Clash of Worldviews at the Heart of Cultural Conflict?

On a TV news program recently, I heard a guest suggest that what we are experiencing now in the United States (and elsewhere, I would add) is a clash of worldviews. The speaker contrasted this with the clash of civilizations that Samuel Huntington suggested we are experiencing.

Samuel P. Huntington, in his 1993 article “The Clash of Civilizations?” (Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3), suggested that in our geopolitical world the most important sources of conflict among human beings would no longer be ideological, political, or economic. They would be cultural. He suggests that we (people or nations) are attempting to answer the most basic question humans face: Who are we? 

What Matters Most To Us?

We are answering the question in the traditional way, as human beings have always answered it, in reference to the things that matter the most to us. These things tend to be our ancestry, language, history, values, customs, and institutions, especially religion. These are all cultural.  At the heart, then, of our current cultural conflicts – whether local, national, or international – is a clash of worldviews.

While I am not sure that the description offered by the guest is much different from Huntington’s suggestion that we are experiencing ideological clashes, I found his perspective interesting.

When Perceptions are Declared as Facts

I often find myself in conversations about how people can be supporters of the current US president. It is an interesting question that often does not lead to satisfactory answers. The conversations often center around perceptions declared as facts by the person speaking. This approach easily devolves into whose facts are really the facts.

Our worldviews contain a set of beliefs and values that provide us with an understanding of reality. We hold this individually and collectively within our cultural context. This means an appeal to facts alone cannot end clashes among worldviews. Even if differing parties agree to some or all the facts, they may disagree on the conclusions drawn from the facts because of their different premises or worldviews.  If we are to find ways forward together, outside of conflict and imposing worldviews on others, we must enter into an exploration that opens up the possibility of the existence of other differing worldviews. We must understand that there are many different ways to make sense of the world. As part of our awareness, we can develop the capability to see the world through the lens of another’s worldview.

Shifting Systems of Patriarchy

Which brings me back to the news program guest. He suggested that the worldview clash we are experiencing in the US is between those that want to hold onto the system of patriarchy that supports those that benefit from it. The way they do that is by creating or supporting authoritative structures. The other side of the clash, he suggested, is still not completely formed as we work to develop new systems that are neither patriarchal nor traditionally authoritarian. The good news is that he felt this emerging social (ideological) order would ‘win’ out in the long-run, but it won’t be easy. Shifting power away from those that have it never is.

As we work to build a more equitable and inclusive society that recognizes and supports how increasingly diverse we have become, and will continue to become, it is our hope that Worldview Intelligence skills can contribute to this evolution. An essential Worldview Intelligence skill is the ability to be in challenging conversations around change and find ways forward to productive outcomes.