If you read up on animism, theologians distinguish it from post-agricultural religions. Mostly because, according to their observations, there is no division between life and what they classify as “religious activities”.
Sure there are definitely rituals and the like, but the separation isn’t there. It’s also defined as a belief that ‘everything has a spirit’. And because of that, interaction between humans and the spirit world is literally on a moment to moment basis.
That’s why they call animism ‘primitive’. Because it lacks, to civilized scholars, a clear division between the supernatural and natural worlds. It is a sign, to them, of sloppy thinking.
I can imagine you might already know my stance on it.
It isn’t the animists who are doing the sloppy thinking.
What theologians were and are describing is a social technology. Simply put, it’s a focused ability to empathize deeply with your surroundings. Applied to humans, it allows for culture, tribal grouping, and learning behaviors that persist over time. Applied to hunting, it leads to persistence hunting and access to greater sources of protein.
Apply it to an eco-region and you have a resilient form of governance. “Religious awe”, as one could phrase it, is not needed. “Awe” is, as well as “Love”, and “Conflict Resolution.”
It’s a way of interacting with the universe that is modeled on physics. On waveforms, constructal flows, and fundamentally dynamic iterations of contact.
On the other end, today.
We have capitalism.
Capitalism is based off of the exploitation of others. Note the word exploitation. Your goal is to maximize your gain and minimize your risk. Ideally by off-loading your risk onto someone or something else. That is the ideal.
The same does not apply to relationships. You are not attempting to maximize your partner’s sexuality and productivity for your own gain. Except in the most cynical of circumstances. You don’t dump your partner because there’s risk involved.
In fact, the most common social contract is “in sickness AND in health”. This recognizes that relationships that persist over time are overall beneficial. Though in the short time, it may temporarily be detrimental to one, the other or both.
In the case of contract within capitalism, there’s no inherent reason for you to become attached to your product. It has no value, save for your use of it. In fact, attachment is seem as a detriment. Especially since it can lead to a situation where you are risking too much for a product.
This is one reason why landscapes are consistently devastated. It prevents the owner from forming a fundamental bond. With a region that would, through most of human history, feed, clothe, and support him. Instead it relies of exterior, disconnected economic contracts (often through money), which is far riskier.
And most importantly, it shows who has the ‘power’ in the relationship. Long-term abuse provides benefits only for one side of the relationship, that of the owner.
What if there is a better way?
So if animism is truly a better way to govern, what, practically, did animistic governance lead to? There is now ample evidence of it, in human-shaped environments across the Americas and beyond!
Quite a bit of the health/diversity of rain forests had to do with application of what the Spanish called terra praeta. This was a combination of land management, low/slow burns, discarded unglazed pottery, and deliberate short term abandonment by human interference.
Los Angeles County was openly declared a ‘garden’ in its initial discovery. They never acknowledged the massive work put into it by the local tribes. People who deeply understood the water cycle and its impact in the mountains, the upper valleys and the basin.
The Salmon Nations of the Northwest. The swidden islands.
These were all created because of an active human, cultural relationship with their region. This was nuanced not because of some sort of ‘religion’ but simply through a basic memetic structure. A structure that’s inherent to our biology.
I do understand that many people see and claim a benefit from capitalism, especially ‘kinder’ forms. However, I have to point out that my criticisms aren’t point out flaws in the system but actually functions of its design. I see that the use of capitalism, as is, will always have someone sliding towards the worst case scenario.
To take a current U.S. example: private prisons require a minimum occupancy or there’s a fine; governments hire the same prisons to produce goods and services at far below market price.
This is an eternal struggle that we do not have to deal with, if we decide to give up a system designed to fail and have the bravery to work on something new.
Or in this case, very old with some fresh twists.