The ancient Egyptians understood the concept of balance- that two opposing forces must find a way to exist in relative harmony with one another, or risk ceasing to exist at all. Their concept of ma’at is so fundamentally tied to this idea, in fact, that modern kemetic polytheists almost always mention it in their explanation of our religion’s moral ideals. Even if one does not have the time, spoons, and resources to read scholarly articles and books on Egyptology and the ancients’ religion, one can understand the moral and practical implications of the concept of balance (moderation, compromise, movement within equilibrium) that we study and talk and write about in our communities today.
It’s the practical application of the concept of balance in the kemetic community I’m most familiar with on Tumblr that moved me to write today. I’ve alluded to this imbalance in my writing multiple times before: it is the imbalance of power that exists so ubiquitously among people who don’t believe they have any power at all. You won’t see a savvy and capable politician or CEO throwing words and ideas around haphazardly; they reveal their information and intent only to achieve their current goal. You won’t catch them saying something that they believe can come back to bite them later, and that often includes not pissing off large groups of people unnecessarily. You’ll see a politician spew hateful rhetoric about transgender people, for example, if the politician is courting the vote of those that hate transgender people- but a successful politician will not publicly and intentionally say anything offensive to anyone, because doing so would limit their possible future assets and allies. Regular people, however, don’t take this into account and say whatever the hell they want, trusting that their words will have minimal effects on those around them and on themselves. No one cares what a random person says, right? Regular people have a certain freedom from the responsibility that comes with power. When people say what they please without thinking of the consequences, without believing there are any consequences at all, we see the results of centuries of oppression imprinted on our conversations, our behavior, our culture. The backlash against “PC culture” and “social justice warriors” is two-sided; yes, it’s a result of people resisting cultural change (reactionaries), but it’s also an expression of the feeling that one’s words have no real impact and thus are unworthy of being policed, even informally. The idea is that no harm can be done, and the only motivation for such attempts to police one another is to gain power where there previously was none.
However, this collective concept of powerlessness is a complete illusion. We don’t have to speak into a microphone before a crowd of millions for our words to have consequences beyond the scope of what we could possibly imagine as we say or write them. This reminds me once again of the kemetic conception of the universe- the idea that heka, or words and images, being the most volatile form magic and power that humans possess. People are social creatures, and the means through which we communicate with one another -words and symbols- have explosive power over ourselves and those around us. We can hurt and heal one another through words without even intending to do so- and we do just that every time we speak. For this reason, “freedom of speech” fundamentally can not be separated from “responsibility of speech”. For this reason, those of us who choose to use this most potent power we possess must find balance between freedom and responsibility when we use it, as all powerful and successful human beings have throughout history.
What would we change about the things we say and do to one another, I wonder, if we kept these ideas in mind day in and day out, as the ancient writings encourage us to do? Would we cling so desperately to the ideal of freedom, even to the detriment of communal justice, if we knew that freedom was so fundamental that order could not exist without it? Would we be so willing to submit ourselves to the order established by our current governments and cultural ideas if we understood that change is not only inevitable, but healthy? If we truly saw ourselves as those who maintain ma’at on Earth in these strange, dangerous times, would we be so willing to compromise our ethical principles and risk throwing the balance of freedom and justice into the kind of chaos that would take decades to recover from?
I believe that it is this balance, between freedom and justice, in which we can find all hope for a better future. It’s in this balance that I find peace between my two patrons, Set and Heru-Sa-Aset, in a world after the fall of Kemet and its kings. It’s in this balance that we’ll find the solution to our issue with self-policing. It’s in this balance that kemetics and kemeticism will find our place in this strange new world.