Depolarizing the American Mind

Depolarizing the American Mind, (at left) written in 2014 by Steve McIntosh and Carter Phipps, proposes a “synthesis platform” designed to address the current political stalemate and create new avenues of agreement and consensus across the different demographics of the American political spectrum. Depolarizing the American Mind also examines the causes of cultural and political polarization and describes evolutionary principles for working with “existential oppositions” such as “liberal and conservative.”

Also, on the right is a 6 page abridged version of the longer paper, Depolarizing the American Mind. This abridged version sketches the historical causes of political polarization and foresees the emergence of a “Future Right” and “Future Left” that have the potential to transform the current state of political dysfunction.

“I think Depolarizing the American Mind by McIntosh and Phipps is among the most insightful essays I’ve ever read about the causes of our Nation’s hyper-partisan polarization problem. It offers a new diagnosis of how we got here, and a new prescription for what to do now. McIntosh and Phipps show us how we can evolve into more constructive forms of disagreement a decade from now.”

Jonathan Haidt, NYU social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Showing 27 comments
  • Sunday Cote

    I very much appreciate the work that you are doing. What an important undertaking. However, by design this quiz seems to funnel all participants into a 1st tier view. I’m curious about the decision not to include selections that would reflect 2nd tier views. Surely not everyone taking this quiz is coming from 1st tier. Would love to hear your thoughts and to see the priority selections on this quiz that include those who are at 2nd tier Integral.

    • Steve McIntosh

      Hi Sunday,

      Thanks for your comment. As I mentioned in my previous response to Tara Ader’s comment on the polarization test page, the point of this simple test is to call attention to our white paper above: Depolarizing the American Mind — this is where our integral thinking is laid out. The polarization test is designed to be quick and easy to take. If we made it complex enough to detect levels of development beyond progressive postmodern it would be much more involved and time consuming, and many fewer people would have taken it. To date we have had over 3,000 people take the polarization test, so we are accomplishing our aim of exposing them to the “questions to consider” in the test results. Our main thrust for 2015 will be developing richer descriptions of a “more evolved Left” and a “more evolved Right” rather than expanding the test to be a kind of social science experiment. We hope you will continue to follow these developments.

      Best Wishes,

  • Janine Rickard

    I’d like to challenge or at least nuance the central premise here, that the polarization in government reflects the polarization of the electorate. A recent NBC/WSJ poll shows what the electorate thinks the policy priorities for Congress should be now. The top five are progressive postmodern:

    1. Access to lower cost student loans–80% support.
    2. Increase spending on infrastructure–75%
    3. Raising the minimum wage–65%
    4. Emergency funding for fighting Ebola in Africa–60%
    5. Addressing climate change/reducing carbon emissions–59%
    6. Building Keystone Pipeline–54%

    Now it is true that the electorate is pretty much evenly polarized when referring to political party and the favorability of specific politicians. But clearly there is a disconnect between the priorities of the electorate and their willingness to vote for (rightwing) politicians who do not share those priorities.

  • Lucinda Winslow

    Writing on the heels of the US 2014 elections, I find your initiative away from polarization most welcome. Even better is the radical invitation to self responsibility within the post modern circle and with it the invitation to understand our 60’s and 70’s origins and the need now for maturing, listening and expanded considerations. Grow up, young and not so young Green!

    Your concerns and queries have been on my mind and heart for a while, especially in the past 2 years as I have been answering the radical invitation to citizenship extended at Marianne Williamson’s Sister Giant conference in 2012. I’ve been volunteering as activist on the ground with RESULTS, the 35 year old non-partisan anti poverty non-profit. I’ve written for the media,become involved in local politics, lobbied all 7 of CT’s members of Congress…easier since they are a range of liberal modernist, if not post modernists. In so doing, I’ve come smack up against the frustration of the current gridlock and the hopelessness of action on a range of social issues. Increasingly I’ve been wondering how to change the conversation, or start one, understanding that change will only happen when we can truly listen to and hear what those more conservative are saying, when we can, yes, learn to value and speak to those with different ideas both respectfully and thoughtfully.

    Your impetus towards this kind of mature dialog and framing of the question is refreshing and inspiring. I feel a small twinkle of hope, especially in the invitation to those of us who want to see change to evolve ourselves into the kind of effective change makers that are called for now. Your insightful thinking sets a framework for us to expand our capacity to listen and respect each other in the name of the world we’d like to see for our children. To BE the ‘spiral monkeys’ Don Beck invites us to be.

    Thanks, Cultural Evolution founders and fellows and all those who will join the dance and make a difference.

  • Joe Egerszegi, Toronto, Canada

    Dear Sirs:

    I’d like to offer a very different (Canadian) perspective of this problem.

    Essentially, I’d argue that the two naked mistakes from which America suffers to this day, can be best viewed from the Spiral Dynamics perspective. As much as I’ll refer to Claire Graves’ proposal, I don’t actually explain Spiral Dynamics; there are many sources available to reference.

    If humanity first moved from the instinctual Beige (a ME stage), to the Purple animistic stage (a WE stage), back to a ME stage of Red egocentric, followed by (WE) Blue authoritarian stage, then to the ME Orange strategic (which I see more accurately viewed as the entrepreneurial stage), it could be argued that the inception of America (1776) took place at a very Orange time in American history.

    If we accept this, and look at the mindset that created the American assumptions that Americans live by TO THIS DAY, we may find some telling relationships that explain ‘The American Way.’

    As a Canadian, I’ve marvelled how going across the American/Canadian border should present such huge differences; while taking the Amtrak Maple Leaf train from Toronto to New York City, the countryside in Canada is reasonably looked after. The countryside in America (NY state) is considerable worse, if not derelict. This is even more exaggerated crossing into Detroit. Perhaps I wont belabour this point. What is the fundamental difference in mindset between Americans and Canadians (or Europeans; we very similar to them)?
    I’d suggest that while Canadians and our European counterparts don’t have the very strong nationalist mottoes of America, specifically as laid out in the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, it may very well be this difference that is the source of our Euro/Canadian progressiveness.

    What’s wrong with the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and how dare I impugn these particularly hallowed documents? Essentially, there are two screaming concepts that all Americans understand, even if they understand nothing more about their country:
    “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
    and the Second Amendment
    .. the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    Unfortunately, the cumulative effect of these two directives seems to be the perhaps simple minded equivalent motto of ‘Grab and Defend.’

    I’d argue that all of the subsequent symptoms, including the constant polarization of the progressives and conservatives comes to this: while the conservatives live with this because ‘we’ve always done it this way, and this is who we are,’ the progressives can’t bail on this socially deficient directive. The biggest problem? This very strongly Orange/ME mindset has been entrenched into America’s documents of incorporation.

    Furthermore, if this problem wasn’t enough, the American system of government is largely paralysed because of the other ‘problem’ the founding father created: while the British system of House of Commons and Senate had evolved through centuries of social evolution, the American system was largely fabricated at the time of incorporation.

    Although this arrangement has changed a bit over the last two and a half centuries, it hasn’t changed enough to rid it of its paralysis: America has three elected bodies, each vying to satisfy their own agendas. Consequently, paralysis is the norm.

    What alternatives are there? The Canadian version of the British government has served us admirably, even with the repatriation of the British North America Act: we have the same House of Commons that all democracies have, but we also have a second house, one of ‘sober thought’ that reviews most laws as authored by the government. It is not elected, and so does not get very pushy and understands that they don’t directly represent the public. They are more like a professional jury that vets laws after consulting in numerous hearings (Senate hearings are frequently observable on our CPAC). It is for this reason that Canadian laws don`t get bogged down in the ongoing social evolution, and we do not suffer the presumptuousness that the originators ‘got it right the first time’; there’s a real problem with this, because the very concept of counted amendments infers that there isn’t much wrong here, even though some of those amendments are there to repeal other amendments (Prohibition, for example).

    Why not cut the founding fathers some slack and create a new government structure that actually works? If the truth be known from my observations, it may very well be the more fringe Libertarians who’d carry this banner. Once having done so, American could begin the slow process of progressing from the Orange (ME) that they are stuck in, and begin the progress toward the more progressive (and clearly desirable) Green (WE) level.

    If there is anything the Spiral Dynamics and Integral movements are on the hook for, it is this.

    • Joe Egerszegi, Toronto, Canada

      I’ve been considering this campaign a bit more. It occurs to me that there can be no de-polarization of the existing mindsets due to the fact that Republicans and Democrats do not straddle the balanced strategy. For the mathematical/engineering types, both of these parties represent overdamped systems, where the Republican is grossly overdamped.

      Unfortunately, it will probably be the Libertarian antithesis to the existing thesis that will precipitate the necessary synthesis.

      Brace yourselves; it WILL take place.

  • Bob

    Fascinating approach. I would suggest that any dynamic system needs to maintain a dynamic balance between stability (right/conservative) and change (left/liberal). (Kaufman, Investigations). The tension in that dynamic creates the energy to activate change, growth.

    And I would suggest another synthesis: human/nature. The right tends to see human development as paramount. The left sees environmental protection as paramount and sees human development as problematic. The synthesis would be to see humans as the creative edge of life development on earth.
    To anthropomorphize, when Nature endowed humans with her prodigious gifts, she must have known that humans would transform Earth as profoundly as her other evolutionary breakthroughs: photosynthesis, eukaryotic cells/respiration, multicellular organisms, warm-blooded animals, etc. Whatever Nature is about at this point in her evolutionary adventure (consciousness?, spreading life to the stars?) humans are about (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). Human development is natural development. At this point, she evolves principally through us.

    The right would see that humans cannot thrive in a degraded environment. The left would see that human development is not a problem; it is the contemporary goal of life on earth. For Earth to thrive, humans must thrive. Earth will be transformed; the nature of that transformation will be the emergent, creative outcome of the encounter between Earth and her progeny.

    With respect to your values:
    A. Protect the Environment: as necessary to foster human growth
    B. Economic Vitality and Growth: to extent possible consistent with long term viability
    C. Respect Heritage and Tradition: naturally evolved forms that need to be valued, as any living form

  • Matthew Kalman

    How serendipitous: I hear nothing from Mark ‘Radical Middle’ Satin for some years then – just after I mention his post-partisan work in my comment here – he pops up to say he’s reworked his website.

    Do take a look.


  • Matthew Kalman

    Wow – just come across this paper and I’m really looking forward to reading it.

    I should wait until I’ve actually read it, but I’ll make a first comment anyway… (Yes, rather naughty to get my conclusions out first!).

    I do really hope you’ll work with other transpartisans – **step out of the ‘Integral ghetto’ of the usual suspects** (like me!). (If you stick in that space, I’m not sure how much impact you can ever really have).

    For example, Prof Jonathan Haidt’s psychological growth has taken him towards a transpartisan type of position, and he set up a project to support transpartisan developments:

    Have you made contact with him yet? (Who else in the public eye has taken this transpartisan trajectory? We need to find them all)

    Here are my thoughts on Haidt generally:

    (If we can find more such non-Integral examples of public figures who have grown psychologically into a transpartisan space, that might help convince others – and get public and academic credibility for this shift).

    Mark Satin had been supporting such ‘Radical Middle’ developments for decades.

    He’s moved on to other work I think (he likes to stick at things for 10 years then change) – but well worth speaking to. (He came up with his own assessment once; though he wasn’t quite transpartisan enough to stop it largely throwing up progressives as always being the best examples. I think he told me he was working on it. Like most of us, he’s at heart a progressive).

    An early Chief Operating Officer of the Integral Institute, Keith Thompson, broke out of the progressive space and even wrote a book about it.

    Can we learn anything from Keith? (Or did he do just jump over into a dogmatic conservative space?)

    I remember Don Beck (co-founder of Spiral Dynamics) talking about how he attended all the launch meetings of the various branches of the Integral Institute. Of the 200-300 who attended, he only came across 10-15 people who weren’t immediately triggered by any mention of traditional/’Blue’ values and suchlike. (This suggest how it might be easier to talk about transpartisanism, rather than living it).

    This rather suggests that the Integral movement is itself mostly a ‘Green’ movement. We also know – from empirical research – that most people in the Integral milieu appear to have an early post-conventional ego development stage that finds Integral is pretty much the only answer one needs, the only language needed to describe the world. (Not all, of course – other Integralists have a more open and multi-faceted approach. This appears with later Loevinger ego stages).

    Makes me wonder whether the real integral post-partisans will often have let go of the Integral movement by now…? 😉

    I guess I mostly have…

    Though probably having more integral impact than in the past, perhaps. See and

    • Stan Gower

      Hi, Matthew,
      I read your comments with some bemusement. Firstly, commenting on an unread article is curious to me. It’s not “naughty” as you suggest; but it is simply not to the point, as a RELEVANT comment. I look forward to your comment after you have actually read the ICE’s paper on Political Polarization, and carefully considered its observations and proposals.
      Many of your references refer to aspirational goals that have been around for a long time, and remain only aspirations, and even then, only of some people. A different approach seems worthy of serious evaluation, I think.
      I am not sure what the Integral Ghetto that you refer to actually means. At the beginning of ICE’s paper, the work of others in this field is not only acknowledged, but also strongly appreciated; hardly a ghetto mentality as I see things. The paper has a simple but powerful focus; “on the cultural roots of the problem”. The difficult challenge of understanding cultural roots can be greatly assisted by a deep study of the evolution of human consciousness and culture from the beginning of recorded history to the present. Understandings derived there can then be very usefully used to suggest solutions to contemporary issues.
      For me, I have found the ICE’s position on Political Polarization to have a simple focus that most people would understand; and also to present a challenge; to consider seriously the observations and proposals put forward there, on their own terms.
      Stan Gower. Melbourne, Australia.

  • Tom Murray

    Steve, Carter, and others at ICE, I enjoyed reading your vision for the next evolutionary steps in the American political landscape. I am rereading the document as I prepare to send it to the heads of a couple of progressive organizations (United Republic and PeaceJam) who are not familiar with Integral. I hope that they find the theory on cultural development and the approach to polarity (management) resiliency interesting enough to dive in further. Thanks for all of your efforts There are some aspects of the platform that I find challenging to my own value system, and that I fear may antagonize or trigger those I intend to share it with. If you have time I’d be interested to hear your reply. I think under most of my suggestions below point to an under-examined perspective on capitalism, which creates a subtle bias toward individualism and away from collectivism. Its not my area of expertise but I know that we need to ‘transcend and include’ capitalism in a radical enough sense that we need a new term for what is to come. Specifically:

    – My preferred interpretation of the Libertarian perspective is that it is not simply about ‘less government’ but about more local government—governance and leadership maximally responsive to local realities. It takes both the power of collective agreements and the guidance of enlightened (elected) civic leaders to counteract the forces of self-centeredness and short-sided materialism that exist as the less-evolved aspects of all individuals and groups. An emphasis on market forces and less government will not achieve this. IMHO most Libertarians don’t have an accurate grasp of this need for democratically-built liberating social structures and rules that take into account our animal natures and ego-attachments (in addition to our evolutionary/ethical natures) .

    – One issue that is of critical importance to me, and to one of the colleagues I will forward your paper to, is the corporate and money influences on government. Reversing this disturbing trend is central to recovering a sane evolutionary trajectory in our democracy, yet you say too little about it. The same with income inequality, a related unsustainable trend that you mention but only briefly—which capitalism does not have a solution for. I am a big fan of the insights articulated in the movie The Corporation, that giving business their preeminent legal status contributes significantly to the moral declines mentioned above. Capitalism is great as far as it goes, but its gone too far in several respects and need to be reinvented. (To contrast Democracy does not need so much to be reinvented as actualized!)

    – Unfortunately, references to John Mackey (yes, an Integral supporter, and integrally informed) do not help your message to the intended audience as his opinions on health care, climate control, and capitalism are very controversial in progressive circles (google Mackey controversy). The value gained by referencing him in this particular context is outweighed by the propensity of readers to ‘write you off’ if you come out as a supporter of the hot-trigger positions he has staked out.

    – A agree with the commenter earlier RE your reference to maintaining the American hegemony. This speaks to a reasonable value from a conservative cultural perspective, but its implications are too immoral (nationalistic and unsustainable) to mention unless there is some caveat attached to put it into perspective.

    – Finally, the article errs in a direction similar to much of integral theory, which is an emphasis on categorizing, on placing things in neat boxes, as opposed to articulating underlying principles (perhaps from a strategic decision to connect with Orange and blue-cognitive Greens). Actually, I commend the authors on including many important underlying principles–I think that is the strength of the paper. My critique is that the conclusions and take-away focus on categorization (including the Polarization Test). Perhaps the conclusion could focus more on summarizing the characteristics of engagement procedures, deliberative skills, and liberating structures that, regardless of what political category one belongs to, are essential for cultural and political evolution. Also, as a position paper, the Development Plan could be in an appendix rather than positioned as a concluding statement, so that it ends with a gesture back out rather than inward.

    > I suspect that we are more in agreement than disagreement on many of these issues, once we got into the details and underlying values. My comments are specifically about this document and what might help it better reach its intended audience and have he intended effect. I wish you all luck with this exciting project!


  • Ernie Tamminga

    I appreciate and applaud the motivation of the paper.
    The one thing that caught me up short and made me absolutely bristle was when the paper implied that one desirable outcome would be to “maintain American hegemony.”
    Hegemony means unchallengeable power over others.
    There’s certainly no “transcend and include” about hegemony.
    I hope that was just an inadvertent bad choice of wording…

  • Stan Gower

    Further to my comments on 19 July 2013, I am pleased and challenged by reading the ICE’s new white paper on Depolarizing the American Mind, in continuance of this important work.
    In view of the many important issues that that polarization stops from being improved, polarization appears an excellent choice for the immediate focus of the ICE.
    After careful reading of the paper, I would strongly commend the presentation and development of a Synthesis Process as contained there, to all who are concerned to improve the effectiveness of Government, in Australia where I live, as well as in America, whose political situation I do not presume to know well enough to comment on specifically.
    At p18 of the PDF paper, we read, “The idea is not to try to get people to move off their identity-providing political positions, but rather to improve and strengthen their existing positions, by integrating the aspects of the opposing pole that complement and moderate their own values”. In my view, this approach, which is developed more fully throughout the paper, presents a valid and powerful challenge, or perhaps more helpfully, an invitation, to people of all political persuasions. If undertaken willingly and with commitment, this could transform the way important national decisions are taken. Surely the realization that “there are few who are happy about the (present polarized) situation”, (at P3), should give an impetus for everybody to seriously address these issues.
    I see the Synthesis Process as a continuation of the dialectic that has operated throughout the long evolution of human Consciousness and Culture, showing a proven, successful way, that the weaknesses and pathologies that develop in all political systems over time, can be used as an opportunity for helping the human spirit to evolve to a more complete expression of its full potential.
    At p 19 of the PDF paper we read, “The synthesis platform’s larger mission also includes plans to develop a “caucus” of supporters who can help refine the platform’s positions and work to increase the visibility and influence of this emerging form of political activism”. Here is an invitation to all who are interested in this work to make the effort of contributing towards refining the presentation of the platform’s plan, to achieve the influence it deserves, in addressing areas of politics that are not likely to be easily moved from their present entrenched views.
    I found the Polarization Test contained in the Appendix of the paper an excellent means of getting a better understanding of the political groups referred to in the paper, and their relationship to each other. The very discipline of choosing only 3 top choices from 7 options immediately confronted me with the complexity and inconsistency of our common human nature. I found it also a useful challenge to try to project my thinking into a different political frame from my real one, and see where the Test led me from that perspective. This helped to broaden my own present perspectives on the issues.

    Stan Gower. Melbourne, Australia.

  • John Fowler

    Dear Steve and Crater,
    As I understand white papers they are designed to summarize positions, something your paper does very well. But, as you know, it also does more by introducing a new vocabulary to help frame an issue that as of yet is in the shadows of our collectively evolving consciousness. It was both a pleasure and a thrill to read.

    The new vocabulary and context that you offer are more than significant, particularly the new synthesis and (I couldn’t help but hear Hegel in the background)possible ways to forge it and the recognition of the dual types of polarities, positive/ positive as an addition to the good/bad so often played out. I love it!

  • Holly Smith

    Many thanks for this thoughtful work. I plan on sending it on to my friends who are open to integral ideas. I haven’t liked ideas of compromise, feeling that the movement forward is more expansive, wider and deeper, integrated and new. It reminds me of parenting our children with my husband and our ex’s. When I was open to hearing and integrating their ideas, along with my own, new and better decisions came forth. Keep up this most important work!

  • pamela chaddock

    Most excellent, Steve and Carter! And a monstrous undertaking.

    My center of gravity is around Liberal Modernist (with less equality and more equity/opportunity, with Integral-Evolutionary leanings).

    My concern is that the Far Right agenda, revolving door politics, non-regulation (of morally bankrupt financiers), money as speech, and the profit- driven corporate influence over a complicit Congress AND over the media et al will destroy everything long before results come from the so-called ‘give’ needed by Liberals. (My take is that disorganized Liberals with their misguided generosity incline toward cooperation and bi-partisanship in contrast to divisive lock-step Conservatives bent on self-preservation.) ‘Progress’ has generally come through liberals –controlled by conservatives. Ideally, it’s a good balanced system, but solutions you’ve outlined seem rather lopsided, from my humble vantage.

    It’s clear to me that as long as the profit-driven self-interest model is king, we will remain polarized and crippled. Ultimately an evolving society is only as strong as its weakest link. Endless self-serving with increasing disenfranchisement will only sabotage everyone’s future. And, yes, the answer is not ‘equalizing income’, but wise long-term investing in incentive and opportunity to help others raise themselves. While that’s not seen as ‘profitable’ enterprise, long-range solutions aimed toward benefiting the society as a whole must be sought. One positive outcome will be when an ‘other-directed’ service motive becomes economically viable.

    I would be very interested in seeing a projected scenario for American society as the current self-interest model (say, 1%) accelerates and gets everything it thinks it wants – economically, politically, militarily – at the expense of all others. What does oligarchy look like on a day-to-day basis 10-20 years from now? (I don’t like what I’m seeing today.)

    Future-forecasting could uncover increasing disasters over dignities. And wouldn’t that help us see ultimately what we DON’T want? Wouldn’t that require us to move toward reasoned actions (change of heart?) that are more humane and inclusive? We need an outcome that benefits not a few, but yes, the greatest number. Perhaps the weakest link is the one currently controlling the show…

    I know my take comes across as simplistic within your context, and we humans generally operate in crisis mode. My hope is that we can look ahead, and stretch ourselves to entertain other points of view and the values therein — as Depolarizing the American Mind invites us to do.

  • Terry Patten

    Thank you for the brilliant, energetic, and scintillating public conversation we just had this morning about this important white paper and initiative on my Beyond Awakening tele seminar series. I’m honored to help bring this to the attention of more people. You issued a clarion call to people at leading edge of culture to get serious about really *leading*!

    (BTW, for anyone unfamiliar with the series who is interested to hear the recording, you’re invited to register at and you’ll receive an email with a link through which you can download and listen.)

  • Steve McIntosh

    Please note the comments below from 2013 refer to an early draft of the polarization paper and do not apply to the new whitepaper “Depolarizing the American Mind.”

    Thanks for your interest,

    Steve McIntosh

  • rocky

    Well written from a biased point of view. To blame the Right as the impetus to inaction avoids a primary reason for the Right’s resistance to the l’Left… it is the Left’s obsession with theory of justice, education, and all social ills, which theory, though failed many times, is somehow going to work this time if we willingly throw enough money at the problem, and anyone who disagrees is obstructionist. Obstruction is the appropriate reaction to stupid ideas that harm others in the real world while saving them in the quasi-religious fervor of idealism.

  • Jeff Bellsey

    Wow, what a document! Bravo, and best of luck getting this think tank on the map.

    I’m curious about the heart of the paper:

    // ICE’s main focus, however, is on the underlying cultural causes of polarization … //

    It seems naive to assume that the marketplace of political ideas is a free market, or to assume that political shifts to the right are purely rational or philosophical. In the paper you allude to some of the structural issues that block ideological dialogue: a gerrymandered districting system that eliminates competition, campaign financing laws that skew debates towards the motives of a few hundred people in the funding class, etc. Without freeing the marketplace, how can good (or even extraordinary) ideas compete?

    If you want to get to the underlying causes of polarization, it’s hard to get away from journalism 101: follow the money. And if your goal is to influence elections (mission statement D), it would seem valuable to unclog the system at the structural level first. Then your amazing synthetic platform would soar!

  • Lori Filipek

    As complements to the ICE paper, which deals with politics, but does not deal with other deeply intertwined related issues, I suggest people read the excellent book on the coevolution of economic, social, health, and educational systems, “Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies” by the systems theorists C. Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer: It shows what people at the ground level are already doing successfully in many corners of the US and throughout the world, and also offers suggestions for what “we” as individuals can do that complement ICE’s suggestions. The book comes from what I believe ICE calls the “post-postmodernist” viewpoint and from the bottom up. (An example not in the book, but that I find relevant to ICE, is the area around Portland, OR, where people I know who are very Libertarian are working with others who are ICE’s paradigmatic Progressive Postmodernists to forge locally independent communities that tend to work for all.) I also offer a paper I wrote as a somewhat different viewpoint on the process of consciousness evolution and the causes of polarization. It is published in the Systems Thinking World Journal: The paper suggests ways to discuss emotional topics like the present one in a way that can produce constructive learning for us all.

    My major concern with the ICE paper is that I fear its recommendations might have the unintended consequence of feeding the problems in our now outmoded system, rather than transcending them. I agree with the process and the need to understand and honor the truths in all viewpoints, but am concerned about the some of the suggested concessions. Similar hopeful experiments in the past by budding systems theorists trying to mediate the interests of opposing sides have almost invariably led to increasing the power of the already powerful, rather than transcending to a more equal relationship. IMO, that’s how we ended up with the mess we’re in today. For example, the market was meant to be used to create an even playing field between producers and consumers, but instead has been used to distort information to influence buyers to make decisions not in their best long-term interest. Even democracy, instead of being a middle ground to sort out differences between all people, has been used to advance the interests of the most influential at the expense of the rest. Take care in what kinds of “concessions” you propose.

  • Pamela Melnick

    Very interesting. I wish you luck. Rather, I pray you are successful! I am in the center-right camp and have always said that when one end of a spectrum goes too far, the other end goes equally as far in the other direction in the inherent need for balance. Not that it is conscious but I believe all systems in the universe whether natural or man-made have no choice but to struggle for balance.

  • Bob

    In my view, polarization is an inherent characteristic of the order-forming process within a dynamic system. Tension builds within the system as it struggles to generate and accept new paradigms (order). This tension is the “activation energy” necessary to effectuate the change. As the tension builds, the system fractures along the weakest fault lines; polarization results.
    The more flexible the internal dynamics, the less the energy necessary to effectuate change, and the less the resulting polarization.

    So in my view, the answer to polarization is not a focus on content, a “new synthesis”, but a focus on process. Strive to make the discussion more open-ended.

    The best formalization I have run across was described to me as the “rules” of Native American council (a consensus process):
    1. Engage
    2. Speak honestly
    3. Listen intently
    4. Do not anticipate outcomes

    The last rule is probably the most important: keep the process open-ended; recognize that it is ultimately a creative process, the result of which is indeterminate. Imagine what would happen if we engaged each other with truly open minds.

  • Stan Gower

    Having had a long time interest in Charles Darwin and Evolutionary Biology, a lucky series of events led me to Steve’s McIntosh’s book, Integral Consciousness, opening my path to move forward in my evolutionary understanding. The tables showing the characteristics of different Stages of Consciousness and Culture, placed side by side, are a great guide to exploring Cultural Evolution.

    But Steve doesn’t just leave things at the theoretical stage, and, in Appendix A of his book he has taken what appears to me to be a very courageous step, and has put his theory into a practical form, (“with some hesitation”), in a brief outline, set out in A Proposal for Integral Global Governance.

    Now, in founding the Institute for Cultural Evolution, Steve and his colleagues have taken a further courageous step by exposing their ideas to wider examination and criticism. They are putting forward concrete Campaign Plans suggesting how their theoretical concepts can be made into very practical ways of addressing some of the important political and social issues of our time.

    After careful examination of both the Campaign Plan on Climate Change, and the Draft paper on Political Polarization, I feel sure that these represent a powerful fresh approach for addressing seeming intractable problems in our human consciousness and cultures. Living in Melbourne, Australia, I found that the Political Polarization draft paper is as relevant to the present political scene in Australia as it may be to the American situation.

    I strongly commend the work of the Institute for Cultural Evolution to the consideration of all thoughtful people wanting to contribute to making the world that we all live in, a better place. Stan Gower.


  • Susan Olshuff

    Wow! What a big task! I first read this paper just after serving as a staff member on Obama’s 2012 campaign. How frustrating it’s been to see one like Barack Obama stymied again and again by this political gridlock. This paper helps me to understand why things are the way they are, and gives a sense that there IS a way out. Hurry up, ICE. Bringing this perspective you’re offering into the workings of our country is essential, and NOW!!!

  • Nancy

    Very much enjoyed this document. Boy, it sure has come up recently with the verdict in the Martin/Zimmerman case. I found my “green” friends to have kind of lost their minds; ignoring evidence and flying off the handle at Zimmerman, who seems to have been mainly tried and convicted in the press. I would like to have a vigil for compassionate justice, forgiveness, and healing our cultural wounds around racism. We sure need it.

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