Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Flaws in Wilber's Integral Politics, Cont.

Thus, it seems that my generation is an extraordinary mixture of greatness and narcissism, and that strange amalgam has infected almost everything we do. We don't seem content to simply have a fine new idea; we must have the new paradigm which will herald one of the greatest transformations in the history of the world. We don't really want to just recycle bottles and paper, we need to see ourselves dramatically saving the planet and saving Gaia and resurrecting the Goddess that previous generations had brutally repressed but we will finally liberate. We aren't able to tend our garden, we must be transfiguring the face of the planet in the most astonishing global awakening history has ever seen. We seem to need to see ourselves as the vanguard of something unprecedented in all of history: the extraordinary wonder of being us.

Well, it can be pretty funny if you think about it, and I truly don't mean any of this in a harsh way. Each generation has its foibles; this appears to be ours, at least to some degree. But I believe few of my generation escape this narcissistic mood. Many social critics have agreed, and not just in such penetrating works as Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism, Restak's Self Seekers, Bellah's Habits of the Heart, and Stern's Me: The Narcissistic American. Surveying the present state of cultural studies even in American universities, Professor Frank Lentricchia, writing in lingua franca: The Review of Academic Life, concluded: "It is impossible, this much is clear, to exaggerate the heroic self-inflation of academic literary and cultural criticism." 

In our on-going series on integral politics, we continue to wrestle with the notions of “integral” and “Second Tier” consciousness.

Second Tier refers specifically to the first transpersonal bands of consciousness, to which Wilber refers as Teal and Turquoise.  These appear to be the psychic wave he identified in earlier works; this is confirmed by examining the comparisons of various metrics of the spectrum of consciousness published in Integral Psychology. “Integral” he uses more loosely, although always in a transpersonal context.

It is vexing to the student of the integral model that these terms, while often used synonymously, are not strictly speaking identical.  One of Wilber’s many gifts to this work is his insistence on intellectual rigor (even in the light of some of his critics’ charges of shortcoming in that area); thus my frustration in applying these terms as accurately and specifically as possible in these posts.

Whatever the case, it seems clear as a cognitive exercise that there can be no genuine integral consciousness until one is able, at the very least, to inhabit perspectives other than one’s own without judgment or prejudice.  This is for the obvious reason that, unless and until one can accept with equanimity the validity of other perspectives, there really isn’t anything to integrate in the first place.

Thus experiencing anything “integral” beyond this capacity to conceptualize elements in a tetradimensional space requires direct Second Tier experience in the other lines of development.  This, in turn, is unavailable without extensive Shadow work, because Shadow elements are designed to keep us firmly rooted in the First Tier.  As I noted in my last essay, it is difficult for most of us, coming as we do out of Boomeritis Green, to move our center of gravity into the transpersonal until we have integrated a significant portion of our underdeveloped or stunted psychological material, especially in the emotional and relationship lines of development.

Until we do, the prepersonal Red and Amber dynamics churning away in our Shadow are in charge of our final individual self-realization at genuine Green.  And only when we have fully inhabited Green in its full post- (but not trans-) personal glory will we be prepared for the momentous leap into the Second Tier.

So for the most part, any analysis of integral politics (or integral anything, for that matter) must remain in realm of cognition.  And because integral analysis is perforce tetradimensional, we must simultaneously confront—to the extent this is even doable—our collective, generational Shadow, the one that created and fell for “the extraordinary wonder of being us” that so infects the Green meme.  If we do not, we will not be able to identify and thus objectify its distortions: no disidentification from the personal, no transcendence into the transpersonal.

That’s just the way it works.

No Left = Exterior/Right =Interior

In our last essay I suggested three areas where Wilber’s integral politics suffered from even conceptual flaws:
Here’s a clue: not all Democrats and liberals dogmatically assume external causation of social problems, and conversely not all Republicans and conservatives assume internal causation. Clue two: Wilber’s own insights into the nature of Amber, Orange, and Green provide sufficient data to understand what’s going on in the American political economy. Clue three: integral politics must meet a world standard in order to claim validity. Wilber basically assumes that American political divisions prove his case—an astonishing lapse in his usually rigorous writing.
In light of the recent battles in Congress over raising the federal debt ceiling and the subsequent stock market turbulence, it is valuable to review the dynamics of left and right as they actually are.  Wilber’s insight in Up from Eden, that liberals ascribe external and conservatives internal causation to political economic problems, appears from the perspective of thirty years later to be an intuitive insight unverified by data.

Significant historical analysis, starting with Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, and including Stephen Hayward’s The Age of Reagan, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, and Mark Steyn’s America Alone, demonstrate convincingly the left’s commitment to internal causation as a factor in our political economy.

The godfather of the left, Karl Marx, based his economic analysis on the primacy of consciousness in human affairs.  Robert Sullivan of Brown University writes,
Marx's "materialist conception of history" is based on the following premises: that human beings, in all historical eras, enter into certain productive relations (hunting and gathering food, the relation of lord and serf, the contract between labor and capital—that is, certain economic foundations) and that these relations give rise to a certain form of social consciousness. He maintained that: "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness . . ." Perhaps Marx's greatest contribution to modern thought (as opposed to his economic theories which have been subject to various revisions) is his comprehensive investigation into the role of Ideology, or how social being determines consciousness, which results in certain (for the most part unconscious) belief and value systems depending on the particular economic infrastructure pertaining at the time. 
The leaders of the French Revolution, that epochal catastrophe that birthed the first modern version of the Church of the All-Powerful State, were students of Rousseau’s critiques of society.  Rousseau acknowledged the role of consciousness in the ruination of humanity.  In his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau asserted,
The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows.
One cannot make a claim of ownership from the Right-hand Quadrants; it is an interior making of meaning and assumption.  So when Rousseau concludes his observation, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody,” this too is entirely a conceptual product.

And when we leap ahead several centuries to our present time, we find this title of a key book of one of the loudest voices on the left: The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman.  One’s conscience, of course, resides entirely in the Upper Left.

In fact, it is not possible to take the stance that all problems reside in objective (i.e., Right-Hand) facts without deriving that from the interior space where we manufacture meaning.

We could devote equal space to evidence that the conservative has the same appreciation for the objective world that Wilber ascribes to liberals.  Just look at the debt ceiling controversy, for one instance.  Conservatives assert that decades of government deficit spending will lead to a complete collapse of the government’s credit and ability to fulfill its constitutional functions.  Financial data are very much Right-Hand Quadrant stuff.

A More Accurate Analysis

If one masters Wilber’s analysis of First Tier waves of consciousness, one has everything necessary to appreciate liberal and conservative approaches and perspectives.  As Walter Russell Mead has pointed out, classical liberalism is a commitment to expanding liberty in any political economic epoch; conservatism in context is either the resistance to this expansion or, in democratic societies, the commitment to protect the victories of classical liberalism against tyranny in its many disguises.

Where Wilber might have found more useful analysis is in applying his insights that the waves of consciousness have both healthy and pathological expressions.  The same can be said, I think, of the liberal and conservative stances. 

In the United States, clearly the Orange liberal aspirations of the Progressive Era to free individuals from the economic bondage of monopoly capital have degenerated into the Boomeritis determination to use the apparatus of the State to eliminate every possible inequality.  Similarly, the Orange conservative commitment to preserving the advances of liberty has been undermined by a significant Amber fear of the results of universal exercise of that liberty.

Finally, it goes without saying that Wilber’s “liberal = exterior/conservative = interior causation” could only apply to those societies with a center of gravity in Orange.  Only Orange societies could even conceive of the notion and value of individual liberty.

Amber societies, by definition based upon tribal and clannish consciousness, cannot differentiate the Four Quadrants and therefore have no way to appreciate individual expression except as an existential threat to the community.  In tribal societies the liberal/conservative divide is seen only in the simple question of how to deal with heretics: banishment or murder?

Wilber asserts that the majority of humans still dwell in preconventional stages of consciousness, so for most of us this very discussion is unintelligible and meaningless.

So the key distinction we must face is an experiential one.  Once one’s identification with one’s individual self conception begins to fade, one’s interior experience of the world shifts dramatically.  In essence, the line between the Upper and Lower Left begins to dissolve, because as we identify with a space much larger than our personal interior we move inexorably into the collective consciousness.

And thus an integral politics starts in the equanimity that arises when one appreciates the contributions of the entire First Tier.  But since that equanimity is not a product of the mind, discussing it (i.e., using the communication tools of the mind) becomes dependent upon the experience of those in the conversation.

In future posts I intend to examine to the best of my ability this experience and see what conclusions we can draw for an actual integral politics.  In the meantime, let us continue the practice of observing what is unfolding and our own reactions to and analyses of it as intentionally as possible.  This is a practice from the future, as it were, assisting us with the disidentification from our individuality that alone makes possible the great leap into the Second Tier, which makes integral consciousness real.