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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
More essays by Ray Harris | Ray Harris' website: www.novelactivist.com
Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected]
An Open Letter on
Integral World Government
It must be remembered that 'the left' is generally any social movement that questions the status quo.
There is a growing call for the reform of the UN and the creation of some form of global governance. George Monbiot has written 'The Age of Consent' which calls for a new political movement to democratize existing global institutions. The philosopher Peter Singer has written 'One World' which examines the ethics of globalization. And Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued that we are creating a new order of supranational organization in 'Empire'.
And in the integral world we have the contribution of Steve McIntosh who has asked us to sign a petition at integralworldgovernment.org
I must admit I had only given Steve's site a quick glance. On the surface it seemed reasonable and anyway, I support the move toward global governance – out of a recognition that it is historically inevitable.
However, I will not be signing Steve's petition. Here's why. You see, I took a closer look at what exactly he was proposing in the name of integral philosophy.
In my essay 'Left, Right or Just Plain Wrong' I argued that there were some in the integral movement who embraced some conservative clichés and who did not have a deep enough understanding of political economy. Steve's website is a prime example. I also argued that the integral movement needed to move away from the idea of 'integral business' to integral economics. Interestingly Steve's background is with the original integral business group of the Integral Institute. I'm afraid his site shows all the shortcomings that I am concerned about.
But first let me say that I am writing this in the interest of developing a truly integral political economy. If it is to earn the name integral then it cannot ignore the legitimate claims of any view, nor can it misrepresent those views. Sadly Steve's rationale for his call for an integral world government is only superficially integral. Indeed, he makes a number of unsubstantiated claims that are far from integral.
The purpose of this letter is to examine those claims in the hope that the integral movement can in fact become truly integral. Of course I am only one voice in a continuing dialogue.
So, what are the erroneous assumptions that underlie Steve's site? The problematic sections are found in the section called 'Achieving World Government in our times'.
But before I begin let me acknowledge that I understand that Steve has had to condense a lot of material into short, readable essays. He may have had to leave out important qualifications. Nonetheless, some of his statements seem to suggest a particular bias.
Okay – the first problematic section.
It will be necessary for integral activists to clearly distinguish themselves from the postmodern worldview because history predicts that the integral agenda will be opposed by a significant portion of postmodern culture and also lumped together with it by many in modernist and traditional consciousness. But one way for integralists to distinguish themselves from postmodern consciousness will be to avoid the shrill, negative style that characterizes much of the political language of the left. Integral discourse would do well to adopt a positive, confident style animated by the conviction that the integral agenda offers specific solutions and that the goal is to make everybody right.
Hmm, the 'shrill, negative style that characterizes 'much' of the political language of the left.' And I thought, at least in America, that it was the right-wing shock jocks and the Fox network that were 'shrill'. Interesting that Steve only accuses the 'left' of being shrill. I would have thought that the use of an emotive term such as shrill was itself an example of the real problem – the tendency to crude rhetoric in political discourse in general – a problem encountered in 'both' the left and the right.
Another problem with this particular section is that it is a broad attack on the 'left'. Steve, which 'left'? What do you mean by 'left'? Surely if you want to create an integral movement you don't want to alienate a large section of people by accusing them of being shrill? Of course what statements such as these do is simplistically ridicule the political objectives of many progressive organisations. It must be remembered that 'the left' is generally any social movement that questions the status quo. Are we to assume that the civil rights movement was shrill and negative, that the original suffragettes were shrill, that the gay rights movement and the environmental movement are negative? Of course those conservative forces opposed to these legitimate causes are happy to accuse them of being shrill and negative.
You see the problem is this – the argument that the left is shrill and negative is a conservative cliché used as a cheap rhetorical device to discredit the legitimate claims of many progressive causes. It has no place in an integral anything.
But I must also question the first sentence. Firstly it is somewhat nonsensical. How exactly does history predict? More precisely, how does it predict that a 'significant proportion' of a coalition of postmodern, modern and traditional culture will oppose the integral agenda? Personally I think this is something of a myth, even a straw man argument. Yes, there are aspects of postmodernism that will be confronted by some aspects of integral theory. But if we take 'cultural relativism' as an example then I can assure Steve that many people who identify themselves as postmodernist have condemned cultural relativism. In fact the excesses of postmodernism are well understood by many postmodernists (without having read Wilber). I sincerely doubt that a 'significant proportion' will oppose the integral agenda for the reasons you expect. A 'significant proportion' will certainly oppose it if it turns out that the integral movement is simply pushing neo-conservative clichés and resorting to cheap rhetorical shots.
Now we come to the real clanger, the statement that 'the goal is to make everybody right.' Huh? Not everybody can be right. Nor did Wilber ever suggest that everybody could be right. Some people have very wrong ideas. Do you seriously believe that in the 1930's an integral movement could have accepted that Nazism was in any way right? Steve, this is simply obfuscation and avoiding a rather harsh reality – some views are very wrong and very dangerous. Here you are indulging in the integral movement's own version of moral relativism – all views are partly right and partly wrong. This statement can be used to apologise for all sorts of dubious beliefs and to avoid a critical analysis. It is simply not good enough. We have to be able to state which parts are right and which parts are wrong. Steve, which parts of Osama bin Laden or Tim LaHaye are right?
Now the next problematic section.
While there have been several attempts over the years to draft an acceptable world government constitution, these documents have been essentially socialist and have thus received little support from the mainstream political establishment.
What if the mainstream political establishment is short sighted and merely reflects the aspirations of the privileged? What if the mainstream political establishment is wrong? Does being integral mean compromising the truth in the cause of political expediency? Isn't the fact that the major political parties compromise most of the time the reason so may people are disengaged from the political process? Are you suggesting that the 'socialist' proposals are wrong? Are you suggesting that we need to sugar coat any proposals to make them more acceptable to the mainstream political establishment? What if the only genuine way forward is reform of the mainstream political establishment, isn't the mainstream political establishment part of the problem?
The thing that this statement ignores is the many reasons why the mainstream political establishment might have an interest in rejecting any world government. It ignores the blunt reality that certain interests benefit from the way things are and are prepared to use their power to maintain the status quo. This statement completely ignores the ruthless reality of class interest and the harshness of Realpolitik.
Oh, and by the way. I think there may be a reason that most suggested world constitutions are essentially socialist – because socialism was the first truly international political ideology and part of its vision has always been global. And it might have to do with the fact that socialism has usually been a progressive force.
…if it denies representation to economic interests it would not be long before this policy did significant damage to the world's economy. As long as consciousness in the world is distributed across the spiral of development, socialism will not work. Wealth might be temporarily redistributed, but it would not be long before rich countries were rich again and the poor countries were poor again. This is because economic development roughly traces the development of consciousness, as has been well-demonstrated by the work of numerous authors and researchers. Modernist consciousness, operating within the legal environment of free markets, is what creates most of the wealth of modern societies.
Yikes! There is so much wrong here I hardly know where to begin.
The US is not the norm, socialism is practiced in many countries in a wide variety of forms.
Steve, what is your understanding of socialism? The fact is that many countries have mixed economies and follow democratic socialist principles. In fact in Europe the political spectrum usually splits between conservatives and democratic socialists. The US is not the norm, socialism is practiced in many countries in a wide variety of forms. Surely you are not suggesting that we base a world government on a narrow US-centric aversion to socialism?
This is where you reveal, and the integral movement reveals, an astounding ignorance of political economy. Marx actually argued that the development of human consciousness was linked to economics. In his vision human consciousness progressed as economic systems developed from capitalism to socialism, and then to communism. Marx's ideal of communism attracted many highly developed thinkers and artists – often the best and the brightest. My understanding of the communist utopia actually looks a lot like an integral society. It is not, as many in the US seem to think, the debased term 'Communism' (with a capital c) that is used to describe the totalitarian societies that evolved after WW1 (there is more in common between Nazism and Stalinism than there is between Marx's ideal of communism and 'Communism' as many Americans use the term).
Marx coined the term dialectical materialism. Now I agree with Wilber that the limitation with Marx was his denial of the interior, but having said that there is still a lot that is valid about the idea that human and social development is a dialectic. Marx, and later Marxist and Neo-Marxist theorists, have been the major forces in arguing for a developmental economic theory that covers the evolution of political economies from early tribal societies to a global meshwork (for example, Empire by Hardt and Negri). Steve, why have you ignored this valuable contribution?
You seem to assume capitalism is the natural order. Yet capitalism arose in England prior to the industrial revolution in unique historical circumstances. According to Marx capitalism is a temporary phase in a spectrum of political-economic development. We might even argue that there is a correlation between SD's value hierarchy and political-economic systems.
I don't mind if this scheme turns out to be wrong. But is it? The thing is that integral philosophy has not yet fully examined the question.
As for the creation of wealth, well Steve, there has been a steady accumulation of a surplus since the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period. A steady development of human knowledge and technical ability has created even more wealth, and I agree, in part, the modernist scientific and industrial revolution has created even more wealth. But 'free market'? It depends on what you mean by free market. It is a term that has been abused and misused. Those who argue for a truly 'free' market actually argue for an absolute minimum of legal and institutional interference. So your statement 'legal environment of free markets' is a bit of a non sequitur. However, if you drop the absurdity of the word 'free' you arrive at a fundamental – the market is the creation of law. Capitalism had its origins as the result of the enclosure acts in England – the English parliament passed a number of laws that handed common lands (enclosed them) to private landowners. Private property does not exist until a law defines a thing as private property and then provides protection. One of the functions of new intellectual property laws is to effectively 'enclose' new domains and define them as property that can then be sold or rented and turned to profit. In a number of developing nations previously free water has been privatized, in some countries it is now illegal to collect rainwater.
But the issue now is not the further creation of wealth but the redistribution of existing wealth.
But the issue now is not the further creation of wealth but the redistribution of existing wealth. We actually have enough material wealth on the planet to provide for everyone. And guess what? You actually don't need a whole lot of material wealth to evolve to the highest point on the developmental spectrum. In fact the real problem is over consumption and as any spiritual teacher will tell you the constant round of material consumption is actually a distraction to spiritual development.
The world simply cannot sustain the Third World reaching the current consumption levels of the US. It's not about everyone having an SUV and a large house. It's about everyone having the minimum required to develop along the spectrum. And as we run out of resources, having an excess of your needs might actually prevent others from meeting theirs. We live in a finite world. Capitalism is based on growth and will, unless constrained, exhaust any and all resources. I would argue that the last thing we need is a 'free' market.
Okay, next problematic point.
For a nation state to be a full member, and for its citizens to be maximally enfranchised (politically and economically), there must be a requisite degree of modernist consciousness within that nation's population. We cannot create a world federation of equal democratic states that equally includes states that have not yet become democratic.
Who decides? What is the requisite degree of modernist consciousness and who decides what this requisite degree is? If the developed nations form an exclusive club what is to prevent all the pre-moderns from forming a separate club? I can just see it now. The world polarised into the federation of special people and the federation of the really pissed off – the Cold War all over again. What is different about the federation of the 'more evolved' and the British empire? The British felt they were the truly civilized and the rest were uncivilized. What is to prevent imperial hubris corrupting the federation of the 'more evolved'?
I've always thought that one of the true signs of advanced morality and ethics was humility. A 'spiral wizard' would be invisible, blending in and quietly, skillfully doing exactly the thing that was needed to progress the given situation. How would creating a federation of the 'more evolved' be an example of humility?
What if the federation of the 'less evolved' (and really pissed off) didn't agree they were less evolved? That is the crux of a good deal of conflict in the world today. Islam does not accept the idea they are inferior. Many Hindus are reviving a pride in their tradition. Asian leaders argue Asian values are higher than Western values. Now I happen to agree that most developmental psychology points to universal developmental stages. That is actually not the issue here. The issue is the effect that labelling people has on them.
I would suggest that the solution to this dilemma is for the 'better off and more evolved' to humbly work with those less well off to improve their lot. At the moment the 'less well off' have the crazy idea that the 'better off' are exploiting them, ripping their resources off and using them for cheap labour. Steve, I know you want to end world hunger, but it will never end until we honestly understand why economic disparity exists in the first place. Maybe, just maybe, capitalism is actually the problem.
And the economic house would be elected through the device of enfranchising regional economic "stakeholders" such as investors, management, labor, small business, and environmental interests.
One of the things that is not understood about Marxism is that it actually advocates democracy. What Marx wanted to do was expand democracy and democratize the workplace. We have the strange situation in modern 'bourgeois' democracies where people can vote for their government representative but go to work in a feudal style company run in a strict hierarchical fashion where they have no say whatsoever – they simply exchange their labour for a minimum wage (the lowest the company can get away with). Communism is based on the idea that the person who gives their labour to create a profit should share in that profit and also have a say in how the profit is used. The current capitalist system is based on the idea that only those who provide capital should receive the profit and have a say in how it is used. A shareholder can vote at an annual meeting of the board but the worker, whose livelihood is at stake, cannot.
One of the benefits of worker democracy is that greater creativity can be released.
As far as I am aware the experiments in worker ownership have been largely successful. Worker ownership does not destroy entrepreneurialism or innovation. One of the benefits of worker democracy is that greater creativity can be released. According to Marx, under capitalism the worker is alienated from her labour. This leads to a host of social and psychological problems. It also leads to disengagement at work and she may not tell management of the time or labour saving idea she has just had. (The problem with the totalitarian state-socialist systems is that the whole of society was rigidly controlled and the work place was even more unforgiving and creatively stultifying).
Of course worker owned enterprises face the same problems as privately owned business. How many privately owned businesses go bust and fail? If anything, the evidence seems to suggest that worker owned businesses are more flexible, more productive and more likely to succeed.
But worker democracy has always faced one huge obstacle. The capitalist class simply does not want to give up the source of its profits. Why would a shareholder want to share his profit with a worker? Why wouldn't a shareholder want to downsize and keep labour costs down?
You see Steve, the problem again is that you assume that the current capitalist model is the best, and most integral model. It may not be. In fact it may be decidedly inefficient.
So why would we give any more power to an already powerful and inefficient sector of society? I think you are quite misguided and naïve when you suggest that we should enfranchise the economic sector. First there is the not insignificant fact of double voting. A powerful industrial group can influence both the civil sector and the economic sector. A CEO can vote in both the civil sector as a citizen and the economic sector as the leader of a corporate entity, where an ordinary worker might not be able to. And as with shares, do you get more votes if you are a larger entity? How are votes to be allocated?
In fact what you are proposing is to give far more power to key economic forces when they already have too much power as it is. I understand you believe that there will be checks and balances, but these checks and balances are already supposed to exist in a bi-cameral system.
You ignore the very simple fact that money corrupts. What is to stop powerful corporate interests from corrupting both the civil and economic houses? How is it that representatives and senators vote to remove checks and balances as it is? What forces act to turn the current bi-cameral system into the plaything of corporate interest?
Surely the solution is not the inclusion of the economic sphere as it is but rather the reform of the economic sphere? And isn't that what the ideal of socialism and communism wants? Surely a truly integral solution to the problem of world government would recognise this fact?
Ray Harris, June, 2004