I start this podcast with some observations about the big Republican win in the U.S. midterm elections. For an Obamapologist like me it is a sad day, marking the end of the Obama agenda. It is not necessarily the end of the Obama era, however. By soundly winning the Senate and bestriding Congress the Republicans have stopped Obama cold, so the question now becomes…will they offer an agenda of their own? If they do I’ll bet they find that Obama still has the bipartisan spirit that launched him into the Presidency in 2008. It’ll be in both their interests to accomplish something, because over the long haul in politics something will always beat nothing. But obstruction can be a good short-term strategy, and has been for the Republicans so far. Stay tuned…
MONEY, POWER AND JUSTICE
In my main story I address the mother of all first world problems: global capitalism, by responding to a piece written by Joe Corbett entitled Jeff Salzman, Ken Wilber and the Missing Link between Integral Theory and Practice, in which he offers a critique of a conversation I had with Ken Wilber and posted a few weeks ago: The World According to Wilber.
Corbett’s essay reveals a fruitful friction often found among integralists. First let me address his opening theoretical argument that when justice is not included on par with the primary human values of goodness, truth and beauty it is a “glaring omission of the L-R [lower right] quadrant”, and therefore the conversation Ken and I had is “entirely devoid of any structural analysis or acknowledgement of social institutions and the prevailing forms of justice within society.”
This is nonsense of course; suffice it to say that Ken WIlber, author of AQAL Theory, didn’t just – ooops! – forget about the exterior collective dimension of reality. Indeed Ken and I both talk about the structures of society all the time, including in our conversation. I wouldn’t know how to discuss current events without doing so.
Part of the confusion may come from a misreading of AQAL Theory where Ken relates the four quadrants that make up a human being to the three native perspectives a human being can take: first person (I and me), second person (you and we) and third person (it and they).
So how do four quadrants flow into three perspectives? Ken situates both the upper right-hand quadrant (U-R) and lower right-hand quadrant (L-R) in the third person world of “its”. Quadrantly speaking, the individual human body (in the UR) and the power/economic systems of societies (in the LR) are respectively the individual and collective exterior dimensions of reality, and can be seen and measured by the senses. Thus third person.
Ken goes on to associate the first, second and third person perspectives with what he calls the “big three” philosophical values of goodness, truth and beauty. First person is the domain of beauty (which is deeply subjective), second person is the domain of goodness (how we treat each other) and third person is the domain of truth (what is objectively verifiable).
The philosophical relationship between the fundamental values of goodness, truth, beauty and those of justice is a discussion that’s been ongoing at least since Plato. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, check out Steve McIntosh’s terrific thesis on the subject, The Natural Theology of Beauty, Truth and Goodness.
PRIMARY VALUES: MOVING TARGETS
What Corbett is really saying in his critique is that Ken and I didn’t talk about the L-R quadrant in a way he agrees with, so let’s move on to Corbett’s argument that Ken and I give short shrift to the value of justice. Here are a few paragraphs that sum up his thesis:
“In their talk, Wilber and Salzman speak as if the development and expression of consciousness takes place in a vacuum, without social and historical context and free of the distorting influences of power and money. No consideration is given in their analysis to how institutional structures of power and money (media, schools, religion, the corporate-military-police-state) systematically prevent and retard human development.
“Wilber fails to mention that corporations are basically private tyrannies, and in western capitalism they constitute the vast majority of the economy. These private tyrannies also have overwhelming influence in the political process, thus making capitalist societies essentially corporate democracies, or ‘totalitarian societies with privatized characteristics’.
“Cunning and force is the secret behind the “diffusion” of [modern] values, not demographics. As Karl Polanyi shows in “The Great Transformation”, modern orange values and discipline did not spontaneously diffuse but were coerced upon a resistant population of citizens, workers, and consumers who were ultimately bought and sold the paradigm of modern capitalism and representative democracy to replace their community-based systems of equity and reciprocity.”
Note that for Corbett power and money are “distorting influences” that “prevent and retard” human development. This is a view that sees malevolent forces at work in the world, oppressing and corrupting an otherwise healthy society. Every first tier developmental altitude tells a version of this story. For traditionalists the evil force is the devil, for modernists it is the government, and for postmodernists it is the “corporate-military-police-state”.
A more integral view is that institutional structures of power and money are features of human development. As we have established, they make up the L-R quadrant of a world that is arising in all four quadrants; economic/political structures are tetra-arising along with consciousness (in the U-L quadrant), culture (in the L-L quadrant), and probably also with brain development (in the U-R quadrant). At any rate, every stage of human development has characteristic ways of exercising power and economics.
And all of them are oppressive — as well as creative. Our current political/economic system is the least oppressive and most creative so far. And it is becoming less oppressive and more creative as it continues to evolve.
Conceptions of goodness, truth, and beauty change radically at each stage of cultural development, and each is functional for its stage of development. What’s good at the warrior stage of development is to behead your enemies. Holy warriors may even see that act as beautiful in a way that modern people could never understand. Slavery, as well, organizes more powerful systems of human resources, creating larger, more capable societies. Early industrialization outlaws slavery, but takes the embedded agrarian values of long workdays, child labor and peasantry from the fields and transplants them into mines and factories.
The same evolutionary forces are at work in the realm of justice, which has historically been defined as “might is right”, “an eye for an eye”, “the king’s edict” and “rule of law,” the last of which is the judicial innovation that co-arises with economic capitalism. The next stage of justice, social justice, which insists that “everyone’s basic needs be met”, is arising in cutting edge cultures. Each stage, however contaminated it is with the previous structures and however ragged its emergence, represents a major step forward in the human condition.
The enormous — and ongoing — moral development of the contemporary world is demonstrated by the fact that each of the previous social systems is now regarded as obscene. And the beat goes on: the dark fruits of contemporary capitalism such as habitat loss, carbon pollution, mindless consumption and meat factories will undoubtedly be seen as obscene to our progeny. Indeed they are increasingly being seen as such by our contemporaries.
WELCOME TO PROGRESS
Today’s money and power structures are the latest and best of what humanity has created, co-created and been created by. They look bad when compared with a fantasy of a different history and a better world, but what aspect of real life doesn’t suffer in comparison with an ideal? I’m suspicious of arguments that want to remold the world according to a story of how history went wrong. It went the way it went. Reality was, and is, reality. Let’s learn the lessons and move on.
Of course none of this is an argument for complacency. Evolution does not happen on its own. It is propelled by millions of daily acts, and sometimes revolutions, by passionate people who are guided by an emergent moral intuition that says “this isn’t good enough.” Corbett and I are in that process with our co-critiques, as you are by reading them and thinking about them (remember, thoughts are things!).
What is not necessary, and in fact counterproductive, is to continue the first tier split of demonization of “the enemy”. This is more than just a matter of emotional tone. There’s a reason the postmodern critique of modernity is so politically weak in contemporary society. People realize — and Corbett’s essay is a perfect example — that it is an attack on the economic system that has created more wealth, decency and benefit to the human race than any other in history. We are far more powerful when we appreciate the current system at the same time we work to move it forward.
So what are we in for? Well, more goodness, truth, beauty and justice! We will continue to evolve our economic and political structures, as well as all of reality in all four quadrants, to express the humane and egalitarian values of post-modernism and beyond.