Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Towle brings to our attention the dynamic interplay of two forces which concomitantly shape our destiny: the organic, bottom-up evolution of consciousness, and the inorganic, top-down machinery to scuttle or derail that evolution. While the former has been explored and studied in social-scientific, philosophical and spiritual ‘enterprises’ (including the Integral Movement), the latter is much less acknowledged, researched and understood as of today. This, I dare say, is a testament to the success (albeit waning, hopefully) of that latter machinery!
It is encouraging to note recent stirrings in the integral community, both evident in online forums such as these, and in the recently concluded ITC, representative examples being:
However, I think it is very important that this discourse moves beyond ‘Neo-Liberalism as a current malaise’ type orientation to a much broader and more panoramic historical review of power structures around material and non-material resources across civilizations, as Towle alludes to in his paper, and am sure has covered in his book (which I haven’t read, yet).
Keith Chandler, in his seminal work, traces back the dynamics of power that led mankind move from a primitive social mode to a civilizational mode and outlines at least eight key attributes of that transition: (verbatim quote)
Chandler accordingly proceeds to offer a new definition of the term civilization, which is quite different from the likes of Toynbee and Durant:
Civilization is a type of social organization in which a relatively small power elite, in pursuit of its own goals, exercises authority over and pre-empts the production of a large, powerless majority through the monopolization of information, the sanctification of myth, the centralization of key institutions, and the utilization of regimented armed force.
Holding this definition, we need view historical data across the millennia and investigate its empirical veracity and validity, including but not limited to the Roman appropriation of Christian ecclesiastical authority, the history of heresy, the Dark Ages, Crusades, the rise of ‘underground’ traditions such as the Gnostic and Hermetic, the French and American and various revolutions etc. to begin to make sense of the data. This is a tricky task demanding high perspicacity and edge/ fringe awareness, bearing in mind that even history as it was recorded (or allowed to have been recorded) is subject to the top-down influence of power centres who sponsor and authorize its very writing. To dive back to our own generation for a moment and take an illustrative dipstick, let us read this work by Naomi Wolf with that backdrop ( Naomi fleshes out a lot of detail on the latter two of three ‘events’ cited by Towle on page 7 of his paper. For the first on finance, I recommend Mike Maloney’s video series, especially Video 4).
Juxtaposed on the historical timeline, if we then begin to study Gebser, Graves and other memetic hypotheses through a Wilberian tetra-dynamic lens, we may conclude that consciousness evolves not just because, but despite. (At a deeper level, both because and despite kind of converge, but that is another philosophical matter). Towle refers to this phenomenon as ‘civilization side-effects’ (p 3). Understanding both these forces offers us a fair idea of the other kind of evolution happening in parallel to the Gebserian, that of what Towle calls the ‘robber barons’ – how schemes of manipulation of the Empire are keeping pace (and perhaps outpacing) with sophistication, complexity and insidiousness. What earlier was slavery and serfdom, colonial maraud and open theft, is today media-led engineering of choice and consent, dumbing down of/ indoctrination in education systems, global deployment of a debt-based monetary system with fractional reserve banking, corporatization of every public service, interference in food and pharma inputs, widespread geo-political chicanery, staged false flag events at strategic times. The list goes on – the purely physical operations of yesteryears are now complemented by an entire spectrum of psychological operations, shortened as Psy-Ops. The forces of Empire know that consciousness moves towards healthy individuation and autonomy with a deeper awareness of connectedness and urge for cooperative co-creation – and hence their physical and psychological machinations are geared to strip the tribal mind from its nature connections, keep the ego-centric mind from maturing into the socialized mind, and the socialized mind from developing the self-authoring mind (using Kegan’s terms illustratively). To understand that, we ‘have to dive beneath the “perception management” layer and contact the ground of history’ (p 20)
I have often wondered why spiritual practice and shadow work, even in their more advanced and discerning injunctions, have not yet fully caught on to this two-force dynamic. I have a few hypotheses which I enumerate below:
Resonating in Towle’s eloquence from page 7:
‘In a bid to oust the Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan in the 1970’s and 1980’s the CIA and their Saudi partners encouraged an extremist form of Islam through contributions to radical clerics all over the Middle East and then funneled the jihadist fighters they recruited through Saudi Arabia into Afghanistan to harass the Soviets. When the Soviets left the extremists took over and the Sufis went into hiding or converted. This was the rise of the Taliban. All this was fine by the U.S. state department as long as they were cooperative to U.S. interests in the rejoin. When they refused to allow the Unocal pipeline project to the Arabian Sea to go through, then they had to be gotten rid of too. When the American forces invaded the pipeline building equipment went in on the first day of operations (Johnson, 2004). To suggest that Islamic people haven’t climbed the color scale high enough to get along with Westerners without understanding the effects of having your family blown to bits by a drone attack or be rendered homeless by Israeli bulldozers represents the classic arrogance of empire. Why is all this lost to the popular Integral analysis? The deeper forces at work in the world are not hidden; they’re simply not well publicized.’ (Italics mine. Hyperlink in last sentence mine, pointing to yet another illustrative data point)
Where does that leave the world at large? To quote Towle: ‘The pathology of our time rests in the co-opting of all domains by the mental/rational structure’ and the consequent ‘essentially “instrumental,” utilization of a person, that is the depersonalization of humanity within the “machine mind” that typifies the deficient mental/rational stage of evolution.’ As integralists we understand this and seek to transcend (and hopefully not include!) it. What we do not understand very well and need to wake up to is that by refusing to acknowledge the second force in its pervasive ubiquity and investigating it, we are also complicit it its perpetuation. Towle says ‘The evolution of consciousness is moving toward a new society but cannot get there as long as people are unconsciously supporting the failing system that emerges from their own choices and behavior’ (pp 3,4). Till then, ‘We are also the Empire and we live the dream that sustains it toxic effects’ (p 5).
In summary then, as integral minds, we have to expose ourselves to wide and divergent information, without flinching at potential discomfort or dissonance, and learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. We have to allow ourselves to be appalled, incinerated even, at the extent of manipulation and debauchery of power, and understand its nefarious workings and how that ‘evolves’ over time. Just like we try to do with our ego identity. We have to move on from viewing suffering as a matter of unfortunate chance or personal darkness only, but also (and perhaps largely) a consequence of social engineering, mass manipulation, and the orchestrated Matrix. Only then, IMHO, we stand a chance to build an integral response.
There is some truth to the reformulation of the Divinity Prayer by Angela Davis, applicable today perhaps more than ever before!
A really excellent contribution, Neelesh -- thank you. Not only summarizing and introducing the paper but significantly contributing to its ideas (and the challenges they pose to much Integral status quo thinking). I have linked to this thread on the FB forum.
Thanks for sharing this Neelesh
In such conversations I have wondered whether the forces from the 'top' are as deliberate and in-sync with each other as we make them out to be in our narratives, or are they merely independent agents acting with a vague sense of awareness about other such agents, and in their self interest?
Moreover, as with development of consciousness (or ego or stages), I wonder if the development of the 'control mechanisms' is emergent or directed....
Any thoughts on this? To me a reflection on this (and the assumptions with which we proceed)seems to be an important step in the journey to challenging this
Hi Abhishek, that is a valid and important question you raise
The short answer is that I think it is a combination of both - their is an agentic element in the control drive, and then a system dynamic sets in based on the response of the 'controlled'.
Let us think of a circle of causality here, rather than a linear cause-effect relationship. When the controller has an impulse to control and exercises it through behaviour and action, the controlled entity can either acquiesce, or resist. If he acquiesces, the controller receives a signal that his action is both effective and valid. If he (the controlled entity) resists, the controller can then either let go of his control impulse, or redouble his efforts; the former resulting in a balancing feedback loop, and the latter in a reinforcing feedback loop. The choices of both entities in determined by their quality of consciousness.
As time progresses and consciousness propels man towards individuation and autonomy, both entities are likely to get caught up in a vicious reinforcing loop. The more the controller tries to control, the more the controlled will try to resist, and so on. The loop can only be disrupted by a shift in consciousness, and/or environmental conditions intervening in some way to disrupt or hijack the process. The Wilberian tetra-dynamic comes in to make matters more complex: techno-economic systems, behavioural patterns, emergent culture, and individual consciousness enter into play.
Why the urge to control in the first place? Yuval Noah Harari, is his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, traces this back to the Cognitive Revolution, when man learnt to think and communicate. To be able to conduct social affairs and 'run' things, the self appointed or chosen leader had to exercise some amount of control. Unlike animals who can only control entities whom they 'personally' know, humans needed a new artefact to manage people whom they did not know. Social scientists agree on a number of around 150, beyond which it is impossible to manage people based on direct familiarity and personal contact and influence. The artefact invented was myth - a narrative that proclaimed a certain truth of how things ought to be, which translated into a belief system that people subscribe to.
So far so good. The problem comes in when the controller gets used to, and eventually drunk on the power he enjoys. His interests shift to personal gain more than social welfare. Again, this is understandable when resources are scarce, and consciousness is primarily survivalist. However, it is in the controller interest to preserve the narrative and/or tweak it in his favour even when conditions change, usually done by invoking some divine ordainment or fabricated story to derive legitimacy. It is in his interest then to ensure the controlled DO NOT evolve in consciousness, do not have the capacity to revisit the belief system and click the 'unsubscribe' button, metaphorically speaking!
In the absence of the consciousness of the controller evolving, or evolving in an imbalanced way with cognitive capacity outpacing heart-centeredness and moral capacity, he will resort to only one way of exercising power - unilateral power (rather than mutualized or transforming power), which sets the vicious reinforcing loop further into motion.
To break this loop we need a combination of spiritual awareness and systems thinking - to be able to see the same impulses within ourselves in day-to-day life situations, cognizant of a probability of ourselves enacting the same dynamic if we were in a position of power, and to be able to understand the loop disruption opportunities based on present moment awareness, dynamic sensing and heart-led intention.
Any paper addressed to the integral community that discusses the sorrows of empire, and references Gebser, Chalmers, Chomsky, and Moyers' book on The Secret Government* gets my immediate attention and a hearty "thank you!" There is much for me to appreciate here. And thank you also Neelesh - I agree with Bruce that your summary and comments are a very valuable contribution.
However, there are also elements of this paper that I am not totally comfortable with. I think there is more to the story than just what is presented here. Eric Towle and I discussed this a bit at the conference. I look at it largely from the perspective of Howard Odum's maximum power principle, and the additional thoughts of David Holmgren. Don't have time or space to go into it here, but basically I think we need to give more attention to the role of available energy in our LR systems. This was partially addressed in my paper, and will hopefully be more fully developed in the next one. The energy available to any system or civilization plays a huge role. And Eric and I disagree on the extent to which the fossil fuel energy companies of today are squashing alternative energy technology (his view) vs. my view of how little net energy is actually available from current alternative energy technologies.
Perhaps the best alternative viewpoint I can currently offer would be David Holmgren's insightful and sometimes counter-intuitive essay: Money Vs. Fossil Fuel: The Battle for Control of the World.
“This essay provides a framework for understanding the ideological roots of the current global crisis that I believe is more useful than the now tired Left Right political spectrum. I use this framework to provide a commentary on current political machinations around Climate Change and Peak Oil. Building form the same energetic literacy that informs Permaculture and Future Scenarios, it challenges much of the strategic logic behind current mainstream climate change activism. Like the Future Scenarios work, this essay is intended to help environmental and social activists better avoid the obstacles to effective action in a chaotic age.” – David Holmgren
But back to Bill Moyers:
*It is my belief that every American should read The Secret Government and watch the PBS show it was based on.
Niiice, to see some Integrally-interested heads starting to pull up out of the sand!!!!!!!! And get a bit broader view of history and the streams of agency involved in creating history -- and present! I've long been struck by the naivete represented by political and economic discussions among Integrally-interested folks. Towle seems to be cracking the paradigm a bit.
And thanks for this wonderful discussion!