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Worldviews, Part II
Hello again all,
I thought I would yet again take advantage of our wonderful forum for free-floating ideas. You know, I really have come to appreciate the opportunityfor unfettered and spontaneous (emergent!) exchange of ideas and thoughts.Rare is this in the rest of my world. Anyway, I have it on good advice toenjoy this abstract mental roaming while I have the chance. (OK, so I wasrecently told that I "sound like a student" which I took as acompliment, given that I am trying to finish my dissertation this summerand am throughly benefitting from this forum to inspire my writing.)
Arja's posting this morning helped clarify some more thoughts that havebeen percolating through my mind lately. It seems that we are (or at leastI am) navigating the murky waters between difference and dualism. I understandnow, thanks to Ann's and Arja's comments on dualism and values and objectivity,the loaded use of this term. I am in complete agreement that the deliberateand perhaps insidious separation of difference into hierarchically-valuedcategories is not useful for sustainability because this is one of, if notthe, root cause of unsustainability. Most importantly, I appreciate Arja'scomment that our reconciliation framework ought to avoid the trap of liningup values as somewhow "good" or "bad"- as associatedwith any dualistic property. (That is what I mean when I refer to "hierarchicaldualism"' i.e. as such, they are quite pathological in their implications.)
I also have been thinking about the usefulness of objectivity as a desirablegoal-for me too, its just a perspective. Yet I am cautious, once again,not to reject any perspective as "desirable" or "undesirable"because my ultimate goal, like Arja's, is sustainability and I have no ideawhat precise mix of perspectives will get me there. As with all issues ofcomplexity, a diversity of perspectives in different ratios, at differenttimes and scales along the journey is likely necessary (or some would say"redundant pathways" to use an ecological analogy).
Let me try to illustrate: I tend to think of myself as a "systemic"thinker, if I have to label myself. Why? Because to me this means that Itry to pursue unity of whole systems in my thinking-in other words, iteratingbetween holon and whole within any system of thought and practice. (Thiscould be distinguished from the dominant reductionist paradigm in that itmeans not compromising the whole's function for the optimisation of onescale. I can give examples if anyone thinks this is just way too abstractor unclear.) Anyway, for me, systemic thinking requires doing so at manydifferent scales and from multiple and different perspectives-somethingthat will surely require the whole of my lifetime to learn to do effectively...and even "undo" effectively (because like most of us, I have beenconditioned to think in a reductionist objective framework and have possiblydeveloped cognitive blocks to doing otherwise). Anyway, this means thatI am not "a reductionist", and nor am I "a holist" (because,as its opposite, this would negate the usefulness of reductionism.)
In short, I suppose I am trying to train myself in the art of inclusiveand iterative thought towards an "and/both" framework, ratherthe the binary logic of "either/or" that characterised my earlytraining in the sciences and "history". Maybe this is another"guiding principle" for our reconcilation framework?
In a related point, I want to thank Arja for her vital clarificationof one of the earlier guiding principles I proposed on flexibility and adaptibility.Arja suggested the explicit addition of institutional and organisationaladapatability (in a transformative sense) as necessary for SD. I could notagree more-insitutional re-invention and/or transformation is certainlyan essential implication of an adaptive framework. In my own work, I havebeen exploring what this means for planning instituion in particular, andgovernance in general. I have received helpful guidance and insight fromour colleague Greg Baeker, who is working in this area, specifically withcultural insitutions. Perhaps he will offer his thoughts on this when heintroduces himself and his work.
Finally, in re-reading my thoughts above, I may be taking a tentativefirst step at expressing my values as Caterina wisely suggested that wedo. I would like to take some time to think about how I can do this in amore revealing and explicit way, as Caterina suggested. In my own work andwriting, I have always emphasised the importance of making the pluralityand diversity of values explicit as a pre-condition to any ecosystem planningor policy excercise, precisely so that we can begin to understand why certainvalues predominate in power and decision-making, and others are not evengiven a voice, let alone seriously considered in the planning process. Yetwhen pressed to do so myself, I find I have a hard time doing this explicitly.For example, I usually need some issue, plan, or policy, around which tofocus my "critical analysis", through which my values are revealed,at least implicitly. I think Caterina's suggestion is powerful because itcould help some of us learn how to peel back the veils of "objectivity"that so often conceal our core values, and hence, the power that is associatedwith those values! Of course, we have been implicitly socialised to concealour values so effectively that we may no longer even recognise them.
I will take Caterina's task to heart, but will take some time to thinkabout how to frame my personal values statement in this regard. I wouldalso like to propose that this process (making values explicit) becomesa guiding principle for our reconcilation framework, for reasons discussedabove and by Ann, Arja, Caterina and others.
Wishing you all a good day and relaxing weekend,
Just a few comments to end my day. My head is swimming a bit from havingre-read some of the recent correspondences, but I will try to remain coherent.
That in fact is one of my first points. I do not know if it is relatedto the subjective/objective, left brain/right brain, reductionist/holist,or head/heart "schisms", but I must acknowledge in myself theneed for a certain balance between the two. In particular, I recognize apattern in expressing myself and my thoughts. I have a strong desire tobe clear and concise, which leads to, at times, an almost mechanistic style.This is because communication, particularly of "deep" ideas, isa very difficult task, and I try to be careful that the message receivedis the one that I intend to send, or at least as close as possible. It seemsto me that this is an issue that we may wish to consider as we deal withthe issue of reconciliation, as it does have some implications for the notionof a shared understanding.
Related to this, even given my reticence to speak out before I have achievedinternal coherence, I think that Catarina's idea of getting our personalvalues and beliefs out on the table is a good, albeit somewhat scary, idea.I, for one, would be interested to see what I come up with.
Back to the reconciliation. An important part of the balance is to learnfrom what has been accomplished by the more disciplinary and reductionistapproaches. It is important to look at interconnections and holes, but weshould not do so so exclusively that we do not use the lessons learned.Many good pieces of holistic work have been marred by making fundamentallymistaken assumptions about the workings of the parts that could have beeneasily recognized.
In response to Ann's request, I have not read the forum I mentioned backin February, but I will take it upon myself and provide a summary for thegroup.
Okay, I think I have rambled enough, plus my stomach is beginning torumble.
p.s. Without diversity, not only would life be boring, but it would alsobe pretty stagnant.
My goodness - the list certainly has come alive again! It must be theinvigorating spirit of spring (and perhaps the more mundane cycle of academicschedules.) The recent spurt of postings has prompted me to chime in onCaterina's suggestion to take some time to lay out our own values as anaid to discussion. I do agree with Caterina that this is a good idea, butthe thought is a bit daunting, as Nina-Marie and Dale have both suggested.
This group dialogue makes me think of the various interdisciplinary projectsthat I have been a part of over the last few years. I think one of Ann'sgoals in gathering this particular group of people together was for us toshare and build on our different knowledge bases and experiences. But oneof the things that I have learned about interdisciplinary research is justhow important process is. You can have all of the best guidelines on "how-to"do interdisciplinary research and "lessons learned" from previousefforts, but this doesn't replae process. Each new interdisciplinary researchteam has to take the time to build trust around the table. This is time-consumingand requires significant commitment to repeated meetings, etc. And it hasto be re-done with each new team to enable true collaboration and inter-(or trans) disciplinary research. It means more than just an intellectualknowledge of the disciplines of your collaborators, but a personal knowledgeof who you are dealing with, their assumptions - and as Caterina says, theirpersonal values.
From that perspective, I was interested to see how our group would developthis knowledge, without being able to meet face-to-face. Of course, we haveall worked on interdisciplinary projects before. Bur for me, I think theprospect of having to state my personal values is daunting because beingonline and relying only on written communication forces us to make themthat much more explicit. In face-to-face communication, we don't often haveto be so explicit; values are communicated in other ways, through workingthrough a problem, casual conversation before meetings, visual cues, etc.
So I suppose this message hasn't been strictly on the subject at hand(Ann's thesis), but is a bit of an indulgence - a muse on our process. Ihope you don't mind.
... from a very sunny and spring-like Vancouver afternoon,
I just read Christine's message and was nodding in agreement thoughout.She has described the importance of trust-building and values-recognitionin any multi- and inter-disciplinary decision-making process very well indeed.In fact, her posting almost perfectly describes my recent experience withone of the cases in my research. I thought I would share some of it withyou here.
I am part of a multi-disciplinary planning team for a natural area insouthern Ontario. The planning process has been so emotionally draining,time consuming and frustrating for all the stakeholders as we navigate theground within and between one another's "disciplinary" territoriesand experiences. We (well, most of the participants) have fought, bickered,threatened to quit, laughed, yelled and more. AND, tomorrow we are goingto pop champagne and "do some thing unprofessional" in the wordsof our Chairperson, to celebrate a key victory for our group.
What I found interesting was his choice of words: he wanted to rewardthe group with a celebratory and "unprofessional" (meaning, uncharacteristicallyopen, relaxed, and warm) meeting because he recognised that we had overcomea key barrier in our process and we needed to celebrate. Furthermore, herecognised that we needed to feel appreciated. This is very telling to mebecause the group is quite traditional and typical of institutional decisionmakers... or at least it WAS, before all the emotional outpouring and frustrationtook place. Now, it seems that the group has made an investment of sorts:we have a shared sense of purpose, trust and respect-something that Christineidentified takes a lot of time and energy to achieve. However, now thatwe have come through this watershed and "made the investment",I beleive that the group will have relatively little trouble getting onwith the task at hand, and will likely also have a tenacious sense of stewardshipand ownership over the process and the resulting product. (Something I amalready seeing signs of.)
I wanted to share this experience because it really harkens to the coreof Christine's experience, according to her posting anyway. Also, in thisprocess with which I am involved, I had been an advocate of getting a personalvalues statement regarding the project from everyone at the table, but Imet with continual and profound resistance-not explicitly, but implicitly,in the form of barriers to communication, lack of response, being sidelined,ignored and even patronised and my contributions minimised in the discussion.Very interesting stuff to see how entrenched the myth of "objectivity"is, but even more interesting to me was the obvious discomfort some of thepeople had with the idea. (In case someone is wondering about the profileof this group, I am one of 2 women (we are also the youngest) among a groupof 12 men who are middle-aged, Anglo/European, white, and bureaucrats, engineers,or university professors by profession.)
I am still grappling with trying to make a "values statement"for this forum, in a virtual way, seeing as we aren't able to see/hear thenuances of personal communication to which Christine alluded.
After Christine's and Nina-Marie's messages, I have had this values thingbuzzing in my head. Why is it so difficult to articulate values that reallyare quite well articulated in our practice every day? I realize how seldomit is that we are really called to state those beliefs, ideas, values orwhatever that are the road map we use for guidance in making decisions.
I was folding laundry this morning, and came upon what I call my "ethicsT-shirt". It says: "Fuck that weak shit! Stop patriarchy. Fighthomophobia. Kill your TV. Question authority. Take risks & Think foryourself". In addition every "o" in the text is a women'ssymbol with the cross hanging off it. I think that this is actually a prettygood start for articulating my values. Here is why:
"Fuck that weak shit!": This is probably put more colourfullythan I would normally, but the fact is that I am often frustrated by thewishy-washiness of the sustainability debate. I think that there are thingsthat are not only good but key; diversity, tolerance, inclusiveness, participatoryprocesses, and things that are bad: the opposites of the above. I thinkthat often in our attempts to reach consensus, we accomodate perspectivesthat are not sustainable, or "true" to us. Like apologizing forbeing feminists, like working around a strong corporate agenda to keep economicissues at the centre of sustainability.
"Stop patriarchy": For me this refers to the kind of critiquesof science we have had on this list. Patriarchy is what all dualisms havegrown out of. It is what has restricted our creativity in philosophy, scienceand institutional development.
"Fight homophobia": Sustainability is dependent of tolerancefor all kinds of diversity. Homophobia is a good example of the ills ofthe society. It is a prejudice that exists because in our society it isacceptable to annihilate the "other's existence": whether it bethe dandelion violating the green of our lawns, or some difference in theway we live. It is so important that people take on "fights" forthose who are unlike themselves. Homophobia can never be fought effectively,if it is only lesbian and gay voices that do the fighting.
"Kill your TV": I am not sure how this works, but I feel thatI need to articulate some kind of relationship to media as part of a strategytowards sustainability. Education is such a fundamental strategy towardschange, but I am not sure that the current structures of media organizationsare what our focus should be on, or whether it is something completely differentwe should focus on.
"Question authority": As I have said before, power is the centralissue in sustainability. Before we somehow shake up the current, entrenchedlocation of power; nothing is going to change about the way we treat theenvironment, and nothing is going to change about the way we distributewealth and resources.
"Take risks": Always looking for the safest alternatives, entrenchesus further. Flexibility, adaptability and change.
"Think for yourself": We so obviously need change; new perspectives,creativity.
And those women's symbols that are scattered throughout this text; theysuggest to me the springboard that I will be jumping from. Towards changeand towards meetings with others who are using different springboards (orno springboards).
I'm off my soapbox, and will be away for three weeks. Look forward tocatching up in June!
At the barricades, Arja
Arja has just made my day! HEAR, HEAR - thanks for the passionate statementof values! With this, Arja has provided just the example I needed to stoptip-toeing around the edge of the deep end. I suddenly remembered this feelingfrom when I was six, standing at the edge of the neighbourhood pool whena bigger kid I admired pushed past me, shrieked, laughed and leaped in.My fears were still there, but the apparent joy of that jump was too temptingto resist... and I did it. All I needed to do was open my eyes, jump inand drown in the exhiliration! I suddenly understood that the whole pointwas to revel in the rush of freedom that comes with letting go in the jump.(And the water really wasn't THAT cold after all!)
I should emphasise that (with this group at least) my fear was not somuch of revealing my core values, but of how to articulate the implict practicesof our everday lives. I asked myself, "Who am I and who do I want tobe? How can I show myself to this group in a meaningful way? How do I frameand ground my values in a simple (rather than simplistic) way?" Arja'spathway to do this was her t-shirt, and this was a powerful example. I realisedthat I really do have a set of "credos" that reveal my ethicalprinciples and to which I aspire... credos that might actually be more powerfuland socially meaningful if I could turn them into t-shirt slogans or the"bumper-sticker logic" and snazzy sound-bites demanded by ourmedia. So, borrowing from many voices over the years, here goes:
At the risk of being trite, here are (five of) Nina-Marie's life credos....
Revel in uniqueness. Be amazed by the variety. Delight at nature's bounty,recognise and appreciate that this is an essence of humanity. (There's evenmore choice than toothpastes at Walmart). Go beyond tolerance and learnfrom difference. Set an example and speak up noisily for diversity in culture,religion, sexuality, language, nature, hair and gardening styles. It's whowe are, so live it, love it, be it.
Complexity is a hallmark paradox of life, so fragile yet so resilient.Expect no simple answers to complex problems. Get into the layers of theproblem. Seek out patterns at all scales and delight in, rather than fearthem. Dive below the surface. Don't bore your human mind with 2-dimensions,try 5 or more. Debate it, yell about it, ask your neighbour to coffee todiscuss it. Learn the difference between value and price. Focus on the value,and the price will become clear.
Life is an excerise in discontinuity. Evolution isn't smooth, it's arough bumpy road. Bring a jack and expect to sit in the potholes. Enjoythe view and stop looking at the map. The answers aren't there, they arein the questions themselves. So, in the abscence of certainty, demand open,inclusive debate. Validate all perspectives, hear the voices. Bicker, feeland negotiate trade-offs, identify all options no matter how crazy. Don'tworry, good choices are made through collaboration. Democracy is expensivebut its a price we can't afford not to pay.
(See Arja's piece!) Reach, resist, refuse. Don't accept anything withouta good debate. Look closely at how decisions are made. Dissect them, stripthem of power. Ask whose voices were heard and included. Be creatively,contructively and strategically critical. Emancipate yourself from narrow-mindedauthority. Demand to be invited or crash the party. Better yet, throw yourown with better music, colourful dancing and vastly more interesting guests.Write letters, wear a banner, march with different drummers and excerciseyour vote.
At a minimum, respect all forms. Better yet, be humbled by its power,see the wonder. Cry over roadkill. Be a child again, ask questions aboutlife. Really feel it, drink it in and savour it. (Sometimes it pays to gulpit in, other times you need only sip its serenity. Learn the differenceor at least die trying.) And finally, to quote from the main foyer of the"Body Shop" HQ: "Do not wait for a better world. Show respectto your body and the earth. Dance with the stars. Let it go. Expect thebest. Know that all difficulties in your life have purpose.
Follow your bliss. Practice random acts of kindness."
P.S. Arja, WHERE can I get that T-shirt!?!
OK so much for background. Let me say a couple of things first about'reconciliation frameworks' and then about explicit values in decision-making.
I'd like to argue for an explicit cultural dimension in any reconcilationframework. One of the best kept secrets in the world was the release ofthe World Report on Culture and Development - Our Creative Diversity in1995. Comparable in status to Brundtland (in terms of the prestige of commissionmembers, UN mandates etc.) it has unfortunately received far less attention.Like Brundtland on environmental questions the report argues for more effectiveand holistic integration of 'culture' and 'development' - both defined inbroad terms. This is a profound challenge to economic and scientific paradigmsand worldviews. At the core of the report is a belief in 'dialogue and diversity'as central policy principles. It also sees cities as the primary 'constructionsite' of new approaches to cultural policy and planning. Maybe that's enoughfor now but there is wealth of insights and perspectives here that can informdiscussions about reconciliation frameworks.
Re. explicit values. Making the values that drive decision-making througha critical examination of cultural symbols is pretty central to my work.This is not a new idea of course. Lewis Mumford spent his whole (long) lifewriting about the power of cultural symbols as a means of people gainingaccess to the values and forces that shape communities (and Mumford arguedcivilizations). In retrospect he had some pretty narrow views on what theappropriate values should be but this shouldn't discredit the contributionhe's made to these questions.
Something Ann, Nina-Marie and I talked about recently is the power ofthese cultural symbols (from the deepest symbols of myths or metaphors tospecific cultural forms such as the built environment, artifacts, storiesand traditions) in deepening dialogue around central challenges like sustainability.The downside of our better understanding of the complexity of ecologicaland human systems is that the complexity becomes overwhelming. Are thereways in which these symbols can distill some of this complexity in waysthat enable people a foothold?
Finally, let me offer something to the discussion of explicit values.The following were articulated as the principles for the Lectureship inthe Arts in a Pluralist Society. Could these also be values? (I'm awareI'm not sure what the distinction is).
- - belief in the transformative nature of pluralism
- - commitment to structural change
- - cognizance of multiple identities
- - dedication to transparent processes and communication
- - determination to facilitate wide engagement
I look forward to the dialogue.
- Greg Baeker
- I began to think about how serious we are all on the dialogue, and yet, paradoxically, how most of us are also a lot of fun. As well, values are central to our work. I came here to write an intelllectual reply to some of the wonderful messages received lately, and then, as I began to become more aware of my physical surroundings, I thought, I never share beauty with my colleagues.
- And thus, today is one of those magical fall days, the start of Indian summer, when the leaves have almost peaked in their tapestry of colour, and the sun is shining through them, magnifying their beauty. The sun is also dancing on the ripples in the lake, and pine leaves are strewn on the dock. I saw one dragon fly on my way down here, and wonder at my ignorance of nature. How many different types of dragon flies are there? Do their various colours or size mean anything? What does the shortness of their life span mean for them and the mechanisms they develop? If I live to be 100, I will never know enough about nature. And if I could only paint a tenth of the beauty of nature I would be content. How do you communicate this beauty and this importance to everyone, so that we can save it in peretpuity for our children and our children's children?
- Two last thoughts. Why are lust and anger seen as acceptable emotions in the workplace and compassion, fun and beauty not? Perhaps this has ramifications for the types of communication necessary for sustainable development. It gets back to Elizabeth's thoughts on bringing love back into the equation. I wonder for how many of us, a sense of place is critical? I know Nina-marie is currently creating a backyard haven in downtown Toronto, I know Caterina's strong affinity and sense of health living in Vancouver. Perhaps for others, their sense of place is more cerebral than physical, or based in relationship. What make for that physical connection? How important is it for preserving ecosystems and other species?
- Another rambling thought, at my other Institute, the Canadian Biodiversity Institute, we have begun to examine language, and how it impacts on people's perceptions and commitment, or lack thereof, to biodiversity. We began to think that one of the problems is with the word, diversity, that for most people, diversity=difference, and the majority of people are afraid of difference, for difference equals change, and change is
- threatening. Apparently, there is a lot of literature on getting people to celebrate difference (Bateson for example). During a series of interviews lately, I was surprised to note that everyone was talking the politically correct language of "diversity", but they certainly were not walking the talk, that is, they were arguing for only one correct model, one way of doing business and their way was the right way.
- On the dock, it is easier to know the meaning of diversity, to see, feel, and hear it around me. But how does one ever communicate even a tenth of this?
- I started to wonder and develop ideas around what the next shift would be. What would be the central concepts of, say, social science that could further enhance understanding our roles within the various systems we have a part in. In the same way as "ecological" does not replace "holistic" but grows out of it to include new spheres, I think we need to grow further and explore even an additional domain of complexity. Some concepts that came to my mind are: solidarity, consensual, contractual, (I have a problem finding
- an adjective for solidarity. In Finnish it exists as an adjective and a noun, help me here ye Anglophones!!).
- Another writer that has captured my imagination this summer is Mikhael Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher writing (among many other things) about diversity in the most diversity phobic period of Russian history. His central argument is the you need the other in order to define yourself. And the more of these "others" there are, the sharper that definition is. This works both at the level of individuals, and at the level of groups.
- I am figuring out how these pieces fit. I think that the step to ecological thinking has been fundamental to our belatedly realized ability to see humans as part of the system on par with other species. And as we do this our self-definition has become sharper because we recognize our relationships to these "others". Now the next stage is to figure out how to "bring love back into the equation" (re Ann and Elizabeth). My intention is to explore this idea of solidarity further. I am not sure this the right term, but the issue is the "intent" of our relationship to the "others".
- This is probably all you can stomach of my still half baked ideas. But I am turning the oven on, so be prepared for more later!
- in solidarity, Arja
It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon here at Lac Maskinonge, and I came down to the dock with my computer to work on my dissertation. Before opening my computer, I paused, and have just spent the last half-hour absorbing the beauty around me, and I wanted to share it with you. For those of you who were able to make the June workshop, and for some others that have visited me here, you know how wonderful it can be just hanging out on the dock. And the dock is also a very special place for those of us who planned the 1994 women's conference, for this is where we conceived of the reality.
I have just re-read Ann's Magical Moment communication from earlier in the fall. I have read it many times in the past few weeks. Let me take a few steps back... After our dialogue on our personal ethics and values related to sustainability in the spring I have carried that discussion on in my head through the summer. One of the interesting summer reads I enjoyed was Capra's "Web of Life". I don't have it here beside me now, so I hope that I am not misquoting him but this is what I understood him to say: Physics used to be the determining branch of science, often defining concepts then taken on by other disciplines. He argues that physics has now been displaced in this role by life sciences. An example he gives the shift from "holistic" thinking to "ecological", contextualized, thinking. Another concept that is borrowed from life sciences is diversity, and perhaps community.