Integral Politics and the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture

By McIntosh, Steve | Tikkun, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview

Integral Politics and the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture


McIntosh, Steve, Tikkun


I HAVE ALWAYS IDENTIFIED MYSELF AS A "SPIRITUAL PROGRESSIVE," but I think it is possible to be both "spiritual" and "progressive" while continuing to cherish the economic and personal freedoms that are an indelible part of America's "capitalist" system. Nevertheless, I appreciate the sentiments and concerns being expressed by Rabbi Michael Lerner and other writers for Tikkun Magazine. At the same time, I'm also disappointed by the relative failure of progressive politics to make much of a positive difference in America during this decade. As I've thought about what can be done to improve the "political condition" of our country, I've come to see how every problem in the world is, at least in part, a problem of consciousness-a result of worldviews that are no longer adequate to the challenges of our time. So it follows that the solution to almost every problem involves the raising of consciousness. And by following this insight about consciousness, I have come to appreciate how the newly emerging "integral perspective" is our best hope for raising consciousness in America.

The integral perspective recognizes that consciousness evolves through a series of distinct worldviews, each of which results in new perspectives, new concerns, and new values. These worldview stages have been carefully mapped through the empirical research of developmental psychologists such as Robert Kegan and Lawrence Kohlberg, as well as through the research of sociologists such as Ronald Inglehart and Paul Ray. This research confirms that the American political milieu can no longer be accurately characterized as only a simple left-right continuum. Rather, our national political landscape can also be understood as a three-way struggle between the historically significant worldviews identified as traditionalism, modernism, and what is coming to be known in integral parlance as postmodernism.

The word "postmodern" is, of course, a battleground of meaning. But even though it has been used to describe discrete subsets of culture, such as art movements or critical academic theory, integral thinkers use this term as an overall description of the distinct worldview that has arisen in the last fifty years as an alternative to the stale materialistic values of modernism and the chauvinistic and oppressive values of traditionalism. This large demographic group (comprising approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population) is also known as the "cultural creatives," the "post-materialists," and the "green meme." Although there is as yet no clear agreement on terms, the "postmodern" label is becoming the most widely used because it describes well the antithetical relationship between much of this worldview and modernist and traditionalist culture.

The postmodern stage of culture has already made significant progress in the fight for human rights, through the progress it has made in raising our society's concern for the environment, and in the way that American culture has now become more tolerant of alternative lifestyles and more conscious of the values of spiritual pluralism. Although there is obviously much more work to be done in these areas, when we compare our current national culture to the state of American culture in the 1950s, it appears that evolution has been achieved through the rise of the postmodern worldview. And this worldview is continuing to actively develop and persuade people about the importance of its issues and concerns. Yet there are also signs that this worldview is no longer showing the same creative vitality and dynamism that characterized its emergence in the 1960s and 1970s. As we come to appreciate the way culture actually evolves, we can see that it is unlikely that the majority of Americans will experience a "great awakening" and adopt the postmodern worldview anytime soon. Although postmodern ranks are growing, at this rate it may take generations before the majority of the American body politic becomes conscious enough to effectively deal with our environmental crisis and elect leaders who will conduct a more moral foreign policy. …

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