Hávamál 71: On Ableism and Tribalism

For my first real post, I want to address what I consider a flaw in a recent interpretation of the Hávamál's 71st verse. The verse reads:
A limping man can ride a horse,
a handless man can herd,
a deaf man can fight and win.
It's better even to be blind
than fuel for the funeral pyre;
what can a dead man do?

Now, the most basic interpretation of this verse is a simple anti-suicide message: No matter what your condition, "what can a dead man do?" has the answer of "nothing." There is no such thing as a "worthless" or "useless" individual. That's not where a Tribalist took this passage, however.

From a Tribal perspective, if I understand it correctly, the smallest unit of consideration when making important decisions is the Tribe, rather than the Individual. It's never what's best for me, but rather for us. It's the kith and kin that a group of Individuals have bonded with to better themselves as a whole rather than individually.

The post starts by arguing this passage is not advocating ableism. In that respect, they are not wrong. This passage is quite contrary to the concept of ableism, in that it advocates for the productiveness and usefulness of those injured or disabled.

 The interpretation goes off the rails when they start flavoring their Tribal worldview with Individual Exceptionalism (i.e. "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps", etc.). 
To wit:
"Can't walk? Fine. Ride a horse. But don't demand that everyone else accommodate your limitation, and certainly don't insist that people can't have a blót out in a field because you can't get your wheelchair out there.
Born without hands, or lost them in an accident? Fine. Do something that doesn't require fine motor skills. But don't try to say that printing runes on an inkjet printer is "just as good" as carving them into wood and staining them with your blood.Deaf? Fine. Do something that's visual, or kinetic, or literary. Don't try to make the case that runic chanting or singing songs is somehow discriminatory, because you can't participate.

[...]

The point is, don't expect other people to change their own lives because of your condition. It's up to you, regardless of the specific circumstance, to adjust yourself and your expectations to your own condition. Whether it's psychological or physical, financial or educational, it's up to you to step up and do whatever you are able to do."
Get used to this gif. 

At first glance, this certainly seems to support the Tribe above the individual, because that's how it works, right? The Individual is expected to continue contributing to the Tribe, however they can, rather than expect to simply be carried along indefinitely, helpless and not contributing (a "welfare queen", if you will). Except this interpretation is the very definition of ableism, and counter to what I consider the heart of the wisdom in the verse above. It removes any burden of accommodation for anyone not fit or hale enough to participate. If a member of the Tribe is expected to host a monthly gathering, but a tornado takes out their house? By the reasoning in the above quote, that host is somehow still expected to "step up and do whatever you are able to do." How is that logical, or even polite?

Let's presume in ancient times, someone took an arrow to the...leg, and now has a pronounced limp, to the point where they can no longer participate in raids or the shield wall, effectively benching them for good.
I regret nothing.

Raiding was a prime source of income for many, and was often the means not only of establishing a name, but of providing trade goods for those unable to afford quality farmland in the harsh North where it was very much a premium. Now horses weren't cheap either, especially good ones that can handle a less-than-hale rider. Is our newly injured person expected to just find a new means of gathering income in order to buy said horse, so that they can then continue to be useful? It's much more likely that a member of the Tribe would have either outright given them a horse or loaned one to the injured party for an extended time. This is the Tribe looking out for the Individual, because (per the Hávamál above) that Individual can still contribute to the betterment of the Tribe, if given opportunity and means to do so.

In our Tribalist's interpretation, the Tribe seems to owe nothing to the Individual. They are lame, and they certainly can ride a horse. You know, if they have one. It's not just that the Tribe is placed above the Individual here, but that the Tribe will now leave the Individual behind, unless that Individual can keep up. A situation that Tribalism, as I understand it, is designed to avoid.

What's described is not a Tribe, but a collective of Individuals. It's the difference between a dozen cats and a pack of wolves. The cats may occasionally work together to achieve a goal, but at the end of the day, they are not bound together by anything more than that goal, and those unable to keep up with the group would be left behind. The idea that there is more to the group, the thought that there is an honest-to-Gods bond that compels them to help and protect one another, is what defines a Tribe. Ancient dire wolves show evidence of caring for the injured as a pack, rather than simply leaving them behind to whatever fate dished out. We can see it in Neanderthal behavior as well.


It's always been an easier argument to just move on, let "nature," or "the market" sort things out, trusting somehow that a soul of kindness exists in a ruthless pragmatist (Nature) or a soulless construct (the Market). Just how beneficial is a Tribe where a single accident is the linchpin that could mean never raising a horn with them again, because they insist on doing it in the middle of a grassy, muddy field, and now it's just tough shit for you, Wheels...

Stupid lizard probably would've hailed Loki anyway...

This is somehow supposed to be a reconstruction of a people who felt so strongly about kith and kin that there are over a dozen verses in the Hávamál about how to treat friends and and family well?

For example:

41. With weapons and cloth one should gladden one's friends
that is quite clear of itself;
those who give and receive stay longest friends,
if things last and all is well.

44. You know, if you've a friend that you trust well,
and from him want nothing but good:
share thoughts with him, and keep trading gifts,
go and visit often.

Are gifts only to be given to the healthy, friendships only maintained on convenience? Are they really friendships if that's the case?

What seems proposed instead is a pulling in close those who pass whatever tests and signs of conformity and ability those in power demand, and the rest must adapt or simply sit out (or leave).

Wheelchair won't work in the field? Maybe do a collection to get some modded fat bike tires that can make the trip. Recruit members of the Tribe to carry the individual to a bench set up in the field. The possibilities are numerous, but dismissing the member of the Tribe that can no longer participate in blót, or rune chants, or any other aspect of Tribal life as "out of luck" is not one that should ever be considered in a Tribe worthy of the name.

Ironically, this doesn't even fall on the old Tribal/Universalist fault line, because the argument is talking about those within the Tribe, those that have (supposedly) already been accepted, either in spite of their previous disabilities or before they occurred.

I'm not a fan of Tribalism, but if you're going to do it, at least do it right.
Just Saiyan.



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