The Integral Shift Part 1: The Crisis of Modernity

The human species is expe­ri­enc­ing a dra­matic shift in real­ity. On a phys­i­cal level, envi­ron­ments and economies are under­go­ing rad­i­cal insta­bil­ity. Socially, global unrest is spread­ing across diverse cul­tures and pop­u­la­tions. Spir­i­tu­ally, many cit­i­zens all over the world are expe­ri­enc­ing new forms of con­scious awak­en­ing, in part as a response to the real­iza­tions of the mount­ing prob­lems of our time, and pos­si­bly in part due to a pow­er­ful evo­lu­tion­ary shift that is nat­u­rally occur­ring. As our planet faces the dra­matic impacts of our highly con­sump­tive tech­no­log­i­cal soci­eties, it col­lec­tively longs for a path out of the chaos, into a world where the fruits of our sci­en­tific endeav­ors and the sacred­ness of our spir­i­tual real­i­ties meet as one.

At the core of our cur­rent plan­e­tary crises lie fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of mean­ing and pur­pose; who we are and how are we to live in this world. Many cit­i­zens within the dom­i­nant West­ern cul­tures suf­fer from a deep sense of dis­con­nec­tion; from them­selves, their com­mu­ni­ties, and from nature. I believe that our species is under­go­ing a crit­i­cal shift in how we expe­ri­ence real­ity, sig­naled by a greater desire to move away from social and eco­nomic par­a­digms that seek to con­trol and dom­i­nate oth­ers, to more holis­tic par­a­digms of inclu­sion, inter­de­pen­dence, and peace­ful co-creation; from a world of the sep­a­rate self to a world of the inter­con­nected whole.

For any­one con­scious of the esca­lat­ing prob­lems of the world, life can seem bleak and hope­less. Envi­ron­ments con­tinue to suf­fer, species fall extinct, and cit­i­zens grow fur­ther jaded by polit­i­cal sys­tems that become increas­ingly more fas­cist by the day. We are no doubt liv­ing in unique and dif­fi­cult times, filled with great pain as well as great pos­si­bil­ity. What is the root of our prob­lems in the West, and how do we change the con­di­tions in which they have emerged? Is there a place for opti­mism and hope, or are we des­tined to a ter­ri­ble demise?

My Jour­ney

In my per­sonal stud­ies of soci­ol­ogy and polit­i­cal the­ory, the nature of real­ity is rarely, if ever, dis­cussed. What is pri­mar­ily exam­ined is the cur­rent and his­toric real­i­ties of soci­eties, cul­tures and gov­ern­ments; the prob­lems of the world, how ter­ri­ble they are, and why they need to be fixed. But most of these authors, the­o­rists and his­to­ri­ans often fail to exam­ine what is actu­ally in need of fix­ing. Not that they don’t try, of course. Wealth inequal­ity, mate­ri­al­ism, envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion, war; these are all symp­toms of much larger root issues, issues relat­ing to con­scious­ness and iden­tity. Since these issues are usu­ally rel­e­gated to phi­los­o­phy and spir­i­tu­al­ity, there is often lit­tle overt cross pol­li­na­tion between the dif­fer­ent schools, lead­ing researchers like myself down a vari­ety of inter­con­nected paths. This pres­ence of iso­lated pil­lars of research, and their inabil­ity to fully address the core of the human con­di­tion, is what ini­tially drew me to Inte­gral theory.

When I had tried to “name” the basis of our plan­e­tary crises from my pre­vi­ously lived par­a­digms, I nat­u­rally assumed the root causes of our prob­lems were eco­nomic and polit­i­cal in nature, a mis­take many young pro­gres­sive activists make. From my ear­lier, Post-modern par­a­digm, the solu­tion to these prob­lems could be as sim­ple as restruc­tur­ing our polit­i­cal sys­tem so that it meets the needs of a wider pop­u­la­tion. Through the elec­tion of moral, pro­gres­sive politi­cians, the pass­ing of leg­is­la­tion, and the cre­ation and fur­ther fund­ing of socially ben­e­fi­cial pro­grams and insti­tu­tions, the world could be trans­formed into a peace­ful, fair, demo­c­ra­tic pre-utopia. And while this is an impor­tant phys­i­cal com­po­nent to the change that must occur, as a young philoso­pher I saw these actions to be nec­es­sary but not sufficient.

For our world to be trans­formed into a global com­mu­nity wor­thy of future gen­er­a­tions, what our soci­ety (and species) actu­ally needs is a greater shift in con­scious­ness; a new under­stand­ing of our­selves and our deeper con­nec­tion to the nat­ural world. Many peo­ple in mod­ern soci­ety feel a pro­found sense of iso­la­tion, lone­li­ness, and despair, and an over­all dis­con­nec­tion from their com­mu­ni­ties and the cos­mos at large. To under­stand the ori­gins of this dis­con­nec­tion, lets now turn to the foun­da­tion of West­ern con­scious­ness, the emer­gence of dual­ism and the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of reality.

Part One: The World of the Sep­a­rate Self

Accord­ing to anthro­pol­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans, humanity’s first major expe­ri­ence of sep­a­ra­tion likely occurred with the inven­tion of agri­cul­ture and the objec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the nat­ural world. This sep­a­ra­tion from nature was fur­ther expanded upon by West­ern reli­gion (as sym­bol­ized by the Fall from Eden), and in much of the phi­los­o­phy and sci­ence that later devel­oped. Regard­ing the emer­gence of dual­ism in the West, and the rela­tion­ship between the self and other, Linda Tuhi­wai Smith writes, “Clas­si­cal Greek phi­los­o­phy is regarded as the point at which ideas about these rela­tion­ships changed from ‘nat­u­ral­is­tic’ expla­na­tions to human­is­tic expla­na­tions. Nat­u­ral­is­tic expla­na­tions linked nature and life as one and human­is­tic expla­na­tions sep­a­rate peo­ple out from the world around them, and place human­ity on a higher plane (than ani­mals and plants) because of such char­ac­ter­is­tics as lan­guage and rea­son.” (Smith, pg. 47)

Once we came to see the world as some­thing apart from our­selves, and our­selves as supe­rior beings in rela­tion to all other crea­tures, a pow­er­ful sep­a­ra­tion began to occur, and it is this dis­tinc­tion that gave way to the reduc­tion­ist view of real­ity, ulti­mately mak­ing every­thing in exis­tence sub­ject to sci­en­tific measurement.

It is impor­tant to rec­og­nize that in spite of this sep­a­ra­tion, the sci­en­tific par­a­digm has given our species pro­found means to explore the nat­ural world. I also want to rec­og­nize that although the larger sci­en­tific par­a­digm is strongly based upon such a sep­a­ra­tion, there have been count­less sci­en­tists, philoso­phers and thinkers who have used these tools to inves­ti­gate the nat­ural world while hon­or­ing our con­nec­tion to it. The more holis­tic and eso­teric insights of these indi­vid­u­als are often over­looked, and even when they do express this deeper con­nec­tion in their work (as with the­o­rists like Dar­win and Ein­stein, for exam­ple), the larger sci­en­tific com­mu­ni­ties tend to ignore the spir­i­tual and meta­phys­i­cal views of such the­o­rists, focus­ing more on fit­ting their find­ings into the pre-established, reduc­tion­ist framework.

While the tools of West­ern phi­los­o­phy and sci­ence have had many pos­i­tive influ­ences on our cul­ture, the inher­ent dis­con­nec­tion from nature that lies at its core has also cre­ated a pro­found state of exis­ten­tial cri­sis. As we have grown to dis­as­so­ci­ate from the nat­ural world, we have come to view our­selves as iso­lated, dis­con­nected indi­vid­u­als, and as a means to fill this inher­ent void, this lack of self, we (often uncon­sciously) seek to dom­i­nate, con­trol, and own the phys­i­cal world around us. Nat­u­rally, this dom­i­na­tion is deeply inter­wo­ven into the tech­nolo­gies and economies we create.

Tech­nol­ogy & Economics

Cen­tral to this dis­cus­sion is humanity’s rela­tion­ship with tech­nol­ogy. If the record of human evo­lu­tion serves as a map of our unfold­ment, then cul­ture and tech­nol­ogy can be seen as nat­ural man­i­fes­ta­tions of a greater evo­lu­tion­ary impulse. Humans have used their cre­ativ­ity to tran­scend envi­ron­men­tal and social obsta­cles for tens of thou­sands of years, and at our core we are a tech­no­log­i­cal species. Our lan­guage, cus­toms, tools, and dwellings are all the prod­uct of our evo­lu­tion. In spite of this appar­ently nat­ural emer­gence, our rela­tion­ship with tech­nol­ogy is one of the key fac­tors involved in our cur­rent crises.

In our attempt to find com­fort in the harsh con­di­tions of the nat­ural world, to dis­tance our­selves from the tem­po­rary suf­fer­ing it entails, we con­tinue to cre­ate tech­nolo­gies that on one hand min­i­mize this suf­fer­ing, but on the other hand cre­ate inevitable future suf­fer­ing. As we grow more dis­con­nected from nature, we simul­ta­ne­ously grow more depen­dent upon our tech­nolo­gies to resolve our prob­lems, cre­at­ing a strange never-ending cycle of addic­tion. As we come to rely upon our abil­ity to con­trol our envi­ron­ments, to cre­ate com­fort and secu­rity, we atro­phy our nat­ural instincts, and our cre­ative impulses and intu­ition, even­tu­ally lead­ing to a hyper­sen­si­tiv­ity to our envi­ron­ments and a weak­en­ing of our immune sys­tems and sur­vival capa­bil­i­ties. We have domes­ti­cated our­selves to the point where life out­side of con­trolled soci­ety appears as a ter­ri­ble impos­si­bil­ity; cer­tain death for any­one fool­ish enough to make the attempt. (Eisenstein)

One of the most clearly ubiq­ui­tous out­growths of the dual­is­tic par­a­digm is our cur­rent free mar­ket sys­tem of eco­nom­ics. Nearly every major expe­ri­ence has been reduced to, or asso­ci­ated with, mon­e­tary exchange. Noth­ing is sacred in our mate­ri­al­ist econ­omy, as even the most pre­cious and pri­vate expe­ri­ences are given a mar­ket value. In a world under con­trol, we come to rely upon experts and spe­cial­ists for tasks we his­tor­i­cally have done our­selves. Grow­ing our food, rais­ing our chil­dren, tend­ing to the sick and needy; at one point in our recent past these were all in the sphere of com­mu­nity sup­port, directly woven into our social fab­ric. By rely­ing upon exter­nal, often anony­mous sources for the ful­fill­ment of our needs, we not only give away our own cre­ative pow­ers, but rob our­selves of the com­mu­nal rela­tions asso­ci­ated within. (Eisenstein)

While sci­ence has given us the tools to cre­ate the lux­u­ri­ous, high-technology soci­eties we live in today, it has also cre­ated a pro­found state of iso­la­tion and addic­tion among us. Our daily lives have become so frag­mented, and the sep­a­ra­tion between us so vast, that we find our­selves liv­ing in enclosed cells, more con­nected to the lives of celebri­ties and fic­ti­tious char­ac­ters in the media than to our own neigh­bors and fel­low com­mu­nity mem­bers. The cur­rent result of such a par­a­digm is a pop­u­la­tion strung out on hyper-reality, the near com­plete pri­va­ti­za­tion of the nat­ural world, and a total dehu­man­iza­tion of the mass pop­u­la­tion at the hands of cor­po­ra­tions, insti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ments. Peo­ple, like nature, are no longer viewed in their inher­ent form, but as things to be man­aged, manip­u­lated, and con­trolled, stripped of their iden­ti­ties as chil­dren of nature, reduced to job titles and ser­ial numbers.

On a soci­etal level, we now find our­selves in the mid­dle of a con­flict between the reign­ing mate­ri­al­is­tic par­a­digm of the West, and a newly emerg­ing holis­tic par­a­digm, the major dis­tinc­tions lying both in the basis of per­sonal iden­tity, and also in techno-economic effi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity. In an eco­nomic sys­tem that deval­ues human con­nec­tion, com­mu­nity, and the envi­ron­ment, why would effi­ciency and sus­tain­abil­ity mat­ter in the prod­ucts and ser­vices they sup­ply? As long as they meet the tem­po­rary needs of the “con­sumers”, and the quo­tas of investors, they have no oblig­a­tion towards the health of the greater social and envi­ron­men­tal com­mu­ni­ties. This cre­ates a vicious com­pe­ti­tion in which the most ruth­less, most dis­con­nected, most objec­ti­fy­ing enti­ties rise to the top of the pyra­mid of social and eco­nomic con­trol. The more pow­er­ful they become, the more influ­ence they have over the con­di­tions in which they exist, set­ting the tone (through poli­cies and laws) for future gen­er­a­tions of exploiters.

In the finite real­ity of the mod­ern mate­ri­al­ist par­a­digm, wealth and resources are per­ceived as lim­ited, there­fore requir­ing aggres­sive com­pe­ti­tion and con­trol on the part of busi­nesses, gov­ern­ments, and cit­i­zens alike. In its very design, the cur­rent mar­ket econ­omy is unsus­tain­able, and, “…requires near con­stant growth (increas­ing con­sump­tion) to main­tain employ­ment.” (Joseph) In his work, film­maker Peter Joseph dis­cusses the illu­sion­ary nature of such a sys­tem, link­ing com­pe­ti­tion to a false sense of scarcity. Scarcity is directly tied to prof­itabil­ity, as goods no longer hold high mar­ket value if they are acces­si­ble to all. Not only does this allow for a small por­tion of the human pop­u­la­tion to exer­cise con­trol over the larger body through the pro­mo­tion of scarcity, but it also allows for gross inef­fi­ciency in the prod­ucts and resources they “pro­vide”. In real­ity, the cur­rent sys­tem is designed to be inef­fi­cient, intended to increase prof­its and polit­i­cal strength of a few while exploit­ing and impov­er­ish­ing the rest. (Joseph)

An excel­lent exam­ple can be seen in energy effi­ciency: oil, nat­ural gas, coal, nuclear power, these are all con­sid­er­ably inef­fi­cient and unsus­tain­able when com­pared to the poten­tials of solar, wind, geot­her­mal, and hydro­elec­tric energy. While I admit that as of now the alter­na­tive tech­nolo­gies I just named are far from being advanced enough to take the place of more tra­di­tional tech­nolo­gies, the fact that the Amer­i­can econ­omy (and the cor­po­rate dynas­ties that gov­ern its behav­ior) has made such a mar­ginal attempt at explor­ing their poten­tial ben­e­fits serves as a sign of our culture’s bias towards profit and con­trol over effi­ciency and sustainability.

Some of the major neg­a­tive results of our cur­rent eco­nomic sys­tem include debt col­lapse, men­tal dis­or­der, addic­tion, poverty, crime, unem­ploy­ment, pol­lu­tion, deple­tion of resources, energy inef­fi­ciency, and the need for con­tin­u­ous war. These are not ran­dom, acci­den­tal occur­rences within this cur­rent sys­tem, but nec­es­sary ele­ments for its suc­cess. If the goal is to con­sol­i­date the great­est amount of wealth and resources into the hands of the fewest num­ber of peo­ple, these neg­a­tive con­di­tions must exist. (Joseph) This fact alone sug­gests that our cur­rent eco­nomic sys­tem is designed to be inhu­mane, and if it is our goal to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties based upon social and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity and fair­ness, this form of eco­nom­ics has no place in future human societies.

With­out a dra­matic shift in con­scious­ness at an indi­vid­ual and soci­etal level, these con­di­tions will con­tinue to esca­late beyond the point of return; untrans­formed, we may some­day wake up to find our­selves liv­ing in a global fas­cist soci­ety at the least, or on the brink of species anni­hi­la­tion at the worse. And in the mean time we each have to face the daunt­ing task of find­ing mean­ing in this world of chaos and order.

But as we will explore, our species is reach­ing a crit­i­cal bifur­ca­tion point in which the needs of our dynamic human net­work have out grown the cur­rent system’s abil­ity to pro­vide.  We are rapidly approach­ing a struc­tural break­down that could poten­tially cre­ate the space for new par­a­digms and social sys­tems to emerge.  The emer­gence of such par­a­digms will be explored in Part 2: Birth of a New Age.

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