A different dichotomy

Rate this Entry
I am cross posting this from my dreamwidth account. Figured why not.

At first, I toyed around with the idea of trying to make a proper introduction, but my mind doesn't abide by linearity when it comes to writing. Ideas are like wisps of smoke on the wind; there one minute, and just... gone the next. I figured I might as well strike while the iron is hot.

We are all familiar with the dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual, but I think this dichotomy can be misleading at times because of a poor understanding of the terms. There is an instinctive reaction to associate the spiritual exclusively with deities, spirits, and other possibly supernatural entities. This reflects a very narrow and vulgar understanding of the word. The spiritual, as I understand it, is separate from, but related to these things.

The spirit relates to the intangible, but none the less real qualities of a thing. Spiritual qualities are real insofar as they translate to real action or behavior; so spiritual qualities cannot be said to be immutable.

On the flip side, there is the material. A predator consumes not because of its adherence to an ideal or abstract quality, but because its instincts and biological impulses tell it that it must. Yet since both possess material significance, we face the problem of whether one of these takes precedence over the other or possesses a greater significance. The physical qualities of a thing are by their nature visceral, yet spiritual qualities, although having a different origin, can be expressed in the same visceral way. If they are expressed the same way, then is there a reason to assign particular value to one, but not the other?

This is a question I have seen posed implicitly many times whether consciously or unconsciously in my time around and on the fringe of the therian community. I don't really think this question is necessarily specific to therianthropy or animality at all, but really is relevant to the construction of identity in general. Even ethnicity, which on the surface one might try to define as being purely a matter of genetics and physical characteristics, is actually subject to a wide range of spiritual qualities.

Spiritual qualities are abstract, though material in their articulation, and thus a human construct. Animals have no innate spiritual characteristics. I'm not learned in the matter of animal psychology, but I do believe it would be reductionist to characterize all animal behavior as resulting immediately from biological impulses. Animals have minds, but they operate in such a different way in comparison to the human mind that attempting to understand, to really understand on an integral level, the animal mind through human-created spiritual qualities is folly.

This results in something of a paradox. Many therians appreciate and even to a certain extent identify with the spiritual qualities that humans have ascribed to their animal, but this is tempered with the understanding that these qualities do not make up what our animal is. Rather, these spiritual qualities can be useful ways of articulating our animality, our mode of being, in a way that is comprehensible to other human beings. Done in an improper way or with the wrong intent, it becomes an idealized caricature of animal-being.

This is then compounded by the fact that not everyone experiences animality in the same way. For some of us, our animality is an intensely physical and visceral thing emanating from the core of our being without reason. For others, the spiritual qualities of their animal can have significance and find expression in similar ways. It seems that in most cases, animality is defined as being an expression exclusive neither wholly to one nor wholly to the other, but as a predisposition towards one or as a sliding scale. I don't consider myself as being in a position to judge which is more valuable than the other, nor do I have an inclination to.

I have written this as to exclude my own experiences and positions. Although you might see hints of them, it was not my intent to write about myself here. I wanted to establish a kind of framework that I can return to at a later time, and by writing this, I was forced to confront my own thoughts(which are sometimes more protean than I would like) and articulate them in a clear and comprehensible way. This is as much for my own purposes as it is anyone else's. Perhaps I'm full of shit, but these are my thoughts for the moment.
Tags: None Add / Edit Tags