Editor’s Note: This article was written in April 2010 but its message continues to be relevant today…..
Today we look at Stewart Brand’s recent book “Whole Earth Discipline”, PBS’s Frontline series episode “Vaccine War” and how our evolution is calling for us to allow new perspectives to emerge. We hold beliefs and opinions dearly. We think we know what is right and can point at others and say they are “wrong”. Today, I’m asking us if we can all hold our own opinion a little more lightly, allow in the cherished beliefs of others that might disagree with us, and by bringing the viewpoints together allow new wisdom to emerge?
Whole Earth Discipline
I recently read Stewart Brand’s new book “Whole Earth Discipline”. Two things drew me to it. First, I have always been a big fan of Stewart. He was the originator of the Whole Earth Catalog series and their magazines, Co-evolution Quarterly which later became Whole Earth Review. Second, the book was about his changing his beliefs on certain ecological viewpoints in a manner that differed from my current beliefs. I wanted to understand why.
I came to his catalogs later than most folks, discovering them with the publication of the “Next Whole Earth Catalog” in 1980. I can honestly say that this book was one of the top 10 that changed my life. At the time I was living in the South, young, married with kids, feeling like a fish out of water as I looked around at the beliefs and visions of many of my coworkers and friends. I knew my life was about something more that the options life was presenting to me, but I didn’t know what. This book pointed me in a new direction. I resonated with the viewpoints of the editors of the catalog–they were lifelong learners and so was I. The life they pointed to with their tools and resources was the life I felt I was seeking. Some of the books they recommended, such as “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, became some of my other life changers. The move of my family from the south to Colorado was in some small part due to the influence of Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogs and magazines.
The recommendations of Stewart and his editors became my source of knowledge to pursue before the Internet became available. They were my Internet in a sense, as those catalogs were a way to hyperlink between topics that were connected so that your interest in one topic would naturally lead you to related areas. Their embrace of online bulletin boards and the Internet were some of my first introductions to the online environment. Ironically, one of my first PCs was marketed under the name “Whole Earth”. As I recall, they had an agreement with Stewart’s Point Foundation. Also ironically, the availability of online information easily searchable made the Whole Earth Catalogs less essential.
Brand’s new book is about the current climate crisis and his call for us to embrace certain technologies as being “Green” which previously had not been considered that way. He makes a strong case citing scientific studies as to why the move of populations from rural areas to urban areas, nuclear power and genetically engineered food should all be embraced by the environmental movement. I’ll be honest, as someone who consider themselves green, I did not previously consider these as “green” options. Yet if Brand changed his mind on these areas, and as I’ve frequently written about, we all need to get out of our comfort zones and listen to the viewpoints of others who differ from us, then I certainly owed the book a read.
No matter what your viewpoint on the topics, I would highly recommend this book. I won’t say he changed my mind totally on all the issues he presents, but he did open me to viewing the issues differently. If I had any criticism of the book, it would be that Brand overly relies on a materialistic scientific viewpoint and sometimes appears to be negating other’s opinions when they are not based on what he deems to be “scientific facts”. Those who emotionally feel that we are not served well by nuclear energy or GMO food, who believe there is something inherently wrong in our pursuing these technologies, are totally discounted by Brand.
Last night, my wife and I caught the last half of the Frontline episode which looked at the current debate surrounding the use of vaccines routinely on our children. We found it to be a well-balanced report offering all perspectives. Briefly, one side of the issue is that vaccines have been shown to eradicate illness, hence there is a public welfare need for all of us to receive our recommended vaccines. The other side of the issue concerns a large number of parents whose children became ill immediately after receiving their vaccines. For example, there are a number of children who developed autism after receiving one particular combination vaccine.
The show reports on a number of epidemiological studies which show that the vaccine in question and Thimerosal (a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines) have not led to increased instances of autism. Predictably, the studies have been pointed to by the scientific community to negate the concerns of the anti-vaccine proponents while those not in favor of vaccines disagree with the conclusions. They still emotionally point to the large number of children who have developed autism and ask “why?”.
The show also raises questions about the power of the Internet. Some in the medical establishment question the value of online information that they feel is inaccurate yet informs their patients. They feel that their medical efforts are being undermined by misleading and false information readily available to all. Others see great value in the Internet and its ability to empower people to take charge of their own health and to connect with others who have experienced negative outcomes so as to compare stories and detect trends.
A quick check today of some online blogs shows that one’s opinion of the Frontline show was easily based on their pre-existing viewpoint. Proponents of vaccines thought the show vindicated the scientific community. Opponents of vaccines felt it unfairly negated what they still see as legitimate concerns.
Allowing a New Perspective to Emerge
In a sense, both Brand’s book and the PBS episode point to the same debate. That is, are the current levels of our scientific understanding of issues such as genetically modified food, the growth of cities, nuclear power or our use of vaccines sufficient for us to rely totally on the available data to make such important decisions? There’s probably other debates where our current level of scientific understanding says one thing while a substantial number of people emotionally and strongly disagree. Should we always side with science’s current understanding over such deep-seated opposition?
Let me be clear here, I’m not knocking rational thought and scientific knowledge. I’m a big proponent of science. Science has improved the human condition drastically. What I’m asking us to consider are the limits of current science and our being open to gaining wisdom from other sources.
Integral theorist Ken Wilber says that truth certainly comes from empirical measurement of the outer world but that there are vast areas of knowledge that are fed by pursuing inner wisdom. He charts the sources of our knowledge into quadrants, with one side (2 quadrants) coming from data gleaned from introspection and other inward techniques while the other side of the quadrants comes from our study of the outer world.
Could it be that where humanity is headed is towards a world where we integrate all areas of our wisdom? I believe this to be the case. The bottom line is that neither side of those in the debates described hold all the truth. It is pure hubris if you believe that you do. To simply point at what you see as either scientific data or your personal emotional data and to say “this is the final answer and I’m not open to changing” limits our evolutionary path.
So how can you move forward? Well, as I suggested at the beginning, the answer is in holding our own opinion a little more lightly, allowing into our consideration the cherished beliefs of others who might disagree with us, and by bringing the viewpoints together allowing new wisdom to emerge. Don’t immediately argue with or negate the beliefs of others. Seek to understand them and allow them to inform you. To yourself, clearly state your own belief, clearly state the other’s belief, and then ask yourself “what greater possibility is seeking to emerge?” See things not as either or, but as “and” …. say, “this plus that takes us where?”
Should we see the growth of cities, nuclear power, GMO food or the complete vaccination of all children as things to be embraced for the good of our planet? Maybe. There is scientific evidence to support such positions. But there is also a strong inner response by a substantial number of people who disagree (as well as some empirical concerns as well). Can both sides be informed by the other and then allow solutions to emerge which honors us all? I am optimistic that we can forge this new path and find new and greater possibilities than we could ever imagine waiting in the wings seeking to emerge into expression.
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!