Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
The Relational Worldview
by Charlene Spretnak
A few years ago, I started noticing small articles in newspapers about surprising discoveries in physiology and health care, in education and child-rearing, in community design and architecture, and in various quarters of the economy. They were all examples of the relational nature of reality poking through the mechanistic assumptions that have caused so many of the crises we face. For instance, people working in "daylighted" buildings experience less illness and absenteeism than those working in artificial lighting (a body-sun relationship). People with many friends catch fewer colds; later on, elderly people with at least a few close relationships are less prone to develop dementia (our bodymind falters when deprived of social relationships). Towns with thriving community-based economics, including local food security, exhibit a more resilient social fabric and less depression (cultivating interconnections pays off in many ways). Granted, I've been tracking such developments for decades, but even I was astonished by many of the recent findings, especially in the fields of physiology and education. Apparently, the world is far more relational than even we relational thinkers supposed. I've gathered scores of such examples in a report titled Relational Reality, which will be posted on the website of Green Horizon magazine in mid-April (green-horizon.org). I hope that document will help to convince activists of the virtues of identifying and cultivating the interrelationships involved when they try to analyze ecosocial problems or to design solutions.
The difficulty is that our education and conditioning in modern societies work against our being able to grasp the profoundly relational nature of reality. We tend to perceive only aggregates of seemingly separate, discrete entities and to miss the inherent interrelatedness animating all living systems, both human and more-than-human, both social and individual. Consequently, most of our institutions, laws, public policy, and reform movements address problems through a mechanistic lens that makes analysts feel terribly rational but badly distorts their perception of what is actually going on. In fact, nothing exists apart from its internal and external relationships: the world, and every problem within it, is constituted entirely of relationships. How effective is activist work that misses, or ignores, that core truth?
As more and more discoveries are made about the relational nature of reality, young activists will find it easier to employ a relational analysis and vision. Our hypermodern selves are pretty much at a kindergarten level now regarding the understanding of how dynamically interrelated the world is (not to be confused with the sort of connectedness the Internet affords, useful though that may be). Humans will never nail down a complete grasp of the vast and miniscule complexity involved, yet young activists will be bringing society closer in sync with (relational) reality if they craft solutions to society's problems that include attention to the interconnections involved. Simple solutions to seemingly simple problems will fail, once again. Organic thinking that perceives, repairs, and creates interrelationships through new approaches, however, might just save the day.
Charlene Spretnak is a cofounder of the Green Party and the author of The Resurgence of the Real, States of Grace, The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics, and other books.
Her articles in Tikkun include "A Green Perspective," January 2001.
Source Citation: Spretnak, Charlene. 2011. The Relational Worldview. Tikkun 26(1): 69