A News Flash We Can't Ignore

Yesterday’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 a meta-systemic realignment of the very political mechanisms through 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 us outside 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 world most of 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 about powerful tendencies rather 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 the demand 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 in The 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 yesterday’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 yesterday'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 yesterday.

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 yesterday, 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.

Like most other Integralists, I admire President Obama tremendously. Even so, I’ve been unenthusiastic about the compromised process that has produced most major legislation this year, especially the health care reform bills (which reform only certain aspects of a dysfunctional disease-care system, deferring more fundamental reform into the future). I mobilized to elect him, but it’s been hard for me to get excited about his recent agenda. So, like many others, I’ve become less outwardly engaged in politics. But yesterday's news calls all passivity into question.

An Evolutionary Civic Duty

The issue raised by this ruling is unambiguous, fundamental, and impossible to overlook. It compromises the ability of our society to make important choices intelligently. Democratic rule has serious problems, but the problems of a corporate plutocracy are of a whole different—and frightening—order. 

This is a blow to what’s left of our system’s very ability to correct course and purify itself of corruption. 

May this ruling prove to be the “swing to excess” that produces a backlash. May it mobilize a broad coalition of patriotic citizens who can’t bear to see American government being effectively for sale via a marketplace controlled by moneyed special interests.

This may be a meta-systemic issue that large numbers of people can understand. If so, it may harness people's widespread anger over our broken system and motivate a movement more righteous and benign than that of the recent tea-parties.

Conscious, responsible citizens will need to respond forcefully and effectively to this disturbing development. That includes President Obama, the fragmented and disappointing Democratic Party, you, and me.


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Terry Patten
January 22, 2010

Comments

Game Changer

This decision by the supreme court to deregulate campaign financing is very implicating. Changing the political landscape in this way is a sign that the integral leaders of the 21st century will have to work more closely with corporations to obtain the financing needed to ensure election. Integral political leadership is charged with the task of awakening the enlightened self-interest of corporate America. Doing so will channel funding to those candidates capable of working with both business and government while simultaneously keeping the people's interest in mind. Stronger partnership between the public and private sectors in such instances as transitioning us to a low-carbon economy is how the future of our nation and planet will be shaped. There’s no question that this decision is a game changer that will force the next generation of leaders to rethink everything from one’s political platform to campaign strategy.

Supreme Corp ruling

You acknowledge that most ads operate on an unconscious level "even though we think we are aware of them and disregarding their influence." That's been one of my consistent points about capitalism, that even though we think we're conscious of its exploitation and can fix it with an integral attitude we nonetheless, by participating in its enaction, unconsciously maintain that inherent exploitation.

You also recognize that corporations' interests "are often (although not always) different from the best interests of the country as a whole, and too often unprincipled." But then you offer this apology: "It's not the job or the nature of corporations to lead us to an optimal political future." And why is it not the job of corporations to create pubic as well as private good within principles of civic responsibility? What makes business immune from this?

You seem to give corporations a pass by noting "many corporate leaders are quite enlightened." David Loy* relates this type of argument to the good slave owner rationale. It doesn't matter if the slave owner is a nice guy, even an enlightened guy, slavery is wrong. As is capitalism, at least in this time and place for a supposed elevated integral consciousness.

I'm glad you didn't ignore the issue and agree with many of your points. But you still seem to think that to get at the root of the problem, for-profit corporate capitalism, is "left-wing-style condemnation of greedy malicious corporate villainy," implying that it must surely be a mean green meme response. This notion that we can make nice with corps and their Republican cronies is the same mistake Obama has made. We should not, and cannot, negotiate with an outdated system like slavery or capitalism to improve it. Some things really need to go the way of the dodo.

By not confronting this you do not heed your own advice about ads. In so doing you brush it under the carpet of awareness, proceeding "even though we think we are aware of it and disregarding its influence."

* See David Loy's essay "Can corporations become enlightened?" in The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory, Wisdom Publications 2003. An excerpt:

The system has attained a life of its own. We all participate in this process…yet with little or no sense of moral responsibility for what happens, because such responsibility has been diffused so completely that it is lost in the impersonality of the corporate economic system.

One might argue…that there are good corporations….The same argument can be made for slavery, there were some good slave owners…. This does not refute the fact that slavery was intolerable…. And it is just as intolerable that today the earth's limited resources are being allocated primarily according to what is profitable to transnational corporations.

My Buddhist conclusion is that transnational corporations are defective economic institutions due to the basic way they are structured…. It is difficult to see how…they can be simply patched up to make them better vehicles for our economic needs. We need to consider whether it is possible to reform them in some fundamental way…or whether they should be replaced by other economic and political institutions (100-01).

Integral Capitalism

FYI, the issue of Integral Capitalism is being discussed at length in a thread by that name at the Gaia Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality pod. It goes to the heart of my comments above and you might find it of interest: http://groups.gaia.com/ips/conversations/view/514097

What can we do?

I'm wodering after reading about how much subliminality is being used and how, could it be as simple to handle or at least reduce the effect of by incouraging people not to watch television or listen to the radio?
Also, I love helping people and I've often been told that I could be a great councilor, family councilor or psychologist and I can't help but to like what I'm reading about integral coaching, is there special training for this or perhaps assesment testing available? Thanks and have a wonderful day,

John

many corporate leaders are quite enlightened

You seem to give corporations a pass by noting "many corporate leaders are quite enlightened." David Loy* relates this type of argument to the good slave owner rationale. It doesn't matter if the slave owner is a nice guy, even an enlightened guy, slavery is wrong. As is capitalism, at least in this time and place for a supposed elevated integral consciousness.

subconscious programming

I agree that we are subconsciously being programmed using the many technological media for communication.

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