«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
90 Academically, we perhaps also see this in the emergence of 'integral research' (see e.g.
Esbjörn-Hargens, 2006; Esbjörn-Hargens & Wilber, 2006; Hedlund, 2010; Lessem & 261 integrative/synthetic nature of the social imaginary or societal vision, and the articulations of interview-participants emphasizing that they do not aim to polarize against modernity—for example in the form of science and technology or economic growth—but that they prefer to, in the words of one participant, “work with the system rather than against the system.” This does not mean that they are not aware of the shadow-sides of modernity; in fact, the interviewee’s generally appeared to be quite critical of many aspects of modern society.
However, generally their emphasis appears to be on constructively bringing together and where possible synthesizing different perspectives. Moreover, in its commitment to a spiritual-unitive developmental or evolutionary ontology, the integrative worldview also appears to be compatible with modern notions of ‘progress’ and ‘development,’ although it tends to be a more complex nuanced, tendential, and contingent notion of progress, which is generally also interpreted in a more spiritual sense (see also Hanegraaff, 1996, discussing the role and understanding of the concept of evolution in the New Age) and distinguishes itself from, and perhaps appears to overcome, the more nihilistic understandings of postmodernity—that is, postmodernist’s rejection of meta-narratives and their assertion that there is no overarching meaning or direction to history.
The potentials and pitfalls (and more regressive and progressive/ integrative tendencies) of the culture of contemporary spirituality as observed in chapter six appear to interact with this process. However, this is not to suggest that the regressive tendencies are necessarily associated with the postmodern strand of contemporary spirituality, and the progressive/integrative tendencies necessarily with the integrative worldview, although in certain instances that may be true. More likely is that both worldviews—both the postmodern and the integrative strands of contemporary spirituality—display their own potentials and pitfalls. The potentials and pitfalls as formulated in chapter six may thus belong to either the more postmodern or the more integrative strand. For example, the commercialization of spirituality as pitfall may be a result of the integrative strands attempting to integrate the more materialistic culture of modernity. On the other hand, the lack of adequate integration and the sometimes wholesale rejection of certain achievements of modernity (such as Schieffer, 2008) and integrative philosophies of science (e.g. pragmatism, critical realism, integral theory).
262 aspects of science, rationality, technology, et cetera) may be a pitfall particular to the postmodern strand. As several observers have commented, the culture of contemporary spirituality has also had its own historic development and evolution, as evident in the changes in the movement since notably the sixties (e.g. Hanegraaff, 1996). Thus, potentially the culture of contemporary spirituality could itself be understood as manifesting the process of dialectical development, displaying a gradual transition from a more postmodern to a more integrative worldview. This is, of course, a mere hypothesis that needs to be further investigated and substantiated in future research.
Table 14: The expanded IWF ideal-typically delineates traditional, modern, postmodern, and integrative worldviews in the contemporary West, using the five worldview-aspects as organizing scheme.
265 8.2.3 General principles for application of the IWF In including each of the four major worldview-structures—traditional, modern, postmodern, and integrative—the IWF attempts to illuminate how different worldviews exist in complex, dynamic interrelationship with a plurality of other worldviews (as well as with biophysical, political, economic, and institutional dimensions of reality). This understanding aspires to enact an empathic disposition in one’s relating to other worldviews. A basic premise of the IWF is that every worldview has intrinsic value and can make important contributions to the larger whole (see e.g. Wilber, 2000). Similarly, the IWF posits that no worldview is intrinsically ‘better’ than another; rather, worldviews should be seen as deep structures that can come to expression in more and less healthy—and more and less ecologically sustainable—ways (see also Stein, 2012). This means, as several authors have pointed out, that every worldview at least has the potential for ecological expressions (see e.g. Esbjörn-Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009).91 By being aware of the potential of each worldview—that is, its healthy values and enduring truths—one is empowered, in one’s understanding of and communication with other worldviews, to orient towards supporting these potentials, rather than activating their less optimal expressions.
It is also important to underscore that these worldviews should be understood as deep structures or underlying dynamical patterns that vary in terms of their culturally and individually relative surface contents or expressions (see e.g. Wilber, 2000, drawing on Noam Chomsky). For example, a traditional 91 Of great interest in this context is, for example, Vonk’s (2011) study on the religious worldviews, values, and environmental impact of Amish, Hutterite, Franciscan, and Benedictine communities. She demonstrates that these communities—which from the perspective of the IWF could be analyzed to be embedded in a more ideal-typically traditional worldview—adhere to and act from several values that are promising in the context of lowering one’s environmental impact. This is so, even though ecological values as such hardly play a role in their value hierarchies and are generally not mentioned as deliberate motivations for their behavioral choices. Moreover, their values not necessarily lead to a lower impact; for example, the Amish and Hutterites are known for their high birth rates, and an emphasis on moderation or thrift can also lead to buying cheap, polluting products rather than the frequently more expensive organically sound ones. However, despite this lack of explicit commitment to green values, these communities base their behavioral choices on other values, such as community, stability, moderation, humility, and reflection, which in many cases encourage behavioral choices with a relatively low impact on the environment.
266 ontology will be expressed through different surface contents depending on whether that worldview is situated within a Christian or Hindu religious-cultural context, but will share certain underlying commonalities.92 Furthermore, it is crucial to bear in mind that these worldviews are fundamentally not conceptualized as rigid characterizations of people, but rather refer to general homologies of perspective. Moreover, human beings are highly complex and can by definition not be exhaustively described through any theoretical framework.
Additionally, in my view, individuals do not simply hold one worldview in a monolithic manner, but rather tend to probabilistically inhabit a predominant worldview, while expressing elements of other worldviews depending on a variety of contextual variables. Thus, the accurate and ethical usage of this worldview framework depends on such a nuanced understanding.
It is also important to point out that although value priorities and orientations may shift with changing worldviews, most values and perspectives associated with earlier worldviews do not necessarily disappear: they simply decrease in exclusive priority as they become integrated as structural subcomponents of later worldviews, which transcend and include certain aspects of them, while jettisoning other elements (Wilber, 2000). For example, certain traditional and modern values remain within postmodern worldviews, but they may be considered to be a lower priority and visible only in some contexts and situations (O' Brien, 2009). Wilber elucidates this phenomenon by distinguishing between what he calls enduring and transitional structures.
Enduring structures are the elements of a worldview that, upon their emergence, persist in the developmental process, despite being subsumed and synthesized by a later worldview. Conversely, transitional structures are the worldviewelements that are phase-specific and thus are largely negated and replaced by later, subsequent structures in the developmental trajectory of emergent worldviews (Wilber, 2000).93 As I will discuss below, this rather technical
8.3 Applying the IWF for policy-making and communicative action In this section I attempt to demonstrate the practical value of the IWF, by applying it to reflexive policy-making and sustainability communications. In this context, the IWF serves three major purposes. First, the IWF can serve greater self-reflexivity vis-à-vis policy-makers and communicators’ own worldviews.
Such self-reflexivity appears to be essential for effective communications.
Secondly, I argue that the IWF can serve as an analytical tool to foster greater understanding of worldview-dynamics at play in sustainability-debates and issues, as well as in societal dynamics at large. Such an understanding of the worldviews operating amongst stakeholders or segments of the population is essential in order to generate effective policies and communications. Third, the IWF can potentially serve in the process of crafting effective communications, by tailoring them to resonate with different worldviews. I will now discuss each of these three major functions of the IWF in relation to aiding reflexive policymaking and communicative action for sustainable solutions.
8.3.1 IWF as heuristic for cultural and psychological self-reflexivity As several authors have argued, greater self-reflexivity is an essential prerequisite for creating effective policies and crafting effective communications in service of solutions to complex eco-social challenges such as climate change.
Such self-reflexivity, in my view, can be conceptualized as consisting of two dimensions: the cultural and psychological.
Cultural self-reflexivity has to do with the critical examination of the collective, cultural, or intersubjective elements of the worldview that one is changes in what people believe and want out of life tend to take place, the influence of cultural traditions does not disappear. While values can and will change, they continue to reflect a society’s cultural heritage” (p. 20).
268 embedded in. In this context, it has been argued that the lack of reflection on the dominant framing around global environmental issues such as climate change is problematic for communication strategies (De Boer et al., 2010; Nisbet, 2009; O' Brien et al., 2010). For example, Shellenberger and Nordhaus (2004) accuse the American environmental movement of “failing to question their most basic assumptions about the problem and the solution”—notably the assumption that the problem should be framed as ‘environmental.’ According to these authors, ‘the environment’ is a category that reinforces the idea that the environment is a ‘separate thing’ that humans are set apart from and superior to. Framing the problem as ‘environmental’ also may tend to reinforce a proclivity to understand it as a ‘special interest’ issue, rather than one that is potentially relevant for everyone’s basic safety, security, and (economic) well-being—that is, an issue that is relevant to basic concerns of everyone, irrespective of one's special interests.94 Thus, as these authors illustrate, all too often environmental communications appear to reflect a lack of self-reflexivity—that is, they succumb to an unconsciousness vis-à-vis the positionality of the communicator(s) own worldview and niche within the larger system of worldviews, thereby inadvertently rendering one’s own worldview paradigmatic for everyone else and projecting it onto the world.
The problematic nature of such an unreflexive approach reveals itself in practice when, for example, environmental groups concerned with climate change highlight the perilous plight of the polar bear as the clarion call for action. By appealing to the fate of the (both physically and emotionally far away) polar bear, rather than to speaking to the impacts of climate change on people's everyday world (e.g. food production, jobs, children's health), a more expansive and worldcentric value-set is assumed. From the perspective of the IWF, such a narrative is far from a strategic communicative leverage point, as it is likely to be appealing only to the limited segment of the public sphere that inhabits a postmodern worldview, and is thus more likely to be compelled by the 94 O’Brien et al. (2010) also question the accurateness and usefulness of framing climate change as an environmental problem, thereby giving rise to “a climate system that is separate and external to human activities,” resulting in a managerial discourse that points to “institutional and policy failures as the ultimate cause of the problem, and technocratic interventions as the solution” (p. 7).
269 environmental (or even planetcentric) values that such a communication seems to presuppose. Employing such a strategy will tend, at best, to dramatically delimit the potential for climate communications, and, at worst, generate negative associations for certain populations that may alienate them from further engagement with these issues (e.g., ‘Why are those environmentalists so worried about polar bears, when I and so many others are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet?!’. Or as a bumper sticker humorously phrased it: ‘Are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living?’). As several authors (e.g., Nisbet, 2009; Shellenberger & Nordhaus, 2004) contend, insufficient cultural selfreflexivity appears to be widespread within the contemporary context of sustainability communications and may be an important mechanism contributing to the lack of large-scale behavioral change and the various gridlock dynamics that tend to dominate stakeholder negotiations.