Rethinking Anthropomorphism and Rationality: A Reenchanted World

Author and sociology professor James William Gibson recently published an excerpt from his book, A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature (2009), on Reality Sandwich. Just this short introduction to the book points to some very interesting issues about people's evolving relationship to the natural world and how these "new" approaches to nature are manifesting at both the research and the community levels.

Gibson contextualizes the human-animal relationship in terms of Charles Darwin's "sin" of anthropomorphism:
"But if the concept of human-animal families is still on the margins, it has lately received some support from surprising quarters. Contemporary evolutionary biology and related fields now stress the depth of human-animal kinship ties and encourage a revisionist view of Charles Darwin's work. Although Darwin sought to discredit theological doctrines that held that God created each species separately and to show the processes of evolution, his work was hardly an example of pure science. Instead, it was a hybrid discourse, with a strong spiritual and romantic strain."
Describing a multitude of examples of how some scientists have embraced a similarly hybrid approach to working with animals in their natural habitat, Gibson explains,
"Having rejected the modern view of animals as things, science and scholarship now spread the culture of enchantment, strengthening human feelings for other creatures and their habitats. ... Implicit in this vision is a new sense of man's place, a rejection of his position at the unquestioned apex of life on Earth. Philosophers, cognitive scientists, and other scholars are proposing a radical rethinking of the role of animals in shaping human evolution. Instead of portraying humans as the star species that progressed beyond all others, these thinkers stress human development through our relationships with other species."
Thinking about these ideas in terms of postmodernism's complicated relationship with Enlightenment philosophy and rationality, it seems that Gibson's research and ideas are touching on (or perhaps supporting) the thought that, as we exit the postmodern era, we are seeing an increase in religious fundamentalism, and what could be seen as an offshoot or entirely different branch of that: a willingness to explore the non-rational, i.e. Gibson's "reenchantment."

Other thoughts come to mind as well, namely in the realm of responsible and ethical interaction with animals in their environment. With this recognition of animal intelligence comes the difficult task of deciding how much will we blur the unspoken boundaries between human life and animal habitat.

Read the excerpt from A Reenchanted World on Reality Sandwich here.
And check out the book on here.
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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:53 PM

    Very compelling. A read that I plan to tackle in the near future. Thank you for posting.


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