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Integrative vs. Control Culture - An Overview

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Message Blair Gelbond

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This essay can, again, be considered a "meta-view" -- in the sense that one can apply these overarching cultura perspectives to specific dilemmas nationally and across the globe.

Generally, a culture provides a common definition of what we see when we look at or hear something -- mediated and pre-digested by our cultural "lenses". Every cultural system comes with a price attached.

Likewise, Lewis Mumford suggested that such a system crams the complexity of life into an ideological straightjacket, causing us to be aware of certain things and not others. It has been said that cultural assumptions and beliefs are like glasses; if you don't change the prescription once in a while, you're probably not seeing the world very clearly.

After reviewing a few of the many conundrums presented by the old culture, we turned to the idea that individuals, species, and whole cultures evolve. There's no stopping the force of life. Jared Diamond in his study of failed cultures concluded that whether a society survives or not depends on its willingness to reconsider core values. History is full of species and societies that failed to adapt to change. The assumptions underlying present human culture have relied on coercion or threat and have been operating for thousands of years. They are now bringing our species (and others) to the brink of death.

We are on the threshold of two mutually exclusive global value systems and assumptions, which Philip Slater (has named 1) Control culture and 2) Integrative culture. He offers the image that we are currently walking a flimsy rope bridge over a great chasm, having come too far to turn back, while the end is barely in sight. He also suggests that the excesses of consumerism are contributing to produce climate disruption, the depletion of cheap oil, growing income disparities, and resource wars. Integrative culture is more appropriate to a species living in a shrinking world, which requires global cooperation and communication. Control culture insists on splitting the world into polarized opposites, a binary world based on combat

As hopeful as Gebser's -- Integral age- and Elgin's - communication and reconciliation era - perspectives may prove to be (see previous entries), it is also essential to gain perspective on the forces that are obstacles to undergoing and successfully coming through this process -- one which is already convulsing the entire world. Eisler has described these two processes the dominator vs. partnership way of organizing society. There is a confusion of values, a loss of ethical certainty, and a bewildering lack of consensus about just about everything

Yet, the truth remains that old cultural systems usually are not abandoned without fierce resistance. As they sense that the old system is dying around them, those who are wedded to it will tend to assert its values more harshly, stridently and desperately. Diversity and holism are seen are assumed to be the "enemy."

Why is this happening now? During the last fifty years the pace of change and communication has accelerated, creating the most rapid social upheaval in the history of our species, taking us to the brink of endurance. Expressions of integrative culture include changes in the status of women and minorities, the sexual revolution,, the decline of the nuclear family, the global economy, the ecological movement, the strange concepts of modern physics are all expressions of integral culture that have arisen in a very few recent decades.

We are certainly living in an awkward time: never before have there been such growing concern about the environment -- and still our destruction of it continues to soldier on. We've never experienced such growing distrust of technology; yet, we are more dependent on it than ever. We've been deeply self- and socio-centrically obsessed, yet there is a growing movement (expressed in a variety of terms) and yearning to lose ourselves in something beyond ego. While we have a proliferation of ways of connecting with one another, we've never experienced being this disconnected.

Incivility and chaos seem to be everywhere. The recent speed of social change has put an almost untenable strain on our adaptive capacities. The recent rise in all sorts of fundamentalism and violence (secular and religious) have arisen in an effort to keep things the same or have them go backwards"to the "good old days". As the cultural pace of change continues to increase, we should expect more of the same -- based on a desire to hold on to the old ways.

Prior to the 1960's people were pushing for social change on a very few fronts of controller culture, but the movements of the 60's created a generalized challenge to every assumption of control culture by significant segments of the population.

An analogy used by biologist Lynn Margulis is that of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly - in other words a process of metamorphosis ("Caterpillar looks up, sees a butterfly, says: "You'll never get me up in one of those things!") After creating its cocoon, the caterpillar completely liquifies; if it could speak we might well hear cries of distress, discomfort, and/or pain. We can also note, while this is a completely natural process, that the newly emerging beautiful butterfly needs to exert apparent self-effort in drying off and strengthening its wings prior its first flight.

Using this analogy Slater asserts that our own "butterfly" social form can be called integrative culture. He describes this as a spontaneous, natural process (despite current appearances to the contrary). Still, it involves our individual and collective efforts to grow into it. Simplifying things, control culture can be seen as a product of the predominance of linear left brain, while integrative the structure adds essential elements from the right brain, involving synthesis, feeling and empathy.

Here is a cursory, general list of contrasting tendencies framed simply to clarify distinctions:

Control culture: 1) sees the universe as split into contending opposites; 2) the world is seen as static matter, fragmented matter capable of being manipulated -- and to be studied as such; 3) leading and governing are accomplished through an authoritarian and hierarchical style; 4) a competitive, macho, warlike milieu prevails; women are devalued and constrained; 5) any significant change needs to be ordered from above.

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I work as a psychotherapist with an emphasis on transformational learning - a blend of psychoanalytic and transpersonal approaches, and am the author of Self Actualization and Unselfish Love and co-author of Families Helping Families: Living with (more...)

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