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Setting the Context
Do you have a cousin who refuses to believe that climate change is caused by human activity or, perhaps, a neighbor who thinks that banning military assault weapons would be the first step in confiscating his hunting rifle? And, when these hot button issues pop up while talking with a person who does not share your views, does the conversation head toward a shouting match?
Isn’t it perplexing that some people who may be intelligent, fair minded, and generous in their personal relations, seem to have lost these positive traits when it comes to matters like these that affect us all?
And the larger arena of public discourse may bring up further areas of bewilderment. For example, people in rural communities that have been ravaged by deadly weather events on a scale they have never known before, yet take no action to combat climate change and, furthermore, deny its existence?
Or business people who understand that their livelihood depends on a supported and motivated workforce as well as customers with enough disposable income to purchase their goods and services, yet frequently support public policies that oppose labor unions and a minimum wage above the poverty level?
And how can it be that citizens continue to elect public officials who persist in stalling and blocking popular bipartisan measures such as firearm controls and protection of minority rights?
We all know greed, racism, and disinformation play a role in the shortcomings of our societies, but are there deep, underlying forces that lead to dysfunction? And, can an understanding of these underlying forces lead us out of an endless loop of talking past one another while urgent situations continue to deteriorate?
Terry Patten lays out his sensemaking vision of a way out of these paradoxes into a bright future in the following excerpts from Chapter Five of a New Republic of the Heart. Let’s hear it!
Selected Readings From A New Republic of the Heart
Recitations by Anneke Edson, David Chasteen, Sallie Justice, Phil Justice, and Ed Prell
Chapter 5: The Integral Revolution – Part Three
CHAPTER OVERVIEW (pg 11)
Chapter Five introduces an integral way of understanding our multidimensional reality, appreciating how all human perspectives are partial views of a larger truth. Beyond the cognitive, emotional, and spiritual limitations of our typical fragmented thinking are more holistic perspectives that offer a basis for a “radical integral ecology.”
(pg 114) Traditionalists embody many of the premodern values that have always enabled human beings to bond and cooperate with other members of their ethnic and religious groups. Early on, human beings evolved powerful neurological mechanisms that hardwire us to our families and tribes.
(pg 114) Within the “us” of our tribe, we know where we stand. We are also hardwired to appreciate the values of authority, conformity, loyalty, and perceived purity that align us with “our” goodness and order against “their” evil and chaos. This view is binary, absolute, black-and-white.
(pg 114) Thus, at the dawn of the world’s great religious traditions, the law was harsh, but people became able to nobly sacrifice themselves for God and country and other higher values. The capacity to subordinate one’s self-interest for the sake of duty is the glue of every civilized society. Traditionalism is the foundation of civilization, and the context of the other values below.
(pgs 114) Traditionalists are often easily recognizable. Their opinions in—and influence on—the public sphere, particularly in the United States, subject them to caricature, and their influence on almost all aspects of public life is often a cause for concern among modernists and postmodernists.
(pgs 114) But, while traditionalism is evidenced in members of all races and nationalities, when viewed in its more political aspects in the United States—including the “culture war” against political progressives, environmental activists, and the international neoliberal consensus—it is much more associated with white traditionalists than with African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or native peoples.
(pgs 114 & 115) (In fact, traditionalists among these other groups tend, by and large, to be fairly liberal politically, especially in areas of social justice, but also in other areas, including acceptance of environmental science. Here ethnic identity is the strongest governing factor.)
(pgs 115) Further, in spite of our tendency to think in terms of “red states” and “blue states,” traditionalism is much more associated with rural or small-town life than with urban life. This distinction applies almost anywhere in the U.S. Small towns in inland California are generally much more conservative than large cities in the South or Midwest. Another characteristic of traditionalists—one that is true across the board—is a much stronger adherence to traditional religious faith.
(pg 116) The complexities of contemporary culture evolved more recently than traditional worldviews—they are the cultural extension of the mindsets of agrarian societies. Conformism doesn’t encourage curiosity. So traditionalists are “over their heads” in our postmodern world.
(pg 116) Traditionalists tend to interpret the experience in black-and-white terms that are most strongly dictated by the attitudes of the group with whom they identify, as handed down by established authorities. This enables them to march “in lock step,” which makes them more politically powerful.
(pg 117) Basic traditional patterns underlie the structure of every individual mind. We all can feel the powerful hardwired pull of the approval and disapproval of the communities and groups to which we belong. That is why traditionalism remains the most foundational “source code” for generating social agreements.
(pg 117) These codes are how we most readily create strong families and sustainable communities. When sustainability is able to work for traditionalists, they will be powerful champions of the struggle for a human civilization that supports a healthy biosphere.
(pg 117) In school we learn the historical story of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, and now the digital revolution. This story is usually told as the victory of reason and its miraculous powers over primitive “superstition.”
(pg 117) The modern rational worldview champions universal values such as evidence-based scientific knowledge, individual rights, excellence and achievement, the rule of law, and meritocratic competition in a free market.
(pg 117) It brings intelligent long-term strategic thinking, innovation, and nuanced accountability. Modernity is focused on material reality, regarding empirical scientific proof as the most important if not the only foundation for valid knowledge.
(pg 117) Even though modern capitalist societies have famously disenchanted the world and devastated the biosphere, they also have radically expanded human knowledge, abolished slavery, recognized universal human rights, engendered democracy, and uplifted material conditions for the vast majority of human beings.
(pgs 117 & 118) At its best, modernism is optimistic, industrious, intelligent, and able to achieve its goals. At its worst, it is arrogant, believing it knows the truth, dividing the world between “winners” and “losers,” and losing track of larger concerns, including the deeper values of the human soul.
(pgs 119) While I think it is fair to critique modernism harshly, we must honor it and engage many of its terms of discourse. It is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is said, with real justification, that modernism went too far, and became emotionally dissociated, spiritually dead, and impoverished of compassion, feeling, and communitarian instincts.
(pgs 119 & 120) Modern rational discourse is, however, an enormous achievement. It is perhaps our irreplaceable common ground, the only way that human beings can talk with one another to adjudicate our disagreements peacefully.
(pg 120) A crucial cultural task for all intelligent people is to revivify and raise the level of rational discourse, and make it relevant and potent in a whole new way. We will certainly need to allow it to include important dimensions of reality that it has until now tended to exclude, and to awaken it from unexamined assumptions and habits. But our crisis demands that we find ways to engage in real, vigorous, culture-wide inquiry.
(pg 120) And rational public discourse must be refreshed and restored, not torn down by the cynical “post-truth” zero-sum (“I win—you lose”) tactics of political and cultural factions. Our current task involves reknitting our social fabric, through principled appeals to reason and care for our common well-being.
(pg 120 & 121) The limitations of the modern worldview could not be resolved except by evolving new awareness, which gave rise to the postmodern worldview. Postmodern consciousness notices the limitations of “objective” knowledge, seeing that there is no such thing as radical objectivity. Where you stand dictates what you can see. The language you speak determines the questions you can ask and the answers you can hear.
(pg 121) Postmodern consciousness also notices the limitations of knowledge and wealth, of science and progress. It notices the structural injustices built into the “meritocratic” marketplaces of the modern world, and advocates for marginalized groups—from indigenous people to those of color, to colonized subjects, to women, and now to gender-nonconforming individuals.
(pg 121) And it is sensitive to the sated unhappiness that so often results from our consumer culture’s “good life.” It knows that “whoever dies with the most toys” wins only a soulless game. It pays attention to feelings, relationships, communication, psychology, and spirituality.
(pg 121) Postmodern sensibilities see and feel the spiritual bankruptcy of mere egoic competitive success, especially when it runs roughshod over the sensitivities of the human spirit and the ecological health of the natural world. The “sensitive self ” that arises in postmodernity feels its relationship to all living creatures, the entire living Earth.
(pg 121) Some of its most profound expressions are depth psychology and ecopsychology, which are rooted in the attitude of deep ecology. The mind awakens to a re-enchanted natural world and sees nature’s inherent value, independent of its instrumental value to human beings.
(pg 121) The political thrust of postmodernism has been to deconstruct the narratives that have supported all forms of institutionalized injustice—racial, religious, gender-based, and ecological. It sees that scientific knowledge is never perfectly objective, and that it is sometimes characterized by myopia and arrogance. But it easily takes this too far.
(pg 122) Many centers of postmodern culture have so completely lost touch with important traditional and modern virtues that they have been willing to judge and scorn vast swaths of people, asserting moral superiority. Ironically, given their concerns for the well-being and rights of others, they have not been aware of the ways in which they, as individuals, fail to embody some of the virtues of hardworking traditionalists.
(pg 123) However, there is an important area where postmodernity has it right, and that is in recognizing our ecological predicament as the defining issue of our time. As previously discussed, current trends are as severe as the most extreme doom-saying environmental catastrophists ever prophesied.
(pg 123) Worldviews arise in relation to changing life conditions—and the life conditions arising now in an era of rapid climate change are most directly addressed by the postmodern worldview.
(pg 124) Integral consciousness notices the fragmented world that postmodern “aperspectival madness” produces, and intuits that a deeper, unnoticed wholeness lies underneath. Spontaneously, it begins to integrate humankind’s many valid but conflicting perspectives.
(pg 124) It intuits the possibility of a comprehensive understanding of a reality in which everything, including consciousness and culture, is always evolving. Integral awareness appreciates that all worldviews—primitive, traditional, modern, postmodern—are each in close contact with different enduring truths.
(pg 124) And it feels a need to emerge from the limitations of postmodern habits in order to coherently account for the full range of reality—encompassing not only divinity but dirt, all the way down to subatomic particles. Integral consciousness tries to account for and honor every dimension of development and evolution and experience.
(pgs 124) This integral disposition must begin to find its way into the attitudes of those who are beginning to grow beyond the limitations of postmodernism. The integral disposition in its truest realization is able to contain contradictions.
(pgs 124) It is able to comfortably contain certain aspects of the dispositions of both rational modernism and pluralistic postmodernism, even while authentically valuing traditionalist people, values, and institutions.
(pgs 124) On the one hand it is characterized by modernist optimism, a pragmatic, “just-do-it” sense of personal agency and cultural progress, and keen interest in long-term, large-scale strategic analysis and execution.
(pgs 124 & 125) On the other hand, it is also characterized by pluralistic cultural sensitivity, ecological care for all planetary life, egalitarian concern for the whole human family, deep appreciation for feminine sensibilities, and a warm communal impulse grounded in empathy and a sense of mutual belonging.
(pgs 125) It is spiritually alive, inspired, and informed by intelligent awakening and inner work. It is not, however, “New Agey” in its flavor, or anti-intellectual. And it is unwilling to be held hostage by any form of political correctness.
(pg 125) Another way of clarifying the unique characteristics of integral consciousness is by identifying the kinds of thinking associated with each worldview. Formal operational thinking (originally described by Jean Piaget) is most often associated with modernist consciousness, and it tends to perceive reality as presenting clear correct or incorrect alternatives, within a closed, positivistic world of objective exterior realities.
(pg 125) Early vision-logic, or relativistic thinking, is most often associated with postmodern consciousness. It can see the validity of many perspectives, but it has difficulty seeing how they can be integrated. It is better at opposing limited views than synthesizing a clear new vision.
(pg 125) Middle vision-logic,or dialectical thinking, perceives reality as a hyper-complex “process of processes” of changing dynamic systems and relationships that naturally tend toward growth and development. Such dialectical vision-logic naturally allows for both spiritual and material realities, both progress and ecology.
(pg 125) It gives rise to integral consciousness, which naturally intuits how conflicting worldviews and perspectives, even when in apparent conflict, actually support one another in their mutual evolution. It sees with eyes that can notice new dimensions of dynamic complexity while never losing sight of wholeness.
Summary & Preview of What is Next
Humanity rose out of an early state of basic survival, and with the use of tools and language, through a series of evolutionary leaps, to the present day which is filled with rapidly unfolding miracles, yet skating toward the edge of collapse.
These evolutionary leaps, created by profound insights, led to increased mastery over the environment by opening up pathways for advancements that had long been blocked. The inrush of dividends from these advancements was so attractive that sturdy new worldviews took hold, repudiating the “old ways” as useless or obstructive, oblivious to their intrinsic value, and sweeping them aside. As a result, much knowledge and wisdom lies discarded along humanity’s headlong rush to progress.
As unintended consequences began to pile up in the late 20th Century, particularly environmental disasters, a growing number of activists saw them as consequences of the modern “March of Progress”. Once again, a new evolutionary leap of consciousness was forming. But this time, the evolutionary leap was not opening up a path of opportunity. It was signaling dire hazards ahead for modernity.
This set off a fierce clash. While the modern era delivered phenomenal betterment to the elite and commoner alike for over 500 years, at the same time, evidence was mounting that “business as usual” was headed for catastrophe. Neither Traditional nor Modern nor Postmodern worldviews have the capacity or range to imagine a way out of this impasse.
Integral consciousness recognizes the enduring worth contained within all previous worldviews and in the “old ways” that were carelessly discarded along the way. Integralists welcome these valuable insights into their worldview. But there is no place for some insights which have become “poison pills”, mortally damaging the environment rather than merely mastering it.
With so many hardcore adherents of Traditional, Modern, and Postmodern worldviews dug in, it is hard to imagine a groundswell of support for an all inclusive “New Integral Era” in the narrowing window of time Mother Nature has allotted us. In the final part of Chapter Five, Terry Patten describes the stage being set for just such a seemingly improbable turnaround.