Charlene Spretnak on Relational Reality

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Charlene Spretnak:

"Our hypermodern societies currently possess only a kindergarten-level understanding of the deeply relational nature of reality. It may seem unlikely that such advanced cultures could have missed “the way the world works,” but it was simply a matter of habit. Our cultural tendency has been to perceive the physical worlds as an aggregate of separate entities. We noticed some relationships between and among things, of course, but those seemed of marginal significance compared to what things are made of and how they function. The failure to notice that reality is inherently dynamic and interrelated at all levels – including substance and functioning – has caused a vast range of suffering: our medical system designed treatments as if our bodies were biomachines with independently functioning parts; our education systems regarded students as essentially isolate units into which learning can be implanted; our psychologists authoritatively conveyed to patients the Freudian notion that separating from core family relationships is the key to healthy maturation; and our workplaces and dwellings were designed with no inkling of the relationship between human health and natural light. Moreover, our communities have become fragmented and alienating, as the focus of modern life has largely contracted to the sphere of the Individual Consumer, a disintegration that has not been countered by support for the social fabric. Even more tragically, the entire planet is now imperilled by climate destabilization and ecological degradation, resulting from the modern assumption that highly advanced societies could throw toxic substances “away” somewhere and could exude staggeringly unnatural levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere without ill effect… " (Spretnak, C. Relational Reality: New discoveries of Interrelatedness That Are Transforming the Modern World Topsham: Green Horizon Books p. 1-2)

The Relational Worldview

by Charlene Spretnak

"A few years ago, I started noticing small articles in newspapers about surprising discoveries in physiology and health care, in education and child-rearing, in community design and architecture, and in various quarters of the economy. They were all examples of the relational nature of reality poking through the mechanistic assumptions that have caused so many of the crises we face. For instance, people working in "daylighted" buildings experience less illness and absenteeism than those working in artificial lighting (a body-sun relationship). People with many friends catch fewer colds; later on, elderly people with at least a few close relationships are less prone to develop dementia (our bodymind falters when deprived of social relationships).

Towns with thriving community-based economics, including local food security, exhibit a more resilient social fabric and less depression (cultivating interconnections pays off in many ways). Granted, I've been tracking such developments for decades, but even I was astonished by many of the recent findings, especially in the fields of physiology and education. Apparently, the world is far more relational than even we relational thinkers supposed. I've gathered scores of such examples in a report titled Relational Reality, which will be posted on the website of Green Horizon magazine in mid-April ( I hope that document will help to convince activists of the virtues of identifying and cultivating the interrelationships involved when they try to analyze ecosocial problems or to design solutions.

The difficulty is that our education and conditioning in modern societies work against our being able to grasp the profoundly relational nature of reality. We tend to perceive only aggregates of seemingly separate, discrete entities and to miss the inherent interrelatedness animating all living systems, both human and more-than-human, both social and individual. Consequently, most of our institutions, laws, public policy, and reform movements address problems through a mechanistic lens that makes analysts feel terribly rational but badly distorts their perception of what is actually going on. In fact, nothing exists apart from its internal and external relationships: the world, and every problem within it, is constituted entirely of relationships.

How effective is activist work that misses, or ignores, that core truth?

As more and more discoveries are made about the relational nature of reality, young activists will find it easier to employ a relational analysis and vision. Our hypermodern selves are pretty much at a kindergarten level now regarding the understanding of how dynamically interrelated the world is (not to be confused with the sort of connectedness the Internet affords, useful though that may be). Humans will never nail down a complete grasp of the vast and miniscule complexity involved, yet young activists will be bringing society closer in sync with (relational) reality if they craft solutions to society's problems that include attention to the interconnections involved. Simple solutions to seemingly simple problems will fail, once again. Organic thinking that perceives, repairs, and creates interrelationships through new approaches, however, might just save the day." (