INQUIRY AND ALIENATION
My field of work for the past twenty years has been human inquiry. I see this as an approach to living based on experience and engagement, on love and respect for the integrity of persons; and on a willingness to rise above pre-supposition, to look and to look again, to risk security in the search for understanding and action that open possibilities of creative living. I have at times felt that such a genuine human inquiry is one of the greatest virtues of humanity, and might be the greatest gift that western consciousness has given the world. I love Nietzsche's phrase, "All truths are bloody truths for me!" (Kaufmann, 1950), suggesting as it does that complete personal engagement, passion, and profound risktaking are central to inquiry, and that science and life are not separate .
Research in the west has traditionally been part of a positivist worldview, a view that sees science and everyday life as separate and the researcher as subject within a world of separate objects. In a positivist worldview the purpose of inquiry is to search for truth, to know more and more about a world of things; it is part of a modern worldview based on the metaphor of linear progress, absolute truth and rational planning (Harvey, 1989). Along with many others I believe that this worldview is coming to the end of its useful life and is no longer a guide to wise action. The ecological, political, social, and personal crises we confront at this time need no rehearsing here; fundamental to all these crises is the way we think and how the way we think separates us from our experience, from each other, and from the rhythms and patterns of the natural world. At root the problem is epistemological: I have long believed, with Gregory Bateson, that the most important task before us is to learn to think in new ways (Bateson, 1972), and thinking in new ways implies new forms of practice.
Now, you may say that in attacking the positivist worldview I am setting up a straw man. Surely, you may say, we have moved on beyond the limitations of orthodox positivism, surely our worldview is more holistic than that? In some ways it is true that there are stirrings of a new consciousness, of which human inquiry is a part. But in my less optimistic moments I am drawn to Feyerabend's words, who is reported as describing Popper's critical rationalism as "a tiny puff of hot air on the positivistic teacup" (Horgan, 1993, p. 17). Despite systems thinking, the "new" physics, the metaphors of catastrophe and chaos, the reported emergence of a post-positivist paradigm (Schwartz and Ogilvy, 1980) and the postmodern movement (Harvey, 1989), the common epistemology of the Western mind remains crudely positivist.
Human inquiry practitioners assert, in contrast to this positivist worldview, that we can only truly do research with persons if we engage with them as persons, as co-subjects and thus as co-researchers: hence co-operative inquiry, participatory research, research partnerships, and so on. And while understanding and action are logically separate, they cannot be separated in life: so a science of persons must be an action science. I use the term human inquiry to encompass all those forms of search which aim to move beyond the narrow, positivistic and materialist worldview which has come to characterise the latter portion of the twentieth century. While holding on to the scientific ideals of critical self-reflective inquiry and openness to public scrutiny, the practices of human inquiry engage deeply and sensitively with experience, are participative, and aim to integrate action with reflection.
In the context of the epistemological crisis of our times, I have been much persuaded over recent months by the image that the purpose of human inquiry is not so much the search for truth but to heal, and above all to heal the alienation, the split that characterises modern experience. For as R. D. Laing put it
... the ordinary person is a shrivelled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be....
What we call normal is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience... It is radically estranged from the structure of being (Laing, 1967, pp. 25-7).
To heal means to make whole: we can only understand our world as a whole if we are part of it; as soon as we attempt to stand outside, we divide and separate. In contrast, making whole necessarily implies participation: one characteristic of a participative worldview is that the individual person is restored to the circle of community and the human community to the context of the wider natural world. To make whole also means to make holy: another characteristic of a participatory worldview is that meaning and mystery are restored to human experience, so that the world is once again experienced as a sacred place (Berman, 1981; Reason, 1993; Skolimowski, 1993).
But what do we really mean by participation, and what are the qualities of a participatory worldview? In particular, does not holism imply a lack of perspective, and so does participation not imply a loss of critical reflective consciousness? Is this not likely to lead to lack of clarity and to superstition? There seems to be a fundamental tension between a holist worldview based on deep participation and an atomist worldview based on dualism. In these first three chapters I explore these questions, tracing different paths in the development of human consciousness, and attempt to show that it is in this tension between a participative worldview and the critical consciousness that has developed in the west that a new form of participative consciousness may arise. I will show how the various processes and methodologies of human inquiry can be seen as disciplines of practice which contribute to this development.
But first I want to look in a bit more detail at the fragmentation of consciousness that characterises modern times; and to contrast this with a story which tells how human experience emerges through the evolution of a creative cosmos.
Western consciousness is characteristically dualist. As Maurice Ash has recently argued, the very notion of an individual self is at the root of our difficulties because it creates an ontology or worldview in which the knower is detached from the world, rather than implicate within it (Ash, 1992). As Alan Watts puts it with more than a twist of irony, there is in the west a "taboo about knowing who we really are"—against knowing that we arise out of and are part of the web of being. If we start from the notion of a individual autonomous self, we must separate self from other, knower from what is known, parts from whole, mind from body, masculine from feminine: the whole fragmentation of western epistemology can be seen as starting from the establishment of the self.
In the story of Western ways of knowing it is objectivity that is most highly prized. Objectivity means standing outside the phenomena being studied, separating the knower from what is known, refusing to "contaminate" the data, resisting "going native". But as Skolimowski points out, objectivity is a "figment of our minds; it does not exist in nature" (1992, p. 42); and as we know from many sources, from Heisenberg's uncertainty principle to Zen practice, that the observer is inseparable that which is observed. A participative worldview will move toward forms of knowing that are self-reflexive, that are both deeply engaged and rigorously self-critical. In Human Inquiry John Rowan and I coined the term "critical subjectivity" , arguing that the validity of our encounter with experience rests on the high quality, critical, self-aware, discriminating and informed judgements of the co-researchers (Reason and Rowan, 1981).
The separation of knower from known implies a separation of self from other and researcher from subject. Orthodox scientific inquiry is based on the dogma that the researcher is in some way a quite different animal from the subjects studied: as John Heron has pointed out (1971, 1981), this separation of roles carries with it the implication that only the researcher is able to exercise free will and creative judgement (in being able to discover "new knowledge"), while those being studied are subject to deterministic laws which it is the researcher's job to discover. A participative methodology in which we conduct research with people rather than on people attempts to heal this division, proposing that people of all kinds can inquire together into their experience and their practice.
The separation of knower from known leads to the separation of the parts from the whole. Western ways of knowing have, on the whole, encouraged us to divide the phenomena in which we are interested into constituent parts, to measure and count the parts, and then to relate these in relatively simple cause and effect relationships. So we in the West see our world in terms of "things", constituent parts, and as we do so we reify what is better understood as process (Whitehead, 1929; Griffin et al, 1989). The scientific world view has been extremely powerful and effective in studying those phenomena that can be seen as "things", entities that can be identified as separate, real wholes. Thus our times have been described as employing a mechanical metaphor, a view that we live in a "billiard ball" universe. This perspective co-exists strangely with our knowledge from the further reaches of physics and mathematics that the whole cosmos is an interconnected dance; but it is firmly rooted in the Western collective unconscious Bateson (1972, 1979) points out that there is a fundamental difference between this world of non-living things and the world of living process, where order arises from the patterns of information flow rather than from physical relationships of cause and effect, and where differences in quality are more profoundly important than differences in quantity.
All these separations on which western epistemology is founded are closely connected to an emphasis on intellect as the primary means of knowing and to the power of conceptual language. This results in the separation of intellect from experience, so that knowledge that comes in propositional form is valued more highly than intuitive, practical, affective, analogical or spiritual knowledge. It also leads to immediate conscious purpose being valued more highly than systemic wisdom. This reinforces the tendency to think in terms of parts rather than wholes, things rather than processes: naming the parts of the world creates an illusion of real separate objects; concepts drive a wedge, as it were, between experience and understanding. These mental constructions, or paradigms, are immensely robust and self-fulfilling when isolated from experience. We are as a culture beginning to learn that all conceptual knowing is relative, but this learning is not easy: Lawson (1985) has pointed to the sense of vertigo we may experience as concepts crumble and the world as we know it reels off into meaninglessness.
One result of all this abstraction is a loss of the concrete, and specifically a dishonouring of the body and the separation of humanity from the natural world. Berman (1989) writes of the need to "come to our senses", in a literal sense of honouring again the wisdom of the body, locating knowing in the experience of sensation instead of in intellectually elaborated paradigms of thought. The body is the lodge of spirit in this life, yet we have immensely ambivalent relationship to it, often very concerned with the presentation of a "face", powerful or beautiful, to the outside world, yet being quite out of touch with our physical inner processes. Many approaches to holistic medicine, such as stress reduction and bio-feedback, are based on teaching people to pay attention once again to what their body is telling them about its wellbeing.
Similarly, while we may value the natural world from a distance and yet have little idea, and no felt experience, of the damage that patterns of consumption and waste continue to have on the natural world. Much is published about pollution, the destruction of habitats and the extinction of species, but this is not experienced directly as a loss, but at a greater distance. Recently Judi Marshall and I held a discussion with final year undergraduates on the impact of human beings on the natural world. We pointed to many of the ecological horrors reported in the papers over recent weeks— the most startling being the disappearance of fish on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. What was most striking about the students' response was that they had studied all this at school, and the information no longer had much impact on them. I think on reflection they were as shocked about this as we were. The arguments of the deep ecologists have only just begun to make some of us re-consider the value we place on the natural world (Devall and Sessions, 1985).
The body and the natural world are deeply connected: our body is that piece of wilderness that we carry around with us all the time, a living ecology which provides a home to many creatures and life events, which may be in balance or out of balance. For many city dwellers the body may be the primary contact with the wild, "a great beauty that seethes with intelligence, that is ever surprising and refreshing..." (Swimme and Berry, 1992; p. 127). Gary Snyder's essays on the "practice of the wild" (1980) show how we may delight in and savour wilderness. A participatory worldview will appreciate the extent to which civilized life depends directly on the balance of natural living processes, and take us back to experience of the body and of the wild.
As I will explore more closely in the next chapter, all these issues can also be seen in terms of masculine and feminine: language, concepts and analysis are among the archetypal qualities of the masculine; participation is among the archetypal qualities of the feminine. Over 3,000 years of Western culture the masculine has been separated from the feminine and overvalued, so that certain masculine attributes have been culturally defined as desirable and certain female attributes to as less desirable. As a result our experience and understanding of both male and female qualities is warped and distorted (Marshall, 1984, 1989, in press).
Western civilization has been sustained by a myth that it is at the peak of civilization and the evolution of consciousness; there is thus a tendency to separate Western epistemology from other ways of knowing. When we look to other times and other cultures we see them through the distorting lens of our own epistemology (Allen, 1992), or project onto them our own violent shadow. Members of mainstream European and North American culture often resent the demands of women and minorities who want their culture and ways of knowing to be honoured, seeing this merely as a demand for "political correctness" rather than as a deep challenge to narrow-minded ways. I believe that most of us in the west have little idea how separated and defended our civilization and our consciousness actually is. At the very worst, this separation continues to express the European imperialist and genocidal adventure of colonizing the rest of the planet, a colonization which has oppressed other peoples and the planet itself. A participatory world view would be pluralist, honouring the teachings of different traditions, and finding ways of learning from indigenous perspectives on learning and inquiry.
Finally, in this catalogue of fragmentation, I believe it is essential to acknowledge that as a culture we are separated from the sacred, the numinous, the mysterious. In grasping for control and knowledge we have lost a sense of what is whole and holy (Reason, 1993). One consequence of reductionism is the illusion of understanding; in contrast phenomena as wholes can never be fully known for the very reason that we are a part of them, leading us to acknowledge and respect the greater mystery that envelops our knowing.
The Universe Story
I find Susan Griffin's term "split culture" evocative of our time:
We who are born into this civilization have inherited a habit of mind. We are divided against ourselves. We no longer regard ourselves as part of this earth. We regard our fellow human beings as enemies. And, very young, we learn to disown parts of our own being. (Griffin, 1984, p. 175)
We need, I believe, a way of knowing which helps us to heal this split, this separation, this alienation. We need a way of knowing which integrates truth with love, beauty and wholeness, a way of knowing which acknowledges the essential physical qualities of knowing. We need a new story about our place in the scheme of things. While I am aware that the current academic vogue has made "grand narrative" unfashionable, I agree with Charlene Spretnak (1991) that the fashion of deconstructive post-modernism is nihilistic, indeed, is an extension of the alienation of modernism. If voices are just voices and have no claim to truth, the search for voice becomes the search for any old voice, it no longer matters what we say about ourselves. I believe it is important that we consider the quality of the stories we create and consider whether they do justice to human possibilities and our place in the scheme of things. We need to ask whether we like the story we are creating and in which we play a part (Kremer, 1992, p. 27). New healing stories will, I believe, be based on a vision of ourselves as deeply rooted in and emerging out of a living and creative universe. Brian Swimme (a physicist) and Thomas Berry (a cultural historian) offer such a vision in their story of the universe and the place of human beings within it. (Berry, 1988; Swimme, 1984; Swimme and Berry, 1992).
They argue that we are without a comprehensive story of the universe, without a creation story that is appropriate for our times. People throughout history in every land have told stories of the universe which gave meaning to their life in its fullest sense. The modern scientific story tells much about the development of the physical universe, but sets humanity apart from the natural world. What is needed, they assert, is a story which interprets the account of the universe given by modern scientific observation in a way that acknowledges the presence and majesty of the universe and the human place within it:
the universe carries within itself a psychic-spiritual as well as a physical-material dimension... the human activates the most profound dimension of the universe itself, its capacity to reflect on and celebrate itself in conscious self-awareness. (Berry, 1988, p. 131-2)
They start their story from the beginning of time when
Fifteen billion years ago, in a great flash, the universe flared forth into being.... Originating power brought forth a universe (Swimme and Berry, 1992, p. 7-17)
They tell the story of the development of the physical cosmos, the emergence and development of living beings, and the development of human society, drawing on a wide range of scholarship and imaginative vision for their understanding. From this originating power they trace the evolution of matter, of galaxies, stars, planets; how early life emerged on earth and developed into plants and animals; how early humans developed the Neolithic village—a stable form of human society to which most members of the human race have belonged—and moved on to develop complex civilizations and industrial societies. As they look at the power, and potential destructiveness of modern times, they see people in industrial societies seemingly unaware that they belong to a greater dance, and thus wreaking havoc on the life systems of the planet. We are moving, they say, into an Ecozoic Age in which the wellbeing of the whole must be our primary concern.
The Swimme and Berry story is of the cosmos as a self-generating, essentially creative process which emerges through differentiation, autopoiesis, and communion. Differentiation, including the violence of destruction, leads to the creation of more and more complex entities, from simple atoms to advanced life forms; and also to the increasing complexity of relationships between entities. Autopoiesis highlights the self-organizing, systemic dynamics of these differentiated structures, their coherence, their tendency to work according to their own internal organizing principles. Communion honours the essential relatedness of existence, for "Nothing is itself without everything else" (p. 77)
The universe evolves into beings that are different from each other, and that organize themselves. But in addition to this, the universe advances into community—into a differentiated web of relationships among sentient centers of creativity. (Swimme and Berry, 1992, p. 77)
And here maybe is a special message for humanity and for my consideration of participation in human inquiry:
The loss of relationship, with its consequent alienation, is a kind of supreme evil in the universe. In the religious world this loss was traditionally understood as an ultimate mystery. To be locked up in a private world, to be cut off from intimacy with other beings, to be incapable of entering into mutual presence—such conditions were taken as the essence of damnation. (Swimme and Berry, 1992, p. 78)
And so this new story of the universe shows again how participative relationship is of the very essence of all life, and certainly of human life. We are not an alien species set on earth out of nowhere,
We bear the universe in our beings as the universe bears us in its being. The two have a total presence to each other and to that deeper mystery out of which both the universe and ourselves have emerged (Berry, 1988, p. 132).
I believe that the development of a participative world view requires an imaginative recognition of humanity's fundamental participation in the natural world, a recognition of the way the human mind is engaged in a co-creative dance with the primeval givenness of the Cosmos (Skolimowski, 1992). In this vision humanity is "nature rendered self-conscious" (Bookchin, p. 313), one part of the cosmos capable of reflecting on itself, which has evolved so it stands on the threshold of conscious participation in the unfolding of the whole.