Communities form through behaviors and decisions, not by accident. A functional community requires members who regularly practice behaviors that sustain it. Spontaneous individual actions that demonstrate or reinforce a feeling of shared context, shared experience, and belonging make community formation possible. These same behaviors also enable individuals to recognize their shared sense of belonging and act intentionally, not merely spontaneously, to benefit the community. The community-minded tend to recognize a shared interest in modeling those community-forming behaviors in education or recreation.

Role playing games exemplify a number of core community-forming behaviors. Whether a game lasts for one session or many years, the players must collaborate to establish and sustain the game’s narrative and bring it to a satisfying resolution. The hobby’s emphasis on these behaviors enables players to feel a sense of belonging and can form the backbone of a long term gaming group’s social life.

Despite rhetoric that glorifies the free market as the guarantor of ownership rights, late stage capitalism is marked by a concentration of ownership. As wealth flows toward the owner class, the working class becomes less able to acquire ownership rights in property and durable goods. Where a professional class family might have owned their home in a prior generation, their late stage descendents find themselves doomed to tenancy. Possessions of significant value become inaccessible outside of lease or subscription. Ownership narrows in the late stage because capitalism chiefly invents means to extract further capital from resources and transactions. As processes are fragmented and outsourced, opportunities for rents appear at points of transaction, expanding the set of facilitators obstruct what might otherwise be a frictionless process in order to extract rents from both sides. In the tenant society, consumers pay for the privilege of use but remain empty handed.


Just War Theory outlines conditions under which the use of force by a state actor can be morally justified. Philosophical traditions have addressed the moral justification for war since ancient times, all over the world. The problem can be easily framed. Morality in general forbids harming another being due to a simple reciprocity of duty and obligation. Moral duties derive from universal principles, commands that are applicable in all situations no matter the participants. A moral duty against causing harm can be readily derived from this configuration of shared desire and the universality of moral duty.

All moral agents, indeed all sentient beings, desire to avoid pain and therefore violence and harm that can cause pain. Given this shared desire, an agent avoids being the cause of harm to others because they want others to avoid being the cause of harm to them. An agent who desires to harm others but not to be harmed themselves must embrace an inconsistency that explains why they are permitted to harm while others are not. The two desires are considered inconsistent because, with respect to a desire to avoid harm, the agent who wants to harm is the same as other agents. One must articulate a reason that they would be permitted to harm while others do not share the same privilege.

A successful Just War Theory must provide an account of circumstances that suspend a general moral duty to some extent. A Just War Theorist must argue against the grain of morality and identify a configuration of conditions or events that render immoral acts morally permissible. In fairness to Just War Theorists, the circumstances identified are generally fairly narrow. When facing an invading force, when other paths to resolution are exhausted, and when violence now will not preclude a peaceful resolution later, Just War Theorists will generally agree that the use of force can be morally justifiable.

When one compares those conditions to the causes of war over the last two hundred years, one labors to find a “just war.” World War II often enjoys the status of a morally justifiable war, but the designation becomes more fragile in light of the atrocities committed by all parties, the imperialist motivations that motivated war in Europe, and the Iron Curtain that divided erstwhile allies in the aftermath. For the most part wars prosecuted by so-called “great powers” find their justification in greed, in power, and in revenge.

The wars familiar to a 21st century person are the wars of empire, of colonization, of hegemony. An examination of the Roosevelt Corollary and the Bush Doctrine readily shows motivation to assert sovereignty beyond national boundaries. While the overt reasoning includes preserving security or preventing worse consequences, the actions that follow from those foreign policy frameworks reinforce the dominance of one group by the subjugation of others. Just War Theory serves only to identify heroes and villains in propaganda in service of imperialist ends.

In the clash of empires the proper protagonists are the people trapped between clashing villains. Imperial governments act out of disregard for people other than their own, and even then often only their own wealthy and privileged citizens. The interests of the owner class become the interest of the imperial state. If a foreign country is not a peer considered either ally or enemy, it is merely a collection of resources and territory, both prize and battlefield of proxy wars. For all the good intentions of scholars, Just War Theory fails to safeguard against improper violence. Instead, it advances a contradiction to support imperialist interests and transmute violence into a noble duty.


If you consider the high price placed on one of a kind collectibles, you can note the value placed on being something no one else can have. Economists call items valued for exclusive possession, such as movie memorabilia or works of art, “positional goods.” A positional good has value only insofar as one can possess it and no one else can. Anyone can have a replica, but there is only one original. The difference in value between a unique item and the material that composes it can be thought of as its positional value, the value it accrues through exclusive possession.

Capitalist systems motivate the creation of positional goods because the value of sentiment is unbounded, unlike the cost of labor and materials. A merchant dealing in collectibles can turn a significant profit by purchasing from one party ignorant of the item’s value and selling it to an interested collector. Positional goods can become status signifiers, attracting increased value based on the associated status. Without producing any new material good or fulfilling any need, positional value inflates prices in favor of merchants and to the detriment of consumers.

The sentiment that enables positional value reflects some of humanity’s worse impulses. When a person enjoys positional value, they place an equivalent degree of value on the dissatisfaction of others. One celebrates not what one has, but that someone else does not have it. Embracing positional value then entails embracing another’s deprivation.

From a moral perspective positional value encourages immoral attitudes such as greed and insensitivity to suffering. The separation created between people who have and people who do not enable fragmentation of the community into factions anchored on their status and associated signifiers. Positional goods provide a perpetual wellspring of carrots for the owner class to offer workers in exchange for betraying their class interests. An anarchist should be skeptical of positional goods and positional value, and a communitarian should treat them as a pollutant.

The persuasive utility of positional value appears in the pitch for many scams, threatening the mark with missing out on something significant. The NFT market exploits two forms of positional value, inherent and external. Inherent value refers to the core concept already discussed, but external positional value refers to status signifiers associated with ownership. NFT promoters encourage adoption so that the buyer can be part of the next big movement. Owners create community around NFT collections, as if they have attained membership in a clique of Bored Apes. If you don’t buy any NFTs, you won’t have any stake in the cryptocurrency economy to come. In the end, the value of the asset will increase until no buyers remain. The price plummets, and the status withers.

As capitalism orders the world around its economic rhythm, holidays become pulled into the five day work week. Workers taking off at the beginning or end of a week causes less disruption than a midweek holiday, and the most sacred holidays demand observance even when they fall on a weekend. To address these issues, contemporary governments normalize observing a holiday at the end or beginning of a week rather than on its appointed day.

To put this practice in perspective, one should consider that the single day of release offered for most holidays represents a diminished standard from agrarian societies where major festivals could last multiple days. The Catholic Church maintains seasonal periods that culminate in the supreme feast day, but the capitalist engine thrives on continued motion. Secular society then strangled holidays down from a week to a single day and maintains control over the timing of celebrations.

Neopagans tend to celebrate the solar cycle, the ever-turning wheel of year. Solar festivals are unsurprisingly common among agrarian cultures that must plan according to the seasons. At the appointed time one venerates the gods whose powers are needed for the next phase of the cycle. The times are appointed by the Earth and Sun, and calendars are made to follow them.

In ceremonial magic time often serves as one component of ritual. The working must begin, culminate, or end at the proper time, during the correct phase of the moon or position of the sun. Like most ritual components, time imposes discipline and sacrifice that call the magician’s focus to the ritual and its intentions. It requires the magician to be mindful of celestial movements as well as their own movements on the terrestrial plane. The magician must bring themselves into alignment with time, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon to propel their intention into being with the force of those movements.

The habit of shifting observances draws the magician out of alignment. Instead, one lets the celestial sphere runs its course and work only within the terrestrial plane. One sets aside the sacrifice and discipline required to align with time, and one thereby sets aside the potential to utilize that power. When one works only within the regulated structures of capitalism and secular society, one loses the grace of the sacred.

Capitalism thrives on alienation. The worker becomes alienated from their fellows, their community, and their labor. In driving the calendar capitalism also alienates us from the sacred, from the opportunities to unite with the rhythm of the world at large. Traditional festivals of colonizer cultures are reduced to regimented observances. The traditions of colonized cultures go unobserved unless they can be molded to the colonizer framework. Reclaiming festivals and leisure time is a revolutionary act, a struggle to bring our communities into harmony with themselves and the world.

In political philosophy “pluralism” refers to agnosticism about an ultimate good or ideal way of life. Political pluralism supports an open society where multiple cultures can form communities and cooperate on shared interests. Without pluralism communities would fracture across differences and could not tolerate even simple disagreements about value. As such, pluralism enables large and diverse communities that can benefit from an array of strengths and perspectives.

In a theology “pluralism” refers to neutrality among different concepts of the divine. Theological pluralism admits that humanity can only have incomplete knowledge of the divine either because of humanity’s limited capacity or the divine’s inherent complexity. Contemporary Paganism embraces theological pluralism in the absence of a unifying systematic doctrine. Pluralism has allowed contemporary Paganism to form communities united primarily by methods and practices rather than by a shared concept of the divine.

These approaches represent different senses of “pluralism.” Political pluralism allows multiple valid frameworks for defining the good life but also provides boundaries for acceptable frameworks. Only ways of life that are compatible with disagreement and alternative values can be admitted to a functional and peaceful pluralist community. Views of the good life that demand conformity from others irrespective of their beliefs or consent introduce fundamental conflict into the community. One might consider this form of pluralism “strong pluralism” because it provides some structure and boundaries that protect the continued coexistence of different views.

The religious pluralism that shows up in the Neo-Pagan community lacks a comparable organizing character. Instead, Pagan theological pluralism enables community in the absence of wide agreement or shared experience. The contemporary Pagan revival enjoys a diversity of fraudulent claims of tradition that stretches back to its origin with Gerald Gardner’s publication of Witchcraft Today. The community that developed around theatrical personalities, flawed scholarship, and escapist imagination preferred unity to fragmentation, so substantial discourse on theology, metaphysics, and morality cannot rise beyond sharing beliefs and experiences and evaluate those beliefs critically. Without any protective boundary confidence artists and abusive personalities prey on people seeking spiritual experiences or knowledge, and the community at large can do little more than warn and condemn at a distance. Neo-Pagans have no way of identifying a shared value that cannot be diminished by appeal to personal insight.

Traditions that embrace the mystical experience tend to formalize a stronger pluralism. Teaching lineages in Buddhism protect against harmful divergence from the philosophical heart of the tradition. While not a perfect preventative, lineage holders can censure or disown harmful teachers who borrow credibility from the tradition in order to exploit or abuse others. Zen Buddhism in particular stresses continued examination and criticism of insight from both intellection and mysticism, often with the assistance of a more experienced teacher who can direct the student back to fundamental prinicple.

Using such a model Paganism could have a stronger community with boundaries that do not enable predators. Lineages of initiation that value cultivating insight critically provide the means to diminish abuse of personal gnosis for personal gain or domination. Strong pluralism does not require dogma, only boundaries and the means to maintain them.

Race serves to divide the working class by bribing one group with privilege over the other. Membership in racial groups varies across history, widening and narrowing to serve the needs of the privileged group. Irish and Italian immigrants were granted membership into whiteness to maintain alignment against Black people during the Jim Crow era. Race is a condition inflicted on a people to make them vulnerable to the imperialist machinations of the owner class. Once one accepts that race is socially constructed, one must also accept that whiteness, the privileged identity group, is also socially constructed.

Even though whiteness is the privileged group, individuals who identify as white remain vulnerable to being denied whiteness. Just as previously distinct identity groups were admitted to whiteness, any identity group can be made into an Other and ejected from the privileged group. Any immutable characteristic can be totalized to define an identity group distinguished from the “default” whiteness. Even mutable characteristics can be leveraged as markers of degeneracy that disqualify one for the full privileges of whiteness. Any person born “white” might find themselves on the wrong side of privilege by choice or circumstance.

Across the diversity of identity groups and intersecting identities, the pattern of vulnerability remains. Conforming to the privileged group’s values and expectations may grant some share of advantage, perhaps limited by one’s ability to “pass” as the privileged identity. Such grants remain contingent on the perfection of one’s conformity and the convenience of the privileged group.

The only social grouping not vulnerable to being divested of privilege are the owner class. The owner class utilize whiteness and other divisive tools to maintain control over people and resources. Ultimately, as long as an individual retains enough wealth and influence to remain in the owner class, they are able to purchase any privilege. To align with the interests of the owner class is to abandon other identities for exploitation. Individuals who ascend to the owner class from a low-status identity group may face residual discrimination, but they leave behind fears of the martial class as long as they have wealth and its signifiers.

If one accepts these arguments, the working class vulnerability to discrimination becomes evident. While members of privileged identity groups may benefit temporarily by supporting the exploitative hierarchy, their own interests will be abandoned when they no longer intersect with the owner class. At such a time the owner class may redefine the social constructs that uphold privileged groups, and the workers now branded as degenerate take their place alongside the oppressed.

Even if the owner class extends privilege on a limited basis, workers who are so “elevated” do not share the long term interest of the owner class. As long as one can be deprived of those privileges, a worker’s interest is best aligned with their fellows, even across the boundaries of identity groups. Solidarity does not require forsaking identity, only recognizing that class conditions provide an avenue for trust across identities. Shared vulnerability to the owner class provides a basis for trust as long as one guards against the short term temptation to embrace the bribes of fragile privilege. The owner class relies on the success of those temptations to keep the workers divided against themselves.

When unpacking the dynamics of class struggle, one can easily despair at the success of the owner class’s strategies. Nurturing hope requires that one also study strategies the working class can use to turn the tide. The owner class maintains its position by dividing the working class against itself. As the working class closes those divides in order to retake its power, they have many ways to exert power they already possess.

All social institutions play a part in upholding class divisions or funneling value from the working class to the owner class. Workers contribute to their own exploitation because incentives are arranged to motivate it. Capitalism crowds out imagination of alternate worlds, so one may have no idea how any individual action can overcome these entrenched dynamics.

To transition from diagnosis to treatment, one must study the mechanics of social change. A student of history has the advantage in this pursuit, but the insights of psychology, sociology, and anthropology provide abstract models that avoid getting lost in the nuances of complex events. At minimum, one should understand how incentives influence motivation, how social bonds form, and how to communicate with empathy.

Distributed power structures sometimes appear slow to act because effort and direction spread evenly through the organization. Individuals must recognize a consensus, agree to align with it, and invest effort accordingly. Every individual’s decision has equal weight in such a dynamic. Hierarchical power structures appear to act more efficiently because direction concentrates at the top while effort spreads through the base. One person’s decision guides the effort of many people. The hierarchical dynamic works as long as everyone recognizes the leader’s decision as have more weight than their own.

Hierarchies collapse when the base ceases to recognize the authority of the peak. When the leader’s decision no longer outweighs the worker, the workers return to a distributed power structure that organically arises in communities of equals. Consensus becomes the basis for decisions, so the former leaders must accept their share of both effort and influence alongside everyone else. They have no choice other than to participate because their ability to exercise power depended only on the voluntary surrender of the workers will.

Hierarchies purchase control at the cost of action. The leader directs the effort of others but spends their own effort only in the directing. If the workers cease cooperating, the leaders give orders to a void. Only the lack of trust and established social bonds among the workers prevent organizing strategic work stoppages to halt the capitalist economic engine. In such a general strike, workers would need to be confident that their networks of mutual aid can adequately fulfill their needs. They would need to be willing to give what they can to their networks to maintain reciprocity. The actions to take once trust is established are very simple and would be led and coordinated by the workers themselves. Building the networks of trust and mutual aid is the first and last strategy; it is required for all subsequent ventures, and it must be maintained through regular sharing and exchange.

As an imperialist political economy, capitalism expands to fill available space. Whatever it touches turns into a commodity in the network of owners and owned. The market model and theory of property eclipse older ideas and draw what was public into private hands. After generations of imperialism, imaging alternatives to commodity markets and private ownership becomes difficult if not impossible. When workers object to exploitation by the owner class, the owners point to the prevalence of the economic theory as proof of its success. Only capitalism can deliver the liberty, plenty, and prosperity that contemporary society has to offer, even if it only delivers those things to the owners. Alternative theories have been tried and collapsed into capitalism, serving as further proof of the theory.

Capitalism’s colonization works similarly to other totalizing theories. Concepts posited by the theory are read backward in time, forcing old arrangements into the mold of the new theory. Nuances are reduced to the model’s terms to erase traces of the changes wrought. In particular measuring value by quantities of currency allows the capitalist to subsume any exchange of goods or services into their market model. Once capitalism is entrenched, students learn history through the capitalist lens and as such often cannot imagine any alternate arrangements.

Progress through history is a key assumption of modernism and one that implicitly supports the captialist supremacy narrative. The conceit of many Modernist scholars is that human civilizations develops through a similar set of stages from nomadic hunter-gatherers to citizens of nation-states with complex economic, social, and technical institutions. This perspective, sometimes called “whig history”, reflects imperialist attitudes that drive the Modern era. Northwestern European society was hailed as the triumph of civilization, so “less advanced” societies would be served by accepting the values, technology, religion, and customs of Northwestern Europe, especially liberalism and its capitalist political economy. Whig history lends justification to “the white man’s burden” to bring the light of civilization to the world. As a component of political liberalism, capitalism then serves as the beacon toward which all developing economies should move.

The narrative of historical progress breaks down significantly under critical scrutiny. Scholars who have rejected the imperialist bias find that technology, customs, and politics change over time but not in a uniform direction. Post-modernists call into question the very framing of “direction” since it still assumes that some political orders or customs can be placed on an objective value hierarchy. Rejecting whig history, one can instead see capitalism as a movement in human civilization, one with both a beginning and an end. Capitalism is not the most robust economic theory possible, nor even the most robust theory to have been implemented. Where we do judge politics and customs, we should do so according to overarching moral principles not by comparison to any given “most advanced” society.

European occult traditions often look backward in time for the keys to mystery. The ancient masters encoded secret knowledge for later discovery according to Theosophists and Hermetic magicians. Wicca merely revives the oldest religion according to Gardnerian witches. Whether one understands these claims as literal or metaphorical, they demonstrate a past-oriented attitude and aesthetic that shapes contemporary traditions and their values. The language of kings, queens, domains, and subjects enters ritual forms to frame the role of the High Priest and Priestess or the relationship between gods and humanity.

While royal imagery complements a pastoral aesthetic often associated with modern Paganism, it also calls forth class divides between a privileged elite and the common masses. The atavistic aesthetic may influence the perception of modern Paganism as exclusionary to communities of color, being rooted both in European mysticism and colonizer hierarchies. The regressive tendencies show up differently across modern Pagan traditions, but they are quite evident even in Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca. Even without emphasizing monarchial hierarchies, the cultural models typically applied to “Norse” and “Celtic” traditions still assume a stratified society, divided into warrior-druid-bard heroes and common artisans and farmers.

Framing modern Wicca as a revival of “the Old Religion” establishes a relationship to tradition usually associated with conservative politics. Conservative politics forms a contemporary cult of tradition, hewing to values of an imagined, idealized past that imposes duties of continuation on the present. A “traditional” approach to value reinforces historic injustice such as narrowly defined gender roles and resistance to gender identity and relationship styles that escape narrow confines.

Gardner identifies a focus on returning to nature as one of the essential elements of his witchcraft tradition. The values associated with this element of Gardnerian Wicca embrace a pastoral aesthetic. As an artistic movement, pastoralism frames the desire for simplicity and natural settings as a desire for a traditional life of clearly defined roles such as shepherd, wife, and king. Injunctions against the evils of technology and the modern world appear in Gardner’s writing, often alongside paeans to monarchy and a just, benevolent aristocracy.

While American Paganism contains strains of progressive politics, the duo-theist framework of the Wiccan Goddess and God expand rigid gender roles across polytheist pantheons. When any goddess is reducible to an abstract “Goddess” and every god is reducible to an abstract “God,” divine attributes are subsumed by attributes assigned as masculine and feminine. In addition to ignoring nonbinary gender identity and the transgender experience, the duo-theist framework aligns with culturally defined gender roles, the domain of tradition. In response to internal advocacy, contemporary Pagan traditions have begun to integrate more inclusive approaches to the God and Goddess of Wicca, but the oversight can be attributable to a framework internal to the tradition, not merely one shared by the broader culture.

Fortunately for the progressive, modern Paganism cannot be entirely reduced to its atavistic features. One must bring a critical lens to practice, tradition, and myth, but in so doing one begins a highly rewarding engagement with the path. Through the deconstruction of gender archetypes, political power, and social relationships, a modern Pagan can renew their tradition, affirming it as a dynamic and adaptive context rather than one merely recorded in a history book. When one establishes a coven as a peer community situated in an intersection of identities and related communities, witchcraft steps into the context of life as we live it today.

Racist tendencies that arise in conjunction with heritage-based traditions can be combated with the same critical lens. While only some lineages assert “heritage” as a gatekeeping measure, the dominant strains of “Celtic” and “Norse” Paganism alongside British Traditional Witchcraft have influenced the dominating whiteness of Pagan communities. Nevertheless, a white person investigating their heritage critically is invited to understand a “Celtic” or “Norse” identity and to recognize the very recent creation of white identity that subsumes other identities. Knowledge of pre-Christian people of Northern and Northwestern Europe remains limited because Roman expansion erased or consumed many traces of those cultures, laying the groundwork for a homogenization that Christianity would complete. In other words white people get an opportunity to recognize that imperialism took an identity from them as well, disrupting a continuity they had previously taken only from whiteness.

Pagans of non-English European heritage living in North America should investigate their ancestry to learn about the excluding and plastic nature of whiteness. To understand that French, Irish, German, and Polish people were deemed apart from the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant mainstream and oppressed accordingly is to understand the auto-colonization of European peoples by whiteness. A white Pagan should learn these lessons to build empathy with disadvantaged identity groups as we find them in our current context, to recognize the privilege foisted upon them by the erasure of their ancestry, and to find common cause in remedying systemic social injustice.