Integral Politics as Process

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Article : Integral Politics as Process, Tom Atlee. Integral Review, Vol. 6, No. 1

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“ Using the definition proposed here, integral politics can be a process of integrating diverse perspectives into wholesome guidance for a community or society. Characteristics that follow from this definition have ramifications for understanding what such political processes involve. Politics becomes integral as it transcends partisan battle and nurtures generative conversation toward the common good. Problems, conflicts and crises become opportunities for new (or renewed) social coherence. Conversational methodologies abound that can help citizen awareness temporarily expand during policy-making, thus helping raise society’s manifested developmental stage. Convening archetypal stakeholders or randomly selected citizens in conversations designed to engage the broader public enhances democratic legitimacy. With minimal issue- and candidate-advocacy, integral political leaders would develop society’s capacity to use integral conversational tools to improve its health, resilience, and collective intelligence. This both furthers and manifests evolution becoming conscious of itself.”



Tom Atlee:

“Two dimensions of wholeness I see as having particular relevance to integral politics are inclusion and coherence. Inclusion means welcoming, taking seriously, and creatively utilizing all the factors relevant to the whole situation we are dealing with. Such factors include viewpoints, people, information, values, resources, history, and possibilities, and more could be listed. To acknowledge and tap the infinitude of interconnectedness in which we and our situation are embedded, we should frame relevance broadly enough to include borderline elements and even wildcards to stimulate lively engagement and keep us open and alert. In particular, inclusion of different worldviews is important because of their power to shape what people see, think, feel, and do, and thereby play a preeminent role in the productivity of political process. Furthermore, because worldviews impact the kinds of political system and process people prefer and promote, the principle of inclusion challenges us to wisely utilize a diversity of processes, as well.

Coherence means the way diverse elements hang together into a whole, whether a whole worldview, a whole community, a whole story, and so on. Coherence includes the relationships among the parts, as well as the factors they hold in common (like logic, culture, language, intention, theme, common interests). Thus, coherence includes everything that helps us make sense of a whole and all its elements as one thing, and for those involved to share a sense of “common sense.”

We usually find some dynamic tension between coherence and inclusion. In any system or situation, including additional elements or a bigger field tends to disrupt whatever coherence existed before the inclusion. Likewise, efforts to maintain coherence tend to make it harder to include new (and thus potentially disruptive) elements. Since novelty and disturbances are continually emerging in any system, inclusion and coherence are perennial issues of life as it seeks to be whole within itself and with its environment. The fact that both inclusion and coherence are essential dimensions of wholeness tells us something very important about wholeness: it is dynamic. Wholeness evolves—driven by inclusion, disruption, and the eternal impulse towards coherence”

Defining Integral Politics

Tom Atlee:

“Here I find the concept of “integral” especially useful for naming the successful integration of inclusion and coherence. To the extent we embrace all the relevant elements—including emergent dissonances—in a coherent way, we have an integral system or dynamic. The fact that in real life new factors are always emerging to disrupt coherent systems suggests that an integral system evolves through successive coherences. The family system gets disrupted by the birth of a child. One’s prejudices are disrupted by a compassionate or unexpected act from a person in the disrespected category. One’s pet idea is critiqued with devastating effect. Each instance raises in us the need to find some new coherence to depend on.

With that as grounding, I propose a definition of integral politics, followed by what integral politics “does” if we follow that definition. I offer these for exploration, introducing my initial forays into ramifications of viewing integral politics this way. Integral politics would be politics that were especially competent at including diverse elements in evolving coherence that served the ongoing vitality of a community, nation, or other human system.

What integral politics does:

− Integral politics embraces any and all interactive process through which the evolving diversity of a community or society engages in consciously co-creating its collective life.

− Integral politics emerges from other forms of politics to the extent that we attend to the dynamic relationship between “the parts” and “the whole” (the members of a community and the whole community; conflicted political positions and the whole field of opinion around an issue; our many facets as individual human beings and our essential wholeness; and so on). “


Tom Atlee:

“Holergy is a term I coined to call attention to the often invisible power of each entity’s embedded uniqueness. That power becomes a resource to the extent we look beyond any single role they play or obvious categories they belong to. We might summarize this as “the part is greater than its role in the whole.” Each person and group is both a whole in their own right and part of many other wholes. So a teacher who knows that her students are not only students will tap their experiences, hobbies, and families for resources to use in teaching her class. An integral mediator will recognize that conflicted parties are not only adversaries but are also sources of insight and creativity for resolving their shared problem. An integral politician will recognize that citizens are not only voters, supporters, complainers, and recipients of government services, but potential sources of wisdom, creativity, and implementation in public affairs.

Significantly, both of these phenomena—synergy and holergy—include the phrase “greater than” as part of their definition. This means that the entities and factors in a situation can generate greater or lesser power and benefit, depending on how we view and engage with them. This is useful knowledge for anyone seeking to create change with limited resources. Well-utilized diversity in well-designed whole systems can provide free resources “out of nowhere.” The diversity of a community, well engaged, can generate collective healing, collective intelligence, and collective transformation accessible in no other way.”


Tom Atlee:

“If one of the chief characteristics of integral politics includes the interactive process through which the evolving diversity of a community or society engages in consciously co-creating its collective life (as introduced above) we need to rethink power and leadership from the top-down shaping of social phenomena to a more participatory, emergent, “power-with” worldview. What kind of power and leadership does a community or society need in order to engage its diversity in interactions that consciously co-create its collective life? I think this question leads to three related forms of servant leadership.

Capacity-building eldership that does whatever is needed—from inspiration to provocation to teaching to convening—to increase the capacity of the led community or society to lead itself. In the early stages, this can include whatever managerial guidance may serve to maintain the community or society while it achieves greater self-organizing competencies. But this more directive leadership can only work (for this purpose) if it is humble enough to keep trying to delegate more responsibility to the led system, and thus work itself out of a job.

Emergent participatory leadership, in which different people serve the group by (temporarily) leading in a realm defined by where their volunteered competencies and life-energy meet the needs of the group.

This produces a fluidity and distribution of leadership functions among the group, according to the needs of the moment.

Embedded systemic leadership in which the guidance systems needed by the group to function and evolve are embedded in its culture, collective narratives, institutions, infrastructure, systems, and technologies. These ever-present sources of direction minimize the need for individual leadership to provide guidance—at least until the established guidance systems cease to function adequately.

At such junctures, when systems no longer function well, capacity-building eldership or emergent leadership shows up to bring group consciousness and co-creativity to the dysfunctional area. This is a sociological manifestation of the general rule that increased attentiveness is called for when automaticities—habits, institutions, reactions, etc.—are no longer serving well. Consciousness temporarily replaces the automaticities in making life’s choices while also exploring the dysfunctional dynamics in order to create new automaticities that better serve the new circumstances. Putting newly functional automaticities in place then frees consciousness to attend to other things.