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Let’s Change Our Thinking For Good

For years, people have talked about “Subverting the Dominant Paradigm”.

For years, it seems people have instinctively understood these words and what the alternative paradigm looked like.

Like “sustainability” talk, it was a trendy expression that steadily gained traction within the non-mainstream quarters of the “developed” world.

Great – except that nobody could really agree on what it was, let alone how to get to the other side. Subvert the dominant paradigm?  What on earth does this mean?

We can hazard a guess that the dominant paradigm pre-dates the Industrial Revolution. Chances are a “genius” called Descartes had something to do with it. He espoused “I think therefore I am” – a phrase associated with experiments on animals that ultimately asserted human superiority over other life-forms.

Alongside Judeo-Christian traditions that claimed human “dominion” over the Earth, Cartesian logic emphasized humans as the dominant species.  Based on this thinking, we had the “natural right” to access nonhuman “resources” which existed for our use and pleasure.

Human ingenuity flexed its muscles through the Industrial (and later Technological) revolution.  Our ability to build infrastructure and produce goods en-masse consequently led to the belief that growth equated with progress. Infinite resources were valuable as instruments for human benefit and little else.

For years, the dominant paradigm has lived up to its name. What makes it dominant is the extent to which it’s entrenched in our psyches and institutions, embedded in the ways we use and value and manage our natural resources. This begs the question: What is the alternative to a system so firmly entrenched in everything we do? If the option to the human-dominant paradigm is one in which both human and other life-forms are a vital concern, what might this look like?

Over the past fifty or so years, various “alternatives” have been postulated. From “Existential Dualism” to “Neo-Malthusianism”, from the “New Ecological Paradigm” to “Eco-Marxism” – there’s no shortage of philosophies with hard to remember names. Not an easy marketing task, that’s for sure. When the essence of each, however, is fused together, we find an option we might loosely call the “Environmental Paradigm”.

Rather than seeing humans as separate from nature, the Environmental Paradigm views humans as an interdependent part of nature. We are one among many species and recognise the intrinsic value of all life. As such, all entities that act with purpose (whether instinctive or otherwise) have rights. And whilst growth is valued, it is not a means unto itself, but operates within the context of sustainability and conservation. We recognise and value “diversity, complexity, integrity, harmony and stability” (Corbett 2006). Whilst humans are encouraged to grow and develop as individuals, our behaviour contributes to the collective (or community) good. From a political perspective, the Environmental Paradigm is less conservative than the dominant paradigm that currently operates throughout the “developed” world.

Of course, the successful subversion of the dominant paradigm toward an environmental one requires massive social change. This is where we all come in. Speaking the words “subvert the dominant paradigm” is just the beginning. We also need to comprehend and actively pursue agreed pathways to agreed goals.

One step at a time.

One change at a time.

With urgency and commitment.

And a better understanding as to what on Earth it all means!

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