Power: An Integral Interpretation

An Integral Take on Power

These are my notes written following a meeting of my Integral mind group on June 10. Robb Smith, the author of the course we are studying, Build Your Integral Life, devoted a short lesson to the topic of power but, oddly, failed to place it in a proper Integral context. This is my attempt to remedy that, using the 4 Quadrants and Integral Stages of development.

· We agreed with the standard dictionary definitions of ‘power,’ which can be stated roughly as the capacity or ability of a person to cause something to happen in the world.

· The four types of power identified by Robb Smith – capital power, political power, cultural power, and platform power – are easily mapped in a 4-quadrant diagram. The first, second, and fourth types in the list belong in the LR quadrant. Cultural power goes to the lower left. What about the UL? Does power show up in the consciousness of the individual? You bet, as we will see.

· Re capital power, I note something of a bias in RS’s thinking: what about labor power? Capital/labor is a basic polarity in a modern social system. Power exists in both poles.

· How does power show up in the integral spectrum of development? We tried to answer this question by looking at power in the stages of development, beginning with Stage 0, Infrared-archaic, up through Stage 6, Turquoise-integral.

The operational question is, what kind of power does an individual have at each level of development?

With each higher level of development, an individual acquires greater complexity or capacity in numerous lines. Power increases from lower to higher in the usual transcend-and-include process, which means power at lower stages is not lost during development but carried forward into higher stages.

At Stage 0, Infrared, an infant has the power to influence the behavior of parents or other adults that may be in the vicinity by crying, screaming, and other behaviors.

At Stage 1, Magenta, a toddler has an increasing capacity to manipulate physical objects including its own body parts.

At Stage 2, Red, a person starts to acquire language as an instrument of power. They also have the power to act on their egocentric aggressive and sexual impulses, which can cause real trouble for the community and even lead to war.

At Stage 3, Amber, the individual has the power to control their impulses and conform to the rules and roles of the religious community, kingdom, or state.

At Stage 4, Orange, adults have the power to use freedom, reason, education, property, money, social connections, and industrial technology to achieve fulfillment of their secular life goals.

At Stage 5, Green, a person has the power to use advanced informational technology to work toward advancing the values of equality, social justice, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and global peace.

At Stage 6, Turquoise, a person has the power to use an Integral world view, combined with deep spiritual insight to promote a holistic, compassionate approach to problems that humans face in all four quadrants: mental health, cultural conflicts, medical problems, and system dysfunctions of all kinds: economic, political, environmental, etc.

Integral Theory holds that development from lower stages to higher produces an increase of complexity at each higher stage. My analysis shows that one element of complexity increase is power and that perhaps power should be considered as a multiple intelligence in its own right.


I can’t remember if it’s in the BYIM course, but I always liked Robb’s suggested spectrum of power, which you can find embedded on this page here:

Also, in case it’s helpful, Ken and I also get into a view of power in all four quadrants here:


Thanks for your response. I had listened to Robb’s talk on power but did not see his embedded spectrum. I will merge his and mine to give a more complete model.

Best regards.

I appreciate all of the perspectives being expressed here! Charles, you bring up important points! Where is Labor power? Rob, you’ve expressed, brilliantly, many aspects of the power dynamics that play out in human existence and the systems we are entrenched in. I do agree with Charles here in that your philosophy tends to be Lower Quadrant heavy and is lacking in depth of Upper Quadrant details. No judgement here Rob but I would argue that your 1st person experience that informs your philosophy
is more than likely influenced by a privileged upbringing and you probably didn’t have to do work to the degree of blood, sweat, and tears that I, and most others on planet earth, had to do during our formative years and beyond? It’s easy to “philosophize” abstract ideas about power and economics when you’ve been on the rising side of that tide! Still love you, brother!

IMO, this is where the “Transparency of Power Dynamics” should come into play. If there is to be an Integral leader with power there has to be deep honest awareness being expressed at all 4 quadrants of their being as well as deliberate detachment from all of the potential attachments that could arise in relation to power. For instance: Rob, you should disclose all of the details about how you’ve acquired and maintain your wealth. Did you inherit it? What systems/companies are you supporting in that process? Are those in the best interest of our Biosphere, communities, and individual well being? That would significantly increase the possibility of others that are interpreting existence from earlier levels of development being healthfully influenced by 2nd tier leaders.

The lack of “Transparency” that I’ve witnessed in both individuals and corporations related to “Power dynamics”, which boils down to and/or is expressed by the abstract idea of “Money” in an overly simplistic way, is literally pathological in our society. Try discussing with your co-workers how much you get paid and most have been indoctrinated to “not talk about it.” Well, that’s where my relationship with “Power” has been unorthodox!!!

I’ve been using my relative “power of agency”, no money, to challenge these power relationships for decades. I’ve literally put myself in economic harms way multiple times by confronting the powers that be which has included CEO’s of national corporations to CEO’s of private Non-profits and every level from bottom to top!

Power is our agency at it’s core level and when that agency is deficient in it’s development we end up with systems that become dopamine driven GDP dependent delusions that are dissociated from the reality of what we actually are and where we actually come from. Welcome to the dream that we call life with all its myths and stories that have yet to wake up and realize how intoxicating this dance with “POWER” can be! The current metric in which our Capitalist system determines the “well being” of our economy is completely dysfunctional and toxic! GDP is the measurement and War, illness, and addiction are all “Good for the GDP” and that’s pathological toxicity! If a person is increasing their Power by utilizing a system to gain wealth that is perpetuating these kinds of dynamics can that person truly be considered an Integral leader?

Can Capitalism and the power that can be extracted from it actually be compassionate? It’s a system that has exploitation built-in and requires energy and material needs to perpetuate itself that are simply unsustainable! The term “energy blind” represents the fact that most people do not understand that the “embedded growth obligation” of Capitalism is 99% tethered to material and energy production which is destroying our biosphere and driving deeper inequality. Can an Integral leader continue to benefit from that dynamic? I don’t think so.


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