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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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Integral Obama

My Perspective on Terry Patten's Controversial
Integral Politics Initiative

Elliot Benjamin

But is not the integral perspective all about seeing all sides of a situation; i.e. the “good” and the “bad,” and then making an informed decision that weighs the respective merits and then forcefully goes into action? ?

Is it an oxymoron: “Integral Obama”? Apparently one of the key players at Integral Institute, Terry Patten, does not think so. Patten has recently initiated his Integral Obama website with the intention of forming “one voice” to donate funds for the Obama campaign to re-elect the president in November [1].


Terry Patten

This quite daring initiative on the part of Patten has met with a mixed response from the Integral community, though a significant majority of these responses were in basic agreement with Patten's rationale that Obama is a far more “integral” candidate than Romney, in spite of the legitimate disappointment that many progressives feel about Obama's presidency [2]. However, there are also a number of responses that question the appropriateness of Patten's “one voice” political advocacy for Obama, from the wider integral perspective of seeing all sides of a situation and not “taking sides” (c.f. [2]). Patten defends his bold undertaking by saying the following (which I will quote at length as I think his ideas are very important to seriously consider):

It goes without saying that I speak here for myself, and not for Integral Life or the “integral movement” as a whole....I recognize that much has changed—and much has not changed—in the past 4 years. While I think it's safe to say that a majority of people with integral and evolutionary values eagerly supported then—Senator Obama in 2008, many of us have mixed feelings in 2012. There are some who see Obama favoring government-based solutions too strongly over market-based approaches, especially during this time of our ballooning national debt. Others worry about Obama's record on civil liberties, the war in Afghanistan, the economy, or his accommodation of corporate and Wall Street interests. Others simply see a leader who has not been as bold, inspiring or effective as he promised he would be.
At the same time, I believe a large majority of us still basically like the man, agree with many of his efforts and accomplishments in an incredibly hostile political environment (passing healthcare reform, ending the war in Iraq), and believe that he is still the best hope we have for more integral policies and politics. Moreover, we look at the alternative—which is not just the elusive candidate, Mitt Romney, but a Republican party that has become increasingly dogmatic, oppositional, and rigid—and we realize that Obama is still the far better choice.
I know there are those of you who will feel that the current administration is guilty of the same “politics as usual” as the Republicans and that perhaps your donation would be better put toward Libertarian, Green, trans-partisan, or non-partisan efforts. I sympathize with this perspective, but at the same time I can't help but consider the lesson of the 2000 race, when many well-meaning, intelligent folks abandoned Al Gore in favor of Ralph Nader, effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush. If there's one thing that's become painfully clear over the last 12 years, I think it's this: it's incredibly difficult to accomplish constructive change as a President, but it's terribly easy to make disastrous mistakes (c.f. [1]; note that the bold type in all of Patten's quotes in this article represents Patten's use of bold type or italics).

Patten concludes his initial Open Letter with a plea for donations to help elect Obama:

I am deeply concerned that the better part of a billion dollars, donated by a few extremely wealthy individuals through Super PACs, will be spent on negative ads against Obama in the swing states. If he's not re-elected, I think it could be a large step backwards for our country, for the world, and for our planetary environment. It will also be a lost opportunity for integral and evolutionary ideas. And it will be because we didn't close the spending gap when we could (c.f. [1]).

I am in basic agreement with Terry Patten's controversial Integral Obama initiative. However, some of the negative comments to his proposal do remind me of my own deep disappointments with what Obama has done as our president [3]. One of these comments had an especially intense impact upon me. It displays a pleasant looking rather comic young man with the following inscription:

I see you're an avid Obama supporter who protests Bush's war crimes (on top of the page) Please tell me now you are enjoying Obama's wars in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly Iran. Or tell me how you like his drone attacks on innocent civilians (on the bottom of the page).

And there were other negative comments that also reminded me of some of my bitter disappointments and concerns about Obama:

Obama's ndaa bill makes the patriot act look like playground rules on the monkey bars. When you vote for Obomney (a vote for either candidate) you will receive more of the same....Obama has a propensity to compromise and please. Today I read that he went ahead and approved drilling in the Artic by Shell. Is that what his base wants? His environmental policies have not pleased me. He illegally delisted wolves, and has approved easier drilling than even Bush/Cheney....I have made a personal pledge that I will never again support anyone who knowingly and willingly orders military assault on innocent children, women, and men. Our president has and is still doing this act in our name. This is not God's will. He continues to aggressively support the corporate greed, he still has not held anyone accountable for the financial failure, and has done very little for global warming. I feel you are asking me to vote out of fear. Fear that Romney will be elected. There is very little difference in the two. As long as corporations still own our elected officials it doesn't matter who is president. I'm not voting out of fear.... interview with Noam Chomsky—Noam Chomsky to RT: Bush torturer. Obama just kills (c.f. [2]).

And then there are the comments that object to Patten's diverting the multi-perspective integral stance to “one voice” to re-elect Obama:

Terry, I'm sure you believe you're acting for the higher good, but I'm very disturbed to see an integral leader using integral pathways (e.g. email lists, a leadership position) to promote personal political views. I would much prefer to contribute to a fund that attempted to promote integral approaches across the political spectrum. I don't want to see the integral movement turn into a Democratic movement. It would make it very uncomfortable for people of differing perspectives to remain associated with it. And isn't integral all about welcoming perspectives? (c.f. [2]).

How does Patten respond to this hornet's nest of various intense reactions that he has stimulated in integral viewers? He acknowledges the disappointment with Obama, and the conflict between maintaining a wider political perspective and a concrete “one voice” community to re-elect the president, but he maintains and reinforces his determination to do what it takes in the pragmatic day-to-day world to get Obama re-elected:

I do resonate with some of what you're critiquing, for sure. I'm profoundly disturbed by Obama's support of the National Defense Authorization Act, the expansion of domestic spying programs, and the obvious corrosive influence of big money throughout our political system. Believe me, I'm with you on all these objections to Obama's presidency. Not only that, but I hated his convention speech. It was way too predictable and political. I wanted him to step forward with more leadership, not just put on a performance. But despite all that I have a high level of confidence that worse, possibly much worse, will be in store for us under a Romney administration....However we feel about it, right now, in these next two months, we face an inescapable choice. It's either going to be Obama or Romney. No amount of personal disgust with either of them can change that....Meanwhile, what's the best thing from an evolutionary perspective? Well, evolution has an answer—it tries “everything at once.” So that means there's potential value in many kinds of engagement, in and outside the system. But civic engagement is a dimension of our being-in-the-world and practice (c.f. [2]).

Yes I am in essential agreement with Patten for much of the reasons that he explains. I have written my share of essays which express my deep concerns and disappointments with Obama (c.f. [3]). But is not the integral perspective all about seeing all sides of a situation; i.e. the “good” and the “bad,” and then making an informed decision that weighs the respective merits and then forcefully goes into action? The disaster of Romney/Ryan and the Republicans being in power is a nightmare I do not want to have to experience. At the top of my nightmare is an immediate war with Iran, and I do believe that Obama is our only hope for a possibility of this being avoided. And it is a sign of the preposterousness of the whole situation that I feel I must rise above all the animosity I have felt towards Obama for his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and his excessive use of drones attacks that have killed numerous innocent civilians [4]. But I am very clear that a vote for an alternative Green or Independent candidate is a vote that makes it more likely that Romney will be our president, and I firmly believe that a Romney presidency would be a total disaster for both our country and for the world.

I recently found myself in an argument about all this with prominent peace advocate Kathy Kelly, when I attended her talk in Maine about our debacle in Afghanistan [5]. I will end this essay by giving an account what I experienced from my engagement with Kathy Kelly:

The other night I went to hear veteran peace activist Kathy Kelly [6] talk about our decade-long war in Afghanistan. I have been a persistent critic of Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan (c. f. [3], [7], and I certainly agreed with all of Kathy's poignant descriptions of the unspeakable immorality of this war. At the end of the talk, questions from the audience were invited, and I raised my hand to ask the question that was taking me up during the whole talk. This was the whole voting for Obama or going Green party/Independent in November issue that progressives are heatedly divided upon [8]. For me though, this is not an issue, as I fully believe that Romney is a far more disastrous choice than Obama, and I have accepted “the lesser of two evils” reality (c.f. [7]), justifying this to myself with the philosophy of Van Jones and the Rebuild the Dream movement [9]. In regard to Obama and the November election, this philosophy can be succinctly described as getting Obama elected in November and then demonstrating against his non-progressive policies in December [10]....Robert Reich recently put out an extremely effective 2-3 minute video that illustrates the dire reality of Romney winning the election, from an economic perspective, emphasizing the disastrous outcomes of a Romney/Ryan administration in regard to significant increases in unemployment and decreases in jobs, and devastation for senior citizens, social service programs, and education [11].
But someone beat me to the punch and asked essentially the same question I was gong to ask; and as I expected, Kathy Kelly responded by saying that it doesn't matter who is president, as the president is controlled by the big corporations. This common progressive and Occupy [12] philosophy that “it doesn't matter” is consistent with the Green Party philosophy nominating Jill Stein for president [13], and this has been supported by influential progressives such as Chris Hedges and Medea Benjamin [14]. But I went up to Kathy Kelly afterwards and I got into a bit of an argument with her about my perspective and disagreement with her perspective that “it doesn't matter,” and I left the talk feeling frustrated, but also charged up as a result of having forcefully expressed my views. To me this is the Ralph Nader syndrome all over again, which I believe contributed significantly to Bush getting elected in 2000, and to why we are currently living in the midst of such chaos, violence, and war. The upcoming election is going to be so close and so dangerous, and it frustrates me tremendously to see votes “wasted” on a candidate that takes precious votes away from Obama and makes it more likely that we will have President Romney and Vice-President Ryan for the next four years. I feel basically helpless to do anything about this, but at least I can express my point of view, and this I have now done (c.f. [5]).

NOTES

1) See Terry Patten (2012). The Integral Case for President Obama (www.integralobama.com and http://integrallife.com/integral-post/integral-case-president-obama).

2) See the comments on the two websites listed in [1].

3) See Elliot Benjamin (2010). Obama and the War in Afghanistan (La Voz de Esperanza, Vol. 23, Issue 2, p. 11; Elliot Benjamin (2011). Challenging Obama in the Primaries (La Voz de Esperanza, Vol. 24, Issue 9, pp. 19-20); note that both these articles are also available at www.integralworld.net

4) See my articles in [3], and also Medea Benjamin (2012). Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (New York: OR Books).

5) See Elliot Benjamin (2012). Obama or Romney: It DOES Matter (La Voz de Esperanza, to appear in the October issue).

6) see http://know.villagesoup.com/news/story/pacifist-kelly-speaks-on-war-in- Afghanistan/888004

7) See Elliot Benjamin (2012): Which is Worse: War or “Everything Else”? (La Voz de Esperanza, Vol. 25, Issue, 2, p. 9; and also the following response article to my Challenging Obama in the Primaries article listed in [3]: Kat Swift (2012). Challenge Obama? Challenge the Whole Ballot! (La Voz de Esperanza, Vol. 24, Issue 10, p. 3).

8) See Matthew Rothschild (2012). The Third-Party Dilemma (The Progressive, Sept. 2012, pp. 17-21)); see also http://truthlover.newsvine.com/_news/2012/08/09/13195397-exclusive-interview-the-green-party-dr-jill-stein-and-the-concern-that-a-vote-for-stein-is-one-less-for-obama; and http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/08/30/1125508/-Why-Is-This-a-Difficult- Decision-or-Who-am-I-Going-to-Vote-For

9) See http://rebuildthedream.com

10) See http://markmayunard.com/2012/06/winning-in-november-isnt-enough-says-van-jones-we-also-have-to-mobilize-against-Obama

11) See Everyone Around You Needs To See This Video Robert Reich Dropped Everything To Make Move On_Org., front.moveon.org

12) See www.occupy.wallst.org

13) See www.wbur.org/2012/08/09/green-candidate-Obama

14) See http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/08/31-10?print




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