Russ: I’d like to introduce Terry Patten who is well known in the Integral Community for his work of many years. He is now based in San Francisco. Is that right Terry?
Terry: Yes. I live just North of San Francisco in Fairfax in Marin County.
Russ: For people who may not know much about you please tell us about your background and what brought you to Integral.
Terry: I’m mainly known as the coauthor with Ken Wilbur of Integral Life Practice, I was the senior writer of that book. Marco Morelli and Adam Leonard and I worked together to write it, working with Ken. I was also involved with Ken back in the beginning of the Integral Institute seminar process. I helped to create the Integral Life Practice workshops and practices with Jeff Salzman, Diane Hamilton, Huy Lam, Bert Parlee, Cindy Lou Golin, Rob McNamara, Brett Thomas and others. A whole group of us were involved in those early days.
Since then, I’ve been engaged in building an Integral community through some online activities including my Beyond Awakening interview series and some local activity. I founded Bay Area Integral, which is now the biggest convener of the Integral community in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve been teaching Integral practice, Integral consciousness, Integral leadership, Integral activism and related topics pretty widely. I’ve travelled in Europe, Canada and Mexico, as well as around the United States. I’ve also taught in South America, Asia and Australia.
My focus earlier was in broadening Integral Life Practice. I was deeply involved with Ken in extending the forms of spirituality. Hence, my first writings were what we would now call first person, primarily, and third person spirituality. The idea of what he called “The 1-2-3 of God” and that I named “The 3 Faces of God” came out of some early work I did with him. I’ve been a particularly active champion of bringing the devotional dimension forward in trans-rational integral spirituality.
What I’ve been doing lately, what’s probably more the focus for our conversation today, has been to bring my Integral practice into all of the quadrants. As you’re probably aware the original expression of Integral practice was pretty much in the upper quadrants. It was a personal affair (my body, my mind, my shadow, my meditation practice) not so much a collective one.
However, we have a responsibility as practitioners to be active in transforming the lower right structures of our world. This has been a knottier problem. It’s really hard to change institutions and systems. They’re slow. They build up momentum and inertia. It takes a cohesive group of people functioning in a coherent way to create institutions and other lower-right structures. So, during this recent presidential election cycle I felt an obligation to engage. It seemed that the vast majority of people in the integral and evolutionary communities were supporting Barack Obama for a second term, rather than Mitt Romney. And the election looked to be very close. And it seemed that money might decide the result. I thought it would be wise for us to pool our donations, try to speak in a single voice and build credibility, and then bring some smart Integral policy proposals to the Obama administration.
So, I put together a website http://integralobama.com and created a grassroots fundraising page. We became by far the largest grassroots fundraising page in the whole national Obama, Biden website –
Russ: Even more than MoveOn?
Terry: No! MoveOn is in a whole different category. They’re much bigger. We’re the largest of the tiny.
Terry: The grassroots fundraising category is mostly small individuals. There’s a hierarchy of fundraisers. At the top are Super PACs and large PACs, and then bundlers who solicit large donations from individuals. There are the non profits like Move On. There are a variety of different players. We were in the smallest category in that whole hierarchy. But we were the largest of those. 485 contributions totaling $29,255 came in to the Obama campaign from Integral Obama. That’s modest in the scale of the presidential race and the total fundraising, but in the category of grassroots fundraising we were by far the largest of this category of fundraising pages in the nation. The campaign held a promotion during the summer and tracked a “leaderboard” for numbers of donors. Our effort came, as of Labor Day, in first in the nation. But we were not only in first place; we were ahead of the grassroots fundraiser in second place by more than the total number of donors held by the page in fifth place.
That has already been helpful in our early forays into contacts with the administration. It certainly helps bring some credibility. We certainly have been supporters and we have actively done what we can to help reelect the president and that gives us a different basis for engaging with them.
Russ: What response did you get either from the presidential campaign organization or directly from Obama to this work? Did you get any feedback from them?
Terry: We have gotten no official feedback. What we have got is informal, like – “Thank you for this. Thank for that. This is interesting.” We have not presented the fullness of what we have to offer in a formal way at the highest levels, yet. This project has three phases; the first phase was to raise money. The second phase was to solicit smart Integral policy proposals and then to submit them to a vote. So we did that leading up to the election in October. We began soliciting proposals. Then, we voted on them a few weeks after the election. There were I think about a dozen proposals that were submitted. The one that got the most votes was a proposal to ask the Obama administration to write the rules for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare, to maximize the opportunities for people to utilize natural alternative complimentary and integrative health care modalities. The third phase, which we’re in now, is moving more slowly — it is to establish a dialog partner within the administration (for this and other integral policy proposals) and to see if we can influence the ways the ObamaCare rules are written.
Russ: When I read that in one of the emails that came out about it, I was shocked. This may say more about me than anything else. When I think about the serious challenges we’re facing in the world, in the economy, with the growing income gaps and sustainability and the like, it really amazes me – as much as I would value this because I use alternative health care myself in addition to traditional health care. I just feel that there are so many more vital issues that we’re faced with in this country. I’m curious as to why you think this was the most important issue identified?
Terry: Well, there are a couple of good reasons for it. First of all, we have to recognize the nature of what we’re doing. This whole initiative was created in a very realistic frame of mind.
Integral and evolutionary thinkers are mostly thinkers and talkers. We facilitate growth in individuals, but we have not facilitated transformation in the lower-right quadrant. We have not become politicians. The whole effort to engage in Integral politics is necessarily an effort to wield actual influence. That requires not only clarity about what Integral positions should be, not only clarity about what issues are most important, but clarity about where we can actually influence policy. If we could raise real money, we could maybe become a little bit more credible. Next we had to identify policy proposals that express an Integral point of view; this means they must be distinctly different from more conventional modern or postmodern policy proposals.
The second highest vote totals went to a proposal for cap-and-trade carbon credits to combat climate change, which is obviously much more important. But cap-and-trade was passed by Congress several years ago. Cap and trade is not a distinct new integral idea and doesn’t change the terms of the debate much. How influential can a group of not quite 500 people who donated not quite $30,000 to the Obama reelection campaign be relative to climate change policy, which already has huge forces working to influence it?
There are some policy areas where people of influence on our scale might be able to have a bigger impact. You know, whatever happens, the Obama administration will be writing rules for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. There is a constituency of conservatives, middle of the roaders, progressive and integralists who want the freedom to choose natural and alternative complimentary medicine. One of the hallmarks of an Integral approach to politics is that it honors and prioritizes values that are felt across the political spectrum. A trans-partisan flavor is absolutely core to what an Integral politics must be..
Russ: Good. Say something more about that.
Terry: There was quite a bit of controversy stirred up when I first launched the Integral Obama initiative. I received a lot of dissenting, critical, and even some nasty comments on my own website and also on the Integral Life site where I blogged about it. A lot of people didn’t like it.
There are a significant number of more libertarian integralists who were supporting Romney or Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. So there were criticisms from a more “conservative” direction. There are also a lot of integralists who are just sick to death of the political system as it exists and who feel like Obama has sold out to corporate and moneyed interests. They were criticizing me from the “left” or from a more “radical” political perspective.
In almost all cases the primary objection was that Obama himself doesn’t represent fully Integral politics. Some thought that integralists shouldn’t even participate in partisan politics. Since an integral consciousness can see the truths, partial truths and limitations of every point of view across the spectrum, they noticed various of Obama’s compromises or limitations, and cited them as “proof” that he’s not an “integral” political choice…
Russ: Your thought on that?
Terry: My thought is exactly the opposite. A real integralist is not stuck in split-the-difference and rise above-the-fray paralysis. That’s exactly what an integralist should not be limited to. An integralist has to be able to go beyond simply talking a philosophical line. We need to engage in the actual affair of changing our world and thus we need to be willing to get our hands dirty actually doing that.
We’re in a very early stage of the political development of integral consciousness. We can’t all even agree what political integral political action should be. How are we going to get to the place where we can exert political influence? Well the way we can do that is by actually entering into the fray and attempting to do so.
Now I’m a thinker, a teacher, practitioner, cultural leader in a relatively small movement. The Integral and Evolutionary movements are still culturally marginal, even if we think we’re involved in “leading-edge” thinking. I’m not a policy wonk. I’m not a lobbyist, I’m not a full time political operator. So my ability to make a difference in political terms is to some degree constrained. What I was doing by engaging this was to speak to the people who I actually might influence, the people I am engaged with – other integral practitioners people like you, people like the people who are likely to be listening to this interview.
If we are really practitioners, we have to express that practice in relation to all the communities in which we participate. At the time that I launched the initiative, the election was perceived as very close. It looked like it might be significantly influenced or even determined by the money contributed to the candidates, and there were reasonably big differences between the candidates, and thus very big stakes.I participated in a civilian diplomacy mission to Iran back in 2007. Having seen people who had been affected by US foreign policy, I feel a real moral responsibility. I remember encountering some Muslim immigrants when I was teaching in Europe back in I think 2005 or so – this is not long after the reelection of George W Bush – and I found myself feeling a poignant sense of responsibility to people in other countries. I realized that it is critical for us to be politically active in this country, because our country has such huge effects on the lives of people all over the world. The recent reelection of George W. Bush raised issues for me in my human relationship to people who were affected by US policy. The US is currently the world’s only Superpower and our policies have huge and sometimes terribly destructive effects on other people. I realized that I simply have a civic responsibility.
Think of it yourself. What if you were face to face with an Iraqi who lost her child or family members and who was uprooted and was now a refugee? If I had not done whatever I could to try to prevent the reelection of George Bush in 2004, I didn’t feel I could stand with legitimacy in making a moral call on others when teaching all-quadrant Integral practice. So, in 2012, I wanted to say to other integralists, “we have a political responsibility, because political elections are consequential, because this particular election is close.” I didn’t so much intend to say that Obama is “way more Integral” than Romney or that there wouldn’t be aspects of policy that Romney might have more insight on and be able to execute better than Obama, or that “all integralists must support Obama.”
Really there ought to have been an “Integral Romney” initiative, just like my “Integral Obama” initiative. Integralists can see the partial truths that are held by all candidates. We can engage on behalf of the candidate we choose and then try to influence policy intelligently. So what then can we bring to the conversation from a transpartisan perspective?
Here’s another example: I think most integralists support gun control. Right now opinions on gun control are pretty much dictated by the red-state-blue-state lifestyle divide. You’ve got very little support for gun control in the Republican Party, and lots of urgency about it among Democrats, and therefore this issue is feeding into an already defined political narrative. It matters. But it’s not a place where your political stand will visibly define a distinctly integral political position.
The key insight that an integral approach politics brings us that there is an innate intelligence to the body politic. Many inherent values bring us together. The things that divide us are actually secondary to the things that unite us. The way that issues are articulated and defined in our current system and by the popular political press conceal this. They distort perception and yet they shape our thinking. The very framing of the conversation creates the very polarization that is so debilitating to wise governance. A truly integral political player is going to look for the places where we can come together.
We can bring an awful lot of conservatives on board, as well as a lot of progressives, behind something like expanding the terms of our health care coverage such that we try to shift it from being this disease care system to something more of a health care system.
By the way, there are a lot of problems with ObamaCare. In some ways it just institutionalizes a pretty messed up health care system that already has evolved in the United States. It brings the government into this huge healthcare marketplace without radically transforming it, and it’s something in dire need of radical transformation. So while the rules are being written perhaps we can influence them so that they are a bit healthier. There can be an incremental move towards something healthier. There can be another voice, a more holistic, integral, higher-level voice in dialogue with the administration. Our goal is to show the administration that we can bring constructive and useful thinking that is a little different than the terms of the usual discourse. So our distinctly integral political approaches should take pains not to fall into the polarized categories and language that customarily shape people’s thinking.
Doing that is absolutely necessary. It is what is required to keep faith. By taking this approach I’m keeping faith with the integralists who are more libertarian. People who didn’t agree with our support for Obama can still see, from an integral perspective, that we’re working to influence policy in a way that they too can appreciate.
Russ: It’s interesting that you used the health care example. That’s another policy area where there’s polarization like that you talked about with guns. So…
Terry: You mean the polarization against Obama Care from conservatives?
Russ: Right. It seems to me you’ve undertaken an extraordinary challenge. The challenge is about bringing Integral to a wide spectrum of political application or political action. As I listened to the pro Obama piece, I recalled the movements of the 1960’s against the Vietnamese War and so on – before that, civil rights. The values that are emerging around what you have undertaken with regard to the presidential election really resonate with those kinds of values. There are two streams emerge from what you have said so far that you may want to address.
One is those on the left who might say that the system itself is so diseased and so corrupt that we’re not going to get significant change in the areas of the real challenges and problems we’re faced with in the world without a radical change in the system itself. That’s one thing.
Another involves the diverse perspectives regarding issues that are out in the world. Is your work about bringing those diverse political views together and seeking an included middle, if you will, that transcends, that integrates through Integral means approaches that people from multiple political perspectives can bring to bear to address the challenges in the world today, even within the Integral movement?
Terry: I think that for us as integral thinkers we can’t help but think globally, but as individuals who have a limited sphere of influence, we have to act relatively locally. That dynamic naturally tends towards paralysis. We tend to think that we can’t do much. We have very forceful and insightful conversations about these larger things, but at the level of our own individual action we tend not to feel like we can do a whole lot. Consequently, we tend not to act, not to move toward becoming more influential. What seems to me to be important is to move from this stance of seeing the world with very new perspectives, but having relatively little influence, to actually recognizing the aspect of our obligation as integral practitioners to attempt to make a difference.
Can we bring the whole Integral Community together in some kind of coherent way? Probably not. What defines integralists and evolutionaries is, as far as I can tell, is that they are independent, intelligent people who are synthesizing a lot of very sophisticated perspectives and thinking very much for themselves. They are not passive consumers of somebody else’s intellectual property. They’re generators of their own creative and independent approach. They’re not going to march in step.
But what we can do is to be integral practitioners. We can exemplify integral practice, individually, and we can practice in ways that offer an exemplar, something that might be uncommon and inspirational, something that may not be exemplified elsewhere. I have tried to do that with this integral Obama initiative. I have actually tried to have a bigger impact. I’ve found a way to act that is embodied in something practical and specific.
Admittedly, it’s a long shot as to whether this effort will actually have much influence on the administration let alone on enacted policy. There’s a less than 10% chance, but maybe close to a 10% chance if we do our job well. It’s possible that something if the actual rules of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will really be different because of our efforts. If we actually have an effect on the writing of those rules, we’ll have done something that really hasn’t been done before. Actually influencing political policy — not just talking about it. It seems to me that there’s something important, as an example, of this sincere attempt to make a difference, to grapple with the koan of how can this big holistic awareness exert a tangible effect on that lower right quadrant. Even if I don’t succeed, I lay down the gauntlet. I hopefully inspire others who will succeed in the future. I’m trying to crack that koan and not just in theoretical terms but through an enactment. That’s the “Golden Fleece” here. That’s the prize, the elusive outcome, that a truly integral politic needs to learn accomplish.
I understand that almost all integral observers will find something to criticize about the way I’ve done this. I’m not a skilled experienced political organizer or an expert in policy. And I haven’t acted this on a big scale. The next person who’s seriously tackling this challenge, though, may be informed by the example of this project.
So this should advance the work of all integral evolutionaries who are trying to find a way to live with integrity and actually be committed participants in the world – a world where power and influence matter and where the decisions that affect everyone’s life tend to be made from very crude levels of meaning-making with values that are inadequate to meet the challenges of our world. We all have some obligation to try to uplift it. In the next generation or even the next cycle a few years down the line, somebody is going to look at this and they’re going to see what about it is inspiring or uninspiring, effective, ineffective, positive, not optimal. And they are going to enact something analogous, but in a way that will be informed by this experiment.
And their experiment will inform the next person. This had not really been enacted in these terms much before. Explicitly integral evolutionary politics hadn’t actually weighed in as political activists. Thus, I think the Integral Obama initiative was in a certain way a big success. I took advantage of an opportunity: Millions of people were already paying close attention to that election. The race was very close. Money mattered. And a conversation got started in the integral space. It was a conversation, not just about politics and whose issues to support, but of how we can influence policy; and it was a conversation about practice and our obligation as citizens to get engaged and whether an integralists can take a partisan position and still be integral. So thank you for having this conversation and publishing it. You’re helping me accomplish my purpose!
Many lines of discussion have been furthered by this experiment. That’s why I feel that, in a certain sense, it has already succeeded. Now it would succeed a whole lot more if we were actually able to influence the administration’s approach to the writing of the rules and actually affect policy. That would be wonderful. And I can imagine it succeeding even more if we are able to gain an ongoing dialogue with the Administration and put forward some of our other more interesting ideas.
Russ: What do you see happening in this period following the election? These issues are not going to go away. In what way do you see the Integral Movement manifesting now that apparently there’s going to be some kind of activity around the health initiative? Is there going to be anything organizational? Are you or is the Integral Movement going to be fostering the political action groups that would apply not just to the national but state or local levels or any of that sort of thing?
Terry: I think that some of that may happen. I don’t have anything specific I am planning or that I can point to and report on right now though.
Russ: What do you see as your next step?
Terry: We’ll bring these proposals to the Administration and ask for dialog. We’ve already done that on a basic level. But we’ll do it more. That’s really all I’ve committed to in terms of the “Integral Obama” initiative. But I will continue to be politically active.
I would like to tell you about another policy proposal. I’ve done some of this in dialogue with Jim Turner, who is the co-author, with Lawrence Chickering, of the book Voice of The People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life. So far, this book has probably articulated transpartisan politics most fully.
Jim is the so-called “Democrat” and Laury is the so-called “Republican” collaborator in this transpartisan partnership. Laury is associated with the Hoover Institute and Jim is an attorney practicing inside the beltway in Washington dealing with administrative law. He is also a lobbyist.
I’ve worked with Jim Turner particularly closely here. He and I were the co-authors of the Natural Health Care proposal. It was the most elaborate and sophisticated expression of an integral political approach submitted to the Integral Obama site, but it was just one expression. So let’s not exaggerate the importance of this natural healthcare proposal. Quite honestly, even the Integral Obama initiative is just one initiative. Integral politics needs dozens of others, perhaps even hundreds of initiatives.
And many of them are not going to be overtly “political”. Some will seem to be “educational” or “charitable” or “cultural.” A lot of integralists are doing great work in a variety of ways that are not engaging directly with the political system. And yet, they are creating real changes in people’s lives. Integral practitioners are embracing practical action. They are attempting to bring their practice and consciousness to bear in ways that affect lower right institutions and structures. They are attempting to further cultural evolution, bringing it to higher levels and that make a difference. So some “integral politics” (some of what is most influential) appears to be non political. And that’s probably where integralists have had and are going to continue to have most of their success earlier on.
Nevertheless, this overtly political piece has to be engaged. I hope the example of the Integral Obama initiative is going to provoke a lot of folks who sense their own personal responsibility and who see the current sorry state of American politics to generate other creative initiatives that will advance this process further. I hope some folks who might have previously been content with simply talking about it are now scratching their heads and thinking, “Is there is a way that I could possibly engage an initiative, perhaps in my local community, and make a difference?” Therefore, the whole evolution of Integral and Evolutionary political activity practices is evolving through this effort.
Russ: For a movement to really begin to exercise some kind of influence, it can happen in a variety of ways. It can happen through the process within Washington as you talked about, but it can also occur through grounded action within local communities, networks of local communities and things like that. Do you anticipate any kind of additional organizing activity? Maybe even Tea Party-ish.
Terry: That’s legitimate. The core of what I’m personally emphasizing is the holism, the connection between “the inner work” and “the outer work”. Year-in year-out I guide people in integral practice. That is all about awakening and living life as an ongoing inquiry, an action-inquiry, in which we’re growing through the way we engage every moment, every aspect of life. Integral practice expresses itself on the meditation cushion and it expresses itself equally in our relationships. It expresses itself at work. It expresses itself in every moment of living.
Then there’s what we call the “outer” work, which is actually trying to make a difference, to make the world a better place. That is what you are doing by furthering “integral leadership”. It’s what you and others do through other integral initiatives, and what we all do through our daily service. We do a little bit of the outer work as citizens when we vote. We do it when we make political donations. We do it when we volunteer our time. We do it when get involved with organizations. Many integralists care passionately about the environment and have created effective advocacy or local project initiatives . Some are very engaged in international development work. There are a variety of ways that we are doing the outer work.
I’m interested in serving the convergence, the unity of the inner work and the outer work. When people practice, they’re trustable in a different way. Together they can be related on a different basis. This serves evolution of culture. As you have a subculture in which everyone is practicing in a way that their inner work and their outer work are just converging, new things are possible. We’re living more and more deeply such that we can become a more coherent field. I hope that communities of integral practitioners can ultimately become a living expression of a single coherent impulse of intelligence and care and commitment and engagement. It’s that evolving and intensifying integration of our beings that will generate a truly new and vital and authentically conscious movement that can transform culture on a larger scale. That, by its nature, is not something that we can do individually. It’s something we must do together.
I aspire, over time, to do both at once. I hope to help people find ways to cooperate with one another to do the outer work together, and also to do our inner work, in relationship with one another, at the same time, even doing some of the work in relation to one another. It’s worth noting that there are many different kinds “doing inner and outer work”. Here we’re talking about beginning to build an integral culture that’s a social force, that can be effective at a bigger level. I’m trying to further the evolution of all of that together.
As a teacher of integral practice I simply can’t teach what I teach and not try to make a difference. I have to “walk my talk”. But I can hold it lightly. It’s not the obligation of little old me to change the whole big world. However, it is my obligation to engage with the things that could possibly change the world as positively as possible, as creatively and sincerely as I can, and to try to move things forward. When I do that I’m acquitting my responsibility to practice and actually “walking my talk”. At this early stage of the integral enterprise, it tends to be that we don’t robustly connect those dots, so we’re young at doing that particular piece of a truly integral practice. And that’s the special focus I guess of this discussion.
Russ: Right. What if we were going to support an integral political movement? It would be as much about organizing – as you did in relation to the Obama campaign and the alternatives health initiatives – as it would be about each individual as a part of their development, as a part of their integral life practice. We will be identifying the potential relationships and opportunities wherever they are to bring the integral perspective and the capacity to take the multiple perspectives that are part of the integral perspective. In that context is that an accurate statement?
Terry: Yes, it is.
Russ: So then let’s just shift gears before we close. You mentioned that you are doing work in integral leadership. Clearly, you’re demonstrating integral leadership in the work you’re doing around the Integral Movement. What I find curious, not about your activity per se, but about the ways that people think about integral leadership, is essentially two different approaches to the idea. One has to do with – as you pointed out earlier –upper quadrant development for people to be able to step into leader roles and be effective from an integral point of view.
Another one is what I would consider a more complete integral view that attends not just to individual development but collective development as well. It involves culture change, it involves systems, processes, structures and engagement with those. Integral is a lens for comprehending the phenomena of leadership and it’s evolution and development in human system.
So when you’re working with integral leadership, how do you approach these different perspectives?
Terry: I approach integral leadership in a number of ways. There’s the very significant body of work that you’re very familiar with that has to do with understanding the different languages that people speak and the different values and action logics that shape their thoughts, choices, behaviors and ability to lead. There are diverse bodies of work along these lines, for good reasons. We do need to keep finding ways to skillfully address a spectrum of worldviews; that’s an important aspect of integral leadership. But integral leadership is also a matter of being alive as evolution itself, and therefore noticing what wants to happen next, what needs to be done in the world as a whole. One aspect of practice is discovering where the leading edge of your own personal growth and participation in life and the leading edge of collective growth and participation are not separate — where what it is that needs to happen in the world, and what it is that matters to you, have a deep intrinsic connection.
The leader in a corporate environment has responsibilities, reports and some projects that he’s responsible for. A truly integral practitioner in that role lives on his or her own edge, intending to be the best he or she can be, and doing so in a way that expresses itself in his other relationships with other people, with the mission of the organization, with the strategic situation of the organization, with the well-being of the whole world, with their relationship to the Ground of Being, or Spirit.
As we develop and awaken, we see more and more of the incredible complexity that is being disclosed at this stage of human evolution. With the proliferation of knowledge and information and its ready availability, none of us can compute it all. We can’t analyze it all and draw conclusions. But we still have to live. So, on the basis of the best understanding of it all we can integrate, we have to show up in our lives. The best way to begin is to learn to drop more and more fully into the depth of our own being. Being is alive and has consciousness and feeling. We’re multi-dimensional beings in a multi-dimensional world. Recognizing this, we’re more able to be responsive in a holistic and spontaneous way, a way that is more adequate to the complexity of our world. That’s how we can go beyond what we can understand in a linear fashion. The integral leader is going to be growing in this nonlinear holistic sense; he or she is simply going to be showing up and learning and showing up and learning. Action-inquiry without end. I use the words “integral” and “evolutionary” almost interchangeably. Sometimes I use “integral” to emphasize theory and the levels of development, the different languages we speak, while I use “evolutionary” to connote that passionate commitment to move things forward.
I think when either aspect is really embodied both are implied. The degree that I’m a leader in the integral communities is because I care passionately, feel deeply and act intelligently and in relationship and real contact with other people. Whenever I do that I discover that whatever successes I need there’s also a gap between my aspiration and my execution. I notice I don’t perform as well as is possible, or the result is not at all what I might have hoped for. In the next moment, I try to close the gap. I’m therefore living life as action-inquiry. The feedback from that gap is teaching me something about how I could have done it better or how I would want to do it the next time around.
So I’m a work-in-progress. I’m continually evolving by sincerely approaching each moment as an opportunity to be more true. The school of life is always teaching me about how to care better, how to participate more creatively, more fully and with more integrity. That’s what integral practice is and that’s what integral leadership is. I don’t think they can really be separated.
Russ: Terry, is there anything I haven’t asked you that you wish I had?
Terry: I would like to circle back to one thing — probably one of the most creative policy proposals submitted on the Integral Obama web page. It has to do with a radical approach to tax reform, which would have profound implications. This is an idea that might be more satisfying to you than promoting more natural healing approaches, which seems so modest.
This is not a reform that we realistically expect to see implemented. Even if we succeed more than in our wildest dreams, and even we have terrific access and real influence on the Obama administration, the best I realistically hope for would be to get the president to speak about this idea publically. Congress is not likely to enact it in the next four years.
Here’s the core of it: It is possible to completely and radically transform our whole taxation system by eliminating income tax, sales tax, and most other significant taxes, and replacing them with a transaction or transfer tax.
This would tax every single financial transaction, from the purchase of a bottle of water at a convenience store to the purchase of industrial equipment to a payroll check to the purchase of real estate, automobiles, or financial instruments. But the transaction tax would be extremely small — a tiny percentage of each transaction. There are different ways it is been computed. It has been suggested that it could be as little as 0.3% to 0.6% of each transaction. This means that something in the neighborhood of around half a percent of every transaction would be automatically taken by the bank, credit card processor, PayPal, retailer, etc. It has to be done at the level of the payment processing, automatically, mainly by banks, financial clearinghouses, through electronic funds transfer. It would happen every time you engage in any transaction. When processing the payment, a very small tax would be taken.
The beauty of this approach is that it is automatic, universal, and its tiny size means it won’t distort financial decision making. It eliminates the need for tax attorneys and tax accountants, and it’s radically simpler and cheaper to administer. It would be done automatically at the time of the financial processing. The cost is so small that it would disincentive tax avoidance, simply because it would be an inconvenience to break the law only to avoid a half-percent tax. Because it can be automatically charged anytime anybody buys anything, anytime anybody pays any service provider, anytime anybody has any financial transaction there’s this half percent tax. This has been put forward in the United States by a University of Wisconsin economics professor named Edgar Feige. (A less ambitious approach, focusing exclusively on currency conversions, is being seriously discussed in Europe, where it’s known as the Tobin Tax. This is different) This tax will not be problematic for most of us. It’s obviously problematic, it seems to me, primarily for institutions and individuals who do very large volumes of transactions in the financial markets. High speed trading, in particular, would be seriously handicapped by such a transaction tax. Since this activity doesn’t really contribute much productivity to the economy I think that’s okay.
However, this radical approach to tax reform can’t realistically be enacted by the United States in isolation. The only way that this could come into being would be if and when there would be international movement into at least a financial transactions tax. It seems to me that this idea simply needs to be more widely considered. If it can gain credibility and influence the discussion of financial and tax policy more and more over time, we may eventually get to a place where a few nations actually pass laws to institute it. But they will probably need to condition the implementation of the financial transaction tax on the simultaneous implementation of the same tax policy in other nations. This is the “SimPol” idea championed by John Bunzl, which suggests that global problems can be addressed by national political actions in single countries which are provisions in legislation that provide that the law will not go into effect until certain other countries, or a minimum of a certain number of other countries among a particular group of countries also pass a similar law.
SimPol is an ingenious mechanism for addressing wicked problems that are global in nature. Currently, competition blocks courageous innovation. If one country acts alone they’ll be put at a competitive disadvantage. If the United States enacted such a transaction tax, the transaction would be very tricky, and would have to be managed, but it would probably work well in most respects. However, we’d probably lose all the investment banks and stock exchanges to some other country where everybody could do high speed trading without the tax. We won’t want to lose our financial industry, so this reform isn’t going to get enacted.
However, public awareness of the virtues of a transaction tax could realistically be raised by the Obama administration simply voicing an interest in exploring it and a willingness to support it along the lines I just described. It might require a worldwide shift. Perhaps the whole G20 would need enact at least a financial transactions tax at the same time.
If a financial transaction tax was widely instituted, it would have far-reaching implications. Think: most of the money in politics is funded by special interests who are trying to get favorable tax treatment or subsidies. Elimination of income and sales tax and their replacement by a transactions tax would eliminate all that. The efficiencies of automatic collection, and the absence of the distortion of financial decision making (by tax considerations) would be enormous. This is a rather grand policy proposal. It’s something I hope we will be able to communicate about if we are able to get an adequately high-level dialogue partner within the Administration. I think it’s interesting and worth sharing with your readers.
Russ: Is there a downside to such a transaction tax?
Terry: The world is so complex, I assume there must be some downsides I’m not aware of. But to my knowledge, no I don’t see any downside.
Russ: Interesting. I think it is fascinating that there is coming from within the Integral Movement attention to policy issues, but also attention to bringing integral to a variety of political perspectives, which is what you’re asking of the Integral Movement generally.
Terry, I appreciate having had the chance to talk to you about this. I think it has fleshed out a lot more about what an Integral Political Movement is and can become. I know you’re going to be traveling extensively in Europe between now and when we publish this in March so I hope you have a wonderful journey and thank you very much for participating.
Terry: Thank you so much. It has been an honor and a pleasure.