Why I Stand in Solidarity With the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Occupy Wall St. (Credit: getdarwin)

Today I’m not only writing for my blog Awake, Alive & Aware, but also for the emerging new blog Occupy Philosophy, a venue for philosophers who stand in solidarity with the #Occupy movement. My blog’s readers are broadly familiar with the tradition of integral philosophy in general and integral politics in particular, but I don’t assume that you have any specialized background other than the basic principles of political theory.

Incorporating insights from perennial philosophy, the constructive thread of postmodern thought, and developmental psychology (Piaget, Maslow, Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, Ken Wilber, etc.) integral politics understands that human consciousness evolves. From this perspective, the Occupy Wall Street movement is situated amid the conflict between modern and postmodern approaches to political economy.

Wall Street epitomizes modernity’s concern with optimizing the autonomy of individuals, freedom from the restraints of bureaucratic control, and a culture of wealth accumulation and global domination. Wall Street is a powerful symbol, and the Occupy Wall Street movement chooses the symbol as a locus of demonstration because of its capacity for dramatizing a radical rejection of some of modernity’s core values.

Thus, the Occupy Wall Street movement epitomizes the postmodern consciousness with its solidarity for the oppressed and marginalized, its internalized guilt over the West’s legacy of imperialism, and a rebellion against materialism and selfishness. That the movement begins with a ritualized expression of outrage rather than a well-articulated list of demands is understandable; long have postmodern politics been impotent in American political discourse, relegated to the periphery in a two-party system with an iron clad grip on power.

View from an integral window on politics

Distinct in its vision of politics, the integral worldview understands that postmodernity follows modernity as part of a deep and complex spiral of development. The evolutionary view it shares with thinkers such as Fichte and Hegel and spiritual thinkers such as Tielhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo, though in the 21st century the most serious integral thinkers have shed the baggage of simple metaphysics in favor of a view that is arguably both “post-metaphysical” and “post-postmodern.”

Integral recognizes that postmodern political economics emerges from modern economics and is basically an elite, higher level of political consciousness. Postmodern politics is more evolved, more capable of embodying a spirit of justice and compassion, and more capable of taking appropriately worldcentric perspectives on important global problems. Both integral and postmodern political philosophies sense deeply that the days of ethnocentric social organization and independent nation-states is inadequate for coping with the complexities of today’s world.

Writing on Integral World, Joe Corbett, Ph.D., sketches an integral approach to critical theory:

Including justice as more distributive fairness and inclusion within the discourse of Integral Theory and its practice is something the postmodern (green) level of analysis has already provided. However, postmodernism is mostly about promoting the diversity of social relations generally, and is absent of any explicitly higher level of unity that a class analysis and critique of money and power gives us. Postmodern and post-structuralist analyses critique relations of domination, to be sure, but mostly from a multicultural perspective, and they provide no vision for a higher synthesis. In fact, they are premised on resisting any restoration of synthesis, much less a ‘higher’ synthesis, within the historical dialectic, as that would, by postmodern reckoning, be ‘totalitarian’.

In this way, Corbett suggests that postmodernity’s focus on justice is incorporated into the integral worldview, which alone can provide a “vision for a higher synthesis” which to the postmodern mind is rejected as “totalitarian.” The higher synthesis of which he speaks is made possible because of a sophisticated and nearly comprehensive map of human nature given by AQAL, the most prominent integral map.

Occupy Wall Street’s partiality could potentially be ineffectual or even dangerous

From the AQAL view, Occupy Wall Street can be described as arising out of values and behaviors in terms of particular coordinates: e.g., green altitude (a.k.a. postmodern) cultural values seen from a Lower-Left Hand quadrant angle. AQAL stands for All Quadrants and All Levels, meaning that the movement is optimally viewed from perspectives which include subjective and objective, individual and collective angles at all stages of the developmental spectrum.

The jargon and subtleties of integral philosophy are not so important as the big picture: integral tells us that Occupy Wall Street’s view of reality is important but partial, and if that partiality is not checked by a more expansive vision of human nature it can easily become ineffectual or even dangerous.

What is needed is not merely anger at Wall Street or demands for specific policy changes, but an expansive vision which tells us how remedying social injustices is connected to changing individual hearts and minds and the culture and social organization of a world economy.

Steve McIntosh, one of the leading figures in articulating an integral politics situated within a call for global governance, writes:

In solidarity with postmodernism, integral consciousness sees that in the long run, the ethnocentric politics of group selfishness are dead, that the future belongs to those who recognize that all lasting political progress is grounded in morality, and that everybody counts. The integral worldview thus recognizes that civic improvement ultimately depends on the further development of the ethic of fairness within human society and government—integral consciousness can see that the increasing morality of interpersonal relations is the foundation of all real political evolution.

Since its rise as a political force in the sixties, postmodernism has been influential in the politics of the developed world (achieving considerably more success in Europe than in the U.S.), but there are still many important ways in which its agenda is currently trumped by modernism. Yet from an integral perspective, this is evolutionarily appropriate. Postmodernism may stand for the future of worldcentric political mores, but its policies are not yet mature enough to take charge of the developed world. Integral consciousness can thus make political progress by helping to moderate and restrain postmodernism’s radicalism so that its important contributions can be better integrated into the politics of the developed world. Integral politics must therefore concentrate on the two areas where I believe postmodernism needs the most development: moderation of its often staunch anti-modern bias, and education regarding the “fragile ecology of markets.”

In other words, just as you would expect from any philosophy with a basically dialectical understanding of history, when the integral philosophy supersedes or overcomes postmodernism, it reemerges with a renewed appreciation for modernity, the previous wave in the spiral.

Thus, an integral politics appreciates the contribution of Wall Street to increasing wealth, improving opportunities for education, and lifting the standard of living of people throughout the world. Integral politics knows you can’t just burn down the banks. Integral is not anti-business.

Other points of solidarity and tension

Integral thought — which has influenced politicians of the Democratic center such as Bill Clinton (a fan of Ken Wilber’s writings) and Al Gore (another Wilber enthusiast) — is not a natural fit for extremism of the right or left. It tends to resonate more with Third Way politics, and some integralists laud Barack Obama’s leadership style as pretty integral in spirit.

What’s more, integralists such as myself are loathe to join in Occupy Wall Street group activism which would require consensus for making all decisions (we see that as an ideological commitment which absolutizes the value of including diverse views to the point of sacrificing other important values such as efficiency and valuing of expertise).

Still, I find myself in sound solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, even as I am concerned that the movement’s participants may not have a large enough view of their goals and effects. Why?

America has always suffered from wealth disparities, but in recent years the enormous gaps between haves and have-nots has grown horrifying. That such differences have not been achieved on merit and that they also exacerbate racial divisions adds to the gruesomeness.

Moreover, societal inequality foments tensions which are disruptive of social cohesion and could ultimately harm all sectors of society. A society in which the top one percent of the population dominates wealth and exercises exorbitant influence over the political system is called, to my way of thinking, a “dominator holarchy.” That’s a bad thing.

No one has done more in such a short period of time to highlight this pressing social injustice than the Occupy Wall Street activists and others who have begun to emulate their activism throughout the world.

They are not alone. Even Warren Buffett has had a valuable role in arguing for increased taxes on millionaires and billionaires. If the movement matures in more integral directions, it could have a lasting and revolutionary impact on American politics. And leave the know-nothing Tea Party behind in the dust.

Many on the left wing view the conflict with Wall Street through the prism of politics as war: “us” vs. “them.” However, a more integral approach calls us to bear in mind that there is a greater unity behind the differences, and we are all called to a higher purpose which is justice for all.

Integral morality advises non-violence but does not repudiate civil disobedience, even if it means choosing a higher law over the law of the land. That peaceful protesters seeking social justice are jailed while hedge fund managers who brought the world’s financial system to its knees receive multi-billion dollar bailouts and multi-million dollar bonuses outrages the conscience.

Finally, integral morality does not arise from resentment, feelings of jealousy, or animosity of any kind. It asks us to look at our individual shadows and acknowledge when our own antagonism towards the ultra-rich borders on its own sort of greed and will to power. Integral politics is based on love.

In future blog posts, I may explore in more detail the specific contributions of integral philosophy to the dialogue around redistributive justice in America and worldwide.

Read my reviews of Ken Wilber’s The Integral Vision and “Integral Politics” (from The Many Faces of Terrorism)

The Integral Vision-(Credit: InnerSelf)

As an expression of my desire to build bridges between an often insular Integral community and mainstream discourse, I’ve contributed nearly a dozen articles to the OpEdNews.com progressive website over the past three years.

If you want to express your support for this effort to bring Integral perspectives into wider circulation, visit my author page and become a fan.

One of the articles I published to OpEdNews.com in 2007 exclusively appears on the site, a review of two works by Ken Wilber. Here’s an excerpt:

Review: Ken Wilber. The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything. Shambhala. August 2007.

Review: Ken Wilber. “Integral Politics: A Summary of Its Essential Ingredients”, excerpt from Book Two of the forthcoming Many Faces of Terrorism trilogy. www.kenwilber.com. April 2007.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” — Winston Churchill

Ken Wilber would probably agree with Churchill’s famous dictum. He would catalog the failures of anarchism, monarchy, republicanism, aristocracy, socialism, communism, and all other forms of government. Then he would add to them the failures of liberalism, conservativism, and democracy. All these political movements create a “fragmented, broken, partial, tortured mess of political chaos.” None are integral enough.

What does it mean to say that every political system and movement in history is tortured? What alternative is there, if even democracy is a sorry mess? What does integral mean? And who is this Ken Wilber, anyways?

The last question is the easiest answered. Wilber is a prolific author of more than twenty books of psychological theory and philosophy. He’s one of the most widely translated authors in the world today, and his influence extends from leading mystics and teachers of Enlightenment to the world of former presidents and vice presidents (Bill Clinton and Al Gore have praised his books).

Now Wilber is writing a treatise on politics called The Many Faces of Terrorism. According to kenwilber.com, the treatise “is actually a trilogy of books … with each book, to be published separately, being around 450 pages long.” The excerpt “Integral Politics” outlines an Integral Political Theory and has already been made available in draft form through Wilber’s blog.

The terrorism trilogy is premised on a political theory that gives prominence to four major scales, not all of which are included in mainstream politics. The four: the tension between externalist and internalist views of the causes of human suffering; translative or transformative approaches to the nature of change; the role given to individual versus community or collective; and something called altitude. The first three scales are fairly self-explanatory and familiar to most students of political theory; however, Wilber’s theory may be the first in history to accommodate the relative altitude in which various political movements are grounded.

Altitude refers to a stage of human development, either individual or collective. Basically Wilber is arguing that the reason there is so much wrong about politics is that current thinking is too partial and limited. He points out that various political movements are based on a spectrum of developmental stages. Lower rungs on the ladder are fraught with pathologies of egocentrism. Middle rungs succumb to pathologies of ethnocentrism. And — yes — even the higher rungs are cursed with pathologies of their own. Any political theory that wants to connect to reality will need to pay attention to the different stages of development that support all political movements, according to Wilber.

In the Integral Political Theory, the fundamental conflict in American politics today is not between Democrats and Republicans or progressives and conservatives (those categories blur critical distinctions and can’t account for the diversity of actual political thought). Instead, Wilber sees the most central conflict as that between internalists and externalists. Internalists see the cause of suffering in the self’s motivations, values, and human nature whereas externalists see the cause of problems in forces external to the self. The Right blames you for your own misery, whereas the Left blames other people.

Integral Politics rejects the partial distinctions of Right and Left in favor of a more complex analysis. The first step in such an analysis is to index or catalog very political system in history, and then identify its ingredients according to a comprehensive map of consciousness: the integral map. And what, pray tell, is the integral map?

It’s a model called AQAL (short for “all quadrants, all levels”). As Wilber envisions AQAL, it is the most revolutionary philosophy today because it’s probably the first in human history to take advantage of all known cross-cultural research into human evolution in personal, cultural, and social domains.

The Integral Vision (Shambhala, 2007) is Wilber’s most recent effort at presenting the AQAL model to a fresh audience in relatively simple (but not overly simplistic) terms. In just over 200 pages of a 7 by 5.7 inch, full color book filled with beautiful art and helpful illustrations. The AQAL model is introduced in five short chapters, with a sixth discussing a practical application called “integral life practice”. A seventh chapter is a guided tour through a spiritual practice called a “Witnessing meditation”. …

The rest of my review of these two works by Ken Wilber can be found in “Beyond Liberal, Left, and Progressive: An Inclusive and Revolutionary Politics for Tomorrow” published on OpEdNews.com on August 2, 2007.

What do Integral philosophy and hand soap have in common?


I’ve taken a few weeks off from blogging this month in order to focus on other areas of my life. At the same time, I’ve been reflecting on how to best integrate blogging with my work in career services and the full gamut of my creativity. Now, thanks to soap, I’m returning with greater clarity on what I aspire to achieve with Awake, Alive & Aware.

A few weeks ago, I framed this blog’s mission like so:

Awake, Alive & Aware is committed to practicing, exploring, and advocating Integral ways of living as conscious beings in an evolving universe.

The idea of blogging as a practice for building greater awareness and understanding of “Integral” ways of living is still quite important to me. But I think there was something in my messaging that wasn’t quite working. And when I read an article about how a company gets people excited about toilet bowl cleaner and other mundane household goods, I began to better understand the issue.

In “Making People Passionate For Toilet-Bowl Cleaners And Other ‘Low-Interest’ Products,” Erik Ryan and Adam Lowry describe the dilemma they faced in marketing cleaning products:

We believe in making the act of cleaning more enjoyable and, if we may say so, aspirational. But virtually every commercial treats cleaning as if it were a huge hassle, virtually screaming promises of convenience and ease. Pandering to women with images of grinning maids in aprons, it was as if taking care of your things was something to be ashamed of, something you’d rather leave to someone else. This is typical problem-solution marketing, in which you set up a problem (mildew in the bathroom) and then present your product as the hero solution (Pow! mildew gone). The problem with this approach is that it forces the consumer to enter through the problem, so your brand will always live in low-interest land.

What I realized is that too often I’ve been thinking of “Integral” with a problem-solution framework, and then applying that framework implicitly in my blogging. Integral politics provides a Third Way between liberal and conservative, Integral spirituality provides a way beyond the dichotomy between “spiritual, but not religious” and fundamentalist, Integral health provides a way of reconciling alternative and Western medicine, Integral psychology provides a model for bringing Freud and Buddha together, etc.

Whatever the problem, if there’s a solution, it can be better seen from an Integral lense. From this framework, I began to blog without need for artificially restricting my focus to any one area. When the focus of the blog is basically methodology, then anything is fair game. I could even write about baking bread integrally so long as I was looking at the consciousness infused in the baking process and how a distinctively developmental or otherwise integrally oriented mindset resulted in tastier, better, or more economical bread.

Ryan and Lowry describe how they rejected the problem-solution approach to marketing Method products:

Even if you don’t find an ounce of joy in cleaning, virtually everyone loves the end state, a clean home. So we focused on talking about the aspirational end state of cleaning, and we found that, to many people, cleaning is an important part of life. It’s the ritual of connecting to their homes and families by putting life back in order. To many, cleaning is a form of caring for their children or pets by providing a safe haven for those they care about most.

It turns out that the Integral worldview has more in common with Method cleaning products than I would have guessed. Most people don’t enjoy reading meta-psychological, meta-cultural, and meta-sociological models steeped in arcane terminology seemingly requiring two Ph.D.’s to decipher. But they do like a tidy worldview.

Integral philosophy as a cleaning product

The point to the extensive philosophical modelling is not theory for theory’s sake, but connecting people to themselves and their world by putting life into good working order. Integral philosophy is a form of shampoo that helps people to create safety and sanity and health for ourselves and people we care about.

But Integral isn’t often thought of in this way, or marketed like this. Integralists have frequently been selling hand soap by listing all the ingredients and saying, “Isn’t that the most comprehensive and inclusive list of ingredients you’ve ever seen?”

Or we have focused on the benefits to be had in applying the Integral method. Its like integralists have been selling hand soap by showing how moisturized, germ-free, and nice-smelling it makes one’s hands. That’s an improvement over cataloging ingredients, but it’s still not quite working, I suspect.

Ryan and Lowry continue:

Seeking to draw out our audience’s inner clean freaks, we filled our ad campaigns with young, great-looking naked people in gorgeous, hip homes, using (or maybe just caressing) a rainbow of beautiful Method products. Rather than the “quick and painless” promises in our competitors’ ads, we communicated with clever, cheeky messages intended to promote the aspirational idea that cleaning could be cool (gasp!). Flying in the face of decades of traditional cleaning commercials, the ads resonated with people of all ages.

Now I’m not suggesting that Integral philosophy ought to consist merely in advertising copy, nor would I usually recommend the splashing of hot naked people to sell Integral-themed wares. (Though ads for integral pornography might be an exception!) What I am sensing, however, is the importance of communicating ideals through exemplars to create resonance.

A hand soap advertisement communicates the aspiration to cleanliness through Method products to inspire the desire to be like hip, cool figures in the advertisement. Similarly, an Integral blog communicates the ideal of integration/holism through Integral ideas and practices to inspire the desire to be like the blogger and/or the blog’s subjects.

So you may not be an Integral blogger, but if you are a therapist, coach, business person, consultant, minister, artist, writer … or whatever it is you do … you encounter a similar dynamic. You may not think of yourself as marketing, but if you want to do what you do Integrally, you can’t avoid the challenge of positioning your offering in relationship to the Integral brand.

Integral is beautiful

Everyone wants a house that’s beautiful and well ordered. The house is the world and the Integral philosophy is the cleaning solution that helps to put it back into order and working better; it’s not an obviously sexy thing to sell, but it can be done.  Those of us who are in the “Integral business” in one way or another can’t hide behind a list of product features for Integral meta-maps; we need to embody and exude the qualities that we are promoting.

Creating demand for Integral products and services can only go so far by offering problem-solution or features-benefit comparisons. We must communicate not that Integral Theory is the Best Theory, but that “Integral is cool,” or “Integral is beautiful,” or “Integral is clever,” or “Integral is ___,” where that ___ is YOU.

There are spiritual and intellectual fads that come and go. In One Taste, Ken Wilber said that Integral was pretty much a trend, but one that was not going to be going out of fashion. Some of us lonely integralists are wondering when the trend is going to get into fashion the first time! We’d all love our books to be bestsellers and our conferences to sell out and our art to be widely appreciated … if only the wide world would open its eyes!

In fact, there’s a sense in which Wilber is non-controversially correct: if “integral” means whatever comes after post-modernity, then by definition it is arriving on the scene with a sort of undercover but celebrated status. It is new and original, like everything hip and cool. A trend fades, but the trend-behind-the-trend becomes ever more apparent with the appearance of every new post-postmodern arrival. And Integral is the name we are giving to that trend-behind-the-trend.

So I’m returning to duty at Awake, Alive & Aware with a bit more humility. I don’t want to assume that I already know the mysteriousness with which “Integral ways” move. I am more curious about discovering the values and ideals and aspirations of the post-postmodern spirit … and less interested in advocating any fixed model of those ways. (Not that there are many “fixed” Integral models out there. The ones I know are quite dynamic.)

The experiment which is Awake, Alive & Aware continues.

A letter to Sam Harris: the world will never be ready for libertarianism

sam-harris-from-samharrisdotcomPosted to Sam Harris’s “Contact the Author” page:

Hello Sam,

Although I have all the same interests as you (though my Philosophy degree is from Harvard) and few of the same positions, I really admire the stand you took in your recent blog post on “How Rich is Too Rich?”

So much so, it was one of the first times I posted anything about you in as long as I can remember. Your questions were fantastic, your imagination was far-sighted, and your courage to speak outside the maturity zone of your most fanatical readership was joyful.

What a coincidence that just as you are saying incredibly smart things about Ayn Rand, I was just writing a bit about her last week on my post, “As the world searches for a 21st-century philosophy, Objectivism and Integral thought vie in Russia.”

I’ve long wondered why you’ve avoided saying anything publicly about Integral thought (which surely you must know about), and long suspected it had to do with your unwillingness to confront the strong “autism rebranded” maturity level apparent in so much of your readership. But now with your post, “How to Lose Readers Without Even Trying,” I see I might have been wrong. I guess we all get the readership we deserve eventually, and I wish you luck in replacing some of those “You are scum” readers with more suitable ones.

I’m sure our paths will cross in person one day. Until then, thanks for pushing back against your rebellious readers in the way you did.

Hasta lluego,

Joe Perez

P.S.: The world will never, ever be ready for libertarianism. It is only in recent centuries been ready for individual liberty, and if current trends in cultural development continue, the next thing we will be ready for is a more integral politics, not a return to the wild west.

Cross-posted to my blog at www.joe-perez.com

I’m not holding my breath for a reply, but I have much admiration for the guy and like the direction in which his thought is evolving. Maybe someday he’ll even look carefully at the evolution in his thought, identify the patterns that connect it all together, and consider whether he needs to take development seriously.

Photo Credit: SamHarris.org