Animism to Grow Empathy joliemahan February 27, 2016 Activists are constantly bombarded with criticism on what we’re not doing and what we should be doing instead. Protests are seen by many as disruptive and divisive, but online efforts are coined “slactivism.” It seems to be a constant struggle to unite people and it isn’t surprising to me that some people can become bitter. Others, however, seem to have an endless supply of energy and hope. To me, it seems that those that have a personal connection with the earth use it as a source of their unwavering devotion, but why? I’ve felt this myself during a certain period of my life and never felt more purposeful, but as suddenly as it seemed to appear, it went away. I’ve been trying to recover this kind of relationship to the earth that I once felt and in my introspection, I realized that a large part of it was that my identity was tied to animistic beliefs. Animism is a philosophy that is just as old as human beings, one that is largely attributed to indigenous people. It’s the philosophy that animals, plants, inanimate objects, and potentially all non-human entities have a spiritual essence. Not only was I regularly studying astrology, memorizing my own natal chart and looking up others, I was interested in animal totems. I was fascinated by the healing attributes of crystals. I was mystified by transhumanism and the links that machines could have to humans. Shortly thereafter, I found myself studying critical thinking, logic, and rationality and felt silly that I’d spent so much time dedicating myself to these crafts that seemed inconsequential. For a while, I felt superior, thinking I had thought myself out of a trap and a mess of New Age psychobabble. When the superiority went away I was left feeling disconnected, maladjusted, and perpetually anxious. I missed the magic I felt when I was spiritual, when I was practicing and learning new ways to culture beliefs and to observe the natural world around me. But I just couldn’t resolve the contradictions within me. I was certain that rocks couldn’t be magic and that the stars had very little to do with who I was. Part of me still believes that. Recently, however, I’ve been learning more about animism and these contradictions are slipping away. When I was studying astrology and was stricken by the weight of my Saturn stellium to the point of tears, the important discovery was not that a planet lightyears away was profoundly affecting me because of the time and location of my birth. The crucial part was that I was relating to a cosmic body in human terms. I viewed Saturn as an entity of tough love, a masculine one, one that I felt burdened by but at the same time, I felt a lot of pride and hope for a brighter future as long as I could remain steadfast through the struggle. Now I see that these metaphors were unconsciously helping me resolve issues I’ve had with my own father, issues not unique to me. This examination of paternal relationships isn’t unique to me, by far, so I was also relating to centuries worth of people who have learned their own lessons through Saturn. Because of animism’s ties to indigenous cultures, it can often be seen as primitive, but I’ll argue that it’s just as relevant today. Actually, much of the media that’s targeted for children is often animistic. We view children as inherently empathic and compassionate, but could part of it be that the things they’re watching be contributing to how they’re learning about the world? It seems like there’s a significant portion of television, movies and games for children have helpful creatures that are willing to teach and assist, even with everyday chores. There’s personable vegetables that have their own stories and quirks to offer. Even cars take on their own challenges, face their fears (or not) and have friends. Adult media seems to be more humancentric and in a way helps us relate better to each other, but can this loss of animism be part of our culture of disconnectedness? I haven’t resolved the contradictions completely, but I’m getting there. I’m allowing myself to make a leap of faith and not try to get stuck in the mud of rationalism. I believe there are benefits to studying things that may not be firmly rooted in reality, not just because I feel more empathetic and less cynical when I do so, but because these philosophies may end up being a core ingredient to what makes me a more productive and effective activist, whether or not that stand up to the scrutiny of the scientific method.