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Excerpt A: An Integral Age at the Leading Edge
INTRODUCTION PART I PART II PART III
Page 2 PART IV
Page 2 PART V NOTES
Let us begin this overview by first noting what appears to be a rather dismal fact: today we hear a lot about Cultural Creatives and the new and exciting rise of an Integral Culture--a holistic, balanced, inclusive, caring culture that moves beyond the traditional and the modern and into a postmodern transformation. But, in fact, significant psychological evidence indicates that in today's world, less than 2% of the population is at anything that could be called an "integral" wave of awareness (where "integral" means something like Gebser's integral-aperspectival, Loevinger's autonomous and integrated stages, Spiral Dynamics' yellow and turquoise memes, Wade's authentic, Arlin's postformal, the centauric self and mature vision-logic, etc.).
The same evidence suggests, however, that a very large percentage of the population--close to 25%--is at the immediately preceding wave of development (which is Loevinger's individualistic stage, Spiral Dynamics' green meme, Paul Ray's cultural creatives, Wade's affiliative, Sinnott's relativistic, etc.). Moreover, because most of this population has been at the green-meme wave for several decades, it appears that a large portion--perhaps up to one-third--are ready to move forward to the next wave of expanding consciousness--which means, move forward to a truly integral wave of awareness.
In other words, that modest 2% of the population that is now integral might soon swell to 5%, 10%, or more. I believe that, as with any evolutionary unfolding, we will especially start to see evidence of this increasingly integral consciousness at the growing tip, or at the leading edge, or in the avant garde (by whatever appellation)--in academia, the arts, social movements, spirituality, thought leaders. "Integral theories"--or attempts at such--are already starting to emerge across the board in academia, especially as the leading-edge theorists continue to throw off the yoke of extreme postmodern pluralism (and the green meme) and start finding not just the incommensurabilities but the integral commonalities of cultures. There seems to be little doubt that in so many ways the growing tip is reaching toward the integral light....
In short, we appear to be entering an integral age at the leading edge (with significant portions of the culture at large to follow).
This is exactly why, I believe, Jeffrey Alexander, America's most gifted and influential social theorist (and, I might add, brother of the late Skip Alexander, one of the finest theoreticians of consciousness this country has ever produced), found three major movements in modern social theory: functionalism, microsociology, and synthesis.
1. The first movement, especially prominent after WWII, was classic structural-functionalism, or simply functionalism, which touched virtually all areas of psychology and sociology, and found its ablest proponent in Talcott Parsons. This was an admirable attempt to bring a systems theory perspective to the human sciences, but one marred by the limited adequacy of theoretical physics and biology at the time. If you are trying to draw parallels between natural and social systems, and natural systems are thought to be governed by concepts such as equilibrium and homeostasis--instead of seeing that they also possess self-organization with an intrinsic drive to higher levels of order out of chaos--then you are going to arrive at a very static social systems theory, one that could (and would) be charged with being a thinly disguised form of political conservatism. Your systems theory is a Republican in drag.
In many ways, classical functionalism was the product of a conceptualization capacity whose center of gravity was still formal operational (orange-meme), which tends to cognize universal systems, but only insofar as they are more static and unchanging, and not in their dialectical, chaotic, and transformative modes (which tend to be best captured by postformal cognition). Still, the insights and contributions of Parsons were so profound and so far-reaching that all present-day theories, if they hope to be adequate, attempt to "include and transcend" Parsons (as has Habermas, Luhmann, Alexander, Bailey, etc.). Parsons, for example, had an unerring intuition of the necessity to include all four quadrants in any social theory, which he called "four generic types of subsystems": the organism (UR), the social system (LR), the cultural system (LL), and the personality (UL). Still, classic functionalism was doomed in its original form, and it began, especially in the late sixties and early seventies, to be eclipsed by the next wave of social theory, that of microsociology.
2. As the green meme started to emerge on a more widespread scale, it began to displace the orange meme at the leading edge of the academic elite, and thus the modernism of orange universalism gave way to the postmodernism of green pluralism. Where the former was marked by static universal systems governing all cultures, the latter was marked by relativism, multiculturalism, diversity studies, and incommensurabilities of every imaginable variety. This was, in many ways, the first move from formalism to postformalism, and the result was a much-needed turn away from abstract grand theories, big pictures, metanarratives, and universal formalism, toward a detailed attention to particulars, to cultural nuances and important differences, with an emphasis on marginalized sectors and heterogeneity. Orange-meme sociology gave way to green-meme sociology, and the age of microsociology began.
Three decades of microsociology have show us both its strengths and its weaknesses. By the middle 1990s, the weaknesses had become increasingly obvious and insurmountable, and microsociology was replaced at the leading edge by accelerating attempts to find an integral interpretation that incorporated the important contributions from all of the previous approaches, including functionalism and microsociology. As Alexander points out, social theory therefore entered its emerging third phase, so that "it is not surprising, therefore, that contemporary theorists have returned to the project of synthesis."1
3. Thus we arrive at today: a project of synthesis, an integral age at the leading edge, which is only a few years old. As a larger movement (spreading outward beyond a handful of pioneers over the last few decades), it is really just now beginning with the dawn of the new millennium. What this larger movement very likely represents is the transformation from green to yellow, from intra-cultural to trans-cultural, from ethnocentric pluralism to global integralism, from relativistic to holistic. Whereas the "big pictures" of the orange "universal systems" harshly excluded an appropriate sensitivity to cultural diversity, to world-making intersubjectivity, to the enactive (not merely representational) activity of cognition, and to the irreducible heterogeneity of many systems, the post-green big pictures that are starting to emerge at the dawn of the age of synthesis all explicitly include and build upon the green-meme contributions of microsociology, but without getting lost in an attention to trees so fierce that it denies the existence of forests.
An integral age at the leading edge, a big picture of many forests, an age of synthesis arising from the ruins of pluralism washed ashore. This integral age at the leading edge is one of the essential themes of the following presentation.
©2002 Shambhala Publications
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