Saturday, December 26, 2020

Truth and a Post-Trump World

It was never about President Trump.  It was always about us.

As the political wheels turn in the aftermath of the American elections, we may begin to consider what we’ve learned about ourselves and the evolution of consciousness over the past four years.

When Ken Wilber undertook this task with publication of his essay “Trump and a Post-Truth World” in early 2017, he chronicled the utter failure of the Boomeritis variant of the green wave of consciousness to serve as the leading edge of the evolution of consciousness.  Our coastal elites, who as adolescents expressed the first inklings of green in the 1960s, have fallen far short of realizing its expansive potential.  

Green’s improvement of orange is its acceptance of the egalitarian nature of the human individuality that characterizes modernity.  (If the identity expressed in orange is “I = this particular individual human,” then green identity is “I = this particular individual human like everyone else does.”)  So far, however, this very young emergence has been undermined by the still-vital tribalism of amber premodernity, which has reduced green’s universalizing egalitarianism into the preening self-righteousness of the Woke against the backward.  Boomeritis has failed to transcend and include the gifts of orange, and so it has blindly been recruited into the amber counterrevolution against modernity. 

In his essay, Wilber ruthlessly laid out how this happened as Boomeritis collapsed into a barren combination of nihilism and narcissism.  

[T]he most influential postmodern elites ended up embracing, explicitly or implicitly, that tag-team from postmodern hell: nihilism and narcissism—in short, aperspectival madness.  The culture of post-truth. 

. . . Nihilism and narcissism are not traits that any leading-edge can actually operate with.  And thus, if it’s infected with them, it indeed simply ceases to functionally operate.  Seeped in aperspectival madness, it stalls, and then begins a series of regressive moves, shifting back to a time and configuration when it was essentially operating adequately as a true leading-edge.  And this regression is one of the primary factors we see now operating worldwide. And the primary and central cause of all of this is a failure of the green leading-edge to be able to lead at all.  [Italics in the original]

Of course, there is no actual agency to leading edges; there is only the tedious trial and error, back-and-forthing that characterizes evolution as its underlying impulse pushes ever outward.  This alone is reason enough to neither mourn the Boomeritis detour nor condemn it too sternly.  Like happens in our individual lives, we collectively face each day with no predetermined destination, even as what we did yesterday contributes its experience to our overall trajectory.  

In my commentary on Wilber’s essay, I suggested that, with the collapse of Boomeritis’ experiment as an expression of green, the leading edge remains orange, and that one of the reasons green may have difficulty consolidating into a Kosmic habit that transcends and include orange is that orange itself is still an incomplete experiment.

Wilber once said—although he fails to revisit this in this essay—that the central task of evolution today is the maturing of orange.  No higher waves can mature while standing upon this still-firming foundation.  Orange has given us the fulcrum of evolution: the self-actualized, authentic individual; now our challenge is to encourage the development of a critical mass of these.

The evidence for this seems even more compelling after the four years that have passed since Wilber’s piece and my comments on it.  Viewed from a global perspective, it is difficult to see any societies with their center of gravity in orange focusing on political, cultural, or economic policies that explicitly seek to support and enact this encouragement.  Shinzo Abe in Japan, Boris Johnson in the UK, Emmanuel Macron in France, Donald Trump in the US all seem at least to sense in their electorates some kind of demand for this in the political realm, but none has offered any vision or macro-policies designed to do so.  Conversely, leaders such as Angela Merkel in Germany, Justin Trudeau in Canada, Pedro Sánchez in Spain, and leaders of other left-leaning European governments continue to resist similar demands in their countries, hewing to the internationalist line birthed in the Clinton-Blair years and labeled by some on the left as “neo-liberal.”

And, of course, the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and the unbelievably inept response to it by almost all governments in the advanced sector seem to have exacerbated the general prevarication about the value of the individuation project.  This occurs in a social environment dominated by elitist control of the mainstream media in the U.S., aided and abetted by their allies in the social media companies.  For four years these new robber barons have kept up single-minded, unrelenting, and mendacious criticism of President Trump, whose weaknesses played into their hands.  (It’s almost as if these two, Trump and the media, are in a dysfunctional co-dependent relationship, both mirroring each other’s defects.)  And now, as an entirely predictable seasonal uptick in flu infections is showing up in the northern zones, the media continue to evince disinterest in the actual science of epidemiology, showing their deep “progressive” preference for elitist social control measures.

Similar media slants prevail in the UK, whose London-based corporate owners and the BBC ape the American media’s corporatist leftism.  Still smarting from the electorate’s embrace of Brexit, they continue to hound the Tories with anti-scientific demands for lockdowns and repression of individual liberties, which Johnson seems quite susceptible to.

And the early indications are that the new Biden administration will look and act like the third Obama term, suggesting that the coastal elites have, predictably, learned nothing from the Trump experience.  They will, of course, find that the regardless of their myopia, the political geometry has changed unalterably.

Integral theory suggests that all of this has a place in the evolution of consciousness, and our task is to look at what’s going on as dispassionately as we can to find a suitable answer to Chernyshevsky’s question, what is to be done?

The Crucial Experiment That Is Modernity

My own repetitive mantra is: cherish and deepen orange.  Finish the Enlightenment individualism project.  Transcend, include, and integrate amber within this wave.  Otherwise, Boomeritis in alliance with amber could force the collapse of orange, which would bring us back five hundred years to amber as the leading edge.  Is this what integralites want?  

Among the advances that modernity created to support this project is the science of psychospiritual inquiry.  The various traditions of amber spirituality established the basic insights about the unitary nature of reality, but necessarily relegated acting upon these to an elite group of priests, devotees, and practitioners.  The exoteric forms of these religious practices served the mythic/membership dynamics of amber, tools by which the tribes acculturated their members and protected themselves against the outside Other.

One of these traditions, however—Christianity—planted the seeds of orange by insisting that a direct, loving relationship exists between God and the individual.  This bond preached by Jesus of Nazareth superseded the Old Testament covenant between Yahweh and the Hebrews, which symbolized the outer limits of amber spirituality.  The radical new idea proclaimed in John 3:16 would eventually gain mass expression as orange modernity when the European Renaissance and its subsequent Protestant Reformation sought to create a new social contract, one that explicitly drew upon the tenets of Christian theology to manifest the promised salvation in the world today, rather than postponed to a promised afterlife.  

As the economist Deirdre McCloskey lays out in her Bourgeois Era trilogy, the ferment unleashed by this startling new idea and the political economy it brought into being would bring about an increase in per capita social wealth utterly unprecedented in all the thousands of years of amber political economy.  She also notes that the backlash against it was swift in coming, so that by the time of the revolutions of 1848 significant elements of European society were pushing back against what modernity had unleashed first in the creation of the physical sciences, then in the radical economic dynamics of the Industrial Revolution, and finally in the Enlightenment political experiment given substance by the American Revolution.

By virtue of its geographic (but not cultural) isolation from Europe, the United States was able to postpone its own native resistance to the success of the experiment, but only by several decades.  Ironically it was the successful repression of its amber slave economy that made it possible for the American “Progressive movement” to introduce more subtle forms of undermining the achievements of the American system as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and given shelter in the Constitution.  Subtle because the Progressive doctrine insisted—and continues to do so today—that the promotion of individual sovereignty creates a society of greedy self-centered individuals who undermine the good of the whole in single-minded pursuit of their own interests.  Therefore individualism is an enemy of a well-ordered society.  You can’t get any more amber than that!

And thus arose the American version of the amber counterrevolution against modernity, one sophisticated enough to use the words and ideas of the American founding against it.  By and large these ideas found their political home in the Democratic Party, contra the Republican Party which was explicitly founded to champion free labor and individual initiative.  

That amber would do anything to undermine and eventually destroy orange is completely natural and predictable to those versed in integral theory—and to anyone struggling to establish his own individual identity against his inner demons.  As Wilber has shown, amber and orange (and green) are what he calls, following Clare Graves, first tier stages of consciousness.  First tier comprises the prepersonal and personal stages, and a key feature of each of these is their incapacity to recognize the validity of any other stage.  Those of us with our “center of gravity” in amber cannot but assume that our tribe is the absolute reality which must be defended against all comers.  Similarly those of us centered in orange know with certainty that we individually are the absolute reality, and green, should it ever find stability, will be equally certain that each of us is entitled to be our own absolute reality.

This dynamic has given rise to what I call, following an early Wilber term levels of consciousness, the Trimemetic War, the global clash that results when large numbers of us around the world find ourselves centered in three competing waves of consciousness, each convinced that it alone knows what’s what.  The blind spots built into each structure—an evolutionary reality—prevent integration and discourage compromise; thus conquest seems to be the only option.  In some places Wilber calls this “the first tier food fight,” a cheeky yet apt observation.

Elsewhere I have gone into greater detail about the counterrevolution against modernity that McCloskey says has been raging at least since 1848 (I date it to the French Revolution).  As I study this with ever greater intensity, it becomes clear that this resistance was always unavoidable, given the solipsism of first tier stages.  Amber has no choice but to undermine orange, and until orange consolidates itself into a Kosmic groove deep enough to genuinely transcend, include, and integrate amber, orange too must resist amber.  Perhaps in the longer term of history we (or a successor species) will come to see the necessity and efficacy of this natural memetic resistance; we are too enmeshed in it to do more than speculate.

But the deepening of orange is continuing apace even with everything that amber and Boomeritis green are throwing at it.  The power and value of individualization is too evident globally to be destroyed.  A compelling indicator of this truth is that for the past two hundred years all emigration has been from amber to orange societies, and never the reverse.  Messy and messed up as Advanced Sector nations may be, precious few of their citizens ever emigrate to Somalia, Yemen, Laos, or Paraguay.

The Challenge: Healthy Orange

Still, orange is far, far from as consolidated and stable as amber is—not surprising given that it is barely five hundred years old as a mass wave of consciousness.  Global inertia is from amber to orange, and although the amber-Boomeritis alliance against it sometimes—as now—appears to be making headway, it is difficult to see it prevailing.  The material benefits alone—not to mention the psychospiritual advantages, which are more difficult to quantify—will always be a more powerful draw than a return to the stagnant and ignorant world of premodernity.  We’ve been to Paris and won’t return to the farm.

But the farm won’t quit trying to get us back, either by blandishments—such as offered by the greens with their eco-romanticisms—or by force—such as shoved down people’s throats by the reds with their socialist utopianism.  

More difficult to see at first but certainly something we can effectively address is amber’s presence in each of us in orange.  Its healthy expression shows up as the longing to belong, while its pathological expression shows up via unhealed childhood trauma that stymied our experience of belonging, of feeling safe in the world.  The amber-orange war is raging in us individually, and it seems unlikely that we will deal with its societal dynamics without first getting a handle on its individual psychodynamics.

It was only at the turn of the 20th century that the systematic study of psychology (as opposed to the millennia-old esoteric study of the inner world) began to yield testable insights about how the mind and consciousness develop in the human organism.  Freud and others recognized that vastness of the human subconscious, and their students began to explore the various facets of its mysteries.

Just before World War II Jean Piaget started his investigation of human cognitive development, and immediately after the war John Bowlby and his colleagues in England turned their attention to the psychodynamics of emotional development when they looked at what they eventually termed attachment.  Several decades would pass before Alice Miller published her pioneering work on the impact of childhood emotional trauma on adult development, and in the 1970s Bessel van der Kolk started his investigation of the physiology of trauma.  And in recent years the science of neuroplasticity has given us even more information about the role of the brain in the development of consciousness.

The cumulative impact of all these studies is to offer us both an insight into the persistence of amber psychodynamics that act to retard our fully inhabiting our individual autonomy, and the tools to address them.  Ken Wilber started his work in The Spectrum of Consciousness by proposing a marriage of the insights of orange psychology with those of amber mysticism.  This integration now shows us the way to fully occupy orange in our individual lives, the platform from which we can build authentic orange societies—and from which transcendence into the second tier can be launched.  

This is the means by which orange can effectively transcend, include, and integrate amber.  Indeed, orange rationality can find the way to integrate amber (and red) emotional states as partners in development.  Out of this synthesis healthy green can eventually emerge and allow the Boomeritis dead-end embrace of postmodernism’s rejection of Reason in favor of Emotion to wither on the vine.

From an integral perspective, premodernity is not an enemy of modernity, although from amber’s perspective it is.  From an integral perspective, every level of the spectrum of consciousness is vital and to be cherished, just as we treasure each stage of our individual lives.  Each has a contribution to offer on the path to unity consciousness.  

This perspective is enfolded in the mystical tradition of all the world’s religions, which aver that awareness of this can only result from a practice (and each has its own version of this) by which the devotee penetrates the misperception presented by the senses and the culture into the blinding clarity of the oneness of reality as an embodied experience.  

These practices are designed, to use Wilberian terms, to shift one’s identity through ever-greater embrace to the whole Itself, to Spirit, so that the identity is now “I = Spirit.”  This cannot occur in the first tier except in isolated instances, often supported by second tier institutions like ashrams or monasteries that are deliberately cut off from the surrounding culture so as to reduce its influence on the practitioners.

These tiny islands of advanced consciousness will continue, perhaps in slightly greater numbers and scope, as humanity as a whole struggles to emerge into a healthy orange expression.  Perhaps the consciousness generated there, as the American mystic Thomas Merton (and others) asserted, is adequate to support the rest of the planet’s process.

In the daily practice of creating and sustaining an orange political economy, we integralites might want to re-examine the “progressive” agenda that transfers ever greater responsibility for self-creation from the individual to the state via various wealth transfer and institutional social programs.  These, in the ostensible name of “helping people,” are in fact sapping the process of individuation by eliminating the difficulties whose surmounting are the essential elements the generation of the autonomous individual.

This belief that the state needs to take care of the individual is a fundamental feature of amber, where tribal identity prevents individuation in the name of tribal (or social) security.  In “progressive” ideology this has now been translated into the idea that the interests of society as a whole can be used to sublimate the interests of each individual in the name of “the good of the whole.”  And as in all amber cultures, determination of what is actually for the good of the whole is left to the kingly and priestly castes, now called “political leaders” and “experts.”

The general political response to the Wuhan COVID pandemic has been a display of amber authoritarianism, wherein the previously generally-accepted tenets of epidemiology have been overruled in the name of “saving lives.”  In the US, Democrats have almost universally sought to impose authoritarian control over their states and localities without providing any epidemiological justification for their measures, while Republicans have been much more reluctant to do so.  At the same time, most “news” media have similarly ignored “the science” in service of pushing fearful stories about “explosions” and “surges” of cases, obscuring fact from fiction and seeking to deprive individuals of the agency to make their own conclusions and choices.

The curious thing has been the relative passivity of the populations, fear being a fundamental driver of human emotion.  Whether and how long this will last remains to be seen.  President Trump may have lost his re-election in part because of his erratic and feckless response to the authoritarian cries of “lock ’em up.”  In the UK, Boris Johnson has been even more erratic, loosening and tightening the lockdowns impulsively.  It is ironic that Joe Biden, who made criticism of Mr. Trump’s COVID policies a centerpiece of his campaign, will inherit the mess that his fellow Democrats at the state level have made of the political economy without the slightest notion of the proper way to respond.

"The Fault Lies Not in Our Stars but in Ourselves"

But to focus on individual political leaders too much is to lose sight of the forest in favor of a few unusual trees.  The evolution of consciousness is something in which we all participate and to which we all contribute.  The contours of our modern orange political economy require our political institutions and leaders to reflect us, however distortedly.  Thus they can be a useful mirror into which we look to see our own collective subconscious desires reflected back to us.  This, in turn, gives us the information necessary to develop public policies that promote the individuation project of modernity in the face of the amber-Boomeritis counterrevolution.

The Trump method was to apply a blunt “No” to the excesses of this attack on modernity without developing a constituency for the “Yes” of how to reinvigorate the institutions and policies necessary to strengthening it in the light of the dynamics of the emerging post-industrial political economy.  The Johnson method is to find ways to appease the enemies of modernity by adopting their language in areas like climate policy that he must believe do not weaken his own commitment to orange.  

While none of these approaches promises effective championing of the gifts of modernity on the threshold of postmodernity, they at least demonstrate the determination of masses of people to continue the project.  What integralites can bring is a conscious claim of championship of these gifts and a focus on their benefits and value.

As the idealists at the Institute for Cultural Evolution wring their hands over our nasty “hyperpolarization” and promote something they call the “post-progressive project,” the rest of us might find it more useful to continue to critique the “progressive” campaign to undermine modernity and use that analysis to promote public policies that strengthen the individuation project of this wave.

The gifts of orange modernity are many and of such benefit to the evolution of consciousness that even the amber-Boomeritis alliance will not be able to halt its development.  Indeed, each leading edge tends to absorb the attacks upon into its own momentum.  After all, the universal characteristic of first tier waves is its determination to survive.  As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in 1888, “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens, was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.”  (Out of the school of war of life, what does not kill me makes me stronger.)

And as Integral Theory postulates, the strength of orange is an all-quadrant characteristic.  As we noted above, an over-looked contribution is in the lefthand quadrants, in the spiritual and psychological realms.  The autonomous individual is psychospiritually stronger than the tribe.  He is an evolutionary advance, and in spite of all of amber’s attempts to quash him, the prime directive itself sustains his development.  

From that perspective it is entirely lawful that evolving humanity created a unique safe harbor where orange was free to work out its needs within a framework explicitly dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.  The orange commitment to the individual’s natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as he decides for himself could easily have been strangled in its crib if it wasn’t secure from the amber domination of its mother continent.  The bloody smothering of similar aspirations in the French Revolution is sober evidence of the fortunes of history.

Nowhere is this more characteristically stated than in the title of Ben Wattenberg’s great 1990 book about the United States, The First Universal Nation.  Not only is the United States the conscious product of the Scottish Enlightenment’s commitment to create a polity of and for sovereign individuals, it is one of the few places even today where people from every civilization across the globe live.  The “beacon of liberty” has attracted people from every place and age, committed to the difficult work of forging a nation ever capable of a “new birth of freedom” as necessary, one whose “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

This fact of history, that even today people in great numbers continue to attempt to come to the U. S., demonstrates the power and universality of orange’s improvement over amber.  

This is the truth of the post-Trump world, that the struggle of orange to transcend, include, and integrate amber in the face of amber’s resistance will continue apace, with more twists and turns, detours and false starts, lessons to be learned and ignored, tragedies and triumphs. 

The words with which Wilber concluded his essay four years ago are as apt now as they were then:

Understanding this election—as well as similar events now occurring all over the world—as a manifestation of a self-correcting drive of evolution itself, as it routes around a broken leading edge green and attempts to restore the capacity of its leading edge to actually lead (while also seriously starting to give birth to the next higher leading edge of integral itself)—this gives us a glimmer of real hope in an otherwise desperately gloomy situation.

In the deepest parts of our own being, each of us is directly one with this evolutionary current, this Eros, this Spirit-in-action, radiant to infinity and luminous to eternity, radically full in its overflowing overabundance and excessive in its good graces, wildly crashing off the heavens and irrupting from the underworlds, and embracing each and all in its limitless love and care.  And the only ones who should be allowed to work politically for a greater tomorrow—and who should thus work—and those who truly understand that it is not necessary to do so; who see the utter fullness of the Great Perfection in each and every moment of existence, and who nonetheless work to trimtab (or adjust through leadership) the manifestation of more and more and more of the Good and the True and the Beautiful, right here and right now in this gloriously manifest universe, moment to moment to ever-present moment, knowing full well that this entire world is nothing but the dream of an infinite Spirit, yet each and every one of us is directly this very Spirit itself, dreaming the world of our own amazement.

And we can try endlessly and tirelessly to fix this dream . . . or we can simply wake up.


KZP said...

Fantastic post and I'm so glad I found this and your web site. My main exposure to integral to date has been from the Boulder crowd, and to be honest I was about to give up on it entirely, what with their constant uncritical admiration of Obama and placing him in 2nd tier, which I admittedly cannot wrap my mind around and was beginning to think I'm either missing something big, or, this model of viewing the world isn't my cup of tea. For me, this post, and the past several, gives a much needed counterbalance to the intellectually sloppy thinking coming from many in the integral community, and their disdain/sneering/smearing of orange ("oh those darn traditionalists" as they clutch their pearls while reading the NY Times).

My only critique is I wish you would write more often!

K.E. said...

I haven't dove too deeply into integral theory, but from what I know of it, and from my much deeper interest in American history, I completely agree with what you say about the historical trajectory and its implications. It is very rare to find someone else who picks up on this--the history of America's development, and how it differs from Europe's, and the way this relates to ideology, has been totally misunderstood. I agree it is the main flaw in Wilbert's analysis. I think the argument that "healthy orange," rather than "healthy green," is the place to find stability, is very persuasive. Really enjoyed reading your work! Brilliant analysis.