Otherkin and Mental Models
There are several things I’m studying on my “mental model” list and adding to my files. The problem I have is I don’t feel comfortable sharing them on the site because it would require pointing out many examples – and there are wonderful, textbook examples out there – that come in the form of angst-ridden Tumblr blogs. If I could trust the audience to look, but not interact, with these people, I’d be more open about it, but the last thing I want is a mentally unbalanced person getting a barrage of messages from rationalists excoriating him or her because of the ludicrosity of his or her beliefs.
I’ll give one illustration. A topic I’m studying now from a mental model perspective is that of “Otherkin”. Don’t know what it is? You aren’t alone. It’s a sub-niche movement of people who believe – not pretend, but actually believe – they are partially, or entirely, non-human. Some think that they have been reincarnated with the soul of an animal, dragon, fairy, plant, alien, cartoon, demon, angel, elf, vampire, etc. Some believe they actually are partially these things biologically.
Here is an actual, non-ironic quote from one of these “otherkin”
I don’t like wearing tails/ears/et cetera much. They don’t move like astral limbs, and would simply get in the way. It would just end up becoming a bother, in the way of my ever-present astral limbs. Plus, I definitely don’t want any unnecessary attention-I’m forever a wallflower.
Having no astral limbs of my own, I am unfamiliar with the plight of having them bound by clothing accessories.
Most of the time, the belief is part of a larger mental composite that shows certain repeating patterns. For example, consider this quote from someone whose autobiography is described as “I’m transgender ftm [female-to-male], pantheistic, dyslexic, depressed (and occasionally suicidal), severely anxious and I’m an angelkin.) Recently this person wrote on their blog (copied verbatim with errors; no corrections made):
So today I explained to my councilor that I’m otherkin and I was expecting to be treated like I’m insane, but no she thought it was interesting and just like listened to me but I feel like she secretly thinks I’m crazy so there’s that. Either way, I’ve come to terms with this quite nicely, I think. I’m a fallen angel, but I can’t remember my past life any more that that I was an angel and must have done something wrong. I do kind of wonder what people think of me when I tell them I’m angelkin but I honestly don’t care. I love the feeling of having full control over my phantom-wings even if sometimes people look at me funny when I lose my balance because of them.
Religious scholar Joseph P. Laycock wrote a paper in the Volume 15, No. 3, February 2012 edition of Nova Religion: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religious called Ontological Rebellion and Religious Dimensions of the Otherkin Community. In essence, he makes a persuasive argument that, whether they realize it or not, Otherkin is really a quasi-form of religion that has begun to take on its own belief system, morality, shared body of believers, etc., and through it, it serves many of the psychological needs, both “existential and social”, that religion does for a vast majority of folks.
The social aspect does seem to be interesting. Finding fellow “Otherkin” is apparently important. Look at this quote from a believer:
I think I’ve found another Therian at my school! ;D She was wearing a T-shirt with a cat & a moon on it, which is what first caught my attention, and when I walked past her, I immediately got a phantom feline shift. She just had a very… Certain energy about her – I’m an empath – and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to talk to her some time. However, we don’t have any classes together. :c Maybe next year.
Therians are apparently people who can shape shift into the form of an animal. I don’t want to give you the username or blog of the person who wrote that because it breaks my heart and I don’t want some jerk going and making fun of these people. I feel this overwhelming urge to find this girl, give her a hug, and tell her she’s not alone. The level of interpersonal isolation necessary to get to that framework is painful. The escapism inherent in it is tragic. (It’s hard for me to understand because interacting with people and forming relationships is just not that difficult – ultimately, you only fear rejection if you don’t value yourself to begin with as you are looking for validation by their reaction. I’ve never had that problem so I don’t understand why people care so much. If someone doesn’t like you, they don’t like you. Big deal. It’s not like you have a right to their affection or attention. Likewise, you don’t have to like them. You find the 5 or 6 people that essentially become extended family, whom you love, and want in your life until the end, and you keep them close, fostering those relationships. There is no great mystery here.)
Another fascinating thing is that a common theme among the Otherkin blogs is their dislike for what many of them see as their oppressors – SWM, an acronym which stands for “Straight, White, Males”. It’s bizarre because I don’t think mocking this behavior is limited by race, sexual orientation, or gender, so it’s not a particularly logical group to dislike. It just seems bigoted.
It Takes a Lot of Mental Models and Environmental Conditions Working Together on a Particular Type of Personality to Create an Otherkin Believer
The level of self-reinforcing denial, confirmation bias, social proof, sanctification bias, and so on staggers the rational mind. The problem: I don’t like talking about it, or really highlighting a lot of the things I’ve learned, because these people seem completely harmless. Their belief system is a coping mechanism for the myriad of other conditions they face, often including mental illness, social rejection, loneliness, and lack of purpose. You don’t, for instance, find many aerospace engineers or world renowned composers believing this sort of nonsense.
Rare exceptions exist, of course. John Whiteside Parsons, aka Jack Parsons, was one of the fathers of the American space program responsible for significant technological advancement – arguably one of the most important men of the 20th century given his contributions to what ultimately became the NASA jet propulsion laboratory – yet he believed that the world could not end until the the great judgment, and that the only way to do that was to usher in the end times. While developing advanced technologies such as solid fuel, he engaged in experiments that were designed to open the gates of Hell, turn him into the avatar of the anti-Christ, and destroy the world as a trigger mechanism for said end time judgment. He swore his work was being guided by demonic entities that he would summon and command, and that he regularly conversed with them after shifting space-time with the same research he was doing to get us to the moon. He regularly performed demonic rituals – some of which consisted of him sitting in a chair and *cough* touching himself *cough* as his friends stood around him and monitored for fluctuations in the “astral plains”. He would “employ” these entities from hell to do his work as they shared their knowledge with him. His wife was just as devoted to these beliefs; we’re taking full-on, old-school Babylonian magic rituals.
The U.S. Government let him do his thing, believe what he wanted, and then took all of his research for our military. As long as he was producing results, he was left alone. His plot was going … uh … well … I suppose (how, precisely, does one measure success in one’s attempt to become Satan incarnate on Earth?), but then he accidentally blew himself up. He was handling volatile chemicals when working on a contract for a special effects firm. That was the end of that.
The summation of my conclusion: Based on the current evidence and academic treatment of the topic, it seems Otherkin is a delusional coping mechanism used by the disenfranchised that fulfills the same emotional and psychological needs as a niche religion or cult without the restrictive moral codes. It allows someone to believe they are special, somehow different, to protect themselves from peer rejection.
There seems to be no harm in it, so being aggressively antagonistic about the truth would appear ill-advised, but I’m not a psychologist so I’d have to wait for more authoritative opinions on the matter before coming to a conclusion on that. Making fun of these people’s beliefs seems as cruel as unnecessarily ripping a security blanket away from a child. What is gained? What good results? I mean, what do you say to this:
Someone who believes something like this isn’t going to suddenly see the light when they are told they are not, in fact, a cat. They are not going to be convinced when you draw blood and show them a genetic sequence comparing their DNA to the DNA of a cat.
To get an idea of what a person like this thinks, read this Otherkin interview … it’s never just the Otherkin. There’s a mental health issue happening here.
I mean, the girl sings hymns to Corellon, who is an “Elven god” remembered from a past life. Except it’s not. Corellon is a character created for the board game Dungeons & Dragons. If your god is younger than the President of the United States or your accounting professor, and he was created as part of a commercial package sold by megacorporations to generate a profit for stockholders, there is a problem.
I should get back to work. I’m getting sidetracked. I’ll finish my study of “Otherkin” and throw it in the file cabinet; or virtual file cabinet, now that we are almost entirely paperless.