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An Integral Progressive Critique/Appreciation of Occupy Wall Street

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My blog's readers are familiar with the tradition of integral philosophy in general and integral politics in particular, but I don't assume 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. 
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.

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.

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 what 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 exercise exorbitant influence over the political system is called, to my way of thinking, a "dominator holarchy." That's a bad thing. 
No group 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 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.


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I'm a Seattle-based writer exploring integral approaches to values, politics, culture, religion, spirituality, and contemporary life. My books include Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2007), the first published "how-i-found-my-faith" sort of memoir in the Integral Spirituality tradition. I am currently blogging at my eponymous blog, (more...)
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