Darcia Narvaez - December 2016 Meeting Topic

What I am working on: Restoring Human Nature and Wise Living with the Earth

What accounts for the differences between dominant global modern culture and the cultures of successful, sustainable indigenous communities that existed for tens of thousands of years? First, there appear to be opposing worldviews: indigenous communities typically display a philosophy of the earth, an orientation to respectful, reciprocal, co-existence, whereas dominant global modern culture promotes a philosophy of escape from the earth. (Halton, 2007). It is a philosophy that is homo centric and easily casts off the existence of other life forms as collateral damage to the pursuit of wealth through the trope of “substitutes” used in its most revered episteme of justification – economics.   In the last centuries the dominant Western culture has assumed human separation from and superiority to Nature, removed "personhood" from all but humans, and taken up attitudes of commodifying nature for human interests (Merchant, 2003; Turner, 1994). Second, from their growth beginning in the 16th century, Western science, technology, and economics have led to extreme abstracting (Latour, 2013; Mumford, 1970). They have advocated detachment from the earth, breaking the bonds of relational responsibility to nonhumans, and studied them as objects. At the same time, detachment from relational commitment to the wellbeing of the natural world has led to sophisticated technologies, some helpful and some destructive. The technologies that emerged from this type of detached science, in part because of its philosophy of separation and control, have led to great comforts for a minority. Western expansionism and global control of most areas of the earth have impaired capacities to perceive alternatives to the current pathway of increased control of nature and of cultures that do not conform to the dominant system. Yet, most societies in the history of the world consider individual “self-interest,” assumed to be normal human nature in most of the West, to be a sign of insanity and immoral (Sahlins, 2008).

Non-industrialized, first-nation, indigenous societies around the world have a very different worldviews from common Western assumptions about human superiority and separation from Nature. These societies display a whole different awareness of humanity’s place walking with the earth, not simply on it, and walking in its relational grasp (Cooper, 1998; Ingold, 1999). Many first nations peoples around the world come from cultures that lived sustainably and relatively peacefully (Fry, 2006) for tens of thousands of years. What accounts for both the sustainability and flourishing of first nations societies? The epigenetic and developmental neurobiological causes of this different way of being are being delineated by scholars (McGilchrist, 2009; Narvaez, 2014; Shepard, 1998). It may have to do with the processes of childrearing and social support which appear to foster greater wisdom, morality and flourishing (Narvaez & Gleason, 2013; Narvaez, Gleason et al., 2013).  For example, several scholars have noted the power of early life experience on neurobiological and social capacities as well as worldview (Panksepp, 2001; Prescott, 1996; Schore, 2001;Tomkins, 1965). Most recently, Narvaez (2014) has suggested that the missing evolved developmental niche plays a large role in undermining sense and sensibility in adulthood including cultural assumptions about the natural world and human nature. In many Western societies, there has been a divorce between adult behavior and the development of wellbeing in children--with a blindness about the immaturity of humans at full-term birth, humans as dynamic systems who require the evolved developmental niche to foster species-typical development, and lengthy, intensive support to reach maturity (Hewlett & Lamb, 2005; Hrdy, 2009; Konner, 2005, 2010). When this species-typical niche or nest is missing, individuals are misdeveloped in the ways widespread in advanced nations—restless and unattached to the local nonhumans and landscape, focused on economic self-interest at the expense of future generations (Narvaez, 2014). How do we educate people about the shifted baselines for child raising, wellbeing and human nature? How do we change systems, institutions and policies towards cooperation with evolutionary inheritances? How do we get people to abandon the notions of human separation from and superiority to nature?