Author Archives: David Dashifen Kees

About David Dashifen Kees

David Dashifen Kees is a mild mannered web application developer currently living in northern Virginia. He's been developing online systems since 1998 and, coincidentally, been a practicing Witch for almost as long. For many years he's considered himself simply an Eclectic, but more recently he's begun to think seriously about the integration of modern technology and modern magic on a path that he calls technocraft.

A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment

Sunlight_over_Earth_as_seen_by_STS-29_crew_-_GPN-2003-00025

Fortuitously, my week to post coincided with the Earth Day 2015 release of A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.  Usually, we post on Mondays, but this timing was too good to pass up.  For the last few months, myself and a few dozen others have been working together on this statement, and I’m both pleased with the outcome and excited to share it with you all.

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Detail Oriented Activism

As the weather changes here in New England and the feet of snow dropped on us this Winter begins to melt, the thoughts of many may turn toward causes that have lain dormant, hibernating through the cold months or only visible online as we huddled for warmth inside.

With Spring likely comes new Moral Monday protests.  And, as the 2016 campaign season begins, there will likely be fuel from both sides of the aisle to feed the flames of activism.  Even events of these past few months are likely to result in some work, for example the budgets by various governors slash eduction funding in their state which hits close to home considering I work in higher education within one of them, not to mention the continuing work that people are doing throughout the nation regarding race and law enforcement.

As we begin to get involved, don’t forget that the devil’s in the details.  When one works to fight authority, authority fights back, and it does so with all the bureaucratic might at its disposal.  To deal with that requires that at least some part of your organization work within the system.

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Global Divestment Day: February 13-14

I ashamed to admit that I hold stock in a utility company.  It was purchased for me at my birth because even 35+ years ago we knew that energy from fossil fuels wasn’t going anywhere, and we expected it would be a regular and steady source of growth (i.e. income).  Now, we’re less sure about that last bit, but unfortunately, the great engine of human innovation has been let loose and new means of pillaging our planet have been discovered extending the lifespan of this industry.

I could console myself with the fact that this company doesn’t have much of a negative reputation — they’re not at fault for massive spills or pipeline explosions — but it’s still an electrical company in Pennsylvania (where I was born) that generates its power on the back of coal torn from the ground with techniques like mountaintop removal.  While they do help to support some wind power in PA (see Ethical Electric for ways to purchase wind energy from PA if you’re in the Mid Atlantic states or southern New England), it’s not enough to offset the damage caused by the coal industry, even the so-called “clean coal” movement.

On February 13th — if you’re reading this as it is published, that’s this Friday — I will be selling those shares; I will divest from that company.

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Fix society. Please.

After the death of their 17 year old daughter, Leelah Alcorn’s parents sought to and succeeded in removing her suicide note from her tumblr where she posted it before her death.  It’s been shared elsewhere, but I wanted to give it a home here, too.  Leelah wasn’t Pagan, but her demand that we “fix society” transcends religions.  May her story be shared far and wide; what is remembered never truly dies.

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Democrats: Stand Up!

election2014_0Firstly, very sorry for being a day late!  Despite a reminder from our fearless leader, my own phone alarms, and reminder emails, I happily finished my work day yesterday, watched a documentary, and then went to bed only thereafter remembering that it was “my” Monday to post here.  Could I have prepared the post and scheduled it to go live?  Sure, but I never know what I want to write about until much closer to the due date.  But, I digress.

So, an election happened and it didn’t really work out for the Democrats on the tickets.  Hell, in my own very blue state of Massachusetts, we couldn’t even be bothered to elect the Democratic candidate for governor, Martha Coakley.  There’s all sorts of reasons why this was the case:  gerrymandered districts, seats won in 2008 in conservative areas of the country that are, perhaps, only swinging back to their more usual voting patterns, the perceived incompetence of the federal government, and more.

But, I think there’s another reason, one that almost caused me to stay home last Tuesday despite my passion for all things politics:  the Democrats ran away from their own accomplishments.  Hell, some wouldn’t even admit to voting for Obama or supporting the Affordable Care Act, arguably one of the most influential pieces of legislation in the last few decades, flawed though it may be.

The kicker is, it’s not the the country wasn’t feeling rather progressive on Tuesday, we just didn’t feel like the Democrats could do anything for us.  Rachel Maddow talks about a variety of ways that voters in the country were voting for progressive ballot measures (the first four minutes deal with a California mayoral race; skip to 4:25 for more national topics):

To sum up, (in case you don’t want to watch the video):

  • Increasing the minimum wage was approved in Nebraska, Alaska, Arkansas, and South Dakotah.
  • Personhood — a radical anti-abortion measure that would also ban common forms of birth control — lost in Colorado and South Dakota.
  • Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
  • Paid sick leave measures passed state-wide in Massachusetts and locally in Oakland, CA; Trenton, NJ; and Montclair, NJ.
  • The first female governor was elected in Rhode Island.
  • Washington state voted in favor of background checks for gun purchases closing, if I understand the measure correctly, the loophole allowing you to get around such checks at gun shows.
  • Speaking of guns, gun control championing governors in Colorado and Connecticut both won re-election over vociferous (and financial) pressure from the NRA.

And on and on.  That list is only about the first two thirds of the video so there’s some more in there, but perhaps this tweet from Ben Casselman at fivethirtyeight.com says it best:

So if voters in diverse places like California, Colorado, South Dakota, Arkansas, New Jersey, and Massachusetts could all come together to vote for progressive and liberal ballot measures, what’s up with all the success for conservative candidates?

In short, I maintain that too many democrats tried to move too far away from their own positions in an effort to win conservative voters (that they were unlikely to win anyway) that they actually lost a bunch of us liberal types.

When Obama was on the ballot in 2008, it was the first campaign for which I went door-to-door to talk to voters.  I drove with others from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois over to the Quad Cities in Iowa where I met up with campaign staffers, was quickly trained, and sent out to talk to the locals.  It was snowing, about 30º F (-1º C), and we got caught in a massive snow storm on the way home.  So massive that I was watching for each mile marker so that, should we lose control and crash as so many other motorists had, I’d know roughly where we were when we called for help.  Despite all that, it was a great time and I truly felt that I was a part of something grand.

I haven’t felt that again since.  Maybe it’s the intransigent opposition stridently determined to ensure that nothing with a hint of progressiveness gets passed through Congress that’s just beaten Democratic candidates into submission, but that doesn’t hold water when you look at the information above.

Consider the reelection of governors Hickenlooper and Malloy in Colorado and Connecticut, respectively.  Sure, they were incumbents and incumbents are difficult to unseat, but they were facing massive headwinds because of their support for gun control.  And, remember, this support existed only because of mass shootings that have taken place in those states in recent years.  Despite that headwind, they stood for what they thought was right, and I would have felt honored to go to the polls and cast a vote for them.

Then, look at democratic senatorial candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes who was the opponent of soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell.  Asked if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Grimes wouldn’t even answer the question.  She fell over her own two feet to avoid looking like a liberal progressive even though her prior statements in opposing the defunding of Obamacare, in favor of pro-choice measures within her state, and measures to increase child care for employees, equal pay for females, and an increase to the federal minimum wage.  From this outsider’s perspective, she spent so long trying to curry favor with conservatives, that she forgot to stand up and share everyone else what it was that she actually stood for!

I talk a lot about politics.  I am by no means an expert, but I consider myself to be well informed not only locally but nationally and, to a lesser extent, internationally.  And what this progressive liberal can’t understand is why so many liberal candidates don’t have the courage of their convictions.  Sure, we might still lose, but I’d rather lose standing for something than not.

For a conversation related to last week’s election that I found both enjoyable and informative — and discusses this very topic — I recommend catching last week’s edition of the Slate.com Political GabfestMultitudinous States Incarnadine.

See you in December!

The Politics of Second Sons

Yesterday, I attended Catholic Mass.

Don’t worry; this isn’t one of those posts where I explain why I’ve decided to convert.  I attended Mass for as simple reason:  I was visiting my in-laws and they, and my partner, are Catholic.  Regardless, something struck me as very timely for our American experience this fall in relation to the gospel reading and our midterm elections.

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One Step Back, One Step Forward

This past week has been an emotional roller coaster for me.  I was heavily invested in the Hobby Lobby case decided one week ago by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and the decisions reached by the court was not the one I was hoping for  I spent a great deal of time both thinking about the case, the arguments made therein, and trying to do what I could to make my voice and my view known and, in the end, it felt like it was all for naught.  But, later in the same week, Lawrence Lessig’s MayDay PAC reached it’s five million dollar fundraising goal for the time from June 1 through July 4.  I wrote about the MayDayPAC before, and after the let down that was the Hobby Lobby case, this was a much-needed boost at the end of the week.

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Campaign Finance Reform

I didn’t intend to return to the topic of campaign finance reform as quickly as this; my last post discussed it as well.  But, there’s been some developments in that arena that provide us both a more clear picture of what is wrong with the current way we operate our political system and how beautiful a system it could be.  Ironically, the same individual provides us both of these understandings:  Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

If you don’t have much time to read through the whole post, please just scroll down to the heading So, What Should We Do About It?.  Obviously, I think exploring our current political situation is important; I wouldn’t be writing about it if I did not.  But, what I share with you all after that exploration is really the point.  If you read only one (more) part of this essay, please make it that one.

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Washing the Stink out of Politics

My father is in local government for the small town in Pennsylvania where I grew up.  His position is appointed by the elected town council so we didn’t have to deal with campaigning to keep his job, but this did mean that, at the whim of the council members, he could have found himself unemployed.  Luckily, he’s good at what he does and various members of councils for the last few decades have kept him in the position he’s held for much of his adult life.

I remember while growing up that his stories of council meetings and the issues that they dealt with were fascinating in a lot of ways.  Here was a group of people working together to try to solve the problems of my own little home town.  Back when I never imagined ever moving away from home, I always thought I’d run for council one day and be one of those people.

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On Dialog, Interfaith and Otherwise

DialogThe online Pagan and Polytheist blogs have been discussing interfaith involvement and how and if we should speak for and about our various communities.  Amid the outcries of privilege, denials of the same, and various stories from Pagan and Polytheist alike of good and bad experiences while engaging in interfaith efforts, I think something was lost:

A way forward.

Ruadhán J. McElroy presented four standards for relations between Pagan and Polytheist communities.  These four standards are presented about two-thirds of the way down the post.  While I may not agree with everything therein–for example, I find the standards as written to be too demanding of one party without recognizing that sometimes concessions must be made by both–I do think that these standards can be made valuable for us in situations outside the wider Pagan community.  They’re especially so when we are called upon to represent the views of another.

In order to make these standards more generalizable, though, I think we need to consider how they could be reconsidered to include those outside our communities.

1. Extend Hospitality

I’ve heard it said that hospitality is perhaps the closest thing to a universal ideal that our various interrelated communities may share.  Hospitality isn’t simply being polite to others, though that’s certainly a good start, it also means that we provide them with what they need in that moment whether it be a willing ear, a strong-arm, or a loud voice.  Hospitality is the action of treating others as they wish to be treated.  This is greater than the Golden Rule; treating others as you wish to be treated.  The latter makes assumptions; the former requires that we engage with the other in order to provide for them.

McElroy’s first rule focused specifically on the actions that a Pagan should take when inviting a Polytheist to present a ritual or ceremony at a pan-Pagan event.  The crux of the standard, however, was a request that Pagans offer hospitality to Polytheists in their midst.  For my tastes, that’s too one-sided.  Hospitality, like friendship, is a two-way street.  One should both extend hospitality to the other, but also act in with the expectation that this hospitality will be extended to you in return.  In this way, the relationship becomes reciprocal; we learn about and from the other as they learn about and from us.

2. Treasure Difference

Things are not always what you expect.  Or, perhaps more importantly, the labels we use to describe each other and define our world are imperfect and far less generalizable that we think.  Underneath those labels lie a treasure trove of diversity and difference, quite often to a surprising degree.

My partner and her family are Catholic.  In America, at least, Catholics are largely considered to be fairly conservative, politically and socially speaking, and many of the Catholics operating on the national stage (e.g. the Conference of Catholic Bishops) fight the advancement of LGBTQ rights, access to contraceptives, and the availability of abortion services all in the name of traditional families and the specifics of church doctrine.  But, my partner is married to a solitary eclectic Polytheist and Witch and her family knows it.  My sister-in-law is married to another woman, and they’ve adopted a mixed racial young daughter.  I’ve sat in Mass with them and they all attended and supported my wedding outside the walls of the Church.

The point of view described by the Catholic political leadership in America does not, obviously, define the only way to be Catholic just as I don’t define the only way to be a polytheist.  Rather than expect others to conform to our expectations, we should, instead, seek to alter those expectations or–even better–work to avoid them entirely.

3. Avoid Assumptions

McElroy’s third standard was written as an absolute; that one party “shall make no attempt” to speak for another.  On the one hand, I agree.  We should avoid the assumption that we can adequately explain the point of view of another.  We cannot.  I can no more correctly describe the fulfillment that my partner finds in Mass than she can probably explain to others why I devote myself to my gods.

But, on the other hand, I also think that operating from a standard of absolutes leaves us unprepared for the inevitability that we’ll find ourselves in a situation that doesn’t quite line up with that expectation.  For example, I find myself being asked to compare and contrast my own point of view with that of another.  Especially in interfaith settings, when I’m asked to try to share with another the nuance within the Pagan community, to simply refrain from even attempting to do so would likely shut down the dialog.

Instead, when we are called upon to speak for another, we must not allow others to assume that we speak with authority.  In other words, it must be made crystal clear to others when you’re not speaking from your own experience.  Even better, we should do our best to connect those we’re working with to those who can best answer their questions in the moment, but if that’s not possible, be sure that you offer the opportunity to do so at a later date.

4. Trust Others

One of the things most appalling to me during the online conversations around Pagan interfaith involvement has been the situations in which one person denies the experience of the other.  Even if all parties were present at the same event, it’s naïve to expect that everyone experiences that event in the same way.  In reality, every experience is a blind-men-and-the-elephant situation; everyone takes away something different.

It is, therefore, imperative that we trust others or, at least, offer them the benefit of the doubt.  If the situation calls for it, trust and subsequently verify, but trust is key.  Even if someone’s experience contradicts our own or, maybe, especially so.  It’s probably nothing more than ego and arrogance to assume that our own perspective is correct while all others are flawed.

Trust is especially necessary in situations of harm.  It is all to easy to minimize or dismiss the harm dealt to another.  Worse is the tendency to blame the victim, claiming that no harm was intended, that the victim is overly sensitive, or that he or she was otherwise “asking for it.”  All of these responses represent a lack of trust for the other.

That said, trust can be misplaced and abused.  There’s no reason to let someone use our trust against us or to continue to extend that trust if the other has been proven a liar.  But, until such a time, we can very like avoid additional harm by offering to stand in solidarity with someone who has been harmed rather than dismissing that harm and, in so doing, dismissing them.

In the end, these are solid guidelines for more interactions than simple those involving different religious (or non-religious) points of view.  I’m going to have the opportunity to engage in an interfaith conversation with a Mormon on Tuesday when I join him on his podcast.  Considering that it’s likely that I may be asked about experiences and points of view of others within the community, I’ll be keeping these guidelines in mind.

I hope that they’re useful to you as well.