In 1974, American philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote an article for The Philosophical Review entitled “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” in which he put into question the assumption that we will ever be able to fully understand consciousness from an entirely objective, scientific, third-person point of view. Using bats as an example, he wondered: even if we know everything about bats scientifically speaking, can we ever really know what it is like to be a bat? Some say yes, some say no, some say maybe.
What would my life be like if I was a bat? This is a strange question to ask oneself. I guess that if, in a circumstance much like the one in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, I awoke as a bat tomorrow morning, my first reaction would be to ask “Why is everything upside down?” Apart from some initial getting used to, I don’t think being a bat would fundamentally alter my lifestyle as I spend most of my time hanging out anyway. What concerns me the most is a very private matter, one that is somewhat embarrassing to talk about. Luckily, the Internet has been able to reassure me that bats do masturbate. Phew!
Now there are some people who seem to know what it is like to be a bat, most prominently Bruce Wayne. Like Nagel, Bruce Wayne has devoted a considerable part of his life to trying to find out what it is like to be a bat. However, whereas Nagel’s main concern was to solve the puzzle of consciousness, the Dark Knight is mostly concerned with unconsciousness, his work often consisting of subduing villains by artfully kicking them in their temples.
Of more interest than a person dressing up as a bat, I think, are people who actually identify as one. Otherkins are people who identify as something other than a human being. In other words, they think they are in essence something non-human—be it animal, vegetable, or mineral—trapped inside a human body. To be absolutely clear, this is not a matter of gender or sexual preference. This is a matter of species. For example, you have people who identify as fox-kin, tree-kin, sunflower-kin, dragon-kin, and I’m sure also bat-kin. I even saw a picture of a tiger-kin who appeared to have had aesthetic surgery performed on her face so as to look more tiger-like.
“Fuc-kin ridiculous”, you might reactively exclaim, and to an extent I agree. But even if the world is starting to look more and more like an MMORPG with never before seen character customisation options, is there any harm in it? I’m not sure there is, which is why I have no aversion to otherkin-ness. In the name of freedom of consciousness and the freedom to self-actualise, these people, just like everybody else, should be allowed to live their lives the way they want to, the condition being that they do not harm others. Actually, I would go even further than merely emphasising their basic freedoms. I would in fact encourage otherkins to live their non-human identity to its fullest extent.
If you think you’re a flower, be a flower. Strip off all your clothes, go sit in your front garden and stay put until you wither. No more selfies, just photosynthesis. No more showers with shampoo and conditioner, just heavy rain and dog piss. No more Sky Plus, just sky.
For any non-flower-kin, this must seem like a pitiful existence, but other otherkins are even worse off than flower-kins. The winners, by which I mean losers, must be the dragon-kins. By the very definition of a dragon, dragon-kins are technically not allowed to exist. It seems very likely to me that confident, authentic dragon-kins will end up meeting this criterion, if only inadvertently. What I mean by this is the following: if you’re so confused that you can seriously believe you are a dragon, ill-fatedly embodied as a human being, who needs to snack on his parents’ jewellery to persist, then I think it’s definitely more than just a possibility that you will also be able to convince yourself that you can in fact spew fire, resulting in a tragic accident of internal combustion.
The existence of otherkin-ness brings with it a great deal of philosophical, legal, and societal problems that will need to be paired with a solution, especially if it should come to a surge of otherkins in the near future. For example, if a fly-kin is uninvitedly buzzing around in your flat, should you be allowed to swat it to death? Does a person who eats a kale-kin engage in cannibalism? If you go for a walk with a dog-kin, do you have to put it on a lead?
Jokes aside, I really do wonder what will happen to and with otherkins in the next few years. In the comments section below an article about otherkins, one commenter argued that we should treat otherkin-ness the way we treated and treat sexuality and gender, meaning we should just let it happen. However, I do not think such a comparison can be made given that LGBTQ2 activists campaign for more rights, striving to achieve equal rights. Otherkins, however, would presumably campaign for fewer or at least different rights. Since they don’t identify as human (and who are we to tell them what their identity is?), treating them like human beings would technically be inhumane, wouldn’t it?
There also seems to be a theme with a lot of otherkins, that theme being the association with rather abstruse and metaphysically catastrophic belief systems involving otherworldly and supernatural things. For instance, I’ve been told that the reason why someone identifies as flower-kin is often that they believe they were an actual flower in a previous life. I have to say I don’t really see the logic behind the idea that, assuming there is more than one life, one’s identity should transfer from one life to another, but then again I should have anticipated that a search for logic in the domain of the religious and the spiritual would be fruitless.
Supposing otherkin-ness is not an unalterable condition but, is in fact, some kind of confusion or delusion— and I, perhaps conservatively, suspect it is the latter—I wonder what could be so appealing about being anything other than a human being, given that we know our lives to contain considerably more variety and depth than that of other animals.
If only to have a nice parallel between my introduction and my conclusion, I’d like to mention another philosopher. John Stuart Mill once claimed, whilst in the process of laying out his version of a moral theory called utilitarianism, that it is always better to be a miserable human being than a happy pig. It seems like the phenomenon that is otherkin-ness seriously calls that into question.
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