Coda / March 2012

Ken Wilber, Stuart Brand and the Engineering of the Future with a Call to Action

On the Integral Life website there is the “Loft Series,” a set of questions and answers between Ken and some individuals who have gone through the Core Integral program basic course. Two of these questions drew my attention:

Q2: How Do We Bring Integral Into the World? Question: “Considering the various problems that we all see around the world, how do we elevate people’s consciousness and bring integral into the world in order to solve these problems? Now that we’ve got all this information, where do we go from here? How do we mesh each of our desires to make the world a better place, while honoring that everyone has the right to be where they are developmentally? How do we go from being integrally informed to making an integral difference?”


Q4: The Future of Integral: Traps and Pitfalls: Question: “Given the emergence of more people engaging the AQAL matrix through authentic integral training such as Core Integral, what do you see as the next step in taking the Integral view into the wider community? What do you see as the traps and pitfalls that need to be navigated so we can ensure that we are allowing positive growth at each developmental altitude while maintaining an Integral clearing?”

The elements of Ken’s responses that stood out for me are twofold – and I truly hope I am not distorting any of it here –

  1. Focus on becoming integral yourself.
  2. As more and more people do this then change the educational system into one guided by turquoise or integral, much as the green consciousness of the late ‘50s and ‘60s did.

Ken points out the importance of having a (integral) map and practicing self-awareness through meditation to help one’s developmental process. He then goes on to suggest that the reconstruction of educational systems with an integral map will lead to a developmental change in the culture. And he warns that if shadow material is not dealt with in the process it will undermine this effort, just as happened with the green effort in education.

As I was listening to Ken talk about this I was reminded of an interview I did with Stuart Brand (Integral Review, October 2011) ­– “Rethinking Our Relationship with Global Change: An Interview with Stewart Brand” – I wanted to talk with Brand because of his recent writing on addressing the ecological and sustainability challenges we face in the world – Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.

Wilber and Brand are each younger than I, Brand by a couple of years, Wilber by a dozen years or so. Both have invested much of their lives to “change” and development – as have I with far less visibility and probably success in any terms. Brand’s has been the path of science and technology. Wilber’s the philosophies and practices of consciousness development. Both have proposals on how to deal with the major problems of our day.

In a sense each of their approaches is an engineering approach. I mean no disservice to either by characterizing them as such, nor that their advice and guidance should be ignored. At the same time, I feel the resistance of caution emerging as I have listened to both of these men whom I respect so much.

The caution arises from having discovered the work of the Army Corps of Engineers. I first became aware of them because two of my uncles, both graduates of West Point, served in that part of the United States Army in World War I. Later, I became aware of the Corps’ activities in the United States, initially managing and then more actively engaging in projects to manage water resources, particularly through building dams and other flood control activities. On the surface this seems like a highly laudable set of activities – seemingly far more beneficial to humankind than blowing up things or paving the way for America’s conquering armies.

Yet, the flood control and river navigation project of the Corps has had an enormous negative impact on the ecology of the river basins and fisheries through efforts to control nature. For example, “Unfortunately, the cumulative impacts from degraded habitat and passage losses have continued to challenge the Corps’ fish conservation and mitigation program for Oregon’s navigable rivers.”

What has this to do with Brand and Wilber? It seems to me that each in their own way are offering engineering solutions to constructing better futures. In Brand’s case he is concerned with global warming. In Wilber’s case he is focused on human growing. My experience of Brand was that he was encouraging us to have faith in the technical know-how of engineering and science to fix our ecological problems and to attend to any unintended consequences. Have we really learned so much that we can place this level of trust in those who operate principally in right quadrant thinking and action?

Wilber warns us of the consequences of not attending to shadow (definitely left quadrant material, individually and collectively). I would like to hope that as we develop individual and collective consciousness and capability that the shadow elements can be dealt with effectively. I am not sure that as national cultures or as a global culture we have much evidence that we are really making much progress here. The level of complexity suggests that we are not only In Over our Heads, but that we bite off more than we can chew.

Still. I think we are learning form our experiences. The forces for generative change have been growing in the world, even as the forces of resistance have been getting stronger. We are not just faced with ecological challenges, but ideological – economic, political and social. In the United States, just as in the Middle East (and elsewhere) people want to dominate others in the name of religion or ideology or control of power. Furthermore, we have no clear path to addressing the growing global oligarchy that rules through economic wars with each other and with the rest of us. And the complex phenomena in the engagement of the two ­– economic and ideological domination – makes problem solving for social, political, economic and ecological sustainability even more difficult.

Perhaps there is reason to hope that with the growing consciousness Wilber represents and the smarter control that Brand advocates we might get it right. But we must mind the shadow and the arrogance that emerges from it. I don’t see that we have any other choice.

Integral in Action

In recent months there has been a growing response to the critics of Wilber/integral who have pointed out that much of the energy of this “movement” over the last twenty years has been on upper left and some upper right development with a focus on working with the individual interior (including shadow) and upper right practices designed to support and promote the development of upper left (meditation, integral life practice) with benefits for lower left and right. This has been no naïve panacea. However, with some exception regarding interpersonal relationships, the emphasis in integral development circles has been on the self.

Over many of these years, however, there have been individuals and small groups of individuals who have been exploring what it means to bring an integral perspective and an integrally-informed approach to working with social, political, economic and ecological challenges in the world. This is not intended to be a complete list. I suggest you look through past issue of ILR for many more examples of taking integral into the world to generate change and sustainability.

There have no doubt been individual efforts as integrally-informed/influenced individuals have worked with others in their communities to support change. I see this in the community work of Mark Edwards in Australia, Sara Nora Ross in the US, Canada and Sweden, engagement with clients by many coaches and consultants. The list is no doubt much longer than any of us know.

Ron Cacioppe has been a pioneer both in thought and action in bringing an integral approach to organizations and developing individuals to be more effective in leader roles. His work has spread from the West Coast of Australia across that continent and then on to the Middle East and Canada.

Raul Quinones Rosado has been working tirelessly to address the challenges of poverty and oppression on the US mainland and in Puerto Rico. See his book, Consciousness in Action. This should be must reading for all those newly arrived to the world of integral action.

Similarly, the work of Brett Smith, Rand Stagen and their colleagues has resulted in training many CEOs of mid-range companies to bring both integral and developmental approaches to their roles as managers and leaders. What strikes me about efforts such as these is how much they are grounded in the same kinds of upper left and upper right activity as has been offered at the Integral Institute. Yet, their approach is grounded in working with practices that go beyond the core practices of Integral Life Practice. At the same time the focus has been highly contextual ­– business – and has been addressing collective requirements, as well.

Gale Hotchachka and Michael Simmonds organized OneSky. They have taken their integral work to Central and Latin America and most notably to Nigeria and their individual development program for those who want to bring integral to their roles as leaders. See the January 2012 ILR for a set of materials about those graduating from the program last year. And they are not alone in efforts at bringing integral to development programs in the world. There have even been conferences on this subject in Turkey, France and Canada.

Barrett Brown, who has worked both with Integral Institute and Stagen, also led an individual development program in the Netherlands for sustainable leadership. In fact, there are many individuals in the sustainability, conscious business and ecology movements who bring integral models and development to their work. There are also growing numbers of transdisciplinary efforts that are good models for integral action. See Sue L.T. McGregor and my book, Transversity: Transdisciplinary Approaches in Higher Education for university based transdisciplinary programs, particularly related to sustainability.

The list can be much longer, particularly if we include activity by Don Beck and spiral wizards in Iceland, the Netherlands, Palestine, Mexico and elsewhere. Many of their stories can be found in ILR. See Fresh Perspective with Roberto Bonilla in this issue of ILR.

Occupy Integral

In the last few weeks, there has been evidence of more members of integral-in (inner group) looking for the action. Jeff Salzmann and some others have been long concerned with how to bring integral to action in generative and sustainable ways. In late February Terry Patten and and Marco Morelli have published a manifesto: Occupy Integral! It appears on the website Beams and Struts (A magazine for hungry brains and thirsty souls). and can also be found at Integral+Life. This online magazine is a Web 2.0 savvy publication of articles, blogs, podcasts and the like, I encourage you to check it out. It is integral hip. Brett Steward interviewed Terry for the Integral Thinkers blog,

In the case of the Occupy Integral piece I think we can look at it as a call to an awakening of the collective. Unfortunately, it is presented without acknowledgement of all of the work people such as those mentioned above have been doing to bring integral into the world of action. That aside, let’s take a look at the guidelines that are offered:

  1. Be careful about designating people as integral or non-integral, first tier, second tier and all of the other boxes that have been used repeatedly by all us integral folk.
  2. Engage the battle of ideas with humility and vigor.
  3. Build bridges with individuals and groups who are doing good work in the world.
  4. Get more serious about political engagement.
  5. Champion and support individuals and groups who are bringing integral to doing (r)evolutionary work in the world.

To all of this I say amen. And I wonder if this signals and effort to break down the barriers that have been built up over the years among various camps and various labels. We have such a history of divide and win in the integral culture despite an ideology of transcend and include. I welcome these efforts toward action and bridging differences in the name of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, on behalf of conscious being and doing. I appreciate how some of these folks have contributed to Integral Leadership Review over the years. Three interviews with Ken, for example, have appeared in our pages.

We have sought to be a bridging publication almost from the beginning. We have worked off the ”corners of our desks” for over a decade (as the Beams and Struts folks are doing now). We have long recognized how important it is not to treat integral only as a set of practices for individual development. We must also emphasize that it brings a set of ideas and models that link to many other fields and individuals. This is, after all, a transdisciplinary challenge we face. And I wonder how many of the folks who jump on the Occupy Integral bandwagon even know what transdisciplinary is.

My hope is that the walls are crumbling around any integral bastions that have grown up over the years, thereby letting its recluses free to roam the world and engage in it with sustainability and generativity. At the same time I hope an invitation is offered to as many people as possible, people who represent widely divergent ways of seeing self and the world so that dialogue and joint action is possible. There are many groups out there who have been working in this way for many years. There are a number of individuals who have been bridging those walls for several years. Now we might count the larger integral community as part of that. I hope so.