Since posting “The Integral Case for President Obama” I’ve received a large number of responses—both as comments on the original post and via email—and they’re still coming in. It’s been encouraging, and best of all, people have been donating—to the point that we’re currently far ahead of all other small fundraisers, in first place on the Obama Grassroots Fundraising “Leaderboard.” But we’re still nowhere close to our $100,000 goal (and we’re as yet small potatoes compared to the real money in this campaign)—so this is just a beginning. Let’s keep building the momentum!
Many of the responses, I’d say a large majority, have been extremely positive and supportive; a handful have been strongly opposed; and an interesting number have been somewhere in between—supportive but with serious reservations, or opposed but still with an open mind and heart. Surprisingly, given the topic at hand, only two or three have been too uncivil to include among the published comments.
In this follow-up post, I’d like to respond, in a broad way, to those who have expressed disagreement or ambivalence—but I’d like to do so not primarily to convince you of the argument for my “case,” but rather to more fully respect and appreciate the full range of perspectives you’ve shared. I’d like to see if we can’t turn this dialogue into more than just a political debate, into something that furthers our community’s understanding and participation in the fractious public life of our time—in other words, into a moment of intersubjective practice.
To those who object to bringing political partisanship into the integral evolutionary community
It seems to be the nature of the beast that as soon we engage in politics from an integral perspective, we are required to hold considerable cognitive dissonance. How is it possible to proclaim, “I support Candidate X or Party Y or Policy Z,” when we’re so painfully aware of the limitations of X, Y, and Z in the face of our incredibly complex reality? Obama has made some serious mistakes and certainly hasn’t fulfilled our highest hopes. Our political institutions—not to mention the media and educational systems so necessary to an informed electorate—are under severe stress and struggling to keep up with a changing world. Many of our systems are showing signs of breaking down, contributing to an atmosphere of anxiety, gridlock, and rancor we’re all painfully aware of. No electoral outcome can by itself resolve these issues, nor fill us with the hope we felt 4 years ago. This leads some to wonder, why get mixed up in conventional politics at all? Is it really worth our time and energy? Why not simply focus on creating a more evolved (and truly hopeful) cultural movement that’s independent of all that?
We’re all serious about building a long-term, truly integral evolutionary movement, and precisely for this reason, we recognize the importance of holding a much wider space of discourse than could possibly fit into the box represented by any particular candidate or ideological stance. We want to make sure there is plenty of room all kinds of perspectives—libertarian, progressive, revolutionary, trans-partisan, and trans-political as well. And yet we also recognize the need for not just theory or perspective-taking—but action. What to do?
I share the concern that the community surrounding integral philosophy and spirituality not come to feel like a less fully-congruent and welcoming environment for those who resonate primarily with more “conservative” politics. I care that my activist stance might cause some people to feel less resonant and/or welcome in relation to my work, and I’m concerned that some might go so far as to extend that sense of alienation to the whole integral movement.
Yet I cannot relinquish activism based on these concerns; that would be a cop-out. But I will, for the most part, segregate my spiritual teachings from my partisan political communications. They’re of a different order, on a different subject, and the two should not be blurred. But this segregation cannot be absolute, because a key dimension of practice is activism. It’s important that those who appreciate my spiritual teachings see me getting my hands dirty as an activist.
In the messy real world it is not morally sufficient to simply see and accept the big picture. We are participants who have a moral obligation to engage. And if we take our action seriously, we must strive to be effective. Once we try to produce results, we engage the strife of time and space and get our hands dirty. There is no such thing as an impeccable spiritual warrior—someone who acts effectively in a way that’s purely holistic, who fights for the benefit of the “whole” without simultaneously engaging the “parts” . . . who avoids all partisanship. To hold both the whole and the parts—to be both trans-partisan and partisan at the same time—is no easy business, and I have no doubt that I am alienating some people in my own attempt.
Despite all the downsides, I’m wading in. Here’s why:
- This year’s presidential race is a single big issue, one that already has all our attention for a focused period of time, and one on which I believe most of us can agree. Many of us will be making donations to the Obama campaign anyway, even though we sorely wish we could authentically raise the level of discourse, not just throw more money into the machine.
- This particular presidential election is very close and its outcome is likely to be consequential. People around the world live and die because of the decisions that a President makes. If we get more active in supporting the Obama campaign it’s not inconceivable that we actually might make a critical difference. This gives our activism moral urgency; presidential election results definitely DO matter—a LOT—as we learned the hard way in 2000.
- An important dimension of integral and evolutionary practice is to engage civic life and bring more nuanced perspectives to them. Despite this, integral evolutionaries don’t yet have a history and tradition of coming together to exert influence. Where best to start? Even if it turns out that this is an early experiment—even if it turns out that we fall short of the “critical mass” necessary to exert political influence this time around—we will be helping activate a new social pattern—that of integral evolutionary political action in the United States. We and others will learn from this experiment, and better approaches will evolve.
To my more conservative or libertarian friends
To those who have expressed the fear that the integral community could become too fully identified with a merely liberal or progressive agenda, I fully resonate! I believe it’s totally legitimate to be concerned that the community surrounding integral philosophy and spirituality could fail to include the extremely important truths expressed by conservative and libertarian voices.
There’s an enduring tension between communion and agency, between traditionally conservative and liberal politics. Both sides hold important truths that will never go away. Integral transcends and includes both. And the integral community needs to welcome those who emphasize either side of this enduring polarity.
I acknowledge: there are ways in which President Obama and the Democratic party (not only or even primarily during the past four years) have capitulated to some of the excesses of liberalism, failing to deeply care about the many legitimate objections to excessive government, to cumbersome and sometimes stifling regulations, to an overly complex and burdensome tax system, to the erosion of our civil liberties, to the dramatic escalation of our national debt, and much more.
As a small businessperson, I’ve paid taxes and was subject to invasive regulation and chafed and complained and developed deep respect for the truth of some conservative political principles. These themes have vital roles in a more integral discourse. They ought to be fully included in our discussions, as we work our way toward a more fully integral political expression—and even an integral “platform” of goals, objectives, and principles. I see this as a long-term project, but one that definitely has already begun and should continue.
I reiterate, there is room for an “Integral Romney” initiative. Even an “Integral Gary Johnson” project would be great to see. If someone takes up either of these, I will make sure www.IntegralObama.com is willing to exchange links with them. It goes without saying, I also fully welcome conservative ideas to be included in the policy white paper(s) that the Integral Obama initiative intends to share with the Obama team, should we get the chance. Indeed, it would hard to imagine a truly “integral” policy paper that didn’t include the best of both conservative and progressive (and some even more radical) approaches in a higher-order synthesis. That’s a prime goal of this initiative.
To my more radical revolutionary friends
(R)evolutionaries should consider evolution’s own strategy of activism. What is that? Evolution tries all strategies at once. There are many valid forms of activism and many time horizons for action—from the immediate near term of this election cycle to the “long now” of a forward-thinking evolutionary timescale. Certainly, an integral political practice must include both (and the full spectrum of) timescales, seizing upon the “urgency of now,” while also working diligently and patiently for the long-term good. And we may shift our focus back and forth, zooming in and out, depending on where we feel most called. The same holds for our activism within the “system” and outside of it.
To those who wish to focus on a longer-term approach, for example, the work of building a truly trans-partisan integral evolutionary political movement, or helping the “Occupy” movement burgeon into a powerful alternative to conventional political thinking and activism, I fully support your efforts! I don’t see the long-term orientation being at odds with smart, strategic action within the existing parties and system, however corrupted and broken they may be. I believe we can and must play the hand we’ve been dealt AND also work to reshuffle the deck altogether.
But as a caution: let’s not underestimate how much our higher-order thinking and our post-conventional subculture depends on a foundation of traditional civil law, order, and a functioning marketplace! Please consider if there’s some ungrounded arrogance in your willingness to cast aside participation in our existing institutions. Is inviting breakdown and chaos truly a wise move? Doesn’t it run the risk of allowing the most regressive and violent impulses in our society to break forth? I would argue that our integral responsibility is to hold a difficult balance between preserving what works in our existing structures, while also pushing the edges and opening spaces for the new and higher and better that’s yearning to emerge. Our world-out-of balance will probably create chaotic “windows of opportunity” for more fundamental systems redesign without us hastening the breakdown. In the dance of “creative destruction,” I would err on the side of a more constructive type of creativity.
In the long-term, I believe we must create a truly integral evolutionary moment, including an integral political party—and I would support these efforts (in fact, an integral political party has already been founded in Switzerland). But in the immediate term, there is no real integral option—at least not in the US. When we look at our realistic options, I believe we have a better chance of integralizing the Democratic party than the Republican party, at least at this point. That’s why I’m supporting Obama in this election. But if he wins, it serves a double purpose. It potentially breaks the fever of the doctrinaire right-wing regressive lurch that has seized the Republican party in the last few years, and brings both parties closer to a pragmatic center. That’s the hope.
That said, we must each integralize the contexts in which we already find ourselves—whether Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist, or none of the above. Our ultimate goals can only be served if we become engaged, if we actively transform the level of dialogue from the grassroots up. And this, in my view, is a matter of practice. Whether we practice within established politics or outside of it, we can all be working to raise the level of the discourse.
To my liberal and progressive friends who support Obama only reluctantly
All I can say is that I’m with you to a point. Clearly Obama hasn’t been boldly progressive enough; he’s capitulated to the Republicans in congress; he’s negotiated himself into a corner before the negotiations even began. He hasn’t delivered on the transformative kind of presidency we had hoped for . . . at least he hasn’t yet. But I still believe the man has the potential for greatness within him. But not alone. Not without us. Not without our own greatness. So I urge you not to despair, but again, to engage more deeply, more energetically, more faithfully—not with blind faith in Obama the man, but in the sense of possibility he re-awakened in so many of us.
If you haven’t seen it already, the following video by Michelle Goldberg is well worth a few minutes of your time.
I support the re-election of President Obama, and I’m inviting others to join me, for all the reasons I’ve outlined in my original piece and more. I’m committed to act and to exercise and practice a positive, integral evolutionary social action, not just as an individual but as a member of a movement and a community “being the change” we wish to see in a saner and more sacred world to come.
If we are to act to gain some concrete influence in the world, we must choose pathways by which to earn influence. At this time, I am suggesting we choose to act in relation the very flawed Democratic party and in relation to the very flawed Obama campaign and administration. To understand why, it’s essential that we see this move in the context of THIS election, given THESE circumstances that we’re facing, a matter of making the best choices we can in the moment, while affirming that we might well act differently given a different context.
But, hey gang: this is a significant opportunity! Through it, higher-order integral evolutionary consciousness can take another step forward to becoming a force in the world.
If you resonate, then please act:
- Contribute as much as you can.
- Tell others!
- Tell others to tell still others—please help mobilize your integral evolutionary friends and community to spread the word and grow this effort!
If you don’t resonate, I invite you to embody another expression of integral evolutionary activism, and to stay in cooperative dialog with those of us engaging this initiative. If we all really walk our talk, we will both learn, and learn from each other, and learn together. In the process we’ll help a higher level of values and thinking make a real difference in the world.
Whatever, let’s walk our talk. Let’s attend this school of life. Let’s hold the big questions and evolve better answers to them. Let’s practice. And let’s learn to bring that into life in every way we can.
To our evolution,