Party like it’s 1929

I think the Witches’ Pyramid can be understood as a cycle: being silent and listening to the answers to tough questions, like “Why does the commissary take food stamps?,” is a way to gather knowledge to move into a new cycle of action. As I listen, this is what I hear:

It’s 1929 again. The only question is whether it’s 1929 in the US or in Germany.

We have the knowledge to deal with situations of extreme economic inequality and resulting social unrest. And we also know what can happen if we don’t use it.

The Tea Party and similar sentiments are a pack of lies peddled by rich and powerful interests who are succeeding in getting the 99% to actively work against their own best interests. Falsehoods about anyone being a “self-made man” and relying on no one but oneself are not just lies. They’ve been transmuted through political alchemy as bad as the worst of dark biology, weaponized into memes that infect the general population and replicate themselves, hijacking otherwise good and reasonable people and making them into agents spreading a disease that will cripple nearly everyone – especially those infected.

I mentioned previously the myth of how anyone can succeed in American society. Myths are valuable; even when they’re not precisely true, they can inspire and lead us to do more and be better, especially by giving hope. Today, that myth is a lie and it is being used not to give hope but to take it away. It is being used by the 1% as a weapon to hurt people, to ignore the 99%, to try to get the 99% to buy into the status quo, to continue being the 99%. That story is as mythical these days as “winning the lottery,” and a society where success is a lottery is an unfair, unjust society. As Noah Smith wrote:

A winner-take-all society is not very conducive to hard work; I’m not going to bust my butt for 30 years for a 1% shot at getting into The 1%. But I am going to bust my butt for 30 years if I think this gives me a 90% chance of having a decent house, a family, some security, a reasonably pleasant job, a dog, and a couple of cars in my garage. An ideal middle-class society is one in which everyone, not just anyone, can get ahead via hard work.

The fact that this is a winner-take-all society – and is becoming more so – is why conservatives can’t get people to work hard, and why progressive action towards social and economic justice is the only way to make hard work fashionable again – by making it worthwhile. That means social and economic justice.

The hard-core conservatives who are driving the movement these days aren’t just looking back to the (mythical) 1950s. They don’t just want to conserve the status quo. They want to undo the last century of progress and take us back to the Gilded Age, to the time of obscene economic inequality and injustice that gave rise to Hoovervilles and the Bonus Army. They’ve had tremendous success at doing so, and the news coming out of Occupy encampments reads eerily like the stories of a century ago, updated with pepper spray instead of WW I-era vomiting agents. Better living through pharmaceuticals, I guess.

Economists can give you thousands of charts that show the regression to 1920s-type income inequality, lack of social mobility, and so on. But I know that history doesn’t just go backwards. People will not simply submit to rolling back the last century, and when I look at what happened after that previous episode of upheaval, I am sore afraid.

We have the knowledge to work with this kind of situation. We’ve done it before. Back in the day, being progressive – meaning making sure that people weren’t sold chalk-water instead of milk – was a Republican value, and Teddy Roosevelt signed the law that created the FDA. (Incidentally, this is why I have zero patience for the forms of libertarianism – especially in the fusion form of the Tea Party – that would have us all pretend we can be Jeffersonian small farmers again.)

Back in the day, being progressive meant making sure that old women didn’t end up eating cat food just because they had the temerity to outlive their husbands but be too weak to work. We invented Social Security to prevent situations like that. Fred Clark has investigated one aspect of what it means, ethically, for someone to argue that “he who will not work, neither shall he eat,” unless that person actually believes that some people should starve to death, but the sad truth is that some people can’t work. You can either accept that reality and get busy coping, or deny it and get busy helping to kill those people.

We have the knowledge to deal with these problems. But many powerful groups are actively working to ensure that we don’t use it. This deliberate obliviousness is one of the most dangerous currents in contemporary US politics.

If we don’t use that knowledge, if we pretend obliviousness to the actual problems or their potential solutions, someone will have to come up with an alternate story for how and why so many people are so bad off. The 1% are already using their expert narrators to create a story about how it’s Those People’s Fault, to turn the blame on anyone but themselves.

We know from history that it is entirely possible for them to use social unrest as an explanation for why society must become even more militarized, more authoritarian, more unequal, and more dangerous for everyone. I do not want to see that happen.

That is why, as a Witch and as a citizen, I stand with the Occupy movement. I will continue to support calls for economic and social justice with all the means at my disposal: economically, personally, and magically. I put my will and my daring in action in support of badly-needed reforms and continue to follow the Witches’ Pyramid.

What will you?

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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6 Responses to Party like it’s 1929

  1. mmy0 says:

    One of the things I have been getting out of my “read the news from 100 years ago today” project is to get a much clearer sense of the reality of long ago. I think we all know that they want to return to a past that never was — but the difference between what they fantasize about and what was really happening is not ‘fine tuning’ it is a chasm.

    1911 wasn’t a time free of crime. Major newspapers carry light-hearted stories about lynchings. Police beat people openly in the street. The poor are in ditches, worked to death, left to die in rat infested charity wards. Houses are burgled, trains waylaid by robbers, women get punished for being too pretty by being assaulted, tarred and feathered. Young girls are burned to death working in unsafe conditions in dynamite factories.

    It was the gilded age and those who want to move back to do so because in their fantasies they are the rich.

    • Literata says:

      Precisely. At the Ren Faire, everyone was a fairy princess. In the neo Gilded Age, everyone was a Rockefeller.

      At least no one is proposing that we’d be better off without antibiotics. Ren Faire fantasies aren’t actively lobbying to let people die from preventable causes. (Extra e’s causing apoplexy in grammarians notwithstanding.)

  2. Sixwing says:

    You hit this one out of the park.

    “What will I” is an excellent question, in this context as well as some others I can think of.

  3. Ann the Mad says:

    Thank you so very much, Literata.
    I’m grateful and happy that these issues are still being discussed as central issues in Wiccan theaology. In my late twenties, I began discovering that the core of my own spiritual identity was (and still is) a deep and fierce commitment to social justice, and I was surprised and disappointed to realize how little emphasis the Wiccan faith (as it was practiced in my community, at least) placed on our relationships with other human beings. (Very strong on the natural world and on inward spiritual growth, but so little discussion our duties to one another…)

    Work like this is a powerful contribution to the Pagan community. Thank you so much.

    • Literata says:

      I’m glad for your assessment, Ann. Sometimes it feels strange to connect the two, since it’s not terribly common, but to me, a religion that focuses on connection – between people as well as between people and their environment – has to be committed to social justice.

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