INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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and How Policy Must Address It
The chaotic opening to the twenty-first century demonstrates the challenge and necessity of maintaining a functional international democratic body. Theorists still hope to provide disparate nation/states with a forum of debate, where they can decide issues relevant to local and global policy. The United Nations provides this necessary conversational forum. Yet certain conceptual difficulties have deterred the UN from achieving the noble goals set forth in its charter.
The first problem besets the very foundation of the UN: the democratic administration of its policy. The ideal UN encourages all parties to debate issues that have international relevance, while representatives eschew national bias. Nationalism, indeed, is a worldview incompatible with an interconnected world of dissolving borders and boundaries. Even as the UN hopes to encourage parties to consider other viewpoints, nationalistic agendas continue to derail its mission. As Habermas and Rawls note, a discursive democracy cannot function while parties approach the debate with self-interest. The results of this conceptual shortcoming are obvious: as long as parties consider global actions as their loss, as affecting their nations negatively—economically or politically—nationalism will delay actionable policy. This occurs even as the hungry, the poor, the sick, the oppressed, all those who cannot depend on their own countries to provide the necessities of life and look to the UN for help, require aid immediately. Nationalism, furthermore, prevents the creation of a just, fair international body to regulate international transactions and hold unjust states accountable; more importantly, it also thwarts the UN's ability to follow a clear theoretical framework that pursues and implements policy precisely because the disparate and intractable nationalistic viewpoints create disunity of purpose.
To address this difficulty, one must conceive a lucid mandate for the UN that channels all debate toward a specific goal. All parties must consent to a conceptual framework that can chart policy formation and mediate between opposing biased interests. What results is a conversational forum in which reason arbitrates decision, and pragmatism advises policy. The human faculty of rationality was indeed a promising feature of the incipient UN; the ability to weigh facts, statistics, and empirical data, to observe science and not ideology, and to consider voices not one's own are hallmark capacities of the rational human being, and necessary components of a just discursive democracy. But rational persons can and often do hold a conventional developmental level. Conventional rationalists will support a democratic government of discourse and compromise within their own borders; on the international forum, however, this worldview will fail. Internationalism, as opposed to nationalism, requires individuals who hold a worldview that has developed beyond conventionalism (post-conventional). If the UN, or any international body, hopes for continued support and relevance, it must ensure a constituency of post-conventional entities who support a global democratic process. Without internationalists controlling the forum, the UN will conceptually fail.
Conventional persons or parties care most about themselves and their particular nations and cultures. As the world cultures continue to integrate and belief systems clash, representatives with conventional perspectives will be unable to negotiate rationally or compromise on volatile issues. Post-conventional thought considers one's own view in relation to another's, and it realizes one's position as functioning within a greater context: one's nation is part of a world of nations, etc. Since the UN's operations depend on post-conventional participants, one can easily discern those parties whose worldview remains non-relativistic and socio-centric; they forestall policy agreements, afraid to compromise for fear that they are somehow getting an unfair deal. They are the very parties who are derailing the UN's democratic process. They avoid relinquishing power by coercing and forcing other nations to make concessions that benefit the powerful.
Developing nations have little authority to demand that their voices partake in the conversation. Democratizing the participation of the representative countries emerges as a precondition for any successful reform. Therefore, the first step of this project is to analyze historical and psychological research to chart the personal and societal developments that lead to a democratic, universal worldview. Second, it must demonstrate how post-conventional worldviews are necessary to the function and relevance of an international body. Finally, the project must propose a mandate that forces policy makers to agree that all decisions and action must address situations that hinder the development of post-convention worldviews. This mandate will facilitate and empower the international body to reform and preside over an interdependent world. This is a task unique in history and, in terms of cultural evolution, one that only our civilization is able to undertake.
One cannot study the UN as an ahistorical body; rather, one must analyze the great cultural shifts that, in their significance, create a distinct and informative timeline of social development dating back to the first civilizations. This study reveals the historical crises that shook mighty nations and brought down the greatest empires. Due to their momentousness, their literal revolutionary scope, these cultural upheavals are patent examples of growth within the personal, cultural, political and economic spheres. But when one mentions growth, or development, the implication is a forward movement, an improvement on a past condition. These terms express value judgments, which unavoidably enter the language of theories that posit cultural evolution as progressing, not regressing. The “good,” therefore, must be defined and defended even to charges of subjectivism or cultural relativism. The “good” must be an objective term, one that an international body can integrate into its policy-making agenda and use as a guide to decision making. Postmodernists have indeed redefined the abstract “good” as a culturally relative term; they argue that any single viewpoint has no more claims to truth or justice than any other. But if a global body meets, and sets its agenda, one wonders the point of that agenda if directed toward something other than “good.” Cultural pluralists have many valid points—no voice should be silenced—but the study of history contradicts their position. If they give equal relevance to all viewpoints, they are in fact denying that their own position, that of openness and acceptance, is better than views of hatred and intolerance. Developmental psychology and sociology trace the very paths that lead to their own pluralistic, universal worldview, and to deny that their own privileged position is better than, say, a slavemaster, would be to condemn those under the slavemaster's whip to a life of perpetual torment. But to understand the “good,” as an idea to guide policy decisions, one must ground a definition in objective science, eschewing ideological positions that permit accusations of subjectivism. The objective “good” for the international body is defined as any judgment or action that promotes the development of human beings and cultures, relying on empirical developmental evidence as its roadmap.
To focus on the science of cultural evolution only (for the moment setting aside its concomitant psychological equivalent), developmental research charts distinct historical points where cultural worldviews changed. What distinguishes these relatively few tumultuous periods from other global-events, such as world wars, is that they alter the relation between the individual and the social in ways that cannot be rescinded. Once these shifts occur, the critical mass of society follows, and only minority groups are left to occupy the extremes of the developmental cycle: the traditionalists who fear progress and, opposing them, the progressives who are terrified of regress. An agrarian civilization will not return to horticulture; no logical reason exists to do so. Economically, the production boons of animal cultivation far exceed the labor of the hoe. Politically, the new paradigms of power—centralized, largely male-dominated systems accessed by control of production—will not disperse into individual family units. And the culture's shared beliefs, its group cohesion, will determine the individual's relationship to his or her surrounding environment.
The Enlightenment represents a signal cultural shift. Once science deconstructed the mythological paradigms that had bound together the political, economic, and social spheres, society's consensus opinion—among the learned and public—become one based no longer on the doctrine of a few, but empirical facts and rationality. The social sciences became subject to the analytic tools of reason, and no longer dogma. Once it became obvious that gods had not ordained certain individuals with divine authority, a tremendous amount of agency and power fell onto the public, the citizens. Suddenly the rule of a few, with unverifiable claims to power, seemed absurd and became intolerable. The rational worldview deconstructed the truth claims of the mythic worldview, and they no longer made sense. What reason did show is that each person begins this life on equal terms, and social status has more to do with conditions and access, rather than a divine or aristocratic blessing. This was a revolutionary moment of awareness. Yet even in rational societies tyrants would exist (Nazi Germany), but they would rule by force, coercion, or deception, not the illusion of divine gift. The modern tyrants must manufacture the impression of ordained power; they stifle public opinion, restrict public discourse and thought, and thereby work furiously against the forces of evolution to keep the people in a mythological stage of development. The tyrant knows that only education and discourse can provide the necessary empowerment for a revolution; therefore, the tyrant works furiously to keep the public uneducated, duped, and wary of speaking even to a neighbor, should any seditious whispers be overheard. The modern tyrant, then, ensconces the mythological doctrine by controlling education, discourse, and economic development. He begins a process of reverting rational beings back to their mythological childhood. These figures present a challenge to an international body that hopes to empower people and allay oppression and poverty.
But even free societies, which nominally offer the citizens basic freedoms, can suffer from conditions similar to those found under the despot: one of the myriad forms of injustice. A society in which any person or group lacks access to the tools necessary for development—education, sustenance, political agency—remains unjust precisely because that society is depriving its citizens of the means needed to become better human beings. Libertarian beliefs cannot support this task; development depends as much on society—community—as it does on individual initiative. The reason is simple: libertarianism presupposes the rights bestowed upon the citizens and the absence of forces that inhibit the access to those rights; in many cases, however, oppressive beyond the control of individuals simply make the good life impossible to achieve. Inescapable poverty, gender oppression, hopeless financial debt, international and interfamily coercion conspire to limit the growth of a person or a society. If individuals, then, lack access to goods necessary for personal development, who will provide these goods? The answer is the opposite of the unjust society: the just society. But can societies—tribes, nation/states, or multinationals alliances—judge themselves as just? The just state, defined as an entity providing every citizen with the opportunity to become a better human being and proceed up the developmental ladder—pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional—emerges as the most important requirement states must meet to ensure public support for an interdependent world. But to return to the question: can societies judge themselves as just? To the international standard of justice previously defined, a society cannot judge itself simply because it lacks the ability to punish its own injustice. A nation has explicit obligations to provide for its citizens; therefore, only the nation can be held responsible for a failure to supply these goods. And since a nation's leaders will not punish themselves, an international body must impose regulations on a sovereign nation. Its primary task is to hold nations accountable for the failure to supply the conditions necessary for development. Groups, such as the UN, must be empowered to police and politically enforce any nation or alliance that does not improve the conditions required for human prosperity and progress.
This policy holds nations absolutely obligated to its citizens. In situations in which a central government is too weak or insolvent to meet the people's needs, the international body must declare provisional jurisdiction and work to improve the central government's capacity for provision. But the international body faces a difficulty when it must prove that its first-world wealthy member nations are obligated to developing nations. Onora O'Neill notes that when impoverished persons claim a simple right to eat, who is obligated to answer their plea? For the international body, however, meeting unanswered pleas for justice is not an obligation, but a necessity. On a superficial level, member nations fund development because the interdependent economic world requires mutual relationships; more fundamentally, nation/states whose predominant cultural worldview remains mythological or conventional poses a direct threat to the safety and very existence of an international democratic body.
Here the fiction of absolute sovereignty must end; if a nation demonstrates insufficient means to help its citizens, the international body crosses borders and works to reform the institutional and environmental difficulties that beset growth. A mandate for an international body requires it to cultivate human beings regardless of imaginary borders that imprison the suffering within a sovereign and unjust state. The body employs peaceful, democratic methods toward this goal, for it recognizes that freethinking human beings and democratic states are not positions to be emplaced but a development to be achieved. Just as a teacher cannot simply force a pre-school student to empathize with the victims of a distant genocide, an army cannot force a genuine democratic, universal worldview on a person still living under the dominion of myth. Psychological research demonstrates clearly that development must be earned, and the journey from one step to another—archaic to magic, mythic to rational—is never easy; rather, in regards to consciousness, the move is revolutionary. Old beliefs fall apart, previous methods of coping deteriorate, and new paradigms emerge, at first, as ways to make sense of the disorganization resulting from the collapse of the previous belief structure. When the rule of the Roman Church fell to rationality, some entity had to fill the power vacuum. But among the leaders of the revolution, rationality meant equality, the end of divine or innate bestowments, and with the end of the rule of the few began the rule of the people. The result was proto-democratic governance. The important point is that democratic rule would never have occurred without individuals realization that they had the right to rule themselves, or rather, no one else had an inherent right to power. This development required, above all, education and a long passing of time to gain enough traction to supplant the mythic paradigm. Compulsion cannot replace education. The use of force ignores the developmental evidence and seeks to impose a worldview on an individual or nation. Coercion and force encourage resistance, closing minds to future growth. What the UN must encourage is not resistance, but acceptance to the unconventional. Education and acts of good will—i.e., the provision of basic goods—set the conditions for individuals to embark on the steep and difficult path toward universal or democratic beliefs.
The analysis of history demonstrates how societies and individuals develop into democratic governments and human beings with a universal, pluralistic worldview. We also see that these developments rarely take place when survival conditions cannot support it: poverty, torture, political suppression, and poor education deny human beings the opportunity to grow. The tension between rational, democratic governments and nation/states still following earlier paradigms will continue to strain attempts toward international peace. This tension is due to the reluctance on the part of democratic governments to intervene on behalf of the suffering citizens of a sovereign state. But the reluctance is justified, for no nation, as previously argued, can judge itself as just and impose its own standard on another sovereign body. The imposing nation may in fact be acting justly; however, in an interdependent world, the hubris of independence will cause only antagonism. Only a critical discourse between nations can generate the consensus needed to act and, more importantly, determine the right course of action. An international body, therefore, has the authority to intervene and provide individuals the freedom to grow as human beings. This power is not limited to act on third-world oligarchies; oppression and injustice occurring in first-world, democratic superpowers must also be addressed. Democracies cannot afford to lose the liberties and rights afforded to its citizens; and certainly democracies have the responsibility to educate their citizens on the principles that distinguish their civilization from those past. An important point made by Ken Wilber is that persons are not born advocates of democracy—rather, every individual must toil up the developmental ladder, through magic-animism, narcissism, mythic and finally, with proper nurturing, the individual will reach a rational, post-formal operational worldview that is appropriate to a true democracy. Education, therefore, provides the basis for democratic governance to continue. If the democratic state can not or will not provide a critical, liberal education to its citizens, an international body must fill the knowledge gap.
The international body must recognize developmental facts: individuals grow through distinct developmental stages and certain conditions facilitate that development. Its members should agree that a citizen who holds a universal, pluralistic yet critical worldview has more value to society than a narcissistic or nationalist individual. What separates this stance from relativism is that the international body here must make value judgments; its policy goals seek to improve societies around the globe by recognizing that, most simply, peaceful societies are better than bellicose states. The policy makers must understand that societies that currently represent, for example, the mythic-membership worldview, will not easily relinquish that worldview. Rather, history demonstrates that societies will fight barbarously to maintain their social cohesion. A new worldview, therefore, cannot be imposed from the outside of that society; the revolution must begin internally, in the heart and souls of individuals (Socrates, Jesus, Bruno) who glean critical insights into the social/political conditions and realize another interpretation of morality and law exists. Few individuals will become a Socrates, but his example remains pertinent: critical knowledge provides the material for growth. Removing a mythic worldview, therefore, occurs in slow stages in which education, political reform, and provision of basic needs combine to improve the conditions of societal and individual existence.
This new morality, the moral imperative to cultivate human prosperity and development, provides the mandate for future UN policy. Nietzsche criticized moral theories as an attempt to rationalize the morals of a specific time. This new moral imperative avoids Nietzsche by not claiming itself as the one and only rational moral imperative; rather, it views itself as a work in progress, the vanguard of the long and historical development of human morals and civilization. It recognizes that even the international body's own system is not the final morality, but it also is in a process of becoming and reaching toward more integrative systems. It includes all past moral worldviews, analyzing the good and bad of each, and tracing the ideas and revolutions that shattered the most impervious of cultural beliefs and brought human civilization one step closer to unity. It builds on Nietzsche's critique by eschewing transcendental justification and metaphysical foundations and instead relies on the history and science that demonstrate human beings and cultures have the capacity to improve. And the mandate, therefore, is to set the conditions for that improvement. This is the moral law that an international democratic body must follow.
The negotiation of any issue must center on this guiding principle: will the policy formed contribute to and enable the development of society and human beings? If all parties analyze the records of historical and psychological development, and understand that each developmental stage provides a more integrated worldview—and integration is the only possibility for a peaceful future—there should be no ambivalence restraining policy aimed toward progressing the cultivation of integral worldviews. Using Kohlberg's terminology, a sociocentric person cares for her own culture only: in the arena of international debate, this view breakdowns communication and delimits compromise. Action, therefore, on behalf of suffering entities will be delayed or misapplied. Kohlberg's psychological map is simple and clear: egocentric to sociocentric to worldcentric. In a world where information and business cross borders with impunity, a failure to encourage the worldcentric view will result in resistance and a withdrawal from international issues.
The international body must still debate the proper courses of action, but the mandate will not change. When no other entity steps forward to fulfill the rights of suffers, the international body provides the means and education needed to empower individuals to reform society. The body assumes this obligation due to having cognizance of the inevitable result that will occur should it fail: a devolution to ubiquitous hostile nation/states and avaricious individualism. These persons will react to a valueless modernity by reaching back into time to reclaim lost paradigms of belief, and the result will be tumultuous and divisive replay of the past. If the international body aspires to integration—a noble goal—than it must propagate the conditions that enable worldviews of democracy and universalism. Our survey of psychological and social research had demonstrated that education can support this development; the research also shows that hunger, oppression and coercion delimit human achievement. It seems, then, that if anyone hopes for an integrated world, these evils must be addressed. Once basic survival needs are met, persons can rest their bodies and instead begin to use their minds. And, like national education, the agenda for world education must overcome provincialism and seek curriculums that avoid the narrow, divisive canons of a particular group. The international body should establish curriculum guidelines that situate national/group histories within the greater context of a global, interconnected community. A sovereign nation's failure to comply with the progressive agenda will result in punitive actions. First, it would employ sanctions and economic development initiatives that undermine a corrupt state. The international body, however, cannot turn its back on abject human conditions and the oppression that stifles the human spirit. It must decide an appropriate course of action to punish a sovereign state that commits internationally recognized crimes against its citizens. The potential for an international military force would mainly serve as a deterrent; however, if a state is criminally harming its people, some entity must be in place to hold it accountable. But the assignment of military forces must only occur when the international body debates and agrees that the benefits outweigh the risks, and the operations are not substitutes for a revolution (for we have seen that this is a poor way to encourage development) but rather serve as rescue operations to save the men, women, and children who are too oppressed and hopeless to fight for themselves.
As nations resist ceding sovereign law to an international law, a global regulatory body must become authoritative, respected, and work by defining clear policies that its member nations follow and propagate. It recognizes that certain preconditions exist for successful discourse in the international arena, primarily, the development of a worldcentric, universal stance. Nationalism and conservatism still delimits successful global compromise on actionable policy; moreover, it forms a confused mission statement that confounds self-interest with global altruism. The UN must recognize the historical development of morals within individuals and cultures. Once its members understand that the conventional worldview cannot operate affectively on international matters, it will take action to develop the post-conventional, worldcentric stance in first, second, and third world nations. It recognizes that development occurs with a proper education that rejects convention and narrow viewpoints, seeking instead to instill the mindset of critique and openness. The international body also understands that for individuals to excel, basic needs must be met. A citizen facing political or sexual oppression, hunger or poverty faces extreme and sometimes insurmountable resistance to human achievement. When a nation/state cannot or will not mitigate these conditions, the international body must, for it recognizes that in an interconnected world, the only way to sustain peace and prosperity is to create a global culture of integrated and informed citizens. Deprivation of basic goods such as food and education restrains cultures and individuals in levels of development that are hostile to universalism. Mythic warring tribes or nations cannot contribute to a global community based on discourse, understanding, and critique. These terms simply do not apply to the mythic or conventional levels of development. If these narrow worldviews were to prevail, and gain predominance again around the world, the international body itself would perish. The international body, therefore, assumes these obligations for the sake of its very survival. It requires a constituency of international citizens dedicated to its progressive, universal agenda. And though an international body seeks change, it recognizes that any cultural development progresses slowly and laboriously, and it understands that the achievement of a global democratic community will in fact require many, many revolutions. It therefore avoids quick, superficial solutions that attempt to revolutionize a society from without while failing to consider the within. It replaces force of arms with a mandate to propagate policy that contributes to the educational development of worldviews. It hopes that once citizens understand their place in the ongoing development of morals and society, they will contribute to and embrace the progressive agenda of the international body. In the final analysis, therefore, it appears that the most powerful weapon put forth by the international body is an ancient, formidable tool, long forgotten in the ages of warfare—liberal education.
Habermas, Jürgen. 1998. The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory. Ed. Ciaran Cronin. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Trans. and ed. W. Kaufman. New York: Modern Library.
O'Neill, Onora. 2000. Bounds of Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
West, Cornel. 1999. The Cornel West Reader. New York: Basic Civitas Books.
Wilber, Ken. 2000. Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala Publications
Alexander Ruder lives in Los Angeles, California and studie Wilber's theories in relation to Political Science and International Relations. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org