Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].


The Shadow of Society

and its Evolutionary Discontents

Joe Corbett

We need collective shadow therapy, badly, desperately, and now. But what would that look like?

A look around the world today from social protests, to fiscal crises of states, to the state of the environment tells us that the world is now in a general state of crisis, imbalance, and far from equilibrium chaos. In Marxian terms, the social forces of production in laboring populations (unemployed), resources (scarce renewable and nonrenewable), and technology (primarily informational and biological) have reached a critical point in the course of their development, and are increasingly at odds, in conflict with the prevailing relations of production, which were previously stabilized around more traditionally modern sources of use, functional applicability, and identity.

Resisting pressures for change are not just the vested interests in the social relations of modern power and money represented by the corporate-military-police-state and their 1 percent masters, but the cultural apparatus of ideological hegemony in the media, the schools, and the religiously sanctified nuclear family, all conspire to make the transition to the next level of organized civilization contentious and highly problematic. By no means is a survivable outcome guaranteed for all, even for the human species as a whole.

Central to this crisis is the role of the human shadow in the personal and historical trajectory of humans. The darker, non-rational side of human nature is always at play in our individual and collective lives, sometimes consciously but mostly unconsciously weaving its influence into our fates. A beast is among us, here and now, and it behooves us to be-aware. At each and every point of our possible development there is the equal possibility of our regression to less developed forms of our individual and collective selves.

The shadow influences of greed, gluttony, and vanity in particular are rampant in modern consumer-celebrity cultures that have individual achievement-orientation and hierarchical social differentiation (inequality) as their central guiding principle in life. Much of the discontent and dysfunction in the world today have these shadow influences as its source. But the point of psychological and social rebalancing (creating more equity and functional fit) is not to eliminate such urges in an anti-humanistic rage of excluding the shadow urges, but to keep them in check with regular (institutionalized) vigilance and oversight, and to resist the temptation of stimulating (deregulating) the individual and collective energies of these beasts within and among us to the point that their influence easily and seamlessly becomes the dominant energies organizing our individual and collective lives, to the point where we (the people, the commons of collective human interests) become their (the elites, the private interests of individual shadow) servants and wage slaves.

When we see austerity being imposed on populations across the world while at the same time elites continue to widen their wealth gap at the expense of the rest of us, and while global climate change keeps up on an ecocidal pace with little and intentionally, deliberately, no action by those with the power and influence to make a difference, we are witnessing without hyperbole or metaphor the shadow beast of the archetypal anti-Christ unleashed upon the Earth. Fundamentalist Muslims are peculiarly situated in their own mythological backwardness to witness without illusions the reality of what the civilizational model of the West truly and empirically represents to the fate of the world: the imperialist reign of Satan is here, and the final phase of the apocalypse (the end of the world as we know it) has just begun.

If we are to focus on what is ultimately the cause of the current world crisis and how we can begin to resolve it we must look at how modern power and money has been able to systematically skew and distort the development of the world in favor of the fossil fuel based energy civilization of the modern corporate-military-police-state. This model of modern development worked very well, always for the elites, but for a good deal of non-elites as well, especially in the West, for several hundred years of global capitalist development. If their ever was an historical example of how the dark side of the human shadow (greed, gluttony, vanity, violence, etc.) contributes to the advancement of civilization, modern capitalism is it.

However, as the hierarchical global capitalist system winds-down on the threshold of its own unacknowledged limits and is unable to resolve the crises it generates, it becomes increasingly authoritarian and repressive of its populations, with elites holding on to their illegitimate existence and squeezing the last remaining benefits of the system almost exclusively for itself. The human shadow has now become pathological and dysfunctional for the further advancement of civilization. We need collective shadow therapy, badly, desperately, and now. But what would that look like? Protests in the streets as a populist prelude to direct democracy? A rapid global transition to sustainable renewable energies? A global economic restructuring toward well-being rather than profits and GDP? Surely, all of these, and more. And what shadows might lurk within these possible solutions themselves?

For the current global crisis to be resolved into a higher level of civilizational complexity that provides the conditions for the optimal development of the creativity and spirituality of all people (the prime directive), the human shadow and its institutionalized expressions must be seized and removed from its central and dominant place in the current configuration of global society. We must do this by whatever means of struggle and adaptation necessary, for our further individual and collective development, and for our survival as a species.

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