Is an Integral Solution to a Political Problem Possible?

Last November Corey Devos and Mark Fischler published a video of their conversation about the Israeli/Palestine war. One of their stated aims was to try to discover an Integral solution to the decades- old conflict. At the outset, they agreed that the issue is so complex that perhaps no one has a comprehensive grasp of the situation. It was perhaps this fog of complexity that in the end defeated them—they failed to come up with an Integral solution. Thinking about this led me to wonder whether Integral Theory is about solutions to political problems at all. IT, the AQAL model, is a comprehensive view of reality from a very high level of generality (a “view from 30,000 feet,” to use a popular formulation). IT answers such questions as, what are the most basic dimensions of reality (the 4 Quadrants), how are science and religion related to each other, is consciousness reducible to brain states, is the Great Chain of Being irrelevant to modern and postmodern ways of thinking, and, of course, how does developmental psychology change the way we think about human nature?

Let us recall that IT is a meta-theory, a theory about theories. Since theories are aimed at explaining facts, meta-theories too must have facts to explain, but those will not be the usual types of facts dealt with by empirical science, social science, or any other first-order domain of inquiry. Instead, the ‘facts’ that IT integrates by means of the AQAL model are the second-order theories created in various disciplines such as philosophy, physics, psychology, social sciences, cultural studies, systems theories, and so on. When IT solves problems, it is theoretical problems it solves, not particular problems in the everyday world. For example, can quantum theory provide a new paradigm for integrating science and spirituality? IT offers a powerful argument in the negative, but has no idea how to prevent “quantum activism” from taking over academic departments in American universities.

Political problems are particular, not general, in the way theories are. For example, the Democratic Party in the US is now faced with the problem of voter defection owing to the unconditional support pledged to Israel in its war against Palestinians by the Biden administration. That problem will be solved, if at all, by the usual ideas and methods employed by political parties in democratic societies: position statements, ad campaigns, door-to-door campaigning, fund raising, speech making, and perhaps even reversing policy. Integralists have no special advice to offer in that process beyond such maxims as “try to appreciate the views of the others,” “honor the partial truths of all positions,” etc. They might use the AQAL model to identify the stage center of gravity of the various individuals and factions involved or indicate a quadrant in the Integral map that is being neglected, but on what precise strategy will heal the rift between the party and its disaffected voters, they have nothing special to suggest.

In short, there is no such thing as an Integral solution to a political problem. So, what would be an acceptable solution to the Israeli war against Palestine? For this question, Integral has no concepts to draw upon. It can suggest a general approach (make sure all the quadrants are covered; respect the partial truths possessed by all the combatants, etc.), but which of the acceptable options would work best–two self-governing states or one state with equal rights for all or some other option–Integral has no idea. And so it is with any other political problem we might mention.

An interesting and thoughtful post.

I think IT has been applied successfully (although not implemented by the political powers-that-be) to at least a few political problems; abortion and gun violence/laws come immediately to mind. Addressing global or international issues like wars may be harder, given greater geographical and psychic distance.

Perhaps one area where IT excels is addressing identity politics (although I sometimes wonder if there isn’t too much emphasis in the Integral community on ‘proving’ conservative bona fides), and perhaps one area that maybe could be strengthened is around LR quadrant economics/capitalism in politics. I mention these because they seem to mingle so significantly when it comes to the Israel-Palestine issue. For instance, here is a link to “Money from Pro-Israel to US Senators between 1990-2024”

Number 1 on the list is Biden ($5 million+, twice as much as the next person on the list; of course Biden has been around a long time too, and is now President). Six of the top 10 recipients are Democrats. From what I’ve read, AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee) is spending bigly to defeat certain progressive Democrats in their primaries, those they see as “insufficiently supportive of Israel.” This is identity politics in action (as is pro-Palestine politics–but they don’t have the big money that the pro-Israel groups do), a single-issue politics with apparently no other concern (AIPAC financially supported Congressional Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election). And apparently, “Republican billionaire mega-donors” are using AIPAC to spend in Democratic primaries against Black and Brown progressives,anonymity%20to%20discuss%20private%20meetings. It has all become so sickeningly strategic, from my point of view, these plays for power fed by big money. (So yes, I suppose I am indicating “a quadrant in the Integral map that is being neglected” or at least partially neglected–LR quadrant bed-fellows of politics (including identity politics) and money–and the only answer is to get the big bucks out of politics and haha, how likely is that to occur anytime soon.)

This seems like a good case study for the perspectival calculus developed by Ken Wilber, Bruce Alderman and others. A solution to the Middle East problem looks very different from different points of view. One point of view that seems unviable is the so-called “view from nowhere”, in which we could “solve” the Middle East as if were an abstract math problem. Integral can’t accomplish that, but no other theory could do any better. Abstract theory is just the wrong tool for the job. If integral is going to enter the Middle East conflict in a difference-making way, it needs to arrive embodied, carried by actual stakeholders in and around the Middle East. Everyone has decisions to make. Integral can inform those decisions.

It is also useful to consider the integral notion of social holons. Namely, is “the Middle East conflict” properly scoped for analysis and action planning? Is “the Middle East” a coherent, relatively contained system with its own distinctive components, properties, and relationships? Most importantly, is the “Middle East” system well-bounded? From my US-centered POV, I’d say not. Israeli behavior cannot be understood without reference to the US. Likewise, Hamas behavior cannot be understood without reference to Iran. The relevant political-economic system appears global in scope, not well bounded by geography at all. Nor is political-economy really enough of a system to characterize the situation. World religions are also in play. Collective imaginals and emotional identifications and attachments on civilizational and millenial scales are influencing events in a profound way.

An equally thoughtful response. I agree with your account of AIPAC’s influence on US politics. It is well-documented by independent authors and journalists. The role of big money has led many observers to characterize the United States as a plutocracy. I am less certain about your view that IT has solved some political problems. You wrote:

I think IT has been applied successfully (although not implemented by the political powers-that-be) to at least a few political problems; abortion and gun violence/laws come immediately to mind. Addressing global or international issues like wars may be harder, given greater geographical and psychic distance…Perhaps one area where IT excels is addressing identity politics.<

I’m not aware that Integral has offered any unique contribution to debates about abortion and gun violence. As far as I can tell, those debates are adequately conducted at the Orange and Green levels of what Steve McIntosh calls “cultural intelligence.” Perhaps you can enlighten me about specifically Integral ideas about how those problems can be solved (other than the maxims mentioned in my original post).
You may have a stronger case for the issue of identity politics. I will have to get back to you on that after I have done some reading and thinking about it, starting with the question ‘What is identity politics?’ I’ll start with the entry on that subject in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

I believe it was an 8-hour series on gun violence/safety that KW and Corey conducted, and they also did an episode on abortion. It’s been several years and what I would say is that at the time, I thought both were enlightening. Yes, Integralists do consider the perspectives of the different stages (amber too, besides orange and green, in these specific topics), but beyond the maxims you mentioned, they also find pivotal points for compromise, and they also make judgments as to where the greater truths lie. This to me seems somewhat unique in today’s cultural-political environment.

Thanks for linking to the Stanford article. I don’t think there is the philosophical depth or breadth about identity politics in the Integral punditry I’ve been exposed to as this article conveys, and yet, check out the very last paragraph and a half of the article, which speaks to where the question of identity is perhaps positioning now and headed into the future. I’ve heard all of these issues discussed at Integral.

And Integral commentary does cover many of the foundational polar tensions inherent in identity politics: politics of difference vs. authentic life qua individual, authenticity and belonging, recognition and redistribution, shared character and sameness, etc., and sometimes addresses class issues as well as racial essentialism, intersectionality, etc.

It seems to me that barely a month goes by without some Integral punditry on identity politics or related, things like ‘wokism’ or DEI. Much of this seems focused on critique of the green stage or progressives, and that’s fine. However, lately I have been wondering where the commentary and critique is on things like Christian (and white Christian) nationalism, which I think might be a bigger threat to society than say an imperfect DEI. It’s certainly in the realm of identity politics, given its focus on the “patriotic protection of a traditional national identity which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity, or religion.” (Fukuyama, in the Stanford article) (and I would add, also connected to sex and gender).

Integral solutions cannot be found FOR others.

The only Integral solution to be found for the Palestinian Israel conflict (for example) is inside oneself and why one is unable to “subsume and include” that some parties are unwilling and unable to advance beyond a certain barrier.

On the matter of Trump and other political issues that affect me - It was clearly necessary to “subsume and include” a strict Orange, stop thinking Green could solve these problems alone, and now finally we are seeing the positive results of a strict Orange approach to hold people accoutable for their actions. And also - the willingness to engage Red if it comes to that.

It was so frustratingly absurd over the past 14 years to watch and listen to Integral bringing exclusively Green solutions and thinking that was all that would be needed and looking down their snooty academic noses at anyone who thought stricter measures were needed. Indeed, we saw a person tearing through this forum for several years as all attempts to use a Green solution failed. Finally, Orange solved it in the form of a new policy.

My personal approach is “full-stack”. Namely, each altitude represents, among other things, a skill set, and each altitude builds on prior ones. From that point of view, for green cultural code to run properly and create effective outcomes, it needs to be implemented on top of a completely functional stack of everything prior to green, including orange. To run a regenerative clean energy business, for example, one must must understand just how to run a business.

Like all language, cultural codes are available - superficially - to anyone who can read and repeat the words. Just today, I learned of the group below, which I really love and will find ways to engage with. This is about as green as green gets. But to make anything really happen with it - like to restore spawning streams for salmon - takes a whole lot of every other altitude to go along with the green objectives.

Yes, Integral pundits discuss a lot of contemporary issues in politics, culture, international relations, etc, and I am glad they do. But to discuss is not to solve. Integral’s basic message in all of those domains is, “Here’s a better, more holistic way to think about these things. If you can broaden your view of issues to include all the perspectives that IT identifies, the best possible solution has a better chance of emerging.” But that’s as far as Integral can go. A specific solution to gun control, police violence, the war in Gaza, etc, would have to be worked out by people on the ground in political parties, NGO’s, lawmakers, unions, protesters, and others.

Integral Theory never touches the ground. To solve problems there is not its job, as I have explained. If an Integralist offers a new idea about how to solve any particular political problem, they have stepped outside the Integral framework. However, I am not so arrogant as to think I couldn’t be wrong about this. I am open to learning about an Integral solution–not just discussion and theorizing–but I haven’t seen one yet in this thread.

As for identity politics, the Stanford Encyclopedia article reveals a thick fog of complexity. Not a promising place to look for Integral solutions.

I agree that “to discuss is not to solve.” And yes, people on the ground do have to do the footwork, whoever they are. But they’re probably more effective having also done the head and heart work, and Integral can offer some prime assistance there (not saying it’s the only approach that has intelligence and heart, but it is a good one, imo). I’m reminded of Wilber’s statement that he has offered a model, and now it’s up to the rest of us in the Integral community to take it away, put it into action, manifest something with it. And I think there is probably more happening on the ground with an Integral flavor than most of us are aware of. And I do think also that not just direct but indirect Integral action contributes a lot; for example, I think that Integralists in academia are affecting how students think and some of these students will ultimately hold some of the positions you mention: in political parties, NGOs, in lawmaking, unions, protests, etc.

I believe that even the Integral-influenced work I do with individuals in healing and teaching sessions has an effect “on the ground,” or at least that’s what some of my clients tell me. When someone has toured the 4 quadrants in addressing their issue and are then able to knowledgeably confront their doctor for pushing an anti-vax message on them, and part ways amicably with that doctor, that’s an effect in the real world. No, that’s not a big-scale collective political action, but it is an individual social-political action, and it counts. So I would have to disagree that Integral Theory never touches the ground.

However, there are also some more direct attempts to solve issues using the Integral framework, around police violence, for instance. Or at least, the last I heard, there were, with a couple of police officers working with a team of Integralists through the Integral Applied Metatheory project. And then there’s the work of Gail Hochachka in the area of climate change. There is the work of Greg Thomas (associated too with McIntosh’s group) and others around racism. I don’t think political action has to look only ‘old-school’ and involve the usual cast of players. Artists and musicians have an effect too, Taylor Swift is a pretty good recent example in terms of how she can mobilize young people to vote, for instance. Not saying she’s Integral, but still…

It seems to be en vogue to be ultra-critical of Integral these days. I’m not speaking specifically about you; I think your title for this post can be read in an objective way; as I said, I thought your post was thoughtful. And you have acknowledged a couple of times that you are open to learning, have acknowledged you may not have all the answers, which I think is a really important trait in a thinker, Integral or otherwise. I acknowledge the same about myself; I certainly don’t have all the answers. And I too was critical of Integral in my last post about the lack of commentary on Christian nationalism, but even as I wrote that, I was thinking “it will come around soon.” And even if it doesn’t, I’m not so arrogant either to think that I know what’s best.

I think its important to always be critical of ideas that claim to solve every problem.

Ive never found such claims to be true.Indeed, assigning a group this ability often leads to blindness to the exploitation within. Ill leave that comment right there.

Criticism is fair where criticism is due. If someone is selling a swiss army knife that does everything - but the can opener doesnt work and the blade is dull - those are valid criticisms.

Its thus important to find where the line between critical and “ultra critical” really is.

From my observations i find Integral to be heavy on the Theory and “growing up” but very light on “waking up” and almost nonexistent in “cleaning up”.

I dont think its ultra critical to point these things out, nor to state that people doing so are just people following the herd of popularity. Do you recognize the “cleaning up” that may be appropriate for the statement “It seems to be en vogue to be ultra critical of integral these days”?

I myself only have concern of being ultra critical of those who are on the path behind me and come with good intentions. In those circumstances it may be “punching down” or “pulling the ladder up behind me”. On the other hand, for those who are on the path ahead of me, Im only holding space for projections and shadows to come to light.

I think I see myself as on a “cusp”. I might see it as a kind of “ridge”. As i sit on this ridge I see a lush green valley behind me and in front i see a refreshing aquamarine mountain crater lake. As I look back I see people setting up Integral and “conscious” shops in the jungle valley I just passed through. My question I have for myself is if I should just shrug my shoulders, laugh and go swim in that lake, or walk back down into the valley and say “hey dopey, youre not there yet. Stop telling people this is the last stop.”

Worse are things that I believe wont just stop progress, but reverse it. AI is the biggest threat I currently see in this area. I have not seen anything to suggest AI is capable of “waking up” nor “cleaning up” so the “growing up” basket that was already overbalanced just gets more and more eggs loaded into it while the others remain almost empty.

The Integral shop keepers who set up in the jungle valley are quickly converting their shops into temples and shrines for their new AI God and as they build fires to light up this new God, the formerly lush dark green valley starts to take on an Orange glow.

The worshippers begin to pull down the ladders and burn the ropes leading up to the ridge. Their goal is to deny the lake above exists at all, and prevent any way to access it. If no one knows it exists, they will be able to say that their valley is the last stop and nothing exists beyond. I smile as a few AI priests throw stones in my direction that fall harmlessly to the ground well short of me. It is now treacherous to return to the green-orange valley by that path without the ladders and ropes and with priests throwing rocks. I smile at something else - I see they are unaware of the various hidden paths I took to reach where I am and the worshippers have not blocked them. Others can use those paths when they are ready.

About Integral not needing to be “on the ground”.

My analogy would be an engineer who promises comprehensive blueprints but there are no foundation nor quality control specs specific to that site.

The engineer says “we only provide blueprints - we dont visit the site or do any work on the ground.”

How valuable are such blueprints? They are only useful at the most basic level.
In order to be useful, a theory has to be attempted to be implemented, then feedback from that implementation fed back into a loop to make the theory better.

What I am hearing are preferences to have only an Integral Theory without Integral Execution - which pretty much cuts off any self correcting feedback loop.

I have noticed that there is a Integral Academy. What causes me to hesitate going in on this is that it looks more like an AI model looking to simulate implementation rather than real implementation with real humans.

All this was popular in the 1990s - companies paid big money for “idea people” who would sit with their feet on their desks and think of grand ideas unfettered by implementation worries. Yes, there is a role for this in organizations, but society is realizing perhaps they dont need it as much as we thought in the past three decades. Ideas without practical application are fine - but the more separated the two are over time the less usefull they will tend to be.