Applied Cosmic Anthropology
-Asian Social Institute (ASI)

alternative view of sustainable development


Paul J. Dejillas

Professor of Anthropology


In spite of the several recent developments, the above approach can still be considered as conventional when explaining the nature, scope, and objectives of sustainable development. Our discussion in this course, will go beyond by providing an opportunity for the students to link or relate the discussion on the various critical issues in sustainable development to the concerns of applied cosmic anthropology (ACA), in particular to the latter’s objectives, principles, theories, and strategies. Since this is still a pioneering work, it is hoped that the attempt might be able to draw added insights that could strengthen and bolster the meanings, scope, and aims of sustainable development, as well as inject more relevance and greater effectiveness of the attendant programs and strategies it may eventually advance.


The term “sustainable development” is broadly described as that state of living where man is in harmony with his environment and his fellowmen. Environment can refer to the physical resources of Mother Nature and that harmonious living infers that man’s work does not result in environmental degradation, in the disturbance of Nature’s biological diversity and life-support systems, in undermining its ecological system, and in compromising the ability of the environment to grow and renew itself. All this is pursued so that the needs of the present and future generations are met. In relation to his fellowmen, “living in harmony” suggests that man’s work with Mother Nature does not result in social exclusion, political disenfranchisement, widespread poverty, cultural/tribal disintegration, and even religious discrimination of the other inhabitants of this planet Earth. Sustainable development, in this regard, has its meaning, importance, and relevance to Applied Cosmic Anthropology since the latter very much addresses environmental and human or anthropological concerns … in fact, in a broader, holistic, and transcendental way.


Let me demonstrate how some groups of scientists propound another view and approach to looking at the environment. Proponents of some emerging paradigms speak of outer and inner dimensions of environment. The outer environment---also referred to as the physical or objective by many authors---is viewed merely as a reflection of the inner environment, also subjective or spiritual. The inner environment, as this view goes, lies within man himself---his inner values, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. This emerging paradigm of viewing man’s environment essentially advances a belief that the transformation of the objective reality can be achieved by the transformation of the inner self. University of California-Berkeley professor Robert Fuller calls this alternative view of examining the physical world a “psychotectonic” shift, or a “dramatic change in the psychological plates of consciousness, analogous to a shifting of the tectonic plates of the physical planet. It’s a shift of our deepest assumptions about ourselves and what it is to be human.” When examining the environment, one of the main concerns is thus on avoiding “generating emotional and mental smog to create a healthy, beautiful world” (McLaughlin and Davidson, 1994:48). A change in “inner environment,” i.e., man’s consciousness, according to this psychological view, is needed to create a truly new objective reality.


Corollary and supplementary to this psychological aspect of viewing the inner dimension of reality is the spiritual element, which recognizes the interconnection of both matter and spirit, or the so-called “sacred interconnection of all life,” as some proponents have advanced. The application of this view is expressed thus: “(The environmental crisis) is symbolic of our lack of connection to the natural world and of the centuries-old split between spirituality and materiality” (McLaughlin and Davidson, 1994:46).


Spirituality and religious doctrines have been used as a rationale and justification for exploiting the biological systems of the planet. This paradigm recognizes the sacred interconnection of both matter and spirit and of all life. Proponents of this paradigm believe in keeping the balance between the Spirit and matter with “a new ethic based on the sacredness of all life.” In the view of the proponents, “with polluted water and air and toxic dumps affecting the health of many people directly for the first time and fears of global warming receiving front-page treatment, this (ecological) crisis dramatically illustrates the sacred interconnections of all life” (ibid., 46-47). This is saying that the spiritual or inner approach also helps us to realize that “everything we do affects everything else.” In the mien, from the perspective of this new paradigm, exploring the world or outside reality is exploring man’s inner dynamics---how our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs create or influence the reality outside, and how by simply resolving the internal crisis in man, we also resolve the outside crisis confronting the world---be this ecological, economic, political, or social.


Interestingly enough, many authors have already opened themselves to the concepts of multi-dimensionality, interdependence, interrelatedness, and even to the idea of synchronicity. Take the work of Robert Hay (2005) - “Becoming Ecosynchronous: The Root Causes of Our Unsustainable Way of Life.” The author uses a new approach, which he calls becoming eco-synchronous, to discuss the unfolding of self (becoming) and being aware of events that are meaningfully related (synchronicity). The approach begins by analyzing the root causes of our society's unsustainable condition, which includes reviews of the long-term cycles of civilizations, the decline of a sacred relationship with nature, the Western view of reality, eco-psychology, eco-feminism, sense of place and consumerism. The process involves taking note of the problems that confront us, including where trends are heading, followed by a review of initiatives underway to address these problems. A shift to an eco-centric position is then advocated, as is an emphasis on personal development, with the end in view of becoming more sustainable.

In all this, what implications can be drawn when we incorporate into the discussion of the environment its inner dimension---including both the psychological and spiritual aspects---as propounded by many authors, even if still on the level of concepts and theories? How will today’s meanings, scope, objectives, and programs of sustainable development be eventually affected? These are questions which can be answered later on as the course progresses. Suffice to say at this stage that, in the final analysis, our discussion can have its real meaning, relevance, and impact, only if the objectives, principles, philosophy, and strategies of sustainable development are oriented towards and founded on the some broader principles, strategies, and programs, to which applied cosmic anthropology subscribe.

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