Today, we're going to be talking about something... scary. Something spooky. Something so outright terrifying that it might change the way that you view every single person you meet for the rest of your life. Hell, we might even change the way that you view yourself. Today, we're talking about phantasms. 
How do you know whether or not you're possessed? What does possession feel like? What does it look like? Obviously, we can conjure up images of The Exorcism, where a young lady is tied to a bed screaming in a demonic voice about the end of times, but that's the final product. The end of the road. What about everything before that? We very rarely see that perspective covered in media in such an iconic way. There's been a few great examples of course, but typically we're the loved ones, slowly coming to terms with the ghost now inhabiting our loved one. To, me, that concept is much less scary. Don't get me wrong, I would hate to see my boyfriend get inhabited by a demon, but at that point you have the easy role. You get to stand at the side lines throwing holy water and screaming. Much scarier, in my opinion, is to be the one that loses yourself. What is that experience? Because, normally it's not as simple as just waking up and suddenly "Oops I'm evil." It starts small. Innocuous. You might make an off color comment or two, act in a way that seems atypical to who you normally are. It's subtle. Maybe you're just stressed? Maybe you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. 
The scariest version of this concept to me is a possessor that you can't feel at all. Like a lobster boiling in a pot, the dial slowly slides farther and farther a little bit at a time. So slowly that even the people around you can't see it. By the time it's too late, they'll say "oh you've always been this way." It's the kind of possession where you stop and look in the mirror 10 years later and say "What happened to me? Who am I?" 
I believe in possession. But I don't believe in ghosts. No paranormal of any kind really. When I talk about possession, I'm referring to ideas. When I talk about phantasms, I'm talking about Plato's description of a phantasm. Yup, gotcha again! It's a philosophy article!
Wait! Hold on! Don't click away! I promise you, if you were a fan of the start of this article, philosophical phantasms are so very much more terrifying. 
If you're a fan of the magazine, you may have already heard us talk about phantasms. Although not by name. You see, much like a ghost, it's tricky to pin down the definition perfectly. That said, I'll give it a try here. We all have a lens through which we view the world. But not just any lens. It's one with a filter. As we go through our lives, things get added to our lens. Our culture, our connections, our experiences. Each of these things warp our perception of whatever else we see. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day, that's just learning. Phantasms on the other hand, are the rejection of this idea. When it comes to learning, it goes like this. You see something in the world, it creates a connection in your brain, and wow look at that you learned something. Maybe it's how to solve a particularly tricky math problem, maybe it's how to find your way through a forest, or maybe it's learning where just exactly your partner likes to be scratched. In a phantasm, on the other hand, the opposite idea is true. With a phanstasm, you start with the finished product, a connection, and then desperately seek out information that supports your idea. 
Say for instance that you hate the idea of trans people. You're a believer in the idea that the queer agenda is actually trying to transify all the kids as part of some new world order scheme. This position as a concept is absolutely unjustifiable. Not only that, but "That group has a secret cabal and they're doing schemes" is one of the most played out bigot tropes there's ever been. And yet, it's something that a lot of people seem to believe. Why is that? Have they seen proof? Evidence? If you ask them, of course they have. But in reality, if there was actual proof that that conspiracy was real it'd be something we were tall talking about. As someone who's gender complicated myself I can assure you I've never gotten a queer illuminati invitation. So what's happening here? 
Ideas need food. If you believe something and there's absolutely no proof of it, that means you might be crazy. And you don't want to be crazy. So instead, you seek out things that prove your point, or as close to it, as much as you can. Say that you see a picture of a drag queen in schools reading to children. Clearly that's exposing kids to inappropriate ideas. What about taking kids to pride parades? Awful, abysmal. And all this queer stuff in TV nowadays? If you're someone who believes in this phantasm, all of that goes to prove your point. And there's not really a way to argue against it. To them, there's no difference between representation and indoctrination. That line is too blurred for them to see, and so all of it becomes evil. And it gets worse. See, the thing about phantasms is that the less believable they are, the more powerful they become. 
Say I say a specific episode in a show is trying to push the queer agenda. Well, that's easy to test. You can watch that episode and see for yourself whether that's true or not. If someone says a whole show is pushing the agenda, it gets more complicated. Maybe the show has a couple seasons. It's suddenly much harder to watch the whole thing. It requires more time. But what if then I say that it's actually a whole network, or streaming service? It's Netflix as a whole that's pushing the agenda. What can you do at that point to disprove it? Are you going to watch every single Netflix show? Are you going to test the algorithm yourself, figure out if secretly they're pushing certain content on certain types of people? And even if you did, how would you prove it? What if I said that "big media" in general was trying to transify the kids? Suddenly, the concept is so big, and so out there that it's impossible to prove it one way or another. There's always going to be some kind of train of sub-reality that you can ride to keep your opinion intact. Which is why people can say "This episode of this show is woke-ing the kids." and you can say "What are you talking about, I watched it and there's nothing even about that." And they can say "You're just not seeing the bigger picture. You're short sighted." This is true of all phantasms. The larger they are, the more powerful they are, even if that size takes them fully out of reality. 
Another interesting part about possession is where the ghost comes from in the first place. Sometimes it's past trauma in the house, sometimes it's just vaguely from "Hell." But there's rarely an explanation as to why this specific situation caused possession while others don't. This is true of phantasms as well. I mentioned before that a phantasm causes you to start with an idea and then find things to prove that idea. But where do those first ideas come from? This is what I like to call a "mass possession." Let's use 15 minute cities as an example. You may have heard of the idea before. It's the idea that our goal when designing cities should be that we can get to everything we need within a 15 minute bike. This helps limit traffic, pollution, creates thriving neighborhoods, and just in general seems very convenient. If you've heard about 15 minute cities however, it's probably not as a trendy urban planning concept. Instead, you've probably heard about the conspiracies. The idea that the concept of 15 minute cities is designed to take people's cars away, and keep them docile. It's the next step in the plan of the new world order to limit freedom and force everyone to eat insects.  
If you're a rational human being, this probably doesn't make a lot of sense. And if you're someone who hasn't heard about 15 minute cities this is probably extra confusing sounding. And yet, this is a real idea held by real people. Lots of them in fact. Prominent right wing talking heads and politicians have all talked about this. So, where did this idea come from? Turns out, the origin is much less paranormal, and much more evil. As found in the report "Climate Lockdown and the Culture Wars", put out by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, the origin of the 15 minute city conspiracy came from prominent right wing think tanks funded by oil companies. As soon as I learned about that, it all suddenly made sense to me. You see, if you can bike everywhere in 15 minutes, you'll probably end up driving a lot less, which really hurts the bottom line of the companies making billions of dollars selling gas. This conspiracy didn't come from the minds of people already trapped within ideologies. This was a man made ghost, and boy was it ever infectious. People deep in their phantasms, already mostly possessed, were eager to eat up a new conspiracy to talk about. More evidence to feed their ghosts. And those people spread it down the line farther and farther, the phantasm growing in power until it was enough of a talking point that it was a reasonable stance to take on live television. 
The most dangerous kinds of phantasms are the ones accepted by everyone. At that point, the filter is no longer a filter, it's just reality, as far as a society is concerned. And it's those who don't see it who are strange. 
If you've made it this far, hey thanks! I tried to mention dogs in there at least once to keep you going. Don't worry, here's where we're going to start talking about us. 
If you're someone who likes to think ahead, you've probably already considered what a lot of this means for us as zoosexuals. There's a huge phantasm that exists around us not only as individuals, but as a concept. We're tied into so many other ideas that it can be hard to even understand what people feel about us. We're a right wing psy-op, but we're also leftists who've gone too far. The phantasm about zoos is especially powerful, because even the act of agreeing with us about anything is seen as evil. The gap between what people believe about us and who we actually are is massive. And that gap purely exists in the forced misunderstanding. 
A line that I hear all the time is about sex with animals and injuries. I've been told by at least a thousand people that by nature any sex between a human and an animal causes harm. Which, just in its entirety is a non-sensical argument. First of all, it's always harm to the animal, regardless of what positions each partner is taking. Of course, if it was harmful to the human alone it wouldn't be a good argument. But then just getting into the details, if a human male mates with a female horse, I fail to see where the harm is, or why there would be an assumption of harm. If a male dog mates with a female human, how is the male dog getting injured from that encounter? Ask a dog breeder or a veterinarian: human tissue is not literal Kryptonite to animal tissue, it is entirely possible for humans and animals to touch each other's genitals and not be injured in the process. Those are facts, and therefore meaningless to the phantasm. Instead, they'll talk about Mr. Hands and say having sex with horses is fatal, ignoring the thousands of videos of people doing as such on the internet they could find right now. They'll bring up the existence of animal sexual abuse, even though human sexual abuse exists as well, and that's not a reason why all sex is bad. The position isn't logically consistent, but it doesn't matter. Reality doesn't matter. This exists for pretty much every position against zoosexuals. The arguments aren't real arguments. They're statements, made to be accepted without question, because earnest, mature, reasonable questions are antithetical to the statement. 
The issue here is clear. People (Some people: those who have been possessed by the phantasm) don't want animals to be able to consent. People don't want zoos to be right. It doesn't really matter what we say, or what we prove. None of that is what we're fighting against. 
Why do phantasms exist? We've already talked about where they come from, but why do we as humans adopt them, and why do we protect them so strongly? The answer is simple. At the end of the day, it's just human nature. We hate being wrong. We hate having to confront uncomfortable ideas. We hate change, especially if we're the thing that needs changing.
Say you're a politician who makes their platform on hating queer people. It doesn't matter how many amazing lifetime movies about queer couples you watch, that's never going to make you think better of queer people. Because you've made being against the queers part of your identity, and the value of that self-reflection is never going to be more powerful than your drive to be correct. 
Say you're a meat eater, and you understand that factory farming is awful, and that the slaughter of millions of animals is bad from both an environmental and moral lens. You might even know that if you did any amount of research into what that process actually looks like, you'd be likely to never be able to eat a chicken again. But, you don't want to be vegan. You don't want to stop eating meat. You don't even want to consider the alternatives. Being a meat eater is a part of you, and if you stop to ask yourself why, it'll hurt you. And so, rather than face reality, you just choose to not think about it. 
Say you're an anti zoo. You're someone who cares about animals. You really like them in fact. You'd maybe even consider yourself an animal advocate. But, you're also busy. You go to school, you work, your life is stressful. You understand that there are hundreds of legitimately abusive things out in the world for animals. Hell, you even echo most of what I said in the last paragraph about meat eating. But those are all big corporations. That would be hard. You know what's not hard though? Hating zoophiles. You don't need to learn about them, or try and understand their points. Everyone hates zoophiles. There doesn't need to be more than that. Anything they say is wrong by default. Even if they're preaching something like veganism, they're doing it for the wrong reasons. It's bad. You can just repeat the same worn out phrases and feel good about yourself. See, you're an animal advocate after all! Taking down factory farming would be infinitely better for animals on a whole, but that would be tiring and hard and you don't know how to start. But this? This is perfect. 
How do you banish a phantasm? Well, honestly, it's not easy. Werewolves you use silver bullets. Vampires it's a stake to the heart. But ghosts? It's a lot more intimate. More personal. Here's the unfortunate truth about possessions. Sometimes, people are just too far gone. Sometimes the idea's taken root so deep in their persona that it's a core belief. Something they could never shake. 
Not everyone is like that though. There are some people who are still in the early stages. And there are plenty more who haven't been influenced at all yet. When it comes to phantasms, prevention is protection. A robust education system, encouraging people to explore on their own and learn how to learn. Phantasms are antithetical to learning, so the only way to beat them is through education. 
And for us as zoos, what we're trying to teach is simple. There's a perception of what zoos are to a lot of people. The best thing we can do to fight against that is to just be ourselves. Phantasms feed on distorted facts, but in the same way facts are the only way to fight them. The more we can be ourselves, and show we care about animals, and that we want to help them live better lives too, the more cognitive dissonance we create between the eye of the viewer and the lens they see through. Until eventually, much in the same way that it was created, the possession is over and the phantasm is gone. It's not something we can force. Trying to directly only makes it stronger. But that doesn't mean we don't have ways to fight back. 
Keep being your true zooey self. Keep being open and loud and proud. And let's go hunt some ghosts. 
Article written by Tarro (May 2024) 
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