Global Problems, Global Governance, and Denial

Discovering an Integral Civic Consciousness in a Global Age

John Bunzl
September 18th, 2012
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This essay was originally published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice. Click here to purchase the full issue.

This article asks why, in an age of global crisis, global governance still remains a low priority for the integral community. It posits a civic line of development, suggesting only those possessing a worldcentric level of civic awareness can fully comprehend global problems and the need for binding global governance. I argue that modern (orange altitude), postmodern (green altitude), and even low vision-logic (teal altitude) worldviews still see global problems nationcentrically rather than worldcentrically. I explore this limitation in light of destructive international competition; a key and potentially catastrophic phenomenon that, it is argued, shows why only a worldcentric, late vision-logic (turquoise altitude) civic consciousness can disclose solutions to the global crisis. Ways in which green and teal altitude split off these realities are suggested, providing clues to how turquoise civic consciousness may be accessed and how the integral community may thus play a fuller, more effective role in global transformation.

Civics entails the rights and duties of citizenship and the role citizens have in establishing, shaping, and overseeing government at any level (Altinay, 2010). Civics is founded on citizens’ perception that governance is actually necessary; that it is functionally required to solve societal, environmental or economic problems at a particular level, be it local, national, or global.

If, for example, a citizen could not perceive national-scale problems, or mistook them as being of a merely local nature, she would see no need for national governance at all. Her civic consciousness would be merely local or ethnocentric. Such a citizen would recognize only their local authority or tribe as functionally required and would likely see any higher levels of government as superfluous, wasteful and suspicious. Those at orange altitude or higher, on the other hand, recognize national government to be required in addition to local governance. Their depth of civic consciousness thus has two levels. Yet, in an age when our problems are increasingly global and threaten our civilized survival, it is notable that very few citizens see any need for a third level, that being global governance. Indeed, for the vast majority of people, including those up to teal altitude, civic consciousness remains, as I will be arguing, at best nationcentric. The emphasis on global civics indicates that global problems must first be perceived as such; a worldcentric perception that indicates that merely technical solutions or national (or local) politics cannot suffice. Instead, a vertical transformation toward a form of binding global governance is necessary.

I distinguish the civic from the political line of development in the Lower-Right (LR) quadrant by noting that civics is fundamentally about the perception, by citizens, of a need for governance. Politics, on the other hand, is what happens after governance (or formal government) has been established. Civics, in that sense, is prior to politics.

The Civic Holarchy

Like all lines of development, the proposed civic line tetra-evolves and manifests in all four quadrants. Civic holons are most obvious in the LR quadrant, in what I will be referring to as “the civic holarchy.” This is the holarchy of our institutions of governance that has evolved and bonded together human societies from the earliest hunter-gatherer bands, through to Middle-Age city and small-states, and up to present-day institutions of national and global governance (Wilber, 2000; Wright, 2001).

Across a wide variety of cultures, the civic holarchy typically comprises, in the LR, the following levels: Local Authority → State → Nation-state. That is, the smallest civic holon is generally a local authority of some kind; an authority that determines local taxes and regulations. In some countries, local authorities form the parts that make up the larger whole of a state; an intermediate level of government which is itself part of a larger nation-state. In other countries, local authorities directly form the parts of the nation-state. In either case, each is a whole/part and each subsequent level transcends and includes its predecessor.

I end the civic holarchy with nation-states because although there may be many supra-national institutions of governance, such as the European Union, the United Nations (UN), and others, these institutions remain, for reasons elucidated later, heavily influenced by nation-states and their differing national interests. It is thus nation-states that today remain the key class of actors on the world stage, the most senior level in the civic holarchy.

Democracy and civics are closely intertwined wherever individuals have a legally binding vote.3 Thus, in democratic countries, individual citizens can be said to represent the Upper-Right (UR) quadrant correlate of civic holons at each level. Meanwhile the civic consciousness of an individual citizen represents the Upper-Left (UL) quadrant correlate. Similarly, the civic culture of a society will manifest in the Lower-Left (LL) quadrant and will be reflected by its institutions of governance in the LR. This is not to suggest an absence of civic consciousness in non-democratic nations; only that it is not mediated by democracy.

Integral Civic Consciousness

The nation-state system and representative democracy first came to prominence with the Western Enlightenment (Wilber, 2000). But given the intervening centuries, one would think civic consciousness, especially among those claiming an integral level of awareness, would by now have evolved well beyond a rational, nationcentric level to a genuinely worldcentric level. For, as Ken Wilber (2000) concludes with respect to our current global ecological crisis,

Gaia’s main problem is not toxic waste dumps, ozone depletion, or biospheric pollution. These global problems can only be recognized and responded to from a global, worldcentric awareness, and thus Gaia’s main problem is that not enough human beings have developed and evolved from egocentric to sociocentric to worldcentric, there to realize—and act on—the ecological crisis. (p. 525)

But if the integral community had evolved to such a level, one would expect it to be engaged in various forms of worldcentric civic-political action; action, in other words, aimed at establishing a form of binding global governance that Wilber and others argue to be fundamental to our species’ survival (Wilber, 2000; McIntosh, 2007; Stewart, 2000). But this seems largely absent. Indeed, integral practitioners seem markedly reluctant to engage in global civic action. As political commentator Scott Payne (2010) asserts, “Certainly activism as teaching people about an integral perspective is vital to our political, cultural, and conscious evolution. ... And yet, I still feel like there is a certain reticence among self-identified integralists around getting into the nitty-gritty, day-to-day grind of the political process.”

What this anomaly suggests is that while consciousness among integral practitioners may indeed have evolved to a more worldcentric level along many lines of development, it remains critically under-evolved in the civic line. Indeed, as I will argue, civic consciousness, for those up to at least teal altitude, still remains, in subtle but critical ways, bounded within a nationcentric worldview. It is this phenomenon—this arrested feature of our consciousness—I will attempt to elucidate and address. In doing so, however, let us first trace the development of nationcentrism itself.

The Nationcentric Worldview

Rationality and modernity, and with them nation-states, emerged with the Enlightenment, so succeeding the prior mythic-membership worldview (Habermas, 1979; Wilber, 2000). The prior, mythic (amber altitude) worldview recognized only those sharing the same tribe or religious belief; an ethnocentric worldview broadly reflected (in the LR) by the horticultural techno-economic mode and, in the civic holarchy of the time, by the Middle-Age small-state or city-state. But with orange altitude rationality came a more encompassing worldview. As Jürgen Habermas (1979) points out, formal operational rationality established the postconventional stages of “civil liberties” or “legal freedom” for “all those bound by law.” It thus extended the civic circle to a much wider group than its mythic predecessor and this was reflected in the LR by the industrial techno-economic mode and, politically, by the nation-state (Wilber, 2000).

In Europe, from roughly the mid-17th century, the circle of mutual respect expressed in each nation-state encompassed all those sharing a particular nationality. Yet, despite this greatly expanded in-group there still remained, for each nation, an “out-group” consisting of all people beyond its borders. This sense of in-group versus out-group was reflected in the competitive, colonial era whereby the rational worldview, being predominantly at orange altitude, saw its own nation before (or above) all others (Gellner & Breuilly, 2009). Struggles for democracy and human rights, although released by rationality—a wave that was transnational in its potential and often in its articulation (e.g., Marx)—nevertheless remained essentially national struggles. That is, since these newly won rights had to be enshrined in law, and since the law is guaranteed only by each nation-state, these struggles could only be resolved within a national framework. For the vast majority of Western citizens in the modern era, then, the concept of the nation-state was internalized as the highest and most powerful expression of a common identity; the highest expression of We (Smith, 1993).

The Postmodern Era and the Emergent Low Vision-logic Leading Edge

But what changes did the late-rational (postmodern) worldview bring to this earlier, quite xenophobic form of nationcentrism? And what of substance has the emergent, low vision-logic (teal altitude) worldview added?

In the postmodern era the modern notion of “my country above all others” has given way to a more egalitarian, pluralistic view. In keeping with postmodernism’s pluralistic relativism, nation-states are seen more as equals (Archibugi, 2008). Political identity is beginning to shift, albeit only to some extent, from nationcentric toward a more worldcentric view (Appiah, 2008). And yet our mode of governance and, as I shall explain, our civic consciousness, remain decidedly nationcentric. What seems to have happened is that while many aspects in both the LL and LR have become globalized (i.e., worldcentric), this has not occurred to the same extent in the civic line of development. As Greg Wilpert (2004) points out,

We can see that the current manifestation of globalization does not represent a globalization along all possible dimensions or lines of human experience. Today, only some aspects of human development are globalized, while others are left out. Specifically, the economic and some elements of the cultural dimensions tend towards the global, while the moral and political [including civic] dimensions remain largely stuck at the national level.


Figure 1. The “governance gap” depicting missing segments in the civic line of development. The innermost circle represents red altitude; proceeding outward, the circles represent amber, orange, green, and teal altitudes.

In the postmodern era, and among those at teal altitude, we can identify an increasing mismatch between, on the one side, aspirations (in the LL) and the economy (in the LR), both of which have moved to a worldcentric level, and on the other, civic consciousness (in the LL) and our continued confinement within national forms of governance (in the LR), both of which remain merely nationcentric. This mismatch, or “governance gap,” can be seen in Figure 1 by the missing green and teal altitude segments in the civic line of development in both the LL and LR quadrants.

But why do such mismatches or gaps arise? They occur, Wilber (2002) explains, because

technological innovation [in the LR] happens very fast, simply because you can change the materials of production fairly quickly .... But ... the worldview, the cultural accoutrements of religion, meaning, beliefs, shared values, and so on [in the LL] moves much more slowly, because this involves... an interior subjective transformation of consciousness—a notoriously slow and difficult process.

The problem, then, is that our techno-economic base (in the LR) is now worldcentric, as are many associated problems such as global warming, global financial market instability, and so on. But our civic consciousness (LL)—the very way we understand world problems and how to deal with them—still remains essentially nationcentric, as does our mode of governance (LR) (Bunzl, 2009b). That is, we still understand the world, not aperspectivally as a whole system, but substantially from within the prism of nation-states and their competing interests.

Efforts to Fill the Governance Gap

But the governance gap is not entirely empty. For, it is here we come to the plethora of global institutions and organizations mentioned earlier.

As noted, there are a number of institutions operating in the LR beyond the nation-state, most notably the United Nations (UN), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO). Equally, there are many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), some operating on a global scale. These would include organizations such as Oxfam, World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and others. In what follows, it is not my intention to provide a comprehensive analysis of these organizations and their roles; only to give a brief overview of their position in the bigger picture I will be elucidating.

Governmental Approaches: The Global Institutions

Looking, firstly, at how nations act on the world stage and at the role of the global institutions—the UN, World Bank, IMF and WTO—we can see that their inability to deal adequately with global problems is rooted in two distinct yet related pathologies: one which concerns the global institutions themselves, the other which concerns nation-states.

Global institutions remain heavily influenced by nation-states, and particularly by the most powerful among them. Article 2:1 of the UN Charter, for example, determines that the UN itself can have no autonomous power over its member-nations (Whittaker, 1997). Moreover, the only powers it has are not really its own powers at all. For powers of sanction and the use of force are mandated not by the UN as an autonomous entity, but only by the Security Council; that is, by its permanent nation-state members (Whittaker, 1997).4 As for the IMF and the World Bank, they are substantially influenced by their principal shareholders who are, again, the most powerful nations. The WTO, on the other hand, has in principle an equal, consensual structure. In practice, only the most powerful nations are able to use the WTO’s rules and its dispute settlement procedure to protect or project their interests (Hoekman & Mavroidis, 2000). Furthermore, the rules embodied in the WTO only serve, arguably, to fairly regulate a global economy that, because it already structurally favors the most powerful national economies, provides merely a veneer of fairness (Sachs et al., 1998). In these circumstances it is difficult to see the UN or other global institutions as governing nation-states in a manner that is autonomous, objective, fair, or binding; in a manner, in other words, that could be described as effective, let alone worldcentric.

Today’s global institutions, we might conclude, display a pathological communion (or fusion) with nation-states, and particularly with the most powerful ones. Instead of being holarchically above nations, as would be needed if they were to perform global governance objectively and in a binding fashion, these institutions are instead substantially on the same holonic level as nations. That is, despite their worldcentric pretensions, they still remain subtly, yet decisively, nationcentric. But since these institutions were created by nation-states, perhaps this should be of little surprise.

Alongside this pathology sits its inverse twin: the agency of nation-states themselves. As their inability to agree on anything substantive on climate change or on many other global issues shows, they cannot cooperate with each other in many vital areas because of their need to pursue only their short-term national interests (Johnston, 1996). For nation-states, then, there is the problem of alienation from each other; an alienation that is expressed in nation-centrism itself. These twin but opposite pathologies—on one side, global institutions that are overly fused with powerful nations and, on the other, nations that are overly alienated from one another—not only allow global problems to keep on worsening, they also elucidate the extremely poor prospects for either the established global institutions or the world’s nations to solve global problems if we leave them wholly to their own devices.

Nongovernmental Approaches

But what of the thousands of NGOs that constitute the global justice movement? And what of the many other organizations and approaches that are seeking, in one way or another, to solve or mitigate global crises?

Nongovernmental organizations, particularly campaigning NGOs, have been very successful in bringing global problems to greater public attention. Through widespread campaigns and protests they have succeeded in mobilizing public opinion behind many worthy causes. This is reflected in the dramatic increase in NGO membership over recent decades and in public support for the various approaches the movement has espoused (Johnston, 1996). A selection of these approaches is summarized in Figure 2.

The distinction between nongovernmental green and teal altitude approaches, although somewhat arbitrary, I suggest indicates an important shift in consciousness. Although green approaches reflect a very broad recognition of global problems and a welcome thrust towards greater equity and ecological sustainability, we can note that they are substantially dissociated from both civics and economics. Dissociated from civics, by their choice to incarnate themselves as pressure groups rather than as political parties; and dissociated from economics, in that they tend to campaign against individual corporations or against wider trends in the economy, such as free trade or even globalization itself. Teal approaches, on the other hand, differ from green in that they indicate a willingness to work with the system rather than against it. When it comes to civics, however, teal’s dissociation remains similar to green’s.

Figure 2. A selection of nongovernmental approaches to solving global problems.

Green Altitude Nongovernmental Approaches

Let us first look in more detail at the cognitive sophistication of green altitude with respect to filling the governance gap. One propensity of green cognition is to identify individual global problems, such as climate change, and, from that to identify the entity seen as causing each problem. If there is climate change, for example, it must be governments who are failing to regulate. If there is large-scale pollution, the appropriate corporation is singled out for blame. This kind of cause-and-effect thinking is part and parcel of the rational cognitive structure. As John Stewart (2008) points out,

Rational analysis is very effective at modelling systems in which linear chains of cause and effect predominate. However, it is poor at modelling systems in which circular causality is common—i.e., systems in which each element impacts on other elements and they in turn impact back on it, directly or indirectly. Conscious rational analysis alone can rarely work out how such a complex system will unfold through time.

While it is true that individuals at green also identify the larger system to be at fault—such as capitalism, free-trade, tax avoidance, etc.—when it comes to action, it tends to focus on single issues or individual entities; on raising awareness and protest. Indeed, in keeping with postmodernism’s distaste for meta-narratives, the movement seems to be defined by an overemphasis on diversity at the expense of unity. As one commentator on the World Social Forum observed,

This diversity of opinion and approach is both a strength of the Forum, as well as its principal weakness. The Forum derives strength from this diversity as it provides the opportunity for a very large number of movements and organisations to come together, each feeling that their views have a place in the open space of the Forum. At the same time the diverse trends and opinions lead, often, to a sense of frustration that the Forum is not able to hammer together a consensus regarding both a strategic understanding and tactics to be applied. (Gupta, 2005).

There are cases, however, where organizations within the movement act on a broader international basis, such as in climate campaigns. But, as I will demonstrate, their attempts to persuade governments to cut carbon emissions take no account of new, but as yet largely unrecognized, stimuli inherent in the globalized economy. These stimuli, I will argue, make it virtually impossible for governments to act substantively and this may explain why green altitude worldviews attempting to fill the governance gap have thus far proven inadequate.

The rational, modern/postmodern cognitive structure tends to operate, then, in a binary, either-or fashion. It is very good indeed at seeing the fish; at identifying all the single issues of concern and the individual entities seen to be at fault. But as I will explain in more detail, what green fails to fully see, is the water. That is, it fails to properly recognize the dynamics of the wider collective environment in which all the fish swim and compete and the large extent to which that environment influences their destructive behavior.

Teal Altitude Nongovernmental Approaches

The teal worldview, on the other hand, sees the world more systemically (Wilber, 2006). Rather than working against corporations and the economic system, it seeks to engage with them. Hence the recent explosion in the number of approaches which seek to transform individual corporate or consumer behavior, many of which can be seen in Figure 2. Many of these have been quite successful and have helped raise awareness and alter behaviors.

Nevertheless, one common trait in teal approaches is that engagement with economics tends to act on the individual; be it the individual corporation, or individual consumer. The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR), for example, depends on individual corporations voluntarily deciding to adopt a CSR approach. Ethical consumerism, likewise, depends on individual consumers voluntarily deciding to use their dollars responsibly. This reliance on individual responsibility is inherent in the teal perspective (Wilber, 2006). Meanwhile, as explained earlier, green approaches, albeit for different reasons, similarly tend to focus on individual entities. The common factor between green and teal altitude, then, is that when it comes to action, their centers of gravity reside in the individual quadrants (the UL and UR).

Continue reading (download pdf)

This essay was originally published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice. The issue opens with an eloquent argument for the necessity of wisdom studies, by Dr. Roger Walsh (a featured article). The next two articles are by seasoned integral practitioners, David Zeitler and Kevin Bowman, who have done much to develop aspects of Integral Theory as well as apply it to their respective fields of psychotherapy and economics. Then, three authors explore Integral Theory’s utility in the field of education. The first article, by Martin Schmidt, provides an inspiring example of international high school students in Hong Kong working with the AQAL model; the second explores the utility of ePortfolios for professional development; and the third details how integral thinking can help build transdisciplinary bridges between the fields of sustainability and mathematics. The final two articles in the issue, by seasoned authors John Bunzl and Guy du Plessis, detail the challenges of worldcentric governance and the growing utility of integral approaches for addiction and recovery work. The issue concludes with a book review of The Postconventional Personality. Click here to purchase the full issue.

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