Saving the world

  • Saving the world

    Posted by John Ehrenfeld on September 22, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    I do mot mean to be arrogant with the above title. Iain’s work is of great consequence in understanding how the world works. But beyond that, he warns, that our civilization is heading for the abyss and, unless the modern left hemisphere dominance is reversed we will fall into it. It behooves any of us who is concerned about this and wants to do something to find ways to put his work into action. My way has been to incorporate it into the work I had been doing for some time before I became aware of his. I have been, in essence, critiquing modernity for quite a while without the benefit of the divided-brain-model, for example, my first book, Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture. I redefined sustainability in terms of flourishing, the attainment of the human potential. More recently I wrote another book, The Right Way to Flourish: Reconnecting with the Real World, continuing the critique, but now basing it on McGilchrist. Flourishing has a dual character: personal wholeness and social coherence, which aspects line up, magically, with the right and left hemisphere, respectively.

    The failure to generate flourishing and the opposite production of the ills we now face can be held to be unintended consequences of normal [modern] behavior. That normality reflects the left/right weighting of modern cultures, and must be reversed if we are flourish and preserve the Planet. The book ends with a suggestion of how that balance be restored. Some measures includes practices that directly rely on the right hemisphere, like mindfulness and pragmatic inquiry. Others include the design of artifacts that induce presence, that is, the activate the right hemisphere. I have been teaching, writing articles, etc. to get these ideas in front of a wider audience, in my case, academics and business.

    I notice on this website a group devoted to the intersection of politics and McGilchrist. I am writing see if there is interest in broadening the scope, using his work in bringing transformational/paradigmatic change to other key institutions: education, business… You are welcome to take a look at my website, which I have neglected recently, but used to put forth a lot of info on McGilchrist. Also, I recently wrote an article (link) directed to a business audience that got a lot of attention. I am tuned into a lot of chatter about ways to avoid the catastrophe we are headed for, but none gets deep enough. Only a change in the modern brain change normality such that we begin to care for the Earth and one another instead of seeing everything simply as resources to satisfy the left’s insatiable hunger.

    John Ehrenfeld replied 1 year, 6 months ago 2 Members · 4 Replies
  • 4 Replies
  • Don Salmon

    September 24, 2022 at 2:55 pm

    Hi, forgive me if I’m being overly simplistic – are you talking about working to create an environment (homes, workplaces, neighborhoods etc) to foster the kind of integrated, whole-brain (brain-body, brain-body-cosmos!) world Iain is taking about?

    I wonder if you know of the work of neuroscientist Esther Steinberg, who has been conducting research for some years on the effect of “place” on our consciousness?

  • John Ehrenfeld

    September 26, 2022 at 2:28 pm

    Yes, I am looking to restructure institutions to create a new normality where the right hemisphere is again the master. Such a shift would generate behaviors that are caring and concern about the world. Only this will keep us from the abyss, Iain writes about. If we continue to behave as we are, no amount of fixing after the fact will undo the damage to human beings and the world we create in the normal course of a day.

    You mention “place.” Yes, very important as awareness of place is a right-hemisphere action. I do not know Esther Steinberg, but will certainly look at her. Heidegger writes about dwelling. The notion of place is explored very carefully in a book by Christian Norberg-Schultz, Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture. I include a short discussion in my last book, The Right Way to Flourish, in a chapter outlining ways to make the left-right shift happen.

    A new normal is critical to avoid the unintended consequences that are inevitable in a left-hemisphere dominated world. Some will show up in a right-brain world, but are unlikely to reach levels that now threaten us. I find talking about normal behaviors as a focus helps quell the left brain’s immediate offer to fix things up.

    Thanks for the info.

    • Don Salmon

      September 26, 2022 at 4:41 pm

      Ok, thanks for the clarification. So if I understand you correctly, you’re primarily focused on external changes, which I think is great, but I wonder if it’s enough.

      This brings to mind and anecdote from many years ago. in the early 1990s, a group of about 500 people got together to look at how spirituality and politics could inform each other.

      I got into a heated conversation on the value of “inner” vs “outer” change with an avowed Marxist, who insisted only outer change mattered. We were getting nowhere when an image came to mind.

      “Imagine,” I said, “you have a magic wand. With one wave of the magic wand, all institutions, laws, constitutions, etc would change to maximize peace, harmony, justice, etc (ie the perfect RH as master type world). All people would immediately have all their material needs met, sufficient housing, clothing, food, all wars would be ended, all workers given full rights, no more racist, sexist laws, policies etc.

      “Do you think it would even take 24 hours before people started exploiting things, changing things such that all the old inequalities, injustices were back in full force or even worse than before?”

      “now, imagine a 2nd wave of the wand. NO external changes are made, but all minds are filled with wisdom and all hearts filled with love and compassion. Do you think it would take even 24 hours before everyone on the planet would start working to ensure that all institutions, laws, constitutions etc would change to maximize peace, harmony, justice, etc?”

      To my amazement, he got it. It’s not that we have a magic wand, and another objection, that well, human nature will never change.

      The purpose of the magic wand thought experiment is simply to see as clearly as possible that inner change HAS to take precedence, and as to the objection that human nature will never change, that eliminates the value of changing environments and building special buildings as well.

      I love your proposal and your vision, but I don’t see it being effective without an equally powerful vision of how to make inner change more accessible to all.

  • John Ehrenfeld

    September 26, 2022 at 7:03 pm

    Again yes. It is the inner change that, ultimately, matters. That is my point, and I got it from Iain. Behaviors reflect the balance of the hemisphere so if you want to change behaviors, you have to change the way the brain works. And you have to change behaviors because they are what makes the world what it is. But changing behaviors needs to be done by external means, imposing practices that force the right brain to retake the position of master. This is to counter modern cultures that do just the opposite, as Iain writes in TMAHE. The structure of modernity favors the left hemisphere and will continue to do so until the societal (institutional) structure is transformed. Mindfulness exercises, for example, can help. So would a new emphasis on pragmatic inquiry and problem solving (right), instead of the dominance of theory-based frameworks (left). I attach a recent article I wrote that has a short part about this. External change is only a means, but without it, little or no inner change will take place. Just thinking about changing the hemispheric balance won’t work because the left is now in charge and will keep it that way.

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