Moderator: Darcy Riddell
Panelists: Lisa Chacon, Marilyn Hamilton, Bob Kezer, Terry Patten, and Vernice Solimar
3:37: Walked in a few minutes late, already a great conversation happening about inquiring into what political activism can be within the integral world, and the sense that the current state of affairs is not enough. [So many great statements, fiery critiques and heartfelt responses were articulated here. I encourage everyone to read this one deeply].
Vernice, “I was a nun for several years, and taught in the inner city school for several years.” She read Ken Wilber’s work and everything she did before all came together. “The aspect of involution and evolution came together in a very deep form of incarnation… a way of expanding the idea of incarnation, and bringing it out of the ground of Christian mystical perspectives, into the realm of social change.”
Wow, really like how this is starting.
“My major questions are primarily: how do we all, regardless of whether we call ourselves activists or not – become conscious of becoming agents of change? Regardless of what we’re doing. Whatever I’m doing for developmental work in the upper left quadrant, it’s alive in every relationship and everything I’m doing in the world.”
“The second question is: how do I discern the altitudinal distances and shifts between amber, orange, green, teal and above… there are real differences in each altitude in the ways each manifests in the world.”
The third question,
“sometimes integral philosophy, as wonderful as it is… and it is the foundation of how I see the world… how can it be brought to the kids in fifth grade? The prison system?”
Really great and grounding questions.
Bob Kezer speaks now.
“I don’t consider myself to be an activist…” he starts off, and inquires about how to make change when the social and political institutions are no longer capable of supporting change and well-being. He asks, “is there a legitimacy requirement for somebody to be an activist?”
Marilyn Hamilton now.
“I was really surprised to be invited onto this panel…. I have an eclectic background.” Marilyn’s work specializes in the city (See Integral City. I have a copy at home and am very interested in engaging with this topic myself). Speaking about her work… “I am a contrarian,” she says, and used Ken Wilber’s framework for studying an online community’s system, and she took it and started applying it to real life systems.
Lisa Chacon speaks…
“The main perspective that guided me through my life was the sciences,” and she began to “wake up to what was happening in the world around 2001-2002. I had an early activist phase during the Bush era.” This “began a journey of inquiry… How does change happen, and why doesn’t change happen?”
“If you love this planet, you will re-arrange the priorities of your life to help save it.” – A quote from a political writer. This changed her view of the world.
“It led me to take a masters degree in sustainability, came back, quit my job, and came across A Brief History of Everything.“
“I see myself creating conditions for community to grow.” Nice. “I’m trying to bring the integral community in relationship with this global change-making.”
Beautiful, vitally important and grounding, I think.
Terry Patten‘s turn:
“I was raised in an intentional community of activists… lived 15 years in an ashram. I feel profoundly inquired of by the incredible privilege that’s converged in my experience. At this time we’re at the 6th great extinction, and every institution is in crisis. There’s a stasis that is yearning to break free, and I feel that the inner work of my own spiritual practice, and serve others in spiritual practice… and that practice takes place in all four quadrants. The circumstances imply very rapid cultural evolution. This is a moment of punctuated equilibrium. So what is it to be change? I inquire into that.”
Terry is quite an eloquent speaker – and I think he’s right about this. We’re in a systemic crisis right now, a “chaotic bifurcation” point of human evolution. The outcomes are uncertain.
“I feel that an inquiry is holding me by the short-hairs. We don’t know how to do this, but we’re in this together… The next Buddha is the sangha, and we’re learning to be that sangha. It does mean a changed relationship to power. We have to become power, exercise power… not just speak truth to power.”
There’s a spirit of truth in these words, for sure, and more in line with what’s happening in the world right now with Occupy, Arab Spring, and the world-wide protests happening all over (and not being covered by the media). We’re in a time of tremendous upheaval.
“Why should the integral community care about social and political change?” Darcy asks. Essential question.
Back to Terry now.
“There’s an optical illusion for taking every perspective… seeing all the perspectives at once. You can step back, and step back, and step back. And I think we (integral) tend to. We want to get it right. It’s vital for every one of us to identify this dimension of social and political activism as a core model of our integral practice. That is, we are citizens of a world in crisis. It needs conscious participants. We are conscious participants. Our perspectives are valuable, but only valuable to the degree we implement them… Advancing integral is important, but there is a resistance in integral to join folks in the urgency on the ground. Singing to the choir is good. There are all kind of levels of participation and validity, but we tend to want to check this participation off our list, rather than bite into the meat of this life responsibility.”
Back to Vernice:
“There tends to be an emphasis on the spiritual ecstasy… but another practice is allowing the suffering of the world to break my heart open. There’s a certain aspect of presencing… what level of consciousness will allow me to be totally present and create that causal space where suffering happens, and be able to listen to communities who are in this pain to express what they’re totally feeling, without us trying to fix the situation? What I would like to see integral theory, and integral life practice do more of… is to just calm down with the upper-left quadrant, developmental process. But with each developmental process ask: to whom does my heart break open? The Trayvon case, for example. Can I just allow myself to break my heart open? Out of that authentic presencing, then we create that trust… that potential for change that comes out of the community. But to wait for everybody to go to second-tier is going to take too long. And I think we can access these stages of consciousness momentarily, at any time.”
Deeply appreciating Vernice’s perspective.
“I’m a practivist… I learn what doesn’t work as well as what does work. It’s not just my work, it’s who I’m engaging with together. So the co-creation piece is really important to me. The other piece is working with the frames of living systems… once I do that, I’m out of an integral reductionist frame…. and ask myself, why are we doing this? Why are we going through waves… how do we live through this? It brings me into a place of being curious, and think that there’s nothing that I now know… that precludes the verticality, or the perspectives… and that has helped me to not only to check in with myself every day, but it also has helped me to invite intentionally other voices.. entrapeneurs, citizens, businesses. Allow them to hold the space.”
Darcy speaks: “Integral as it is now… is a naive theory of change.”
“Just because we’ve read what Ken says about Marx and Foucault, doesn’t mean we’ve incorporated the insights on power and postmodernity. To me, the vast array of reflecting on our own structural privilege… these long chains of production and consumption… we need to presence our positionality, we need to be aware of that. I see there is a requirement in integral theory. We need to get over our reaction to green, and to enrich and embrace the practices. Coming from where we are coming from, we don’t need to fear the limitation of green, but we do need to understand that is the key right now, the leading evolutionary edge right now in the world. To the extent that you have tiptoed through green.. I think there is a requirement to understand and go back to it as a form of practice.”
“A practice that brings with it a tremendous sensitivity to invisible power structures, and invite us to a much more sophisticated understanding… and open up possible ways of acting, beyond comfortable spaces where we’re developing ourselves. There is an implicit elitist theory of change in integral development.”
Darcy is really laying it on. Interested to hear the community’s response to these criticisms.
“There’s a lot of work for us to do.”
“We have resources within integral theory.. but they’re not being actualized.”
Tracy asks the panel how they’re working with power structures in light of what she said:
“We have to ask… what will people be grateful for 100 years from now, with what we did with the world? For Integral, I think it is: again, what are the visible results, in the upper right hand quadrant, of my space in the upper left? In every institution that I’m a part of, how does my presence reflect my actual values of who I say I am and want to be? I think the AQAL model is perfect for that. It gives us the right-hand visible results for what’s happening in the left. If we can take responsibility for the physical results… I think change will naturally happen.”
Goodness, what a panel. I’ll pause from transcribing all these rather potent and radical statements to simply say how grateful I am for this discussion. It’s only the first day, and yet, I wish this was the keynote. More so than meta-theoretical memetic exchanges is bringing down integral theory’s efficacy for change, and thus, its capability for enacting a mode of consciousness, on the ground, for healing and crisis response. How we respond to systemic global crisis is precisely this new mode of consciousness – a new mutation, so to speak – and if we are not responding to it, what the heck is integral doing? What the heck is its relevancy? How tragic it would be if the grand narrative Wilber posits in Brief History of Everything that, when it comes to our moment of history, the integral narrative fails to respond to this moment of epochal transition?
In other words, by failing to respond, Integral theory becomes a dead end. An evolutionary cul-de-sac that did not respond to the planetary crisis and initiation.
“What the hell are we going to do?” Lisa asks.
“It’s kind of mind boggling… a slow erosion of our constitutions, and I’m speaking from a US position, but the US is an obstacle… it’s holding the world back. As an American I feel obligated to engage somehow, but I feel held back by the situation. The change model, if you want to talk about it… there’s a lot of grassroots. We’ve seen it in Occupy and the Arab Spring. Fierce love and grief that drives us as activists… The system can’t change except through people, and can’t change without a ground-swell of culture that supports that change. Once we have all these pictures then that systemic, structural aspects of the system can begin to move.”
“The political system is completely corrupted and broken. If two-thirds of the states call for a constitutional convention… then they can re-write the constitution, because the supreme court is making bad decisions, the executive branch is making bad decisions… There are pieces that are broken about corporate person-hood. The system will not be able to correct itself from the inside. But without really tackling these really hairy, scary problems, I don’t know if we really have a chance of getting to that big change.”
“Passionately caring… not knowing what to do… looking at many different levels at the larger situation, and being rooted in the prior “OK-ness” of being… what is, has a kind of perfection, otherwise it wouldn’t be. Sanity is gratitude. Gratitude and fundamental well-being with rage and an insistence of changing what’s broken. We don’t have to be neutered by our awakening and enlightenment, in fact, it can empower our activism. And this deep, intense pressing of ourselves (we don’t have to.. we’re being pressed by our circumstances)… into a koan that has us all confounded. We need better answers than any of us know. I don’t feel our answers lead to a clarity that is adequate. I feel that what we don’t know is more important than what we do.”
“The rawness, intimacy, tenderness of our way of showing up with each other is closer to truth than our very sophisticated political analysis.”
“I feel that so much of the disempowerment… stems from shame. There’s a very strong need… and would love to see the integral community do something about this… is shadow work around shame. What this community is doing in Uganda: they’ve decided that they’re going to start their own university, because so many are more Anglo-Western centric. They’ve decided that they’ve had it. It will be geared primarily towards African issues, wisdom, and possibilities from the ground up.”
This shame may have to do with the way “the world sees Africa,” and also the domination of world cultures by globalization. There is a tremendous need to come from the ground up, for everyone. A radical decentralization and empowerment must somehow take place.
Bob Kezer now on activism in the US vs. in dictatorships. He has little empathy with activism in the U.S., where the majority of us have no idea how life is like in dictatorships around the world, nor how our lives play directly into their conditions (empire, hegemony, U.S. funding…).
“Activism operates within institutional channels… When we protest, we get permits… we got out and engaged in the largest protests the human race has ever seen. If you want to work on global change you need to work out of global channels. We are the empire. Our empire is around this world.”
Bob brought it down to the ground, and simultaneously pitched the biggest, planetary perspective possible. The room is uncomfortable and charged. Trevor shouted an “amen,” and I wish I had too.
“There’s a tremendous wellspring of passion and heroism in every heart, and a willingness to step forward. It’s kind of wild about people in the streets in Brazil. There’s that level of activism in a country that’s soccer-crazy (football, they call it!) In the U.S. we’re hypnotized by cable television. Many people get that. We may see a new mobilization sooner than we think. I have a tremendous trust in emergence. Something comes from nothing every time, and I’m watching the spaces… the cracks.”
Lisa recently watched Occupy Love. Facebook revolutions and the Occupy Movement and so on. The documentary asks: how is this a love story?
“We have so much at our disposal, using technology and connecting like never before… there is this sleeping giant.. if we were to exercise that… Occupy was green and fuzzy without demands or goals. That was a experiment. The next one that comes along will… boil over again, that gives me hope. There’s so much power. That is the power of collective action and the means, the technological means to coordinate something on those massive scales.”
Marilyn Hamilton encourages us to be patient… “not yet, not yet…” the gradual release and expansion and emergence of it all. It’s happening. It will happen. And we take responsibility for playing into that…
“What’s the story of ‘not yet’ that’s going on… today? It isn’t over. There’s more.”
“We can crack the nut…. but we can’t shy away from conflict. There’s a great role for non-violent, direct and skillful action… strategies for change. We don’t know everything about what those strategies look like yet. The diaspora of activists around the world are doing amazing things to transform and make change.”
4:44. Phew, what an hour. Now it’s time for questions. I’m brimming over with thoughts and passionate feelings about this whole dialogue and feel it’s the crux of the conference thus far.
Follow up: The feedback and questions afterward were charged and passionate. I think a lot of folks feel acknowledged and recognized here. What I ended up saying in a fit of passion was that this panel felt like an equally important conversation for the integral world to have – no, I suppose I really mean to say this topic takes precedence even over the meta-theoretical “mating” happening between Bhaskar, Sean and Morin. Complexity thinking and meta theorizing will always tingle my neurons and get me thinking deeply on the world, but at the heart of it all is not a cognitive endeavor. We’re here to transform ourselves and the world.
In Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, he and Mirra (the Mother) often emphasized the importance of bringing down spiritual insight and consciousness back down into the world. In other words, the involutionary or incarnational aspect to their Yoga is in an immanental shift, an active process of sublimating our world in the divine. This means acting in the world. Really engaging with it. You can’t get more engaged than this panel has about the problems of empire, the crisis of power and the systemic failure of many world social systems that are bringing us to the precipice of collapse. Many of the panelists stated that it was hard to see how even activists could really change things for the better. There was an emphasis on being radically subversive. And yet, Marilyn Hamilton’s point is also sound in her saying, “not yet,” and the kind of patience involved in the epochal shifts that take place in evolutionary bifurcations. It takes generations of work.
Yet there is a hopeful element in all this. If Integral can get its feet on the ground and address the real, lived-world and its socio-cultural problems, it can become an ally in the struggle to realize a new consciousness. Daniel Quinn, a writer who I really came to love during high school, wrote a book called Ishmael about the problems of civilization – literally, the whole way of living, for the past 10,000 years (David Graeber’s book, Debt: The First 5000 Years also ties in here). He suggests that civilization, as it stands, is unsustainable. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. We will have to find a new way of living on a planetary scale.
Clearly, and as many folks who are more involved in the “activist” culture of radical thought have long embraced (neo-Marxist, anarchists, anti-globilization movements, radical primitivists and many sociologists) the notion of Western powers as “implicating empire“, and the currently economic model (really, a form of consciousness) as utterly unsustainable. We need radical re-thinking and re-tooling… re-imagining of human civilization. Daniel Quinn’s later book explores this point, Beyond Civilization, because he intuited that however we will be living on a planetary scale, it will have to be different.
So, let’s be frank. Political engagement is the “elephant in the room” for the integral community. We’ve avoided it, perhaps out of an allergic reaction to “green meme” – but at the cost of integral’s efficacy as a movement. What’s happening on the ground is messy and political, and its high time this community got engaged – if it truly wants to live up to its claims to be the next “stage” of human culture ( a bold claim to be sure ).
The irony is, the less integral is involved in the issues this panel has so potently articulated, the less it really comments on what’s going on with the evolution of consciousness down on the ground.
Tonight’s keynote began with an awesome talk by Jordan Luftig that addresses these points, so I don’t really feel a need to push this point any further. The subject has been breached. Now I just hope it starts gaining traction by integral enthusiasts between this weekend, and the next conference.