This week sat received an ask, wherein the inquirer states that “Ma’at was made so political.” It really stuck out to me, because as far as I can tell, ma’at was always political. When you look at the definition of “politics,” at the very very bottom, you get “use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc.” which might seem antithetical to ma’at, right?
I don’t know many folks who would think it is within ma’at to “obtain any positions of power or control.” I say this because it’s not uncommon for members of our community to assume that anyone with any amount of social following or clout is somehow looking to become a megalomaniac or a cult leader. The mistrust that our community has with power is warranted, but it’s not historically informed when it comes to ma’at itself.
Ma’at is intrinsically tied to kingship in ancient Egypt. There are no two ways around that, and I don’t think I should have to lay out historical data to prove that the king used legitimacy and ritual to show the whole of Egypt that he was the divine ruler, the Horus here on earth that was meant to maintain ma’at for the entire country. So if we’re looking from a historical aspect, ma’at is defacto tied to politics. Sometimes ma’at was used to do good things, like help members of other countries in need, and other times she was used to do bad things, like start wars to gain control of people’s resources.
Of course, just because ma’at was tied to politics in the past doesn’t mean that it has to be tied to politics now, right? Well, I think it depends on what you’re cherry picking from our resources in order to form your argument. To make it easy, let’s pick one of the most widely-accepted tenets of ma’at: giving food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, a boat to the boatless. All three of these things are considered very ma’atian acts to perform. Did you know that giving food to the hungry is an arrestable offense in many places? Same goes for clothing, if you’re giving it to the wrong person. Your “not political” act just suddenly got political. It’s almost as if living under an authoritative government means that politics has a say over almost all aspects of your life, it’s shocking.
So that got me thinking, if anon wasn’t trying to say that ma’at was political, what else could they be trying to say?
If I’m being honest, I don’t think it’s that our anonymous asker was somehow lost on the fact that ma’at was originally political, no. I think it’s that this anonymous asker believes that people like me are politicizing ma’at, which is a very subtle, but important distinction. Because when most people think you’re politicizing something, they believe that you are taking something and trying to use it to gain power and promote a specific bias.
You see this in our society through things like the anti-vaxx movement, climate change, reproductive rights, etc. where a particular group tries to call into question the validity of data or information presented about a topic by going “but they’re trying to politicize it so that they can push their [inaccurate] bias.” What’s interesting is that most of these things are slanted towards the right side of the political spectrum. Which is to say that it’s mostly right-leaning people who have taken these topics that apply to everyone, and decided that they’re not actually that important to fight, fix, or fund. But instead of being honest about it, its sexier to imply that the “other side” is just politicizing (read: lying about) the whole thing. Yes, these things could be considered inherently unpolitical, but because of the world we live in, they are anything but.
So ultimately, when you see someone trying to tell someone else that they’re politicizing something that isn’t “inherently political,” you’re likely watching someone indirectly try to shut down the conversation about a topic (because it makes them uncomfortable.) To pull a good quote (cw: rape mention, victim blaming used as an example):
Words like “political” then are a means of controlling when (perhaps even if) we will allow discussion of some issues and what the nature of that discussion can be. Silence on issues like homosexual rights, sexual assault, climate change, and war all promote the status quo. If we don’t talk about homosexuals, then they remain deviant. If we don’t talk about sexual assault, then it remains a private problem of a few isolated women (who might have been “asking for it” anyway). If we don’t talk about climate change, then we can keep consuming and polluting without feelings of guilt. If we don’t talk about war, then the gears can keep spinning. In addition, by limiting tax-exempt organizations to discussing things that are “not political”, we keep them from pointing to problems in society as the cause of the issues they address. They can feed the hungry, but they can’t call for the end of the root cause of hunger in an extremely wealthy nation: wealth inequality. (x)
And therein lies the crux of the problem. Our anonymous asker is assuming that people like me have taken ma’at, an innocent pure bystander, and turned it into a weapon to convert people to our way of thinking. But the truth of the matter is, ma’at has always been what she is, and most of those who aren’t living on a couch of privilege understand that that means she’s political and that the concept ends up being inherently politicized. If anything, I didn’t change ma’at, ma’at changed me — which is how its supposed to work when you convert to a religion.
Existence is inherently political for all of us (only if you care about the health and well-being of other people, of course.) Our governments can, and will, do horrible things to people if left unchecked. We are all overseen by governmental structures that can do said horrid things, so to be able to be blind about what is going on on a governmental level (aka “not political”) is a luxury that only the most protected members of society can rely (aka rich white people, if you’re living in America.) There is a phrase that says that the ability to “not be political” is a sign of privilege, and this is exactly why. There is only a small, narrow portion of our community that isn’t a part of a marginalized group, and as such, it should be a given that politics will bleed into discussions on how best to live one’s life in ma’at. The marginalized members of our community shouldn’t be asked to hide parts of their lived experience simply because more-privileged members of our community are being made uncomfortable. Nor should they be forced to share their religious community with people who deny their (marginalized people) lived experience simply because they don’t want to explore how their own inherent bigotry is actually bad and should be changed.
So in conclusion, if we are to use ma’at to inform our decision-making and actions in our lives, and if most of us are living inherently politicized lives, then it stands to reason that ma’at was destined to be tied to politics, even in the modern era. Yes, you can choose to ignore this fact because it makes you uncomfortable, but I think the bigger question should be: why would you want to?
August 21, 2019 at 3:23 pm
Absolutely right! Quite a lot of people who don’t believe that literally everything is, at the very bottom, POLITICAL, mean “I don’t want to think, and I don’t want you to either, because you might start to (rightly) think about how my head would look on a pike.”
August 22, 2019 at 9:11 am
It does amaze me how resistant people are to reflecting on their own actions. Like, I didn’t like finding out I was being a piece of shit, either. No one does, but our fellows deserve to be able to live freely, and we can’t build that until more people are willing to be honest with themselves about the bigotry most of our culture is built upon and continues to enshrine. It’s really frustrating.
August 22, 2019 at 8:24 am
I was going to reply with the standard Pericles quote about politics, but I think you’re probably sick of it
August 22, 2019 at 9:08 am
tbh I don’t think I had heard that quote before, but I looked it up, and it seems appropriate.
August 25, 2019 at 1:49 am
I don’t know if I am treading dangerous territory here (definitions and designations are always treacherous), but upon a second read I feel the urge to say: It is because of posts like this one that I view you as a priest/ess of your tradition in the best possible sense of the term. Please continue writing and posting.