Br. C4Chaos (author of this recent awesome piece on UFOs) posted a link yesterday on his Facebook page to our newest magazine piece from Br. Gregor Bingham on the intersection of integral theory and Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.
In response to that post, good friend of Beams Tom Huston wrote the following:
I think integalists and evolutionaries should stay out of the rabbit hole, because our task is to envision--and create--a world beyond the rabbit hole. Getting into a polemical dialectic with modernity and its corruptions will not help our cause; only increasing the dialectic with postmodernity will, and postmodernity is already defined by its ongoing battles with modernity and traditionalism.
Besides, the fraction of a percentage of people with an integral/ evolutionary worldview simply don't stand a chance against the fraction of a percentage of people in charge of the modern capitalist structure. That's just integral naïveté (or arrogance). Anyone who says otherwise doesn't realize what's actually lurking in the depths of the rabbit hole.
I appreciate Tom’s perspective, but I gotta say I disagree with a number of those points. But before going into what my disagreements are and why I hold them, I want to say this is a debate between friends and I appreciate Tom's comment for helping to nudge this conversation along. I think it's an extremely important discussion for integral and evolutionary folks to have. I think it gets to the heart of some major league issues around how we understand the implications and place of these teachings in the wider world (and activism in particular).
With that said, onto my disagreements.
1. The first major problem I have with this view is the notion that “postmodernity is already defined by its ongoing battles with modernity and traditionalism”. Some forms of postmodernity certainly criticize capitalism and traditional cultural systems. Maybe some of those criticisms are valid, maybe others are not.
Regardless, plenty of forms of postmodernity are practically quite cozy --however much they may give official lip service otherwise--with modern capitalism. Consider the title of Frederic Jameson’s great text Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.
I believe Jameson’s view is one the integral and evolutionary community radically misses. Postmodernism is by and large a Western phenomenon that is (as Jameson correctly notes) the cultural logic of late [read: postmodern] capitalism. Capitalism itself is very postmodern in its current formation--of a certain kind of postmodern anyway. The ascendancy of finance over manufacturing, globalized markets over nation-state control, and informational over industrialized paradigms in economics are all indicative of a shift to a postmodern form of economics (that’s LR in integral terms). And the ‘cultural logic’ (or LL in integral terms) of said postmodern economics is postmodernity. Western postmodernism is still heavily influenced by the modern values of autonomy, individualism, and free choice (it’s just that postmodernism has broadened the acceptable forms of personal experimentation consider viable).
2. To an echo a point I’ve made elsewhere on Beams, individual development does generally seem to follow a more transcend and include, dialectical approach. But I think social transformation is not so clear cut. In fact, it might be that when major social change does occur it occurs primarily via negation of the old. I say that in response to Tom’s argument that the integral or evolutionary communities should primarily follow a strategy of trying to increase the dialectic with postmodernism. That strategy assumes that postmodernism is in real dialectical tension with modern capitalism. Point #1 above questions that easy assumption that postmodernity (the antithesis) is really in a strong dialectical tension with modernity (thesis) and therefore integral should strive to become the synthesis that harmonizes the whole.
As proof of my claim that postmodernity might not be so antithetical to modernity as we might imagine, consider that values often attributed in integral circles to postmodernity like multiculturalism and care for the environment are in some cases enshrined as legal protections through the modernist liberal democratic order (e.g. hate crimes legislation). And what’s with Starbucks and all these other stores trying to sell me organic, shade grown, bird-friendly, eco-coffee (or whatever), promising to give back a certain percentage of the proceeds to poor farmers in Central America? As Slavoj Zizek notes, is this a more caring form of capitalism or the market co-opting ecological attitudes and selling them back to us as chic and ethical? Is the carbon offset I can buy for my airline flight simply a contemporary marketized form of a medieval indulgence?
3. We are in the rabbit hole. Hell I might even say we are the rabbit hole. There's no choice about going or not going down the rabbit hole it seems to me. The choice, such as there is one, seems to be more about whether we are awake to the reality we find ourselves in or not. The subtitle of Gregor's piece is after all 'The War on All of Us.' Clearly not all of us are experiencing the negative effects of that war equally but we don't exist in a vacuum either.
I do agree with Tom that we should all try to envision and enact a different kind of world. But the notion that we can “stay out of the rabbit hole” to me is quite flawed. I think practically such a view can easily become a license to be apolitical and basically play the child’s game of “I can’t see you” by covering your eyes. I should say I think the danger of this apolitical-ness is exacerbated in spiritual circles.
4. The last thing I would say is to ask who is the our in “our cause”? By contextual clues, I guess it’s integralists and evolutionaries (“Getting into a polemical dialectic with modernity and its corruptions will not help our cause...”). If the our is self-described integralists and evolutionaries, my question then is: does it make sense to say those groups should have a cause separate from the wider causes of our time...environmental, political, economic, social, and spiritual? What is 'our cause', if we identify as integralists and evoluationaries?