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James Turner, a founding pioneer in Integral forms of law, politics, and federal regulation, talks with Ken about his days with Ralph Nader, 18th-century American political history, the essential ingredients of an Integral approach to politics, and the true meaning of “trans-partisanism”.
Jim Turner began his career as a young law student who realized that Ralph Nader’s pointed critique of the automobile industry circa the 1960’s (e.g., Unsafe at Any Speed) wasn’t merely about cars, but about corporate power and responsibility in nearly every sector of society—and the press simply wasn’t getting it, nor the general population. Jim felt it was his responsibility to suggest to Mr. Nader how his message might be more broadly and effectively communicated—and so he tracked Mr. Nader down, eventually ending up being invited to dinner at Ralph’s home.
“Consumers play a role in the economy like voters in the political process… but the alliance between the corporate sector and the government can be so tight, that there can be huge barriers for the individuals’ well being and interests being taken care of….”
Nader appreciated what Jim had to say about finding parallel problems in other corporate arenas, and then said, “Well, what would you do?” Jim said, “Let’s do food.” It turns out Ralph had been a cook in the Army for six months, so he gave the go-ahead. Then, in 1970, with the assistance of two-dozen medical, law, and political science students, Jim published The Chemical Feast: The Ralph Nader Study Group Report on Food Protection and the Food and Drug Administration—hailed by Time Magazine as “The most devastating critique of a government agency ever written.”
But, ultimately, it’s not merely about cars or food, or any specific product. It’s about a more Integral Approach to corporate entities, the government agencies that regulate them, and the citizen-consumers who are affected by the actions of both (and who, as Jim makes clear, usually get the short end of the stick). Here, Jim and Ken go right back to the dawn of the United States as a country—and as an economic force—and the Hamiltonian (large federal government) and Jeffersonian (small federal government) influences that continue to this day. Ken comments that only a truly Integral Politics can reconcile the important truths of both perspectives, and then transcend-and-include them in a post-postmodern politics that today’s world demands. Jim responds by commenting that he and Lawry Chickering (both founding members of I-I) are writing a book called The Transpartisan Imperative, which is clearly an expression of the Integral Imperative in the world at large.
The concern for America’s ability to draw upon the collective wisdom of its citizens is certainly not unfounded—after all, all one needs to do is turn on the evening news to see just how skewed and polarized the political arena has become for many Americans. The ideological passion and dignified conviction that characterized so many of the great leaders in American history has, in most cases, devolved into little more than party-line platitudes, prefabricated talking points, and endless empty rhetoric, hypnotically repeating words like “liberty” and “freedom” over and over again until they have lost all meaning.
“People argue about ‘I’m on the Left’ or ‘I’m on the Right’—but an individual human being, in order to walk, has to engage their left leg and their right leg! It would be very silly for us to divide up and have a debate about that….”
The result of all this has for many people been nothing short of a complete erosion of any sense of civics—the rights and responsibilities of citizens in the ongoing operation and oversight of our governing bodies. There was a time when words like JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” really meant something to the American public, when we could feel in a tactile way how close the citizens were to the heart of the American political process. This tangible sense of civic duty seems to be quietly fading into the twilight, right at a point in history when America needs Americans the most. Only a genuine understanding of global politics can hope to cut through the collective apathy and blind allegiances that so many people have fallen into; reconnecting us with our dimming sense of civic duty. But for many in this country, trying to understand politics in the midst of the American sound-byte-driven media can feel like trying to stand on a mountain of marbles, struggling to feel some sort of solid ground beneath our feet. Which is exactly why it is so exciting that an Integral political model is beginning to emerge, offering a surprisingly simple way to make sense of all the staggering complexity in today’s world.
Jim Turner and Ken explore many of the contours of this integral approach to politics, drawing further upon Jim’s previous summary of Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian dynamics as they exist within individual consciousness. Here we can see how the different notions of “top-down” representational democracy and “bottom-up” participatory democracy are both absolutely essential to any modern political formulation, examining how these dynamics have played themselves out throughout history—from the heated debates of early America, to the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany, to post-apartheid South Africa, as well as in today’s 21st-century political climate. As Jim characterizes the interplay between these two position, modern politics is trying to “construct a road that goes between anarchy on the Jeffersonian side and authoritarianism on the Hamiltonian side.”
Ken also applies the Integral framework to some of the key differences between the Republican and Democratic parties, with their respective emphases upon interior and exterior causes of human suffering. There is also the simple fact that people develop through very distinct stages of egocentric, ethnocentric, and worldcentric consciousness, each with an exponentially increasing sense of care, compassion, and justice. These different structures of consciousness that people develop through have a very direct influence upon their interpretations of reality, and upon the decisions that are made based upon those interpretations. Finally, Ken expounds upon the many dangers that lurk behind the liberal ideal of “one-person, one-vote” democracy, which may seem innocuous at first, but is in reality extremely sinister when followed to its logical conclusion: in a world where worldcentric consciousness is a minority, “one-person, one-vote” would all but guarantee an eventual return to the tyranny of power-hungry warlords and fundamentalism.
While the main thrust of this dialogue is an examination of American politics today and throughout history, the conversation extends far beyond the scope of this particular geopolitical entity, and applies to all people in all times. After all, politics is just the natural result of any group of people trying to figure out how to get along, in order to simply increase their overall happiness while staving off the inevitability of human suffering. And by taking into account every single aspect of human experience, the Integral framework is able to situate the entire spectrum of political perspectives, thus giving us all some real traction to navigate the ideological matrix of global politics. Only then can we begin to truly reconnect ourselves to our civic responsibilities, to redefine the relationship between the individual and the collective, and to stoke the flames of urgency and idealism required to face the enormous challenges of 21st century life.
And as much as we might agree that “one-person, one-vote” systems may not be the best idea, the fact remains: if you have enough of an integral perspective to have made it all the way to the end of this article, you should be voting!
Written by Corey deVos
About James Turner
James Turner is a principal in the Swankin & Turner law firm, a founding member of Integral Institute, and its Integral Politics and Integral Business centers. He is also the host of “Of Consuming Interest” on the Progressive Radio Network.
About Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.