An Earth-honoring religious path rooted in science

GUEST POST: This is Not My Beautiful House

A guest post by JD Stillwater: ©JD Stillwater 2022  |

My spouse and I have a beautiful house here in central Pennsylvania. Our names are on the deed, but it is not our house. No, this is not a post in which I confess to forgery or identity theft. Our legal system asserts that my house is rightfully mine, but it is that system that I want to challenge, and what its spiritual depravity does to us as human beings. Especially human beings in this country, at this time in history, with so. Many. Possessions.

If you were an adult in the 1980s, you may now have a Talking Heads song stuck in your head, a song in which David Byrne ominously recites:

“You may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful house!’

And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful wife!’

Into the blue again, into the silent water,Under the rocks and stones there is water underground,

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”

I don’t know what David Byrne was trying to convey, but his imagery resonates for me as I struggle with the notion of ownership in the Overculture.

This beautiful house of mine was built on land taken by trickery and genocide about 300 years ago. So thorough was the extinction of the Susquehannock people that no one today even knows what they called themselves. [“Susquehannock” is what their neighbors and rivals the Lenni Lenape called them.] Into the blue again, into the silent water.

My house is made of lumber from clear-cut forests on also-stolen land. Clear-cutting depletes nitrogen in forest soils so badly that it takes 400 years to re-balance. The siding is vinyl (previous owner’s decision), a toxic petroleum by-product. The roof of my house… well, you know where this is going. Every aspect of the house and nearly every item in it is the product of systems that rapaciously exploit ecosystems (and people) as though they were property.

Legally, they are. Property rights in U.S. law include the right to use, to exclude others from, to profit from, to alter, to abandon, to transfer, and to destroy the property. As though the things we own are separable from the rest of reality.

The story of my house is a long and violent one, a story of crimes against nature, and the oppression of some people for the benefit of others. Those who benefit (looking at myself here) are often loathe to admit that there’s more to the story than our own diligent efforts. Water flowing underground.

So who does my house belong to? I suggest that the rightful owner of all my stuff is not any person or group of people at all.

My primary “holy scripture” is what we know (science) about how reality works. Here’s what modern physics says about the things we own: This is not a world of things. This is a world of flow. Process. Energy.

We know that things are made of atoms, and atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, and that THOSE are made of quarks, which are made of … energy. Not tiny little objects that move around energetically, but literally only energy—movement, flow—condensed and constrained to make particles of matter during the first moment after time began. Objects are made of relationships between entities that are themselves made of relationships, all the way down—energy in constant motion. Under the rocks and stones, water moving underground.

Every year, 98% of the atoms in your body get replaced with new ones. Every time you eat, breathe, drink, sweat, or use a toilet, atoms and molecules flow in and out of your body. Are they yours? The carbon atoms that were part of your brain moments ago, but came out when you exhaled, and are now over in some corner of the room—are they yours? How about the oxygen molecules that were part of a tree an hour ago, and are just now entering your nostril, destined to be part of your face by the time you finish reading this paragraph? Yours? Whose are they? Who do they belong to?

Matter moves through us like water through a river-wave; our form stays mostly the same, but its composition is different every moment. Does the wave own the water passing through it? Or is it—all of it—the river?

This is not my body. It has always been Earth’s, on loan, to take back at any time. I get to manage or mis-manage it, just like a line of credit from a bank, but it was never mine, really. This is not my beautiful house.

Until this summer, people in Pakistan, Arizona, and Tennessee believed, as most of us do, that they owned their houses and the stuff inside them. With a single monsoon season, the earth called in thousands of outstanding loans. Into the blue again. Into the silent water.

Everything we have and are and become is an expression of energy from the beginning of time. That energy has been making love with itself for nearly 14 billion years before we came along, giving birth to everything from atoms to entire worlds. Same as it ever was.

My house, with its deep-green cloak of ancient oaks, and vegetable vines spilling from porch roofs, is indeed beautiful. As in my body, there is flow here, too, a centuries-slow river of matter; stones, soil, houses, even those massive oaks come and go, passing through in Earth’s sacred and ever-flowing birth water. How absurd to call this “mine”! I am a tiny bit of flotsam bobbing the surface of a mighty stream. Same as it ever was.

Being alive bestows on us a limited ability, to manage a limited amount of that ancient energy, for a very limited time. It was never “ours.” The belief that we own stuff clouds our ability to see reality, the reality that our stewardship is always temporary. That every thing we have represents a loan and a responsibility, and that the future always demands a return of those things to their true owner, a living planet in a vast and starlit cosmos.

Our blind faith in the pretense of ownership allows us to think that it’s normal and healthy for multi-billionaires to burden their children with obscene wealth, completely un-earned, and often spiritually and psychologically damaging to them and their contemporaries. So normal that almost everyone leaves their assets to their children, telescoping social inequities through generations, centuries even.

It allows us to accept without outrage the outrageous behavior of those who devastate millions of acres of pristine forest ecosystems to scrape out a meager profit from tar sands, or mountain-top removal mining, or who buy and sell access to air, water, and land stolen from others. They are not ours. We are tenants, not owners.

The earth is not given by our fathers; it is borrowed from our children.

—Wendell Berry

Is there anything I can truly call mine? Yes. It’s this. Not this computer, or this blog post, but this moment.

And this one.

And this one.

Exquisite pearls, threaded moment by moment onto the necklace of my life. Truly unique, truly mine, provided I don’t miss them while shopping, or obsessing about all my stuff.

Make no mistake: I’m not arguing for some form of communism. That would simply shift the fiction of ownership from the individual to the group! I’m saying that our myths of possession and property poison our souls, corrupting us spiritually by distancing us from the eternal flow of reality. Possessions, and the property rights that encourage us to hoard and abuse them, are an attempt to dam the river of life.

I am arguing for humility, the kind of humility that acknowledges our total interbeing with everyone and everything else. An acceptance that the wealth and comfort I enjoy is not all the product of my own personal labor. An awareness that I am embedded in an interdependent web of existence which supplies everything I have, and to which I owe everything I have. The only sane response to this is gratitude, coupled with continuous generosity, constantly paying forward into the flow of existence.

Let me always ask, “What is the highest possible use for the resources that I control, not for me personally, but for their true owner, Nature herself?” For the great-great-great grandchildren I already love but will never meet. For the seventh generation, for all those who will live 1000—or a million—years from now.

This is not my beautiful house.

This is not my beautiful wife.

Under the rocks and stones there is water underground,

Into the blue again, into the silent water

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

JD Stillwater is a science ambassador, presenter, writer, musician, coach, big-picture thinker, and cultural worker. His work springs from his broad knowledge of (and passion for) science, gleaned from 24 years teaching physics, chemistry, biology, earth, and space sciences. What JD brings to the global conversation is a gift for making difficult science concepts graspable for non-scientists, but then he takes us further, into the profound implications that those concepts engender.

A Pagan in a Christianized Society

We discussed many of the ideas in this post in this week’s episode of THE WONDER podcast–check it out!

Being a Pagan often isn’t easy–and especially being a naturalistic Pagan, in a world dominated by an Overculture that flies in the face of one’s values.

I live in the United States: a country deeply steeped in conservative Christianity and in which, as belief in more traditional religions wanes, the most reactionary of Christians–including a majority of our Supreme Court–are scrambling to enshrine their beliefs into laws we must all follow. On issues like sexual morality, gender equality, bodily autonomy, racial equality, environmental protection and reproductive rights, these Christians could not be more wrong-headed. They are harming people, and the most marginalized and vulnerable are suffering the most.

It’s all terribly backwards and wrong.

I should say: the critiques I am making here are not unique to Christianity, and they aren’t all true of every sect of Christianity. Generalizations are always somewhat inaccurate. But particularly, conservative flavors of other religions like Islam and Judaism share many of these elements as well. The global religions originating the Middle East all seem to spring from the same well.

Take, for example, the general posture of the Christian to their divinity: supplication and obedience. Even fear.

I find this unfathomable. I revere the Sacred (though I don’t imagine it as a personified god), find awe and wonder and beauty in it. My spirituality is one of agency, not cowed obedience. I have pride rather than shame, because I am a part of the Sacred. I am an extension of the Universe which is, itself, the Sacred.

Next: patriarchy. Christianity is a male-dominated religion with a domineering male god and tons of religious text directing men to rule and women to be meek and obedient.

Likewise racism. (White) American conservative Christianity and white supremacy are two sides of the same coin. Biblical verses are used to justify the enslaving of Africans to this day. Slavery, colonialism and genocide are the greatest of human evils, and all have been rationalized by Christians in the name of their “moral superiority”.

Now, the Black evangelical churches are something else: that is complicated and I don’t claim to understand it. But the internalized shame, homophobia and so forth that I call out here are present there, too.

These attitudes are utterly contrary to my values. As a naturalist Pagan, I see all humans as equal in value, no matter what their gender, color, sexual orientation, ability, body shape or ethnicity.

Even more pernicious, possibly, than the arrant bigotry is the Christian idea that humanity is “stained by sin” and needs “salvation”. What a horrible thing to inflict on people! I see people as worthy and each as uniquely beautiful: not perfect, but not inherently evil, either.

Specifically, the Christian characterization of the body as inherently “sinful” and of sexuality as “dirty” unless performed under the narrow set of rules they prescribe is simply appalling. It is the sine qua non of the miserable joylessness that characterizes the dominant religious model.

We Pagans disagree. We believe pleasure is good for us, and is our birthright. Our work in this life is to celebrate life and to be the best people we can be, not to mope about feeling broken and crawling on our knees to beg forgiveness from an imaginary potentate that evidently has ego problems. And that includes enthusiastic enjoyment of consensual sex of any kind the participants choose.

Ironically, even when they do wrong, it appears Christians don’t believe they are really responsible for it. It must be either a) a part of God’s plan; or b) the work of “the devil”, who plays the villain in their cosmology’s melodrama. And they can get out of any responsibility for their actions by bending a knee and asking their god’s forgiveness.

Convenient, eh? So Stalin and Hitler could be in the Christian heaven if they sought Jesus’ forgiveness on their deathbeds. Nice.

The extortionary racket that enforces the need for this salvation–heaven and hell–rather speaks for itself.

We Pagans don’t need to be threatened with eternal torture or offered cosmic sweeties in order to be good people. We live for this incredible life, not some imaginary afterlife of judgement and consequences. That means that if we do wrong, it’s on us to take responsibility and make amends NOW to those we have wronged, not to “pray the guilt away”.

Now, having said all this, let me say: in the abstract, I really don’t care what other people believe.

But I care about how they behave. And when people are being hurt, THEN I care plenty. And millions of people are being hurt by conservative Christianity in this country. By bigoted parents kicking their teenaged gay or trans kids onto the streets; by pregnant people who don’t want a child being denied abortion care; by the vast ranks of those suffering guilt and self-abuse over imaginary “sins”; by those oppressed by racism, homophobia and contempt for the poor. It is a poisonous worldview and its works in the world are not beneficial.

Finally, and most importantly, is the Christian relationship to nature. To “subdue the Earth and rule over the living” and grind it into money is the ideology that dominates my country.

I am so ashamed at how we relate to this world from which we spring and of which we are each a part. The idea that our creation and sustenance is credited to an ephemeral figure in the sky rather than to the obvious fact of our Earthly nature (that is, we survive by dint of food coming from the ground, oxygen coming from plants, etc.) is utterly, utterly wrong.

It is not easy to be a round peg in a landscape of square holes, and that is what the main of American Christian-informed culture offers us Pagans–particularly those Pagans who don’t believe in a supernatural dimension to existence at all. We don’t mind being nonconformists, but in some parts of this country it is becoming dangerous not to be Christian. Particularly if you have some fanatical preacher in your local community banging on about the evils of “witches”.

As a Pagan, I envision so much kinder, easier, and gentler a world. An affirming world where love matters and greed is a pathology. Where we lift one another up, help each other to heal and grow and thrive, and we understand our reciprocal, responsible relationship to the good planet Earth. And, as a naturalist Pagan, a world in which we are sensible, rational, and critically thinking: where we make decisions based on evidence and good, progressive values.

I walk through the world in this country, loving the fabric of Life despite the dour and miserable cultural context, joyous at the very fact of my existence, trying every day to wash more of the Overculture from me: to incorporate more openness, growth and kindness as I grow older. My rituals help me. My contemplation helps me. My community helps me.

We can be so much better than this. But honestly, the dominant model–the Christian model–has got to go in order for that to happen.

It can’t die off quickly enough, in my opinion.

We all deserve so much better than this.

Atheopaganism, Cultural Appropriation and Creating New Culture

Atheopaganism as I initially described it in my essay and book was intended to create new culture: a modern Earth-revering Paganism. Rather than drawing on existing cultures or ancient ones, the oldest element directly incorporated into Atheopaganism is the “Wheel of the Year”, which has global and ancient roots for some of the holidays (like the winter solstice), but was set forth as a package in the mid-20th century by an Englishman. No cultural appropriation there.

This was deliberate. I wanted to avoid the wholesale cultural appropriation of indigenous cultures from Africa, Southern Asia and the Americas that I have seen in Pagan and New Age spaces and practices. Rather, the idea was to simply start from modern times, with a clean slate, and create healthier, happier, kinder, more inclusive and more environmentally sustainable culture with which to go forward.

I also wanted to avoid any contribution to the culture of the Empire: domineering, racist, colonialist, patriarchal, heteronormative, environmentally exploitative, and cruel beyond measure. What is termed the Overculture.

The intention was to create a modern, Earth-revering and counter-cultural Paganism without appropriatively mining the myths, symbols and traditions of other cultures, ancient or contemporary.

Bear in mind that when I was creating Atheopaganism, it was as a mapping-out of a spiritual path for myself. I never expected that it would be embraced by others, and so I didn’t consider others who aren’t like me as I thought about integrating preexisting cultural traditions into its practice.

As a result, I missed something. I made a mistake.

It’s not a surprise that I missed it. I’m a straight, white American man and that means I see the world through lenses filled with blind spots. I’m learning, and will be learning all my life, but many such blind spots persist.

What I missed is that if you’re not–like me–descended from, steeped in and trying to get free of a culture of white privilege, individualism, greed and colonialism–you might not want that blank slate. You might instead very well want to proclaim and reclaim your native culture from the abuses and erasure they have suffered at the hands of colonialism and settler mentality.

So, first: I’m sorry. The fact that this never crossed my mind reflects limitations on my understanding due to my privileges and the way I was raised. I humbly apologize for any negative effect or impression this may have caused.

But let me be very clear:

I have always believed that if you are raised in an indigenous culture, and practice the traditions of your culture, that’s great. It’s essential for these traditions to survive.

Or, if you derive from a culture which was displaced, subjected to genocidal oppression, nearly erased or subjugated by European colonialism, and you seek to re-establish your relationship with that culture in your practice–again, great. Essential work.

That’s not cultural appropriation. It’s cultural persistence.

And if, in addition, you adopt the naturalistic Atheopagan worldview, Principles and/or practices into your spiritual practice, well, I’m honored. Delighted to have you in the community.

In any case, I hope that you will carry on with your path and help to bring its wisdom into the world. You are welcome in any ritual circle I convene.

Atheopaganism welcomes all who choose to embrace it, and that includes integration of other, preexisting traditions with its precepts. The “blank slate” of creating new culture applies only to those who choose it, who seek to find and create meaningful practices to supplant the directives of the Overculture.

Now, does this mean that if you choose Atheopaganism, you’re off the hook for the responsibility to work to dismantle the bigoted legacies of the past? No, it most certainly does not. That is work that all of us have to do, even those who are directly oppressed by said legacies. Internalized self-hatred is a thing, as is blithe assumption of privilege by people who look like me.

We need to learn to recognize the deep wrongs of the Overculture in defining, framing, and building a poisonous social contract around bigotry. And then to struggle to wring them out of ourselves and our world, one painful twist at a time.

It ain’t fun. It ain’t triumphalist and glorious, and we shouldn’t expect gratitude for doing it. It’s hard, gritty work that simply must be done if there is ever to be justice.

We’re all on this planet together, and we’re all fundamentally equal in worth and deserving of respect, dignity and community support. Nothing removes our fundamental obligation to work for the liberation of ourselves and our oppressed kin.

The Overculture vs. Reciprocity, Redux

In western societies (like all societies), people have fundamental and largely unspoken assumptions about how the world is supposed to work and how we are to behave.

Subscribers to these assumptions believe that they are inherently entitled to certain rights, for example, and that governance should protect these rights and enable redress if they are violated: something called justice. They assume that sexually exclusive life commitment by two partners is the default and only “real” relationship format, which is known as monogamy. They view men as superior to women in a wide variety of ways, and that women exist primarily to advance the wishes of men, a system called patriarchy. They accept hierarchical authority to set behavioral rules and the policing power of governance up to and including the usage of violence to enforce them, an arrangement known as the social contract. They view other cultures as inferior to their own, and believe it acceptable to subjugate and exploit them for their cultural resources and homelands, which is colonialism. They view darker-skinned people and people of non-European extraction with suspicion, if not hostility and/or contempt, which is racism. They assume that an acceptably “normal” relationship is between a (cis-gendered) man and a (cis-gendered) woman, which is heteronormativity. They assign particular qualities, behaviors, interests and even colors as “belonging” to one gender or another, which are gender norms. They agree that the exchange of labor ultimately benefiting an investor class for the means to acquire life necessities like shelter, food and health care is a valid and normal transaction, and that they are entitled to whatever they can afford with money, which is capitalism, and that to loyally and diligently engage in this exchange is both a moral good, which is celebrated as the work ethic, and will lead to economic and status advancement, which is meritocracy. They are uncomfortable and insecure about sexuality and pleasure, which leads them to condemn those who openly enjoy and celebrate them, condemning them as immoral hedonists.

And they accept and presume a dominating and exploitative relationship with the Earth and its creatures: that they are here for human use, consumption and control. This is an assumption so deeply sown into our culture’s beliefs that we don’t even have a word for it: it is hard for us to imagine any alternative.

There are other tenets of the implicit societal paradigm, but these will do for the discussion I write about today. As you can see, the implications of these core beliefs are profound for the societies that hold and perpetuate them, and for the people who are oppressed because of them.

I am not saying that these beliefs are good things, nor that many people don’t resist some of them. Most of them are extremely problematic. But these are the assumptive subtexts that establish the framework and “set the table” for how we relate with one another and organize our society.

A shorthand term for this is the Overculture: a set of implicit assumptions and rules that we learn as we grow up and behave in accordance with (by and large) under the assumption that they are what must be subscribed to so we can function as a society. These mutual implicit agreements extend to every right we assume to be our own. They are not “endowed by a Creator”, nor are they folded into the laws of physics.

They are cultural. And not all cultures share them, which means they are not inherent in human nature.

They can be changed.

As we can see, many of the beliefs promulgated by the Overculture are rooted in falsehoods and baseless prejudices. And certainly many of us fight hard to cleanse ourselves of some or all of these tacit beliefs, which can in some cases make it very hard to live in our societies, particularly for those victimized by the bigotry encoded in our social assumptions or who refuse to trade the time of their lives for the benefit of capital. The struggle to advance the status, well-being, dignity and justice afforded to the people oppressed by these beliefs has carried on for centuries and continues today. It is work we are all called to be a part of.

Making change–in ourselves, in our societies–requires examples of how we want to be. And the values that have dominated the world are not it (let’s face it, the totalitarian, obedient approach of the Chinese Overculture, for example, is no better than that of the West).

So we have to look to the cultures of people who have been steamrolled, erased, oppressed and suppressed by the Overculture. We have to look to indigenous people.

In her must-read book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes both as the botany doctorate she became and the member of the Citizen Potawatomi tribe she was born. And from the latter perspective, she talks a lot about reciprocity: a baseline assumption that we are born not with rights, but with responsibilities to one another, to future generations and to the Earth of which we are a part.

There is so much folded into this radically different cultural view, and much of it dovetails perfectly with Atheopagan Principles: there is humility. There are social responsibility, responsibility to subsequent generations, and pleasure positivity. And most significantly, there is reverence for the Sacred Earth.

The Overculture is insidious. We grow up submerged in it, watching our parents and everyone around them behave according to its edicts and absorbing its beliefs like hot water infusing steeping tea. But it is essential, both personally and socially, to rigorously interrogate the assumptions we make about our rights, our responsibilities, and our expectations and opinions of one another.

The vision of Atheopaganism is a world without many of the tacit assumptions of the Overculture: without the bigotry, without the narrow-mindedness, without the exploitative relationship with our planet. A world in which we assume the best of one another, celebrate and cooperate with the biosphere to mutual benefit, and we lift one another up, living with more joy and celebration.

It’s an attainable world. But to get there, we have to understand our assumptions and work to transform them.

It’s a start to be able to look at ourselves, our actions and the world around us and see all the ways people are behaving as if the assumptions of the Overculture are true. Then, we can begin to change ourselves and challenge the culture around us.

So-called Western civilization has succeeded wildly by some measures, particularly as measured by its aggressive expansion to dominate Earthly territory*. But it has done so on the backs of subjugated and oppressed people and the degradation of the very Earth itself. It is neither just nor sustainable, and its axioms are not a formula for human happiness generally, but rather for the inflated luxury of elites.

Here in late-stage capitalism, it’s becoming obvious to more and more of us that the Overculture is not serving us: indeed, that it is killing us and the planet of which we are a part. Let us be the leading edge of transformation of both ourselves and our societies.

*Many defenders of the Overculture argue that modern medicine and technologies are achievements of the capitalist system and that overall human life expectancy and quality of life have been increased by them. I should point out that it is reasonable to believe that societies other than capitalistic ones would have developed advanced technology had they not first been subjugated and cast into servitude by imperial powers. As it is, those who serve the resource demands of capitalism live in squalor and suffering throughout the world while relative elites enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Now, would some technologies and means of production have been avoided for the sake of harmony with the Earth?

Of course. As should be.

Reciprocity vs. the Overculture

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Overculture lately: how the dominant values and paradigms of our societies inform how we think, how we speak, and what we do.

For a discussion of all that, I invite you to listen to this week’s episode of THE WONDER podcast. That will give you a good sense of what I’m talking about. It was a great conversation with Yucca.

The Overculture is tricky to talk about because it is the water within which we fish swim: it’s everywhere, and to talk about other ways of living seems alien and farfetched. But we know they exist: we did not always live in a commodified, capitalistic world, and there are some indigenous societies which still reject the fundamental framework of capitalism, which is that the only thing that really matters is money, and everything else is just a means of getting it…or doesn’t have any value.

Including people. And certainly including the biosphere, which we Atheopagans prefer to think of as the Sacred Earth.

Last year, I read botanist and registered member of the Citizen Potawatomi nation Robin Wall Kimmerer’s incredible book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. In it, she describes the contrast in ways of knowing between the counting/cataloguing/reductionist model of modern botany and the reciprocal relationship-based way of her indigenous people. I highly recommend this book for Atheopagans.

Kimmerer’s description of her people’s approach to understanding plants and the natural world is a revelation, because it is about building not only knowledge of how plants can be used, but their “personalities”, their proclivities and what helps them to thrive: how they will give to us in exchange for our respect and support. In this manner, members of the Citizen Potawatomi nation have sustainably harvested useful plants for millennia, within the natural context in which they evolved rather than in destructive monocrop agriculture, which eradicates wildlife habitat and depletes soil.

This idea of reciprocity underpins many of the Atheopagan values and Principles. We are socially responsible (Principle 9) because we are interconnected: the well-being of our fellow creatures, including humans, is linked with our own. We hold the Earth as Sacred in part because we are the Earth: not “from” it or “of” it or “living on it”, but actual extensions of the planet’s biosphere that can think and feel. Our responsibility in having developed these awesome powers is to listen carefully to what the biosphere tells us, and to live in dynamic harmony with that received wisdom.

Our obsession with accumulation of economic surpluses—and particularly, elites’ wielding of power to sequester those surpluses for themselves—have led us into severe danger. We must begin to think differently, and Atheopaganism is one gateway into that radically different perspective.

Imagine: a world where enough and some to share was the sum total economic aspiration of the average person: where none wanted for basics, and none had fabulous wealth because they understood that such accumulation was irresponsible. Where cooperation and co-creation were celebrated more than competition, and enterprises were established to add real value to both human and non-human life, rather than to attract money from elite gamblers (“investors”) hoping to increase their own accumulation of surplus wealth.

It’s hard, I know. It sounds far-fetched, or naive. But that is because the Overculture does not want us to think in such terms. The ideology of Empire, of colonialism, of disregard for our fellow species, of senseless and unending greed does not want us to imagine a world in which we bridge our divides with our commonalities, and understand our lives as presenting us with responsibilities as well as rights. It wants us to be divided along arbitrary and invented lines of difference, and to scrabble over the scraps left by those who have far more than their rightful share of the world’s wealth.

We can do better. And in order to do better we must first dream better, and live by the values of that imagined better world.

Even if—especially if—in the short term we are screwed.

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