Two weeks back, a fellow Kemetic asked if I could do them a solid by reading through and editing an article about ma’at that they were working on. With memories of writing reports for cash in my head, I’ve been helping them with the post in question and have been particularly pleased with the content as I’ve been editing the essay for them. It’s a good post. It will definitely be thought provoking.
Connected to this article is the new round of growing pains the Kemetic community on Tumblr has been going through. I won’t give all the back and forth about what went down to cause this most recent round of discussions (if you’re on Tumblr you have most likely seen some of it or all of it anyway), but it’s been an interesting conversation as well as frustrating in every capacity.
There has always been disagreements about what is and is not a part of ma’at. Even those of us who get along and are more closely connected tend to disagree on the finer points. But we can all agree on the big nebulous concept in abstract form. It’s just that when it comes to putting it into practice, especially with the way the world has been going lately, the in-fighting come to the fore as seeming factions divide and sub-divide. It can be a little exhausting.
In ancient Egypt, they never had this issue. So long as the pharaoh was ruling and the priesthoods were content, so long as there was law and order, the exact definitions of ma’at were known and maintained. During the intermediate periods, when order turned to lawlessness, the people grew worried that isfet had come to rule the roost. They bemoaned their fate and the fate of their beloved country.
During the periods when pharaoh ruled, inequality of society and the socioeconomic strata that fill society was, well, normal. By its very nature, Baines maintains in his article, Society, Morality, and Religious Practice, that ma’at was fundamentally flawed in this regard, that having the haves on top and the have-nots on the bottom was part of the whole package:
Since in theory the gods provided for all of humanity, and humanity responded with gratitude and praise, the cult could be seen as having universal implications. In practice, however, the gods’ benefits were unequally divided. The privileged received the rewards of divine beneficence and returned gratitude, while the rest suffered misfortune in greater measure and had no official channel for interacting with deities. In this inequality, Egypt was not and is not unique. – P. 127
In the name of ethics, the most immoral things have been done in many places and periods. Morality, which is more local and less grandiose, may bear less blame here. The contrast between the two is important, because ideology and ethics rationalize the basis for social inequality, which Egypt had in great measure, yet the king and the elite who benefit from ideological underpinning of their position cannot ignore morality. – P. 131
The king and the elite appropriate a high proportion of the resources of Egyptian society and rendered society very unequal. Inequality lessened people’s capacity to be self-sufficient in facing life’s problems. – P. 137
But in that very same essay, Baines also shared that it was the top stratum of society’s job to help the poor. He states:
“Autobiographical” texts found increasingly from the later third millennium B.C.E. admit that all is not right with the world. They state that the men they praised “gave bread to the hungry, clothes to the naked,” and so forth. Later royal texts – both instruction texts and “historical” inscriptions – take up this idea. This magnanimous role belongs to the whole elite rather than specifically the king, who has a more cosmic, less centrally moral purpose to fulfill. – P. 140
In the Egyptians’ terms, morality and religion can hardly be separated, and the history of the development of both in Egypt vindicates this view. The association of the general ideals of natural morality with central Egyptian religious values carries with it the implication that loss and deprivation could disturb the proper order of things. This disturbance then is not simply a potential disruptive lack of equity in society; it involves the gods and cosmic order. Loss is one of many things that may threaten the fragile constitution of the cosmos. – P. 141
While inequality was rife in the appropriately maintained ancient Egyptian society, the people who needed aid were provided for because helping others was part of the game. To be sure, I have oft considered the actions of taking care of the less fortunate an attempt on part of the nobility to be seen favorably by the gods and when they are judged in the Hall of Two Truths, but the trend was to provide for those who need provision.
This is partly why the intermediate periods were so feared and why claims of isfet were made: without the clearly defined niches of society inherent in ma’at the necessary aid from the nobility, pharaoh, and priesthoods dried up. The assistance the have-nots relied upon was no longer available and death lurked in every crevasse.
These thoughts are echoed across other resources that have been quoted heavily across the community. The essays and books regarding ma’at all seem to point to the basic inequality of the ancient Egyptian society and the necessity to mitigate that inequality – without doing anything silly like creating a truly equal society, of course – through providing for the have-nots. The evidence is pretty clear: caring for your fellow man is a part of ma’at.
There was no division on this matter when society was at its best in ancient Egypt. And yet, the diasporic recreation of the religion is rife with these debates.
The going concensus among those who do not wish to engage on topics of marginalized people seem to be the following:
- No politics in my religion! This is a fallacy. As Baines showed extensively in the above quoted essay, ethics and morality are intertwined with ma’at and cannot be divorced from a religion bent on upholding ma’at. By stating this and maintaining this view point, people are inferring that oppression of marginalized peoples is okay.
- Social justices, and the warriors therein, are isfet! This is again a fallacy. They are not causing disorder by opening one’s eyes to the microaggressions and larger issues at stake. While the tactics of social justice warriors may not be to one’s liking, the point is to give voice and assistance to the oppressed. Oppressed peoples have been dealing with their oppression for generations and are sick of it. They have a right to tell people where to stick their bullshit.
- I don’t have to change because this is just who I am. Yet another fallacy, borne out by the idea that their harmful words or actions, or even their silence in the face of issues like antisemitism and racism and cultural appropriation, impact no one. If you’ve included yourself and engaged in a community, then people are going to notice pretty quickly when you partake, or condone by silence, in shitty behavior.
- Can’t we all just get along? Everyone has a boiling point, but the “can’t we all get along” trope dismisses the concerns of the oppressed by making it appear that discussions on the subject are anathema. It’s also a silencing tactic.
- Everyone should be nice to each other and speak respectfully. This actually ties in to the belief that peaceful protests can change policy. Peaceful protests have been going on for a long while and there’s always naysayers telling the peaceful protesters they’re doing it wrong. Besides it is not the oppressed’s job to be nice when telling others they have a right to exist.
All of this is what I have gathered, at least, from the discussions that keep cropping up on the subject. Those who feel that educating and discussion on the topics of marginalized peoples shouldn’t be so widely included in the community have stated these things or inferred them more than once. It seems ridiculous, their arguments, but then again I believe that social justice has a place in my religion.
It seems to me that the people who make these arguments are under the impression that they shouldn’t behoove themselves to either learn what the issues are or that the issues don’t concern them in the slightest. These issues may not seem to impact them because they come from a place of privilege but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t care or educate themselves on these issues. It also doesn’t mean that the issues won’t or don’t impact them in some way; there are always secondary and tertiary side effects when oppression occurs.
The reasons why we should all keep away from such tricksy sjw shit sounds like a load of pig’s pucky. I mean, in each instance, thinking of one’s fellow man and cohesively working with one’s fellow community members – all of them, not just the yes men that seemingly agree with the above – seems to have been lost in the shuffle.
The disagreements are bound to happen. I fully understand why we are constantly falling into an us vs. them argument about ma’at, piety, and the 42 negative confessions among other things.
There is no central figure here to decree what is and is not appropriate; there is no set priesthood to observe and speak on these things. We are a bunch of individuals who have come together under a very loose umbrella labeled “Kemetic” so disagreements are bound to happen.
That doesn’t make it right.
It just means that the existing divisions are going to grow and become uncrossable if we continue this way. It also means that, most likely, people who are marginalized in some way will begin to stay away from us because we aren’t calling out the people who are “problematic” in our community. There will be continuing and more often disagreements among ourselves and with the wider Neopagan community because we aren’t calling people out on their I-statement laden bullshit.
We have examples of what happens when you allow privileged people to talk over, silence, and outright participate in the oppression of marginalized people. How many people have watched the alt-right infiltrate various circles of paganism, most specifically Heathen circles but in others, as well?
We have the examples. We know what happens when we don’t speak up. So why is this so difficult?
I don’t know. I frankly don’t get it. Like I said above, social justice, the awareness of needing it and fighting for it, are a part of ma’at as far as I am concerned. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand the conundrum that inevitably gets started whenever this comes up.
I’m going to leave off with examples of what happens when we let this shit go unchecked. Maybe the visibility of what can happen will at least give some people a wake up call: