What is an authentic World Politics?


World Flag

In truth, there is no division between spirituality and politics that can be found in The Way Things Are. If you believe, as I do, that there is only one True Self and that every unique individual is a completely whole and infinitely valuable Unique Self which is one and the same as that Ultimate Identity, then how can there be a separation?

In an Integral view of ethics, care and justice evolve in ever expanding reach from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to kosmocentric levels. Ultimately, there is a sense of self-identification with responsibility and empathy for all sentient beings in all times and places. Thus, politics — which I define broadly as the expansion of our circle of concern to ever wider levels of embrace — is deeply wedded to our sense of self and our understanding of the nature of reality.

Spirituality and politics are distinct aspects of our human existence, but not separate ways of being. In other words, every spiritual act is also a political act, and every political act is also spiritual. But if spirituality is related as Paul Tillich formulated to our “ultimate concern,” then politics relates to concerns that individuals share with other individuals in their community.

There are family and tribal/organizational politics, there are national and international politics. And as plans in recent decades for human colonization of other worlds has demonstrated, there is even a politics of the relationship between the inhabitants of Earth and everything extraterrestrial. Politics is inescapable, no matter how apolitical one’s views.

If you scan articles written about politics by members of the World Spirituality, Integral Spirituality, or Evolutionary Spirituality communities, you may come away with the impression that most people are progressive. After all, among those in the U.S. you will frequently hear praise of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Barack Obama — all Democrats. You will hear support for remedying income inequality, addressing climate change, and legalizing same-sex marriage.

But read more closely and you will find a more complex picture.

Continue reading “What is an authentic World Politics?”

Is Barack Obama’s integral politics dead?

David Brooks (Credit: The New Republic)

The pundits say President Barack Obama’s political brand is that of a “post-partisan uniter,” in the mold of George W. Bush’s compassionate conservativism and Bill Clinton’s triangulation. Broadly speaking, I think that’s right. I just call Obama’s political brand “integral.”

Broadly speaking, that is. I don’t think anyone really knows the political philosophers who have been most influential to Obama’s thinking, or if he’s read Ken Wilber’s books as Al Gore and Bill Clinton did. When I say that Obama is integral, I am talking about his sensibility and style, not necessarily his theory of governance.

Starting with liberal Ezra Klein of The Washington Post and conservative David Brooks of The New York Times, the pundits are now declaring the death of Obama’s identity as a post-partisan, “uniter not a divider” president. I have to ask, is integral politics dead?

Klein writes:

The [Obama] administration was initially pleased to see press reports detailing their willingness to compromise and surveys showing the American people thought the GOP far more intransigent. In their theory of politics, that meant they were winning. But they soon learned that voters aren’t interested in compromises that don’t lead to results. Obama looked like a nice guy, and that kept him personally popular. But he looked like an ineffectual leader, and that led his job approval to dip below 40 percent in some polls.

Perhaps the final and most conclusive evidence that the strategy had failed came last week, when Democrats lost special elections in Nevada and New York….

That isn’t how the White House would prefer to govern. It’s not how they would prefer to campaign. It is, let’s admit it, politics-as-usual. It’s the triumph of the old way of doing things, an admission that Washington proved too hard to change. But it’s also the only option they have left.

Brooks writes:

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.

But remember, I’m a sap. The White House has clearly decided that in a town of intransigent Republicans and mean ideologues, it has to be mean and intransigent too. The president was stung by the liberal charge that he was outmaneuvered during the debt-ceiling fight. So the White House has moved away from the Reasonable Man approach or the centrist Clinton approach.

It has gone back, as an appreciative Ezra Klein of The Washington Post conceded, to politics as usual. The president is sounding like the Al Gore for President campaign, but without the earth tones. Tax increases for the rich! Protect entitlements! People versus the powerful! I was hoping the president would give a cynical nation something unconventional, but, as you know, I’m a sap.

Klein and Brooks are both talented analysts, and they are some of the first pundits to focus on a critical shift in the administration’s tactics. Something is changed in Obama Land, and they think they know what it is: a retreat to the old politics of left v. right. Politics as usual. But they’re both wrong.

Obama is not retreating to “politics as usual”

Greg Sargent of The Plum Line blog makes a most indispensible contribution to the discussion by highlighting that Obama is not merely playing politics as usual. He’s actually making a new play for the political center.

While summarizing the results of six distinct opinion polls on the subject of American attitudes towards taxing the rich, Sargent writes:

[S]trong majorities of moderates and independents support tax hikes on the wealthy as the best way to close the deficit….

Now, Republicans tend to think such polling isn’t that meaningful. Even if it shows public support for high-end tax hikes, Republicans are happy to target Democrats on the issue, because they can continue to make the general charge that Dems are tax-hikers, furthering the narrative of profligate Big Government liberals running off the spending rails. Republicans believe this narrative is very potent with moderates and independents. And there very well may be something to this.

But Obama and his advisers look at the same polling and they bet that they can overcome this hurdle. They are betting they can persuade moderates and independents — who are willing to tell pollsters that they want higher taxes on the rich — that they should turn on Republicans for blocking their balanced approach to deficit reduction. Even if Republicans have had past success tarring them as tax and spend liberals, they are betting they can win the argument with middle of the road voters — and that those voters’ instincts suggest they will come to embrace Obama’s balanced vision.

In other words, Obama is still a coach reading out of the “trans-partisan uniter” playbook. He’s just betting that he can convert a lot of new fans at the center of the field to root for the Democratic team. His play, on this reading, is to take the fight to Republicans on their core issue of taxation, and show that middle-of-the-road Americans are willing to vote for a “balanced” approach that creates jobs and lowers deficits.

It’s yet another face of an integral politics. Republicans have shown that no matter how reasonable and compromising a Democratic president they have to work with, they prefer to wage war along old ideological fault lines (attacking “class warfare,” “Big government,” “Liberal elitists,” etc.) rather than adapt. They’ve created the most hostile, divisive, and ineffectual federal political environment in decades, maybe even the most hostile ever.

In this situation, “politics as usual” would be for the Democratic president to run for re-election on equally divisive populist themes. Obama could still do so, if he begins attacking Republicans’ motives in the way that liberal bloggers routinely do, accusing them of wanting the economy to tank and grandma to be tossed out of the nursing home so that Exxon-Mobil can get a tax break for buying a tenth corporate jet.

But it seems Obama is cooking up a more integral strategy than that. He intends to run for reelection offering a middle-of-the-road policy prescription of deficit reduction, tax increases, and targeted investments in infrastructure and education. And he will probably promote this tonic (consisting in Democratic and Republican ideas) as the true center of American politics, while painting his opponents as ideological extremists who would return Washington to “politics as usual.”

The new Obama sounds an awful lot like the old Obama to me. And I’m not complaining.

What is an Integral Theory of Leadership?

ken-wilber-with-frog-from-kenwilberdotcomThe Integral Leadership Collaborative has kicked off a four-week online gathering of Integral leaders with an impressive opening play. Ken Wilber, the “MPV” of Integral Theory and one of the leading public intellectuals of our time, spoke to the gathering yesterday.

The conference itself is one of the most ambitious online experiences that I’ve encountered. It is slated to run from August 15 through September 10, and includes live events as well as interactive discussions connecting practitioners of integral leadership with many of today’s integral thought leaders.

Firstly, Wilber explained the central tenets of his Integral Theory, including a look at concepts such as levels or stages, lines, types, states, and quadrants. Subsequently, he situated integral theories of leadership in the present context of other ways of thinking on leadership. He said:

What particularly distinguishes Integral leadership theories is their profound inclusiveness and comprehensiveness. Moreover, they’re one of the few models that explicitly include a developmental component: all lines go through the various levels. As also previously noted, these levels or stages have truly profound and significantly different characteristics. The cultural wars in the West for example are driven by three of the first-tier levels: traditional values, modern values, and postmodern values. And yet the role of these stages in culture wars is rarely if ever mentioned or even noticed. These levels of development are one of the most important molders of culture that is, and yet their role goes largely unnoticed.

The same is true of their impact on leadership theories. A theory stemming from modern values is significantly different from one stemming from postmodern, a fact very rarely noted. Except by integral theories, which go out of the way to include a developmental component, and often several of them, with different developmental dimensions for different quadrants and levels, and states for example. But one item is unmistakable: a truly comprehensive theory of leadership will definitely most include developmental or evolutionary dimensions. [Transcript by J.P.]

Wilber also says that integral theories of leadership are increasingly replacing postmodern theories in the practice of leadership. Older theories, he says, are winding down as new integral models arise which are able to make sense of more dimensions of leadership. He also addressed provocative questions about the differences between men’s and women’s leadership styles, whether Barack Obama is an example of an Integral leader, and the Dalai Lama’s leadership style.

Both men and women, Wilber said, have been found by Carol Gilligan and others to evolve hierarchically, even though men to think hierarchically more than women. Gilligan identified a fourth stage, called “Integrated,” which fits very much in line with other developmental theories. “Boys have wings, girls have roots,” Wilber quotes another thinker as saying, highlighting the tendency for men and women to have different leadership styles at least at earlier stages of development before the traits become more alike at later stages.

Ken Wilber says he saw Barack Obama’s campaign progress in the 2008 campaign as almost literally a transformation from a pluralistic, postmodern, green, highly liberal to an integral stance in which he started talking about trans-partisanship. Now that he’s in office, there seems to be a lot of disappointment about his performance. One way of reading the disappointment is to say that he’s transformed into a trans-partisan mentality which offends the highly partisan players in Washington. If that’s the case, then he’s showing us “what Washington is not quite yet ready for.”

Although registration for the ILC event is now closed, individuals may sign up to receive announcements about future ILC events. Meanwhile, if you’d like to be a fly on the wall, Awake, Alive & Aware will be blogging on highlights from the gathering over the next month.

Photo Credit: kenwilber.com