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“The Web of Life”: Eliminate Dualism-> Embrace Interconnectedness->Assume Responsibility

Frijof Capra’s The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems was given to me by a professor years ago.  It has since traveled many continents, its pages now covered in highlights and underlines, having been referenced in numerous papers and journal entries over the years.  

Concerning many of the struggles we currently face as a species, Capra argues that, ultimately, we suffer from a crisis of perception.  They problems we face in science and philosophy, but also business, politics, health care, education and everyday life, are systemic problems, interconnected and interdependent.  “Ultimately these problems must be seen as just different facets of one single crisis, which is largely a crisis of perception.  It derives from the fact that most of us, and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to concepts of an outdated worldveiw, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with out overpopulated, globally interconnected world.”

The book is rich with discussion of dynamics in interconnected systems from a molecular/physical scale through to ecological and cognitive systems, but tying the work together is an attempt to resolve conflict in what has become a wildly divided and unhealthy global society.

Accusing our political and social leaders of clinging to dying notions of isolation and dualism, he asserts that they refuse to recognize how their so-called solutions might affect future generations.  “From the systemic point of view, the only viable solutions are those that are ‘sustainable.’  The concept of sustainability has become a key concept in the ecological movement and is indeed crucial.  Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute has given a simple, clear, and beautiful definition: ‘A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.’

Our collective, peaceful future demands a holistic, ecological worldview.  This is no small matter, and paradigm shifts are rarely smooth transitions.  The reality of limits, accountability and responsibility are nothing new to our species on a larger timeline.  Yet it seems recent generations have done a shockingly good job of shucking all concepts of consequence.  Capra reminds us, like many, that the plight of modern society is nearly indivisible from the “progress” of modern society, which has been harvested primarily under the relatively recent assumption of a Cartesian dualism.

“This paradigm consists of a number of entrenched ideas and values, among them the view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary building blocks, the view of the human body as a machine, the view of life in society as a competitive struggle for existence, the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth, and—last, but not least—the belief that a society in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male is one that follows a basic law of nature. All of these assumptions have been fatefully challenged by recent events. And, indeed, a radical revision of them is now occurring.”

He ties much of his physical theory into an understanding of “deep ecology,” or the recognition that humans are not separate from the natural environment.  In this way we see the world not as a collection of isolated objects, but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. “Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life. Ultimately, deep ecological awareness is spiritual or religious awareness. When the concept of
the human spirit is understood as the mode of consciousness in which the individual feels a sense of belonging, of connectedness, to the cosmos as a whole, it becomes clear that ecological awareness is spiritual in its deepest essence.”

An deep-ecological POV demands we ask profound questions about the very foundations of our modern, scientific, industrial, growth-oriented, materialistic worldview and way of life.

I will prod those of us in the business of “corporate responsibility” to consider our sincerity, and the sincerity of our clients, in precisely these matters.  It is not uncommon that I hear among our Top Small Workplaces that the wonders they’ve achieved in their professional organizations are simply intuitive.  That they do these things because it only makes sense.  Because it is “the right thing to do.”

Indeed, “if we have deep ecological awareness, or experience, of being part of the web of life, then we will (as opposed to should) be inclined to care for all of living nature. Indeed, we can scarcely refrain from responding in this way.”

Posted in Design, Sustainable Business.

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  1. Christina says

    This book has been on my “to read” shelf for awhile…your comments pique my interest further. This may be my next victim of my book devouring rampage.

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