Ken Wilber Dialog on Integral Politics and Compulsory Compassion

Posted: September 13, 2013 in Sliding For New Air

Ken Wilber Dialog on Integral Politics and Compulsory Compassion

Thank you for all of the gifts you have given me through your work. This post is the central question I have been wanting to ask you. It is an issue that troubles me greatly in the integration of an Integral System into my daily life. I do not pretend that it is an easy question to address, especially for people at the green and second tier levels. I will state the context of the question as clearly as I can. Perhaps other participants will come to understand and expand on the cause of my distress. I hope the essential nature of this question makes up for its length.

In A Theory of Everything, you mention politics in the subtitle, demonstrating again your position that the structures we create in the LR quadrant are essential to the maintenance of advances in the UL and LL quadrants. I absolutely agree with you.

However, in ATOE, you do not address one of the most fundamental issues in governmental politics, the propriety of the use of force against its citizens; or rather, the “inalienable” rights of citizens to be protected from force being used against them in matters of their life, their liberty, and their ability to pursue their own happiness. Especially when this use of force against its citizens is by the government itself.

In The Marriage of Sense and Soul, you suggested that governmental forms that stem from a second tier view would incorporate the “universal human rights, and the ideas of freedom and equality of all individuals” of the orange level, with voluntary systems “through the power of advocacy and example” used to promote second tier development and action.

Specifically, you said that, “In common with traditional liberalism, this stance agrees that the state shall not legislate the Good life. But with traditional conservatism, this stance places Spirit – and all its manifestations – a the very heart of the Good life…It does not ask the state in any way to support or advocate on its behalf…The state cannot in any way advocate or legislate in favor of this spiritual Enlightenment.” (all emphasis in blue mine throughout)

Earlier, in the context of the gains of modernity, you had written, “the state cannot legislate morality; there is a separation of church and state; the individual has the right to decide what constitutes their own happiness, as long as it does not violate the rights of others; the state may not unduly infringe on an individual’s private life. These extraordinary freedoms – the product of differentiating the I and WE – were part of the great dignity of modernity”

I agree with you fully. The essence of the second tier motivations is that they are “voluntary” and do not use force but rather invitation, advocacy, and example.

Since you did not get around to it in ATOE, I was hoping you could expand on the propriety of the use of force by governments to coerce citizens to support those “in need” through taxation. (I doubt it is necessary to point out the blunt reality that taxes are collected at the point of a gun, wielded by our government, against which we have zero recourse.)

In preparation, it will be useful to quickly discuss the concept of “rights”, both Mill’s “negative rights, and Berlin’s “positive rights.”

Negative rights as laid out by Mill and as understood by our Founding Fathers and Mothers, essentially stated that each citizen is free to pursue any course of action they desire in the pursuit of their happiness that does not infringe on the equal rights of others through force or fraud. This is often called “negative rights” because such rights only provide “freedom from” the coercion. To this end, governments are created by the people to protect their negative rights.

These are the primary “universal human rights” you described above that the “dignity of modernity” brought about. (Notice also that these rights can be objectively defined and enforced by law.)

Positive rights (a la Berlin or Marx), on the other hand, are the right to obtain certain goods or services, regardless of whether or not one has “earned” them through work or trade. They are “rights” that give a person “freedom to” the ownership or use of actual objects in reality.

Two theoretically unanswered questions that the concept of positive rights does not address are:

1) What would such positive rights include? 2) Who is to supply them?

The answer to question #1 varies based on the cultural beliefs of the moment, ranging from “nothing” or “food and shelter” to “Universal Health Care” and “Recreation” (JFK).

The answer to question #2 used to be “charity” (Webster’s definition: “a voluntary giving of money or other help to those in need”). This charity was motivated by either a) the natural response of green and second tier memes given their universal compassion, or b) blue meme dogmatic injunctions.

However, the expression of compassion in charity has gone from “voluntary” under universal negative rights to “forced/compulsive” with the advent of government welfare programs. The US Government has (as have others) taken it upon itself to provide its citizens with certain “positive” rights, and given itself the liberty to violate certain “negative rights” to make those “positive rights” possible.

Because of your earlier comments, I took you to mean that you did not support “compulsory compassion,” or the use of force to coerce charitable contribution as currently exists in our US welfare system. However, in light of other things you have written, I am now altogether unsure if I am understanding you correctly.

Given this context, I have one central question I would like you to answer from within an Integral Politics (with several branching directions, depending on your response):

1) Is it ever moral to use physical force (or the threat of physical force) against people who have not violated anyone’s negative individual rights in order to appropriate their wealth to support people currently defined as “in need?” Is it ever moral to threaten people at the point of a gun in order to force them to act charitably?

Or would that constitute “undue” interference into their private lives (how they spend their money) and violate their negative individual rights?

How would this be different from the legislation of the Good life (universal compassion being a green meme and second tier phenomenon)?

If the answer is “yes, there are circumstances in which it would be moral,” then please help me to understand what these circumstances might be, upon what principles such criteria are drawn, and how they fit in an Integral System. Do the ends justify the means?

In conclusion, I think that this subject is one of the most difficult arenas for Greens and Yellows to walk their talk. I personally have not found a solution that works aesthetically.

The challenge is simple: I see people in need and know that I am unwilling to devote my life to assisting them. I am no Mother Theresa, by choice. Because I am making this choice, I feel some guilt. I could, but I don’t.

In the face of this, I think, “if only everyone had only some of my universal compassion, we could end this suffering.” The challenge is that most people are at orange and below, and do not have our compassion. We see the possibility but cannot effectively communicate it to enough people to create voluntary charities (the essence of second tier expressions of compassion) to solve the problem. We are faced with a terrible reality. What can we do?

Then the slippery slide comes into play, and subtle forms of projection come to light. “Well, if they are not developed enough to feel enough compassion to give voluntarily, We will FORCE them to through taxation!” It is as if their lack of development were a cause for us to violate their rights.

At this point, the game is up, and we have played a losing hand. We are violating the rights of individual with only our “advanced morality” as justification, and such a contradiction justifies nothing. The means DO NOT justify the end.

Lastly, given that we are violating our own basic moral principles, we get emotionally upset if anyone challenges us about it. Projection of our guilt onto our accuser gets the last laugh.

I wonder what your thoughts are on this Ken. I personally don’t know how to deal with it. If I have the government use force to against innocent people to help those in need, I violate my most basic moral sensibilities and principles. If I allow another human being to starve, or go without medical care, I feel tremendous pain and guilt.

Again, it cuts to the heart of my sensibilities, and the heart of my integrity as a moral being.

Thank you, and I deeply look forward to your answer.

Mark Michael Lewis

> Mark, can you please do more exploration of the question of positive and negative rights…

Here is a slightly more detailed account of negative and positive rights. I appreciate your asking about this. An understanding of this distinction is crucial to understand the challenges of building an Integral Politics balancing agency and communion. The interdependencies you speak of are built from our understandings of negative and positive rights, and perhaps I will address how these principles extend to them in another post if they are not obvious from this one. I am very open to further conversations about this.

As a first point, negative individual rights are very simple, and hence there is very little to say about them. They simply involve protection of human beings from their only natural enemy, other human beings. Negative individual rights state that we have the right to be free from the use of force and (through the courts) fraud against our person by our neighbors and our government. We are free to engage in any activity that does not violate the negative individual rights of others. Legal limits to our behavior properly start only at the point where our behavior violates the equal rights of other human beings through force or fraud. John Stuart Mill’s principle of “no harm” in On Liberty is the classic treatise on this subject (though Mill is sometimes inconsistent in his proposed application).

This is the fundamental set of guarantees that create the context for a civilized society. It is the basic stance that all human beings are created equal, with equal negative individual rights, and equality before the law to protect those rights. This idea of rights is the recognition that each human being deserves “freedom from” force and fraud.

Positive individual rights on the other hand, propose that people have not only the right to be unmolested, but the right to GOODS. Positive rights involve the “freedom to” vs. the “freedom from” of negative rights. For example, as one proponent of positive rights has said, “What good is the freedom to travel if one can’t afford the trip? What good is the freedom of speech if one has not been educated in something worthwhile to say?” They argue that people have the right to food, housing, medical care, a fulfilling job, recreation, etc. The list of what humans have the “right” to be “provided” for them is endless depending on the desires and moxie of the person speaking. The *list* given above is only part of JFK’s election platform.

The problem occurs when any particular good or service is moved from the category of “need” or “desire” to the category of a “right.” IF the government is designed to protect our rights, AND food, shelter, medical care, education, recreation, etc., are defined as “rights,” THEN the government is responsible for providing those “rights” to its citizens. In this view, it is the government’s responsibility to “provide” the people with anything defined as a “right” if they have not earned it themselves.

The question then becomes: “Who is going to produce the goods so that they can be ‘provided’ to the people who ‘need’ them?” In order for one person to receive goods they have not traded an equivalent value for, those goods must come from someone who does not receive some such equivalent value. This can be accomplished voluntarily and is called charity. When it is accomplished through charity, no one’s individual rights are violated.

If someone else owns something I desire, I must either purchase it or request it as a gift. If it is given to me, I am the recipient of charity. If the person chooses not to give it to me, I must look elsewhere. If I do not succeed in gaining charity, I do without the good or service in question. In fact, this is the standard civilized method by which we govern virtually all non-governmental activities. If I were to use force to obtain the good or service when my request for it was denied, we would call that robbery.

However, when these goods and services are defined as “rights” it creates a contradictory set of functions for the government. On the one hand, a government’s primary purpose is to protect their citizens’ negative individual rights. On the other, the essence of governmental guarantee of any goods or services is the shift from voluntary contribution to forced appropriation of its citizens’ wealth. At this point, the goods and services are obtained by the use of (or threat of) force and might properly be called extortion, but, when done by a government, are called taxation. Further, because it is a now defined as a “right,” the acceptance of these goods is not charity, but merely an “entitlement.” Once it is defined as an entitlement, anyone who does not receive their entitlement CAN be understood as having their rights violated. Hence the importance of definition.

There are two points I quickly want to highlight about this conflict of negative and positive rights.

First, the concept of negative rights is fundamental to a peaceful society. It is the protection of each individual from the use of force and fraud according to objective laws that provides the context for voluntary contractual relationships between people. These are the fundamental rights of human beings which the authors of the US constitution described as “inalienable.” The existence of, and respect for, negative individual rights forms the minimum set of conditions needed for a society of equals to consistently cohere together.

Along with this, it is useful to recognize that a minimal government has the capacity to act consistently moral. If the government limits its functions to protecting its citizens from the use of force or fraud (through the military, police, and a court system), they can avoid the need to violate anyone’s negative individual rights. Because we can have negative rights without positive rights, we CAN have a government dedicated to protecting negative rights which is consistently moral. In fact, at the genesis of the USA, we had nearly just such a government. Our founding fathers and mothers structured the constitution such that every line and word protected the rights of its citizens against government interference in their private lives.

With each additional function we then add (or have added) to government, we reduce the private sphere of action and increase the public sphere. We also run the risk of legislating immorality into our social institutions. It is therefore crucial that each and every step we take to increase governmental responsibility be examined rigorously and implemented cautiously to test its results.

Second, the conceptual holon of “positive rights” contains a deep contradiction. The concept of positive rights is built on and presumes the existence of negative rights. Once people get the goods [positive rights], they are supposed to be able to enjoy them without fear of having them being taken away by force or fraud [negative rights]. In terms of a holarchical relationship, negative rights are more fundamental than negative rights. Positive rights, on the other hand, are more significant than negative rights. If you destroy negative rights, no positive rights are possible. If you destroy all positive rights, negative rights are unaffected.

The contradiction is that the granting of “positive rights” to some people ALWAYS involves the infringement, denial, or sacrifice of other people’s “negative rights.” In other words, the ONLY way for government to provide positive “rights” to some people is to violate the negative rights of others. The more significant aspect of the holarchy violates the conditions for existence of the more fundamental aspect; the holarchy has become pathological, cancerous; it is parasiting on itself.* (note at bottom) In metaphor, the form of the molecule violates the functionality of the atom. In nature, such a holon would not survive. In society, such a conceptual holarchy can only survive in application by parasiting on healthy holarchies, reducing the overall health of the organism. For countless examples of this pattern, see the 20th century experiments in socialism/communism.

In conclusion, since it is immoral to violate people’s negative rights to life, liberty, and property, all positive rights are built on a foundation of immorality. It is our ability to embrace this fact and include it in all of our calculations that forms the heart of an Integral Politics. To the degree that we evade or deny the essential immorality at the basis of all positive goods and services, we destroy the second-tier, embodied integrity which forms the heart of the Integral Vision.

I hope this clarifies the concepts of positive and negative rights and their relationship to Integral Politics. I look forward to comments on this.

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on support of Paul.-George Bernard Shaw.

* While the use of governmental force is a cancerous relationship, voluntary charity is a symbiotic relationship.

Mark Michael Lewis

Elizabeth’s response to my initial question

Mark, I’m not Ken, but I have some thoughts (bachelor in Political Science, masters in Counseling).

All of your questions (and they are good ones!) and turmoil seem to stem from your concern with the “I” quadrant. I didn’t see much at all relating to the “we”. Almost a libertarian point of view. I have a duty as part of “we” to sustain the “we” while balancing my personal “I” needs. I am no longer just an individual, I am part of a nation and a part of a society. Now, I may chose to sit back and let others make decisions and choices, which is ok–there’s enough people willing to do that. Or I can participate and that’s okay too. When this collective (polity) decides to implement a policy whether its food stamps, Medicare, housing, etc., I only hope and pray it is done with agreement by the majority. Maybe this country could find a better way of balancing the competing needs and voices, but there must be some sort of balance. No way in hell I’m gonna get it all my way. If that balance (i.e. implemented policies) are totally unacceptable to you, a couple choices may be to vote your conscience, run for office, withhold part of your IRS payment, or move elsewhere and start one of those compound things. What’s the problem?

You keep talking about needy people, like we are altruistically doing for them at great expense to ourselves. From a pure self-serving point of view, our society is not just engaging in preventive and restorative welfare practice. We are also trying to root out problems and decay that could be tremendously harmful to the well-being of the nation. I want all kids to go to school (even poor, intercity kids) because I hope with education they’ll learn to adapt and succeed and not turn to crime and mug my mother. I am willing to pay for this. I want all people to have food because it would be way too uncomfortable for me to step over their dead bodies on the sidewalk (the first time I saw a homeless person with a “will work for food” sign–I cried). I am willing to pay for this. I want all people to have a home because I want to feel good about my city and I want to be able to walk alone through a city park. I am willing to pay for this. Make NO mistake about it, these programs are not done just to ‘help’ others.

Last point, I’d like to respond to “The challenge is simple: I see people in need and know that I am unwilling to devote my life to assisting them. I am no Mother Theresa, by choice. Because I am making this choice, I feel some guilt. I could, but I do.”

Mark, let’s make a deal–I’ll do the compassion stuff which I do willingly and gladly because that’s how I’m wired. I enjoyed 4 years as an intake counselor in a psych. hospital checking in suicidal and psychotic people. Boy, I heard some amazing stories. Now I work with abused, neglected and troubled kids. But I still need someone to pick up my trash, run my bank, design cool websites, make movies, and provide personal growth services. Each of those activities is vital and essential to my well-being. If you do one, I’ll do the other and we’ll call it even. Beth

My clarification to elizabeth



Thank you for your thoughful response. I think you speak my practical mind very well. In fact, that is mostly how I live my life.

However, I am not sure you understood my central point. I am attempting to question the moral logic of our normal excuses for our behavior. I am trying to discover, in a community of people largely at the green/yellow level, if there is a solution to this that does not violate our fundamental values.

I’m not sure I agree that I was discussing the “I” quadrant. Whenever we talk about taxing or using force against others, we are in the “we” quadrant. The question I was attempting to ask was “are our ‘we’ actions moral or not?”

For example, you say, (as have I): “I want all kids to go to school (even poor, intercity kids) because I hope with education they’ll learn to adapt and succeed and not turn to crime and mug my mother. I am willing to pay for this. I want all people to have food because it would be way too uncomfortable for me to step over their dead bodies on the sidewalk”

But looking at this, we might say that this is just what a green/yellow person would naturally say! Of course YOU are willing to pay for it, YOU are a green/yellow.

The question I am asking is: What about the red/blue/oranges? If they don’t want to pay, do we green/yellows have the right to FORCE our aesthetic choices on them at the point of a gun? Are we not saying, “I know that you don’t see the reason why you should pay for this, and I know that you don’t want to, but we have the government on our side, so pay up or we will send policepersons after you with guns.”

The question I asked is “is it EVER moral to violate an innocent person’s negative rights in order to provide someone else positive rights?

If so, what are the Intergral Principles with which we make that decision?

The point is that if YOU are the one who is willing to pay for it, why should other people be forced to? If you see the problem and have a solution, why don’t YOU start a charity to solve it?

I know why I don’t. I have too many other fun things I want to do with my time and energy.

Because of this, I have been willing to use the government to FORCE everyone to give to the cause I support, so I won’t have to do all the work. Now that I have examined this choice, I find it reprehensible.

However, the only consistent choice I see requires more work than I want to do. I don’t want to be forced to do something I don’t want to do, so shouldn’t I extend that freedom from force to the red/blue/oranges who don’t want to support welfare? How can I justify forcing them but not myself?

Again, you say:

“I want all people to have a home because I want to feel good about my city and I want to be able to walk alone through a city park. I am willing to pay for this. Make NO mistake about it, these programs are not done just to ‘help’ others.”

Let me be tough here to make the point. YOU think that providing people with governmental housing will solve this problem, so YOU (and congress, the current majority) are willing to force people at gunpoint to pay for that housing.

It seems that in such a case we are acting immorally in order to get what WE want. We are imposing our will and aesthetics on other people, and using the guns of government to do it.

The question I want to ask is this: “Is this a contradiction of our basic green/yellow morality?” The answer I come up with is YES, it is.

The question then becomes, can we admit this and find a way to integrate it into our system, or should we stop doing it? Should we continue to use government to enforce our values onto other people, or should we recognize it as immoral and work on building voluntary charities in place of force and coercion?

Unfortunately, as I said, the only consistent answer I see is to start voluntary charities and refuse to use force to provide positive rights for other people. Do you see another MORAL option?

Perhaps this was more clear. Again, thanks for your response.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.-Martin Luther King Jr.

Mark Michael Lewis


Ken’s Response

hi mark,

what an extraordinarily well-written post! i have a great deal of respect for the thought and attention you have given this topic. you have stated this moral dilemma as clearly and succinctly as any i have ever seen. bravo!

with you, i find this one of the most difficult, occasionally agonizing of moral puzzles. although you did not mention it explicitly, i believe you would agree that this dilemma hurts so much because it violates, or any way tears at the fabric of, the Basic Moral Intuition–namely, how can we protect the greatest depth for the greatest span when attempting to do one almost inherently seems to violate the other? (that is, protecting certain types of rights seems intrinsically to violate others, and we intuitively want BOTH to be protected….)

let me first say that i believe that these types of moral dilemmas are indeed unsolvable, because they rest ultimately on the dualism inherent in the manifest world. they can be ultimately “solved” only by awakening to the nondual. an analogy might be: let’s say you are sleeping, and you dream of hundreds of people who are starving, and in the dream you find yourself frantically trying to save all these people by trying to get them food. and you are tortured by the realization that they are starving to death and there is so little you can do for them….

one of the ways to help the people in that dream would indeed be to run around in the dream and try to feed them. another way to help them, which would absolutely end their suffering, is for YOU to WAKE UP from that dream!

now i am not saying that starving people are not real and that you shouldn’t try to help them. i am simply saying that all of the problems in the manifest, relative realm have a relative solution–try to help alleviate the suffering in the relative realm–but those problems also have an absolute solution: wake up! and thus find the real source, and real solution, to all suffering.

BOTH approaches are required. and the bodhisattva, if we may say so, is one who combines both approaches–relative and absolute–simultaneously. BECAUSE you are awakened, you not only try to get people in the dream some food, you also try to remind them to wake up, therein to find the real end to their deepest suffering…

so let’s look now at your moral dilemma, which is the dilemma as it appears in the manifest, relative world. we can’t state a perfect solution to that moral dilemma which you mention (that can be found only in awakening to the nondual), and the BMI in the manifest, dualistic world is inherently contradictory anyway (that’s what makes it so frustrating).

but we can indicate a few directions that might help to make a little more sense of the BMI as it manifests itself in the moral dilemmas you mention.

and forgive me here–i’ve been writing now for almost ten hours, and i’m a bit frazzled. so bear with me if this doesn’t come out as clearly as it might, and i’ll try to do my best here….

i agree with all your wonderfully clear statements about the actual nature of negative and positive rights. two problems in particular then show up.

the first you succinctly state thus: >

i believe the answer is a qualified yes. but i concede at the outset that once you defend “yes,” it is an impossibly slippery slope; i will return to why i draw the line where i do.

first, as to what principles might support such action, i would start by mentioning the fact that all agency is in fact agency-in-communion, and thus when it comes to any sort of “rights” of a human agent, those rights exist only in, and by virtue of, a community of other agents. that is, agency at whatever level depends in part for its existence upon a communion with and among other agency at the same level. (and i warn you, i am going to drag in levels of agency when it comes to positive rights–and hence attempt to slip out of the painful moral dilemma; or anyway, make it more slippery…).

therefore, realizing that agency and communion are inextricably dependent upon one another, we might find that if some agency’s existence is fundamentally threatened by a lack of certain positive rights (such as food), it might be moral for us to ASK other agencies whose existence depends upon reciprocal agency to restrict their negative freedoms in order to help protect these basic positive freedoms in others–and if they altogether refuse to do so, then yes, on the basis of inherently necessary reciprocal agency (or agency-inc-communion), we might INSIST that they do so.

okay, theoretically, we might say that MAYBE that argument could work, except that (1) the existence of necessary agency-in-communion does not necessarily apply to any particular individual (i.e., i might see a complete stranger starving on the street, but it is not obvious that his or her particular death or absence would in fact threaten my existence, so reciprocal existence cannot be claimed here in order to force me to support him or her), and (2), even if it could, it begs the question of just WHAT positive freedoms we are going to claim are present in any agency, such that their existence implies a reciprocal mutuality that i must respect on pain of forfeiting my own agency (which at least theoretically depends upon the existence of the similar agency in the other).

let’s jump straight to the hard part, which i believe is the second issue in the above paragraph, namely: let’s even assume that the theoretical unity of agency and communion demands that MY particular agency support other agencies; the question then is: what type of agency (or existence) in other human beings do i have to support: their physical existence, their emotional existence, their egoic existence? which level of existence in others not only should i want to support, but others can (via the government)reasonably force me to support?

put differently, how far up the Great Chain of Being should the government be able to force its members to support in others? i.e., how far up the Great Chain should we consider to be positive freedoms that can demand the curtailment of others’ negative freedoms in order to support?

that’s where the issue becomes unbelievably slippery, tricky, painful, even agonizing. we all agree that we would like many positive freedoms made available to all people, indeed to all sentient beings. but that is not mark’s question; his question is, how many of the positive freedoms that exist demand that we forcefully take away other people’s negative freedoms in order to help protect?

here’s an example of a simple scale (following maslow), that goes up the great chain of increasing levels of being–and therefore increasing levels of agency–and therefore increasing levels of positive rights that such agencies possess if they are to remain in existence–

1) physiological needs 2) safety needs 3) belonging needs 4) self-esteem needs 5) self-actualization needs 6) self-transcendence needs

the question is, how far up that hierarchy should any given society guarantee its citizens (by curtailing its citizens’ negative freedoms to some degree if necessary)?

i personally believe (and here’s the slippery slope) that the answer to that question depends upon the general level of development of any given culture. e.g., since the general center of gravity of our american culture is roughly at wave 4, then we as a people tend to feel that we should MANDATORILY support the rights of our people to have at least some sort of guarantee that they have access to basic physical, safety, and belonging needs–and that means that they have a right to basic food, shelter, minimal health care, and some sort of compulsory education–AND WE WILL FORCIBLY TAX OUR CITIZENS if necessary in order to make sure these basic needs are met (we likewise forcibly tax in order to secure basic safety needs or defense needs). Moreover, our courts have consistently agreed that it is moral and certainly legal to do so (and i agree)–the reason is that agency in our culture has generally emerged up to that level (i.e., #4), and thus we feel it is horribly wrong if we don’t support agency up to at least that level.

however, notice that we would not feel it is necessary to equally support say, the existence of dogs (because they have only evolved to around level 2 and thus we correctly feel that they don’t have the same degree of agency and rights as humans). animal rights activists of course would ask us to support the certain basic rights of animals (and i support that in many ways), but we are here talking about whether i have the right to forcibly curtail your human negative rights in order to give animals equal positive rights, and the answer (correctly i believe) is no, not at this time.

similarly, notice how we are reluctant to curtail our basic human rights (that is, as americans) in order to give others the “right” to reach, say, level 5. in other words, we agree that other americans have a right to have basic education (and we will pay for that), but we do not agree that i should be taxed in order to pay for you to go to a weekend self-actualization seminar at Esalen.

In short, we americans agree that i should be forced, if necessary, to give a certain portion of my income (as taxes) in order to help stop other americans from starving to death on the streets, but we do NOT believe that we should be forced to pay for you to go “find yourself” at some self-actualization retreat. Put bluntly, we will pay for the maintenance of the lower levels, but not for the higher levels (why? because we haven’t yet collectively, culturally, reached those higher levels, and thus we are not personally hurt if we see others deprived of being able to reach those levels…. i would maintain, of course, that if we ever COLLECTIVELY reached, say, level 6, then we would collectively be horrified to see anybody who could not satisfy their self-transcendence needs, just as we are now horrified at anybody not satisfying their basic safety needs…. and i think our courts would then say that they every american has the positive RIGHT to self-actualization and self-transcendence, and we americans would collectively agree to be taxed in order to curtail our negative freedoms in order to help others achieve those positive freedoms….)

well, mark, i’m going to have to stop here, cuz i’m exhausted! but i hope this gives you some idea of what i have in mind. before jumping on any specific problems with my answer, see if you can find the general sense in what i am trying to suggest, and see if you can state it better and more clearly than i have. if i don’t respond, it’s not because i don’t care, but i’m simply worn out for now. i realize some sections of my response are a little unclear, and i’ll try to clean them up after i get a little sleep!

anyway, thanks again for the wonderful clarity of your posting!!! all best, ken


My response to Ken’s response


Thank you for the detailed and considered response you gave in response to my original question: “Is it ever moral to use physical force against people who have not violated anyone’s negative individual rights in order to appropriate their wealth to support people currently defined as “in need?”

I will take your invitation to heart and see if I can’t do my best to “find the general sense in what (you are) trying to suggest, and see if you can state it better and more clearly than (you) have.”

In this post, I want to offer a question about the process of creating an Integral Vision and the container of Self/heart/mind in which we hold it. This response draws on all of my mind, heart (soul), and spirit. I will first say that I agree with you that the Basic Moral Intuition (that we base our decisions on the choices that preserve the greatest depth across the most span) is my fundamental concern and guiding principle.

It is not that I have “the” answer to this moral challenge, but in reading your response, I realize that I have “an” answer, not in terms of how precisely to act, but in terms of a powerful way of holding the question. Creating this holding for the question, which concretizes the most challenging and tangible aspects of designing an Integral Politics system, is perhaps far more important than any particular answer given any particular context. I see a way of holding the question that will be useful across contexts, such that whatever answer comes from it will not marginalize any of the important criteria we hold, but rather keep them firmly in mind, even when to do so requires an expansion of our SELF to contain them. It is this that is so critical, and I thank you for the gift of your post – the context in which I have seen it.

First, I want to say that over the course of this conference, I have come to recognize how seriously I take the Integral Agenda. I see it as one of the greatest contributions to human knowledge and what we might call “the collective project of humanity” that has yet to be attempted. I also see this time in history as propitious to set a new standard and create a new stage on which to unfold the Visions towards which the future will strive. In that sense, I want to protect and encourage almost an immaculate clarity and full conscious awareness in their foundation. To this end, I notice that I am especially sensitive to the inclusion of ideas that might threaten to undermine the basic principles of a second tier morality. As I have stated in other posts (especially the one on integrity), I think our responsibilities as the original proponents of a second tier, ALAQ, Integral Vision are immense.

Next I want to thank Ken for achieving (and modeling) one of the most difficult of tasks in his answer by NOT attempting to skirt around the, as he put it (and I agree), “agonizing” moral dilemma of using governmental force to violate the fundamental human rights of some to achieve relative positive rights for others. It is so much easier on our hearts and minds to sweep the uncomfortable issues under the rug, or declare them unimportant, or worse, passé.

This willingness to embrace the grievous and disturbing effects of an issue without flinching requires a greatness of self which I understand to be the essence of second tier, embodied integrity. It is this ability to hold in consciousness both the pleasure and pain of a proposed course of action, the means and ends, without denial or evasion of the full ramifications it suggests, that makes second tier integrity possible. Bravo Ken! With such awareness as a standard, I trust that questions of this sort will be deeply examined and appropriately integrated into the political branch of the Integral Institute.

Finally, I want to say that I agree with the approach with which Ken answered my question. I especially appreciated the basic principle upon which he built his answer, namely that of maximizing agency within the context of communion. This put words to the intuitive sense I had about where the answer would eventually lie. I agree that the essential challenge in this issue is the conflict between the basic immorality of violating the rights of innocent citizens and the Basic Moral Intuition of preserving the greatest depth for the greatest span. It is just here that the challenge lies and here that enormous hearts will have to encompass this fundamental contradiction of values.

At the same time, I notice something very interesting in his (and other people’s) response, the noticing of which forms the heart of the next piece I will write (and of which I give a taste here). Namely, that in the face of the suffering we see around us, and given the minimal set of conditions which WE feel it appropriate for all human beings to have (given our average cultural level of development), Ken and others have seemingly not even questioned the idea that the government is the appropriate “actor” in the resolution of these problems. I perhaps oversimplify here, but it seems as if the incredible significance and consequences of this choice have been forgotten in the last century of its use. Rather, it has achieved virtually unquestioned acceptance by the intellectuals and almost universal increasing application in western nations. (This is not helped by the spiral process of increasing dependence such solutions have universally created.) It is as if we have forgotten that there are other choices available to us.

In fact, I find it of great concern that, in the end, the use of government force is assumed to be the appropriate solution. In the conversations I have had on the matter, most everyone I talk to accepts it as the natural or “given” means of proceeding. The issue of debate is no longer “is it appropriate or necessary at all?” but “how much can we get and on what will we spend it?”

It makes me wonder, what does it indicate that we, as some of the best minds attempting to address this issue in an Integral fashion have (almost without examining it) put all our eggs (or our final eggs) in that one basket? Especially when the basket we have chosen is government, which is historically the least effective and manageable enterprise in virtually arena in which been used?

In contrast, given the inherent immorality of using government force against innocents, it seems that especially second-tier Selves would want to look at the widest range of alternative solutions, and only choose this one as a last resort and with full consciousness.

I would like to suggest that, as we enter into a second-tier Integral Politics, we rigorously question this basic assumption and examine whether or not it is truly consistent with our more highly developed moral sense. Is it possible that, given our tremendous compassion, and the power that government force gives us to achieve our short term goals, we have inadvertently accepted as necessary and beneficial an idea that we should be actively opposing?

To place this in context; in a sense, all of the talk, philosophy, and Integral Systems conversation that we have engaged in, and that has been engaged in over the millennia could be though of as politically idle; as mere discussion; as endless committees in isolated groups – except for one point: when those ideas are put into a governmental context in which guns are pointed at those who disagree as the concluding step of the argument. Government is unique in that it holds a monopoly on the use of force. It is here that our philosophy of appropriate action in the lower quadrants plays out in reality; good or bad; right or wrong; The Bill of Rights or Auschwitz. This is the point where the rubber meets the road.

In every other area of the Integral Vision, (besides governmental politics), the application of the ideas we create are voluntary. If people find them attractive or useful, they choose to apply them. If not, it is their loss.* (note at bottom)

It is ONLY in the context of Government Politics that people are subjected to our ideas without choice. Hence, the question of when and how to use force against its citizens is the fundamental issue in governmental politics, upon which all the more significant programs are built. This difference is so significant that I suggest that it requires a level of rigor far above that in any other aspect of our Integral Vision. Until and unless this issue is deeply examined and integrated into the Integral Vision, its foundation in this the most practical of arenas will be compromised.

We will need to re-examine all of the solutions that previous cultures and institutions have created before integrating them into our Integral Vision. Second tier solutions demand second tier examination. If we fail to approach this task rigorously, we are likely to import substandard ideas into our Vision, thereby reducing its beauty and its power to build Integral consensus. Just as orange has tended to import certain lower level ideas and shield them from rigorous examination, there is the danger that yellow and turquoise might do the same.

For example, Ken uses the fact that “our courts have consistently agreed that it is moral and certainly legal to do so” as a justification and precedent for the use of government force to provide positive rights for others. While I understand this sentiment, I cannot say that our courts are the best place to look for such support. In fact, our courts have sanctioned many acts we now consider atrocities and upheld laws we now consider obscene. In terms of the Spiral Dynamics model, we are attempting to build a second tier Integral Vision and the courts are mostly blue/orange, or at best the orange/green. I think it important to realize that we can not expect to find guidance or advocacy in the institutions of the past. Inspiration and contribution? Certainly. Guidance and second tier validation? No.

In the end, after considering all the alternatives with full consciousness, we may still determine that the use of governmental force to fund charitable causes is temporarily the best available solution given the conditions we find ourselves in. IF this is the case, those who recommend this course of action will need to expand the capacity of their Self to contain the intense moral contradictions such a solution requires if they are to remain in second-tier, embodied integrity. In other words, such a step will not be taken lightly. This is as it should be, given the nature of the choice.

Of course, there is much more to be said on this issue and the related issues it raises, and I intend to be one of the people who bring them to our awareness for examination and integration. At the same time, I trust that if we expand our Self to embrace all the factors involved in this arena, evading nothing, we will develop a Integral Vision that people want to be a part of and are willing to work to achieve. At this propitious moment, the creation of a consistent, second-tier, ALAQ Integral Vision bodes well for an excellent beginning of this new millennium. I look forward to experiencing its co-creation and unfolding.

When the rubber of our philosophy hits the road of our politics, let’s make sure the wheels are pointed in the direction we want to travel. – Mark Michael Lewis.

* If our ideas truly represent the leading edge of human development, and honor and incorporate the most truths, those who adopt them will gain the greatest advantage in a free market and in their personal lives (the free market of relationships). In businesses, their people will exhibit the greatest Self-development, creativity, and capacity for team effort. Individually, increased self-realization will create greater power for loving action and increasing appreciation of the miracle of consciousness and life itself. On the other hand, those who hold on to lower level methods and thinking will lose their competitive edge in an instant communication, global system, and become increasingly frustrated with their inability to adapt to the changing world. In this sense, the rich (most integral) will get richer (and more fulfilled) on all levels. It is this which will encourage and strengthen the acceptance of Integral Ideas on a large scale and accelerate the development of higher levels of awareness.

Original Page:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s