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 Unfinished Project of Justice

The contemporary relevance of Habermas
and Marx to Integral Theory and Practice

Joe Corbett

Class identity (as a global precariat) provides a globally unifying theme across ethnic, religious, and national boundaries.

When considering the Lower Right quadrant of the AQAL, the fundamental reference we must address is the nature of inter-objectivity in an exterior collective. In other words, what kind of system are we dealing with? A social system, an ecological system, a justice system? For the Lower Left quadrant, on the other hand, the fundamental reference is inter-subjectivity in an interior collective. Here we must ask not what kind of system we are dealing with, but what kind of cultural and moral community we are dealing with. Thus the values of the LL involve depth and meaning, such as the nature of the good and the meaning of life, whereas the relationships of the LR involve formal and empirical interactions such as whether one broke the law (or not), or whether one species is adapted to their environment (or not).

As a linguistically mediated communicative act, the LL quadrant asks 'What is the right thing to do?', whereas the LR quadrant asks 'What is the relation of the part to the whole?'. The LL quadrant therefore asks what should we/I do with respect to a transcendent value or ideal principle, whereas the LR quadrant asks what we/I must do in order to achieve a fit with respect to the larger whole of which we/I am a part (values and principles be damned if need be, as a hungry person does not ask if it is right to kill an animal to eat, but only whether it will assist in their survival). Thus whereas the LL is moral and practical, the LR is strategic and opportunist. This is essentially the difference between the community member and priest (LL) on the one hand, and the lawyer-politician-businessman (LR) on the other.

The LL quadrant constitutes what Habermas called the cultural lifeworld, which forms the basis of human communication and therefore virtually the whole of human actions within a linguistic community. The LR quadrant constitutes what he called the system of influence under the steering media of power and money, which subjects the lifeworld to its own terms and conditions, creating anomie and alienation, and eventually a legitimation crisis for the political and economic systems that have colonized the lifeworld. We are in the midst of a global legitimation crisis at the moment, with authoritarian regimes regaining legitimacy (beginning with the Iranian revolution and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism) under the failed austerity and continuing trickle-down policies of global neoliberalism and imperialism. This crisis therefore represents a pathology that has spat up yet another pathology, a dominator hierarchy that has provoked a regression in social and cultural development around the entire world.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to the resurgence of the traditional-authoritarian blowback to the failed neoliberal-imperialist policies of a pathological plutocracy. But it will have to come from those who have transcended the conventional level of cultural development within their own personality systems, and who are capable of translating that development into institutional forms of post-conventional morality and political practice that go beyond the ethnic and egoic interests of particular groups and persons. This would mean going beyond the tribal identity politics of race, religion, gender, nation, and eventually class, toward a universal human identity with the earth and its life forms, and ultimately with the universe as a whole. Of course, this is much easier said than done!!

To this seemingly utopian end, there are other rationalities (other fundamental forms of communication and understanding to serve as the foundation for our worldview) that we must focus on and facilitate in our daily interactions and life pursuits that, individually and collectively, will help us to resist, subvert, and replace the domination of strategic and opportunist rationality (LR) that forms the system of competitive greed, power, and money, with a more balanced and integrated self and social system. This more integral worldview would be multi-dimensional in the spheres of action it would provide for self-fulfillment, rather than the narrow one-dimensional form of material motivation (steered by power and money) that we are trapped within today.

Among these alternative rationalities, besides the moral-communal dimension (LL) of the lifeworld already discussed, is what Habermas called the expressive dimension of therapeutic and aesthetic rationality. This is the realm of the UL quadrant, where the question we ask in communication is about the sincerity of others and the authenticity of ourselves in expressing what we think and want. Who we and others are as authentic subjects can be explored in artistic expression, contemplative self-reflection (including meditation), educational pursuits, and various kinds of psycho and group-therapy. These could be considered part of the inner work of developing the personality system in preparation for (and as a condition of) the collective cultural and social revolutions to come.

Another rationality, related to but distinct from the strategic rationality of the LR quadrant, is the instrumental rationality of the UR quadrant, which asks 'what is the factual basis of how things are and how they work?'. This is the rationality of the scientist and objective theoretician concerned with the truth of reality and the technical knowledge of how to get things done. It is the perspective of the policy-wonk rather than the politician, and of the academic/investigative journalist rather than the public relations or advertising professional.

Both strategic and instrumental rationalities are central to the operations of power and money, however instrumental rationality (particularly in the form of professional journalism) is at least potentially free of the distorting influences of these systemic steering media, and can in principle (when in good faith) remain neutral in its pursuit of factual truths. In fact, the role of uncorrupted instrumentalities is crucial in establishing the conditions for a society free of the distorting mechanisms of power and money, that is to say, a society that is liberated and empowered more than it is oppressed by science, technology, and journalism in collusion with power and money.

As important as inner work (UL) and factually based reality (UR) is to successful social transformation, perhaps the first step in this whole transformative process would be to provide a solid foundation for a worldcentric identity in solidarity with others (LL) that would help people transcend their ethnic, religious, and national identities, which are today hopelessly enmeshed in divisive tribal politics. A suitable foundation for the self in worldcentric identity in solidarity with others can be found, I believe, in the Marxian category of class values, class meaning, and class identity, that is to say, a global class that now exists in itself but is rapidly becoming a class for itself, a class of the 90 percent (the global multitudes of the abandoned and the precariat) in opposition to the dominator hierarchy of the 10 percent, which has been the main and continuing source of so many of the social pathologies we experience today.

Instead of the traditional divisions of identity which are hopelessly pitted against each other and locked in ethnocentric sensibilities of superiority-inferiority, class identity (as a global precariat) provides a globally unifying theme across ethnic, religious, and national boundaries. Even the 90 percent within the advanced economies can now find common ground with the 99.9 percent in the undeveloped economies that have traditionally been imperially plundered. Little interior or cultural “development” (perhaps almost none at all from current levels) needs to take place for this recognition, for one only needs to be hailed (if linguistically competent) as one of the 90-99 percent who has been on the wrong end of a predator/prey relationship that has defined the political economy of capitalism from its inception.

From this class solidarity with the vast majority of the population on the planet there would arise, fully realized for the first time on a truly world scale, the worldcentric moral-communal values of universal equity, fairness, and reciprocity (but this time without the individual and group exclusions of the enlightenment) as the conditions of human freedom and responsibility so desperately needed not just to correct the extreme global inequalities within and between human societies, but to heal the divide between industrial civilization and nature that has now brought us to the brink of human extinction.

Dustin DiPerna and Ken Wilber believe this worldcentric identity can most effectively be achieved within the religions that people already widely identify with, and by developing a worldcentric religiosity they can transcend their ethnocentric orientations. Presumably this would give them a worldcentric morality that could then be used as a basis for universal human values across different traditions respecting individual freedoms and rights as well as individual and collective responsibilities, with the inclusion of ever more diverse and marginal groups with the advance to postmodern forms of religiosity, and so on.

What makes this approach inadequate for challenging the current global dominator hierarchy, and therefore inadequate as a vehicle for social transformation, is that it leaves out the necessary direct confrontation with class power that must occur on a global scale across different classes and nations, as power never gives up anything voluntarily. Moreover, it would require the work of developmental leadership within the temples, churches, and mosques that would have to be truly massive and sustained beyond what can be realistically expected from traditions that are themselves corrupted by the steering media of power and money, as well as being hog-tied by traditional authority deeply entrenched in institutions and traditions that have no interest in seeing their flocks tickled with. And finally, even if this did eventually work to lift the developmental level of millions to worldcentric, we do not have the many decades of time that this developmental transformation would require.

Class identity within a Marxian analysis of global capitalism in its neoliberal form, and its class consequences in a global plutocracy, is already provoking the question of 'what is right and wrong about how we currently treat each other?' (LL), and 'what is the relation of the precariat to the global system of production and consumption?' (LR). These are acts of communication in the public sphere that are increasingly causing waves of discontent to ripple across the world. When these waves of discontent become large consolidated bodies of identity for themselves, the world won't just be watching, it will be acting en masse to make itself into a more Just form once promised to it from the dusty pages of the 18th century. And this time the people will not be denied.

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