In the new issue of the Institute for Cultural Evolution’s online magazine the Developmentalist, ICE founder Steve McIntosh has a feature article entitled “The Politics of Pride and Shame: Integrating 1776 and 1619.” In it, McIntosh seeks to find common ground between the historic consensus of the American founding and the radical Woke version offered by the New York Times that the U. S. is and has always been a racist slave state.
In my view, in his analysis McIntosh demonstrates a consistent misunderstanding of the integral model. He seems to think that “transcend and include” is some kind of blending or selecting neat stuff from the different waves of consciousness evolution and throwing them together to concoct a harmonious expression. Thus, for example, his ongoing project to create what he calls a “post-progressive” politics.
It is, as he concludes the article, “a dialectic of progress and pathology” that “can help us make peace with, and bring justice to, our collective interpretation of American history.”
Alas, there’s the dreaded “D-word,” of the Marxist creed about the alleged arc of history that is supposedly calling us to create the communist utopia just as soon as all the opponents can be converted or eliminated. In my most recent post, I examined the folly of mistaking the integral model as a dialectical process.
Dialectics as a method of philosophical inquiry goes back at least to the dialogues of Plato, in which opposing arguments are contrasted with each other. Centuries later, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant applied the concept in the Critique of Pure Reason in laying out his disagreements with David Hume. Georg F. W. Hegel then applied his understanding of the idea to his own philosophical system.
But Karl Marx, according to author and Woke critic James Lindsay, turned Hegel’s method of inquiry into a method of preordaining a desired outcome. Marx was using “dialectical materialism” in an attempt to realize the ancient utopian longing for a perfect society, updated for his narrative about and critique of the emerging modern world. That’s why Lindsay calls this Marxist method “the operating system of leftists.”
What we might label the McIntosh Fallacy mistakes the Integral Model’s dynamic of transcend-include-integrate as just a version of the Marxist thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Synthesis has nothing in common with transcendence, which is what the integral model examines. For example, the emergence of orange out of amber is not the result of a synthesis of amber’s internal contradictions. Orange, characterized by Wilber as the rational/egoic wave, is a discontinuity utterly original, unanticipated—and unanticipatable—by anyone in amber consciousness. Individual identity, the innovation of orange, could only be experienced in amber as a mortal threat, not as the next stage of evolution.
Unfortunately, this insight escapes McIntosh’s attention. He asserts that it is the integralite’s task to generate “a synthetic interpretation of American history.” It’s not clear to me whether this error is the result of conscious or subconscious desires for the “progressive” view to be understood as just as valid as the perspectives it purports to replace. As a first tier expression, “progressive” politics cannot help but disdain the politics of modernity—not to mention those of a more traditional mindset. This is the nature of first tier stages.
The integralite must be ever vigilant regarding his/her own biases and beliefs—not to get rid of them but to acknowledge and take them into account when developing an integral analysis. Otherwise we will find ourselves identifying with a particular perspective rather than embracing them all as constituent dynamics of evolution. I reviewed this prerequisite extensively in a 2015 post, “What Is Integral?”
In the spirit of that essay, I put the word “progressive” in quotes to illustrate my own bias, which is that the label “progressive” is generally a sorry misnomer, that most “progressives” support some seriously regressive policies and beliefs, particularly in their haste to demonize and repress opposing views. They are, regardless of the sincerity of their beliefs, participating in a counterrevolution against modernity.
As an integralite who disagrees with “progressive” politics, I commit to appreciate their place in the evolution of consciousness, to honor them in the light of Wilber’s salient observation that “nobody is 100% wrong.” In order to do that, I constantly examine my own projections, for any time I am emotionally triggered by something or someone I perceive “out there,” there is a corresponding unconscious perception about myself “in here. Practicing this with discipline and patience permits me to identify with the entire political spectrum, even as I disagree with many of its particulars.
Transcendence, Not Synthesis
Having followed Steve McIntosh’s work for some time, I cheerfully concede that he is attempting something honorable, even as his misunderstandings inevitably lead his attempts to fail. (See, for instance, my “Comments on Steve McIntosh's Paper on Modernizing Islam” for a thorough examination of this fallacy.) You just can’t build a castle on shifting sands. Integral theory posits transcendence, not merging or synthesis. And transcendence posits a stable level from which it can be launched.
This confusion dooms “Politics of Pride and Shame” to fail as an integral approach yet again. The misunderstandings start with the very first sentence: “American democracy is in trouble.”
McIntosh has on many occasions asserted that he is terrified by what he calls hyperpolarization. He fears, not without reason, that centrifugal cultural and political forces in fundamental disagreement with each other have the real potential to harm or even destroy this country. And so he thinks that integralites have a special insight that, if only the benighted factions of these polarities would stop and consider, could bring about peace and harmony. This veers closely, in my view, to utopianism.
The truth is that this process of crystalizing opposing worldviews is part of the evolutionary process, and this particular manifestation of it was made inevitable when the green wave started emerging as a mass expression in the 1960s. The current dynamics of disagreement have virulence in part because green has thus far failed to consolidate into a Kosmic wave that transcends and includes orange. Instead, its barren “Boomeritis” variant has prevailed thus far, a dead end version that Ken Wilber justly calls a toxic brew of narcissism and nihilism. The chaotic forces that are showing up as increasing polarization are the result of the unprecedented clash of three different first tier stages of consciousness. I reviewed the implications of this in 2006 in a series of essays I entitled “Three Blind Memes.”
The assumptions of Boomeritis green fuel the Woke perspective, of which the 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones and colleagues at the New York Times produced in 2019 is a genuine expression. As I have written elsewhere in agreement with Wilber’s analysis, Boomeritis green of course is a valid emergence in the evolution of consciousness, but it is at the same time doomed as a vehicle of transcendence because of its explicit hostility to modernity, reason, and individuality; it seeks to transcend and exclude. So it is folly to think that our problems stem from differing perspectives with the same quality in evolutionary unfolding.
No. Orange has now been around long enough—roughly half a millennium—to have put down roots as a Kosmic habit, to use Wilber’s term. At the same time, it is far from achieving the same stability as its predecessor amber, which has now had twelve millennia to produce a dependable and predictable identity and worldview. The inability of Boomeritis to find its footing as the appropriate expression of green, one capable of transcending and including orange, is based in large part on the incompleteness of orange.
But McIntosh does not take this important nuance into account. He assumes that the impulses that led to the emergence of postmodernism and its various intellectual offspring incubated in the Frankfurt School have the same depth, quality, and richness as those that led to the creation of the United States as the first self-consciously orange, modern republic.
Woke thinkers glorify and idealize democracy but this is based on misguided conceptions of equality in human society. The United States is not, nor has it ever been, a democracy. It is a republic created by and answerable to its citizens, with a government carefully and explicitly established to reduce the chances of tyrannical actions that would deny the rights of any citizen for whatever reason and from whatever source. Sovereignty is vested in the citizenry as a whole ("We the people of the United States"), with each citizen having the exact same power as every other.
The democracy promoted by those with their center of gravity in Boomeritis is not a universal but rather a tribal creature. In this version of democracy, the “correct” people get to decide policy; the incorrect people—the “basket of deplorables”—are to be suppressed. This is the prescription promoted and defended by the communist Herbert Marcuse in his prescient 1965 essay, “Repressive Tolerance.” And it is the very tyranny that the Founders feared would result from a majority unconstrained by constitutional strictures.
For most of our history, patriotic pride served as a powerful binding element that unified our culture and helped define what it meant to be an American. But as our society now begins to better reckon with the sins of its past, a sense of national shame on the left is coming to replace the pride that once helped America cohere as a nation. And in the same way that patriotic pride fosters strong political solidarity, a collective feeling of national shame similarly offers an alternative basis for cultural belonging.
Here, again, we see false equivalents. Whether it is true that “patriotic pride served as a powerful binding element,” he nonetheless consigns an American’s sense of pride in his or her country to a particular segment of the nation, what he calls “the right,” which in McIntosh-speak stands for an amber-centered traditionalism that actually exists almost nowhere in America. This “pride” felt by the right is said to be equivalent now to “a sense of national shame on the left” which “is coming to replace the pride that once helped America cohere as a nation.”
This is a dubious assertion, at best, for the American left has been at odds with our founding principles since the days of Herbert Croly, Woodrow Wilson, and their fellow travelers in the Progressive Movement. Whether these people actually feel “shame” ought to be verified by some reliable research. But Steve is self admittedly on the left, and we will credit him with his feelings. But here in California, utterly dominated by the “progressive” left, I see more hubris and spite than shame, but that might just be me.
The Shame Game
It is quite ironic that he quotes Pascal Bruckner, for this leftist French author is a ruthless chronicler of the disease peculiar to certain people in the West that produces guilt about and disdain for the successes and achievements of modernity. This psychological syndrome is the same that generates McIntosh’s “collective feeling of national shame.” In Bruckner’s eyes, this is essentially a psychological immaturity, a refusal to face facts, an inexcusable disposition to indulge in self-hatred. Overlooking Pascal’s analysis, McIntosh writes,
Shame, however, is not all bad. A growing sense of contrition for the crimes of American history—most notably slavery, Jim Crow, and the brutal conquest of Native Americans—can be recognized as a necessary step toward the further evolution of our society.
It puzzles me that people can conjure up a sense of shame for something they think their ancestors did, but there you are. What psychological contortions do we have to go through in order to take on the guilt and shame of someone else’s deeds? While the West has the original sin of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden as part of our foundational myth, it still requires a willing suspension of reason to feel guilt for what Adam and Eve did of their own volition.
In The Tyranny of Guilt, which McIntosh briefly quotes from, Bruckner writes that the leftist admonition that we of the West must all repent
is the message that, under cover of its proclaimed hedonism, Western philosophy has been hammering into us for the past half-century—though that philosophy claims to be both an emancipatory discourse and the guilty conscience of its time. What it injects into us in the guise of atheism is nothing other than the old notion of original sin, the ancient poison of damnation. In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt, and the more our philosophers and sociologists proclaim themselves to be agnostics, atheists, and free-thinkers, the more they take us back to the religious belief they are challenging.
From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination . . . An eternal movement: critical thought, at first subversive, turns against itself and becomes a new conformism, but one that is sanctified by the memory of its former rebellion. Yesterday’s audacity is transformed into cliches. Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency. A whole intellectual intercourse is established: clerks are appointed to maintain it like the ancient guardians of the sacred flame and issue permits to think and speak. At the slightest deviation, these athletes of contrition protest, enforce proper order in language, accord their imprimatur or refuse it . . . The duty to repent is a multifunction fighting machine: it censures, reassures, and distinguishes.
Bruckner was writing these words in 2006, well before the great Twitter sewer opened and became a channel for the “clerks” of the Woke religion to issue “permits to think and speak.” Even so, he recognized the dynamics of religious conformity, for they are actually ancient processes honed over millennia of amber societies that enforced their rigid social orders by hiring the gods of mythology to mete out rewards and punishments.
Bruckner perfectly describes here the purpose of the 1619 project. It is not, as McIntosh chooses to believe, an instrument of national salvation through the adoption of collective shame and reconciliation, but rather an enforcement mechanism for the amber seed that lies in the heart of Boomeritis green, a mechanism that makes it the evolutionary dead end of Wilber’s avowal.
America Through the Integral Lens
The emergence of the United States was not merely a political phenomenon; it was a world historical innovation that established a secure home base for the emerging orange consciousness. Integralites would be well served to look at American history as a significant milestone in the unfolding of consciousness, not as a series of particularities with little or no connection to the whole. When we look at American history through this lens, we instantly appreciate both the frivolity and inevitability of the leftist narrative. La gauche, c’est nous. See this opposition as counterrevolution against modernity and appreciate it for what it is.
Wilber has emphasized again and again that first tier stages understand themselves as unique and absolute, incapable of integrating with the others. Important as orange is as a wave of development, it has no more appreciation for amber than amber does for it. Amber has been trying to eliminate orange for five hundred years; today’s Woke leftists are just the latest iteration of the Catholic Church’s attempts to crush the Protestant movement in the sixteenth century. That’s why it seems so religious in nature; it is a return to the mythological dynamics of amber, which serve to preserve and promote tribal cohesion.
The founders of the United States, through the fortuitous circumstances that the east coast of the Americas was lightly populated by red-stage hunter/gatherer clans (with a few exceptions), were able to find a space safe from the amber currents of European culture in which to create a nation consciously dedicated as a base for humanity to promote the orange individuation project begun in the Protestant Reformation.
In doing so, did they do things that some of us—even in those days—condemned as immoral? Of course they did; even as they were exploring the expansion of orange structures, they were operating out of a first tier wave. To their minds, the natives were expendable if they were unwilling to integrate into the leading edge. We may find this inexcusable, but we weren’t there to instruct them in our better ways. This, of course, ignores the fact that we would not have our superior morals if they hadn’t created the first orange polity in human history. Too many of us overlook the fact that we are beneficiaries of their work.
In our present-day polarization, we are not simply engaged in dealing with “competing narratives,” as McIntosh says. The left’s attacks on the story of the creation and development of the United States are part of a long-established attack on modernity itself. As integralites, we understand this; we are not afraid to name it, for it is a constituent current of the great river of evolution.
Even for all that, it is useless to attempt to deal with one’s fears about our politics by attempting a feckless “synthesis” of amber, orange, and Boomeritis green. As Wilber points out in his Trump and a Post-Truth World, the ultimate dynamic of the spectrum of consciousness is transcendence, not synthesis. Hopefully one day integralites like Steve McIntosh will see this and turn their considerable gifts to the work of maturing the orange individuation project for which the United States still remains the world’s hope.