I’m not much of an evangelist, but today I would like to persuade you to take an animist approach to life. Not necessarily to believe in animism, but to make the pragmatic decision to act as though you do.
Western humans have become far too prone to treating the world like a bunch of objects that exist for our convenience. We collectively treat the rest of life as resources to exploit. We don’t respect life, and we do not consider that other living things have any right to autonomy, or any feelings about their lives that might matter. The factory farmed animal in a tiny pen, turned into a food producing machine for humans, is a case in point.
Our human-centric view of the world is destroying the world we live in. To survive and thrive, we need to adopt more sustainable perspectives. This is where I think the case for pragmatic animism comes in. If you assume that everything around you could have ideas, intentions, preferences, feelings and so forth, it’s a lot harder to treat these individuals as objects and resources.
Here we simply sidestep the question of which living things have which kinds of thoughts, feelings and experiences. (I think this is the clever bit.) Reject that whole line of questioning. It is enough to consider that anything else you are dealing with could be aware and purposeful. Currently we are most willing to give care and rights to things we see as most like us – although not reliably then. We prioritise thinking and feeling in other beings even though we have little scope to measure or understand it.
Whether we can prove that something non-human thinks and feels is less important than how we behave if we adopt the idea that thinking and feeling are options. If you treat everything as though it exists in its own right and does not exist purely to answer some need of yours, you treat everything with greater respect. The pragmatic animist has reasons to seek co-operative solutions that serve life, not merely human life. It creates a context for not putting human wants centre stage all the time.
It’s a curious irony that our survival as a species won’t depend – as we’ve long imagined – on our out-competing everything else, but on our ability to support and nurture life. Survival of the fittest, going forwards, will not be about the human conquest of the natural world, but our ability to learn to live in balance, harmony and peacefully, with more care and respect.