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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has spent the last ten years living in Shanghai and Beijing, China. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at


An Integral Use of Violence for Social Transformation?

Joe Corbett

For me, eliminating the more destructive and eco-genocidal forms of predatory global capitalism is a matter of self-preservation for the species.

If you go over to the website Meta-Integral you will see the latest attempt to reboot integral institute in the form of 'Metaintegral', where much of the core integral leadership is still very concerned about alienating any potential customers that are willing to pay big fat corporate consulting fees for official integral services. And as long as this is the case, you can kiss your dreams of a progressive integral stance on issues of social justice coming from the core integral leaders goodbye. This goes to the heart of a common and widespread criticism of the integral status quo among its more progressive practitioners, like those over at the website Beams and Struts, that integral theory and practice lacks spine, if not being completely out to lunch, when it comes to issues of social justice.

Major change does not come by working with your opponents, particularly if they are the vested interests of out-moded powers, but rather by seizing power from them and imposing change from above. I know this sounds horrific and contradictory to the green-crowd slogan of being the change you want to see, but it's the only way I see for the center of gravity to be shifted to democratic-equity or higher in a timely and orderly fashion, and history bears this out. The capitalist classes brought us into modernity and shifted the center of gravity in the west from static-tradition to mobile-achievement by seizing power with force and codifying their values into the legal and institutional practices of society, in other words, not by the force of persuasion but the persuasion of material force.

So for me, the discussion of integral progressive politics really shifts to how power can be seized from the corporate mainstream and then regulated out of existence and replaced by alternatives before its too late for all of us and countless other species on this planet. A mix of transitional alternatives such as permaculture, peer-to-peer cooperatives, local community based eco-socialism, etc. are certainly the way forward, but it's not like we have the next hundred years to make this transition. The earths' ecosystems are in rapid decline, and the powers that be have no serious intention of helping the transition along. Therefore, there must be two fronts of change: one, to build alternative systems; and two, to bring an end as soon as possible to predatory corporate capitalism by arresting and seizing power whenever and wherever the opportunities emerge, and by whatever integral means necessary.

As a self-described libertarian socialist with a militant predisposition, I resonate very much with the issue of what to transcend and include vs. what to transcend and exclude. For me, eliminating the more destructive and eco-genocidal forms of predatory global capitalism is a matter of self-preservation for the species and its current inhabitants. No other priority (other than creating the alternatives to replace predatory capitalism) could be more important at this stage in human development. Now, as to how this can be accomplished by skillful means, I keep in mind two things Ken Wilber has said: first, if you see Hitler on the street, by all means, kill him; and second, change never really happens until the generation that is hegemonic and in control of social laws and institutions simply start to die off from old age, leaving open space and room for alternatives to emerge and the center of gravity to shift upward.

The trouble is, we don't have time for the capitalist ruling classes (the orange moderns) to die off of old age. That could take many generations, and the earth simply doesn't have the time to wait for this to happen, especially given the ability of the ruling classes to reproduce their cultural ideology through control of the mass media, the schools, and the political system. Therefore, it seems to me there is a need for even more drastic and militant measures than OWS enacts through organized mass protest. Self-preservation, and the clarity for further human development in its wake, requires more than civil disobedience as usual. It may require a vanguard of integral visionary militants who are willing to be very rude and even dangerous threats to the entrenched interests of power and wealth, and not, as the inner integral circle has been, the gentle friends and accomplices of the modern (suicidal-homicidal) pathology.

Self-preservation and further human progress may even require, to the shock and horror of all civilized beings, uncivilized means to the end of saving the golden goose from the predatory wolves. Was this not how the world was saved from the Nazis? And in our current crisis, can we transcend the slow rot of a barbaric capitalist civilization without including the swift means of a violent end to its existence? Future generations will want to know why we 'gentle souls' did not at least give this 'unthinkable path' serious consideration.

Of course, there is the risk of backlash against certain methods used to oppose power and money, which reminds me of that 'Matrix' quote where Morpheus says most people are so completely asleep and identified with the system they will do anything to defend it. With this in mind, and also relating to Chris Hedges critique of the black bloc anarchists, on the one hand there are destructive acts of violence that almost always invite backlash and never accomplish anything but negative returns, such as throwing bricks into store windows, burning parked cars, fighting the police, or blowing up buildings and innocent people. This is indeed senseless and counterproductive in an unskilled and unwise use of violence. So I'm actually in agreement with Hedges as far as this goes.

The question is whether violence can ever be used in a way that is instructive and mobilizing of the people against power and money, and I think it can if it is used in an intelligent and precisely targeted way. For instance, if key leaders of the 1 percent, e.g. central players in the banking collapse, corrupt corporate politicians, unrepentant fossil fuel energy executives, billionaire neocon-philanthropists, and racist/war-mongering media pundits and their owner-masters were assassinated (without innocent bystanders being harmed) the mass media would be virtually forced to put a spotlight on the criminal and anti-democratic histories of these individuals and the motives behind killing them.

In fact, this may be the only way most people would ever be exposed to the issues that the alternative media cranks out on a daily basis. For perhaps the first time in the history of the mainstream media (at least since the Vietnam war), pundits would be forced to publically look at themselves and their masters as accomplices in the oppression of the people. And for the people themselves, it could finally give clarity and direction to the anger and frustration that is already seething and just waiting for the right moment to trigger it into action. In America it could become a teaching moment (and a call to action) over what the right to bear arms is really all about, namely, rising up against ones oppressors.

And as for those who might step up to take the places of the fallen elite, I don't think there would be many takers in such a climate. Remember, the war on terror recruits new members with nothing to lose on the basis of a backlash that is ethnically and religiously inspired against foreign invaders, but the petty-bourgeois corporate managers and owners have everything to lose, and everything to gain from a quiet retirement to the Swiss alps where nobody is likely to bother them.

Perhaps the notion of cycles needs to be added to integral theory, particularly with regard to the entrenched interests of power within social hierarchies. It would probably be linked to the need for collective shadow work, as social classes tend to become the ossified expressions of a collective ego that needs to be periodically shattered for progress to take place. And as anybody knows who has gone through a dark night of the soul process, it's not a very pleasant experience and can sometimes feel very violent indeed. But can we avoid or skip over this process altogether by simply 'being the change we want to see'? It's doubtful, and that would seem to be contrary to the whole notion of a built-in need for cycles in the first place as a condition for the advancement of stages. As Ken Wilber says, the true guru is going to fry your ass and take no prisoners. I don't think we can expect any less from social revolution.

Let me close with another reminder from Ken Wilber that the cultural revolution of the Renaissance really only involved a few dozen people, a vanguard of visionary revolutionaries who were willing to go where no one else dared or could imagine to go, and sometimes under the direct threat of death by burning at the stake from the authorities who were watching over them. I think we should take state surveillance by the likes of the FBI as a badge of honor and a credential of authenticity for standing up to the Roman guards.

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