Supporting a “Living Universe Paradigm”: An Argument for Environmental and Social Justice

We are currently living in a time that is beckoning humanity to embrace a new thought system. The consequences of climate change are at our doorstep, the advent of social media is revealing an ongoing need for social justice reform and advances in technology are continuing to prove the interconnected nature of all life. The colonialist, anthropomorphic, Euro centric ways of living in the world are detrimental. Indigenous systems that honor a “living universe” need to be respected and interwoven in the formation of a new story for the modern world. The embrace of this integrated story is our hope to continue to support life on Earth.

A great explanation of the indigenous world view is provided by professor Donald L. Fixico’s book The American Indian Mind in a Linear World, where he explains ““Indian Thinking” is “seeing” things from a perspective emphasizing that circles and cycles are central to the world and that all things are related in the universe” (p 1). This is illustrated in the Native American saying “to all my relations”, that acknowledges one’s relationship to not only their human family and friends, but their relationship to all aspects of the material world (plants, animals, insects, furniture, etc.…) as well as the metaphysical world.


This way of living in the world is one of the ancients, seen in various indigenous cultures across the Americas, Asia, African and even pagan European communities. Prior to modernity and industrialization, mankind lived in a deeper experience of communion with nature, witnessing the cycles of life. The gifts of this attuned relationship with nature included an acknowledgement of a “living universe”, honoring consciousness in all things.

The modern or Western world has lost its connection with this way of being and thinking. In David Korten’s article “A New Story for a New Economy: To Find Our Human Place in a Living Universe” he explains humanity’s dire need for a new story. Korten states, “we have turned as a global society to a Sacred Money and Markets story that legitimates and frames the structure of an economic system that destroys life to make money for those who already have money far beyond any reasonable need. We experience at every hand devastating consequences” (p 2).


Korten further elaborates on the need to cultivate a story that connects to an intuitive knowing of how to live in a healthy relationship with the universe, touching the human heart. Within his arguments he discusses the pitfalls of “false idolatry in the absence of the sacred” (pp 2), the shortcomings of the scientific approach as well as the “distant patriarch” and “the grand machine” narratives, expressing how these main themes of modernity foster separation. Korten states that these ideas “effectively strip away the possibility of deeply democratic communities that self-organize around mutual caring relationships…” leaving “only two options: centralize public authority and/or the market. Both, in our current context are subject to control by financial interests that value people and nature only for their market price and are subject to debilitating corruption in the absence of individual moral responsibility – a quality that by a fundamental assumption of economic theory is contrary to our human nature.” (p 5).

The crux of these poignant observations is that these narratives support an individualistic way of being, which supports coloniality and the re-enforces the reign of the oppressor. Korten’s  aforementioned arguments demonstrate that thought is at the root of political and economic theories, which dictate human behavior. Korten offers the implementation of a “living universe” story, which “embraces spirt as both immanent and transcendent, a concept that religious scholars refer to as pantheism. Within this frame, Earth and the material universe of human experience are more than the spirit’s creation. The spirit is in the world and the world is in the spirit. All of Creation is a sacred and ultimately unified expression of an eternal and intimately present divine will.” (p 11).  This “living universe” thought system incorporates the idea that each being is part of an intelligent, self-directed “participant in a conscious, interconnected self-organizing cosmos on a journey of self-discovery toward ever-greater complexity, beauty, awareness and possibility.” (p 11).


Martin Barraud/Getty Images

As it relates to an “interconnected, self-organizing cosmos”, in Carl Jung’s book “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” he explains “Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most subjective reaches of the psyche.” To me this argues the interrelatedness of our unconscious to the greater whole of the cosmos, including non-humans and other-than-humans, supporting the idea that we are interwoven within a “living universe”, as indicated by Korten. Jung’s statement “meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness,” can also relate to the arguments Korten makes when referring to living within a “Sacred Money and Markets Story.” This statement can also be applied to modern man’s idea that nature is “dead matter”, which creates destruction and lacks the understanding of life within all things.  I also agreed with Jung’s position that the unconscious is still evolving; this again opens the dialogue for a new school of thought to take hold over the current paradigm that creates separation and harm.

A great example of living in accordance to a “living universe” is in Vandana Shiva’s article “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest”. Relating to the aforementioned statements from Korten, Shiva comments that “today, we need to overcome” a “wider and deeper apartheid – an eco-apartheid based on the illusions of separateness of humans from nature in our minds and lives.” (p 3).


Dr. Vadana Shiva – Author, Environmentalist Activist, Food Sovereignty Activist, Eco-Feminist

Shiva states that “when nature is our teacher, we cocreate with her” (p 4). Shiva comments on the importance of the “rights of nature” in Ecuador’s constitution, as well as the Universal Rights of Mother Earth initiated in Bolivia. As Shiva mentions “Much of the discussion centered on ways to transform systems based on domination of people over nature, men over women, and rich over poor into new systems based on partnership.” Shiva further elaborates “that human beings are an inseparable part of nature and that we cannot damage it without severely damaging ourselves,” (p 4) which ties into arguments illustrated by Jung regarding the idea of a collective unconscious, as well as supporting the need for a new paradigm. In Shiva’s article she also touches on the shortcomings of “the dead-Earth worldview”, commenting that “the war against the Earth began with this idea of separateness.” (p 3). Shiva then provides a solution by quoting Indian national poet and Nobel Prize laureate who stated that forests can teach us “lessons on democracy – of leaving space for others while drawing sustenance from the common web of life.” Shiva comments “Tagore saw unity with nature as the highest state of human evolution.” (pp 4 – 5).

The “Statement of the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Defense of Life” is a demonstration of a paradigm shift, empowering the voices and worldviews of indigenous peoples. This statement was put together by the peoples’ of the world in Tiquipaya, Bolivia in October of 2015, as an “agreed proposal to be presented to the international community and governments around the world to preserve life and combat climate change; as an urgent response to a failed capitalist system and civilization model that are the structural causes of the climate crisis in the world.” (p1). This statement addresses a proposed transition to a civilization model of “Living Well”, as the answer to the ramifications of crimes against humanity, wars, the “looting and subjugation of our people” (p 1) and the colonialism. Colonialism was attributed to being the exercise of “oppression and domination”, causing “peoples to lose their identity and recreate foreign models, where nature and the human being himself are capital to be exploited. The colonial order has intended to impose an economic, social, cultural and political to all Southern countries homogenization.” (p 2). This statement also poignantly highlights the current state of “imperial powers” that “still violate the sovereignty of the States, using bombings, invasions, civil wars, espionage and destabilization of democratic governments to subdue the governments and peoples of the world.”  (p 2).


The new paradigm introduced through this conference is one that “values the culture of life and culture of peace that is the Living Well… deepening the complementarity between the peoples’ rights and the Mother Earth rights, which involves building a balanced relationship between human beings and nature to restore harmony with Mother Earth… to preserve community life, where Mother Earth is a living being sacred, and not an object of exploitation of human beings” (p 2).

Actions outlined in this statement include: 1) “Actions of the peoples to fight against the capitalist interests against life” (p 6), which empowers communities to govern themselves, enacting new laws to protect nature and humanity, as well as developing control measures to police new and emerging capitalist technologies that threaten life; 2) “Actions of the peoples to fight against threats to life and geopolitical wars of empires for distribution Mother Earth” (p 8), this includes promoting the community Living Well paradigm, which establishes and maintains a new economic system based on diplomacy of the peoples as well as the re-allocation of resources away from military efforts to cultures that support life; 3) “Actions of the peoples to strengthen the ways of the Living Well Alternative to capitalism” (p 9), which includes a global impact to ensure survival for future generations, developing awareness of unconscious consumerism, global violence, the end of the patriarchal system and the design and implementation of public policies that enforce the rights of Mother Earth; 4) “Actions of the peoples towards universal recognition on rights of Mother Earth” (p 11), this included the proposed approval of legislation that regulates enterprises, multinationals and private sectors to meet social responsibilities, alternative education to generate a sense of belonging and take care of Mother Earth, the deconstruction of “consumerist and predator conceptions” to raise awareness and the recovery of ancestral practices and technologies to take care of Mother Earth (p 11); 5) “Actions of the peoples to strengthen knowledge, practices and technologies about climate change for life,” which includes a ‘new instrument” to manage the access and exchange of knowledge in order to support life (including actions to implement this knowledge); 6)  “Actions of the peoples for the defense of our common heritage” (p 15). This includes but is not limited to declaring sanctuary for the care of natural resources (i.e. water preserves), the creation of a universal community as a measure of defense for common heritage and requiring the regeneration of land (p 16); 7) “Actions of the peoples to build a climate science to life” (p 17) which includes the honoring and strengthening of ancestral knowledge and skills, among many other items; 8) “Actions of the peoples to promote International Mother Earth and Climate Justice Court” (p 18), which continues with “the demands made in the World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth 2010); 9) “Actions of the peoples to strengthen the non-commercialization of nature” (p 19); 10) “Actions of the peoples to pay the debts of capitalism, climate debt social debt and ecological debt” (p 20); 11) “Actions of the peoples to save Mother Earth from interreligious dialogue” (p 22); and 12) “Actions of the peoples to raise our voice to the Twenty First Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in Paris and later”, which includes “the demand for financial support for the implementation and development of traditional of indigenous people” (p 22 – 24).

The aforementioned explanation is a very abbreviated summary of the actions outlined by the peoples of the world in 2015. As denoted above the implementation of a new paradigm based on “living systems” is very complex and will require a huge collaborative effort by not only the world leaders, but all humanity. One could even argue, the importance of the latter, versus leaving the fates of our future to the current (unconscious) minds of world leadership. To me, this statement is very much a call to action; especially to those living in first world countries who consume the majority of the worlds natural and human resources. It is the individual and the collective’s responsibility to cooperate in the ongoing evolution of human consciousness to care for Mother Earth and all her children.

One of the underlying aspects of this Statement is the need for reparations to be made in order to address the pain and suffering which has been placed on marginalized people, non-humans, the environment and even other than human relations. On a metaphysical level I believe these are items that need to be done, in order to bring harmony to life on Earth. With that being said, I can’t help but personally feel completely daunted by this task. However, I believe that this feeling is a product of the current paradigm, which makes one believe that they do not have power; when in fact we, as a people of the world do.



To me, reparations relate to the practice of giving an offering to the spirt realm, as a means of living in reciprocity. An offering is a sacrifice. Sacrifices can be made in a myriad of ways, from a spectrum to small or large offerings. However, I believe in this case we must sacrifice outdated and damaging ways of being, which include a release of certain comforts (i.e. unnecessary plastic items and overconsumption). As echoed throughout this paper, addressing the first world’s patterns of over-consumption requires an urgent change in the world view of modern man, which includes an acknowledgement of a collective conscious.

This shift in thought can also be referred to as shifting “political ontologies”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary ontology is defined as either “a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being” or “a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence.”

This idea of shifting political ontology is discussed in Arturo Escobar’s article “Thinking-Feeling with Earth”, which touches on the theoretical framework of Epistemologies of the South proposed by Boaventura de Sousa Santa. Escobar explains the field of political ontology “stems from the proposition that many contemporary struggles for the defense of territories and difference are best understood as ontological struggles and as struggles over a world where many worlds fit, as the Zapatista put it; they aim to foster the pluriverse.” (p 13). He further elaborates that these struggles are more “appropriate for thinking about social transformation than most forms of knowledge produced within the academy at present,” because as illustrated in the aforementioned Statement of the World Peoples’ Conference, these “knowledges  produced from territorial struggles provide us with essential elements for thinking about the profound cultural and ecological transitions needed to face the inter-related crisis of climate, food, energy, poverty and meaning,” in addition to that he states “these knowledges are uniquely attuned to the needs of the Earth.” (p 14).

Escobar explains that Epistemologies of the South discusses a relational world, emphasizing that the “diversity of the world is infinite,” (p 15) and “the understanding of the world is much broader than the western understanding of the world”. He further states that an interrelated network can also be called “relational ontology” (p 18), which is “defined as one in which nothing preexists the relations that constitute it.” He elaborates that “Beings do not simply occupy the world, they inhabit it” (p 18).  This counters the predominant world view that humans have dominance over nature. In this article Escobar provides the criticism of the current trend of “One World World (OWW)”, which he explains has a “twofold ontological divide: a particular way of separating humans and nature (the nature/culture divide); and the distinction and boundary policing between those who function within OWW from those who insist on others ways of worlding (the colonial divide).” (p 21).


According to Escobar the proposed “pluriverse is a tool to first, make alternatives to the one world plausible to one-worlders, and, second, provide resonance to those other worlds that interrupt the one world story” (p 22).  These ideals are in accordance with of the actions outlined in the Statement of the Worlds’ Peoples as well as the idea of a “living universe”. It also highlights the resistance and issues that have arose and will continue to unfold through the dismantling of the current Western or “One World World” view; which ties into the efforts of addressing coloniality.

In Nelson Maldonado-Torres “Outline of Ten Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality” he shares pertinent information with the goal of “identifying and clarifying the various layers, moments, and areas involved in the production of coloniality as well as in the consistent opposition to it.” (p 2). To list a few Maldonado-Torres discusses how “Colonialism, decolonization and related concepts generate anxiety fear”; “coloniality is different from colonialism and decoloniality is different from decolonization”; “modernity/coloniality is a form of metaphysical catastrophe that naturalizes war”; “the immediate effects of modernity/coloniality include: the naturalization of extermination, expropriation, domination, exploitation, early death, and conditions that are worse than death, such as torture and rape” ; “coloniality involves a radical transformation of power, knowledge, and being leading to the coloniality of power, the coloniality of knowledge, and the coloniality of being” and that “decoloniality involves a decolonial epistemic turn whereby the damné emerges as questioner, thinker, theorist, writer, and communicator.” (pp 8 – 24).

As illuminated by Maldonado-Torres, the dismantling of decoloniality involves an “epistemic turn” or a change in thought, as means of empowering an evolution of world view(s) as created by the oppressed. I also want to address Maldonado-Torres’ statement that addressing topics related to coloniality and decolonization creates discomfort. I believe that this type of discomfort demonstrates the validity of what Jung refers to as the “collective conscious”. One could argue that the crimes associated with colonialization and imperialism are the soul wounds of humanity. A soul wound that I can imagine is painful for many to feel into, a feeling they want to avoid.

In conclusion, human consciousness is continuing to evolve. The current dominant Western world view is one of damaging antiquity. Humanity is in dire need of adopting a new thought system. This is demonstrated by the increase in various international natural disasters, the consequences of the disintegration of interrelated value systems, as well as the societal repercussions related to the dramatic increase in mental illness. It baffles me that we have ignored the wisdom of ancient indigenous systems that understand the various layers of what it means to live in balance in the world we live in. In light of the problems we face in the modern world, I strongly believe that the first step is changing thought or political ontology. This is not a task we can leave to world leaders, as we all have a responsibility on an individual and communal level, to address the changes necessary to support life on Earth.



Fixico, D.L. (2003). The American Indian mind in a linear world. London, England. Taylor & Francis, Inc.

Jung, C. G. (1961) Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Korten, D. (2014) A New Story for a New Economy: To Find Our Human Place in a Living Universe

Escobar, A. (2015) Thinking-Feeling with the Earth

Maldonado-Torres, N. (2016) Outline of Ten Theses on Coloniality and Decoloniality

Statement of the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and Defense of Life (2015) Tiquipaya, Bolivia

Shiva, V. (2019) Everything I Need to Know I Learned from the Forest


#environment #enivronmentalism #socialjustice #ecopsychology #communitypsychology #liberationpsychology #psychology #paradigm #livinguniverse #yoga #evolution


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