Integral Manifesto Pt III(1): Integral Politics? / Action Beyond Reason and Reason Beyond Sensibility

Books Discussed in this Section

Steve McIntosh (2007) Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution,  Continuum Books.

Bruno Latour (1999) Pandora’s Hope: Essays of the Reality of Science Studies, Harvard University Press.

Toward the end of his book Pandora’s Hope, Bruno Latour asks

How sensible is it to cry for Reason when faced with the horrors we witness every day?

The more your own opinion tends toward the affirmative, the more on board you might feel with the usual offerings from “mainstream” integral politics arguing for an integral version of Global Governance. By “mainstream integral” I am referring to integral thought based primarily on Ken Wilber’s AQAL model incorporated into a Spiral Dynamics worldview (often labelled iSD).]  Like the idea of the polis,this sensibility — that Reason and Rule go together — is rooted in early Greek thought. It appealed to Socrates, the summa qua non of the vita contemplativa– who neither labored, worked, nor partook of the unruly sport of the Sophists (those original politicians), and who, in the famous dialogue of the Gorgias gives this vehement rant against the Sophist Callicles that Latour relates in his book

In fact, Callicles, the expert’s opinion is that co-operation, love, order, discipline, and justice bind heaven and earth, gods and men. That’s why they call the universe an ordered whole, my friend, rather than a disorderly mess or an unruly shambles. It seems to me that, for all your expertise in the field, you are overlooking the point. You have failed to notice how much power geometrical equality has among gods and men, and this neglect of geometry has led you to believe that one should try to gain a disproportionate share of things.

It may be worthwhile to compare Socrates’ statement with one from Steve McIntosh’s new book– a primer on Integral Consciousness with emphasis on integral politics:

Without its championing of the movement for global governance, the integral worldview fails to offer the type of powerful new solutions that the previously arising worldviews have provided. But when the new insights of the integral worldview are applied through this political platform, their power to produce lasting cultural evolution becomes evident. Just as the moral superiority of democracy over feudalism served to convince many to adopt the values of the modernist worldview, so too will the evident moral superiority of global governance over a world of sovereign nations operating in a state of nature eventually convince many that the integral worldview is the way forward.

Latour might just as easily be speaking about McIntosh, in his commentary comparing Socrates to the writer Steven Weinberg (whose name I have substituted in the following act):

What these two quotations have in common, across the huge gap of centuries, is the strong link they establish between the respect for impersonal natural laws, on the one hand, and the fight against irrationality, immorality, and political disorder on the other. In both quotations, the fate of Reason and the fate of Politics are associated in a single destiny. … The common tenet is that we need something “inhuman” … [for McIntosh, the natural laws of evolution and the spiral] that no human has constructed; for Socrates, geometry, whose demonstrations escape human whim– if we want to be able to fight against “inhumanity.” To sum up : only inhumanity will quash inhumanity. 

 Not surprisingly, many reader will cry “Foul! Surely the ancients’ emerging belief in the power and promise of geometry is not the same as our trust in the power and promise of the evolutionary spiral!” In effect, however, the two are parallel phenomena, stemming from common assumptions. From the vantage point of modernity, we can surely see that geometry belongs to a different domain than politics; and for the same reasons, that both are the products of scalar constructions, the one a geometry of physical spaces, the other, iSD a geography of worldspaces. But since neither of them rests on the central conviction of the space of appearance– neither of them emphasize the power and promise of authentic political action.

The error in connecting Reason with Politics, stems from a series of insufficiently examined assumptions embedded in the culture of science and scientism which confuses the open space of the body politic with the closed halls in which experts and professionals assemble to conspire towards a politics of Reason. This would make for a democracy with an intolerant and dominant temperament. The speech acts in the open space of the body politic are quite different from those that occur around specific bodies of knowledge. Latour proposes four conditions to free politics from scientism. He writes

… the first specification of political speech is that it is public and does not take place in the silent isolation of the study or the laboratory.

From the point of view of the governors of the body of knowledges, the body episteme, the speech acts of the body politic represent defects, weaknesses, and inaccuracies. The ideas of the body politic arrive disarranged, and tend toward discordance– they are not system-ically assembled. Furthermore, in the open space of the body politic, speech acts are discontinuous and indeterminate– they do not standardize. Therefore, Latour’s second specification is

… that political reason cannot possibly be the object of professional knowledge.

Although political action requires attention to the body politic as a whole, this kind of attention requires a special genius of its own– the ability to embrace all of the parts without generalizing, which is another term for reducing uniqueness. Generalization is a contraction of the polis, a closure of the spaces of appearance, through a process of coarse-graining until there is only a cacophony of background voices in which no single voice can be heard.

This is what Socrates recognizes under the name of a good and ordered cosmos in the qualities required of the expert technician. “Each of them organizes the various components he works with into a particular structure and makes them accommodate and fit one another until he’s formed the whole into an organized and ordered object.

The third consideration Latour points out is

not only does political reason deal with important matters, taken up by many people in the harsh conditions of urgency, it also cannot rely on any sort of previous knowledge of cause and consequence…

In this sense, political reason is no reason at all, since it is foremost action. From the point of view of action, Reason, like Hamlet’s soliloquy, is an interregnum. The dispensation of action without the benefit of expertise or recourse to rational analysis, greatly disturbed Socrates in the Gorgias — yet how accurate his definition of positive attributes of the kind of democracy his fellow Greeks were inventing — attributes that Latour greatly admires

How moving to see, by returning to the past, how close these Greeks still were to the positive nature of this democracy that remains their wildest invention. Of course “it does not involve expertise,” of course “it lacks rational understanding”: the whole dealing with the whole under the incredibly tough constraints of the agora must decide in the dark and will be led by people as blind as themselves, without the benefit of proof, of hindsight, of foresight, of repetitive experiment, of progressive scaling up.

In applying to politics a “context of truth”, “mainstream” integral politics reproduces Socrates’ category error. The role of reason is to in-form politics; yet reason alone has no capacity to re-form the body politic. The body politic re-presents, by allowing for, by opening the space of appearance for, innumerable presences, the “who-I-am” that announces itself through subject-to-subject encounter, the limiting quantum of action. Given the appropriate space of appearance, this body politic, this re-presentation that occurs, occurs in a thoroughly spontaneous and ad-hoc manner, which Latour describes as a kind of “fermentation process”

The stunning beauty of the Gorgias is that this other context [other than the context of facts, reason and truth], is clearly visible in the very lack of comprehension Socrates displays for what it is to re-presentthe people. I am not talking here about the modern notion of representation that will come much later, and that will itself be infused with rational definitions, but about a completely ad hoc sort of activity that is neither transcendent nor immanent but more closely resembles a fermentation through which the people brews itself toward a decision– never exactly in accordance with itself, and never led or commanded or directed from above.

How drastically this sensibility differs from the sensibility of integral theorists like McIntosh who writes

Others who have considered the future evolution of global governance believe that such global systems will not arise in a formal way through the ratification of a constitution, but rather through the gradual accumulation of treaties, nongovernmental organizations, trade agreements, and global economic institutions. However, while the incremental accumulation of issue-specific global systems is generally positive, I do not believe that we can achieve the full benefits of a world federation … without the effective implementation of democratically enacted global law with jurisdiction over individual persons. Even if such jurisdiction over individuals is limited by the mandate of restricted federal authority … for global law to be effective, nation-states will be required to relinquish some degree of their presently unrestricted sovereignty. And the only was that nation-states will likely be persuaded to give up some of their sovereignty is under a scenario wherein their relinquished sovereignty becomes reinvested in a higher authority. That is, to bring about the bright promise of a world without war, oppression, environmental degradation, or human suffering, a world federation will have to me adequately empowered empowered by the master lawmaking authority [emphasis mine] of a democratically enacted global constitution.

McIntosh writes with a weighty sense of self-assurance, which comes from the fact that his arguments are all well reasoned, and firmly based in what he terms “the integral reality framework.” Within this framework, McIntosh can prove that political reason, effective-action, jurisprudence, and the rights of higher authorities scale up like nested sets in a transcend and include manner– from the microscale of consciousness, through scales of cultural values, to the global scale of a world federation (and even on to the nature of Spirit– the scope of which is outside this paper). His framework, the AQAL/iSD grid, is the geometrics of integral. To his credit, McIntosh writes of the possibility that “pushing power up” through the advent of a global constitution would allow for more power to be “pushed down … to the level of the people;” and he claims that this “power down” should empower and strengthen traditional cultures to “better develop their own forms of modernist cultures– the kind of homegrown modernism that would complement and preserve the uniqueness and evolutionary genius of their own particular versions of traditionalism;” but at the same time, paradoxical to what his values may seem to be, he asserts

But when we contemplate forming a union that encompasses the large populations of the Third World, from and integral perspective we can see that a simple one-to-one vote system would likely create major problems. If global law were to be made by a world legislature elected exclusively by a population size [a curious euphemism for "majority vote"] this would effectively hand over power to the large populations of the Third World. And because these populations are still largely centered in traditional consciousness, the ethnocentric morality that generally characterizes this level of development would make for  predictably one-sided laws.

So much for the “evolutionary genius” of the Third World’s own forms of modernist culture. To be sure, we would not want to cede global authority to a federation of ethnocentricllay-minded folk. Might not it be ethnocentric in any sense of the word to assert the following?

Thus a significant challenge for any would-be global democratic [democratic, that is, without either a one-to-one or majority vote] entity is to provide a certain degree of protection and insulation for modernist economies and modernist and postmodern cultures from the now significantly larger populations centered in traditionalist consciousness and below.

McIntosh recommends a tiered approach to membership in a world federation which precludes nations that do not have a requisite degree of modernist consciousness or that have not yet become democratic. Democratic in what sense? Presumably, not in the sense of one-man-one-vote, nor in the sense of majority rule, nor apparently in the sense that all participants are allowed a space of appearance– for under these conditions, the world federation itself does not pass muster. McIntosh seems to confuse democratic with demographic when he describes a tricameral federalism of checks and balances that is designed to

provide for democratic representation of all people within the federation while preventing the more populous countries from completely controlling the government and redistributing the world’s wealth and since economic development roughly traces the development of consciousness [a spurious assumption!] the disparities in wealth must be given sufficient insulation to prevent the natural course of evolution …

Of course, in his case, McIntosh’s economic demographies are prescribed by the evolutionary prime directive, namely “the principle which recognizes that every stage of the spiral of development needs to be nurtured and respected,” except that along the way we need to cut and paste entire populations on whom the “natural “evolutionary spiral depends (if there really is such a thing) according to an absolutist and elitist and ethnocentrist framework we have fashioned so carefully as to be rational, perhaps, but not sensible.If what remains after several tiers of segregation is still tagged as a democracy, it will most certainly be one with an intolerant and dominant temperament.

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