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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.
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). Read the rest of this entry »
(Note): As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m just a few chapters into my quest to finally read Ken Wilber’s opus Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. I’ve started the thing several times in the past, but have never made it more than a quarter through (not including the 256 pages of footnotes, which even Wilber himself notes can be read as a separate book unto itself), but this time, I feel confident that with the aid of a reading group (yeah Colin!) I’ll finally be able to conquer this beast. I’m still toying with the idea of writing periodic posts/reviews as I go, though I’m leaning towards waiting until the end for a big bang write up that can get more in-depth with the entirety of the thing. However, after this week’s reading group meeting dissecting and discussing chapter 3 (Individual and Social) I’m inclined to offer-up what follows. On the heels of my own inclinations (some of which I’ve tried to flesh out in past posts such as my An Integral Politic I, II, and III) and spurred much further thanks to some of Colin’s great questions and insights, I’ve decided that a rebuttal of the chapter- or, more specifically, of Wilber’s map of how social/cultural evolution fits into his larger Theory of Everything schematic (a schematic that I largely and enthusiastically embrace and agree with) is due. In hopes of propagating my thoughts on this first and foremost through the “integral community” I’m writing here specifically with them as my audience; which is to say if you’re not particularly “in” on these ideas and theory’s, this is just not likely a post for you (and I realize that excludes the vast majority of my regular readers- sorry ’bout that).
Wilber’s Integral Vision– and that of Integral Theory in general- is largely brilliant and singular in it’s importance. However, I think there’s a crucial error in integral’s political (social/cultural) position and I’m very interested in (an attempt at) patching this hole. This is one piece towards fixing this problem.
Those who know me, or those who come read my writing’s regularly, may know that I have many interests and the audacity to pursue nearly all of them. At the advise of Nietzsche, I am proudly an amateur at nearly everything I do and hardly professional in anything. I have no degrees; I have no official training’s or certificates; I have spent my entire adult life on and off in college, accumulating a total of almost an Associate’s Degree worth of credits, but otherwise, I have learnt almost exclusively from the people around me and a nearly pathological need to read about any and everything that strikes my interest. What interests me? vegetable gardening, fruit and berry pruning, music, writing, philosophy (whatever the hell that means), human behavior, herbalism, history, random trivia, mathematical patterns, coffee, geography, children, building things, consciousness, social trends, beer, the way things work, and of course, social theories, political life, and most of all, human interactions both macro and micro. Keeping in mind my above declaration of a somewhat pathological bend towards trying to understanding things, I am not content with many answers but instead find in one idea a need to learn more about another ten. My quest to try and understand just what the fuck it is we humans are doing here, why, and how come the whole thing is, well, a pretty sloppy and often miserable mess has led me to try and learn a bit here and there about political and social structures, theories, and, somewhere in there, economics. And economics, near as I can tell, is really nothing more than the root point of politics and society: we come together as a social species in order to provide for and ensure our collective survival (as all social species do), and there you have it: an economic system of one sort or another.
Economics, of course, is famously known as “the dismal science”, and I get it: fancy abstracted terms that have no instinctual connection to what the hell they are referring to, numbers and formulas that go on and on until no one in the conversation knows what the fuck the original question or point was. On top of it all, any economist worth their weight in salt will tell you point blank that there is little, if any, “science” involved in economics. After all, what we really are talking about, at the very root of economics, is simply the ideas and theories of how people can, did, do, or should interact with one another and with the resources around us in order to fulfill a variety of needs and wants. Based on observed patterns and a bit of speculation, people called “economists” create all sorts of fancy formulas and theories and predictions about one thing causing another causing another causing another, ad infinitum. The truth of the matter, however, is that unlike any real science, very few economic theories (including most any of the economic systems that have hither to existed on planet earth and especially of the current dominant system, capitalism) fall into the realm of Law; far more often, economists give us what amount to little more than patterns.
Now, to be fair, many economic ideas are quite good at predicting events. Some patterns really do play out exactly the way one would assume they would, and they do so with near 100% certainty. Still, a Scientific Law or Truth is just that- so close to being 100% that we could fill the entire universe with 9’s after the “99.9” percent is written. Economic “rules”, however, even the best ones, well, I wouldn’t be comfortable with more than two “9’s” after the decimal point when describing their certainty. And those are the very few rules; the vast majority of them fall far short of “99%” accuracy, at least the theories that have been allowed to play-out on a large scale in the real world. There are, of course, many economic ideas (some good, some ridiculous) that have never had a chance to play-out in human society and until/unless those experiments happen, well, who knows (it is, actually, this place right here- the economic theory that remains untested- where “economics” looks, feels, and acts a whole lot like a political theory, and I would argue that at least most of the time, that’s exactly what it is).
The Current Crisis
With all this in mind, I’ve been trying to figure out what excactly the deal with the current “global financial crisis” is. Not merely because these things fascinate me, but also because I want to know if it’s time to ensure my food stockpiles are in order and get my shotgun back from Kevin- there’s no way the whole friggin’ system is going to collapse at precisely the moment I wasn’t prepared, and hell, I’m sharp (enough), I think I have a good chance at reading the clouds for a storm. At the very least, I know I can give my mom better advise for how to take care of her retirement savings than the dopy investment banker’s mantra of “don’t panic- the market always corrects itself” (yes, a system based on exponential growth from finite resources will certainly repeat forever the pattern that it has for the past 200 years; I mean, there isn’t anything that happened in human history before capitalism, so there certainly can be nothing in history after it, right?). Read the rest of this entry »
In the highest peak of meta-physical moments reported by human experience is described a world of completely intangible wholeness and perfection. Not much beyond an awe-inspiring unfolding of pure beauty and splendor exists in the realm of pure knowing, of the moment of I-Am-I, where language fails as we admit to everything and nothing with declarations of “I Am God” or “I Am Nothing” in our only possible notion of relaying such a wonder to the skeptics who ask. And it is from this experience, and the knowledge of it, that many people have come to develop and embrace an integral theory which seeks to recognize this Great Web of Existence and put-forth a way of being, in this world, which allows for the most Wholeistic and authentic Self to be and develop.
Arguably, at least part of the purpose for developing such a theory- in Ken Wilber’s words, a true Theory of Everything, is to create a space, a dialogue both internal and external, where each and every one of us may find a home for our own beliefs, understandings, and experiences, and place them into the larger context of human experience and thought, and hopefully, begin to find ourselves transcending the altitudes that we can find ourselves often stuck languishing in. In this way, integral theory itself can be seen, at least to some degree, to be a sincere attempt to help push (or pull, enable, drag, allow for) the highest development of each person on the planet in all the endeavors for which were made possible by the act of our birth.
Yet, curiously enough, it would seem that often the very language of integral itself is enough to turn many (if not most) people away and close them off to the exploration and acceptance of much of what an integral life has to offer. The first paragraph above is enough to disinterest untold millions, perhaps billions, of people. While it is true that a person at one particular stage of development will often be simply unable to understand or accept some descriptions of the Kosmos (religious Red can’t hear Orange science, Orange science often despises Green’s beginnings of a post-rational world, etc) it would seems that Second-Tier, integral perspectives are meant less to describe or preach for the world what a Wholeistic, integral universe looks like than to create a space where each of us may be best suited to develop and grow, to evolve, to such an understanding in our own natural progression. If approached from this view, the material concerns of life- at any stage of development- begin to jump front and center at our collective impediment to growth. It is here, among other places, that we arrive at what has sometimes been called the social question; namely, how do humans best come together in a manner, socially and externally, which allows for and provides for the greatest degree of individual, subjective happiness and health.
I am not meaning to elevate the exterior over the interior. But what I am meaning to draw attention to is the interconnectedness of both spheres, and to note that while our internal spheres are quite capable of overcoming the seeming limitations placed on us from outside forces, it is nonetheless obvious that external limitations can and do have a dramatic effect on the individual’s ability to focus the time, energy, and intention often necessary (and certainly beneficial) to these deeper explorations of human life.
All of which leads many of us to wonder: what is an integral politic? what does (or would) such a thing look like, not only in theory but also in daily practice? It is towards this question, one that I personally find under-appreciated and under-developed by many integral thinkers and those drawn to the discipline, that I turn much of my attention to. Of course, there are countless ways in which an integral politic may be seen to manifest itself and and equal number of ways which we may go about encouraging and developing such an idea and its practice. But, as with all things, relativism must give way to a recognition that some things are more direct, more effective, and more to the point; some points are simply better, more efficient, or more root than others. My central concern here is in the overall tact, the “big picture” of where an integral politic comes from and where it’s going. While Wilber and others have made incredibly important observations and contributions to the development of a politic that is truly from a higher-consciousness, I feel that some of the conclusions that they have arrived at are lacking. I will try to address some of the reasons I believe for this shortfall later on. Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier I outlined a bit of what my problems are with the standard line of what an “integral politic” looks like from the perspective of many of the foremost thinkers of integral theory. Before moving forward I want to ensure that I’m being entirely clear: though I used Corey deVos’ recent post on Holons.com as the subject of my criticism, my critique is neither personal against Corey (who I do not know at all and who seems, from his response to my first installment, to be quite intelligent and decent) nor confined to his article whatsoever. His piece argues for and follows the same logic as many, if not all, of the visions of an integral politic that I’ve seen from the field and my disagreement is with all of them. A little more than a month ago I downloaded and read the excerpt from Ken Wilber’s upcoming publication in which he outlines very similar ideas, and it has been my intention ever since (well, actually since way before hand, but the motivation started up after reading Wilber’s piece) to add my contributions to this conversation.
For starters though, lets make sure that we all agree with what the standard idea of integral politics gets right. Most importantly, integral theory- Second Tier, Teal & Turquoise Altitude perspectives- quite rightly recognizes the importance (and relative truth) of all stages of development. This extends to the political arena. However, as I quoted Ken Wilber saying in the first Part of this (and as I will probably refer to often throughout) Integral politics is one of the most seriously difficult issues to ponder. This fact is easily demonstrated. For instance, when we notice a society or nation which engages in some horrific culture of human oppressions (be that sexist values, institutionalized homophobia or xenophobia, genocide, etc) we would be foolish to ignore or even justify such violence and bigotry by comfortably declaring from afar “that’s just the stage of development they are at.” This is obviously post-modern little narrative-ism, and is at best the unhealthy relativism of the Green meme. Taken to an even further extreme, we must recognize that the last half of the Twentieth Century and the beginning of the Twenty-First Century has seen, for the first time in all of history, the development and proliferation of weapons so powerful- capable of literally destroying the entire planet- that are in the hands, or at least the reach, of individuals and State’s who’s world-view rests in dangerously narcissistic, often magical or mythical based, short-sighted, pre-rational perspectives. This is and must be recognized as wholly unacceptable. Along these same lines, the Industrialization of the so-called “Western countries” over the past 150 or so years has brought the planet to the brink of environment collapse, also unprecedented in known history. No scientific model exists which sees room for the further industrialization of the second wave of nations (China, India, Brazil) who are now on the precipice of a paradigm shift into Orange/Orange-Green’s highest economic conclusion (i.e., liberal capitalism). I’ll speak further on the limitations of the “greening” of our technologies in Part 3 of this ramble. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been meaning for sometime to begin exploring what a truly integral politic looks like. Admittedly, just as I finally got started- with something that I’m going to make quite a project out of- spring time arrived and with it, all the typical chaos and distraction of a Vermonter trying to cram as much gardening, house renovation projects, softball, bocci ball, lazy afternoons reading in the hammock, BBQ and beer drinking as humanly possible into a 25 hour day. So to get things going, I figure I’ll start with this quick post pointing to the problem of what has so far been passed off as an “integral politic”. My overall goal here is to ultimately demonstrate to the wider integral community just how short-sighted, self-serving, and unlearnt their typical approach to politics is. On the other hand, I believe radicals, revolutionaries, and in general the friends and readers of this site could do well to place their political goals, ideas, and actions into the broader framework of an integral vision.
Recently posted on the site Holons.com, we get a look at the typical idea of “integral politics” as passed off by the leading minds of the field. Now, while I think that integral theory is very valuable (and ultimately, right about the nature of human consciousness and the world we are a part of) few if any people who are involved in it/draw to it come from a very deep or thorough understanding of politics- in theory, history, or practical application. What starts off decently enough very quickly becomes the most outrageous and (admittedly!) elitist garbage I can think of for a political theory about the change that is necessary. In the video clip at the beginning, Ken Wilber (who I generally have tremendous admiration and respect for, except when he tries to talk politics) at least gets one thing right from the get-go: “Integral politics is one of the most seriously difficult issues to consider.” Yes Ken, it is, which is why I don’t hold the nearly fascist vision of it that you and your peers espouse as a complete repudiation of integral theory overall. This piece by Corey W. DeVos begins:
Many are beginning to recognize this systemic inadequacy and are searching for a genuinely Integral “Third Way” politics—a new way to break free from the restrictions of such rigidly calcified party lines, transcending both sides of the partisan divide, including the very best of both parties, without resorting to the effete compromise of mere centrism that has been typical of the political “Third Way” to date.
In order to fully understand and appreciate the different sets of values and beliefs that make up the flesh and bones of America, we must allow ourselves to step back and take a developmental view of American culture—one which can make sense of the full spectrum of perspectives that are currently at play in the political arena, while also being able to account for America’s rich political history, as the oldest functioning democracy in the world. Read the rest of this entry »
Steve Paulson recently interviewed Integral philosopher Ken Wilber for Salon.com. It’s a good, clear interview that introduces most of Wilber and Integral Theory’s basic stances. I highly recommend giving it a read. Seriously, check it out….
(Steve Paulson) You’ve written that there’s a philosophical cold war between science and religion. Do you see them as fundamentally in conflict?
(Ken Wilber) Personally, I don’t. But it depends on what you mean by science and what you mean by religion. There are at least two main types of religion. One is dependent upon a belief in a mythic or magic dogma. That is certainly what most people mean by religion. Science has pretty thoroughly dismantled the mythic religions. But virtually all the great religions themselves recognize the difference between “exoteric” or outer religion, and “esoteric” or inner religion. Inner religion tends to be more contemplative and mystical and experiential, and less cognitive and conceptual. Science is actually sympathetic with the contemplative traditions in terms of its methodology.
When you refer to mythic religions, are you talking about the kinds of stories we read in the Bible?
Or any of the world’s great religions. Lao tzu was (allegedly) 900 years old when he was born. According to the Hindus, the earth is resting on a serpent, which is resting on an elephant, which is resting on a turtle. Those kinds of mythic approaches aren’t wrong. They’re just a stage of development. Look at [Swiss philosopher] Jean Gebser‘s structural stages of development. They go from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to pluralistic to integral and higher. Magic and mythic are actual stages. They’re not wrong any more than saying “5 years old” is wrong. It’s just 5 years old. We expect there to be higher stages. There was a time when the magic and mythic approaches years ago were evolution’s leading edge of development. So we can’t belittle them.
Where do you think the scientific worldview falls short when dealing with religion?
Conventional science has correctly dismantled the pre-rational myths but it goes too far in dismantling the trans-rational. The mythic and magic approaches tend to be pre-rational and pre-verbal, but the meditative or contemplative practices tend to be trans-rational. They completely accept rationality and science. But they point out that there are deeper modes of awareness, which are scientific in their own way.
What do you mean by trans-rational?