Today we take a close look at “power”, which is one of those words that everyone says but few people fully understand. Or at the very least, people tend to have many different meanings for “power”, which shows up somewhat differently depending on what quadrant you are looking at, and what altitude you are looking from.
And as is often the case with integral discussions, we naturally start thinking about power in terms of some fundamental polarities, many of which we will explore today. Because there is often a critical tension between these different meanings and modes of power — Individual power and collective power, interior power and exterior power, and so forth. And by looking at these as polarities, we can better understand how to integrate power, and how to avoid the dangers when any of these poles become un-integrated from the others.
And we should mention straight away that one of the Green stage’s major strengths is that it is particularly tuned in to the many abuses and excesses of power in the world, and rightfully points out that the world really is made of power structures – and those power structures can sometimes be destructive or even oppressive dominator hierarchies. This is itself a positive evolutionary development — as Ken has said before, one of the primary roles of green is to “sensitize” the spiral as we prepare to take that momentous leap into integral stages. In fact, it’s job may be in a sense to help clear the path of malignant power structures that would prevent the emergence of something like integral in the first place. In which case, Green is not only “post-modern”, but also “pre-integral” (which is something I like to remember whenever I feel like I need to get Green out of my shadow).
But green’s weakness is that it tends to only see power structures, and is often totally allergic to power structures of all kind. It assumes that all hierarchies are dominator hierarchies — those nasty, brutal, oppressive hierarchies. Everything is a dominator hierarchy — other than its own hidden moral hierarchies, of course. Which may actually be a leverage point for us integralists to help green become more healthy again — to remind them that their own values and moral reasoning are themselves a product of growth hierarchies, and we want to preserve those growth hierarchies if they want more people to adopt those sorts of values and morals in the future. (And, of course, to remind them that they are supposed to actually be “pluralistic” and capable of holding multiple perspectives, including perspectives they may disagree with, and which might help slow their regressive descent into Amber absolutism.)
By having conversations like these, we are hopefully planting the seeds for a genuine Integral Critical Theory, one that is capable of looking at all facets of power — healthy power and unhealthy power, up and down the spiral, across all types, in all four quadrants, and even in all eight zones. It is an approach to power that includes the very real concerns of Green, but transcends the limitations of Green. It includes the concerns of Orange, but transcends the limitations of Orange. It includes the concerns of Amber, but transcends the limitations of all these first tier stages, each of which is locked into its own absolutistic idea that its views and values are the only correct views and values.
Our hope is that by having conversations like these, and by practicing what we might call “the power to integrate”, people coming from different political persuasions can lean in and find something to agree with. It is a genuinely “everyone is right” conversation – if we have the capacity and the epistemic humility to re-think some of the things that we may be getting wrong.
Part 1: Integrating Power
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“Power” tends to have very different meanings to different people, depending on what quadrants and what stages we are enacting the word from. Which means that, whenever people are discussing power in the world, there’s a good chance they are talking across each other, because each participant has a slightly different idea of what power means in the first place. Which is why today we will look at power through these multiple quadrants, zones, and altitudes, and discuss some of the most critical polarities, perspectives, and practices that inform our relationship to power, both within ourselves and in the world around us.
Since “power” is such a multifaceted concept, we begin with a simple question: What is power? Is there a core integral definition of power we can talk about that holds true across all quadrants and all stages?
Part 2: Liberty and Authority — Individual and Collective Power
What does an appropriate relationship with authoritarian power look like? Where does “individual volunteerism” end and “top down authoritarianism” begin?
In an ideal society, one where our average center of gravity is vaguely worldcentric, we can usually count on people to “do the right thing” in order to fulfill their individual civic responsibilities to the collective. Interestingly, this is what we used to call “The American Way” a hundred or so years ago — a sense of individual volunteerism, where we are willing to balance our individual needs with the needs of society at large.
But what happens when our overall center of gravity is quite a bit lower than that, when we have been culturally and economically conditioned to elevate individualism above everything else, and when a plurality of people are only willing to act in their own short-sighted self-interest? From an integral perspective, is there room for authoritarian top-down measures when a population is unable to demonstrate the developmental capacity to extend care to the rest of the social holon? What is an appropriate balance between bottom-up individualism and top-down authoritarianism, both in everyday life and in situations of collective emergency?
Part 3: Monological, Dialogical, and Translogical Power
Ken and Corey explore the three different kinds of power, all products of particular stages of development in both individuals and collectives. Ken explores the different kinds of power associated with each chakra in our interiors, and Corey notes that the same patterns can be seen in the different modes of power associate with social holons, such as the hierarchy suggested by Robb Smith:
- Power to protect & kill
- Power to expel
- Power to sanction
- Power to reason
- Power to contract
- Power to convene
- Power to integrate
Finally, Ken suggests a very simple practice to help us manage our personal power, and to help ensure that our own expressions of power are coming from the very highest stages available to us.
We hope you enjoyed this episode of The Ken Show! Let us know what you think in the comments below, and also be sure to let us know if you have any questions for future episodes!
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Previous Episodes of The Ken Show
The Momentous Leap to Integral Consciousness
No Boundary: Ken Wilber Goes Back to High School
In Pursuit of Wholeness: Making Room for Everything
Integral Critical Theory: The 8 Zones of Racism
From the Big Bang to the Eight Primordial Perspectives
The Science of Subtle Energy
Ken Wilber Goes to High School: Sex, Ecology, Spirituality
Practice the Wound of Love
Marx, Mysticism, and Mathematics: Navigating Our Epistemic Collapse
Awaken the Eye of Spirit
Coronavirus and a Course in Anti-Fragility
The Four Quadrants: A Guided Tour
Big Time: Integral Historiography and You
Integral Social Justice
Wicked Problems: Gun Violence
Kosmos: An Integral Voyage
The Varieties of Integral Spiritual Experience
The Many Ways We Grow
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”.
About Corey deVos
Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.