Cultivating Uniqueness in a Community of Interconnectedness
Article One established that an approach to education is needed that facilitates the development of more integrated ways of being in the world. Education cannot contribute to this transition in being without addressing the mental frameworks underlying and contributing to our current unsustainable cultures. Attributed to Einstein (1946) was the saying:
“You cannot solve a problem with the same way of thinking that created the problem”
One particular framework is the current cultural understanding of individuals and collectives (parts and wholes). While the modern emphasis on the separate self (individualism) has made positive contributions such as the development of human rights, it has also driven destructive trends towards self-obsession and consumerism. Similarly, although many modern collectives unify participants towards common goals, they are often based on exclusionary or competitive premises. The dominant education paradigm seems to promote individualism as a form of competition and self-promotion while grouping students according to standardised impersonal metrics.
The central problem is that the dominant framework considers both individuals and collectives as separate entities in competition with other entities. This has resulted in cultures that regularly externalise harm to the environment while seeking to gain a competitive advantage over others. These ethno-centric and anthropocentric worldviews ignore the inherent interconnected nature of the world. Neglecting to participate in this larger ecological way of being has always been extinctionary.
The ways in which humans have understood themselves in relation to the non-human world and how this identity has impacted current cultural ways of being can be seen as part of a larger arc in the evolution of human consciousness (this is further explored in Article Nine).
In design philosophy we see that our ways of being in the world impact what and how we design (objects, interactions, systems) which in turn impacts our being in the world. Our being in the world can be described as the way in which we understand how the world works, our place in it and thus the sum of our (intra)actions in the world.
What I propose is needed at this point, is the development of unique sovereign individuals who understand their interconnectedness with the larger wholes of community, culture, societal systems and ecosystems. This requires radical transitions in how we think, act and be in the world.
An example of the kind of transition needed can be seen in the difference between linear (mechanistic) thinking and systems (integral) thinking. A mechanistic worldview sees the world as a set of cause and effect rules to be manipulated to acquire a desired result. An ecological or integral worldview sees the world as a web of relationships to be understood from inside as a member-in-relation to all other members. The former uses linear cause and effect relationships to obtain a desired outcome for the actor while the latter sees the health of the whole as integral to the health of part and thus acts in ways which align the needs/desires of as many participants as possible. Linear and mechanistic thinking has resulted in the mastery of the material world and all the benefits of modern science and technology. Along with these incredible advances have come many of the urgent and catastrophic ecological, social and political problems we now face. Integral thinking does not deny linear thinking but identifies it as a tool within a larger ecological or whole systems understanding of the world.
Integral thinking and being do not thrive on sameness but on diversity just as the Earth’s ecosystems do. The development of each individual’s uniqueness within an interconnected sense of being increases stability and innovation just as it does in the non-human world. I believe that learners who are celebrated in becoming their whole unique self are more likely to be creative, confident nature-cultural participants that “play with boundaries rather than play within them” (Carse, 1986). From a healthy understanding of the radical interconnectedness of the world, this playing (acting creatively from a confident and connected sense of self) naturally innovates towards more mutualistic expressions of nature-culture.
Integral uniqueness should not be confused with the individualism or collectivism promoted in the current dominant paradigms. Individualism distinguishes the subject (and their needs and desires) as separate from and above others and the common good. On the other hand, collectivism often favours the whole as a priority over the individual and sees the individual as simply a member or means to a larger end. A more integral approach understands that mature and humble uniqueness and individual sovereignty within a worldview of radical interconnectedness can better contribute to both the stability and creative transformation needed in human cultures.
Uniqueness in terms of diversity can provide stability to human cultures similarly to how it does in ecosystems. This is needed as rapid change or disruption can result in instability or even collapse. Uniqueness in this sense combats phenomenon such as groupthink which can result in dangerously rapid cultural changes. In our current self-destructive cultures, uniqueness in terms of individual sovereignty can help generate and implement the radical changes needed. Our approaches to change however, need to be guided by wisdom from diverse sources such as transition design, ontological design and integral theory (see subsequent articles).
In this current place in history, I believe that a central role of education is the cultivation of individual uniqueness in an Earth community of radical interconnectedness. This role of education however, needs to work in collaboration with partners across all cultural sectors to contribute to the larger transitions needed.
Carse, J. (1986). Finite and Infinite Games. New York: The Free Press, Macmilan.
Einstein, A. (1946, May 25). Atomic education urged by Einstein.New York TImes.