This is part one of a three part series. Please also find Kindred’s resources, including a worldview chart at the end of this post. Click to read the titles below.
Psychology is dominated by a worldview most of the world does not have.
Psychological theory, research and practice have been increasingly criticized for their narrow perspective and biases, many of which are reflective of WEIRD culture (western, educated, industrialized, rich democratic; Henrich et al., 2010). There are alternative approaches to psychology. In his new book, A New Psychology Based on Community, Equality, and Care of the Earth, Arthur Blume (2020) provides both a critique and an alternative psychology, based on how psychology has been practiced for thousands of years by Indigenous/First Nation communities.
Blume contrasts the premises of Indigenous psychology with what he calls colonial psychology. This post focuses on the critique. The next post examines the Indigenous alternative.
The field of psychology was founded by White males and continues to be dominated by people who are ancestors of White Europeans. Only .1% of American Psychological Association membership is American Indian/ Alaska Native. From the beginning the field tried to establish itself as a science, but not the kind of science Native Peoples practice.
Blume identifies several perspectives of the “Colonial” worldview he considers myths because they are contrary to the longstanding psychologies of Native Peoples:
- Creation/Nature is essentially flawed.
- Humans are superior to Creation and should control and use Creation for human ends in the present generation.
- People can own parts of Creation.
- Human nature too is fallen, hence hierarchy is necessary to keep people in line (especially inferior, low class people who can be exploited by those at the top of the hierarchy).
- Individuals are central units of Creation.
- Individualism and personal autonomy are central concerns along with self-sufficiency, self-reliance and independence.
- Emerging from this assumption is the belief that everyone can ‘get ahead’ in life (become materially richer) if they just work hard enough.
Here are key constructs within the field of “colonial” psychology. Again, these are contrary to Indigenous psychology (the alternatives will be discussed in the next post).
The Centrality of the Self
The self is responsible for success or failure, for riches or poverty. “When self has primacy, self-oriented behaviors are a priority,” as is the case with freedom of speech (p. 35). “However, [in the case of the Indigenous perspective] when the assumptions begin with interdependent egalitarianism, social responsibility becomes equally important,” where individual behavior is oriented toward the wellbeing of the community as a whole (p. 35).
The primacy of the self in psychology is notable in all the terms about self (e.g., self-esteem, self-centeredness), many of which were invented by the field itself. “The self has always been an artificial construct reflecting a nonscientific way to understand the complexities of our existence” (p. 82). The Indigenous worldview does not start with the self and Blume points out that other sciences are finding evidence for symbiosis and permeability of individuals.
Compartmentalization of Life
The compartmentalization of colonialism is imprinted on psychology’s orientation to discrete experiments, analyses and interpretations of the observable and quantifiable. Only discrete entities with defined boundaries can be isolated and examined in a vacuum, apart from context and relationships. Individualism extends into the description of the world as made up of separable individual units with discrete boundaries, whether human/animal/plant, life/death, material/spiritual. All such sharp categories are not recognized by Indigenous psychology and, increasingly, not by science either. Spirituality and the immeasurable or unobservable are typically taboo topics. Indigenous-minded persons, who do not separate the material and the spiritual, find this foreign.
Ownership of Entities emerged from this compartmentalization. Unlike Indigenous communities where things were held in common and land/water/forest could not be owned, the colonial view is that ownership leads to happiness. The idea of ownership goes along with the colonial orientation to self, autonomy and individualism. No one owns Creation. Instead, humans hold things in trust. But the focus on ownership propels materialism and finding happiness there. But like emphasizing individual liberty over social responsibility, ownership is a dysfunctional orientation that leads to ill being.
Time is also parsed into a one-dimensional, linear view with boundaries between past, present and future. This makes it easy to ignore the future consequences of today’s actions. Blume points out: “Colonization occurs…without a plan. The goal of colonization was to seize and conquer, with positive immediate consequences for those who colonize and negative outcomes for those who are conquered…It is a colonial conundrum, being stuck in the present, uprooted from the past, and disconnected from the future. It is a very lonely sense of time.” (p. 42)
Belief in a Hierarchical Existence
Hierarchy easily emerges from the belief that Creation is flawed, and humans are in charge of ordering and using it as desired. Ranking of Creation’s entities put White Male Europeans at the top with everything else in the world beneath them. This led to the triumphalism of conquest and colonization, the belief in “manifest destiny” (Europeans taking over what became the USA). Hierarchical views justify inequality, dehumanization, racism and extermination. The European worldview of their superiority made them intolerant of alternative views: “the extremes of the Inquisition, with its religious absolutism and secular intolerance, and the Enlightenment, with its secular absolutism and religious intolerance…both spring forth from European culture” (p. 47).
Wherever it has gone, colonialism culture generally has emphasized conformity, uniformity, and universality at the expense of diversity. Unfortunately, psychology has grown up with a similar view, spurning the wisdom of Indigenous Peoples on how to deal with psychological distress.
In the next post, we’ll examine Blume’s description of Indigenous psychology.
Read more on Kindred about Indigenous Worldview and Wisdom.
Learn about Indigenous Worldview and Wisdom in our New Story Glossary.
Arthur W. Blume (2020). A new psychology based on community, equality, and care of the earth: An Indigenous American perspective. Santa Barbara: Praeger.
Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83.