Opening Invocations, Welcoming Address #ITC2015

We crowded into the The Cooperage at Sonoma State at around 7:30. Fashionably late from dinner (be warned, I will not be responsible if your college provides me with an infinite latte machine). 

I hurried over towards the front and grabbed a chair, immediately noticing the noticeably large plant that Mark Fabionar, the "brain child" behind the evening events at ITC2015, had shrouding his profile. A pomegranate plant? Sure enough. 

Many of you know the theme for ITC2015 is "Integral Impacts", but during the opening invocation tonight, Mark explained what the image of the pomegranate actually meant to him. After leading us through a brief meditation – bringing our attention to the body, the room full of participants, the campus, the hills of Sonoma and their ancient histories, he told us the mythical connotations behind this delicious fruit. Potent yet transformative, the pomegranate beckons further reflections beyond its sweet delicacy. Its juiciness leads us down the dark path of the unconscious; the shadow, and the transformations that lie therein. 

A further recognition, then, to have a real live pomegranate plant attending the opening invocation. He raises a vile and announces the pouring of libations for the opening ceremony. We say prayers to the dead. Those who have recently passed, like Roy Bhaskar (keynote speaker for ITC2013), Piaget, Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, Alfred North Whitehead, Allan Watts and Bucky Fuller are among the few who are called out. Mark, a self-admitted science fiction fan, asks us to respond to each pouring of water over the pomegranate with "SO SAY WE ALL". I gladly chant this for every name invoked. 

I was called to attention the dispersed but rhizomatic lineage of the Integral tradition. Countercultural heroes. Mystics (though Alan Watts would only call himself an entertainer). Theologians. Thank you, especially, for the geeky invocation Mark. So say we all.

Next, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens steps up with a second meditation. 3 breaths, bringing attention to the self, the collective presence in the room, and the Sonoma State campus itself. Sean remarks how thrilled he is by the "field" of energy he sense is already "launched" from a day full of workshops and anticipation. 

I am curious what he will speak about tonight.

"Integral Impacts" is the topic. Of course! First, he shares an overview of the previous Integral Theory Conferences. Each one, he suggests was designed to facilitate "crucial conversations to deepen connections to self, other and world." The first was Integral Action. The second was Integral Differentiation (towards a Wilber-based, but not Wilber-centric theory). Lastly, the 2013 conference, the one I also attended, was Integral Meta Dialogue. Roy Bhaskar's Critical Realism and Edgar Morin's complexity.

Sean quickly mentions that "Integral" began as a philosophy in 1995 or so. "We've been at it for fifteen to twenty years. How can we have more impact?" he asks us. This year is all about "demonstrating impact". 

He jokes that meta theories don't always have the kind of impact they're looking for. The audience chuckles knowing all too well.

Here, he also mentions something intriguing: that meta theories may not be necessary in every situation. Perhaps some require you to take a non-integral stance (hence the Democracy 3D panels, where ITC panelists will be consciously taking stances for or against certain opinions). The point us, we need more discriminating on what integral impact really is when it happens, and the more interesting point for Sean: we need to start developing impact in an "integral way". That is, adding to the traditional statistical evidence of impact the qualitative dimensions.

"We're not living up to our potential, that's my sense," Sean pauses here and lets that sink in.

He uses the "vision logic" (joking, here) of Nike's "Just Do It" with Gandhi's "Be the Change" to make "Be Impact". 

That's the motto this year. BE IMPACT. Now, how are we going to be impact? 

Sean takes us through an overview of Meta Integral's mission to train leaders transform companies, and offer grants to integral initiatives. He gives us a few examples of what initiatives are already doing "out there". One of the first, and most interesting in my mind was the Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative in Canada, managing to get 35K acres of forest and organizing across multiple communities (both rural and progressive). Then there was Gail Hochachka's work in Peru and Bolivia, helping to facilitate a "transformation of value chains" in the marketplace there. John Record's "Restorative Integral Support for Social Services" in California reported a 2x effectivity with its integral approach. Still more interesting was Bence Ganti's Integral Academy in Budapest, and the subsequent enrollment of 450 adult students and four universities formally recognizing Integral Psychology as an academic discipline. 

Still further mentioned was Marilyn Hamilton's work in Oklahoma's city of Durant, and their adoption of the Integral City mandala as an image of urban unity.

Sean also mentioned Jinoong Kim's (otherwise known as Bigbros) book getting published under the top fifty business books in South Korea. It is now available in every public library. 

Clearly, there has been some kind of integral impact in the world. Sean urged us to push for further, clearer results, statistics, and unique offerings that only integral methodologies could give these kind of initiatives. To fail to do so would be a "missed opportunity". 

"Business wise, we need to learn about impact".

Shifting gears, Sean gleefully noted Pope Francis and Laudato Si, the recent papal encyclical calling for an "Integral Ecology". Some of you may, or may not know this, but this is also the title of Sean's book

The term "Integral" in the recent encyclical is noted at least thirty times, featuring an entire chapter on Integral Ecology. 

But, does this mean that the Pope is influenced by Ken Wilber, or Sean? 

It turns out he is at least inspired by the works of Thomas Berry, St. Francis of Assis, and liberation theologist Leonard Boff. Furthermore, the encyclical calls for modern fragmented knowledge to be "integrated into a broader vision of reality". So does this mean that Pope Francis might be secretly reading Ken Wilber? "How else would we explain it"? Sean jokes. 

Regardless of whether the Pope is reading Wilber, or any kind of integral ecology, he is certainly thinking along the same lines. 

Lastly, and most excitingly for Meta Integral, was the announcement of the partnership with the The Nature Conservancy towards building a "Global Action Network". A new website and infrastructure dedicated to fostering professional, political, and social change. 

Immediate Reflections

Forgive my exhaustion, today (and tomorrow). Jet lag is setting in, but, in all likelihood, it is simply my lack of sleep (24 hours or so by now). I am sincerely excited and swept up by Sean's enthusiasm and vision for Integral Theory, the Integral Tradition and its application in the world; though, I do wonder at this point where this vision is aiming to go. After all, with Zak Stein's 3D Democracy panel stance that "integral is inherently anti-capitalist", and with midnight musings by fellow integral sympathizers, I can't help but wonder where we are leaning in anymore with the truly radical, post-capitalist visions for the future. Sean offers a vision – and examples – of Integral Impact is certainly a potent one; one that is respectable and important. Yet I want to lean in further. Deeper. There is an unmade world that lies just beyond the horizon of our discourse – one that is not articulated by the possibilities that are offered by taming "late-capitalism" into a more docile beast. 

The world of tomorrow is even stranger. ITC is offering a good vision, but can it reach into an impossible future and imagine a wholly other, different and better world? For myself, I seek a line of flight, and contemplate that our future may not be one which may be wholly initiated by smoothly paved steps but crisis. Transition hard won by the tremendous and hidden struggle of articulating an impossible, unknown. In that ultimate bifurcation, between a "benign capitalism" and some new articulation of planetary culture, how would we not choose the latter?

What do you think, ITC-goers and remote readers?


What's That? You Wanted Some Periscope? #ITC2015

[Note: This Periscope link is broken. I'm trying to find a way to get it from my mobile device. Will simply have to do some more drive-by Periscopes, maybe Vines, tonight]

So here is a silly attempt at Periscope from last night's DJ Dance Party at the Cooperage. Live from ITC2015. I came a little late to the party, but before this, we had a wonderful set of poets and live performances at the open mic METAPHORPHOSIS: Embodied Poetics and Integral Slam. It's only beginning. Tomorrow night, we have a "performative invocation" with Robert Karimi and Miri Gabriel, followed by "Wrestling Jerusalem", a one-man play by Aaron Davidman.

Stay tuned for hopefully better Periscopes, live tweets and updates as the conference goes cognitive starting with tomorrow's panelists and "3D democracy debates". Get your thinking caps on. 


Meta Realities, Utopias: Imagining Impact at ITC2015

This article was originally published on Reality Sandwich.

“Transformative cultures”, as we call them on Reality Sandwich, consist of a wide distribution of different communities, teaching philosophies, practices and social engagements. There are generations of counter-cultures who have worked towards, generally speaking, a sacralization of the modern world and a more symbiotic relationship with the planet. This is why I was excited to accept an invitation to return as the official live-blogger for the MetaIntegral Foundation’s Integral Theory Conference 2015. 

Following the successful 2013 conference, which I was also grateful to attend and blog about (you can read some of those posts here), the Integral Theory Conference moved from examining the “Kosmopolitan” hub of integrative and holistic meta-theories, like Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, Roy Bhaskar’s Critical Realism and Meta Realism, and Edgar Morin’s Complexity theory, to “Integral Impact”. This year asks the important question: what are meta theories like Complexity Theory (articulated brilliantly at ITC2013 by Alfonso Montuori of CIIS), or Integral Theory, doing to have real impact, on the ground? Rather, what does impact mean when it comes to articulating new “world views” that try to re-imagine Western, or global civilization? Not to mention – all of these aforementioned perspectives do appear to be quite cognitive. Is this the proper way to respond to collective and systemic planetary crisis? 

The quick answer, really, the place where advocates of these meta theories begin, is yes. Complex thinking, as Edgar Morin has popularized the term, is arguably the only approach sophisticated or equipped to respond to a complex crisis. 

While this may sound like something we might nod our heads to in a TED Talk, or amongst educated friends over coffee, it is one thing to recognize this insight as a truism and another to develop a rigorous and sophisticated means to discern actual impact. What are people doing with these theories? Integral Theory, in particular, has become increasingly criticized for entertaining conservative and imperialist biases – developmental models of consciousness evolution, with Western societies placed at the top* – so, clearly, there is much work to be done. 

Integral Theory and the Hard Problem of Impact

Yet another critical question to ask is: where and who is impacted? In this recent article via, “United States of Inc.: Corporations as Nation-States in Silicon Valley’s Latest Utopian Management Scheme,” Laura Miller rightly points out the compelling, but also deeply troubling, vision of Holacracy, which radically re-imagines the corporation as a national entity, and its employees as citizens. Its founder, Brian J. Robertson, has acknowledged Holacracy’s inspiration in the works of Ken Wilber and Arthur Koestler

Yet, how does all of this make sense with recent statements by ITC participant and integral metatheorist Zak Stein: “The Integral Movement is an Anti-Capitalist Movement“?

The stronger form of my argument is that, once we know more about capitalism, if we want to be true to the principles of integral meta-theories, especially Wilber, Habermas, and Bhaskar, integral practitioners should be explicitly and actively anti-capitalist or trans-capitalist. Thus, revolutionary praxis, or totalizing depth praxis—integral activism aimed at replacing capitalism with a new economic system—should be one of the goals of the integral movement, perhaps its most important goal.

Admittedly, this is a debate preamble, however, the point is made clear here that meta theories can be taken in radically different directions, and perceived, as a whole, as both radically “progressive” and whole-sale conservative. Despite the fact that many advocates of Integral Theory promote the methodology to be inclusive – to see all political views along a developmental spectrum – the inability to lean into the progressive, the radical, lingers like a specter and calls into question the whole agenda. Indeed, the absence of defense in the cases of the most radical and progressive views, and an all-too-common support in favor of traditionally conservative and capitalist social philosophies seem (see Joe Corbett’s essay, “Conscious Crapitalism“), to me and many others, as the furthest thing from radical. It’s downright complicit. 

It would be unfair to stop here without an explanation (and the common defense) of Integral Theory promoting ideas such as “Conscious Capitalism”. To elucidate the unfamiliar, let’s take a look at the most recent publication to come out of the world of Integral Theory, an essay by Michael Zimmerman of the Institute for Cultural Evolution. In a response to the recent papal encyclical, Zimmerman inquires: “How ‘Integral’ is the Recent Papal Encyclical, ‘On Care for Our Common Home‘”? 

“After publishing his Encyclical, the Pope invited left-wing eco-activist and author Naomi Klein to help advise him on its economic position. Klein and many other left-Greens, including Pope Francis, condemn ‘consumerism’ and regard capitalism primarily with suspicion. Green discloses nature as having value in itself, as opposed to modernity’s view of nature primarily as a stock of raw material for enhancing human power, wealth, comfort, and security. Many Greens have dissociated themselves from modernity, even though they depend on its humanistic values for their education, their wealth, their technology, and their knowledge that there is a ‘biosphere’ that can be threatened in the first place.”

The problem, perhaps, with the Integral Theory methodology is the framing of worldviews as distinct, socio-cultural stages of development, prescribing certain clusters of values into an associated group. In this case, “Green” is a marker for progressive, ecologically sensitive, and pluralistic values. The use of “modernity” in this context is the worldview recognized as a cluster of values around capitalism, instrumentality, and technological positivism (i.e. the myth of progress, growth to goodness). It makes little sense to divide these two, or to say that “Green,” that is, the increasing consensus today, relies on the mode of consciousness best summarized as a Heideggerian “Standing Reserve.” By reifying “modernity” as a level of development, rather than perceiving it as a failing ontological relationship with the Earth in need of more critique, supplanting, and innovation, how exactly can Integral Theory offer the transformative vision that is – or was – the promise of an integral worldview? The most pertinent question here is: is revolution even possible working with such a methodology? One where a “conveyor belt” model is used to positively describe the evolution of culture. We return to Heidegger’s “Question Concerning Technology“, once again.


What Kind of Meta Reality Are We Choosing?

In a now well known speech, scifi and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin used her award to make a statement on the radical nature of fiction to imagine the kinds of utopias we seek to realize: 

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

Indeed, it is the act of speculation, of Utopia, and vision that meta theories find their upending and instigating spirit – theories which drive us to enact some other, better world. So, what kind of world are we daring to imagine? What kind of utopia are we articulating? That, after all, is a question of impact. Are we, in fact, supporting a kind of evolutionary capitalist utopia of corporate management, one in which the nation state is supplanted entirely by the “conscious capitalism” of the Holacratic business-citizen? Do we want such a world? What other worlds dare we enact with our meta theorizations, what other utopias are possible? It seems that is at least what Zak Stein is asking for ITC2015. For the confused reader, it is also where this writer finds himself aligning. “Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in an exercise of speculative fiction,” writes Walidah Imarisha. She calls this “Visionary Fiction” in her anthology, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. It is pertinent to consider these kinds of meta theorizations are a form of speculative, utopian fiction, in which we imagine different horizons. Different utopias.

So we are left with the question: what kind of utopia do we wish to enact?

More pertinent to my own situation, since I’ll be flying in on the 16th and hope not to spoil the meet-and-greet: are radicals invited to participate in this conversation of impact without being snubbed for being too “Green”?

I look forward to conversing with all of you.

Featured Image: Public domain. NKTP Draft contest, Vesnin Brothers, 1934