North Atlantic Books, 1994
From my first chapter, "Points of View"
My path out of a dogmatic monism involved learning the full implications of the obvious but usually taken for granted fact that each of us has a different point of view. I mean that literally. Becoming familiar with my walking, breathing and gestures, along with associated impulses, thoughts and images, dissolved the tenacity of the dogmatic beliefs in which I had been schooled. As I came to feel, not just acknowledge philosophically, the uniqueness of how and where I stand on my uniquely shaped feet, I came to realize that my more abstract ideas about such exalted matters as morality and death bore the idiosyncratic marks of my high-arched feet and hummingbird-like hormonal rhythms.
At the same time, I began to feel that other points of view contributed perspectives that I could never reach from the narrow peninsula on which I stand. Any literal point of view represents the crystallization at a unique moment and place of a wide variety of factors. Some reflect the stances which populations are prompted to take from such primordial forces as religion, biological or social evolution. Others are idiosyncratic, like the peculiar ways the vertebral bones in each of our spinal columns are differently arranged.
I know that it is an unfamiliar line of reasoning to argue that we perceive the world differently because I stand or sit in a place that you do not, on feet or buttocks with different shapes than yours, innervated by a somewhat unique nervous and hormonal system, with a different metabolism, shaped by the peculiar events of my history and ideologies. Yet, I believe there is an elaborate web of intimate connections among seemingly ethereal notions about reality, narrow-minded attitudes towards other people and very fleshy postures and emotional reactions.
It is precisely the literalness of points of view that distinguishes a healthy pluralism from widely discredited amoral relativisms which argue that any set of values has equal status with any other. There are some metaphorical points of view which would obliterate the literal. The abusive parent and the political torturer would destroy the other person's standing, moving and speaking. The colonialist would uproot ancient communities from the lands which make sense of their spiritualities and healing practices. Religious, philosophical and therapeutic ideologies would have people believe that the way they stand in their peculiar space is a source of error to be corrected by reliance on officially sanctioned perspectives. There are some points of view which are more healing than others.
For many of us, with our varying histories of infant terrors and childhood obedience-training, it is the task of a lifetime to gain a truly healing point of view. The fear that shapes our flesh in those early years situates us within an enclosed region from which it is difficult to realize that what we see from here is so little of what is. Such a perspective is typically narrow in feeling, often mean-spirited, making it hard for us to appreciate both ourselves and others. A point of view is healing when it gives a panorama spacious enough to make it obvious that my particular location gives access only to a limited region; without information from people situated on those far distant mountains, valleys, and coasts, I and those near me are condemned to make sense of life with the merest fragments of truth. . . .
This book is offered as a modest contribution to those many efforts to preserve our richly nuanced world with its proliferation of many exotic species and human cultures against the onslaught of both violent and non-violent homogenization.