Book Review: Consciousness-in-Action
by Russ Volckmann, Publisher and Editor
Have you ever been to an integral event? Workshops near Boulder, Colorado? Or ILP sessions in San Francisco or New York? Or Integral Leadership in Action in Texas? Or the Integral Theory Conference in Concord, California? I have not been to all of those, but I have been to enough to hear myself wondering, “Where are the people of color?” This is not a new experience. I had the same question when I attended the Organization Development Network conference, World Futures Conferences, or coach training events. In all of these cases I wondered how we, as thought and practice leaders around development and change, were isolated from the perspectives people of color might bring. Even more, it made me wonder about how we were dealing with the phenomena of oppression. Many of us were involved in the Civil Rights Movement (I am showing my age) or activities involved with opening opportunities to women or gay rights. Some have gone to other nations to work as Peace Corps Volunteers or with Habitat for Humanity or Doctors without Borders or similar organizations that offer support to those in poverty or suffering under economic and political oppression. But I have seen little energy for confronting such oppression since the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era.
My wife, Jeannie, has a passion for addressing the problems of oppressed people. She consistently stands with the working class in economic and political issues. And she has more recently been concerned with the cause of the Tohono O’Odham tribe in Arizona. It seems that efforts to fortify the border with Mexico has channeled would be immigrants through some of the most naturally dangerous land in the Southwest. More and more, would be immigrants are dying on the Tohono O’Odham reservation. Furthermore, the construction of fences through the reservation and along the border with Mexico is blocking the historic paths between family members in the tribe, some of whom live on the Mexican side of the border. Fifteen minute journeys now take hours, 150 miles each way. The US Government has issued cards of passage to the Mexican Tohono O’Odham tribe members, but this does not address the issues raised by fortifying the border.
In fact, the Tohono O’Odham reservation, the product of a treaty with the Tohono O’Odham Nation and the US government after the US and Mexico divided the tribe, is now an occupied land. Border patrols and Immigration and Naturalization Service agents roam the reservation’s lands and block the roads on the reservation. Members of the tribe have been assaulted by government agents. And the Nation, itself, is divided. Tribal leaders receive benefits from a close relationship with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As evidence of their allegiance, they even gave $50,000 of tribal money to support an effort to keep an airbase in Arizona from being closed. And in the meanwhile, those members of the Tohono O’Odham tribe who oppose and resist the activities of the US Government on their tribal lands do not get support from leaders of the tribe.
These leaders have done little to change the culture of these oppressed people. As is the case among many who are oppressed survival habits lead to ill health and low education with high unemployment. Little is being done to address these issues in a way that would remove this tribe from their oppressed and demeaned status.
Jeannie and I are moving to Tucson one day, probably this year. She has talked about wanting to work with the Tohono O’Odham and I admire her for her passion and commitment. But I have a question that probably relates back to my experience in the Civil Rights Movement. During the early ‘60s I felt good about supporting civil rights and even taking to the streets for this cause. Later, it became clear that African Americans needed little of our direct involvement, while welcoming some of our support. Rather, what was needed, even from the beginning, was for us liberal (even radical) white folks to work in our own subculture to effect change. We did a lot of that, politically and socially. And even today the job is far from being done. We were seeking legislation and desegregation of schools – and more. And we got a lot of that. But very few of us effectively addressed our own oppression, the oppression of our own prejudices, biases and visceral responses to the diverse world around us.
It seems very important to me that those of us most privileged to be working with integral and developmental approaches need to focus our attention on our own issues in dealing with diversity without, but also dealing with the oppressive dynamics within. In addition to working to intervene within the system of the oppressed, it is as important to work with the oppression within our selves and our own communities. In the United States we have considerable evidence of the resurgence of the radical right, a mostly white movement. The center of attention in the media has shifted from the center of American politics to a contest between the radical right and the center. We privileged white folk have a lot of work cut out for us in our own communities. That is the important focus of our political work.
I suppose I have a lot to learn about integral politics. I have some wonderful reading to do with the recent publication of the Integral Review Special Issue on Integral Politics. I look forward to that exploration because I have some concerns about integral politics, even as expressed by thought and action leaders I respect. It seems to me that there is a conservative orientation to some of the things I have read. That orientation pushes back against my quasi liberal/radical politics of the last fifty years. It may be that my Green is showing or that I just don’t understand how more enlightened beings than I can take some of the political positions they do that on first blush sometimes seem to be amoral. Not immoral—amoral! And I have to own this confusion because it is grounded, at least in part, in my own internal dynamics. I have much to learn. If you resonate with any of what I have been saying, you may have much to learn, too.
Raul Quiñones Rosado has much to teach us.
[Quiñones] Rosado is the co-founder of ilé: Organizers for Consciousness-in-Action committed to community organizing and Latino leadership development. Currently he is the Director of c-Integral where he teaches, counsels and trains others in consciousness-in-action in Puerto Rico. As you can imagine, he is active politically and opposes US occupation of Puerto Rico.
His is the first thoroughly integral treatment addressing oppression that I have read. His work “has revolved around anti-oppression work through empowerment education, leadership development, community organizing and social action.” During this work in New York and in Puerto Rico, he managed to complete a PhD and his own transformative practice. These led him to ask the question, “What is the root cause of humanity’s current state of limited well-being and development?” His answer: oppression! His definition of oppression is “the system of differential power that privileges certain identity groups over, and at the expense of, others.” It negatively impacts each and every one of us. He goes on to say, “This relationship between institutional oppression and internalized superiority and inferiority, too, is central to what is addressed in this work.”
[Quiñones] Rosado turned to the integral perspective in his own going work with these issues. From this perspective he found it important to move beyond the root cause question, which he discovered to be incomplete and limited. This has led him on a personal quest for consciousness while not diverting him from his concern for “oppressed peoples around the world increasingly threatened by the forces of militarism, globalization and cultural imperialism, currently under the guise of anti-terrorism.” He is thereby committed to the development of new knowledge:
- That is useful in disrupting the systemic forces in society that subjugate people everyday.
- That is effective in creating processes that alleviate and transform the devastating effects of oppression in our lives.
- That not only inspires much-needed hope, but also fosters in people a sense of personal and collective power to create life-enhancing alternatives for our communities and ourselves.
- That actually provides people with methods and processes to develop our own local transformative leadership that shall, in turn, help us be self-determining co-creators of our circumstance as a community, as a people.
- That contributes to the development of consciousness into an integral perspective, even if only for small groups of transformative leaders who might in turn influence institutional and cultural transformations. (xxi)
In the development of his work, [Quiñones] Rosado has drawn on two models to address the fragmentation that can be found in efforts to confront oppression. One is the integral approach of Ken Wilber, particularly, quadrants, lines of development, levels, states of consciousness, and “the self.” For all he relies principally on Wilber’s Integral Psychology. He values the integration of Spiral Dynamics into integral, although his reason is that it addresses the worldviews “line of development.” This is at variance with Don Beck’s view that worldview is not a line of development but a constellation of variables, particularly values or vMemes that are the product of the interactions of lines of development with life conditions. [Quiñones] Rosado has joined the integral perspective to the Lakota medicine wheel and the Four Worlds model that has been developed from it. The presentation of this model is too complex to address here, but I will provide some of the themes. Think of them as circles within circles and we begin with the inner circle. The First are the four capacities:
These correspond to four aspects of potentiality and activity:
- dominant thinking patterns
- human relations
- physical environment and the economy
- cultural and spiritual life.
Further, the community one is a member of has four aspects:
- political and administrative
- economic and environmental
- cultural and spiritual.
The wider world involves
- the political and ideological environment
- the social environment
- the economic and ecological environment
- the cultural environment.
These elements, and more, are the sphere of life in which our identities are formed and evolve. Our integral well-being involves
- self-love, all elements of our personal identity.
These elements arise within the social and cultural context of the collective. Social group identity is central for addressing oppression as well as in liberation and transformation. Our identity involves gender, class, race, nationality, sexuality, political affiliation, age and more. All relate to the model derived from integral and the Lakota medicine wheel.A consequence of using an integral lens to examine oppression and anti-oppression interventions is that we look at the individual and their context, as well as interiors and behaviors. Think of oppression as being an occurrence. As such, in applying the AQAL model it would be necessary to include the oppression within the individual and in their behaviors, as well as within the culture and the systems (institutions) that express or hold the capacity for oppression to exist in human systems. This is what [Quiñones] Rosado offers. The result is not only a call for social and political action, but for self-examination. As [Quiñones] Rosado notes, “the culture of imposition is internalized through internal representations (as images, sounds, sensations, even smells and tastes) associated with the various social group identities that are instilled and installed in both dominant and subordinated group members.” Thus, the call for learning and action involves attention to our selves as much as it involves working with collectives.
Political, social, psychological and spiritual acts of resistance by subordinated individuals are liberating to the extent they involve creative responses that move beyond mere unconscious reactions to oppression, or as in the case of dominant members, the adoption of behaviors, attitudes and trends established by the dominant elite.” [Quiñones] Rosado goes on to point out the activities that he and his colleagues have engaged in to address these issues. He pointed to the Integral Transformative Practice of Michael Murphy internal change and notes that personal change is promoted further by the conscious, deliberate interaction with other people in a collective struggle. This is one of the great contributions of [Quiñones] Rosado’s work. Aside from the many models that I think most interested in integral approaches to development and change will find highly useful (I have only highlighted a couple here), the challenge to move from an exclusive focus on self in development to self-in-context, self-in-action offers us a way of enhancing not only our own development but also that of the communities our social identities are related to. I hope we are going to see more of [Quiñones] Rosado’s explorations. His perspective is creative and refreshing. Most of all it challenges each of us to consider how we are engaging with our worlds in leader, follower, and other stakeholder roles.
Also see review by Bonnitta Roy, INTEGRAL REVIEW June 2008 Vol. 4, No. 1.