Recorded March 16, 2017

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What Is Integral Activism?

The whole world, including integral community, has been stunned and captivated by the spectacle of Trump’s election and new presidency. Feelings range from shock to grief to a renewed sense of energy and engagement. Until this moment, most of us have been able to trust that we could live our lives in a free, prosperous, open, liberal democracy without having to do anything to protect or defend it, and now all that seems to have changed. It seems that the price of our future freedom may be much greater engagement with the political process. Many of us are going through the various stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) because we really don’t much want to engage the dirty “low” business of popular politics, and are sensing that now, we may have to, and perhaps we will have to for the rest of our lives.

We set the stage for our conversation with Ken Wilber by pointing out that a truly integral strategy for activism must draw upon our intuition of prior freedom, our optimism, and our faith in the dialectic of evolution. And it must also be able to take a strong and timely stand. (Even though it will honor any temporary adversaries with respect.) It must embody many virtues, including some that are apparently in tension. It must have the strength to counter Trump. And it must have the spaciousness to rise above the first-tier food fight. it must bring the integral analysis of the dynamics among Red, Amber, Orange, Green, Teal, and Turquoise down to earth, so that it translates into a very smart and powerful basis for our own timely direct activism. But how?

So we asked Ken Wilber about integral activism. And he began his response by laying a foundation, speaking to the way an Integral Consciousness sees the world. This is the first clip from Ken that we shared on our Integral Living Room Community Call on Thursday, March 16, 2017.

Ken pointed out that you can’t understand Trump without an Integral framework. It’s comprehensive, inclusive, all-embracing, and it illuminates so much about what’s going on under the surface of our culture wars. But 99.9% of the population has no clue that such a framework even exists. But, as they say in Silicon Valey, “Garbage in—Garbage out.” Most people have no idea of Quadrants, Levels, Lines, States, or Types. They don’t even understand growth and development. Most people know nothing about states unless they’ve meditated. Even psychology doesn’t. The experience of being one with God is almost universally disregarded.

When we have a general understanding of AQAL integral theory, we have a 4 dimensional textured reality. With practice we can see it all as expressing the vast all-pervading spaciousness of everpresent awareness, the simple feeling of being. If you look at any particular thing, you can see in your minds eye, you can see the four quadrants of everything, like the crosshairs in a sniper rifle. Most people are totally ignorant of them, even though they’re crucial. You can see the developmental stages that made the rational, competitive orange businessman possible, as if that developpmental history were radiating off of it into the past. You see the subtle & causal forms supporting gross forms, all merging into the great perfection of nondual awareness. You have a basis for such a vivid visualization of the texture of every moment.

None of the AQAL integral elements can be seen with the senses. This richly textured reality is how the world appears to the indigo mind. Even if they’re not visualized, they’re all directly felt—and in the context of the freedom and clarity of Big Mind. You can taste the fullness of the universe, as if it were dipped in chocolate. Not a disjointed clutter of separate things like the senses perceive, but a deeper unity. That understanding is the necessary ground for understanding Trump, contemporary politics, the culture wars, and even for understanding your own personal life choices. It’s Human 101, or Universe 101. On its basis we can live consciously in the context of interwoven evolving interiors and exteriors. Even if this integral consciousness doesn’t provide a solution immediately, it will at least provide a context so that we can see it clearly.

Ken went on to say that educating people to awaken to integral structure stages of consciousness is a hugely important form of integral activism. Because it will be possible to enact important changes in our political and economic system when 10% of the population is operating from a truly integral structure of consciousness. So we should not overlook the critically “activist” implications of integral education and integral practice.

Later in the conversation Terry pointed out to Ken that many integral activists are hesitating because the path forward isn’t 100% clear. On one hand, integral practitioners resonate with the fundamental spaciousness of integral consciousness, especially its intuition of radical equanimity. Since everybody across the political spectrum is championing a (partial) truth, we are examining the ways in which our perspectives may not have adequately accounted for egocentric and ethnocentric values that are asserting themselves now. In this mode, we’re interested in doing a lot of listening to Trump voters, and to ratcheting down polarization and re-knitting the social fabric, and calling attention to the importance of human development. In this mode, we’re sympathetic to the spirit of Barack Obama’s anti-polarization campaign of 2008 (no red or blue states, just the United States, etc.) From this perspective, we mainly want to turn down the temperature, sensing that we would only empower pugnacious, well-armed extremists on the left and right if we participate in an intensification of polarization.

On the other hand, Trump’s obvious authoritarianism, psychopathologies, lying, environmental malfeasance and general moral failures alarm us and clearly need to be countered. When ‘mainstream Republicans’ are largely cooperating, normalizing and legitimizing behaviors that would always previously have been roundly condemned, the left, the press, the courts, and the people are left to perform that function. Otherwise a gradual erosion of our freedoms seems inevitable. We notice that nobody has feared or reckoned with Obama’s or even Hillary’s moderate modernist restraint, so many of us resonate with the Bernie Sanders coalition’s desire to actively engage the Democratic Party, thoroughly reject big-money donations, and create a clear choice between Democrats and Republicans—making corruption, via the influence of money in politics, the defining issue.

But these two approaches seem to be contradictory, one turning down the temperature, and the other willing to turn it up.

Ken responded by first pointing out that it’s possible to oppose Trump without possessing an integral consciousness. Modern and Postmodern people can do that based on their limited worldview. But if you want to do effective trans-partisan work, an educational and developmental component is necessary. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey write about “deliberately developmental organizations.” Integral activism can work to engender a deliberately developmental culture.

He painted the picture of the possibility of explicitly developmental political parties arising in parliamentary democracies. This will eventually occur, and it will be something truly new and potentially transformational.

Diane, Terry, and Jeff responded to each of these recordings, and then the whole community participated in sharing, rapid-fire, for one minute each, answering the question “what is integral activism?” And a rich conversation emerged.

Diane offered something worth communicating here—8 markers of an integral consciousness:

  • Ability to hold complexity
  • A lifelong learner with a growth mindset
  • Belief in abundance instead of scarcity
  • Reduction in levels of fear
  • Ability to easily move across cultural boundaries
  • Ability to inhabit diverse identities, including diverse practices
  • Valuing both interior and exterior experience—wanting to be satisfied emotionally while being productive
  • Seeing the world as evolutionary—appreciating the dynamic tension between innovation and preservation

This blog post shares only the rich thinking that “set up” the call. The conversation was far-ranging, going deep and wide. We encourage you to listen and comment.