Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The indigo dollar

"LOHAS and the indigo dollar" by Joseph Gelfer is a new article at Integral World. An excerpt:

"My aim here is not to belittle the spiritual experiences sought in the LOHAS marketplace, rather...to challenge constructions of spirituality that promote the subsuming of the ethical and religious in terms of an overriding economic agenda.

"The question is, why is the 'authentic' commercial co-option of the spiritual accepted so uncritically within LOHAS, a demographic identified, driven by and including many very intelligent and spiritually sincere people.... Numerous persuasive arguments claim that alternative spiritualities function freely in a context of late capitalism – characterised by a shift from production to consumer capitalism – so in this sense LOHAS is simply perpetuating the norm.

"I suggest that in order for LOHAS to appeal to the new progressives with their suspicion of the left, it has jettisoned one of the most explicit characteristics of the left: its economic/class analysis. Ideally, this abandonment of a leftist economic/class analysis would be replaced by something appropriate to the perceived values of the new progressives, however this is not the case. As a result, the LOHAS consumer can identify with those standard liberal values but without any of the economic awareness about what is needed to manifest them. This lack of awareness is filled with the only alternative left on the table: the late capitalist status quo. Some residual leftist understanding is alive in LOHAS, thus the need to rebrand late capitalism to something less unsavoury: conscious capitalism; triple bottom line; social profit.

"Even a cursory examination of the I-I website can identify how much it borrows from business in its presentation of a spiritual worldview. I-I is a branding machine.... Like any commercial operation, I-I has built a proprietary wall around its spiritual products.

"This is exactly the type of commodification Carrette and King write of, identifying the selling off of 'ideas and claims to authenticity in service to individual/corporate profit and the promotion of a particular worldview and mode of life, namely corporate capitalism.'

"I-I likens itself to both a gated community and a country club, simultaneously suggesting two things: first, that belonging to I-I is to be safely tucked away in an economically privileged community; second, that I-I is quite happy to articulate it as such, ignoring the economic realities that enable the existence of gated communities and country clubs.

"I-I is 'assembling a new Board of Trustees drawn from our largest donors,' so it appears possible to purchase a governing position at the evolutionary edge of spirituality (Integral Institute 2009). The irony is traditional late capitalism, on which gated communities and country clubs are based, consciously feeds upon the labour of those outside the club. By ignoring this, I-I and Zaadz are exemplars of unconscious capitalism, a result, as mentioned above, of having no appropriate economic analysis within the allegedly 'new progressive' politics."

I am reminded of a previous IPS discussion on "integral global capitalism," wherein there is a link to our even earlier discussion from Gaia. A quote from D.G. Anderson kicks off the thread saying in part:

"My purpose is...to suggest ways in which Wilber’s holarchy flickers or mechanically reproduces in the field of metaphysics and spiritual aspiration the social and political structures of late capital, which are not integral at all."

Here are a few of my comments from that thread:

See David Loy's essay "Can corporations become enlightened?" in The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory, Wisdom Publications 2003. An excerpt:

"The system has attained a life of its own. We all participate in this process…yet with little or no sense of moral responsibility for what happens, because such responsibility has been diffused so completely that it is lost in the impersonality of the corporate economic system.

"One might argue…that there are good corporations….The same argument can be made for slavery, there were some good slave owners…. This does not refute the fact that slavery was intolerable…. And it is just as intolerable that today the earth's limited resources are being allocated primarily according to what is profitable to transnational corporations.

"My Buddhist conclusion is that transnational corporations are defective economic institutions due to the basic way they are structured…. It is difficult to see how…they can be simply patched up to make them better vehicles for our economic needs. We need to consider whether it is possible to reform them in some fundamental way…or whether they should be replaced by other economic and political institutions" (100-01).

Recall that our “integral capitalism” thread started with a reference to the Integral Life page on conscious capitalism. It’s title is “Like it or not you’re a capitalist” and it is introduced with these words: “If you shop, have a job, or own any investments, you're a capitalist. But are you a conscious capitalist?”

For one this presumes that if you engage in markets and business or exchange money you are a capitalist, which is an erroneous and revealing assumption. Cannot one do all those things without engaging in capitalism? One most certainly can. Just because money or “capital” in involved doesn’t make it capitalism. The latter is a specific economic system defined as follows from dictionary.com:

“An economic system based on a free market, open competition, profit motive and private ownership of the means of production. Capitalism encourages private investment and business, compared to a government-controlled economy. Investors in these private companies (i.e. shareholders) also own the firms and are known as capitalists.

“In such a system, individuals and firms have the right to own and use wealth to earn income and to sell and purchase labor for wages with little or no government control. The function of regulating the economy is then achieved mainly through the operation of market forces where prices and profit dictate where and how resources are used and allocated. The U.S. is a capitalistic system.”

So what do the Integral Life assumptions reveal?

I'm reminded of one of the issues in the Kagan Supreme Court nomination, this notion of consensus between liberals and conservatives. This premise presumes that they are both legitimate ideas of equal worth, complexity and development that just need some balancing and integration. But is the presumption accurate? I think not. I agree with Wilber's general idea that the liberal worldview is a higher development than the conservative. Granted they are exceptions and contextual caveats but it's valid as a generalizing orientation. And I also agree with Wilber that worldviews are what he calls transitional structures, i.e., that as they progress they replace the previous structure. For example, in moral development one does not simultaneously hold an egocentric and worldcentric morality, and they are not balanced or integrated. The latter replaces the former. And so it is with worldviews.

So we not only have to not balance or integrate conservative with the liberal worldviews, we do not have to balance or integrate capitalism with socially and democratically run economic markets. It's not a mix-and-match, pick-as-you-choose elements from capitalism to balance with more equitable ideas from a more developed worldview-marketplace. Such "consensus" has the same assumptions of an equal and complementary relation between capitalism and social democracy as there is between conservative and liberal worldviews. Wilber is lacking in theoretical consistency on his defense (and definition) of capitalism and it has severe real-life consequences for society by continuing the inequities of a system that has outgrown any usefulness it might have had.

Another assumption from the Integral Life piece is the following:

“You believe that ‘capitalism’ can and will evolve as the consciousness of the people composing it evolve.”

This is the consciousness in “conscious” capitalism. But again, this assumes that a higher consciousness, presumably “integral” consciousness, will continue to express through a lower socio-economic system. That somehow the latter can be redeemed it we just think about it differently. It also presumes that this integral consciousness has somehow balanced and integrated the prior liberal and conservative worldviews in a higher synthesis. But recall the liberal or progressive worldview was not a balance or integration of the conservative but its replacement. And if there is such a thing as an integral worldview it too is not an integration of liberal and conservative worldviews but their replacement.

Given that the integral view, as expressed in this article (and videos), tries to balance and integrate capitalism with a so-called higher consciousness it reveals a few things. It is antithetical to its own principles of the transcend-and-replace nature of transitional structures. If fact by tying the transcend-and-include nature of “basic” structures to worldviews and socio-economic systems it regresses to the type of egoic-rational basic cognitive structure that cannot make this very distinction. It lends further support that integral conscious capitalism really is not so much an evolved worldview but more of a conservative, capitalist, Republican socio-economic view dressed up in newer, more glamorous clothing-rationalizations. It’s a view that has yet to go through the so-called “green” progressive worldview with its social and democratically run markets.

I also want to offer John Mackey's statement on conscious capitalism, as he is often held as the exemplar of integral capitalism.

Putting aside for the moment criticism of the idealistic notions of the kind of capitalism Mackey espouses, Chomsky says that laissez-faire capitalism is

“an ideal case that would never be tried by any state or other social structure that has control over its own fate. The existing societies are all state capitalist, with varying degrees of state intervention in the economy and social life.”

What does he prefer instead?

“The really preferred doctrine (at least by me) would be economic democracy, that is, control over workplaces and other economic institutions by participants and communities. There are many such proposals, and some have been implemented. It also has a rich history of popular support.”

When asked about capitalism in general he responded:

“I doubt that capitalism would be a good idea, but it won’t come to the test. The business world would never allow it, just as in the past. They have always demanded a powerful nanny state — for themselves. There are fundamental inefficiencies in market systems even in narrow capitalist terms, and a lot more wrong (a value judgment) in the kinds of values they foster. The US version of state capitalism happens to be particularly cruel.”

Mackey seems oblivious that the ruling form of capitalism is state capitalism, and such corporate control of government will not be changed by a few sincere but naïve idealistic capitalists like him promoting positive change by example. He will not even be noticed by the power elite until and unless he starts to cost them one penny in profit; then he will be crushed. In the meantime such power brokers no doubt silently nod in approval while he promotes capitalism in general, as it keeps the masses from appropriately directing their anger at the iniquitous system that is creating their turmoil.

Recall that capitalism is about private investment and investors (i.e. shareholders) own and control the business. Also recall from Chomsky that in democratic economies ownership and control of business is by participants and communities. This is key to Mackey’s conscious capitalism. Granted I appreciate the beneficial changes he wants to bring to the table, like multiple bottom lines and humane treatment of workers and the environment. But at base is still the assumption that for business to get off the ground it requires private capital investment and such investors should maintain ownership and control. He says:

“The owners/investors must legally control the business to prevent their exploitation by management and by the other stakeholders…. I am not arguing, and have never argued, for anything that weakens the property rights of the investors and stockholders.”

And what of the exploitation by the capital investment system? Is it really necessary for a business to engage in this system to get off the ground? No it is not. There are innumerable examples of businesses that find start-up funding in democratic ways, and that maintain democratic ownership and control of the business. And they not only have multiple bottom lines but create profit as well. But that profit doesn’t have to feed into the capital investment system; it can be distributed to more social goods.

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