Navigating the Integral Way

By: Ed Prell

September 24, 2020

If you’ve landed here on our blog site and haven’t heard of Ken Wilber, I’m inviting you to stay on this page a while to dip your toes in the domain of Integral Philosophy. Ken is the “Granddaddy” of “Integral”, a fundamentally new way of making sense of the world around us and the worlds within us. Here at New Republic of the Heart, we are striving to master its powerful insights in community with a growing number of people and groups who are also learning this new “language”.

Philosophy, religion, ideology, and worldview

Just so we’re all on the same page, here are quick definitions of these commonly confused terms:

  • Philosophy contemplates, studies, and debates fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, and language. We all develop our “philosophy of life”, which doesn’t normally stray too far from the collective philosophy of “our people”.
  • Religion is a system of beliefs, behaviors, and rituals relating to supernatural and spiritual questions. It is typically closed from examination or challenge. As individuals, we exhibit wide variation in our private and public adoption of a religion or its aspects. Some governments identify with one religion and write its practices into their laws. 
  • Ideology is a set of political and economic beliefs which, like religion, is not readily open to reflection or reasoned debate. It can be the proxy for political power struggles.
  • Worldview is the assemblage of all of the values listed above plus regional and national viewpoints, which shapes the attitude and outlook of individuals and of societies. Worldview is a powerful determinant in their motives and actions.

How does all this affect me? Why should I care?

Your life would be markedly different if you were living in a different place at a different time, in many ways due more to the ambient worldview than the material surroundings. Consider two similar sounding low income rural environments, contemporary Albania and Alabama, USA in the 1930s. 

Conversance with the basics of social and philosophical issues equips you with the means to untangle the web of interrelated crises. A clear-eyed perspective eases the feeling of helplessness and enables you to be a better citizen. On a higher plane, awareness of Integral philosophy affords you a birds-eye view of this historical moment: the eclipse of the Modern Western Era and the promise of Integral. And an opportunity to find your role.

Please describe Modern Western Philosophy.

The Modern West was gestated in Europe during the Enlightenment era of the 1500s. It embraces objective reality and evidence-based scientific inquiry – liberation of a human need to explore and seek truth which had been suffocated by the medieval Catholic Church.  The flip side of that coin is its exclusion of all nonmaterial matters: morality, art, and spirituality. 

Of course, it’s not that simple. The Modern Western world has never been a monolith. Its philosophy is the template of the rationalist mindset that “runs the store”. It has been the engine of the unparalleled transformation of human society over the past 500 years. Religious believers and humanists have chafed against the materialism of Modernity all along. This unease has morphed into polarities and contradictions which defy conventional analysis. For example, geology and chemical engineering are applied to extract and refine energy-intensive fuels that power the affluent modern western lifestyle. This profitable and influential fossil fuel industry chooses to dismiss trendlines documented by climatologists which point toward irreversible environmental destruction from continued fuel burning. Profits outrank survival of life on our planet. With no value-based principles to summon, the Modern philosophy cannot be invoked to halt this madness.

Although many of us in the developed nations have experienced luxury and protection from nature’s unpredictability, life hasn’t been as rosy for our siblings in less favored places in the world, and nonhuman life everywhere. The Modern Western world seems to be at war with itself. Despite the truly inspiring developments it has delivered, it has also driven humanity and all other forms of life to the brink of collapse, and is seemingly  incapable of course correction. 

Fortunately, Ken Wilber and an expanding cohort of deep thinkers have found new perspectives with which to view the multi-dimensional scene wrought by and revealed in the modern era, and also to peer inward where we form and process our perceptions. This new way of seeing and being in the reality of the moment is known as Integral Philosophy.

What is Integral Philosophy?

Integral Philosophy, in essence, reconnects the “dots” of knowledge and wisdom that we humans have spotted and accumulated over millennia. Many of these dots were incubated in the petri dish of the Enlightenment of the 1500s and nurtured by its baby, the philosophy of the Modern Western world. They have been pigeonholed by a taxonomy (classification system) borrowed from the cathedrals and universities of medieval Europe. Slowly at first, the dots have been generated with relentless geometric growth for five centuries. They are piling up in those pigeonholes faster than we can assimilate them. New insights in the sciences of matter and mind afford us perspectives vastly more useful than the pigeonholes can reveal. Integral philosophy is the building of a “star map” where we may re-file the dots, new arrivals alongside the old ones, in our new “constellation”. This mapping does not refute or ignore any existing valid learning, nor does it prevent us from accessing it at the time-honored pigeonhole address.

This short overview can only hint at the potential power of Integral Philosophy to extract us from the Modern Era – the womb that delivered us from the netherworld of the medieval “dark ages” and nurtured so much transformation. The gestation has timed out. The “labor pains” are arriving more intensely, urgently and frequently. We must become our own midwives as we break free of Modernity’s umbilical cord and breathe fresh air that we can only imagine. The window of opportunity can stay open only so long.

Is Integral philosophy easy to learn?

Yes and no, like a language which a student or tourist can pick up well enough to earn a passing grade or to find one’s way around – but would need years to speak fluently.

Chances are you were raised in the culture of the “Western World” and, in order to survive, adopted its prevailing Modern Philosophy from infancy on. That philosophy became “second nature” and those thought patterns were etched into your brain, akin to a computer’s operating system. In one sense, this is good news, because you can react swiftly to each stimulus as it arrives rather than re-inventing the appropriate response each time. The bad news is you are saddled with an obsolete operating system that you can’t simply swap out. Those grooves in your brain are glide paths that would need to atrophy as new grooves are consciously, laboriously etched.

So, depending on your buy-in or allegiance to your native philosophy, notions of a “foreign” philosophy may seem like a virus that triggers an immune response – rejection of that notion. Or, alternatively, you may be open-minded/hearted enough to cut some slack for an idea which seems odd at first. Once you understand and accept a “critical mass” of Integral concepts, you will be able to follow and join in conversations and subject matter treated from an Integral perspective. That is the purpose of this series.

Integral Philosophy sprang from brilliant insight regarding the basis of thought processes. That “code” has now been cracked. You will find that many old adages and truisms that your grandparents used have landed intact and taken on new prominence. For example, Integralists assert that all truths are partial: there is no singular way to look at a complex issue. As Grandpa may have put it, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”. Likewise, multiple seemingly contradictory conclusions may all be valid. Western conventions, like its adversarial legal systems, reflexively seek a single verdict, or truth even though such finality is never fully reached. It can be awkward or seemingly unworkable to consider that “both and” can apply, rather than “either or”. In many ways, though, the Integral way takes us to a reality that is often recognized as good old common sense. An Integral understanding is not rocket science. It only requires the willingness to explore a “road less traveled”. You may find it easier than would most rocket scientists!

I’m pumped! But this is all a bit overwhelming.

I understand. Let’s take a break and let this sink in. Maybe re-read it for reinforcement. But first, let’s fill in some gaps. This website traces its origins back to the publication in 2018 of A New Republic of the Heart, by Terry Patten. Terry is a prominent activist-philosopher, and has long been a leading voice for facing, examining, and healing our global crisis through the marriage of higher consciousness and activism. After the book release, he followed up with online seminars based on the book and to this website which features the popular podcast State of Emergence and this blog, Voices of The New Republic of the Heart.

Jeff Salzman, creator and host of The Daily Evolver podcast, interviewed Terry upon the 2018 book publication. In this mellow yet deep discussion between these two friends, Terry related how his life’s work had led to his newly published book. He drew heavily on Integral Philosophy to present his message of activism in these critical times. He observed that many activists get at loggerheads against the wrongs and the wrongdoers who bear responsibility for our societal and environmental ills, yet burn out and miss the mark in their crusade. They have been doing the “outer work” against these ills, but have not done enough “inner work” of building their core of discipline and resilience. The interview covers much more territory, and is an ideal introduction to the Integral way of being and doing. And by the way, if the Salzman interview leaves you still pumped, you can find a rich source of Integral Philosophy lore in the The Daily Evolver archives.

I hope you savored the taste of this challenging and rewarding outlook. I intend to follow up over the next few months with more posts that dive into the many aspects of Integral, but at the level of the interested “outsider”. May we grow together to become the change we have been waiting for. 

Author: Ed Prell

Ed is a prolific writer and one of the original team of Co-Creators of the NRTH Voices blog.

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3 Comments

  1. Jim Snyder

    Thanks, Ed. Phase II of my education, I hope, is where you present a current issue that endangers the planet and explain how Integral Philosophy can help me understand and act upon it – compared to my conventional thought process.

    Reply
    • Ed Prell

      Jim, your comment is most welcome, because it draws attention to a fundamental distinction between Western and Integral brands of philosophy.

      The short response: The aim of this series of posts about Integral Philosophy is, indeed, to help you better understand – and act on – complex issues. I’m confident it can help you see them in a new light. The catch will be to act on them effectively. Integral awareness alone does not empower you to succeed in a society steeped in Western Philosophy, but it will certainly give you (and us all!) a leg up the more we stretch into its more expansive and inclusive worldview. I will explain.

      Complex systems and teamwork

      Planetary “issues” are components of the planetary system which are in contention regarding their damaging effects, particularly those that endanger human health and operations. As components of the system, they are linked, weakly or powerfully, with all other components. The healing of any issue is enhanced by way of the betterment of all others. Therefore, your success in acting on a planetary issue is dependent on how all the other components are faring. They will fare better as more people join the ranks of environmental/Integral actors on the environmental front in your society, since those with an Integral perspective think in global “we are all in this together” terms.

      Historically, activist organizations and diplomatic corps have formed to confront large, threatening issues. Despite their tireless, and at times successful, efforts, wars and eco-disasters still threaten us. Somehow, we need to up our game.

      Philosophies – indigenous (rooted in a deep connection with the land), Modern Western (brainchild of the individual, material and rational), or Integral (riding the wave of inclusiveness and whole systems evolution) – are not only structures of knowledge and wisdom, but also engines of concerted action in their time when shared by a society. James Watt, with all his intelligence and ingenuity, could not have launched his steam engine into the medieval world of the 1400s. Accordingly, Integralists cannot usher in an era of shared values and cooperation while society is still mired in the addiction and greed that has devolved from the individualism of the Western Philosophy.

      This response may seem abstract or trivial. I’ve picked two recent/current “issues” to put some meat on them bones.

      Two real world cases

      In 1973, climate scientists discovered a disturbing drop of Ozone concentration in the upper atmosphere. The primary culprit was determined to be CFC, a gas then used in air conditioners and as a propellant in spray bottles. The CFC was drifting up to the stratosphere and chemically breaking down Ozone, which serves a vital function by shielding Earth and its life forms from the harshest solar radiation. The prospect of widespread skin cancer and cataracts fueled public demand for resolution of the Ozone issue. The newly chartered Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S led the way by banning CFC spray bottles, which was followed by fourteen years of domestic and international bureaucratic wrangling and industry jockeying. The U.N.’s Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987 and eventually ratified by 196 member nations. CFCs were phased out worldwide and replaced by Ozone-neutral HFC. The Ozone layer is on the mend, due to be fully restored by 2075. The Montreal Protocol is considered to be the most successful international agreement to date. Integral Philosophy was not deployed; it was barely being conceived in those years.

      A very different planetary issue was unfolding in 1977. Senior scientists at Exxon Oil Company presented findings to their top executives warning that emission of fossil fuel combustion products in the atmosphere was starting to raise Earth’s temperature and seriously endanger its climate. Exxon, working with all of the other major oil companies, spent five years seeking remedies to impending environmental impacts which would also preserve their business model. They came up with a dry hole. From that moment on, Big Oil conducted business as usual and spent billions on feel-good disinformation projects denying the stark reality of fossil-fueled climate devastation. And here we are, 43 years later, with the fate of Earth’s biosphere hanging in the balance. So far, Integral Philosophy has not taken hold on this subject.

      Why?

      These very different outcomes beg the questions: Why are we failing to tackle climate change while the Ozone issue has long since been put to bed? And why has Integral Philosophy yet to guide our way through this dilemma? For answers, let’s refer to some Integral basics: “Issues” do not exist in isolation and cannot be understood, much less acted upon, without considering the situational environment it lives in. Accordingly, the more complex that environment, the more entangled issues need to be brought to heel. That calls for a growing community of Integral activists who tend to see the wisdom in expand beyond their own “known,” include what heretofore has been an “other,” and integrate all of our collective multidimensional levels of knowledge, understanding and worldview in navigating wicked complex problems such as climate change (whew!).

      Here’s why

      Ozone depletion was arrested by way of a switchover of process components (CFC to HFC) that was invisible to the public and only mildly costly and disruptive to the handful of affected industries. They were lucky to have such an easy “fix” at hand. Even so, they dragged their heels because they resented “intrusions” in the new era of environmental regulations. Also, the public viewed Cataracts and Melanoma (a deadly skin cancer) as a clear and present danger, adding political pressure to the mix.

      In contrast, the Climate Change crisis is entangled with a plethora of issues which burrow deep and wide into the entire living and nonliving Earth. At the head of that lineup is the co-dependent duo of Big Oil (the major oil companies) and their retail consumers (the public). Big Oil, unwilling or unable to transition their operations to planet-friendly technologies, sees its very existence (Corporate personhood) threatened with extinction. The public is addicted to the comfort and convenience of the energy delivery system and split between those in denial of climate change and those acutely aware of the issue but largely unable to “fix” it. Countless other entanglements can be isolated and labeled. Tropical mosquitoes migrate to the temperate zones, carrying Malaria, Dengue Fever and Zika Virus with them; Polar Bears have nowhere left to go. Western Philosophy, so proficient at breaking issues down to their elements, is not equipped to show us how to put them back together and make them whole.

      Philosophies, in addition to being structures of knowledge and wisdom, are ways of being and doing adopted by entire societies. With such adoption, these societies can make history. Until a “critical mass” of adopters to the radically comprehensive Integral ways has been reached, we can understand the issues but we won’t have much success in resolving them. They will continue to pop up and threaten us as we play whack-as-mole trying to save us from ourselves, because we keep tripping on our own individual toes in dealing with a problem that can’t be solved while we’re all in our separate silos. (Recall how Smokey the Bear’s well-meaning, rational forest management ethos inadvertently led to more, bigger fires.)

      I appreciate that it’s not easy to inhabit a new “frame of mind”. The one we grew into has served us well , as individuals, but not so our life support system. IT’S NOT WORKING. I’m looking forward to more “sorties” as we dig deeper into the basics of Integral.

      Time is running out.

      Reply
  2. David Chasteen

    Thank you Ed. I enjoy how you organize your writing and turn abstract ideas into understandable language. I have read much of Ken Wilber’s works and some of them a few times. They are like the Great Books in that I get something out of them each time I read them. But it is clear writing like you are doing here that gives me a better understanding. I agree that Jeff Salzman, in his podcast The Daily Evolver, with his deep understanding, humility, and open, kind charm that really helped me understand Integral. Like you, he is able to explain Integral in a very approachable way. I hope you keep this going as your writing helps me, as an “interested outsider”, understand and over-write my own neural grooves to develop as a more complete person.

    Reply

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