Tag Archives: Justice

Remember Upon Whose Bones Your House is Built

I am mildly torn on the subject of Columbus Day. On the one hand, Columbus was an evil bastard who deserves to be burned in effigy every year, preferably as part of a charity drive collecting donations for Native American causes.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be here if he’d never done his entirely objectionable thing and kicked off the rush to colonize the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries. Oh, Europeans would have gotten around to it eventually, but the historical context would have been different and therefore the social and historical conditions that made my life what it has been would have also been different, and I would not be here.

Perhaps the one who would have been, would have been a better human being than I. I don’t know, and my depression and anxiety like that thought way too much to pursue it further. But I digress…

Columbus was awful. But he was also pivotal. He was evil, but also helped shape the world which shaped me, and I rather like me, most of the time.

I like to say that we owe a debt to our ancestors, and pay it to our descendants. But we all have ancestors we don’t like, perhaps even hate, and would like to forget about. In more recent (than Columbus) history, I had ancestors who were southern slave holders and Confederate officers, for instance.

How do we remember them, without glorifying them? How do we give honor to those without honor, or at least who deserved no honor in life?

We remember them honestly, without glossing over the evil they did. We admit that their bad is in our history as much as any good they did. We admit, in humility, that our houses are built on a foundation of native bodies, and in turn we honor those who were killed so unjustly.

We give our problematic ancestors honor by working to clean up the messes they left behind. I can’t undo the horrors that Columbus and his successors wrought in the Americas, but I can work to make the conditions in our present, which are the legacy of colonialism, racism, and empire, less vile.

We can honor even the ancestors we hate by making the present better than the past, and the future better than the present.


For Those We Have Lost

Today is the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on American soil on September 11, 2001. Many places on the internet, at least where Americans post, will be filled with American flags and praise of the United States. Some places will be filled with jingoistic hate. If we’re lucky, some will also be filled with thoughtful history.

None of that is what I want to say today. Here’s what I want to say:

Remember those who left the sunlit lands.

Remember the thousands who died in the attacks: the passengers of the planes, the workers in the towers and at the Pentagon, the police and firefighter and medics. Raise a glass to the fallen.

Remember those who left the sunlit lands.

Remember the thousands and thousands who have died in the wars that followed. Remember those who have died in reprisal after reprisal; an eye for an eye and the world goes blind. Raise a glass to the fallen.

Remember those who have left the sunlit lands.

May they find the peace they were denied in life.
May we find a way to make justice out of the mess that killed them.
May the gods guide us and forgive us.


Down the Memory Hole

In his book 1984, George Orwell introduced the Memory Hole: A chute in the Ministry of Truth that carried inconvenient documents to the building’s incinerator. The idea was, if the government could make talking about the past–the real past, not the party-approved story–illegal, and destroy all evidence of the real past, then they could completely control the remembered reality of the people.

This isn’t fiction. It’s happening right now, in Syria. DAESH (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, transliterated) is busy demolishing historical sites, so that there will be no evidence to counter their propaganistic historical narrative. So that there will be no evidence of the culture and religion that existed before Islam came to Syria and the Levant. Among all their other atrocities, they are doing their best to erase the history of the Middle East.

DAESH is shoving all the pre-Islamic history they can get their hands on down the Memory Hole.

The history of cities where Christians and Jews had thriving communities in the Holy Land and neighboring states? Gone. The history of temples, of cities where many gods of the Near and Middle East, of Greece and Egypt and Rome and Persia and Canaan and Babylon were worshiped? Gone. As if it were never there.

When I stop and consider how much we rely on studying ancient physical evidence–broken pots, partial statues, ruined buildings–for our understanding of ancient polytheism, it leaves me cold, and angry.

But what to do? I don’t have an army, or a lot of money for donating to whoever might be able to help directly.

Well, I suppose there’s always magic. Galina Krasskova has a suggestion, over at Gangleri’s Grove. Go check it out.


More Voices, More Passion

More folks with comments on the events surrounding and highlighted by the Ferguson grand jury decison.

Thorn Coyle writes: “I pray that we remember: We are responsible for one another’s well being,” in An Open Letter to White America

Morpheus Ravenna writes: “The thing is, property is what this society values above all else. Thus, it’s destruction of property that gets heard. This is why looting happens.” in The Violence From Below

Brennos writes: “Peace without justice is oppression and battle for justice is the only route to peace,” in Social Justice and a Goddess of Sovereignty and Battle

This is all much bigger than one cop shooting one kid. Too many people are content to frame each crime as an anomaly, as unconnected crimes by bad individuals. The alternaive is to bear the pain of being aware that they are part of a system of domination, a system that grinds them down, too.

I am not surprised that these protests (and make no mistake, it’s not just happening in Ferguson) include violence. All I am surprised by, is that anyone is surprised.


There is No Natural Justice

Last night, the grand jury in Ferguson returned its decision to not prosecute Ferguson officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown. Justice is not served.

I’m not really surprised. Justice hasn’t been served in this since long before Officer Wilson shot Mr. Brown. Long, long before. Better historians than I have traced the roots of current racism and back to slavery and reconstruction, and wiser commenters than I have discussed how the current troubles are at least as much about white anger at progress as they are about black anger about racism.

When I first heard the decision, I wasn’t surprised, but I was very angry. I still am, and will be for a long time to come, but at first it was the kind of anger that involves questioning the power and justice of the gods. That questioning led me to revisit the understanding that there is no natural justice.

We cannot expect the gods to give us justice. Oh, there are gods of justice. Among the Olympians, Dike is the goddess of justice. Her father is Zeus, one of whose responsibilities is law and order, and her mother is the titaness Themis, who is said to have first taught law to mortals. Other cultures and pantheons have their own deities of justice.

Yet we still cannot expect the gods to give us justice. If we could, the prosecutor arguing before the grand jury would not have been a man who raised money for the defense of the accused. If the gods could just give us justice, then Darren Wilson would have gone to trial, and either incarceration or exoneration, months ago.

The gods cannot give us justice, not in a way we would like. Myth is full of tales of gods punishing injustice, but there are few stories of the gods preventing injustice. When the gods do step in, the results are painful and messy, and collateral damage seems to be quite high. The gods don’t get directly involved until the situation is so far gone that whatever they do can’t make things worse.

Justice, on a human scale and human terms, is what happens when we mortals make it happen. The gods may assist and advise, but in this (as in so much, it seems) their powers are limited. We have to make room for them to enter the world, when and where we want them to enter, to be the vehicles by which divine justice can manifest.

I’m not suggesting anyone should take revenge in the name of the gods, or that people should feel that any expression of rage or violence against the perceived enemy is a holy act. Dike is not Nemesis, and the Horai (Dike and her sisters Eunomia, good order, and Eirene, peace) are not the Erinyes.

Justice is not revenge, or at least, not retribution alone. Justice is re-balancing the scales, giving comfort and redress to the victims as well as punishment to the perpetrators. Focusing just on the survivors of Michael Brown and on Darrin Wilson and those who helped him evade justice is not enough, however, because the current injustice is bigger than that. Justice here means also working to dismantle the system that perpetuates, encourages, and rewards this kind of crime. Justice here means also working to give aid, voice, and comfort to all who suffer under that system.

We cannot expect the gods to simply give us true justice. We must make justice through our own actions, in harmony with the gods and with their blessings on our actions.

We must make this right. No one else will.


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