The discipline of integral politics requires that we stand aloof from the daily occurrences of first tier assumptions. From an integral perspective, we are always in the midst of a first tier political food fight. In America right now there is plenty of non-stop entertainment everywhere we look.
Domestically, the Congress and the President are engaged in their routine denunciations of one another, with the House Republicans being labeled “crazy,” “lunatic,” “terrorists,” etc. The President admonishes them to “compromise” while refusing to do so himself. The Republicans, meantime, are engaged in a vertiginous civil war, with the establishmentarians led by the former “Straight Talk Express” guy Senator John McCain getting rolled by Tea Party favorites Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. It’s all part of the pass-the-budget, raise-the-debt-ceiling slam dance that Beltway types do so well.
Then there’s the Middle East, with Syria and Iran both now pretending to be good guys so the Advanced Sector can avert its eyes again from the really nasty things a-brewin’ there. Poor Binyamin Netanyahu is—publicly at least—being ignored so that the niceties will be preserved. Al-Shabab keeps reminding everyone that al-Qaeda did not die with Osama bin Laden. Vladimir Putin, fresh from his Syria intervention, continues his project to recreate the Third Russian Empire, bullying the Ukraine to abandon its strategic Drang nach Westen and remain docilely in the Russian sphere.
Deeper in the background are the signs of serious economic slowdown in India and China, something that worries financial analysts as they read the bird entrails of the latest Federal Reserve meeting minutes regarding its “quantitative easing” policy.
Angela Merkel’s CDU won a remarkable vote of confidence from German voters, while Australians dumped the liberal Labor Party and installed its conservative counterpart, the Liberals.
Oh, and as if this were not all enough to be getting on with, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is squabbling about what to include in its latest report, with scientists, ideologues, and rent-seekers all looking to find a way around the stubborn fact that the IPCC’s computer models cannot account for the dramatic slowing of global temperature increase the past fifteen years.
Reality offers an endless invitation to practice integral perspectives.
Whither Evolution Has Brought Us Today
We in the Advanced Sector, mired in orange marbled by chaotic filaments of Boomeritis and (more rarely) high green, generally don’t know how to deal with a world that is still 70% living in amber consciousness. George W. Bush’s campaign to replace Saddam Hussein with a Western-style democracy was a spectacular failure, a sobering reminder of the folly of the attempt to impose modern social structures on premodern cultures.
And, of course, the Advanced Sector is itself hardly homogenously centered in orange. Transcend-include-integrate means that even at high green we experience currents of all previous levels complicating our efforts to find patterns and propose innovations.
All of this is made more complex by the current increase in political economic chaos due to the shift from the Industrial to the Information Age, whose impact is perforce global even if most of the people on the planet still live in pre-industrial societies.
This shows up in the United States in the 50-50 “red-blue” split, which while a nifty shorthand for tedious political scorekeepers, masks a much more complicated reality.
America is coming, in fits and starts, to the end of the “blue social model” based on classical liberalism 4.0. This was the product of progressive faith in the vehicle of government to protect civic freedom from the real and projected threats that industrial monopolies (the “trusts”) were making against average Americans. Starting with the piecemeal projects of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and realized by FDR in a permanently expansive federal government, the Boomer generation’s progressives did their predecessors one better.
Even though the threat feared and organized against by the progressives never materialized (whether because of or in spite of their policies remains controversial), the progressives nonetheless followed the logic of their philosophical approach by imposing the Great Society, whose yet again expanded governmental reach became infused by New Left Boomeritis imperatives after 1972.
Thus what we now call the blue social model began its inevitable decline. The New Left, even more than the original progressives, believed that the American system itself generated institutional oppression against its more economically marginal citizens. Naively ignoring the role and nature of government in producing this result, it sought to expand the regulatory reach of government into every area of Americans’ lives. It combined progressives’ ingenuous belief in the disinterestedness of experts with the radical Left’s willingness to use force to punish the perceived perpetrators of all things bad and ugly in American society.
Postmodernist thought played a key role in infusing this movement with its destructive energy. The rejection of Reason and its presumed intellectual and cultural traditions aided the wholesale trashing of long-term institutions of social coherence like family, church, and schools.
Not unexpectedly, significant reaction against this ideology set in. Starting with Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy in 1964 and reaching its high water mark in the administration of Ronald Reagan and the end of the Cold War shortly thereafter, the conservative counterattack succeeded in delaying but not derailing the blue social model. The rise of political talk radio in the 1990s provided conservatives with their own fireside around which to chat with their fellow citizens.
But Reagan and his successors failed to offer a better solution to emerging post-Cold War problems than the prevailing liberal order. And although the events of 9/11/01 were not in themselves decisive, they served to emblemize the unexpected disintegration of the old reliable social structures. The failure of the conservatives to apply the Enlightenment’s founding principles of classical liberalism in a fresh and engaging way only served to make the public discourse increasingly tawdry and insipid.
In the short run, the internet and its cheap hand-held access devices appear to be fueling this disintegration by amplifying the cacophony. The whole range of the unrestrained personal ego can express itself to billions of people simultaneously. Spend any time on any political web site and you can instantly experience the nasty, hateful, and narcissistic side-by-side with the thoughtful, compassionate, and earnest.
Where’s the center in all of this? Where is the ground of dependable stability? What are the rules of the new game? Who’s making things worse?
The integrally informed student starts by looking for the truth in all those perspectives and seeks to discern the meta-pattern of evolution.
Fear and Breakthrough as Evolutionary Dynamics
My thesis is simple. Kosmic evolution up the spectrum of consciousness led to the humanity project as a vessel of self awareness. The current telos of this project is the development of the mature, autonomous individual as the necessary condition for the next stage of self awareness. At the point that a sufficient density of such people is reached, the momentous leap into second tier, collective consciousness will become possible. This should, in theory, prepare the way for applying consciousness to evolution itself.
The individuation project has been slowly unfolding at least since Homo sapiens sapiens evolved from earlier hominid species some 200,000 years ago. The primary tensile dynamic pushing the endeavor has been the appeal of both fear and breakthrough. (Wilber and others also see this dynamic in the Eros/Thanatos Sturm und Drang.)
This has become a four-quadrant process, at least as a conceptual approach. Since the emergence of orange we have been able to see the evolutionary thrust tetradimensionally, which helps us appreciate truth more fully.
Amber fears the dissolution of order and blames those with contempt for rules. Orange fears the collapse of progress and blames those with contempt for initiative and profit. Green fears the relapse to arbitrariness and autocracy and blames those clinging bitterly to their guns and religion.
Once the Soviet communist empire collapsed in 1991, the structures of global political stability quickly disappeared. This more or less coincided with the rapid “informationalization” of the economies of the Advanced Sector. (A topic for future examination will be the role of Information Age technological advances in the undermining and downfall of the Soviet and Chinese amber empires.) The first major shift came in American and NATO re-evalution of their defense postures: how powerful did we need our armed forces to be with our enemy of forty years suddenly defanged?
There was a concomitant freeing up of capital flows the world over, as nations—particularly China—sought to cash in on the unexpected peace by modernizing their economies. In the U. S., the Clinton administration persuaded the Congress to repeal the Glass-Steagal Act, a New Deal law that separated commercial and investment banking. This opened the doors for an entire new tranche of speculative financial investments, making possible a series of bubbles that resulted in the 2008 crash.
In the meantime, passage and enforcement of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s contributed to a significant mass internal migration in the United States which saw millions move out of the Rust Belt and into the Sun Belt, thus redistributing both economic and political power. Generally speaking, the Sun Belt states (with the key exception of California) favored less government involvement in the private sector by keeping taxes low and regulations simple. Their right-to-work status kept union influence on the evolution of their public policy at a minimum.
Information Age companies favored these states as locations expansion out of their California base. These states were the first experiment with post-industrial governance, while the older states of the Midwest and Northeast often dug in to defend their blue social model systems.
Since the presidential election of 1992, the balance of national power has swung back and forth over a very narrow continuum. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have been able to seize and keep both the White House and the Congress for long. The electorate has been concentrating more on our fears than on a push for breakthrough, and our politics fairly dependably reflect this.
In the meantime, advancing technology especially in communications has produced a revolution in the way we speak and listen to one another; it will be a while before we can see clearly in what direction this is serving to lead us. But at the very least it has heightened the cacophony and the political rhetoric without contributing anything to deepen potential stability.
The Integral Imperative
So that brings us back to the current Kabuki. It seems to me that we will be experiencing first tier dramatics for some time to come, because the ongoing breakdown of the blue social model institutions has yet to inspire the necessary structures for the post-industrial, Information Age world.
Integrally informed political thinking should, I believe, always keep two essential currents in mind. First, a sober-eyed understanding of the trimemetic war underway, and second, an inquiry into what the individuation project requires in light of this war.
A recent book by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus called America 3.0 makes a heroic attempt at this second task. I will look into and analyze their recommendations in a coming post. I found their thesis compelling because they get that the United States is a project of the Scottish Enlightenment, and so they take on the meta-pattern of human evolution as it finds itself today.
It certainly is valuable and necessary to inquire into how we might support greater numbers of us entering the next phase of the Enlightenment project, the exploration of second tier. But given the amber-orange-green configuration of humanity today, it remains imperative to regularly examine the current political economy for signs of both emergence and resistance, as well as to develop a disciplined integrally-informed analysis that sharpens our individual capacity to see truth in everyone’s perspectives.