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News We can't Ignore

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Last week's political news couldn't have been more important. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a dramatic departure from established law, struck down regulations limiting corporate spending on political advertising, including much of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act.

This ruling is of enormous significance to Integralists and Evolutionaries, because it is about ameta-systemic realignment of the very political mechanismsthrough which citizens' choices can shape public decisions.

An Integral Analysis of Money Politics & Media.

Americans live in a virtual sea of advertising and public relations messages that are structured (scientifically reverse-engineered, in fact) to influence usoutside our conscious awareness.Subliminally, these communications have enormous influence over our buying decisions, attitudes, and votes,even though we think we're aware of them and are disregarding their influence. This applies equally to commercial and political messages. They influence people up and down the evolutionary scale, but are particularly compelling at earlier levels of development. And ads cost money.

Through the interconnections between media saturation (we live in a virtual, mediated worldmostof our waking hours) and scientific advertising and PR, along with political donations,lobbying, and spin, guided by political polling, Nielsen ratings, and market research, the ultimate power in the United states tends to be an intertwined meta-marketplace. Some players are certainly more skillful than others, and at each moment the state of Americans' collective interiors will resonate more powerfully with some messages than others. So advertising science remains an art, but market dynamics are still a dominant influence. The marketplace for the attention of consumers, voters and contributors merges with the marketplace for goods and services and the marketplaces for money, power, and political influence.

An Integral Analysis -- Beyond Paranoia to Sobriety.

This fused meta-marketplace is not immune to evolutionary development but it always operates to facilitate marketplace success and economic expansion. Let's not fall into left-wing-style condemnation of greedy malicious corporate villainy--many corporate leaders are quite enlightened. And let's not overgeneralize. We're talking aboutpowerful tendenciesrather than absolute correspondences. But the incentives of the system still operate in a way that's opaque to non-economic values. Our financial economy tends to be a "machine of more." We now manufacture not only goods and services, but also thedemand for them.Consumers can be readily influenced to buy products and services they don't want or need.

Voters can be influenced too, even to misplaced loyalties and hatred even of those who most closely represent their interests. Because of the effectiveness of media (and meme) manipulation, the popular will can, to a significant degree, be bought and sold, with most votes going to the lowest-common denominator. People try to reason for themselves; we are not blind automatons. But the power of well-funded advertising and PR efforts (even when they are dishonest and destructive) is now much stronger & more insidious than is generally understood. It determines the results of most elections. We shrug it off and minimize it at our peril.

We're all party to a pattern bigger than any player. As I wrote in 2004 inThe Terrible Truth and the Wonderful Secret: Answering the Call of Our Evolutionary Emergency:

"...the all-consuming marketplace tends to function as a positive feedback loop fueling uncontrolled consumption and economic expansion. Companies must maximize profits to succeed. Successful companies must advertise, whetting consumer appetites in order to increase sales and profits. To succeed, television, radio, online and other media, advertising, and public relations must compete for our attention. In the process programming must become ever more hypnotic, compelling, addictive, and persuasive. Media-saturated citizens will believe they are making free choices, even when their consumption and voting choices are being programmed subconsciously".Profitable companies, their executives, and well-to-do investors all understand the wisdom of contributing money to parties and candidates who are sympathetic to their interests. Politicians must raise money if they want to get elected, re-elected, and wield influence. It seems as though no one has any real choice in these matters; everyone is simply fulfilling the inherited obligations of his or her role."

Many Integral Evolutionaries have been working to bring more intelligence to public affairs through cultural education and persuasion. But last week's ruling tilts the game board in a way that further exaggerates the influence of money politics and corporate special interests, even further stacking the deck against principled political activism.

Without demonizing corporations, we can see that in aggregate they exercise their political influence on behalf of their economic advantages and interests, which are often (although not always) different from the best interests of the country as a whole, and too often unprincipled. It's not the job or the nature of corporations to lead us to an optimal political future. But last week's ruling hands them outsized political power.

Even with the surge of citizen involvement he catalyzed in 2008,it is doubtful that Barack Obama could have been elected president under the campaign finance rules handed down last week.

It was a sweeping ruling, going far beyond the case at hand (and even the plaintiffs' arguments) to strike down campaign finance restrictions that have been in effect since 1909. In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "The Court operates with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel when it strikes down one of Congress' most significant efforts to regulate the role that corporations and unions play in electoral politics. It compounds the offense by implicitly striking down a great many state laws as well." (Speaking of judicial activism!)

Stevens began his dissent with a chilling one-line summary: "The Court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation." And President Obama summed it up pretty well: "With its ruling last week, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics." A New York Times editorial said it "strikes at the heart of democracy." Florida Representative Alan Grayson probably said it most dramatically: "The Supreme Court in essence has ruled that corporations can buy elections."

Don't forget, this comes at a moment when huge transitions in the newspaper industry are also threatening the financial underpinnings of the serious journalism that is vital to an informed electorate.

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Terry Patten is a philosopher, teacher, activist, consultant, social entrepreneur, and author. Over the last fifteen years he has devoted his efforts to the evolution of consciousness by facing, examining, and healing our global crisis through (more...)

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