We often use the concept of a “holistic” vision as a counterpoint to the rather more reductionist approach to conducting human business that has often been the norm throughout modern history. There seems to be an ideological counterpoint between placing value on specialization and expertise in a given field at the expense of a wider view, and the attractive idea that a whole systems approach is the best and moral way forward.
Part of the recent fascination with Indigenous ways of life comes from a perception that traditional societies operate on a different paradigm that seems to integrate seamlessly and respond organically to the context and environment. A truly holistic approach that harmonizes Nature and the human experience.
Taking apart a problem or issue in order to understand its factors is generally not a bad way to go about solving something, it is fundamental to the scientific method, and an expedient way to elicit a specific result. The lack of a whole systems approach, however, often leads to undesirable outcomes and unforeseen consequences. This is apparent in the devastation left behind by otherwise productive activities such as mining, logging, energy production and manufacturing.
Could these industries benefit form a whole system or holistic approach? Long term outcomes could certainly be improved, but is the dichotomy between the holistic and the more fragmented specialized approach useful or even real? What real factors and consequences might compel industry to take responsibility for the environmental impacts and long term costs of their productive activities?
The need for an integrative approach is felt by those most invested in a landscape. The people whose livelihoods are linked to the territory are the always those most immediately and profoundly impacted by disruptive activity, and logically are the first to organize attempts to stop, curb or influence projects that will change their relationship to the land.
It may be time to abandon the argument of the atomistic versus the holistic approach and focus on creating useful and productive linkages between these modes of relating, build working bridges between the specialized experts coming in to create wealth in very specific ways, and the generational caretakers invested in fostering the natural and intangible wealth of a landscape. By making these linkages with integrity, conditions may be created for a process with free, prior and informed consent, and a design that takes into account tangible and intangible wealth on a generational timeline.