INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Mark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology and a PhD in organisation theory from the University of Western Australia. He now works at Jönköping University in Sweden where he teaches and researches in the area of sustainability and ethics. Before becoming an academic he worked with people with disabilities for twenty years. He is the author of Organizational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory
A Short Note on
Centre of Gravity
Integral theorists are beginning to enter into the complex and murky waters of political theorising and debate on public policy. The following is a small offering on the emergence of an integral approach to political theory. The point I want to make in the following is that political consciousness, like every other type of consciousness, is not only related to the growth of interior structures but also to the mediation of exterior social structures.
I have made the point before that integral theorists have yet to incorporate, or even become familiar with, the Cultural-Historical & Activity Theory (CHAT) approach to human development. The CHAT approach proposes that the development of consciousness is not only a matter of interior individual growth. It is also created through the intercession or mediation of exterior levels of reality. Consequently, we are being severely reductionist if we see consciousness as simply unfolding out of inherent, interior structures. The physical, emotional, and social world in which we live creates and informs our identity as much as any developmental process does. As Vygotsky put it, "it is through others that we develop into ourselves". Integral theory has the theoretical tools to accommodate mediational theories of consciousness (e.g. with such concepts as relational exchange) but to this point it has neglected to utilise and develop these aspects of its framework.
The reliance on the development of individual structures of consciousness as its basis for social and political analyses has broad implications for an integral approach to human development, in all its forms -- individual, social, or political. For example, it seems customary at the moment for integral theorists to assume that individuals' voting behaviours are driven by the particular profile of their interior developmental capacities. The argument is that only a very small minority of individuals have the cognitive, moral or interpersonal level of development to make political judgments that might be described as “second tier”, that is, to make judgments that seek multi-level, holistic, meta-solutions to complex problems through overarching, flexible and renewable methods. The great majority of adults, so the argument goes, live within worldviews that are inherently incapable of dealing with the complexity of our contemporary national and global life conditions.
Such a view ignores the impact of mediating mechanisms on individuals' and communities' consciousness, their worldviews, their decision-making processes, their values and their political judgments. When I speak of mediating mechanisms I am thinking of all those media that connect and network between individuals and collectives in all their forms -- first person, second person, third person, singular and plural. I particularly mean all those mediating mechanisms, including all mass electronic and print media, whose content and process lie outside of the control of “the public”. These mediating mechanisms largely create the informational environments in which people make political decisions. Do we as individuals make political decision because our developmental “centre of gravity” falls within an archaic, magical, traditional, rational or pluralistic worldview? Or is our political consciousness mediated through the information and conceptual framing that floods and shapes our sensibilities for so much of our day? Or might it be both? Given different communicational and information environments the average person may well make a very different political decision irrespective of what developmental profile they may have. Given different information about how global warming may affect their businesses, many farmers and regional business people may have made a very different political judgment to the one they made in the recent Australian elections (global warming is taking a serious hold on the Australian climate at present, some large regional towns only have a few months of water left, and much of the country has been in the grip of its worst drought in history for several years).
I am proposing, therefore, that it is not the simply developmental level or centre of gravity of the individual that is crucial in determining political judgments, but the “level of consciousness” of the informational sea in which we all swim on a daily basis also play a significant role in all this. Mediational processes complement the current focus of integral approaches on supporting people in their individual developmental journeys. They provide a more comprehensive picture of the impact of social ecologies, political and corporate power environments and the influence of vested interests on the development of consciousness at all levels of community. While, I agree with the rather simple proposition that our developmental capacities are stimulated by our interaction with life conditions, an integral analysis cannot must also recognise that environments create consciousness. Worldviews, value systems and structures of consciousness emerge, are created and maintained by exterior physical, emotional and social environments as much as by the unfolding of interior potentials. To this point integral theorists have not considered that the concepts and “information” we receive about those life conditions is often totally distorted, manipulated, reframed, dumbed-down and misrepresented to achieve the goals, vested interests and dreams of those in power and with something to lose.
It is precisely because individual and collective consciousness is mediated, that the powerful always do everything they can to control the mediating mechanisms of a culture. An Integral theory of social development and politics must look much more closely at the developmental “profile” (sociograph) of mediating forces such as global news networks, media corporations, public relations organisations, communications industries, corporate image consultants, government media and intelligence agencies, then it has to this point if it is to understand and contribute to a more “integral” perspective on the crucial political and public policy matters that confront and affect us all.
A lot of what I am talking of here concerns power, and the capacity for the powerful to influence the mediation of consciousness in both its personal and collective forms (hence my reference to Rupert Murdoch's developmental Centre of gravity). Now, of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with power - the powerful can also be representative of the people or accountable to them in some way, and can derive their power through that representation or accountability and use it for civic development and the public good. When the control of critical mediational networks is exercised responsibly, the mediation of consciousness through mass media can be a healthy and progressive contributor to the development and education of any society. My point is that Integral theory at the moment has not systematically considered either the positive or the negative aspects of social mediation. It has largely assumed that political consciousness depends on the profile of subjective consciousness. It thereby limits its social interventions to programs that focus on individual growth and it narrows its political analyses down to the percentages of populations of individuals who fall within this or that developmental band. I am simply pointing out that one of the major schools of human development - the Cultural-Historical and Activity Theory schools of Vygotsky, Leontiev, Cole, Wertsch, Rogoff and others - tells us that such analyses are inherently reductionist and that the development of consciousness, in either its individual or collective manifestations, has as much to do with the mediational power of exteriors as anything else (integral theorists might learn from the emerging peer-to-peer set of theories which are based on mediational conceptions of development).
In assessing the capacity for personal and collective development Integral theorists place far too much weight on notions that individuals take five or seven years to developmentally progress from one stage of growth to another or that most of the world's population exist at very formative levels of moral development. Such conceptualisations are based on, what has been called the “developmentalist” bias. Mediation also plays a central role in these developmental phenomena and an integral understanding of the mediation of consciousness opens up new understanding of how emergence can be supported. For one thing, it balances our preoccupation with the interiors of individuals with an appreciation for the emergent power that lies in the exterior of the collective and of interobjectivity as a catalyst for growth and the embrace of developmental depth (e.g. see Vygotsky's notion of the Zone of Proximal Development).
I believe that the emergence of integral approaches to development is a ray of hope for our world's future. If, however, it continues to analyse social problems, political issues and global movements in terms of the interior developmental profiles and “centres of gravity” of individuals and not consider the mediation of consciousness, and the part that social power plays in those mediational processes, it will never reach its full potential for researching, discussing and promoting pathways to a healthier and more sustainable future.
Mark Edwards, June, 2006