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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/4/20

Worldview Reflection and Coming to Terms with a Terminal Prognosis for Civilization

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Our Fragile Earth
Our Fragile Earth
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I do not mean to frighten anyone with my title. I see coming to terms with a terminal prognosis as an opportunity, not a crisis. In fact, "the end of civilization as we know it" might be "just what the doctor ordered." I'm smiling at the truthful but sardonic irony of having joined these two idioms in one sentence. As much as it makes my point, it also conveys the kind of contradiction I hope to expose here. I find "doctor's orders" and modern civilization both tend to represent our Dominant Worldview (DW). I propose DW is the source of our existential crises today, one we must quickly replace with our Indigenous Worldview (IW) that guided human life on Earth for 99% of human history

Doing so, as might be imagined, is a difficult road in or out of Indian country within Canada or the United States. Even with truth and reconciliation accomplishments, fluency with an Indigenous language, dedication to participating in the relatively few traditional ceremonies still remembered and overcoming reservation diseases such as alcoholism, diabetes or PTSD, courage is necessary. I refer to the level of courage that understands generosity, compassion and autonomy in behalf of truth-seeking for the greater good are its highest expressions.

Have a look at numbers 2, 4, 9, 15, 16, 23, 35, and 37 in the worldview comparison chart below. It seems Western medicine, as useful as it may be sometimes, too often reflects the DW values and thus can lead to iatrogenic outcomes. Consider #2 and how our over-dependence on the authority and presumed wisdom of physicians reveals levels of fear supported by DW that do not exist under IW when it flourishes in spite of the influence of anti-Indian hegemony that surrounds us. Take a moment to look at the others as well and think about how we might find ourselves on the wrong path if we abide by the DW side of things. I have some personal experience that might illustrate how my Indigenous worldview has guided me in the medical arena. In 2008, I was diagnoses with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, considered a "terminal cancer." Instead of following emphatic prescriptions for surgery and chemo or radiation, I opted for exercise, a healthier diet, lots of sun, stress management via Indigenous worldview, self-hypnosis, and spirituality. Tumors disappeared by 2011. In early 2019, they came back. A PET scan revealed a SUV of 22, considered to convey a very aggressive malignancy. I think this happened because during 2017 and 2018 and allowed the dominant worldview to sneak up on me. Although willing to consider chemo this time, using my fearless trust in the universe and right action, I decided to get back on the path that worked previously. Now the tumor is shrinking again in . Of course, with my hard-working immune system and my age, I may be at high risk as relates to COVID-19. Without fear of this, however, and with a passion to continue teach how to re-embracing IW in behalf of future generations, I proceed to see the beauty that still exists in life amidst the insanity all around.

As for my reference to "the end of civilization as we know it," my concern is truly for future generations, and this is the focus I wish to help the reader "come to terms with" via this essay. This is ultimately what Indigenizing education is all about. Continuing a civilization that gives little hope for life-affirming futures is not an option under IW. Hopefully the Corona pandemic can help us realize that without significantly modifying DW and moving into the right column of the chart, things will continue to go downhill. Moving back to our original worldview requires a major change in all systems, and this includes doing everything we can to support the remaining Indigenous Peoples, their sovereignty, cultures, and languages as we reconstruct our social, psychological and economic assumptions about our place in the world.

(Image by Four Arrows, The Red Road (IAP, 2020))   Details   DMCA

(Image by Four Arrows, The Red Road (IAP, 2020))   Details   DMCA


Worldview has a foundational role in addressing our complex, interconnected ecological issues. However, it is challenging to employ metacognitive reflection about one's worldview without comparing it to one that is significantly different. To solve this problem, many scholars are contrasting the dominant worldview with the Indigenous worldview, and the chart above reflects their research. Think of a worldview as the proverbial water in which we swim but do not notice. Without awareness of the connection between the worldview that guides our decisions, we are doomed to experiencing more and more extinction events.

This relationship between worldview and our dangerous situation becomes especially crucial when we accept the notion, first proposed by the father of social anthropology, Robert Redfield, that there are only two historically observable worldviews. One is the original, nature-based one that guided humanity for around 99% of human existence on the Earth. The other is the current, human-centered one that has dominated all civilizations for the past 10,000 years or so. The first one we can call the Indigenous Worldview (IW), the second, the Dominant Worldview (DW). All other concepts, such as paradigm, culture, religion, ideology, or beliefs, fall under the umbrella of one or the other. Thus, under IW are precepts that the great diversity of Indigenous nations and people have in common despite very different cultures, spiritual traditions, languages, etc. Similarly, under DW, there exists a great diversity of cultures, religions, and beliefs. How IW precepts differ from DW precepts explains the foundation for the unique set of problems that have faced humanity during the past 1 percent of history, including pandemics.

Pandemics and Terminal Possibilities

Without doubt, the current COVID-19 is a result of DW. Although humans have always suffered from infectious diseases, including those living in small bands as gatherer and hunters, pandemics did not exist until around 10,000 years ago with the development of large scale agriculture, large cities and a steep increase in human population. This was when we moved away from our Nature-based worldview and created a new one. Most of the tragic infectious diseases that have hit human societies result from this. Under DW, humans destroyed or disrupted ecosystems in ways that have allowed animal pathogens to increase and cross over to humans. Throughout Western history, we have lived in unsanitary conditions in proximity to displaced wild animals. We live close to large-scale confinement and/or slaughter of animals for food. Although pandemics are only one of the many threats to human existence, including climate change, ocean and land extinction rates, polluted air and water, and world war, they all result from the worldview that emerged with or preceded the growth of large-scale agriculture, animal husbandry and overpopulation.

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Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows) is a professor at Fielding Graduate University. Former Director of Education at Oglala Lakota College, he is a made-relative of the Oglala and a Sun Dancer. Selected by AERO for their text Turning Points as one of 27 (more...)
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