#Polytheism’s Visibility Matters

While deciding what to write for this post, I was pleasantly surprised and excited by one thing.

Every few months, I do a Twitter search on the hashtag #polytheism. Every few months, I skim through tweets from Muslims talking about shirk and how huge of a sin it is or Christians talking about how secular government is basically polytheism that will ruin us all. The hashtag was about as toxic as reading the comments section of an article about GamerGate victims.

I resurrected this blog because I saw the #mypolytheism hashtag and thought, “It’s about time that someone coordinated a hashtag event about polytheism. I wish it were just the hashtag #polytheism, but you know? I can work with this.” Cycling through my head were all of those tweets.

Now for what surprised me! On the morning of Friday, 23 September, I did my routine Twitter search again: The #polytheism search showed things that were actually relevant. Sure, the anti-shirk posts were there, and one of the most prominent pieces was someone talking about how polytheism has infiltrated American society. Overall, though, I was extremely elated and happy. Then, I checked Tumblr. Tumblr has always been better, but I was on a roll here. Oh, this world is so happy and nice that I just want to hug it, I thought.

The polytheist communities owe this to all of you bloggers debating and fighting with one another on the Internet, having conversations about what polytheism means and how one can construct a movement containing people with multiple intersecting identities — some of which are highly stigmatized even within our communities — and, let’s be honest, #MillennialMagic.

This post exists because I read a devotional poem that Sannion wrote on 16 September 2016, and I disagreed with one line. The poem itself was beautiful. Sannion’s poetry has a fantastic sense of imagery and cadence, and I enjoy reading it.

Regarding the first line of the poem, the first association I made was the #mypolytheism hashtag, which I participated in because I believe that visibility is important. It doesn’t matter to me which side of the Big Issue Controversies that hashtag falls under. Our community still has a lot to hash out (pun not intended): To what degree should we tolerate supremacist -isms of all kinds in our communities, to what degree can leaders bring their political philosophies into their public polytheistic writings, and to what degree can we all organize and become a coherent movement while preserving our unique identities. It involves a lot of intersectional social justice issues, and social justice is messy.

Visibility is very important. The reason I disagreed with that line — and the reason I have mulled over it for days — is that the core issue is an intergenerational one. It involves assumptions that I have about the dissemination of information and assumptions of the average person from older generations. It involves those sensational headlines about Millennials killing golf, the diamond industry, home ownership, and everything else. (We should have our enormous student loans forgiven for killing golf, to be honest. We have done something real, y’all.)

One of the things that we have killed, and not for any reason related to our collectively depressing financial situation, is the traditional means of information discovery. If I were younger or if I were not a librarian, I wouldn’t be able to see this completely or articulate it in this way. Because I grew up in a rural area, the Internet came to my home when I was 9. I can remember the day my father first set up the dial-up network. Many people younger than me can’t. I am one of the few Millennials who was still using print encyclopedias and the print Oxford English Dictionary during middle and high school because our rural school couldn’t afford the pricey databases that kids in wealthy urban districts could.

The scary thing about people younger than me is that, statistically, most of them enter college having no idea how to do research. Few of them have ever needed to strategize a search for something obscure, and even fewer understand how Google algorithms work and why they might be problematic when doing research on some topics — Google algorithms care about what people read and how good your SEO is, not what’s factually true.

The majority of information discovery happens with content that is easily shared via Twitter or Facebook. Social networks determine which news pieces get read and which ones do not.

Hashtags determine relevance and act as a way to organize this chaos of information streaming through Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. People who do not use hashtags, blog tags, or SEO are nearly mute unless they have built an audience up by being in the community for decades. Small press journalists whose companies cannot afford the infrastructure needed to get shared on Facebook and Twitter crumble under the Herculean task of getting any notice on social media in an era when Salon, Vox, and Medium have the money and the people to dominate everyone’s eyeballs. Blogs unaffiliated with enormous Internet media conglomerates also face an uphill battle. People who manage websites can use Google Analytics to determine how many direct address bar visits they get, and the number is decreasing steadily. This is killing independent journalism.

Hashtags, search algorithms/SEO, and the tags we use on our blog posts don’t matter to gods. The gods will be there regardless. I agree with Sannion on that point. These things do matter to those who are just starting out: People who may or may not have the same research skills as those of us who benefitted from the information-scarce pre-digital environment. We can’t assume that they don’t have them, and we can’t assume that they do.

Our visibility in Google and via social media hashtags absolutely matters. If someone is trying to find the social media conversations about #polytheism, what happens when they just find people affiliated with Abrahamic religions bashing polytheism and calling it deplorable and sick? What happens when someone doesn’t have a carefully-worked-out hashtag system on their blog that helps people click through related content? What happens when these 21st century information infrastructures fail?

People don’t get what they need.

They may want to worship Dionysos, or Apollon, or Freya, but they don’t have the tools to engage with the community because information is also a commodity item. The things that one can get access to without dropping money are extremely limited, even when using a public library.

I think that we need more hashtag use. Hashtags help us disseminate the information that we have available to us. They increase our visibility, and they make Twitter, Tumblr, and everything ending in -r a better experience for polytheists everywhere.

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3 thoughts on “#Polytheism’s Visibility Matters

  1. I adore this post because staying information savvy in the information age is so important. However, I feel there ought to be a more explicit distinction between visibility and discernment? Or was the point that these online discussions are themselves a collective discernment process, so doesn’t call for the same division like…I had the privilege of having the general pros and cons of all sources laid out to me at school. Books had reliable citations but could be outdated, magazines and newspapers were more current but prone to retractions you might not be able to catch, and as for the Internet, well, our librarian had this whole PowerPoint presentation to teach us to truncate the website url and read the about page before, say, citing a white supremacist website for a biography of Martin Luther King. We were encouraged to check facts by speculating on the motivations of the people who put them up, and weigh them against diverse and even dissenting opinions, and we softminded teenagers had to own our decisions, conclusions, and opinions—and respect those of our peers, who may have come to different standpoints, because by then we all knew how hard it was, how much our teachers were really demanding of us. It was great!

    I wouldn’t have considered this process inherent in a conversation, though, because schoolwork had a target product: a good essay filled with facts. Schoolmates could doff that lucidity and get back to an unwarranted amount of hostility and outrage that our least favorite pop star continues to exist. We did have the Internet, and all the information there, but we still all had to be told to keep looking wider and deeper for specific information.

    So, I wonder if I understood correctly that discernment is an innate quality brought out by a visible diversity of opinions in conversation? Because now that I think about it, it does make sense that it would be…

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    1. Hello! So, by discernment, I think you mean two things: fact-checking and credibility of sources. I’m going to respond based on that interpretation, so if you meant discernment in a different way, please let me know.

      There are a few Information Literacy framework standards that people like me use when we create sessions for individuals/groups that we work with ( http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework ).

      They are:
      Authority is constructed and contextual.
      Information creation as a process.
      Information has value.
      Scholarship as conversation.
      Searching as strategic exploration.

      So, essentially, in any conversation, you have a few information things at play: Everyone has an area of expertise, but that doesn’t mean that a person is broadly an expert or that ler expertise is recognized. Many resources do contain errors, and even within scholarly publishing, the Open Access movement has opened a Pandora’s box of scam OA publishers that do fake peer review. I usually tell people I teach that these aren’t just skills for doing academic research, but for their everyday lives.

      There’s an information scholar named Safiya Noble who looks at racial bias in search engines. Following the Charleston church shooting in 2015, she learned that the shooter was radicalized by Google searches. The reason behind that is that Google’s algorithms just care that people are linking and talking, not that the information is factually true. For instance, if you search for black-on-white crime in Google, you’ll get a lot of white supremacist search results. If you search in a library database, you’ll get scholarly conversations that reveal the opposite: One is far more likely to face violence from within one’s own race, and they also have data, statistics, and research to back up those opinions. There’s also research on why white supremacists perpetuate the false information online.

      There are research studies on content volatility in Wikipedia that show that politically-charged scientific topics are far more prone to troll and conspiracy theorist edits, so the content in them cannot be trusted from minute to minute due to the high risk that a person will click on the Wikipedia article (let’s say for “global warming”) after a malicious edit. So what I would say is that Google is inherently risky to use when researching a politically or emotionally charged topic, and it’s fine to use when looking for pizza.

      But then that jumps to one of the other IL framework standards: Information has value. Information is a commodity. Most people must satisfice themselves with Google. (Many people in the US could actually use electronic public library resources, but many don’t know how to access them.) So, yes, absolutely — in conversations with a high amount of membership diversity — it’s extremely important to be aware of where others in the conversation are coming from and what biases you and they have. It’s important to acknowledge expertise and its limitations. Especially in those larger Polytheist Movement conversations, it’s important to check bias and to listen. It’s then important to follow up independently to see if what people have said is true. This sounds a lot easier than it is, though. A lot of the current conversations involve frameworks of morality and ethics, and those will always be subjective.

      (And my mom is also a librarian. She actually once fact-checked me at the Thanksgiving dinner table. She pulled out her computer and fact-checked me. Don’t necessarily do that. There’s an etiquette thing at dinner parties and other social events that must also be considered.)

      And I will close with Epictetus because it’s relevant, and I can’t resist:

      (42) When any person harms you, or speaks badly of you, remember that he acts or speaks from a supposition of its being his duty. Now, it is not possible that he should follow what appears right to you, but what appears so to himself. Therefore, if he judges from a wrong appearance, he is the person hurt, since he too is the person deceived. For if anyone should suppose a true proposition to be false, the proposition is not hurt, but he who is deceived about it. Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear a person who reviles you, for you will say upon every occasion, “It seemed so to him.”

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