America as Empire: Politics in the 21st Century

Jim GarrisonAudio, Cognitive, Conversations, Perspectives, Politics Leave a Comment

Ken Wilber and chairman and president of the State of the World Forum Jim Garrison discuss the increasingly dangerous crises happening around the globe, America’s transition from republic to empire, and the capacity for Integral consciousness to face the precarious challenges of the 21st century head-on.

“The planet,” Jim Garrison is fond of saying, “is on a collision course with itself.” The monumental challenges of the 21st century seem dire indeed, almost insurmountable in many ways. And to make matters worse, only a portion of the population has the developmental capacity to fully recognize the complexity of our collective problems, while the majority of the world remains blissfully unaware of the impending catastrophe we seem to be heading toward. And many of those who can see feel utterly helpless to do anything about it, unable to find their own ecologically sensitive values reflected in the culture at large. And so they anxiously await what many perceive as the inevitable, a tsunami of global crises to wash over us all, rendering the fruits of human civilization undone in a single fell swoop.

“You can’t get ‘better and better, worse and worse, faster and faster’ without something going ‘pop’ sooner or later, in a way that would be catastrophic….”Jim Garrison

And yet, isn’t it too soon to write the future off to these sorts of doom and gloom scenarios? After all, aren’t we finally beginning to see some sort of shift for the positive, a shift toward more progressive attitudes and more effective strategies for the future? Many in the U.S. are experiencing a real sense of rekindled hope and civic potency — especially in light of the Democratic primaries, which seems to be galvanizing a great number of people toward much deeper engagement with the political process. Researchers such as Paul Ray are reporting the rise of an exciting new demographic in the world within a population he refers to as the “cultural creatives.” While there is still some debate over how to slice up this data or what conclusions to draw from Ray’s statistics, it is clear that the number of “cultural creatives” is increasing at a fairly explosive rate, currently representing about 26% of the American voting populace. But many of these “bright greens” (as they are often called) continue to struggle to have their voices heard by the movers and shakers of world politics, and fear that unless they find a way to constellate themselves into a viable political voice, the slumbering giant of humanity will continue to sleepwalk ever closer to the precipice of ecological collapse.

If there is one thing to be said for certain about the human race, it is that we will always find a way to actualize every ounce of potential available to us, in whatever form that potential takes — whether it is the potential for barbarism, for savagery, for merciless destruction, degradation, and depravity; or whether it is the potential for transcendence, for compassion and idealism, for the heights of creativity and noble vision — we are all of these, simultaneously, all at once. We move in every direction possible, though always with a slight-but-significant tilt toward greater depth, freedom, and fullness. The current condition of humanity has been described as growing “better and better, worse and worse, faster and faster,” which only makes some sort of breaking point seem even more inevitable, and the need for a developmental understanding of the human condition more crucial.

“All the world’s a stage,” history’s most cherished bard tells us, “and all the men and women merely players.” But what Shakespeare could not have possibly known at the time is that the world is not a single monolithic stage, but is in fact a graduating succession of stages, each built upon the other — each with its own set of players, its own set of shared values, and its own lens through which the world is interpreted. Likewise, the game of global politics is not to be played upon a single flat chessboard, but on many boards simultaneously — like a game of “Asimovian Hyperchess” in which moves are played across multiple geometric planes simultaneously. This is how politics in the 21st century must be approached, taking into account all of the different developmental levels human beings grow through (e.g. magic, mythic, rational, postmodern, and integral), while bringing as much healthy balance as possible to the individuals and cultures who exist at each of these particular levels. And only a genuinely integral analysis of world politics can promise the sort sanity and stability our yet-unborn progeny prays for us to find, before it’s too late.

“Republics imply single nations, democratically governed — which is what America was founded to be. The very essence of ’empire’ is the control of one nation over other nations. While America remains a republic within its own borders, it has become an empire in relationship to the rest of the world. The central question before America, therefore, is what it should do with all the power that it has—how should it assert its authority, and for what end? This means that America should acknowledge — even celebrate — its transition to empire and acquisition of global mastery.”Jim Garrison, America as Empire

Why exactly is America’s imperial status something to be celebrated? How can we begin to come to realistic terms with the status of America as empire, cutting through the idle alarmism and insatiable hunger for power that often spring from the American Left and Right? And how might we begin to rise to the enormous opportunity the American empire has to transform the world for the better?

As Ken and Jim agree, the central paradox of the world is the fact that America has become the most powerful nation-state in the history of civilization, at precisely a time when the forces of history are demanding that we move beyond the very concept of nation-states, into a new era of truly world-centric global governance. And herein lies the ultimate challenge for America: to consciously view itself as a “transitional empire,” leading the human species away from political fragmentation and economic isolation, toward a genuinely integrated world governance. In this way, America can guarantee that it will indeed be history’s very last empire, by helping to make obsolete the need for imperial powers altogether.

“We Americans look back on the 1930’s and say ‘how can anybody support the Nazi’s or be silent during the construction of national socialism and the holocaust?’ But if you look at the United States since 9/11, we have been extraordinarily passive in the face of international criminality and the construction of a national security state here at home, while being so militarily aggressive abroad—and it’s happened without almost any public protest….”Jim Garrison

But how is this to be done? As Jim mentions, there are very real internal and external measures America must take, both individually and collectively. Internally, we must acknowledge the reality of the status of America as empire, while accepting the enormous responsibilities that bears. We must perpetually redefine and re-calibrate our notions of freedom, justice, and civic duty from generation to generation — never taking our liberties for granted, lest they run the danger of being silently taken away before anyone even notices they are gone. And we must come together to find a new over-arching vision for America and for the world, a markedly Integral vision of humanity that can cut across multiple levels of psychological and sociological development, transcending the imaginary lines drawn on our maps, uniting us all as a single human family.

Externally, the U.S. must find a way to reverse much of the damage the Bush administration has done over the past eight years, strengthening the international institutions that we will invariably need to solve the problems facing us as a global community. America must self-consciously use its imperial status to help the struggling nations of the world by bringing as much health and stability to these societies as possible. Of course, this cannot be accomplished by militaristically exporting our values onto the rest of the world—conquering pre-democratic nations, dragging people to voting booths, and forcing Big Macs and apple pie down their throats. On the contrary, being a truly benevolent empire requires a integral approach to politics and economics, surveying the whole spectrum of human motivations, values, and conditions, while supporting methods of governance that are appropriate to a particular society with particular needs. From an Integral perspective, an entire range of political paradigms are available to us, any of which may prove useful for various geopolitical situations, including dictatorships, theocracies, monarchies, democracies, etc. And while any of these might work for certain needs of certain people at certain times, the Integral vision continuously leads us closer and closer to genuine global governance, with an emphatic impulse toward more justice, more freedom, and more compassion.

Finally, Americans must be direly realistic about the many obstacles in our path toward becoming a truly “transitional empire.” By their very nature, empires are inherently loathed by the majority of the world — after all, no culture likes being dominated by another, regardless of whether or not it is ultimately “for their own good.” An empire’s longevity depends entirely upon its ability to somehow uplift those under its dominion. While most empires come into power through force, they can only endure through philanthropy, providing fair and benevolent solutions for those who are unable to find them otherwise.

When empires assert their authority only to maximize their own power — rather than to maximize the degree of liberation available to humanity — catastrophic events such as the 9/11 attacks become inevitable. Jim and Ken discuss Osama Bin Laden’s actions and intentions in detail, offering a crucial exploration of the shadowy warrior behind the most world-changing event of recent times, and what may eventually turn out to be the financial bankruptcy of the greatest empire the world has ever seen. Of course, even the most benevolent empires must often suffer through similar acts of violent insurrection, and none of this is to accuse America of becoming an entirely power-motivated imperium. If anything, this dialogue simply points out the extraordinary precariousness of America’s role in the 21st century, reminding us of the highs and lows that we are capable of as a species, both of which are actively playing themselves out within the global political scene. It challenges us all to recognize our own civic responsibility to truly engage this world, to translate our highest ideals into real-life actions with real-life outcomes — which means that, if you have enough of an integral perspective to have made it this far into this talk summary, you should be voting!

Written by Corey deVos

Jim Garrison

About Jim Garrison

Dr. Jim Garrison served as President and Chairman of Wisdom University (now the Wisdom School of Graduate Studies) from 2005–2012, and is now President of Ubiquity University. Previously, he founded and served as President of the Gorbachev Foundation/USA and the State of the World Forum, both San Francisco-based non-profit institutions created to establish a global network of leaders dedicated to creating a more sustainable global civilization.

Ken Wilber

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”.

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