Envisioning Sustainable Communities and a Coherent Culture

A Review of Fritjof Capra's MINDWALK

The worldview that has shaped the direction of humankind's cultural evolution throughout the last three hundred years--emerging in the late 16th, early 17th century--and continues to influence our lives today, has come to be referred to as the modern age or modernity. A complete account of this process of cultural evolution exceeds the scope and intention of this review.{1} More appropriately, modernity's historical development can be summarized (according to philosopher Donald Rothberg) as a movement that originated in Western Europe and later in North America:

'"Associated with the development of the empirical sciences, capitalism and industrialism, political democracies and individualism, and large-scale disengagement from religiously based cultural traditions (the process of 'secularization')" (Rothberg: 106, 1993).

Taking a moment to contemplate the influence modernity has had upon our daily lives, we can, on the one hand, proclaim its benefits. It has been extraordinarily successful toward providing a technological bounty of labor saving devices, which have increased the production of manufactured goods and agricultural products; in addition, it has granted to its beneficiaries increasing amounts of leisure time, whose consumer markets have supported the research and development of space-age technology. But, on the other hand, there is the existential reality of modernity's dark side: toxic residue, the colonial genocide of indigenous cultures, massive debt from weapons research that has all but bankrupt the former USSR, whose affect within the USA has resulted in a bloated military infrastructure that gave the illusion of economic growth by providing jobs, as it simultaneously continued to increase the national debt; add to this the phenomena of urban sprawl and inner city crime that have transformed the USA into a war zone.

It is this stark realization of a world at risk that has prompted philosophers, like Rothberg, to suggest that humankind's cultural evolution has reached a "crisis of modernity." Indeed, the existence of all natural systems--soil, plants, animals, human communities--are all precariously balanced on the political, economic and individual choices that each of us needs to make in the next 20 years to create a sustainable society; choices in technology, agriculture, and our consumer buying habits that will create a sustainable relationship with the nonhuman world. A relationship where the needs of the present generation does not deprive the quality of life of future generations; where renewable sources of energy and building materials can eventually meet the needs of industry and the lives of every person. This vision of a sustainable society is the message that Frijof Capra has put forth in MINDWALK (1991), a film based on his book The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture (1982).

The film is set on the islet of Mont St. Michel, a medieval island that spears up out of the English Channel a mile off the Normandy coast of France, fog-shrouded and swept by rapid tides, the islet is a single mass of granite, 165 feet tall and only 3,000 feet around. By the 10th century A.D. the islet has become known as a holy place, and pilgrims from France, England, Ireland and Italy were making their way to Mont St. Michel in search of enlightenment and spiritual renewal.{2}

A millennium later, in the closing years of the 20th century, this setting becomes the location of a fictional conversation between two men and a woman. A United States senator (played by Sam Waterston) who has just failed to be elected president. Depressed with politics and the business of fund raising necessary for his next campaign, he calls up his old poet-philosopher friend (played by John Heard), who is now living in France. Heard, always making jokes and reciting poetry, invites Waterston to leave Washington temporarily (calling it a "hall of mirrors for narcissists") and spend some time with him. Taking a drive in the French countryside they end up at Mont. St Michel.

There they meet a woman physicist (played by Liv Ullman), that is on an indefinite sabbatical. She had been working on the development of an x-ray laser that she hoped could be used to view cells holographically. Unknown to her until the completion of her project, this laser was to be used as a component in the USA's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or Star Wars program. Upon learning that her discovery was going to be used as a weapon, without even considering the medical applications, she responded by losing faith and trust in the system, resigned her research commission, and moved to France to think about the ethical responsibility of the scientist.

MINDWALK is a film that will stimulate your intellect to begin contemplating the influence of mechanistic thinking on modern Western science, patriarchy's relationship to the arms race and the importance of ecopsychology as a means toward the development of a postmodern science; whose emphasis is on humankind's individuation and psychic integration with ourselves, society, all natural systems (our earth/body) and the evolutionary unfolding of the cosmos, uniting this process with a common past, present and future. This vision of a postmodern science has grown from transpersonal ecology {3}, ecopsychology {4}, the systems theory of biology {5}, astronomical evidence that the universe is expanding {6}, and quantum theory's rediscovery of holism {7}, suggesting that the essence of humankind's right relationship to our earth/body is the need to recognize and remember our co-evolutionary symbiotic orientation with nature.

But, MINDWALK is much more than just a heavy intellectual "head trip," as it is also a film that will invite your emotions to grieve the loss of our relationship with nature; to hear once again, as Theodore Roszak reminds us, The Voice of the Earth (Roszak, 1993). Because, as we allow ourselves to express the emotional anguish stemming from our crisis of modernity, this conscious acknowledgment of bereavement will allow us to begin the process of breaking through our self denial keeping us from examining the habits of our lifestyle; habits that are responsible for the widespread destruction of all natural systems and the loss of our ability to commune with our earth/body.

Capra refers to this process of denial as a "crisis of perception." As a means of solving the crisis of perception (in addition to awakening within us an emotional response to begin this process of grieving our crisis of modernity), Capra guides our intellect through a comprehensive reexamination of the fundamental assumptions of modern Western science. The purpose of this examination is to explore and, as a consequence, begin questioning the myths, metaphors, and stories of modern science that are responsible for creating our present crisis of perception. It is this critical review of modern science that provides Capra with the means to present the alternative ecopsychological worldview of postmodern science.

MINDWALK concludes by leaving the audience to ponder the unanswered question: Now that we have been shown the postmodern scientific vision for an emerging ecopsychological worldview, will we have the courage to take up the political and economic challenge of creating a sustainable culture? As John Heard comments: "Where are you (the viewer) in this emerging worldview? Where are your loved ones? Where is the average person with their longings and their weakness'?" Commenting on his film, Capra tells us:

"There is widespread agreement today that. . . [we are living] in a critical decade. The survival of humanity and of the planet are at stake. We are faced with a whole series of global problems, which are harming the biosphere and human life in alarming ways that may soon become irreversible. And yet, there are solutions, some of them simple. But they all require a radical shift in our thinking, our perceptions, our values, our lifestyles. In order to reach such a turning point, at a time when it is almost too late, we need a massive campaign of public education. MINDWALK is a contribution to that campaign. . . . [Indeed] the challenge [ahead of us] is to build a sustainable future for all the world's children" (Capra, 1991).

MINDWALK, therefore, presents its audience with a visual odyssey that challenges our collective responsibility to future generations; a vision that can serve to motivate individuals to move forward toward solutions, instead of getting burnt out with the enormous task of saving the Earth from environmental catastrophe. Indeed, as a participant in humankind's collective groping for answers to our crisis of modernity, you, I, and everyone of us owe it to ourselves to see this film. It is a film that--rather than providing specific answers--presents a conceptual framework to help us guide our thinking, as we struggle with the crucial decisions that all of us will need to make in the days, months and years ahead.

Notes

1. For a detailed account of the historical development of modernity, see Carolyn Merchant's (1979) book The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution: A Feminist Reappraisal of the Scientific Revolution. San Francisco: Harper & Row. See also Richard Tarnas (1991) book The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View. New York: Harmony Books.

2. This description is drawn from Trition Pictures/Paramount's 1991 "Publicity Bulletin" and Michael Toms introduction to his New Dimensions Radio interview with Fritjof Capra, titled MINDWALK: The NEW PARADIGM. San Francisco, CA: New Dimensions Foundation, 1992.

3. See Warwick Fox's groundbreaking essay "Transpersonal Ecology: 'Psychologizing' Ecophilosophy." Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 22, (1), 59-96, 1990a, and Warwick Fox's book Toward A Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism. Boston: Shambhala, 1990b. For a review of Warwick Fox's book, see Ralph Metzner, (1991) "Psychologizing Deep Ecology: A Review Essay." ReVision, 13 (3), 147-152.

4. See Mark A. Schroll, "Wrestling with Arne Naess: A Chronicle of Ecopsychology's Origins. The Trumpeter: 23 (1), 28-57, 2007.

http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/index.php/trumpet/article/view/940/1353.

5. See Ludwig von Bertalanffy. (1981). A Systems View of Man. Boulder, CO: Westview Press and Fritjof Capra's chapter on systems theory in The Turning Point (1982).

6. Brian Swimme. (1988). "The Cosmic Creation Story." In David Ray Griffin (ed.), The Reenchantment of Science: Postmodern Proposals. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 47-56. and Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. (1992). The Universe Story. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

7. David Bohm (1980). Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; David Bohm. (1988). "Postmodern Science and a Postmodern World." In David Ray Griffin (ed.), The Reenchantment of Science: Postmodern Proposals. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp,. 57-68; and Stephen Toulmin. (1982). The Return to Cosmology: Postmodern Science and the Theology of Nature. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

References

Capra, Fritjof. (1982). The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising. Culture. New York: Bantam.

Capra, Fritjof. (1991). MINDWALK. Hollywood, CA: Trition Pictures. Paramount.

Capra, Fritjof. (1991). "Publicity Bulletin." Hollywood, CA: Trition Pictures. Paramount.

Rothberg, Donald. (1993). "The Crisis of Modernity and the Emergence of Socially Engaged Spirituality." ReVision, 15 (3), 105-114.

Comments 3 comments

tswaller 7 years ago

The progression of our society from pre-industrialization to the post modern era, has left human kind proud and empty. Prior to the industrial revolution, humans life was hard, and in the effort that was need to get life's simplest needs, Humans felt the need and requirement to look to the source of the provider. Yet, now in the time of finger touch satisfaction we look to ourselves for th meeting of our needs. So in looking to ourselves as the source of our satisfaction, we have grown proud. The fact the we take credit for the accomplishments leaves human kinds feeling empty, without a sense of their place in the universe


tswaller 7 years ago

The progression of our society from pre-industrialization to the post modern era, has left human kind proud and empty. Prior to the industrial revolution, humans life was hard, and in the effort that was need to get life's simplest needs, Humans felt the need and requirement to look to the source of the provider. Yet, now in the time of finger touch satisfaction we look to ourselves for th meeting of our needs. So in looking to ourselves as the source of our satisfaction, we have grown proud. The fact the we take credit for the accomplishments leaves human kinds feeling empty, without a sense of their place in the universe


tswaller 7 years ago

The progression of our society from pre-industrialization to the post modern era, has left human kind proud and empty. Prior to the industrial revolution, humans life was hard, and in the effort that was need to get life's simplest needs, Humans felt the need and requirement to look to the source of the provider. Yet, now in the time of finger touch satisfaction we look to ourselves for th meeting of our needs. So in looking to ourselves as the source of our satisfaction, we have grown proud. The fact the we take credit for the accomplishments leaves human kinds feeling empty, without a sense of their place in the universe

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