Jeff Salzman, who calls himself “an integralist, an evolutionary, and now a public commentator who, swimming against the current of prevailing culture, is heartened by the state and future of things,” offers a weekly broadcast called “The Daily Evolver,” during which he works hard to offer an integral look at daily events.
The problem is how to arrive at a common understanding of “integral,” something I’ve written extensively about. I am sure that Mr. Salzman is a fine person and really does consider himself an integralist, but the actual content of his talks reveals him to be more of an integral wanna-be. He tends to be so uncritical of the Boomeritis assumptions that permeate his network in Boulder that he presumes much that is not actually in evidence. Like so much of what comes out of the “integral” networks around Ken Wilber, the rigor necessary for achieving escape velocity from the first tier is sadly lacking.
This detracts not one iota from the honor we should give to Mr. Wilber and his circle for their willingness to tackle the evolutionary opportunity that Spirit, visible via the cognitive line at teal, appears to be calling forth. Our capacity to witness the elements of the Integral Model and to explore how to assess today’s experiences thereby is a truly remarkable gift, and we acknowledge the courage it takes to be willing to be commanded by its insights.
In his most recent broadcast, Mr. Salzman spends time attempting an integral analysis of the George Zimmerman trial and its aftermath. For the most part, he is on solid but very conventional ground when he begins by noting that the “Big Three” levels of first tier consciousness that prevail in the United States—amber, orange, and green—each have a different way of seeing and interpreting the matter.
But his lack of rigor renders the balance of his presentation ineffectual (when not downright hilarious).
His mistaking levels of consciousness for political stances is a serious flaw. He carelessly equates amber with traditionalists, conservatives, and Republicans, as if those were all synonymous; he is equally sloppy when he conflates green with liberals, progressives and Democrats.
This category error is so egregious that it makes any meaningful integral discussion impossible, and thereby he fritters away the robust opportunity for actual and rigorous integral analysis.
(On more than one occasion Mr. Salzman has revealed his falling short of the integral mark when, upon observing how present-day reality doesn’t conform to his moral code, he says “I blame God.” This demonstrates an appalling misunderstanding of the Integral Model, which starts with the hypothesis that the Kosmos is One—or, more rigorously, Not-Two. It thus both gives rise to and contains everything, including Mr. Salzman and the things he dislikes. The Integral Model presumes that, from God’s point of view, nothing is wrong and mistakes are impossible. Further, by “blaming God,” he is placing himself above God, a classic Boomeritis blasphemy that originates in the narcissism that is its central unhealed flaw.
Mistaking Levels and Types
Mr. Wilber has suggested that “liberal” and “conservative” are examples of types, not of levels or waves. Making them features of levels is a horrible blunder for several reasons. First, the waves are generalized features of the evolutionary spectrum; for them to have any validity they must be universal in their application. Mr. Wilber expends a lot of ink (including exhaustive footnotes) demonstrating the cross-cultural legitimacy of his description of these elements of the model. Slapping American political labels on them negates their universality.
Secondly, as Mr. Wilber has demonstrated in his examination of integral post-metaphysics, the levels or waves are structures of consciousness with probabilistic characteristics based on their longevity and depth. They are interpretive frameworks through which all reality—that which arises tetradimensionally—are construed. Politics—the arrangement of power relationships—is but one of dozens of phenomena that we take in and interpret according to the evolution of our various lines of development. As frameworks, levels/waves cannot function as political philosophies; rather, they assign certain meanings to political philosophies based on the mechanics of their structural features.
So Mr. Salzman begins his analysis with a deeply flawed and erroneous assignment of points of view to the “Big Three.” Further (not surprising given his Boulder environment) he has almost no clue about actual conservatism in America. In his careless categorization, “conservative,” “traditionalist,” and “Republican” are all the same thing. (In this, of course, he is joined by millions of sloppy thinkers, aided and abetted by the MSM. This is no excuse, for, as he asserts later in the broadcast, a signal feature of “integral” is perspective-taking; yet he show no curiosity at all about this particular perspective, or even any awareness that it is a distinctive perspective.)
Citing Arnold Kling’s thesis in The Three Languages of Politics, he asserts that conservatism has its meta-narrative in “the struggle between the forces of civilization and the forces of barbarism”; this is the lens through which amber (aka conservatism) views the world. This gross oversimplification is specious nonsense and further evidence of the dangers of the wave conflation he cavalierly engages in.
Modern political conservatism, dating back to the observations of Edmund Burke (1729-97), seeks to conserve the best that humans have created in the constant evolution of self-governing institutions. It is a friend to innovation because the creative genius is among the greatest of human capacities. It supports markets because they have demonstrated themselves time and again to be the best mechanism to promote the overall growth of wealth.
The amber elements of American conservatism are best seen in social issues, where traditionalists seek to conserve the best of the rules for healthy social organization, which includes treating sexuality with great caution because of its capacity to wreak havoc upon social stability. Orange conservatism seeks to conserve the optimization of the market economy to promote the greatest wealth for the greatest number at the least aggregate cost. Green conservatism, while very new, seeks to conserve the commitment for egalitarianism from Boomeritis contamination.
Mr. Salzman’s cluelessness about conservatism is reprised by an equally shoddy understanding of liberalism and progressivism. He blithely conflates these with political Democrats, as if there are no Democrats with traditionalist or modernist views. Further, I personally know a number of soi-disant progressives who turn their noses up at the Democrats, considering them hypocrites and incrementalists.
Modern political liberalism dates back to the Scottish Enlightenment and its greatest practitioners, the American Founding Fathers. Liberalism seeks to expand freedom for the individual and to reduce tyrannical structures that obstruct it. Liberalism commits to establish political legitimacy in self-governance and not in self-appointed or power-grabbing oligarchies or dictatorships. It is a friend to the rule of law because it prevents the tyranny of self-interest or emotional excess from imperiling individual liberty. (Professor Walter Russell Mead has done the best recent work on the evolution of modern liberalism.)
Amber liberalism seeks to ensure that all members of the tribe or group benefit from its society. Orange liberalism fights to ensure the sustainment of individual political sovereignty and economic opportunity. Green liberalism struggles to overcome both overt and hidden or unselfconscious tendencies to denial of liberty; further, it extends its scrutiny to systems that may have developed tyrannical tendencies in spite of their original intentions.
So, with all these erroneous assumptions, it comes as no surprise that Mr. Salzman’s evaluation of the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman is both muddleheaded and minimally informative from an integral perspective.
He is at his best in describing the meta-narratives that Americans at amber and orange might apply in discussing what happened and drawing out lessons. He demonstrates this by starting with a relatively neutral recitation of the facts of the matter. “As we go from here with the story, we can see that the facts that fill in the story begin to line up pretty clearly with the ideology of the person telling the story; they’re very different stories, representative of different development altitudes.”
- Amber with its commitment to rule/role, mythic/membership assumptions applies the lens of “us and them,” which we do regardless of our race.
- Orange with its commitment to individual egoism and reason applies the lens of “did the system work?”
- Because he conflates healthy green and Boomeritis—the primary flaw of Boulderdash—his green analysis is less persuasive. The primary polarity that charges up green liberalism, he says, is “identifying the oppressor and the oppressed, where people become sensitized to the pain of those who have been marginalized and left behind by the previous stages of development; green seeks to rectify that, to bring them into the fold as full participants.” This is a solid description of classic green. But he can’t leave it there; he has to Boomerize it by accusing Republicans of still trying to “continue the Jim Crow regime, in homeopathic doses” [through voter ID laws]. “The cool thing is that it appears to have backfired because, in the last election, blacks voted in higher percentages than whites, so nyah, nyah, na-nyah nyah on that.”
That Famous Skin Galvanic Response Line of Development
This having been noted, there are some real howlers in his narrative. His casual assumption of Mr. Kling’s characterizations leads him to say some really stupid things. For instance, “for amber [aka traditionalists and conservatives], they’re just a little closer to red in the stages of development. They tend to live a little more hardscrabble lives in smaller towns; liberals tend to live in safer enclaves. Crime’s a real danger for these people. They don’t really trust the police in the state in the same way that we liberals do. They remember when the police were a brutal tool of the dictator or king—that’s a karmic memory that is a little more vivid for amber than it is for orange or green. They see themselves as free sovereign agents responsible to protect themselves and their families. That’s so important for them to have the right to bear arms, to have guns, which are repulsive to green. By the time you get to green the idea of having your own weapon is, ‘really?’”
Not content to stop digging here, he then proceeds to assert that conservatives’ bodies are different from liberals’: “Traditionalists are more physically attuned to danger and chaos. There’s study after study that shows that conservatives basically have a stronger startle response than do liberals; they’re more skin-galvanically-responsewise attuned to danger, because they are literally closer to the stages of barbarism.”
Conservatives live “more hardscrabble lives” than liberals? Liberals love the police more? Conservatives see their environments as more threatened by crime? No liberal owns a gun? And just where are all those studies that show “that conservatives basically have stronger a stronger startle response than do liberals”? And what exactly does that mean?
Really, you can’t make this stuff up (which is another sign that we are dealing with Boomeritis integral wanna-bes).
What do you call the belief that all people in a given category share the same characteristics by virtue of belonging to that category? Isn’t this tendency to stereotype people because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or level of consciousness development supposedly what’s at the heart of the Martin killing?
As a conservative I am happy to know that, skin-galvanically-responsewise I am more attuned to danger than Mr. Salzman. Perhaps if I rise above my hardscrabble existence, I can learn from my liberal friends (say, like the Occupiers) to love the police.
Sorry, Jeff; I call bullshit.
The rest of this session of the "Daily Evolver" meanders aimlessly through more stereotypes, slapdash assumptions, and arrogant assertions. I have no doubt that Mr. Salzman is in earnest; still it is shocking to see yet another Wilber acolyte so intellectually and morally lazy.
The sad thing is we never get anything close to a cogent integral discussion of the country’s reaction to the Martin killing. That's likely the only way to produce the genuine "conversation" that many liberals insist we need. But we do at least get yet another look at how far we are, gaseous Boulderdash notwithstanding, from making the momentous leap into the second tier.
And that’s OK: Spirit always already has it well in hand.