A Holistic Masterpiece

A tour de force by Asoka Bandarage, Sustainability and Well-Being: The Middle Path to Environment, Society and the Economy is more in sync with my thinking than any book I’ve read. This excellent, well-written work presents a holistic framework that addresses both the whole person and the whole world. Published in 2013 with 68 pages of text and 17 pages of notes, this comprehensive essay, as described by its publisher, Palgrave Macmillan UK, offers:

An integrated analysis of the twin challenges of environmental sustainability and human well-being by investigating them as interconnected phenomena requiring a paradigmatic psychosocial transformation. She presents an incisive social science analysis and an alternative philosophical perspective on the needed transition from a worldview of domination to one of partnership.

The chapters are titled:

  • Environmental, Social, and Economic Collapse

  • Evolution of the Domination Paradigm

  • Ecological and Social Justice Movements

  • Ethical Path to Sustainability and Well-Being

The abstract of the final chapter summarizes:

This chapter considers the ethical dimension of sustainability and well-being and the need to shift from the prevailing system of domination and extremism to a global consciousness and a social and economic system based on interdependence and partnership. It discusses the (Buddhist) Middle Path, based on the cultivation of the ethics of moderation, tolerance, nonviolence, and compassion, as the answer to the current crisis.

The “From Domination to Partnership” section argues:

Domination, both individual and collective, is based on a psychology of dualism: mind versus matter, subject versus object, and self versus other.….

Today, “ego consciousness” and its ethics of individualism, domination, and competition is the driving force at the personal level as well as at the societal levels of nations, ethno-religious and gender groups, and in how humans relate to other animal and life forms…. The alternative..is a universal consciousness based on unity within diversity….

“Transformation of the Self” reflects on how

accustomed to living within a competitive mechanistic world, people today are cynical about commitment to nonviolent participatory processes…. The Middle Path in turn provides a road map for the alleviation of individual and social suffering through transformation of both the self and society. It calls for social change activism grounded on compassion, courage, and generosity instead of fear, anger, and hatred.

From the academic literature, following are four examples of works that cite Bandarage and call for humanity to adopt:

a shift in the way we consider the global economic system [so we]... remember that the goal of economic activity is to improve all aspects of wellbeing….  [and] manage impacts on all forms of capital including natural, social, human, financial, built, cultural and political.

...a fundamental shift in conceptual frameworks and our thinking patterns.… How is the sustainability transition possible if the ideas that guide our actions and policies remain untouched?

...a transformation of consciousness and an integrated global policy approach...requiring multi-dimensional, short-and long-term approaches.…

…[and] recognize the interconnectedness of human wellbeing and the vitality of ecosystems…. The ultimate goal of sustainable development, i.e. wellbeing, has been understood narrowly, and mainly in economic terms. To increase the chances of a transition to sustainability, it is necessary to enrich the understanding of wellbeing on the basis of a relational paradigm, in which the dependency of human wellbeing on the health of the ecosystems is internalized.

Bandarage, a Sri Lankan woman with a Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale, is well-positioned to have an impact. She describes herself on her website,as a “scholar and practitioner” with experience in field research, policy analysis, report writing, presentation of workshops, lectures and seminars in a broad range of educational settings, and teaching at numerous universities on social philosophy and consciousness, environmental sustainability, human well-being, international development, political economy, women and gender studies, multiculturalism, conflict analysis and resolution, peace and security, South Asia, Sri Lanka, and population and ecology. Her site includes information about some of her talks and interviews. She serves on the Steering Committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and the Parent Leadership Board of Emory University.

My discovery of Sustainability and Well-Being was very encouraging. It led me to feel that we who share a holistic worldview are less alone than it often seems.

But Bandarage’s message is not spreading. As an academic imprint, the book’s list price, $60, limits its accessibility and marketability. Her projected June 2118 workshop at the California Institute for Integral Studies was cancelled. And none of her (infrequent) columns on Huffington Post present a holistic perspective.

Those realities, along with the experiences I discuss in “Still Looking for Holistic Community,” are disappointing. I’m resigned to the fact that not many people share my passion. So I focus on building the TransformTheSystem.org website. Maybe that site will be a useful resource if and when widespread, grassroots energy behind a holistic worldview emerges.