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Dominant Myths2022-Aug-15  8:37:42 PM
Basic Beliefs. Every civilization relies on commonly held assumptions about how the world works and what is of greatest value. Most of these common beliefs remain untested, but influence decisions by being accepted as basic assumptions. If beliefs are erroneous they can easily restrict a society’s ability to solve problems. Such distorted worldviews influence the present global culture, and some of these central but erroneous beliefs have an impact on the scale issue.

The Relationship between Humans and Nature: Dominion or Stewardship? The European perspective on the relationship between humans and nature has become the dominant global view (see Moral and Spiritual Perspectives). Based in Jewish-Christian traditions is the belief that humans were created to have dominion over nature and all its creatures. In the earliest chapters of Genesis there is reference to this human dominance, accompanied by a divine proclamation for humans to subdue nature. Nature is there to serve humans and be subordinate to human manipulation. This notion was reinforced throughout the history and expansion of European thought across the globe. It is a notion that prevails today in Western culture, as continuing attempts are made to subjugate nature and remove its messy intrusions upon the regimented and sanitized character of “modern” life.

One with Nature. Eastern and indigenous cultures developed a different view of the relationship between humans and nature – one of human responsibility to care for and preserve the natural world. Nature itself is viewed as sacred, and humans are viewed as part of and dependent on the natural world. By caring for nature, humans are caring for god’s creation and themselves as well. Such a view has also been represented in Western thought, but relegated to a minority tradition ( see Moral and Spiritual Perspectives).

The Notion of Progress. Today the notion of progress is prevalent in most societies around the world. This is a relatively new concept originating in 17th century Europe with the emergence of modern science and technology. Previously, societies were viewed as either having no particular directions, or as decaying from a previous state of grace. The idea that things will inevitably improve because of increased knowledge and technologies is new, and reinforced by the rapid rate of scientific discoveries and technical innovations that are brought to market. The extent and rapidity of such changes are accepted as evidence that continued progress is inevitable.

Faith in Science and Technology: Technology Will Save Us. The incredible advances in science and technology over the last century are truly remarkable. This explosion of knowledge is unprecedented in human history, and its application in the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people has come to be taken for granted. The range and complexities of these discoveries reinforce the belief that humans can understand and subjugate nature, and that whatever problems societies face, science and technology will provide solutions.

Questioning the Dominant Myths. Taken together with the prevalence of the market economy, these dominant cultural worldviews, present formidable obstacles to recognizing the scale issue as a potentially serious threat. The idea that humans have pride of place in the universe, with an obligation to exploit nature to glorify a deity, and have an unlimited intellectual capacity to create technologies as a means of doing so, along with the material evidence that economic growth has benefited hundreds of millions of people, provides powerful incentives to ignore the scale issue. These ideas support and reinforce each other, and have shaped many key institutions that characterize modern societies. There is no “when to stop” rule in either neoclassical economic theory, or the Book of Genesis.

New Myths to Consider. To think about scale issue seriously, consideration must be given to the following ideas, each of which runs counter to a now dominant myth:

  • humans are part of nature and rely on nature for survival
  • humans have a special responsibility in protecting nature
  • current science is limited in its ability to understand the complexities of nature
  • technologies can create irrevocably destructive environmental and social problems
  • economic growth has the potential to irrevocably destroy parts of nature which are required to support life
  • societal progress is not a given; global civilization could collapse. [each of the above should likely have a hyperlink to explicate the issues]
'The history of the rise and fall of civilizations is largely a history of solving major social challenges by pushing a worldview that works to its logical limits, and failing to foresee those limits and how they might be avoided (Tainter, 1988). To ignore the scale issue is to fail to learn from this history and to commit the same error today. '

Scale and the Survival of Civilization. In the past, civilizations would fail in one place, but new ones would emerge elsewhere. The global extent of modern civilization, connecting all the earth’s major ecosystems through ever expanding economic activities, threatens to eliminate the prospects for such renewal. It is both the pervasiveness of the problem, and the irrevocable destruction that our economic activity is capable of, which makes the scale issue unprecedented and of such vital importance.

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