drinking club and nothing more, a place for grown men to express their inner rowdy adolescent, and, best of all, they hire a hall and their wives, girlfriends and moms don’t have to clean up after them.

    Dear Isabel Cooper, Certainly I agree that Prudence McGee needs to mind her own business and use her talents for something useful like feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless. Having said that, I point out that I make a point of patronizing Hobby Lobby for sewing and art supplies and buying Eden Foods products when I can afford them and I do. not. care. what their health plans might cover. For me, supporting good people doing good work trumps someone’s intimate behavior every time. If one wants to get into looking for conspiracies, the left is no less vulnerable than the right.

    I am really not understanding the brou ha-ha about The Cake. From either side. Whatever happened to We have the right to refuse service, prominently displayed on a sign behind the counter on the one side and old fashioned discretion on the other? It is not that hard to bake a cake oneself. I have been doing so for about 50 years now and I am no professional baker, and most neighborhoods have people who decorate cakes out of their homes.

  43. SteveT – It is universally true that humans care more about and for, and trust, members of their own communities more than strangers. It is not universally true that humans perceive their own neighbors who have a different skin color, sexual orientation, or religious preference to be excluded from the community. On the other hand, if you equate democracy with “freedom,” defined to include the lack of government social services – which is not correct, of course! – a large and mobile society really needs to have less “freedom” than a traditional village no matter what its range of color and religiosity may be. If your own grandparents and second cousins live a thousand miles from you, you cannot personally provide their care, and even if you could send them enough money to pay someone else to do it, you might not choose to sacrifice so much for someone who is nearly a stranger to you. So one either wants a society with little mobility, or one with safety nets to ensure that once individuals have Moved to Where the Jobs Are, they aren’t abandoned to suffer and die there.

    America has been letting people be openly non-Christian all over the place for decades, and yet we still have all kinds of parades, and a *federal holiday* for Christmas, so your fear is largely imaginary. Anyway, democracy (except where you have an electoral college) implies majority rule, so your suggestion that if a democratic society is not monolithic, that one town Jew will ruin everything for the rest of Us is quite inexplicable. Contrarily, it is the limitations on democracy in a constitutional republic that forbid the majority from making a minority pay taxes for displays telling them they are going to Hell.

  44. From an outside observer, maybe the huge concentration in wealth over last 40 years in the upper few percent of the US population contributes to the refusal to compromise in politics? This group’s money dominates politics, left and right. Their wealth means they rarely have to compromise in their personnel lives or business lives, why would they compromise in politics? Especially as they have invested a lot of money to get what they want. Echo’s of the Concorde fallacy.

  45. My Dad was a Mason but was involved primarily for the opportunity it provided for what we now call ‘networking’ for business purposes.

    When I was in high school, I was invited to join the DeMoley. I asked my Dad for his opinion and he advised against it saying something like, ‘those aren’t people you should hang out with’.

  46. Whomever, I certainly have a lot of brother Masons who are African-American or otherwise men of color, so I don’t find that hard to believe at all.

    CR Patino, one of the complexities of Masonic history is that the Craft has taken on very different characters in some of the countries and regions where it’s been established. In many historically Catholic countries, for example, it became a focus for anti-Catholic activities; in France, it became a freethinker’s club — the largest French grand lodge, which isn’t recognized as valid by most other Masons, dropped the requirement of belief in a supreme being a long time ago. In Italy, it’s been drawn into politics in various ugly ways — you’ll no doubt have heard of the renegade P2 lodge, for example,

    In the same way, Masonry got sucked into politics in some Latin American countries. It probably didn’t help that Simon Bolivar and most of his circle of revolutionaries were Masons! But one of the reasons why we focus on making good men better, and do our best to exclude men who aren’t going to benefit from what we offer, is that yes, it can become a very convenient cover for certain kinds of greed for power and the like. In 18th century Europe, there were a whole series of struggles between people who wanted to keep Masonry to its proper purposes and people who wanted to use it for political conspiracy; fortunately, the right side won the most important battles. In Mexico, that wasn’t always the case.

    Patricia, there used to be quite a few women’s organizations with similar values and goals. For obvious reasons, I don’t know a great deal about them, but I wish you every success in your search!

    Nastarana, inventing romantic origin myths for the Masons used to be a huge industry. I once went to a meeting of a lodge of research — a Masonic organization that encourages historical study — where every attendee had been asked to bring as many bogus origin stories as they could, and there were some doozies. As far as I know, most Masons these days agree that the Craft descends from medieval European stonemasons’ guilds, and the most romantic theory in wide circulation holds that those guilds got some traditional lore from the Knights Templar. (I think there’s a very good chance this is true, for what it’s worth.) No Comacines need apply. As for the Knights of Columbus, Clampers, et. al, I won’t argue at all — the K of C in particular was created to give Catholic men something to join that would fulfill most of the functions of Freemasonry without violating any of the rules of the Catholic Church, and men I know who belong to it seem to find it just as satisfying as I find Freemasonry.

  47. We’ve apparently been at this tyranny business for a while. There is a law still on the books in Spokane County, WA (where my wife is from and where I lived 6 of my 44 years) stating that it is illegal to have sex by less than 15W of light.

    When we weren’t breaking the law in absolute darkness we often turned on a 7W salt lamp by the bed just to be edgy…

  48. Philip, that makes sense of the behavior of the privileged, to be sure, but what about everyone else? It’s not just the rich who have forgotten how to compromise!

    Martin, that’s one of the reasons the Craft had such a downward lurch in the second half of the twentieth century — too many men joining it for purely mercenary reasons. I’m sorry you missed out on DeMolay — the young men I know who were members speak very highly of their experiences.

    Tripp, too funny! My wife’s from Spokane, and we violated that law rather more than once, too — though never with a salt lamp. That seems vaguely kinky… 😉

  49. Some of cousins are nominally Catholic, and Freemasons. I guess that might fit into the same area as being Catholic but still using birth control.

    I’ve often thought of joining the lodge, as some of my ham radio friends are also members. And Cincinnati has some really great Masonic buildings (part of the allure for me). Yet I’m not sure about the time requirements, and if I’d want to shave off the time from what I’m already doing.

    Happy Fraternizing and cigar smoking.

    Nothing wrong with a good cigar in the relative privacy of my own back yard.

  50. JMG, thanks for your reply. I appreciate your point & I think you pose a fair question.

    Also, I agree w/your reply to drhooves, that the Silver Rule (I had not seen it called that), or as I call it, the Golden Rule stated in the negative, seems more sensible. It also seems easier to apply in different situations & so, more practical.

    Thanks for the post & these comments.

  51. @JM,

    You just backed yourself into a very interesting corner by saying that democracy is not a value judgment but a system. To wit:

    Elections in North Korea are held every five years for the Supreme People’s Assembly—the country’s national legislature—and every four years for Local People’s Assemblies.

    Add Deutsche Demokratische Republik (RIP) and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the list to get a fuller picture. The planet is full of tin pot dictatorships claiming to be democratic. Oh, and please do add the US to this wonderful list while you are at it; we don’t want anyone to feel left out.

  52. Those salt lamps are supposed to clear the air of negative ions. I always just kinda hoped that there might be some Puritanical regulatory official leering through the deliberately-open window trying to figure out whether we were cool or not.

  53. JMG — the book I am reading about the WI or National Federation of Women’s Institutes, to give it its full name, is Jambusters, by Julie Summers. It may interest you to know that the first meeting in Britain was convened on the Isle of Anglesey in the village of Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch. The WI was originally a rural organization, but it spread like wildfire, included women of every social class, and helped to get the nation through two world wars. They are still going strong a hundred years on.

  54. RE: the Cake,
    I think the last time we discussed this on the post JMG linked to, we settled on this: “An evangelical bakery could not refuse to provide cakes period to LGBT people, eg. a lesbian who comes in wanting a cake that says ‘Happy Birthday!’ or ‘Congrats on Retirement, Bill!’ b/c that falls under public accommodation, however, providing a wedding cake falls under a violation of their religious beliefs and amounts to coercion.” So, blanket ban on serving LGBT, not allowed under public accommodation civil rights laws, however, forcing bakeries to make wedding cakes amounts to forcing people to violate their religion. However, that still seems to open up a can of worms, b/c aforementioned evangelical bakery should not have to provide cakes for bar/bat mitzvahs (though cake is probably not kosher, anyway, but for argument’s sake, Jews in question are Reform) while providing cakes to Jews for any other reasons (and so on)

  55. I recently got into – and very quickly out of – a discussion about Freemasons with a Catholic couple. They did indeed dislike Freemasons very much, without even knowing what Freemasonry exactly is.

    The reason for their dislike is that Freemasons are seen as conspiring against nation states, in particular those with a Catholic majority. It is not a new accusation: already in the 1860s, the Habsburgs of Austria belittled the new Italian state for being a nest of Freemasons (who indeed played a major role in the early decades of the Italian state).

    There are more recent scandals where the Freemasons played a major role: the famed (in Italy) lodge P2 (, with an openly reactionary program, has an impressive number of high-level politicians and businessmen in Italy and South America among its former members.

    The Freemasons themselves do not make a mystery of supporting synarchy. From anecdotal evidence, they are often wealthy people close to power. The yearly fee is not impossibly high, but high enough to weed out the lower classes.

    So what you say about everyone being free to do what he wants, as long as no one else gets hurt may be true, but it is often not clear that Freemasonry is in the clear. Rich, powerful people with an agenda and many secrets. Mh. Suspicious.

    For my part, I read about Gnosticism at times, and I find Freemasonry interesting as a Gnostic sect, but I feel more comfortable with the less politically enterprising Rosacrucians.

  56. You’ve given me food for thought.

    However, the idea that a business owner should be allowed to refuse someone’s business simply because they are gay sort of grinds me as a queer person.

    If we extrapolate that to other minority (and frequently disenfranchised) groups, it means that before the Civil Rights Act, people would legally be allowed to not to do business with black people.

    If it had been left up to a democratic vote, the Civil Rights Act would have failed.

    What about women, which make up half of our country? If extreme social conservatives (for example, Mike Pence) refused to do business with any women unless his wife were present, then whole portions of our society would be effectively barred from the participation of women. (Which isn’t too far from our current situation but I would like to improve the situation for women, not to make it worse.)

    When certain minorities or classes of people are effectively barred from participation with society due to the majority of people choosing not to do business with them, how can it be a democracy?

  57. Thanks for this essay. So many of my fellow citizens love love love to revel in the celebrity palace gossip of the executive branch of our federal system (where our democracy is weakest and least functional) and try to make their voices heard at that level, which is almost impossible. Meanwhile my state government assembly rep and state senator are father and son and have run my neighborhood Tammany Hall style for decades. I truly think something could be done to improve this nation if more people would do the dirty thankless work within the small local structures that still are responsive to voting and quit getting distracted by the DC Kardashians.

    And thus ends my sermon to the choir. See you at the city council meeting.

  58. JMG…

    So in your view, we have the best of some really crappy options, as far as government goes? I know corruption never goes away, but I would definitely enjoy it going out of style, at least. Today, it is nearly transparent, and the buying off of everyone in government is very easy to watch – if you are disconnected from the red/blue diatribe. It hasn’t been this blatant since the days of Boss Tweed in this country. The difference seems to be that the press got better at monetizing their stroke this time around.

    Is it a natural corollary that this much corruption leads to less and less freedom? I seem to intuit it that way, as it seems democracy is ever tightening the screws, likely until it breaks itself by morphing into something worse.

    I’m not enamored of government in any form – the less of it, the better, based on what is around us today.

    So what needs to happen for things to improve? My thinking is shrinking the governments to fit the cultures that want to exist coherently, which is why I favor massive decentralization.

  59. “question of where to draw the line is exactly the sort of thing that should be settled by free and open debate, not by both sides insisting on having everything their own way”

    And I think the inability to have this kind of debate is one of the reasons our democracy is declining in the US. And while there is fault on all side to some degree, I do not think it is equal in degree. Polls consistently show that liberals are more open to compromise than conservatives. This may not always have been the case, but then what passes for a conservative ion today’s politics in the US is very different from 1960s conservatism.. I also think that a lack of desire to compromise is contagious – it spreads throughout a society over time.

    One other addition: rational debate is only possible when there is a base of accepted facts – a willingness to accept evidence and that on some occasions, your side is going to be wrong.

  60. Vesta: I, too, learned these things in my junior high civics class, and that was in the 1990s! That said, this may be one of the ways that my small town was “conservative”, in the very best sense, of some of the old ways. As I’ve moved away from home and met others of my generation, who seem not to have a clue, I get the sense that even by the 90s, such things were slipping out of the curriculum in far too many places.

    JMG: It’s a small thing, but thank you for expanding my vocabulary with “gallimaufry.” What a delightful word!

    Any particular plans for the 5th Wednesday this month?

  61. It’s quite strange how the conspiracy theories over the Freemasons have metastasized in recent decades. I can remember when its nickname in Britain was “the Mafia of the mediocre” – it was perceived as the means by which small-time shopkeepers and bureaucrats optimised their limited social standing.

    Masonic groups could still be quite unpleasant though. My father, who was a Trades Unionist, once had to attend an employment tribunal in order to represent someone at his firm who was suddenly and mysteriously made redundant. This person had previously reported another employee who was clocking off for entire afternoons at a time. It emerged during the tribunal, to uproar from the judging panel, that both the person clocking off and the manager whom his behaviour had been reported to were freemasons. A big payout to the complainant ensued, followed by a lot of unwelcome publicity for the firm.

    I suspect that it’s low level incidents like this that gave the freemasons the vaguely sordid reputation that the David Ickes of this world have subsequently made hay with.

  62. A very clear post, and sadly a necessary one. I, of course, agree–but with one reservation that I wonder if you yourself, JMG, happen to share: hypothetical ecology.

    The word “hypothetical” is in the previous sentence because it’s obviously too late to do anything about our problems, and all we can do is wait for the iron laws of nature to sort them (and us) out in the inevitable way. However, as one who loves liberty more than life, but the biosphere as a whole more than liberty, I very much wish that tyranny had been used worldwide to prevent us from getting to this state we’re in–as it was in medieval Japan to successfully reverse deforestation.

    The earth will recover from our brief rampage, but was temporary liberty really worth the longer-term-but-still-temporary loss of biodiversity? We’ll take plenty more species with us as we go, and more forests.

    Were it still possible to bring enough tyranny to bear to sort things out, I’d put on a green armband in a minute, and I’d make no apologies.

  63. isabelcooper-

    I know! I joined a purported “outrageous sex and drugs cult” only to find that there was very little outrageous sex and drug use going on (which is probably just as well) Or maybe I just didn’t get invited to the right parties. There was some rock ‘n’roll, though we pretty much had to provide our own 🙂

  64. JMG
    There used to be a saying when I was a kid: ‘handsome is as handsome does’. I can’t help remembering ‘Freedom Fries’ and ‘Mission accomplished’ when I hear the words Democracy and Freedom these days.

    And the British Empire was pretty selective about ‘democracy’ back in its day! I am reminded that ‘democracy’ is an historical process. I read that equating ‘freedom’ with suffrage is really very recent: We did not get universal suffrage in Britain until 1928; New Zealand 1893 (women could not be elected to the legislature until 1919) and Finland 2006. And earlier agrarian societies did not do things that way.The experiment has been ongoing and there were many failures along the way. Many ancient customary limitations on power, (for instance rights to the use of land), were swept away by legislation in Britain at the end of the 18th C and early in the 19th C, enacted by parliaments representing the very limited electorate of money and property interests (at the time of Burke)..

    Phil H

  65. quoth JMG: “The guys you met must have been very drunk. It’s a hard and fast rule in most Masonic jurisdictions I know of that you do not under any circumstances try to talk someone into becoming a Mason for any reason at all, least of all the sort of shoddy reasons mentioned in your story; they’d have gotten whacked hard by Grand Lodge for doing any such thing.”

    this was the Al Kader Temple, just south of portland… from what they told me, they ARE the “grand lodge”, although i was amused by the fact that their name resembles “al qa’eda” more than a little bit…

    quoth JMG: “I’m not sure if you’ve just run into a biased sample, or what.”

    i don’t know, but my uncles and my grandfather, all extremely rich, extremely conservative, republican old white men, were masons, and the vast majority of masons (and odd fellows, and elks, and clampers) i have met are extremely rich, extremely conservative, republican old white men, or aspire to be such. of course the only masons (or odd fellows, and or, or clampers) i have met — apart from my uncles and grandfather — have been around the seattle-portland region, so that may be at least part of the issue.

  66. @Mateo, remember that we do allow restriction of services for some businesses open to the public–I am thinking about Kosher delicatessens and (lately) halal grocers. No one expects the kosher and halal folks to supply pork products, as it goes against their religious beliefs. In today’s climate though, I wonder what would happen if someone demanded that they fill a special order of pork sausage, and were turned down?
    In Pharmacy there are instances in which Pharmacists are forced to fill prescriptions against their religious convictions. Illinois requires pharmacists to fill all valid Rex’s regardless of personal convictions, while Tennessee requires posted notification of any religious objection, but allows pharmacists to decline to fill Rxs for (as examples) birth control or euthanasia drugs.
    To me, this sort of thing is the camels nose under the tent for compelling employees to do things that violate their consciences.

  67. @Nastarana: Sure–for me, what Hobby Lobby and Eden do is not compatible with being “good people doing good work,” at least as far as my money is concerned. (See also: the Salvation Army. Their bigotry doesn’t erase their charity, but given that I have a finite amount of cash, and a wide selection of non-bigoted-jerk places to put it…I’ll do so.) But I’m not going to tell anyone what to do with their money; even if someone agrees with me that the leadership of HL/Eden are Puritanical little wastes of carbon, there’s a decent argument that cash spent at either place benefits the workers primarily, who don’t have much say in policy either way.

    @JMG: Hee! I’ve often said that I’d prefer the eighties-ish “sold soul to Satan, probably eats babies,” pop culture image of witchcraft over the “Madeline Bassett with eyeliner” one going around now. Evil at least has some style.

    And very much so. Certain views or styles of rhetoric function, IMO, as the social equivalent of the red-and-yellow bands on a coral snake, except that snakes are generally more pleasant in general.

  68. JMG, is it a coincidence that the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island is in East Providence, where you recently settled?

  69. “Whatever happened to We have the right to refuse service, prominently displayed on a sign behind the counter on the one side and old fashioned discretion on the other?” – you don’t have the right to refuse service if it means discrimination against a protected group, ever since the Civil Rights Act I think. Maybe you have read about the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1950s and 1960s. You can refuse service for many other reasons, like for bare feet. The prohibition on discrimination based on race and religion is pretty well established as law in the US, but the question now is whether discrimination based on factors relating to sexual orientations should be prohibited in the same way. I’m not sure how all of this applies to private clubs, which I think still can discriminate.

  70. JMG,
    Would you agree that the degree of freedom that I am wiling to grant you or anyone else to think and be as you please is the degree to which I feel free to allow that which is in myself freedom to be expressed? If I completely accept all my own little quirks, inconsistencies, particularities, idiocies, little nasties, arbitrary values and self-defined virtues, talents, tendencies, failings (moral and otherwise) and so on, how can I possibly have a problem with yours?

    It’s more than just live and let live, it’s that I must learn to allow myself to be free before I have what it takes to allow someone else to also be free. The cake maker, for example, may not feel any urges to enter a same-sex relationship, but maybe feels repressed in some other area of his life (intellectually? physically? maybe he would love to ditch the shop and play the guitar?) and it gets transferred to something unrelated. I don’t feel free so I’m not going to allow you to be free, in whatever way that plays out.

    That sounds so cynical. Your thoughts are welcome!

  71. Dewey–

    You wrote:

    “It is universally true that humans care more about and for, and trust, members of their own communities more than strangers. It is not universally true that humans perceive their own neighbors who have a different skin color, sexual orientation, or religious preference to be excluded from the community. ”

    I never said anything of the kind.

    I did say that “diversity undermines social trust.” I didn’t make that up; as a reference, see the work of Jonathan Haidt. I am personally quite comfortable in “diverse” settings. I grew up in Appalachia, in an extended family of the “ethnic white Catholic” variety, and I have acutely aware of the fact that my own people were a minority who suffered persecution and discrimination within living memory of my grandparents. That there might be downsides to multiculturalism is an idea that I came to rather late but that, but that I think is very probably true.

    You wrote:

    “On the other hand, if you equate democracy with “freedom,” defined to include the lack of government social services – which is not correct, of course! – a large and mobile society really needs to have less “freedom” than a traditional village no matter what its range of color and religiosity may be.”

    I did not equate “freedom” with a lack of government services, and the fact that you specifically targeted that idea suggests to me that you think that you are having a debate with an old-style Republican of the Reagan-Bush era.

    What I specifically said was that 1. Government services are likely to expand in the absence of social trust which means that 2. More space (meaning physical space), in the absence of social trust, is likely to come under the purview of the government.

    This was important because I was interpreting JMG as saying that Government-controlled spacial settings will be forced to meet the need of every possible taxpayer, which I then further interpreted to mean that, in a hypothetical democracy, every government space will be forced into a position of “cultural neutrality” which is not in fact neutral, but which instead involves the imposition of particular aesthetic, habitual, cultural and religious experiences onto people in those settings.

    As an example: The majority of a people would like to have the aesthetic experiences related to Christmas. But their university, which is publicly funded, prohibits any mention of Christmas. Celebrations of various kinds are permitted only insofar as they “celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale,” and “ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” This comes from the “Office of Diversity and Inclusion” at the University of Tennessee. See: The Office of Diversity and Inclusion presumably believes that the types of experience it permits/imposes are “neutral.” In actuality though they impose the values of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (“workplace relationships,” “team morale,” and “religious and cultural diversity”) and deliberately suppress other values and other experiences (“the birth of the Christ child,” “Santa Claus,” and traditional American Christmas foods and drinks).

    Are you following me?

    So far we have: Premise A. Government-controlled settings are forced to expand in a context of cultural diversity. Simplify this as If Diversity, Then (More) Government Spaces.

    Premise B: Government-controlled settings limit freedom by imposing particular aesthetic, habitual, cultural and religious experiences onto people in those settings (note: NOT by providing social services). Define the imposition of aesthetic, habitual, cultural and religious experiences as tyranny, and Premise B becomes If Government Spaces, then Tyranny.

    The Conclusion that logically follows is If Diversity, Then Tyranny. Or, A therefore B; B therefore C; therefore A therefore C. Or, in a democracy an increase in diversity leads inevitably to an increase in tyranny.

    Do you understand?

    JMG’s answer is, basically, that Premise B is incorrect. I am not sure that he is right, given the example I cited above, similar examples of the kind, and such things as Madeleine Murray O’Haire suing NASA over the reading from the book of Genesis or the elimination of prayer from public schools.

    Note well: I am a practicing pagan polytheist, so any idea you have of claiming that I just want to force Jesus on everybody is not going to fly. But I am imagining myself in a setting in which I was the only polytheist in a roomful of Baptists, who liked to open their meeting (of whatever sort) with the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think that it would be fair or reasonable for me to force them to change for me, the Town Pagan; in fact, I think that the elimination of the Lord’s Prayer at my insistence would be an example of tyranny as I defined it above.

    But JMG also points out that he is talking about the real world, where I am (deliberately) dealing in abstractions. In his essay he mentions that the actual movement of democracies through history is one of overcorrection in first one and then another direction. If this is true then we can expect an overreaction in the direction of forced school prayer and the like, followed by another reaction in the direction of government-imposed antitheism.

    I am in my mid-30s. So far, I have seen the following movements, that I think of as Authoritarian Speech Regimes (because they’re primarily concerned with policing everything their followers say and denouncing enemies) come and go: 1. A wave of political correctness every bit as bad as today in the late 80s and early 90s, followed by 2. the George Bush era, during which the very suggestion that maybe we shouldn’t attack other countries that hadn’t attacked us meant that you hated America; followed by 3. the totalitarian insanity of the social justice movement. It’s been my feeling for the last year or so that the latter reached its peak in 2015-2016 and is now in decline, possibly to be replaced with whatever authoritarian speech-regime the Alt Right dreams up– which I expect to peak around 2022-2024, to be replaced with some new leftwing insanity.

    All of that suggests that JMG may be right after all, and what I see as an enduring problem with multiculturalism may merely be a temporary overcorrection along a cycle with a longer arc than the 12-ish year cycle that the Authoritarian Speech Regimes follow. We’ll see.

  72. JMG, whenever you discuss Freemasonry, I find myself rather disappointed that I cannot join! Mind you, I don’t object to its being a men’s club, but I wish I’d have better luck finding a women’s (or mixed) equivalent. I do think I mentioned on the old blog before that I’d been inspired by your boosting of community organizations to join my local Lions Club, which I somewhat surprisingly really enjoy (I am not really a joiner by nature). I am now on the board of directors and more or less in charge of one of our two biggest fundraisers (the dangers of being fresh meat and the youngest member to boot!). We were able to do a lot when our community was catastrophically flooded by Hurricane Harvey recently. They occasionally push the envelope on the “no religion or politics” aspect of our charter, but nothing beyond my capacity for toleration. However, the Lions Club just doesn’t seem to have the esoteric flair and interesting lore you Masons are blessed with, alas.

  73. Great article! I enjoy your political insights quite a lot. I’d never heard of Burkean conservatism before and will have to check out the article you linked.

    I had a dream and some synchronicities in my life relating to Freemasonry a few months ago and briefly looked into it a little bit. After reading this article I may have to give it a second look.

  74. I have to say that I’m a little disappointed that I’ve never been invited to join the Masons – but I’m young, and such thoughts are a reminder that I need to become a better person.

    A few comments:

    1) In Australia, it’s mandatory to vote, but the fine for not doing so is $20 – so it’s within the means of nearly every Australian to decide for themselves whether they are going to vote or not. In comparison, the congestion charge for driving a private auto into downtown London is (as of Nov 1 2017) 19.86 Australian dollars. A rural Australian with a long drive to a polling place might even break even. If I got to be King of Canada for a day, I would mandate that all federal, provincial and municipal elections include a ‘none of the above’ option, to avoid the confusion between those too lazy to vote (or cowed into voting by a fine) and those who don’t approve of the options on the ballot.

    2) Regarding freedom, well, ultimate freedom could be described as being dropped in the middle of the Pacific – you can swim in any direction you choose, and it won’t matter.

    3) Regarding gay wedding cakes – things like wedding cakes, which are arguably artistic works, constitute speech by their creators, and nobody should be compelled to say things they don’t agree with. I think a baker has a right to refuse homosexual couples if they choose, but a building supply company should be compelled to sell the same couple shingles for their house. I think a far more challenging question is “does a baker have the right to refuse an interracial couple a wedding cake” – it’s not one I can answer. I have more sympathy for racists than homophobes, because racists can guarantee they have children of their preferred ethnicity, while homophobes cannot guarantee heterosexual children, but I can’t come up with an argument for refusing an interracial wedding cake.

    And seriously, a no-sex-in-the-dark law which was put on the books after watts became a standard unit of measurement?

  75. Hi JMG,

    While I’m very sympathetic to your arguments about freedom of speech, and the defense of liberty, I think the danger of this thinking is that those with power/wealth have much more freedom to exercise (and impose) their freedom than poor people, and that some kind of counter-balance is helpful. eg, if people are free to make such decisions in private, is there any mechanism to prevent a private company from behaving in a discriminatory manner to its staff? What are your thoughts here?

    Cheers, Angus

  76. Justin, I know a fair number of Catholic Masons, and not all of them are nominal in their faith; they believe in the Trinity, the saints, the validity of the sacraments, and the truth of the creeds, but reject the claims of the church as an institution to control the lives of its members. If you want to know more about that, though, I’d ask them.

    Mateo, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Dmitry, you’re clutching at straws. In both cases, legal authority is/was in the hands of the respective Communist parties, as it is in China today, so it’s — ahem — a different system. Why is it so hard to think of democracy as just another way to run a political entity, without piling on all the value judgments?

    Tripp, okay, that’s really kinky. 😉

    Liz, thank you! I’ll put it on the get-to list.

    Discwrites, er, which Freemasons are these that support synarchy? As far as I know, I’m the only Freemason in Rhode Island who even knows what the word means. The P2 lodge was not sanctioned by any valid Grand Lodge, by the way — in Masonic jargon, it was a clandestine lodge, not least because it violated the civil law.

  77. In re: pharmacies, I do come down on the side of force, or at least that firing those twits doesn’t count as religious discrimination, for a couple reasons:

    First, public health, especially if the pharmacy in question is the only one in town, the only one that takes a certain kind of insurance, etc.
    Second, the pharmacy itself is not a notably and publicly religious establishment; presumably a member of the every-sperm-is-sacred crowd could go and apply at a Catholic hospital or college infirmary, or whatever, just like a Scientologist who didn’t want to prescribe SSRIs could find work at, IDK, LRH’s House of All The Drugs Your Thetan Approves Of. But if you get a job at a secular institution, you’re obliged to do that job by the institution’s standards, or they get to fire you: you can’t work at the *Stop and Shop* deli and refuse to sell ham, no matter how devoutly Jewish or Muslim you are.

    @Bonnie: Right? I was promised a life of sin and debauchery. Mostly I just know way too much about polyhedral dice.

    (And speaking of rock and roll, every time I see the title of this post I get the first few lines of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” stuck in my head.)

  78. “although you’re not eligible for membership unless you believe in a Supreme Being”

    Is it enough not to deny the existence of a supreme being ?

  79. Archdruid and Mr. Orlov,

    As an Indian I am bemused that people would claim that a corrupt system that totally ignores the will of the people can’t be considered a democracy. India is the biggest democracy is the world, I don’t think anyone could dispute that, it is also massively corrupt and frequently ignores the will of the people. Go to India sometime and ask the common man (aam aadmi) who’s voice counts more – the Ambani’s or theirs, and you’ll get a common answer.

    The United States is a democracy, just one run by incompetent jacka****. So what if the will of the people is disregarded? It’s not like the people are actually able to agree on anything to being with. So clearly some people are getting listed to while a great many others are getting ignored.

    By the way, this is kinda an aside, but the whole Trump – Puerto Rico power-grid scandal irks me to no end. Not because there was corruption, but because we have a system set up to allow massive amounts of corruption without consequence. Seriously, we’ve had thirty or more years of presidential administrations doing corrupt things over two full terms, pocketing more money than I could even dream of, and getting away with it. And this putz gets himself investigated by the feds in the FIRST YEAR?! Corruption I can stand, but how can you be so incompetent as to break a full proof crooked system?



  80. Can a man become a Mason if the Supreme Being he believes in is The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    For what reason(s) do the Masons restrict the thoughts of their members with regard to supreme beings?

  81. Following your recommendation last week, I’ve been digging into Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, and this post obviously ties in quite nicely. One peculiar word choice that has caught my attention is Hoffer’s description of the true believer’s desire to be “anonymous.”

    The abrogation of the self, and thus of self-responsibility, strikes me as the reward for accepting the kind of supervision over every part of one’s life that many organizations and movements demand of their followers.

    So far (I’m about two thirds through the book) if I have a serious criticism, it’s that Hoffer almost paints mass movements in too nice a light. He seems to have a lack of imagination about alternatives. To ease the frustration of living, he so far only seems to offer the choices of near-anonymity within a tight-knit community, total anonymity in a mass movement, and making a name for yourself in some creative endeavor.

    What he seems to be missing for me is the old ideal that “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” This isn’t the fame of a creator, nor is it anonymity and rejection of responsibility. It honestly strikes me as a fourth option to Hoffer’s defective ternary, and precisely as the choice made by Masons such as yourself.

  82. I, openly atheist, also poor (not miserable), was invited to a Scottish Rite lodge once; didn’t join because suspect too much Conservatism for my liking. There are also mixed-gender lodges (one French Rite, I think also others not) in my city; I asked the Grand Master of the French Rite Lodge about homosexuals, and he said they were accepted, but I suspected it was in a quite literal “toleration” sense – why I didn’t try to join (I’m not homosexual, but I don’t think that’s a useful line to draw).

  83. Phil (and JMG if your interested) Re the application of Democracy in British Empire (here in NZ)

    We sometimes cite the creation of separate Maori seats and the granting of Universal Male Maori suffrage back in 1867 (before universal suffrage for Europeans) as a sign of our progressive race relations. In fact of course, the creation of the four Maori seats was about limiting Maori power, since had there been any kind of proportional vote or even first past the post vote based on land ownership, Maori would have command large portions of the colonial legislatures. These days there are seven Maori seats and people still moan about how they represent race based privilege…

  84. Rmmcgrath, of course it chaps your hide. It chaps the hides of the other side just as much to be forced to support something they really do feel, in their heart of hearts, is evil. (They’re not just making that up, you know.) So what do we do as a society? Do we duke it out until one side wins everything? The last election may serve as a useful reminder that if that happens, your side is not guaranteed victory. The way we traditionally do things in a democracy is that we work out a compromise, using the mechanisms of legislation and judicial review, so that everyone’s hide ends up equally chapped. That’s what I’m suggesting here: that we find a compromise we can all live with rather than pursuing an extreme course we can only die for.

    Aron, excellent! You’re dead right, of course. If you want to make change, get involved, and start at the local level.

    Oilman, exactly. Can we have less corruption? Sure, and the best way to do it is to get people to back away from their current extreme stances, so that scoundrels can’t stay in office by pandering to their fears. Can we have a less intrusive government? Yes, ditto. It’s exactly the fantasy of political entitlement — the notion that you can expect to get everything you want out of the system without compromise and without concession — that has made our political system the festering mess that it is, and allows scoundrels to run wild.

    Workdove, you’re a little behind the times. 😉 You had to be a stonemason (not a bricklayer) to become a Mason back before around 1600. After that, “accepted Masons” — we’d say “honorary” today — began to join the lodges; by 1717 they were by far the majority, and these days when you find an actual stonemason in a Masonic lodge it’s purely by chance.

    Dean, of course the collapse of reasoned debate is a major factor in the breakdown of our democratic institutions. Why do you think I’m doing a series of posts on the basic skills of thinking?

    Barefootwisdom, you’re most welcome. Thank you for the reminder! Readers, we have a fifth Wednesday coming up this month. What would you like me to write a post about?

    Phil K., interesting. In most of the lodges I know of here in the US, that kind of behavior would have landed both brothers in serious hot water.

    Titus, it’s all very well to imagine a tyranny that would impose ecological common sense on our species. Have you noticed, though, that all the actual dictatorships in the world have had environmental records even worse than that of democratic societies? The Soviet Union, for example, made a complete hash of their ecology — there’s been a lot of improvement since it fell. The difficulty is quite simple: tyrants are very poor at understanding limits, and expecting them to understand and abide by the limits you think are important, while ignoring other limits, is an act of faith that rarely works out well.

    Phil H., Britain was the place where democratic institutions got invented and beta tested, and so no question, it was a very rough road.

    Przxqgl, no, Al Kader Temple is a Shriner outfit. They’re not the Grand Lodge, and yes, they were probably amazingly drunk. As for your broader claim, er, I was Grand Patriarch of the Grand Encampment of Washington of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in 2001-2002 — ladies, my opposite number was Grand Matriarch Marge Schott, an absolutely lovely person. At that time I knew most of the total Odd Fellow population in Washington State; I never met one of them who was more than middle class, and Republicans mildly outnumbered Democrats. When you say that all the Odd Fellows in your end of the world are rich Republicans, in other words, I’m forced to suspect that either you jumped to conclusions on very little evidence or you were smoking something very, very strong when you met them.

    Isabel, now I’m going to have to find out who Madeline Bassett is!

    Clay, a happy accident. The apartment I found — my landlord is a brother Mason, by the way — happens to be just a few blocks away, which makes visits to the Grand Lodge library highly convenient.

    Myriam, I think you’re on to something very important here. In my experience, in fact, you’re right — those who accept themselves as they are, are much more likely to grant a similar acceptance to others, while those who are intolerant of others are usually not dealing with some part of themselves.

    Jen, I’m delighted to hear that you’re having a good time with the Lions Club! One of the men whose personal example convinced me to become a Mason was also a Lion. I get the disappointment with the lack of esoteric options. For what it’s worth, my thought for many years is that sooner or later women will simply have to create such an organization for themselves, the way men created the Freemasons.

    James, delighted to hear it.

    Justin, no one is ever invited to join the Masons. You don’t get an invite. You have to ask. There’s a bumper sticker you’ll see from time to time: 2B1 ASK1 — “to be one, ask one.” If you’re interested, find your local lodge — most of them have websites these days — and let them know you would like to discuss the possibility of becoming a Mason. Most lodges will be eager to talk to you.

    Angus, good. Those are the kinds of decisions we have the mechanisms of representative democracy to take care of. When people feel that this or that issue is not being handled fairly, they have the right to organize and put pressure on the political system, and if enough people agree with them to give them the clout, they can get at least some of what they want out of the system.

    Isabel, those are the kind of situations that the public accommodation laws were put in place originally to take care of. Agreed, there’s a very wide spectrum of cases, ranging from necessities of life on the one hand to wedding cakes on the other.

    Christopher, nope. You have to affirm it.

    Varun, thank you! That outburst of raw common sense earns tonight’s gold star. Of course a democracy can be corrupt and out of touch; most of them are, to one extent or another. Again, the value of democracy isn’t that it’s perfect, or even that it’s good; it’s that all the other alternatives are even worse.

    Yoyo, nope, and you can think whatever you want about a Supreme Being and still be a Mason. If you decide that there isn’t one, though, you’re expected to quit. Our teachings and traditions include, as a core element, that each brother Mason shall sincerely study and practice whatever religion he happens to follow; if you don’t have a religion (and no, Pastafarianism and other joke pseudoreligions don’t count), a core element of the Craft is out of your reach, and we encourage you to do something else with your time.

  85. James, good. You’re right that Hoffer draws several lines far too narrowly, but one of the values of his book is that it encourages thinking about such issues.

    aNeopuritan, it’s entirely appropriate for you to assess any lodge you might consider joining and make sure its values and yours are in harmony, so well done.

    Tom, fascinating. Many thanks for the data point.

  86. JMG – sure, but the point I actually wanted to make was: a Scottish Rite lodge member (also poor) *invited* a poor, “hard” *atheist* man to his lodge, and different lodges here would also accept women – that is, things have been *far* less restrictive here than usually believed (my invitation was susprising to me, too).

  87. JMG,

    “Pastafarianism and other joke pseudoreligions don’t count”

    OK, now I wonder to ask about Discordianism, which is always a joke but can also be a genuine religion. I know enough about Masonry to know that a book of holy writ has to be open during some/all meetings; could the Principia Discordia count?

    (Also, I can’t find it now, but on the topic of who can and can’t be a Freemason, the best response I’ve ever seen to the question was something along the lines of “If a Taoist can honestly say he believes in a Supreme Being, he can be a Mason. If a Baptist for some reason can’t say that, he can’t be a Mason.”)

  88. Something that always bothered me about the USA version of democracy is this – legislatures spend almost all of their time creating new laws and rarely spend any time going over the old ones and repealing them. This means that freedom is decreasing over time as the law books get ever thicker.

    Also, almost nobody in the USA actually wants or believes in freedom. It’s just a buzzword that has become meaningless. Everyone wants to control everyone else in this country. The two examples that drive me nuts are anti-nudity laws and bicycle helmet laws. Nudity doesn’t harm anyone and choosing to ride a bike without a piece of styrofoam on your head is hardly suicidal. But people feel like they have the right to force their values on everyone else.

    I personally hate smartphones, songs with auto-tuned vocals, the current trend of “fashionable” women to wear ripped jeans, and many other things. But I would never try to outlaw any of it. As JMG said, freedom means the right to be wrong.

  89. I have a hunch that this post and the one about Thoughtstoppers work in tandem to show that we often create unnecessary barriers for ourselves and for others, and if we can overcome them by recognizing them, we can better assert our will, and others can too, for the betterment of the planet and life itself – which includes improving our social interactions (by allowing for mistakes that help us grow and learn) and problem solving (talking things through and finding compromise where it is needed).

  90. With the traditional hostility between Masonry and Catholicism, in some places Masonry has acquired quite strong sectarian Protestant overtones. My great-uncle in Scotland was basically kicked out for marrying a Catholic, to the point where his own brother never talked to him again.

    I suspect this is less about innate features of Masonry though, and more about picking up the local “orange” colour, so to speak.

  91. @JMG,

    >Discwrites, er, which Freemasons are these that support synarchy?

    I thought I had read that on the website of one of the official websites of Italian Freemasonry, but I cannot find it now. And Google only returns links to conspiracy theories – which is not what I am after. So I take that back.

    > As far as I know, I’m the only Freemason in Rhode Island who even knows what the word means.

    [Insert here bad joke about average Americans’ vocabulary.]

    >The P2 lodge was not sanctioned by any valid Grand Lodge, by the way — in Masonic jargon, it was a clandestine lodge, not least because it violated the civil law.

    Yes, it was, but that does not really improve the outsiders’ perception of Freemasonry. It does not take a conspiracy theorist to compare the P2 plan to what former members have advocated, and conclude that the lodge legacy continues. The lodge founder Gelli once quipped that he should have copyrighted the lodge program, since Berlusconi’s party’s program was almost a copy.

    Freemasonry as a whole might have the most noble rules and principles, but it is judged by the actions of its members.

  92. My father was in knights of columbus. Now I get the bigger picture as I knew of lions, rotarians. Thanks.

    Regarding freedom and political systems of course democracy remains an ideal. If abused as recently it can collapse of course back to previous more simple arrangements after a period of caesaerism.

    Many would say that now diversity means too much freedom for minority views. Tolerance of everything can mean permissiveness. Middle aged gays in San Francisco having become relatively conservative and object to nudist behaviour. Hollywood and general sexual misconduct can be seen in light of a sexually permissive culture in films since 60s encouraging amorality in the industry. Our basic laws come from religious codes essentially. Women’s rights started with monogamy restricting male rights. Now women are free to have freer sexual relationships without great stigma. Powerful men still abuse their power.

    Immigrant crime in Europe recently reduces physical freedom to take a walk in the park without being killed, robbed, raped. It is very difficult in such times as these, when one side has gone too far in tolerance of immigrants, criminals, etc. to not insist on gong too far in the other direction. If under Stalin there was no crime people in yeltsin’s time (chaotic decay, crime everywhere) would reminisce about good ole days of dictatorship. What good is freedom to vote once every four years if you can’t walk the streets in safety(and banksters run free). Such questions increased prison population in USA tenfold since 1960s.

    Gilded age was similar to now. Industrialism brought distorted wealth, poverty resulting in a fight for unions, worker rights. Freedom has to be reconquered each generation according to technological change. Internet breaks monopoly of MSM which had become part of TPTB old boys network. Like Martin Luther and printing press we are participating in direct democracy by going online with our opinions. We are new yellow pree, muckrakers, bitcoin perhaps similar revolution against govt. centralization, towards personal freedom.

    I considered an ironic idea like in retrotopia but one citystate was LGBT and straights were discriminated against, a small persecuted minority. So freedom, real freedom in extreme for one group can mean another group has much less freedom. Women in burcas for example in Afghanistan, untouchables in india, poor in america vs. upper ten thousand with all the wealth. As in the yin yang symbol the situation comes to an extreme and the turns the other direction. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. I appreciate your emphasis on mason’s as you are a member and govt. structures/systems but a discussion of general freedom(I guess that could go so far as asking if we have free will, sigh) would be welcome, of course perhaps not Burkean.

  93. Jen, check out your local Grange. Founded 150 years ago with deep Masonic roots, the Grange is committed to equality. Officers are balanced male/female and women are not relegated to an auxiliary position. As with the Masons, no politics enter the room; yes there is a bible as part of the ritual (opened, but never read) but there are also 3 goddesses in the front of the room: Flora, Pomona, and Ceres. I joined last year because I am committed to an agrarian lifestyle and I want to help wake up Grangers and get back to their original roots. We’re going to need local farmers and gardeners to get through the coming mess.

  94. JMG: Your right to swing your fist ends at the point of my chin – UNLESS, in my wish to arrange a test case, I deliberately move my chin into your personal space as soon as I see your fist begin to move, so that when it connects in a Batman-style “KERPOW!”, I can then sue you for Discrimination.

    By the way, this blog is truly great – I wish I had time to read every word by every contributor.

    Your starting essay can’t be faulted just because it’s impossible to say everything in a finite number of words, but you need to mention the enormous obstacle in the way of the freedom you advocate. In a word: Fear. Or in two words: justifiable fear.

    If we ask ourselves, how did we get to this extraordinary situation where one can be prosecuted for not baking a cake, the only answer I can think of is: because people assume that it won’t stop there; that it’s just the first step in a plot to suppress the other side. And, people being what they are, the fear is far from groundless.

    I’m “homophobic” (trad Natural Law swodge) but I can see where the other side’s coming from. I want my freedom and I know it’s not the first step in denying it to others, but what can I say to convince people? In a recent blog I don’t think I convinced even you, JMG.

    People need training in not jumping to conclusions. e.g. I need to be able to point out that the so-called American Civil War was not a civil war but a secessionist war, without people assuming that I incline to the Confederate side. All I would be doing would be stating a fact. It should be acceptable to point out that they were right in calling it the War Between the States. (It’s about the only thing that they did get right. The arguments for secession all fall down because the Confederate Constitution didn’t allow secession from the Confederacy!! West Virginia’s secession-from-the-secession wasn’t obtained by applying for permission from Richmond.)

  95. Justin writes: ” If I got to be King of Canada for a day, I would mandate that all federal, provincial and municipal elections include a ‘none of the above’ option, to avoid the confusion between those too lazy to vote (or cowed into voting by a fine) and those who don’t approve of the options on the ballot.”

    I believe this is already a thing (in Canada, but sadly not in the USA). It’s called “refusing the ballot,” and it was mentioned on one of the podcasts our gracious host did over the spring/summer. From the sounds of things, it works like this: You show up at the polling place, take the ballot, hand it back without making any marks, and they have to tabulate it as a “refused ballot.”

    Perhaps other readers north of the border can say a little more about this?

  96. Steve T,

    If increasing ethnic, cultural and religious conflict belongs to the decline cycle of civilizations it’s temporary in the sense that it’ll end once we’ve fully transitioned into the Dark Age, but not before. ‘Multiculturalism’ is just one of the names our Orwellian societies give that conflict. The same dynamic would happen regardless of the form our governments took.

    Although all human societies need a certain shared basic minimum culture, maybe what Haidt’s observing is what the scale and nature of cultural diversity produced by an expanding then declining civilization does to the core of that civilization on their way down? Integrating newcomers is one thing when your culture still inspires mimesis even among subjects of client states, it’s another thing entirely when you reach the stage we’re now at.


    If the spiritual plane is the ultimate reality, is it also the ultimate cause of the cycle that human civilizations go through?

    Also, when it comes to charity work, how do Freemasons avoid bringing politics or religion into those decisions? For example, I don’t know if it’s different over there, but here the promotion of religion is itself a charitable object. So you can found a charity simply to do that. It’s a daft Victorian hangover as far as I’m concerned.

    It means that in the UK, for example, they’re endlessly trying to shut down “charities” that are raising funds and laundering money to fund international jihadist movements. You’d think they’d just leave that in the capable hands of the British secret services!

    Then other so-called charities are just fronts for radical left open borders agendas and therefore for capitalist mass immigration policies. You get them amongst the ‘migrants rights’ type ones. They’re usually partly state-funded of course. You’ll find the political end of LGBT “charities” funding the legal costs of queer activists who want to sue meanie bakers.

    Or we have a charity called “Turn off the Red Light” (TOTRL) which aims to end prostitution (or something like that…). I know that there’s a massive argument within feminism about that. Some consider it really patriarchal, oppressive etc. Seems like a utopian goal therefore guaranteed to lead to tyranny to me.

    Ireland’s equivalent of the Women’s Institute, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA), support the TOTRL campaign as well as migrant integration “charities” . No doubt they don’t even view that as political, but that’s the rub isn’t it? To most people, their political values are the water they swim in, particularly if they coincide with the currently dominant culture. To them such choices just seem like common sense/helping humanity/making the world a better place etc. This is the WI explaining themselves:

    ““If the Women’s Institute were a political party, we would be the party for common sense,” Marylyn Haines-Evans, the chair of the WI’s public affairs committee, says…
    …As Ann Jones, the chair of WI Wales, puts it, “The Women’s Institute is political with a small ‘p’. You need a strong organisation that is willing to put in the legwork, month after month, year after year. Our work is done quietly but effectively. You don’t always win by shouting from the rooftops.”

    They debated what to do about FGM in the UK, for example. But when discussing whether or not they might respond to it by setting up their own education programme they concluded: “This was precisely what we wanted to avoid: the imposition by white women of their ideas on to their black sisters.” So, without apparently noticing any irony, they ‘quietly’ and successfully lobbied politicians to get it made illegal instead…

    Now the ICA, like the WI, don’t explicitly ban political and religious discussion (because both movements have completely different historical origins to Freemasonry). They openly act as political lobbies, so they may be a bad example. But does the same problem not arise among Freemasons? Isn’t charity too interlinked with politics and religion to separate the two? As far as I can see it always has been.

  97. This post reminds me of the most important thing I learned in college, and has informed my life since. From a friend a couple years my senior, “people are gonna do what they’re gonna do and that’s on them”.

    On an only barely related note, Liz Mednick wrote: “Harriet Fraad usefully points out that the most successful program in history for treating addiction is AA. It is non-hierarchical — doean’t matter who you are in the world, you’re equal at the meetings — non-commercial, non-denominational, and with strict commitments of confidentiality. It’s been kept alive by volunteers for a century and spread like wildfire everywhere. I find that genuinely encouraging.”

    Um, AA is only successful in that the organization continues to exist. Success of attendees, judged by sobriety rates and general “wellness”, is abysmal. Somewhere between 2 and 12% of attendees maintain sobriety after 1 YEAR. And let me tell you it’s a white-knuckle ride you don’t want. It is most definitely not non-hierarchical, they just don’t subscribe to the same hierarchy that is used in the world outside of AA. They are quite open about who in the group has value and who doesn’t. It is non-commercial in the sense there are no dues or profit motive, but there are definitely products to sell. To call it non-denominational is absolutely laughable, though they claim to be somewhat secular. I have never been hit so hard with a Bible than when at Al-Anon meetings, and I went to Catholic school. No, it’s not “Catholic” or “Baptist” or “Jewish”, however, unless you subscribe to the belief that the monotheistic god is what is going to save you from yourself, because you are powerless and have no agency, you “aren’t getting it” and will forever wallow in misery. Good times. Thankfully there are now other and wildly more successful options in terms of sobriety, health, happiness.

  98. When it comes to the private vs public service debate, our society restricts access to public services all the time without raising much of a fuss.

    We charge access to say films or amusement parks at different rates based on age. We limit people’s ability to enter a drinking establishment based on age, which in many areas means they can serve in the armed forces before being able to purchase a legal drink at home.

    No, shirt, no shoes, no service signs are common and seem harmless enough. But many hotels won’t let you stay there without showing a credit card. Class discrimination sure, but you can take your business elsewhere (usually).

  99. @JMG

    “You have to ask. There’s a bumper sticker you’ll see from time to time: 2B1 ASK1 — “to be one, ask one.”

    It might amuse you to hear that the Massachusetts Freemasons are advertising on the radio! I was flipping through radio stations while driving and heard a different-sounding ad. It started out with men voicing various kinds of dissatisfaction and ‘things missing’ in their life, and ended up with a pitch to “Call Mass Freemasonry today…” This was on a big Boston sports station, so I figured a good part of the audience would be men.

    I’ve heard this ad a couple more times over the past week or so. Anyway, I found it very interesting.

  100. @JMG: She appears in the Wooster and Jeeves stories, which I totally recommend if you haven’t read–they’re great! Bassett is the sort of sentimental girl who uses baby talk to adults and “thinks the stars are God’s daisy chain,” and so forth, and the hero is in constant danger of becoming accidentally engaged to her.

    And yes, exactly re: public accommodation.

    My grandfather was in the Knights of Columbus, actually, and I inherited his sword when my grandmother passed away. It’s quite lovely–silver plate and all–and in a cooler universe, this would have been the beginning of some kind of werewolf-fighting anime where I get sparkly transformation sequins. I’m not sure how the bowl of sequined fruit (my other inheritance) would have figured in, but hey.

    @Tippy: I fully endorse that principle. The way I’ve phrased it (usually about atrocious choices in relationships) is that you can warn some people that Person X is a sh*tshow, and they will go ahead and buy season tickets anyhow, and that’s how it goes.

    I would imagine that an atheist would be able to use “the awesome majesty of the universe” or similar as a Supreme Being equivalent for most not-explicitly-religious organizations, but not being a member of same, I can’t say that with any authority.

  101. David Trammel: I tried to e-mail you, and got “the domain ‘green wizard dot info’ couldn’t be found”.

  102. @Dot

    You asked: “If the spiritual plane is the ultimate reality, is it also the ultimate cause of the cycle that human civilizations go through?”

    IMO: Yes.


    Thank you for the comment on AA. I was considering saying something along those lines, but I held my peace because I have no first-hand experience.

  103. E Goldstein, I understand & I appreciate what you’re saying. I agree that, as you say it, the camel’s nose is under the tent. The difference w/the kosher or halal [sic.?] butcher, however, would be that they don’t deal in pork at all. In contrast, the Rx example you raise is interesting b/c they are selling the drug at issue but this employee doesn’t deal in it. Where would it end? If you are seated in a restaurant that is worked by a vegetarian waiter, could that mean (in some hypothetical future) then, that your menu options could be limited b/c your waiter doesn’t deal in certain listed items? I think this is what JMG is getting at, in suggesting the minimal harm in some of these situations.

    I appreciate the perspective from some other commenters also, that the public accommodations concept came from our (US) history when significant portions of the populace were excluded from most diners, inns & taverns b/c of their ancestry. Integrated diners, inns & taverns have been a part of our culture for a while & it is hard to envision that things could be so different. However, I know that things are different in other places & could be, here too, in the future. Maybe we wouldn’t have to throw out the baby w/the bath water.

  104. @Tippy,
    the darkest energy I ever encountered among people was in the rooms of AA, and it took me five years seclusion before I was able to venture out, and I’m still very triggered by dark energy in others. Though I must quibble w/a few things–AA is non monotheistic, I went to meetings w/lots of atheists (the whole “use the doorknob as your higher power”), Buddhists, a lot of Church of Religious Science–but most of my experience was in Los Angeles & Orange Co., Calif–to the extent I went to meetings in KY, they were more Christian, but that’s more an effect of being in the Bible Belt, more than anything, and the more orthodox, fundamentalist AA meetings tend more Judeo-Christian. I never encountered as many crackpot ideas or people (including a lot of New Ager “create your own reality” types) as in AA. I should mention that evangelical fundamentalists are now supporting Celebrate Recovery to explicitly deal w/the so-called “doorknob” problem and have an explicitly Christian 12 step program.
    Personally, I think substance abuse is a totally rational and reasonable response to living in a society as sick as ours, but AA puts all the onus on the individual, which probably explains its popularity in the US, along with the requirement of a belief in a higher power. We better just get good and comfortable w/substance abuse, drug overdoses, and serious alcoholism, because, if the Soviet Union is any indication, we’re just getting started.

  105. I agree entirely with the fundamental principles you’ve outlined, but wonder why the requirement for belief in a higher being. How many good men are being excluded from a club they’d like to be part of, precisely because they are honest with themselves and others (not that there’s any obligation to accept such)?

    I see no evidence of a higher power, only a preferred state of affairs, similar to the ideologies of every ideologue in history – believe as we do, or miss out on being part of the club (which may or may not have costs, both overt and subtle, such as too many men living without purpose, or having their energies directed nefariously).

    There are many of us, and we have no place to go which offers that weight of high morality, strong ethics, the code of respect and silence, and a deep foundation in Western tradition.

    Thanks for the polite discourse – it makes comments on your site worth reading.

  106. Fifth Wednesday hat-in-ring, a discussion of the double binds at play in conventional discourse on sustainability.

  107. @Vesta-
    Your comment makes me ponder what lessons I did and didn’t receive about freedom and democracy growing up. I don’t recall much from the school, but my parents most definitely did communicate to us kids the value of “minding our own business”, which meant doing what we wanted and allowing others to do the same without negative comment. My dad’s frequent response to someone (outside the family) doing something he saw as brainless or ridiculous was to shake his head a bit sadly and say, “Probably doing the best they can with what they’ve got,”, implying that no better could be expected from someone so limited in capacity, so there was no point in confronting them.

    While these habits were effective in teaching us kids not to get all self-righteous with others who weren’t hurting us, I think now that their focus was really on conflict avoidance. I lived in the very, very “nice” midwest, and any conversation in which two people held different opinions was regarded as potentially very ugly and dangerous. My siblings and I never were really taught how to negotiate these sorts of exchanges, just to keep quiet and mostly avoid people with whom we might get into unavoidable discussions of difference. (We kids, therefore, privately negotiated our own internal differences mostly by the “might makes right” principle in lieu of anything more sophisticated, at least until Dad hollered down the stairs, “What’s going on down there?”.) This is obviously a very limited way to engage with the world, and has had all sorts of psychological and relational blowback for me later in life. More germanely to this post, we didn’t really learn the skills for participating in a democracy.

    What is really needed, I think, is explicit teaching and practical experience in _how_ to disagree. How do you respond to one of those people making offensive statements that you nonetheless affirm they have the right to make? How do you state an unpopular opinion and then endure the social results with dignity but without developing a persecution complex? How do you transact a negotiation of different desired outcomes without it becoming a barely veiled power struggle, leaving bruised feelings in its wake?

    In the leadership development program for young people that I am active with, (4-H), in addition to participation in meetings following Robert’s Rules of Order (modified appropriately), we teach skills like how to shake hands upon meeting someone, how to make eye contact (but not too much) when speaking, and how to introduce and thank speakers at a meeting, through explicit modeling and role-playing. I think we need to similarly teach how to handle uncomfortable conversations, as the basis for democratic participation. Unfortunately, I admit I am not yet confident in those skills myself- but I’m working on it! I just wonder about what concrete principles need to be taught to confront the unspoken “be nice at all costs” messages I was marinated in. Suggestions welcome!

    –Heather in CA

  108. It seems to me – an others I’ve read – that the drafters of the US Constitution intended a system that was hard for a single group or ideology to dominate, with the hope that this would force compromise (and prevent tyranny). But what we see happening here (and it happened in Republican Rome too and probably others) is that the group that is out of power is able to prevent those in power from getting anything done, in fear that those in power could actually get credit for getting something accomplished. But the inability to implement any solutions – even obvious ones – is a sure trigger for decline. Republican Rome solved this at first by proscription – killing most of the people on the other side who blocked things, and later by having an emperor.

    This is the conundrum: checks and balances only work the way they are supposed to when all sides are willing to cooperate. Yes, the US is still a democracy – we still have elections and the current group in power can lose and be replaced. Money is a huge problem, but not the only one. I think it’s worth pointing out that the structure of US democracy is old and no new democracies use it. A few of the former communist countries tried it and quickly switched to a proportional election system. Other democracies are not perfect either, but most work better than in the US. I believe that an exceptionalist attitude towards the US constitution prevents needed reforms, like proportional representation, and others I won’t hog space to mention.

  109. I shared this week’s blog with my father who became a mason in his late 60s. He enjoyed it overall and in particular said you touched on some of the exact reasons why he joined. He is a practicing Catholic and had been reluctant to join because of the church’s views on masonry, but he is very glad he became a mason instead of a lets say a KOC. He likes that there is more diversity in the organization. I’m considering joining in a few years when my kids require less of my time.

    I have always found the requirement that members believe in a supreme being interesting. I have noticed that one of the major pitfalls of atheism that some, though of course not all, atheists fall into is not believing in any power greater than their own ego. This produces…I will adhere to the rules of the comments and say jerks.

    As to the main topic of this week’s blog, the way so many on each side of the political spectrum give no quarter to the other side has made discussing these topics very pointless and toxic.

    I have repurposed Churchill’s quote on democracy. I think monogamy is the worst…let’s call it romantic arrangement except for all the others.

    You have touched on this at various points on this blog and on the old one, but I think a good topic for this month’s 5th post would be a rundown of different economic and political affiliations and what they mean both today and in the past. Some terms: socialist, social democrat, libertarian, neoliberal, national socialist, state socialism, state capitalism, guild socialism, democratic syndicalism, etc.

  110. Umm, I was rejected by the Masons–not sure if it was character issues or sketchy employment history. Not even my grandfather being past Grand Master mattered. Not sure about joining another organization, like Odd Fellows…

  111. Regarding service organizations, what are people’s opinions regarding Lions or Kiwanis Club? Which one would be the better one?

  112. Hello there, I am always curious about the parallel histories of black people, since they seem to diverge from “normal” history and historical narratives. Can you say anything about Prince Hall Freemasons, whether they are accepted by Masons, and something about the racial segregation and exclusion of black masons from most white lodges that necessitated this development? We wonder why such attitudes toward black people intrude among the most enlightened of intellectual/spiritual traditions. (see the parallel history of black American Christian denominations). It is not a racist secret society, is it?

  113. JMG
    In a roundabout kind of way h/t to Rowan Williams, a previous Archbishop of Canterbury; I have a question.
    Does the Divine have to be a) a ‘being’, b) ‘supreme’, as required in the Masonic tradition? I sense that the words can mean different things to different users according to their tradition, but ‘the experience’ might have something in common across traditions. Even ‘non-believers’ as we normally think of them could experience the Divine?

    Phil H

  114. Mr. Greer, I would very much like to hear more about democratic syndicalism and perhaps other alternatives to finance capitalism as well. I looked up the definition of ‘synarchy’ and must confess I am no wiser than before.

    In our present state of confusion, everyone wants what they want and they want it for free. Even when this attitude leads to defeat of cherished goals, the losers go right on congratulating themselves for their uncompromising virtue. I am wondering if one reason for intransigence from all sides is that most of us don’t know of alternatives to the present system, and naturally propagandists for the present order hasten to convince us all that there is nothing else possible except theocracy or National Socialism.

  115. @Patricia Mathews: It looks like Co-Masonry is still a going concern. Co-Masonic lodges admit women on an equal basis with male members, rather than as an auxiliary (a handful are women-only), and are considered irregular/clandestine by male Masons.This site is a roundup of links to Co-Masonic groups: I think women are also full members in the Odd Fellows, but I’m not sure. I’d be interested in hearing about whichever organization you end up joining!

  116. It would be my contention that a definition of freedom that allows broad degrees of discrimination in public/commercial affairs (excluding explicit government action) also leads to extensive exploitation and victimization of various minority groups, and eventually to conflict. I suppose I could try to write out a reason for this opinion, after all humans seem to be tribal by nature, but it seems that human history is replete with examples. I will acknowledge that figuring out where to draw the line will never be easy, but governance or large societies is never easy, and rarely done well. But you gotta try. And if you have a functioning polity that can make adjustments, then you improve over time.

  117. If I may, regarding the 5th Wednesday post: I saw some people last week mention interest in a discussion concerning Fairies and Elves. I would be very interested to read your thoughts on the Elementals, and how to have respectful relationships with the plant and elemental realm in general.

  118. @SteveT – I didn’t mean to treat you as a stereotype or straw man and if you feel I did, I apologize. Please don’t do the same to me either. You summarize your argument as:

    “Premise A. Government-controlled settings are forced to expand in a context of cultural diversity…. If Diversity, Then (More) Government Spaces. Premise B: Government-controlled settings limit freedom by imposing particular aesthetic, habitual, cultural and religious experiences onto people in those settings (note: NOT by providing social services). Define the imposition of aesthetic, habitual, cultural and religious experiences as tyranny, and Premise B becomes If Government Spaces, then Tyranny. The Conclusion that logically follows is If Diversity, Then Tyranny.”

    I object to both premises. The public university you mention was a public, hence, “government-controlled” space before they started hiring non-Christians, non-whites, etc. Premise A is irrelevant, and as I do not agree that the expectation that one treat one’s co-workers civilly is “tyranny”, I do not accept premise B either. You may feel that whenever any limitation is placed upon behavior on private property by its owner, it becomes a “government-controlled space”, and further that the limitation is “tyranny.” By these definitions, prohibiting restaurants from posting Whites Only signs is tyranny, but so also is prohibiting them from keeping the potato salad at room temperature, so most of us feel safer and happier with a little bit of tyranny.

    Social services comes into it because you wrote: “A decrease in social trust leads to a decrease in the benefits that are derived from that trust and a consequent demand for the government to fill in the gaps by providing social services, from elder care to education; this in turn leads to an expansion of government-controlled spaces and … government-imposed cultural values.” True, taxpayer-funded schools and hospitals are government-controlled, and they should not discriminate against minorities. Some would regard that as a plus. However, I argue that we need more social services than in the past not because more of us are non-white-Christians, but because we have far more vulnerable people at risk thanks to (a) geographic mobility, (b) smaller family sizes, (c) a medical industry that keeps alive the seriously ill, disabled or demented, (d) escalating expectations for what constitutes minimum care, etc. You treat non-diverse democracy as naturally in opposition to the “tyranny” of government spaces, but if you ask the public whether they want public schools, a county nursing home, a health care safety net, etc., large majorities say yes.

  119. Madeline Basset is a P.G. Wodehouse character who posits that “stars are God’s daisy chain”, has a fondness for little bunnies, writes Victorian-style mournful sentimental poetry, and is often described as “soppy” by the luckless men who are seduced by her pure and classic profile into offering her their hands in marriage. A sort of shoggoth-kraken in the form of lovely woman. Many plots involve Jeeves’s successful schemes to aid Bertie Wooster in evading her soft yet powerfully gripping tentacles.

  120. @E Goldstein – Non-discrimination laws don’t tell businesses what to sell; you can no more demand to get a sausage at the Jewish deli than you can demand halvah at McDonald’s. No business sells everything. That’s quite different from saying that we sell sausage, all right, but I don’t like your costume/color so you’re not getting any. And that in turn is quite different from “Yes, we sell drugs that you can’t obtain from any other business in fifty miles, but I don’t think you should be allowed to take that drug so it’s just tough luck for you.” When a business has a legal monopoly on a product or service that some people really need for basic well-being or perhaps even life, I do think there is a social interest in making sure employees don’t deny those things to a subset of customers based on personal belief.

  121. “Pastafarianism and other joke pseudoreligions don’t count”. Hmmmm…

    Several weeks ago I went to visit MASS MoCA, an attempt to resurrect the dying mill town of North Adams, MA, by injecting a massive amount of public subsidy for the display of contemporary art in a vast unused mill complex. One of the art works on display there is a whole series of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings. These drawings were originally created on other walls by LeWitt and studio assistants, and were recreated in MoCA according to his original instructions and sketches (after his death). The tremendous number of signs instructing us not to touch the walls reinforced the question in my mind: what is the work of art? Is it the intention to create, or is it the physical object?

    Which brings me back to your comment about Pastafarianism: is a religion in the intention of the creators, or is it in the rituals and actions of the followers? It’s pretty clear that Jesus of Nazareth did not intend to create a religion, rather he wished to instruct his fellow believers how to be better Jews. At some point the actions of Paul created a new religion out of the teachings of Jesus. Pastafarianism was started as an ironic joke, but what was the intentions of the founders of Rastafarianism, with its ritual of smoking weed and worshiping Haile Selasie as Messiah? Many people regarded it as a joke or a form of criminal gang, but it’s outlived the joke. All of this is to say that I’ll meet you at the Charing-T Tower for further ruminations.

  122. Regarding the question of whether the US is a “real” democracy: of course it is. Democracy doesn’t mean that political power is exercised free of corruption or incompetence. It means that more people get a say in what kind of corruption and incompetence they prefer.

    For the fifth Wednesday post, since you’re soliciting suggestions, I’d vote for either the food/diet post you’ve mentioned several times in the past (most recently in last week’s discussion) or the sex and gender post that came up a couple weeks ago.

  123. It can be difficult for religious people to resist the totalitarian impulse, particularly if one believes certain beliefs and behaviors will lead someone to an eternity in Hell. One cannot just “live and let live,” when the eternal fate of others is concerned. Indeed, how cruel would it be to stand by and do nothing while others plunge into the burning pit?

    Liberals are, I think, less likely to believe in Hell. Their focus is more on building utopia here on Earth. Those who resist the revolution must be forced to change, for their own good and the good of society.

    I think your Burkean conservative approach to gay marriage is a reasonable approach. A number of religious conservatives would have been willing to live and let live (perhaps contra my first paragraph), but they feared the slippery slope. If they surrendered on this, how much else would they have to give up before the other side decided it was enough?

    One last thought for now. A culture that is able to have religious displays in the public park, religious parades on public streets, and religious statues in the square seems like a culture that is more likely to endure. How to fairly treat those who don’t want to participate is a challenge for any society, and not all societies have handled it well.

  124. The Spanish Civil War was, of course, fought partly to eliminate Freemasonry in Spain (along with Bolshevism, Liberalism, Atheism and …….Free-Thinking!).

    My cousin’s grandfather – a working man who liked to read a bit – was murdered for possession of a copy of Voltaire.

    The Basques from our part of Spain, led by their village priests, had as an additional war-aim not widely-known: the re-imposition of the Inquisition, and truly regarded their war as a Crusade.

    There are some notorious photos of priests raising their arms in the Fascist salute – great look with little (‘evilly-evil’?) sun-glasses.

    So, if we are judging people by their enemies……

  125. A day late to post, but here goes anyway. On the issue of the baker that finds baking a wedding cake for homosexuals to be avoided due to his personal religious beliefs:

    I agree that this is fine. In certain circumstances. If the business is formed as a private proprietorship, the owners should have every right to set the standards that they wish to set. However, if the business is given certain special rights by the government, such as limited liability and/or incorporation, then certainly the government should have the right to set standards it contends are best for the public good. The owners are free to determine what kind of business they wish to establish.

    In the same vein, the government must also have the right to set boundaries on relationships with employees that businesses may have. As a citizen, I should not give up my rights to association, free speech and privacy just because I work for a corporation. I should be free to express whatever I wish on my time regardless of whether it is in the best interest of the corporation without fear of repercussion. However, the same rights need not exist in a private proprietorship.

    @Mr. Greer, I’ve read your blogs for many, many years. And own a few of your books. For whatever reason, I really enjoyed this post. With the unceasing divisive rhetoric that we are subject to these days, this post points to a direction of a grudging tolerance for each other and an occasional compromise in everyone’s best interest. Just what the country so desperately needs.

  126. JMG, I just want to be clear what you’re arguing here. I can understand a specialty business like the infamous bakery refusing service, even if I disagree with that decision. But what about a more generic business? If, for example, a lunch counter refused to serve black people, would you support that?

  127. Hi JMG,

    It’s interesting to me when you talk about Freemasonry, and thanks for doing so since it is as you say a private club. I’ve often been curious as to what it is all supposed to be about, on its own terms, beyond everything heaped on it from non-members. I read incidentally, in Paul Preston’s “The Spanish Holocaust” that the old Masonic/Bolshevic/Jewish thing was also a big driver in the ideology of General Franco’s co-conspirators and church supporters in the 1930s.

    I grew up near Glasgow and come from a big tribe of Irish Catholic extraction so when I was young it was sometimes a bit hard to square (no pun intended) the information on the craft’s rich history and significance that I got reading Robert Anton Wilson (and listening to my dad talk about people he admired being Masons such as Robert Burns, Mozart etc) with the grumbling from others I knew. I don’t have a great deal of information to go on but the links between perhaps too many Scottish freemasons and the explicitly sectarian orange orders have had an effect on it’s reputation here. I did read a blog by someone from the Edinburgh grand lodge acknowledging this and saying it is regrettable.

    As always though you have a way of making me interested in things that no-one in my family or circle of acquiantances would remotely understand or sympathise with…I am soon to move to a little village south of Glasgow and it has a Masonic lodge. I keep wondering might I end up poking my head in one day…

    Finally, apologies if this is too direct a question, or if you’ve been asked previously, but does your polytheism go over ok on the Supreme Being question?

  128. JMG, thank you for the correction – I will have to think about the Supreme Being issue, however – I struggle with honestly believing in the idea of God (meaning a supreme being) being more than just an abstract, but very important idea, like ‘zero’. Of course, God is just as real as zero is, but is that real enough? Is there a higher level of realness that I’m cut off from due to my lack of faith?

  129. OT: have finally ordered Volume 1 of the Archdruid Reports collection. Encyclopedia of Natural Magic came in today’s mail and is just the reference work I need to have as a practicing witch. Everything together in one place without the high ceremonial parts I don’t bother with any more. Thanks.

  130. Really, the only way to break corporate tyranny is through a good, old fashioned Depression w/tons of bankrupt corporations littering the landscape.

  131. Shane W, I have no experience with Kiwanis but really like the Lions Club, of which I am a member. Lions is the biggest international service organization, which may be a point for or against depending on your preferences. You might also check on the clubs’ areas of focus; Lions is known for our work on sight preservation/restoration but we also increasingly do a lot of other stuff that I find interesting and relevant, such as environmental stuff and emergency management/disaster relief. I don’t know what the Kiwanis or Rotary focus on but maybe it would be something that really rings your bell.

    Regarding your other comment, you said, “Personally, I think substance abuse is a totally rational and reasonable response to living in a society as sick as ours,” a view that I have heard expressed fairly (and increasingly) often, and which I yet find hard to fathom. I was discussing this recently with others, I have noticed more and more while backpacking/hiking that as soon as my fellow campers reach civilization, the first thing they do is seek out alcohol or weed (I think those dependent on harder things are not so much the backpacking types, or are more secretive about it). They are surrounded by beauty and a feast for all the senses and they seem frantic to get away from it (not just to casually have a beer). I agree with you that our society is in many ways destructive and alienating, and yet I find living to be a wonder and a delight even when things are objectively not so good, even when they are devastating. I am sure you are now thinking, “Well, bully for you, smug person on the internet,” but I am not trying to brag about my relative mental health or positive affect (which I am not sure I possesss), and I do not think it is simply a matter of privilege or circumstance (we can discuss that if you like), but I am truly wondering if this is just a personality difference, or some protective influence in my habits or outlook, or what is going on to make so many people feel this way. The devastation and decline I do see only make me want to live and engage more fully; I cannot think of anything sadder or less useful than disengaging from what is left to us of the natural world and the experience of being human. I am hoping you can help me understand, if you are willing and do not find the question too intrusive.

  132. Sue Mack,

    The Grange does indeed intrigue me! I am a cattle rancher by profession and a gardener by inclination. We don’t have a local chapter, but I have toyed with the idea of trying to establish one. My future for the next couple years is a bit up in the air, but after that I may well try to get one going. Do let us know how you enjoy your membership, if you will!

  133. I was thinking about the whole “prevention of failure” idea of tyranny, and how that lines up w/our current faux red/blue divide, particularly when the topic of secession comes up. The logic is that both sides “save each other from themselves”–that, say, Calif. needs the counterweight of red America to keep it from going leftist, socialist overboard and bankrupting itself, and that, say, Miss., needs the counterweight of blue America to keep it from imposing a fundamentalist theocracy and eliminating all the social safety net. But I think that the “right to fail” is important, let Calif. secede and impose its harebrained socialist utopia, and suffer the consequences for it, and be answerable to its electorate for the failure of those policies. Let red America impose its Randian, theocratic utopia, suffer the consequences, and then be answerable to its electorate for the failure of those policies. Let people make their choices and be held accountable accordingly

  134. JMG:

    I’d be interested in the Mason’s take on the “supreme being” issue, since I wonder if the Tao, as described by the Michael Teaching, would qualify. I can see “supreme” in some not entirely inappropriate use of the word, but “being” might be a stretch.

  135. JMG, I am pleased to hear that a fellow Lion was an inspiration to you in joining the Masons! And I tend to agree with you about women creating their own organization–I don’t even come close to having the chops for something like that at the moment, but I will let the idea percolate.

    Regarding fifth Wednesday, I vote for the “niceness” (vs. goodness or other substantial virtues) essay.

  136. Re: baking cakes for gay weddings

    Some people have suggested that cake decorating is artistic expression protected by the first amendment. I’m not convinced. It’s about as artistic as sign painting. There is skill involved, yes, but art? “Congratulations on your retirement” writen in frosting on a sheet cake is not artistic, and neither is “Happy nuptuals Adam and Steve”. You may as well say the local printer is a performance artist for printing theatre tickets for the community theatre group. I’m still mulling over the larger issue but I’m unconvinced that artistic expression is involved – at least in most cases.

  137. @Jen: FWIW, my experience with weed is that it tends to heighten my perception of my surroundings and/or stretch out time, letting me slow down and really appreciate what’s going on around me without a million and two incidental thoughts or worries getting in the way. (I’ve got anxiety disorder, so I’m not sure what it’d do to a normal brain.) I’ve heard similar about LSD, but never tried it.

    Alcohol doesn’t do that with my surroundings, but makes my company a lot funnier, and/or gives me the courage to flirt with guys I’d otherwise fail to approach, so I use it in other contexts.

    I don’t do either regularly, though–neither my wallet nor my figure will allow it–so can’t speak to the experience of those who’re dependent.

  138. I’m not going to try and insert myself into the discussion between you and Dmitry (a risky move indeed!) but I would like to ask some questions of my own to try to provide some clarity. I honestly don’t understand why you’re arguing about what seems like something you would agree on. Instead it seems to me you’re talking past each other.

    I don’t agree with Dmitry but I think you are providing an oversimplified response to him (I admit that’s probably an unfair charge against you as this question likely merits a whole essay of it’s own!). Here’s why I think that:

    You use the case of gay marriage, which I believe if put to a direct vote of the American population would remain legalized. But let’s take some other, less visible actions of our federal government. What about the overthrow of democratically elected Latin American (and other) leaders by our government agencies? What about the sales of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Third World dictators? What about providing millions of dollars in aid to Pakistan? I think the results of any direct vote would be no, no, and no. I think most Americans would say, “Wait, we’re giving money to Pakistan?”

    The fact that these are not even up for a vote is what Dmitry would use as fuel for his argument. He would probably say, ‘wise up, these will NEVER be voted on.’ In response, you would probably say ‘these COULD be voted on if we Americans pulled our act together.’ That’s my guess. (At this point I can almost hear you saying the fact that most Americans are entirely ignorant of these actions indicates just how far our democratic institutions have crumbled…) I believe it’s in what you and him expect the response would be (if one of our elected officials tried to change these actions) is where you and Dimitry differ.

    I admit it’s hard to say without the benefit of hindsight what these actions really indicate is going on. Do you consider these to be actions of merely rogue elements of an otherwise more or less functioning democracy? Because it sounds to me that’s what you’re arguing. Whereas it sounds to me Dimitry is arguing that these actions indicate our federal government has crossed a line into a realm other than democracy.

    Let’s take an even more concrete example. Say Donald Trump were to suddenly declare all troops were to be brought back from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria within a month’s time. An action totally consistent with his campaign promises. Do you honestly believe he wouldn’t be removed in short order by those in the so-called deep state? (Maybe you do, I don’t know, but I doubt you do.)

    Based on your responses to Dmitry, it sounds like you would call that dysfunctional democracy. Am I understanding your point of view correctly? But, from an honest evaluation in another point of view, couldn’t the US also arguably be called a military oligarchy?

    I think the answer is that on social issues we are closer to the democracy side, but on military issues I think you have be ignoring a lot of recent history to say we are not closer to the oligarchy side.

    Where does that place us?

  139. aNeopuritan, where was this? In the US, you can’t become a member of the Scottish Rite until you’ve already received the three Craft degrees in an ordinary blue lodge, and I know of no US jurisdiction where atheists are eligible for blue lodge membership.

    James, they’d probably just ask you if you believe in a Supreme Being and leave it at that. If you went on to volunteer that you were a Discordian, and explained what that meant, that would probably be a different matter!

    Thor, no argument on either points. I’ve long believed that laws should have an automatic pull date — if they’re not repealed every ten years, say, they sunset out.

    RMK, excellent. You’re paying attention.

    Strda221, bingo. In Ireland, Scotland, and some parts of Canada, the Craft has gotten deeply enmeshed in Protestant-Catholic hostilities. That used to be the case here too — the Scottish Rite in particular was a hotbed of anti-Catholic sentiment in the first few decades of the 20th century, when the Catholic Church had roughly the same status here that Islam has today.

    Matthew, thanks for the link.

    Discwrites, of course Masonry is judged by its members — and the members are, of course, human and therefore a very mixed bag. I’d be happier, though, if it were judged by the actual behavior of its members, and not by an assortment of colorful fantasies about what its members are supposedly doing, but are too clever to leave any evidence behind!

    Gandalfwhite, er, were you asking a question, or making a comment, and if so, what was it?

    Robert, of course. The thing to keep in mind is that both sides have equally justifiable fears, and so it’s going to be necessary to balance those against each other — a tricky task, but one that has been done constructively in the past.

    Dot, excellent! Yes, exactly — if all things unfold according to patterns on the spiritual plane, the decline and fall of a civilization is no exception. As for how Masons keep politics out of their charities, we’ve had lots of practice, and our laws are also stricter than yours — any organization that exists to influence legislation, or support or oppose candidates for office, doesn’t count as a charity, and sectarian organizations that exist solely to promote this or that religion also don’t count. (All these can be nonprofits, but not charities.) The charities that Masons support include free clinics where children who have suffered burns can get treatment, language learning centers where children with speech and reading problems whose parents can’t afford therapy can get it on our nickel, and the Scottish Rite almoner’s fund, which goes around paying off debts and providing unaffordable necessities in secret — it’s a strict rule that nobody who benefits must ever know that the funds came from the Masons. (Jesus said something about that; critics of Masonry who like to wave the Bible at us might ponder this.)

    Tippy, your friend was a very wise person.

    Jo, a valid point. Where’s the Shirtless Liberation Front when you need them?

    Sgage, I’d heard about that. I suppose it’s probably inevitable, but I’m sufficiently old-fashioned that I don’t like it.

    Isabel, many thanks! I recently enjoyed a parody, Scream for Jeeves by Peter H. Cannon, which puts Bertie and Jeeves into a series of H.P. Lovecraft stories; I may well check out some of the actual Wodehouse tales as time permits, As for the sword and the sequined fruit, did you try touching the blade to each of the pieces of fruit, and see what leapt into manifestation? That’s how I’d expect the story to go… 😉

    Karalan, if men who don’t believe in a Supreme Being would like to start an organization to do the same kinds of things Masons do, they’re very welcome to do so; we would encourage this, in fact. Our requirements, however, are what they are. As I noted in the post, yes, we’re well aware that various people disagree with our requirements for membership, but those are among the landmarks of the Craft, and as we say, no man nor any body of men has the power to make innovations in the landmarks of the Craft.

    Redoak, so noted!

    Danae, I certainly wouldn’t want one!

    Dean, I won’t argue at all. We’ve basically got Representative Democracy 1.0, with twenty-odd patches but no upgrade, and some serious problems won’t be fixed until we go to a release that’s had a little more beta testing…

    Greg, delighted to hear it. Your fifth Wednesday suggestion is in the hopper!

    Shane, Masonry in the South tends to be a lot more socially conservative than it is elsewhere, so you may have fallen afoul of that.

    Y. Chireau, of course! Back when pretty much everything in the US was segregated, there were two parallel Masonic systems here. The AF&AM (Ancient Free and Accepted Masons) lodges admitted white and Native American men — there have been Native American Masons in the regular lodges since long before the Revolution — and date from colonial times. The PHA (Prince Hall affiliation), named after its founder, admitted African-American men and was founded in 1775 — it’s been a massive presence in African-American society since then. Relations between the two sides varied between relative amity and bitter opposition. Starting some decades ago, two changes began to happen: first, the AF&AM lodges opened their doors to men of all races; second, the AF&AM and PHA grand lodges in most states began working through the necessary formulae by which members of one could visit lodges of the other and be received as brothers. There are still some AF&AM jurisdictions in the deep South that refuse to recognize PHA Masons as brothers, but I’m glad to say that every lodge I’ve ever belonged to has been in a jurisdiction that has full recognition between AF&AM and PHA Masons, and I’ve known quite a few PHA Masons (as well as quite a few AF&AM Masons who happen to be African-American) who I’m proud to call my brothers. (President Elijah Meeker of the Lakeland Republic in my novel Retrotopia was based in part on several of them.)

    Phil H., good questions. The Masons don’t care. If you believe in a Supreme Being, you’re potentially eligible for membership; if you don’t, you’re not, full stop, end of sentence.

    Nastarana, interesting. Yes, I’ll consider that!

    Dean, and that’s what functioning democracies usually move toward, precisely because it minimizes problems. No, it’s not a quick or an easy process.

  140. Violet, so noted!

    Gkb, many thanks. Funny.

    Peter, the Masons don’t pass judgment on that. All we do is ask a man who seeks to join whether he honestly believes in a Supreme Being, and if the answer is yes, we’re good. A certain tolerance for Judeo-Christian language is useful, though, since that’s the cultural background of the tradition and the word “God” sees a fair amount of use.

    Steve, hah! Thank you. Your description of democracy may just be the best I’ve seen yet. As for the fifth Wednesday, thank you — those are in the hopper.

    Christopher, I think it depends on the religion. Notions of eternal damnation are pretty much unique to the Abrahamic faiths. Other than that, though, I think your argument stands.

    Xabier, yes, and that’s also a point… 🙁

    Jon, thank you. Exactly; it’s not a matter for hard and fast rules, it’s a matter for discussion, intelligent debate, and compromise, so that society can move toward a balance between individual liberty and fairness.

    Leo, nice try. If you’ll refer back to the post of mine I cited, you’ll find that I covered that in adequate detail there.

    Morfran, no question, the Craft routinely got caught up in the sectarian warfare between Protestants and Catholics, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Orange Order had deliberately infiltrated the Craft, the way the Ku Klux Klan tried to do here in the 1920s. (It was a long messy struggle, but they lost.) As for my polytheism, I believe — as do most polytheists — that one among the deities has a preeminent place, and counts as a supreme being by any reasonable standard; my brethren know that I’m a Druid, and I’ve never been hassled about it.

    Justin, don’t worry about “faith,” whatever that much-bedeviled word means this week. Remember that as human beings, we experience the cosmos in our own image — how else could we do so? — and experiencing, and interacting with, the highest reality as a person is no more absurd than doing so with it as a (wholly human) abstract concept.

    Patricia, delighted to hear it. I know a lot of other people who’ve found that book useful.

    Shane, are you volunteering to be the first to be laid off and live in a tent city somewhere?

  141. JMG,
    if it’s what needs to happen for the good of the country and future generations–certainly, it would be less of a sacrifice than volunteering to serve in the military during war.

  142. John, again, it boils down to a very simple issue. If you were asked, “Do you believe in a Supreme Being,” how would you answer?

    Jen, Bro. Frank McCartney was a very impressive man, and I learned a lot from him. If there were enough spare hours in a day, I’d probably have joined the Lions as well. Your suggestion is in the basket!

    Christopher, I don’t see it as an artistic-expression issue either, for whatever that’s worth.

    Blue Sun, don’t assume that the word “democracy” necessarily means “direct democracy” — the kind of system in which the people vote directly on questions. Ours is a constitutional representative democracy, in which the people elect officials, who then make decisions in accordance with a written constitution. That’s a kind of democracy, and it’s the kind that we have, so saying that we’re not a democracy because we’re not a direct democracy misses the point. As long as legal authority remains with an elected government (rather than, say, a single established party), you have a democracy. You may have a profoundly dysfunctional democracy — but just as a monarchy remains a monarchy as long as there’s a king, no matter what kind of king he is, a democracy remains a democracy as long as the form remains intact.

  143. @Jen,
    oh, no, I’m not a substance abuser–2-3 drinks, 5 max (and that’s over a LOONG period of time) a sitting does it for me, and I’m all about the quality of the product, and today’s weed is just too strong for me. I’m like you, I prefer to experience things eyes wide open, but nature is a bit of an escape for me–it’s comforting to think that the nature spirits and gods, etc. could care less about us and our society. But I do have empathy for those who choose the substance abuse route, it’s hard work living sanely in an insane society, and I can understand why most people wouldn’t want to do the hard work, and check out w/substances instead. If the Soviet Union is any indication, this will kick into overdrive once America is shattered and people can’t believe in America anymore.

  144. Isabel Kunkle,

    Thanks for your response! That makes a great deal of sense re: anxiety disorder and social lubrication, and I am no Puritan myself; I suppose what disturbs me is more the sense I get that an increasing number of people cannot function at all without these substances, not only in terms of dependence on the substances themselves, but as if they need to drown something else out–the world, perhaps, or the insides of their own heads, or something that I am not grasping. Shane’s statement that such a response is entirely reasonable in such a sick society is something I hear rather often, and I had been wont to dismiss it as flimsy justification for bad habits or a glib response to social ills, but I am increasingly coming to believe that people are serious when they say this, which confounds me. It seems to me that people who hate the inhumane, alienating, immiserating, unreal aspects of modern industrial society ought to reject habits of heavy substance abuse which all my experience indicates only intensify that alienation and misery, a sort of self-amputation of one’s intellectual/emotional/physical capacities resulting in a kind of sub-human half life when taken to the extreme. I am sure this all sounds excessively heavy and moralistic. I guess it gives me a feeling as if someone were to say, “Oh, modern life is so awful that it’s perfectly reasonable to get a pair of those nifty virtual reality goggles welded to your face.” No!

  145. Fifth-Wednesday topic suggestion: a younger co-worker and I were recently discussing Elon Musk’s rocket fantasies, and as I kept pointing out how this notion or that was subject to diminishing returns, he asked: “Is EVERYTHING subject to diminishing returns?” I boggled briefly, and replied “Gee, I don’t know, but I think so.” What about it, is there ANYTHING that the law of diminishing returns does not apply to?

    All the best!

  146. Dewey–

    Dewey– So you concede that traditional Christian American culture is being suppressed, but you see it as “treating coworkers’ civilly” rather than “tyranny.” It’s hard for me to imagine a version of “civility” that includes the prohibition of Jesus, Santa, candy canes, Christmas trees, mistletoe and eggnog. Either way, you aren’t rejecting Premise B, you’re demonstrating it.

    If you got a job in Beijing, would you demand that your coworkers suppress any sign of traditional Chinese culture on the Lunar New Year, and instead serve hamburgers to make you feel more welcome? If you did that, would you describe that as “treating your coworkers civilly”? This is a serious question. Or do you believe that American culture is uniquely evil, so that while you would not be harmed by seeing a dragon on Chinese New Year in Beijing, a Moroccan is harmed by seeing eggnog on Christmas Eve? If so, why?

    “The public university you mention was a public, hence, “government-controlled” space before they started hiring non-Christians, non-whites, etc.”

    Yes. And it is only after the university expanded its hiring of “diverse” employees and admission of “diverse” students that it then began to forcibly limit the celebration of its pre-diversity faculty and student body’s cultural customs. You admit this in your very next sentence.

    You’re right though that there are other reasons for the expansion in government-controlled spaces than diversity, though diversity is almost certainly a factor. But 1. These spaces always had the capacity to carry out what I call tyranny (suppression of traditional culture) and you call “civility”; 2. It’s only after the forced introduction of “diversity” (championed and carried out by ideological fellow-travelers in other departments of the government) that the administrators of these spaces began to actualize the cultural tyranny that was always there in potential form.

    If there is a saving grace here it is that America has always been “diverse,” and has regularly dealt with attempts to force the cultural values of one minority (in this case, upper middle class liberals who believe in Multiculturalism) onto the rest of the nation. The solution in my view is a massive devolution of power to the states. My hope is that we can get there peacefully and with the union intact. Talking to people on your side of the fence though, I realize just how alien our values are to one another, and that goal seems much harder to achieve.

  147. Greetings, John Michael. You seem to have sparked a very fruitful discussion by way of dusting off a basic concept and suggesting we take a take a good look at it. Practitioners of discursive meditation, take note! I certainly did.

    I’d like to second Violet’s motion for a post on nature spirits. You did cover the fey in “Monsters”, but you were maintaining a certain perspective in that book which, it seems to me, precluded your own modern druidical insights to some extent.

    My relationship with the gods is much like that of a feral cat with humans. I recognize their power, some of them seem cool, but damned if I’m getting within grabbing distance. So, as I walk the paths of a druid, I’ve formed closer relationships with genius loci (locii?), tree spirits, and, on one memorable occasion, a storm elemental. I’m not without guidance in these matters, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  148. Each group of a larger organization is it’s own thing. I grew up going to the meetings because of family, and really cherish that part of my back history. A group of people drinking coffee around a table and sharing old deep felt stories is, to this day, about the most comfortable environment I can picture. That being said, as an adult I have tagged along with a few friends who have tried meetings in other towns, in most cases I did not find those groups comfortable. I still drink casually myself, and ain’t interested in the service they offer, not being an alcoholic; but I feel deep gratitude to the old traditions, because I don’t like the thought of what my life would have been otherwise.

    Similarly I was involved with the Odd Fellows for about a year until life and distance pulled me away from the lodge. It was a good time, inclusive of any adult they could get to show up, we ate well and fixed bikes for kids mostly. That being said I visited a lodge in another town that catered to a slightly more well to do class, and had the dues to keep it that way, they drank like Elks.

    Today I am interested in the Grange and the Masons in my area, but both are frankly too many miles away to ride bike at night. I dream regularly of starting a group of the like with some of the folks who live in my corner of the county. Weekly pot lucks if nothing more structured. A sad thing is that there is a closed down Grange hall a crow’s mile from my house; its been leased to the school district for storage for many years.

  149. @Tippy, Shane W re:AA
    I was very active in AA for a few years and credit it with helping me to turn my life around, so I just need to throw in my two cents as someone with a more positive view of AA. I encountered some dark energy and crackpot ideas there, but I also encountered a lot of well-meaning people with life experiences that I could relate to who helped me break my old pattern of destructive drinking. After a few years, I slowly drifted away from meetings when I found that I no longer “believed” in the Steps as the one-and-only-way to maintain my sobriety. As a non-hierarchical organization, both the bad and the good find places to flourish in AA and I count myself lucky that I found a group of women who formed a safe community of mutual support within the larger organization.

  150. @JMG

    My fifth Wednesday vote goes for a monthly news summary as you alluded to early on with this site, or better yet an analysis of a controversial or high profile event, sifting out the facts. Though it may be redundant with your next post or two on “thinking”…..


    I share your experience with learning in school the basics of respecting others, democracy and “freedom”.

    Let me guess – you limit your watching of TV, movies, social media, etc., like our host?

    If trying to understand the more self-centered entitlement mentality and intolerance of people today, it’s my view that today we grossly underestimate the impact of “programming”, propaganda and subliminal content in media today. I took a Intro to Mass Media class in junior college back in 1981, and learned the various methods used to manipulate (and mostly sell stuff) thoughts. One night I got into an argument with my dad, who was an executive for a local TV station, as I pointed out all the methods used in commercials one night while we were watching football. He got upset. Nobody likes a kid that’s a wise guy.

    I believe the methods used back then were tame compared to today, in which instilling fear, misdirection, subservience, etc., is much stronger now. The snippets that tug on your heartstrings for wounded warriors, disabled children, and abused animals probably leave us more vulnerable to the pharma ads that follow (or maybe I’m just cynical).

    It’s no wonder that people “checking out” of the mass communication/anti-electronics retreats report such amazing results, often feeling much lower levels of anxiety.

  151. JMG, In your essay you write: ““democracy” is not a synonym for “utopia.” It’s a label for a set of flawed but more or less functional human social customs that are widespread in the English-speaking countries and some other parts of the world’s human community, and less common elsewhere.”
    Having lived the major part of my life in a Western democracy, i.e. Switzerland, I have experienced the positive characteristics of democracy that you outline in your essay.
    But there is something very disconcerting in that the Western democracies have at the same time unleashed the great world crises of our time, the ecological, migration and population crises.

  152. Hi John – thanks for another eye-opener. Could you briefly explain how the Supreme Being is viewed by Freemasons. Is there a consensus definition, do individual members have their own definition, or do you, like the Hermetics (who, I understand, refer to the Supreme Being as The All) believe that the Supreme Being cannot possibly be known, and that any attempt at a description is therefore futile. Many thanks, also for the other posts and the discussions that follow.

  153. +1 vote for an exploratory post on ‘democratic syndicalism’ as an alternative to our current winner takes all crony neoliberal economic system.

    I recently came across the idea of worker cooperatives (am I conflating these concepts?) whilst reading E F Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, it caught my eye and imagination. What puzzles me is why it hasn’t caught on, given what appears to be a growing collective dislike of rising wealth inequality. Such a social structure could have a role to play in evening the scores. If I had to go with my gut, it seems to me, as a system, it has much in common with our democratic governance and as such, the issues raised above, i.e. constant squabbling and bickering over the same old left/right, tyranny/liberty power struggles, does what seems a very modern failure of individuals to reach compromise make this economic structure an impossibility? Could it even compete with the current economic system that cares not for externalising negative costs and driving down wages and other forms of tyranny and exploitation? Are we doomed because humans seem incapable of self-discipline and forward thinking?

    It’s no surprise it hasn’t taken off, it’s understandable why the wealthy industrialists would do all in their power to oppose such a system of social organisation. As an idealist socialist-libertarian, it seems to me the perfect system, one centred mutual benefit and interest, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I.

  154. I hope I don’t repeat anything already raised above as I haven’t put in the time to read through the comments. I think that the flawed thinking about democracy stems at least in part from the fact that the notion of being an active participant in democracy has been so diminished. It may be a byproduct of the levels of complexity of governance in late state industrial civilization, in which there is so much noise and so much content to absorb that it is nearly impossible to have thoughtful comments on this or that subject. It may be a byproduct of the pace and strain of modern life not giving people the opportunity to engage in democratic processes on a regular basis. It may be any number of things. When democracy is reduced to showing up every so often to cast a ballot for a name that means little or nothing to you to represent your interests, it stands to reason that the system is alienating.

    On a separate stream, back on ADR you published a delightful article entitled (if memory serves) “How Not to Write Like an Archdruid”. In that article you recommended Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”, which I promptly picked up and enjoyed thoroughly. I was wondering whether your essay will be included in one of the ADR anthologies, or whether you would be willing to republish it here. I ask having failed to save a copy for myself.

  155. James said:

    “So far (I’m about two thirds through the book) if I have a serious criticism, it’s that Hoffer almost paints mass movements in too nice a light. He seems to have a lack of imagination about alternatives. To ease the frustration of living, he so far only seems to offer the choices of near-anonymity within a tight-knit community, total anonymity in a mass movement, and making a name for yourself in some creative endeavor.

    What he seems to be missing for me is the old ideal that “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” This isn’t the fame of a creator, nor is it anonymity and rejection of responsibility. It honestly strikes me as a fourth option to Hoffer’s defective ternary, and precisely as the choice made by Masons such as yourself.”

    JMG responded:

    “James, good. You’re right that Hoffer draws several lines far too narrowly, but one of the values of his book is that it encourages thinking about such issues. ”

    Hi James, it seems to me that choosing “a good name is rather to be chosen then great riches”, is a creative, alternative choice to ease the frustration of living. Perhaps Hoffer could have defined creativity better and not just as being achieved through fame and fortune in the fine arts. Although that seems to be the one metric used to judge success in modern society and perhaps others of the past. However, I thought that what Hoffer was saying was that the final frustration of living that drives people into a mass movement is simply that they don’t perceive any other creative alternative. If they do find an alternative to a mass movement, then obviously they don’t join.

    I also think there is also a tremendous creative outlet in a mass movement if it is done for the betterment of the movement, to beautify it or enhance it in some way. In this way you don’t have to take any personal responsibility for a failed creative effort. As JMG said in the essay, “the essence of tyranny is the insistence that no one must ever be allowed to be wrong.”

    Hoffer himself says that if mass movements don’t reach an end, (he describes the Christian movement as never reaching an end until the Reformation), they create dark ages. He fails to mention, however that during those “dark ages” some of the most creative effort imaginable is expended in glorifying the movement with the fine arts like music in great cathedrals and the like.

    Perhaps providing examples of creative alternatives to mass movements will help individuals avoid them and find fulfillment in their lives, but there will be plenty of frustrated people who will find immense, creative fulfillment in a mass movement. I have no doubt it will be dangerous to get in their way.

    I think Violet’s ideas about aesthetics and ethics plays somewhere in here too.

    Just my two cents.

  156. JMG –

    What’s your take on the Graham Hancock revision of the history of our civilization? Because the idea has gained legs and factual support at this point, but it remains outside the consciousness of most people. The idea that previous civilizations knew so much is inspiring for me, and the evidence seems to just keep on coming…

  157. Shane, fair enough.

    Bryan, that would be a very short post. I know of nothing in the universe to which the law of diminishing returns doesn’t apply. Choose anything you like, no matter how good it is, and there’s such a thing as too much of it.

    Ynnothir, duly noted. The plural is genii locorum, by the way!

    Ray, I’d definitely say start with those weekly potlucks, and let things unfold from there. If you get a bunch of people who are interested in (re)starting a Grange, most State Granges will fall over themselves to help you make that happen, so don’t rule out the possibility that the school district may have to find a new storage facility in due time.

    Drhooves, okay, that one’s in the bucket as well.

    Leo, no problem.

    Dominique, I’m not sure it’s fair to blame democratic political systems for the current round of crises — we’ll never know, of course, but a case could be made that they would have happened no matter what the political system happened to be, once the rapid extraction of fossil fuels became the basis for a temporary technological boom.

    Vincent, Freemasons view the concept of the Supreme Being in as many different ways as there are Freemasons. The organization leaves ample room for each brother to approach the divine in the way that satisfies his own conscience. One side effect is that Freemasonry doesn’t have a strict definition of the words “Supreme Being.” The members of the interview committee will ask you if you believe in one, and that’s about it.

    Rutger, so noted, and I’ll certainly consider it.

    MSweet, that’s part of it, surely, but I think there are deeper issues at work. Why did democracy get reduced to voting at long intervals? Because the once-vital mechanisms of democratic participation — the precinct organizations in every neighborhood that met at least once a month to hash out policy and consider potential candidates, and all the rest of it — lost support from the public, at the same time as community organizations such as the Masons did. There’s a post to be written on this. As for the essay, you can find it here among other places.

  158. As to democracy and the ecological crisis, seems to me more logical to blame capitalism as infinite growth on a finite planet seems to be a fairly clear corollary to capitalism. Of course the Soviet Union was not capitalist and had plenty of ecological problems, but that system lasted less than a century so in the ecological sense was self-correcting in a way that, so far, capitalism is not. I’m not sure what could or should replace it, though I think that it will not come about via a singular election or revolution, but by a gradual process, and probably already is. I would add that small scale democracy is nothing new and many societies had some element of it for a long time. To JMG on this: I think the question is not whether non-democracies would do the same given the chance, but whether democracy (or imo capitalism) is what gave those societies the chance to do the damage.

  159. Suggestion for week 5 post–something pertaining to William Blake, William Butler Yeats, and/or C.G. Jung.



  160. Oilman, I’m going to have to read Hancock’s recent books — it’s been a while since I’ve kept track of him. The idea that there have been relatively advanced civilizations before ours, though, seems highly plausible to me, as there are several lines of evidence that are extremely hard to explain without considering that possibility.

    Dean, I tend to think that industrialism as such — rather than the various ways of organizing it, such as capitalism and socialism — is the cause that matters. If democracy hadn’t made room for industrialism, I suspect it would have been discarded for something else that would — the temptation to cash in on the jackpot of fossil fuels was so great.

  161. Shane, thanks for your reply. Just to clarify, I didn’t assume you were a substance abuser yourself, I was just interested in the view you were espousing. I agree with you about the trends indicated by the trajectory of the Societ Union as well as recent demographic mortality data in the US, but I find my own empathy somewhat lacking in this case, just because the attitude is so foreign to me (also I do volunteer work in the child welfare system, of which I would estimate 90%+ of cases involve hardcore drug use, and which sometimes makes forcible sterilization and possibly summary execution look too good for some people–and yes, I am aware of the irony of saying this on a post about tyranny, and no, I do not actually advocate those policies, partially because the other disheartening thing about that work is the sense that some people are genuinely not capable of doing anything else even when what they are doing is mindbendingly horrifying).

  162. JMG, you mention a major purpose of the masons being moral development–are you willing/able to discuss that in more depth? I am interested in what morals are developed and by what means. Is it just high standards and good works, or is there intensive personal or collective moral work of some kind involved? I often hear from older people that a terrible moral decline has taken place in the US, which I have always been dubious of, but willing to entertain. Do you believe there’s been a moral decline, and if so, any suggestions on techniques for cultivating or promoting moral virtue?

  163. Hi JMG,

    I’d like to suggest another Stormwatch type post for the 5th Wednesday topic. I greatly enjoyed the first one and have been hoping for a repeat.

  164. @Jen,
    the problem is, The System is grinding people into the dirt, as JMG has mentioned, and as long as there is no crisis of legitimacy and The System remains firmly welded in place, people being ground into the dirt by The System will have no choice but to loose all hope and turn to drugs, alcohol, smartphones, etc. to cope. Now, if the bottom falls out from under The System and we have a crisis of legitimacy, and people feel that it is once more worthwhile to take to pitchforks, rope, insurgency, or even more benign things like the ballot box (secession and dissolution), then people will have hope once more and the substance abuse problem will probably go away in short order.

  165. JMG: Having gone through the Natural Magic book, I find that I’ll be looking into a supplementary reference for those of us here in the Drytowns. I’ve already asked my curandera friend to find me something on magical plants of the Southwest.

    To show people from other regions how different it is out here – oak is a shrub; our local king tree is the Ponderosa Pine. Cactus – not cholla in Albuquerque, but prickly pear – is a major part of the landscape, as are goatheads and tumbleweeds.

    P.S. I think any ecotopian fantasy novel written in the past 50 years can give you a comprehensive list for the Pacific Northwest! So can the Songs of Gwydion (CD), a neopagan classic.

  166. @Christopher L Hope – Whaddaya mean, sign painting isn’t art? 🙂 Done well, it certainly requires artistic skill, just like cake decorating (I have an aunt-in-law who is a master of that craft). Commercial art is still art. And sign painting, far more often than cake decorating, requires the expression of a specific message. If you were a sign painter, would you feel morally obliged to paint a sign advertising a business or organization you considered to be downright vile? I wouldn’t.

  167. But this brings up the age old question of why now? Couldn’t Rome have found fossil fuels and industrialized? Why not China? They had plenty of innovation, but never seemed to incorporate their innovations into a growth structure, they tended to remain novelties. Was it just pure chance that industrialization happened when (and where) it did? It seems to me that capitalism provided a system of incentives that did not exist in other societies, or existed in much lesser degree, while at the same time also did not provide underlying value structures that included the concept of limits at the societal level. Your book referred to how modern society undermined traditional value systems without really replacing them. Those old value systems could be very oppressive in some cases, but many were nonetheless ecologically sustainable (the ones that weren’t are lost to history of course). I’m not saying it is all and only capitalism, Jared Diamond’s work has contributed on this question, but I think it played a large role. Fossil fuels have been there and people had been using them in nominal ways well before industrialization. But I do agree with you that once found, the jackpot would be irresistible to whoever figured it out. Capitalism didn’t develop under democracy, it developed under monarchies. Democracy kept it alive by forcing it to reform a bit and share the wealth at least a little bit, what we now call the middle class.

  168. @oilman2
    “I’m not enamored of government in any form – the less of it, the better, based on what is around us today.”

    This strikes me as a modern common fantasy, at least in our contemporary world. There are many places on this planet with minimal government, and none are pleasant places to live. But if you just trust people, and then ask them if they are happy, the happiest ones live in places with fairly intrusive government. Intrusive – but good, and honest (which does not mean perfect). Good government may be one of the hardest tricks of all, but that does appear to me to be the essential ingredient for reasonable amounts of prosperity and security.

  169. @ Steve T – You offer some straw men there, as I didn’t say what you seem to think I said. Granted there are a few nuttily-PC private colleges out there, but I am unaware of any case in which nonalcoholic eggnog or candy canes have been banned from holiday parties because they are culturally associated with Christmas. Where do you derive this? Certainly it is not normal. My own diverse workspace puts up Christmas trees, and red-and-green decor at the holiday lunch, yet those of us who are not Christian are equally welcome. It may be legal to use holidays as an opportunity to make minorities feel unwelcome – provided that none of their tax money is involved – but it is not CIVIL behavior. And proselytism has never been among employees’ proper job duties at a business with a secular purpose. (Though you earlier seemed to fret about ethnic diversity as well, your holiday-party argument can pertain only to religious diversity; what legitimate staff perk might be taken away because the university has to hire people of multiple skin colors?)

    By the way, I went to a major international meeting in China and at all the breaks, trying I suppose to supply “Western food”, the convention center served the most nauseating cake squares and chicken nuggets it has ever been my displeasure to encounter. It’s much better all around if people don’t try to cater to what they think others are used to, but just offer whatever refreshments they know how to do properly. And if one of your co-workers happens to know how to do hummus properly, you can eat it or ignore it; you don’t need to go berserk because it’s got a place on the table.

  170. RE: AA,
    Well, I know that “the doors of AA are always open”, though I can’t ever imagine darkening their doors again. At the time of my escape, I was a part of a group closely connected to the largest AA group that meets Wednesdays @ a synagogue in Westwood. Before that, I attended less “orthodox” meetings–both the rigid and the loosey-goosey meetings had their own sets of problems, probably the flawed ideology of the program itself.

  171. Eric Hoffer was a fascinating person. He earned his bread and beer by hard physical labor as a longshoreman on the San Francisco waterfront, and before that as a migrant farm worker in California; before that he had lived as a young adult on “skid row” for about ten years. All the while he was a voracious reader, drawing on the resources of public libraries wherever he happened to be; and his reading turned him into a philosopher, though far from an academic one. (His favored philosophical forms were the aphorism and the brief essay, not the documented academic study. My kind of philosopher!)

    As a longshoreman in San Francisco, Hoffer was a member of the Local of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union. In those years one of the Local’s most influential figures was the redoubtable Communist activist, Archie Brown, who had played a large role in organizing the General Strike of 1934, shutting down the entire city of San Francisco for four days. In the ’50s and ’60s, when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, the longshoremen’s union was well known as a hot-bed of working-class independent thinkers and political activists of all stripes, but chiefly on the left; and its more thoughtful members were a huge presence in the Area’s counter-cultural scene.

    Much respect to longshoremen, BTW. The few longshoremen I have known here in Rhode Island have all been articulate and independent-minded people.

  172. I don’t assume the word “democracy” necessarily means “direct democracy.” The US never had one, of course. We were a republic at our inception. I only was using the idea of a direct vote as an example to try to explain my point.

    We are both talking about our republic, and whether it still exists at this moment in time—a question as yet untested. And with an answer as yet unprovable until enough events come along as proof one way or the other. (Even then it will remain a debate for historians.)

    “As long as the form remains intact”—that’s the million dollar question. Aren’t you arguing that the democratic form remains intact in the US? And I think Dmitry is arguing it does not. At least from a military-actions perspective, it’s hard for me to disagree with him.

    I’m trying to pull it to a concrete example and figure out where we really are as a country. I never assumed the decision to pull out of war (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc.) would ever go to a direct vote of the population. The question is whether the elected officials still have the power to change that decision—that would be the test of whether we are still truly a republic or not. And I’m saying the elected officials no longer have that power. I’m saying if Trump were to hypothetically call our troops back from those wars, he would be swiftly removed by the so-called deep state (I won’t venture a guess as to the means of that removal). I if I understand Dmitry’s position correctly, then he would agree with me.

    That’s where I’m trying to discern your position on the matter. As long as legal authority remains with an elected government, we’re still a democracy, to use your words. And I’m saying that legal authority no longer remains with our elected government (at least in military matters). In military matters, the authority rests with an unelected bureaucracy. And that’s where I think Dmitry and I disagree with you. Is that about right?

  173. Oh, and from the article I just linked, the money quote:

    “But what …surprises me is how many people believe that organizing is something new. How many seem to believe the route of shaming people into political action is effective. How few people seem to talk about community, about joy, about love, when discussing political action.”

  174. @JMG for 5th Wednesday, I’d like to add my vote to Nastarana’s request for “I would very much like to hear more about democratic syndicalism and perhaps other alternatives to finance capitalism as well”.

  175. Great post John.

    Certainly concur with your comments regarding the importance of reasoned debate and compromise in politics.

    I would be keen to read a post by yourself on potentially advanced ancient civilizations historians have not recorded yet, particularly a focus on ancient trans-Atlantic trade connections between the Americas and the Old World (e.g. the Phoenicians and potentially the Africans and Egyptians).

    I found this article absolutely fascinating, in particular the looming domestic peaks in oil, gas and coal by around 2020, less then 5 years away.

    I wonder what your thoughts are on this and the ramifications on the global economy.

  176. JMG, it seems to me that making one god rule over the others degrades the polytheistic universe which you so eloquently described in the World Full of Gods into a monotheism with the angels renamed to gods.

    Personally, what I liked most about that book was how elegantly it explained the problem of evil. Once you say that one Supreme god rules over all others, you are back to square one. In fact, I would say you are in a worse position than the monotheistic square one, because you now have a Supreme god who is not perfectly Good, and yet there’s no one to stop Him/Her should that god decide to do something horrible.

    What am I missing?

  177. @ MSweet I’ve loaded the entire ADR onto a Dropbox, (550 mb compressed, 2.38 Gb expanded) and “How not to write like an Archdruid” was in January 2017. It’s about I printed a PDF of the article and added it to the Dropbox, which is here:
    Since it’s a free Dropbox, they cut off access whenever too many people download in a short time. There’s a few other digital mirrors of the entire ADR out there.

  178. Pierre, so noted!

    Jen, it’s high standards and good works. In some degrees, especially in the Scottish Rite, specific virtues are presented as topics for reflection and action, but more generally it focuses on encouraging men toward self-knowledge, reflection, and following whatever moral standard they consider valid.

    Lauren, so noted.

    Patricia, absolutely. The book wasn’t meant for all ecosystems — that would take a library, not a book! — and so needs to be supplemented with what you have where you are.

    Dean, why does anything happen when it does? Why did the wheel get invented when it did and not 5,000 years previously? A vast amount of human history is the product of happenstance and dumb luck, you know.

    Blue Sun, we’re still talking past each other. Again, let’s take the simpler example of a monarchy. Here we have a nation with a king. The king is a drooling idiot, and his official powers are being quietly usurped by courtiers. Is it still a monarchy? Yes, until and unless the king gets deposed and not replaced. In the same way, the fact that bureaucrats are unofficially usurping the authority of the legislature doesn’t change the form of government, it simply means that you’ve got one of the most common dysfunctions of democratic government.

    I referenced direct democracy, by the way, because you insisted we aren’t a democracy because the people didn’t get to vote on whether or not to go to war. That only happens in a direct democracy, you know.

    Scotlyn, fascinating. Many thanks! Your suggestion for the fifth Wednesday has been added to the tally, too.

    Forecastingintelligence, I’ll give it a look when time permits. Thank you.

    Rationalist, funny. Find me an actual polytheist faith anywhere that doesn’t have a king or queen of the gods, and your argument might have some force.

    Varun, yeah, that’s about what I expected…

  179. @JMG: Things to try this weekend: Find Scream for Jeeves, experiment with sword and sequined fruit. Excellent! 🙂 (Also Wodehouse in general is great, especially as comfort reading–very lighthearted, very easy to get into while taking a bath or eating way too many cookies.)

    @Jen: Yeah, I wonder about that too. Life in general seems to weigh more heavily on many people than it does on me–I don’t know if it’s undiagnosed depression on their part, callousness/ability to ignore a lot of stuff on mine, or what.

    Data point re: Christmas parties: here in the liberal urban Northeast, I can’t remember an office where we didn’t have a “holiday” party with serious Christmas decor. (Current place has an ugly-sweater contest, in which a light-up Santa Claus figured prominently last year.) I think that was the case at my college, too, but that was back in the early 2000s, so a) I have since killed off those brain cells, and b) climes may have changed since.

    I would personally suggest we let everyone celebrate their cultural festivals on separate days if they want, and get back to something like the number of holidays the average medieval peasant had, but I’m pretty much always going to vote on the side of more parties.

  180. Okay then, JMG, let me rephrase my argument and my question. Premises:

    1. Monotheism has a hard time explaining the problem of evil.
    2. My funny version of traditional polytheism (which I got from your book, BTW, so I probably misunderstood it) has little problem explaining the problem of evil.

    Question: how does real polytheism with a king or queen of the gods deal with the problem of evil?

  181. @Dmitry, yes, your iron triangle of house/car/work is one of the forces opposing self-governance, as is the technosphere generally. But there’s a lot of terrain between wage slave and homesteader, and plenty of space in there for self-governance. The people I know don’t live at either of those extremes, most are self-disciplined and many are at least somewhat self-reliant.

    @Oilman and barefootwisdom: Thanks for the contrasting examples of 1990’s education. barefoot, kudos to your small town school!

    @Heather, that’s very interesting. Don’t sell your folks or yourself short, polite conflict avoidance is an important and increasingly rare skill, and it obviously hasn’t gotten in the way of you going out and learning how to disagree effectively!

    @drhooves, yes that describes me. ADR is the lions share of my electronic media ‘consumption’. I believe your observations about programming, I’ve clearly seen that play out in some of my friends and family. Interesting that your dad was resistant to understanding the system he worked in, but that seems a common pattern.

  182. I’ve often thought democracy needs to go hand in hand with active critical thought to be really successful. As it stands it seems most people seem stuck in picking one party to be a good guy and the other to be the bad and don’t really seem to grasp complexities enough to make an educated decision, they also just want somebody to solve the problems for them. To me it looks like a bit of a hangover from an overly dominating mindset that doesn’t allow people to believe in their own personal truth and judgement so they just adopt whoever fits the bill for top monkey. I would think for democracy to be truly successful you would need a society that embraced freedom like you say into its core values, one that had autonomy in the center of child development and education, overall social structure and when problems arouse people felt free to debate openly their perspectives while respecting others.

    At this stage I would say that its our education systems causing the most harm to real freedom. I am in New Zealand and I see youth (not that I’m much older myself!) struggling so badly with a system that does not care for them as an individual and breaks their autonomy so severely that upon entering adulthood if they do not fit the mold “desired” they see no value for their own lives, often have no work ethic, see no value in any of the things that they may innately be driven to do and are simply too dis empowered to follow their own music. It is so sad to see them so defeated at what is supposed to be the beginning of their personal journeys.

  183. @Dean – neither China nor Rome had any incentive to industrialize. Rome had not yet reached Peak Slaves, nor China, Peak Coolies.

    Re: “as long as the forms remained.” Octavian, a.k.a Caesar Augustus, was very careful to keep the forms of the old Republic in place and keep up the pretense that it still existed. But he was far richer than the official government, and so he called the tune, and everybody else danced to it if they knew what was good for them. Of course, one could call him a transitional figure. it was only in the reign of Tiberius that it really sunk in that the Republic would never come back. That and (my old hobbyhorse) “a generation which knew not the way things used to be.” Actually, considering the length of his reign, every generation currently on deck when he died, except a few last leaves on the dying tree.

    And to Rationalist – God the Father Almighty may claim to be omnipotent, but I don’t think the Goddess ever made that claim. Nor the various kings and queens of the various pantheons.

  184. Ah I see, thanks JMG, your laws are far better than ours in that respect then. It’s such a shame that these women’s organizations, which do great work in reviving and preserving traditional skills, didn’t leave politics to its own sphere. But they emerged alongside feminism so that was probably unavoidable.

    About the patterns of the cycle of civilizations, if the pattern comes from the spiritual plane then what role do humans have in it? Where does free will come into it – to the extent that any of us have developed free will? I’ve noticed that people tend to adopt a fatalistic attitude towards those aspects of decline that they don’t want to do anything about, or beat their heads against brick walls trying to do something about those aspects that they do want to change.

    On the allowances made for religious belief in US tradition, that’s now enshrined in the raft of anti-discrimination laws across the western world because religion is always one of the protected categories. The entire concept of having different legal statuses for different groups within a society is fundamentally flawed in my view and the identity politics morass we’re now in is the inevitable result. Certainly placing inborn characteristics like race alongside matters of free choice like belief is all kinds of messed up. Unless one gets into the above debate about the extent to which any of our beliefs are matters of free will! But something Dewey said reminded me of why that is.

    There’s some UN Convention – the Human Rights one probably – that designated political belief as a protected category alongside religious ones. Some European countries have tried to implement that, others are trying not to touch it with a bargepole. Those who have tried to implement it are doing hilarious things like trying to draw a line between mere political opinion (which is not protected – so you can be, and people like Google memo guy are, fired for expressing them) and political conviction (which is protected at the same level as religious faith). The thing is, the UN Convention has a point – why should beliefs and practices that happen to be related to belief in a theosphere be provided with special protection in law while beliefs and practices based on belief in some non-theological ideology (the religion of Progress, let’s say, or communism) are not be given such protection?

    So Dewey might refuse to serve an organization she found “downright vile”. There are businesses that put up signs saying they don’t serve Trump voters, or Brexit voters in the UK. The transgender activists/fascists and radical feminists/fascists currently beating each other up in London at the moment would certainly refuse to provide each other with any services if they were in business. Their convictions about each other’s moral evilness are no less faith-based and strongly held than those of any religious fundamentalist.

  185. I would welcome a post on gender, especially in light of the post from Violet regarding ethics and aesthetics. It made me think of the Cathars’ view that what mattered was the soul. The body you happened to be in during your present incarnation was not important, and the consequence of that mindset was that the sexes were relatively equal, at a time in history where that must have shocked everyone else.

  186. I’m finding the discussion here about forming social groups timely as I am currently instigating a co-op of merchants and producers with micro-businesses to open a store front together, and hope to help some of the vast number of people in my town who have part time, seasonal, and inadequate jobs as well as pensioners of various kinds. The stories I hear in my town are heartbreaking (like elderly women using foodbanks because they have so little pension they can’t afford food.) They do have skills they can make things with to sell or teach others to do.

    I find the system is set up to make it impossible to compete against the big boys, but together, we might just be able to give the members of the co-op a little extra to live on.

  187. @ Dean Myerson and Oilman2

    “I’m not enamored of government in any form – the less of it, the better, based on what is around us today.” (Oilman2)

    “This strikes me as a modern common fantasy, at least in our contemporary world. There are many places on this planet with minimal government, and none are pleasant places to live.” (Dean Myerson)

    I’d ask you both to consider this question: what if there were places (perhaps large numbers of them) that were “effectively self-governing” (and not notably prone to violence or social breakdown) while busy disguising that fact to anyone, or any power, who might try to take advantage?

    In this essay – – David Graeber reflects on aspects of fieldwork he conducted in Betafo, in Madagascar, including observations on its relative “statelessness”, and ruminations on why it took him so long to detect this. (His major reflections on the “state of the state” in Betafo begin on page 9 of a 22 page essay – so if you are minded to skip, start there).

    Here are some money quotes for anyone without time to read the essay:

    “The accustomed strategy of dealing with power was to fend it off and try to establish an autonomous, Malagasy domain outside its sight – one sheltered from the “political” domain and the threat of violence on which it was based. The result was that, when state-sponsored institutions began withering away, new ones did not arise to replace them…

    …The government became something along the same lines as the ancient kings discussed by Althabe and Feeley-Harnik: absolute, arbitrary powers that constitute those they subjugate as a community by virtue of their common subjugation, while at the same time, extremely convenient powers to be ruled by, because, in any immediate practical sense, they do not exist.

    The most significant thing about violence in Arivonimamo is that there was little of it. Murders were shocking, isolated events. Nonetheless, rural assemblies had to develop all sorts of creative strategies to overcome the reluctance of the forces of order to enforce the laws. The practice of holding communal ordeals itself was one…

    …I doubt that Betafo is a unique community. Clearly there are many communities like it in Madagascar. But one wonders if there might not be hundreds, even thousands, of similar communities across the world, communities which have effectively withdrawn or drifted off from the control of national governments and become effectively self-governing, but whose members are still performing the external forms and tokens of obeisance in order to disguise that fact. It is something of an irony that it is only when “anarchy”, in the sense of the breakdown of state power, breaks down into violence and destruction—as in the case of, say, Somalia in the early ’90s—that we actually hear about it. The case of Betafo suggests that for every case like that, there are hundreds outsiders never hear about it, precisely because they manage the transition peacefully. The inhabits of Betafo, after all, might have been at each other’s throats in all sorts of figurative ways, but they were certainly not at each other’s throats literally.”

    Personally, I find the idea that autonomous, self-governing people, can be, and commonly are being, creative in carving out spaces for their autonomy in multiple and diverse places slightly outside the “reach” of the nearest state (whether that reach is geographic or ideological), while studiously NOT calling attention to the space they’ve made, quite credible.

    The main problem this creates for the rest of us, though, is the paucity of the news we get regarding viable working examples of alternatives to the states that currently trouble us with their encroachments upon our autonomy.

  188. JMG wrote
    “If democracy hadn’t made room for industrialism, I suspect it would have been discarded for something else that would — the temptation to cash in on the jackpot of fossil fuels was so great.”

    That’s my choice of quote for the week, and a good ‘thought-starter’. One might add the thought that in a craft-based rather than industrially-based civilization, towns would be small and thinly dotted in the wider agrarian landscape. For example, London in agrarian days was one of the relatively rare trading hubs with populations in tens of thousands.

    Governance in the 19th century adaptively responded to industrial and urban expansion: think Napoleon(s), Tsars, Bismarck, Holy Roman Emperors, the British House of Lords, and the mix of wider suffrage (e.g. Bismarck’s Reichstag & welfare state 1871), compulsory schooling, public sanitation, central banks and state mandated and commercial insurance schemes, and we have just about come up to date. The American Constitution, its agrarian base and subsequent adaptation … hmm … It is interesting to see commentary here moving on. But, “center of a world civilization”, somebody said … ‘up to a point Lord Copper’, as the journalist said to the newspaper Magnate.

    Phil H

  189. JMG/Blue Sun/Dmitry Orlov

    It seems to me that the argument between you stems from the fact that all concepts are fuzzy at the edges. (That includes scientific concepts: many scientific advances come through investigating the fuzziness and trying to draw a line – which, of course, is itself fuzzy and has to be investigated in turn.)

    The concept of democracy is no exception. JMG has drawn up some theoretical criteria that, for him, define what is a democracy and what is not. Since it meets his criteria, the USA is, for him, a democracy. But even if we accept his criteria, the situation is still fuzzy since the criteria themselves are fuzzy.

    Imagine an absolute despot who, for geopolitical reasons, wants to give the appearance of democracy. He or she creates a parliament to which members are elected from geographically defined constituencies. This parliament, led by ministers elected by parliament itself, creates the laws of the land.

    But the despot controls the criteria governing eligibility for election. The despot also controls the press and other media and in this way controls the reputations of those who wish to be elected, and therefore whether they are elected or not. The despot also determines who has the right to vote. There is also a secret police force, and any prominent advocates of policies that the despot does not like suddenly vanish, retire or change their minds. The despot also retains the right to dismiss ministers who go against his or her wishes. (I am not sure, but I think this right still exists theoretically in the UK.) In this and other ways, the despot retains complete control over what happens, which was his or her intention all along.

    It should be noted that all these things could theoretically be changed by parliament. The parliament could force through rules governing the press, change the laws governing the right to vote, or disband the secret police. But of course, it will not do so, and the despot knows this.

    Is this a democracy or not? According to JMG’s criteria, it probably is. From any practical point of view, it is not. It is true that, in theory, the population could rise up democratically and, through the ballot box, overthrow the despot, but in practice they are more likely to overthrow the despot, if at all, then through armed insurrection funded by a foreign power.

    So, rather than insist on some technical criterion, which, like scientific criteria, will itself come into dispute at some point, it might be better simply to say that such a situation is on the borderline, without stating on which side of the borderline it falls. By ceasing to think of democracy as an either/or question, we could then start talking about degrees of democracy, and about the difference between theoretical and practical democracy. Someone could argue, for example, that the Swiss system is more democratic than that of the USA in certain respects, both theoretically and practically, and then go on to suggest why this is so.

  190. @Jen,
    idk, perhaps if you could just sit with the pathos of American poverty and just let it be, and be in acceptance of it (not apathy–that’s different)? I’m tutoring a woman learning to read, and she comes from a drug abuse background (clean for now) and all the social ills that come w/that, but I just let her be her (she seems to be a good soul, all in all) and we sit down and sound out words. One of the biggest problems I see is that we focus on individual responsibility, instead of social responsibility. Working class people did not have all these problems 40-50 years ago, before they got thrown under the bus after the oil embargo/peak American oil, and all these social problems are a direct result of throwing the working class under the bus in the last 30-40 years. Take these people out from under the bus/stop grinding them into the dirt, and a lot of things will clear up. Of course, than means failure of The System.
    endless war is not something that goes AGAINST the government/elected officials–we engage in endless war in a futile attempt to prop up our failing empire and the wealth pumps that allow us to use an outsized share of the world’s resources. So endless war has the approval of the elected government to keep The System going.
    you might want to pick up a copy of After Progress, or read the relevant ADR posts on which it was based. Basically, Western society from its earliest inception was based on transcendence, zooming off into the stars and infinity. It was a society destined to burn up all the fossil fuels in an effort to progress without limits, before the first English coal mines ever opened.
    I just happened to think, I might have misspoke about substance abuse in a previous post. Collapse of The System wouldn’t stop substance abuse, just shift the abusers as the working class’ lives find new meaning, the people benefiting from The System (professional class, etc.) will have to drown their sorrows in drink and drug as the reminisce about the good, old days and bemoan what they lost.

  191. JMG, and @Rationalist, if I may, there is a HUGE difference between a supreme god in a polytheistic Pantheon and The Supreme God of the abrahamof faiths. Zeus, for example, still has to quarrell and negotiate with the minor deities, and their very existence does not depends on him. In fact, Zeus himself fears being overthrown someday just as he overthrew Cronos eons ago. God, on the other hand, fears no one. Even Satan himself owns his very existence and power to Him, and nothing in the universe would exist if not through His wishes.

  192. @Scotlyn,
    Thank you for the article on the black women’s benevolent society, United Order of Tents. It is remarkable that we find these kinds of extant organizations created and organized by women throughout the African diaspora, some as early as the 18th century, some modeled after religious sodalities, under slavery. There is a history there that seems to be hidden in plain sight, I guess that is what makes them “secret”

  193. Dewey,

    “You offer some straw men there, as I didn’t say what you seem to think I said. Granted there are a few nuttily-PC private colleges out there, but I am unaware of any case in which nonalcoholic eggnog or candy canes have been banned from holiday parties because they are culturally associated with Christmas. Where do you derive this?”

    I cited an example of exactly this at the University of Tennessee and provided a link. You then described this as “civil” behavior in your follow-up.

    “Certainly it is not normal.”

    I didn’t say it was; I said that it was a thing that can happen given certain conditions, and that those conditions existed, and that it had happened. Remember that I am talking about “Government-controlled settings” imposing particular “aesthetic, habitual, cultural and religious experiences onto people in those settings.” I then demonstrated an example of the same. You countered by saying that example must not be real, and then described your own “holiday” parties in which you weren’t “made to feel unwelcome.”
    Have you not noticed that a “holiday party” is not merely the absence of a Christmas party, but the presence of a holiday party? And thus, per my description above, the “imposition of a particular aesthetic, cultural, or religious experience.” Did you ask any of your Christian colleagues if they would have preferred the festival remain a Christmas party, rather than having to be changed in order to make you feel welcome?

    You might respond by saying that it’s not too much of an ask to leave aside the manger scene if you get to keep the trees, the candy canes, the mistletoe and the eggnog, but the point is that you didn’t ask. Somebody forced.

    “Though you earlier seemed to fret about ethnic diversity as well…”

    In the post on thoughtstoppers, I wrote “On the internet I’ve noticed that the term “It seems like” or “It sounds like” or “It seems to me” are nearly always followed by something irrelevant that doesn’t in any way “sound like” what the speaker is trying to engage.”

    “…what legitimate staff perk might be taken away because the university has to hire people of multiple skin colors?”

    Why do you keep trying to goad me into saying something racist? Is it to confirm your belief that anyone concerned about American culture being deliberately transformed by the policy decisions of the powerful can only be motivated by racism?

    I don’t think skin color matters very much at all; the question was whether an increase in “diversity” would lead to an increase in “tyranny.” I won’t tell you how I’m defining “tyranny” again; you can read it elsewhere. The answer I’m coming up with is “not necessarily and not for all types of diversity; but always and necessarily in the presence of an ideology which demands or permits the same.” The conclusion I’m reaching is that diversity has to be approached with a great deal of caution, particularly for a democratic society.

  194. Dewey–

    We are sufficiently far afield from the topic of this week’s post that I’m afraid we may be trying our host’s patience, and so I’m going to end my part in our conversation here, with my thanks for a lively debate. What I am going to take away from this is that, as I said above, our values are completely alien to one another, and I’m afraid that we’re acting as stand-ins for the country as a whole. To me this means that the US as a nation is either going to return to our traditional compromise of 50 imperfect sovereign states, or risk civil war. I pray for the former: For me, a diversity in which Berkeley is free to be Berkeley and Arkansas is free to be Arkansas, each unencumbered by interference from the other, is a diversity worth fighting for.

  195. @Dot
    Re: civilizations:

    The grand sweep of a civilization is decided on the Astral plane and then Essences decide to opt in or not) as part of planning lifetimes. That’s why generations look so coherent: a life plan includes opting in (or out) of the generation that will be born. The same goes for the longer-term sweep of the birth, maturity and finally death of countries and civilizations. There are longer-term structures involved as well: there’s no option in the system for a civilization to stay at its peak for more than one 80-year cycle, for instance, and the 80-year cycle is baked in at a fairly deep level – not that it can’t be changed, and I’m told there are experiments on doing something else, but it’s not at a level where it can be changed on a whim.

    As far as free will is concerned: once you incarnate, you can do whatever you please, but the system is rigged so that following the life plan is the path of least resistance. Essence will not interfere unless you yell for help or there’s a spot in the life plan where a “miracle” is needed.

  196. Isabel, I’ll look forward to hearing about the sword and the fruit. I see a raucous fantasy novel in the making…

    Rationalist, piece of cake. A deity does not become omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent just by becoming the most powerful among a set of finite deities, of the kind worshiped by traditional polytheism. Since the argument from evil only has force if you assume that there is at least one omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent deity, it remains irrelevant to historical polytheist faiths.

    Let’s take a specific example to clarify the point. Zeus is the ruler of the Greek gods. He’s sufficiently stronger than the others that, in the Iliad, he states — and none of the other gods disputes this — that he could win the equivalent of a tug-of-war contest against all the other gods put together, even if they loaded Earth and Tartarus onto their side of the chain. That doesn’t make him omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent — just stronger than they are. The argument from evil therefore does not apply to him. Apply the same reasoning to any other polytheist faith and it works the same way: “greatest among a set of finite powers” does not equal omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent.

    Rose, I won’t argue with that at all. Here in the US, to my mind, the single factor most responsible for the massive dysfunctions of our democratic system is the way that thinking has been replaced by the mouthing of sound bites backed with mindless emotions. Look at the way that the word “democracy” itself has been turned into a noise full of warm fuzzy emotion, so that it elicits yells of outrage when I use it as a simple description of a form of government!

    Dot, free will is for individuals. You have the freedom to respond to the world around you as you will. Have you noticed, though, that humanity in the mass is far dumber than individual people? A group of people will often engage in stupidities that none of the individuals making up the group would fall into on their own, and the bigger the group, the less capacity for intelligence and will it generally displays. Thus a civilization is basically an automaton, lurching through a routine as mindless as that of a cuckoo clock, even though individuals within it can engage in impressive acts of intelligence and choice. This is one of the reasons that the state of consciousness fostered by mass media is so dangerous — it encourages people to drown their individual minds in the collective mind, and so to become very stupid very fast.

    Transitioncornwall aka Myriam, so noted! Very best wishes with the cooperative — that sort of thing is very badly needed just now.

    Phil, exactly. Glad you liked the phrase.

    Doug, the reason I’m not willing to budge on the definition is that I’m trying to get people to stop treating the word “democracy” as an emotionally loaded ideal concept and recognize it as a label for a flawed but functional system that actually exists. When people insist “this isn’t a democracy!” what they mean inevitably works out to “this doesn’t measure up to my idealized notion of what democracy ought to be!” — which may be true, but no system anywhere in the real world ever measures up to the ideal. (Communism is a great system on paper; it’s just when you try to put it into practice that it inevitably turns into a nightmare.) Since I’m trying to have a conversation about political systems, not about people’s emotional reactions toward the gap between actual political systems and their fantasies concerning same, I’m going to keep on swatting those who try to redirect the conversation back to their own feelings of outrage…

  197. JMG,
    Driving past the newest architectural bore that has arisen near my home, I was reminded of a long-past ADR comment where you mentioned you might one day write a post on modern aesthetics, and how beauty has rather gone out of fashion. (Forgive me if I’ve misstated the topic slightly–the original comment is now buried in the depths of the internet, so I couldn’t refer to it.) That’s a post I would be very interested to read, and it’s my suggestion for the fifth Wednesday.

  198. JMG – Fair enough. I can understand your usage as a pedagogical tactic that is helpful for a particular objective, even though it excludes other possibilities.

  199. Why do so many people seem unable to accept that the US is a democracy? Not a good example of one, but it’s still a democracy….

  200. The sort of disguised self-governance that Scotlyn has called to our attention, citing David Graeber on Betafo in Madagascar, seems to have been pretty much the norm in the less-densey populated regions of the old (pre-Soviet) Russian Empire. Russian peasants would establish villages in remote regions, call in an Orthodox priest from similar peasant stock, and manage their own affairs as they saw fit according to traditions that they valued. “God is high above, and the Tsar is far away,” is still a piece of Russian proverbial wisdom. The Russian word for such a community is “mir,” which also is the ordinary Russian word that refers to “the world” as a community and as the inhabited planet named Earth (“Zemlya” in Russian).

    Sure, the taxman would come around from time to time, and the military recruiter; but extra supplies of food (and other weath) were always hidden from outside view against any surprise visit from outside, and young men would conveniently be somewhere off in the forest anytime there was even a rumor of an approaching recruiter or a census-taker. To any outsider, even if he were to appear unannounced, the village would appear to consist of seemingly half-starved elderly peasants, a few seemingly unattractive women and crippled men, and a handful of seemingly ragged children.

    The village priest, of course, would know the real situation; but he would have grown up a peasant among peasants, in the same or a similar village. His wife would have come from the same background (Orthodox parish priests *must* be married men), and neither of them would owe any loyalty to outside powers; their children, too, would grow up to be ordinary peasants. The priest would need to grow his own food, like any other peasant, and he would get no salary from the Church or the State. Nor would he be highly educated: he would have learned how to read the Slavonic service books aloud (often without much understanding), and been taught how to perform the rituals that they contained. The Slavonic language of these books was much more different from his spoken Russian than the language of the King James Bible and the old Book of Common Prayer is from modern English, and the alphabet used in them was rather different from the current Russian alphabet (both in the number of letters it used and the shape of the individual letters). Some village priests might not, even as late as the middle 1800s, be able to read anything written in the civil Russian alphabet at all — only texts in the Savonic alphabet. Sometimes this, too, had a religious motivation: another proverb, now obsolete, says, “The civil alphabet [comes from] the Antichrist.”

    The village itself would usually be organized as an entire small world (mir) with a definite cosmology, inhabited not just by humans, but by a host of spirits (who were not the same as God, the Devil, and their respective Saints, angels and devils). There is a whole pattern for this, repeated in village after village, which would take a post twice as long as the present one to lay out. The short version is that it is a sort of map or reflection on the land’s horizontal surface of a vertical hierarchy that ascends from the center of the village toward heaven and descends toward Hell. Much of this pattern is almost certainly older than the Christianization of Russia.

  201. Apologies if this has been said, but I have another thought: today, next to no one will ever actually advocate for tyranny. Rather, euphemisms and thought stoppers have to be used to avoid dealing with the fact it is tyranny. Even people aiming for tyranny will have to use them to get a following.

    The threat is thus not limited to clear, defined areas, but rather could theoretically come from anywhere, including (and perhaps probably) people who truly mean well.

    I’m going to have to reassess myself and my politics, since I have some opinions that perhaps lean a little too far in that direction…..

  202. I’ll add my vote for a post on democratic syndicalism and other alternatives to capitalism or communism.

  203. A very interesting post. I was raised Catholic, (a fairly desultory Catholicism, honestly.) I had an uncle who was a Mason and his Masonic ring was a source of great curiosity when I was a child.. At some point, it was explained to me that Catholics were forbidden from having any secrets that could not be revealed in confession. So, any society or associatin with secrets, was by definition off-limits for Catholics.

    Now, I attend a Quaker meeting. I wonder, JMG, do Masons take an oath not to reveal Masonic secrets? If they do, then I’m out of luck again, because of the Quaker prohibition on taking ooaths….(An affirmation, on the other hand, might be a loophole I could take advantage of!)

  204. Marie, so noted! That’s definitely a subject for a post one of these days.

    Doug, exactly. No word is univocal in its meaning; every definition eventually reaches back to an ostensive definition — a finger pointing at something, and a voice saying “something like that” — and so it’s always a matter of using the blunt instrument of human language as best as one can to get one’s point across.

    Will, because they want to use “democracy” as a verbal noise connected to warm fuzzy feelings rather than a simple, value-neutral description of a kind of political system, and if they have cold prickly feelings toward the United States, “warm fuzzy” cannot equal “cold prickly.” That sort of affective mush passes as thinking astonishingly often these days.

    Robert, fascinating! If I recall correctly from my long-ago high school Russian classes, mir also means “peace’ — the title of Tolstoy’s novel “War and Peace” could equally well be translated “War and World” and “War and Community”. I hadn’t known that it could also be translated “War and Peasant Village,” though given Tolstoy’s commitments, that doesn’t surprise me at all!

    Will, good. That kind of self-knowledge is crucially important, of course.

    Justin, so noted!

    JM, you’ll have to discuss that with your local lodge, as — like most things Masonic — it depends on local custom and the rules of the state Grand Lodge. I understand that in Rhode Island and Maine, certainly, there’s an established rule that Quakers can use the word “affirm” in place of “promise and swear.”

  205. JMG, I vote for the nature spirits post.

    I don’t really care what the actual form of government is, if only they’d get their long noses out of my life. Why should it be any of their business if I want to dig a well in my backyard? Why should I have to register with the state and pay a fee to be allowed (Allowed! Like I’m a child or mentally deficient!) to keep bees?

    Even worse is the fact that the government mandates that doctors and nurses must try to ferret out child abuse, apparently *before* treating a child who is injured. When my son had nursemaid’s elbow as a result of a tussle between himself and his sister, the nurses and the doctor repeatedly questioned me about the circumstances of his injury, while he sat on my lap whimpering in pain. All the doctor had to do was pop it back into place, which took less than a minute. For legal reasons, they basically used my son’s pain to hold me hostage until they could make sure I wasn’t a vile abuser, then they treated him.

    They do the same thing, to a slightly lesser extent, with women. When I was pregnant and had to be admitted to the hospital for pregnancy complications, they questioned me as to whether or not my husband was abusing me. Did I feel safe? Had anyone hit me in the last year? Did I want my husband to leave the room while we talked? Etc., etc. I didn’t even have any injuries or signs of abuse. They just have a policy to question any woman being admitted to the hospital for any reason, while she’s a captive audience and can’t get away. You know, just in case we women are helpless infants who can’t pick up the phone and call the cops if we’re being abused. It’s because of the laws requiring them to report violence against women. I resent being regarded as a helpless child who must have extra legal protections. (That men apparently don’t need, because somehow they’re full adults, and the people who make our laws think I’m not?) I can decide for myself if I’m being abused or not, and I can decide what to do about it too – just like men are permitted to do.

    Then you have the vast surveillance operations, by which the government spies on everyone in our country. The level of legal nonsense and intrusion into our lives nowadays is just astounding.

    If a barbarian warlord came along and said that, in exchange for reasonable and uncomplicated taxes, he’d provide basic protection and law and order, but otherwise stay out of people’s lives, I’d be tempted to say yes.

  206. The arguments brought forth here, seem to circle about the difference of formal criteria for establishing if a country is a democracy or not, and practical and values-based criteria, where daily experiences are involved.
    Especially since the 1990s, there are in the world quit a few regimes which lie somewhere between true democracies and authoritarian states, where democratic institutions are formally intact but powerless.
    J. M. Greer, for the fifth post in this month, I suggest a post about downshifting and green wizardry for apartment dwellers, and your experiences in Providence.

  207. Dear JMG, I’d like to second Marie’s suggestion for the fifth Wednesday post to be about beauty and modern aesthetics.

    By the way, I had an idea/suggestion about how you might be able to handle your Stormwatch posts. I do prefer posts like these to the Stormwatch posts, but you might consider handling Stormwatch-related topics in the same way that you handle ‘other news’, such as how you’ve listed your new publications underneath this week’s post. If something important about the state of the economy, peak oil, climate change, etc should happen that you want to bring to our attention, you could post quickly about it underneath the main post rather than devoting a whole week’s post to it. Just an idea.

  208. Hi John Michael,

    Hmm, I have been on the pointy end of that ideology – and it hurt. To cut a long story short, I once worked for a very strongly Catholic family business and I have never experienced such micro-management before. It took me a long while to understand that this was a form of cultural clash, but far out ,they used to break my bits about the most trivial of matters. And the breaking talkings too were of epic length.

    One of my guilty pleasures at that time was that they had this strange obsession – as they did about a lot of things – with the photocopier lid. Apparently it wasn’t to be left up with the glass exposed. Who would have thought that such things were relevant to a professional? Not I. Anyway, me being me and sort of a free spirit, I used to really annoy them by randomly leaving the photocopier lid up – just because.

    They eventually wore me out. Nuff said.

    The thing that really annoyed me was that they used to claim that I had no moral compass, unlike themselves. Frack, it used to make me angry!

    I assume you’ve heard that little story too?

    Anyway, I used to retort by pointing out that the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse apparently estimated that something like: Royal commission into child sexual abuse: 1,880 alleged perpetrators identified in Catholic Church. That retort was a low blow and also what I call a CLM – Career Limiting Move. I should trademark that!

    As I remarked before, I rapidly had a gut full of the micro-management and left for less problematic waters.



  209. Hi John Michael,

    For the fifth post this month, I’d be interested in your take on the world of economics as it stands at present from whatever perspective you’d care to discuss. Just my vote.

    Incidentally, in relation to my previous comment, I’m not anti Catholic, I’m anti having my bits broken by long and unnecessary and somewhat strangely circular discussions. I am a believer in the Golden Rule of do Unto others and I would never do that to another human being.



  210. @ Will J
    “Why do so many people seem unable to accept that the US is a democracy? Not a good example of one, but it’s still a democracy…. “

    If I had to hazard a guess, it would be the way people follow up the words “X is a democracy” with thoughtstoppers like “you can’t complain, you’ve got what you voted for” to avoid thinking about the ways in which a democracy can also be a tyranny.

    Ie – while democracy is slightly less intractable than all the other forms of government which can also practice tyranny (but don’t always), it still requires respect for a carefully agreed set of limits to what a majority may do to a minority (as, for example the constitutional provisions JMG referred to) in order to retain the ongoing consent of all the governed, including those who are in a losing minority on any given question.

    @Robert Matthiesen – very nice example of the kind of thing I’m talking about!

  211. ‘Democracy as verbal noise’.

    Well, in Spain it’s common to hear the Radical Left denouncing Spain as being ‘not a real democracy!’

    What they can’t accept is that it is indeed a democracy in which governments are appointed and fall according to fair elections, and in which sometimes at the national level a majority of people will vote for parties which are undeniably Francoist in their roots and ideals or truly Spanish-fascist – Falange – or simply ‘neo-liberal’. In some regions, they get voted in nearly all the time, because that’s what the people want.

    Deluded ones, it is a democracy, just not delivering what you dream of, and not putting you in power!

    Of course, what they yearn for is a one-Party state of Perpetual Revolution under a Great Leader – they genuflect in front of Venezuela – embodying their idea of Perfection.

    Thank God old, soiled democracy can save us from that, which was Churchill’s point about the least bad of all the options.

    Which is why we should care about maintaining the health of such a system – the alternatives are frightening.

    Similarly, Left groups so often fall victim to in-fighting of the ‘you are not True Left! Compromisers! Traitors! Bourgeois conformists!’ kind.

    Show me a new Radical Left grouping, and I’ll show you people who will in a year or two hate their former comrades even more bitterly than they hated the Right they sought to over-throw. Evilly-evil indeed, in their comic-book world. (My sister’s Vegan Anti-Capitalist Anti-Patriarchy group, conceived in such high hopes, fell apart in a few months due to ideological and power struggles.)

    Curiously, a word which I hardly ever see used in such circles is ‘fanatic’: people are always ‘committed’, the highest mental and moral state imaginable, whatever gibberish they are uttering. A little 18th century Reason would be good for them. 🙂

  212. Thanks for this post. I especially like the focus on the right to be wrong as an essential aspect of a free society.

    I remember a short study on the Mondragon Corporation in college, many years ago. It was my only exposure to Syndicalism. As others have posted, I would also like to see a post on syndicalism.

  213. Y. Chireau – many of the examples that would most lift and strengthen our hearts are sadly hidden from view. It pays to keep our eyes and ears open to catch the fleeting glimpses now and again!

  214. Several times in my life I’ve been not-exactly-invited to join the Freemasons. (“Hey, did you know Freemasons aren’t allowed to invite someone to join; the person has to ask?”) I’ve politely declined. (“Really? That’s interesting. I can see why that could be a good rule to have, though.” Gotta love the not-quite-lost art of cryptic etiquette.) The main reason was that an all-male organization didn’t seem the right fit for me.

    That put Freemasonry comfortably in the middle ground between the two extremes of “activities I’m offended by” and “activities I want to join in.” That middle ground is quite large. It encompasses nearly everything people do.

    But there are people for whom that doesn’t seem to be the case. I know this because my mother is one. She’s done a lot of things and is a highly accomplished craftswoman, but for everything she hasn’t done, she’s mentioned some excuse for not having done it. For some “respectable” pursuits, such as mastering a musical instrument, that excuse is that she has no talent for it. Reasonable enough. But for most activities, from skydiving to board games to dancing, she’ll tell you the activity in question is irresponsibly risky, or wasteful, or unhealthy, or immoral, or pointless, or vulgar. “I find it unappealing compared with many available alternatives” apparently isn’t a good enough reason to decline to participate.

    I’ve wondered if that same personality trait, given power, could fuel the drive toward “everything not forbidden is mandatory.”

    As for the Freemasons, times and circumstances do change. I’ll be moving back to southeastern Nuwinga sometime next year. After that, I’ll let you know if I have a favor to ask.

    PS Have you read Dan Brown’s novel The Lost Symbol, wherein the author attempts to use the power of hilariously implausible narrative to rehabilitate the image of the Freemasons among the thriller-novel-reading public? Being neither a member nor a paranoid conspiracy theorist, I found it hysterically funny from beginning to end…

  215. JMG & All
    This week post & comments have stirred memories in me.
    I remember long-ago realizing that ‘democracy’ cannot mean ‘winner takes all’. Except in exceptional cases the ‘winning’ of a decision must override any and all objection. Then the decision takers should by design incur serious responsibility and accountability roughly along the lines that ‘if you break it you own it and you pay for it’. Otherwise, minority and dissent and disablement in ‘democracy’ are normal and allowed by default, and we are under obligation to carry them. The doctrines that eventually accommodated Quakers in Britain (a suppressed minority), might be landmark expression of a maturing democracy, (e.g. Quakers and ‘oath taking’ in Britain and elsewhere). There are rules about it that we are now bound to. These rules might reflect usual good working practice within any family.

    A brief thanks to Robert Mathiesen for his comment on traditional Russian rural life. If we are heading back to a more craft-based agrarian society we might take note of and carry forward thinkers who cared about and witnessed the loss of customary protection in the 18th and 19th centuries. In England I think of William Cobbett and in Russia, Count Tolstoy. I am taken with ‘God on high’ … God as witness perhaps? ‘Power’ and ‘supremacy’ might not be the reality. Witness might be time itself, which puts ‘responsibility’ right where it matters?

    Phil H

  216. @GH: When reading or watching stuff where the threat is “…and they’ll take over the world!” I always find myself unmoved unless there’s some other bad stuff involved, for similar reasons. Like, if the lizard aliens would do as good a job or better than the current set–make sure everyone has access to food/clothing/health care/etc, stay out of people’s private lives, protect the environment, ensure the public safety, etc–and wouldn’t eat us or send us to the beryllium mines, I’d back Unstoppable Lizard Tyranny.

    (Similarly, my complaint re: theoretical Illuminati is that they really need to get on the ball.)

  217. Quick correction – sorry to take up space again.
    I intended to say that it was only in exceptional cases that a winning vote decision should override any and every dissent or opposition, period.

    Phil H

  218. About women’s ( and other) organizations getting into politics, we have recently seen how frighteningly easy it is for non-profits to be corrupted by one or two deep pocketed and or loud and determined members-with-agendas, the once respected Seed Savers Exchange being a case in point. There is currently an on-going effort to radicalize and take over the Green Party in the USA.

    I think I must respectfully disagree with our gracious host about the word ” ‘democracy’ as a verbal noise connected to warm fuzzy feelings” in that I think this is less a matter of “makes me feel good” and more a matter of relative prestige, with words like ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic’ have rather more prestige than, for example, ‘tyrannical’, ‘authoritarian’ or even ‘monarchical’ in many quarters. It seems to me that ‘democratic’ ranks with ‘creative’ and ‘scientific’ on the contemporary prestige-o-meter. Perhaps at some future time a discussion of Thucydides might be in order? Ancient Athens excluded slaves, women and metics from the voting assemblies and if I remember correctly, there was a property qualification as well. Furthermore, no member of the Delian League was allowed to have any other kind of government than a democracy and, as everyone will surely remember, membership in the League was hardly optional. How, I wonder, does one classify the government of The Serene Republic, which was neither feudal nor a monarchy? An interesting data point, the earliest governments (of which I have read or heard) organized as non-monarchical republics were not Greek but Phoenician.

    About self-governing communities, one might also mention the Pueblo people of the American Southwest.

  219. I hope you’ll forgive my responding to a couple of the earlier comments without having read the later ones yet.

    The maxim which drhooves attributes to Confucius may have been said by him, but it certainly was spoken by Rabbi Hillel, who died in Jerusalem when Jesus was a boy. The entire quotation translates as “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn”

    JMG wrote, “A consensus system gives dictatorial powers to every disgruntled individual, and thus places the interest of anyone who wants to game the system over the rights of everyone else.” I am a member of an organization, The Covenant of the Goddess, which has been governing itself by a modified form of consensus process since 1975.

    In order for consensus process to work on a fairly large (national) scale, CoG’s bylaws include several crucial features: 1. Election of officers and adoption of the annual budget are decided by simple majority vote. All other decisions are made by consensus. 2. Membership is not open to everyone who wishes to join. Discrimination on account of race, sexual orientation and that kind of thing is not allowed, but applicants have to submit letters of recommendation and some other information which shows that they share common values with the organization and are willing to work with others. 3.
    If there is substantial opposition to a proposal, usually the proposal is modified to satisfy objections, or tabled if the objectors are unmollified. If almost everyone wants to go ahead with something that one or a few members can’t stand, they may cast a veto. This is supposed to be a last resort and the bylaws say that if you do it habitually, it’s grounds for kicking you out of CoG. So far, this has not happened.

    I have heard that the Quakers also use consensus process.

  220. Yes, indeed, JMG. The word “mir” in Slavonic translates either Greek eirēnē “peace” or Greek kosmos “world, ordered community;” Russian took over the word in both meanings from Slavonic. As Tolstoy used it in the title of his novel, to contrast with “voina” (war), it clearly refers to the absence of war; but Tolstoy would not have objected at all if someone claimed it also pointed to such a traditional peasant village community.

    To Phil H.: the Russian proverb, “God is high above, and the Tsar is far away,” is usully understood to mean that neither God nor the Tsar (that is, neither Church nor State) need be taken into account by the peasants as they go about their lives in the traditional way. The proverb claims that both of them are completely irrelevant to the affairs of the village, and with a moderate amount of skill, both can be deceived as to how the village conducts its business. God in this sense — God as the ultimate source of authority for the official Church — is not quite the same as the God whom the village priest mediates to the peasants.

    The key to this sort of communal life is to cultivate and pass on high levels of skill in what I like to call “the arts of deception” — a prerequisite for successfully “flying under the radar” of modern officialdom. I am all in favor of mastering these arts as a way to survive the coming collapse.

  221. @ Scotlyn & Dean Myerson

    My contention remains – government creates nothing, but uses resources of people to support itself. In both older and modern times, when governments reach a certain critical mass ( debt, population, resources, etc.), they seem to either break out and gobble others or implode.

    In my travels, one common thing across the planet is that once you start talking about bad government, everybody seems to think their government is the worst. It doesn’t even matter the type of government or the size of it – everyone has little positive to say about their various governments. Some say nothing because their governments would not approve.

    China, Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia, Russia, Iceland, Australia, Belgium, Germany – and lots of others I have been to and solicited this over a beer or a wine or just fishing off a pier – the reply to my query is the same.

    Yet when you look beneath these governments, people seem to get along; to find a way to make it work; to solve most problems without government involvement. If you look at the classes below government and the rich, people do fine in spite of government – not because of it. We find a way to work things on our own; most of the time it is government that is upsetting things with idiot laws and regulations designed to “protect citizens” from some nebulous thing or to protect “the children”. Government taxes us, takes its cut and then redistributes these taxes as it sees fit, to keep it in power. This is no different from any other time in modern history.

    Outside of requisite military power, especially in our time, people try to avoid government and try to ignore it as much as possible. My personal effort goes to trying to ignore government and taxes as much as I am able to. In America, this is difficult but can be done – you just have to avoid being rich in money or debt.

    My hope is that people do as in Madagascar – avoid it, ignore it and starve it out. There really isn’t need of much more than moderate police forces if people would stop trying to own each other or control the world. I think part of the reason for this is that sociopaths and psychopaths are attracted to the power and glamour of governance – so making it rudimentary would serve to limit their madness. Rampant materialism figures into this, as it has become almost a religion and creates a spiritual desert.Voting with your feet and your wallet are usually enough to control most things, except government – because their hand is in your wallet and they limit where your feet can take you.

    If we are living in an apocalypse, I wish the curtain would just get pulled back and the Age of Aquarius get going. Everyone wants change except those with lots of “stuff” or lots of power over others. They are both minorities at this point in time, making change inevitable no matter the initial domino that falls.

    I know many disagree with my contention that government should be small. That’s ok, as I base my thinking on what I have seen and experienced traveling in lots of places. We are all more similar than we are different. We are all more free than any government wishes to admit – especially today with the internet flung open wide.

  222. “Have you noticed, though, that humanity in the mass is far dumber than individual people?” – JMG

    There you go advancing a very solid argument for decentralization – because from where I sit, the dumbness is directly proportional the size of the humanity involved. A brief reading of newspapers from previous centuries versus today will reveal a downward trend in word usage, story depth and similar things. It goes to your “soundbite” argument as well. Looking around, it seems the larger or more crowded the population of a country, the dumber their machinations. Lemmings?

    Which gets us back to ignoring governments and relying on self organizing collectives of local humans (or virtual collectives). I think this may be where things could wind up if resource wars or other black swans don’t get us all. If there is a common threat or a common need, absent government, people affected will organize to obviate or solve the problem. Today, they seem to rely on complaining about it and whining to inefficient government to solve common problems. Many have the expectation that government is supposed to do just that.

  223. Hi JMG,

    are people living within a democratic system free? ‘Sort of,’ is the best answer I could come up with. I wouldn’t dispute at all that they are more free than people living under a tyrannical system. I think there are many other factors which place limits on our freedom, and that the particular form of government of the country in which we find ourselves is but one of them (albeit a very important one!)

    I got to thinking about individual freedom being like Russian nesting dolls, those sets of wooden dolls of decreasing size which are placed one inside another. Each individual is at the center of the set of dolls, with each doll being a layer of particular limitations on one’s freedom. The outermost layer would consist of the natural laws of the world that limit us all – gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, etc. Even magic must operate from within those laws! Moving down through the layers, one finds other kinds of things that limit our freedom – the energy available to us as individuals or as a society, for example. Whether that is solar energy or fossil fuel energy places limits on the types of actions we can choose. Another layer might be our physical body – our DNA, how our genes have been expressed, the life-force we have inherited from our parents. Yet another layer would be the particular country (and system of government) in which we happened to be born – whether that is a relatively stable place, or one disturbed by wars, violence, extreme poverty, or starvation. Another layer would be one’s social class at birth, or level of education available. At these layers, there is very little the individual can do to change the circumstances in which one finds oneself, so it could be said that the individual is not really free at all.

    Moving down to yet further layers, we start to enter the realm of ideology and morality. The laws of our country which prohibit murder, stealing etc, as discussed in the post, limit our freedom to the extent that disregarding those laws will land us in some major trouble. Here, one could argue that people have a bit more freedom, as you could technically choose to disregard them (as some people do), but the threat of consequences does impose limits on most people’s behavior. The religious ideologies to which we adhere also serve to limit our freedom to varying degrees – whether it’s a case of the church as state, seeking to impose total control over its citizens, or just a case of someone growing up in a very religious family, where choosing to dismiss the accepted religion would land one in pretty big trouble, especially if one stands to inherit the family farm. The values instilled by one’s family are yet another layer, as are the various social conventions of the day. One can certainly choose to go against them, as long as one is prepared to accept the repercussions of such choices. But there is more freedom to be found at these layers.

    Further down the layers, we would come closer to the individual and his or her personal choices. To a certain extent I would say one is even more free here, but it becomes important to realize that there are many vested interests which seek to influence what we think, and thus choose. And also, we can only think within the possibilities that we can conceive of. Many things that we might be able to have more freedom about go unnoticed or are deliberately concealed, and thus our choice is effectively taken away. Take the simple example of deciding what to have for breakfast, which may appear to be quite an innocent choice – if one isn’t careful to inform oneself about one’s choices, one might wind up ingesting a bowl of genetically-modified corn cereal covered with highly refined corn syrup, which may not be the best choice from the point of view of one’s individual health (from the point of view of the corporation selling the cereal, it’s a different matter of course.) Many other examples come to mind here – deciding what kind of medical care to seek out, what types of entertainment to choose, where to get one’s news, what to wear, what material comforts we ‘need,’ what kind of job to look for, whether we have self-worth, or agency, whether we need to progress. There is quite a bit more freedom theoretically possible at these layers, but here we need to be aware that there are many interests which seek to leverage that fact and dictate or limit what we think about. But I would argue that it is at this type of layer where we start to have more freedom and in which it is possible to actually exercise some free will, as there are less serious repercussions here for unpopular choices. So if one wants to start moving towards having even more freedom, it would make sense to start with these types of personal choices. Once one realizes the capacity for greater freedom at this level, one can begin the slow process of trying to discover the areas where one actually could have choice, but of which one may not be currently aware. Herein lies the value of questioning and thinking critically! But if one starts from the position of thinking that one already has free will, one is less likely to ever begin this process.

    (Sorry, this got a bit long and arguably, off-topic in that I don’t think you were really getting at a lot of this. Luckily you have the freedom to use the delete button as you see fit!)

  224. Garden Housewife, that’s ultimately why civilizations fall. Forced to choose between a vast, dysfunctional, intrusive, and appallingly expensive imperial bureaucracy and a barbarian warlord, most people end up choosing the barbarian warlord, because he costs less, can’t be bothered to care about your personal life, and is right there and thus much less likely to ignore obvious problems than an imperial bureaucrat deciding things by formula from two thousand miles away.

    Booklover, that is to say, there are a lot of dysfunctional democracies these days — a point with which I’ve never argued. Your suggestion for the fifth Wednesday is in the hopper.

    Jbucks, I’ll consider that. Many thanks.

    Chris, fascinating. The Catholics I know best are about as far from being obsessive about things like copier lids as you can get, so that may have been a personal quirk on the part of your employers. That said, the sheer volume of canon law does suggest a certain propensity for micromanaging people’s lives…

    Xabier, good. Yes, we also have quite a few people here in America for whom the word “democracy” means “everyone votes the way I want them to vote.”

    Jeff, so noted!

    Walt, by all means. Yes, I’m familiar with that book, one might say! I also found it quite funny.

    Phil, exactly. Democracy requires disagreement, contention, the airing of widely disparate views. If nobody’s being offended, it’s a safe bet that you’re not in a democracy.

    Nastarana, the problem with focusing on the prestige factor is that it makes it harder to talk about the system itself, warts and all. That, in turn, makes it much harder to grapple with the fact that democratic systems of government have certain problems hardwired into them — serious problems which cannot be made to go away, but are worth putting up with because of the benefits democratic systems also provide.

    Deborah, so noted. I know people who fled screaming from CoG because of issues with the consensus system, but of course your mileage may vary.

    Robert, thanks for this. One of my Russian teachers back in high school pointed out that “War and Community” makes a very thought-provoking opposition, since in a very real sense war is the opposite of community…

    Oilman2, there’s a long and interesting history behind the notion that government ought to solve all social problems; it’s rather reminiscent of the guy who murdered his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan! A great many of the voluntary institutions that Americans used to use to meet their needs were systematically destroyed by government and certain influential industries; for example, the most widespread system of paying for medical care in pre-Second World War America, in which community groups (lodges, churches, etc.) hired individual physicians at a flat monthly salary to provide health care to their members, was crushed by the AMA and the medical industry, with the assistance of federal and state governments, because it kept a lid on the profits made by doctors and the medical industry generally. People turned to government because that’s all they were left with…

  225. Stefania, I think you’re on to something, but I’m going to put in a quibble, or maybe something more than a quibble. “Are people in a democracy free?” is an astonishingly vague question. Free from what? Free to what? As you’ve pointed out, this word “free” can mean a lot of different things, and of course it’s also been turned into one of the classic warm fuzzy words, and thus generally gets turned into a verbal grunt linked with warm emotions and that’s all.

  226. JMG, I believe you’re right. I think you could safely delete the first three sentences of my comment, as it actually doesn’t really relate to what I was trying to get at. But I would want to keep pretty much all of the rest of it, and possibly think about it quite a bit more in the process of trying to understand it.

  227. @ JMG

    Beyond interesting. When I was CTO of a small company a decade ago, insurance was eating us alive in our G&A. I actually called our attorney to ask about us hiring a GP on salary, because that alone would have saved us 70% of our costs. I remembered my grandfather talking about going to the ‘company doctor’ at Gulf Oil when he was young, and thought that bringing that back might make sense, looking at our expense.

    Next day, I was told it was illegal unless we formed a separate medical corporation which garnered at least 50% of its’ revenue from services. So, doctors or nurses can do this, but non-medical folks cannot. I didn’t ask if it was state or federal, as it didn’t matter since that row was already hoed.

  228. I have described in previous weeks the controversial actions of our local city council, in attempting to grant the right to vote (only in city elections) to those who are not US citizens. (To make a long story short, in attempting to counter the anti-immigrant scent wafting in from the White House, they discovered how many citizens of their city would pay attention when given a reason.) Now, the Mayor and City Council members are up for re-election Tuesday night, and there are more campaign signs and robo-calls in my neighborhood than we saw in the entire election season of 2016.

    I remember a few election cycles ago, when I showed up to vote in a city election, and there was only one candidate listed for each position! No one was interested in running. As I remarked to the election staff “I’m voting to affirm my respect for the process, not to affect the outcome.” We kept the process alive, and this year, we have issues to decide. This is democracy.

  229. Not exactly specific to the topic of this week, but regarding ecology and future events, I recommend a look at

    Here’s a taste: “Unlike other larger tribes that focus on one aspect of overshoot such as climate change, species extinction, fisheries collapse, deforestation, tree die-off, nitrogen imbalance, pollution, soil loss, aquifer depletion, resource depletion, peak oil, or unsafe debt to GDP, my tribe focuses on the system of problems, their underlying causes, and possible paths forward.”

  230. @Oilman
    I whole heartedly agree with your contention that government should be much smaller than it is, and I expect many here agree. As well I believe that there really is a problem related to psychopathic and abusive people in leadership positions, most especially at the highest levels, which becomes worse as organizations become larger.
    People have a great innate sense that alerts us to abusive people, whether or not we understand the mechanism of abuse: we can just feel it. But this only works well when we are face-to-face. This holds for business as well as government, but since government is the biggest gig out there it enables success by the very worst among us.
    Maybe this is part of the explanation for the stupidity of groups that JMG mentioned.

  231. Another vote for the nature spirits post, JMG. Would it be possible to make it a twofer, and weave in your views on the path of the mage and that of the mystic?

  232. JMG–re Covenant of the Goddess–I was an early member, haven’t been recently, but if I recall correctly several adjustments have been made in the consensus system through the years.

    However, even a simple majority vote system can be manipulated by a fanatic minority. If meetings run on forever, as in some organizations I have been in, those less committed to a course of action eventually go home because they have babysitters to pay or jobs to go to the next day. I was filled with wonder when a group I belonged to elected a former Marine as chair. He pulled out an agenda, assigned estimated times to each item and, if the discussion ran over he would make us vote to extend it by a specific amount “FIve more minutes, ten?” Most issues didn’t really merit more time, so we would go ahead and call the vote. At first I thought he was just being anal retentive, but miracle of miracles, I got home at a reasonable hour that evening. And all the planned business was taken care of.

    @ Tippy–I believe that some forms of 12 step program have been made mandatory in sentencing by some judges and in some institutional settings. This has led to lawsuits about the religious element. I also recall that when some AA groups started to fill up with narcotic uses the alcoholics were hostile, feeling that alcoholism and drug addiction are not the same. I think this was back in the 90s. Things may have evened out by now, especially as NA is a thing of its own. I know some Pagans tried writing a Pagan friendly version of the 12 steps that did not emphasize personal powerlessness. Another group has worked up a version that does not require a god. I have also read complaints of sexism or other reasons that some women felt the original AA dis not serve their needs well. But the low ‘cure’ rate seems the most important consideration.

    Re polytheistic pantheons: not only does the head god not have power over the entire universe, in many cases it is predicted that he, or the entire pantheon, will fall. Zeus tortures Prometheus because Prometheus knows who will overthrow Zeus and refuses to tell.

  233. Rabtter, so noted. Democratic syndicalism and nature spirits are currently more or less neck and neck. I’d figure out a way to combine them if I could!

    Stefania, nah, don’t edit your comments! They’re raw material for future writings of yours.

    Oilman, bingo. Lodge trade, as the system was called, gives consumers the edge in dealing with the medical industry, and not just around costs — back in the day, every year, your lodge would vote on whether to keep the current doctor or give him the heave-ho and get someone new, and the quality of care he provided was a large part of that. The medical industry hates it when consumers have that kind of power, so of course it got made illegal.

    Lathechuck, I’ll look forward to hearing about the outcome!

    Ottergirl, hmm. Each of those topics will take at least a full post, but I’ll consider both of them.

    Rita, if your presiding officer and members know the first thing about democratic process, they know that you can always move to close debate; if the majority votes yes on that motion, debate on the subject in question is closed, it cannot be brought back up again that night without a two-thirds vote in favor, and anyone who insists on trying to bring it up again is out of order and can be thrown out of the room. The kind of meeting that drones on endlessly shows that nobody knows how the system should work.

    I’ve been presiding officer over — let’s see — two different magical lodges, three different Druid groves, all three bodies of the York Rite of Masonry (Royal Arch Chapter, Council of Cryptic Masons, and Commandery of Knights Templar), a Rose+Croix chapter in the Scottish Rite of Masonry, a Grange, an Odd Fellows Lodge, Encampment, and Canton, the Grand Encampment of Washington IOOF, and the Ancient Order of Druids in America. During my tenure in each of these, none of those bodies had meetings that ran on to the point of tedium, because there are simple ways to keep a meeting moving along despite the usual problems, and I know them. Your Marine knew them. You can learn them too, and so can anyone else.

  234. Great post, and I’m intending to join the Masons sooner rather than later.

    Since you mention they’re neck and neck, I figured I’d comment to cast my vote for the nature spirits. Not that I expect you to chose based on direct democracy, of course 🙂

  235. @Jen,

    For an intense look at causes of addiction and how they relate to a person’s environment (particularly during childhood), I STRONGLY recommend looking at the work of Gabor Mate.

    In a nutshell, his studies show a strong correlation between addiction and childhood trauma, with worse trauma leading to worse addictions, and repeated trauma throughout life also worsening addiction. He also shows how this can lead to gambling addiction, shopping addiction, etc.

    Your inability to relate to the desire to escape life’s experiences may be a sign that you were fortunate enough to learn how to process emotions in a very healthy way as a child. Many people who are not addicted or are only mildly addicted to things can easily understand the desire for escapism, even if they resist that desire easily.

    Jessi Thompson

  236. JMG, Thanks for the explanation. I could not comprehend at first why you were saying Dmitry was making a value judgment when he didn’t seem to be, to me. Now it makes sense, I think: He’s including values in his definition. (And I wasn’t trying to claim direct democracy is the only real democracy. Sorry it came across that way.)

    @Doug Manners, Thanks for riffing on that idea further. I think you understand my point of view. I agree it has a lot to do with definitions. Good point. I think JMG has one definition of democracy, Dmitry another, and myself probably a third.

  237. JMG – Just ordered and am looking forward to reading your essay in Dark Mountain. I recently read a book called Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. The author took pains to make it clear that she wasn’t referring to the Cthulhu mythos but to ancient greek (hence the extra ‘h’, but kinship with the “tentacular” was a major theme of the book. Just curious if you’ve read this or heard of it, and if so, what are your thoughts?

  238. To Robert Mathiesen
    Yes – got that. Further reflection after I posted my comment had suggested ‘far enough away authority’ was the peg for the Russian proverb.

    I have never lived or worked in Russia although our eldest daughter was in Siberia after an educational spell in St Petersburg. I have lived and worked however in a dominantly Slav country off and on for a few years but to may regret never learned the language. I have enjoyed Russian music and writing, even in translation, finding them more meaningful than much of my own heritage.

    For a while as a small child we lived briefly in a British peasant community (a remaining Welsh fragment) and later as a youngster got to know a little of the Scottish Highlands almost disappeared by then. I emphatically do not idealize these cultures, even to the extent found in the poetry of Hugh McDiarmid (Chris Grieve), but found key moments from my own experience chimed with his. (HMc/CG, an avowed materialist in the 1930s whom I believe was thrown out of the communist party for being a nationalist and from the SNP for being a communist, but crofted and wrote for a while in our smallest northern islands.) These experiences come under the heading of “intangible feeling” and McDiarmid wrote; “Difficult to describe, / But easy to recall to anyone who has stood in such a room / And been disturbed by the certainty /That those who once inhabited it / Were sure of every thought they had.” He wrote of “an emanation”. I had caught something like this in some of the rooms I knew and in some of Turgenev. Perhaps ‘evasive’ is a the word for the experience found by folk song collectors such as Bartok, or a British man I valued AL Lloyd. If you have inherited much (inherent value) that owes nothing to ‘authority’ – then as I think happened to Bartok with the singer he heard in the distance, when you catch up with her, she smiles, says she knows, no songs, and then resumes her singing when far enough away. McDiarmid believed their time would come round again.

    Phil H

  239. I vote for a post of the Syndicate of Nature Spirits. HA! Seriously though, so many pantheons seem to be modeled on Monarchies, I wonder if there are godly guilds, or divine democracies, angelic anarchists, and tribal totems.

    Also, I will begin consolidating my power to get pot lucks happening in that old grange building.

  240. For 5th wed of the month I vote economics: either the long-announced post on negative interest rates, or something on syndicalism, perhaps especially on why alternative forms of economic government have NOT yet spread very far.

  241. The lodge system for medical care sounds wonderful, in comparison to what we have now. Whenever I attempt to discuss it though, I get some response about “the poor needing doctors too!” This does not at all address why it’s illegal though, and no attempt seems to get through to people that there is no reason why the system couldn’t exist, and we could still have others in place.

    With regards to meetings: I think a large part of why meetings are so bad these days is that these traditional rules needed for organizations to function have not just been forgotten, but abandoned. I have been to meetings where any attempt to kill discussion is met with confusion or contempt, even from those who want it to end. I usually just leave the organization once I find out that is the case, but it is still quite frustrating.

  242. @scotlyn – I have no doubt that such self-governing societies have existed and were probably not that rare – once, including in North America. In our modern world – as long as it lasts, I think being off the radar is just too hard for any period of time. You will be found and you will either be assimilated or perish. After the decline of modernity and once things settle down, it will happen again.

    @oilman2 – well, one of the fundamental rules appears to be that government rots from the inside out, inevitably. Corrective processes like democracy have the intent or reforming and renewing, but it seems that for the long term they are delaying the inevitable. One thing I got from JMG’s Dark Age America was the sense not to focus so much just on government. When this rot sets in, the government, the elite, etc, are not all that indistinguishable. Corporate CEOs are every bit the parasite that wasteful governments are in that case. But that is the historian’s perspective. my point though is that for the short term – i.e. our lives and maybe a little bit more, good (and not tiny) government is not only possible, but is probably is in fact essential to decent life. Reforming what we’ve got now often seems like a fools errand, but I’m trying anyway. Even if I succeed, it will be but a blip for a historian in 1000 years, but it is far more than that for those of us alive at the moment.

    @jmg – sometimes things happen by chance and sometimes not. It seems unlikely to me that industrialization was a chance event. Of course, even if some other development (i.e. cultural) was found to have triggered industrialization, we could ask what caused it. But I’m still inclined to believe that a group of factors came together in the right way and at the right time to brig us to where we are now.

  243. “Unknown” Deborah! Welcome back! I thought we’d lost you…
    I’m a big Roberts Rules of Order thumper. “I have a copy of Roberts Rules of Order, and I’m not afraid to use it!”

  244. Dot writes: “So Dewey might refuse to serve an organization she found “downright vile”.”

    Darn right, and I would hope that you would as well, even though we have extremely different ideas about what sorts of behavior are vile. The alternative is to have no ethical standards at all or to be willing to violate any of them for money, which would make a person a really low human being no matter how well they seemed to behave.

    Steve T: Thanks for the dialogue, and I agree there’s no point in taking up more space with it. (For example, I see no point in trying to convince you that at my workspace, which has a high percentage of scientists, there was almost certainly no manger scene at the Christmas party before icky folks like me arrived.)

  245. Dear John Michael

    I am sure that you are a good man, and that there are many free masons of not high rank that are good people. But according the historian and politician Ricardo de la Cierva (La Masoneria invisible). All the free masons of level 33 are satanists or diabolist.

  246. Scotlyn – Thanks for the link! That chapter was written in the early 1990s. I wonder to what extent that situation (reminiscent of that described by James C. Scott in autonomous communities of “Zomia”) persists in those villages. Things have changed greatly in Madagascar since the worthless Admiral Ratsiraka was ousted for good in 2002. His successor, Marc Ravalomanana, was from the capital of Antananarivo (also in the Imerina region) but did a fair bit for the countryside, including paving almost all of the major national highways. There was probably much more contact with government at least toward the end of his rule, though there are still remote villages where, according to Malagasy I know, nobody has ever seen a 4×4. He was kicked out several years ago for having increasingly conflated the country’s interests with his personal businesses [no comment…] and finally plotting to GIVE a third of the country’s arable land to Daewoo. His immediate replacement, Rajoelina, was himself at the time mayor of Tana and had little support outside it, if I recall the situation correctly, and authority outside the capital area fell apart, resulting in a great upsurge in banditry on the highways. I get the impression that certain areas still have problems.

    OTOH, the plague outbreak seems to have been brought largely under control pretty darn fast, and only 15% or so of the victims have died with most recovering, which for pneumonic plague in an impoverished country speaks well of the speed of response. It helped that most of the cases were in two of the biggest cities, and those in the central area rather than the much-worse-off extreme south or west. However, I think much credit is to be given to the current government.

  247. Dear Mr. Greer – So, fifth Thursday topics. I liked Booklover’s suggestion about green wizardry for apartment dwellers. Having just moved from the boonies to an apartment in town. But it has a garden spot! But, perhaps that’s best left for the Green Wizard website.

    I was interested in Marie’s suggestion as to beauty and aesthetics. Jbucks suggestion of Stormwatch “heads up” at the end of posts was useful, I thought. I’d also find Ynnothir’s interest in genii locorum, also something I’d like to hear your take on. Those are my votes. But when you sit down to write, go with whatever moves you at that particular moment. As I’m pretty sure, you will. Whatever the topic, it will be well worth reading.

    I was going to respond at length to some of the comments on Alcoholic’s Anonymous, but decided (or reminded myself) that a.) I don’t have to respond to everything I read on the net (but here I am) and b.) I’d follow your lead. “So noted.” :-). Lew

  248. “Deborah, so noted. I know people who fled screaming from CoG because of issues with the consensus system, but of course your mileage may vary.”

    People have fled screaming from CoG for a variety of reasons. Membership, and attempting to use the organization to do anything, requires a great deal of patience. I am not contending that consensus process is superior to parliamentary process. I’m simply pointing out that two rather different religious groups which are too large to fit into anyone’s living room have made use of it for centuries (Quakers) and more than forty years (CoG).

    Modern consensus process, like parliamentary democracy, has rules and norms. The rules and norms differ enough that being familiar with either system is not sufficient to prepare anyone to use the other. Education is absolutely required; thorough education for the leaders and basic education for the participants. When a group that is trying to use consensus process doesn’t understand the rules or buy into the norms, it is neither fair nor effective.

    I don’t know why the founders of CoG decided to adopt a mixed system, but my guess is that elements of majority rule were thought necessary in order to keep the organization in compliance with California law. Consensus process was required in order to persuade a large range of covens to join, because the prospective members had no previous positive experience of such organizations, were jealous of their rights, and were suspicious of giving any power over to a larger organization. Similar worries among the American colonies led to several of the anti-majoritarian clauses in the US Constitution.

  249. @Dmitry. There is an old saying: All politics is local. I think we lost control of whatever democracy we might once have had when we stopped discussing issues of the day at the local pub at night, then bringing them up at the monthly town hall meeting. This might be because of the Dunbar Number. Over about 150 people interacting together, it becomes harder and harder to relate to them on a personal, political, and business manner. This is an approximate village sharing some Commons and governing itself as the group dynamics dictates.

    Above that, democracy is difficult. You start to get representational governments or republics, where officials, such as barons, senators, etc., allegedly speaking for your group, but are basically unaccountable. They get together and form their own Dunbar group, perhaps being represented by a king or emperor. And et cetera. Of course, most of those are not elected so the democratic village becomes part of a monarchy or empire. And even if they are elected, they are out of touch with their constituents and in touch with their new power village.

    I’m sure you’ve heard about the Iroquois Federation? Five Indian Nations in upstate New York and Canada would have wars every so often and then get together for a peace conference. One bright guy said: Why don’t we just have one long peace conference? So each village elected representatives, which gathered together for their respective nation. These elected representatives went to a congress of them all to hash out issues important to them all. They had a constitution, which Franklin used in framing our constitution. Interestingly, the representatives, all male, were selected by the female members of the tribe, and could be replaced by them. Ben dropped this idea.

    This seems like a good blend of representational democracy and local accountability, but probably not very scalable.–Great-Law-of-Peace-Constitution-of-the-Iroquois-Federation.aspx


    My personal take on the question of a supreme being is that neither position, one exists vs. one does not exist, makes any sense. I see this as a reflection on my limited mental horse power, so I am just not sure.

  250. Another vote for the nature spirits post! (But I’m fine with democratic syndicalism too…..I’s just rather hear from the nature spirits first).

  251. @Y. Chireau

    Your link says the opposite of what you think it says. “Peak oil demand” implies a switch to nuclear or renewables. The fact that “peak oil demand is a myth” means that peak oil supply is coming.

  252. @ Dean Myerson…

    I did my stint in local government, once on city council and another 5 year gig running the “pool board” for our huge local olympic+ size pool. That as enough for me to realize I did not have the temperament to deal with congenital entitlists and selfish suburban home owners.

    That was a part of what made me decide just to ignore a lot of what government does, as without reasonable candidates, without financial reform to get the money out, well, it will always be a lesser of two evils. And frankly, I cannot vote for evil, just as I cannot vote for obviously stupid candidates – hence no voting in quite a while for Oilman2.

    I honestly think that having more localized (regional at the minimum) government would bring greater accountability. It would FORCE accountability if that happened, as the military would have to justify expenditures to several regions. Same for many other things – the guys doing the “hide the salami” with monies would be more visible. Same with grievous conflicts of interests and other lobbyist/revolving door scams.

    Which is why I think that if we have dissolution or some kind of civil war, it will only be after the dollar has been killed and the cupboard is bare in DC. And as someone said in the comments above, I think a warlord might actually be a better choice than thieves without consequences 2000 miles away. At least the warlord know that sooner or later he is going to get taken out – politicians seem to never leave until they retire filthy rich or die filthy rich.

  253. I seem to remember a fantasy novel I read in the 90s — Mercedes Lackley, I think– in which celtic-inspired elves had an auto race team (with an aluminum engine block and composite-fibres to avoid all that nasty cold iron– when they weren’t cheating with glamoured elvensteed). I can’t recall if she got into the corporate structure they used in the book, but I now choose to believe it was a co-op.

    (a little searching reveals that there was a series called “The SERRAted Edge”. Though I don’t know if the Fair Folk there depicted would count as nature spirits.)

  254. I’m just chiming in to leave my vote for nature spirits. Not that I’m uninterested in Democratic Syndicalism, but I second Lydia’s comment- I’d really like to hear about nature spirits first!

  255. @oilman2 – Yes, many problems. But this strikes as the grass is always greener on the other side, If you think a warlord is better than corrupt representative democracy, then my guess is you have only experienced the latter. As a rule, warlords only go away when they are taken out physically.

  256. Everyone who’s voted, thank you! Nature spirits now have a very slight lead over democratic syndicalism, but we’ll see how the final total works out.

    Blue Sun, you’re welcome. Thank you also for pushing the issue and encouraging me to clarify what I was saying.

    Y. Chireau, funny. You’re right, though, that people will start yelling along those lines — as though the fact that an article has been published saying X proves that X is true…

    Jeremy, I hadn’t heard of it. The extra “h” seems like a quibble to me, since the “thulhu” part isn’t Greek, and (according to Lovecraft) the spelling “Cthulhu” is an attempt to utter a sound unpronounceable by human vocal apparatus!

    Ray, funny. The alternative economics of nature spirits it is. 😉

    Will, yes, and we’ll be discussing in an upcoming post the rhetorical habit of insisting that a solution isn’t worth discussing if it leaves out anybody. I have a nicely controversial name for it. Stay tuned!

    Dean, I didn’t say that it was a chance event. I said that the timing of the various factors that brought it about was subject to chance.

    Anselmo, Ricardo de la Cierva is a liar. I know quite a few 33rd degree Masons and none of them is a Satanist or a diabolist. I’ve also met my share of Satanists and diabolists, so I have the necessary knowledge to make that statement! People who make statements like Ricardo de la Cierva’s are either liars and bigots, or they’re repeating accusations made by liars and bigots. On the off chance you’re interested in hearing something more accurate, you might consider visiting this link or this one.

    Lew, so noted and thank you.

    Deborah, so noted! Of course CoG has the right to use whatever system of decision making it chooses; it’s just that I’ve witnessed so many consensus-run organizations blow themselves to smithereens because of certain common flaws inherent in the usual approach to consensus that I tend to back away from the C-word as a matter of course.

    Dusk Shine, that sounds like Mercedes Lackey! Ugh…

  257. It is, perhaps, a little bit late, but I also vote for nature spirits, or perhaps more particularly for household spirits.
    As a multi-ethnic household, well, we have a wide variety of traditional household spirits to draw from. The most commonly referred to one goes by the household name of “Notme!” as the children always blame Notme for whatever broken or left out item they are being called to account for.
    But we wonder, what is Notme? Did Notme tag along with one (or several) of our various ancestors from around the world, or does Notme belong to this particular place? Or is Notme actually a consortium of several spirits from various places?
    Since there’s some evidence that there’s more to Notme than just children trying to get out of trouble . . . particularly the occasional jug of cold milk left on the counter when the entire family has been out for some hours . . . I am at least slightly serious. Household spirits and spirits of place are common to all the cultures that have come together in this house, but what one feeds them varies, though seems to always be liquid: beer, palm wine, milk . . . and they seem to’ve generally gotten on well enough with Christians after Pagan traditions were abandoned, so might very well have tagged along from, well, about twenty different places, really.
    It doesn’t really matter if Notme is a tonttu, a geni, or any or several of the other options, but I do wonder how that works when families migrate and merge. Would one pick up household spirits as a long term resident in a foreign land? If born in a foreign land? Or do they stay with a specific genetic line?

  258. Can we have a post on both please? though I’ll narrowly edge nature spirits over democratic syndicalism..

  259. JMG,

    I should have phrased my earlier comment more as a question. If a society makes accommodations for religious belief in the way you set out in the gay wedding cake essay, why should it not do the same for political, or even philosophical, beliefs?

    If everyone followed Dewey’s “ethics” for example, you’d have a society right now in the US in which half the country would refuse to serve the other half if they could find out how they voted (ok slight exaggeration but you know what I mean). Maybe they’d ask a few searching questions of anyone who looked at them funny, or develop secret handshakes or something…

    But if their motive is their political/ethical conviction that the customer in question is vile (i.e. sinful), and that’s it’s wrong to sell things to vile people, then why should they not be permitted to discriminate on that basis just as a religious fundamentalist could (if that were a tenet of their religious belief system, which is not much of a stretch)? The Nazi boycott of Jewish business wasn’t based on Nazi religious beliefs, but the mainstream Muslim boycotts of Ahmadi businesses in London are. Now of course a customer boycott is different to a private business refusing to sell to certain customers but the latter also happened and happens as part of the same belief systems. Why should they be treated differently simply because one is a set of secular beliefs while one is theological?

  260. Hi John Michael,

    No doubt that you are correct, and I chose particularly poorly in that particular employment instance. It was a lesson learned on the cheap. There are times when I feel that I have occasionally been given important and valuable lessons very cheaply whilst I was also young enough to recover from the shock of experiencing them. Did you feel that way when you worked in hospice work? In some respects the experiences have made me a far harder person than I would otherwise be, but at the same time far more forgiving. And I have not forgotten Mr Catton Jr’s thoughts and words either and I doubt I could now. Oh well.

    No need to write about economics – although I would appreciate your thoughts all the same – because Mr Kunstler wrote a very colourful and eloquent description of the current state of play: What Could Go Wrong?. It is a good question, and I am watching the situation unfold. You have to admit that there is a certain mad genius to it all? I’m genuinely surprised that this strategy would be attempted, but then the Roman’s gave it a bash too in their own inimicable way.



  261. JMG
    I would prefer continuing with democracy; perhaps syndicalism first and nature spirits next?
    Late for this week but this essay takes us back to beta testing November 1217 – Robert and Dimitry and otherc ommenters could be interested. (OK, its British and Royalty, war bands having established an off-shore base and etc.).

    btw BBC Radio 3 is doing excerpts from Prokofiev diary 1917. Today it was crowds approaching across the bridge toward the Winter Palace in Petrograd – beautiful day- peaceful protests – restrained Cossacks on horses – idiosyncratic odd shrieks from the crowd.
    Excerpts translated by this man

    Phil H

  262. I haven’t been checking on who those posters are who prefer warlords to bureaucrats, but would like to ask you one and all – do you now or have you ever had young girls in your care? Daughters? Granddaughters? I think a moment’s thought with that in mind might made anyone a bit less enthusiastic. Remember, it’s not just one warlord; it’s one warlord and all his merry men.

    Also – if one of the houses on your block were owned or rented by a gang, an outlaw motorcycle club, or even a fraternity house, would you feel at ease with them as neighbors?

    Just a little food for thought by someone who is an old woman at heart.

  263. @ Dean Myerson…

    I don’t think for a minute the grass is greener elsewhere – you misunderstand me. I have the right to lament and wish and even try for change. You have the right to say and try whatever you wish as well.

    I would have zero reservations in taking out a bad dictator – zero. They have to expect that or they are foolish. Which is why the truly smart ones take care of their people.

    I have no empathy for politicians and government officials – zero. They expect empathy, and they are foolish because they do not respect (or perhaps do not have) that capacity themselves.

    Personally, I believe that the Iroquois were onto something with the way they ran things. But that cannot be in a world where women and men are expected to be nearly identical. Which happens to be a soul crusher for both men and women.

    I think that smaller groups with common culture make for more stable nation/states. The modern mega-state, by most metrics, has proven to be very inefficient, clumsy and soul crushing to its’ people.

    I don’t have the answers, but I do think that what we discuss here and think about in terms of post-collapse possibilities, is a good mental exercise. Until a better way emerges, mankind is doomed to aggregate and organize along these same failed types of government. History is littered with them, and they all seem to be poor excuses for others to take the fruits of our labors.

    I am open to any type of government that may be better – but that must be in the cultural context of the time, and relative to the environment of the time. We only have the time between ice ages to develop this, and then we are fighting to survive again.

    Our governments espouse diversity, yet quash it by regimenting uniformity via law. Diversity is required and good for genetics, for our ecology and for the human soul.

    I see government the same way as deer or other animals see fences.

    My kids do not understand why anarchy appeals to me. Perhaps I have a faith that people can make things work, as long as they keep picking off the parasites. That may sound harsh, but I see many parasitical people living off the work of others – living better than those they feed on. Much of this is hardened into law by governments. To me, that is unhealthy in the extreme. The symptoms are all around us.

    Maybe, as one of my daughters is fond of saying, I was simply born into the wrong time this go round.

  264. @ Patricia Matthews – girls and warlords…

    When, exactly, has the world been free of the threat you elude to? And it isn’t just women – I recall many teenage male bodies being discovered in a boat storage in Houston back in the 70’s. All had been raped, dismembered and tortured for weeks prior to being dumped and buried under lime in that boat shed. One of them was my classmate…

    That is why I will never give up my guns – never.

    That is why my girls have all been taught to use them, and why they practice.

    We shut down our local crackhouse, without police help. They were busy writing tickets and inspecting the height of our lawns instead of dealing with it. Then the entire house went up in flames due to being struck by lightning…

    Every human is just a sociopaths misstep from crazyland anyway. Take a look at what is happening in MENA over the last week, or the last few decades.

    While I understand your worry regarding the dictator, a bullet is quite the deterrent for most humans. Before that, it was the arrow.

    Yes, I believe there should be consequences for bad behavior, which is a large part of what is wrong in the world today. BEING the consequence is something people are going to need to reacquaint themselves with…

  265. Chris,

    “… the Roman’s gave it a bash too in their own inimicable way.”

    I’m sure you meant “inimitable,” but it comes off quite delightfully as written!

  266. Hi Patricia,

    I’ve lived in neighborhoods with gang members and found them to be rather circumspect. Indeed, in New Orleans there was a house that was believed to be rented or owned by some underworld activity and there was no issue with the house I lived in, literally across the street. Of course though, two of the other trainhopping squats on the block were burned down, one while I was there. To be fair, the circumstances of the arson aren’t known. The squat I lived at is still going strong, 5 years later. We made a big community garden outback to share with the neighbors and didn’t permit hard drug use.

    Later I lived in Oakland and it was a similar vibe. There was a culture of honor and courtesy that was clearly very, very important. Indeed, there were strained levels of politeness.

    There weren’t young girls living in these squats, but there were beautiful young women. And people didn’t mess with them in particular or us in general often because we were somewhat organized, had allies in the community and were surrounded by fences and a lot of barking dogs.

    While I appreciate the point you are bringing up, in my experiences being around organized violent men, I’ve often felt safer than being in some wealthy parts of town where middle class men in business suits stare at me like they want to disembowel me and eat my entrails. I’m not being facetious; the worst attention I’ve gotten has been from white men, and more often then not those with a middle class presentation. I’m surprised I made it through as well as I did travelling through Chicago and Iowa; there was such high levels of animosity at points it began to form a dew point where I came very, very close to being stomped for my androgyny or olive skin or something, I have no idea why I aroused such vehement hatred for merely waking down the street or taking a nap on the greyhound bus. I felt much physically safer wearing zebraprint leggings, with still bleeding wounds from jumping off a moving freight train in the black and latino gang ridden south side of Chicago than the affluent white north side. I’ve talked with a friend of color about her time living in the Midwest and she had similar experiences of insane animosity. Gang members, in my experience, tend to be extremely respectful and to maintain a “live let live” attitude except when certain inviolate lines are crossed.

    Of course I am a very limited sample size, but if it was a no holds barred contest between suits and hoodies I know where my interests lie. More emotionally, I tend to find more common ground with poor people and people of color than privileged white folks. I immediately distrust people who believe in Progress and Science and who like modern art because I can feel somewhere in my heart, below the threshold of words, that our interests are no longer the same.

    I’m not saying this to give myself an aura of “cool”. I’m introverted, square and bookish. I am from a middle-class background and am an ethnic white. I dress in a black overcoat and wool sweaters. I don’t particularly like hip hop. Yet between the forces of Chaos and the forces of Order I am downwardly mobile enough to find myself, in my heart, favoring the forces of Chaos. This is how, I imagine, complex societies find themselves in time choosing the barbarians over the bureaucrats.

  267. For the fifth week I vote on Spirits also.

    Your later posts piqued my curiosity about the Masons and a quick google search set me to Argentina’s Logde website. Masons had a fundamental presence in the early years of Argentina’s formation, General Don Jose de San Martin, famous liberator that defeated the Spanish troops was a member in one official Lodge.

  268. I think it is important to distinguish between direct democracy and democratic republics (aka. representative democracy) when discussing whether or not democracy is indeed “better than the alternative” whatever that alternative may be. This distinction is crucial and may help to clear up any confusion people have about what type of democracy we have in the US. In the US, we have historically been a democratic republic not a direct democracy. Republics are representative and hierarchical, whereas direct democracies are majoritarian and egalitarian. Semantics are important here as a means to decipher between what we actually have and what people commonly think of when they hear “democracy” and it being used as a rallying cry or be-all end-all pinnacle of human achievement espoused by Western contemporary culture and society.

    However, I will say that the US has strayed away from its democratic republic founding and has shifted to a corporate mercantilism of the last 40-50 years. It has shifted this way so profoundly that even the lexicon for identifying its inhabitants has diverted from being “citizens” to that of “consumers”, and it is not hard to see how the influence of multinational and transnational corporations have managed to rape the commons and disavow municipal or public ownership and control over once held in common vital resources (e.g. utilities). Case-in-point the shift in the mid 70’s to deregulated corporatism and/or privatization of public resources that still reigns today. Arguments can be made for or against this shift, but the important thing about this shift is that ultimate power no longer rests in the hands of citizens via the voting booth or otherwise (as democratic republics are defined) and a strident majority of the representatives citizens get to choose from are meager pawns or revolving door pirates for the corporate elite and continuously sell-out their electorate for personal gain and unwavering class interest.

    I get your point you are making nonetheless. And, do favor the democratic process over all others since in most cases it is as deToqueville suggested as ‘…promoting the welfare for the greatest possible number.’ But, it is increasingly more difficult to argue we live in a democracy when all incidences and diversions within our economic and political milieu point to the opposite while more and more people get frustrated and give up on the political process altogether. It is the ultimate decay of the democratic process when only 40% or less of the electorate actually vote. It doesn’t matter what we claim to be, because if the citizenry isn’t active in the political process, the whole apparatus is null and void to say the least.

    Thank you for another thought provoking post! Look forward to more.

  269. 1) I vote for nature spirits.
    2) RE: On the Shadows of the Ideas. Please put a reminder in your next post as well as list it with your non-fiction books. I haven’t seen the pre-order numbers change much & it looks like it will be a very worthwhile book. I pre-ordered a copy, by the way, and am looking forward to its release in January.
    3) At some point in the future I would like to see a post on listening (and whatever the reading counterpart is).
    Thank you for your thought provoking essays.

  270. About future posts: a vote for Nature Spirits for the 5th week this month. On Stormwatch – I like the idea of making them a little addendum to the regular weekly posts when called for, and having a special post on it if something truly earthshaking occurs.

    @Garden Housewife – have some recipes for inexpensive DIY hot cocoa mix and “hot water cornbread.” Contact me offlist if interested.

    Patricia Mathews

  271. Patricia, as I understand the situation described by the various contributors, the warlords are already there. The distant bureaucracy has been too ineffectual to keep them out. Wives and daughters will already have been raped, perhaps many times.
    The situation in which the warlords are welcomed by the population is a later stage. The changing relationship between the warlords and the peasantry will be mutual. The warlords will start to see the advantages of a stable society, since an unstable one will not be as productive and they will gain less from it. So the warlords will start to keep their fighters in check and uphold some sort of order, and, correspondingly, the peasantry will start to transfer their allegiance from the distant empire, which was not protecting them anyway, to the warlords.
    In this way the warlords start their transformation into a landed aristocracy..

  272. Hmmm…well, a work in progress then!

    And if I can get a vote in under the wire for the fifth Wednesday post, it would be for nature spirits.

  273. Patricia, further to my previous post, just in case you’re thinking “How could anyone transfer their allegiance to someone who has killed and raped their family and neighbours”, bear in mind that the life expectancy of a warlord is quite short. The warlord who killed and raped will not be the same person as the one who gathers allegiance. Indeed, the process of creating social order and thereby gathering allegiance will be one of the ways in which the later warlords will gain an advantage over the earlier ones and supplant them.

  274. Talking about the Masons making good men better and the Russian Mir reminded me of something. I once saw an online advert for the charity Mind. It was supposed to say “Mind: for better mental health”, but the image had been cropped so it looked to say “Mir: for better men”. One of the noblest sentiments I’d ever seen and it was the result of a formatting error.

  275. What you had said about anti-Religions was really most fascinating. After all, Deconstruction is merely about discovering precisely what Religious Worldview one’s debating partner has, and developing an anti-Religion to counter it. Reconstruct the other Worldview, but make what was good in the one, evil in the other– and vice versa.

    You really changed the way that I look at Objectivism, the anti-Religion of Communism, forever, and i am most grateful for you for doing so. I miss the Arch Druid Report quite a lot. That was really a very neat type of blog. I especially enjoyed the part about Arnold Toynbee, and his theories about the rise and fall of Civilizations.

  276. Empirical twit: “Don’t you think your (9-y-o) daughter is getting a little old to believe in fairies?

    Me: What does that make her 40-something father who believes in fairies then?

    Ancient would be my guess. Foolish no doubt too. And interested in a post on nature spirits!

    +1 for fairies!! Hip, hip! Fair-ay!

    (But yes, I’d like to hear more about democratic syndicalism one of these days too…)

  277. And in general, I tend to agree with any comments upthread suggesting that democracy gets harder to pull off as the governed throng gets larger. That’s one of the reasons I’m not as big a fan of “civilization” as our host and others…

    Though to be fair, I’ve never lived under any other arrangement, and might be idealizing their affairs – “noble savage” and all that. For example, every time I do our laundry in our quirky off-grid fashion I wonder when I’m going to switch to full-time nudity. But offer me a loincloth instead of my Carhartt pants? Noooo-thank you very much.

    And fig leaves are just so itchy.

  278. Hope this isn’t too off-topic, but talking about 5th Wed posts made me think about it. I’ve been doing a fair amount of studying and thinking on reincarnation since the last 5th Wed post. Dr. Ian Stevenson’s “20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” took a minute to arrive via interlibrary loan, but was worth the wait. Fascinating.

    As I incorporate the possibilities of this worldview into my own thinking so many incongruities keep popping into place. The old “one life to get it right” view left an unacceptable number of holes in my general read of the landscape. A new paradigm was just what the doctor ordered to fill in many of those gaps.

    Here’s hoping that the next 5th Wednesday post – whatever the subject – will be equally lively!
    Tripp out.

  279. Thanks again to all who’ve voted on the Great Fifth Wednesday election! Nature spirits have pulled well ahead at this point, so that’s probably going to be the post on the 29th, but don’t be surprised if democratic syndicalism et al. gets a look-in on December 6th…

    BoysMom, good question. I’m not sure if there are actually significant differences between tomtes and brownies, say, or if they’re simply the culturally specific labels for a common phenomenon.

    Dot, ah, I see what you’re asking. There’s no explicit abstract reason why religion should be privileged in that way, but that’s what we do in the US, and that in itself is an adequate reason. Custom, tradition, and history have a voice in such decisions. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be overturned — having a voice doesn’t mean that the voice has to be heard — but if something works, maybe leaving it alone is a good idea, and if it doesn’t work, making the smallest change that will actually fix what’s wrong is a good idea too.

    Chris, “mad genius” is a good description. There’s a certain crazed grandeur in the way that our civilization is doubling down on all the activities that are guaranteeing its decline and fall, and so many people are whooping and cheering as they fling themselves ever more enthusiastically toward the cliff’s edge…

    Phil, fascinating. It occurs to me that people in England could pick up the Charter of the Forest and use it as a rallying point.

    Patricia, rape is hardly unique to barbarian warlords. In fact your common or garden barbarian warlord, once he’s interested in settling down and becoming a petty king, usually enacts laws against rape and other crimes of violence, since such laws keep the locals happy to hand over a tenth share of their grain harvest and two weeks’ labor every summer. Most barbarian law codes, if I recall correctly, ranked rape alongside other serious physical injuries, the kind of thing that would incur either a legal blood feud or a hefty weregild.

    Nicolas, that doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve read, though I’ve misplaced the reference, that most of the leaders who headed Latin American wars of independence against Spain were Freemasons, just as the leaders of our revolution against Britain were.

    DC, no question, ours is a democracy in decay, and quite possibly terminal decay. It might be possible to reverse that, but that’s another matter.

    PatriciaT, so noted! It should go up on my “coming soon” list for now, as I don’t put things onto the books for sale listing until they’re actually available.

    Yorkshire, very funny indeed!

    Twin Ruler, glad to hear it. When I figured out how antireligions work, it cleared up quite a number of minor mysteries for me.

    Tripp, if your nine-year-old believes in fairies, she’s part of the vast majority of human beings in all places and ages. It’s only those people who manage to isolate themselves from the natural world within a bubble of technology that can pretend to themselves that nature spirits don’t exist. Glad the material on reincarnation was also useful!

  280. I am grateful for the comments on how gang members behave in other cities. Albuquerque, alas, is #21 on some list of “25 most dangerous cities,” and a fair amount of it seems to have to do with drugs. I have also noted the number of homeless people has been increasing every year for at least the past 10 years. Neighbors have reported doors broken down and the house trashed (across the street and 2 doors up), and I had an intruder in my normally well-locked back yard (never learned to shoot a gun, don’t have a dog) who opened a birthday card (no money in it) I had unwisely put in the mailbox to go out. I don’t bother the street sleepers unless they bother me, and will hand a panhandler a bottle of water from the car. But when people get desperate, we get petty theft at least.

    Incidentally, the last person I spoke to about the increase in t he homeless said blithely “It’s our beautiful climate!” Nobody wants to hear “It’s the economy, my friend.”

    But for anyone curious about the state of our fair city,

    We may be an exception. Or, I may simply be being an old woman about this.

  281. Shane W, I will attempt to follow your suggestion about sitting with the pathos of American poverty without rejecting it or distancing myself. I myself am poor, having made no money yet this year, $12,000 last year, and never more than $18,000 in my life, but my circumstances and background are very different than the vast majority of poor people in America, so I often find it too easy to disdain others for (to me) obviously harmful or irresponsible responses to poverty and/or downward mobility. I suppose I do emphasize personal responsibility, and do not view that as a problem, really; sure, we as a society have been throwing the working class under the bus and will get our comeuppance in turn, but I do think most people have a choice in how they respond to poverty or illness or loss of status or any other ill, and I suppose I see it as one’s obligation to respond in a dignified and constructive manner if one is at all able, or at least not to cause harm to others by one’s response, and I see many people failing utterly to rise to any occasion whatsoever. Ultimately, I think it is important to understand social phenomena and to address them, but one’s personal response is most in one’s own sphere of control and responsibility and thus should be the focus of one’s primary efforts. That being said, I will try to sit with this subject, perhaps to meditate upon it, and even perchance to temper my more moralistic tendencies, although as you have probably guessed, nonjudgmental acceptance is hardly my strong suit!

    (I would also add that for all my disapproval, I am actually in favor of the decriminalization of all drugs, as I believe people generally ought to be allowed to do as they will with their own bodies, and because I have concluded that much violence, crime, exploitation, suffering, and expense could be eliminated thereby.)


    Thank you for your response to my question regarding Freemasonry and moral development, and more generally for your generosity and patience in moderating and responding to all the many comments you receive. I am increasingly bored by what I find online, but you have cultivated a most interesting and fruitful patch of internet!

  282. On warlords and safety (though this thread has maybe taken up already too much space):

    When I was younger, single and more foolish, in 2000, I once ventured into a Rio de Janeiro favela during a feast (the foolish part was that I was exposing myself to blackmail from the police, as my companions pointed out to me). That was a time when the state government didn’t even pretend to maintain the rule of the law in favelas. I was shocked to see a vendor abandon his cart, stocked full of soft drink cans, in order to run an errand. The cart simply stood there in the middle of the street, free for the picking. For comparison, at no time have I ever seen anybody in Rio leave even a handbag for a single second outside their field of view and their handreach. I suppose the favela penalty for stealing a soft drink from the cart would have something similar to the Saudi-Arabian one. As for rape, which is what Patricia brought up, it is rampant in Rio (I more than once crossed the street if I encountered an unknown woman at night to make her feel less threatened), and I have been told by locals that it is less so in favelas, though certainly still a heavy burden.

    This is not meant as an apology for warbands, especially since the Rio state government is just about as dysfunctional as they get, merely as illustration of relative merits.

  283. As I read one thing grips me is why membership organization such as Mason, Church, Social Clubs of every flavor are bleeding and losing membership. Why are we giving up collectively from being formally associating with our fellow humans?

  284. philsharris – Thank you for the link to the article about the Charter of the Forest. I had never heard of it and now I have to go find out more! It makes me just a little uncomfortable as I have heard similar desires expressed by people who for the most part hold views on other issues of import to me with which I vigorously disagree. My own “those people” so to speak. All the more reason to dig a little deeper, and think a bit more.

  285. The problem that the poor face in today’s drug-saturated society is that the wrong, the worst, solution to their misery is within such easy reach.

    In the past, a man might hit the bottle for a time, or even grow a bit too fond of ale, but would be able to pull out of it.

    The drugs offered today have no such potential escape route.

    And such drugs destroy all vestige of personal responsibility far more readily than the cheering grape or hop, which are some of the consolations of life, ever since Enkidu the Wild Man grabbed the beer and bread offered to him in Ancient Mesopotamia…..

  286. When it comes to accept membership to some cicle/private club/church, i apply the Groucho Marx’s rule of thumb: never accept membership of a circle that allow people like me to enter 😀

    On the other hand, I’m allergic to secrecy. I love disclosure, and love open groups. Secrecy seems to me both suspicious and also a strong egoic attitude. It is a mean to create a barrier, us and them, and so enhance the internal identity and self esteeem.

    I prefer more something like discretion, or privacy, but secrecy… Nah.

    And also, I have to add that here in Italy we had a lot o troubles with a stranded Masonry Lodge, the so called Propaganda 2 (shortened, P2) Lodge. If you don’t know the subject, just try a google search looking for Licio Gelli.

  287. It’s the end of the week, Jen, but I’m trying to be in more acceptance of things, and trying not to rage over the things I can’t control, while doing something about the things I can. Our host is a good example–he usually chooses to live in down-at-heels neighborhoods, but is about as unflappable as they get. He was talking about magic being the ability to land right-sided and deal w/everything the world throws at you. Hopefully, we can become more magical. 🙂

  288. Phil Knight — that probably has more to do with the huge BS complex most people in England, except for the royal inbreeders, are made to feel about their social standing.

  289. With some delay, I have now read the review of “Carbon Democracy” linked to above. It seems to be an incredibly important and timely book, I will try and get a copy ASAP. Thanks to Kevin Fathi!

  290. @ Matthias Gralle

    I think warbands is a valid thread, because it is something discussed by JMG previously. I too lived in Rio and saw what you did as a young man. It was even more visible during Carnival. When I lived in Bogota, it was dangerous in the well-to-do parts of the city, due to FARC bombings. I had my window blown out by a bomb 3 streets away while working at my desk once. Ears rang for an hour afterwards…

    Consequently, I went looking for elsewhere to live, and discovered via talking, that the bombs weren’t being set anywhere near the less favored parts of the city. I moved there, and soon discovered that people went out at night with families, which they did not do in the Zona Rosa – restaurant district for the more financially able – because of theft and kidnappings. But that wasn’t an issue on the “mean streets” where I had moved to.

    I do think this comes down to people being the actual consequence for bad behavior, rather than relying on a government or their entity to be the consequence. I think this to be true, because in the big cities, the government cannot be bothered. Similarly, a warlord cannot be bothered, and thus bad behavior is rewarded in a different way.

    In poorer areas, you live alongside the bad guys, but you always outnumber them – so one reaches a detente and lines get drawn. Doesn’t happen in the US much, because we haven’t gotten to that point just yet. But it is likely coming in the cities when the money begins to dry up in government. And woe to the child predators and rapists when those newly drawn lines get crossed – they are not incarcerated but rather accidented…

  291. @Garden Housewife: why that intrusive government might care about the well you dig in your backyard: the supply of groundwater is not infinite. It is a commons, and commons have to be controlled. Why that intrusive government might care about whether you have a beehive: bees are in trouble everywhere in this country not just because of pesticides, but also mites and similar parasites. Backyard beekeepers who do not take the trouble to manage their bees are a risk to other people’s hives.

    On the subject of a King or Queen God, the Hindu system does not have one god to rule them all; there are three main gods, and a multitude of others. Your Ishta Devata is your “own favorite” god, which could be Vishnu, Shiva, or one of the lesser known, but is the one you have the most personal relationship with. The Navajo pantheon has some main gods, but none which lord it over all the others.

  292. Dot, I will thank you not to refer to my “ethics” in scare quotes while falsely representing what I believe, and I’ll do the same for you. I do not believe either that half the population are actively hostile to minorities, nor that it would be desirable for ordinary businesses to attempt to identify bigoted customers and refuse to serve them. While you are correct to presume that I feel far more sympathy for minorities than for racists and other bigots, I do not think either that the fundamentalist or racist grocer should refuse to sell potatoes to gays and Muslims, or that the gay Muslim grocer (or those who want to preserve his civil rights) should refuse to sell potatoes to fundamentalists or racists. But both choices should be equally prohibited for the sake of a smoothly functioning society, or else equally allowed as expressions of individual freedom. I’m willing to agree that the fundie baker should not make a wedding cake for two grooms, but if he refuses to sell a loaf of bread to a guy with an earring, later when he shows up in that guy’s tire shop he should expect to be told where to go. It doesn’t wash to say discrimination is intolerable only when it might target people like ME.

  293. I do find myself wondering how many readers here have experience with the norms of representative democracy in a direct way, either through participating as a member of a society like the Freemasons or Toastmasters or the Rotarians, or through a term or more of service on a local political board like a town council or planning & zoning commission?

    I’m currently coaching a Toastmasters club in parliamentary procedure, and even the most rudimentary elements of that kind of system are deeply challenging to many of the participants. Everyone gets the idea that someone makes a motion and it’s seconded, and then there sometimes a debate and then a vote. But the idea of modifying the proposal, of trying to make it clear and exact, of hearing out the opposition, and trying to find a middle ground *while also structuring a workable framework for the future* is deeply challenging. “Robert’s Rules of Order” seems to be quite the opposite of the thought-stopper (and door-stopper) most people believe it to be; rather it’s intended to help people think through problems together.

    Ironically enough, we seem to elect people to political office for their ability to appeal to narrow partisan interests — in order to do work that requires a careful degree of thoughtfulness, sympathy, and a willingness to find common ground.

  294. @Isabelcooper, @Mateo, @dewey,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Issues of refusal for conscience in Pharmacy are very difficult and I don’t have good answers for them. In the US, it is very difficult to find a community with only one pharmacy in 50 miles, and the postal services are very reliable. Since I moved to Canada though, I find that there are many communities with 100 miles or more between pharmacies AND the postal system is not that reliable. Where there is a postal service there is at least the possibility of mail order pharmacy, but point well-made.
    The real difficulty for me is with the euthanasia drugs. Here in BC, euthanasia is legally sanctioned. I have and continue to fill RXs for terminally ill patients to resolve their pain. I advise the families on the prescribed doses for pain relief. If they choose to give themselves or their loved one a fatal dose, that decision is theirs. In fact, there is likely nothing that can be done to prevent a person from taking his or her own life, legal or not.
    I DO have a problem providing someone with drugs for the express purpose of ending his/her life. It is exactly the same as if you were, for example, working in a sporting goods store and someone walked in to buy a gun for the express purpose of shooting and killing his terminally ill father. Would you sell him the gun? What if it was expressly legal for you to do so? Now, what if you were required to do so whenever requested?
    In Illinois , a refusing pharmacist has his or her license revoked, which revokes it in all other states without possibility of renewal. Generating new bankruptcy and homelessness seems harsh to me. We make allowances for the handicapped. Isn’t there some way to accommodate these folks without stressing the rest of us? The Tennessee must-give-notice rule seems more reasonable but still not totally satisfactory.
    Thanks again for this valuable discussion! It is a joy to have a forum where it is possible to talk things over with people who may not agree with you, but can do so civilly.
    E. Goldstein

  295. With apologies for not answering timely (some SHTF back then): I got the invitation mentioned above in southern Brazil.

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