Integral Manifesto Pt III(3): Integral Politics? / Subjects as Actors

Books Discussed in this Section

Steve McIntosh (2007) Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution,  Continuum Books

Saskia Sassen (2004) Local Actors in Global Politics retrieved from

Saskia Sassen (2007) Deciphering the Global.Routledge, NY

McIntosh proposes a World Federation based on nation-states relinquishing their sovereignty and reinvesting in a higher, supernational organization empowered by a master lawmaking authority of a democratically enacted global constitution. The Federal level would have the power and the authority to mandate the subordinate governments with respect to their internal operations, especially with respect to human rights issues. Presumably, the master lawmaking authority would be composed of integral-consciousness level executive officers responsible for managing and coordinating operations in a tricameral structure, based on the US Constitution, which maintains a “balance of power” between branches — which McIntosh envisions as legislative, judicial, and executive. His legislative includes an economic house, a world senate, and a people’s house. His judicial branch includes a world federal court, a world citizenship court, and a global eco-environmental court. His executive branch includes a people’s, an economics, and a nations council. McIntosh claims that his proposed structure is firmly based in what Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry have identified “as the essential dynamics of evolution that are embodied in what they call the Cosmogenetic Principle. Because it appeals to McIntosh as the very basis of his work, the excerpt is woth quoting at length:

The Cosmogenetic Principle states that the evolution of the universe will be characterized by differentiation, autopoiesis, and communion throughout time and space and at every level of reality. These three terms — differentiation, autopoiesis, and communion– refer to the governing themes and the basal intentionality of all existence, and thus are beyond any simple one-line univocal definition. … Some synonyms for differentiation are diversity, complexity, variation, disparity, multi-form, nature, heterogeneity, articulation. Different words that point to the second feature are autopoiesis, subjectivity, self-manifestation, sentience, self-organization, dynamic centers of experience, presence, identity, inner principle of being, voice, interiority. And for the third feature, communion, interrelatedness, interdependence, kinship, mutuality, internal relatedness, reciprocity, complementarity, interconnectivity, and affiliation all point to the same dynamic of cosmic evolution.

These three features are not “logical” or “axiomatic” in that they are not deductions within some larger theoretical framework. They come from a post hoc evaluation of cosmic evolution; these three will undoubtedly be deepend and altered in the next era as future experience expands our present understanding.

The sequence of events in the universe becomes a story precisely because these events are themselves shaped by these central ordering tendencies– complexity, autopoiesis, and communion. These are the cosmological orderings fo the creative display of energy everywhere and at any time throughout the history of the universe.

I think this is a beautiful passage articulating deep insight into the dynamic display of the manifest universe, and I commend McIntosh for having highlighted this as a central sensibility in his work. Unfortunately, McIntosh’s analytic and autocratic tendencies– his intolerant and dominant temperament– doesn’t seem capable of truly honoring the vision of Swimme and Berry, who emphasize that these essential features are not logical or axiomatic … they are no deductions within some larger theoretical framework. Rather they are shaped by complexity, autopoiesis, and communion, which is on-going. McIntosh, on the other hand, wants to prescribe or prestate the very structures of interrelatedness, control what voices appear and what voices don’t appear, supress individual subjectivity of the larger populations, constrain the kinds of identities that self-commune, repressreciprocity throughtop-down authority, and remove the self-transformative potential of the dynamics through programmable and manageable structures that have no internal or external feedback loops to account for the kinds of  perpetual deepening and alteration that Berry and Swimme affirm.

Here is an alterative view that takes Swimme and Berry to heart:

Create a dynamic way for global governance architecture to evolve by designing phases of natural emergent properties of fully democratic and fully autopoietic actions of all participants.

Here is a brief scenario of the kinds of actions/ architecture one might employ:

  1. Phase one designed as an introductory, exploratory and exploitative phase. Everyone on the planet would get a chance to participate in this global governance movement. People and organizations would basically self-organize to create caucus-like activity of various forms to organize subordinate level participatory bodies. Participants could choose to identify “merely” as individual global citizens, or as member-participants in any of conventional or newly emerging local-to-global coalitions that would emerge to exploit the new openings in the spaces of global appearance, new ways to articulate and voice individual as well as collective identity.
    • Nationhood
    • Ethnicity
    • Religion
    • Gender
    • Particular NGO or coalition of NGO’s
    • Economic Class
    • Trade Union
    • Any other type of representative coalition imaginable.
  2. Phase two consists of a second-order coalition of major alignments around significatn concerns or causes, out of which would emerge the 100 or so subordinate government bodies. This is the phase of increasing connectedness and increasing (augmenting) the political capital of phase one. Rules for participation in such bodies would be articulated and constituted by these “originary” bodies of the emerging global federation, similar to the rold of the thirteen original states of the USA. For example, participants might be able to re-align every 4-6 years or only in 8 year cycles. It would be important to understand that larger insitutions need longer lead times to change, so the temporal scale on which such actions occur, may very well be longer in scale than on more local or subordinate levels. However, there must be feedback loops which “structcurally couple” the two scales, such that these feedback loops be of very short duration and of appropriate scale to “reach” individuals within the insitutional domain who themselves should retain the capacity to engage rapidly changing concerns of their constituents. Phase two would be a prolonged period, in which the subordinate bodies would create and experiment with virtual reality and scenarios of the kinds of global decisions that would be made, with respect to real-life situations, if in fact these bodies had power and authority to do so, as opposed to alternative arrangements of authority. These virtual decisions would not only “prime” the system and develop scenario training, but also the global community would get a chance to imagine the effects that various alliances and levels of participation have on both global, regional and local levels, with the definition her of “loca” as one’s local identity in whatever one consider’s one’slocal affiliation, which might, paradoxically, be a globalized collective.
  3. Phase three might consist of re-examining the role(s) of the existing power structure and the extent to which these authorities would agree to relinquish certain domains over to an actual governance authority. This is the phase of conservation. The branches of the global authority would arise with respect to those domains that are relinquished one by one, or in groups that themselves collate into Spheres of Authority, as it became increasingly clear what emergent coalitions would supercede them. There might be provisoinal rules as t how these domains or branches would regulate themselves, i.e. they would have to prove that participation was open to all through democratic processes, and be able to prove self-evidently porous to individual participation to an acceptable degree. Or, a fully or quasi-independent “judiciary” body might be designed to perform audits and functionary inspection, as well as other bodies or architectures employed at even higher levels.
  4. Phase four would initiate after a significant majority of participation or dissolution of other power structures gave way to the global governance process and its newly emerged Spheres of Authority. This is the coming-to-agestage in which the process tendws twoard creating static structures that are no longer functionally emergent from dynamic and open participation. This is the phase that requires rejuvination from lower order dynamics, to off-set the prolonger previous periods of building increasingly conservation higher order structures. It may require the subversion, replacement, or overthrow of higher order structures that are no longer vulnerable to the internal or external feedback loops of participation of all subjects; or structures that have grown “closed” to such participation, or have grown impervious to their appearance. Guarantees for innovation, continual opening of spaces for newly emerging identities to commune in dynamic displays of new kinds of interconnectedness, would be requisite to create phases five, six, seven… These are the periods of release of previous interconnections, emergence of new identities through new patterns of collectivities, and re-configuration toward novel stages of exploration and exploitation.

The promise and possibilty of this kind of approach– an approach which facilitates the co-creative processes of actual people as both subjectw within and actors of socio-political spaces, and who are equally as well regarded and engaged as collective authors of our socio-spatial geographies– may seem idealistic or unrealistic to some readers. In reality, there is no need to overdetermine this process, since I have merely reframed as a future scenario the very processes that are re-shaping socio-political spaces today and which are precisely those that are resulting from people taking up their rightful roles — as they always do– a reult of the opening of the spaces of appearance– and co-authoring the epochal transformations that are cocurring around the globe today. For those aligned with the current structures and whose wolrdview is predicated on the scalar assumptions that the new must come up and through the pre-dominance of existing structures (such as the nation state) in a nested and hierarchical way– a worldview that would surely miss the new transformations– will experience these transformations as disruptive and disturbing, as the cycle of transformation dismantles old realities in the wake of the new. THe nation-state is cracking– along with the socio-spatial scales that are overdetermined by it, as Sassen tells us

The national as a container of social process and power is cracked. This cracked casing opens up a geography of politics and civics that links subnational spaces.

Increasingly, it becomes more problematic to fixate on the national as the primary unit of socio-spatial action, and the typical scalar assumptions from national to supranational to global that are built-up from it. This is not news to the global corporations and global financial organizations that have long ago deconstructed the nation-statefrom their lexicon of operational power, while simultaneously re-enforcing the notion of nation-stateand geopolitics as usual for its efficaciousness in power broking. With both positive and negative effects– many of which are enacted on global proportions– global strategic economic operations along with global capital, have carved a worldwide grid to accommodate millions of non-local actors who comfortably navigate and simultaneously create emerging socio-spatial geographies. Saskia Sassen describes two distinct types of “traffic” operating through this worldwide grid:

The organizational side of the global economy materializes in a worldwide grid of strategic places, uppermost among which are major international business and financial centers. We can think of this global grod as constituting a new economic geography of centrality, one that cuts across national boundaries and increasingly across the old North-South divide. It has emerged as a transnational space for the formation of new claims by global capital but also by other types of actors.

It is not only the transmigration of capital that takes place in this global grid but also that of people, both rich– i.e. the new transnational profession workforce– and poor- i.e. most migrant workers; and it is a space for the transmigration of cultural forms, for the re-territorialization of the “local” subcultures.

 Is this worldwide grid a relevant opening for human action? Is it, as Sassen asks, “also a space for new politics, one going beyond the politics of culture and identity while likely to remain embedded in it?”

One of the most radical forms assumed today by the linkage of people to territory is the loosening of identities from their traditional sources, such as the nation or the village. The unmooring in the process of identity formation engenders new notions of community of membership and of entitlement.

The forces of transformation of the local and the global are both to-down with respect to strategic operations of corporation and financial organizations, as well as bottom-up with respect to local actors and emerging socio-spatial geographies that operate at global levels. And like all other geographies that have come before them, they do not point to any fixed or absolute grid that somehow exists “out there in reality”, due to a type of “force major”, but are geographies of identity and mind, or in other words, they are co-created values arising in emerging socio-spatial geographies. As such they are complex human processesthat are at once impervious and porous to ever-changing degrees. Sassen creates the neologism “glocality” to describe the new framework of socio-spatial action, wherein the local is no longer nested exclusively within the global by an impenetrable rule of scalar relations, rather the appearance of the global in locality after locality — across scales — means that the global is becoming locally distributed. In other words, the space of the appearance of the global is becoming increasingly localized.

Simultaneous decentralized access can help local actors have a sense of participation in struggles that are not necessarily global, but are, rather, globally distributed in that they recur in locality after locality.

[Whereas] … much of the conceptualization of the local in the social sciences has assumed physical/ geographic proximity and thereby a sharply defined territorial boundedness, with the associated implication of closure, … [and] a strong tendency to conceive of the local as part of a hierarchy of nested scales …

To a very large extent these conceptualizations hold for most of the instantiations of the local today, more specifically, for most of the actual practices and formations likely to constitute the local in most of the world. But there are also conditions today that contribute to destabilize these practices and formations and hence invite a reconceptualization of the local that can accommodate a set of instances that diverge from dominant patterns. Key among these current conditions are globalization and/ or globality as consitutive not only of cross-border institutional spaces, but also of powerful imaginaries enabling aspirations to transboundary political practice even when the actos involved are basically localized.

 What is therefore needed from a conceptualized Integral Politics, are just these kinds of “powerful imaginaries” that “enable aspirations to transboundary political practice”– we need conceptual designs that do not merely rationally accommodate the steamy emergence of transformation through convenient categories of scale, since as Sassen and her students demonstrate, “diverse types of research and theorization … show that confining characteristics and locations of that epochal transformation to the self-evident scale of the global and to self-evident supranational institutions is profoundly inadequate.” Rather we need an Integral Politics that is less concerned with shaping the future into known categories and frameworks, and more capable of a kind of midwifery through what Sassen calls for as “an expansion of the analytic terrain and interpretive tools for studying the global”:

… the significant dislocations we are living through signal the need for new concepts and framings. … It is a pattern that breaks with the typical approach in the literature, which has been to start with the self-evident scale of the global, … That approach has made important contributions, but is ultimately a partial view of the larger transformation.

In sharp contrast to the prevailing scholarship, the starting point… is a thick, complex, messy environment where the global needs to be detected, decoded, discovered, and then constructed as an object of study. This type of approach asks what it is we are trying to name with the term globalization. Each recognizes that we are living through a transformation that, though partial, is epochal.