Occupy Integral

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Written by myself and Marco Morelli
Originally posted on Beams & Struts, February 20, 2012.

We post this manifesto in what feels like a moment of calm before the storm. It is March 2012, just a few weeks into a year rich with social, political, and spiritual significance. In the US, of course, it's an election year, with all the media-induced madness this will spawn. According to the Chinese calendar, it's the Year of the Dragon, a symbol of dynamism and power. In the ancient Mayan calendar... well, we know about that.

The sense of calm is perhaps due to it being winter in the Northern hemisphere. But more so, it seems to be the quiescence or exhaustion following a complicated year. From revolutions in the Middle East to the Occupy protests in the US and globally, there is an upheaval brewing... and spilling over.

We are four years into the global economic crisis, yet the fundamental issues relating to sustainability, debt, inequality, and so on have not been truly addressed, let alone resolved.

Our political systems are in stalemate. Environmental signals are growing more distressing. Not only melting ice caps, but also the nuclear disaster in Japan highlight the size of the hole we are digging for ourselves. It would be fair to say that people are stressing out.

No doubt, there are plenty of encouraging things happening too. New technologies, new awakenings, new forms of creativity and cooperation, and all that jazz. That's what makes it such an incredible time to be alive.

Of course, we can look back 10, 500, or 2000 years and find similar stories of humanity on the edge of crisis and transcendence. Yet there's an exponential intensity to the way in which our situation has been complexifying and accelerating (in other words, evolving) in recent decades, and there's little doubt we're on a steeper slope now.

This might be why it seems like a moment in which consciousness is bracing or conserving its energy for the unknown that's to come—that strange X that's conjuring a higher order out of the chaos.

It's a moment that intuitively feels... pregnant.

We find this pretty amazing.

* * *

Yet so long as we remain fixated on our daily news feed, we miss the full depth and richness of the moment. Likewise, the big picture of the evolution of consciousness can feel removed from our everyday lives, if our mode of relating to it is only intellectual.

We wake up each day, do our work, connect with each other, and find meaning in so many different ways. Yet there is a sweet spot where our being-in-the-world combines with what we might call the zeitgeist or "spirit of the age." Our existence becomes activated, like a yeast in the dough of the world. And the question of what's "really going on"—or how we're responding to and incarnating that transcendent and immanent X, drawing us into the future—matters in a whole new way.

* * *

As Integralists—or people dedicated to the healthy evolution of consciousness, culture, and the systems that make up our world—we all feel called to awaken to, understand, engage, enjoy, and serve this miraculous moment. Yet there is a perception that as a community, tribe, or "we-space," we integral enthusiasts lack a depth of engagement in the world, or what might be called a social commitment. It is said we're more interested in the "map" than the "territory." We are accused (or we accuse ourselves) of "meta-doing" and "integral inaction."

Needless to say, such perceptions are only partially true, and we could easily point to many integral projects and practitioners who defy these assertions. Yet they are not baseless, and it's worth becoming curious about why this is the case.

* * *

The crux of the problem seems to be as follows:

On the one hand, we don't feel comfortable identifying with or investing our energy into the kinds of activism often associated with progressives, environmentalists, and other left-leaning groups (much less right-wing groups like the Tea Party). We find them too ideological, too rigid, and not dynamic, innovative or creative enough. Culturally, they appear too polarized, often unwilling or unable to respect opposing points of view. Though many of us sympathize with the progressive agenda, we simply don't feel that the cause reflects our spirit and understanding of things. Thus we label these movements as "green," "first tier," or "postmodern" in a pejorative sense.

On the other hand, integral consciousness hasn't yet generated a coherent cultural movement that could become its own force for socio-political change. In fact, its early expressions almost seem to deemphasize the importance or urgency of social activism. Instead, it has tended to prioritize the evolution of the self. Moreover, integral culture (especially in its more awkward attempts at marketing) often blurs across a line of credibility, and risks becoming a sub-section of the new-age, new-thought movement.

Our expression of social commitment would seem to boil down to the phrase, "Be the change you want to see in the world." That's a beautiful and profoundly true slogan, of course, yet the focus remains on the individual, which is only half the equation. When we invoke "being the change," it often feels driven by a need to ease the tension that arises with idea of social struggle. This is ironic, of course, since Gandhi was such a monumental rabble rouser. Thus, despite the partial truth of the phrase, its new-age usage has the effect, not only of sidestepping critiques of power and injustice, but, on an existential level, of taking us out of the fight.

Before we go any further, let's be clear. There is nothing in integral theory that precludes a more activist expression of integralism. Quite to the contrary, the model blatantly calls for it! Specifically, it describes a path of individual, social, and cultural evolution toward greater wholeness, depth, consciousness, complexity, intelligence, and of course, good ol' goodness, truth, and beauty. There is a deep critique of existing institutions implicit in our holistic/evolutionary view of things.

That's why this manifesto calls for a reappropriation of Ken Wilber's AQAL matrix. To those who would dismiss it—or its chief architect and the integral scene he helped spawn—as overly theoretical and out of touch with real-world concerns, we say, occupy it! More than anyone, Ken Wilber has given us a conceptual framework for having the conversation about a "post-postmodern" approach to social transformation in the first place. And not only did Ken gives us the map, but he also connected thousands of us in a community of discourse that speaks a common, multidimensional, radical evolutionary language—one that's fundamentally adaptive and vital. That's why he remains an indispensable cultural figure; why we must find our way to a mature, yet not uncritical, appreciation of his work; and why it's still invaluable to learn AQAL. (We can even forgive the occasional integral geeking out that sometimes giddily arises among hardcore students of Ken's work.)

That said, it's no longer an option for people who identify as "integral" to dissociate, at a practical level, from the concerns that grip so many of our brothers and sisters on this planet....

Must there be a disconnect between our capacity for meta-perspectives and the moral outrage of the "99%"? Must our passion for spiritual evolution outshine our commitment to restoring a healthy biosphere, or ending abject poverty, or fighting the corrupting influence of money in our politics, or facing the challenges of peak oil, or participating more directly in the political process itself—for instance, by campaigning for local candidates or even running for office?

If it's true that humanity is in the midst of an evolutionary crisis/birth, as we believe it is, then it seems, as integralists, that we have a golden opportunity to play a meaningful role in how the story unfolds. To sit on the sidelines waiting for a "tipping point" guarantees that those with a narrower agenda will dominate the discourse. What if we could change the frame of the discourse, not in 50 or 100 years, but in the next 5, 10, or 20? What if our engagement as "evolutionaries" embraced a deeper kind of revolution as well?

It goes without saying, we're talking about a "revolution of love," a revolution in which we recognize that there is no other. It will be a revolution that does not seek to destroy the political opposition, but rather transmute violence even at the level of our cultural discourse. It will be an evolutionary revolution that integrates "being the change" with "doing the change."

At a certain level, we're talking about redefining or evolving the "integral brand," as Joe Perez has proposed. We're also suggesting a bigger concept of "revolution," one that we hope can attract more activists and other "cultural creatives" into an integrally spacious mindset from which to approach the challenges and possibilities of our time. Ultimately, we aim to help cohere a cultural movement that enacts and embodies a healthy, adaptive response to our planetary crisis—and maybe even helps shape a more beautiful world to come.

To accomplish this, we need an integral vision that's not quite as "meta"—that's more concrete and achievable within an actionable timeframe. For example, we might ask ourselves how we would envision an integral democracy, an integral economy, an integral healthcare system—or for that matter, an integral or more integrated planetary civilization. And how can we start walking the talk to get there? Some very smart people are already thinking along these lines (and beyond), including Steve McIntosh, Robb Smith, and Anna Stillwell.

This could involve the creation of think tanks—just like conservatives and liberals have—that are dedicated to nothing but devising policy solutions and political strategy. No doubt, there are also many entrepreneurial opportunities here, which a number of individuals are pursuing. The Conscious Capitalism movement is one hopeful attempt to bring integral values into the business world, and Holacracy is innovating integral practices to evolve organizational structures and dynamics. Yet the greatest potential we see is for a broad-based, open-source, global cultural movement that helps integral consciousness penetrate into the mainstream.

* * *

To conclude, we'd like to offer a few practical suggestions that we think could shift integral culture, and the integral brand, in a more activist or "enactivist" direction.

  1. Let's be more careful about the tendency to designate people or groups by the categories of "integral" and "non-integral" (and likewise, "first tier" or "second tier" or the various colors of Spiral Dynamics and the AQAL altitudes of development). As veteran integralists, we have no problem with developmental holarchies, particularly in theory and specific applications. But these labels can be less useful in real world interactions, working with diverse people. In fact, they can be downright damaging to human relations, when applied carelessly. The attempt to narrowly define what is "truly integral" is a turn-off that echoes the kind of absolutism that we typically see in right-wing politics and religion. Instead, we can practice the generosity of seeing integralness everywhere, while often dropping the nomenclature altogether—simply letting beings be, as Martin Heidegger (that most abstruse of philosophers) described the "essence of truth" in his later thought.

  2. Let's engage the battle of ideas with more humility and vigor. We can begin by jettisoning the notion that just because an idea is "integral" or the "product of integral consciousness," it's therefore better. This simply doesn't fly in rational discourse, where the "unforced force of the better argument" is all that matters. We need to break into the larger conversation and make a case for integral ideas, not because they're integral, but because they're simply more compelling. That means, first, we need to further develop and articulate those ideas; and second, we need to engage not just other integralists, but also thinkers, pundits, and opinion leaders across the cultural spectrum.

  3. Let's build bridges with individuals and groups that are doing good work in the world, whether or not they explicitly share an integral orientation. The Occupy movement should be high on that list, as should thinkers like Charles Eisenstein and some of the contributors at Reality Sandwich (where he blogs). The Transition Movement is creating communities around the globe based on principles of local resilience. Chris Martenson offers a heterodox analysis of our economic predicament, including thoughts on how to prepare for coming disruptions, in his Crash Course. And there are countless other examples. (Please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments.) Let's affirm that we have much to learn from their experiences and unique expertise, even as we know we can offer something valuable to their projects.

  4. Let's get more serious about political engagement. An obvious place to start is with the upcoming elections in the US. While many (though certainly not all) integralists will likely be supporting President Obama, it would be smart to make the integral case for (or against) Obama more articulately and forcefully. Jeff Salzman, in his Daily Evolver, is an emerging Integral "pundit" with a lot of wisdom to share on politics, culture, and current events (among many other things). Yet presidential politics is only one slice of the game. At the state/province and local levels, the issues, though often more mundane, are more immediate, and the candidates are more accessible. Are we willing to get involved in campaigning for integral-ish candidates for congress or parliament, the state house, or city council? For example, Terry is supporting Stacey Lawson in his congressional district, and Marco is supporting Brandon Shaffer. Are there any integralists out there willing to run for office?

    And, let's not forget that in some parts of the world, "running for office" is not a meaningful option. Although most of us can't be on the streets of Egypt, Greece, or Syria, we can at least show digital solidarity with our friends in these difficult places. In some cases, we can even travel as "citizen diplomats," like Terry did in 2007 to Iran, to connect more directly with real people and explore pathways for cultural dialogue.

  5. Let's more strongly champion and support the openly integral individuals and groups doing (r)evolutionary work in the world. They're out there—consulting with the United Nations, creating educational programs in small villages in Guatemala and Nigeria, and envisioning the future of the Middle East. This means embracing a kind of 21st-century tribalism—global, diverse, permeable, and hyperlinked; coexisting with our many other identities and affiliations; forgiving enough to allow for disputes and dissent; yet also cohesive and loving, pulsing with the vibe that we're rooting for each other and that we've got each other's back.

In other words, let's Occupy Integral. No permit is required. No official membership or certification is necessary to our right to peaceful assembly. We certainly can and must go on refining the map, polishing the lens, elaborating our meta-perspectives, and deepening our realization of and grounding in the Witness, the Mystery, Emptiness, Godhead, pure Consciousness, or the True Self. And let's never forget that "a revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having." But let's also reaffirm and radicalize our commitment to not only change ourselves—but also to really, really change the world.

Marco and I are currently working on a new book called The Integral Revolution: The Future of Consciousness, Culture, and Society in the Planetary Age


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