Bringing More Consciousness to the Legal System

The Rise of Legal Self-Consciousness

Mark Fischler and Robb Smith
March 4th, 2009
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In the Wall Street Journal's editorial of January 26, 2009 titled "How Modern Law Makes Us Powerless," Philip Howard describes the rise of a "legal self-consciousness" that is eroding the freedom of people throughout the United States and stripping us of one of the defining characteristics of American culture: a proud heritage of individual self-determination and personal responsibility.  Plymouth State University criminal justice instructor Mark Fischler and Integral Life CEO Robb Smith discuss Howard's editorial in this wide-ranging audio conversation about living integrally in a time when law and ethics have become unhinged and legal self-consciousness is leaving people more alienated than ever.

"After I had this discussion with Mark, I immediately called my legal representative on a real estate transaction that had been tied up in mediation for 2 months and directed her to settle the dispute.  This conversation reminded me to consider that on the other side of the dispute were living, breathing people that were under the strain and stress of a collapsing economy and that, despite my clear ability to win the legal action on its technical merits, what I felt to be "right and fair" changed from winning outright to winning a higher peace for everyone involved.  The decision became just so obvious when I expanded my view of winning to include every human being in the entire system of the dispute that had arisen." - Robb Smith


Freedom and alienation...

How often have you wanted to help a stranger or do something that really helped someone else's suffering, but a quiet voice in the back of your mind whispers, "but what if I get sued?"  America has become a country that for many people no longer feels free because the law is failing to define a positive landscape of civil action.  The negative landscape of civil action is necessary and well understood, telling us about our constraints, about what is illegal and what we are prohibited from doing.  What has gone missing is a positive landscape of civil action, a landscape of action that tells us what we can do without worrying about legal repercussions.  In a negative landscape, we know we're prohibited from committing murder. In a positive landscape, do we really know under what conditions we are free to defend ourselves from a criminal who breaks into our home?  At least not without threat of losing if the criminal sues us later?

This loss of this sense of freedom is caused in part by the fact that human consciousness has evolved 4 stages - traditional, modern, pluralistic and integral (see addendum below) - since the founding of America, which in turn has impacted our legal view of the world.  The dominant emerging level of consciousness in broader culture today is pluralistic (Green), which generally privileges an anti-hierarchical value structure. The upside of pluralism is this: by making everything equal it is the consciousness substrate upon which, in general, sit the equal rights movement, racial equality, the environmental movement and multicultural sensitivity. But everything being equal is also its downside: it has a very hard time saying what is right and wrong.  If everything is equal, then our values must be flat, with no depth, no greater or lesser significance, and no ethical framework upon which to hang our society's best intentions.  This in turn has abolished the presence of a positive landscape of civil action because we no longer accept that there are better and worse versions of ethical conduct.  Instead, we leave it to the courts, and the decisions of juries will generally have some reflection of the weighted average of each jury member's stage of consciousness.

The irony of pluralism's "flatland" view, Robb points out, is that by trying to protect everyone's self-esteem and internal sense of fairness, we are in fact subtly denying the very human interiors we're trying to protect (which is grossly unfair to the human race).  When a teacher is no longer allowed to comfort a child with a hug because of fear his actions be misinterpreted, we might as well be telling that child that their feelings, their very sense of humanness, is alien to us.  We might as well tell them that we are now too afraid to be human ourselves.  We might as well tell them that they, too, need to be afraid of a world that is only out to hurt and marginalize but which can offer no solace in return.  And this is how we expect to build a model society constituted of empathy, love, compassion and human interconnection?

The path through legal self-consciousness is a path of awareness and love, being willing to consider the "other" in every civic interaction.  We accept real and deep responsibility for the well-being of all of the participants in any legal matter, and though we know we will never satisfy every person in every situation, we can strive for far more than the narrow self-interest that currently satisfies our prevailing moral reasoning.  As Mark concludes in this discussion, here are three things we can do to live a more integral life when engaged in legal matters, helping to free us from the fear and alienation of a world afraid of itself:

  1. Take self-responsibility: Take responsibility for the health and well-being of the system you're involved in.  Almost everyone will be the client of a lawyer at some point in their lives.  Will you be part of the problem or the solution?
  2. Expand your perspective: Remember that there are living, feeling people behind all legal interactions, and that moral reasoning should extend beyond just the self-interest of the personal.  Be willing to consider the health of the whole and the example we set for other people and our children.
  3. Be imaginative, not afraid: Be willing to extend your imagination to new solutions, beyond fear and lack to abundance and creativity.  Human resources are the most undervalued and underused resources in the known universe, and we do everyone a disservice if we expend all of our energy in the petty offense and defense of zero-sum reasoning.


Addendum to "The Rise of Legal Self-Consciousness"

An Overview of Stages of Consciousness

Infrared (archaic): Infrared Altitude signifies a degree of development that is in many ways imbedded in nature, body, and the gross realm in general. Infrared Altitude exhibits an archaic worldview, physiological needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), a self-sense that is minimally differentiated from its environment, and is in nearly all ways oriented towards physical survival. Although present in infants, infrared is rarely seen in adults except in cases of famine, natural disasters, or other catastrophic events. Infrared is also used as a kind of catch-all term for all earlier evolutionary stages and drives.
Magenta (egocentric, magic): Magenta Altitude began about 50,000 years ago, and tends to be the home of egocentric drives, a magical worldview, and impulsiveness. It is expressed through magic/animism, kin-spirits, and such. Young children primarily operate with a magenta worldview. Magenta in any line of development is fundamental, or "square one" for any and all new tasks. Magenta emotions and cognition can be seen driving such cultural phenomena as superhero-themed comic books or movies.
Red (ego- to ethnocentric, egoic): The Red Altitude began about 10,000 years ago, and is the marker of egocentric drives based on power, where "might makes right," where aggression rules, and where there is a limited capacity to take the role of an "other." Red impulses are classically seen in grade school and early high school, where bullying, teasing, and the like are the norm. Red motivations can be seen culturally in Ultimate Fighting contests, which have no fixed rules (fixed rules come into being at the next Altitude, Amber), teenage rebellion and the movies that cater to it (The Fast and the Furious), gang dynamics (where the stronger rule the weaker), and the like.
Amber (ethnocentric, mythic): The Amber Altitude began about 5,000 years ago, and indicates a worldview that is traditionalist and mythic in nature—and mythic worldviews are almost always held as absolute (this stage of development is often called absolutistic). Instead of "might makes right," amber ethics are more oriented to the group, but one that extends only to "my" group. Grade school and high school kids usually exhibit amber motivations to "fit in." Amber ethics help to control the impulsiveness and narcissism of red. Culturally, amber worldviews can be seen in fundamentalism (my God is right no matter what); extreme patriotism (my country is right no matter what); and ethnocentrism (my people are right no matter what).
Orange (worldcentric, rational): The Orange Altitude began about 500 years ago, during the period known as the European Enlightenment. In an orange worldview, the individual begins to move away from the amber conformity that reifies the views of one's religion, nation, or tribe. The orange worldview often begins to emerge in late high school, college, or adulthood. Culturally, the orange worldview realizes that "truth is not delivered; it is discovered," spurring the great advances of science and formal rationality. Orange ethics begin to embrace all people, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...." Ayn Rand's Objectivism, the US Bill of Rights, and many of the laws written to protect individual freedom all flow from an orange worldview.
Green (worldcentric, pluralistic): The Green Altitude began roughly 150 years ago, though it came into its fullest expression during the 1960’s. Green worldviews are marked by pluralism, or the ability to see that there are multiple ways of seeing reality. If orange sees universal truths ("All men are created equal"), green sees multiple universal truths—different universals for different cultures. Green ethics continue, and radically broaden, the movement to embrace all people. A green statement might read, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, regardless of race, gender, class...." Green ethics have given birth to the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements, as well as environmentalism.
The green worldview's multiple perspectives give it room for greater compassion, idealism, and involvement, in its healthy form. Such qualities are seen by organizations such as the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Doctors Without Borders. In its unhealthy form green worldviews can lead to extreme relativism, where all beliefs are seen as relative and equally true, which can in turn lead to the nihilism, narcissism, irony, and meaninglessness exhibited by many of today's intellectuals, academics, and trend-setters... not to mention another "lost" generation of students.
Teal (worldcentric to “kosmocentric,” integral): The Teal Altitude marks the beginning of an integral worldview, where pluralism and relativism are transcended and included into a more systematic whole. The transition from green to teal is also known as the transition from “1st-tier” values to “2nd-tier” values, the most immediate difference being the fact that each “1st-tier” value thinks it is the only truly correct value, while “2nd-tier” values recognize the importance of all preceding stages of development. Thus, the teal worldview honors the insights of the green worldview, but places it into a larger context that allows for healthy hierarchies, and healthy value distinctions.
Perhaps most important, a teal worldview begins to see the process of development itself, acknowledging that each one of the previous stages (magenta through green) has an important role to play in the human experience. Teal consciousness sees that each of the previous stages reveals an important truth, and pulls them all together and integrates them without trying to change them to “be more like me,” and without resorting to extreme cultural relativism (“all are equal”). Teal worldviews do more than just see all points of view (that’s a green worldview)—it can see and honor them, but also critically evaluate them.
Turquoise (“kosmocentric,” integral): Turquoise is a mature integral view, one that sees not only healthy hierarchy but also the various quadrants of human knowledge, expression, and inquiry (at the minimum: I, we, and it). While teal worldviews tend to be secular, turquoise is the first to begin to integrate Spirit as a living force in the world (manifested through any or all of the 3 Faces of God: “I”—the “No self” or “witness” of Buddhism; “we/thou”—the “great other” of Christianity, Judaism, Hindusm, Islam, etc.; or “it”—the “Web of Life” seen in Taoism, Pantheism, etc.).
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