In many ways this was a culminative night. I just got through the “Beyond Speaking Truth to Power: Integral Modes of Social and Political Activism,” which was a deeply affirming experience for me. As I said in that post: let’s face it, political activism is the elephant in the room. Many have leveled this criticism, including myself, and that is that the integral world is dangerously politically naive. It’s high time we changed that, asking ourselves how we might be playing into the systemic problems we are claiming to be the answer for. This is “beyond speaking truth to power” to me. So, I was nodding my head as Jordan began to situate everything in a narrative. After all, this is not just meta-theory building (I’m imagining that’s something like a LEGO conference for grown-ups). It’s about enacting an integral culture. As Jordan said, “instead of asking where we are headed, it’s more important to ask how we get there.”
Furthermore, he suggested that “our preferred attitude is scientific, not political. Descriptive, not normative. Neglecting our will to power” is a failure to engage with the cultural narrative (PS: Scientists have been quite political, especially lately. Think of Carl Sagan’s work, Cosmos, as a means to try to steer public consciousness away from the madness of the Cold War arms race into a deeper, biospheric and even galactic contemplation of the “Pale Blue Dot.” That dude put satellites into space, but he was in no way culturally disengaged. So the science-as-neutral observer is hardly an excuse for disengaging from the social sphere). Quite frankly, if integral can’t or doesn’t engage it, it risks irrelevancy. It risks the same problem that the academic world is imploding with right now.
Jordan continued with saying that “we orient from the upper-left quadrant, which makes us individualists, not collectivists, let alone activists.” He called out the community for a possible escapism into “neutrality,” and invited everyone to embrace their “will-to-power.” He brought up some criticisms from 2010′s conference, leveling Integral as: “Totalizing, colonizing, corporate, hegemonic, imperialist, and ideological.” While clearly a postmodern critique, Jordan aptly points out that “we would be foolish if we didn’t think it says something about us,” and after this afternoon’s panel, I think he’s right. This is the big elephant in the room.
“Instead of presencing the will to power our stance entails – we pass over it. The question is why. Conflict avoidance. Confronting systemic power takes courage.”
Without taking a deep look at this, integral risks being the “Emperor with no clothes.” Integral ultimately risks its relevancy as a cultural force: “We forsake our stand for an integral future, or a planetary culture.”
I can’t help but feel this is the crux point of the whole conference. This is the question. But Jordan’s talk wasn’t all dire. It was a call to enact integral’s potential and power. Integral is not neutral. Maybe it’s been wielding that power into the hands of “colonizing” and “imperialist” attitudes because of its failure to heed the call, but that can change.
Jordan contextualizes MetaIntegral as a baby step towards a “global digital network.” It may not be actualized yet, but through their mistakes they are moving towards it. I’m glad for this honesty.
Since 2010, we’ve seen the rise of “new economy movements” in the West through Occupy, and tremendous socio-political upheavals from the Arab Spring to the current ongoing protests worldwide. Jordan levels the integral community as “bystanders” to this zeitgeist, which in my mind puts integral smack dab into a crisis of relevancy. Isn’t it supposed to be tapped into what’s happening in consciousness? If it isn’t, or if its dismissing it as merely “green meme” activism, then what the heck is integral good for?
And yet, we live in tremendous times. Jordan compares our age to that of the American Revolutionary War. America’s founders rejected the corrupt monarchies and power structures at that time and stood for a new vision of human society – enacting the consciousness of modernity in doing so. Why would we feel exempt from another tremendous upheaval, enacted by new modes of consciousness, new sensibilities of compassion and justice, in our own time? Especially a community which claims to understand the stages and developments of consciousness through history. Integralists can eat their own words with a bitter flavor of self-irony, or take the “power” they are sitting on and join in the long, hard road of social transformation.
Jordan doesn’t shy away from the visions of the integral community: to become the “intellectual precursor” to the next big revolution.
He suggests that, theoretically, integral is on the right track. But it needs to be more politically engaged. It needs to embrace its political power.
So here’s my two cents, Jordan, and my readers: why not invite the bemoaned “green meme” thinkers next conference? What a dialogue that would be. Bring in activists and academics involved with Occupy and the Arab Spring. Bring them into the intellectual foray of the Kosmopolitan just as you brought in Bhaskar and Morin. I think integral will be ready for this soon.
Jordan ended with the idea of the “Spirit of History” (a Hegelian concept,no?). That we can allow the Spirit of History to work through us by “getting in the way.” Escapism or neutrality won’t do. We’re alive in this time, this space, this context. Keep the vision – you need not abandon it or let it fall to the wayside, losing yourself in the barracks and trenches of the current “war” of political upheavel. Your vision is needed down here. All you visionaries and mystics, climb down to the trenches, as Teilhard de Chardin did in his time serving during WWI as a field medic, staring death and destruction in the eye, and yet still coming to recognize the Omega Point amongst the foray of bullets and bayonets. We need what Gloria Anzaldua called “spiritual activists,” bringing the best of both worlds together. Please heed this call.
“Get in trouble, necessary trouble,” Jordan says. I share the deepest affirmation of this calling.
OK, now, time to really switch things up.
Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism 101: Meta-Theory Dialogues
This was a surprising turn, in that I was anticipating Roy’s engagement with the Integral community, but wasn’t quite expecting to receive a Critical Realism 101. That’s exactly what this was. I admit I learned a lot, it stretched my brain like only a graduate level philosophy class can do. Roy gave us a relatively “quick” (well, over 2 hours or so… but that’s quick for a lifetime’s philosophical work) rundown of Critical Realism’s various stages, and the “13″ gifts it could offer an integral meta-theory Sean posited yesterday. Personally, I was hoping to have more engagement, wrestling with the contours with the theories and more specific elucidations of where Critical Realism could address both Morin’s Complexity Thought and Integral Theory. Also, why it can help the meta-theory? Roy offered “gifts” – but why? What was it that they were needed for? I suppose this would have entailed an even larger, longer discussion. At any rate, for what Roy did, I enjoyed it. He is an engaging lecturer, and what he offered the audience was not easy to digest, but his demeanor was pleasant and sensitive. You go for a really wild ride, intellectually speaking. To be truthful, this probably was not the appropriate place to offer an introduction to his heavy, theoretical work. Especially since most of us are not grounded in Critical Realism and didn’t have a sufficient background in the discipline to be familiar with many of his terms.
What would have been better? If Roy, Sean, and Morin had a 3-manned panel discussion. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This would have better enacted the theme and value of the “Kosmopolitan” spirit of the conference. I hope this model can be used for future events. It would have also really helped keep the audience more engaged.
All that being said, Roy offered some interesting theoretical tools for the integral meta-theory I can try to go over (mind you, I haven’t read his works yet!)
Bhaskar’s talk began with a discussion on power (Thanks Jordan!). In Critical Realism, there’s a concept of “Transformative Capacity.” But he doesn’t get to that for 2 hours or so. In the meanwhile, the gist of his presentation is to offer “13 points to ‘heaven’” – tools that Critical Theory can offer as a “kind of gift to the movement we’re creating here.” Bhaskar repeatedly used inclusive language during his talk, which I appreciated, and felt quite natural. He referred to “our” movement and included himself in the collective in meta-theory building. He sounded like he’s all-aboard. I’m sure this must be exciting for AQAL enthusiasts, and Sean himself seems to be beaming about having Roy as an intellectual collaborator.
Despite the heavy philosophical lecture, then, I got a deep sense of brotherhood and the kind of rising energy present of a new, collaborative engagement. There’s truly a meeting of minds present. That’s what this half of the keynote was all about, and it may or may not have translated to the rest of the conference participants.
To give you a general idea, Bhaskar offered a “life story,” how he got involved in philosophy – moving from his interest in economics to addressing the odd theoretical customs of the time (theories apparently weren’t meant to engage with the world, due to Kant and Hume’s axiom: thou shall not do ontology).
Bhaskar discussed Critical Theory’s role in providing a response to Kant and Hume’s aversion to ontology – and here is where I got a bit muddled in the terms and ideas (forgive me, I haven’t read philosophy in quite some time). Suffice to say, he offers a rather brilliant critique of Kant and Hume while providing an alternative framework that, arguably, brings together human reason, science, and even relativism into an intriguing theory of reality that attempts to answer, and move beyond, the postmodern world. Big kudos and credit to this man’s mind.
As it turns out, though, he didn’t stop there. Critical Realism kept evolving. It started to enfold more and more ideas, including dialectical thought, and, eventually, non-dualistic and philosophical-mystical insights that are, in my mind anyway, well argued and clearly presented. Coming from a position of being in “mainstream” British academia, he went out on a limb to argue these points. He’s brave for doing this, but it makes it all the more enticing (perhaps, in a poetic way, this shouldn’t be surprising: his parents were Theosophists, one of the foundational movements of modern spirituality). What I liked about how Bhaskar presented non-duality to us was that he was giving very concrete examples. When you get caught up in a good book – that’s non-duality. When you get caught up in a good lecture, that’s an example of non-duality. So it happens everyday, in common-place ways. But you can go deeper, of course, into the experiences of “one” consciousness. This spiritual turn is Critical Realism’s turn into “MetaReality” discourse.
Bhaskar offered each of these insights (and with much more detail, of course) to the larger, meta-integral discussion, ending with the 13th gift, which I’ll describe, “Immanence of Heaven.”
Just as we all have moments of non-duality with each other and the world, we also have moments of universal compassion and trust. Moments of heaven. Even in economics, when we pay for, say, coffee at a register, we share a moment of trust. The cashier trusts you are going to pay them, and you trust you’ll be able to walk away with a coffee. Bhaskar says this is actually an example of the Golden Rule: Do unto others. “This governs the way we behave in commercial transactions,” he says. The dualistic world we live in is filled with what Bhaskar calls these “pockets” of non-dual reality, the “immanence of Heaven.” As incomplete and finite as they are, they reach back into an aspect of reality that is transcendent, reciprocal, where we are all connected. He calls this world, the world of duality, a “demi-reality” – and I was struck by this as it sounds superficially like the Gnostic and Hermetic concept of “Demiurge,” which were, according to their creation myths, half-gods that weave the world of separation and material existence. The goal of the Hermeticists is to give up their lower nature, as much as possible, and break past the demiurgic sovereigns to re-gain their non-dual and “un-fallen” state. I sense, narratively, that Bhaskar’s philosophical system has moved in a similar way – reclaiming first the possibility of depth and rejecting reductionism, and then moving into the deeper spiritual waters. Finally, the 13th gift represents a call to action – to realize these immanent moments of the divine in our world.
I’ll end here and catch some sleep. Hope you enjoyed the run-through. See you all tomorrow!