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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].


Cultural Evolution and
the Class (and Clash)
of Integral Ideas

Joe Corbett

I would propose the alternative of fostering cultural evolution within the West, and particularly within America, by learning to hate global capitalism.

If your rent (or mortgage) and daily bread is dependent on hand-outs from the rich and well-to-do (or from corporate-state granting agencies for that matter), expect a little corruption to have crept into your soul, and if you belong to the classes of the rich and the well-to-do, expect corruption to be ingrained into your consciousness and identity like a fish in water. As socialist and muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it". I explored the cognitive and historical origins of this phenomenon in capitalist modernity from an integral critical theory perspective in "The Rise of Integral Conservatism in the Shadow of Strategic-Instrumental Rationality". Most of what I said there I think can be applied to much of what goes on at Ken Wilber's Integral Institute and Esbj÷rn-Hargens' Metaintegral Institute, of which the Institute for Cultural Evolution (ICE) is affiliated.

Uptron Sinclair

In the latest incarnation of ICE's attempt to heroically save the world, "President" (very corporate-state sounding) Steve McIntosh's paper on "Fostering Evolution in Islamic Culture", may be considered a class analysis, that is to say, an analysis from the perspective of a particular well-to-do class. His thesis is that westerner's should learn to "love Islam" and embrace it from a post-postmodern perspective, especially in its theistic aspect, as this will empower the Islamic moderates and intellectuals by emboldening them to more openly embrace core aspects of a post-secular modernity, and thus to make the necessary doctrinal changes within Islam that will no longer conflict with either modern values or the Islamic faith. In this way, cultural evolution can take place within Islam by building trust in Muslims that the West is not out to destroy them, and whose values are in fact compatible with and supportive of the Islamic faith and way of life. This move will simultaneously revive the West's appreciation for theistic spirituality from a post-secular perspective, and thus help foster cultural evolution within the West itself.

As far as this strategy goes, it recognizes the need to build bridges of trust with Muslims, trust that has been destroyed over decades of meddling, manipulation, and out-right oppression of countries in the Middle-East by the West. Unfortunately, an act of love for Islam (supposedly a second tier behavior, but which can initially be done out of a pluralist cultural appreciation) does not go nearly far enough, especially as it is without any suggestion that the physical invasions and occupations of Muslim lands cease (that the actions of the mean orange meme be stopped), and that apologies and material reparations be given for historical injustices (the green meme gesture). Thus, Steve's thesis is based on the faulty premise that trust can be built by cultural gestures of love and acceptance, even when it is well-known, even among first tier actors, that mere words and symbolic gestures can never be a substitute for practical real-world deeds (a simple lesson that Barack Obama also appears to be unaware of when he speaks of middle-class interests on the one hand but appoints Wall Street bankers to head his economic team on the other).

Although McIntosh does recognize that geo-political interference in the Middle-East has been a factor, still he says, "the rise of radical, militant Islamism is being caused primarily by the ongoing failure of most Muslim-majority countries to come to terms with modernity". As in the case of the American voter, Steve has a habit of blaming the victims of manipulation and violence in the hands of the powerful. When these victims come up short in their responsibility for their own development, there is nowhere else to look but themselves. Perhaps Steve does have love for Islam, especially for the theistic aspect. But then again, perhaps he doesn't have enough empathy to imagine what decades of meddling interference, occupation and oppression does to people, especially the young males full of raging hormones and sensitive ego's who have seen their friends, neighbors, and families torn to pieces. It follows naturally that ending decades of coups, invasions, and occupations wouldn't be at the top of his list as the solution to furthering cultural development and evolution within Muslim lands.

McIntosh is also critical of "postmodernity's 'hermeneutics of suspicion' [or default critical thinking] to justify their own opposition to modernity", for they have been influential ideological enablers of Islamists, and "through this process, both the premodern and postmodern opponents of modernity have now become political bedfellows in their resistance to globalization". As Ken Wilber says, sometimes in reference to the pre-trans fallacy, green and red often like to get cozy and cuddle-up. Indeed, brick throwing anarchists often march side-by-side with peaceful protesters, until there is a break in the fašade of civil disobedience. But this doesn't mean that the unwieldy brick-throwers are ideologically parasitical on the peaceful protesters and wouldn't be capable of a legitimate critique of globalization without them. It simply means that they have a different means of expressing their discontent with the status quo. And with or without each other, the critique and opposition to orange from red and green and others, will go on as a legitimate counter-hegemony.

Explaining the rise and justification for the existence of Jihadism is not the same as endorsing or defending it.

In any case, McIntosh believes that postmodernity is a problem insofar as it has a default critical thinking position towards modernity, and hence it is in a perverse ideological collusion with the Islamic traditionalists, who are anti-modern as opposed to being critical of modernity, a distinction that McIntosh himself does not make. And this points to another distinction McIntosh does not make, which is the difference between anti-modern, which many of the so-called "postmodernists" are not, and anti-capitalist, which many progressive modernists (and postmodernists as well) most definitely are. So again, it's not so much that "postmodernists" and Islamists are joined together as an anti-modern tag-team. They are not. Postmodernists are less of a "bedfellow" to jihadism than a defense lawyer is a bedfellow to murders, which s/he is not. Explaining the rise and justification for the existence of Jihadism is not the same as endorsing or defending it. Rather, what is so significant about postmodernists and Islamists together is that they are a potential collective threat not to modernity but to global capitalism, which is not necessarily coterminous with everything modern, for instance, democracy and national sovereignty, as well as the individual liberties and collective civil rights these quintessential modern institutions provide.

Therefore, rather than a proposal for fostering cultural evolution within Islam by learning to love it, I would propose the alternative of fostering cultural evolution within the West, and particularly within America, by learning to hate global capitalism. To this end, first, there is the problem of how to foster the cultural evolution of Christian fundamentalism and militarist nationalism within America, for without a remedy to these social problems, looking to foster cultural evolution elsewhere is a bit like offering to clean your neighbors laundry before you've cleaned your own, and then you just end up getting your neighbors laundry dirty again after you've tried to clean it. And by the way, good luck with that task as long as we've got the media and the corporate-military-police-state with a firm grip on the whole spectacle.

Neoliberal capitalism will not be satiated until the last drop of oil has been pumped into the atmosphere.

In other words, fostering cultural evolution in America would entail, as a first step, breaking the hegemonic stranglehold the mean orange meme has on the shape and direction of the current form of neoliberal capitalism and its global ambitions. If there is one thing for certain, neoliberal capitalism will not be satiated until the last drop of oil has been pumped into the atmosphere, every election has been bought and paid for, and every resource and land on Earth has been opened up to a "free-market" of corporate monopolies consisting of endless rows of Starbucks, sports bars, and KFC's. And this is why neoliberal capitalism must be stopped, on environmental, cultural, and socio-political grounds.

However, the pacifist and relativist disposition of the green meme is unable to break the tyranny of corporate domination. They are far too anemic, polite, and accommodating for that. The mean green meme, it turns out, is really and quite literally just a paper tiger, a well-meaning and "very complex" bourgeois pansy, otherwise known as the "bleeding-heart-guilty-white-liberal". What the postmodern critics of global capitalism need, therefore, is an army of loyal and capable servants willing and courageous enough to take-on in deeds, not just in words and symbolic acts of resistance, the cancer (or beast) that has become global capitalism. Likewise, what the premodern authoritarians need is public relations guidance in how to win-over the sympathies of a global audience in their fight against the great beast of Satan, America, or precisely the global capitalist-imperialism of the corporate-military-police-state, the pathological mean orange meme.

For a genuine premodern-postmodern alliance to be forged, the leaders of militant Islam, as well as the leaders of any militant political group, must know the precise target of their opposition, and not act in unfocused and indiscriminate terms. This means not flying planes into buildings where many innocent people can be killed, not executing journalists and other "do-gooders" for their guilt by association with the enemy, and not conducting random suicide bomb attacks where many innocent people are maimed and killed. It also means not throwing bricks at windows and burning parked cars or fighting the police in the streets, or even the military pawns of foreign governments, except in defensive and evasive maneuvers. What militants all over the world need to focus on is the true source of the global problems we currently face of permanent war, social inequality, and environmental devastation, and that blame rests primarily with the leaders of the 1 percent and their paymasters.

Currently, the drone assassination program targeting key leaders of militant Islam is the official strategy of global empire against its most formidable opposition. Cut-off the heads of the dragon and the body withers in the wind, if not entirely away. ISIS has already shown a move in the direction of this strategy by calling for the killing of 100 military personal, of whom they published the names and addresses. This strategy however still operates on the plane of the pawns of empire rather than its kings, queens, and emperors. By targeting key leaders of the global 1 percent, not civilians and innocent by-standers, and not the pawns and robots of empire, militants could not only gain the sympathies of millions of people world-wide, as many are now aware of the rigged-game of the global elites against the working masses, they could also raise the consciousness of people to the fact that another world is possible, that they are not destined to be a cog in the gears of a corrupt machine.

By cutting-off the head of the beast, militants could demonstrate a way out of the iron cage of capitalist modernity. They could revive the passionate rage of the prophets of justice, and restore the moral order of compassion and fellowship that has been rooted-out of us through several centuries of an industrial and mechanistic detour in our development and evolution as a species. That another world is possible, free of the corruptions and shadow plays of neoliberal capitalism and its ambitions for global domination, is something many of us now can scarcely even imagine. That the world as it currently is is not part of the natural order of things is unthinkable to many who have never witnessed the kind of rupture in history that tears away our illusions and self-deceptions. Political militants properly guided to appropriate targets could provide the opening that would allow us to see such a rupture, and hence begin to imagine the unimaginable, to liberate our souls from the chains of our oppressors. This would be cultural evolution worth fostering.

American Sniper II - Synopsis

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