«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
Moreover, all the interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and member-checked, which enabled both participants and researcher to reflect on the content of the interview with more distance, and made it possible to use personal quotations that directly convey the understanding of the individual, without going through the conceptualizations of the researcher.76 In order to disclose the shared worldview of the participants, I analyzed the interviews with the aim of categorizing content on the basis of similarity. For each category, I selected representative quotations and labeled them as much as possible according to the language and terms used by the participants themselves. In multiple coding cycles, I explored these different categories and how they related to each other, and refined, relabeled, subsumed, or dropped earlier categories altogether. This process was repeated several times, allowing me to identify the central themes forming a larger emergent pattern in the data.
Finally, I used the IWF as an analytical tool for organizing these themes, grouping them according to the worldview-aspects of ontology, epistemology, axiology, anthropology, and societal vision/social imaginary—as one will see in the results section below.
7.3.1 Evolutionary, spiritual-unitive ontology and a positive anthropology Nature was a prominent theme in all interviews: participants reported to have much love and respect for nature, and their relationship with nature appeared to be fairly reflexive—that is, something they tended to think about and reflect on.
Nearly all participants gave voice to a profound appreciation for nature, and many of them communicated a deep sensitivity to it. Feelings of awe and reverence for nature were frequently expressed. Generally, participants tended to see nature as intrinsically valuable—that is, as valuable in itself, independent of its (instrumental) value for human beings. In the words of one participant: “We need to rediscover a reverence for the natural world, irrespective of its usefulness to ourselves.” Others spoke of “respect for all life” as a guiding principle in their personal lives. Also, nearly all participants spoke of their sense to be part of, or connected to nature in quite profound ways.
Participants generally also displayed criticism about modern culture’s relationship with nature, often characterizing this relationship as “alienated,” “separated,” “instrumentalist” and/or “exploitative.” Simultaneously, many of them appeared to understand this alienated or exploitative relationship as a stage in a larger, evolutionary process, thus conceptualizing our current planetary challenges as part of a larger (generally dialectical) development. In this process, humanity was frequently understood to first forge a certain autonomy or even separation from nature—often seen as initiated in the Enlightenment and coming to full expression in Modernity—to then enter into a new, more conscious, relationship with nature. In this understanding, cultures as a whole move through several stages in their relationship with nature, from a sense of union/symbiosis with nature, through differentiation and separation, to 217 integration—ultimately resulting in a more mature relationship with nature. As
these participants put it:
We are no longer a part of nature, but an opposite. And in a way, we see that same development in children. In the beginning they are in a symbiotic way part of the mother. Later they start to differentiate, and become a separate entity. In that sense it is a very natural process. So what we are going through now is a process of the maturation of humanity, you could say. […] I think now is the time to start developing a mature relationship with this earth, this planet.
I am convinced that a new worldview is emerging, broadly speaking, a worldview based on a planetary, if not cosmic, consciousness. […] The notion of the fundamental unity of life, of existence, is the basis of this planetary consciousness. And that is a new, evolutionary, step. I’m inclined to understand it from an evolutionary perspective. […] In the history of humanity, you can see that in subsequent stages different forms of awareness emerge, in which human beings start to look at their reality with different eyes. […] In the Enlightenment, humanity placed itself outside of nature, in order to be able to study it objectively. And now, after a process of development based on the insights that came forth through that, a new worldview is emerging—as a result of the development that the European Enlightenment has brought forth. […] The step that we are making now, in my view, is that we consciously— that is, at a new level of consciousness—start to see ourselves as part of, and intricately related to, all of life and existence.
At all levels—whether you are looking at a planet, a population, a body, or the universe as a whole—we see self-organizing systems in which the different parts are connected with each other, yet are unique in themselves. The system has a general direction of becoming increasingly differentiated—we are becoming more aware of the differences between the parts—while there is simultaneously a movement towards increasing 218 integration, in which we are becoming more aware of the wholeness of all of it.
Several other participants articulated a similar understanding of a gradual social-cultural evolution characterizing (human) history, by posing the idea that human development leads cultures to increasingly include more of life in their moral regard—sometimes referred to as “expanding moral circles.” From this perspective, human history is seen as a gradual widening of ‘moral circles’— that is, circles that encapsulate all beings that are considered to deserve moral treatment: from oneself, the exclusivity of one’s own tribe or one’s own religious or ethnic group, the citizen of one’s nation, to all people in the world, despite race, class, sex, religion, and sexual preference, to finally include all of life and nature, resulting in the kind of planetary consciousness that was also alluded to in one of the above quotations. For example, one participant spoke about ‘animal rights’ as the next step in this emancipatory process, following the abolition of
slavery and the establishment of women rights. And another participant argued:
“It is necessary that humans gradually learn to think in bigger circles, beyond your own little ego, your own family, your working environment, your community—increasingly expanding outwards.” This developmental or evolutionary perspective on reality is also profoundly unitive, as comes to expression in participants’ reference to “the fundamental unity of life” and “the wholeness of all of it.” Participants tend to see the nature of reality as fundamentally interconnected. Often this understanding is based in a scientific understanding of reality. In the words of one participant, there is an “emergence of different ways of understanding our interdependence, and indeed our inter-existence. It could be systems theory, quantum theory, chaos theory, deep ecology, it could be eco-feminism […] the common ground is that we are organically interrelated.” Simultaneously, this interconnectedness is generally not seen as limited to the physical-material domain, but tends to be understood in a spiritual, metaphysical, or transcendental sense: the notion of an ensouled cosmos, an animated reality, or an anima mundi was a recurring theme in the data. Generally, participants voiced the sense or idea that a larger spiritual power or presence (or multiple spiritual powers and presences) animates and unites all of nature, even the whole universe, and can be experienced by anyone 219 able and willing to open her- or himself up to it. In the words of one participant, “the divine is not outside of us, outside of life. It is here, in us, in everything. I even think it is the core of what connects us all.” Other participants explained that they interpret the interconnectedness in the physical world as an expression or manifestation of a “deeper unity” or “bigger consciousness.” This perspective also appears to be related to the above-mentioned notion of the intrinsic value of nature, since this was often justified by the view that there is aliveness, intelligence, sentience, or value in all of nature. Along these lines, one participant
stated the following:
I view what we tend to call God […] as an energy that is present in all that is alive. That total energy, of which a piece is thus present in every human being, in every animal, in every plant, forms together an overarching whole. And that whole contains more than our earth and even the universe, perhaps several universes. We as human beings are thus a small part of that whole.
However, this ensouled view of reality was not shared by everyone; some said that they yearned “for a spiritual dimension,” while endorsing a more agnostic worldview. One participant expressed a more traditionally religious understanding of nature as not ensouled or sacred, but as God-created and therefore to be treated with respect and reverence, endorsing a view that is generally described as stewardship. However, most participants reported that they were not religious in a traditional sense, even though many of them explained that they had grown up in a religious milieu. Some explicitly re-interpreted the religious teachings of their youth in a more contemporary fashion. Take for example one participant, who synthesized a scientific with a more religious perspective, thereby overcoming the usual dichotomy between creation and
I grew up Catholic, and I see in the evolutionary process the forces of Creation. Assuming that the Big Bang theory is correct, the Big Bang itself, and everything that came after that, is a manifestation of a creative force. So the evolutionary process itself, including the emergence of the
Some speak in this context of a “re-sacralization” or “re-enchantment” of the world, in which the divine, first understood to be “out there,” now starts to be understood as “in here:” So there is a greater sense of the immanence of the sacred. We’ve projected the sacred out on divine figures, however we define them. That allowed us to discuss it and worship it and make great cathedrals, and symphonies—but it was removed. And now we are recapturing that projection and bringing it back. […] We created a divine being out there, put God out there. That tended after a while to de-sacralise the phenomenal world. So at this point it is very beautiful to see how in every religion there is a retrieval of that projection. So I call it an introjection, bringing it back to re-sacralise the world.
Directly related to this re-enchanted perspective on reality is participants’ anthropology. Most participants seemed to have a fairly positive view on human nature: a majority articulated the perspective that human beings have a vast—even though generally unrealized—potential, and thus have “unlimited” qualities, skills, and possibilities. Some participants stated a belief that every human being has an “authentic self,” a “true essence,” a “divine spark,” or “a God within.” Others articulated similar positions more cautiously. Besides that, participants frequently ascribed the less beautiful and/or less morally admirable aspects of human behavior to human beings being “cut off,” or “alienated” from their true essence, often seen to be a result of childhood traumas, rearing
Human nature is ultimately good. Deep down is all but essence. The ugliness we see is just because we’re lost. People want to be of service, in their depth. Sin doesn’t exist! The only thing that exists is places where the light didn’t reach.
I think human beings, under certain circumstances, tend towards the good. […] However, if you look at what is happening worldwide, think of Rwanda, or Gaza, you see a complex picture. But it does help me to assume the good in the human being. And I do think that if people have their basic needs met, at some point, deeper questions about the meaning and purpose of life emerge, as the pyramid of Maslow predicts. And then everybody seems to want to contribute, to do something good for the larger whole.
So a psychological-developmental view is in this context frequently applied: Several participants evoked the well-known ‘Pyramid of Maslow,’ which depicts a hierarchy of needs that humans go through in their development, from physiological and safety needs, to love/belonging, esteem, and ultimately self-actualization needs (Maslow, 1987 ). In this view, the extent to which human behavior is exhibiting humanity’s innate goodness, nobility, and unlimited potential tends to be understood as a result of the degree to which it has been developed and actualized. Simultaneously, some participants emphasized that the encounter with evil, conflict, and suffering is—
or at least can be—a motor behind human development:
[Evil] can serve very profound purposes, like moral development, discipline, strengthening. [We see it] in the ways in which humanity responds to evil—like the world wars, the Holocaust, and so forth—there is a moral development that took place through encountering that. […] Somehow human consciousness thrives on, grows through the encounter with intense conflict.
222 For many individuals, suffering and pain thereby gets meaning and a deeper purpose, as it can motivate one to grow (morally, spiritually, and otherwise) and actualize one’s potential. For example, several participants explained that when something unfortunate happens in their life, they try to look at what they can learn from the event, or reflect on “what life is trying to tell
me.” In the words of this participant:
What we call ‘mistakes’ or ‘wrong-doing,’ and it often also feels that way, is actually where we can change or come to new insights. In that way you also look at your own ‘mistakes’ in a more understanding and compassionate way, and see them as invitation for growth and transformation. And that leads to more peace and freedom.
Overall, a focus on ‘inner growth’ is paramount in this worldview.