Here's a letter I dashed off yesterday...

Dear Institute-for-Cultural-Evolution,


Perhaps you can help soothe my hesitant heart?

I wish very intensely to embrace your entire project -- insofar as I understand it. Your website is wonderful but I cannot keep from being concerned about its balance. Perhaps I have simply not seen enough? Surely my concerns are already largely familiar to you and if I am not fully informed maybe you will be so good as to correct me? 

MY GENERAL IMPRESSION

Hello. My name is Layman Pascal. I am a writer and meditation teacher who contributes frequently to a variety of online integral projects and forums. Lately I have been paying more and more attention to the Institute for Cultural Evolution – whereby I have begun to find a certain impression growing in my soul. This letter is an attempt to make some contact and partly relieve my inner burden. Possibly, like so many things in life, it will vanish once it has been thoroughly articulated.

My general impression of the Institute for Cultural Evolution is that the “Lower Left Quadrant” is excessively emphasized at the expense of the “Lower Right Quadrant”. That means something very specific to my mind. Obviously, you are using a systematic approach and trying to manifest change through concrete and coordinated actions carried out by networked individuals. On the surface that is very much what the LR is about. So it might sound strange that I so strongly feel this under-emphasis of one particular type of systematic intelligence – one which I think pertains directly to the project of cultural evolution.

Integral” and “evolutionary” philosophies, as many people have already said, have a great virtue in their desire to redress the reductionist tendency of contemporary materialism and promote a sensible re-incorporation of subjective & intersubjective wisdom. That means, in practice, that spiritual traditions & developmental theories must be given their full due in the scaffolding of our models of reality. Terrific. Terrifically necessary. And this is very much part of what the Institute for Cultural Evolution is engaged in. However, I do not see a strong, clear sense of what is required for “inter-objective advancement”... this may be my own projection I am nonetheless worried about such a blindspot.

As I've said, it is not completely blind. Integrative theories typically address the “four quadrants”. Yet when we start explaining them, we say things like “the Good, the True & the Beautiful” or “1st, 2nd & 3rd person”. Three quadrants. There is a noteworthy absence in the 4th position. It seems slippery, vague, half-articulated. Although I am a meditation teacher, with a deep interest in the shared ethos of human hearts, I also tremble at the thought of missing out on certain facets of inter-objective cultural evolution which we do not even notice because our social change attempts focus so naturally upon developing a higher altitude in our private and shared subjectivity.

 

THE INSTITUTE FOR CULTURAL EVOLUTION

Like you, I need a Second Renaissance (and some brand of Planetary Wisdom-Civilization) as much as I need clean air & water. It is a necessary nutrient for my soul. I hope this makes us kinfolk of some kind. Perhaps that will incline you toward a familial tolerance for the extended ravings expressed in this unsolicited document?

I absolutely cannot deny that human cultural improvement is starkly unlikely to occur without a powerful amplification of the prominence of an integrative evolutionary worldview. Such a sentiment in myself makes me understandably and extraordinarily congenial toward the Institute for Cultural Evolution. Similarly, I am instinctively friendly toward whomever strives to address real humans problems while including these four crucial constituencies:

A) Socially conservative religious traditionalists ("Traditionalists")

B) Fiscally conservative modernists ("Libertarians")

C) Mainstream liberal modernists ("Liberals")

D) Counter-cultural progressive postmodernists ("Postmodernists")

Certain intellectuals may wish to quibble over the precise significance of of these cultural blocs. I am not one of them. This simplified schematic is wonderfully pragmatic.

And, to push pragmatism even further, we seemingly have no choice but to demand that the lion’s share of inclusive conceptual reorganization fall upon the more flexible, more informed & comprehensive “worldcentric progressives”. They must be encouraged by all means to embrace a solidarity with the other blocs. A planetary ecological crisis is only one of several factors which absolutely demand the strategic ethical coordination of all useful tactics emerging from all major social paradigms.

For whatever it is worth, I could not agree more.

THE REMAINING DIFFICULTY


Reading through your online manifestos, I come across numerous encouraging statements like these:

>When humans evolve their culture through new agreements or new forms of organization, this results in a corresponding growth in human consciousness.

Such phrases make my gullible heart soar!

But when I look more closely, I am troubled to see a great deal of energy devoted to establishing “new agreements” between human interiors but not a lot of obvious emphasis on producing “new forms of organization”. Am I wrong about this? I hope so.

The “forms of organization” in general are difficult to think about. It is even more difficult to grow an instinct for feelingtheir nuanced reality. The war between recent knowledge and slow-growth instincts is something we are all trapped in. We tend to viscerally fear planes & terrorists more than cars & hamburgers -- despite the wealth of statistical evidence to the contrary.

Our planetary ecological emergency is only one area, among many, in which we find our current knowledge is not adequately converted into a mass instinct. This is very understandable. Our instincts have evolved through immemorial time to deal with very archaic situations. One thing they have not evolved to deal with very well are the vagaries of how to increase the behavioral efficacy of group decision-making protocols. That is a sentence which would have very little sense until recent history. Systems thinking is so new as a “topic” that we are all wandering, more or less, in the fog. Heck, most groups organize themselves with the simple grouping structures of subhuman primates.

Yet this area must be absolutely crucial – for it is here that the wisdom out of which “new forms of organization” must put down roots and grow toward the sky.

There have been, for example, many sensible critiques of the Russian Revolution. It failed to live up to the progressive promise of Marxist analysis. Why? It is simple enough for us to observe that 19th century Russia lacked the modern techno-economic infrastructure to support such changes. A little more exotically, we might join with the iconoclastic social psychologist Wilhelm Reich in observing that masses of people with “mystical-mechanical” and “patriarchal” forms of bio-emotional repression encoded in their bodily unconscious simply can do nothing but recreate the same basic pathological nationalism no matter what kind of labels, ideals and insights with which they begin. A diversity of critiques exist to reveal which any noteworthy attempt at cultural evolution did not succeed “naturally”. Very few of these criticisms from any quarter have focused on the actual ritual mechanisms by which the people involved conspired to elicit intelligence from individuals and combine that into an actionable group decision.

As human beings our insights in this area are few and far between. Other than “a show of hands” (Solon's basic Athenian democracy which existed briefly 2500 years ago), and the constitutional reforms of the 1700s, there has been remarkably little real progress in this specific domain. Even today, General Semantics is esoterically obscure to most academics. And the old school luminaries of Information Theory & Computer Programming are constantly complaining that their basic insights are not even circulating widely within those communities. Even the basic principles of Capitalism and Socialism slip from (or are actively rejected or trivialized) by the mass mind. We are largely dull, blank or irrational on such topics.

It is difficult for consciousness to move in this area.

The tentative relations we experience with data from this crucial zone of experience must be contrasted with the sheer amount of internal, external & interpersonal material to which we are ordinarily exposed. People are always encountering thoughts and feelings and peaks. We are always running into relationships with other people and participating in group moods – and always banging our knees on the solidity of objects. But when do we ever really get to look down from the “commanding heights” and observe how the nuanced varieties of functional protocols among different groups are ameliorating or diminishing their ability to adaptively comprehend and act upon circumstances?

How do we (as Kegan would have it) fold our systemic subjectivity into the systemic objectivity of our next, more evolved layer? Or really:

WHAT KIND OF COMMUNICATION AND DECISION-MAKING ACTS CAN ENFOLD AND EXCEED THOSE WHICH ARE CURRENTLY USED EVEN AMONG GROUPS OF EVOLUTIONARY CHANGE AGENTS?

Again, I apologize if I am excessively drumming this one note. And given the difficulty of seeing into this domain, it is no wonder that our sophistication is relatively low. It is no wonder that almost every cultural improvement project proposed throughout history has begun by pointing out the insufficiency of our general human group behavior... and then proceeds quickly to advise transformations within individuals and the production of a better “mood” or “common opinion” among the masses. Of course these moves are not meaningless. The climate campaign of the Institute for Cultural Evolution is both valiant and do-able. It must be done. It has the virtue that it can be done within the context of our existing systems.

But surely we must look closely at our tendency, shared with almost all other human beings, to focus upon social mood-shift rather than transforming our basic decision-making rituals.

The Great transformative evolutionary change agents (the saints and geniuses of human history) often appear to have failed to succeed more broadly in their mission precisely because their friends & supporters subsequently squandered their precious transmissions by what seemed to them to be common sense, normal configurations of human “groups”. And, conceivable, all these factionalized and wisdom-eroding team formats were conjoined in a common & accurate spirit. Perhaps they even espoused a common set of useful evolutionary “values”.

All this is to say that we have only the scantest notion, it seems, of what is the systems-equivalent of the complexity of trans-rational vision-logic cognition.

CONFRONTING OUR OPTIONS

Consider the following popular forms of group organization:

A) Autocracy (i.e. oligarchy with a “front man”)

B) Anarchy.

C) Majority.

D) Consensus.

What kind of social ritual can hold-and-exceed these different constituencies... just as an “integrative vision” can hold-and-exceed the various shared value-instincts and public demands of traditionalists, libertarians, modernists and progressives? Are we even asking ourselves critical questions of this kind?

Are we even seriously concerned about whether or not “political representation” is itself predisposed toward certain kinds of outcomes? Do we wonder if our own groups should permit “non-secret ballots” -- which, even though they are very natural & allow people to be held accountable to each other, have been demonstrated to cause individuals to minimize the intelligence they are contributing to the group decision. Is it a good idea to have “one member, one vote”? Is membership even a functional model for determining who should officially contribute to group decisions?

Certainly we would agree that smarter groups can more readily solve social problems – including the problem of sub-optimal cultural evolution. And we can probably also agree that dumber groups, so-to-speak, might orchestrate good data and good intentions into very problematic directions. This is viscerally troubling to me. Again, maybe I'm making too much out of it...

But surely, we who hope to participate effectively in cultural evolution must try to say why, exactly, a democracy has more altitude, more “consciousness” than a dictatorship? If we can answer this question (without merely resorting to the Lower Left Quadrant ideas that it is more “fair” or does a better job submitting to the “will of the people”) then we may enter into creative clearing from which we could determine what actual protocol would constitute an equivalent step beyond democracy.

It seems difficult. Yet it must be doable. When Claude Shannon famously quantified the amount of information flowing in a telecommunications circuit, he suddenly permitted an extraordinary leap forward in humanity's innovative potential. What is the equivalent measure of social intelligence? Must we not suppose that cultural evolution is at least half a matter of determining which types of exchanges produce a higher value of social intelligence?

This is roughly like trying to answer the question posed by books such as The Wisdom of Crowds? These works are full of examples which reveal that groups can be either “dumber” or “smarter” than the diverse individuals who comprise it. Such typical examples include a convention of well-meaning experts who leaves a meeting less competent than when they entered. A Zen monk of high inner achievement is temporarily reduced to a fascist lunatic when he falls under the sway of the mob-spirit of Imperial Japan.

A chaotic crowd is able to solve a difficult problem because their average guess turns out to be vastly more accurate than even the best guess among them. Voting among their options would not have helped. That would have been little better than submitting to the imposition of one person's guess. And talking it through to a consensus among these options would not have helped much either!

As elusive as all this can seem at times, it is ultra-relevant to the practical manifestation of cultural evolution. It is especially critical any integrative, evolutionary thinker to take into account the fact that seemingly “less evolved groups” may, due to certain factors, enact a more sophisticated choice then a “more evolved group” using a more simple, common sense style of decision making. Experiments like those associated with Brian Robertson's Holacracy are already challenging many of the ideas of Conscious Capitalism and Enlightened Leadership by pointing out that these things are often insufficient without a higher-level behavioral enactment.

I heartily affirm the ICE's proposal to use a deeper understanding of cultural value systems to produce a change in public opinion based on the traditional premise that “popular will is the source of political will” – which, in turn, presumably determines the direction of social change. But I hope we can keep in mind that this often over-attends to the common ethos of the people while somewhat neglecting an equivalent work in changing the “methodology of information exchange, role-playing and group decision making”?

Here are the questions I am left with:

  • Does focusing on changing public opinion (however seemingly practical) not also encourage the same fickle vicissitudes of mob-spirit which have generated our current crises?

  • Is it conceivable that even large numbers of well-meaning politicians, backed by popular informed support, may be unable to alter mass-effects which are sourced not in the decision that get made but in the very layout of the institution the largely un-inspected forms by which we “make decisions”?

  • What level of sophistication in this habits (of eliciting and combining individual intelligence into group decisions) is being used in our current evolutionary teams?

  • What style of group decision-making is commensurate to the integrative-evolutionary level of cultural values & personal vision?

If you have read this far – I commend you! And I thank you. My heart is already eased a little. Perhaps you can say something which will speed my convalescence forward...?

 

Layman Pascal,

Victoria, BC.

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Steve Mcintosh replied with "busy-ness" but suggested this article:

http://www.stevemcintosh.com/articles/problemitizing-interobjectivi...

I am disappointed your letter got such an abbreviated response.  Mayabe Carter Phipps would be more responsive?  (He has been in various forum and Facebook dialogues in which I've seen him engaged).

 

What do you think of McIntosh's critique of the "interobjective" quadrant?

I just sent the message generally to the ICE and Steve was the one who replied. Presumably he is sincere and busy but one cannot avoid the haunting suspicion that the topic itself is being repelled slightly...

Steve's critique of the interobjective quadrant has some practical utility -- but it also reiterates his characteristic personal stance that the LL is the crucial change fulcrum in human society. I am suspicious of that if only because it is so closely aligned with the "accepted wisdom" about human improvement. That approach has failed as often as it has succeeded.

Obviously, the status of studies in this area is quite shifty and difficult to turn into action. As I point out in my letter, the lack of natural and historical data in this zone makes it notoriously hard to ponder. His article demonstrates the same basic weighting of domains that is apparent in the manifestos of the ICE. And, honestly, in Integral Studies and humanity generally.

To combine his view with mine: The interobjective can often be overlooked, pragmatically, IF it is envisioned to be primarily about the arrangement of artifacts. My concern is either with a subset of that domain or a nuanced definition of what that quadrant is. I would rather call it the realm of "procedures".

As Theurj and I have touched on repeatedly in the Integral Anti-Capitalism thread, there seems to be a tremendous danger (or self-thwart) involved in trying to mobilize an integral-level value-space using behavioral protocols which are correlated to various first tier memes...

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