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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
An Integral Obligation
(A Response to Ray Harris)
This essay is an attempt to expand and clarify my understanding of integral politics and economics. I write partially in response to the criticisms of Ray Harris, who has written "An Open Letter on Integral World Government" discouraging people from signing the on-line petition: A Declaration of the Value of Global Governance (the “Declaration”). My ideas about the movement for integral world federation are explained in an essay on this website entitled: World Federation -- a transcendent vision of integral consciousness, and elaborated further in essays on the Declaration's website. So first, I want to thank Mr. Harris for the opportunity he has given me to elaborate on the transcendent politics of integral consciousness. Mr. Harris's general criticisms of the integral movement (set out in essays on this website, especially Left, Right or Just Plain Wrong?) are, for the most part, valid. Thus it is my intention here to try to persuade Mr. Harris, and the many members of the integral movement who are sympathetic to his politics, that the movement for integral world federation is a form of integral activism they can endorse and participate in wholeheartedly.
Transcendence and Inclusion
In my opinion, nothing summarizes the integral philosophy of evolution more perfectly or succinctly than the three words: transcend and include. It seems that the degree of our transcendence can be measured by the scope of our inclusion. This is especially true of the integral worldview, which finds its greatest evolutionary potential in its ability to recognize and include all the enduring contributions of the previous stages of consciousness. Unlike the worldviews that have preceded it in history, integral consciousness can see the whole system of cultural evolution, and it can thus help this system of human development purge itself of regressive remnants of un-communed agency -- the attempt by previous systems to maintain dominance despite having been transcended by history.
The struggles among traditional consciousness, modernist consciousness, and postmodern consciousness to control the laws and culture of the developed world can be seen in every evening's newscast. Each stage is driven to defend its orthodoxies by the failure of the other stages to adequately recognize that particular stage's enduring contributions to the spiral of development as a whole. But with integral consciousness we can see how the systemic structure of the spiral instructs us that each stage has a permanent (albeit constrained) role to play within the evolving body of civilization. The permanent elements of these historical stages -- the parts we need to include so as to make the higher levels sustainable -- are discovered through a healthy pruning process made possible by the enhanced vertical perspective of integral consciousness. Integral consciousness finds its ability to grow up through its ability to reach down, to see with empathy and respect the enduring values of each previous stage of development, and to effectively separate the permanent contributions of these stages from their stubborn legacies of antithesis that render them obstacles to further evolution.
The text of the Declaration names the enduring values of each stage of development, starting with the “kinship bonds” originating in the tribal stage of consciousness (with these values writ large to include the family of humanity), and moving through the sequence of development to the expression of the prime directive of integral consciousness:
- The value of the universal family of humanity (tribal);
- The values of individual freedom and personal autonomy (warrior);
- The values of decency, honesty, and respect for traditions (traditional);
- The values of progress, prosperity, and economic development (modernist);
- The values of multiculturalism, environmentalism, and egalitarianism (postmodern);
- The value of the channel of evolution as a whole the system through which individuals and societies develop (integral).
We can certainly identify additional values that are part of each stage's enduring contribution. But this list serves as a summary of that which must be sustained at a minimum if cultural evolution is to advance through humanity's current crises. It is by concentrating on the essential truths of all the stages at once that we can get a clearer view of that which must be pruned away, or otherwise transcended by the integral worldview.
It is a basic tenet of systems theory that for a system to be optimized, its subsystems must be sub-optimized (their agency must be brought within the communal embrace of the higher holonic level of the system as a whole). When we look at the evolutionary system that is the spiral of development in consciousness and culture, we can see that for the overall health and evolutionary fecundity of this system, the subsystems (consisting of the “fist tier” stages of consciousness) must be sub-optimized that is, transcended and included. And I think it was my attempt to sub-optimize the politics of the postmodern stage that raised Mr. Harris's ire. So, proceeding with the theory that effective transcendence can only be achieved within the context of compassionate inclusion, let's look more closely at the postmodern and modernist stages of consciousness to assess their optimal contributions to integral politics.
Politics Modernist and Postmodern
The leading line of evolutionary development in human culture is morality. This is not to say that morality always leads cultural evolution, but that the ultimate criterion for evaluating sustainable cultural development is found in the question: is it more moral or good? From an integral perspective, there is no question that the politics of true postmodernism are generally more moral than any previous stage. This is because postmodern consciousness offers a morality that is more worldcentric than any previous stage in its more advanced expressions the green meme exhibits an unprecedented degree of compassion for people, life, and the planet as a whole. And because the integral movement is now emerging at the cutting edge of evolution, it naturally draws the majority of its adherents from the previous cutting edge of cultural evolution the postmodern stage of consciousness. Integral politics thus needs to include all of postmodernism's concern for the little guy, its sense of outrage over exploitation and environmental degradation, and its general abhorrence of unsustainable selfishness in all its manifestations.
However, postmodernism's higher-level morality is itself not sustainable to the extent that it would destroy the vitality of the foundational systems of modernism and traditionalism on which it depends. Because postmodernism is in a rather permanent position of antithesis to modernism, it often lacks an adequate appreciation of the enduring genius of modernism an appreciation that only truly emerges with integral consciousness. The genius of modernism is its gift of individual freedom, democracy, and the establishment of a meritocratic system of careers open to talent. While no modernist culture has fully achieved these ideals, these values are at the heart of the value metabolism of the modernist system of consciousness and culture. The enduring contribution of modernism is how it serves as an engine of material prosperity where there is modernist consciousness in requisite degree, there can usually be found a strong economy. But where modernist consciousness has failed to adequately develop, poverty and corruption are often the norm. All the problems of the world are really problems of consciousness. Thus, all the solutions (evolutionary opportunities) to the world's problems involve raising people's consciousness. It is therefore necessary to provide for a sustainable modernism that can serve as a channel of evolution for pre-modern consciousness an economic system wherein individuals can decide what to produce and can accumulate reasonable amounts of private property.
When modernism first appeared it drew upon traditional consciousness' ethnocentric morality, leading to the racist abuses of colonialism and imperialism. However, in its transcended form, modernism shifts its moral allegiance from the ethnocentric morality of its native traditionalism to the more worldcentric morality provided by postmodernism. Postmodernism has had to work hard to try to constrain the excesses of profit-driven modernist civilization, and it has much more work to do. But while modernism certainly requires further moderation through the influences of its postmodern antithesis, it is also now time for postmodernism itself to experience the moderating influence of the newly emerging integral stage of consciousness. If the morality of postmodernism is to effectively regulate modernism without strangling it, postmodernism itself needs to be constrained by the unifying guidance of integral philosophy.
Integral philosophy transcends the politics of left and right by recognizing how the values and programs of traditional consciousness, modernist consciousness, and postmodern consciousness each have appropriate applications to different sets of life conditions. Sometimes the solutions of traditionalists apply, sometimes a modernist's approach is best, and sometimes the sensibilities of the postmodern worldview should prevail. It is not that integral consciousness values these approaches equally it can see that postmodernism is more evolved than the others but integral consciousness can also see where postmodernism is not evolved enough to always work for the benefit of the spiral as a whole. Thus by including the best of all worldviews in life condition-appropriate proportion, the integral worldview is able to transcend all previous worldviews in its power to produce cultural evolution.
At this point in history, we are just beginning to define and experience integral consciousness. Thus the debate about integral politics is first about loyalties. That to which we are loyal is that which provides our cultural identity our loyalties determine the internal “location” of our consciousness. Naturally, those who have a strong loyalty to leftist politics will want to defend their own identity. However, an important part of the value metabolism of political postmodern consciousness is how it defines itself in antithesis to modernism and traditionalism. Postmodern politics are the politics of protest and with good reason. But for integral politics to achieve its transcendent destiny, it must relinquish a certain degree of loyalty to the left. Integral politics must recognize the moral superiority of the postmodern worldview, but it must also demonstrate respect and loyalty to the foundational morality of modernist and traditional consciousness as well. To the extent that leftist ideologies fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of these previous stages, they must be abandoned by an integral politics. Integral politics must identify with the spiral as a whole it must be loyal to the prime directive, and this requires that it distinguish itself ideologically from postmodernism.
Mr. Harris writes that I assume that the “current capitalist model is the best;” but this is not the case. I merely recognize that there are certain aspects of modernism and its competitive economic model that must be retained. For human consciousness to develop the values of personal autonomy and individual initiative values that deliver the dignities of modernism free market economies must be allowed to live and grow.
In order for the majority of the world's population to evolve beyond traditional consciousness, modernism must be healthy and functioning. For a healthy version of moderated modernism to thrive, individual economic freedom and entrepreneurial opportunities must be preserved. But this is not something that state-controlled economies have done well. In fact, Mr. Harris's obvious contempt for business reveals his ongoing loyalty to the politics of postmodernism a loyalty that must be partially relinquished for integralism to be fully embraced. The whole point of the integral worldview is to move beyond the idea of “old paradigm bad, new paradigm good” yet this is an important part of the identity of the left. This power-generating stance of antithesis served a useful function when postmodernism held the position at the cutting edge of evolution. However, now that this stage is maturing, as we are called to participate in the next great phase of human history, we need to move beyond the vilifications of modernism for which the left is famous.
As someone who has directly benefited from the global economy, it is naturally hard for me to share all the opinions of Mr. Harris, especially his fondness for Karl Marx (but I do admit that Marx should find some inclusion in our transcendence). Nevertheless, I don't think Mr. Harris and I have any core disagreements about the direction of evolution. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree with the 7 italicized statements about “integral political economy” that Mr. Harris makes in his essay on this site: Thoughts Towards an Integral Political Economy. These statements are worth reproducing:
- An integral political economy supports sustainable development.
- An integral political economy would promote ethical investment, and further help define what is ethical.
- An integral political economy would ensure the maintenance of the commons in order to support the evolutionary flow of all sections of society.
- An integral political economy will emphasize an ethical imperative that challenges the excessive accumulation of wealth for non-productive indulgence.
- An integral political economy would argue for the proper governance of the world financial system to ensure that prime directive is followed.
- An integral political economy recognizes that fair trade is an essential component of a just economic system.
- The aim of an integral political economy is to ensure that the political and economic system acts in a way to maximize the evolutionary impulse for the largest group feasible.
I believe applied integral philosophy will ultimately accomplish these aims, and preserve individual liberties as well, but only through the inauguration of a world federation of nations and its accompanying system of integrally-informed global law. As mentioned in the beginning of this essay, my intent is to build consensus and create political unity within the integral movement by championing the idea of integral world government. I hope to make progress in this direction by promoting the text of the Declaration, which I'm not inclined to change. But I am keen to evolve and refine the essays on the Declaration's website in order to achieve the maximum consent of other integralists while still being sufficiently integral so as to be distinguishable from the politics of postmodernism. Accordingly, I have already begun to modify those essays. First, I've added this disclaimer:
Disclaimer: The essays on this website describe an integral approach to world federation. However, integral philosophy is still in its emerging phase and as it matures it will undoubtedly produce new insights and strategies not described herein. Therefore, please keep in mind that the text of the Declaration is designed to stand on its own, and adding your name to the petition does not necessarily mean that you agree with every opinion in these essays. One of our goals is to continually refine and develop consensus around the achievable parameters of a future integral world federation, and thus your questions, comments, objections, and corrections are greatly appreciated.
In addition to this disclaimer, in the essay on the Declaration's website entitled: Achieving World Government in Our Lifetimes, I have removed the paragraph that criticizes the “shrill negative style of the left” because I am persuaded by Mr. Harris that this is unnecessary. However, I hope that Mr. Harris may also be persuaded by me to add his name to the Declaration's signature page. Indeed, one of Mr. Harris's criticisms of the integral movement is that it is “absent in activism.” Well, I've now undertaken a modest attempt at activism that provides an opportunity for even more modest activism by other integralists the opportunity to sign a petition for integral world federation. And so I invite Mr. Harris to support this effort by adding his name. Among the Founding Fathers of the United States, not everyone agreed with Thomas Jefferson's vision of America, yet they signed the Declaration of Independence because they agreed with the text on its face. I thus ask every member of the integral movement to sign the Declaration, and then work with me to build consensus around the parameters of a truly integral agenda for world federation.
Steve McIntosh, July, 2004
© 2004 Steve McIntosh, 1638 Pearl Street, Boulder CO, 80302. (303) 530-9028 x. 222. [email protected]