A long time back, during a Sociology class, our professor divided the class into three distinct groups. He labeled the three groups as “Upper”, Middle” and “Lower” and assigned each member of the group a set of points. Then, during each turn, he gave the group 100 more points to distribute among the members as the groups decided to do. Then, he would compare the points that each group’s members had. If a member of the “middle” group had a score higher than that of a member of the “Upper” group, the two members would switch groups. The same would hold true if a member of the Lower group had a score higher than that of a member of the Middle group. During the exercise, a pattern soon emerged. Members of the Lower Group would place all the points with the member of the group with the highest score, effectively trying to move that member into the Middle group. In the Upper group, the members would place all their points with the member having the lowest total points, attempting to keep their member from being supplanted. In the Middle group, the points would be equally spread among all the members, all trying to accomplish a score high enough to move upwards, but also high enough to keep from being supplanted by a member from the Lower group.
The point of the exercise was to demonstrate some of the characteristics that are demonstrated among the various social classes within society. It also demonstrates a problem within our modern society. As more individuals slip downwards into the Lower class, and fewer individuals move upwards into the Upper class…the characteristics of individual competition within the Middle class begin to dissipate. But it also regrows within the Lower class, as more and more individuals compete with one another to move upwards.
Now, I am no social scientist. I do not even pretend to play one on television. But I am an observer of human behavior. Back in the mid 1980s, when I graduated from high school, I noticed that society was full of folks in the Lower classes that banded together to make things work. Neighborhoods were much more cohesive units. Nearly everyone on my block knew who I was and where I lived. And there was no problem reporting any shenanigans back to my parents. There was also cohesive efforts to help me succeed as well. When I needed references for my security clearance in the Air Force, I directed the investigators to one neighbor – the guy who lived directly across the street from me. When the investigators were finishing their interview with him, he directed them to nearly ten other neighbors who would vouch for my character and trustworthiness. I never knew anything about that, until I went to my neighbor’s funeral. I had been out of the Air Force for over eight years at that point. We worked together to succeed. If one person in the neighborhood succeeded, the entire neighborhood rejoiced and reveled in that success. And I came from a fairly well-off, middle-class neighborhood.
Nowadays, the atmosphere is different. Everyone in the neighborhood looks at one another in suspicion or in competition. Your politics are wrong – you are someone to be shunned. You look different than everyone else, you are regarded as a danger. In many ways, its like we have denigrated into a society of “Haves” and Have-nots” – and depending on where you rank, you either have folks helping you or folks competing with you. And the group being helped is far smaller than it ever has been before.
For the most part, I do not see a lot of this competition within the Pagan community. Surely, it rears its ugly head from time to time, but most Pagans I have met are helpful – always wanting to see others succeed. Any competition is done from a healthy perspective, where such aspects help people to become better – not have an achievement to wave over someone else’s head. In a way, the wider Pagan community is just on the cusp of touching on intentional community – building a group of people who live together with a more positive outlook. Where we tend more towards helping others and getting to know others – instead of treating folks as people we barely acknowledge on the street or the local grocery store.
I know, the Pagan community has its faults as well. Let’s be realistic, when humans are involved, this will happen. But Gods be damned…surely we can start out by trying to find the positive things about folks – rather denigrating them over such things as the way that they look or the politics that they adhere to. We are all in the same sandbox…surely we can find a nice way to play together, can’t we?