A while ago (2020? God damn it’s been a long couple of years.) I read a book called Magic, Science, Religion and the Scope of Rationality by Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, which is essentially an anthropology and philosophy text on… well what you’d expect having read the title. One of my favourite points made in reference to some peak academic sass (very possibly Wittgenstein) was a rebuttal about how the beliefs were “in error” or essentially that people who carry out some of the cultural practices that we in Western culture consider to be “unenlightened” is (to put it bluntly) sourced from stupidity.
The argument goes that in cultures that perform rain dances, they only do them before the rainy season starts. Because they’re not stupid, and they don’t think that dancing makes it rain. This kind of cause-and-effect thinking is very post-rationalism, because science itself does not (in the modern era) encompass human nature enough to account for performative and participatory action.
If that didn’t make an awful lot of sense I’m not surpised, I’m a grate riter and I’ve also been mulling the idea for quite some time to make it sit right and it’s only recently settled.
Take for example a teenager playing air guitar in their bedroom along to some rock band. You wouldn’t look at that and suggest that person thinks they’re actually in the band, and they’re clearly not contributing to the music, practicing for some real-world skill or even performing for an audience… They’re simply participating through a want to somehow be involved with something of importance.
Obviously I can only speak to my experience of participatory practice, and for me it’s got a lot to do with the balance between agency and control. By writing occult software for a defunct operating system that nobody uses for profit, I am participating in a theoretical world where humanism and utility is valued over economic growth - a hobby that somewhat unsurprisingly grew out of a global pandemic in which we sacrificed lives in order to appease the invisible hand of the free market. By doing tarot every day, I pause to reflect and seek and feel like I’m receiving help from without instead of suffering on the continual treadmill of informational and social engagement.
That said I’m not great at performative ritual personally. Aside from a couple of banishing rituals to stop me from dwelling on things I can’t control I still haven’t developed that muscle of turning to participatory things in order to engage with the ebb of life rather than try to wrestle it in the direction I feel it should be going. Maybe that’s next?