Smooth Motions: Giving and Community

We need people. Even the most introverted personality types still, at least on occasion, want the companionship of others (if not, you’re not exactly an introvert, you’re a misanthrope, but that’s another story for another time). There are loads of psychological explanations for how a sense of community benefits and shapes us, and how lacking it also shapes us but in a manner harmful to our psyches.

The modern Pagan community (note “large P”) has been shaped, in no small part, by science fiction fandom via Tim “Oberon” and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. Of course, clearly preferring R.A. Heinlein over Gene Roddenberry, this created a massive sense that “individualism” and the pursuit of doing for oneself before all else that has lousied up Paganism every moment since.

Hedonism is often misunderstood as inherently selfish, and some ancient characterisations certainly don’t help much on the matter, but Hedonism is about creating pleasure over pain: smooth motions over rough. In a certain light, this *is* argueably self-centred, because Aristippus argued that the self and specifically the individual’s experiences are the only reference points one has for relating to the world and making decisions.

That said, Aristippus was also known for binging on money-raising efforts to throw lavish parties. When his critics accused him of being in a love-affair with money, he pointed out, factually, that the money was now gone, and he’d be begging or teaching tomorrow, because the experience of the party meant more than having the money, and his guests certainly seemed to be in agreement. When you have experiences of pleasure, which Aristippus compared to a “smooth motion” on a water’s surface, all the money in the world cannot replace that; it is also worth noting that Aristippus’ experience of that party depended upon, at least the appearances of, pleasure in others (after all, he was on no place to judge what they were truly feeling, and admitted that).

Hedonism thus offers a philosophy that shows the Individual and the Community as symbiotes: When we create pleasurable experiences for others, we can create pleasurable experiences for ourselves, and we cannot create experiences for ourselves without affecting those around us, so it is to our benefit to maximise the potential for smooth motions. Pain is characterised as “rough motion” on the water; sometimes it’s necessary, but when at all possible, we need to be mindful to minimise this –in ourselves, first and foremost (as we’re our own most-reliable reference points), but secondarily in others.

The recent “debate” over whether or not it is wise to give to people’s crowd-funding efforts for things —whether it be a trip to Newgrange or a ding-danged funeral (and ask Aine Llewellyn, who watches me on FB, I don’t pull out the double-d-word over just anything)— is ultimately a rough motion, and ultimately frivolous nonsense: Not only are these people creating, for themselves, unnecessary discomfort by being offended at crowd-sourcing funds, a rough motion, but that careless thrashing in the pool ripples back against everyone else. What strikes me the most about this backlash is that it’s wholly unnecessary.

While I still disagree with her decision, for her (in)famous Kickstarter tour with a different local band in every city, to only compensate the particpating musicians with “beer and conversation” as something that sets a potentially dangerous precedent in a world where musicians are too-often talked into playing “for experience and beer” when they’re trying to make the rent, or at least afford toast to go with their rice and beans, I also can’t argue with Amanda Palmer’s claims that, to those who participated in that tour with her, that the exchange was fair (see “The Art of Asking”); who am I to judge the pleasureable exchange, and thus perception of fairness, that another feels in an act, when I myself would find the same circumstances unfair? As my only reference point is my own experiences and sense of smooth versus rough motions, I simply cannot make that judgement for another. What’s fair to me might seem excessive or even unconscionable to another —I’ve certainly found myself in rough positions in a conversation while trying to raise money for The Tomb when people cannot see how my refusal to budge on either venue to how much to pay the band and DJs isn’t at all unreasonable.

While I can understand the Pagan community ideal that “life shouldn’t be about money”, at the same time, there are points where the need for money are going to rear their ugly heads, and there are points where, yes, money may be a rough necessity for an ultimately smooth motion, like Aristipppus’ parties, or a pilgramage to Newgrange, or a loved one’s funeral expenses. Only a handful of us, relatively speaking, are in a position where either we ourselves can, or we have families where “everyone” can afford to pitch in to pay for a thing that will bring smooth motion to ourselves and our communities. The rest of us have to turn to the community.

Turning to the community for everything from a religious pilgrimage, to funeral expenses, to basic daily needs like food and shelter, has a long history, especially in religious communities, and it’s a traditon that *so* far pre-dates Christianity that it pre-dates the implementation of the money system. Those who have less have turned to those who have, and who have more –they have turned to the community– to get. This has often (until very recently in human history) created or at least fostered a sense of duty in those who have less to foster community and give back in ways that we can. For millennea, we, the have-lesses and have-nots have been the artists, musicians, performers, and holy persons of communities –the notion that the Arts and spiritual pursuits are merely a hobby for trust-fund brats has only really existed since 20th Century America reared its ugly head, and even then, it’s only ever been true for a rather tiny percentage of those of us in the arts and pursuing spiritual endeavours; for every Mozart who enjoyed a period of wealthy patronage (regardless of how deeply impoverished and indebted he died), there have been hundreds of folk musicians playing in public houses while their assistant, friend, or lover passes the hat, and there have been thousands of buskers on the corners of every street, relying on the assessment of the passers-by that their music is worth a few small coins. Not only is playing music and other arts hard, physical work, it’s also thankless and traditionally amongst the lowest-paid, especially relative to the pleasure it gives back.

This is not necessarily a defense of crowd-funding efforts, after all, it’s the same basic principle that buskers and street artists have employed for centuries, just optimised for the Internet and thus potentially reaching a wider audience. No-one needs to defend it any more than they need to defend buskers and independent artists who, traditionally, for millennea, have relied on gift-money given freely by members of the community who not only see the value in the art, but who can and want to support those who make it.

I do, though, feel that those who put down the practise in their words are incredibly short-sighted and, at least temporarily, unwilling to see the bigger picture: The experiences we enjoy and, too-often, take for granted in this world, experiences of music, reading the freely-distributed writings of bloggers, and so on…, these are thankless jobs taken on by people who not only can, but want to, and do it well-enough that others enjoy. And clearly those who do it well-enough have a higher potential to become well-enough connected to hold successful crowdfunding for things they need or want to do, things that will make their continued services to their art(s) all the more pleasurable to the community, and all the more easier for the artists, writers, and musicians to accomplish.

This isn’t even considering the fact that there are dozens of charities (at the very least) built around funding religious pilgrimages for young Jews and Muslims, and hundreds of charities designed around funding young artists –and where most people bringing those up fail is to mention that a lot of hose charities and scholarships ultimately have to turn a lot of people, many of them worthy, due to being unable to fund everyone, and most of those scholarships only partially cover costs, so money for these things still has to come from somewhere. This is where crowdfunding, especially for the arts and relatively tiny religious communities, and especially for people over the age of 25-30 (which, last I checked, was still well over half the population in the developed world), is actually ideal; it’s unfortunate that, to make crowdfunding work, at all, one has to be well-known or at least well-connected, but truth be told, “success” has always been about who one knows more than how skilled one is –and that’s not just what I tell myself to explain why people still read Star Foster’s blog, it’s the truth (though, unfortunately, I can’t find the Cracked artile about this).

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One thought on “Smooth Motions: Giving and Community

  1. I have a feeling that this post, and the concept of Hedonism, are going to be very important for me as I continue the work of figuring out exactly what it means to be a devotee of Antinous, who among other things is a god of art and creative endeavour, and of physical health, competence, and beauty.

    There’s also a relationship with fandom and the creation of fanfiction, fan art. I spend a lot of hours crafting stories featuring sex scenes that also comment on the themes and character arcs within an already-existing work of art, to be compensated purely by hits, “kudos”, and comments on a fanfic archive–beyond the pleasure of actually doing the writing.

    I’m reminded of a post which I’m going to re-read very shortly:

    http://lightningilluminates.com/2014/02/20/hedonism-as-compassion/

    Thanks, Ruadhan!

    Like

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