Monday, September 1, 2014

Towards an Authentic Integral Politics

There will be no authentic integral politics until a critical mass of humanity makes the momentous leap into second tier consciousness.

Until then it might be valuable to strengthen our cognitive hypothesis about the nature and contours of a potential integral politics, because the practice of seeking to take and embrace multiple perspectives could very well contribute to the necessary transcendence.  

Some, including a number in the Boulder orbit, have made the noble attempt to step into a hypothetical integral politics, but never quite develop a perspective that satisfies the demands of the Integral Model.  While we will take note of some of these deficiencies for the purposes of looking more deeply into the matter, we do this collegially and affectionately.

The biggest challenge, illustrated by the various Boulder efforts that miss the mark, is to note the distinction between what will arise politically in the second tier versus what we think that might be from here in the first. Green is not integral regardless of our capacity to think about it.

Ken Wilber illustrates the dynamics of this structural disparity when he noted that the Constitution of the United States offered a “stage 5” method of governance in a “stage 3” society.  By that he meant that the founding principles of the nation set forth in both that document and the Declaration of Independence reflected the possibilities of self-governance developed out of the centuries-old English tradition of limited government as improved by the insights of the Scottish Enlightenment with its commitment to individual liberty and sovereignty.  These were principles for a nation whose citizens had developed to the moral understanding of the stage 5, postconventional worldcentric perspective.

But the United States did not become a stage 5 society on June 21, 1788, the day the Constitution was formally ratified.  Indeed, even after the Civil War and adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments eradicating slavery and guaranteeing the political rights of all citizens, the U. S. continued its evolution toward the orange rational/industrial stage 5 nation it finally became after World War II.  It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the majority of the citizenry made it to stage 4, and it was only in the 1960s that the possibility of mass stage 5 consciousness emerged.

Thus we may surmise that it is similarly true that promulgation of any integral governance scheme would have little immediate impact on the actual level of consciousness of the society that adopted it. So the value of these exercises lies more in how they help us wrestle with the concepts and the experiences behind them.  Remember, there will be no authentic integral politics until a critical mass of humanity makes the momentous leap into second tier consciousness.

This exploration comes at a moment of accelerating change in global society, a change very difficult to analyze without the aid of the Integral Model.  The green millenialists have been predicting that human culture is about to make the momentous leap into second tier consciousness, but I remain highly skeptical of its likelihood.  (Ironically these same people also predict a climate Armageddon if we fail to convert to their faith.)  We can certainly survey the history of first tier evolution to derive generalizations about its structure and dynamics, but we have no collective experience beyond it. Thus to presume that the laws governing first tier unfolding will also govern the next are highly speculative at best.  It may just as likely be that humanity is about to hit a wall as it is to bust through it.

In either case, grace appears to be the guiding light of evolution, so nothing we do or refrain from doing will of itself accelerate or clarify our trajectory.

Steve McIntosh, Carter Phipps, and Jeff Salzman have created the Institute for Cultural Evolution “organized around the goal of applying groundbreaking insights taken from Integral philosophy, developmental psychology, evolutionary theory, and the social sciences to help create significant forward movement in the evolution of the American cultural and political landscape.”  This is a laudable attempt to explore the contours of an integral politics, but its very mission to “create significant forward movement in . . . evolution” will not be fulfilled under its own terms because no one actually knows how to do this.  We do know that movement occurs by its Right Hand manifestation; we know next to nothing about the actual mechanics (if that's even the right concept) of emergence because of our inchoate mastery of Left Hand disclosures, especially in the Lower Left.

However, what really matters is the attempt.  ICE’s experiences, like other Boulder-inspired efforts, will offer a place from which to apply integral political analysis and for that we are grateful.

The Institute’s principals are all self-proclaimed green leftists who make only formal attempts to take other perspectives.  Naturally they are invested in global warming climate change activism; that’s the leftist cause du jour.  But nowhere do they give any evidence of a willingness to examine their own presumptions; these are taken as a given.  This lack of self-curiosity alone disqualifies their work from being integral and eviscerates their mission.  They take the leftist presumptions about the climate change political debate as given, forgoing a rich opportunity to engage in an integral examination of beliefs.  (See "Integral Politics: a Primer"  for a suggestion of how to conduct integral political analysis.)  

As I note below, this lack of curiosity is emblematic of the missing discipline to examine the Left Hand quadrants scientifically, as Wilber lays out in Marriage of Sense and Soul.

The trick to this work is to take and embrace multiple perspectives without necessarily abandoning our own, but accepting the challenge to examine ours from that integral aperspectival lens.  We have the yoga to develop this capacity, but it is in an embryonic stage and available to too few.

Until an effective integral yoga is adopted by a significant enough number of people, we will have to make do with a “fake it until we make it” method. 

Reviving the Discipline of Political Economy

A useful approach to developing such a discussion of integral politics would be to revive the earlier discipline of political economy, which understood that economic activity was not separate from political relationships.  This holistic insight was the original way scholars and moral philosophers looked at the development of national economies.  Its assumptions were shared by analysts as disparate as David Ricardo, Adam Smith, and Karl Marx.

This early development was one of the many powerful results of the differentations of the Four Quadrants, which did not escape the temptations of flatland, as we shall see. 

One way this field of political economy degenerated into a flatland version was a result of the progressive movement's unshakeable confidence in the value to the body politic of the independent “expert.”  Progressivism lamented the tendency of the republic’s chaotic politics to prevent or water down what it determined were the appropriate solutions to the nation’s problems.  Its answer was to remove as many decisions from political mechanics and turn them over to “nonpartisan” and “independent” regulatory bodies who could be counted on to render the best and most effective decision.

This move resulted in part from the spectacular results that applied science was providing to the modernizing, industrializing nations, particularly Great Britain and the United States.  If experts in the physical sciences could provide principles that led to productivity and wealth increases in every sphere of human economic activity, the thinking went, why could they not provide similar advances in the social realm?  But as Wilber examines at length in Sex, Spirituality, and Ecology, even the physical sciences eventually suffered from an excess of empiricism.

Thus we saw the splitting up of the discipline of political economy into “political science” and “economics,” both riddled with the progressive faith in the superiority of science as the source of right outcomes for all of us over the nasty and counterproductive squabbling of the political process. The key figure here was the British socialist Alfred Marshall, whose 1890 book Principles of Economics set the stage for treating economics as a precise science; thus he became the father of modern economics.

At the same time, the influence of Hegel as the godfather of the German Empire with its reliance on the state as the guarantor of rights and incomes led to the establishment of the study of “political science” as a separate sphere.  This also coincided with the rise of a hard nationalism in Europe after the revolutions of 1848.  The American authors of this approach were progressives such as Woodrow Wilson, Charles Beard, and Albert Bushnell Hart.  

Thus by the implementation of the New Deal under Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, the discipline of political economy had been largely abandoned in favor the newer, shinier modes of study.  And once the New Left took over American and European academia after 1968, the official enshrinement of the “disciplines” of economics and political science were given the leftist, Boomeritis victimology gloss.

All of which we must account for in integral analysis, and all of which is missing in any such analyses I have come across.   

The economic historian Deirdre McCloskey has made a powerful start in reviving political economy—and providing integral analysis a great tool—in her projected three-volume series on The Bourgeois Era, whose very title she expects will set the leftists’ teeth on edge.

Her thesis is straightforward and emphatic, as she writes in the Preface to the second volume, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World:

A big change in the common opinion about markets and innovation . . . caused the Industrial Revolution, and then the modern world.  The change occurred during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in northwestern Europe.  More or less suddenly the Dutch and the British and then the Americans and the French began talking about the middle class, high or low—the “bourgeoisie”—as though it were dignified and free.  The result was modern economic growth.

That is, ideas, or “rhetoric,” enriched us.  The cause, in other words, was language, that most human of our accomplishments.  The cause was not in the first instance an economic/material change—not the rise of this or that class, or the flourishing of this or that trade, or the exploitation of this or that group.  

. . . In other words, I argue that depending exclusively on materialism to explain the modern world, whether right-wing economics or left-wing historical materialism, is mistaken.  

At last, a political economic argument that looks at the Left Hand quadrants and not just the Right! Her books provide welcome illumination of the orange interiors, something that has been missing from our political discourse for too long.  

Transcending Flatland: Integrating the Left Hand Quadrants

Integral analysis is incomplete without a four-quadrant inquiry in its stage trajectory.  Wilber takes a shot at this in the chapter “Brave New World” in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, but from 40,000 feet and in the context of the evolution of consciousness.  McCloskey gets right down into it, and if she completes the projected three volumes, it will be spread over some 1,500 pages.  While of course lacking the tools for a verifiable examination of the interiority of humanity as we evolved into the modern era, she demonstrates how the unique shift in the conversation starting in Holland at the beginning of the 17th century reflects an interior shift--exactly what Wilber has presented in his observations about the shift from amber to orange.

As I have argued elsewhere, and as Wilber has discussed at length, getting at the Left Hand quadrants is no easy task.  Interiority by its very nature is not susceptible of objective analysis.  Further, in our intellectually impoverished Western culture, mind has been subordinated to emotion, the authentication of which has been declared taboo by everyone except the emoter.  Ours is a world of ever-splintering deconstruction, depriving us of any consensual framework from which to explore our world.

Wilber, as always, states the problem succinctly in Marriage of Sense and Soul (perhaps his most important and ignored book):

The modern and postmodern world is still living in the grips of flatland, of surfaces, of exteriors devoid of interior anything: “no within, no deep.”  The only large-scale alternatives are an exuberant embrace of shallowness (as with extreme postmodernism), or a regression to the interiors of premodern modes, from mythic religion to tribal magic to narcissistic new age.  A modern and postmodern spirituality has continued to elude us, primarily because the irreversible differentiations of modernity have place difficult but unavoidable demands on the sought-after integration: spirituality must be able to stand up to scientific authority, not by aping the monological madness but by announcing its own means and modes, data and evidence, validities and verifications. [Italics in the original]

The muddy and slippery field of postmodern political discourse is a messy collage of privileged emotionalism and pseudoscientific incantations, as the leftist approach to climate change perfectly demonstrates.  This mélange is a cavalier mix of the postmodernist “exuberant embrace of shallowness” with the regression to the worldview of “tribal magic and narcissistic new age”—a recipe for political stagnation and gridlock if there ever was one.

Yet an integral politics must embrace even this toxic mess, for it has to account for the dynamics of development: every person, every nation, and the human race as a whole is in exactly the right place in our evolution, and can be in no other.  At the same time, embracing it does not require becoming enmeshed with it.  In order to arrive at this place of equinanimous embrace we will have to have developed access to the Left Hand quadrants that originated in a disciplined approach to our own individual interiors, expressly including our shadow material.  The capacity to withdraw projections is the sine qua non of the momentous leap into second tier consciousness, for when we are capable of accepting all of our own individual interiors with serenity we become capable of accepting the interiors of all of us similarly.

Until that happy time, however, we will still need to develop a more disciplined approach to assessing the impact of the Left Hand quadrants on the political economy.  McCloskey’s approach is to examine exhaustively the Right Hand analogs of the growth of the Advanced Sector over the past four hundred years and eliminate all factors that are not peculiar to that particular period.  Remember, her thesis is that the exponential economic growth that began in Holland and England in the 17th century resulted from a shift in consciousness signified by an entirely new conversation.  What we said is found in the Right Hand quadrants ("rhetoric," as McCloskey notes), why we said it in the Left ("ideas").

A simple reflection on our current political “discourse” should reveal the critical necessity of integrating these two.  Rare is the political figure willing to say exactly what he wants—and he is enabled by an electorate that regularly supports contradictory things.  Yet everything people say reveals, even if opaquely, what we want.  That we fool ourselves into believing otherwise is nonetheless evidence of our wanting to be fooled.  What needs to be dug out is the why we want this.

In the next post I will look more closely at this phenomenon as it shows up in our political economy. If the Integral Model is accurate, then national self-governance must necessarily accurately reflect the state of our own individual self-governance.  Mastering this, I think, is the key to an authentic integral politics.

No comments: