«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
It is precisely because of this latter reason—its relative compatibility with other worldviews, cultural currents, and lifestyles in contemporary society—that such an approach may prove to be more successful and effective in the long run.
236 7.4 Discussion
7.4.1 Findings contextualized in the literature The ‘spiritual-unitive, evolutionary ontology’ as described in 7.3.1 seems to be substantially informed by a psychological-developmental79 understanding of human behavior, in which insights of the development of the individual are applied to the social and collective sphere (see e.g. Habermas, 1976, for a robust academic articulation of such a view). Historically, the understanding of a larger evolution of the human-nature relationship (from symbiosis, differentiation and separation, to integration) can be traced to have Romantic roots. In Romanticism, the notion developed that the breach of reason with nature—characteristic of the Enlightenment-period—was necessary in order for human beings to develop their powers of reason and abstraction, but would eventually result in a return to nature at a higher level, having made a synthesis of reason and sensibility (see e.g.
Tarnas, 1991; C. Taylor, 1989).80 While for many of the interviewee’s human development expresses itself in “expanding moral circles,” or a morally expanded circle of care and compassion, several studies in the field of constructivist developmental psychology do indeed show that there is empirical support for an understanding of human (cognitive and moral) development as becoming gradually more expansive and inclusive, which is rooted in Piaget’s notion of decentration (see e.g. Cook-Greuter, 1999; Kegan, 1982; Kohlberg, 1984; P.
79 Theorists like Piaget, Kohlberg, Loevinger, Fowler, and Kegan (and more broadly speaking the school of cognitive developmentalism within psychology) conceive of development as progressing through hierarchical stages, in which each stage is shown to be more complex and differentiated than the preceding one, while it is also more integrated (Fowler, 1981; Kegan, 1982, 1994; Kohlberg, 1984; Loevinger, 1977, 1987). Higher levels of functioning or development therefore involve greater levels of (cognitive) differentiation and integration (Mc Adams, 1994).
80 In the words of Taylor (1989): “The expressivist philosophies of nature as a source tended to develop a theory of history which saw it as resembling a spiral, from a primitive undifferentiated unity, to a conflictual division between reason and sensibility, human and human, to a third and higher reconciliation, in which the gains of the second period, reason and freedom, were fully retained. This structure has its roots very obviously in the Christian picture of salvation history, from original Paradise, through a Fall, to ultimate Redemption.
But it is connected more immediately to millenarist developments out of Judeo-Christian thought, which were just then acquiring new political relevance” (p. 386).
237 Marshall, 2009; Piaget & Inhelder, 2000 ). In terms of their anthropology, many of the interviewee’s ideas about humanity’s vast—though generally unrealized—potential emerged powerfully during the 1960’s in the so-called Human Potential Movement. The adherents of this movement not only believed in the great potential lying dormant in the majority of human beings, but they also believed that the net effect of individuals starting to cultivate this potential would bring about positive social change at large (see e.g. Campbell, 2007;
Hanegraaff, 1996; Heelas, 1996). Abraham Maslow, whose ‘pyramid or hierarchy of needs’ was frequently referred to, was himself an important proponent of the Human Potential Movement (Hanegraaff, 1996).
In terms of this worldview’s epistemology, a generally critical and reflexive attitude is observed. According to Giddens, such reflexivity has become necessary in—and is indicative of—the ‘post-traditional society,’ as tradition is increasingly undermined, interrogated, and problematized, and thus no longer able to provide a firm set of norms and beliefs (Giddens, 2009; Kaspersen, 2000).
This is also in line with Inglehart and Welzel’s observation (2005) of the internalization of authority that characterizes post-industrial societies. That is, while the transition from traditional to industrial societies is characterized by a secularization of authority, the transition to a post-industrial society is characterized by emancipation from (external) authority—a process in which inner, subjective experience is emphasized and the authority of science is increasingly questioned. One can see this in the data in the emancipated stance of forging one’s own worldview, as well as in the generally critical perspective on science and society that these individuals tend to display. This process, which according to Inglehart (1997, 2008) is best understood as part of a larger process of intergenerational value- and worldview change linked with rising levels of existential security, is associated with many positive attributes such as increased tolerance and emancipation (of women, minorities, gays, nature and the environment, et cetera), overall well-being, political participation, and even good governance and the spread and flourishing of democratic institutions (see also Welzel et al., 2003). Simultaneously, several authors have criticized this internalized epistemology, because of its associated rejection of rationality, logic, and empiricism. According to these authors, a reliance on intuition and feeling cannot replace a proper appreciation of rational argument, the scientific method, 238 and its findings (see e.g. Campbell, 2007, 2010). For example also Charles Taylor (1989, p. 429) speaks of “subject-centeredness” as a great problem of our time. However, as I argue in section 7.3.2, the integrative worldview appears to be characterized by an emphasis on a triangulation and integration of multiple modes of knowing, rather than the prioritization of one over another (see e.g.
Benedikter & Molz, 2011; B. Taylor, 2010; Weeda, 1996). The emerging academic approach of Integral Research seems to be an attempt to formalize such ideas (see e.g. Esbjörn-Hargens, 2006; Esbjörn-Hargens & Wilber, 2006;
Hedlund, 2008, 2010; Lessem & Schieffer, 2008). Also the emergence of more integrative research approaches (e.g. mixed methods) and philosophies of science (pragmatism, critical realism, integral theory) could potentially be interpreted as guided by a similar impulse (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009;
Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011; R. B. Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004;
Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998). However, whether this active effort to triangulate and integrate successfully addresses these criticisms is, of course, unclear, and evaluating that is not within the scope of this chapter.
In terms of the axiology, this worldview appears to be characterized by a spiritual foundation and meaning of work (B. C. Brown, 2012a; see also B. C.
Brown, 2012b, who came to a similar observation), as well as the conviction that a morally good life is also a good life in terms of the quality of life. This perspective thereby overcomes the dichotomy between ‘doing good’ and ‘having fun,’ in which doing good tends to be associated with self-sacrifice and is understood as the opposite of enjoying oneself (see also K. W. Brown & Kasser, 2005; Corral Verdugo, 2012). Taylor (1989) traces this dissolution of the distinction between the ethical and the aesthetical to the Romantics, who found and affirmed a higher significance in their sensual and aesthetic pleasures. This is of interest in the context of positive psychology’s findings that there is a relationship between individual psychological health and well-being, and its social benefits as manifested in more altruistic, other-focused, and pro-social orientations (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Ryan et al., 2008; Weinstein et al., 2009), including more sustainable behaviors (K. W. Brown & Kasser, 2005; Corral Verdugo, Mireles-Acosta, Tapia-Fonllem, & Fraijo-Sing, 2011). Thus, as these studies seem to suggest, ‘feeling good’ and ‘doing good’ indeed appear to be far from mutually exclusive, and are instead related to each other. Moreover, a focus 239 on ‘inner growth’ is paramount in this worldview. This is particularly noteworthy in the context of the findings of chapter four, where the Inner growth worldview-factor emerged as a powerful determinant of more environment-friendly attitudes. Some studies have also shown that eudaimonic individuals, individuals characterized by psychological well-being, tend to be characterized by a commitment to their own growth, and tend to demonstrate more altruistic and pro-social orientations (Ryan, 1995; Ryan & Deci, 2000;
Ryan et al., 2008).
In the interviews it was also found that these individuals tend to depart from, what I labeled as, a more integrative/synthetic social imaginary—that is, a perspective that tries to bring together and synthesize different views, interests, and needs. In this context, an interesting argument was made in an essay with the provocative title The death of environmentalism (Shellenberger & Nordhaus, 2004). This essay accused the American environmental movement of conceptualizing environmental issues in such a (narrow) way that it necessarily results in a polarization of perspectives and interests, thereby undermining alliance building, cooperation, and synthesis with other interests groups (e.g.
industry, labor unions), and thus integration into larger society (see also Zimmerman, 2012). These authors thereby seem to advocate for a more integrative social imaginary, just as these interview-participants did. Of course, the opposite argument has been made too in the literature: according to some critics, environmental organizations are getting too integrated into society, tempering their calls for radical social change, and being co-opted or marginalized by capitalist forces in society (e.g. Fairhead et al., 2012; Mert, 2012). However, the participants in this study seem to perceive their own position as a more pragmatic, effective, and life-enhancing approach rather than as a ‘sell-out’ or a conformation to imposed norms.81 Generally speaking, according to the literature integrative approaches are characterized by attempting to move beyond ‘either/or’ thinking and instead plead for an inclusive
7.4.2 Methodological limitations Since the data were derived from a highly selective group of individuals, the possibilities for generalizing the data to a larger population are limited. For example, one could argue that the high-profile nature of these individuals invalidates the observation that their social imaginary tends to be of an integrative nature: perhaps their societal positions explain them as (as well as prescribe them to) being societally integrative, rather than their worldviews do.
This is a limitation that needs to be taken into account. At the same time, this theme is also encountered in the literature, suggesting that it cannot be exclusively ascribed to the social-economic status of these individuals. More generally, a comparison of the major findings with other studies—as I have done above—gives the impression that the views and values as articulated here are consistent with what is observed elsewhere (in comparable groups) in far advanced industrial societies. Moreover, no claims about causal relationships are made on the basis of this study. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, generally the interview-method does not prioritize generalizability, but rather aims to make a certain phenomenon understandable by generating an in-depth, insiderperspective into it (Seidman, 2006). Thus, the ‘thick descriptions,’ rich details, and ‘felt sense’ of this worldview as disclosed through this method, potentially serve to make this worldview intelligible—also for individuals who normally do not understand the world along these lines.
Next to the generalizability, the (construct-) validity needs to be considered as a potential methodological limitation. That is, how can one be sure that the selected individuals give access to the ‘integrative worldview’ that was intended to be explored here? Firstly, I do not claim that all of these individuals are inhabiting an ‘integrative worldview.’ In my analysis I have therefore focused on shared, recurring themes, rather than on the differences between individuals, thereby aiming to compensate for potential deviations. I have also contextualized my findings in the existing literature. Lastly, I have member-checked my results and interpretations with several participants (at least one from every group, that is from civil society; government and policy; business and finance; and 241 academia), thereby aiming to overcome, or at least mitigate, these limitations. I requested each of these individuals to read the entire article and comment back to me whether they felt that I described their worldview in an accurate way, whether they came across misinterpretations or mischaracterizations, and whether they felt that important themes or subjects where missing. Each of these individuals declared, apart from each other, that they felt the chapter described their worldview accurately and precisely. This seems to suggest that a minimum degree of validity can be assumed.
7.5 Conclusions The results of this study provide an analytical understanding and empathic insider-perspective into what appears to be an emerging worldview, as reported in 20 semi-structured interviews with integratibe environmental leaders in North-Western Europe (the Netherlands) and North-America (the USA), and contextualizes these findings in the literature.