Is an Integral Solution to a Political Problem Possible? Part Two

Critics of my first post on this topic have made some good points, but I remain unconvinced. However, after further thought, it occurred to me that there may be two ways of thinking about an Integral solution that suggests “everyone is right.” The first is the one I called a “particular political problem” in my first post on this topic. This is the ordinary sense of “political problem” in common parlance. It can also be called a first order political problem. Second-order problems are those dealt with from a higher level of abstraction by political philosophy and other theoretical disciplines. Integral Theory is among those.

I argued that Integral Theory is incapable of generating solutions to any particular problems such as the genocide in Gaza or voter suppression. IT is a meta-theory whose task it is to analyze and evaluate issues in any theoretical discipline: psychology, religion, empirical science, social science, and systems theories. It is not part of its job to solve particular problems that are studied by experts in those various fields of study. If Integral were to propose a solution to a first-order political problem, it would be doing political science, not Integral philosophy.

I still think that is correct (and I have not yet seen a counter-example on this forum), but there is another meaning of the term “Integral solution” that I wish to discuss here, what we might call a “road map” or framework solution. The idea is that if there is such a thing as an Integral solution to any problem, it would have to be expressed in terms of the AQAL model. Corey and Ken showed how this can be done in an episode of The Ken Show titled “Wicked Problems: Gun Violence.” Guided by the principle “everyone is right,” the first thing they did was list all the aspects of the problem they could think of.

Everyone Is Right - Part 1: Facts and Factors
Everyone Is Right - Part 2: Mental Health and the Loss of Empathy
Everyone Is Right - Part 3: Pharmaceuticals and SSRIs
Everyone Is Right - Part 4: The Gun as American Cultural Archetype
Everyone Is Right - Part 5: Polarization and the Culture Wars
Everyone Is Right - Part 6: Neoliberlism, The Loss of Community, and the Death of Meaning
Everyone Is Right - Part 6: Neoliberlism, The Loss of Community, and the Death of Meaning
Everyone Is Right - Part 9: The Increase of Fatherless Families
Everyone Is Right - Part 8: The Resurgence of White Supremacist Counterculture
Everyone Is Right - Part 10: The Internet as a Platform of Radicalization
Everyone Is Right - Part 11: Are Video Games to Blame?
Everyone Is Right - Part 12: Automation, Wealth Inequality, and Economic Anxiety

You can see what a wicked problem this is. The first thing to notice about the list is that none of the items emerged from Integral Theory. They have all been topics of conversation in the public sphere for a long time. The Integral question is, how to make sense of what looks like just a mess of disconnected factors and disasters? Now that’s a problem Integral is well-suited to solve. Corey and Ken naturally bring a 4 Quadrant perspective to the problem, guided by the axiom “everyone is right.” (I can’t upload the image of the 4 Quadrants, but you can view it here []

Most approaches to solving the problem of gun violence focus on just the interiors (conservatives) or just the exteriors (liberals), or even worse, just one of the items. Integral Theory contends that all of them have a part of the picture and that only a 4 Quadrant approach has a chance of succeeding. Each item is a facet of the overall problem, each one requires a solution, and they must all be worked on more or less at the same time. Integral has in this way answered a theoretical problem that has plagued debates about gun violence, namely the absence of a proper comprehensive framework for thinking about the issue. Call this “The Framework Problem.” A solution to that is properly called an Integral solution.

Corey and Ken realize that the quadrant map does not automatically suggest specific (first-order) political solutions to gun violence, so in the final two segments of the video they turn to discussion of “Integral Solutions.” Here’s what they came up with:

  • Mandatory national service
  • Centralized data base of background checks
  • Changing drug laws
  • Education programs: facts, values, healthy gender identity
  • Universal gun registry
  • Outlaw bum stocks, limit ammunition magazines
  • Waiting period before gun purchases

These all look like good ideas, and they are endorsed by prominent Integral thinkers, but—sorry, guys—they are not Integral ideas. They did not originate with Integral; they have been around in public discourse for a long time. Nor can they be deduced from the principles of Integral Theory. In fact, Integral on its own can’t even see the problems. The 4 Quadrants by themselves are blank place markers whose content must be inserted from external sources. Integral must fill in the blanks with the the findings of the relevant experts on the issue, in this case political scientists, sociologists, journalists, et al.

In sum, I am arguing that Integral solutions to political problems exist, but they are always solutions to the Framework Problem whenever that arises in very complex contexts, such as gun violence. The operative distinction here is between first-order political solutions and second-order Integral solutions. The two are not in conflict with each other. They are interdependent in the effort to find an overall solution to a very wicked problem. Perhaps this attempt at a dialectical answer to our topic question will help to harmonize the positions we staked out earlier.


Another interesting post. I get the gist of what you’re saying, but for my own clarity, is this indeed what you’re saying?

Are you differentiating “first order political problems” from “second-order political problems” by (a) the type of problem? (e.g. genocide in Gaza and voter suppression, or, e.g. gun violence) and/or by (b) who can address the problem? (e.g. politicians, NGOs, unions, etc., or, e.g. political philosophy and other theoretical disciplines, and/or (c) how the problem is addressed? (“on the ground” (through actual behavioral action, I presume), or, by providing a framework “to make sense of what looks like a mess of disconnected factors and disasters.”

I think a little more definition around what a “particular political problem” or a “first order political problem” is would be helpful to me. How is voter suppression a first-order problem and gun violence a second-order problem? Might voter suppression have a framing problem or benefit from a comprehensive framework, and the Gaza situation as well?

Correct me if I’m wrong but are you basically saying that needed solutions to political problems fall into two categories: Action and Framing? (with IT being framing-oriented).


In the near future, I’m going to be on a conference panel about technological singularity, AI apocalypse, that sort of thing. In drafting an outline of key points, it goes like this:

  1. Situation (who I am, what do I do)
  2. Framework for Ethical Action
  3. Alternative Models for Technical Futures
  4. Call to Action

Quite a bit of analysis of Global Brain or related ideas jumps right in on point 3. But because of 1., I’m mostly interested in 4., which is why 2. is vital to the whole analysis. If there is no framework for right and wrong, what difference does it make if we do one thing or the other? Point 3, becomes interesting, because in my view ethical action requires choice making against a background of perceived cause and effect. The more we can link specific actions to likely outcomes, the more our actions take on an ethical coloration.

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Just some quick thoughts

It’s refreshing to be conversing with someone who values interactive dialogue. Thank you for your interesting and useful questions. To your first question, yes, my distinction between 1st and 2d order problems is between different types. 1st order political problems are observable conditions in society that tend to undermine “peace, order, and good government” (to borrow a Canadian phrase). Genocide in Gaza, voter suppression, and gun violence are all of this type. Possible solutions (ideas) and actions aimed at implementing them also belong to the 1st order. For example, the proliferation of weapons is a huge problem in the US. To deal with it, a weapons buy-back program is a partial solution that has significantly reduced the number of gun-related deaths in Australia.

My category of 2d order political problems is about how to think about 1st order problems. Is gun violence a simple problem needing only a simple solution, e.g. pass better gun laws, or a wicked problem requiring a multi-faceted approach? Integral Theory says it’s a wicked problem and a 4 Quadrant analysis is the most comprehensive approach to an overall solution.

To your final question, yes, in simplest terms (perhaps too simple), solutions to political problems fall into two categories: political action and framing. This will seem odd to many people, I suppose, because folks are accustomed to thinking of political solutions in terms of issues, party positions, legislation, voting, organizing, protesting, and so on-- in other words, in terms of 1st order activities. Neglect of the framing problem may be a serious, if hidden, problem as well.

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Robert, I have been unsuccessful in attempting to upload images into my posts. Could you explain how to do that?

Much appreciated.

I didn’t. @raybennett did. But I like a technical challenge, so here goes …

Good stuff Robert. It seems your #3 would equate to @Charles_Marxer “possible solutions (ideas)” which he combines with actions, both in his first-order definition.

Question: Is “who I am” the same as “who am I?” (that’s a joke, now).

Yes, it is refreshing; I like interactive dialogue that has a collaborative flavor to it, and the way you set this thread up invites that, so thanks for that, and for answering my questions. I understand what your positing much better now.

Those Canadians have a nice way with a phrase, and yes, Australia’s gun buy-back program seems to have been quite successful. I believe NYC experimented with a buy-back program with some positive results, though not nearly on the scale of Australia’s program.

As for “neglect of the framing problem,” I think that probably is a serious problem in many situations. So many social-political problems are “wicked,” with many perspectives on both causation and solutions, and it’s not so much that this multitude is not voiced, but rather, because the different strands are not organized into any sense of a whole (coherent, comprehensive/inclusive–such as the Integral model and others perhaps can provide), so it’s often a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. Political problems are then addressed in a piecemeal fashion, which sometimes is the best we can hope for given things like polarization, and so it’s no surprise so many problems continue without any significant resolution.

Here a little detail on what the preso is actually going to be.

  1. Speaker bio (short). Not an existential deep dive into the nature of human being in the world. (But if you want to use me as a case study of that, feel free).

  2. Habermasian discourse ethics as framework. Habermas’s recent (last 20 years) work allows for the influence of various traditions and lifeworld perspectives on public discourse. But the conference discourse itself will be situated in the public sphere. (The Integral gloss on this is that public sphere discourse must be prepared to handle input from all developmental perspectives. To facilitate conversations like that, a second-tier skill set is pretty much mandatory)

  3. Looking predictively at what the future holds, based on trend analysis and basic finger in the wind, I see something like human-technical metasystem emergence as being more likely than something like AGI takeover. Without a bunch of humans investing billions in R&D (and expecting to get paid for the results), there never will be such a thing as AGI. Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere in various threads, machine “intelligence” is limited to binary logic chopping, which falls quite a bit short of “waking up”. So bottom line - I see humanity staying in the game.

  4. The call to action therefore is various ideas for becoming our best selves in relation to AI and other technologies becoming even more widespread. I will be recommending various ideas on personal development, education, and social organization for becoming humanly-grounded and adaptable to whatever AI-infused systems throw at us.

4a) Lately I’ve started working directly with Robin Lincoln Wood on action items. Robin has a long integral track record, so in that sense integral is backed into the overall preso.

On the subject if image uploads, The cell phone interface may be different from the desktop.

On the cell phone interface at the bottom right of the text box there is an option to upload an image from my cell phone. This one is a screenshot, while the previous was taken of a paper lying on a desk.

On the topic of Integral Solutions to Political Problems, I often find mapping out the problem on a chart or similar helps me see if I am seeing all sides and where my bias is.

Using only logic to first determine what is required for gun violence to happen, then categorizing the solutions proposed, I was able to see that two categories enabling gun violence are not addressed at all.

I think an Integral discussion would need to at least address all categories, if only to eliminate action there as a solution. For example, “While outlawing public gatherings would limit risk …”
While some may say this is so obvious it doesnt need to be said, it wasnt so obvious with COVD where the entire population was under home arrest for their own safety.

The lack of any discussion addressing supply seems either an oversight or a bias.

This is just an example of how I start to analyze a thorny issue in what might be called “first tier” format, which I think is necessary before moving into 2nd tier analysis or we risk entering 2nd tier discussions with hidden biases.

Thanks. I have figured it out.