A VIABLE WORLDVIEW
1. Able to live, develop, or germinate under favorable conditions
2. Capable of success or continuing effectiveness; practicable
Your worldview, your idiosyncratic way of making sense of and comprehending experience is continuously changing and adapting, accommodating itself to varying information and circumstances throughout your life. How you “see things” at six, at sixteen, and at sixty are worlds apart, or rather, worldviews apart.
And so it is over generations, over the course of human history. Just how differently cultures in various eras have construed “reality” and interpreted existential meaning demonstrates how contingent our understanding is of the conceptual frameworks we devise to shape our thinking—our views of the world of our experience. Our “understanding” stands under what we take to be reality.
Much depends upon and follows from the worldviews we adopt, individually and collectively; and over time certain worldviews lose their viability, no longer allowing people to “develop under favorable conditions” or be “capable of success or continuing effectiveness” (according to the definition of viable above). A very literal worldview—the common-sense conception of the Earth as flat—inhibited our development as world explorers, a latency in our genetic makeup that a new global worldview allowed to germinate. More cosmically, our paradigm shift from a Ptolemaic to a Copernican view of our solar system vastly expanded human consciousness and opened the way (another sense of viable) to empirical science and its profound re-visioning of What Is.
Even within the lifetimes of today’s elders, major worldview shifts have transpired, radically altering many ingrained attitudinal convictions pertaining to race, gender, politics, law, religion, science and technology. Many minds have changed profoundly in ways that seem to the changelings as advances: they now “see better” than before—more viably.
Given, then, that we humans are inclined over time to change our minds, even radically, and that our viability as a species depends on shifting our worldviews to more commodious and accommodating visions, then what indications might we detect of the panorama of progress yet to enter our sights and alter our views about what’s possible or even imperative to sustain ourselves and the biosystem that supports us?
To think in the visionary way I propose means employing imagination and supposition to conceive of alternative ways our culture can evolve toward greater viability. It means extrapolating from what is to envisioning what might better be and adapting our attitudes, actions and habits accordingly.
For instance, one progressive visionary I know has dedicated his intellect and energies for many years to identifying an endemic social problem worldwide, which he names “rankism.” Robert W. Fuller has written three books and numerous essays advocating his vision of a “dignitarian society” free of the put-downs and discriminations of a rankist worldview that disrespects the essential worthiness of every human being. A view that stratifies and subordinates others into classes and castes is not viable according to the lights now leading us, Fuller argues.
James Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis” views Earth as alive, a biotic entity such as our lunar astronauts saw so epiphantically from space. Our Home Planet is an organism that works to generate and regulate its constituent components and continuously evolve. Such a worldview still needs reconciling with older scientific paradigms, yet it immediately affects our culture emotively and viably to the extent that humans grow less reckless and unconscionably exploitative with respect to Earth’s ecology. A Gaian worldview turns Earthlings from pirates to custodians, and global rankism is thereby mitigated.
Even more audacious and astonishing is the post-Einsteinian conception of a living universe, a view Duane Elgin propounds in a book of that title: The Living Universe: Where Are We? Who Are We? Where Are We Going? (2009). The materialist-empicist worldview established Cartesian scientism as the ruling universe story and relegated life and consciousness to an epiphenomenal status, a ghost in the machine of Newton’s atomistic reality. Quantum physics, however, posits a radically different view in which energy, not matter, is fundamental, an energy that some view as vital and spiritual—the source of consciousness implicit in the cosmos. Ironically, such a postmodern view turns out to accord with the intuitions of ancient sages such as Plato, tracing back to Egypt, India and China.
“Where are we? Who are we? Where are we going?’—these questions posed by Duane Elgin remain unresolved, perhaps eternally mysterious. Even so, we cannot help venturing answers and revising our previous views, or those of our forebears or of foreigners. And as Earth’s human population both burgeons and consolidates into a more homogeneous culture delineated by our global technologies, humanity is now pressed to answer Elgin’s existential questions more globally.
We all know now how precarious is our biosphere and how dependent is our species on the sustainable health of the multifarious organisms co-habiting earth—our fellow Gaians. Considering that, here are my answers.
Where are we? On Gaia, Mother Earth. Who are we? The Guardians and sustainers of Gaia. Where are we going? Nowhere else. Earth will always be our Home Planet, which we must quickly grow wise enough to manage well, for in our adolescent willfulness, we are fouling our own nest, domineering wantonly over fellow humans and fellow species as if we were not globally co-dependent for our viability.
How do you like that view?