So I’ve been reading Brendan Myers’ The Other Side of Virtue, which is about “heroic virtues” and how various pre-Christian, European cultures (that we have anything like information from, so looking at things like The Oddysey, Beowulf, the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the Norse Eddas and Sagas, and the Mabinogion for clues) answered the question of “How shall I be a good and righteous person?”
At the same time, I picked up a copy (from the library) of Restoring the Kinship Worldview: Indigenous Voices Introduce 28 Precepts for Rebalancing Life on Planet Earth which includes a list – with each pair presented as the opposite ends of a spectrum – of elements that make up, respectively, a “colonizer world view” and an “indigenous worldview”.
Now, I think the main thing you need to have a colonizing worldview is an astronomical sense of entitlement and presumption that your way is the Best Way.
You can be a polytheist, animist, ancestor-venerating society that recognizes gods as being of specific places, landmarks, wheelhouses, etc and see it as completely sensible that the people whose lands and lives you take over would continue to worship their own gods and ancestors (as long as they also worshiped at least one or two of yours, and paid their taxes)… and still be a greedy, colonizing bastard of an empire who thinks Rome (or the Forbidden City, or Tenochtitlan, or Mongolia, or Ur, or or or) brings order to a chaotic and barbaric world and obviously everyone is better off when Rome (etc) is well off thanks to having access to everybody else’s stuff.
You can be a violent, enslaving, traumatizing civilization, full of people who think they’re the best of everybody, and still have those various Best Of Everybodies not be interested in ruling more than their ancestral territory to which they owe honour, allegiance, and deep respect because obviously.
(Yes, I’ve been watching Britannia, how did you know?)
But I think it’s really interesting to see how many of Myers’ suggested Heroic Virtues are reflected in that list elements of Indigenous Worldviews.
Which: I mean, it kind of stands to reason. The Hellenic and Roman empires notwithstanding, most of the people living in Heroic Age Europe were living in (relatively) small territories based broadly on kinship and peppered with non-human and/or formerly-human intelligences who definitely had Views about what happened in their space and/or to their bodies, and/or how their still-human relatives conducted themselves.
You opened your home to the stranger who came knocking for all the reasons you’d do it everywhere else, e.g.: (1) It’s polite, (2) travel is time-consuming and tiring and it’s better for everybody if nobody has to hump 100% of their own food and water all the way to wherever they’re going, (3) it might be YOU traveling next time and needing a bed and a meal from a stranger, (4) it keeps (or at least helps keep) relations with the neighbours manageable and friendly, and (5) it keeps (or at least helps keep) relations with The Neighbours manageable and friendly, too, because nobody wants to piss off a deity just because they happened to look a little shabby when they hit you up for a bowl of soup and a spot by the fire.
You treated the forest/field/waters with respect because (1) It’s polite, (2) extensive trade routes notwithstanding, there’s still not the kind of massive supply chain that can get your particular kin group out of a jam in the entire bioregion’s been hit by a drought or a flood, and (3) see above re: a landscape where everything is sentient and, understandably, has opinions and expectations about how they get treated by and with.
So, no, it’s not a shock that my pre-christian iron age ancestors in Hen Ogled (Cumbria, Dumfries & Galloway) likely had a worldview that overlapped considerably with those of other animists the world over.
Right. So where does that leave me?
The other day I reread what I wrote around (g)Lammas – about how, if my goal is to have a house that I own, there are steps I need to take to get there – and, while a lot of those things have to do with getting enough extra income to put substantial money aside to save up a down payment, while downsizing enough Stuff to fit us into a slightly smaller space… Some of them don’t. Some of them are things like “Be respectful of the house you have now” by doing things like vacuuming regularly, feeding the garden, limiting the amount of objects in your house to those that you relate to rather than neglect… stuff like that, and: “If you want a crowded table, get comfortable with having one”.
Case in point: Yesterday, we got a short-notice message that a friend of my wife’s was dropping by and – surprise! – had his wife and son in tow. At dinner time.
We ended up not hosting them – they’d picked up drive-through on the way here, and were stopping by because he needed to pick something up from my wife – but I spent a slightly frantic half-hour quick-tidying the front room, and cooking enough food for five adults anyway. All the while repeating “Hospitality Is A Virtue” through gritted teeth and being thankful that what I’d planned for our own meal was something that could scale up easily.
But can I start aiming to do this with grace?
Yeah. Yeah, I can.
I can make the effort (and, however gross this is, it is an effort) to keep the inside of my head from becoming a seething rage pit every time a friend who owns their own house outright and, in one case, inherited it already-paid-off, complains about how hard their life is and how tight money is… if only because some of those same people are probably grinding their teeth when I complain about how tight money is while only working 23 hours/week, eating fancy cheese, and shelling out for plane tickets twice a year.
I can make the effort to replace the assumption that people only call me when they want free services with, maybe, an assumption that people actually like me and, if ever I was in need, they would show up and help me out. (That one is really hard, btw. It’s one of those Core Horrible Stories that has lived in my head since I was nine or ten, and that always comes back and rears its ugly head again).
I can make the effort to not resent my neighbours who need help with their garbage every week and who get antsy about having their car brushed off an hour+ before they’ve said they need it ready to go, and who are, frankly, the powerless people in this situation and who are getting antsy probably because they’re afraid of being forgotten and stuck. Which: fair. That same fear – of being forgotten when I need help – is why I’m so pre-emptively resentful about Helping People in the first place.
Which: How telling is that last bit?
It’s always easier to be patient when you have all the time in the world.
It’s always easier to be generous when you have plenty to share.
But I can try not to default to being an asshole about it when I don’t have those things. I can be a more gracious and generous host. I can be a more dutiful and respectful animist.
 Based on stories – and some histories – from 1000-2000 years ago and what they tell us about expectations around social behaviour and what was appropriate for Good People to do.
 Per Graham Harvey’s definition, rather than that of, like, 1800s Christian-supremacists.
 Which I’m… sort of doing already. To the tune of may be $500/year, so it’s going to be A While. But still. Doing.