Friday, April 1, 2011

The Animist Reality

In my last post, I described the dominator reality. Its defining characteristic is the domination of the many by the very few in a mechanistic universe. An animist reality, on the other hand, is defined by the paradigm of a living world. Humans are a small, even insignificant thread in an enormous web of life. There is no ultimate authority beyond the consequences of our actions, what some people call karma, and the mysterious workings of the universe, or chaos. In an animist world, all material being is infused with spirit, and all spiritual being is made manifest. Therefore, spirit (or non-materiality) and matter are intrinsically the same, as inseparable as the crown and underside of a mushroom.

The values and institutions of animist realities reflect these beliefs, and include a humility and empathy that is missing from dominator cultures. Aware of the interconnection between all life forms, and knowing that the survival of humanity is dependent on other life forms, animists seek an existence that maintains the planetary environmental system, the garden that grows our food and shelters us. Although competition is the norm in dominator cultures and comes highly endorsed by science, cooperation is the intra-species norm throughout the natural world and in non-dominator human societies as well. Extra-species cooperation may not respect an individual’s needs, but it maintains the balance between all life forms. We eat and are eaten. Trees breath out oxygen and humans breath it in.

An individual animist is not only cooperative in his or her social life, but also participates in the collective life of humankind, and understands him or herself as alive in the family or community. He or she will survive as the collective survives, even if the individual dies. If human nature is self-interested, or at the very least survival oriented, then this earthly collectivism is the animist road to survival, and cooperation in the interest of the human collective is the animist way.

I want to be clear that I am not defining animism as a religious form. Religion is a dominator institution. Animism is the experience of a material world that is alive, ensouled, and intelligent. It is a consensual reality, and the animist reality is filled with people of all kinds, from grass seeds to gods. In a dominator culture, a person is, by definition, a human person, and personhood is bestowed on us by virtue of characteristics deemed uniquely human, such as individuality, character, and most of all soul, those aspects that are not defined by material existence. In a reality in which all life forms share these characteristics, all life forms claim personhood. Smaller-than-human and greater-than-human life forms are persons, quickly-moving and slowly-moving life forms are persons, what dominators define as material-only and what dominators define as spirit-only are still fully unified persons.

The earth world is a community of persons in infinite variety―bacterias, rocks, puppies, cows, trees, mountains, angels, demons, and yes, even the gods, are all people. One doesn’t need religion as a separate institution in such an integrated world.

I do not think that the animist reality as I've defined it is the only alternative to a dominator reality, but I do think that the dominators are leading us down a violent, tech-paved road to hell. An alternative has to be found if humanity is to survive as a species in our bodies on this earth. As Charlie says, "Humans, it's time to love or you will surely die."

1 comment:

Aron said...

Just as a comment on animism, for me it's a description of a view of reality that sees nonhumans as being alive and animate. I see this as opposed to viewing the nonhuman as dead matter we humans can manipulate or dominate at our whim. So I agree with the dominator vs. animist definition you've put out there.

But I guess there's a lot more going on for me, such as an attempt to be sensitive to others human or not, yet not being crippled by empathy in the process or ignoring that life eats life but not using this as an excuse to cause unnecessarily suffering in the process.