Since it’s come up recently in integral community discussions, I’m all for “Marx informed integralism”, but personally the Marxist philosophers that friends praise don’t really do it for me. The notion of putting “ideology” into all quadrants and levels is fine, but then again so is putting the notion of “black magic” or “devil” or “totalitarianism”, etc.: it’s a lot of work to reach a limited audience, with limited theoretical insights.

I’ve seen how discussions of “ideology” or “false consciousness” tend to play out in the real world and there’s something really off-kilter about them, in my view. They tend to take an idea that many reasonable people hold — let’s say something easy like “In America, if you work hard, with a little luck you can get ahead and make a better life for yourself.” — and turn it into a monstrosity of oppression by capitalists or oligarchs or neoliberals. Then they seek to enlighten everyone else who doesn’t see the oppression as having a bad worldview, usually because they are sell-outs, shills, tools, or capitalist oppressors.

In fact, there’s nothing wrong with the above statement about America; it happens to actually be true. The fact that it is a very partial truth that obscures serious problems of economic inequality and multiple causative factors for poverty is also true! Many people work hard their whole lives and never get very far, and their lives are marred by poor opportunities for education, healthcare, and other basic necessities (not just in the relatively rich America, of course). It’s not always luck that makes the difference: it’s often systemic dysfunctions. And yes, even exploitation by the wealthy classes.

So the Marxists tend to highlight this partial truth and absolutize it. Integral Theory has absolutely nothing to benefit from copying this reductionistic tendency. We do not need “Integral anti-capitalism”; we need “Integral post-capitalism married to Integral post-communism“. I’ll have a little more to say about this topic over the next month or two. As I see it, the Integral movement has a lot to teach Marxists (not just the reverse) if they would listen. Integralists know this, but we have done a poor job at marrying these two traditions.

So honestly, what I would really like to see is an Integralist overhaul of the Marxist tradition that wins over Marxists and gains broad assent including the wisest of the liberal economists (a.k.a. neoliberals). That’s the Holy Grail really, not Integral Marxism. There are quite a few books on the topic of Integral Christianity and Integral Spirituality now; when are the Integralists going to take the Marxist tradition as seriously as religion? By the way, Zak Stein and others at the Center for Integral Wisdom have said they’re doing work at this intersection. Will they ennoble Marxism but not degrade Integralism? I am hoping for the best.

A mature Integral worldview (Global-Mind moreso than Systemic-Mind, I think) will have the power to change the terms of the debate away from the orthodoxies of both the left and the right — towards a higher, more expansive center. Nowhere is such a vantage point more necessary than in the debate over “neoliberalism”. As I have previously discussed on this blog, the left has begun to turn the perfectly fine term of analysis, “neoliberalism”, into a catch-all insult or lazy social theory. All integralists need to be careful about appropriating this sort of attitude uncritically.

George Monbiot’s article, “Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems”, is a good summary of the left’s problems with liberal economics, and one which indicts the left too for not having come up with a better alternative. It helps to elevate the word “neoliberalism” into one which is simultaneously a centerpiece of left-wing social theory and also boogeyman — one which, as the headline says explicitly, is “at the root of all our problems.” The diagnosis is wide, but reductionist — as AQAL theory would put it, it’s a flatland view in which only the lower quadrants get a look.

The challenge for an Integral economics is substantial, particularly when popular sentiment among many integrally informed folk these days seems to be all about simply adopting whatever the left is doing. To meet the challenge Integral thinkers must give more than one side of the story. While honoring the prophetic streak in writers like Monbiot, we need to show the fuller picture revealed by a post-Green meme lens and demonstrate the utility of a more Integral economics. When the left’s critique of neoliberalism is combined with everything good about liberal economics (a.k.a. that bugaboo, neoliberalism), we can arrive at a more realistic vision with pragmatic steps to move us forward. As Hillary Clinton lectured Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election, it’s easy to offer a diagnosis; it’s harder to build solutions.

Monbiot concludes:

A coherent alternative [to neoliberalism] has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.

There are currently programs in existence which seem to be pursuing creative approaches, but none have reached the place where governments can create policy alternatives. In my view, Integral economic thinkers ought to be part of the task of envisioning alternatives to our economic status quo and we should bring many insights obscured to flatland economic systems. But we need at least as much energy devoted to reforming liberal economics so it works better and more equitably, extolling its virtues and accomplishments, and resisting the effort by writers like Monbiot to proclaim the death of liberalism as a failed God.

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