Expanding my (pretty broad already) Horizons

One really cool thing about the con I was just at is that there were a number of people there who were very strange, and yet they were all extremely intelligent and well-spoken. Many of these people were only strange from a main stream perspective--the genderqueer and trans folk were well within my comfort level and I don't feel any need to write a blog post about them. I'm sure they would seem very exotic indeed to the average New Jersian, but they don't count as especially strange to me. For that matter, although it was not specifically a Goth con (and certainly not explicitly a fetish con) a lot of the costumes would be dinner conversation for days in many towns, either due to the gender dissonence, the amount of flesh exposed, or simply the general weirdness. I suppose I fit into column A, a little, and column C.

Anyway, these don't even merit a mention in my blog, except in so far as I find them cool. The animist, and the otherkin, though, really fascinated me, and talking to them helped push back my boundaries about what is "weird" and what is "normal". I know that there were a lot of neo-pagans there of various stripes who would also have counted as "unusual" for me, but I didn't get a chance to really talk to them about that part of their lives.

Which brings up the other cool-as-hell aspect of the con, which is that it was an amazing and (in my experience, at least) incredibly open and accepting place. Just now I referred to "the animist" and "the otherkin", mostly to be dramatic, but that wasn't at all how I met them. I met them as "the author, who is running a workshop of historical methods of divination" and "the person who is running the salon about how to make mead". They were willing to discuss their strange (to me) beliefs, but only much later by way of getting to know each other.

The Divination Salon leader--who is the author of this novel that I mean to get as soon as I can afford it--was discussing the basics of rune and Tarot reading, and what they meant to her. I had missed the runes section, which included her talking about the spiritual process involved in constructing her rune set (out of fimo!). She had a lot of interesting things to say about Tarot, however.

More intereting to me than this, however, was hearing her discuss animism. Perhaps a good way to describe animism is a belief in the conciousness of non-human things. This can range from people who talk to their cats (which is quite common, but are they truly concious?) to people who fall in love with, and marry, the Berlin Wall. This person was certainly less extreme than the last example, but she is someone who believes that she can hurt the feelings of her Tarot cards, that her car likes her and appreciates getting washed, &c. She believes that she can "awaken" dormant conciousness by noticing and engaging previously non-concious object--she said that she thanked her alarm clock for waking her up on time, and then said to herself, "Damn, now I've woken the clock!".

What I found so interesting is that I feel this way, as well, but I had never thought to call it "Animism". I just call it "an excess of undirected empathy" and try to block it out. So I had one of those "!! I'm not the only one!" moments while listening to her. Nevertheless, I really don't like thinking about things in an animistic way, and so I try not to. Essentially, I feel that objectification and disempowerment are two of the worst forces in the world, and if my bicycle has a soul and a will than it is a fundamentally disempowered and objectified one--after all, it actually is an object. If I start to imagine that it is sad because I left it out it the rain... well, I'd rather not. That's a spiritual belief that I share, on some levels, but do not enjoy.

The way I deal with it, incidentally, is to ignore it as much as possible. If I cannot ignore it, than I remind myself that although there may or may not be non-rational truths, (perhaps bicycles really do have souls, who knows?) everything can still be approached with reason. Thus, when my bicycle is out in the rain all alone and I start to wonder how it feels, I ask myself two questions:

  1. If bicycles felt lonely in the rain, how would they know that it was raining and that they were alone? I cannot tell whether they have a soul, but it is simple to determine whether they have nerve endings, eyes, &c. (they do not). Sure, myabe my bike would be sad if I left it in the rain, but it has no way to tell. Which brings me to...
  2. It is often very difficult to interpret the needs and desires of my good friends, but it is ever so much more difficult to discover the needs and wants of people from different cultures. Although we share a basic humanity, there are plenty of people whose essential ideas of good and bad are drastically different from mine. Therefore, it is not reasonable to claim that I can determine the wants and desires of something that does not even share this humanity. Why should bicycle culture be at all the same as human culture? Even if I give into my animism and believe that my bicycle has a soul, and even if I grant that it has some magical method of finding out that I've left it alone in the rain, it is unreasonable to conclude that my bicycle is unhappy.

The Divination presentor deals with this by doing nice things for her objects (she got into a car accident, and her car was upset, but it felt much better after body work and a new paint job) and bribing them (her Tarot deck was very cranky until she bought it a really nice box to live in and lined it with felt).