Economic Growth As A Moral Imperative

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Note: The following post was originally published on January 16, 2012, on Joe-Perez.com.

Some recent studies have focused attention on the apparent fact that money does not buy happiness (or at least, that happiness tends to “max out” when one’s annual income reaches about $75,000 a year). On the Big Think blog, Will Wilkinson pleads for economic growth as a moral imperative:

…Kahnemann and Deaton have found that while life satisfaction, a judgment about how one’s life is going overall, does continue to rise with income, the quality of subjective experience improves until an annual income of about $75K and then plateaus. They conclude that “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness [i.e., subjective experiential quality], and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.”

What’s average world income? About $8K per year! The typical experience of a human being on Earth is “low life evaluation and low emotional well-being” due to too little money. How many times does global GDP need to double in order to put the average person at Kahnemann’s $75K hedonic max-out point? Three and change. But life satisfaction ain’t worth nothin’, and it keeps rising. And, of course, rising income doesn’t just correlate with rising happiness, but with better health, greater longevity, more and better education, increased freedom to choose the sort of life one wants, and so on. If it’s imperative to improve the health, welfare, and possibilities of humanity, growth is imperative.

via Why Economic Growth Totally Is Imperative.

If this is about right, then the greatest moral and existential dilemma of our time could be put succinctly: How can we triple global GDP more than three times to maximize universal happiness, health, longevity, education, freedom, and so forth…without destroying the planet for other species or future generations in the process?

If enlightenment means an end to suffering not just on an interior subjective level but in all dimensions of our existence and for all people, then evolution has got some serious work to do.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Integral worldview to our modern discourse is its ability to explain why the solutions offered by the left and right to address global economic inequality are inadequate.

Change must happen not only in collective structures (left) or individual values and behaviors (right), but both together. And the essence of that change is getting out of the way of Love.


Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

Steve Nation: The Will Is Emerging As A Universal Force

Steve Nation, a writer and speaker on meditation and global issues, observes a high-level pattern arising in world happenings: the emergence of the will as a potent force. It is arising between the wholeness vision (or what this blog calls the “Integral” vision) and oursleves, he writes, in our lives, in our communities, and throughout the world.

The will is a quality of consciousness that is taking on a decidedly new direction. Nation writes:

In the past, the will was often understood in terms of ‘thou shalt not’ and of power over others—maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of difficulties and repressing anything unpleasant or not understood. We know that repression doesn’t work and that trying to battle on without addressing issues as they arise or without ever questioning what we are doing simply sets up new problems for the future. More often than not, problems and issues are a sign of something needing to be addressed—something that is out of alignment. The deeper will is concerned with purpose and with understanding the role that purpose can play in crafting a fulfilling and meaningful life. It is about fostering a sense of direction and nurturing a realistic sense of future possibilities. ‘Thou shalt’ replaces ‘Thou shalt not.’

In a sense, the will is all about the way in which we as individuals and groups respond to our perception of human need and to our sense of the future. As problems arise in our communities and in the world as a whole, they provide an opportunity to heal, transform, and redeem ancient patterns of separation. As such, the problems can be embraced. In learning about a particular social problem, we can train ourselves to recognize the forces that are causing the problem (forces in the human psyche reflected in economic, social, and cultural dynamics) while at the same time looking for the individuals and groups that are responding to these forces in a meaningful way—using the problem to break through ancient thought forms of division and to nurture love and goodwill in the community, and to empower disadvantaged groups and individuals with a sense of their own dignity and possibilities as human beings.

In the process of responding to the problems of our time something wonderful is happening to human beings. The quality of will is being mobilized as never before. It is happening at the local level in every community on the planet, just as it is happening regionally, nationally, and globally. There is today a vast network of groups of citizens that are applying the will to transform the quality of human relationships. Think of the vitality and purpose of the 350.org movement, or of the mindfulness networks that are emerging in health, healing, and education around the world. Think of the One Campaign fighting extreme poverty with almost 6 million global members. Think of the activities of countless Amnesty International groups throughout the world, or of the countless actions by concerned citizens on the International Day of Peace every September 21st. These are just the tip of the iceberg — we are living at a time when people of concern are becoming willfully engaged in diverse ways to transform the quality of relationships on earth.

There have always been periods in history when forces of goodwill coalesce with an unusual degree of singleminded purpose and focus. In the US for example, there was an extraordinary period during the height of the civil rights struggle when a culture of hatred, lawlessness, and violence was confronted by countless acts of individual and group courage. The anti-apartheid movement (within South Africa and around the world) saw a similar concentration of will. What is different about the will that is emerging today is that it is emerging as a universal force. Millions of people feel themselves to be a part of the One Humanity and the One Earth and feel a measure of personal responsibility and engagement in building a culture and civilization that reflects this new awareness. The good will is arising amongst individuals across the face of the globe, just as it is arising in groups and movements in every field of activity. There is an awareness of a common purpose that links community development groups with human rights groups, those working for the empowerment of women with groups targeting the need for nutritious food, and the massive global movement calling for new economic and political structures in response to the challenges of climate change. We are witnessing a quiet and steady mobilization of the will in human affairs.

Read the whole article in Kosmos Journal.

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It’s Insane To Believe There Is No Truth

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By Joe Perez

Note: The following post was originally published on February 2, 2012, on Joe-Perez.com, and has been modified on this date.

I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had a good education in philosophy, theology, comparative religion, psychology and sociology of religion, and so on. This has given me the chance to see how the brightest minds, past and present, have addressed the fundamental question in philosophy: “How am I to live?”

Those smart people haven’t always agreed. In fact, the study of these subjects in college is pretty much an exercise in learning the different schools of thought and how to argue one side against another. In ethics, there are consequentialists and Kantians. In psychoanalysis, there are Freudians and Jungians. And then there are about a million different views of religion.

It wasn’t really until over a decade after I finished my formal study of religion that I encountered the work of the philosopher, psychological theorist, and mystic Ken Wilber. His work was remarkably different because he didn’t care less how exactly one thinker disagreed with another thinker. In a sense, he was only really interested in what they had in common. He asked how they were looking at the world in such a way that he could understand that in a way they weren’t really disagreeing? He saw that they were only talking past each other, comparing apples to oranges.

For Ken Wilber as I interpret him, there really is something that you might as well call Truth with a capital “T,” to distinguish it from all of the various perspectives that people have about truth. He doesn’t think we ever really are able to talk about Truth or grasp it intellectually without diminishing it to truth with the lower-case “t.” There is Truth. It is unqualified only in the unmanifest realm. And then there are perspectives on Truth. And we are always, everywhere, in the manifest order, taking a perspective.

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Unapolgetically Integral In Our Own Way

“Our Most Important Activism For This Point In History Involves Building The Integral Worldview Itself” — Steve McIntosh, author of Evolution’s Purpose

Integral Blog has a new quote plastered across the top of our sidebar, so I thought I’d tell you more about it. You may have recognized it from a 2011 conversation between Scott Payne and Steve McIntosh published at Beams & Struts, or my discussion of the conversation on Awake, Aware & Alive.

Here’s the immediate context of McIntosh’s remarks:

[T]here are obviously many forms of legitimate political activism that integralists can pursue. But from my perspective, the most important form of activism for this point in history involves building the integral worldview itself. That is, we need to demonstrate the power of the integral perspective and show how effective it can be at providing solutions. We need to build wider recognition of, and agreement with, this emerging understanding of evolution. In other words, we need to teach the truths of integral philosophy and persuade people that consciousness and culture do evolve, and that we can solve many problems by coming to a deeper understanding of this phenomenon.

“Teaching” integral philosophy as a form of activism can, of course, involve a wide variety of activities. It can involve creating media such as books, videos, blogs, articles, etc. And it can also be as simple as engaging our friends and family in conversations about it. Further, the more we can each embody it as our own philosophy and not simply Wilber’s philosophy or Whitehead’s philosophy—the more we can show how it is actually a new understanding of evolution that recognizes interiors and can detect a new kind of depth—the more effective we’ll be in these communications. (Bold added.)

Now there’s a reason why I’ve given these words a special place on this new blog. Firstly, they have been inspirational to me in my blogging since I first heard them over three years ago. Secondly, they are just as relevant today as when Steve first spoke them. And thirdly, I believe they have the power to shake my fellow Integralists from their comfort zones and help to give focus to and context for the work they do. (Incidentally, as you will see I’ve shortened it a bit and changed the first word. I hope we can agree these changes are not significant.)

Integral Blog is unapologetically written by an Integralist for fellow Integralists (or integralists) if you prefer. We will not say we’re sorry for discussing theory when others would say that we are “stuck in our head”. We will not shy away from using vocabulary that requires more than a middle school education. (We have a rudimentary Integral glossary for the interested.) We will not try to sneak Integral perspectives quietly into conversations in order to appeal to the huffy-huff-huffington-posters or the league of not-so-extraordinary gentlemen.

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Interstellar From An Integral Perspective

interstellar-movie-2014-hd-wallpapers-fullScience fiction movies frequently offer stories at the intersection of science and spirituality, melding intimate human drama with larger-than-life themes and plots. Some of the greatest sci-fi movies have created enduring myths which have shaped the worldview of more than one generation of moviegoers. But they are not all created equal.

The new film Interstellar, directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan, bends the space-time continuum of Armageddon plot-lines. It is created with much of the hero worship of Batman Begins, the intensity of The Dark Knight, and the creative reality-twisting of Memento and Inception. If you’re like the vast majority of moviegoers and critics surveyed by meta-critic websites, you are bound to have a good time and give the flick two thumbs up.

But you are not reading this review in order to decide whether to spend $12 and a Saturday night on this movie. Since this is Integral Blog, you are likely wondering how to approach this movie from an Integral perspective or maybe what the movie offers an Integral worldview. I cannot satisfy those curiosities completely, but I will offer some salient observations.

In my view, there is no point to watching the vast majority of movies made every year (about 700 by one count), and who has the time? Indeed, most forms of popular culture entertainment are soul-denying wastes of time and precious brain cells. At the end of sitting through a typical movie, there is no greater or deeper extension of knowledge of the human condition or inspiration to make the world a better place.

I love very good movies. Very good movies are meant to be transcendent and elevating. They help wake you up without being preachy. They engage your feelings, mind, soul, and spirit in harmony. And great movies give you moments you will never forget and change your life.

Interstellar is a great movie. It is everything a very good movie is, and then it goes the extra mile. I don’t care if it has imperfections, whether it lacks humor or contains improbable twists, whether its characters are memorable enough or the music too loud. It’s not perfect.

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Truth from a World Spirituality perspective

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Photo Credit: koppdelaney

I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had a good education in philosophy, theology, comparative religion, psychology and sociology of religion, and so on. This has given me the chance to see how the brightest minds, past and present, have addressed the fundamental question in philosophy: “How am I to live?”

Those smart people haven’t always agreed. In fact, the study of these subjects in college is pretty much an exercise in learning the different schools of thought and how to argue one side against another. In ethics, there are consequentialists and Kantians. In psychoanalysis, there are Freudians and Jungians. And then there are about a million different views of religion.

It wasn’t really until over a decade after I finished my formal study of religion that I encountered the work of the philosopher, psychological theorist, and mystic Ken Wilber. His work was remarkably different because he didn’t care less how exactly one thinker disagreed with another thinker. He was only really interested in what they had in common. How were they looking at the world in such a way that he could understand that in a way they weren’t really disagreeing? He saw that they were only talking past each other, comparing apples to oranges.

For Ken Wilber, there really is something that you might as well call Truth with a capital “T,” to distinguish it from all of the various perspectives that people have about truth. He doesn’t think we ever really are able to talk about Truth or grasp it intellectually without diminishing it to truth with the lower-case “t.” There is Truth. And then there are perspectives on Truth. And we are always, everywhere, taking a perspective.

The most important thing Wilber helped me to realize is that just because we can’t know Truth without taking a perspective doesn’t mean we can’t know Truth fully and absolutely. We absolutely can know Truth, he assures us…and I believed him…because it was something I already knew. The Truth we know fully and completely and confidently is the Truth of our real nature. Ken Wilber sometimes calls this our Ultimate Identity, drawing on an important term from the Hindu spiritual masters and people they’ve influenced. Another important integral thinker, Marc Gafni, drawing on the Hebrew enlightenment tradition, calls this our True Self.

And one thing Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, other integral thinkers, and the entire lineage of mystics and enlightened sages, points us to is the same Truth, each putting that Truth into perspectives…turning that Truth into truths. Because that Truth is something we know with our whole being integrally — body, mind, soul, and spirit — not just intellectually. And we can’t express Truth without taking a perspective because that Truth is always communicated with language in societies that are evolving — biologically, culturally, socially, spiritually — and so every religion and philosophy colors that truth in different and interesting and unique ways.

The Truth of enlightenment is that there is a True Self — our Ultimate Identity or Absolute Spirit — and that there is only one.

So it’s no wonder that Wilber’s integral worldview lacked an interest in dividing the world according to methodologies, philosophies, religions, ideologies, and so on. From the integral vantage point, such divisions could only tell us relative, partial truths…disguising the path to Truth. He saw that the deeper you looked at all of these divisions in thought, the more their boundaries began to blur and hidden patterns of unity began to emerge. Constructing a map of those common threads became his dharma, a pandit’s work that has already produced over 20 major books.

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens reviews Wilber’s dharmic path as follows:

In 1977 American philosopher Ken Wilber published his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness. This groundbreaking book integrated the major schools of psychology along a continuum of increasing complexity, with different schools focused on various levels within that spectrum. Over the next 30 years he continued with this integrative impulse, writing books in areas such as cultural anthropology, philosophy, sociology of religion, physics, healthcare, environmental studies, science and religion, and postmodernism. To date, Wilber has published over two dozen books and in the process has created integral theory. Wilber’s books have been translated into more than 24 languages, which gives you an idea as to the global reach and utility of integral theory. Since its inception by Wilber, integral theory has become one of the foremost approaches within the larger fields of integral studies and meta-theory. This prominent role is in large part the result of the wide range of applications that integral theory has proven itself efficacious in as well as the work of many scholar-practitioners who have and are contributing to the further development of integral theory.

(For a great concise overview of Integral Theory, see this paper.)

There are many potential uses of Integral theory in academic studies and practical applications for people working in a variety of fields (business, law, organizational development, coaching, psychotherapy, etc.) But what concerns me most in Awake, Aware & Alive is the application of integral principles in the realm of World Spirituality.

It is far too dangerous for our world to ignore the many difficult issues we face together. We’re all in this life, this world together…because we are all ultimately one. The root of the problems we face, I believe, is that far too few people know this truth, believe this, and put it into practice. We act as if we are separate beings, when the truth is that we are not.

As Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, and many other people have taught me, an authentic World Spirituality needs to grow out of an integral worldview because no other worldview can do better the task that most needs to be done: show us how we are all really, truly connected and one at a time when vast billions of people act blindly as if we weren’t.

On the philosophy of personal branding and selling

Personal Branding

One of the most important pillars of the integral worldview is its understanding that there is not simply one self, but a myriad of constructed selves operating in highly complex contexts which are themselves manifestations of an ultimate reality.

So the self is personal and transpersonal; either way, the self does not exist independently from the language used to communicate its nature. The self is always communicated; that is to say, from a perspective which emphasizes certain values, the self is always branded.

One contrarian, Olivier Blanchard, hates putting the word personal next to the word brand. On The BrandBuilder Blog, he writes:

Here’s the thing: People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. (Most of the time, becoming a brand means they become all three.) Unlike people, brands have attributes and trade dress, slogans and tag lines which can all be trademarked, because unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something.

That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something is at the very crux of the problem with “personal branding.” Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?

Perhaps more to the point – and this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are? And I am not talking about iconic celebrities, here. I am talking about people like you and me.

Think about it. Those of us who truly value attributes like transparency and authenticity (and that would be the vast majority of people) don’t want to sit in a room with a guy playing a part. If I am interviewing an applicant for a job, the less layers between who he is and who he wants me to think he is, the better. Those extra layers of personal branding, they’re artifice. They’re disingenuous. They’re bullshit. I am going to sense that and the next thought that will pop up in my head is “what’s this guy really hiding?”

via R.I.P. Personal Branding.

Leaving aside whether Blanchard has accurately described any actually existing school of personal branding thought, he does have a perfectly legitimate view of the self from a perspective which sees business values (reputation, image, profit, etc.) as anathema to personal values (namely transparency and authenticity).

His view resonates with postmodernism’s obsession with transparency at the expense of all other values, and its de-coupling of authenticity with achievement (“Tell me how you really feel, not what you want to achieve.”) Blanchard can hardly imagine that achievement and its necessary components (e.g., slogans, tag lines, resumes, etc.) can actually be authentic to a self, apparently because they are foreign to his self-sense (they look like artifices to him).

Blanchard’s post earned a strong and lengthy rebuke at the Personal Branding Blog, where Oscar Del Santo replies, in part:

His tirade begins with a statement that sadly lacks philosophical or sociological sophistication and can therefore be easily dismantled: “People are people,” he tells us, “they aren’t brands. When people become brands they stop being people.” Not quite, I’m afraid. By the same token and under the same faulty premises we could fallaciously argue that people are not consumers, clients, voters, patients, citizens or biological entities. Yet people are of course all of those things and many more depending on the specific context and focus under consideration. And there is no question in my mind that in our digital 2.0 world people are (perhaps for the first time) also brands and have brand-like attributes they can use for their benefit without in any way, shape or form forsaking their humanity or their identity as people.

From the ulterior development of his argument, we learn that the animosity Mr Blanchard feels towards brands and personal branding stems from his negative associations with selling and the misconception that we can only sell by becoming “a character or a product”. “That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something”, he states, “is at the very crux of the problem with ‘personal branding’. Can you realistically remain authentic and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?”. The answer to his question is obviously a resounding ‘yes’: I have not surrendered myself to any evil process or become inauthentic to create a successful personal brand and sell my services any more than I believe he has done so in order to become a social media author and sell his books. To claim otherwise without proof is intellectually arrogant and plainly misguided. And of course, both he and I – along with everyone else with a career – have “a business agenda to drive” (even if it is is just to remain in business!) and need to sell a product, service or idea: and we are none the worse for that.

I am glad to find in his post the words transparency and authenticity and once again sad that he should need to retort to expletives and offensive accusations to put forward his case (“those extra layers of personal branding are artifice… They’re bulls**t… Don’t be a fake. Drop the personal branding BS”). On at least one account I can most certainly put his mind to rest: nobody here is trying to be a fake or condone such behavior. In fact, our personal branding philosophy goes well beyond his own premises and not only has transparency and authenticity at its core, but is emphatically built on the primacy of values, can be profoundly spiritual, and is open to people from all walks of life including minorities….

Del Santo correctly realizes that Blanchard is attacking a straw man, not personal branding as it is actually described by its proponents. He and Blanchard seem unable to recognize whether “selling” can be part of the “authentic” self or not. Drawing on his personal experience (and that of others, I’m sure), he disagrees.

But is it really necessary to say that one or the other must be correct? When human development is understood as a continuum, and the self is understood as a developmental line, then actually both views can be viewed as correct from a certain point of view.

Let us loosely apply the labels modern, postmodern, and integral to describe the different philososphical points of view, each arising in a developmental sequence.

  1. The modern self is seen as divided between personal and business, and the latter is often taken as a roadmap for personal development. You are what you earn. Your business is like your family. You are the CEO of your own life. Your life has a bottom line. Achievement is everything. You work with brands, but you are likely to think of those brands as external to yourself. Your work life and personal life are highly differentiated and possibly segregated, and it is common to want to “leave work at the office.”
  2. The postmodern self is seen as authentic. You are more than the sum of your achievements. You are what you feel, think, and do. You are so inherently complex and nuanced that no social structure, no business, can fit you without alienating who you really are. Being real is everything. You know what’s real because it’s what you are developmentally moving away from: it’s everything that a business is not. The postmodern self sees its own stage of development as the end-point of self-actualization and does not recognize the difference between the modern self and the integral self.
  3. The integral self is seen as both authentic and an achievement. You don’t just be yourself, you become yourself; thus, selfhood is finally recognized as an achievement. Excessive attention to the interior life and its dramas fades away. Excesssively anti-business views and anti-achievement attitudes fade away. What remains is an achieving, evolving self. The new self must find ways of communicating itself and connecting with others who recognize its value. The new self reaches for a (trans)personal brand, a (trans)personal image, a (trans)personal worldview, etc., which allows it to integrate the stages of its previous development and interrelate with others.

So when looking at the debate between personal branding and its critics, it’s important to ask yourself: what is the self that is being branded? There is not just one self, and people often talk past each other when they fail to recognize this philosophical point.