I’m still down in the bowels of my Recapitulation Project to organize and share the best of what my entire writing life has had to offer, beginning mostly in 1985 when I got my first computer and so could finally type as fast as the ideas shooting through. Last night I came across an old column from Sagewoman Magazine (I published there regularly for 20 years, under the Rubric, “Crone Eyes, Crone Heart”). This particular column, already in the AK Reader section, was entitled Politics and Magic, the theme of that issue. I found myself writing a piece which, at the time, I wondered whether it was “true,” because it flowed forth with such ease and there were parts that I only barely understood.
So, last night, I reread this column, and was astonished. I think now that the way I talked about Politics and Magic and the relationship between them in 1998 was actually prophetic. I was seeing down the road, without realizing it, to this time in history. Living “in the middle of it” now, I cannot seem to lift myself “above it all” enough to articulate what we are going through, epistemologically and culturally, and yes, therefore, politically.
The one correction I would make to this piece now is to say that actually there are people in the political world who are not just going after personal power, but who really are “working for the whole.” But otherwise, I wouldn’t change a word.
It seems to me that a situation begins to be interpreted (and thus valued, or devalued) as “political” in situations that involve perceived scarcity: when there is something at least two people want, and not enough of it to go around. (The “thing” in question can be one or many, concrete or abstract; objects, people, projects, qualities, money, status — all count.) The question then becomes, who gets the thing that is perceived as both rare and valuable? And the specifically “political” question seems to be, how do they go about getting it? For some ways of behaving are more likely to earn the label “political” than others. And, I would guess, the more complex (confusing) and many-layered a situation is, the more likely it is to carry “political” overtones.
Conversely, the more primitive (unlayered) the context, the less likely is the situation involving perceived scarcity to be seen as “political,” or to be resolved “politically.” In a conflict between only two people, for example, one person eventually gives way, sometimes as the result of the threat or actuality of the other’s direct application of physical, mental, or emotional force. This scenario begins in early childhood. “Mine!” says one two-year-old. “No, mine!” says another. There’s a tug-of-war, or a chase, and the situation resolves when one triumphs over the other, by being bigger, stronger, faster, more persistent, aggressive, etc.
Now, suppose a five-year-old also wants the toy the other two are fighting over. But she is more savvy than they; her world is larger, includes more elements, or energies, within it. Instead of joining the fray directly, she goes to her mother, and says, “They are fighting over the toy.” She knows that her mother will probably take the toy away from both of them, put it on a shelf, and after a certain amount of time has gone by, she can sneak it from the shelf unnoticed.
For the two-year olds, the situation is experienced as a territorial contest, to be resolved through direct application of force. The five year old, however understands the situation to include not just two, but four people — she knows that her mother is dominant, and she knows how her mother will react. Thus the five-year-old is able to manipulate her perception of the (larger) context to her own advantage. She gets the toy eventually, without any of the other three realizing what her motives were in bringing the fight to the attention of her mother.
Her actions were political, savvy. She was acting in her own self-interest, even though, as “mother’s little helper,” she did not appear to be doing so. In politics, this is usually the case, for all parties. A many layered and confusing differential thus opens up between what appears to be going on and what is really going on.
What drives all parties involved in a political situation is to get the thing that is perceived to be both valuable and scarce, while not appearing to want it, or to want it only for themselves. Underneath, everybody is acting is his or her own self-interest, though for various reasons, they are all usually pretending otherwise. The meaning of the situation is manipulated by all parties in different ways, and they all vie to make their interpretation (now called “spin”) of the situation be the dominant one. Meanwhile, though usually denying it in their own case, everybody assumes that everybody else is operating with his or her own more or less hidden agenda, or subtext. These hidden agendas feel like swirling currents of energy and usually involve actual or seeming alliances with some parties in opposition to others.
The real, hidden energies flow undetected or barely detected, underneath the appearances, or false fronts that each party strives to maintain. What these real, hidden energies actually are, however, changes according to who is feeling them. Thus confusion operates at every level; there is no “bottom line.”