Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Bryan O'DohertyBryan O'Doherty is an entrepreneur, writer/blogger, husband and father of three. He grew up in Portland Oregon (US) and graduated from Portland State University with degrees in Architecture and Japanese. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. You can read more from him on his blog at


Reposted from with permission of the author

Thoughts on a Truly Integral Economic and Political Framework and Overcoming Bias

A response to Joe Corbett, Edward Berge,
Keith McCaughin and others

Bryan O'Doherty

Regardless of which bias one has, without an integral self knowledge, one will naturally see the worst in the opposing bias.

After extended hiatus I am returning to the blogosphere to respond to the current developing conversation on integral political and economic theory which I fear may be developing in a dangerous direction (as I predicted in my earlier essays on this topic).

I want to start with a response to some of the voices that have come to my immediate attention and address both the clearly harmful mean Green 1st Tier world views of some, as well as the positive strides in the right direction others are making. Then I would like to go into some detail, exploring our individual unconscious biases and the roots of these biases, and how as integrals we must overcome (transcend and include) our biases in order to see the full picture. Only then will we be able to formulate a truly integral organization for a Second Tier society.

“You're just a Borguoise Pig!”

First I want to clarify that I consider myself neither a Capitalist, nor a Socialist per se. Both of those are First Tier Economic modes that by themselves are insufficient for an Integral Economic system. I am also aware that the definitions of both of those terms carry so much baggage as to make them almost useless for any sort of intelligent discussion. Therefore, when discussing matters pertaining to the Lower Right quadrant of AQAL, I will use the terms Agorist (from the Greek Agora) to refer to a free market economy with private ownership of property, and Communist to refer to a centrally controlled economy, with communal ownership of property (recognizing that these are two extremes between which there can exist a wide continuous spectrum).

To clarify my main thesis here, it is that all individuals have a particular natural subjective UL Interior/Exterior bias, and that this bias has an objective biological UR correlate, as well as an inter-subjective cultural /social LL correlate, and an inter-objective political/economic LR correlate. Thus as individuals we have subjective bias, for which there is objective evidence in our physical brains, and this creates cultural and social biases at the macro level, and in turn political and economic biases in our governments. The integral Second Tier wave's purpose, I believe, is to recognize these biases for what they are, and thus transcend and include them into a greater integral framework.

Regardless of which bias one has, without an integral self knowledge, one will naturally see the worst in the opposing bias and frame any social, political or economic conversation in those terms. So that the agenticly biased characterize Communism as authoritarian, inefficient, brutal, unfair, unjust! And can give numerous examples to demonstrate. Conversely the communally biased characterize Agorism (or “Capitalism”) as authoritarian, inefficient, brutal, unfair, unjust! And they can likewise provide numerous examples to demonstrate just that. However these are mis-characterizations and are simply the result of life-long self and peer reinforcement of bias (see confirmation bias [7]) rather than any inherent characteristics of Agorism or Communism. Either system can be, historically has been, continually is and will be corrupted by those with political power (i.e. pathology).

Once one transcends into Second Tier levels of consciousness, one should be able to very clearly recognize their own natural bias and to recognize it as bias, rather than universal truth (my bias in this case is strongly agentic for example), however the hallmark of Second Tier is the ability to transcend that bias and take on a non-dual worldview that completely honors the full spectrum of the agentic/communal duality.

In my opinion such a non-dual approach is terribly lacking in the conversation so far among integrals regarding economics and politics, and instead we have a set of divided confirmation bias echo-chambers where those integrals who share a more communal bent have banded together in response to a perceived bias by the Integral Mainstream toward a more agentic worldview. Based solely on what I have been able to take in through searches of various online forums focusing on integral philosophy, the general trend in the conversation seems to be a rejection of the agora in favor of the commune.

Of the myriad of voices out there that claim to have some truth regarding the ideal form of Integral social organization, many indeed have a misguided or partial picture, some have incredibly valuable insights, while others have deeply disturbing pathological views that can only result in violence, destruction and tyranny. Before offering my opinion on a more integral AQAL approach, as well as why I think we have this communal/agentic duality in the first place, I would like to respond to some of these other voices.

Joe Corbett—The Libertarian Eco-Socialist

In his essay on Integral World, “Libertarian Eco-Socialism; The Political Philosophy and Organizational Form of an Integral Society,” [1] Joe's thesis lays out the case for Libertarian Eco-Socialism as the universal answer to the question, “how should an integral society (at yellow) be organized?” and further posits that this “will be the precondition for the eventual emergence of an egalitarian or communist non-dual turquoise society [emphasis mine].” Perhaps you already see the problem with this assertion. If not, I have put it in bold. Communism by its definition can not be non-dual, anymore than Agorism can be. They are two extremes along the same spectrum of duality. Although the turquoise stage/wave should certainly lean toward communal as a reaction to agentic yellow, there are and will be people who experience turquoise through an agentic lens, just as there are those who experience yellow through a communal lens.

Now I see absolutely no problem with having Libertarian Eco-Socialist Communities dotting the future Integral Socioeconomic landscape. I think they would fit right in. Interestingly Joe doesn't make any sort of case for how libertarian Eco-socialism fits AQAL or any other definition of integral. He merely describes how such a society should look, before moving on to how we get there. And that's where it becomes disturbing.

“ ... we need to seize power from the prevailing elites and impose green and yellow values and practices on the masses who must be and can only be lifted-up by the leading edge of the historical moment...”

Failing to do that, he imagines, would inevitably result in

“a catastrophic collapse of the global capitalist system, where everyone is forced into local survival groups at the archaic and brutal red worlds of the mad-max warlords.”

“History is made not by the force of persuasion but by the persuasion of force... Again, it's about seizing power and imposing the higher level to which the masses must follow, like teaching children through an enforced system of rewards and punishments to grow up.”

I cannot even fathom the horrific apocalypse that will result should this become the dominant view. I almost question if this is not some massive troll, and that Our Glorious Leader Kim Jung Joe is just laughing at his computer while he types out this vision for violent Integral revolution, and subsequent Integral “Cultural Revolution” complete with Integral re-education camps. Will there be firing squads for those that refuse to “learn”? This is exactly the sort of nightmare I warned against in my earlier writing! And he is unironically putting this out as a sensible and Second Tier/Integral path forward? No thank you, count me out. If emphatically rejecting this approach as anything remotely “integral” makes me an “idealist” then so be it. I will happily wear that label.

Although Joe is certainly welcome [to have] his viewpoint, I cannot allow it to go unchallenged. I sincerely hope that he and any who may agree with him take a step back and really examine their views in light of all of the work done on AQAL and Integral Philosophy. I do not believe integrals should be pacifists by any means, but I also do not believe that violent revolution is an integral means to transition society to the next wave.

Edward Berge—The Integral Anti-Capitalist

Responding to Joe is the far more sensible Edward Berge [2], who was “inspired” by Joe's call to arms to write about his contributions to a discussion on “Integral Anti-Capitalism” going on at the Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality Forum [6] (unfortunately there is no way to contribute to this forum or the Integral Economic discussion there unless you are already a member, of which they are accepting no more—echo chamber anyone?). In any case, I found Edward's essay to be extremely enlightening and informative. He discussed his own ideas as well as those of others, some of which I had not previously read, and provided many useful links to further reading.

However, most of the writers he examined and the truths he espoused came entirely out of the communal side of the agentic/communal duality. In other words, as true and correct as he may be inasmuch as how communally biased consciousness perceive the world, his views on economics and those of the others he mentions are not non-dual, and thus not integral. Again, this is not to say he and the others are wrong, necessarily, just partial—incomplete. They misunderstand, and thus mis-characterize the agentic, framing it in almost identical terms as those with agentic bias might use with regard to the communal.

When Edward speaks of Capitalism he is clearly referring to the worst, most corrupted and politicized forms of Capitalism represented by the Federal Reserve, and the cabal of banks/media/military industrial complex that run the world economy today. Terrible, yes, but such is really no more accurate a representation of the Agora as Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, or Kim Jung Il's North Korea are of the Commune. These are straw men, and attacking them is meaningless and does nothing to further the conversation on Integral Economics and Politics.

In his examination of Ray Harris, Edward brings up Ray's chart correlating vMemes to economic systems. This inspires me now to resurrect a chart from one of my previous essays [3], updated a bit, which in my opinion gives a much more complete picture:

Figure 1

Again, here I show agentic, communal and non-dual forms of socioeconomic organization at each stage/wave. Note here that I have put in bold/underline the dominant expression of each wave. This dominant expression shifts from agentic to communal, back and forth as societies evolve and their expression is influenced by their natural, cultural and social environment as well. I will come back to that later. For now though what is important to recognize is that we develop these biases naturally, and they strongly color the way we see the world, and that as integrals we must transcend these biases and not be blinded by them. We must look at the world through a non-dual lens.

Keith McCaughin—The Systems Thinking Approach

I found Keith's examination of politics through systems thinking [10] and his idea of fitness limits to be very interesting and enlightening. I would love to explore his ideas in further detail, and in particular how they might inform us of a proper approach to structuring a second tier political system. It may seem at first glance that my vision of a second tier political system and his systems thinking approach with its fitness limits are at odds, however I think that Panarchy as a system fits well within his parameters.

He uses Monarchy (rule by one—authoritarian extreme) and Anarchy (rule by none—anti-authoritarian extreme) to represent two extremes which can never exist, or if they could exist would quickly be replaced by a more moderate system falling somewhere between oligarchy (rule by few) and democracy (rule by many). I think this is an accurate model in-as-much as unilateral social organizations like governments are concerned. I would like to open a dialog however, on the difference between “society” and “government” —terms which are often used synonymously, but which should have drastically different definitions. In summary I believe there is ample room in Keith's model for Second-Tier government-less forms of social organization that still meet the fitness test.

Christian Arnsperger—The Integral Economist

In his brilliant “Integral Economics: A Manifesto,” [4] Christian paints an accurate portrait of the current state and limits of economic “science.” He rightly points out that “today's economics is, even at its most cutting-edge frontier, an exclusively Right-Hand endeavor that loses out on any and all occasions to embrace precious insights and methods coming from Left-Hand quarters.”

I agree that is true of our current mainstream economic schools. They act like science, methodical and rational, engaging the use of complex formulas and charts (which ironically continuously fail to predict), and completely ignoring that fundamentally Economics is the study of human behavior under the pressure of varying degrees of scarcity. And human behavior is determined by numerous and complex Interior factors from religion and culture, to language, to genetics and consciousness development.

Then he nails it right on the head: “The basic issue, really, is what kind of economics we need to develop in order to honor the four quadrants. ... Integral economics is any set of utterances about “the economy” that heeds these four quadrants to the fullest.” And he is absolutely spot on. Integral Economics, by definition must be AQAL Economics. And as Christian puts it, “[t]his would imply an economics that's constructively critical of material reductionism and of capitalist, growth-oriented and wage-employment-oriented, competition-driven markets—an economics that couldn't possibly just take up old, outdated reductionisms of the Marxist kind and that would fully heed the need for spiritual issues and religious paradigms (see Wilber 2006) to be part and parcel of what economic science is about.”

In other words, an economics that is not solely agentic, and not solely communal, but one that honors both extremes (non-dual) and everything in between. Hallelujah!

Understanding the Great Social Duality through AQAL

The AQAL Map of Society:

Figure 2

Whether we are talking about Conservative vs. Liberal, Capitalist vs. Socialist, Agentic vs. Communal, Interior vs. Exterior; we find again and again these dualities in constant tension underlying the fabric of our societies and our places in them. Why do our biases seem almost hard wired in us as we make our way up the spiral of consciousness unfolding? If we map the concept of society out along AQAL, we see these correlating dualities in each quadrant (see figure 2 above). On the left of Figure 2 we have the familiar AQAL diagram with its four quadrants (UL, UR, LL, LR) each with (for lack of a better terms) their left-right dualities. On the right the diagram shows a picture as if looking at the z-axis through the AQAL plane.

(note: some might point out that I am not addressing the Authoritarian—Non-authoritarian/Voluntarian axis of social structures, and this is a valid point. But I do so purposefully because, as I have addressed in my past writing, that axis might be better described as the “Pathological—Healthy Axis,” and our goal is always to avoid pathology, not to integrate it. Therefore, my assumption here is that we are talking only about healthy social structures, not pathological ones.)

The Inter-subjective Duality (We); Agency vs. Communion

In integral philosophy we understand agency to be a holon's drive toward self unity—toward wholeness. Agency is the origin of a holon's autonomy. Without Agency, the holon would simply regress into its constituent whole/parts. Communion, on the other hand, is a holon's drive to connect with other like holons, and form something greater, which transcends and includes itself.

In human social life, agency is the drive toward individuality and self-ownership. It is the drive toward self knowledge, including the knowledge that our right to exist (our human right) is innate within our autonomous selves. Communion is the drive toward community and social integration. It is our drive to form a social mesh that transcends and includes our autonomous selves, something with far greater depth, and gives meaning and context to our innate human rights. Our individual bias toward agency or toward communion colors how we perceive the individual's relationship to society. In aggregate these biases create an overall social pull toward more agentic or communal social structures. As I discuss in my essay “Panarchy; The Political Paradigm of an Integral Society,” [8] the Agentic/Communal Duality deals with the question of the origin of human rights. In other words, from an agentic perspective human rights are innate properties of the individual, while from a communal perspective human rights originate from the community and are bestowed by the community upon individuals. The Agentic/Communal Duality is the “We” of AQAL, as it determines our inter-subjective perspective toward the other individual part/wholes that constitute society.

The Subjective Duality (I); Interior vs. Exterior

The Interior/Exterior Duality, as Ken Wilber himself once put it, deals with the question of the roots of human suffering. Another way to look at it is as the individual's subjective perception of the causes of society's problems. From an Interior perspective these causes stem primarily from the shortcomings of the individual. Problems in society occur because the individuals in society are lazy, lacking in morals, or ethics, or personal drive. The causes of social problems are internal to the individuals that constitute society and Interior solutions tend to be focused on fixing the individual, such as adopting moral and ethical standards, and incentivizing personal initiative and competitiveness.

From an Exterior perspective the causes of society's problems stem primarily from the shortcomings of society as a whole. Problems in society occur because society insufficiently, or even worse, unequally supports individuals. There is insufficient or unequal access to food, or wealth, or education. The causes of social problems are external to the individual. Thus exterior solutions tend to be focused on fixing the insufficiency or inequality (i.e. rationing food, redistributing wealth or property, and adopting standardized education programs). The Interior/Exterior Duality is the “I” of AQAL, as it determines how an individual perceives his or her society.

The Inter-objective Duality (It's); Agorist vs. Communist

Each society as an aggregate has an inter-subjective bias toward agency or communion. This bias manifests itself in the society's treatment of law, economics, and social structure. At one extreme is the Agora; an unfettered free market where law is focused on the protection of negative rights [11], and property is privately owned. The Agora values individual ability, and rewards are based on merit. Competition is encouraged and attitudes such as “You win some, you lose some,” “If at first you don't succeed try, try again,” and “It's a dog-eat-dog world,” are typical. The Agora honors the agency of the individual and expects the individual to care for their own needs, and the needs of their dependents. The Agora is most ideally suited for societies that exist in an environment of scarcity, where limited resources must be used most efficiently.

The other extreme is the Commune; a centrally (communally) controlled market, where law is focused on the protection of positive rights[11], and property is communally owned. The Commune values equity among individuals and rewards are based on need. Competition is discouraged (as it creates winners and losers), and attitudes such as “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” are typical. The commune honors the communion of all individuals and expects society as a whole to care for the needs of all individuals equally. The commune is most ideally suited for societies that exist in an environment of abundance, where effectively unlimited resources can be freely used by all.

The Objective Duality (It); K-selection vs. r-selection

I believe there is compelling evidence for a biological duality that influences the formation of our "I" and "We" and "It's" biases.

Each individual (I) has a bias toward either Interior or Exterior, which translates to a social/cultural (We) bias for agentic or communal, and a political/economic (It's) bias for Agora or Commune, and I believe there is compelling evidence for a biological duality (It) that influences the formation of our “I” and “We” and “It's” biases from very early in our individual development (perhaps beginning as early as the womb) and that once hardwired, that bias travels with us throughout our journey along the spiral. This explains why some individuals experience a strongly agentic/interior journey while others experience a strongly communal/exterior journey.

There is a theory in evolutionary biology known as r/K Selection Theory. The theory originally came about as a way to explain different reproduction strategies among organisms. According to the theory, r-selected species thrive in unstable/unpredictable environments where the ability to reproduce and repopulate quickly is crucial. Environments with little direct competition for the same resources (abundance) also favor r-selected species. K-selected species thrive in stable/predictable environments where the ability to compete for limited resources is of higher importance. Environments that are at carrying capacity with heavy competition for resources (scarcity) favor K-selected species. Mice, rabbits, and honeybees are r-selected, while elephants, whales, and bears are K-selected species.

It is also important to note that, much like any other duality, r/K selection is a continuous spectrum rather than a strict dichotomy. Sea turtles for example are long lived creatures (a typical K trait) but their reproductive strategy is r-selected. In addition to r/K selection cropping up in evolutionary biology, it is increasingly being applied in behavioral epigenetics as well, and this is where the r/K duality becomes really interesting.

In “From Quantity to Quality of Life: r-K Selection in Human Development,” [9] Francis Heylighen and Jan L. Bernheim describe how environmental and social pressures can influence our genes.

“The choice between an r and a K strategy does not need to be wholly fixed in the genes (nature). It can also be (epigenetically) shaped by early experience (nurture). Indeed, since the environment changes in carrying capacity and degree of risk or unpredictability over the generations, it is useful for an organism to be able to adapt its strategy to the current situation. This may apply in particular to humans, who excell in adaptability.”

The research implies that humans can adapt to their natural, social, and economic environment on an epigenetic level, and that this survival strategy has an observable impact on human behavior, on psychology, and even on brain structure. The environmental factors that determine r/K selection are those that induce stress hormones in a pregnant mother, or a developing child.

“According to the well-known theory of Bowlby [1969], a primary cause of childhood stress is insecure attachment to the mother. This occurs when the child cannot rely on the mother for support when it needs it and/or is not allowed by the mother to explore the world on its own and thus develop autonomy. While such motherly neglect or overconcern is stressful in itself, it moreover is likely to indicate a dangerous external environment, which is either too demanding on the mother to have energy left to care for her child, or so risky that she cannot allow her child autonomy... Less immediate causes of childhood stress may include sexual, physical or emotional abuse, malnutrition, diseases, living in true poverty, in a ghetto or war-zone. (Heylighen/Bernheim)” [9]

High stress environments, such as those induced by war, poverty, social upheaval, issues of abuse and so on in the early development of a child trigger an epigenetic response that directly affects the brain. This response is triggered as a survival mechanism, to prepare the child for a life in an environment that favors an r-selected strategy. Similarly, Low stress environments, such as those induced by a secure, peaceful environment, relative affluence, social stability, and a positive supportive relationship with parents and family will trigger a response that will prepare the child for a life in an environment that favors a K-selected strategy.

The precise causes of r/K selection are extremely varied, but appear to encompass any environmental factors that affect the release of stress hormones in a developing fetus or child. The release of these hormones in turn effect brain development, resulting in structural differences in the brain between those who later exhibit agentic/interior bias and those that exhibit communal/exterior bias.

In a famous study at University College London [5], subjects with reported agentic/interior bias and those with communal/exterior bias were discovered to have slightly differing brain structures. The subjects with agentic/interior bias had larger amygdalea, while those with communal/exterior bias had larger anterior cingulate cortex. The amygdalea is associated with processing memory and emotions. The ACC on the other hand is associated with monitoring uncertainty and conflicting information, which would serve an individual well in an environment which favors r-selection.

By understanding the “It” correlate to the communal/exterior—agentic/interior duality a full AQAL social holarchy emerges. Furthermore, we need to look at this holarchy three dimensionally. Understanding that we are epigenetically wired from very early in our development to be somewhere along the r/K spectrum (keep in mind this is a spectrum not an either/or) and carry that with us throughout our journey along the spiral of consciousness unfolding, we will carry our correlating agentic/communal bias with us on that journey and it will determine how we experience each stage/wave. In other words, not only will an individual experience each stage/wave through the lens of their bias, they will also tend to stay within a stage/wave which confirms their bias for longer. Green, a stage/wave that favors a communal bias, as a reaction to agentic Orange, will be naturally comfortable to an r-selected individual, while being naturally uncomfortable for a K-selected individual. This barrier will either cause the K-selected individual to spend less time in Green before moving to Yellow, or to avoid Green entirely and stay firmly rooted in Orange. Conversely the r-selected individual, being comfortable with Green, will be uncomfortable with Yellow, and will either spend less time in Yellow before moving to Turquoise, or will avoid Yellow and stay rooted in Green.

I think that these internal battles can explain why, as Wilber observed, people move up and down the spiral, not in a steady path forward but back and forth, in an uneven and unsteady progression, often making temporary breakthroughs, only to then revert back to an earlier stage/wave, to later attempt to move forward (transcend/include) again.

I want to clarify that I think it is entirely possible for an individual to be hardwired from early development for K-selection and through their own journey through young adulthood, re-wire themselves for r-selection, and vice versa. We know that brain development continues into the the late 20's to mid 30's and there is evidence that it never really stops, but continues slowly throughout our lifespans. Therefore I do not see r/K selection as unchangeable, but I would think it would require lots of effort and environmental/social stimuli to radically change.


I sincerely hope that a further exploration and understanding of the Social Big Three by the integral community will result in a transition in the way we envision an integral socioeconomic model to one that is truly a non-dual (panarchic) model. In my view this is should be our goal. Any attempt to model a future Integral Society on First-Tier political and economic modes will result in reversion to First-Tier tyranny.


[1] Joe Corbett, "Libertarian Eco-Socialism: The Political Philosophy and Organizational Form of an Integral Society",

[2] Edward Berge, "Integral Anti-Capitalism",

[3] Bryan O'Doherty, "Panarchy: The Integral Social Matrix",

[4] "Guest Blog: Integral Economics (by Christian Arnsperger) ",

[5] "Biology and political orientation",

[6] "Integral Anti-Capitalism cont'd.",

[7] "Confirmation Bias",

[8] Bryan O'Doherty, "Panarchy: The Political Paradigm of an Integral Society",

[9] Francis Heylighen & Jan L. Bernheim, "From Quantity to Quality of Life: r-K selection and human development",

[10] Keith McCaughin, "Integral Politics: Based on Systems Thinking and AQAL",

[11] "Negative and positive rights",

Comment Form is loading comments...