French’s “Law”: As an internet discussion exhausts the ability of participants to form a cogent argument, the probability that a Godwin-class “law” will be coined approaches one.
When I say “Godwin-class ‘Law'” I am referring to aphorisms taking their inspiration from of Godwin’s “Law.” This “Law” states that (if you haven’t encountered it -lucky fuck-) “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” The idea was to reduce inflammatory comparisons, but over time it people began to assume that any comparison to Hitler, even if it was appropriate, made a person’s argument weak or invalid. It’s become a paradigm of its own, with people exchanging the terms to suit what ever analogy annoys them the most.
Such “Laws” actually say nothing, and only serve to make the individual employing them appear intelligent to their peers, who probably share their perspective. We have here not an example of wit, but of one of the most onerous aspects of internet discourse. I call this the “pre-established circle jerk.” The internet is filled with little enclaves of intellectual incest, in which cadres of “friends” get together to re-enforce the narratives and memes they brought with them. When someone from with an perspective outside the view enters such a group, they are automatically labeled with whatever snarl word or phrase is used to designate those who don’t belong. They will generally either engage in futile attempts to cut through the thicket of strawmen erected in their path in order to get their real point across, leave, or gradually be bullied into accepting the groups perspective.
What we have here is the marriage of over-active Third Circuits with misdirected Second Circuits. Since this is a text based medium, people tend to forget that they’re talking to humans that might actually have feelings. With linear mentation placed into high gear with too much caffeine and repetitive action, the wires get crossed and the affluent individual with no real survival concerns transfers their territorial instinct to the defense of their mental boundaries. “Our Truth has been blasphemed,” the cry sounds. “Once more into the breech, dear friends, and we’ll plug up their firewalls with our biting second hand wit!”
In the Pagan community, there are numerous examples of this. The movement is broad enough, and some areas so highly specialized, that one can be accepted as wise in one clique and branded as bereft of merit in another. If one is not careful, on might even get saddled with the most dreaded title, the blackest curse any internet witch can cast upon another, the perspective that dare not speak its name.
They might be deemed “fluffy.”
Over time, the usage of this label has evolved. In the dim past (roughly four years ago) it tended to show up as a synonym for “New Age.” It connoted someone who was a bit too pollyannish, timid about working with “dark” deities, or afraid to use magick in a way that wasn’t quite “nice.” Lately, however, it seems to have taken an interesting new direction. Now, it seems that “willful ignorance” is the stigmata of the fluffy. “Ignorance,” of course, being defined according to the standards of those same incestuous bastions of online “wisdom” mentioned above.
The tone and content of such condemnations demonstrate quite clearly the over-stimulated Third Circuit activating the dormant territorial Second Circuit. An entire website devoted to “Fighting the Fluff,” Wicca For the Rest of Us, contains startling examples of this. It is as if someone had too much coffee and went to town with Dreamweaver in order to shun entire segments of the community based not on skill or aspiration, but the degree to which the “fluffy” holds views which diverge from the website’s author.
What I find interesting about this is that it bases judgment of a person in a spiritual context on their relationship to the rational content of their mind. While this may be important, I think the internet’s hyper-discursive nature distorts its overall significance. A person may be able to perform and invocation that curls your hair and brings through a divine presence without any doubt that you are witnessing something truly transcendent, and still hold firmly, even dogmatically, to the most ridiculous aspects of say, the Burning Times narrative. Who would you rather have in Circle or Lodge, a well educated incompetent, or an “ignorant” person with some real magickal chops? Ideally, of course, one could find in depth, current knowledge and occult skill in the same person, but I’d be going with the “fluffy” who can run energy over the brain that can barely do an LBRP.
The Western Mystery Tradition tells us we have five “souls.” The mortal ego, the part that assimilates discursive information and rearranges it into patterns, inhabits the outskirts of what is called the Ruach. On the Tree of Life, it’s called “Hod.” It’s one of Ten. This means that focusing exclusively on the facility and content of the rational, discursive mind, is downplaying or ignoring all but one tenth of a persons being, one fifth of a fifth of their souls. Put this way, it seems rather myopic.
The counter argument is that “fluffies” make us “look bad” in the eyes of the mainstream. As if historical “accuracy” (a debatable concept to begin with) would make people who view us as arrested adolescents LARPing any less derisive. No, they would likely just see us as bigger dorks. Fundamentalist Christians will never respect us, because it would mean giving up their own psychic “turf.” The more open minded Christians generally treat other religions with respect regardless of how “silly” some members seem. So, who are we trying to impress here?
I would submit that this preoccupation with how mainstream society views us is far more harmful to the community and to occultists in general than any historical inaccuracy. It was this that lead to the Llewellen book boom. Concern over mainstream acceptance caused Pagans of a few years back to tacitly condone the rhetoric of the Satanic Panic of the late Eighties. We were so worried about not being associated with a fiction created by Charismatic lunatics that we played into the criminalization of a religious perspective, something which should never be allowed in a secular Democracy under any circumstances.
We will probably always seem a little strange and silly to most of the society we find ourselves in. Pagans at the very least profess belief in or experience with realities beyond the range of the five gross senses. Some even act on such beliefs. This makes us weird. Anyone who takes time to do something other than acquire pieces of plastic imbued with programmed obsolescence is weird in our society. That’s simply the reality we live with. No matter how much we try to look like scholars and gentlefolk, to the ordinary robot on the street, we’re freaks. Deal with it.
The final thing I would point out is the depressing degree to which this drive to purge us of fluffies resembles the worst aspects of our current social situation. While the discussions I’ve seen stops far short of suggesting actual physical violence, the language and attitude looks a great deal like the eliminationism that has become ingrained in our culture over the past decade. It’s the same miswiring, playing out differently.
With the internet as our main communication tool, we forget that we have bodies. That we are more than a brain hooked up to fingers tapping out words. Paganism, however, stresses the sacredness of the flesh, the holiness that lies in “irrational” experience. While being true to history is important, it is equally important to not commit the same errors as the society around us in trying to achieve this.
Failing this, we will be little more than another set of lofty notions, adding to the sea of noise emitting from chattering sacks of meat and wires that have forgotten they are more than the words spilling out across the liquid display.