Ethics, Business, and Druidry

On the ADF-discuss lists, a dedicant posted a grave concern that he had with how our druidry interacts ethically with our professional lives.

We … consider ourselves to be keepers of the land, … environmentally conscious and always trying … to live at peace with nature.  Yet we find ourselves using many things that can only be gotten (at this time) through, what some would consider to be, raping the land. …

[As geologists,] it is our job to find these resources, and report them to our employers to be harvested.

… We, as druids, were the caretakers of society.  Our bond of tradition, knowing the lore, and helping to focus the community on the Kindred was part of what kept our societies alive.  We had to act for the good of our tribe, to help provide for its needs, and yet balance that with the demands of the Other. Right now, the ‘good of our tribe’ requires things that we as individuals may not feel are the best (fossil fuels, etc.).  …

This is such an interesting post with so many things to explore that I knew that I would have to address it in this blog and present a précis to the list. There are at least two topics here of primary concern: 1) the role of today’s druid as opposed to the historical reality amongst the Celts, and 2) how modern professional science and business interacts with the divine. The crux of the problem is that the gentleman who posted his question is conflicted as young geology student, foreseeing justifiably a dilemma in the intersection of his beliefs as a Neo-Pagan and his incipient career as a professional geologist. While the obvious solution is to avoid going into the business of locating minerals for harvesting and thus end up pursuing a more academic role in modern society, I think there is much to be said in reconciling the contradiction between the rapine of modern business practice and the role of the contemporary druid. (Note that I have no citations here as of yet but will add them as soon as I can.)

First of all, the role of today’s druid is very different from its historical forebear. This is not to say that our writer here is wrong in his understanding of the historical druids, but that how the historical druids aided their tribe is very different from how we seek to aid ours. The greatest overlap in my opinion lies in our modern focus on leading religious rites. This overlap was one of the facets of the ADF which I found most appealing as most other druidic orders that I researched seemed more focused on the druid-as-protector-of-nature à la ‘Dungeons & Dragons’. I actually find this aspect of modern druidry to be very inspiring and of utmost necessity for our time, but it is ahistorical nonetheless. Other than presiding over rituals, the druids would act as diplomats, teachers, and (particularly legal) advisors, assisting their tribe by maintaining an appropriate relationship with the gods who were essentially and substantially inseparable from the land. Today we have legal councillors, appointed officials and professional educators who serve these functions, but ideally we as druids should be working toward expertise in as many of these disciplines as well. Thus, modern druids, particularly we in the ADF, are part of a more liberal movement than our historical forebears in that there is a strong reforming character to what we are doing – religiously, environmentally and socially. Our forebears were (so far as we know) far more conservative in character, maintaining proper social relations through legal/religious council and proper spiritual relations through ritual.

The way forward in this conflict then is through allowing our conceptual framework to embrace modern socio-economic functions. To do this, we should abandon the antagonistic perspective of, say, Greenpeace, and look at how the actions of our society relate to the larger picture of the world around us. If businesses today took in the real costs of their products then we would be living in a very different economic climate. If a long term picture were composed that took into its account the future cost of the environmental damages we are causing, then different decisions would be made, just as if people knew the actual, human cost of the ways in which their food is produced then they would buy more expensive, organic and locally grown produce (or even grow their own). The writer of the above post is in training to act as an advisor, but as a druid his role is to advise not just on where the resources are, but when and how they should be extracted. If the resources are harvested with sustainability in mind, then overall, long-term costs would be lessened and profitability would be maxed. This is the way to convince the marketplace and business to value the druidic perspective. 

This brings me to my second topic: how our modern scientific and economic infrastructure engages with the divine. There is a larger topic associated with this in how we understand the role of the divine in this world, but for now I will try and keep my comments limited to business and science.

In the wake of the development of economic and scientific theory some three to four hundred years ago, a number of changes took place in our landscape that stemmed from changes that took place in the way leaders concieved their world. The Agricultural, Industrial, and Scientific Revolutions of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which led to the political revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth, were predicated on the idea that human reason held its own innate authority and could improve an otherwise accidental and chaotic world. At their root was an assumption that all human affairs could be quantified and rendered with an economic value: witness James I’s Edict of Iona in 1609.  Thus materialism became a viable perspective and eventually produced Marxism, one of the currently most influential schools of thought whether or not one agrees with it.

Now I believe, and I hope others do as well, that the gods do not wait for us to believe in them before they act. Rather, our decisions, actions, and the events of our lives are in themselves indications of divine action, i.e. they promote and foster us in secret unless we respond to and address them. What this means with regard to the Age of Revolutions I will not say here, but the long and short of it is that the devotion to materialism that characterized much of our recent socio-economic history over the last few centuries rendered the ‘forces of the market’, to say nothing of the political sphere, open to rampant and unguided exploitation; there was simply no spiritual basis in which to couch a consistent and reliable system of ethics.

So much for the roots of our writer’s conflict, but the resultant conflict between the now developing urge for ethics rooted in spirit and the currently dominant materialistic system places us in a position where we must often act surreptitiously. It must be part of our wisdom to discern how the advice we give, how we integrate with our system, changes it (or doesn’t!), and then give our advice and take our actions in such a way as to effect the best outcome.

Of course, there are many who are not in an advisory position but undertake the practical tasks that are often unsavory. A further post to the list added that

You raise an issue I have been struggling with myself. I’ve often questioned is how to be a ‘good pagan’ while performing /supporting animal studies and animal research. I work in medical research, specifically in non-embryonic stem cell therapies, and one of my projects included finding a treatment to heal burn wounds. Even though the animal center where our test[s] were run conducted the experiments in as humane a manner as possible, burn wounds are painful for the animals in these tests.

How do I participate in this, support this, and still be a nature-conscious person? Is that even possible? On one hand, I strongly believe the work I’m doing can help a lot of people, and believe that it’s work worth doing. On the other hand, I feel like a hypocrite if I stand up in ritual and call on the Nature Spirits and ask them to work with us. Because of this, I usually only volunteer for the Ancestors or Deities invocations.

In one way, this is a much easier problem to handle as there is a certain benefit to be had from the research, but the place of this research in society can be a little deceptive. We have made our world so much more dangerous than it ever was. At one time, people could live in bare feet, but now it is simply dangerous to walk without shoes unless you deliberately seek out wild places. (I used to go barefoot whenever I could, much to the shock of my fellows who called me ‘Barefoot Joe’ when I played shoeless on our softball team in grad school.) Even then, our feet have become so unaccustomed to feeling the earth and navigating it that they are more easily cut and bruised than at one time. Traveling to work involves high speeds and we live stacked up in tiny boxes. At one time, salves that could handle most burns were easily made at home, but now we must address far greater injuries that come with the environment that we have made for ourselves. Of course, I am not saying that people get hurt more now than they used to, and neither am I saying that I would undermine the medical advances that our culture has made (and, yes, I enjoy a good game of Halo: Reach, thank-you-very-much). Rather, if we wisely attend to our environment and the patterns of our lives, keeping ‘the big picture’ ever in mind, then the ethical dilemma mentioned above could perhaps be avoided.

Speaking personally, I would not be able to persevere in such a job. It makes more sense to me to use human beings who have abandoned their social viability than animals who as a group do not even partake of the benefits of the research. There is another approach, however, in the assumptions that this kind of research makes. The use of animals is predicated on their equivalency to human biology. This to me is a grave assumption. It would be better to develop a way of testing whatever hypothesis has been developed using, perhaps, skin graft samples grown from humans or even limited cloning technology (oh, that controversial word!) to produce identical organic samples and not, obviously, whole creatures.

Ultimately, our purpose as druids is to connect wholly, really, and imminently with and to the divine. It is our job to be wise, sometimes blissfully but often deviously so. Yes, our goal is to represent and benefit our tribe, but this does not necessarily include all humanity and it often means acting counter to the obvious desires of certain members. No king, for example, ever wants to die by his gessa. In my own context as a teacher in a landscape generally hostile to any kind of Neo-Paganism, I work for the truth of the gods without naming or even referencing them since their truth works as much for the Christian as it does for the Pagan. I am in a much easier position than the writers of these two posts, but hopefully the principle holds in each case.


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