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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Dr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: integraldeeplistening.com and his YouTube channel.
Part 4: Three Core Barriers to Polycentrism
Our identity is formed and maintained largely by the different perspectives we encounter in life. These in turn generate our sense of control, life direction, meaning, and our relationships with others. This essay series explains varieties of this fundamental and adaptive ability and how limitations in how we approach perspectives can go wrong, creating undue personal suffering and even societal collapse.
While prepersonal multi-perspectivalism constructs our socio-cultural scripted identity and cognitive multi-perspectivalisms create maps that allow us to navigate the territories of our world, polycentric multi-perspectivalisms, both those which are non-phenomenally-based and those which are phenomenally-based, allow us to move beyond self and Self-development by radically expanding and thinning our identity while reducing our identification with it. We have seen how the genetically and scripted mandate for the establishment and maintenance of self control works in many ways to impose real and significant barriers to polycentrism. We can now turn our attention to three more specific barriers, the first in the domain of the priorities we set, the second regarding problem-solving, and the third in the realm of human relationships.
Neglect of foundational relational exchanges
“Relational exchange” is a concept from social psychology that Ken Wilber adapts within the Integral AQAL framework. It roughly parallels Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in structure and function. The difference is that while Maslow's concept addresses interior psychological processes, the concept of relational exchange emphasizes interdependent relationships with others and the environment. This is not a superficial difference, because while Maslow's formulation prejudices the interior quadrants by focusing on intention and preferences in the interior individual quadrant and expectations and interpretations in the interior collective quadrant, Wilber's adaptation of relational exchange emphasizes interaction between both interior and exterior and individual and collective quadrants, creating a much more interdependent understanding of what we want, at what stage of development we are most likely to want it, and how we are most likely to go about getting what we want. It also emphasizes “we” rather than “I,” in that it focuses on interactional reciprocity rather than on simple psychological geocentrism.
Here is Wilber's schema of the various relational exchanges, which he correlates with different stages of self-development, taken from the appendices of his Integral Psychology:
Clearly, the lower relational exchanges, which are associated with food, shelter, sex. health, safety, and security, are necessary steps in the development of every human. All development begins with focusing on the foundational relational exchanges, so children, adolescents, and young adults, who together are going to make up at least a third of any healthy society, will be preoccupied with their pursuit. Then, when we add to that developmental third those adults and retired people whose professional or private lives are built around this or that lower relational exchange, through the accumulation of wealth, status, or providing nutritional or physical protection to the public, whether for personal satisfaction or for service to others, we can see that there will always be an overwhelming majority of people who will naturally and inevitably be focusing on the foundational relational exchanges. In addition, all of us spend considerable time every day eating, working, shopping, cleaning, repairing, and sleeping, all of which involve tend to support the security and stability provided by foundational relational exchanges. While our access to these foundational relational exchanges can become assumed, or “background,” allowing us to pursue higher relational exchanges, like the arts, philosophy, introspection, and hobbies, our dependency on them never goes away or diminishes in fundamental importance. We know that at any time they could be undermined or simply disappear. The very realistic fear of their possible absence continues to lurk in the dark recesses of our minds. To assume the continued presence of foundational relational exchanges can be a catastrophic error, as the assumption that European society could run without access to Russian gas and oil has demonstrated.
Sources of neglect of foundational relational exchanges
We are biologically and cognitively programmed from birth to focus on these foundational relational exchanges, not only because they are pre-requisites for survival, but because for the vast majority of human existence they were all we had time to focus on. They provide the essential structural underpinning and framework for quality focus on higher relational exchanges. To the extent that fundamental relational exchanges become lesser priorities it is generally because they have been fulfilled to a degree that allows higher relational exchanges to come to the fore. Idealists, because they have the intention, time, and freedom to focus on higher relational exchanges, like philosophical speculation and pursuit of enlightenment, provide clear examples of this principle. Governmental bureaucracies, regardless of their political orientation, insulated by sinecures from common fears of the absence of foundational relational exchanges, provide another example. However, the basic relational exchanges are ignored at any developmental level at one's own peril. While it is certainly possible to build life around higher relational exchanges represented by things like education, meditation, or “service industries,” without a solid foundation in these fundamental support systems, their absence hinders our development and on a societal level, leads to complacency and corruption.
Foundational relational exchanges call out to us throughout life to be addressed. For example, when one stops eating or caring about shelter, life expectancy plummets. The West is currently experiencing what happens when industry is neglected and offshoring and the cultivation of “services” is emphasized instead. For example, the industrial infrastructure necessary for the provision of military security has largely evaporated in the west. When governments neglect the basic relational exchanges of sufficient numbers of their citizens, they are overthrown, as Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the UK, has recently discovered.
If we are genetically predisposed to focus on foundational relational exchanges, why and how would we neglect them? Conscience, as well as appeals to morality, democracy, spirituality, or human rights, have not solved this problem. When people acquire power, wealth, and status they naturally feel insulated from the loss of foundational relational exchanges and identify with ingroups that experience a similar sense of insulation. Their attention tends to either focused on higher relational exchanges or in advancing the personal status, wealth, or power they have attained. The plight of those who have no choice but to focus on lower relational exchanges - the poor and disempowered - commonly become a lower priority than the interests of ingroup members who share a similar worldview, life position, and investment. This is consequentially and partially a failure to cultivate polycentrism. If there is no clear and strong identification with the perspectives, and therefore the worldview and priorities of the poor, the disempowered, and of our global ecosystems, it doesn't matter how intelligent or knowledgeable a person or government is. Intelligence and power are unlikely to translate into concern for their physical security because other priorities will take precedence. This constitutes a personal and societal abandonment of the foundational exchanges for the collectives that sustain our existence.
It is possible to create a positive and meaningful life focused on fulfilling some basic relational exchange of humanity, as Nobel prize winning agronomist Norman Borlaug did in developing hybrid varieties of food crops that brought food security to millions around the globe. It is indeed noble to do so, and to do otherwise, when we possess the means, is immoral, while altruism is highly correlated with happiness. However to this point in the history of the world, most governments and nations have built up the fundamental relational exchanges of their population by neglecting the fundamental relational exchanges of outgroups, that is, of those living in other countries, and blocking their ability to access higher level relational exchanges. They have also neglected and exploited the foundational relational exchanges provided by nature, mostly due to the faulty and extremely dangerous assumption that they are inexhaustible. While professing otherwise, most nations strengthen the security of their governing and power elites at the expense of the vast majority of their own citizens. These collective preferences are not only immoral; a bigger and more important issue is that they hollow out countries and lead to their collapse, just as on an individual level the ignoring of basic relational exchanges reduces life expectancy.
Another source of neglect of fundamental relational exchanges involves an over-absorption on one or another of them. We can easily become addicted to accumulating or securing some basic relational exchange. “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” The most common of these is, of course, wealth, since it not only provides security, but access to the fulfillment of multiple other relational exchanges. Life work is often about generating security by accumulating wealth, and this can become addictive due to social reinforcement, personal satisfaction, and fear of loss of either security or pursuit of status. For example, gamblers, whether in casinos or on stock exchanges or in banks, habitually take risks that can easily undermine fundamental relational exchanges. Drug and sex addicts also focus on one relational exchange to the detriment of important, even essential, others.
Idealists, of which integralists are only one variety, focus on higher relational exchanges. The rationale often is that if we focus on self-development, that will at some point translate into an improvement of society as a whole. This might be regarded as the psychological equivalent of the “trickle down” theory in economics, a refinement of Smith's famous “invisible hand,” in which society benefits when each individual pursues his or her own interests. While there is a time in life, largely the first sixteen or so years, where an emphasis on self-development is essential, at some point thereafter self-development provides diminishing returns both individually and for society. This is similar to the concept of “diminishing marginal utility,” in which wealth past that necessary to provide access to higher relational exchanges yields increasingly less security and value. In contrast, an emphasis on service to the collective provides increasing returns, relatively speaking, once the foundational relational exchanges have been fulfilled to some realistic level. How “realistic” is defined very much depends on the society and culture, but a good default assumption is that you can be happy and secure with much less than you think. It is also wise to remember that possessions and addictions easily distract from listening to emerging potentials and finding and following one's unique life compass.
To use an economic analogy, happiness and wealth are not correlated. Increasing wealth brings a proportionately reduced amount of happiness. This is called the “Easterlin Paradox. This truth is reflected in the universal understanding that past some age, say puberty, work, which provides goods to the collective in return for provision of desired relational exchanges, is expected and even a requirement.
Idealism also tends to assume that people naturally outgrow selfishness and become more concerned with helping others. What appears to happen in practice is that people naturally develop a self-image of themselves as an empathetic, selfless person concerned with the welfare of others and then spend their lives justifying that self-image, regardless of the value of their contribution to humanity. Idealists notoriously have very high ideals and morals in principle and intent but largely fail to live up to their highly unrealistic expectations. The result is exceptionalism, elitism, and hubris and, in the eyes of outgroups, hypocrisy. In contrast, conservatives and realists tend to focus more on lower relational exchanges, which may or may not translate into greater altruism. While people may indeed become more caring in the realm of personal relationships, in the arenas of career, money, power, and status the acquisition of foundational relational exchanges for one's own benefit, or at most one's ingroups, tends to win out.
People who have the luxury of the time and personal freedom to pursue higher relational exchanges such music, art, dance, sport, philosophy, abstract thinking, learning how to think, introspection, and meditation are always going to not only be in the minority, but of limited interest and usefulness to the vast majority of people, who are focused on making a living and getting other people to like or need them, in order to have a support system. Both idealists and realists generally lack polycentrism and an interest in understanding and respecting the perspectives of outgroups. Idealists do not because their ideology and intent tends to be more important than reality; realists and conservatives do not because their circle of concern rarely extends beyond their own interests and those of their ingroups.
To run off and leave the fundamental relational exchanges in pursuit of say, enlightenment, on a personal level, or egalitarianism or pluralism in autonomous exchange, on a collective level, can easily ignore or discount the priorities of a majority of people who are identified with the lower relational exchanges. This is disastrous, because while minorities innovate, majorities dictate the fulcrum of social stability. To ignore the needs of the majority inevitably leads to societal collapse, and this is exactly the scenario that is currently being played out at the present time throughout the West for the “golden billion.” Cold and hunger have a powerful effect on which relational exchanges people see as priorities, a focusing of awareness that is currently being generated by inflation, recession, and depression in Europe and the US. Under such conditions, the pursuit of ideologies associated with higher relational exchanges is replaced by the demands created by profound deficits in foundational ones.
The twin problems associated with neglect of foundational relational exchanges are therefore associated with those people who 1) focus on self-development and higher relational exchanges while disregarding the reality that our self-development is limited by the access to fundamental relational exchanges of the groups, religions, families, and nations of which we are members, and 2) those who overly focus on lower relational exchanges, but for personal, not collective benefit.
PEM solutions to neglect of foundational relational exchanges
This mirrors what happens to us when we address what interviewed non-group perspectives, such as dream characters or the personifications of our life issues, consider to be their fundamental relational exchanges and priorities. For example, interviewed nightmare monsters will often report that their intent was to “wake up” the dreamer to some way they are harming themselves, and fright is the only way to get their attention. When we listen to and work with the recommendations of interviewed emerging potentials we tend to move out of interior conflict and limitation into integration and a vital, creative relationship both with others and with life itself.
Polycentrism is not only about self-development and personal integration but also about collective development and interpersonal integration. Phenomenologically-based experiential multi-perspectivalisms (PEMs) in particular can make significant contributions to the resolution of the two problems of over-focus on higher exchanges and addictive focus on one or more foundational ones. As mentioned above, these problems often continue to persist even when time, resources, talent, or knowledge are present but polycentrism is lacking. People who have all of the above can still fail to identify with the needs and interests of others, even in those that they may encounter every day. The degree of the collective development of the groups, religions, families, and nations of which we are members generates both the scripting and groupthink which, when internalized, limits our options and polarizes self and other. We can more easily see this in other societies, such as India, and in other groups, such as people identified with this or that ideology, than we can in ourselves and our own groups.
Interviewing other perspectives, whether representing those of other people, dream characters, personifications of life issues, historical figures, physical objects, elements of near death or mystical experiences or synchronicities, accesses emerging potentials that reframe issues that address deficits in relational exchanges while making recommendations regarding how to compensate for those deficits. For example, an interviewed worn-out carpet in a dream made cogent recommendations about how to maintain health by changing an exercise routine.
Getting helpful life direction from imaginary characters is counter-intuitive and appears to be a regression to prerational projection. The typical assumption is that we will either hear what we want to hear from such outgroup members or we will hear what we are afraid we might hear. In either case, because interviewed perspectives are subjective, and because they reflect and contain, at least in part, our worldview, the assumption is that any information received isn't going to extend beyond our own echo chamber and will have little relevance for others and collective problem solving. These “reasons” are justifications designed to protect psychological geocentrism, our identity and worldview, while reducing cognitive dissonance. The only way to unmask these justifications is to do the interviewing, that is, practice polycentrism, and even then considerable resistance remains. The scripted injunction to maintain control runs deep and serves adaptive functions; it is there for good reason and will always be only too happy to provide justifications for not sharing power and control with the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials.
My experience with PEMs for over forty years has convinced me that the assumption that disidentification combined with immersion in outgroup perspectives leads to a loss of control and identity is a projection by a psychologically geocentric identity that gives itself explanations designed to maintain its sense of control, support its worldview, and reduce cognitive dissonance. The reality is that such interviews access emerging potentials that reflect subjective sources of objectivity. These sources are indeed subjective, in that they include our worldviews, assumptions, beliefs, expectations, and preferences. This is obvious, as any perspective we become is a part of us and therefore privy to what we know and who we are. However, in addition outgroup perspectives know us better than external experts and authorities could ever possibly know us while also surfacing our blind spots. Just as in the Johari Window, there is that unknown to us but known to others, so that is the case with the perspectives provided by interviewed outgroup members. Any perspective we become also contains some degree of autonomy and differentiation from our subjective perspective. Outgroup perspectives that we do not know or that appear to be threatening are most likely to reframe our identity and worldview in ways that heal, balance, and transform.
While this reality is typically explained in terms of “shadow work,” or accessing “self-aspects” that exist in our personal or collective “unconscious,” this is not the experience or conclusion of PEMs like IDL. Such a conclusion constitutes a discounting and disrespect for the bhava, or “own being,” of interviewed perspectives, regardless of their ontological status. It represents expectations that need to be suspended in any thoroughgoing phenomenological process, the assumption that interviewed perspectives are only or merely self-aspects that exist solely in an interior domain. This is why IDL views these interviewed perspectives not as self-aspects but as of “indeterminant ontology.” It is not that they are not in part self-aspects; they are. It is that they also contain some degree of autonomy that not only includes our subjective identity and worldview, but transcends it by adding their own unique reframing, perspective, or worldview.
These sources are ontologically indeterminate because they can neither be reduced in their entirety to self-aspects, “parts,” personal or collective unconscious, or subpersonalities, on the one hand, or to objective daemons, muses, deceased entities, or Shamanic totem figures, on the other. While psychology has a tendency toward interior reductionism, spirituality has a tendency toward granting an “otherness” to experiences that are most parsimoniously explained as self-creations. The reality is that those that are mostly “shadow” express surprising autonomy while those that are mostly autonomous possess important personal aspects, generally disowned. The basic problem is the human tendency to indulge in the cognitive distortion of polarized, black-and-white thinking instead of developing the maturity to become and respect the many colors, realities, and possibilities that exist between those two extremes. Integral Deep Listening interviewing, as a variety of PEM polycentrism, teaches the recognition and utilization of that vast middle ground of ontologically indeterminate perspectives.
Regarding the first problem, the common over-emphasis on self-development, interviewing such perspectives constitutes a radical break. This is because PEMs require disidentification with the self, its worldview, and its control fetish in order to authentically see the world from the perspective of this or that dream character or personification of some life issue. This disidentification does not have to be extreme in order to reduce psychological geocentrism because one gains the experience of not only existing without, but benefitting from, relaxing self-control. Dissociation is not necessary. It is enough to stand back and witness the interviewed perspective answering the questions that it is asked.
Working with PEMs increases understanding and appreciation for alternative perspectives that otherwise would be experienced as not-self, foreign, alien, or threatening. The classical example is a dream monster or attacker, which is commonly perceived as a threat, both while dreaming, and afterward, when awake, even when our reason tells us, “It was only a dream.” When such a dream element is interviewed, the dreamer disidentifies with their psychological geocentrism and takes up the perspective of the antagonist. The result is generally a surprisingly helpful and reasonable reframing of the antagonist in such a way that it is no longer experienced as a threat. While such a reframing could be discounted as defense mechanisms of rationalization and projection, and healthy skepticism is warranted, multiple interviews with many different perspectives yield similar findings. Waking identity is expanded to include what was previously a foreign “other.” The practice of polycentrism expands world views from self-centered, constricted, and limited to ingroups, to include experientially multi-perspectival and radically extended outgroups. Rather than viewing this as an expansion of identity, of psychological geocentrism or heliocentrism, it is more accurate to increasingly take on the perspective of interviewed emerging potentials: we are being incorporated into a broader, transcendent collective identity.
Regarding the second problem, a self-destructive, dysfunctional over-focus on lower relational exchanges for personal, not collective benefit, PEMs help via identification with perspectives that are not scripted as we are, nor are they captured by our collective groupthink. PEMs access and respect social and intrasocial perspectives that may have no relational exchange preferences or investments. Because imaginary elements have no need for food, shelter, safety, or security, since they are neither alive nor can they die, they typically have little investment in this or that relational exchange. They typically have no allegiance to any nation, religion, political party, or organization. They may not care about higher relational exchanges either. However, interviewed emerging potentials do often express interest in relational exchanges, but those preferences do not appear on Wilber's scale, nor do they exist in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The relational exchanges that they typically desire and emphasize are respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy. Interviewing builds these bedrock moral constituents of all relational exchanges, thereby reducing common problems associated with their absence. It also tends to break us free of our addiction to this or that foundational relational exchange by the process of repeatedly identifying with perspectives that do not share our addictions.
Rat Park, a series of psychological experiments by Alexander from 1978-1981, showed that aggression and addiction are radically reduced when foundational relational exchanges are fulfilled. The same has been seen to be the case with chimpanzees. The implications for economics, governance, and humanity's future is obvious. China is providing us with a world-changing lesson in what happens when foundational relational exchanges are not neglected but instead provided full support by social collectives, represented most centrally and powerfully by government. Some 800 million people have been lifted out of abject poverty in China in forty years, an unprecedented accomplishment in human history. The Belt-Road Initiative addresses the foundational relational exchanges of its members, including many third world nations, by building transportation and energy networks, schools, hospitals, governmental buildings, and key foundational infrastructure that is essential for countries to move from a state of perpetual dependency to healthy independence and global interdependence. However, like all humans, Chinese are susceptible to both an over-focus on higher relational exchanges to the detriment of lower ones as well as to an over-emphasis on this or that foundational relational exchange. This can show up as greed and placing personal security and advantage before the needs of broader collectives. PEMs like IDL do not leave the amelioration of these socio-cultural issues to either government or the cultivation of individual character, but rather work with both to reduce addiction, selfishness, and aggression. They provide a methodology that builds an expanded identity with interior collectives in the interior individual quadrant, as both a balance and complement to an identity based on exterior, social collectives in the exterior collective quadrant.
Lack of Triangulation
“Triangulation” is the IDL term for decision-making that adds the perspectives and recommendations of interviewed emerging potentials to our own common sense, life experience, and the input of family, and experts. Polycentric perspectives recognize that the absence of triangulation severely limits decision-making. All of us rely on a combination of our common sense, including the wealth of our life experience and the advice of those we respect to make decisions. These are the two approaches that we normally use to solve all sorts of personal, work, and social problems. There is a third, largely ignored support of this three-legged decision-making stool: the input of polycentric subjective sources of objectivity. Normally, we combine what we know with feedback from others and our environment. For many problems, that is enough. If we need a bathroom, signs are sufficient. If we need to solve an engineering problem, a calculator, knowledge of the relevant conditions, and a team of experts is generally sufficient. However, problems can and do arise when we rely either on intuition, personal experience, or faulty expert advice. Faulty experience and unreliable intuition, listening to one's “still small voice,” or other sorts of interior knowing are notoriously unreliable and are responsible for much heartbreak in relationships. Reliance on the intuition of “experts,” mediums, channelers, spiritualists, psychics, prophets, and spiritual gurus involves a degree of trust that borders on foolish naïveté. If one looks at the predictive record of futurists, the results do not inspire confidence. Relying on faulty expert advice caused millions of unnecessary deaths in the west due to Covid-19. “Expert,” as well as public opinion in the West produced an overwhelming consensus that sanctions on Russia were not only right, but a good idea.
Still, consulting multiple experts in their areas of expertise is wiser than only trusting our own knowledge, experience, and intuition, because others are objective sources who usually do not know us and speak from a less personal, more collective perspective. However, experts of all varieties may have a very strong stake in convincing others that their position is the correct or true one, like each of the six blind scholars and the elephant. Consensus expert opinion is always partial and it can often be wrong, and experts tend to congregate in self-reinforcing echo chambers. Faulty expert advice, in the form of vested interests, failure to consult outgroups, or simple ignorance is responsible for much failure in the business and governmental realms. When there is a mistaken general conclusion among experts, as has been the case in the overwhelming support for sanctions on Russia in the west, groupthink takes over and the general public is led to its ruin.
Clearly, these two sources, our common sense/intuition/conscience, and expert authorities, either on their own or combined, are sometimes but not always enough to solve either our personal or civilizational problems. Career, financial, and partner decisions are common examples of problems that these two “legs” alone are poor in solving. Hormones and “love at first sight” generally provide poor foundations for long-term love relationships. We can be pushed into unsatisfying career choices by our parents or by economic circumstances. These two common legs of problem solving, common sense and experts, alone are not very effective at avoiding the formation of addictions or freeing ourselves from them. They rarely liberate us from familial and socio-cultural scripting, due to subjective identification with our scripting, which rationalizes failure and discounts advice that challenges its assumptions, expectations, and injunctions. Like air, we are so subjectively enmeshed with our internalized scripted narratives that we hardly recognize them as something optional or fabricated. They feel true, as if they are “us,” because they have created and largely define our identity, our sense of who we are. We typically do not recognize when we are another sheep in the decision-making herd because we experience our choices as autonomous and spontaneous rather than the product of groupthink. For example, at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, there was a run on toilet paper. Most everyone at the same time got the same bright idea, “I need more toilet paper!” At the beginning of the Ukraine war, most everyone in the west got the same bright idea, “Ukrainians are victims of aggression; I need to support the war effort!” Subsequently, conscience and intuition are commonly experienced as authentic and autonomous when, on closer examination they are often found to be products of familial and socio-cultural scripting.
The perspectives of emerging potentials provide subjective sources of objectivity in the form of recommendations which are to be operationalized and subjected to the three strands of empiricism: 1) understand the recommendations; 2) follow them; 3) validate them by consulting authorities, other emerging potentials, and your own life experience. For example, an interviewed blue baboon may recommend that you substitute an elliptical trainer and swimming for your addiction to running in order to save your knees. That's the injunction, which is step one. Then, if the recommendation is feasible (it is realistic to work time on an elliptical trainer and swimming into your schedule, you want to try it, and medical expert opinion has no objection), you make a schedule and see what happens. Do you have less knee pain or not? Do those exercises work as reasonable and satisfactory replacements for running or not? Generally that conclusion, based on your personal experience, is enough of the third empirical strand, validation, for you. You do not have to consult other authorities, but you can if you want to or if you are not sure.
Lack of triangulation in solving personal and collective problems becomes important and even essential when the problem we want to solve involves needing to get out of our own way and to step outside of the familial, socio-cultural scripting, and groupthink that we are all enmeshed with and immersed in, like a fish in water. We have recently received powerful lessons in that in our highly inadequate responses to the Covid epidemic, Russia, and China. In these situations we have relied on our own common sense, reflected by a worldview that resists and even hates authoritarianism, aggression, injustice, and perceived restriction of our autonomy. We humans tend to feel threatened by the ascendant power by outgroups with whom we see ourselves in competition. We have also relied on external authority, in the form of incessant socio-cultural narratives that tell us to be afraid.
Covid unnecessarily killed millions in the West while Sanctions on Russia have caused massive damage to Western economies. The result has been a rapid spike in food and energy prices, in the cost of insuring foundational relational exchanges in the West. Fear of China's rise has only served to push China and Russia closer together while strengthening a coalition of the global south, some 85 percent of the world's population, in opposition to globalism and the “rules-based order” of the remaining 15 percent.
Lack of triangulation also means that we are perpetually bushwhacked by our cognitive biases, which constitute genetic, hard-wired scripting. Over 100 cognitive biases have been identified, and many more certainly will. Cognitive biases serve as heuristics and estimations which are designed to provide reasonable approximations as cognitive short-cuts and baked-in “rules of thumb.” For example, we all stereotype, because this cognitive bias is more correct than incorrect. More often than not, stereotyping works to differentiate desirable from undesirable characteristics as well as ingroup from outgroup members, which for most of human existence has been a survival necessity. The Halo Effect, another cognitive distortion, leads us to give authorities the benefit of the doubt, generating the group unity and cohesiveness essential for collective security and defense. The Confirmation Bias tells us that information that validates what we already believe is most likely correct and is therefore going to strengthen our control and confidence. The Dunning-Kruger Effect provides us with the confidence we need to learn new skills, like playing a musical instrument or mastering a sport, confidence we might well lack if we fully knew how many mistakes we would need to make before we got good at something.
PEM solutions to a lack of triangulation
What might be different if we practiced triangulation by adding polycentrism to the mix? Triangulation predicts that we would reframe both personal and collective issues in ways that are less confrontational and more amenable to finding workable solutions. A non-phenomenological polycentric approach involves immersion in outgroup world views. In the case of Covid, it would mean living in China and experiencing how it managed to limit Covid deaths to some 6,000 Chinese in a population four times that of the US, which has had well over a million deaths from Covid. In the case of Russian and Chinese authoritarianism and aggression, it would involve experiential immersion in the lives and priorities of ordinary Russians and Chinese. A phenomenologically-based polycentric approach would interview multiple perspectives embedded in each of these outgroups. For example, regarding Covid, one could interview Fauci, masks, and vaccination serum. Regarding Russia and China, one could interview Putin, Russian soldiers attacking Ukraine, Ukrainians, the Ukrainian government, and the Azov batallion. Regarding China, one could interview Xi, China itself, Taiwan itself, the Taiwan Strait, and American/Allied military vessels. It is not that such interviews will provide the “correct” or “truthful” “answer.” Instead, what they will do is reframe these problems in broader, more inclusive worldviews that offer recommendations for their resolution that are then to be operationalized and tested. Those recommendations which are found lacking or ineffective are discarded and the perspective confronted on its failure to provide useful information. Those recommendations that are effective when applied are used to generate credibility in triangulation and polycentrism.
It goes without saying that personal clarity in problem solving due to the use of triangulation does not automatically translate into a changed world. It probably will not, because we live within power structures that generate realities that are impervious to polycentrism. What it will do, however, is disabuse us of layers of our own delusions, leading us to reframe events beyond our control in ways that are less likely to disturb our peace of mind or interrupt our ability to find and follow the priorities of our life compass.
By accessing multiple subjective sources of objectivity and comparing their recommendations with both what the world tells us and our own common sense we are more likely to move out of groupthink while arriving at solutions to our problems that feel authentic and that stand the tests of time. The consensus of multiple interviewed emerging potentials tends to point us toward a hypothesized “life compass” that acts something like a gyroscope, sea anchor, or north star for finding and maintaining our bearings on the sea of life. When we find and gain an experiential familiarity with our life compass, we have an internally grounded way to assess the competing pressures, desires, expectations and injunctions of peers, bosses, leaders, and family. This is something that most everyone lacks, and the consequences of that lack is most tragically apparent in the assumptions, worldview, and decisions of children and adolescents. Therefore, it is not surprising that interviews with children and adolescents can have the most profound and far-reaching impact in terms of avoiding life choices that generate painful detours, inauthenticity, and addiction.
Polycentric methodologies provide ways to assess our own preferences in order to see where we are subjectively mired and lacking the objectivity to find and follow useful and productive paths forward. Interviewed emerging potentials are less likely to blindly accept cognitive biases because they are not alive. Therefore, they have no self to defend or need to enhance personal security. They are less likely to be invested in defending their worldview to protect their identity. However, because interviewed emerging potentials are embedded in our cognitive structure they are subject to our cognitive biases as well. They cannot be expected to be free of them, but they can be realistically expected to have less need for them than we do. Therefore, PEMs, as a form of polycentrism, are an overlooked but important strategy for tackling one of the most entrenched forms of self-sabotage of humanity - our cognitive biases.
When we are anchored in our life compass we are more likely to be in flow with the collectives that are in sync with our emerging potentials and life compass instead of what is by far the most likely reality for most people: identification with familial and socio-culturally scripted collectives, their worldviews and groupthink. We are more likely to find ways to relate to life that are in “flow,” that is, in harmony with our unique emerging potentials, others, and with nature. An analogy is to the health of individual cells in our bodies. When they are each healthy, an overall state of health exists. The more individual cells there are that are healthy, the more unlikely systemic disruptions are to cause disease and death of both individuals and the socio-cultural collectives in which they are embedded. Confucius, a contemporary of Socrates and Buddha, summarized the relationship between microcosm and macrocosm well:
If there is righteousness in the heart there will be beauty in the character.
If there is beauty in the character there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home there will be order in the nations.
If there is order in the nations, there will be peace on earth.
Lack of ethical congruence
The third global problem created by the absence of a life practice of polycentrism involves the lack of ethical congruence between intent and behavior, both for us personally and for the collectives in which we are embedded and which share our worldview. “Righteousness in the heart” is not only about finding and following one's life compass; it's also about finding and following the lowest common ethical denominators that determine the success or failure of human relationships. The foundation of ethics lies not in some deontological proclamation of values like the Ten Commandments, Kant's Categorical Imperative, or “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” (rule-based ethics). It is not found in the virtue signaling associated with behaviors denoting ethical purity (virtue-based ethics). It is not found in our social contracts (contractualism), and it is not found in actions that maximize happiness and minimize suffering (utilitarianism). Instead, it is found in the underlying questions we ask of each other every day: “Do they respect me?” “Is there reciprocity?” “How trustworthy are they?” “Do I feel heard?” Respect is about equivalency of beingness. Reciprocity is about fairness. Trust determines our depth of engagement. Whether or not we feel heard and understood is about empathy. These four foundations of sustainable collective interaction are found, in various rudimentary forms, in many animals. On a behavioral level, they exist prior to morality, immorality, amorality, and the development of a self-sense. When we interview others, whether “real” others in the objective world or “imaginary” others in our subjective worlds, we discover that these are ethical concerns that we share with all other beings, including dream characters and objects and imaginary elements.
Problems arise when we do not extend these fundamental values to outgroups. Instead, we carve out exceptions in which disrespect, lack of reciprocity, untrustworthiness, and a lack of empathy are the accepted and preferred norms. Because we do not afford some other the regard we expect and demand for ourselves (a lack of reciprocity), we become alienated from those aspects of ourselves they represent. We become alienated from outgroup members that represent our emerging potentials that are more than aspects of ourselves and that reflect our life compass.
We all mean well, but somehow we often end up hurting others, particularly those whom we love the most. When this happens we generally feel that our intentions were misunderstood. We justify our ineffective or harmful behaviors, indifference, or failures by appealing to our intent. On a collective level we can observe this in how nations justify exploitation, colonization, and war. When our collective actions are challenged we are likely to appeal to “democracy,” “human rights,” and “freedom,” as values and intentions that somehow manage to justify murder. Nazis are seen as freedom fighters, the Russians as fascists, kleptocracies as democracies, conservatives as right-wingers, and neo-liberals as left-wingers and rebels. This appeal to intent is particularly evident in exceptionalisms and idealisms. Idealists of all stripes tend to run off and leave the behavioral and interpersonal foundations of ethics: respect, reciprocity, trust, and empathy as behaviors, while loudly proclaiming them as necessary values.
Collectively, intent and behavior are typically aligned by three strategies, ostracism, economics, and law. Regarding ostracism, if I do not do what you and your ingroups want me to do, you will ostracize me so that I no longer have any effect on the group. This exclusion may range from simple ignoring, to character assassination, to group exclusion, to imprisonment, to execution. Ostracism exists to compel alignment of behavior with intent.
Regarding economics, every financial transaction represents a vote for a product and the economic prosperity of its producer and seller, to the detriment of those producers and sellers who I do not buy from. Therefore, our economic “votes” are powerful tools for aligning intent and behavior. Power interests based on wealth rise and fall based on the economic “votes” of the public. Economics functions as an indirect ethical force to compel power, regardless of intent, to align with the relational exchanges prioritized by the public.
Regarding law, canons, codes, policies, and constitutions create collective accountability on issues that cannot be left to intent, trust, mutual respect, and empathy. On the whole, law is more objective and less vengeful than ostracism and it is more just than economic coercion. Law is supposed to impose justice, that is, ethical relationships based on respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy in order to avoid the cruelty and injustice of ostracism and the disastrous compulsion with which economics aligns intention and behavior in individuals and societies. Law provides collective accountability when there is a dispute about what is just or the rights of some party have been transgressed, as in robbery, assault, fraud, or war. International law exists to provide accountability among nations in order to create and maintain trust and to regulate international security and commerce. We can observe what happens when law fails in the sanctions against Russia, which are a combination of ostracism and economic coercion. At present, international law has broken down, fundamentally because the US and its allies refuse to recognize its authority, instead substituting a self-defined “rules-based order.” This occurs because the US possesses the power to ignore international law, since no nation has so far been successful in forcing compliance by the US. The result is a two-track, elitist ethical system: “The rules-based order for me; international law for thee.” This system allows the US and its allies to virtue-signal, holding themselves up as blameless paragons of democracy and human rights while behaving in lawless, unethical ways, creating a massive absence of ethical congruence that is causal for a vast realm of geopolitical suffering, disputes, and conflicts. Intention, in the form of the ideological foundations of exceptionalism and sanctions, manifest as behaviors that are not ethical, in that they are not respectful, reciprocal, trustworthy, or empathetic. Intention and behavior are profoundly out of alignment.
Lack of ethical congruence arises when we not only forget or ignore respect, reciprocity, trust, and empathy, but in addition use our intentions, which we believe to be moral, to justify immoral and amoral behavior. While aggression is immoral, putting profit before people in the realms of business, economics, and commerce is amoral. In such conditions, where immorality and amorality take precedence, ethical intent serves to justify, excuse, and rationalize immoral and amoral behavior. I am not intending to hurt you when I destroy your livelihood; it's “just business.” Moral intent exists primarily to protect our sense of self by providing cover for our disregard, ignoring, and whitewashing of our immorality and amorality and to absolve us of any responsibility. As Robert Heinlein said, “Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.”
Politicians, as well as idealists of all stripes, including integralists, are particularly culpable in manifesting a lack of ethical congruence. They claim for themselves an exceptional worldview that commands respect and leadership within the world. However, with greater power, status, and wealth go greater responsibility and accountability. Those who have the greatest ability to influence and thereby hurt the greatest number of people require not less but greater transparency and accountability. Collectives cannot be sweet-talked or bribed into allowing the powerful to monitor and supervise themselves, based on their professed meritocracy, without disastrous consequences for societies, but this is exactly what has occurred thoughout most of human history and what can be predicted to occur within most collectives. The result is eventual catastrophic moral failure on the part of elites, and we only have ourselves to blame, because we have failed to hold them accountable through transparency and the justice system.
Why do we let the powerful off the hook? In addition to multiple cognitive biases such as the Halo Effect, Confirmation Bias, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which exceptionalists take advantage of, we identify with the successful. We want to be like them. Consequently they become “ego ideals,” meaning we internalize them as “good” aspects of ourselves to which we aspire. When they are immoral or amoral, if their behavior is not rationalized, we experience cognitive dissonance between our self-image and reality. If we cannot resolve that dissonance in some way we move into an existential threat to our identity and into crisis.
The west is currently badly compromised in its governance, economics, and spirituality, and it is getting worse. Of course it is not only the west that is compromised ethically, but I and most readers are citizens and beneficiaries of the West. It is also the West that most loudly proclaims its exceptionalism. At this point in human history, the West is preaching the universality of its values, enshrined in international law, democracy, and human rights and crowing about its intent in these areas. It then proceeds to contradict those values by proclaiming its own “rules-based order” that places it above the law. As Orwell famously put it in Animal Farm, “Some animals are more equal than others.” One example is the intent of the West to absolve itself of its guilt regarding the Holocaust by excusing the ongoing Israeli genocide of Palestinians. Another is “democratization” as the professed intent that justifies state terrorism and the starvation and murder of hundreds of thousands of children in the Middle East and Africa. Yet another example is professing defense of human rights while arming tyrannical and non-democratic Gulf authoritarian states and followers of Third Reich collaborator Stepan Bandera in Ukraine. There has been an appalling and unbelievable silence throughout western media and governments over the bombing by Ukraine of the largest nuclear power station in Europe, fallout from which would contaminate, radiate, and make uninhabitable large stretches of Central Europe in Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany. The citizenry of the West, including idealists and Integralists have, for the most part, been supportive and complicit through either their silence or actual support for actions by their nations that are profoundly discriminatory toward outgroups. In the financial dimension of life, economists generally regard themselves as discovering and defending principles that support universal prosperity while in fact justifying prioritizing the pursuit of profit before human welfare. Religions and almost all varieties of spirituality view morality as foundational and articulate clear moral intent. They then often proceed to contradict those stated intentions by practicing abuse in student-guru relationships, as in centuries of pedophilia and abuse by Christian priests and Tibetan Buddhist monks, and to justify war, as in Augustine's “Just War” apologetics and Krishna's defense of kinship murder in the Baghavad Gita.
It is of course impossible to point out such obvious and horrendous lack of ethical congruence without being accused of positioning oneself as a moral superior, lecturing to the audience, in a form of virtue signaling. However, I see myself as susceptible to both amorality and immorality as the next person and neither claim nor want to be viewed as someone who has moral authority. Instead, it is enough to appeal to both reason and to an empirically testable methodology. Reason asks, “Do stated and professed intentions align with behavior?” The testable methodology asks, “Do outgroups say the behaviors of their self-appointed rescuers actually benefit them?” If intent fails these tests it is difficult to see how they are ethical, regardless of their claims and sincere protestations. Greater responsibility requires greater accountability. Whenever meritocracy, democracy, or corruption generate exceptional power it must be accompanied by exceptional transparency, if failures to address foundational relational exchanges are not to be followed by economic collapse. Censorship, ostracism, and the classification of information as “secret” serves to shield power from accountability and are signs of the emergence and growth of totalitarianism. Interior transparency and accountability reduces the likelihood that we are lying to ourselves as well as to others, while broadcasting false preferences.
How polycentrism addresses a lack of moral congruence
Polycentrism, and in particular PEMs that interview emerging potentials, teaches and internalizes ethical congruence by increasing both transparency and accountability. This is because we are treating “others,” in this case, subjective, imaginary others, with respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy. Interviewing the most absurd of imaginary elements while suspending our assumptions regarding their non-reality and delusional nature is a statement of radical respect. Providing imaginary perspectives the same about of ontological reality that we possess, during the interviewing process, is radical reciprocity. Suspending judgments about the worthiness of the source of recommendations and instead operationalizing and testing them is a demonstration of radical trust. Basing our empathy toward such outgroup members not on our intent and interpretations, but on validation by those outgroup members themselves constitutes radical empathy. Interior accountability means application of recommendations by interviewed emerging potentials. Exterior transparency means disclosing/sharing information about oneself as an individual, group, or nation openly, out of the awareness that we are as sick as our secrets. Exterior accountability means equality before social norms and law.
Respect is demonstrated by getting out of the way and listening to the answers provided by interviewed emerging potentials to the questions in the interviewing protocol. Reciprocity exists when we accord to imaginary perspectives the same respect that we desire and expect. Trustworthiness is built when we test the recommendations provided by interviewed emerging potentials to validate and challenge their credibility. Empathy exists when we get confirmation from interviewed perspectives that we are hearing them and recognize their worldview, whether or not we agree with them. Building such interior relationships not only reduces intrapsychic conflict but creates both a confident and congruent persona. As within, so without. An authentic relationship with ourselves is likely to be reflected in our external relationships as authentic respect, genuine reciprocity, increased trustworthiness, and validated empathy
PEM polycentric methodologies reduce the common human tendency to identify with the powerful and therefore give their bad behavior the benefit of the doubt by minimizing the dependency of our worldview and identity on admired others. Our admiration and respect is instead distributed among a menagerie of interviewed characters, some of them outrageous, like dancing pigs and toilet bowls, some of them stupid, like SpongeBob SquarePants, and some of them demonic, like reptilians and Satan, but all of them emerging potentials that include our identity and worldview while adding their own. When we internalize multiple perspectives through polyperspectival identification with and interviewing of such a broad range of outgroup perspectives, we reduce our need to project unrealistic expectations onto others, due to an over-dependence on what they represent to us. We are less likely to overlook, ignore, or defend exceptionalism and unethical behavior because our identity and worldview are no longer dependent on intention that is not in alignment with behavior.
Participation in the worldviews of outgroups via immersion in outgroup societies, cultures, and narratives is an effective way to reduce the chasm between intention and behavior. This is a major reason why societies and governments censor or otherwise obstruct outgroup news media and discourage exposure to outgroup cultures and societies. For example, Israel makes visits to Gaza very difficult, for obvious reasons that have nothing to do with protecting those who want to visit. Non-exposure to outgroup perspectives is the major reason why western governments conspire with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other major western media gatekeepers and sources pursue censorship. Exposure to outgroup worldviews can raise troubling questions regarding apparent inconsistencies between expressed intent and behavior, which undermines belief and trust, and therefore lowers compliance while increasing doubt, assertiveness, and various forms of civil disobedience. Access to outgroup media and worldviews is a very mild form of non-PEM polycentrism, but when pervasive, it becomes a major threat to a lack of moral congruence. The smaller the disparity between a nation's moral posture and its behavior, the less censorship is necessary.
The same is true on a personal level. When we access subjective sources of objectivity, in the form of interviewing personifications of our life issues as well as dream objects and characters, we are questioning the assumptions of our psychological geocentric worldview, wandering outside of self-created, scripted, personal groupthink. In order to avoid the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance such challenging perspectives can generate, we are likely to perform self-censoring. However, the more congruence there is between our intentions and our behavior, the more likely we are to be open to outgroup perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials. If we are not, that should tell us something.
What passes for authenticity in relationships can easily be devoid of self-awareness and interior congruence. We see this in displays of confidence, dogmatic self-assertion, and teenage romance. The interviewing of emerging potentials reduces this very common blindness that easily leads to ethical compromise.
By April of 2022, only a month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I could see that the West had already lost its proxy, economic, and information wars with Russia and made the case for it in an essay at IntegralWorld.Net. If I could see these circumstances, clearly there were other people who could see them as well. While a few wrote about the failure of the Western plan, most observers either didn't recognize that reality, minimized those factors that pointed toward it, or outright dismissed it as Russian propaganda. This massive failure to see the obvious is proving to be disastrous for the West because it is undercutting its foundational economic relational exchanges upon which society depends for its continuation. No doubt the EU will be forced to drop all sanctions on Russia much sooner than anyone in late September, 2022, expects. Elections and revolutions merely switch captains on the Titanic; it does nothing to address the massive rot and corruption of the entrenched bureaucracies. A full-blown economic depression, something that always hurts the most vulnerable worst and first while leaving the entrenched, wealthy elites for last, will be required. Europe will have to make nice with both Russia and China if it does not want to exist as a third world subcontinent of 500 million, used to living in comfort, expecting preferential treatment in global society and culture, who view themselves as exceptional. No doubt economic realities will dismantle the Atlantic alliance, the cornerstone of US hegemony since 1945, including the EU and NATO. How fast this death of hubris, a massive socio-cultural move from idealism to realism, as well as from a mono- to multipolar geopolitical realignment will occur, is unknown, but Europeans will have no choice but to embrace such a future sooner than later.
The failure to adequately address the foundational relational exchanges of humans, animals, and our entire ecosystem, failure to consult polycentric perspectives in decision-making, and a schizoid split between intent and behavior in both personal and collective realms, are three consequences of a lack of polycentrism that destroy both individual lives and entire civilizations. In our fifth and final essay in this series I will explain how our cognitive maps or worldviews often generate an underlying, foundational barrier to polycentrism and how practicing a PEM methodology in families can radically transform toxic civilizational groupthink.