Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Boomer Banality of Barack Obama

During commencement remarks delivered yesterday at University of California at Irvine, President Barack Obama demonstrated yet again how thoroughly and banally ensnared in the Boomeritis wave he is. 

According to an article by Mark Landler published in the New York Times,

Speaking in gleefully sarcastic terms to a commencement ceremony at the University of California, Irvine, Mr. Obama likened those who deny climate change to people who would have told John F. Kennedy, at the dawn of the space program, that the moon “was made of cheese.”

He saved his most scathing words for lawmakers who say they are not qualified to judge the issue because they are not scientists. These people, the president said, recognize the truth but will not utter it for fear of being “run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot.”

“I’m not a scientist either,” Mr. Obama told this young audience, “but we’ve got some good ones at NASA. I do know the overwhelming majority of scientists who work on climate change, including some who once disputed the data, have put the debate to rest.”

For Terry Patten, Jeff Salzman, and the other Obama acolytes in the Integral Institute, this should put paid to the fantasy that the President represents the possibility of an integral transcendence in the Democratic Party.  Obama and all his yes men have never evinced anything but the impoverished depradations of the narcissism that has, so far, eviscerated green’s powerful potential.

For any student of integral politics, all this has been obvious from the beginning of Obama’s national career, especially when seen in the context of the emergence of green with its majoritarian Boomeritis variant over the past fifty years.  This first found its American expression, for better or worse, in the New Left, whose “Port Huron Manifesto,” written mostly by Tom Hayden, was published by the SDS in 1962.

Hayden channeled Jean-Jacques Rousseau with his insistence that the innovations of the modern world, a product of the orange Enlightenment, had perverted human society and stood in dire need of purification.

Men have unrealized potential for self-cultivation, self-direction, self-understanding, and creativity. It is this potential that we regard as crucial and to which we appeal, not to the human potentiality for violence, unreason, and submission to authority. The goal of man and society should be human independence: a concern not with image of popularity but with finding a meaning in life that is personally authentic: a quality of mind not compulsively driven by a sense of powerlessness, nor one which unthinkingly adopts status values, nor one which represses all threats to its habits, but one which has full, spontaneous access to present and past experiences, one which easily unites the fragmented parts of personal history, one which openly faces problems which are troubling and unresolved: one with an intuitive awareness of possibilities, an active sense of curiosity, an ability and willingness to learn.

This kind of independence does not mean egoistic individualism—the object is not to have one's way so much as it is to have a way that is one's own. Nor do we deify man—we merely have faith in his potential.

Human relationships should involve fraternity and honesty. Human interdependence is contemporary fact; human brotherhood must be willed however, as a condition of future survival and as the most appropriate form of social relations. Personal links between man and man are needed, especially to go beyond the partial and fragmentary bonds of function that bind men only as worker to worker, employer to employee, teacher to student, American to Russian. (Italics added.)

Hayden's ideas here certainly reflect the emerging green sensibility, while his insistence that "brotherhood must be willed" demonstrates the atavistic amber menace lurking in the green opening.  We must see these ideas and the movement it inspired as part of the several centuries-old stream of that bizarre combination of reaction and utopian millenarianism that characterized political socialism.

As I argue in “Three Blind Memes,” this socialism of nineteenth century Europe was primarily an amber reaction to the rise of the modern industrial nation state.  That it resulted in the enormous amber communist empires of the twentieth century should be no surprise to the integral student.  Amber has been contesting the right-hand structures of orange from their very beginnings in the Italian Renaissance, and that memetic war continues unabated to this day.

Bismarck and his progressive heirs sought a middle ground upon which the worst disruptive features of the industrial age could be ameliorated so that the enormous good it was producing in the macro sense could be channeled to the greatest numbers.  In this sense, orange set out to accommodate amber.  Out of this willingness grew the non-socialist left, whose greatest achievements were the New Deal in the United States and the Scandinavian social democracies in Europe.  One of the most honorable contributions of the American labor movement was its forthright resistance to communism both domestic and international.

But the tribal, mythic impulse that characterizes amber, true to its first tier nature, believes it alone has the truth and therefore all other levels are false and must be resisted.  The amber dimension of socialism was not subdued by all these programs of the progressives.  Amber is the origin of the “us v. them” identity, so of course it identified these with the capitalist "them."  This the New Left set out to fix.

The emergence of green of which the New Left was a LR exemplar has added a third dimension to this memetic war; in a way, it was born in the five hundred years-old crossfire between the two earlier waves, and so was influenced by that even as it was contributing something unique and novel.  As Wilber always reminds us, each new wave transcends and includes the earlier ones; this new and unique memetic dimensionality offers us a better look at how the unhealed pathologies of those earlier waves impede the emergence of the newer ones.

The New Left passionately used the emerging green and postmodern perspectives unreflectively to push socialism's amber ambitions.  It took over the national Democratic party with the McGovern nomination in 1972, and hasn't looked back since.

Barack Obama actually serves as a great example of this evolutionary stream.  In his honorable if futile attempt to make Obama teal, Terry Patten in his 2012 essay “The Integral Case for President Obama” asserts that

I believe we are much more likely to get integral ideas included in a Democratic party platform than in a Republican platform, which has now been ideologically purged and purified.  It makes no sense to empower a Republican party that is currently incapable of hearing and including truly integral ideas, and has thwarted constructive negotiations and compromise. The Democratic party is at least conceivably capable of becoming more integral, even if it is not there yet.

. . . 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.

Ah, has the euphoria of that hopium worn off yet?  Far from breaking “the fever of the doctrinaire right-wing regressive lurch,” it led to the reelection of the “doctrinaire” Republican majority in the House of Representatives and shrank Democratic control of the Senate, which in turn produced even more of the dreaded deadlock in Washington.  It also ratified the Republican control of the majority of state legislatures.  Patten’s hopes are based on his convincing himself that “Obama has proven himself to be a pragmatic modernist centrist, someone we can count on to lean toward constructive change, even if not galvanizing progress at the pace we would have hoped.”

Now here’s his man Obama, leaning toward constructive change by sarcastically belittling his opponents and adopting a stance of superiority toward them based on his non-scientific certainty that the debate on climate change has, by a fallacious appeal to authority argument, “been put to rest.”  As a tool for leadership, sarcasm is a tacit admission of the poverty of the argument and betrays the fear that it may in fact be wrong.

I am hoping that Terry has the integral cojones to be embarrassed by this juvenile display of ignorance about the scientific method, one of orange’s majestic gifts to evolution.  I hope he concedes that the President's continuous assailing of his opponents as ignorant captives of an alleged “radical fringe” is amber tribalism at its best.  When the greens see in the GOP a doctrinaire party, should he be surprised that they can't see their own rigid ideology, which might equally have played a role in the gridlock?  (Recent polling data suggest that Democrats are both more extreme and more doctrinaire than Republicans, MSM myth-making notwithstanding.)  Perhaps he is willing to look back now on the past five and a half years and notice the pattern of the President's rhetoric and behavior; neither are new or infrequent.  In fact, it was there on display during the first term, but somehow notice of it failed to make Terry’s essay.

Even colleagues at the Integral Institute are taking some tentative steps away from the Obama-integral faith.  Steve McIntosh and Carter Phipps at the Institute for Cultural Evolution recognize the futility of what they call the “activist alarmist” approach to addressing climate change, a criticism by inference of President Obama, whose righteous rhetoric and policy approaches could have been written by Al Gore.

The hallmark of teal is its capacity to take different perspectives with equanimity, for self identity has transcended the individual and now rests in an all-embracing universal.  Mr. Obama’s behavior demonstrates how critical the healing of Boomeritis is, for only healthy green can be the threshold of the second tier.

Integral wannabes can contribute to this by our willingness to constantly re-examine our own perspectives, engage in serious shadow work, and release judgment of all "others," whether internal or external.  From the perspective of the Prime Directive, we recognize that Mr. Obama is perfectly justified to be where he in in his own and the Boomeritis evolutionary trajectories. This is not about Mr. Obama; it's about the discipline of integral politics.

The challenge for the integrally informed is to be very vigilant about misidentifying green with integral.  Mr. Obama’s remarkable performance yesterday offers a very powerful mirror into which we may look to examine our own beliefs.


Alive With Tony said...

My take on whether man-made global warming is as large a concern as it is made out to be, without any resort to looking at the science or the facts, is to look at this emergence of the Green Meme in its infancy and consider:

what else would it speak of, being the first egoistic realm to see from a world perspective, but along the lines of I can see the problem, you have caused it but I (We) know the solution. We will help you, we will legislate you, for the benefit of all of us.

In other words even if the science turned out to lean towards an immediate concern, this clamor for action is in my opinion nothing but the first cry of a new language.

Marty Keller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marty Keller said...


Alas, it is not "the first cry of a new language" but a very ancient way of crying for love. The "clamor for action" is nothing but amber fear of losing control and demanding reassurance. The advanced spiritual practitioner is comfortable with non-action, having glimpsed the deeper ways of the Kosmos. I agree with your insight about green as the "first egotistic realm to see from a world perspective"; this echoes Wilber's insight that red narcissism's lurking in green results in Boomeritis, of which Mr. Obama is such a sterling example. I think it useful, however, to distinguish between authentic green and its Boomeritis variant.