BRIEF GRAMMAR OF
Karen Eilene SAENZ INTRODUCTION
The following definitional
statement represents a first attempt at synthesizing certain electronic
discussions between postconpol list members during the spring of 2001.
These discussions centered on defining "politics" and "integral politics"
for purposes of drawing boundaries for focused discussion and collective
creativity between and among group members, initially, with the expectation
that these more intimate discussions will move into the mainstream at some
point in the future.
Though I was not
a member of the list at that time, in compiling this synthesis I found
myself participating in the discussions after-the-fact. I have therefore
added some of my own thoughts as well as some of the insights born out
of recent list discussions. These, of course, are open to further discussion,
and it is my expectation that the dialogue, the debates and the definitional
project will continue to evolve. This is a work-in-progress.
I have kept jargon
to a minimum, so that this statement is intelligible to those not familiar
with the works of Ken Wilber or Beck and Cowan. I have also intentionally
kept this statement short, envisioning future functional uses and dialogues.
Additionally, I have chosen to structure this statement as a mini-grammar,
focusing first on the adjective "integral;" then on the noun "politics;"
and finally on verb constructs (e.g., what does integral politics "do"),
in keeping with list members' wishes to emphasize the practical and action-oriented
(not just theoretical) dimensions of this particular domain of social life.
I start with a short
discussion of what "integral" means to list members, since there was clearly
greater consensus on this definition than on any of the other terms discussed
Drawing upon and
extending the works of Ken Wilber and on the Spiral Dynamics of Beck and
Cowan, list members define "integral" in relationship to "holons," where
a holon refers to a group of parts (or structures) that interact according
to some kind of process and that behave as a whole in response to stimuli
on any of the parts. In particular, "integral" is a a recognition that
all holons have multiple aspects, including (but not limited to)
interior, exterior, individual and collective ones. (There are other ways
of demarcating these different aspects, including labeling them as material,
psychological, social, cultural, spiritual, etc.) Further, "integral" implies
concomitant attention to these multiple aspects, for the fullest possible
perspective on a given subject. This fullest possible perspective has come
to be called by list members a "metaparadigmatical perspective," implying
that an integral perspective is one that stands outside of any one particular
part; rather, such a perspective overarches many parts and can therefore
see their interrelationships. At the same time, it is recognized that there
is not ONE singular metaparadigmatical perspective that stands outside
of all holons, though this is not necessarily ruled out, either. An integral
perspective, then, is not a singular perspective but a plurality of perspectives;
not a single tool, but rather a whole toolkit; not a one-size-fits-all
prescription ("content") but rather a recognition that context is variable
and consequently necessitates attention to "processes." In other words,
an "integral X" is not a type of X, it is an approach to X.
Another key aspect
to the postconpol list's definition of "integral" is the notion of "health"
and "development." This relates to a fundamental assumption that
all holons are subject to "growth," and that there are more and less healthy
ways to develop. Hence, there is a strong evolutionary bias built into
notions of "integral" that essentially implies a motive to seek improvement.
Finally, since the
"health" of any holon, particularly social holons, is recognized to always
be in relation to other holons, "integral" implies an understanding
of the intersubjective nature of things. In other words, since no X exists
in isolation, it is fruitless to talk about the health of X as a property
outside of relationship. It is perhaps more precise to speak of "sets of
Xs" and the "health" that obtains between members of the set, or the "health"
of the relationship between Xs. All of this, of course, implies that there
is some communication at foundation.
In summary, "integral"
currently encapsulates the following adjectives: inclusive; multi-dimensional;
metaparadigmatical; developmental; evolutionary; improvement-seeking; pluralistic;
processual; inter-relational; communicational-dialogical.
THE NOUN -- "POLITICS"
In defining "politics,"
list members were extremely sensitive to issues of scale and applicability.
Discussants recognized, for example, that popular Western usages of "politics"
include narrow delimitations on a particular institutional form of public
governance of the state as well as power relationships in the interpersonal
dimension (e.g., "the personal is political," "office politics," etc.).
Ultimately, list members decided in favor of a broadly defined statement
that would include all levels from interpersonal to international.
explicit two components of "politics," broadly defined: "power" and "relationship".
Politics is a domain of social life that implies relationship between two
or more parties. Following from the preceding discussion, an integral understanding
of this relationship is predicated on an understanding that parties do
objectify one another. On this point there was unanimity.
An integral understanding
of power, however, required more discussion. In European Enlightenment
philosophical discourse, "power" was historically defined as the
ability to compel others to do one's bidding, especially through the use
of physical coercion. Power of the state, in particular, legitimates the
use of physical coercion. Over the centuries, then, Western notions of
power have built into them a vertical and coercive dimension that is also
associated with state governmental institutions. Not surprisingly, there
was some sensitivity among list members regarding the use of the term "power"
in a broad definition of "politics." Objections were three-fold: that Western
definitions of "power" have strong negative (and specific) connotations;
that Eastern notions of power are not represented; and that Western and
Eastern notions of "power" concern the sociopolitical unit of the state
and therefore are not inclusive of smaller-scale sociopolitical systems,
including families, bands, tribes, etc.
List members decided
to retain an explicit focus on "power" as central to definitions of "politics,"
in part due to the long-standing centrality of the concept in the Western
social sciences and humanities. In particular, Western philosophy, sociology,
political science and anthropology all theorize power.
However, to counter-act
the negative/coercive assumptions of historical Western power concepts,
Eastern power typologies were introduced into the discussion. In particular, the
work of Indian political philosopher P.R. Sarkar was introduced to expand
the narrow focus of Western historical power concepts from merely political
(coercive) power. Sarkar has a global perspective that recognizes four
types of power, based very loosely on the four principal varnas in the
Hindu caste system: warrior power (national militaries and police);
intellectual power (universities and their religious counterparts of mosques, temples,
churches); merchant power (marketplaces, corporations); and the
power of the underclass (women, nature, children, the aged, the
disabled). Further, according to Sarkar, these four powers are situated
at the level of the state, but also obtain within states and also between
Sarkar's work clearly
points the way to disembedding notions of political power from Western
philosophical discourses. Though his Eastern-derived typology does recognize
interrelationships between entities of different scale, his principal unit
of analysis is still the state. To further disembed notions of "power"
from Eastern and Western states, an anthropological definition of "power"
was also suggested, where "power" is defined as a generalized capacity
to transform a people's beliefs and behaviours. This definition implicitly
recognizes a continuum -- with subtle influence on one end of the spectrum,
overt physical coercion on the other, and various persuasive mechanisms
in between. Power thus defined, then, is a commodity that can be used toward
many social ends, including political ends. Further, this definition of
power can be applied to all social units of analysis, including the ones
mentioned previously and also by Sarkar (e.g., families, bands, tribes,
corporations, universities, churches, etc.)
the definition of "power" (which, one will note, also implicates "relationship"),
it is now possible to broadly define "politics:"
the ways in which power relations (particularly unequal ones) affect
human social life. Though this relational definition can be applied
at all levels, from interpersonal to international, the political dimension
of human social life can be delimited further from other dimensions (such
as kinship and economics, to the extent that it is possible to separate
these out) by specific reference to the regulation of public affairs,
and particularly public decision-making, that is binding upon members of
a particular collectivity to ensure the smooth social functioning of that
collectivity as a whole. As such, political interests and issues include
(but are not limited to): individual and corporate statuses and status
frameworks that regulate public affairs; procedures of inclusion into and
exclusion from these statuses and status frameworks; public decision-making;
public acceptance (or rejection) of public decisions; social control and
social cohesion; social norms (including laws); authority (including leadership);
political socialization, enculturation and formal education; ethics and
morals; conflict and dispute-resolution.
This definition recognizes
that politics is a domain of human social life that is inherently conflictual,
since it brings into relationship entities with differential access to
power (as broadly defined above). This is an important point, for it underscores
the need to explicitly recognize the inter-relational and communicative
requirements of politics when one adds the adjective "integral" to this
Which leads me to
THE VERBS -- WHAT
DOES IP "DO"
To approach politics
in an integral manner is to recognize that politics is about action and
process. This was partly recognized in list member discussions concerning
different aspects of politics, including a specific distinction between
political theory, ideology, and philosophy on the one hand, and practical
and applied politics on the other. List members also articulated an understanding
of inter-relationships between theory and practice, as well.
In keeping with a
definition of "integral" that is more about plural processes than it is
about singular content, it is consistent that list members were less likely
to articulate what AN integral politic (singular) is and more likely to
articulate what integral political approaches (plural) might do.
approaches to politics are seen to foster in individuals and in collectivities
an appreciation for...
- the conflictual
nature of politics itself, and the resulting challenges to communication
- the need for a
respectful dialogical process that does not objectify any party;
- the multiple co-existing
contexts in which a given political relationship is embedded;
- any perspectives
that are outside of (arching over) these multiple co-existing contexts;
- the health and
well-being of parts in relation to other parts and also in relation to
like any other integral X, is ultimately about simultaneously holding in
mind individuals, environments, societies, cultures, worlds, and the cosmos,
while also being able to see interrelationships between these co-existing
units. When public decisions are made from this metasystemic perspective,
integral political theories will be manifest in political action.
This notion of "health" as it relates to "integral" is currently under
discussion on the postconpol list, so this aspect of the definition may
be refined or even rewritten in the future. Here I add my own insights
like to say that this notion of an ever-improved-upon health as it currently
stands seems very Western to me (where by Western I refer to the megacivilization
that includes a religious basis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and
a political basis in ancient Greece and Roman, in contrast to the Eastern
megacivilization that incorporates the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism,
Taoism and Confucianism). Notions of "health" are intimately tied conceptually
to cultural notions of "time," which are in turn very much informed (in
part) by beliefs about the "cosmos." All of this informs "worldview," and
in gross generalizations about the Eastern versus Western megacivilizations,
there are some fundamental differences which are not accounted for in the
current conceptualization of "health."
example, Eastern civilizations have much greater (pre)historic time-depth
than do Western civilizations. Not uncoincidentally, the notions of time
in these two megacivilizations have corresponding differences of scale.
Also, Western cosmologies see the life of a single individual as ending
in a nonmaterial afterlife, not in a return to the material world, so development
is seen to be tied to a single life-time. Eastern cosmologies, on the other
hand, which have the concept of transmigration of the soul, see development
occurring over many lifetimes, so development occurs, but over longer periods
of time. Consequently, Western notions of time are seen to be much more
linear in the shorter-term, while Eastern notions emphasize cycles of birth-death-rebirth
in the short-term and simultaneously linear in the longer-term. (And some
non-western-and-non-eastern religions have non-linear and non-cyclical
notions of time, or even very weakly conceptualized notions of time, all
of which further complicate the matter.) These have direct implications
for how "health" is differentially conceived in these two megacivilizational
complexes -- differences that are not sufficiently accounted for in the
current integral notion of "health."
important distinction between these two megacivilizational complexes is
fundamental differences in ontogenetic explanations, or explanations of
the development of an individual organism (as contrasted with phylogeny,
which seeks to explain the development of groups): The West uses recently-derived
empirical scientistic explanations, while the East uses explanations of
cause-and-effect that predate the rise of science in the West by thousands
of years. This, too, factors into the mix.
to say that this notion of "integral health" is presently predicated more
on Western notions than on Eastern ones, and not at all on non-Western
non-Eastern notions. Further discussion seems warranted.
Text 11 Dec 2001 - Page
posted 28 Sep 2002 - Emphasis by KR