Welcome to the February 2014 issue of Animist Blog Carnival on Animist Ethics. I don’t suppose I’m alone in sensing that the resurgence of interest in animism is raising a multitude of questions that most of us in the over developed West are ill-prepared to face. Our shared conceptual ground has been shifting, quite rapidly.
When I was a student, in the late 1960’s, the terms ‘ecology’ and ‘feminism’ were not common currency. I recently unearthed a 1967 copy of Anarchism, in which an article by Lewis Herber (a pseudonym for Murray Bookchin) uses the term ‘new animism’. His utopian vision of bioregional communitarianism now looks both prescient and, not surprisingly, dated. Prescient in its call for life enhancing technology and ecological sustainability, dated, for instance, in its disregard for feminism.
Bookchin’s communitarians would ‘regain the sense of oneness with nature that existed in humans from primordial times’. ‘Nature and the organic modes of thought it always fosters will become an integral part of human culture … culture and the human psyche will be thoroughly suffused with a new animism’.
Like Bookchin, I’ve long been concerned about social justice. Unlike him, I empathise with the romantic tradition, and am broadly sympathetic to deep ecology. I see no reason to separate the ‘deep’ and ‘social’ dimensions of ecology. How we think about and relate to the ‘natural world’ is, surely, inextricably bound up with how we think about and relate to our own kind?
Growing awareness of ecological crisis, and of the sentience of other animals, has meant that our circle of ethical consideration has been widening. Only since the Enlightenment have ‘we’ in the West included all other humans as ethical subjects. Now some of us, at least, are beginning to consider other-than-human animals, and plants, as persons entitled to certain rights. As our perspectives change, so does the basis upon which we make ethical judgements. In the following posts, contemporary animists, from different philosophical and religious/spiritual traditions, explore this complex terrain.Sources:
Louis Herber (Murray Bookchin) Towards a Liberatory Technology, Anarchy 78, vol7, no8, August 1967.
Erazim Kohak, The Green Halo, A Bird’s Eye View of Environmental Ethics, Open Court, 2000.
In her ABC swansong, Beyond Animals: Animism and Food, Heather Awen at Eaarth Animist (a big “Thank You” to Heather for linking our blogs so enthusiastically over the past year or so!) tackles the politics and ethics of food. “For me the key animist relationship is food. It’s the sacred covenant that makes and breaks cultures. All indigenous cultures focus on food, in story telling, taboo, tools, ceremony and seasonal moves. This is because if you live that close to the land you understand that everyone is eating someone“. In a thought provoking essay, she argues against corporate agribusiness, of course, but also against veganism. “From the new animist monist/pantheist POV, all eating is cannibalism. All that is, is made from the same sacred matter. I’m mostly some dead supernovas from a loooong time ago … when I die, millions of persons will eat me.”
In ‘The Unknowable Right and Wrong and Human on Human Violence‘, Heather wonders, when humans are denying personhood to each other, how we can begin to think about interspecies ethics. A good starting point might be to make sure that we’re not romanticising Nature: “I grew up around farms and we homesteaded. Nature is very bloody. From the gunky birthing process that often kills the mother or child, to hamsters eating their young, to how few tadpoles and baby turtles survive, to adulthood to male cats having spiky things on their penises, thus hurting and cutting the female cat when mating, it’s just a carnal bloodbath”. Writing from direct experience, Heather confronts a ‘culture of trauma’, and reminds us of the complexity and ambiguity of moral questions.
In Leaving Our Mark, Jay, at Naturebum, writes about instinctive judgement based on intrinsic kindness. When inner chatter abates the ‘feeling’ in the body dictates a course of action or non-action. When foraging, for example –
“When the tide and conditions are right, it would be easy to gather as many of the shellfish as legally allowed (or more if you wanted), but what for. I only need a couple for myself and perhaps for my daughter as well, no matter how plentiful they are on the day. Quite simply, its doesn’t feel appropriate to take any more. I don’t need an ethical framework to make the decision, but rather the appropriate action is evident at the time.
Alison Leigh Lilley examines the problem of anthropocentrism in an ongoing series of posts, beginning with Talking About Anthropocentrism in Modern Paganism. “the very act of continually striving to “de-center” ourselves through the process of philosophical discourse is perhaps more important than attaining to some ultimately and conclusively “correct” view.” After all, “Indigenous and non-Western cultures throughout history have had worldviews that do not include the belief that human beings are inherently separate from or superior to the rest of the natural world”.
Clay, at animist international, ponders the basis for ethical conduct and a good life, beyond reliance on religious texts, and finds support for animist ethics in an understanding of ecological interdependence:
“As we are reminded in Edward Lorenz’ famous hypothetical example of a hurricane caused by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, the actions of every individual impact every other being in some way, no matter how small they may seem at first. … An awareness of this fact underlies what I have come to think of as animist ethics, since any harm we do to others we do in equal or greater measure to ourselves”.
Naturalpantheist at Nature is Sacred writes that animism is about personhood, respect, community, interdependence and, not least harmony. Nature can be violent, and ‘rarely just’, but “if we don’t want to face negative consequences from our actions, then we must seek to live in harmony, in peace, with all those who live around us – not just human, but more than human too. Peace with ourselves, peace with other people, peace with plants and animals, peace with Mother Nature. Seeking to live as peacefully as possible is a central goal for animists.”
Raven, at The Raven Scribe, writes about having been a vegetarian, reluctant to kill a fly, but later realising that: “death is a part of life, and sometimes a necessary one. Even the plant I was eating was at one point alive and had to die in order for me to have food. It was no different than the cow that gave up it’s life for me–one life is not worth more than the other“. For her, recognising that all life is sacred and deserves respect now means being ‘incredibly conscious of how my actions affect the rest of the world’.
K.C.Trae Beck asks whether an animist can be Catholic Christian. Christianity may have a chequered past, but there is biblical and ecclesiastical support for adopting an attitude of stewardship, and reconciling respect with human use.
“On the whole, in theory, I would dub Christianity friendly to the natural world and compatible with animism, if a bit anthropocentric. In practice Christians have a long way to go. Thankfully, there are Christian heroes like St Francis of Assisi, who was firmly grounded in respect and communion with the natural world around him“.
Here, at Animist Jottings, in Notes on Animist Ethics,Respecting Other (Human) People I’ve opened up some questions about ethics, and how animism relates to human concerns.
“I’ve been wondering, therefore, whether extending the notion of personhood into other-than-human worlds, risks undermining an already devalued currency? ….”
Those Cruel Wars (parts one and two) was provoked by the lavish (£50 millions!?) commemorations of the centenary of the start of the First World War, now gathering momentum in the U.K.
“My grandparent’s house in South London always felt warm and welcoming. I remember staying there, as a boy, when they still had gas lighting ….”.
If this doesn’t seem relevant to animism, bear with me! Since the the conclusion of the First World War led inexorably to the Second World War, I found myself grappling with some difficult material on the history of eco-fascism. There can be no clearer evidence that animists need to couple a concern for the rest of Nature, with a commitment to social justice and human rights.
- The March Animist Blog Carnival is on: DREAMS at Pray to the Moon deadline February 24, contact momafauna(at)gmail(dot)com.
Details of previous Animist Blog Carnival issues can be found here.