On Wednesday, April 19, NPR Phoenix reporter Steve Goldstein interviewed Steve about his recent ICE essay: Appreciating the Upside of Nationalism. The interview can still be heard online on the radio station’s website: theshow.kjzz.org (to listen press the ‘play’ button on The Show’s April 19th broadcast blue heading bar, then scroll forward to the beginning of the interview at: 10:33). At the end of the interview Goldstein insightfully asks about the role of pride in maintaining positive forms of nationalism. Steve responds by pointing out that while progressives have done well to help us atone for America’s past crimes and abuses, it is also very important to recognize the significant good that America has done, and how it remains a beacon of hope for many people worldwide.
Check out my new podcast on the Daily Evolver, where I discuss the subject of nationalism with my good friend Jeff Salzman. In this 40 minute interview Jeff and I focus on the thinking in my recent essay “Appreciating the Upside of Nationalism,” which is published on the Institute for Cultural Evolution’s website.
Even though I’m primarily a globalist, I contend that globalism needs healthy nationalism—that these two levels of political development are interdependent. And this means that sustainable forms of patriotic nationalism will actually be required to bring about the further integration of the peoples of the world.
The perceived need for a restoration of competitive nationalism was a significant factor that led to the election of Donald Trump. Beyond economic protectionism, Trump’s voters signaled their aspirations for a revitalized form of American patriotism. While history may prove that Trump was the wrong choice for president, the electorate’s larger choice to reemphasize nationalism cannot be so easily dismissed as completely mistaken. In this four-page essay, published on the Institute for Cultural Evolution’s website, I consider nationalism from an integral perspective, highlighting some of its positive and enduring features that all Americans would do well to endorse.
I argue that while nationalism and globalism may often seem to be at odds, the reciprocally intertwined nature of these levels of political development points to their relationship as an interdependent polarity—a relatively permanent dynamic system that, if managed well, can produce ongoing positive social evolution. As I explain in the essay, when faced with an interdependent polarity like ‘nationalism-globalism,’ the best way to forward the values of our preferred pole is to actually affirm the foundational values of the pole we oppose.
Since the early 1980s Southern Utah has been a kind of spiritual home for me. The “Colorado Plateau” is actually the proper geographical name for this vast red rock region that ranges from the Grand Canyon in the south, Zion National Park in the west, and the wild canyonlands around Moab in the east. It’s truly a magical land.
Although we live 300 miles away in Boulder, Colorado most of the year, my family and I also have an off-the-grid retreat in Utah (shown above)—five acres in Castle Valley where we frequently get away from it all. So I was naturally overjoyed yesterday when I learned that President Obama has proclaimed The Bears Ears National Monument.
The northern border of this massive new National Monument is less than 20 miles away from our place in Castle Valley (as the crow flies). And I have had many adventures in this remote and exquisite area over the last few decades.
As you can see in these photos, the sacred land now encompassed by the new Bears Ears Monument is a North American treasure of beauty and solitude. I’m very grateful to President Obama and know that this act will, in time, be recognized as an important part of his legacy. I thus encourage all of you to come to Southern Utah to experience the spiritual energy of this unique and special place.
Those familiar with my work know that since 2013 the majority of my time has been devoted to The Institute for Cultural Evolution (ICE). ICE is a nonprofit “integral political think tank” where I serve as president and co-founder. The think tank’s mission is to help create political evolution in America by focusing on the cultural roots of our nation’s challenges.
Most of my thinking and writing in 2016 was accordingly associated with ICE, which has just published its annual report reviewing the progress it made this year. ICE’s annual report is now live at this link on its website, and I trust it will be of interest, at least for folks who can tolerate politics.
Thanks for checking it out, and if you feel so moved, please leave a comment.
In the wake of the 2016 election, analysts and pundits are now focusing on how Donald Trump’s ascent to power will recalibrate the ideological center of American politics. In a recent New York Times op-ed titled “The Future of the American Center,” David Brooks calls for a movement that will “deepen a positive national vision that is not merely a positioning between left and right.” Yet while Brooks’ program sounds appealing, the moderate media establishment’s conception of centrism lacks the cultural foundations necessary to build a viable political movement. Although political centrism seems reasonable and pragmatic, it has consistently failed to create an effective constituency. Despite the large number of voters who now register as independent, most reliably lean to one side or the other, and are actually more partisan than the least engaged members of either the Democratic or Republican parties.
To advance a form of American politics that can overcome hyper-partisanship and successfully incorporate positive programs from both the left and the right, we must start by building new cultural agreements. And this cultural focus begins upstream from our representatives in Washington. In other words, we need to reestablish a self-identified cultural center in America before we can hope to create a revitalized political center.
Successful social movements require new ideas that bring people together to solve pressing real-world problems. While the stark divide within the American electorate provides such a clearly pressing problem, moderate approaches to revitalizing our political center lack the new ideas necessary to build such a social movement. The apparent dearth of a unifying centrist ideology can be partially explained by the problematic concept of “the center” itself. The moderate “middle” does not provide a firmly principled place to stand because centrist positions are inevitably defined in relative terms somewhere in between the shifting positions of left and right.
Therefore, in order to establish greater degrees of cultural unity within our divided American electorate, we should stop thinking of politics merely in terms of a horizontal, linear continuum between left and right. We need to expand our conception of the spectrum of American political opinion by adding a vertical dimension of development to our idea of potential political progress. Such a political move entails rising above the horizontal left-right axis by taking an overview perspective that can see how each side has important values that we need to integrate, as well as shortcomings and downsides that we do well to avoid or otherwise resist.
Considering the American political spectrum “from above” helps us dis-identify somewhat from our preferred partisan positions. This cultural overview perspective is predicated on the idea that the left and the right actually need each other—that the opposing sides of our electorate are interdependent, and that some version of left and right will always be a feature of our nation’s political life. Unlike conventional centrist approaches, which often try to simply split the difference between competing interests, an integrative overview approach attempts to synthesize the deeper values that underlie opposing political positions.
The issue of gay marriage is a good example of the political progress that can be made through the practice of integrating diverse values. Advocacy for the right to marry has been the key to the larger success of the gay rights movement overall because the cause of gay marriage integrates important values from across the political spectrum. Gay marriage advances both the fairness values of the liberal mainstream, as well as the “liberation values” of the far left. Marriage rights for gays also forwards libertarian freedom values by keeping the government out of private domestic decisions. And crucially, although perhaps ironically, gay marriage advances traditional family values. Social conservatives who otherwise object to “decadent homosexual lifestyles” find it much harder to resist calls for the basic right to make a family commitment. While perceived traditional interests are not included in the new right for gays to marry, traditional values are included nonetheless.
As a result of this integration of values, the issue of Gay marriage now enjoys widespread cultural agreement, with approval ratings around 60%. In the same way our culture has become relatively unified around this once divisive issue, common ground (but not necessarily “middle ground”) can be found by working to include values from across the political spectrum within other contested political issues as well. On the issue of immigration, for instance, a unifying cultural agreement could be reached if proposed reforms better integrated the left’s values of fairness and liberation with socially conservative patriotic values (promoting immigrant assimilation) and fiscally conservative meritocratic values (favoring immigrants with talent and resources).
Accepting some of the positive values of our political opponents is a difficult practice that involves increasing the scope of what we are each able to value overall. But it is only through such an integrative approach to building cultural agreement that we can successfully create political unity where conventional centrist approaches have failed. It is thus by expanding the “conceptual geometry” of our political perspectives to include not only a horizontal dimension of left and right, but also a vertical dimension of developmental progress in which opposing values become increasingly harmonized, that we can overcome many of the differences that currently divide us.
The following blog is reposted from my blog on the Institute for Cultural Evolution’s website:
The election of Donald Trump is dreadful, literally. I dread what his administration will bring, especially his vow to retreat from our national responsibility to mitigate global warming. Yet as the coming consequences of his political victory begin to sink in, the best possible opening move in our opposition will be a noble response to this ignoble turn of events. In other words, the most effective way to counter Trumpism will be found in an authentically virtuous posture that expresses faith, hope and love.
By electing a dangerous and disqualified demagogue our fellow citizens have sent a clear message to the rest of us that they feel excluded from the American dream. Our countrymen are hurting and they need our help. The most virtuous response thus involves showing that we do in fact care about the demoralized and dispossessed white working class. And the best way to demonstrate this care is to show good faith and a willingness to accept and work with their chosen representative, at least here at the beginning of the fight.
Even with all branches of the government now in Republican hands, liberals and progressives still retain the power of public opinion, which can be stronger than a congressional majority. But the power of our opposing collective voices will be politically ineffective over the next two years if our primary response is self-righteous anger and an attitude of condescending superiority. Indeed, the left’s smug assumption of moral superiority is a big part of what caused the cultural alienation that has resulted in Trump’s election.
This new political emergency accordingly calls on us to rise to a higher level of discourse by adopting a virtuous stance that signals our intention to be more compassionate and inclusive. Since the 1960s American society has achieved significant moral progress by better including and integrating minorities, women, and others who have been historically marginalized. Yet this positive spirit of greater inclusivity has regrettably (and perhaps inevitably) resulted in a politics of identity that has created new forms of exclusion. The white male workers who elected Trump have not only been excluded from the economic progress brought about by globalization, they have also been excluded from the social progress that has brought cultural dignity to minorities and women.
Therefore, the most virtuous response will involve acknowledging that their problems are our problems, and that we are in this together. Liberals and progressives can thus respond positively to Trump by taking up the cause of rehabilitating America’s working class, not only economically, but also culturally. And this must begin by humbly admitting that our progressive social vision needs to be refined and improved so that those who have been left behind can now be reincluded within our circle of care.
The most positive way to view this crisis is to see it as a test. Those of us who believe that progressivism is the most moral form of politics now have an opportunity to demonstrate this conviction by adopting an unexpectedly gracious position that expresses our inclusive and compassionate virtues. President Obama has exemplified such a stance by saying that he is actually rooting for Trump—acknowledging that there are in fact areas where Trump can do some good, such as by rebuilding our national infrastructure. Through his willingness to “root for Trump,” Obama virtuously expressed love for the Americans who see Trump as their savior. We can therefore follow Obama’s lead not only by showing love for those we disagree with, but also by expressing faith in our constitutional system of government, and hope for continued long-term progress, even in the face of this short-term setback.
Admittedly, a significant part of Trumpism involves forms of bigotry and ugliness that we must never countenance. But the best way to counter a politics of hate is with a politics of virtue. It is thus by vowing to consistently express the virtues of faith, hope and love in the context of our opposition that we can, in time, reclaim the power that will lead to further progress.
The spiritual web TV channel Conscious 2 has published a short course on some of the material from my latest book, The Presence of the Infinite. You can watch a free preview clip on the Conscious 2 Facebook page here (scroll down for the clip):
Or you can view the whole course for free on the Conscious 2 website here:
You just have to sign up for their free two week trail. The editing and arrangement of the material is excellent, making a lot of complex ideas easy to digest.
Thanks for your interest …
The following blog is reposted from my blog on the Institute for Cultural Evolution’s website:
The Institute for Cultural Evolution does not officially endorse candidates for public office. But as the president of this organization I feel obligated to express my personal opinion regarding the crucial need for every American to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump is not only a threat to the government and people of the United States, he is also a threat to democracy itself. If Trump becomes president the world’s oldest democracy will be humiliated for having failed to elect a responsible leader. Moreover, in the event of a Trump victory, activists in China, Russia, and the Islamic world who aspire to bring about authentically democratic forms of government in their own countries will be discouraged and disempowered.
Whatever the merits or demerits of Clinton, she is the only one who can defeat Trump. She thus deserves our support at the polls. Even if you live in a state where the outcome is relatively certain, and even if Trump’s electoral victory seems unlikely, the larger the margin by which Trump is defeated, the more future versions of “Trumpism” will be deterred.
Thank you for appreciating the serious threat we face, and for voting to defeat Trump in the coming election.
Last year I was invited to write a thousand word “commentary” on David Sloan Wilson’s recently published book Does Altruism Exist?. This commentary was solicited for Sloan Wilson’s website The Evolution Institute. However, it has been over a year, so I’m posting it here.
Steve McIntosh’s Commentary on David Sloan Wilson’s, Does Altruism Exist?
I’m grateful to be invited by Dr. Kurt Johnson to participate in this roundtable with distinguished evolutionary biologist Dr. David Sloan Wilson. I have followed Dr. Wilson’s writing for some time, and am especially interested in his work with The Evolution Institute. In addition to my work as a writer on integral philosophy, I am co-founder and president of a somewhat similar think tank, called the Institute for Cultural Evolution (www.culturalevolution.org). However, our approach to both conceptualizing and impacting cultural evolution differs significantly from the approach of Dr. Wilson and his Evolution Institute. Nevertheless, because we share many of the same goals, I am interested in making a connection by commenting on his new book, Does Altruism Exist?
First, I would like to commend Dr. Wilson for reaching out, not only to traditional religious groups, but now through these roundtable discussions to what is perhaps best characterized as “progressive spirituality.” Contemporary progressive spirituality represents a wide variety of views, ranging from philosophically sophisticated forms of “evolutionary spirituality” to the lamentably magical thinking of some New Age teachings. But what most forms of progressive spirituality have in common is the attempt to rediscover a sacred dimension of reality that transcends traditional forms of religion. The fact that Dr. Wilson was drawn to the “spiritual fragrance” of a progressive spiritual leader like Kurt Johnson speaks to Dr. Wilson’s intuition that progressive spirituality is worthy of his attention.
Second, I am intrigued by Dr. Wilson’s advocacy of the use of multi-level selection theory to help implement “polycentric governance” to optimize the scale of groups for each sphere of human activity. This approach to advancing cultural evolution may prove fruitful, especially if used in combination with the approach advocated by The Institute for Cultural Evolution, which involves expanding the scope of what people are able to value.
However, within the agreed limit of approximately 1,000 words, I think I can best assist Dr. Wilson’s work by offering a constructive critique pointing out areas of partiality in his thinking that need to be supplemented by a more robust appreciation of the reality of values in the development of culture and consciousness.
Although Dr. Wilson acknowledges that cultural selection pressures differ from biological selection pressures, his analysis remains within a strictly Darwinian or biological framework. And this obscures his recognition of the emergence of increasingly inclusive stages of value appreciation that has occurred over the course of human cultural evolution. By placing too much explanatory weight on multilevel selection theory, Dr. Wilson’s approach misses or ignores the arena wherein most of the development of culture and consciousness is actually going on—the realm of authentic meaningfulness. In short, the higher emergent domain of cultural evolution cannot be adequately understood or theorized from the vantage point of the lower domain of biological evolution.
For example, the theory of multi-level selection cannot explain why personal spiritual commitments often override not only the interests of the individual, but the interests of the group as well. As Paul Cassel writes in his recent book, Religion, Emergence and the Origin of Meaning: “The importance of ideas trumps the survival of the biological species that has ideas.” While spiritually motivated people may be severely mistaken about the reality of transcendent values such as goodness, truth, and beauty, Dr. Wilson’s background assumption—that increased biological reproduction or “secular utility” is the “ultimate cause” of the effectiveness of altruistic pro-social behavior—reduces the meaningfulness of human motivations to a merely biological end. And this flies in the face of the lived experience of the vast majority of pro-social people.
In order to adequately appreciate the role of altruism in human cultural evolution it is necessary to understand how both the motivations and actions of altruism have themselves evolved through the sequence of values-based worldviews that have emerged over the course of human history. However, Dr. Wilson writes in his blog that he is “not happy” with this view; that it is “theoretically problematic, [and] leaves vague exactly what needs to be done to achieve more enlightened forms of spirituality and action.” This inaccurate assessment of the models employed by integral philosophy in its analysis of cultural evolution shows that Dr. Wilson might benefit by looking more deeply into this field to see how it far exceeds, both empirically and theoretically, the oversimplified and problematically linear ideas promoted under the label of “spiral dynamics.”
As I argue in my 2012 book, Evolution’s Purpose, as well as in my recently published book, The Presence of the Infinite: The Spiritual Experience of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, the “gravity” that intrinsic values exert on the consciousness of human beings must be taken into account in any analysis of cultural evolution. Taking values seriously does not mean a return to premodern notions of “Platonic forms.” But it does involve recognizing that the motivational power of intrinsic values cannot be reduced without remainder to the biological value of reproductive success.
Understanding the role of goodness in general, and altruism in particular, within human cultural evolution requires that the authentic meaningfulness of such values be taken into account on their own terms. And this requires the recognition of an authentic domain of metaphysical meaningfulness which can only be found beyond the horizon of physicalist Darwinian thinking.
Further, in order to get at what “extracts group commitment” and thus succeeds culturally, we have to appreciate how morality itself is conditioned by evolutionary emergence in culture. Understanding this kind of emergence involves more than the recognition of different levels or scales of social organization, such as the levels of family, community, nation, and globe taken into account by Dr. Wilson. The effective promotion of pro-social behavior involves seeing how people come to form new commitments to emergent ideals of morality that are better than the status quo—ideals that transcend and include the best of what has come before. And this requires a theory of value that recognizes an authentic dimension of vertical progress—a notion of “which way is up”—that goes beyond mere biological flourishing.
Obviously, this kind of critique cannot be properly made in the format of this brief roundtable commentary. And if I had more space and time, not only would I elaborate my critique of Dr. Wilson’s narrow view of the reality of values, I would also try to problematize his notion of a “social organism.” That is, to the extent that a slime mold is an “organism,” we might loosely compare this type of entity with the self-organizing propensities of cultural agreement structures. But there is a vast difference—a difference of kind—between a social “organism” and a human organism, who possesses subjective awareness, self-aware identity, and an individual will. Attempting to smoothly compare these different kinds of organisms is overly reductionistic and potentially totalitarian in its social consequences.
That being said, I wish Dr. Wilson success in his endeavors and remain open to further collaboration.