Is it time for a cultural paradigm shift?

This week’s focus on mindfulness and paradigms opened my eyes to the human mind’s role in wicked problems. It seems that a lot of people are aware of wicked problems, but their paradigms drastically alter the solutions each person or group proposes.

I read for the “yes” side of the globalization argument. Right from the start the article spoke about a “dominant social paradigm,” which is the overall set of beliefs, values, and ideas for a society. Components of the DSP in the West include:

  • Free-market economics
  • Faith in science/technology
  • Growth orientation
  • Separation from the natural environment

Throughout the article I felt that the language, arguments, and sources used were heavily colored by the Western DSP. For example, the author emphasized developed nations’ influence on developing nations to help them grow and increase national income. The Kuznets curve “supports the view that countries can grow out of pollution with wealth” (pg. 39). Higher income leads to improved technology, which in turn decreases environmental impact and potentially reverses the negative impacts of economic development. In terms of the free market criteria, the article seemed to use socialism/communism as an exception to the rule that globalization improved environmental conditions. I find it all too convenient that a person who champions free-market economics would make this claim about socialism; even several decades after the Cold War, in the U.S. communism is still widely agreed upon as economically unsustainable and a threat to human freedom. There is no question that the very paradigm we learned about shaped this author’s attitude toward globalization and the environment.

I began to think about how the Western DSP manifested in my own life. I notice it showing up in the form of many overwhelming expectations. When I was still an engineering major, it became apparent that either you learn to work with the new technology or you fall behind. I first chose engineering because I knew I could secure a sizable income – evidence of the growth orientation as well as the drive to provide for my basic needs. Now that I am in the apparel design industry, I keep thinking of what I will need to do, what kind of clothing I will need to design so that consumers will want to buy it! Consumers have so many options to choose from, a hallmark of economies more oriented toward a free-market.

I become more frustrated with the DSP of my country as I continue to practice mindfulness. It is evident that our drive to consume is neither intrinsic nor beneficial. However, what is the alternative? Do we give up our perceived right to acquire as much wealth as possible? Would we suffer as a result if we simply purchased and demanded less? Of course, we would not, but once a culture adopts a certain way of living – and views the world through a certain paradigm for so long – it is very hard to change attitudes and form new habits. Part of me believes that if people stopped consuming at such high quantities, companies would have to adjust by raising prices or go out of business. Then the people in the company would lose their jobs and be unable to pay for their needs, and so on. However, if we introduce the idea to decrease consumption gradually, then everyone simply would not need as much and would invest the money they do have more wisely. Sudden changes never suit any human institution because humans are creatures of habit. A massive paradigm shift could take place – but will it?

My paradigm has developed into one of only using what I need, focusing on my interpersonal relationships, and pursuing a career that can take advantage of my skills and make a difference in the world. To some people in a consumer-driven paradigm, that might sound “too good to be true.” People who pursue their passions instead of taking a secure but unsatisfying job seem almost counterculture. I know it is an attainable lifestyle for myself, one that will please me inherently. Could everyone live that way? I am not sure.

I want to travel to other countries and experience their paradigms. One can see the effects of a country’s paradigm on the day-to-day life of its citizens, and while several countries attempt to emulate U.S. patterns of consumption, those countries live life very differently from those in the U.S. What kinds of problems do people in other countries experience, and are any of those problems a result of the dominant social paradigm there? The author of the globalization article proposed that globalization could be economically beneficial and increase wealth, but globalization can also introduce new ways of thinking offer different perspectives and paradigms.

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