How the WORLD Works

Charlene Spretnak

by Charlene Spretnak
Green Horizon Magazine
Spring/Summer 2011

Charlene SpretnakA WELL-EARNED “WE TOLD YOU SO!” is not what comes to mind whenever Greens are proven right about numerous ecological, economic, and ecosocial issues because it means that problems the Greens identified long ago have now grown into crises causing untold suffering. Fromthe early 1980s, for instance, Greens insisted that the only way to shed our dependence on foreign oil – by which we would increase our national security and avoid the horrendous casualties and maiming resulting from oil wars – would be to seriously focus on converting our economy to energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. That did not happen, so the United States subsequently fought two oil wars and still has military personnel in Iraq; moreover, we lag pitifully behind Europe on energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon emissions. Likewise, in the run-up to ratification in 1994 of the corporate-driven revision of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the new superstructure it created, the World Trade Organization (WTO), Greens correctly predicted that the carte blanche being given to transnational corporations (superceding even national governments, in many aspects) would devastate local markets and community-based economies. Similarly, the Greens were the only party in the United States to oppose ratification in 1993 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a regional version of the new GATT.

Eventually, the media shifted over the next decade from cheerleading to running stories of newly drained and exploited communities around the world affected by the “rationalized” rules of international commerce. Again, the Greens had predicted this exploitation and further impoverishment ofmany “developing” countries – as well as the massive “off-shoring” of American manufacturing jobs. In a related vein, Greens warned since the 1980s that the assault on health by ubiquitous industrial toxins in our environment would increase. The correlation with several types of cancer was already strong back then, but in the past 20 years two new epidemics – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorders – have each been linked to the effects of toxins, key elements in the complex of contributing factors.

Greens – along with everyone else who is paying attention – experience a sinking feeling each time the “worst case scenario” creeps closer, as it does, for instance, when it is announced almost annually that global warming and climate disruption is proceeding much faster than the previous year’s scientific predictions.


Yet there is another side to the Green analysis and vision we have been furthering and fine-tuning for nearly 30 years. It is implicit in all the Green Party platforms and position papers – and is explicitly stated in the best of them – that the mounting crises are a result of modern society’s failing to grasp, or denying, that everything in the physical world is inherently interconnected. That there is no “away” to which toxins (including greenhouse gases!) can be tossed is perhaps the widely accepted example. Simple as that may sound, this perspective is the exact opposite of the one inculcated in modern society through modern schooling – that the world is composed of aggregates of separate entities, which may or may not have some sort of interrelation with other entities and which function in essentially mechanistic and predictable ways, given their component parts. One of the most painful corollaries of this perception was the notion that the human bodymind is basically a bio-mechanical organism, which led to numerous damaging theories and practices in modern medicine and psychology.


Ideally, one can look at any issue area in a Green Party platform – at the local, state, or national level – and see the underpinning of the relational worldview in every analysis of a problem and every proposal for a solution. I have noticed, however, that such is often not always the case. Some Green platforms have devolved into littlemore than a “laundry list” of gripes and druthers, which is the reason most voters do not read party platforms. I first noticed this slide during the years I served on the National Platform Committee of the Green Party of the United States (late 1990s and early 2000s) because I used to peruse several Green state party platforms then out of curiosity. Our deep philosophical base was still discernable but was not generally highlighted as our guiding orientation by which to address the crises of modernity. Even in the preambles to Green platforms, such references seem to have been largely deleted over the years, perhaps considered a marginalized way of thinking that hinders our chances of being taken seriously in the political arena.

Around 2005 I began to notice articles in newspapers about new discoveries of unexpected interrelatedness. The trickle became a steady stream in recent years, with the most numerous group being studies in physiology and healthcare, discoveries that completely overturn, bit by bit, the biomechanical assumptions of modern medicine.These can be considered in three categories of interrelatedness that affect our bodymind: interpersonal relationships, internal bodymind relationships, and environmental bodymind relationships. There are literally hundreds of recent examples in each of those categories, of which follow a few examples.

Researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University sprayed a cold virus into the nasal passages of willing subjects (college students); those who had stated that they had a lot of friends (or “a rich social network”) were four times less likely than the students with few friends to develop a cold. In the bio-mechanical orientation of modern medicine, such a correlation is nearly unthinkable: for decades, colds were said to be solely a matter of the presence of a bacteria or a virus. Period. Yet, not so. Regarding the second category, the enormously dynamic and complex relational nature of the human organism, the New York Times reported the following statement from medical researchers in 2009: “No organ is an island, and the skeleton is connected functionally to many more organs than we had anticipated.” But should we laugh or cry that such elementary information about how physical reality actually works is being “discovered” only in 2009? Regarding the third category, the effects of the environment on our bodymind, healing is now recognized as getting a boost from our exposure to nature. Moreover, even a depiction of nature, such as the murals of mountains or leafy glades recently installed in hospital rooms, has been found effective. In 2008 UCLA’s advertising touted the relational and green features of the new hospital in its Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center: “All rooms are private, have pull-out beds for visiting guests, and have windows with views to the outside.Green spaces and water features create a soothing, more peaceful environment, which has been shown to be conducive to faster healing.”


The relational shift is rippling through all areas of human endeavor. I wrote about the early stages of such a shift in Green Politics (1984) and The Resurgence of the Real (1997), but the burst in frequency and range in recent years has surprised even relational thinkers such as myself. Since 2005 I have collected examples of the relational shift in four areas: Education and Parenting, Health and Healthcare, Community Design and Architecture, and the Economy. When one connects the dots among the wide range of successful relational approaches now in play, the conclusion for Greens is clear: Zounds! The relational worldview central to Green philosophy is finally bounding into the center of mainstream thinking! But, alas, this is happening just as many Green speakers, authors, and leaders tend to downplay the coherent relational frame-of-reference informing all Green analyses and visions. In other cases, Greens may be somewhat new to Green politics and have not heard much about the relational worldview or relational/ecological thought. Greens were hardly the first to perceive the physical world as inherently interrelated, of course; indigenous and Eastern cultures long predate us. Yet we are the only political party basing our analyses and programs on the relational worldview. It would be a shame if Greens merely dither while the perspective we have historically furthered changes the way mainstream thinking is oriented. Relational reality is fast becoming so apparent in such irrefutable ways that it is poking holes through the overarching grid of mechanistic assumptions that have caused so many of our problems.

Once you are aware of this phenomenon, you will see examples everywhere, including several in your favorite newspaper every week or month.Moreover, you will see that any political platform that claims to be “pragmatic” but was created in ignorance of the relational nature of reality is not at all practical. My hope is  that many thoughtful Greens will further the development of our roots in ecological/relational thought.

To contribute to that effort, I have drawn together the research I mention above and written a book titled Relational Reality. Each chapter begins with a “snapshot of the problems” because we cannot arrive at solutions unless we are willing to look directly at the current suffering – of the children, the ill, the poor and vulnerable, the ecosystems, and the social structures. I then follow that “snapshot” with an account of relational breakthroughs that are successfully achieving solutions for a relational world.

Relational Reality is a Green Horizon Book, published in association withGreenHorizon Foundation; further information about it can be found on their website ( While the book is written for a wider audience than solely Greens, my hope is that it might inspire Greens to cultivate the new opportunities before us. A Green-relational philosophy by itself is not enough, but it has long been the lifeblood of our activism and our deeply pragmatic proposals for the future.

Charlene Spretnak is the principal coauthor of Green Politics (1984), which was a major catalyst for the founding of the U.S. Green Party movement, of which she was a cofounder. She is also author of The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics (1986), The Resurgence of the Real (1997), Relational Reality (2011), and other books. She lives in Ojai, CA, with her husband, Daniel Moses, who was the CA Green Party candidate for Lt. Governor in 1994.

Relational Reality: New Discoveries of Interrelatedness That Are Transforming the Modern World
by Charlene Spretnak
Green Horizon Books, May 2011
Paperback: 310 pages