chapter  11
Cybernetic animism
Non-human personhood and the internet
ByDevin Proctor
Pages 15

When people use the internet, they are engaging in animist practice. Animism, broadly defined, is an ascription of spiritual essence to non-human entities. Similarly, internet use involves occupying space with both human and non-human others: ‘bots’ and self-replicating codes, exerting agency and acting in supposedly human ways. The author calls this experience cybernetic animism – a process that draws from theories of animism, computer science, cybernetics, cellular biology, and iconicity. This chapter develops this idea of cybernetic animism as an approach to understanding digital existence – ultimately finding that the experience is not new, but rather ancient and quite common in many areas of the world. Paradoxically, we can uncover truths about our own technologically hyper-mediated selves by looking to the belief systems of small indigenous societies in Brazilian jungles and Siberian tundra. But how does a person acknowledge an animist world view in the contemporary West, living in a scientific context that seems diametrically opposed to animist foundations? Answers to this question lie with the Otherkin community – a group of people, primarily based on the internet, who identify as other-than-human. They recognize their bodies’ biological humanity but argue that they also contain non-human aspects, manifesting in non-material forms such as bodily urges, dreams and memories. With their pagan/animist belief structure and reliance on technological mediation, the Otherkin epitomize cybernetic animism. Just as Otherkin must figure out ways to reconcile the animist denial of Western epistemological constructs, so must all internet users recognize that they already live, work and play in animist practice.