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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Brad Reynolds did graduate work at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) before leaving to study under Ken Wilber for a decade, and published two books reviewing Wilber's work: Embracing Reality: The Integral Vision of Ken Wilber (Tarcher, 2004), Where's Wilber At?: Ken Wilber's Integral Vision in the New Millennium (Paragon House, 2006) and God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom: Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age (Bright Alliance, 2021). Visit: http://integralartandstudies.com
American Developmental Politics
An Appreciation & Critique
“To understand the present, we must first understand the past, because the past is never dead, but effective in the present.”—Jean Gebser
T his review is an appreciation of the recent book by integral author and political philosopher Steve McIntosh called Developmental Politics: How America Can Grow Into a Better Version of Itself (2020, Paragon House). McIntosh's book is a monumental achievement that every political thinker should be aware of and is one that anyone interested in “integral” should seriously study. Naturally, I will mention some of its limitations but its accomplishments so far outdistance these oversights they are generally minor considerations. McIntosh has provided a working integral method and approach to resolving the hyperpolarized divide in American politics—often called “culture wars”—by understanding that the development of collective worldviews proceeds (and progresses) via the evolution of consciousness. He promotes the important integral insight that the evolution of culture depends on the evolution of individual consciousness, and vice versa. In this case, we have a responsibility to evolve both our consciousness and our culture. In fact, I feel these are the type of conversations Ken Wilber should have been having on politics for decades. However, he lost the opportunity by holding court in his Denver loft promoting “AQAL” Metatheory—which McIntosh barely mentions, thankfully, though it pervades his premise—and by championing Wilber's misguided “Fourth Turning” regarding integral spirituality.
One of the strengths of McIntosh's presentation is he builds on Wilber's developmental views about politics based on a model recognizing an evolving spectrum of worldviews. He does this, however, without succumbing to the in-house lingo of “color memes,” where anyone not schooled in Wilberesque terminology (or Spiral Dynamics) tends to lose track of the argument. Instead, McIntosh calls them what they are: WORLDVIEWS, not colors. He does this by relying on more familiar terms to identify the three or four major worldviews operative in American society, namely, (1) traditionalism [amber], (2) modernism [orange], (3) postmodernism [green], and (4) integral [teal-turquoise]. While useful to a degree, I always felt Wilber's tendency to oversimplify for his audience by following Spiral Dynamics' scheme (yet changing their colors) was misleading because it lacks the sophistication these crucial political considerations should be afforded. People need to know these are struggles between conservatives, liberals, and progressives, not between amber, orange, and green, respectively.
Nonetheless, I wish McIntosh would have used some of the original Gebser-Wilber designators presented in Wilber's cultural evolutionary masterpieces—Up from Eden (1981) and Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995)—since they are so descriptive: (1) the mythic-membership (or “traditionalist”) view, (2) the mental-rational (or “modernist”) view, and (3) the multicultural-pluralistic (or “postmodernist”) worldview, in addition to (4) the integral-centaur “standing on the brink of the transpersonal” (in Wilber's words). I am not a big fan of McIntosh's awkward term “post-progressive” as representing “integral,” or Wilber's “post-postmodern,” since they do not describe the worldview's uniqueness, but are only a reaction to previous worldviews.
Still, McIntosh brings incredible force to his presentation by calling them what they are: WORLDVIEWS of consciousness which influence how we see, experience, and interpret the world and our society. As integral philosopher Jean Gebser believed, and McIntosh emphasizes, all of these basic structures live inside us today, with one view generally being dominant (our “center of gravity”). However, I think we should also include (a) the lower premodern magical-warrior or tribal worldview [magenta-red] since this is really where family unity and tribal cohesion first arise (which McIntosh attributes to traditionalists). Since this stage precedes mythic-traditionalism [amber], many traditionalists regressively slide into its lower (and more violent) level of behavior (such as with gangs, prison life, paramilitary groups, etc., which is also evident in today's movies with their rampant gun violence and superhero fascination). Since this lower worldview strongly influences our society, it should not be minimized, although it's a minority.
Also, I believe it would be more effective to acknowledge (b) the higher state-stages of more advanced (and future) transpersonal human development, called the psychic [indigo], subtle [violet], causal [ultraviolet], and nondual [clear light] levels of mysticism, or the states of “para-mind,” “meta-mind,” and “Overmind” (in Wilber's current terminology). This is because they inspire our further evolutionary development, and they are stages of awareness, not just states (regardless of what Wilber maintains). Nonetheless, in Part 2, McIntosh does bring our relationship with the transcendent-immanent Divine Reality into the discussion. He correctly suggests our urge to transcendence acts as a psychic energy attractor propelling development forward affecting various interior motivations in both the individual and collective culture. This process generates an attraction to the “good, true, and beautiful,” according to McIntosh, motivating higher development. Indeed, minus his undervaluing of techniques for transpersonal development, McIntosh's focus on our current political environment is unrivaled. His detailed review of the various stages or worldviews of consciousness is unequaled by any other political writer I know of. He calls this approach “developmental politics,” where its goal “is to foster the further cultural maturation of American [and global] society.” Such a view is priceless for our future survival as a healthy society and thriving world. This is real integral thinking.
One of my critiques, however, is McIntosh focuses too heavily on the United States of America. Yet, it's an understandable weakness since he probably wanted to restrict his analysis to make his points more easily digestible. Nevertheless, this book is so good at presenting society's conflicting cultural divisions based on a spectrum of worldviews tormenting our entire planet—or the “clash of civilizations”—I wish it would have included a global call for increasing cultural evolution. We need that so very much. As Gebser pointed out, “The growth of a new integral consciousness is important, even decisive, for our times, for it is a theme of universal scope, embracing the whole of humanity.” Nonetheless, McIntosh masterfully lays the groundwork for a universal evolutionary politics.
Once you understand its guiding principles, it is easy enough to extrapolate from the American scene to the larger global world order. Obviously, McIntosh focused on the United States since the struggles in this country encapsulate the global struggle for liberal freedoms and progressive ideals. They are up against the collective urge to regress toward lower (and previous) stages represented by traditionalism, ethno-centric nationalism, fanatic fundamentalism, and anti-modern authoritarian rule. These terrible tendencies threaten liberal human rights and autonomous individualism around the world. No doubt it was easier for McIntosh to concentrate on what is most familiar to him: the USA. Yet this minor failing hasn't prevented his book from starting the conversation in an extremely useful way. Now, we need other integral thinkers and politicians to address these critical issues on a global scale by accessing McIntosh's useful insights as a point of departure.
Fortunately, McIntosh has effectively given us the integral tools to do so. He systematically outlines his argument by inching us along to justify his conclusions. Indeed, at times, I wished he would have pushed his central thesis forward into the earlier chapters, since I was eager to hear about his suggested methods to resolve the warring conflict of worldviews. McIntosh provides an intellectual and working technique—a “values integration” method—for us to apply in overcoming our cultural conflicts. He suggests that certain “bedrock values” are essential to each worldview. The method is to reject the negative values and failings (or “bad news”) of any worldview while encouraging its positive contributions and strengths (or “good news”). He calls this “managing polarities,” McIntosh's primary means to unlock our gridlocked democracy on the verge of ruining this country. I recommend everyone interested in American or global politics read and study this powerful presentation to become conversant with its language and ideas. If you do, you will emerge as a genuine integral thinker.
For example, the recent outburst of essays on Integral World reviewing Putin's war on Ukraine would be ameliorated if the writers better understood how to analyze world politics from an integral perspective. Therefore, Joseph Dillard's attacks on Western civilization can be seen as a reactive stance in line with the postmodern critique of Western liberal values. That is, postmodernists insist that the crimes of the West are the primary cause behind many of the world's wars due to its capitalistic exploitation of resources and people. While a useful critique, to a degree, since the postmodern mind wants to emphasize concern for other peoples and perspectives, it has its limits since it exclusively focuses on its own worldview or level of understanding. As a result, it often slips into “aperspectival madness” and lacks the ability to make proper value judgments. Dillard, consequently, supported Putin's aggressive war on Ukraine by blaming the West (and NATO) instead of acknowledging Putin's own agency and actions. Such postmodern condemnation generally fails to recognize the “good news” or strengths of modernity, democracy, and capitalism (if it's managed properly).
In short, the integralists maintain that no one worldview is totally right, since all are partially wrong. Consequently, no single perspective will ever solve our current political crisis. Neither Right nor Left is right. Each worldview was correct for its stage of development, but that time has passed because we're now living in a multiracial, pluralistic world struggling to find its prior unity (and peace). Consequently, we must bring an all-embracing or integral view to these concerns because such a perspective champions the dignities (or “good news”) of each worldview while eliminating their disasters and pathologies (or “bad news”). McIntosh makes this quite clear since his integral approach to politics values ALL perspectives without privileging any one view. However, he wisely suggests that more inclusive worldviews, such as integral consciousness (or the “post-progressive”), will more readily solve our problems because their values are more holistic. The earlier worldviews—such as the traditional, modern, and postmodern—have not been able to solve our current crisis, in fact, they have created it. Therefore, we must push (or evolve) into more embracing perspectives. This is being integral—which many believe we need much more of. The world yearns to be more inclusive… and wise (and at peace). Developmental Politics is a noble attempt to bring this essential message and method to the people of the world.
A Clash of Worldviews: Culture Wars
M cIntosh first reviews—in Part 1 of his book “Towards a Politics of Culture”—the three or four major worldviews or “cultures” that are struggling for dominance in America (and the world). This already is a step beyond most people's understanding perpetuated by mainstream media and conventional politics, which maintains that our struggle is basically a dualistic one between Left and Right, between the Dems and GOP, between liberals and conservatives. This bipolar position, however, is an illusion since our situation is really a clash of multiple worldviews. Therefore, a dualistic reading of our situation keeps us locked in perpetual conflict. Additionally, the author acknowledges that some critics are skeptical about the authenticity of “worldviews” as a real fact. McIntosh emphasizes: “The proposition that worldviews are actual cultural entities [or social holons], and not just convenient but contrived analytical categories, constitutes the theoretical foundation of developmental politics.” He astutely addresses the argument over the ontological validity of worldviews in Appendix A. In Part 1, McIntosh carefully reviews the three dominant worldviews most active in our historical era by honoring, then critiquing, each one and its primary values. Thus, he brings light to this staggering quagmire of perspectives by pointing a way out of humanity's cave of confusion by using the broader perspective of integral philosophy.
By outlining the various developmental stages in the spectrum of human consciousness unfolding along a historical timeline, we find they are still active in both exterior culture (and society) and interior consciousness (a four-quadrant or AQAL entanglement). As a result, we may consciously participate in their further evolution, the goal of developmental politics. During the developmental march of both society and self, which appears more like a branching bush than a linear ladder, McIntosh emphasizes that evolution's advance is due to its more expanding and inclusive nature. The integral pundit, therefore, prefers Whitehead's notion that evolution is an increase in the capacity to experience what is intrinsically valuable. This is why McIntosh prefers a “revival of values” as his primary method for healing our political dysfunction and propelling evolution forward in the noosphere (or the mind and inner consciousness of human beings).
This developmental approach highlights the increasing expansion of values and care for others (including the environment). For McIntosh, developmental politics involves constant improvement and positive growth over historical time, even with its periodic regressions and setbacks. Following Gebser and Wilber, McIntosh outlines at least three (or four) major worldviews active in today's political world—I have chosen to add the previous and later ones to make the spectral picture more full and complete (which I believe is important):
To summarize, in graphic form, the major worldviews and their demographic percentage of the population in the United States, as pictured by McIntosh in his book, are shown in the charts below—I have made modifications to broaden the scope and include the other worldviews, a practice I encourage all integral thinkers to do:
These types of charts, which McIntosh uses to illustrate his ideas, are very useful in helping people visualize the full spectrum of worldviews. He also includes several tables listing each worldview's differing values, both their positive and negative poles. I highly recommend people study McIntosh's insightful presentation to become conversant with the basic ideas behind a genuine integral approach to developmental politics. McIntosh excels at making this vital information accessible and digestible. The entire world of politics around the globe needs to make proper use of this integral thinking in order to heal our warring divisions.
Integral Education: Healing the Divisions
I mportantly, Steve McIntosh emphasizes in his book Developmental Politics (2020, Paragon House) that modernity, or the modern world of science and democratic governance, is under attack from both sides of the developmental spectrum. The passion of the modern mind is being criticized by the conservative traditionalists from “below” and the progressive postmodernists from “above” (as the next emergent stage following the Western Enlightenment in the timeline of history). The political pundit summarizes: “Within the realm of politics, the ascendency of modernism has created the cultural pressure that has helped consolidate most of America's divergent religious outlooks [as traditionalists] into a coherent political block that stands in opposition to modernity.” In today's world, this cultural clash of worldviews is most evident in the struggle of traditionalists and postmodernists against modernity with its prevailing philosophy of scientific materialism and the economic exploitation of capitalism.
It is not just a battle between the conservative Right (or traditionalists) and liberal Left (or modernists), but it's a struggle between three (or four) major worldviews. McIntosh suggests that before the popular emergence of postmodern progressivism (since the 1960s), there was an unwritten cultural truce between traditionalism and modernism, a type of détente between science and religion that no longer exists as religious fundamentalists seek to become the dominant worldview once again (e.g., “Make America Great Again,” or worse, ISIS). Currently, for example, they have overtaken the United States Supreme Court (since a majority of the judges have a religious agenda behind their decisions, as evident by recently overturning Roe v. Wade to eliminate abortion rights, and next, same-sex marriage). Because we are at a precipitous crossroads in history, McIntosh offers his own preferred method for integrating the positive values of each worldview to hopefully encourage the further evolution of consciousness in self and society, as he clearly outlines in the chapters of his book.
Much of Developmental Politics addresses these pressing issues head-on. It shows us why it is only with an integral framework, that sees and honors ALL the stages or structures in evolution, will we ever be able to find a viable way out of our cultural polarization. His approach does this by “transcending-and-including” each worldview, by honoring the dignities (or “good news”) and healing the disasters (or “bad news”) of each developmental stage in history. By carefully elucidating his reasoning, McIntosh points out: “Indeed, one of the characteristics of the culture war is that each worldview tends to see the others only for their downsides [or 'bad news'].” Our job, therefore, is to learn how to better appreciate each worldview's positive values while rejecting their pathologies. Consequently, McIntosh presents what he calls a “values integration method” (based on the processes of “polarity theory”)—the main thesis of his book—to suggest how to better recognize the positive values and strengths of each worldview while still simultaneously eliminating its negative abuses. This leads him to insightfully conclude:
In response to this deep-seated cultural challenge, the goal of developmental politics is to help bridge and harmonize the divergent value systems [of each worldview] that now compete for the moral soul of America. Toward this end, developmental politics offers a variety of promising new methods for achieving political integration and cultural maturation that can bring together postmodernism, modernism, and traditionalism into a more unified and cooperative level of development—a transcendent yet inclusive whole.
A noble project indeed. In fact, he calls it the “New American Dream,” one that must come to fruition as soon as possible. Indeed, it shows once more, in my opinion, why it should also be a Global Vision—a “New Global Dream”—for world peace and reconciliation. McIntosh proposes we can accomplish this method of inclusion and integration in basically two ways:
McIntosh suggests that by accepting evolution as a scientific fact, we can appeal to modernists, and by emphasizing traditional virtues, we can appeal to traditionalists. This is, in fact, being integral. By caring for others and their perspectives, we can more easily encourage the further evolution of consciousness and culture… and, I maintain, on a global level as well.
While I sincerely appreciate McIntosh's intention of wanting to value the intrinsic good that each worldview has to offer—an invaluable principle of integral philosophy—I also believe we need to be more critical of their failings in order to encourage further growth and evolution. A child, for example, needs guidance and discipline (the “fathering force”) as well as nurturing and acceptance (the “mothering-force”). And then, when (and after) adult maturity is reached, following the dynamics of human development (as outlined by Maslow, Wilber, and O'Fallon, for example), there needs to be further evolution toward self-actualization and self-transcendence. In other words, we need to out-grow the earlier stages of development.
For example, it's time to admit that the traditional conservative and fundamental religionist (or mythic-membership) worldview is holding back our society's further evolution. They must be persuasively educated out of their shortcomings, not simply be honored and accepted for who they are (though that is important too, since all human beings are deserving of compassion). We cannot forget—indeed, we must face this fact—that the pathology of the traditional ethnocentric (mythic-membership) perspective is where racism in this country originates and where it must be rooted out. White nationalism is a disease of the traditionalists, as it always has been. It has created a civil war in our collective conscience that has been going on for centuries, so it must be transformed and gone beyond or transcended. Our task is great; its failure has been splitting this nation into toxic fragments for ages.
Modernists, with their “fairness values,” have inspired millions to lay down their lives to fulfill this task of equality, including such noble souls as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., who have sought justice for all races, for all people. Yet, there has been, and still is, too much resistance to further development from the lower levels, especially in the conservative South. Let's call it out, but not without offering improved possibilities. Let's educate to elevate. The social activism of postmodern progressives is tired of waiting, which is why they are insistent on immediate change (which is understandable). Yet, still, the conservatives strongly push back in countless ways, e.g., electing a racist President (Trump), rolling back voting rights, threatening violence and murder (death threats) when they don't get their way, etc. Domestic terrorism is now the number one threat to the security of the United States. These are not the actions of modernists and progressives, who are mostly peaceful in their protests for change.
The integral method of integration, that McIntosh champions, is the next emergent stage of awareness where a real method of inclusiveness offers a healing balm for these divisive wounds. Regrettably, McIntosh tends to downplay these pathologies, or in taking a more critical attitude, in order to make these lower stages feel included (a sensitive “green” attribute). Let me be clear: it is not conservatives as people that need to be criticized; it is their way of thinking that must be transformed. There is a tendency among integralists, I believe, to be so inclusive they prefer people stay where they are instead of encouraging them to make the transformative leap forward. This is a tendency perpetuated by Wilber's recent work, which has bent over backwards to make everyone feel included and has thus blunted the urgency to evolve forward.
All people are divine manifestations, spiritual beings in heart, so all are invited to “Grow Up” and “Wake Up” (for all of us must do this), as well as “Clean Up” and “Show Up” (in current integral jargon). All of us are invited to share in the universal dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yes, we want to honor the positive values of traditional conservatives and their contributions to our society. But their pathologies, particularly ethnocentric fear of others, are preventing us from developing into a better nation. Education seems to be key, and I don't mean the propaganda wormholes created by fake news channels (like FOX) and Internet conspiracy cults. Plainly put, the cultism of demagogues and backward thinking must be released and healed. People need to change, not be cuddled.
Another example is violence. It seems the lower levels or earlier stages are more prone to violent action and the use of guns. It is traditionalists (and tribal-warriors) who do not want any form of gun control, misusing the Second Amendment (created by modernists) to their advantage, and who are willing to spill blood, even overlook mass shootings (of children, for God's sake), to keep their military-style automatic rifles. Profits by gun manufactures are a large part of the resistance to anti-gun laws—where their special interests influence members of Congress with money and the population with propaganda. This complex situation is compounded when the elites collude with traditionalists and fundamental religionists—a hallmark of the GOP—to profit from the status quo and resist progressive change (such as modifying current taxes laws favoring the rich and corporations, as only one example, or securing voting rights, as another).
The United States' current polarization and resistance to change—including an unprecedented attack on democracy with the violent invasion of the U.S. Capital Building on January 6, 2021 (incited by then-President Trump)—are basically caused by traditionalists who remain stuck or wedded to their ethnocentric resistance to a pluralistic society. To stand up for what is right—to practice virtuous action, which McIntosh recommends—must involve a stronger critical stance to lower levels of development in order to encourage their future evolutionary participation. Our elected leaders must reflect this change in consciousness, which is currently vastly underdeveloped. Conscious education, not just commercialized (or provincial) brainwashing, has a long way to go. Unfortunately, I feel McIntosh has not sufficiently addressed these matters with his highly idealistic (and philosophical) solutions—yet he is pushing in the right direction.
In fact, as the political philosopher points out, lack of adequate integral education is part of the reason Wilber's attempts at turning mainstream culture toward integral thinking failed—such as with the Integral Institute (or I-I). Yet, McIntosh offers no real alternatives other than to take up integral thinking and to become more virtuous by practicing what he calls “harnessing the energy of value” (in Chapter 6). His intentions are worthwhile, and are a genuine goal to be attained, as he sincerely explains:
In order to generate the political will necessary to overcome our democracy's dysfunction we need to rediscover the transcendent meaning of our civilization at a post-secular level of understanding. In other words, the remedy to our cultural dilemma can be found in an enlarged ideal of a transcendent higher purpose (or coherent set of higher purposes) that can speak to the hearts and minds of modernists, postmodernists, and traditionalists alike.
True enough, I agree—but how do we realistically initiate such wide-scale evolution of consciousness? This is what Part 2 of Developmental Politics addresses, with in-depth considerations about a “renaissance of values” to encourage character development and a revival of transpersonal ethics. Good starting point.
Developing Politics Beyond Philosophy
W hile I wholeheartedly agree with McIntosh's main thesis and assessment, I suspect philosophy alone, even a new “post-progressive” (or “post-postmodern”) worldview, cannot accomplish the necessary changes our society needs. In other words, I believe the answer needs to emphasize a process of FULL-SPECTRUM EDUCATION for children and adults—and this includes transpersonal or spiritual education (and practice). For example, Zachery Stein addresses the importance of integral education for our children in public and private schools (and also for adults). In his book Education in a Time Between Worlds (2018), Stein summarized his thesis: “Humanity can choose to begin a process of universal de-alienation and re-humanization through the prioritization of educational abundance as a social value.” Indeed, we must provide viable methods and means to educate the populace to at least a “center of gravity” exhibiting integral-centaur awareness, which takes serious work, dedication, and practice. We simply cannot accept that traditionalists, modernists, or postmodernists remain stuck in their preferred stage or worldview of development. We, as the human race, must continue to evolve forward to our highest potentials—which means becoming authentically spiritualized human beings.
Fortunately, McIntosh offers his version of these transcendent possibilities in Part 2: “Toward a New Political Philosophy of Purpose and Progress.” While I agree with many of his well-argued insights, I do not see how a “new philosophy” (or “talking-school”) alone can accomplish these noble aspirations since they must be grounded in the fundamental transformation of consciousness. This is no easy task, thus it goes beyond books, podcasts, webinars, or inspiring mental talk. McIntosh emphasizes an advanced appreciation of the Good (in the self), the True (in nature and science), and the Beautiful (in culture)—the “Big Three” (in Wilber's terms)—the main topic of Part 2, which does have a lot of philosophical potency. Unfortunately, he makes little reference to experiential practices and disciplines (the “practicing school”) that can awaken genuine integral consciousness grounded in transpersonal states of awareness. This would include activities such as meditation, psycho-active drugs (or medicines), and Guru Yoga, for example, ultimately leading to Enlightened God-Realization (humanity's highest potential). Ken Wilber was a master at including the full-spectrum of human development, yet today many integralists fail to adequately include the higher transpersonal attractors for actual consciousness evolution.
McIntosh's solution is the “practice of virtues” to “ameliorate America's political problems,” which he believes will lead to a cultural renaissance. He suggests that the qualities surrounding the “seven fundamental virtues” (of faith-loyalty, love-compassion, justice-fairness, temperance-integrity, prudence-creativity, courage-determination, and hope-enthusiasm) can support the three major ethical concerns addressing “self, others, and transcendence.” He thinks they can become “nationally popular” by appealing to each major worldview, thus potentially becoming a “politically unifying force in American culture.” Coupled with what he calls “a transcendent vision of progress” (in Chapter 9), McIntosh seems to believe such idealistic virtues can become “agents of evolution” that will transcend-and-include the positive qualities of the opposing worldviews. It is a comforting vision, but I do not see how a philosophy, or even the practice of virtues, will be strong enough to transform consciousness to higher levels of inclusion and spiritual understanding. Many people in earlier (or lower) stages already practice virtues to some degree—for virtues are socially binding (cohering in membership)—yet they still have not evolved forward into higher levels of awareness.
As another example, Jean Gebser explains, “The difficulty in the procedure [of evolving collective consciousness] is that we have to be concerned with an ability to adapt ourselves through awareness to the different degrees of consciousness in the individual structures.” The advanced developmental unfolding of our highest potentials—including authentic spiritual awakening—must be the primary goal of integral consciousness, our next emergent stage of human evolution. This is why in my book, God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom (2021), I prefer to highlight the similarities between Wilber's spectral developmental model and Adi Da's Seven Stages of Life approach which encourages our growth from babies to Buddhas, from infants to Sages, enacting the full-spectrum of human possibilities. We must strive, in other words, to reach even beyond the integral-centaur and values integration. McIntosh makes insightful use of this process by highlighting the middle stages of development—from the traditional to the integral (the Second to Third/Fourth Stages of Life)—which is a necessary first step. Still, we must use the complete map of human consciousness to realize our full evolutionary potentials, including mystical development.
But how do we actually do this? How do we become integral? How do we become genuine Mystics on a mass scale? That is the BIG Question, as far as I can see. McIntosh tries to resolve this important issue by focusing his philosophy on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. He uses the history of Western philosophy, with a hidden emphasis on Christianity, to support his preferred thesis. However, I believe this will fall short since it doesn't directly address the ego or separate self and its activity of unlove, separation, and fear of others. McIntosh is offering techniques of self-improvement, not self-transcendence. This is an exoteric “religious” or philosophical approach, useful to a degree, but insufficient for the actual esoteric transformation of consciousness. Wilber maintains (as do the Mystics), that we must cut the knots restricting our heart and awaken to our True Self… nothing else will be sufficient. Wilber wisely points out:
The aim of the Mystics is to deliver men and women from their battles by delivering them from their boundaries. Not manipulate the subject [such as through cultivating virtues], and not to manipulate the object [such as by reforming laws], but to transcend both in nondual consciousness. The discovery of the ultimate Whole is the only cure for unfreedom, and it is the only prescription offered by the Mystics.
History has proven this time and time again. McIntosh fails to adequately take this into account. There is no ultimate Utopia or Omega Point lying somewhere in our evolutionary future, but only awakening—right now!—to the freedom inherent in our own hearts and unfettered minds is the answer. Wilber deftly explains in the closing lines of his evolutionary masterpiece:
For men and women are unfree not primarily because of horrid appetites [like the conservative traditionalists say] or oppressive institutions [like the liberal progressives say], but because they manufacture both of those forms of unfreedom as a substitute for transcendence. Men and women want the world because they are in truth the world, and they want immortality because they are in fact immortal. But instead of transcending their boundaries in truth, they merely attempt to break and refashion them at will, and caught in this Atman project of trying to make their earth into a substitute heaven, not only do they destroy the only earth they have, they forfeit the only heaven they might otherwise embrace.
I, therefore, believe we need to emphasize genuine spirituality and ego-transcending practices. We need more than just educational philosophies, rational discussions, or mythic religions; we need actual psycho-physical Yogas. I don't think McIntosh mentions meditation once in his entire treatise in support of unlocking the current polarization of politics (yet he mentions it in his other books). A real integral approach to consciousness evolution is required to initiate a level of wisdom and spiritual understanding never before seen on this planet in large numbers. Only this type of transpersonal truth will heal the political divisions of our culture wars, the scrambling madness of competing worldviews. We must reach into the depths of the human heart and activate awareness of our prior unity, of Atman, our True Self, to cease the war of worldviews and embattled nations.
It is unfortunate that McIntosh has not sufficiently addressed these issues on how to educate and vertically transform (not just horizontally translate) the lower stages into higher modes of development. He wants to improve each worldview as they are—which proactively engages horizontal translation—instead of assisting people in the vertical transformation to higher state-stages of development. Yet, such approaches of translation (or stage integration) fail time and time again, as our current political situation proves. We must continue to evolve “up” the spectrum of consciousness to become truly whole and holistic. We just can't stand by and honor everyone for where they are, where their center of gravity is, without insisting everybody participate together in the evolution of our society and world—“everybody-all-at-once” (as Adi Da says).
Therefore, I do not think a “revival of virtues” is sufficient, although it would be useful. Yet, as McIntosh concedes, this must be done “by gentle persuasion rather than legal coercion,” which I agree with. We can't force people to Grow Up or to Wake Up, but we can encourage and inspire them to do so. The “project of evolving consciousness” needs to be proactively engaged and encouraged, either by incentives in art, music, media, and movies, as well as by implementing grassroot teachings and education to enact our “better angels” (as Lincoln noted). Moral leaders speaking as integralists, not just as traditionalists, modernists, or postmodernists, are sorely needed. We need real integral politicians, to begin with. But we also need to use real Gurus and Spiritual Masters, since they are the genuine attractors to our higher developmental potentials. We must overcome our fear of Guru-cults and learn to distinguish the authentic Masters from the fake and false ones. These truths must also be highlighted in our discussion on developmental politics. We must meditate to elevate (and deepen) consciousness.
The type of virtues McIntosh prefers are based around the Good (morality), the True (rationality), and the Beautiful (aesthetics)—manifesting as devotion and service, learning and teaching, appreciating and creativity (in his words)—character qualities any person should have by the time they're an adult. In other words, these character traits should be evident in the maturation of the First Three Stages of Life (in Adi Da's Seven Stage model). They should involve what is called “Right Life” or the appropriate handling of “money, food, sex, and social egoity” (in Adi Da's terms). They are, for example, the first fundamental practices (or “limbs”) of traditional Yoga and Buddhism, the ethics upon which further spiritual practice is founded. This includes right diet (healthy eating), conscious exercise and proper breathing, intimate sexuality and love-marriages (not promiscuous hedonism), controlled equanimity, intellectual integrity, and financial stability—granted, traits often absent in the modern world—but which are the foundation for true spiritual meditation. Such maturation, including virtues, is the ground upon which the higher and mystical stages are laid. It is true, as McIntosh suggests, that we must address the lack of positive virtues in people today.
In this case, I believe, the release of “value energy” toward transcendence (as McIntosh calls it in Part 2 of his book) is already evident in our spiritual history. However, they have traditionally been reserved for the “advanced-tip few” (in Wilber's words), for the Shamans, the Yogis, the Saints, the Sages, etc. Now is the time, at the dawn of the new Millennium, for it to become the province of the eight billion (and counting) living souls who populate the Earth. This movement is the “democratization” of Shamanism and Mysticism, as some have called it, the democratization of our highest human potentials. This depth of transformation is not gained merely with a renewed sense of dedication or devotion to a “higher purpose,” which is beneficial (it is true), but to Ultimate Reality or God Itself. This is true “Spirit-in-action” (in Wilber's terms). In other words, humanity must re-awaken to our deepest spiritual nature, not simply develop character virtues. People do, in fact, need a strong “I” or self-sense, male or female, who is virtuous and kind, loving and true, creative in beauty and aesthetics, but also one that transcends the ego-self (and narcissism) in service to others and realization of its Divine Nature.
As McIntosh suggests, we must serve not only our “self-interest but the greater-than-self-interests” of the community, thus he has taken us in an important step in that direction. But we need to progress (or evolve) even further… to the farthest reaches of human nature (in Maslow's words). As I said, McIntosh's work and philosophy are some of the best integral thinking that I know of today. It is sincere and well-researched, yet still falls shy of what is truly needed, which is genuine spirituality. Yet, this is not a failing of McIntosh's potent work, but a only slight correction that needs to be applied to it. Ask the Mystics. If the separate self-sense—the activity of the ego-I or “I, me, mine”—is not adequately delt with and transcended, through spiritual understanding and self-transcending practices, such as meditation, then we will not evolve our consciousness and become fully human. As Wilber once noted:
Men and women are unfree because there exists a belief in the existence of a “true” self in the first place. Unfreedom, anguish, and inequality do not arise because of something the object [or society] does to the subject [as progressive say], or because of something the subject does to the object [as conservatives maintain], but because of the prior duality between the subject and the object itself. [According to the Mystics], we are not to repress or unrepress the self, but rather undermine it; transcend it; see through it.
Wilber used to address these matters at this radical level of understanding (yet less so in his current work), as did Maslow, Grof, Fromm, Jung, Campbell, Hixon, Thurman, Smith, Schuon, and countless scholars of the world's spiritual traditions. The same is true of all our Mystic-Sages from the Great Tradition of Global Wisdom, who are the true beacons of light into our further evolution. I maintain that we need to heed their radical call to self-transcendence based on our deeper understanding and insights into Life and Real Existence. As humankind, we all inherit the same Global Wisdom Tradition pointing to the same universal truths that lie within us all. We must Awaken to these deeper, transcendental truths and base our politics on these profound developmental potentials. Everything else will fall short, even good intentions. Integrating the transpersonal, as well as the earlier stages, is what it is to be fully integral.
Simply put, we need to massively integrate the best streams of knowledge from the West (including science) with the deepest and most profound wisdom of the East (or genuine spirituality)—the original meaning of “integral” as proposed by early thinkers of integral consciousness. For example, integral philosopher Haridas Chaudhuri (a student of Aurobindo, who helped establish the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco) explained: “Integral consciousness enables [humanity] to grasp simultaneously the timeless mystery of Being [via Eastern mysticism] and the meaning of time [via Western knowledge]. Emancipated from instinctual attachments and emotional ties, a free [person] is capable of taking his [or her] stand in the heart of Being. Aware of the meaning of time, [such a person] chooses the path of selfless and loving action.” Being integral is having a deep connection with Absolute Being (or God) as well as being active, and in service to, the relative reality of our culture moving through time. This means more than character building and developing virtues, as important as those are. In other words, our philosophy needs to be thoroughly grounded in real practice—in direct experiences—of a transpersonal and spiritual nature revealing the truth of our Divine Condition and the whole of Reality to be most effective in transforming our culture and global society.
Developmental Politics nobly points us in this direction. Real education, according to McIntosh, includes “circuits of creativity” or “value energy metabolisms” involving Truth (teaching-learning), Beauty (creativity-appreciation), and Goodness (devotion-service). I admire McIntosh's attempts to guide us further in our evolution, both individually and as a larger society. But we will fall short without going all the way and doing it in service to Divine Enlightenment and God-Realization—as the world's Great Wisdom Traditions have always taught. And, I truly believe, we must learn how to use and access genuine Gurus and Spiritual Masters, via Guru Yoga (as the Tibetans teach) and Satsang (as the Hindus propose), and by working with more highly-developed Yogis and Shamans. This is all part of humanity's future task and challenge.
Unfortunately, as powerful as his book is, McIntosh fails to adequately address these important truths with his overreliance on values and virtues as a philosophy to be adopted as a popular lifestyle. It's not useful to claim our culture is not ready to evolve into transpersonal awareness: we are human so we are ALWAYS ready to evolve into becoming more loving and wise. It's why we are here, alive in this body, born in this world. By supplementing McIntosh's good intentions with a more realistic approach to vertical consciousness transformation, I believe we can realize the “higher purpose” and transcendent values he ultimately seeks and wishes to promote. By practicing real sadhana or spiritual life, by actually meditating as a daily practice, we become the “agents of evolution” that McIntosh wisely calls us to become, whether now, in the present, or into the future.
Agents of Evolution: Gardening Our Potential Emergence
H onestly, I'm not sure what all of the answers are to proactively engage genuine developmental politics for the masses. But I believe integral philosophy and politics must offer education and encourage spiritually-based yogas and practices for the greater population (and I mean globally). For instance, I suspect initiation ceremonies using entheogens or psychedelics in controlled environments led by elders may be a crucial cultural tool for the further evolution of consciousness. Another viable, and time-honored, method is the practices offered by the Great Wisdom Traditions or the esoteric (or “inner”) yogas of the world's religions, which involve ego-transcending meditation and daily contemplation exercises. This also includes, in my opinion, the ancient practice of Guru Yoga and Satsang, where an actual spiritual transmission (of psychic energy) can initiate higher states of awareness. Once higher states are attained, then the daily practice of consciousness transformation is absolutely necessary to stabilize them into enduring traits. Higher temporary states must become stable stages of life. It is a lifelong project for everybody-all-at-once. It is necessary to transform “flashes of illumination into abiding light,” as world religion professor Huston Smith once put it. Wilber calls it developing “states into traits,” the goal of the integral-centaur. McIntosh, unfortunately, does not provide the keys to moving beyond philosophy into mystical awareness.
This is why, for example, I have always appreciated Ken Wilber's chapter titled “Republicans, Democrats, and Mystics” (the final chapter in Up from Eden), one of the first written statements on integral politics. In this chapter, Wilber outlines the basic characteristics of the structural worldviews, first with traditional conservative Republicans, who tend to see human suffering as a result of interior causes (thus they want to fix the person). In contrast, modern liberal Democrats tend to believe it is exterior causes (thus they want to fix the government or society). Hence, the conservatives and liberals are locked in a dualistic debate that can never be resolved at the level or worldview from which they are operating. As McIntosh emphasizes, when adding the postmodern progressive position to this bipolar mix, it becomes even more problematic. Obviously, this highlights the difficulty we now face: how do we transform the world's population into becoming Mystics of enlightened awareness, transcending the limits of both conservative traditionalists and liberal progressives? McIntosh correctly acknowledges that “the project of evolving culture ultimately requires spiritual growth.” Yet, crucially, he fails to emphasize any real transpersonal exercises of development.
McIntosh seems hesitant to recommend authentic spiritual practices, such as sadhana (or life disciplines and meditation) or Satsang (an authentic spiritual relationship to a Guru), methods that have been honored for millennia. Instead, he promotes character development through a combination of the values integration method he outlined in Part 1, and in the practice of his preferred seven fundamental virtues (presented in Part 2). He suggests that these working together “raises consciousness by channeling or harvesting value energy.” While I agree this is a noble enterprise, and should be included for the interior development of a better functioning ego-self, I fail to see how this will provide the necessary transformation of consciousness and culture that is required for genuine holistic human development.
Nothing short of real yoga, genuine (and regular) meditation, and spiritual contemplation—where the ego-self is transcended and the mind is stilled in Divine Communion—will effectively accomplish these goals. Then a healthy, happy, harmonious (and integral) self will work to transform the world for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. History has proven this to be so. For example, the preliminary practices of traditional yoga, such as the yamas (don'ts) and niyamas (do's), or the first steps on the Buddhist eight-fold path (from “right speech” to “right livelihood,” etc.), which includes moral, ethical, and virtue development, are by themselves inadequate to generate full human maturity and spiritual enlightenment. They are preliminary practices; they only lay the foundation for further spiritual (or transpersonal) development.
The Great Tradition of Global Wisdom—including its “Divine Library” of sacred scriptures—is another valuable resource that people should access to more fully Grow Up and Wake Up, not just use well-meaning philosophies. But perhaps integral philosophies like McIntosh's can provide a stepping stone, so to speak. Indeed, this is the purpose of integral awareness: to lead us on the transpersonal journey to higher mystical insights. Let me conclude with this marvelous vision as expressed by Ken Wilber in suggesting a “New Integral Age” or a “true Wisdom Culture” that integrates the best of all worldviews, including enlightened consciousness, once again taken from the final chapters of Up from Eden:
[Such a “Wisdom Culture”] will mean a society of men and women who, by virtue of an initial glimpse into transcendence: will start to understand vividly their common humanity and brotherhood/sisterhood; will transcend roles based on bodily differences of skin color and sex; will grow in mental-psychic clarity; will make policy decisions on the basis of intuition as well as rationality; will see the same [Divine] Consciousness in each and every soul, indeed, in all creation, and will start to act correspondingly;… will understand psychological growth as evolutionary transcendence, and develop methods and institutions not just to cure emotional disease but foster the growth of consciousness; will see education as a discipline in transcendence, body to mind to soul, and regear educational theory and institutions accordingly, with special emphasis on hierarchic [or vertically transformative] development;… will see cultural-national differences as perfectly acceptable and desirable, but will set those differences on a background of universal and common consciousness, and thus view radical isolationism or imperialism as criminal; will view all people as ultimately one in Spirit, but only potentially one in Spirit, and thus provide incentives for each individual to actualize that Spirit.
Indeed, I find that this uplifting passage from Wilber rings similar to a quote from Adi Da, which I suspect inspired the pandit's version since he had written the foreword to the book that this selection comes from:
I would find a new order of men and women, who will create a new age of sanity and joy. It will not be the age of the occult, the religious, the scientific, or the technological domination of humanity. It will be the fundamental age of Real Existence, wherein Life will be radically realized, entirely apart from the whole history of our adventure and great search. The [new] age envisioned by common seekers is a spectacular display that only extends the traditional madness, exploitability, and foolishness of mankind. But I desire a new order of men and women, who will not begin from all of that, but who will apply themselves, apart from all dilemma and all seeking, to the harmonious Event of Real Existence.
McIntosh's solution, as we've seen, is to focus on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, or on Justice, Science, and Art, where he explains: “By pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful according to our own lights, we each act as agents of evolution and thereby contribute incrementally to the realization of the universe's 'final cause' or ultimate purpose.” I wholeheartedly agree. Thus, Steve McIntosh has done the world a great service in providing an integral blueprint on how to begin engaging this transformative process. Yet, I also encourage him (and us) to take it further by truly founding “a new age of sanity and joy… [based on] the harmonious Event of Real Existence.” I highly recommend everyone interested in being integral to read and study McIntosh's book to avert apocalyptic consequences, including the possible loss of democracy in the United States to authoritarian cults, which would have horrible ramifications around the world. Only an authentic developmental or evolutionary politics based on genuine spiritual and transpersonal practices is going to save the day… and our Earth… and all of us.