Sunday, January 9, 2011

Integral global capitalism

Sam Harris wrote an interesting piece 12/29/10 in the Huffington Post called "New Year's resolution for the rich." Therein he said:

""To make matters more difficult, Americans have made a religious fetish of something called 'self-reliance.' Most seem to think that while a person may not be responsible for the opportunities he gets in life, each is entirely responsible for what he makes of these opportunities. This is, without question, a false view of the human condition. Consider the biography of any 'self-made' American, from Benjamin Franklin on down, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make, and of which he was a mere beneficiary. There is not a person on earth who chose his genome, or the country of his birth, or the political and economic conditions that prevailed at moments crucial to his progress. Consequently, no one is responsible for his intelligence, range of talents, or ability to do productive work. If you have struggled to make the most of what Nature gave you, you must still admit that Nature also gave you the ability and inclination to struggle. How much credit do I deserve for not having Down syndrome or any other disorder that would make my current work impossible? None whatsoever. And yet devotees of self-reliance rail against those who would receive entitlements of various sorts--health care, education, etc.--while feeling unselfconsciously entitled to their relative good fortune. Yes, we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders wherever we can--but it seems only decent at this moment to admit how much luck is required to succeed at anything in this life. Those who have been especially lucky--the smart, well-connected, and rich--should count their blessings, and then share some of these blessings with the rest of society."

This, as well as the article in general, reminded me of a previous IPS discussion called "integral global capitalism," which itself was based on a prior IPS discussion while still residing at Gaia.

Here are a few excerpts of that discussion from my posts:

Daniel Gustav Anderson said in “Sweet science: A proposal for integral macropolitics” (Integral Review, 6:1, March 2010, pp. 10 - 62):

“I will retell Wilber’s ontology…in order to demonstrate the political significance…which coincide with the particular social regime (or in Wilber’s terms, the “telos”) it expresses, integrated global capital (Guattari, 2000). My purpose is not to explicate the flaws in Wilber’s logic or demonstrate his misreadings of particular texts; such exegesis has been taken up elsewhere; it is instead 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. Further, because Wilber’s holonography reproduces the present political order and forecloses any legitimized means of transforming its problematic terms of exchange, the unevenness of its development (as I will show), one may plausibly claim that it is not a transformative model but a conservative one in the last analysis, where conservatism is understood as an attempt to maintain the status quo for its own sake” (23-4).

Remember this from the Integral Capitalism 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).

In an Integral Life post Wilber and II adhere to "conscious capitalism." It is a general belief that capitalism can be redeemed, can be changed to make it more humane, less exploitative. And especially the basic idea of its invisible hand promoting the good of all through enlightened self interest. As we explored in our thread this premise is what might have been, to be generous, a necessary step on our road from feudalism. But it still has inherent assumptions like invisible hands and self interest that can be truly socially just.

This is highly debatable. We've made the case that perhaps it's a transition step toward democracy, not only in political but in economic structures. And democratic businesses seem the way to go in this regard. They are still businesses engaged in markets but the very idea of profit is recontextualized. Yes the worker still makes money, still makes a living, and not all workers produce or perform equally so some are rewarded better than others, including top management. And yet profit is transformed into surplus and surplus is redistributed more equitably to more social goods. The very idea that a particular person should accumulate wealth (profit), and that everyone can be wealthy, just isn't supported in a sustainable economy.

The IL post is called “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

“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 from above 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.

So who exactly owns and controls Integral Institute? I cannot find specifics at the website other than the following. In the “about” page we know that “philanthropists” provided some start-up funding. We know that Robb Smith is the Chairman and CEO of Integral Life (which manages II) and CEO of II, and Robb’s resume is as a venture capitalist.

We know it is managed by a venture capitalist, so we have some idea of his economic philosophy. I would not be surprised if John Mackey is one of the initial (and ongoing?) philanthropist-donors but their identities are not revealed. How much influence do such managers and contributors have in shaping policy, consciously and unconsciously? Is it fair to ask for public disclosure of who owns the company and controls it agenda, with exact details? And is its organizational structure typically top-down hierarchically run like most capitalist business? We know at one point it was flirting with holacracy but did that ever take?

And for that matter is holacracy not itself just a hybrid capitalist model with some nice things thrown in, like Mackey’s brand of capitalism? According to Brian Robertson’s intro to holacracy capital investors are still players in the organizational structure with seat(s) on the Board. Granted he allows for other stakeholders on the Board. But at base it too accepts the inevitability that outside capital investment and control (at least partial) is a necessary ingredient in business.

And the following statement is rather telling and more than somewhat frightening:

“The board’s job is to guide the organization on its own path in life on behalf of the evolutionary process itself, not control it on behalf of the stakeholders.”

This is eerily religious in overtone with the “evolutionary process” in charge? And the Board divines the organization's “own path?” Is this a modern-day Crusade with a self-conscious organization replacing God, speaking through its priesthood-Board? Here we begin to dovetail back to Anderson’s article, which started this thread.

Anderson claims that integral theory, via Wilber and Litfin, grounds itself in “higher powers” that have historically been responsible for rationalization and injustice. He does not decry hierarchy or unity per se but how these have been formulated into said higher powers.

Litfin finds our current political crises founded on a lower level worldview with of course the solution being the higher integral worldview, which is directed by “Spirit” as a fundamental reality “which knows better than we do” (18). According to Anderson Wilber defines this Spirit as the superholon. By definition a holon includes but transcends all lower holons, reorganizing them into a higher, more complex pattern. Of course there can be healthy and pathological holons, with the latter mistaking itself for a whole that is not also a part. And yet that seems exactly the nature of the AQAL superholon of everything, itself the end of history and development, the ultimate attractor drawing up everything into its benevolent embrace. It is the one and only exception to the pathological holon rule because it is the superholon. Or is it?

The frightening part is the circular justification that one who achieves a higher integral view can speak for the superholon as One within it in a 1-to-1, direct relationship. Of course this really is an old, old story told throughout the ages, the story of God in one form or another. And how the privileged few with direct access speak for God and by divine right lead and control all others. For their own good, of course. It seems that this is the pathological holon par excellence, not the exception to the rule.


  1. Recall this from "the army's spiritual fitness test," quoting Hedges:

    "Positive psychology, which claims to be able to engineer happiness and provides the psychological tools for enforcing corporate conformity, is to the corporate state what eugenics was to the Nazis. Positive psychology is a quack science that throws a smoke screen over corporate domination, abuse and greed. Those who fail to exhibit positive attitudes, no matter the external reality, are seen as maladjusted and in need of assistance. Their attitudes need correction. Academics who preach [the benefits of positive psychology] are awash in corporate grants."

    I finally saw Casino Jack last weekend, the story of Jack Abramoff. The movie starts with him brushing his teeth in front of the mirror, giving himself a positive thinking speech, justifying his behavior because he's a good man with good motives doing good things in the world. He does this before meeting with the Congressional committee charging him with fraud etc. This is a fine example of the kind of "positive" rationalizations used for propping up a corrupt system, and quite reminiscent of the kennilinguist excuses to prop us capitalism. Our positive, beneficial, world-changing, second tier consciousness can of itself transform a corrupt, heinously inequitable and no longer useful economic system. Yes, still useful to the rich, capitalist class of course, which it seems kennillinguists have aspirations of joining.

    In one scene one of Abramoff's cronies says to a reporter that without capitalism there is no democracy. Again, utter nonsense, as the two are even antithetical, capitalism being rather a hold-over from feudalism. Democratic business is consistent with democracy, not capitalism. And no, per above democratic business is not some pluralistic equalizer of qualitative distinctions where every point of view is valid or every worker gets the same wage independent of skill level or relative responsibility.

  2. Debate is still ongoing on integral capitalism at Integral Life, for example, this 1/4/10 post and comments.*

    For comparison here's an old, 2007 Open Integral discussion on emerging economic systems, where Michel Bauwens and Ray Harris participated.**




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