OK, maybe the title of this piece is somewhat misleading, or mis-construed.  Nonetheless, I want to explore a bit the intersections of integral theory and violence, most specifically political violence.  

To start with, regular readers may be familiar with my critique/characterization of most of the integral community to be liberal/green capitalist in their politics, with the occasional socialist/neo-Marxist bend.  I’ve tried to write before about my disagreements with these conclusions, most specifically questioning the blatant dominator (pathological) hierarchy of capitalism and the State itself.  I won’t repeat all of that here.  Quickly though, I do want to note that the integral community tends to be of a higher income/class bracket than the average person; while it’s not difficult at all to list numerous exceptions, it’s also generally true that people who are living relatively well/stable off of a particular political or economic system aren’t inherently inclined- don’t posses a high degree of potential- for desiring social or political revolution.  They may be passionately for against various reforms, but not for the up-ending of the system itself.  Put simply enough, if your basic needs (or more) are being met by a given political or social system, you’re fairly unlikely to desire that system’s demise.  To do so could be (often is) seen as a risk to one’s own safety and security.  The fallacy here is that all forms of the State require the oppression and want of a certain percent of the population; as someone with an integral orientation towards the world, I see their want and suffering as my own and I strive for a future in which my own safety and security isn’t an illusion or a scheme based on other’s misfortune, but is real and legitimate because it proves equally for all.   This is why I am a “class struggle” anarchist, and why traditionally anarchism is a class-based belief system: the highest degree of revolutionary potential rests with the working and impoverished classes because they have the most to gain and the least to lose from revolution.  In cases of extreme poverty or oppression, they have nothing to lose, or at least can often feel that way.

And so it is to no surprise that the integral community places a tremendous amount of emphasis on “non-violence” and “pacifism”; I put both terms in quotation marks because there is little agreement on which sorts of actions, or even words, fall into these definitions.  I should be perfectly clear before moving on: I do not believe the taking of human life, whether for revenge (or “justice”- a fine line that only the most righteous could pretend to differentiate) or out of anger or for some sort of “liberation” and “battle for freedom” is right or desirable.  As an anarchist I am committed to the rights of liberty, and not being killed by those who don’t like me, what I do, or what I believe (and being prepared to offer the same to others) falls into my definition of liberty.  Universal nonviolence- in action, speech, and more- is the world that we should all dream of and desire and work towards.  

A comparison of the three primary orientations: Individual development, social vantage, and political relationship, or I, We, It (the Good, the True, the Beautiful)

Yet dream and desire as we may, the truth is that the world is a violent place, and so far humanity has demonstrated itself to be pretty much the same.  That we have the capacity to develop in a moral manner which leads us to shun or reject violence towards each other and the planet (again, controversial and antagonistic definitions abound- I’m not going down that road, not here) is a heartening and hopeful claim.  But as time marches and the centers of power that have built-up around the social and political orientation of our world-views become less and less relevant to the population at large- as the people evolve to no longer require or desire a particular system of governance or social order, those concentrations of power are going to resist their demise, and almost always violently so.  This is generally because of exactly what I talking about above: those who benefit from a given system don’t posses much interest in seeing its demise.  The entirety of our history is saturated with story-lines of power concentrating in the service of increasing the general social and living conditions of the people at large, and as these conditions increase and the capacities of the individual expand- evolve– there generally comes a point at which the system itself, though it provided for the general conditions for the development of the population, now stands in the way of a radical leap in consciousness- in social, material, and political life (this is an AQAL experience; I am only describing here the social aspects of it; the integral province is swimming in descriptions and explorations of the individual components).

The fact is that transformation from one stage- from one social or political system- to an entirely new one does not (at least has never, to my knowledge) ever happen without a violent struggle that takes place between the limits of what the State will give and what the people demand.  True, there are many, many important events from individual perspectives and for individuals that are not violent and that also must take place for social upheaval and political revolution to transpire; but it is also true that this revolution of consciousness extends socially (to the right hemisphere) in an inevitable violent clash of world-views.  The truth of the matter is that until (if) all of humanity (or at least the vast majority) is resting squarely within a second tier world-view, violence is an almost certain (really, certain) aspect of political and social life.

If we advocate and work towards political and social change in a manner that is loud enough, effective enough (challenging enough to those in power who would lose their individual privilege) you will be met with violence from the State (and often you will be met with violence for much lessor reasons: because you are a minority in your race or language or religion or political view, because that particular police agent is having a bad day or had a serious emotional trauma, etc).  

And here is where the dogmatically pacifistic crowd bring up Ghandi, and Martin Luther King Jr.  To which I offer the following: first, as I said above, it is extremely noteworthy to witness that the capacity for a truly spiritual, progressive nonviolence of being is within the human character, within our potential.  But this is clearly the rare individual rather than the norm.  And as such, if we’re talking about or observing political or social events and if we’re attempting to look at integral politics in general in relation to integral’s relationship to violence in general (what has happened, what is happening, what will happen, and what could happen)- as I am- than these exceptions are noteworthy but hardly a worthwhile guiding post.  We can hold abstracted ideas about what should be, what we’d like to be, or how we’d hope to behave, but we cannot control what is, and so any idea or theory about non-violence or pacifism must reconcile with reality- namely, that human violence, especially political violence and especially in the service or process of revolutionary change (consciousness expansion), is inevitable.

Second, many (on the far left) have noted that the political accomplishments of the heros of pacifism did not operate in vacuums.  While the State acquiesced to the demands of the civil rights movement under MLK’s leadership, it’s not hard to imagine that this seemed a reasonable compromise given the growing menace of radical, armed, violent elements such as the Black Panther Party.  Simply put: faced with the specter of a violent, revolutionary movement, the reforms of the nonviolent civil right’s movement (embodied by MLK) were a simple road to travel.  Same with Ghandi, who was shadowed by a massive and radical bombing campaign against the English railroads in India when he “won liberation” for India (um, now under what is widely considered the most oppressive political and social systems- the Caste system- in the world) (if that’s the “victory” of liberation that such nonviolence wins, none of us should want a part of it).

My point is not at all that we should all take up arms, start building bombs, or excitedly head to Town Meeting Day or election day or even hit the local tavern looking for a fight.  But my point is that, from an integral perspective, a dogmatic adherence to non-violence- especially in respect to social and political revolution- is based on (several) faulty premises.

A word here, since it came up, about more casual social violence such as a barroom confrontation.  We can, and should or should at least hope to, develop to a place where talking through disagreements (or even being able to avoid them at large) is by far the norm rather than the rule.  However, we can only (hope to) control ourselves in this manner; there’s no telling what the other guy is thinking or willing to do.  I believe it is almost always in everyone’s interest to avoid resulting to fists as a means to “resolving” conflict (seriously, can someone explain to me what is actually “resolved” if you piss me off and I then punch you?).  At the same time, we would all do well to recognize that sometimes that is the level of discourse that we’re involved in, where such methods are preferred and are backed by the particular logic of their orientation.  Remember, evolution contains the encompassing and moving past- not the destruction- of our previous experiences/stages.

So violence, most particularly political violence or such in the service of social revolt, is not something to be dogmatically rejected or righisously denied, but instead understood on its own terms and viewed within the context of those who perpetuate it (not excluding the State or other institutional power centers).  While it’s important to understand- and continually expand upon- our own personal uses, challenges of, and relationship with violence as a whole, it’s also important to understand the place, and purpose, of violence.  It is especially true that in relation to a politic of liberation and ever-expanding freedom, violence should be understood to be antithetical to the ends of our hope for humanity; however, it is also an undeniable aspect of the human experience- our experience- and as such should be interacted with from a place of understanding.  An integral politic, then, is not one that is either violent or non-violent, but rather one that maintains access to the rich spectrum of human experience and possibility.  In relation to social and political upheaval and revolution, that possibility is and will always be in direct relation to the overall orientation of the people in general, and as such, our view and our use (or rejection) of violence must hold the same.