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
Part 2: Liberty and Authority: Individual and Collective Power
Part 3: Monological, Dialogical, and Translogical Power
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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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.
Yes, Green is really good at tuning into power… And they do tend to get much of it right.
I think as we move into the next decade, we are going to have to come to terms with the slight difference between “power” and “privilege” rather than always using them as the same word.
Privilege, in my view is something that a person either has or doesn’t have, and has no choice about it. Whether a person actively exercises privilege or not, they still have it.
Power on the other hand can be abdicated or seized. For example, a man can enter a relationship and give up his power to his wife, or she can seize power from him through various means including the courts. Or someone who is able bodied can easily find themselves disabled while a disabled person can overcome those disadvantages and combined with laws and other things, may in the end have more power.
That also brings up the point that a lot of times in this area poor choices and bad life decisions are mixed in with things people had no choice about. Education is mostly a choice, and I’d even venture that mental health is as well in 99.9% of people. Ownership of property I would also add in - though it does require specific education about how to use the “system”.
I myself fall into the “large” body size category, but I also recognize that is my decision. Interesting thing, is that with men my opinion is it’s reversed - large men can exert more social power than slim men, in my opinion - which I observe whenever I drop 20 pounds.
I think failure to recognize the distinction between power and privilege is contributing to the divide in the US, pushing away people who may be entitled but who also feel they are without power and feel resentment that they are accused of having power when arguably they have none.
As an extreme example we can look at the slim white cis male heterosexual drug addict homeless veteran with no visible physical disability being told he has power and privilege. Yes, he was born into privilege and could have had power, but currently has no power. Along the path to that extreme situation there are tens of millions of people who resent being told they have power when they look around and don’t see it.
As I see it, “power” is a four-quadrant/eight-zone phenomena, with a different kind of power associated with each quadrant/zone, while “privilege” is really limited to only a single zone (Zone 7).
Which is why I have been advocating 8-zone enactments of these topics so zealously! I think it gives us a far higher resolution understanding of the dynamics at play, allows us to see the many different meanings people have around terms like “power”, and hopefully allows us to create more effective interventions
Here are a few notes of mine about Zone 7 and the sorts of stuff we find in there. This is in the context of “racism” but can be easily expanded to “power in general” I think,
Zone 7 (the inside of the LR, a 1st-person enactment of 3rd-person plural) — how systems self-organize, and how those self-organized systems shape and influence consciousness. How consciousness in turn engages these systems. Describes the various information flows, communication strategies, etc. Describes a) the mass behavioral and informational patterns that result from current zone 8 laws, policies, and various environmental factors, b) the self-reinforcing systemic inertias that continue to exist from prior zone 8 laws and conditions, and c) how our overall patterns of behavior and communication are shaped by our present and past systems. We can see how seemingly non-discriminatory laws in zone 8 can nonetheless have discriminatory effects upon certain groups. And we can also see how previous discriminatory practices have created generational effects and inertias that continue to limit the average options and freedoms available to members of a particular group.
ZONE 7 PRIVILEGE — Zone 7 is also where we can have useful discussions about adjacent issues such as “privilege”. "Privilege” (which be globally enacted as “majority privilege”, even while looking at its local enactment in the U.S. as “white privilege” with its own culturally and socially enabled surface structures) is itself an undeniable zone-7 phenomenon: different people existing within a different proximal space within a given system, who are thereby affected differently by that system, which in turn can expand or limit the possibilities, opportunities, and decision points available to each individual.
Factors of this “privilege” can originate from zone 4 permissions and taboos, zone 7 social inertias, or zone 8 inequities, and it can be useful to reflect on our own individual privilege as zone 2 shadow material, as well as how shared privilege can be reinforced in zone 4. However, the exercise of privilege itself is an inter-objective zone 7 phenomenon, as it refers to how different environmental factors determine the relative options available to an average agent within a system.
Why is this important? Because in order to be effective, our intervention strategies need to “stay in their lane” in order to avoid creating more confusion and suffering. While “privilege” is itself a Zone-7 phenomenon, it is often misapplied to other people’s Zone-2 structures of consciousness (the slippery slope from “you’re privileged” to “you are racist and don’t even know it”). As I said, perceptions of privilege can be fruitful for our own Zone-2 shadow work, but it is then our individual responsibility to make objects out of our own subjects, it is never appropriate for others to make objects out of our subjects (which is largely a Zone-5 effort, reconstructing interiors based only on 3rd-person signifiers).]
Does this kind of systemic racism still exist? In many ways it does, yes. I believe this is where the bulk of meaningful discussions of systemic racism should take place, along with zone 4.
While Zone 8 is the realm of law, policy, and environmental conditions (more on that in a moment), then zone 7 shows how members of a system are enacting (and being enacted by) that system. And through these systemic analyses we can see how seemingly non-discriminatory laws in zone 8 can nonetheless have discriminatory effects upon certain groups. And we can also see how previous discriminatory practices have created generational effects and inertias that continue to limit the average options and freedoms available to members of a particular group.
This can be a difficult zone to discuss and remedy, however, because while certain patterns of discrimination are still being perpetuated in the LR, the zone 8 realities have since changed, and many of these inertias are now autopoietically reinforcing themselves. (See: how little the demographics and relative property values have changed in neighborhoods affected by redlining policies from multiple decades/generations ago, and how this limited overall property ownership for particular communities for generations, which then creates unequal opportunities to create and pass on generational wealth within those communities.) We can also often see zone 7 patterns that are not themselves self-reinforcing, but are instead due to zone 4 interpretations of zone 8 laws and policies (interpreting non-discriminatory laws in discriminatory ways.)
@raybennett You make some good distinctions Ray between power and privilege and the switcher-roos that can occur. I hope some solidly green folks are reading! and also reading @corey-devos 's great post. (Note to Corey: I do so admire your integral brilliance and writing, and think that the more often you give examples of points you make, the better it is.)
Just to be clear, it’s not my wheel, and I in fact didn’t take time to even think about how the wheel is equating power and privilege, so I appreciate the responses from both of you, differentiating the two, forwarding and expanding the conversation.
And I hope by posting that little wheel, I haven’t distracted from the substance of Ken and Corey’s conversation, or side-railed it. I’ve only read Corey’s blurb above and listened to the introduction, so I don’t know what else is there yet. I love, though, that Ken started with overarching or encompassing and fundamental definitions of power, and took us from physics to chakras to the Bible to Shakti and back to physics again. I also note how Ken’s (at least introductory) definition of power is different from Robb Smith’s “control and influence.” Of course, Robb was speaking in terms of the kind of power held by different developmental stages. Isn’t it rich, this integral project, where we now have at least three different ways to view power: fundamentally per Ken, Robb’s application to stages, and Corey’s application to quadrants and zones. That’s why I hang around.
Any chance Corey that you might give a little blurb about the basic or main points of the section of the Ken Sho which you titled “Liberty and Authority” in the email update? Thanks.
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