It seems to me that the Pagan community doesn’t have much experience running or interacting with organizations that try to separate the personal from the political. Covens are often extremely personality-based; to some extent, they have to be, in order for a group mind to cohere and people to build the kind of bonds that make synergistic magic happen. Perfect love and perfect trust, right?
I think that history is coloring a lot of people’s expectations about how larger organizations can and should be run. Experience in covens tells us that if someone is a bastard, and we know that – which we can know, in the closeness of coven setting, to a much greater degree than in everyday life – then we can and should throw him out. And really, it’s that simple. We all know it; we agree on it; we do it.
Real consensus-building is a lot more complicated than that, as people like Starhawk have gone to great lengths to explain. And conscious, careful consensus-building within a close-knit group can function well enough to avoid some of the worst excesses of group mentality.
But none of that means that is how larger organizations can or should function.
One of the catchphrases I’ve heard over and over again is that “OHF is supposed to be Switzerland.” Look, Switzerland is not a place that people gather in because they all have warm cuddly feelings for each other. It’s not a place where people go because of perfect love and perfect trust. It’s not even a place where people go because they have a reasonable expectation that everyone else there is a decent human being. It’s a place where people who are at war with each other will put that aside for the time being in order to achieve other ends.
In order to do that, people have to put other concerns to one side; they don’t have to give them up, or pretend to give them up; they just put them aside to some extent.
Are there things you can’t put aside? Absolutely. My point is not that we pretend we don’t know anything about each other when we collaborate on OHF. My point is that “professionalism” and the ideal of trying to separate personal disagreements from the larger goal is not simply about ignoring people’s feelings, it’s about trying to make the larger goal happen.
All of this means that when this kind of separation is being attempted, professional or organizational judgment has one role, personal judgments have another role. If you know that so and so is a bastard, you can ignore him, or refuse to work jointly with him on projects, or lots of other things. You can ostracize him socially in a way that would be equivalent to being kicked out of a coven.
And if enough people do that, then it would be pretty difficult for him to continue to function in a reasonable way within the organization.
But that’s different from being formally removed by the organization. Part of the pact of professionalism (for lack of a better word – and if anyone has one, please say so) is that we don’t just act on feelings, however well-justified they may be. We act based on evidence, because we’re setting precedents, and because this is the way that separating the personal and the political tries to get around many of the problems inherent in group management by social consensus.
One of the problems I see in the current OHF situation is that some folks seem to be conflating the two forms of management. If we can do one, they think, then we should naturally do the other.
Should there be a way for the organization to formally remove someone who is a complete and utter bastard even if he hasn’t done anything wrong with respect to the organization? Probably. I would say yes, in certain cases. But I would limit those cases; it certainly wouldn’t mean that everyone I refuse to work with would be able to be tried and ejected by the board.
I think there would be many cases where someone I would no longer be willing to work with would be informally excluded and pushed out by social opprobrium. That’s not easy, and it’s not quick, and it’s not nearly as meaty and satisfying as having everyone come together and render judgment that I am the righteous one and he is the bastard, but that’s the price we pay. Among other things, it’s a price I am willing to pay so that I, too, am not at risk of making the wrong person mad and being subject to a witch hunt and formally banned as a result of group mentality.
My real problem with Firefly publicly withdrawing support – in the full expectation that it would encourage others to do the same – is that it seems to me to be leveraging money in order to escalate this from the personal to the political. This is what I meant when I said that I do not want to be put in a position where my support for OHF becomes a sign of anti-Firefly sentiment. It’s also some of what I meant when I said that I hope certain things are going on in private. A private conversation along the lines of, “Look, you are now a liability for this organization” is tremendously more appropriate than a show trial in many of these gray areas.
They have said that their concerns have not been addressed, and that this is how they have to proceed. But they have also said, more or less, that they object because the organization has made a choice for Sean and against Iris. I think that’s an unreasonable assessment because of the kind of nuance I’m talking about here.
The OHF is not “Sean’s side” in this fight. The OHF is trying not to be a side at all.
If anyone thinks that the board should establish a whole new set of ethics regulations – including ones that cover private behavior – and then create an ethics board to hear grievances – and then set policy for bringing a grievance – and then set standards for the kinds of evidence that can be heard and the kinds of witnesses that are allowed in each situation – and then set policy for voting, appeals, and administering consequences – well, good for you. I’d love to see a Pagan organization be equipped to handle things that way. I’d hate to think of how hard it would be to create a uniform set of ethical guidelines between umpteen different flavors of Paganism. But that’s the kind of mechanics that are required to do active adjudication of these sorts of issues fairly in public in a professional organization.
And really, although we don’t like to talk about it in the Pagan community, it does come down to money. Boycotts have been on my mind much lately because of the Chik-fil-a flustercluck. I plan to write about that separately. But one of the reasons a boycott is so very appropriate in that situation (and that it’s not just about free speech, as some people are inclined to howl at the slightest disagreement) is that Chik-fil-a gives money to reprehensible causes. People are depriving Chik-fil-a of their money so that that same money doesn’t go to work against them.
But who is getting the money in OHF? Not Sean. Not any of the board members. The money goes to make the community center happen. We’re giving money to ourselves.
And frankly, I wouldn’t be quite so wracked by this if OHF wasn’t in such a tenuous position. We’re halfway through the lease. We’re either going to make this thing work, or we won’t, and if we don’t, then it’ll be decades before anything like it can even be a possibility in this area. The stakes are higher here. That’s why I’m worried that withdrawing money is the wrong means to fit the ends.