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Comments on Greg Wilpert's "Dimensions of Integral Politics"

Thomas Jordan

It is high time to take the consciousness development perspective beyond the realms of the individual experience, and put it to work on a broader scale in the world of organizations and politics. Some pathbreaking, but still limited efforts in this direction have been made by people like Lawrence Kohlberg (moral reasoning), Shawn Rosenberg (reasoning about political causation) and Bill Torbert (leadership in organizations). Greg Wilpert has a more ambitious scope, and draws in his article "Dimensions of Integral Politics" on Ken Wilber's framework for developing a framework for classifying the major political ideologies of the contemporary Western societies, allowing an overview of the ways in which these ideologies take a partial view on political issues. This is done in order to facilitate the identification of an approach to politics based on vision-logic. I share Greg's commitment, and since the task is very complex, we'd better get started working on it, because it will probably take generations before something like an "integral politics" has become part of the mainstream political culture. I have been reflecting on what an enlightened approach to politics would look like, and my explorations have led me in a slightly different direction than the one Greg has taken, so maybe there is a potential for a creative tension to emerge. I will first make some critical comments on Greg's essay, and then make an outline of the approach I have taken.

Translations and transformations

Greg's approach is to make a typology of ideologies by classifying their position in a number of different dimensions. Although Greg mentions both content and structure (developmental stage), the former takes precedence. This has, in my opinion, an unfortunate consequence, namely that Greg tries to squeeze the major ideologies into quite simple categories. I feel that the result is characterizations which most adherents of the respective ideologies would not recognize, perhaps they would even feel insulted. I believe we could increase the relevance of such typologies by taking care to characterize the different ideologies in ways the adherents could recognize as fair representations. But if we would try this, we would probably encounter another problem which makes such typologies very tricky. All mainstream ideologies have adherents at very different stages of meaning-making. I feel personally that the range of variation is higher within the ideological camps than between them. Conservatives, liberals, social democrats, greens and communists at the conformist level have more in common than with their fellow party members who function at a postconventional stage. Let's take an example. Greg's first dimension is called "causation," referring to the propensity of different ideologies to see internal factors (values, norms) or external factors (access to material welfare, education, etc.) as primary. I believe that the most important aspect of political reasoning about causation is how sophisticated and openended it is, rather than which types of factors are regarded as most important. Some people don't ask any questions at all about causation, others tend to see the moral corruptness of certain groups or individuals as the cause of all problems, yet others look for complex reasons behind each political event or circumstance. These different structures of reasoning about causation are represented in all political camps. The crucial transition in our time is from monological to visionlogical interpretations. People whose reasoning is visionlogical are not exclusively identified with one single interpretative system, and can therefore listen to the arguments of political opponents without feeling a need to marginalize, devaluate or reject them. There are such people in most political parties, even though they are still a small minority. My point is that these people can still be convinced that internal or external factors are more important, but their way of handling differences in perspectives is qualitatively different from how people at less sophisticated levels of meaningmaking handle such differences. And, returning to Greg's description of the ideologies, I believe that if we want to be taken seriously by the politically engaged people, we will have to acknowledge the full complexity of political ideologies, including their most sophisticated forms. To put it simply, I feel that Greg's typology caricatures the political ideologies, which gives us a framework that is less helpful than what we would need. Greg's 3rd dimension is the developmental one, but he tries to allocate the ideologies as wholes to different levels of consciousness development, rather than outline how each ideology can take different forms depending on the level of meaningmaking of the individual or the faction. The way forward to an integral politics is not, as I see it, to prove how erroneous the existing ideologies are, so that we can assassinate them with a good conscience, and then proceed to create a new and much better ideology. I see the road forward in learning to deal much more constructively with existing differences in values and ontologies. The mainstream ideologies need not be declared primitive as value systems, but the adherents need to transcend a blind and deaf identification with monological outlooks. When this happens on a broader scale than now, a genuine dialogue becomes possible, in which we all might make unexpected discoveries.

Progress by criticism?

History has shown that it is not a good idea to first imagine what the ideal society ought to look like, and then try to implement it. Greg feels sympathy for the tradition of critical theory, which argues that instead of making up utopian programmes, we ought to start with a critique of what we have. We would make progress by eliminating injustices and other negative phenomena, but we would not know in advance where this process will lead us. Greg is aware of the risk that a one-sided critical approach might become sterile and cynic. I agree, and I would prefer emphasizing dialogue rather than critique as a keyword. Genuine dialogue is not much different from the critical approach. Dialogue means listening to the concerns of other people, and trying to find solutions that take these concerns into consideration. The risk with an emphasis on critique is that one might become stuck in an interpretation that puts all blame on those who have power in the society, and one can therefore evade the responsibility of working constructively to create something better. Critique can become monological, someone sitting in an imagined privileged position, telling the others what is wrong. Genuine dialogue means, by necessity, an encounter with the unknown, letting in the perspectives and concerns of others. By letting in these other perspectives, or own is usually transformed in the process. Isn't that part of what it is all about?

Integral politics?

I agree with Greg that we have little use for ready-made utopian visions. So integral politics can obviously not be built on an alternative vision of what the good society would look like. I believe that Greg would agree that his suggestions in the last section that integral politics should take account of internal as well as external causes and the individual as well as the collective dimensions, are somewhat lame. One reason for this is probably that Greg feels that the point is not to make an outline of what an ideal integral politics would look like. That would be a contradiction to his own allegiance to the critical tradition. So what can we do? I think there are two paths. The first one is to focus on process instead of content, i.e. on the way we do politics rather than on our standpoints. I have made an effort to formulate some preliminary thoughts on this in my manifesto "Towards the Good Society: A Postconventional Manifesto," and on a more individual level in "Conflicts as yoga. Mindfulness in conflicts as a path of consciousness development." The second path is the empirical one, to look closely into contemporary political praxis using our training in discerning different levels of meaningmaking, in order to identify how people at the more sophisticated stages of consciousness development deal with political issues. This might give us some clues to what we could expect of a society where vision-logic is a major part of the political culture.

Drawing on a current research project on meaningmaking in Swedish defense policies, I have some very tentative conjectures to offer. I would expect that a vision-logic political praxis would be characterized by the following qualities:

  • Visionlogical reasoning, which means that there is no exclusive and unreflected identification with a single interpretative system. Whereas a person might have a favourite perspective, he or she would be aware that all perspectives have limitations, and that other perspectives may also be legitimate. Alternative interpretations and value systems are not experienced as either/or alternatives, which means that there is no need to reject, marginalize, ridicule or devalue other peoples' perspectives. They can be let in, they can be considered, and they can be engaged in an openended consideration, without being perceived as threats to one's own commitments.
  • Dissolving enmities. A person that sees other persons actions as results of complex processes and contexts, whether psychological, social, economical, political or cultural, does not easily construct enemies. Where conformists assign blame because they see persons and groups as bearers of absolute moral qualities, the vision-logical meaningmaker sees complex chains and systems where it is difficult to allocate culpability. Visionlogical politics are therefore focussed on creating circumstances that will minimize the risks of destructive political processes. If there are conflicts, they will be regarded as problems to be dealt with, rather than as fights to be fought.
  • Ability to handle the tensions between worldcentric values and ingroup interests. Visionlogic politics will be strongly committed to universal values (human rights and needs) and will be permeated by care for people who suffer regardless of group membership. However, this altruistic concern will be balanced with the needs to cater to ingroup needs and interests, in the context of the mandates and allegiances political institutions have.
  • Openness to self-transformation. Individuals will feel committed to basic values, goals and principles rather than to concrete groups and organizations. Moral value will be clearly differentiated from groups and individuals, permitting a critical evaluation of both ingroups and outgroups. This means that one's own organization will be criticized if it is felt not to live up to the ultimate values and goals it ought to serve.
  • Differentiation of self-interests and actions in the name of general interest. Vision-logic persons do not fall into the trap of believing that they are themselves the incarnation of goodness and rightness. Visionlogical decision-makers will take care not to allow self-interests to mix up with altruistic interests in political actions. Self-interests will be pursued openly, whereas actions in the general interests will be allocated to political bodies where the possibilities of pursuing self-interests are minimized, thus ensuring that the decisions are regarded as legitimate by as many parties as possible.

These characteristics are examples of what one might expect of visionlogical politics. As I think is evident, there is not much point in formulating a political agenda on this or a similar basis. The significant new qualities of visionlogical politics will not so much be new contents, but a different praxis. It might be a good idea to develop more awareness of the differences between a monological and a visionlogical political praxis. By a combination of criticism of the limitations of monological politics, support for the relatively few but increasing examples of visionlogical political acts, and building our own skills in using visionlogic in political activities, I believe we might make a contribution to the very desirable transformation of political praxis.

In conclusion I'd like to say that I hope we will see a more lively discussion on the maturation of politics in the future, with many different voices, offering hopelessly incompatible approaches that stretch our abilities to deal with contradictions and stimulate us to leap into the fields of creativity. Thanks Greg, for provoking me to jot down some more thoughts on this. I used the typically male debating style in some places above, which was the easiest thing to do. However, I'm not interested in collecting points in a debate, but to use the path of criticism to get somewhere.

© Thomas Jordan, November 1999

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