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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. 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


Creating an Integral Society with Integral Marxism

Joe Corbett

Very simply and briefly, here's an integral Marxist analysis of how societies change using the AQAL map.

Can an integral Marxism create an integral society? Of course not. Even if it is correct, a theoretical description of how society works cannot change society. Only people working together, and often times against each other, can change society. But if they have a common roadmap for things that need to be done with and against each other, society will be changed more or less according to the theoretical map they have of how society works and what needs to be done to change it.

So how does Integral Marxism describe society and what needs to be done to change it? First of all, the dialectic of human history so central to Marxism isn't just between the classes of society in the LR, but is between all of the quadrants, as well as between the levels, lines, and types. But an integral Marxism still reserves a special place for class in the LR quadrant as a foci for the many dialectics at play in society. And this means that Justice, defined as the dynamical relation of balance between the parts of the whole (otherwise sometimes known as the Tao, or Spirit), or more generally the interobjective relations of a system (the objective totality of what is), plays a pivotal role in the unfolding of human destiny.

Karl Marx with sunglasses

The LR quadrant is crucial in explaining how emergent phenomena come from systems in chaotic crises and conflict, and it provides a concentrated look into how larger emergent phenomena come from the entire system of the AQAL itself, as a totality of quadrant-domains (and levels, lines, and types) in constant dynamical interaction and conflict. As all the parts of the system come into a crisis of sustainable balance in a far from equilibrium state, rapid transformations occur at tipping points of unsustainability, where the system must rapidly re-organize its relations into a higher synthesis if it is to survive and ultimately thrive as a developmental, evolutionary, organic living system. This is spirit-in-action, the core of historical materialism.

Very simply and briefly, here's an integral Marxist analysis of how societies change using the AQAL map. The social world emerges out of and is enfolded within the multiple and overlapping dialectics of the domain-fields called Truth in the UR, or the forces of production (extensions of the body such as resources, labor, populations, technology); Justice in the LR, or the relations of production (master/slave, owner/worker, cooperative commons); Goodness in the LL, or ideology (religion, sports and entertainment, nationalism, consumerism); and Beauty in the UL, or species-being (creativity, intelligence, greed).

At some point in the development (and demise) of the objective forces of technology, disenfranchised labor, changing demographics, and/or dwindling natural resources in the UR, these fettered and degraded forces will come into critical and terminal conflict with the existing relations of political power and money interests in the LR from a previous level of the development of these forces. At that point the military-police that protect and serve these entrenched relational interests in the LR will be called upon to defend the reigning relations, and a full-blown revolutionary class war will break out that will rapidly transform the relations of production within society so that it can more fully accommodate the development of the forces of production in the UR.

So far this is just standard Marxist historical materialism, not taking into account the interior dimensions of how society changes. Although this is just a mapping of the exterior territory, seeing the variables in each quadrant and how they are or could be interacting and related to the others can still be helpful in understanding the landscape of variables and the vectors of influence we are dealing with. But the possibilities an integral analysis opens up for expanding a Marxian analysis is considerable. For instance, financialization and AI surveillance are tools (technologies in the UR) that have been used to greatly enhance the inequality of relations in the LR when applied for orange purposes (profits and control over people). But financialization and AI could also be used toward green purposes, such as creating a national wealth fund to support social safety nets, or automation to relieve people of drudgery and provide them with a Univeral Basic Income instead of soul crushing and exploitative labor that only a mean orange meme could possibly enjoy and mostly benefit from. A green new deal to protect the degradation of the atmosphere is also something that would be integral to transforming the relations of production in the LR from a centralized fossil fuel civilization at amber-orange to a distributed renewable energy civilization at green-teal.

The ideologies in the LL at amber such as patriotic nationalism (my country right or wrong) and religious beliefs about abortion can also be used to enhance the dominant power relations in the LR through an alliance of amber and orange. However nationalism could also be used at an orange level (all are created equal and free) and religion at a green level (compassion for the meek) to fight back against rather than reinforce the dominator relations in the LR that are from a previous level in the development of the forces in the UR. This would create an alliance between orange and green, and perhaps persuade some of amber to get on board with more sophisticated and fulfilling interpretations of identity and meaning. But as long as the LL needs for identity and meaning around nationalist and religious issues are surrendered to amber, the progressive left agenda will be disadvantaged and sidelined for ignoring a vital need for human identity and meaning.

Taking an integral analysis further into Marxist territory, reconfiguring desire (UL) built around magical, narcissistic, and conformist consumerism (LL) toward more green and teal solidaristic forms of empathic and spiritual sentiments (also LL) is crucially important, and should be central to any social transformation project. In particular, any UBI should be connected to a personal responsibility to engage in projects of self-development such as learning a new skill, hobby, language, art, meditation practice, etc. that would simultaneously expand economic services helping to pay for the UBI, and set the conditions for interior development to evolve alongside any exterior development in society. Indeed, a learning society of body, mind, and soul could serve as a new paradigm from the consumer society of the spectacle, and from the productive society of extractive labor to the creative society of the productive body-mind-soul, with robots rather than other humans serving as our slaves.

With this brief and broad overview of how an Integral Marxism might describe society and its vectors of influence, and what might need to be done to change it, I will turn now to the issue of race and immigration and their importance in how we approach societal change in the present historical context.

Immigration is one of the single biggest factors for the turn to the right in America and beyond, with support for protectionist nationalism on the rise. This undoubtedly comes from the insecurity of a global economy that increases competition between nations and (along with war) causes mass migrations of affected populations. This has caused a mass incursion over time of non-euro-american peoples into lands with majoritarian euro-american populations. The right has exploited this to their advantage by listening to (and sometimes stoking) the fears of their constituent populations that their cultural heritage is being over-run and their economic prospects are being diminished by these “invaders”, while the left has either ignored these concerns or labelled them as racist. The consequence of this failure on the part of the left to take their constituents seriously is Brexit and Trump.

There is no doubt that whether it is true or not (and there is uncertainty about the facts), it is perceived by the native populations that the “invaders” are depressing wages and taking jobs from native citizens, in addition to draining scarce social services already under pressure from austerity policies. On top of that, people from non-euro-centric societies tend not to have the same traditions and beliefs as euro-americans, and this in itself is worrying to euro-christian culture at amber. This is not about racism, but about cultural self-preservation, which is the right of every culture, and something that is aggressively advocated by the left. But when euro-christian culture stands up for its right to cultural self-preservation, suddenly the left calls out racism. When people see this hypocrisy on the left, it disgusts them and they turn right.

The same can be said for the recent rise in the Black Lives Matter narrative about racism being present behind nearly every disparity between blacks and whites, regardless of the nuances and facts. For instance, a black child in the inner city with a poor education and a spoken dialect of eubonics has about the same opportunity for social mobility as a white child in Appalachia with a poor education and a spoken dialect of hillbilly. Attributing systemic racism to this kind of multi-generational poverty for blacks but not for whites, ignores the multiple factors relating to culture and psychology that also need to be addressed, and calling out racism for issues that are more nuanced and complex turns people away from the left and towards the right.

If there is one thing an Integral Marxism can help us do it is to avoid the reductionist analysis to the categories of race, class, and gender in the LR when it comes to issues of critiquing and dismantling systems of power and oppression. While the categories of social relations within the LR are central to liberating social relations toward their full developmental potential, and under the rightful name of Justice, they are not the only game in town. And ignoring the complete picture of the domains and levels involved will not only limit our ability to see clearly and make effective changes, it will work against our goal of creating change through people working together (and sometimes at odds) for a better, more developed future.

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