by Judith Curry
A more truly open dialogue, which honors a wider range of perspectives, may start to take place if we use integrative perspectives.
Scientific American has published a fascinating article: Understanding Our Polarized Political Landscape Requires a Long, Deep Look at Our Worldviews. Excerpts:
Worldviews are the lenses through which people see and filter reality, shaping our world in many seen and unseen ways. Worldviews inform both individual choices as well as our group identities, and they tend to underlie our disagreements and add emotional spice to our societal debates.
In the West, we have over time seen massive shifts in our collective worldviews, which academics have frequently described as a move from more traditional, generally religion-based worldviews to more modern worldviews, in which science, rationality, and technology have become central.
Much more recently, particularly since the 1960’s, we have seen the rise of more postmodern worldviews, which emphasize other-than-rational ways of knowing, such as moral, emotional, and artistic ones, as well as values beyond the material, such as creativity, self-expression, and imagination. This perspective was largely forged by cultural elites within academia and the arts, and coincided with the rise of emancipatory movements for causes such as the environment and the rights of minorities, women, and gays. Now some academics are talking about another, newly emerging worldview, which is sometimes referred to as integral or integrative. This worldview is characterized by an attempt to bring polarized perspectives together and integrate them into a larger, more unified understanding of reality.
In our study we found statistically significant relationships between worldview-groups and their political priorities and environmental behaviors. Particularly, we found more concern about climate change, more political support for addressing it, and more sustainable behaviors among postmoderns and integratives, compared with moderns and traditionals.
The polarity between traditional/modern and postmodern/integrative worldviews that we found in our data is easy to recognize in the opposition between Trump and Sanders and their respective positions on climate change.
Looking at these political positions from the perspective of worldviews, we see that Sanders appears to rally people with predominantly postmodern worldviews. The postmodern worldview arose in response to the shortcomings of the modern worldview, and therefore tends to be critical toward its model of society: its (narrow) ideas of progress, the frequently materialist and reductionist orientation of modern science, the risks and environmental impacts of its technologies, and the injustices of (global) capitalism.
Trump seems to mobilize people mainly with a mix of, or bridging between, traditional and modern worldviews.
At the same time, Trump exhibits the kind of authoritative leadership, winner mentality, attitude of disciplining through punishment, simplistic solutions and moral hierarchy that may strongly appeal to people with a traditional worldview. Some of the more modern values that Trump emphasizes, as well as symbolizes, are business success, wealth, achievement, freedom, power, and individual self-sufficiency and responsibility.
(Clinton seems to represent an intermediate position between these two, appealing to people with mostly modern worldviews, and bridging to postmodern ones.)
While the postmodern worldview only really emerged about half a century ago, it has been steadily growing ever since, extending its influence far beyond the academic and artistic elites. Older worldviews therefore tend to ‘die off’ with older generations, while newer worldviews tend to come into being with newer generations. This explains the disproportional support from younger people for Sanders, in comparison with what (a much more modernist) Clinton has been able to generate.
Although much has been said to explain the rise of Trump, one reason that stands out is the ways in which the more traditional (bridging to modern) oriented segments of society have been feeling encroached upon, and threatened by, the emergence of more postmodern views and values. So in some way, it is precisely the widespread rise of the postmodern value-complex that may partially explain the powerful conservative backlash that we see now, as exemplified by the Trump-movement.
However, more important than any typology of worldviews is the reflexive attitude a worldview-perspective supports. Worldviews are a fundamental part of individuals’ group identities, and people often react as strongly to perceived threats to these social identities as they do to defend themselves against personal attacks. We see this in the heat and emotionality of our political debates! However, once we become more aware of our (naturally partial and biased) worldviews, we start to see them in a larger context of a wider range of perspectives and values. We realize that there are also other worldviews, and that the people who hold them are not all idiots!
Psychological research has shown that when we are less invested in these social/worldview identities, and we can look at them with more distance and mindfulness, we are less inclined to respond as if we ourselves are threatened when our assumptions about reality are called in to question. Then a more truly open dialogue, which honors a wider range of perspectives, may start to take place. Supporting individuals to explore and reflect on their worldviews is therefore perhaps where the real change happens.
Benefits of a worldview approach
- Enhance reflexivity
- Improve communication
- Develop innovative strategies
- Use integrative perspectives
- Tap into cultural trends
- Contribute to global sustainability
Most interestingly, she has an online Worldview test [link], with 17 questions (takes about 7 minutes). I took the test, the results were emailed to me:
Here are your results:
The worldview you identify with most is called integrative. Out of 17 questions, you 5 times chose the typical integrative perspective as your preferred answer.
You also scored quite high on the modern worldview. Out of 17 questions, you 5 times chose the modern perspective as your preferred answer.
The worldview you identify with least is called traditional. Out of 17 questions, you chose 14 times the traditional perspective as your least preferred answer.
Surprised? Let me know what your type is.
With regards to the climate change debate, this methodology for analysis echoes the sentiments explored by Mike Hulme in his book Why We Disagree About Climate Change. It also provides some important differences for the generational differences expressed in the Brexit vote and also Sanders versus Clinton.
In the climate wars, it seems to be the traditionals versus the postmoderns. As for moi, I completely bypass that particular axis, which may explain my relatively unique position in the debate.
Can these insights help us move forward in the climate debate? The key seems to be the integrative approach:
One such newly emerging worldview with great creative power is the integrative worldview. This worldview attempts to synthesize some of the great polarities our society struggles with, such as science versus spirituality, economy versus ecology, individual versus collective, and profit versus solidarity.
Exploring the nature of this worldview and practicing its defining qualities will ‘train your brain’ to access the benefits of these new ways of thinking and being, such as the capacity to overcome entrenched polarities and come up with synergistic, ‘and-and’ or ‘win-win’ (instead of ‘either-or’) solutions that speak to a diversity of people. It also gives you a powerful advantage in responding to where the Zeitgeist is currently moving.
Seems to me that the first step re climate change is to acknowledge and understand that we are dealing with a wicked problem, and that we should be looking for robust, no-regrets solutions.