9/24 – Integral Foundations for a New Politics

Feature Articles / August - November 2014

Bruce Schuman

Bruce Schuman

Bruce Schuman

One way to understand integral politics involves seeing the world through just a few deeply intuitive principles. These ideas, grounded in wholeness and an instinct for inclusion, are widely understood by leading-edge thinkers and spiritual/ecological communitarians all over the world. Sometimes these ideas are seen as the expression of a universal archetype that is slowly coming into focus.

We have been hearing about the need for dramatic social change for many years, and those of us with philosophical roots that extend back to the 1960’s and 1970’s were shaped from the beginning by the insights of writers such as Marilyn Ferguson (The Aquarian Conspiracy), Charles Reich (The Greening of America), Alvin Toffler (Future Shock), and Ken Wilber (The Spectrum of Consciousness, No Boundary). Many of us have held similar ideas as fundamental and essential throughout our entire lives.


Today, in the context of what appears to be accelerating crisis and fragmenting polarization at all levels of social organization, from the local to the national to the global, a clear and workable restatement of these guiding principles might be more important than ever. Summarizing these ideas briefly, we might simply say we need a new politics that:

1)     Recognizes interdependence (“everything is connected to everything else”)

2)     Is holistic and integral (everything in the world, and every idea and every political issue, should be understood within a single framework of wholeness or “oneness”, and can be understood as “parts” of that whole)

3)     Is capable of honoring every human being as a unique individual with a valuable and uniquely informed perspective

4)     Embraces sophisticated new interpretations of “system”, incorporating both “top down” and “bottom up” approaches to social organization and governance

5)     Recognizes the need for balance in all things, and sees balance as a fundamental principle of governance

6)     Understands that the language of political ideas can be inherently divisive, regardless of how well intended

7)     Depends on collaboration and cooperation and “community”, and builds the trust that makes it feasible.

Political thinkers all over the world are exploring ideas like these today, looking for ways to overcome dangerous tendencies to social fragmentation that we see splintering cultural groups everywhere. Millions of us long ago assimilated the populist theme “think global, act local”, and many today are recognizing its emerging new correlate “think glocal” (see the universal and global in the particular and local). These ideas are helping us find universal common ground in a highly diverse global civilization. Related ideas are bubbling in the minds of millions of people around the world.


The forces of globalization are driving what many people see as a philosophical convergence towards simple universal principles, and perhaps what we are seeing is the emergence of a common-ground ethic for a new global society. This new ethic honors and values diversity and local history, while weaving together a new social contract based on universal and integral principles.

These new themes offer great hope and inspiration to a world gripped in many locales in the agonizing death-throes of primitive or ancient ideas.  Traditional institutional designs and deeply inherent fundamental cultural assumptions are increasingly inadequate for the immediate needs of people today, and just as our leading-edge voices have been telling us for many years, the revolution we are jointly imagining is increasingly necessary. The cost in human tears and blood is too high. We have to find a better way, and creative visionaries all over the world are chipping in their piece of the puzzle.

Single-cause (“linear”) politics – that does not recognize and incorporate diversity of perspective – is inevitably going to fail. When the “Arab Spring” was simply about throwing out the dictator, everybody could agree in a simple unidirectional way, and the movement swept the nations of the Mideast. But when the dictators were gone, the tremendous diversity inherent in the people then came to the surface. It’s very easy to agree on getting rid of the bad guy; it’s very hard to agree on what to put in his place.

The visionaries and activists of the new integral politics are weaving together a new fabric of community that is based on the creative power of diverse perspectives coming together. We have to fully grasp this idea at an intellectual level and then build it into our world views and institutions and operating principles.

Leadership for this new movement must arise in a “distributed” way – as individual points of light – individual leaders and groups – find each other and gradually build natural alliances around common principles. The movement must be led by inspired and visionary leaders who see these things and can communicate them in persuasive and uplifting ways to their followers. This emerging new leadership alliance can be grown gradually, as it assimilates and incorporates the work and vision of organizations and leaders anywhere who respond to these basic human values.


In the USA, we have been hearing the drum-beat of failing politics for many years now. EJ Dionne’s “Why Americans Hate Politics” was written in the early 1990’s, appeared as a cover story in Utne Reader in November 1991, and was revisited in following stories (Radical Middle, November 2004) or in Yes! Magazine (Purple America, Fall 2008). Many books on this general theme have been published in recent years. The 2004 Utne Reader article reviews the grounds for hope, citing the leaders and visionaries who were spearheading these new ideas at that time. But activism since those days has been tough to develop, and a strong argument can be made that today, despite the best efforts of the activists cited in the 2004 article, there is no political movement of the radical center, or of transpartisans. Why is that? As David Sirota wrote in his 2008 Yes! Magazine article, Seeing Red and Feeling Blue in Purple America, “The activism and energy frothing today is disconnected and atomized.”

Many activists and observers agree that something is very wrong with our politics, and point out hundreds of specifics. But on “what to do”, we find it impossible to agree. The subject is complex, involves hundreds of factors, is highly interdisciplinary, and offers thousands of ways for passionate advocates to quarrel. The atomization of the movement threatens to be fatal.

As we look for a way to revitalize the vision and hope of the early transpartisan activists, instead of bemoaning the fragmentation, we might be much better advised to see it as an inevitable sociological/evolutionary tendency to which we must respond in an enlightened way. Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock warned us about social fragmentation 40 years ago. Ken Wilber’s No Boundary warned us about the inherently fragmenting dualism of language more than 30 years ago. Today, our leading advocates of “diversity” and of bottom-up politics insist that all voices be heard. What we need today, the case can be made, is a new kind of political technology that truly is capable of “hearing all voices” – that has the “bandwidth” to take on thousands of issues and concerns in the same integral context, assimilating thousands of points of view, and finding ways to bring these contending and independent (“fragmented”) forces into a common framework in ways that lead to balanced and comprehensively informed judgments and action proposals.


Atomization can be understood as a healthy sign of vital diversity. The more diversity in an ecology, we might say, the better. “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” But let’s find ways to call all of this diversity of perspective into a common framework – an integral framework that has the strength, the bandwidth, the sheer processing power, to assimilate the diverse insights of 1 million or 50 million people, all at the same time.

We need a new form of agreement, a new kind of common ground. We need a way to agree on foundational issues and values, without arguing about semantics. We need a “resonant” approach to agreement that emerges not on the basis of a few broad and abstract conceptual principles, but instead coalesces naturally from thousands of smaller and simpler kinds of concepts. We need the full range of human skill and expertise on every issue that concerns the human race – at any level of social organization or scale, from the smallest community or neighborhood through the ascending levels like cities and states and regions and nations.

Let’s look for “affinity”. Let’s develop “homophily” – “love of the same” –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophily — across all borders and boundaries and supposed categories of human difference. Let’s reach out in 1,000 different directions, approaching all sectors of our society – art, science, religion, politics, business – and build affinity and common ground across all these categories. Let’s use a “soft” approach that doesn’t get stuck on word meanings, that operates with all the natural simplicity of a Facebook “like”. Let’s find out what we all really do like. Let’s contact leaders and activists and organizations, anywhere on the so-called political spectrum, as long as they offer something positive and can maintain respect for their fellow human beings. Let’s weave together a new social contract based on simple respect and cocreativity, as each of us recognizes something important in “the other” that we do not fully possess ourselves.


The transpartisan and radical centrist pioneers of the 2000’s broke open important new territory. Now today, guided by the emerging global holism and the integral thinking of our best visionaries and scientists, let’s learn how to use the awesome power of the internet to reach organizations and individuals everywhere, finding ways to hear them as unique voices, valuing their unique and special-purpose contribution, and finding ways to build a single human alliance of caring understanding that enables enlightened common action where it has become essential.

An emerging integral politics owes a huge debt to the visionary pioneers and philosophers who have blazed the way, and to the transpartisan activists who have envisioned a world that works. Let’s explore ways to use our new tools to engage the most responsible and enlightened voices across the planet, in whatever field of endeavor or insight they bring, calling these voices into a truly “integral and collaborative and holistic” context where every voice has an impact, every issue is recognized, and the true potential for a brilliant and flourishing global civilization can be nurtured.

About the Author

Bruce Schuman is an “integral thinker” who has followed a vision of network-supported co-creativity all of his life.  A native Californian, born in Berkeley and raised in Monterey, with roots in Big Sur and the Haight/Asbury, he began his work in psychology and philosophy with a study of mandalas at UC Santa Cruz in 1966.  From an initial vision of a “mandala of logic”, similar to the ideas of 12th C. Spanish mystic Ramon Lull, Bruce took up the cause of Edmund Husserl’s “Philosophy as a Rigorous Science”, and began developing models of deep intuition based on science and logic. These ideas led to concepts in “Algebraic Epistemology”, including the “Universal Hierarchy of Abstraction” (the conceptual structure of the mind as essentially hierarchical and taxonomic), “Synthetic Dimensionality” (a dimensional analysis of universal hierarchy, based on the concept of “distinction” and influenced by fractals and G. Spencer Brown), and the “Bridge Across Consciousness” project (right/left brain, and the question of whether all religions point to the same reality).  In recent years, Bruce has been concerned with the crisis of political polarization, and with possibilities for developing a new kind of integral movement based on “oneness” and the unity of human thinking across all disciplines.  Today, Bruce is exploring ways that human beings can reason together to solve our collective problems.  He supposes that an integral political dialogue, led by deep intuition and “oneness”, and taking the form of interconnected “circles of trust” supported through the internet, is probably the strongest and most direct route to a co-creative human future based on democracy, wisdom and science.

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