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].


Capitalism and
Integral Alterity

Joe Corbett

What is equally well known but less well accepted is that capitalism and industrial technology has brought humanity to its end-game.

We all know the advantages and benefits conferred upon us by capitalism and the servants of science and technology in bringing us out of the dark ages of superstitious ignorance and material scarcity. What is equally well known but less well accepted is that capitalism and industrial technology has brought humanity to its end-game, and now what was promised to save us from our ignorance and misery will surely doom us to a fate worse than the darkest days of the Dark Ages. We are rapidly approaching the furthest polarity in what Horkheimer and Adorno called the dialectic of enlightenment, where there will either be synthesis and renewal, or breakdown and self-annihilation in the enlightenment project of human progress.


Just as feudalism once acted as a fetter to the development of the forces of production in society in the transition to capitalism, so now capitalist relations of production act as a fetter to the development of the forces and relations of production necessary to save the planet from ecological destruction and meltdown. The task of capitalism to increase abundance in a model of unfettered and unlimited growth has largely fulfilled its promise by eliminating scarcity (at least in the developed and developing world), and has now run into the limits of its capacity to continue on the course of ever increasing abundance and growth. The difference in the transition to the next mode of production this time is that it is not just competing class interests which are at stake, but the interests of humanity and the planet. Indeed, we are now faced with an emergency call to humanity, a real, epic, apocalyptic 9/11. Capitalism is on a suicide mission, and it is flying its wings into the towers of civilization even as we sit here now.

In short, we need to start thinking about how to do things differently than how we've been doing things within the historical regime of modernity. And not by abandoning the gains we have made through modernity (science, capital, the state) but by putting those gains in proper perspective and in balanced relation to other potentialities of the human matrix. So what are those other (quantum) potentialities, and on what alternative trajectories might their effective histories take us?

Besides global environmental destruction, one thing capitalism and its client state have brought us is the systematic underdevelopment of consciousness. The abstract theoretical reasoning of the empirical sciences and technology, in alliance with the instrumental and strategic rationalities of capital and the state, has formed a hegemonic socio-cultural discursive practice that permeates our institutions and dominates our every move as modern individuals. Filled with the consumer delusions of targeted marketing techniques and mindless entertainment, the daily grind of labor drudgery (for those fortunate enough to have work), and the ever menacing threat of incarceration for even the most petty offenses, creativity, autonomy, and exploratory self-expression are rooted out of individuals by the time they reach adulthood. Self-development is channeled into acceptable forms of personhood and community by the requirements of state and capital. Deviants and mutants who do not submit to the operations of the machine will find it difficult to survive.

Additionally, in modernity an emotional nexus of national, ethnic, and religious loyalty is built around and mobilized by the cognitive leadership of a strategic-instrumental rationality oriented toward organizational efficiency, logistical control and order, and the predictive calculations of statistical quantification. These are the metrics by which development and success, both individual and collective, is achieved and assessed. Other aspects of individual and collective existence (moral, aesthetic, communal, therapeutic, sustainability, justice and equity) are considered secondary and even irrelevant to the bottom-line of material productivity. The expanded consciousness of the self and the collective are sacrificed to the imperatives of profit and a rigidly disciplinary order.

This is the iron cage of rationality and discursive practice we are currently subjected to. But this has not always been the case, nor will it always be so, for the consciousness of self and society are historically and dynamically constituted out of the building blocks of the human matrix, the AQAL, which includes all the rationalities, all the grammars of the forms of life that are possible in humans. From this Integral Critical Theory (ICT) perspective, an alternative form of individuation, not based on the increasing capacity of the rational autonomous ego to think and act in its own self-interest, but an individuation that is marked by the increasing capacity to enhance the collective interest for surviving and thriving, is equally possible and even more legitimate (given prevailing historical circumstances) as a form of human development than one based on the modern presuppositions of state and capital.

Likewise, instead of a cognitive intelligence quotient based on ones developmental capacity for theoretical abstraction and strategic-instrumental manipulation, other measures of development could be used to assess the aesthetic capacity to create a beautiful life, or the therapeutic capacity for contemplative and meditative calm whereby wisdom and cognitive-emotional maturity are the developmental indicators. There are literally dozens of alternative lines of development and their combinatory syntheses with other lines, levels, and types that can be used in the formation of the self and the collective. Moreover, no one singular combinatory synthesis need be hegemonic so as to homogenize the potential diversity within a given population. In fact, true societal and cultural freedom and diversity would require such a heterogeneous approach toward the constitution of self and society.

As we enter the final stages of the grand dialectic of modern enlightenment, we must ask ourselves anew what human progress really is. What is human development? Is it the ability to produce endlessly mindless and destructive forms of commodity fetishism that can be marketed and sold at a predictably calculable profit? Is it to satiate the rational autonomous ego in its brutal and austere self-sufficiency of isolation and objectivity so it can claim the title of being rational and autonomous? Or does human development have a more expansive and diversified meaning wherein human qualities that are suppressed and underdeveloped in modernity (or in premodern societies for that matter) await discovery as unexplored and heretofore unimagined territories for self and society? If there is one thing that is certain, capitalism and the hegemony of the rational autonomous ego has had its time, and now it is time for an integral alterity of self and society, wherein human freedom and diversity can be allowed to flourish by expanding the range and depth of human development in all its forms that are more in balance with the planet, and more expressive of the diversity of what is means to be a human being.

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