Integral Politics: A Summary of Its Essential Ingredients

by Ken Wilber

[Editor’s Note: The following is the last installment of three of the middle chapters from Book Two of a work-in-progress, The Many Faces of Terrorism, a trilogy referred to as the “terrorism trilogy.” Taken together, these three chapters outline an Integral Political Theory, which is much further detailed in the trilogy itself. But all the essentials are here, and especially in this particular chapter. You might have seen this chapter with “part 3” in the subtitle, but we also title this chapter, “Integral Politics: A Summary of Its Essential Ingredients,” because that is exactly what it is. You needn’t have read the first two chapters to understand this, as it is a good stand-alone. In the chapter itself there is a “Handout” with the basic ingredients listed and summarized, and we have included that in its entirety at the end of the chapter, since it is introduced part by part in the narrative.

There’s nothing you really need to know about the plot, since these chapters don’t really deal with that, and it’s much too dense to summarize in a short intro anyway. We have added some intro diagrams not in the original chapters, for those new to Integral (AQAL) Theory, although the last diagram is in the original chapter.

All you need to know is that this narrative is ostensibly being written by a 25-year-old named Ken Wilber (part of Ken’s poke at the self-reflexiveness of postmodernism), who has just found out that Kim, seated next to him, has been considering him as a potential father for her children—children that, given their nanobotic future, might have biological immortality (see esp. the previous two installments posted here: Part 1 and Part 2). Ken is loopy in love, as is the person soon to be sitting on the other side of him, a teacher named Margaret. Their struggle to carry on a conversation, as they fade in and out from logic to love, is part of the hilarity of the chapter. The serious part is, of course, what might be the first Integral map of politics ever devised, which, in the book, is discovered/created by Lesa Powell (the object of Margaret’s mutual affection).

The setting is a press conference being given by Integral Center (a play on Integral Institute, of course), who are reporting the results of a computer futures scenario, a scenario that, using the AQAL Code (or the Integral model, explained below), has found that around 30 years from now (“P+30”; i.e., the “Present + 30 years”), there will occur a tetra-Singularity of staggering proportions. Think of it like the Singularity described by Ray Kurzweil—except that his Singularity only refers to the Right-Hand quadrants, not the interior or Left-Hand quadrants, where, the AQAL Code predicts, we will finally have over 10% of the population reaching truly Integral (or ‘second-tier’) levels—hence, a Singularity-like occurrence in all four quadrants.

This is where these three chapters pick up. But the overall plot of the trilogy deals with many other items: especially, as the title suggests, the nature of terrorism itself—what it is, why it is, how it is, as well as how to deal with it, from an AQAL or truly Integral fashion. The first book of the trilogy introduces the Integral model (using an ingenious two-level plot-line, where there is something new and intriguing in the plot whether you know the Integral model or not; the second book focuses on Integral Politics (these excerpted chapters come from that book); and the third book focuses on the role of religion in the modern and postmodern world, which invariably entails a look at terrorism, again. (These chapters are not much more than first drafts, so please remember that; but Ken tends to conceive books fully formed and then quickly write them down with little editing or changes, so first drafts are often quite close to last drafts.) So we hope you enjoy this chapter, which is a brief slice from the trilogy itself, but one that has enough to indicate what a truly Integral Politics is, and how to begin to construct one in the real world. Stay tuned to this site for more on the actual praxis; but for now, the theoria…. All best, the Editors]

Unique Self & Integral Politics

Beyond the old style zero-sum politics and moving past win/win bi-partisan politics, there is a new approach to government that is truly transpartisan. Unique Self is an essential technology for developing a new integral political wisdom capable of solving the world’s problems.

The following is a transcript of an excerpt from a dialogue between Joe Perez and Marc Gafni in July 2012.

Joe: This is Unique Self and Politics. I’m here with Marc Gafni. Welcome, Marc.

Marc: Welcome Joe. It’s great to be here with you.

Joe: Likewise. On this sunny day in election season, politics is on the brain.
Marc: Completely. I guess our conversation is – as you and I talked in the pre-recording conversation – How do we move towards an integral politics, and what is the contribution of Unique Self towards an integral politics, and that’s really what we want to talk about today.

Joe: Exactly. By integral politics, we’re talking now about the contribution of the integral movement – particularly leaders such as Ken Wilber – in creating a vision of politics in which the role of government is seen as being one that brings people together and not dividing people among different factions and ideologies.

Marc: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. “Integral” represents a broad range of perspectives of integral theorists and thinkers, Ken being one of the very important leading thinkers and teachers, and a host of other really important voices over the last 150 years.
Integral is, if I can state it, is meta-theory. Integral says that we have a larger vision of the patterns that connect, which is a non-metaphysical, non-dogmatic vision. Integral means that after all the deconstruction is over, we need to begin the great reconstruction project of drawing together all the systems of knowing and weaving them into a larger vision of meaning and direction.
Another way to say that, which is fantastic, is that integral is bringing together different perspectives. That’s really what it’s about. Every particular political party, and every faction within a political party, is holding a perspective. One of the things that integral theory likes to say is that no one is smart enough to be entirely wrong. There’s something to that perspective. It’s got some kernel of something to it.

I’m taking out of the conversation perspectives that are really rooted in malice. There are perspectives you need to exclude. Not every perspective is kosher. If everything’s kosher, nothing’s kosher. If we exclude the fringe perspectives that emerge from malice, or what Scott Peck once called People of the Lie, the core center perspectives on either side, all sides of the aisle, are really important, and all the core perspectives within every party and all the core perspectives within each branch of government, all of those need to be honored. They are all unique perspectives. That’s really what Unique Self is about.
Unique Self says that reality sees uniquely through every human being because each human being has a unique perspective. That’s precisely the idea of Unique Self. Every perspective needs to be brought to the table. But not at the level of ego. At the level of ego, I’m struggling for my ego’s survival, I’m competing with you for resources, and I need to win and you need to lose. From a Unique Self perspective, uniqueness is the currency of connection, and all the unique perspectives together create a new vision, all the unique perspectives create a larger evolutionary We-space in which all those perspectives are recognized as true but partial, and they can all be heard.

So that’s the beginning of an integral politics. An integral politics is not an “Us against Them” politics. It’s a politics in which every unique perspective, both of every person who is a voter who expresses their unique perspective through voting, and through whatever sort of civic or political activism that they’re moved to do, that you can do in a democracy. That’s an incredibly dramatic idea that never existed previously in history, and every organized group is allowed to and encouraged to express its perspective. But what’s happened is that politics until now has become a zero-sum game. It’s Us against Them, we’re right and they’re wrong, and the notion of listening deeply to another person’s perspective and saying wow … I see that, you are really pointing towards something I hadn’t thought of before. I disagree with three things you said, but one dimension of what you said has really moved me and I really want to incorporate it. You don’t see that a lot on your classical James Carville, Rush Limbaugh talk shows. Because it’s a zero sum, either/or game.

Joe: Another way of putting this point would be to draw a distinction between bi-partisan politics and trans-partisan politics, if you get that general distinction. Bi-partisan: you can have two fixed groups who are opposed to each other coming up with a compromise that doesn’t really make anyone happy and can ignore the larger good. Trans-partisan politics comes from a Unique Self perspective and it’s not so much concerned about getting factions to a concrete action but about aligning factions with that ultimate good. Is that how you would put it, or do you see it differently?

Marc: That’s completely correct. What we’re basically doing is putting perspectives front and center. The link we’re making is absolutely critical because there are two conversations. There’s a Unique Self conversation, and there’s a perspectives conversation. They’re both actually the same conversation. The entire point of Unique Self is the irreducible perspective which is unique. Let me say one more word about that because I think that’s where the essence of it is.

In the old enlightenment the assumption was that if you really got clear, you’d get beyond your separate self. Your sense of perspective of uniqueness came from that separate self, when you moved beyond it you’d become part of the Light, and the Light is all One. It’s an unqualified Oneness. That’s the old enlightenment.

In the new enlightenment, we actually realize—number one – that Light itself is not unqualified. There are frequencies of Light. When you move into the Light, you don’t lose perspective, you lose the grasping, distorting perspective of the ego which is deluded into thinking you’re separate from everything else. No, you realize that you are part of the all. While you are part of the all, you still remain apart. You’re part of the larger at-one-ment. You retain your unique perspective. What we’ve realized in the new enlightenment is that an irreducible perspective is the ontology of the new enlightenment. It’s part of what essence is about. Once that’s true, it’s not about proving the other guy wrong.

There are a million places where you have to argue that this perspective is wrong because it didn’t take into account this or that or the other piece of information. However you also have to be listening to say, Is this perspective showing me something, showing me uniquely from that particular perspective that I’m not able to see because it’s looking at it from a different angle? An integral politics moves to bring all the unique perspectives of all the different dimensions of society and all the individuals in society into a larger, as you say, trans-partisan vision. I love that distinction between bi-partisan, which is trying to make everything a win/win game so it will be better for both of us, and trans-partisan where there’s a real evolutionary We-space. Integral politics requires the technology of Unique Self in order for it to actually become real.

Joe: Does Unique Self – and this has been on my mind recently – what does it say about nations? Does each nation have a Unique Self? And does the world itself have a Unique Self? And how do we even talk about this without sounding like we’re slipping into some old style metaphysics?

Marc: That’s a fantastic question. In other words, is there a Unique Self which is not some nationalist xenophobia but that actually reflects something essential? I think the answer is yes. What’s happened is we’ve failed to make a pre/trans fallacy. In the pre-universal days, our identity was wholly defined by our particular identity: national identity, religious identity, and so then we said we’re the unique ones, the chosen ones, and everyone else is excluded. Then we moved beyond that limiting, distorted prism of identity, and we said no, no, we’re part of a universal One – the universal rights of man. That was a huge evolutionary leap forward which shifted consciousness and evolved love – which is incredibly important. Now at level three we’re now beginning to understand that an enlightened pluralism at a higher level of consciousness is not merely the ethic of a melting pot society, where we all melt into a larger one, but one in which the singularity of every person and the singularity of every sector and dimension of society is what moves us towards a shared vision. At level three, we are able both to acknowledge and embrace our role as global citizens, as participants in a World Spirituality, but our metaphor has now become that of a symphony.

In a symphony, every instrument plays its own music to perfection, and the recognition is that what is essential is the music and every instrument can play the music in its own particular way even as it listens to the other instruments and participates in the larger symphony. That’s the kind of reclaiming of Unique Self that we need to do on a national level. Every nation is an instrument, a unique socio-cultural, ethnic, existential, geographic, values-perspective spiritual instrument, and that instrument is necessary and important.

Therefore reclaiming the native traditions, reclaiming the aboriginal wisdoms, reclaiming the original shamanism if you will, of every people and culture is critically important, but not in the old way. In the old vision of shamanism, the shaman was responsible, for example, for this bush to that river to that mountain range. It was a very ethnocentric, local view. In a kind of evolutionary shamanism, we actually begin to incorporate in a very deep way the Unique Self, the original Unique Self shamanic intuition and understanding which is evolving and emerging of every people, every nation. To lose that would be to lose perhaps one of the most important sources of wisdom – wisdom,depth, insight and Eros that we have on the planet. It’s about an evolutionary shamanism which reclaims the Unique Self of every nation – not on a pre- level, pre-universalism, xenophobic nationalism of the old kind, but on this new evolutionary level.