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Hopes for Process – July 2012

Question: What are some of your hopes for process over the next decade or two?

Publication Month: July 2012

This is a fun question. I’m glad I was not asked to predict the realistic prospects of process thought. That would not be so much fun. But “hopes” are another matter. Still, I’ll try to stick with hopes that are not merely fanciful.

The place where projecting existing trends is already supportive of my hopes is China. Process thought is genuinely influential there. My hope is that on some key topics it actually informs governmental policy. In this regard I focus especially on agriculture. I strongly hope that China will avoid a massive move to modern industrial agriculture. I hope it will help peasants to prosper from their small farms and to improve them in a systematically ecological way. I hope that China will work with Wes Jackson to develop perennial grains. I hope it will lead the world into a genuinely sustainable agriculture.

China is already experimenting with ecological cities. I hope this goes much further. We have tried, with some modest success, to promote interest in Paolo Soleri’s arcologies.  Soleri has designed his “lean linear” arcology with China in view. I hope there will be a connection.

I hope that the ongoing experiment with a Whiteheadian curriculum will be a great success and that China will develop its educational system in a basically Whiteheadian way. I hope that the critique of value-free education will have an increasing influence on universities and that they will orient themselves to the real needs of the people of China and the world, first and foremost to the continued habitability of this planet.

I hope that Chinese scientists will pick up the potential for process physics and biology. I hope that the already established ideal of “an ecological civilization” will gain increasing traction in actual practice. I hope that China will follow the example of Bhutan in seeking gross national happiness instead of increasing gross national product.

It would be meaningless to hope for comparable influence in any other part of the world. But specific hopes are possible there too. In Japan the chief role of process thought has been in Buddhist/Christian dialogue. I hope it will broaden its role and influence. In Korea I hope it will stimulate more dialogue and more appreciative understanding between Christians and Buddhists and also with the “new religions.” I also hope that it can help in the reunification of Korea. In this respect and others, as Japanese and Koreans see the role that process thought is playing in China, I hope there will be a tendency to emulate.

I am delighted that process thought has been established in Congo. Its primary attraction there has been to Catholic leaders who see it as a way of thinking that can be used to explain Catholic ideas to Africans. As a believer in the importance of indigenization, and of its being done well, I rejoice that Africans are finding process thought useful for this purpose. I hope it will spread to Catholics in other parts of Africa and also to other Christians. I hope it will also enable Catholics to implement their historic pattern of seeking a wide integration of thought. And I hope that others will be influenced through them. Indeed, I hope that process thought will catch on in Africa in other ways as well. There are some hopeful signs.

I rejoice that process thought has also established a foothold in Latin America, in this case, in Nicaragua. There are prospects elsewhere. I hope that it can reinvigorate and develop the remnants of liberation theology and that the two can work together in an increasingly integrated way.

I hope that Whitehead’s thought will gain increasing recognition in India and that the small beginnings in Indonesia and in the Philippines will blossom. I hope that it will receive increasing attention in Turkey and that this will prove just the beginning of interest in the Islamic world.  

I have taken great satisfaction in the progress of process thought on the European continent, especially in attaining a place in philosophy there. This is chiefly through philosophy of science and postmodernism. I have great respect for European scholarship and believe that as Whitehead and other process thinkers are studied more on the continent of Europe, there will be significant advances in process scholarship. The center of scholarly and intellectual process thought will move to the European continent. Perhaps this has already occurred.

Although it is easy to imagine that European writings on process thought will excel in both quantity and quality, I am not as confident that the application of process thought there to public issues and to the professions will flourish. But I am speaking here of what I hope for. I hope that Europe leads the world in all of this.

I turn now to the English-language world. Although much of the leadership in the past has been here, and much is still happening around the fringes, the exclusion from the academic guilds, from the university as a whole, and from public discussions is greater here than elsewhere. Can that change? I hope so! I think we may be approaching a tipping point.

Thus far, even those who recognize the terrible disasters into which the world is moving tend to assume that the only possible responses will come out of the habits of thought that have dominated while we have raced toward the abyss. At most they tinker with changing particularly dangerous beliefs. The idea that we need basically to rethink everything is not under discussion.

Nevertheless, there is a growing concern that we cannot change course as we must in order to survive unless we truly think in a different way. The vague sense that this is so needs to receive vivid articulation. Its truth can hardly be appreciated unless an alternative vision is also vividly articulated and its implications spelled out. It is my hope that this will happen and that the unique strength of process thought among alternative visions will be appreciated.

In other respects, I am doing little to implement the hopes I have described, but on this last point, I have set a somewhat grandiose goal. We plan to host the Tenth International Whitehead Conference in Claremont in June 2015. Whereas previous conferences have primarily intended to bring members of the process family together, the goal of this one is to put process thought on the map, especially in the United States. We hope to have some truly distinguished guests address the need for new ways of thought to address the unprecedented crisis the world faces. We hope to have members of the process community show how we have already been providing a different way of thought and that it has already proved fruitful. In the three years before the conference we hope to clarify for ourselves just what we can and should claim. I hope we can pull this off, and that the conference will embody a tipping point for the role of process thought in this country, and perhaps in other English-language countries as well.

hope that the participation of process thought in the national conversation (for which I hope) will contribute to the end of economism as the dominant religion of our culture and our world. I hope it will break the stranglehold of Cartesian materialism on the sciences. I hope it will end the fragmentation of knowledge and redirect higher education away from value neutrality toward the service of humanity and the salvation of the world. I hope that the new model of higher education offered by Claremont Lincoln University will succeed and flourish.

Of course, I fear that the worship of Mammon will continue to dominate our educational system and national politics and lead humanity to self-annihilation. The few protests, such as those of the process community, are likely at best to be tolerated and ignored. But this FAQ is about hope.