Sunday, November 4, 2018

Rediscovering Masculinity

We hear so often about toxic masculinity   This is a post about things I have learned about being a man as I walk through life.  Because I believe that gender roles usually evolve in complementary ways some things may seem misogynistic or misandrist here.  However these two go together, tame each other, and in my view masculine and feminine are intertwined and cross-defined.  And from our vices are built our virtues.

So keep in mind nothing here is negative about either gender.  The base natures of both are rough, dangerous, corrosive, and vicious, but good people turn vice into virtue.  Things may seem negative but in the end what is negative becomes positive over time given the right direction and structure, just as greed can become the basis for either avarice or industriousness.

I will also say that a lot of masculinity and femininity are cultural constructs that arise through necessity.  They are products of history and necessity, due to the fact that men and women are differently situated in relation to having and raising children.

Historically in agrarian, non-industrialized times, men and women both worked but the work was different.  Men's work was far more solitary.  Men would be plowing the fields alone.  Women would get together to beat flax, spin, weave.  Gossip, scheming, and meddling have always been the way women have asserted power.  Similarly domestic power meant power over economic production, domestic power was worth a lot more than today.

In Relation to Women

In more traditional societies, identity is relational and productive.  We are our connections to other people and we are our works and our deeds.  Masculinity is thus tied to being a husband, a son, a father, a friend, perhaps a soldier or a craftsman, or a farmer.  Femininity is tied to being a mother, a daughter, a wife, also possibly a craftsman (it's worth noting that -man was a gender-neutral suffix in Old English and hence it survives at the end of "woman").  A man might plow the fields, but a woman might make cloth.  A man might be a father and a woman a mother.  A man might be a tavernkeeper, and a woman might be a beer-brewer.   Both might be shopkeepers.  However in the interest of family business, both would work together, producing a family business, and having and raising children would be integrated into the family business.

In this environment, then, most cultures end up with a dichotomy in power and responsibility.  Women's power is officially local and private but in practice collectively exercised and orchestrated through social connections, gatherings, and so forth.  Women typically controlled power not only over house and home but also, critically, over the space where business was actually carried out.  In essence women formed the family and the family business, and effectively ordered it on a day-to-day level.   Major personality assets associated to women were sensibility, practicality, industriousness, and so forth.

On the other hand, men's power was traditionally public and diplomatic.  The man was the public face of the household, and the individual responsible for going out into the world and defending the interest of the family and family business.  A man had a responsibility to defend the family honor and in particular the honor of his wife, his mother, and his sisters and to conduct business in a way that edified the family.  Major personality assets associated with men were constancy, loyalty, steadfastness, and an ability to keep promises.

A woman forms the family, and a man's honor encapsulated and shields the family from harm, as well as goes out and helps ensure that the family business thrives through conducting public business.  A man is his word.

A simple way to phrase this is that the woman is queen of house, of home, of business, and her husband is her emissary.  The business deals then constrain and provide stability around which practicality can take hold.

In Relation to other Men

The public, contractual space where men traditionally operated is effectively an interfamily space where deals are formalized or where collective community action took place (for example warfare or public councils).  In these areas the man's role is to defend the interests of his family vis a vis other men and other families.  Hierarchies are more simple and less fluid, and honor goes a lot further.  To a large extent, men's relationships with other men are secondary to their relationships with women.

What We are Losing regarding Identity

Where we no longer see identity as relational and productive, identity becomes a purely internal, fluid state with little inherent meaning or stability.  The ability of men to stand up, make deals for the family and represent the family in public life is eroded.  Much of that erosion is due to women no longer having leading roles in family businesses or collectively working out political issues before men get to it through gossip etc. but much more is due to the loss of the sense of place in relation to other people, to women, and to what we make.

Recapturing this identity is one of the more important tasks of our time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My view on the AFA/Troth feud

Before I start this piece I have to say I know good people in both organizations.  Nothing I say here is a judgement of my friends.  I also have friends who are Heathen, liberal and universalist, while I consider myself Folkish.

Heathens of course have always sought blood feuds to defend their honor.  This time is perhaps no difference.  I will give the Troth the benefit of the doubt and assume that what really bothers them is that statements by the AFA could be taken out of context by a wider society and bring dishonor on all Heathenry. Maybe the organization is deserving of this and maybe it is not (in which case it is reading another group through a lens of a view of how all groups should act).  If the shoe fits wear it, but for the rest of this I will give the Troth every benefit I can including that one.
However, one serious concern I have is with ideological and political litmus tests for membership in any organization, particularly communities where we should be, in my humble opinion, trying to cultivate shared economic and social interests and a joint search for the past.  Ideological and political litmus tests effectively shut down the search and risk libeling the ancestors and the past.  In the end, Heathenry is orthoprax, and while it is clearly political in that to some degree it is a revolt against the modern notion of progress, that degree varies quite a bit both by organization and by member.  The Troth is, as far as I can tell, committed to being non-radical, non-revolutionary, pro-progressive-Protestant values, and modernist while the AFA is committed to an attempt to cultivating a radical alternative to progressive Protestant values in a relationship with the past.  As pioneers, they will make mistakes and it will be up to all of us that believe in that to take it further.

My wife is not European or white.  My kids are of mixed heritage.  But my wife is closer to the women of the Sagas in action than most modern Asatruar are (if I ever fail to defend the family honor, the gods themselves will be unable to lend a hand to help), and I have learned a whole lot about our tradition through my marriage.  I have known many people in the AFA who know this about me.  Not *one* of them has ever issued a harsh or disparaging word or racist comment to me about this or about my Jewish heritage (I cannot say this about a number of other Heathen organizations not in this picture however).  Members of the AFA that I have known have been, without fail, unquestionably supportive of my search for the past and the wisdom I have gained.  None have been the least bit disrespectful of my family for any reason.

While members of the Troth have not explicitly been disrespectful, the fact that politically it is centered on a view of social progress and equality that comes out of early modern Europe and which white countries seek to push on the rest of the world is implicitly quite disrespectful.  Of course that view of equality is usually a cover for centralized governments and corporate economies, which is lost on most Americans today, so they can be pardoned for not grasping the depths of their paternalistic racism on this regard.  Concepts like gender roles, sexuality, and marriage are deeply cultural and any organization which thinks that culture should be abandoned so lightly aids and abets the racist imperialism of the West over the rest of the word.

My view on gender roles

Unlike McNallen I think that gender roles are socially constructed.  It would be impossible for these to be gifts of our ancestors if they were not.  But if we value culture as valuable, then social constructs given by our ancestors are valuable too and we throw them away with great cost.  Gender roles are also constructed due to biological and social imperatives and so, although they form a greater part of the warp and weft of society, they are not merely discretionary.  Men and women are not situated in the same way regarding reproduction and gender roles arise to address that.

Whether this can be said to be divinely ordained depends on what one believes the role of the gods in shaping the body and reproduction is.  I would just as soon leave that up to the practitioner.

My view on the queer statement

I think Flavel's concern about outside agendas being forced on the community is valid, but I think the focus on a specific label is problematic because it closes off things ideologically rather than relationally.  The problem is not how a particular person sees himself or herself, or how he or she sees sexuality, but how the individual might insist that the community change to accommodate him or her.  That, in my view, is the line that should be drawn, not on the basis of a specific identity or way of making sense of things.

In every community there is an ideal of the good life.  In a traditional family-business economy that includes getting married, having kids who can take over your trade or business, and eventually retiring with those children.  That will be the normative (and normal) model.

But not everyone will follow such a model.  And those that don't are in a position to offer critique.  That critique is not just when it is a demand that everyone else, say, sacrifice human contact in retirement so nobody gets ahead.  But what it is made of is up to the community.

This question of how the liminal figures on the margins of the community interact with the rest is an important question.  It implicates guests of a kindred (and by extension views on refugees etc in the political realm), those who for whatever reason do not fit into the community's view of best family models, etc.

In summary

I find myself far more sympathetic to the AFA than their critics in this regard.  I have seen no reason to see the AFA from my experience as a racist organization.  I am sure they have their racists, but I would rather tolerate racists than kick out others just for being outside of a political orthodoxy, and the fact is that every organization (heathen or not) has its racists.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A quick response to McNallen's "No More Mutts"

Steve McNallen at the AFA has put together a piece where he argues that Americans whose ancestors are mostly from Europe should start seeing themselves as ethnic Europeans instead of Mutts.  This view, I think, comes out of his support for a view of metagenetics, the idea that cultural patterns are passed genetically in a similar way to something like hair color.

I disagree with McNallen for a number of reasons, but there are a number of deeper points where we agree.  I agree with him that the national divisions of Europe are somewhat arbitrary.  And I agree that seeing oneself as mixed culture just because of where one's ancestors come from has some problems.  Asatru includes ancestor worship and this means all ancestors.

I am Folkish.  And I think that membership in the Folk requires shared heritage.  But heritage isn't necessarily only biological.  Connections by marriage or adoption surely count as well and there may be others -- in the end being a part of the folk requires adopting the same cultural framework and that doesn't happen by accident (or by pure biology either).  And I disagree with metagenetics as a hypothesis because I haven't seen any real evidence for it.  Cultural patterns shift quite a bit over not too much time.  I do think people naturally form hierarchies.  Genetics might even play a role in that. But I cannot get very far beyond that.

Suppose you are full-blooded French.  That means your ancestors came from three groups:  Roman, Frankish, and Gaulish.  The Gaulish ancestors would have been partly Celtic and partly whoever was there first.  Gaul, Roman Gaul, and the Frankish kingdom all had very different social and cultural orders, and none of them bear much resemblance to France today.

Instead of seeing ourselves as mutts, we should see ourselves as a part of groups to which we currently belong and liminally a part of those we strive to join.  This is distinct from the sum of our ancestors.  We are the sum of our ancestors and we are more than that.

However, I think the source of my disagreement is that I am, in terms of political theory, to the *right* of McNallen.  Over the last few decades there has been an effort to forge a pan-European identity and that hasn't worked so well, nor has it benefited the small businesses and the masses in the ways expected.

Europeans today tend to identify much more with their home towns than with their nations and that's a good thing.  We should, in my view, embrace a local identity, not one even as cosmopolitan as "European."  Europe is not a city state but a thriving and very diverse mix of cultures.  And a just society in my view starts with the local and builds outward until international space is reached and there groups should deal with eachother as equals.

But one thing that still binds most of Europe (not the UK or France though) together is the idea that society really should be local and that national units exist to serve local units.  The Folk is not a continent.  It is not even a modern nation-state.  It is a community and a local one at that.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thoughts on Brexit

However the vote goes next Friday, it will be historic.  The vote is likely to be narrow and currently too close to predict.  I hope the initiative passes but perhaps not for the most common reasons.  It is true that what is at stake is the future of Europe.  I think the UK has a better role to play negotiating the next phase from outside than it does from inside.

The EU is facing a number of heavy crises, from the Euro public debt crisis to the closely tied immigration crisis.  These crises pit member state obligations to the central EU authorities against the obligations to their own citizens in terms of tax money allocation and much more.

To be sure, the immigrants aren't the problem.  Most are fleeing American-sponsored civil wars and have gone from good lives to squalor in search of some minimal security.  I see families fleeing Syria and my heart goes out to them.  I believe my country, the US, has utterly failed to do what it needs to in order to pay the tab on the human cost of American foreign policy.  US foreign policy is thus grossly irresponsible and one reason I cannot vote for Clinton is that she helped this mess forward.

But what is a problem is that Greece is expected to pay a disproportionate portion of the costs for housing refugees and handling immigration issues (as well as border enforcement) while also living under Troika-imposed austerity.  In other words, the problem is an intra-EU power problem over money.

Faced with these crises, the current EC President (Juncker) has stated (and I believe he is correct here) that the EU, if it survives ten more years, will be very different than it is today.  The question is different in what way.  There are calls to federalize immigration rules in the EU and for the EU central government to then pay for border enforcement.  That would be an unprecedented expansion of EU institutions and nobody but Merkel seems to like that idea.  But the Schengen and Dublin agreements are perhaps mortally weakened and something has to replace them.

But there are other serious problems.  The European continent spans three major legal systems and traditions.  You have continental civil law, organized around a civil code interpreted by judges.  You have English Common Law, organized around a civil code mixed with judge-made precedent.  And you have Scandinavian law, where judge-made law is built around skeletal parliamentary acts (Scandinavian law is even more different from Continental civil law than English common law is).   Trying to harmonize commercial law where you have three different structural systems of law (and maybe more!) means basically that the most powerful nations (France and Germany) force everyone else to use their system (Continental civil law) as the basic conceptual system.  In other words, the social and legal diversity of Europe works heavily against the EU.

We shouldn't forget that the EU in its current form is a product of the age of neoliberalism that is now coming to a close.  People who are afraid of base nationalism should take heart that the EU has been valuable enough that it will not go away, nor will the UK retreat into isolation.  Rather people will find ways to keep the relationship alive in the ways that are beneficial.

But which ever way the UK votes, I think it is almost certain that they will be a part of whatever pan-European international treaty organizations exist in a decade.  The question is, to my mind, would leaving help steer that transformation in the right way?

My hope is that a leave vote (or even a close victory for remain) would mean basically that the UK and other peripheral members (like Sweden, Denmark, and Greece) would get more leverage in negotiating what the next generation of the European Community would look like.  If it tips the balance of power in the negotiations towards national governments, then it is a good thing.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Thoughts on the mass murder in Orlando

My reaction to the Orlando shooting is hard to describe.  Many of us understand that American society is deeply ill (the shooter spoke in an earlier interview about problems with people profiting off crises for example) but most of us don't go out and start shooting people.  What can convince a husband and father to go and do such great harm not only to other families but to his own as well?  For a religion?  Out of general frustration with the state of the US?  Something else?

But I have decided I have to write what I can.   Since there is some thought that this was an act of international terrorism, it is worth looking at the larger pictures of the intersection of American culture wars and international media, and how this is perceived throughout the world as well.  But it is hard.  As a husband and father, I cannot imagine what would cause someone to rob his own family not only of his presence but of his memory as well.  There is pity, outrage, and much more within myself directed at the shooter and deep sympathy for those who, for whatever reason, have to carry on without family members.

But there are aspects to this case which need to be discussed and I suppose if I can do so, I have a responsibility to bring them up.  I am not advocating changes to policy.  I am trying to articulate larger political patterns going on.  If this is political violence, then an understanding of other sides is important to preventing further acts in the future.

But I will say one thing clearly so there is no misunderstanding.  Violence like this is one of the worst things a person can do.  It is not only a crime against the general public, but even more importantly the shooter deeply betrayed his wife and child in a way that should never be forgotten.  What is his child going to think, growing up aware that his father was a mass murderer?  In some ways, of those who lost someone important, his young son was the most harmed.

At the same time, I think it is only through the search for common humanity with the worst of us that we can come to understand how to build a more flourishing society.  For in such a search is where we find the worst of the problems.

The largest problem I see is the faith in individualism and the system in the US, which effectively makes people who don't or cannot fit severely disadvantaged and leaves them no way to carve out a place for themselves.  For groups we decide to protect, we push an ideal of equality which somehow is never really equal because of hidden assumptions.  For other groups (in particular immigrants and cultural minorities who do not fit the liberal progressive narrative), there is not even that.

There is a reason why so many heinous crimes in the US are committed by immigrants and children of immigrants, and it is not a condemnation of immigrants as individuals.  When we tell people their cultural framework is inferior and bad, when we deny them a real voice in the culture, and deny them any reflection of themselves in the culture around them, we cannot blame them when they become monsters.  Here you have the child of an immigrant who was probably bullied, and at the same time his whole family was almost certainly existing outside the major central cultural communities.

What of international aspects to this?  Is it possible that international radicals pushed someone who was vulnerable and unstable to commit this horrible crime?

There is a fear in much of the world that the US will use global media to proselytize gay rights to the world, and I think this fear underlies much of the recent changes in Indonesian censorship.  That fear is reasonable and arguably even correct.  But with many of the most populous countries in the world (China, India, Indonesia) lining up to try to put an end to this, it effectively forces film makers to choose between commercial success abroad or currying favor at home.  If Disney wants to be able to show Frozen 2 in some of the most important markets internationally, they cannot give Elsa a girlfriend.  I expect this to become a very large issue in coming years.   But was it an issue here?

What is at stake is the question of whether a rights-based narrative or whether a community-based narrative is the right one for addressing people who do not (whether by choice or circumstance) follow the accepted normative narratives of the community.  The narrative may be that everyone gets married to someone in the community, has kids, and takes over the family business, but for one reason or another not everyone will do all these things.  The American approach is to decide that some things are worthy of rhetorical (but probably not substantive) equality, and therefore to say "well, they aren't like us and cannot help it so they need equal rights." But this never covers everyone.

While "marriage equality" means same-sex couples in the US should have the same legal protections as straight couples, it does not mean, for example, that those who marry non-citizens should be entitled to the same family protection as those who marry citizens.  No concern is given to the fact that families with non-citizen spouses (thanks to Clinton-era and Obama-era legislation, and a few more minor contributions by Bush) have more responsibilities and fewer protections than families where both spouses are citizens.  So it isn't clear to me that "equality" rhetoric and "rights" are a perfect solution.  Surely if there is a right to equality in marriage, then it is a Constitutional violation for the Affordable Care Act to ban my wife from the expanded medicaid for the first 5 years following a possible return to the US and still attach liability for failing to insure.

A very different approach is the devolutionary approach.  In this approach, power and responsibility are highly decentralized and communities are responsible for taking care of their own.  This never worked in the Jim Crow South because it requires a degree of economic equality that we have never had in the US as a whole, but it means that if someone is gay in Indonesia (one reason the narrative might not be met, but surely not the only one), it is possible for him or her to navigate society and carve out a place.  Indonesia is in fact so decentralized that a lot of things we think of as done by lawyers in the West (drawing up contracts, for example) are done by notaries public instead.

A community-based approach (rather than a rights/equality rhetoric approach) means that as uncompromising as a society may appear to be, there is always room for human judgement to make things humane, for people to treat eachother with humanity, and so forth.  A rights-based narrative is a threat to all that.  And so I think it is entirely appropriate that countries protect themselves from what really amounts to foreign propaganda by restricting messages from foreign films and television programs.

But did that have anything to do with this horrific act? If there is an international dimension then there must be.  It may also be that ISIL understands how shocking this would be to Americans and pushed the target for that reason.  Or maybe the instructions were more vague and Mr Mateen selected the target himself?  I doubt we will ever know.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

On Bullying in Schools

Those who know me particularly well know that for several years in school I was bullied.  For three years, I was beat up after school almost every day.  For another year it was a periodic occurrence.  I don't normally talk about this because we have this narrative in the US that we start out healthy and are damaged by trauma.  Instead, I think we learn from our experiences and the end-state of healing is when we are aware of what we have learned and then the trauma becomes a gift rather than a burden.  We all go through bad experiences in life.  The question is, do we eventually value what they bring us (insight, strength, etc)?

In discussing the current restroom controversies regarding public schools, showers, and transgender students, someone said something to me that lead me to understand something that had genuinely puzzled me before.  This is not about that controversy but the larger issue of bullying.  I now have a much greater understanding of why students who are bullied may either commit acts of mass violence (like Columbine) or commit suicide.  Before, I never understood that but a missing piece was given to me and I think it is worth sharing.

My Story

I was lucky to come from a strong family and attend a school where the administration were more concerned about addressing the issues well than preventing lawsuits.  So what I have to say here needs to be taken in a certain spirit.

Anyway....  Usually I was beat up by one person or another.   There were a few bullies and usually they took me on, one on one.  There were never any demands.  Just beatings.   I never hated the bullies.  There was always something about it that I could never put my finger on that made me pity them.  But that was the usual pattern.  I got very used to physical pain to the point where physical pain has never really bothered me since.

Once in a while groups of kids would join in.  Once or twice even those I had considered friends did.  That hurt in a way that the beatings never did (apologies were given and as far as I am concerned that is water under the bridge, but I mention it for comparison purposes).  The sense of betrayal from that sort of event, however, was still minor compared to the sense of betrayal that came from the school's involvement.  The school administration, as I mentioned above, tried to address the issues but the problem with bullies is they tend to be very good at manipulating image and more times than not the school would unintentionally take the wrong side.

Even well-intentioned administrators are particularly bad at connecting the dots here because they are often used by bullies and cannot, by nature, see the whole picture.  This, I have come to understand is a fundamental problem of authority and information, and school administrators are simply unable to prevent bullying because of these problems.

The teachers who could see what was going on also tried, but they had no power and consequently resorted to methods that (when I saw them) greatly offended my sense of justice -- at least one of the bullies (who did back off) was bribed to do so.

How things have changed since I was in school

In the discussion over current bathroom/locker room controversies someone pointed out to me something that struck me as extremely important in understanding the current problems.  It was pointed out to me that under zero-tolerance policies, the normal approach is to suspend or expel both the accuser and the accused depending on the severity of the accusations unless one side is independently confirmed.  But that is no measure of who is right, and so this confirms to my mind the fact that schools, when they try to address the issue will more often than not unintentionally take the side of bullies.  With zero tolerance, this increases the stakes and ensures that when schools are in the wrong, the victims of bullying are even more victimized.  I am genuinely thankful that I went through what I did before zero tolerance became a "best" practice.

Give a bullied kid social support and he or she can live and even thrive despite the bullying.  Turn the organs of authority against him or her and that is a recipe for very bad things.  Look at how many heinous crimes are committed by people who come from broken homes, who then are bullied in school, and are effectively denied all sorts of support.  Such people are pushed outside the system and relentlessly attacked by it without any real support from anyone.  Columbine can be understood as an act of rage against a school which not only failed to protect but probably also contributed to the bullying.  The suicides that sometimes make headlines are also from people who have insufficient support.

What We Need to do Differently

I am writing this because I think we need a fundamental shift in how we address school bullying in the US today.  Currently we expect the schools to shield students, but that puts the school in an impossible situation and ensures that the school's main interest is in avoiding lawsuits rather than helping students thrive.  That concern means that schools will err, and when they do, bullied kids will pay a very heavy price.  The first priority I think needs to be a commitment to stop the worst of the harm -- the harm done by school authorities when they re wrong, and that means a commitment to erring on the side of doing nothing.

A second thing is that we need to shift from seeing bullying primarily as a disciplinary issue to one which is primarily a support issue.  Bullies themselves may come from bad home environments, and victimizing them again in school doesn't make a lot of sense either.  What the school can do is offer counselling and moral support early and often, and then move to disciplinary action only when more serious problems emerge.

A third thing that schools can do is they can bring the parents and the administration together and insist on joint solutions involving both sides of a conflict.

But suspending or expelling kids for seeking help regarding bullying?  Absolutely not.  I don't even think we should expel bullies.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

An Alternative to Liberalism part 2 post 3: Partition, Allotment, and Domain in Greek and Norse Myth

In Part 2, we discussed efforts at a theory of autonomy built on Aristotelian and ecological sources.  In this part, I will tie these together with Norse and Greek myth to flesh them out and develop a fuller theory of freedom.

The main thesis here is that both mythological systems provide for a view of freedom which is domain rather than rights-based.  We are given a lot in life bounded by length and law.  Within that lot we have freedom, but if we step outside, we die.

At one point, I thought that the similarities here were evidence of a common Indo-European framework and while there are some commonalities in the Indo-European world (spinning and fate being closely connected), the overall cosmology is different enough in Indian, Irish, Greek, and Norse systems that these seem not to be genetically related culturally speaking.[1]

Fate in Greek Myth:  Partition, Allotment, and Domain

In his important book, "From Religion to Philosophy," F. M. Cornford embarked on an ambitious project to show the extent to which early Greek philosophers drew from Greek religious models in their basic cosmology.  In order to do so, he embarked on an ambitious analysis of Homer and Hesiod in relation to concepts of fate.

The Greek word for fate, Cornford points out, simply means partition and it exists in relation to a term lachesis, which besides being the name of one of the Fates, is also referred to as a process by which partitions are distributed in Homeric poetry.  Lachesis thus acts as a distributor of pieces of a whole (an example he gives is the use of the term in connection with the domains of the elder gods -- Zeus having domain over the heavens, Poseidon over the seas, and Hades over the underworld). Lachesis is how the gods' kingdoms were distributed.

When one steps out of the allotted domain, one reaches nemesis (which Cornford suggests may be related to nomos or law, and nemeton).  Nemesis thus is the enforcement of the borders of the lot.  Cornford also points out that in some regards, the lot is treated as a debt repaid on death.

The image we get for fate then among the Greeks is not one of predestination but one of a lot in life, loaned by the Fates, and taken back when it is exceeded either in length or limits of action.  Freedom of action and fate are thus nicely woven together in a way we have usually tried to separate them in the West.

Fate in Norse Myth:  Allotment, Primal Debt, and the Spoken Word

The Norse view of fate is often seen as similar enough to the Greek model that people suggest that the Germanic peoples borrowed the idea from the Greeks.  In both cases there are strong formal similarities: three mythological women dispensing fate.  There are also connections to spinning and weaving via etymology.

The Coming of the Norns is worth repeating here in its entirely from Voluspa (with my translation below):

Þaðan koma meyjar,
margs vitandi,
þrjár ór þeim sæ
er und þolli stendr.
Urð hétu eina,
aðra Verðandi,
- skáru á skíði -
Skuld ina þriðju.
Þær lög lögðu,
þær líf kuru
alda börnum,
ørlög seggja. (Eysteinn Björnsson's edition)

Then came maidens
Greatly knowing (i.e. knowing magic)
Three from the well
That under the tree stands
Urdh (Fate) is the name of the first
The next, Verdhandi (Turning/Transforming)

- They carved the staves -
Skuld ('debt') is the third.
They lots alloted
They lives chose
For the sons o men
They uttered primal law. (my translation)

It is worth remembering that the Norns are sometimes portrayed as sorcerers in Scandinavian folklore, and that this interpretation is backed both by fate (ørlög) as spoken, and by the notion that they have great knowledge (also tied to terms for magic in sources like Hrof Kraki's Saga, which also features a sorceress named Skuld for the moral debt of her father).

But the magic/fate connections don't really concern us here.  What does concern us is the etymology of ørlög and related terms in this stanza (Þær lög lögðu).  The word ørlög is a simple compound, ør- meaning primal or primordial and lög meaning lot, law, or layer.  In essence here we have gain an allotment process where the primordial lot has an almost legal aspect to it.  As in the Greek view, the lot is bounded by length and law, and that stepping outside either of these boundaries results in death, as the debt (Skuld) of this lot is returned to the Norns.

Subsidiarity, Domain, and Partition

One key notion in both Greek and Norse notions of life and fate is the concept that one obtains a sort of partition, a lot in which one has domain in one's life.  This lot is not one's body.  It is not one's choices.  Rather it constrains both and it exists in a context of social and primordial law.  But this primordial law is not the same for everyone.  This is somewhat similar to Plato's discussion of the individual in Timaeus (discussed in a previous post in this series) where we have one band of sameness (the fixed stars) and seven bands of difference (the planets).

But partition implies something is partitioned, that we take a whole and split it into ever smaller pieces until we get our individual allotments.

This leads to an alternative to liberalism where freedom emphasizes the -dom suffix, meaning domain or holding.  Social roles, functions, jobs, and the like are domains that we should hold and own, having to a large extent autonomy within them (and yet governed by social and primordial law, duty, and debt).  We are free within our personal domains, and less than free elsewhere.  Moreover in this sense, liberalism, in eroding a place in society for everyone, has eroded real depth of freedom.  We have more breadth but less depth.

End notes:
[1]  When we speak of genetic relations between cultural groups we mean that traits were inherited from a common ancestral culture.  So for example, Spanish and French are genetically related languages, both being daughters of Latin.