An Open Response to Rhyd Wildermuth’s “Perceval”

They say that a lie travels half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on. This is infinitely more the case in the digital era, to the extent that the comedy website Cracked regularly publishes a list of “news” stories that turned out to be more fantasy than fact. Combine this with the potentially toxic combination of radical politics and spirituality, and the results are often spectacular and operatic.

Witness, as an example, the recent offering from one Rhyd Wildermuth, entitled “Perceval.” Said is a veiled reflection on a conversation Wildermuth had with my teacher, Sam Webster. This conversation was a follow up to some issues Wildermuth had with the discourse he experienced during the Pantheon Foundation’s Pagan Activism Conference. The substance of his disagreement boils down to: he believes that Paganism is anti-Capitalist, with which Sam disagrees. This would seem to be a fairly straightforward sort of argument, requiring neither the word count nor the vitriol Rhyd deploys in the service of… not actually making that point at all.

The problem with Rhyd’s post is that it’s subject is not ideas, but an individual with whom he has an ideological axe to grind. In the fine tradition of those unable to make a cogent argument and stick to the point, Wildermuth chooses to depict the person he disagrees with as morally suspect and frightening. He also attempts to place himself in an underdog position by referencing Sam’s questions about his education. This is a way to gain sympathy, by forcing anyone who calls Rhyd on his bullshit to apparently “punch down,” or attack someone in a position or relative disadvantage.

Sam’s response to Rhyd is far too gracious, assuming good faith and attributing the negative framing of his comments to (essentially) Rhyd’s emotional investment in his perspective. While this may be true, it does not change the fact of the misrepresentation.

There are many things in Rhyd’s post that sound like things Sam might have said. I’ve heard words like that come out of Sam’s mouth before. But Rhyd puts them in a Bizarro World context, and rephrases them in ways that no mature, intelligent person would ever speak. “You’re at an earlier cycle; you can’t see the truth I see.  When you reach my age, you see what needs to be done,” is not a sentence that a person in real life would utter. It is a “writerly” way of turning a statement into a proclamation.

I could dissect the awful writing and rhetorical failings of Rhyd’s post for several more pages, but I don’t think he presents a strong enough challenge to merit the effort. My purpose in writing this is to point out that the Sam Webster he presents in his post is not the Sam Webster I know. It is a golem of its own, empowered by words consecrated with ideological rigidity and intellectual dishonesty.

As one example, Rhyd makes much of the fact that Sam questioned him about his education. This seems to be a sore spot, and Wildermuth takes these questions as indicative of some sort of academic elitism and snobbery. While it may be true that Sam values educated professionals (a position I find reasonable) if he had a significant dislike or low valuation of those without advanced degrees, I seriously doubt he would have supported my own accomplishments within the Order that he founded. I myself do not possess even a real high school diploma, yet Sam supported and encouraged not only my advancement in the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, but also my further elevation (twice) to elected Head of the Order. He also published my first novel. These are not things that the pompous pedant described by Wildermuth seems likely to consider doing for an uneducated rube such as myself.

A cursory perusal of this blog will make it clear that I am no friend of capitalism. But neither am I fond of the Machiavellian notion that it is acceptable to lie in the service of what one sees as a “larger truth.” This seems to be what Rhyd Wildermuth is doing, creatively reconstructing his conversation with Sam to make his point.

The result is neither true to life nor an example of good creative non-fiction. Mr. Wildermuth should concern himself more with broadening what appears to be his rather limited and naïve perspective, rather than attempting to defend it at the expense of someone who has spent their lives building institutions instead of undermining the different, but parallel, efforts of others.

There is a scene in the film adaptation of “The Libertine” in which John Malkovich’s Charles II tells John Wilmot, played by Johnny Depp that Anyone can oppose, it’s fun to be against things, but there comes a time when you have to start being for things as well.” This expresses the broader issue I have with Rhyd’s post: he does not recognize that you cannot build a sustainable movement on being anti-capitalist, or anti-anything.

The result of being so is clear, and we have seen it in microcosm in this situation. Infighting, insult, and lies to defend ones perspective. We can do better than this, and must if our Pagan movements will amount to anything more than the turn of the 21st century version Theosophy. A qlippoth of a spiritual path, rather than a vital means to personal and social liberation.

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