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Value embodiment: participatory engagement with environmental reality

Psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations (Part #4)

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Value authenticity: In the curious value context of the 21st century, the values upheld verbally and widely celebrated have an increasingly hollow "ring" to those who assume a degree of engagement in principled action, rather than the token variety. Most problematic is the action taken "in the name of" some value, which increasingly fails to reflect the meaning that it is desired to associate with that value. All these are features of "value warfare" (as discussed in Value-based crisis: values as instruments of memetic warfare, 2008). .

Value authenticity might now be said to take two forms:

  • as embodied by exemplars recognized to be acting beyond self-interest, traditionally evident as courage on some field of battle under conditions of great risk. Clearly this has ceased to be evident in military action using disproportionate firepower, employed indiscriminately from a distance (even by criminals conscripted for the purpose), irrespective of collateral damage or risk to the user of such tactics. As noted above, it may however be evident in action, "standing up for a principle", taken at great risk to reputation and livelihood -- if not to life. One such exemplar is the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan.
  • as embodied in personal reframing, unrecognized by others, of cognitive and behavioral engagement with the environment. This has perhaps been best articulated by David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human world, 1997).

Dysfunctional disengagement from abundance: Methodologically there is a fundamental challenge to how the problems of the 21st century are to be framed to elicit appropriate engagement. This has been articulated in various ways by various authors, perhaps most succinctly summarized by Jennifer Gidley (The Evolution of Consciousness as a Planetary Imperative: an integration of integral views. Integral Review, 5, 2007) to the effect that:

However, the growing awareness of a potential planetary crisis has highlighted the significance of finding new ways of thinking, if humankind is to move through our current complex challenges. This critical imperative appears to be mobilizing researchers from a wide range of disciplines to broaden the notion of evolution of consciousness beyond its biological bounds.

Gidley points to a range of authors that highlight the need for "new thinking" and the inadequacy of old methodologies. Another relevant critique is that provided by Steven M. Rosen (Topologies of the Flesh: a multidimensional exploration of the lifeworld, 2006). Especially in an earlier work (Dimensions of Apeiron: a topological phenomenology of space, time, and individuation, Value Inquiry Book Series, 2004) he highlights the manner in which the richness of psychosocial engagement with the world has been completely undermined by formal discourse -- an "eclipse of the lifeworld" in his terms. Ironically, in a period of sensitivity to the challenges of "resources" and "energy", this view is echoed by other authors with respect to a lost sense of "abundance". Others concerned with this topic include:

  • Paul Feyerabend (Conquest of Abundance: a tale of abstraction versus the richness of being. 1999)
  • Sallie McFague (Life Abundant: rethinking theology and economy for a planet in peril, 2000)
  • David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous: perception and language in a more-than-human world, 1997) who observes that the concealment of the sensuous realm in pre-Renaissance experience was less lucidly focused than the mode of awareness that succeeded it. The decisive separation of subject and object served the interest of creating sharper understanding, a greater capacity for reflection and intellectual achievement; in that way it helped to fulfill humankind's potential

Eliciting participatory engagement: Other authors have focused on the desirable potential of a participatory encounter with reality (Morris Berman, Re-enchantment of the World, 1981; Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind: a new theory of knowledge and of the universe, 1995; Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth; an exploration of ecopsychology, 1993). It has been the focus of a recent gathering of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion (2007). It might be argued that any experience of "values" implies just such a degree of participation in whatever is understood as the "environment". For example, Gordon Graham (The Re-enchantment of the World: art versus religion, 2008) takes as his starting point Max Weber's contention that contemporary Western culture is marked by a "disenchantment of the world", specifically the loss of spiritual value in the wake of religion's decline and the triumph of the physical and biological sciences.

For Rosen:

  • the splitting from nature has progressed to the point where it not only has reduced the quality of our lives but threatens the very life of our planet
  • the more detached we have become from nature, the more insensitive to it we have grown. And the more insensitive, the more we have tended to regard it as nothing but dead matter, there at our disposal, held in reserve for our indiscriminate use
  • the Baconian enterprise of subduing Mother Nature, imposing unity upon Her from afar, needs to be supplanted by an endeavor in which we seek to understand Nature from within, by participating freely in Her flowing diversity.

Rosen offers as example the cytogenetic work of Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock who can risk the suspension of boundaries between subject and object without jeopardy to science precisely because, to her, science is not premised on that division. With such a methodology, in a world of difference, division is relinquished without generating chaos. Self and other, mind and nature survive not in mutual alienation, or in symbiotic fusion, but in structural integrity.

A key question is the degree to which this psychological split (as explored by Isabel Clarke, Madness, Mystery and the Survival of God, 2008) inhibits and undermines a healthy approach to "sustainability" (Psychology of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes, 2002). Two speculative explorations indicate emergent possibilities (Authentic Grokking: emergence of Homo conjugens, 2003; Self-reflective Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration (SETI): the universal criterion of species maturity?, 2008)

With respect to the current exploration, such reframing raises fundamental issues regarding the nature and operation of "values" in a postformal mode of discourse.

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