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 IntegralObama.com 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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, http://integralobama.com.
- Already, http://integralobama.com 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 http://integralobama.com 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 http://integralobama.com 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.