Thursday, January 05, 2006

Is "Integral" Conservative?

There has been a series of posts in the integral world of late on whether or not Integral is conservative. I suspect that the positions taken in this debate reflect the individual biases of the writer as much as any truth about Integral. This isn't a bad thing. Each of us holds beliefs and has experiences that shape our point of view. That said, I want to venture into the conversation.

The debate began with Matthew Dallman's post back in late December. He argued that Integral is essentially conservative, using sociological conservativism as his model. Dallman tried to distance his view from traditional conceptions of political conservatism, but I'm not sure he succeeded. CJ Smith and Joe Perez both had some very intelligent things to say on the subject, both finding problems in Dallman's argument. I think Joe nailed the problem in Dallman's logic:
My impression in reading Dallman's post is that he somehow came up with a list of attributes (respect for institutions, the need for rigorous debate, a rebirth of interest in history, etc.), proclaimed that the items on the list are important both to integral and to conservativism, and therefore concluded that the essential ethos of integral and conservativism is virtually identical. There's some truth in there, and I certainly have no qualms with any of the items in the list as being linked to some degree with integral thinking, but it hardly proves an identity between integral and conservativism. One could just as easily come up with an alternate list of attributes and argue that integral is really liberalism or Marxism or something else entirely.
I think Joe correctly concludes that it is not advisable to define Integral from a traditonalist/rationalist values system--essentially trying to elevate Blue/Orange Meme values to second tier.

Today ebuddha waded into the debate. I have to admit that I clicked with ebuddha's use of the Apollonian/Dionysian conflict on this issue, but mostly because I am developing a post on that conflict in relation to my Birth of a Poet series. Essentially, in this view, Integral's quest for order and discrimination is Apollonian, and therefore conservative (as opposed to Dionysian disorder and its quest for the ecstatic). Finally, ebuddha concludes with my original point:

Lastly - because of the "fuzziness" and complexity of integralism, to a degree, there is danger of rorschach blotism - seeing in the model a reflection of one's own pre-existing ideas - which of course are only, to use the well-worn phrase, "partial"!
So, where does that leave us?

When in doubt, go to the source. Ken Wilber has a fairly comprehensive definition of liberal and conservative that I think applies to this debate. In Part II of his essay "The Deconstruction of the World Trade Center," Wilber claims that the way to define what is liberal and what is conservative is to ask the question, "Why do people suffer?"

Well, if you ask the simple question-- Why do human beings suffer? --you will get two different, basic answers. The conservatives will say, You suffer because of yourself ; the liberals will say, You suffer because of someone else.
For Wilber, the difference is that conservatives look at the inner state of the person for causes of pain and suffering, while liberals look to the outer conditions that can cause a person to suffer. Essentially, liberals blame the right side of the quadrants for human suffering, while conservatives blame the left side of the quadrants for human suffering.

By these definitions, conservative thinking cannot be Integral because it only focuses on the interior of the individual (from an exterior point of view), nor can liberal thinking be Integral because it only focuses on the exterior of the individual (from an interior point of view).

By definition, Integral is an integration, AQAL--not half of the quadrants and some of the lines.

From the Spiral Dynamics viewpoint, things are still a little murky. Second tier recognizes the value of the traditional Blue/Orange worldview AND the value of the progressive Orange/Green worldview. But in SDi, each Meme fluctuates between self-focus and group-focus, so that Yellow, the first Integral Meme, is a warm color that is self-focused. Can it still be Integral by Wilber's definition? I think so.

Third tier is likely to be a LONG way off in our future, despite Wilber's claims to the contrary, but it seems that may be when the Memes quit moving back and forth from self to group focus and become truly Integral. Maybe Coral will change the landscape, but that is still 50 years away from emerging in any real number of people.

Post a Comment