by Dr. Denise R. Ames
A very troubling discord that was simmering below the surface boiled over in the 2016 election. Deep divides among the American people, and the Western world, were starkly revealed. This blog post will summarize a way of understanding these divides. I feel that before divisions can be mended and solutions worked out a deeper understanding of people who hold different viewpoints than we do are necessary.
It is part of my work as president of an educational nonprofit, Center for Global Awareness, to write and teach about the colliding ways we see the world. I have used Jonathan Haidt’s six moral foundations—care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression—to explain how different groups of people see issues in these six categories differently. Personal experiences, education, geographic location, personality type, and other factors influence how a person can act in and see the world.
I have found in my research, however, that another layer of explanation is helpful in clarifying colliding viewpoints today. I have developed a model to explain how people throughout the world can be clustered into five different worldviews. A worldview is an overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world; a set of simplifying assumptions about how the world works. The five overarching worldviews in the world today are …
1) Indigenous: the ways of life and values of a dwindling number of native people throughout the world.
2) Modern: heralds scientific knowing, materialism, and technological advancement.
3) Fundamentalist: values their own traditions and often religious customs.
4) Globalized: promotes a philosophy of economic growth and prosperity.
5) Transformative: characterized by integrating diverse ideas and fostering collaboration.
Each of these five worldviews has subsets and differentiation. I will elaborate on them briefly.
The indigenous worldview is any ethnic group who shares a similar ethnic identity and inhabits a geographic region with which they have the earliest known historical connection. They have tight-knit social bonds and social mechanisms to reinforce group solidarity, a high-regard for the wisdom of their elders, and clear demarcations between male and female roles (at least in the past). Their religious practices, rituals, and customs are interwoven into their everyday life. “Mother Earth” and sacred geographic locations are integral to their worldview.
The modern worldview started to take shape around 1500 in the West and ushered in tremendous changes in how modern people see the world. The scientific revolution sparked different modes of thinking from religious/spiritual knowing to technical, materialist thinking. In different guises capitalism took shape and transformed the ways of working, living, and being of all people. Political changes swept away monarchies and led to representative governments, although totalitarian fascism and communism made their mark on the political climate as well in the 20th century. The environment was made a commodity, tied to capitalist output and growth. Socially, especially among the middle class, the nuclear family displaced the extended family, while the father became the “breadwinner” and mother assumed domestic duties. Liberalism, as a political philosophy—freedom of speech, press, and religion among others—still forms the bedrock of political systems in Western countries. Even though liberalism seems to be seriously challenged in the 21st century, its fate is far from determined at this point.
Although the modern worldview continues today, a subset—the postmodern worldview—developed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and has gained more followers in the early 21st century, especially among the educated elite and young people. Some of the characteristics include the concept that boundaries have become more fluid as the distinction between male and female has blurred. Divisions between nation-states are challenged, and some even advocate for open-borders. There is great empathy for the “victims” of oppression—people of color, women, homosexuals, and native people—for what is considered to be the oppressive and colonial policies of modernism. Post-modernists tend to be more politically on the left and advocate for a very active role of the federal government in the realm of social welfare. Many eschew religious traditions and take a more secular, even atheistic, stance.
The fundamentalist worldview also has different subsets and belief systems. Primary in this worldview are those who hold to traditional religions, such as Christianity in the U.S. and Islam in the Middle East. They believe in authority figures and hierarchical structures, summarily dismissed by post-modernists. They believe in the sanctity of their religious beliefs and the primacy of their holy scriptures. Many have strict demarcations between genders. Some in this worldview turn to authoritarian political ideas rather than religious beliefs, such as supporting a strong leader and eschewing democratic customs.
The globalized worldview has emerged out of the modern worldview and taken a commanding stance in the 21st century. Those holding this worldview believe that progress can be realized through more sophisticated technological marvels, connecting the world into an intricate, technological and economic web. Poverty can be eliminated by growing the economy to include more people into prosperity and abundance. Globalization also influences social structures, with an elite, educated class more connected to people who hold a similar worldview around the world than their less-educated, fellow citizens. Culturally, the emphasis on consumer experiences and material wealth is more important than religious connections.
The transformative worldview is developing ideas and actions distinct from the other worldviews. It is about integrating the valuable characteristics of the other worldviews but also creating some unique beliefs. Although technology is important, there is not as much of an obsession with technological fixes as in the globalized worldview. Instead of an over-reliance on a globalized economy, there is an emphasis on the local economy, especially regarding food and the benefits of organic products. Even though multi-culturalism is important, allegiance is given to the nation-state as a viable political structure as well. Though there is recognition of the suffering by victims of past discrimination, there is a renewal of an ethic of personal responsibility to cope with the situation. There is more of a focus on spirituality than organized religion. Although in a nascent stage, this worldview has the potential to blossom into an influential force.
Understanding the characteristics of each of these five worldviews can help in addressing the deep cultural divide in the U.S.
About the Author …
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.