Emerging Integral Thinking South of the Border

Notes from the Field / October 2012

Giorgio Piacenza Cabrera


Giorgio Piacenza Cabrera

I’m a “bird” of several worlds. I was born in Perú and studied many years in the U.S. Now, I’m spending some time again in Perú and recently found that the outstanding and publicly involved French philosopher of complexity Edgar Morin recently came here twice and inspired some local intellectuals to create a sui generis socio-political-cultural movement. This was well received because something had already been gestating locally and regionally.

In Perú Edgar Morin explicitly recognized the possibility that a unique form of latent and local complexity/metamorphosis/integralism could be part of an emerging phenomenon that he calls “The Thinking of the South.” When he came to Perú he suggested that here we have the possibility of creating a unique kind of Complexity Model or world cultural proposal (which as many already know can be quite compatible with Ken’s “Integral Theory”). Here in Perú, Aníbal Quijano, a creative left-wing sociologist speaks of a “decolonization” from epistemological interpretive structures which (good for him!) also includes Marx’s mistakenly called “Historical Materialism.” He proposes that Marxism (along with neo-liberalism and exploitative capitalism) is another form of cultural colonizing based upon a Western “body vs. soul” dichotomous epistemology. Both Quijano and Morin believe that aspects of local Andean worldviews, practices and traditions can be incorporated into a way of being and thinking that we could understand as Metamorphic/Complex/Integral.  In my view, these aspects include a real, vital and participatory-relational acceptance of all life phenomena Physical, Subtle, Spiritual. In relation to this acceptance, a concept that anthropologists have called reciprocity was developed by Andean native-Americans. I’ve found that this concept involves a profound (but disappearing and endangered) worldview that includes deeper levels of relating with exterior and interior dimensions across all the realms of Life.

While I honor and recognize many good contributions of “Integral Theory” I think that the local culture where its current form was structured and where it gained prominence (the U.S. primarily) blinds some of its main proponents into a subtle kind of reductionism; into not being clearly able to recognize all the good aspects in the integral wisdom and openness of shamanic cultures. They do embrace some of it but not necessarily the uncomplicated open spirit toward and recognition of the importance of other worldly phenomena. Perhaps their European sense of “progress” creates blocks and biases to these vital phenomena without which our existence would not be complete.  Without this recognition, many truths that can be embraced into the next stages are left out and-or misinterpreted and may go on but hidden as “shadows.”

I recently attended a conference at the Universidad Ricardo Palma in Lima. It was given by the well-recognized sociologist César Germaná. In this conference I became even more aware that in today’s Perú there is a small but growing resurgence of the search for a worldview that not only incorporates modern Western values but which transcends them by re-identifying with values which are more germane to our historical context. This means that rationality is not rejected as in a post-modern re-evaluation. What is rejected are the limitations imposed by hegemonic cultural conditioning in the realms of theory, political thinking, ontology and epistemology. Perhaps the current weakening of European and American hegemony may be reawakening this historically suppressed intellectual search which owes much to José Carlos Mariátegui, a non-formally (and thus non-linearly, self-educated seminal thinker and Marxist from the first half of the Twentieth Century. According to Professor Germaná, Mariátegui proposed that Western rationalism and empiricism couldn’t apply well to Peruvian reality since they were a product of another historical context.

Aside from being a Marxist, the main thing is that Mariátegui appealed for the creation of a sui generis cultural, economic, political model not dominated by reductionist, modern Western ideas under the epistemology of instrumental reason but in which such reason would be integrated with the recognition of a greater degree of subjectivity, myth, fantasy and relational socio-cultural coherence. Perhaps with the retreating hegemony of the Euro-American models, the search for a different “integrative” Peruvian theoretical “voice” (flexible enough to become an “integral” one) will gain ascendance. I think that a similar search might take place in other countries which are former European colonies. While Descolonización (decolonization) refers to overcoming the suppression of original thinking by having subjectively and inter-subjectively incorporated  a forcefully imposed extraneous cultural epistemology, “El Buen Vivir” (called “Sumaq Kawsay” in the Quechua native American language and meaning “The Good Living” in English) ) is a regional social  movement based upon re-appreciating and re-installing many of the pre-Hispanic values and practices. An exploration of El Buen Vivir applicable to today’s world was also presented in 2012 in the latest Earth Summit at Rio. To a great extent it refers to living in harmony with nature and with fellow humans by practicing reciprocity or forms of culturally sanctioned mutual service not related to commercial transactions.

Self-reliance and self-government are also part of this tradition and concept. In fact, this concept has been effectively practiced by indigenous Andean and Amazonian communities for centuries and (under predominantly socialist governments) it has now been officially recognized as valuable for governance in Ecuador and Bolivia (whose current governments along with Venezuela’s may, however, still be excessively “colonized” by Marxist Western epistemology). Like Mariátegui’s search for a unique Peruvian voice even while incorporating Marxism, both Descolonización and El Buen Vivir are non-reductionist but not anti-rational (as some postmodern currents seem to be) and their proponents may find that elements of Wilber’s “Integral Theory” quite compatible. In fact, perhaps understanding and applying “Integral Theory” in countries like Perú may not require going first through clearly-defined cultural stages and through a clearly-defined “Green” stage because –as previously suggested- generally speaking we didn’t completely transcend one stage in order to incorporate another as might have (generally speaking) been the case in the U.S.

Here in Perú and in other post-colonial countries (not going through strict developmental phases also not quite forgetting the past and not quite incorporating Western values) the Integral Model can also contribute a learned perspective to the discussion of a more complete World Integral Model. Some local intellectuals might be as available to the non-reductionist Integral Model as they are to a wider range of pre-modern contributions. I also think that the “Integral Movement” should not be defined only by what is being said in the U.S. and that we should carefully include or be open to many phenomenal, mystical and philosophical disclosures not just from Perú and Latin America but from African, Oriental and Middle Eastern ethnic wisdoms. Integrally compatible disclosures would derive not only from the “shamanic stage” but also from the so-called “mythic, Amber stage.”

That said I also recognize that inhabitants of pre-modern shamanic cultures in general also strongly tend to have marked exclusivist, non-integral biases. What I’m proposing that integral-level disclosures that can now be incorporated into Second-Tier integral models also took place in pre-integral cultural stages. It’s a matter of refining our understanding and not being so caught into the modern Western idea of well-defined progress. If “integral” primarily refers to an awareness that all valid disclosures stem from deeper and shared universal patterns, then we need to pick and choose all valid disclosures about the nature of reality but much more carefully and with a much greater participating respect than what has so far been the case when interpreting not just shamanic but all pre-integral knowledge, wisdom and cultures.

I’m trying not to over-idealize local Andean, Amazonian or shamanic cultures or other pre-modern cultures in the world. I still find human and animal sacrifices distasteful, along with female suppression, ritual warfare and the idea that other people are less human than those in our nation or tribe. I’m just trying to refine the inquiry and to build a more integral and useful model that doesn’t continue unwittingly suppressing or colonizing the cultural lives of people’s from emerging countries. I’m proposing that in some aspects pre-integrally aware people can be moiré integral even than many current integral theorists deeply associated with Ken’s (magnificent) productions. I’m praising all these “actors” and trying to point out some deficiencies. If we experience a strong “integral awareness” lifting us beyond the constraints of the current predominant orthodox version of “Integral Theory” which is provisionally associated with it (not set in stone), we may be able to transcend the non-integral cultural biases still limiting otherwise more effective and transformative integral thinkers to Modern and Green epistemologies.  Following the advice of Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire who proposed a “dialogue of wisdoms” among nations to overcome the long history of knowledge imposition (over those explicitly or implicitly considered not advanced enough to learn from), I think that many U.S.-born/developed world-born integral “movers and shakers” need to become aware of their unsuspected biases and to listen more attentively to other enriching and complementary forms of integral thinking emerging “south of the border.”

 About the Author

Giorgio Piacenza Cabrera was born in Lima, Peru. From the age of 10, he began to question the nature of reality and what motivates human behavior. From the age of 12, he began to participate in Western esoteric and Oriental mystical groups, trying to synthesize knowledge while maintaining a critical perspective all along. In 1987 he earned a degree in Sociology from Georgetown University and, in 1990, two business certificates from John F. Kennedy University.

For several years, while working in a regular business, he researched the UFO phenomenon and offered lectures, and TV/radio interviews. Between 1999- 2000, he became one of the civilian founding members of OIFAA, the Peruvian Airforce Investigations Office on Anomalous Aerial Phenomena. Through the years, Giorgio has maintained a wide-ranging interest that impinges on various aspects of reality, aspects such as the mind-body problem, philosophy, cosmology and physics. He has been a life-long student of integrative theoretical models and, since 1981, of Ken Wilber’s. He has completed a Certificate in Integral Theory offered by John F. Kennedy University, plans to write articles and essays, to pursue a Masters degree in Integral Theory and also the analysis of Meta Theories.