Steve McIntosh: Our Most Important Activism Today is Building the Integral Worldview Itself

We all know what a product brand is: a name, design, logo, or some more intangible quality that identifies one good from another in the marketplace. Marketers sometimes say that a brand is really the first thing you think of when someone mentions a product; in other words, its reputation in totality or the impression it leaves after the product is out of sight.

Today, the term “brand” is increasingly being applied not only to products, but also to people, ideas, and even entire movements and belief systems. Celebrities like Tiger Woods, Britney Spears, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama have brands. When you think of the pedophile priest problem, do you not also think of the damage it has done to the Roman Catholic Church’s brand identity?

That’s why I’ll be frequently talking on Awake, Alive & Aware about a topic that is seldom mentioned in Integral circles: the brand identity of the Integral movement and integralists associated with it. It’s only by identifying the characteristics that are central to the culture of integralists that we can grow in a particularly important form of self-awareness. With greater knowledge of who we are as a collective we are individually empowered to identify steps forward in growing our personal role in shifting the culture in more Integral directions.

Looking at Integral from this angle is distinct from considering it as a philosophy, spirituality, or nascent religion. It is to direct our attention not merely to “self-packaging,” but to the very crucial point of credibility, legitimacy, and justification. Looking at branding is not about commoditizing the sacred, it’s about learning from what we know about product or personal marketing and applying the knowledge to the benefit of another domain.

Besides that, using terminology from modernism to talk about Integral will send the postmodernists (who despise “branding”) to flee for the door … so there will be more space for the rest of us to put our heads together.

Are the core Integral ideas and practices worth taking seriously? If we can’t convince someone unfamiliar with Integral to take a closer look or if they’re put off by the very scent of the integralist culture, then Integral becomes a fad or cult, not a movement with genuine transformative potential. We have great ideas, but what use are they if nobody finds out about them.

Steve McIntosh on today’s Integral activism

What would you expect to learn from an interview with an author noted for some academically inclined writings like Steve McIntosh, author of Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution? You might think an Integral Philosopher would riff on tetra-arising intersubjective holons or international geo-political solidarity among nation states in post-postmodernity.

But point of fact, McIntosh points to something we can all understand and take to heart. He calls out the need to “build wider recognition of, and agreement with” Integral ideas. In other words, it’s time to look seriously at how we market the ideas and how we appropriate them so they can be heard by different audiences.

Effective integrally informed communication has been on the radar screen of integralists at least since Adam Leonard’s frequently cited work. But now it seems talk is starting to turn to the Integral “brand.” According to a conversation between Scott Payne and Steve McIntosh published at Beams & Struts, it’s time to focus not just on the theory, but on the way it’s packaged.

McIntosh doesn’t use the word “brand,” but he says:

[T]here are obviously many forms of legitimate political activism that integralists can pursue. But from my perspective, the most important form of activism for this point in history involves building the integral worldview itself. That is, we need to demonstrate the power of the integral perspective and show how effective it can be at providing solutions. We need to build wider recognition of, and agreement with, this emerging understanding of evolution. In other words, we need to teach the truths of integral philosophy and persuade people that consciousness and culture do evolve, and that we can solve many problems by coming to a deeper understanding of this phenomenon.

“Teaching” integral philosophy as a form of activism can, of course, involve a wide variety of activities. It can involve creating media such as books, videos, blogs, articles, etc. And it can also be as simple as engaging our friends and family in conversations about it. Further, the more we can each embody it as our own philosophy and not simply Wilber’s philosophy or Whitehead’s philosophy—the more we can show how it is actually a new understanding of evolution that recognizes interiors and can detect a new kind of depth—the more effective we’ll be in these communications.

Read the whole thing (it’s good).

On becoming an Integralist

I entirely agree. There are many important contributions each of us can make towards paving the way for a saner, more effective, more healthy world and redeeming a decrepit political culture. We owe it to our children and future generations, slow as the progress may appear to unfold in the one-year or five-year time horizon.

As I see it, Steve is encouraging us to not merely reguritate the philosophy of Ken Wilber or Steve McIntosh or any other thinker, but to make Integral truly our own. This process begins with finding oneself enchanted or enriched or fascinated or convinced by or excited by or even in love with Integral perspectives. It continues by seeking out others with a similar interest, growing in one’s self-education, and eventually coming to want to take on Integral into one’s identity in some way or another.

Of course, this is an ironic predicament for those integralists with spiritual beliefs that encourage disidentification with ego or personal identities. However, in my experience people come to recognize that the Integral approach appreciates both the value of building and strengthening a healthy ego at some stages of development and also the value of dissolving or dis-identifying from the ego at other stages of development. They accept that it’s okay to own an identity (or better yet, a trans-identity) as Integral or an integralist or integrally informed or evolutionary or ditto-head or some other moniker.

In the career marketing industry, there is a lingo to describe the process of building an individual value system, incorporating it into one’s work in the world, and building bridges to others who share similar passions. What McIntosh is describing as the key piece of Integral activism today (apart from the philosophizing and academic research, which is vital) is what in other circles is described as “career distinction” or “personal branding.” When we are talking about how to distinguish a trans-identity from other trans-identities, maybe we can agree to call it a trans-brand or trans-personal brand.

We need to not only own the Integral label, but also differentiate ourselves from it in order to put a distinct stamp on it. That distinction is crucial for many practical reasons, but at the core it is about allowing the spirit of evolution to generate new possibilities for human nature … and being part of the World Spirit’s descent. In my tradition, Christianity, we are taught to become as “earthen vessels” for Christ.

What is the Integral brand?

The Integral brand is what comes to mind when people think about Integral, if they are aware of it at all. How is Integral like or unlike Liberalism, Conservatism, Objectivism, Darwinism, Scientology, Buddhism, Zen, or Christianity? How much of the Integral “turf battles” or “theory wars” are really about conflicts over how Integral should be branded, not the ideas so important to the theoreticians and philosophers?

This is an inquiry, not a dissertation. In “What is Integral?” on this blog I have suggested one starting point for discussion of the features of an Integral brand, a simple 100-word statement. It’s a work in progress and certain to evolve. Nevertheless, the type of discussion I would like to encourage around Integral is about how we communicate about this whatever-it-is to folks without all the inside baseball talk. You ought to have your own 10-word, 100-word, and 500-word statement (P.S.: I’ve quietly taken a poll of every Integral writer and they’ve all agreed to allow you to steal anything you like of theirs for your own personal statements).

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What are the colors that convey Integral values or ideas?
  • What is an Integral fashion sensibility and Integral interior décor?
  • If Integral were an animal, what animal would it be?
  • What are the rituals and sacred celebrations of an Integral life?
  • How is being Integral different from being New Age, Aquarian, Holistic, Evolutionary, Teal, Turquoise, or a Cultural Creative?
  • If Integral were a membership organization, what would its name be? What would its governance style be?
  • If Integral were a country, what would its flag look like?
  • How do you feel about whether Integral is capitalized or lowercase?
  • What part of speech do you think Integral is or should be?

Surely there is an Integral perception in the culture (very little it often seems, but growing) and there surely is an Integral presence in the society (whose influence often appears to happen behind the scenes, and is therefore esoteric to the vast majority of us). However, one very important thing we can learn from the career distinction/personal branding literature is the importance of starting with the self.

Don’t think of the questions I just asked as an exercise in social anthropology. Think of them as questions about your personal values, mission in life, and worldview. How are they different from the perspectives of other Integralists you know, and how can you benefit from looking at the differences and similarities? In short, what’s your Integral trans-identity and trans-brand?

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Harvey Milk is arguably the most significant figure in the gay rights movement because he believed that cultural revolution is possible and that cultural evolution must begin with every individual’s courage to be who they are. Not only to be who you are, but to tell others, to come out of the closet.

You can see how the phenomenon of gays coming out of the closet has already created a revolution in attitudes about homosexuality, changing society from criminalizing homosexuality to legalizing same-sex marriage most recently in New York. This change took decades, but it could not have happened without individual gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons owning their identity and demanding to be seen, heard, and recognized for who they are.

Integralism is neither something you are born with or something you choose. It is something you recognize as a feature of your own consciousness or value system or worldview, however partially and incompletely or aspirationally, and decide to put a label on. If you are reading this, you probably have recognized an image of your true self in the presence of other Integral thinkers and doers.

I often hear talk about when or whether “the movement” will get traction. Often these same people are ministers in churches that do not know of their minister’s Integral inclinations, or leaders of companies that do not know their CEO is secretly guided by Integral theories. People are afraid to be known as Integral. You can smell the fear. Wake up, people!

I hear it said that a sign of Integral consciousness is greater fearlessness. How odd that I hear this said by people who are too afraid to talk to their neighbors and co-workers about Integral. Fearlessness is as fearlessness does. Cultural shift isn’t painless. (P.S.: If you’re not ready to come out as Integral, don’t feel ashamed. Just be aware of where you’re at, open up to the possibility of making a change, and talk to someone you trust about it.)

Unless others know that we see the world a little differently (better yet, that we inhabit a different world, but I digress), they don’t know that there’s another option out there. Many of them won’t care. Their reactions will be what they will be. If they’re not drawn to it, they’re not drawn to it. Some will react in ways that cause us pain.

But a certain percentage of them (that is, the future Integralists) will be inspired because they will see in Integral ideas what we’ve seen in them. They will respond as if they’ve seen what they’ve known to be true all along but couldn’t find the words to express … only more detailed, intellectually rigorous, and expansive than anything else they’ve seen.

Building Integral 2.0 through Web 2.0

Where can you start? Ask around. If you ask me, I will tell you to start a blog. (Ask and I’ll link to it here, and other bloggers will do the same on their blogs.) Use social media to learn about Integral and share ideas with others. Like Integral articles on Facebook. Follow Integral people on Twitter. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Write your own thoughts in an article or blog post, and ask your church or professional association to publish it. Squeeze Integral somewhere in your résumé.

Interact with people who are Integrally uninformed and engage with them from an Integral perspective. Don’t worry if they are pre-modern, modern, postmodern, or whatever. Don’t get freaked out if you’re inarticulate or unskillful. You’ll never get more skillful if you don’t practice.

If you aren’t doing your education or business or volunteer work from an Integrally informed perspective, then start doing so. If you haven’t discussed Integral with your spouse and family, then start the conversations today. If you aren’t meeting other integralists, then get in a group (virtual, meetup, or established community of practice). Join an Integral leadership or educational or recovery program. If working with an Integral Coach or spiritual director is an option for you, take advantage of their expertise.

Finally … If you have ever made excuses alone in the dark, saying to your mirror, “Maybe I’m not really Integral. Maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through. Maybe I can go back to being modern or postmodern if I just try hard enough. It would be so much more familiar and comfortable and I would be so much better understood! Please God, make me postmodern again! Maybe I can become ex-Integral through reparative anti-Integral therapy…”

Well, you’re not alone. You don’t have to be alone. Stop trying to fit into something you’ve outgrown. Be who you are, tell the world what makes you distinct, and shift happens.

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  1. […] Integral Blog has a new quote plastered across the top of our sidebar, so I thought I’d tell you more about it. You may have recognized it from a 2011 conversation between Scott Payne and Steve McIntosh published at Beams & Struts, or my discussion of the conversation on Awake, Aware & Alive. […]

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