The Integral Case for President Obama

Originally posted on Integral Life, September 7, 2012

'Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.'

 — Plato

First Things First

It goes without saying that I speak here for myself, and not for Integral Life or the “integral movement” as a whole. But at the same time, I’m making a call for our movement—for YOU—to take action in specific ways, and I recognize that this may be objectionable to some who disagree with my views. I fully respect that (as you’ll see below), and I’m also grateful to Integral Life for be willing to hold the space for a truly meaningful and timely dialog to take shape around a set of political issues—and an election—that will affect us all as global citizens. As integral practitioners, I believe we are called to engage and debate and even take sides—even as we practice a meta-level integral embrace—and so I welcome a vigorous, co-creative, and respectful exchange. But at the same time, I hope to call you to action—one way or the other—and so I also urge you not to let this exchange stop at the level of theory or perspectives, but to actually get engaged!

Like you, most likely, mainstream American political discourse doesn’t speak to my sensibilities—and I’m fervently committed to raising the level of our public dialog.  That’s precisely why, even though I'd rather engage a trans-partisan politics, I recognize that the path to evolving consciousness and culture today is by leaning in as a "partisan”.

I’ve created to offer integral evolutionaries an opportunity to support the re-election of President Obama by speaking with a single voice. Why Obama, again? And why should we, as “integral evolutionaries,” pool our support?

Why Obama?

I recognize that much has changed—and much has not—in the past 4 years. While I think it’s safe to say that a majority of people with integral and evolutionary values eagerly supported then-Senator Obama in 2008, many of us have mixed feelings in 2012. There are some who see Obama favoring government-based solutions too strongly over market-based approaches, especially given our ballooning national debt.  Others worry about Obama’s record on civil liberties, the war in Afghanistan, the economy, or his accommodation of corporate and Wall Street interests. Others simply see a leader who has not been as bold, inspiring or effective as he promised he would be.

At the same time, I believe a large majority of us agree with many of his cultural values (for example, on gay marriage, women’s health, and the environment), appreciate his efforts and accomplishments in an incredibly hostile political environment, and believe that he is still the best hope we have for more integral policies and politics. Moreover, we look at the alternative—which is not just the elusive candidate, Mitt Romney, but a Republican party that has become increasingly dogmatic, oppositional, and rigid—and we realize that Obama is still the far better choice.

I know there are those of you who will feel that the current administration is guilty of the same “politics as usual” as the Republicans and that perhaps your support would be better given over to Libertarian, Green, trans-partisan, or non-partisan efforts. I sympathize with this perspective, but at the same time I can’t help but consider the lesson of the 2000 race, when many well-meaning, intelligent folks abandoned Al Gore in favor of Ralph Nader, effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush. If there’s one thing that’s become painfully clear over the last 12 years, I think it’s this: it’s incredibly difficult to accomplish constructive change as a President, but it’s terribly easy to make disastrous mistakes.

Obama has proven himself to be a pragmatic modernist centrist, someone we can count on to lean toward constructive change, even if not galvanizing progress at the pace we would have hoped. As Steve McIntosh pointed out in our recent Beyond Awakening interview, it’s common for postmodernists to get disillusioned about politics, including the coming election. But this is exactly the critical issue right now, in cultural terms. That’s why it’s important that we not stay stuck in the post-modern antithesis, rejecting the political process and modernism. The intransigence and apathy of postmodernism are exactly what must yield. We can play a part in cultural evolution specifically by transcending our despair and cynicism and engaging the political process. Otherwise, we reinforce the postmodern “cork in the bottle” of cultural evolution. We have a duty to help culture evolve, in part by electing a modernist President whose center of gravity is more postmodern than traditional—and more open to and capable of an integral view. That makes our support of him a truly integral move.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has gone from expressing liberal centrist positions to extremist ones—perhaps to appeal to his party, but creating a political indebtedness that seems likely to constrain his ability to enact policies that are even mildly socially progressive, much less integral and evolutionary. I will be very concerned if we find ourselves with Republicans in control of the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court.

A thought experiment

As unsatisfied as many of us are with the two-party system, it does no good to ignore it. Though some might want to equate the two parties, there are clear differences. Consider this thought experiment. You’ve written a white paper describing an integral approach to education reform, or healthcare policy, or market-based environmental sustainability. You will present this paper to the platform committees and large donors of both parties. Which do you think will be more receptive, at this point in time? I believe we are much more likely to get integral ideas included in a Democratic party platform than in a Republican platform, which has now been ideologically purged and purified. It makes no sense to empower a Republican party that is currently incapable of hearing and including truly integral ideas, and has thwarted constructive negotiations and compromise. The Democratic party is at least conceivably capable of becoming more integral, even if it is not there yet. And, remember, we slide into cynicism at our peril. As the French proverb puts it, “Those who do not do politics will be done in by politics.”

Why this, why now, & why us:

  1. This year’s presidential race is a single big issue, one that already has all our attention for a focused period of time, and one on which I believe most of us can agree. Even though we sorely wish we could authentically raise the level of discourse, not just throw more money into the machine, many of us will be making donations to the Obama campaign anyway.
  2. This particular presidential election is very close, and its outcome is likely to be consequential. People around the world live and die because of the decisions that a President makes. But there are millions of Super PAC dollars at work for Romney. If we become more active in supporting the Obama campaign, it’s not inconceivable that we actually might make a critical difference. That will take money—a lot of money. If Romney wins this election, it will be because we didn't close the spending gap when we could. This gives our activism moral urgency; presidential election results definitely DO matter—a LOT—as we learned the hard way in 2000.
  3. An important dimension of integral and evolutionary practice is to engage civic life and bring more nuanced perspectives to bear. Despite this, integral evolutionaries don’t yet have a history and tradition of coming together to exert influence. Where better to start than right here, right now? Even if it turns out that this early experiment falls short of constellating the “critical mass” necessary to exert political influence this time around, we will be helping activate a new social pattern—that of integral evolutionary political action in the United States. We and generations to come will learn from this experiment, and better approaches will evolve. Hence,
  4. Already, is the most successful of the tiny grassroots fundraising campaigns in the nation, and has begun to attract the attention of the Obama campaign.  We’re well positioned to build from here!

To my libertarian and conservative friends

Some have objected to this initiative, expressing the fear that the integral community could become too fully identified with a merely liberal or progressive agenda, I fully resonate! I believe it’s totally legitimate to be concerned that the community surrounding integral philosophy and spirituality could fail to include the extremely important truths expressed by conservative and libertarian voices.

There’s an enduring tension between communion and agency that is  traditionally held between conservative and liberal politics. Both sides hold important truths that will never go away. Integral transcends and includes them both. And the integral community needs to include and welcome those who emphasize both sides of this enduring polarity.

I acknowledge that there are ways in which President Obama and the Democratic party have capitulated to some of the excesses of liberalism, and failed to deeply care about the many legitimate objections to excessive government, to cumbersome and stifling regulations, to an overly complex and burdensome tax system, to the erosion of our civil liberties, and to the dramatic escalation of our national debt.

As a small businessperson, I’ve paid taxes, and was subject to invasive regulation. I chafed and complained and developed deep respect for the truth of some conservative political principles. These themes have vital roles in a more integral discourse. They ought to be fully included in our discussions as we work our way toward a more fully integral political expression—and toward an integral “platform” of goals, objectives, and principles. I see this as a long-term project, but one that definitely has already begun and should continue.

I also hope an “Integral Romney” initiative will emerge. And perhaps an “Integral Gary Johnson” (libertarian) project. If someone launches either of these, I will make sure exchanges links. Naturally, more “conservative” ideas should contribute to the integral policy white paper(s) that the Integral Obama initiative hopes to share with the Obama team (and will try to share with the Romney team, if he’s elected). Indeed, it would hard to imagine a truly “integral” policy paper that didn’t include the best of both conservative and progressive (and some even more radical) approaches in a higher-order synthesis.

To my more radical revolutionary friends

(R)evolutionaries should consider evolution’s own strategy of activism. What is that? Evolution tries all strategies at once. There are many valid forms of activism and many time horizons for action—from the immediate near term of this election cycle to the “long now” of a forward-thinking evolutionary timescale. Certainly, an integral political practice must include both (and the full spectrum of) timescales, seizing upon the “urgency of now,” while also working diligently and patiently for the long-term good. And we may shift our focus back and forth, zooming in and out, depending on where we feel most called. The same holds for our activism within the “system” and outside of it.

To those who wish to focus on a longer-term approach— for example, the work of building a truly trans-partisan integral evolutionary political movement, or helping the “Occupy” movement burgeon into a powerful alternative to conventional political thinking and activism—I fully support your efforts! I don’t see that long-term orientation being at odds with smart, strategic action within the existing parties and system, however corrupted and broken they may be. I believe we can and must play the hand we’ve been dealt, AND also work to reshuffle the deck altogether.

But let’s not underestimate how much our higher-order thinking and our post-conventional subculture depend upon a foundation of traditional civil law, order, and a functioning marketplace! Please consider if there’s some ungrounded arrogance in your willingness to cast aside participation in our existing institutions. Is inviting breakdown and chaos truly a wise move? Doesn’t it run the risk of allowing the most regressive and violent impulses in our society to break forth? I would argue that our integral responsibility is to hold a difficult balance between preserving what works in our existing structures, while also pushing the edges and opening spaces for the new and higher and better that’s yearning to emerge. Our world-out-of balance will probably create chaotic “windows of opportunity” for more fundamental systems redesign without us hastening the breakdown. In the dance of “creative destruction,” I would err on the side of a more constructive type of creativity.

In the long-term, I believe we must create a truly integral evolutionary moment, including an integral political party—and I would support these efforts (in fact, an integral political party has already been founded in Switzerland). But in the immediate term, there is no real integral option—at least not in the US. When we look at our realistic options, I believe we have a better chance of integralizing the Democratic party than the Republican party, at least at this point. That’s why I’m supporting Obama in this election.  If he wins, it serves a double purpose. It potentially breaks the fever of the doctrinaire right-wing regressive lurch that has seized the Republican party in the last few years, and brings both parties closer to a pragmatic center. That’s the hope.

That said, we must each integralize the contexts in which we already find ourselves—whether Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist, or none of the above. Our ultimate goals can be served only if we become engaged, if we actively transform the level of dialogue from the grassroots up. And this, in my view, is a matter of practice. Whether we practice within established politics or outside of it, we can all be working to raise the level of the discourse.

Yes, there’s fierce urgency—even now

I am deeply concerned that the better part of a billion dollars, donated by a few extremely wealthy individuals through Super PACs, will be spent on negative ads against Obama in the swing states. If he’s not re-elected, I think it could be large step backwards for our country, for the world, and for our planetary environment. It will also be a lost opportunity for integral and evolutionary ideas. And it will be because we didn’t close the spending gap when we could.

There are only two months left — so the time to act is now.

Don’t forget that as Integralists and Evolutionaries we have extraordinary resources to call upon within our community to intelligently inject a healthy evolutionary perspective into the mainstream. Let’s see if we can get noticed by the campaign and then bend Obama’s ear. And since our perspectives are by nature trans-partisan, let’s bring forward constructive proposals regardless of the outcome. This is an opportunity to practice, to attempt to exert some meaningful influence to bring about “change we can believe in.”

So I encourage you to visit to make your donations to help re-elect President Obama. In my opinion, it’s a very worthy cause.

If integral evolutionary consciousness is to act to gain some concrete influence in the world, some of us must choose pathways by which to earn influence.

Hey gang: this is a significant opportunity! Through it, higher-order integral evolutionary consciousness can take another step forward to becoming a force in the world.

If you resonate, then please act:

▪       Contribute as much as you can.

▪       Tell others!

▪       Tell others to tell still others—please help mobilize your integral evolutionary friends and community to spread the word and grow this effort!

If you don’t resonate, I invite you to embody another expression of integral evolutionary activism, and to stay in cooperative dialog with those of us engaging this initiative. If we all really walk our talk, we will both learn, and learn from each other, and learn together. In the process we’ll help a higher level of values and thinking make a real difference in the world.

Whatever, let’s walk our talk. Let’s attend this school of life. Let’s hold the big questions and evolve better answers to them. Let’s practice. And let’s learn to bring that into life in every way we can.


integral obama


Terry Patten's essay "The Integral Case for President Obama" might have been titled "An Integral Case for President Obama," in that he doesn't intend to offer his point of view as "the" integral take on the topic. Indeed, one might argue that a truly integral perspective would be one which would include the opposite point of view as well, and so I am going to offer that point of view in this response. My intention will be not be so much to make Terry wrong as to articulate an equally plausible counter-perspective: voting for Obama in the upcoming election is NOT a meaningful political act, and if you want to pool your money for political action, surely you can find a better cause than reelecting Obama.

I will do my best to reply to Terry's most salient points:

*Terry has framed Obama's performance as that of a "pragmatic, modernist centrist." A less flattering spin would be that Obama has shown very little political courage and conviction in his four years in office. The war machine has continued, just as it might have with a Republican president; the "war on terrorism" continues, as does the "war on drugs;" our border problems with Mexico remain unaddressed, fomenting increasing cultural tension; and Obama has if anything behaved more like a Republican in his stance regarding the support of medical marijuana laws.

But these failures obscure more fundamental and profound problems that go ignored in mainstream political discourse. We are rapidly exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet, and there are only two solutions for this human species-threatening problem: to reduce population growth AND to reduce worldwide consumption per capita. These actions are imperative as danger is imminent, and yet what do we get from our leader and from our political-media system? Nothing. We cannot talk about population control because the post-modernists retort that we are "violating women's rights." And we cannot talk about reducing consumption per capita due to our (modern) gospel belief in endless "growth" in worldwide consumption.

(Not to mention the further obscenity - that said corporate profits are distributed in an increasingly inequitable manner, producing unarguable results: society is underfunded and falling apart while a tiny per cent is getting richer and richer.)
I don't expect Obama to solve these problems by himself, but I do expect him to address them. The fact is that in four years he has done and said nothing regarding these grave matters. Given the threats facing human kind and the need for bold action, this is not "pragmatic centrism." Frankly, it would appear to be political cowardice.

*Terry speaks of the despair, cynicism, and apathy of those who might fail to support Obama, and later in his essay he questions whether we might also be arrogant. Maybe so, but then his point of view might just as well be described as naive, head-in-the-sand, "hopeful," and reality-denying. Being

integral does not mean not having feelings; despair, anger, bitterness, and even cynicism might be seen as natural human responses to our current world/political circumstances. I will take responsibility to witness my own said feelings and at the same time I urge Terry to consider whether he (and those who share his point of view) has fully let in our external reality (and his own emotional response) to the gravity of the situation we are facing.

*Terry describes Republicans as "dogmatic, oppositional, and rigid," and not without reason. The greatest example has been the Republican drive to outlaw all abortions, even for those of rape victims. The short sightedness of this position speaks for itself. But Terry leaves unstated that the Democrats have been equally dogmatic, extreme and rigid in their own counter-positions: a woman should be allowed to abort a fetus with NO restrictions; inquiries into our leaky border with Mexico are dismissed as "racist;" and nearly all social issues boil down to "victims" with rights and yet no responsibilities for their own lives.

Again, I am not arguing against Terry's take on the limitations of the Republican mindset as much as saying that the Democrats are equally at fault for our norm of "culture wars" and our failure to be able to resolve our conflicts.

*Terry argues that we should value Obama for his "cultural values," quoting "gay marriage, women's health, and the environment." Regarding the environment, I have addressed it above: even DuPont and Monsanto present "green" these days, so Obama's lip service to the environment doesn't move me. We cannot address our environmental problems until we face up to the reality that we are perpetuating a system (through consumerism and "economic growth") which is unsustainable and flat-out self-destructive. To the extent that Obama has failed even to speak to this issue, I don't hold him to be a champion of the environment.

Regarding the other two issues: of course we want to protect women's rights to abortion, but given the frightening gravity of the issues I have outlined above, issues which literally threaten the very existence of human kind, I find it remarkably short-sighted to think that I would be moved to vote for a candidate simply because of his position on these causes. With this statement I mean no disrespect to women or to gays, but let's be frank: how important will gay marriage be 20 years from now if we fail to change course and the system as we know it collapses into dust? With all due respect, let's not let post-modern "passion" obscure the more fundamental issues that face ALL human beings.

(Not to mention that Obama sat on gay marriage for nearly four years, and took a position only when it seemed that he needed to "come out" in the interest of his own political well-being. )

*Finally, my refusal to vote for Obama isn't even about Obama, per se, though I have highlighted his failures as President above. Rather, my refusal to vote for Obama represents my concern with our

political system. I challenge the idea that our elections are democratic in nature. Consider the following:

- First, the ultimate definition of "democracy" is "for the people, of the people, and by the people." By this simple definition we unarguably fall way short. We have deteriorated to the point that society exists to support the corporations, not vice versa. . A society that is run by corporations in the interest of corporations at the expense of the people is NOT a democracy.

- Second, a true democracy necessitates a "free press," an informed and lucid-minded citizenship. What we have instead is the Orwellian nightmare in which virtually all significant media are now owned by a handful of multi-national corporations. While some of us may be vaguely aware of this, we are at the same time in denial of this truth and its impact. We have been successfully converted from informed citizens into well entertained and easily manipulated "consumers."

- Third, the notion that a functioning democracy can be achieved through a two party system is absurd, especially when both parties are obviously beholden to corporate clients. Both parties perpetuate the status quo - Obama's four years testify to this - selling us through emotional causes like abortion and gay marriage while the corporate-driven system maintains its course regardless of what party is in office.
(And continues to exploit ALL of us, regardless of race, sex, preference, blah, blah!)

-Fourth, even if the two existing parties represented a meaningful choice, the election process is a terrible farce. The profound issues discussed above are obscured by name calling, mutual blaming, lies, sensationalism, and sound bite advertising.

In other words, I am not only rejecting Terry's notion that Obama is a good candidate; I am challenging the belief that the entire election process is functional. Voting may make you feel good. It may give you "hope." But I would rather find meaning in witnessing the part of me that feels hopeless than to seek hope where rational thinking shows that hope would be in vain. I would rather acknowledge our current political powerlessness than narcotize myself with the hope that Obama really is a good guy and just needs four more years to show us that.

Four years is plenty of time for a president to show what he is made of. Indeed, Obama has his chance even NOW, in this reelection campaign, to show us that he a worthy candidate. But all we are getting from him is conventional politicking as described earlier.

Hoping that Obama really is a good guy is not will not save our country. So what's the answer? Sadly, there may be none. Contrary to post-modern's slogan of "empowerment", the American people are largely dis-empowered today and voting for the lesser of two evils won't change that. What could change things is the recognition of all that I've said here, as painful and frightening as it may be. The

answer will not be found through the system, and yet I am not an anarchist. I am saying only that we need to take more profound action as a society than to rally around the liberal (sounding) candidate. We need to create a new movement, one which has the courage to let in the truth of how desperate our situation really is. Liberals and conservatives need to stop fighting with each other per ideological-emotional issues and come together in order for the people to find power again.

This perspective is humbling and frightening, and only when we let it in will we be truly empowered to take our country back. Terry offers his perspective as an integral one, but I sense he is missing a key point: to fall back on “hope” (and related “positive thinking”) is actually a holdover from green. It is a defense against letting in reality and the feelings we would have if we faced reality more soberly.
Green “has to have hope” in order to avoid despair and powerlessness, while the integral self can witness the green self that hopes and let go of that defense. To me, this is our main “job” now as integralists, to face reality and our corresponding pain so as to rise above it, rather than to dumb down our thinking so that we can continue to soothe ourselves with hope.
As integralists, let’s not be content to “hope for the best” and rationalize voting for a man who has demonstrated his limitations. Let in the pain of all I have written here; face your sense of powerlessness and then rise above it. And THEN, with the renewed creativity that can come from such human discipline, seek a means to contribute to society by educating others as to the challenges we face. Invest your money in outreach efforts that might be the start of a REAL difference, not just “four more years!”

The Integral Case for Mitt Romney

Here ya go, Terry.

Jason D McClain

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