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General News    H4'ed 9/30/16

How Many Worldviews Are There? Is Only One Sustainable?

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Message Darcia Narvaez,Ph.D.
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David Abram and Four Arrows converse about worldviews

This is an email conversation between two colleagues who are part of the planning for the Sustainable Wisdom conference in September, 2016. David Abram (Wild Ethics) and Four Arrows clashed over the notion of "worldviews" and how many there are. Reading their conversation is a good way to learn about how different the dominant worldview is from that of most human societies across human existence, and how we must abandon it if we are to live wisely and sustainably.

Four Arrows: I think our conference fits as relates to the idea of there being only two essential worldviews relating to sustainable futures, the dominant one and the Indigenous one. I think this is what our conference does or can easily be framed as doing. Worldview study is emerging and although most scholars still cling to there being many worldviews, a substantial and growing literature is circling back to Redfield's idea that these two are what require critical contrast and complementarity when possible as relates to survival on this planet.

David Abram: Dear Four Arrows, I'm not sure that we'd be well served by claiming that there's "only two essential worldviews relating to sustainable futures" (in your comment just below)-- although I surely understand and probably concur with your general meaning. But hear me out --

For one thing, the dominant worldview doesn't relate to a sustainable future at all, so that doesn't really count!

But my main difficulty with the thought that -- as you say -- there are only TWO worldviews, is that it sets up a neat dichotomy (between the dominant view and the indigenous view), wherein one side is clearly problematic and bad, and the other is clearly beneficial and good. Now while I might, at first blush, find myself agreeing with such a pat contrast, as soon as I feel deeper into this way of framing things I begin to sense that there's something seriously amiss. Why? Because it's only the dominant worldview that tends to think and articulate things according to such neat dichotomies or dualisms ("this good"/"that bad") or to view things as though there is a pure Good (or God) working against a pure Evil (or DEvil).

Given that any indigenous worldview tends to draw deeply on the particular powers or agencies afoot in the surrounding earth (the various large and small animals that haunt the land thereabouts, including the particular wingeds and the specific finned folks that swim in these rivers or those lakes, or that migrate along that stretch of the coast), and the specific plants that grow in that broad bioregion, and the particular landforms and elements endemic to that place, including the specific weather powers that are operative in that part of the earth"etc.,, isn't it more appropriate to affirm that an indigenous solidarity with the local earth inevitably yields a multiplicity of worldviews in accordance with the outrageous diversity of earth's ecosystems or bioregions? Even just a couple hundred years ago it seems mighty unlikely any of the pueblo peoples dwelling here in this high desert region where I now live would have been willing to affirm much commonality, in their general view of the world, with the cosmology of any of the plains tribes, or with the cosmovision held by any of the northwest coast nations, or that of the Kayapo or the Huarani of the Amazon basin -- much less with the Yoruba or the Dogon or the Bushmen, or with the Pintupi or Pitjantjarra of central Australia.

Certainly, sure, we can now see a broad range of common elements in these astonishingly diverse and divergent indigenous cosmologies, philosophies, and worldviews. But I think I would argue that one of those common elements is an openness to the radical plurality of things, an affirmation of the inherently multiple nature of the manifold powers that compose the world, and hence a kind of built-in resistance to dichotomous or dualistic reasoning that juxtaposes a pure good to a pure bad. Or that juxtaposes "the dominant worldview" to "the indigenous worldview" as though the indigenous worldview was just ONE THING!

Without a doubt we need to encourage and enact a replenishment of indigenous sensibilities throughout the biosphere, to prepare and embark on a re-indigenization of the human species. Yes indeed! But when we invite ourselves and others to walk out of the over-civilized way of seeing, to step through the threshold into an indigenous way of feeling and seeing and sensing, we invite them into a world of uncanny and inexhaustible multiplicity, a world wherein spiders and humpback whales and hummingbirds have each their own experience and perspective on the real, wherein a clump of sagebrush or an aspen grove and even a thunderstorm has its own sentience, and hence into a world of worlds within worlds within worlds" A space of radical and irreducible pluralism that simply confounds, it seems to me, any attempt to juxtapose it AS ONE THING set over against ANOTHER thing. If we frame our argument in such a dichotomous and binary fashion, I fear we risk falling into and reinscribing the very mindset that we wish to undermine"

Okay. Please forgive. I don't mean to be a jerk here, Four Arrows, and again I reckon we deeply agree in all sortsa ways. I'm just raising a question about, well, strategy. (About our rhetorical strategy")

blessings to all --

in wildness and shadowed wonder,


Four Arrows: David, first please know how much I appreciate your frank and heart-felt response and no, I don't think you are a "jerk" at all for sharing as you have. I think it is a healthy dialogue of value to all of us. (Interestingly I had a similar conversation with another one of our colleagues about whether the ancient Greek philosophers agreed or not with Indigenous perspectives, in general). In my forthcoming book, show the difference is significant enough to talk about "different worldviews." I'm going to very briefly respond to each of your main points but know that the disagreement we have seems to be in our defining of "worldviews."

Indeed, your view is the one held by most worldview scholars, i.e. there are "multiple" ones. However, as I point out in the Introduction of my forthcoming book of which you now have all but the last chapter, calling cultures, religions, ideologies, beliefs, etc. "worldviews" does not really jibe with how the main worldview scholars I respect define it. Worldview is much deeper and more fundamental than philosophy, beliefs, cultures, etc. The great Robert Redfield from the University of Chicago was the first social anthropologist to make this claim for two essential, observable, relevant worldviews adding that the Oriental worldview offered a third until it was absorbed mostly by the "dominant" one (sometimes referred to as the Western one). That so much comparison work is done by scholars like Darcia Narvaez that focus on the Indigenous and the non-Indigenous, not bringing in third or fourth "worldviews," and not between two other "dichotomies" is more evidence that a larger concept of worldview is assumed- one that which stems from the pluralities of cultures and beliefs that exist under both worldviews. And note that in all my writing I emphasize the importance of complementarity that is fundamental to the "Indigenous worldview" as opposed to competition which is fundamental to the "dominant worldview." There is even potential complementarity between the two worldviews to which I refer and a number of prophesies speak to an eventual partnership.

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Darcia Narvaez,Ph.D. Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Darcia Narvaez is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. Her prior careers include professional musician, classroom music teacher, business owner, seminarian and middle school Spanish teacher. Dr. Narvaez’s current research explores how early life experience influences (more...)
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