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Imprint: Triarchy Press
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Designing Regenerative Cultures
Additional Resources - Chapter 1
WAYS OF KNOWING: SEPARATION AND PARTICIPATION
Ways of knowing: separation and participation
In The Passion of the Western Mind, Professor Richard Tarnas (1996) of the California Institute of Integral Studies explores how our conception and perception of nature and our relationship to nature has continued to change since the time of the early Greek philosophers. Tarnas emphasizes that “although the Cartesian-Kantian epistemological position has been the dominant paradigm of the modern mind, it has not been the only one” and argues that with the work of Goethe, Schiller, Schelling, Hegel, Coleridge, Emerson, as well as Rudolf Steiner, a diversely expressed but consistent alternative epistemology began to emerge based on the “fundamental conviction that the relationship of the human mind to the natural world was ultimately not dualistic but participatory” (p.433).
This alternative way of knowing does not contradict the Kantian epistemology, but includes and transcends it. It acknowledge Kant’s assertion that all human knowledge of nature or the world is ultimately determined by subjective principles; “but instead of considering these principles as belonging ultimately to the separate human subject, and therefore not grounded in the natural world independent of human cognition, this participatory conception held that these subjective principles are in fact an expression of the world’s own being, and that the human mind is ultimately the organ of the world’s own process of self-revelation” (p.434). Tarnas explains:
"In this view, the essential reality of nature is not separate, self-contained, and complete in itself, so that the human mind can examine it ‘objectively’ and register it from without. Rather, nature’s unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind. Nature’s reality is not merely phenomenal, nor is it independent and objective; rather, it is something that comes into being through the very act of human cognition. Nature becomes intelligible to itself through the human mind. In this perspective, nature pervades everything, and the human mind in all its fullness is itself an expression of nature’s essential being." Richard Tarnas (1996: 434)
Tarnas emphasizes that this participatory epistemology that Goethe, Hegel, Steiner and others all expressed in different but related ways is not a form of regression to naïve participation mystique. Rather, it is a way of knowing that can be regarded as a dialectical synthesis of the long evolution from the primordial undifferentiated consciousness and the enchanted world of early humans when everything was sacred and alive, on to the dualistic alienation between self and world, mind and body, humanity and nature, to then arrive at a participatory worldview that embraces the paradox of being at one and the same time (seemingly) separate from and fundamentally interconnected with nature. Being an individual self and integral to the whole’s emergence at the same time. This participatory epistemology “incorporates the postmodern understanding of knowledge and yet goes beyond it” since “the interpretative and constructive character of human cognition is fully acknowledged, but the intimate, interpenetrating and all-permeating relationship of nature to the human being and human mind allows the Kantian consequence of epistemological alienation to be entirely overcome” (p.435).
We can acknowledge difference and celebrate diversity without staying trapped in the alienation of separation. The qualities that define the uniqueness of ‘other’ come into being when the self takes a perspective from which to ‘observe’ the world. The perceived separation emerges through a way of seeing, but the world does not cease to be whole. Everything is an expression of the one unifying, living, evolving and conscious process we can chose to call nature, universe, god, the ultimate, the whole or the One. For the One to know itself, it has to divide itself in order to get a perspective on itself. This first distinction makes experience and participation possible. We create the illusion of our separation as experiencing subjects in the very act of relating to the underlying unifying process in ways that distinguish temporal manifestations of this process as the objects of our experience. Precisely because we can experience nature we are a part of it and not separate from it.
The perception of separation and experience of self and world – subject and object – are valid and important emergent properties of our participation in and as the One. By embracing the seeming paradox that in our very experience of separation lies the proof of our belonging, we can learn to celebrate diversity and difference as expressions of our underlying unity. We can find peace and rest in the certainty that with all our striving, going somewhere, and creative passion to co-create regenerative cultures, we are – in every moment – arriving in the eternally transforming now of the present moment. Our state and level of consciousness affects how we perceive this moment. Our collective narrative about who we are and what future we want affects what future emerges. In living the questions together we explore the future potential of the present moment, co-creating the future without being able to predict it.
Marcel Proust reminded us that “the true journey of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes”. The journey towards a regenerative culture is about embracing all of nature as the ground of our being – seeing ourselves and thereby everything with new eyes. Once we do that we will learn to express this new intimate relationship of belonging to universe and to nature in beautifully diverse and creative ways.
For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its own being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life, and thus to rediscover its connection to the whole…
DIFFERENT FORMS OF DESIGN
Figure 1 shows the different shifts in perspective as we move from ‘business as usual’ to creating a regenerative culture. Business as usual starts to take on ‘green’ rhetoric and aims to limit damage in order to comply with new regulations. Green design solutions are mainly those changes that can be made easily with the added incentive of reducing costs and creating a better public perception of the business ‘business as usual’. The next step towards sustainable design – the general goal of ‘sustainability’ – aims to create solutions that as Bill McDonough put it are ‘100% less bad’.
Bill Reed points out that this approach is only taking us to the neutral point of doing no more harm. We are still left with a system impoverished by the damage we have caused since the agricultural revolution and massively so since the industrial revolution. Yes, to simply sustain is not enough; and it is also true that having just spent decades patiently creating a culture where conversations about sustainability have become mainstream, it is understandable and somewhat prudent to hold on to that term. There are also a lot of people who are tired of the word sustainability as it has been so abused that it seems to have lost its meaning. The aim to create regenerative cultures transcends and includes sustainability. The origins of the word sustainability go back to a treatise on regenerative management of forests written in 1713 by Hans Carl von Carlowitz. So the call for regenerative design is also a return to the roots of sustainability, so lets work with both terms in ways that serve.
Restorative design aims to restore healthy self-regulation to local ecosystems, and reconciliatory design takes the additional step of making explicit humanity’s participatory involvement in life’s process. Regenerative design understands humanity as nature and a regenerative culture as the appropriate way to participate in life’s evolution as conscious co-creators. I agree with Bill Reed’s emphasis that regenerative design starts with “our place – community, watershed, bioregion.” From there we can learn to participate appropriately in the evolution of the whole system. Restorative design is about increasing our capacity “to engage in continuous and healthy relationships through co-evolution” (Reed, 2006).