Sunday, September 16, 2012

The "Integral" Case for President Obama

Integral Life contributor Terry Patten recently published a plea for “integralists” to support Barack Obama’s reelection entitled "The Integral Case for President Obama."  I acknowledge that Mr. Patten’s call is a noble attempt to get his arms around the challenges of the current breakdown of the global order from as advanced a perspective as he could muster.  He deserves credit for being courageous enough to raise the matter of evolution of consciousness in the very real context of our actual political economy, and for being willing to expose his stand to analysis and criticism.

That said, I am happy to oblige.

It’s been a serious concern to me for some time now that people associated with Ken Wilber, the Integral Institute, and its various offshoots keep using the terms “integral movement” and “integral community” so casually, because  I have no idea what those words mean.

The lack of specificity about the common understanding of “integral” in these labels is a symptom of the general intellectual sloppiness that postmodernism and Boomeritis have injected into our public discourse.  It is unfortunate that Wilber and many associated with the Integral Institute both tolerate and often perpetuate this.

Let’s see if we can’t bring some clarity and specificity to the matter.

The Meaning of “Integral”

Wilber first began using the word “integral” in Up from Eden, where he referred to Jean Gebser’s application of it to the integral/aperspectival wave of consciousness that succeeded the mental/rational [Orange] wave.  Then, in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and The Marriage of Sense and Soul, he introduced “integral” to the AQAL model, referring primarily to the first levels of consciousness in the transpersonal bands.  In A Theory of Everything, Wilber presented the idea of First and Second Tier from Spiral Dynamics, with the First Tier comprising the prepersonal and personal waves, and the Second the transpersonal.  “Second-tier thinking . . . is instrumental is moving from relativism to holism, or from pluralism to integralism” [italics in original] (p. 12).

Landing in the Second Tier requires the “momentous leap” into an awareness completely different and new from the level of mature Green, the highest First Tier wave.  “Integral” in this sense therefore refers to both this higher, transpersonal wave and to its structures.

Despite claims to the contrary, I see no evidence that this new wave—Teal in Wilber’s spectrum model—is breaking out in any significant numbers anywhere on the planet, Boulder included.  Terry’s essay is certainly evidence that in the cognitive line of development people can begin to intentionally take multiple perspectives, but as Wilber has patiently pointed out, cognitive only leads the way; it is not the wave itself.

I suggest that when one’s center of gravity of consciousness actually ascends into the Second Tier, the shift in perspective is so radical that it is impossible to report back to those of us in First Tier with any effectiveness what it’s like.  In the transpersonal realms our center of gravity moves out of the Upper Left into the Lower Left because our identity ceases to be with our individual ego and broadens to something much larger.  We have disidentified with our personal self-concept, and are now seeing ourselves as something transcendent. 

Wilber used to call this first transpersonal wave the Psychic, with its identity in nature mysticism.  The Atman Project and Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality offer extensive reports about the structures of this wave.  With the publication of Integral Psychology, Ken begins to relax insistence on this, and to speak of the Second Tier more generally.
In the archeology of the Self, deep within the personal lies the transpersonal, which takes you far beyond the personal: always within and beyond.  Experienced previously only in peak experiences, or as a background intuition of immortality, wonder, and grace, the soul begins now to emerge more permanently in consciousness.  Not yet infinite and all-embracing, no longer merely personal and mortal, the soul is the great intermediate conveyor between pure Spirit and individual self.  The soul can embrace the gross realm in nature mysticism, or it can plumb its own depths in deity mysticism.  It can confer a postmortem meaning on all of life, and deliver grace to every corner of the psyche.  It offers the beginning of an unshakable witnessing and equanimity in the midst of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and breathes a tender mercy on all that it encounters.  It is reached by a simple technique: turn left at mind, and go within. (p. 106)
While this is a fairly good description of that realm, it has very limited value because until we make the leap ourselves we can only interpret these reports from a First Tier perspective.  To awaken each morning identifying as something more comprehensive, holistic, and beyond our individual self-sense is an experience almost no human being living has had with any consistency and persistence.  We just ain’t there yet.

The fact that some of us can see that “there” is exciting, but again the map is not the territory. 

If the evidence suggests that the actual number of individuals living in the transpersonal is miniscule, what then could possible constitute the “integral community” and the “integral movement”?

So What Is the “Integral Community”?

(Let us note in passing the vapidity of the word “community” in this context.  It is part of the postmodern assault on language and reason to water down meaning so as to render signifiers all but devoid of specificity.  Pomos have made this word, for instance, mean “any collection of individuals with even a single feature in common,” rather than an organic and comprehensive group of individuals with a common culture and purpose.)

So let’s go to the website of the Integral Institute to discover what the Wilberites might mean when they use the word “integral.”
Integral theory is an all-inclusive framework that draws on the key insights of the world’s greatest knowledge traditions. The awareness gained from drawing on all truths and perspectives allows the Integral thinker to bring new depth, clarity and compassion to every level of human endeavor — from unlocking individual potential to finding new approaches to global-scale problems.
At the Integral Life web site, we learn that
Something amazing is happening right now.
All around the world, a new culture is beginning to emerge.

It's a culture of people like you—people who are bringing more beauty into the world, more love to our human family, and more wholeness to lives. People who understand that we are all still evolving, and that growth and self-discovery is a life-long journey.

It's a culture of people who are creating an entirely new vision of who we are and where we are going—a positive, inspiring, radically hopeful vision of the future.
The site also features a video by Ken Wilber giving a 20-minute overview of this general integral catch-all idea. 

It appears, then, that when Wilber and his colleagues use the term “integral” they don’t really mean the first transpersonal waves of consciousness per se but rather the concepts that adopting an integral perspective offers.  It seems to be about the cognitive line of development by which those with a center of gravity in Green are capable of adopting—at least temporarily—multiple perspectives, and working toward a perspective that embraces them all.  So we can conclude that the “integral community” comprises those individuals aspiring or consciously intending to move their center of gravity into the Second Tier—whether that has actually occurred or not.

This is a crucial distinction, because in fact authentic integral consciousness includes the majority of the lines of development, and not merely the cognitive.  That I can take other perspectives for moments on end does not necessarily mean that I can experience their interiority, or that I can empathize with their assumptions, or that I can feel equanimity toward them all.  It does not mean that I have access to my own Shadow material, or that I have embraced and withdrawn all my projections, or that I have established genuine accountability for all my thoughts, feelings, instincts, and intuitions.

And until I have made the “momentous leap” in a majority of my lines of development, I remain, integral cognitive capability notwithstanding, in the First Tier.

So I think a more accurate designation of this collection of people that Wilber and the Integral Institute folks want to speak for and reach out to is the “integral wannabe community.”

Since integral wannabes are still ensconced in the First Tier, we can expect the kind of conventional political thinking that characterizes Mr. Patten’s essay.  This includes some very questionable assertions about Mr. Obama and his Democratic Party, as well as some very First Tier assumptions about the relationship of our political economy to the evolution of consciousness.

So let us now turn our attention to these.

Obama and First Tier Consciousness

The questionable assertions start early.  “I think it’s safe to say,” Patten writes, “that a majority of people with integral and evolutionary values eagerly supported then-Senator Obama in 2008.”  We’re back to the kind of fallacy of composition made so memorable by Pauline Kael in her remarks about Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972.  “I live in a rather special world,” she said.  “I only know one person who voted for Nixon.  Where they are I don’t know.  They’re outside my ken.  But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

Mr. Patten similarly lives in a special world.  Given the complete absence of a census of people living at Teal and of integral wannabes, how in the world could anyone know the percentage of them who “eagerly supported” Obama the first time around?  Perhaps Mr. Patten knows one person who voted for McCain.  If not, I will be happy to introduce myself.

The same fallacy applies to the assumptions laden in the words “integral and evolutionary values.”  What are these, and when did we vote on them?

After asserting his disappointment with Mr. Obama with a variety of his actions (or inactions), Mr. Patten then says,
At the same time, I believe a large majority of us agree with many of his cultural values (for example, on gay marriage, women’s health, and the environment), appreciate his efforts and accomplishments in an incredibly hostile political environment, and believe that he is still the best hope we have for more integral policies and politics. Moreover, we look at the alternative—which is not just the elusive candidate, Mitt Romney, but a Republican party that has become increasingly dogmatic, oppositional, and rigid—and we realize that Obama is still the far better choice.
Wow.  The values he cites are actually Boomeritis values stemming from the postmodern deification of multiculturalism, which Wilber has on more than one occasion skewered.  The integral embrace can certainly appreciate why Boomeritis has adopted these values, and can acknowledge that they are certainly true for those who espouse them.  But it can simultaneously point out that they do not necessarily have anything to do with the drive toward “more integral policies and politics”—and in fact I will argue that just the reverse is true.

It is also a decidedly First Tier assertion that the “Republican party . . . has become increasingly dogmatic, oppositional, and rigid.”  In fact, it is a decidedly Democratic party assertion, because from the Republican point of view it is in fact the Democrats who have become “increasingly dogmatic, oppositional, and rigid,” and their point of view is, from an integral perspective, equally true for them.  These charges and countercharges are just features of the First Tier food fight, and don’t really offer much evidence of an evolutionary impulse; they’re just translative activity.

Mr. Patten then goes on to call the presidency of George W. Bush a “disastrous mistake,” without any evidence to demonstrate this; more Kaelism.  He asserts that President Obama “has proven himself to be a pragmatic modernist centrist.”  Proven himself to whom?  I can build a much more powerful case that the President is a postmodernist leftist, intent on forcing the round peg of his theory of community organizing into the square hole of a nation based upon the sovereignty of individual citizens.

This “pragmatic modernist centrist” is “someone we can count on to lean toward constructive change.”  Again, what is “constructive change”?  More policies based upon the pomo assault on reason and Western values?  Isn’t that really “destructive change”? 

“We have a duty to help culture evolve, in part by electing a modernist President whose center of gravity is more postmodern than traditional—and more open to and capable of an integral view.  That makes our support of him a truly integral move.”  With this statement I wholeheartedly agree.  The problem for me is that this person is not the incumbent seeking re-election.

You see, everyone at Orange and beyond is “capable of an integral view.”  But capacity is a mere potential, and even if a significant number of these are “open to” it, it requires a lot more than capacity and openness to get there.

Mr. Patten and the wannabe integralists would be well served to study the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the last president to truly inspire a transformative shift in the American polity toward the prime directive.

Authentic Transformative Leadership

Mr. Lincoln was a thoroughly Orange worldcentric leader who understood the global significance and necessity of the American experiment in self government based upon universal values of individual dignity and sovereignty.  He recognized the dramatic encumbrance that slavery was upon the full realization of those values, while acknowledging the Amber tinge of most of the nation’s electorate.  His remarkable achievement lay in guiding the nation through the Civil War toward not only constitutional emancipation, but indeed toward a national agenda of full industrialization, setting the framework for the emergence of an Orange, middle-class nation bursting with the wealth and optimism that this wave makes possible.

What made Mr. Lincoln the real deal was his conscious embrace of his world historic mission, his skillful oratory to prepare the nation for the coming transformation, and his sure-footed tactical manipulation of politicians, general, and public opinion.  Now here was a “pragmatic modernist centrist” who didn’t just “lean into constructive change,” he grabbed hold of it by the neck and dragged it kicking and screaming across the finish line.  And he was able to do this only because the finish line lay in the direction of transformation and transcendence.

Of course, there are those who choose to believe that the communitarian impulses that animate most of the left in the U. S. are also in the direction of transformation and transcendence, and in theory they are correct.  But in practice they are usually clueless and often counterproductive.  And this includes Mr. Obama and his national Democratic party, which since its capture by the New Left in 1972 has increasingly abandoned the nation’s founding principles for some highly suspect alternatives.

One has only to look to Detroit or to California to see what the country would look like if we ever truly abandoned ourselves to this postmodernist Boomeritis utopian insistence.

Mr. Patten says that “[i]n the long-term, I believe we must create a truly integral evolutionary moment, including an integral political party.”  Well, yes, and in the long-term we must establish world peace and double life expectancy.  
But in the immediate term, there is no real integral option—at least not in the US.  When we look at our realistic options, I believe we have a better chance of integralizing the Democratic party than the Republican party, at least at this point.  That’s why I’m supporting Obama in this election.  If he wins, it serves a double purpose.  It potentially breaks the fever of the doctrinaire right-wing regressive lurch that has seized the Republican party in the last few years, and brings both parties closer to a pragmatic center. That’s the hope.
Well, in the spirit of integral fraternity, I certainly wish Mr. Patten good luck with that integralizing of the Democratic party, a thoroughly Boomeritis institution in denial about the financial, physical, and psychic indebtedness it has, in collusion with the Republicans, promoted since the Great Society fiasco.

But I heartily disagree with his assertion that “there is no real integral option.”  This is the final evidence that we are dealing with a First Tier perspective.  For in the Second Tier, the prime directive itself becomes our guide, and from that perspective everything is always possible—once we have accepted responsibility for what comes next.

And please note that I choose the word “we” deliberately, for at Teal and higher we identify no longer with our personal self-sense but with a wider and deeper embrace.  We are equally as conscious of us as we are of our individual entity, and our perspective is no longer limited by perceptions of what that individual entity can accomplish on its own.

The great political economic project we can undertake is the denarcissification of Green—the healing of Boomeritis.  Evolution will be much more efficiently served once the Red boulder stuck in our Green soul is dissolved, and healthy Green can become the genuine gateway to the Second Tier.

“I would argue,” Mr. Patten writes, “that our integral responsibility is to hold a difficult balance between preserving what works in our existing structures, while also pushing the edges and opening spaces for the new and higher and better that’s yearning to emerge.”  Well, sure—to the extent that we’ve developed a yoga to do this.

But I would argue that the development of that yoga is our priority, something that Wilber and others’ writings and videos on Integral Life Practice have been groping toward.  This yoga ought, in my assessment, to include powerful Shadow and projection-withdrawing training, along with an authentic accountability practice.  I can never genuinely embrace the perspectives of others until I recognize them within myself—good, bad, and ugly. 

Given the dismal impact Boomeritis has had on our civic lives, it seems foolish to invest a whole lot of psychic energy in conventional politics.  Sure, vote, contribute, polemicize, organize.  These are all honorable actions citizens can and should undertake. 

But let the integralists and intergralist wannabes hold very lightly to the results.  Our awareness and insights about the future outworkings of the evolutionary impulse remain incredibly partial, if not mostly wrong.  Who would have thought in 1900 that the coming century would both be the bloodiest, most violent, and financially disrupted century in human history, and would have at the same time generate so much wealth that life expectancy would double and the number of humans—the Kosmos’ agents of self-aware evolution—would sextuple?

With the rate of change now accelerating, and with the world for the first time dominated by three distinct waves of First Tier consciousness, it would be foolish in the extreme to assume anything definitive about what comes next.  But let us concentrate on the task of healing Green; it is something for which we bear total responsibility, whether we know in this moment exactly how that can be accomplished or not.

In the meantime, of course, Spirit has it all in hand, friends; rest in this while fearlessly doing your thing.

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