Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Integral Theory on the Dynamics of Social Groups

[Note: this article was pubished at Integral Life as a section of a longer article on civil society responses to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. It’s a synopsis of Ken Wilbur’s theory of social groups that is quite interesting and useful. It mirrors the social theory Niklaus Luhmann, a German sociologist whose work forms the core of my doctoral thesis.]

To explore this, I turn to Integral Theory

Developed by philosopher and author Ken Wilber, Integral Theory is a supertheory or metatheory that attempts to explain how the most time-tested methodologies, and the experiences those methodologies bring forth, fit together in a coherent fashion. Integral Theory’s pragmatic correlate is a series of social practices called Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). The personal application of AQAL is called Integral Life Practice (ILP). “AQAL” (which stands for “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types”) is often used interchangeably with Integral Theory, the Integral approach, the Integral map, the Integral model, and the Integral Operating System (IOS).

“>Integral Theory, which is a comprehensive transdisciplinary theory developed by contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber and applied by others across several professional fields.

Integral theory posits some intriguing ideas about social group dynamics. These social groups are referred to as “social holons”, in that they are both ‘whole’ in and of themselves while also ‘part’ of other larger wholes. (Koestler, 1982; Wilber, 2004).

Social holons maintain cohesiveness by their ‘internality codes’ or ‘wholeness patterns.’ Anyone who has worked within a professional field, for example, for long enough will recognize that there is a certain logic or cohesiveness that is evident within that field; outsiders may stumble upon unseen social factors whereas someone internal to that group will not. This is the same for social groups that define themselves on a certain shared set of values—such as social movements, religious congregations, and the private sector—each have codes, norms and informal protocols for ‘the way things are done’. Wilber describes this saying:

“The various interactions of group members are internal to a nexus-agency

The regime or pattern that governs the intersections and communications between members of a social holon. Applicable to holons in the Lower-Left and Lower-Right quadrants. Also known as “regnant nexus.”

“>nexus-agency whose patterns, textures, codes, rules, or flow-patterns can often be specified or described. Those codes represent…the collective requirements of the societal holon

A term coined by Arthur Koestler. In Integral Theory, a holon refers to a whole that is simultaneously part of another whole, or “whole/part.” Whole atoms are parts of whole molecules, which themselves are parts of whole cells, and so on. There are individual holons and social holons. The main difference between the two is that individual holons have a subjective awareness or dominant monad (an “I”), while social holons have an intersubjective awareness, dominant mode of discourse, or predominant mode of resonance (a “We”/“Its”): social holons emerge when individual holons commune. Individual and social holons follow the twenty tenets. Lastly, “holon,” in the broadest sense, simply means “any whole that is a part of another whole,” and thus artifacts and heaps can loosely be considered “holons.”

“>holon in order to recognize its own members and thus reproduce itself in spacetime.”(p. 108, Excerpt D)

In other words, any given social group is only that due to the internality codes that enable it to remain cohesive, and for it’s members to identify themselves within it.

According to Wilber, this occurs through the rules of discourse (the “discursive structures,” or the things that you can, and cannot, officially or legitimately discuss). These become clues as to why and how a social group orients and holds together as it does.

In this, he draws on the extensive work by Foucault on discourses, which is described by Weedon (1987) as:

“ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations which inhere in such knowledges and relations between them. Discourses are more than ways of thinking and producing meaning. They constitute the ‘nature’ of the body, unconscious and conscious mind and emotional life of the subjects they seek to govern.” (p. 108)

Wilber explains how such a social group reproduces itself through defending the boundary of its dominant discourse:

“To the extent that a group of individual ‘I’s’ recognize themselves as a ‘we,’ then to just that extent they defend the boundary of that ‘we’ against both inside and outside disruptions. Here I might point to the work of sociologist Peter Berger on what he calls societal cohesion, nihilation, and therapia.”

Berger described how, to maintain social cohesion, a social group would track and identify risks to its boundaries indicating a threat of annihilation, and thus institute forms of therapia.

“Of course, some of these ‘therapies’ look rather barbaric to outsiders, and some look more healthy, but no collective holon is without them. On the morbid side, some premodern therapies include cannibalism and human sacrifice; some traditional therapies include the Inquisition and burning at the stake; some modern therapies include frontal lobotomies; some Green Altitude (Worldcentric, Postmodern/Pluralistic)

The Green altitude began roughly 150 years ago, though it came into its fullest expression during the cultural revolution of the 1960s. 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. (see: boomeritis)

“>postmoderntherapies include politically correct thought police. On the happier side, therapia that appear to heal have included shamanic voyaging, religious rituals, democratic justice, and multicultural sensitivity… The ‘barbarism’ does not lie in the therapia itself, but in the level of the expansiveness of the boundary being protected—egocentric

The general level(s) where one is identified exclusively with “me,” or with the bodily self and its impulses. See ethnocentric, worldcentric, planetcentric, and Kosmocentric.

“>egocentric to ethnocentric

The general level(s) where one is identified exclusively with “us,” or one’s family, group, tribe, or nation. See egocentric, worldcentric, planetcentric, and Kosmocentric.


The general level(s) where one is identified with “all of us,” or all human beings, regardless of race, sex, or creed. See egocentric, ethnocentric, planetcentric, and Kosmocentric.

“>worldcentric to Kosmocentric

The general level(s) where one is identified with the all of manifest and unmanifest reality. See egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric, and planetcentric.

“>Kosmocentric.Wilber, 2004, itallics added.

That last sentence is quite important to make sense of this current moment. Here, Wilber is referring to worldviews that develop through a lifespan, which become increasingly more expansive in terms of one’s capacity to take perspectives. The later the worldview

The way the world looks from a particular level of consciousness. Worldviews can be said to develop—to use one version—from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to pluralistic to holistic to transpersonal.

“>worldview, the more perspectives can be included in one’s sphere of awareness. Therefore, an egocentric worldview includes one’s own perspective or those things that fall into the category of “me and mine”; a sociocentric perspective includes the groups a person self-identifies with and the values or norms of that social circle, be it family, tribe, community, company, congregation, nation, etc.; and a worldcentric worldview includes multiple perspectives of others, including others beyond one’s social group, even to include other people one has never met and even other species; and so forth.

(Note that these — ego-, socio-, and world-centric — are very general terms that Wilber uses, which have been studied in detail by many other developmental psychologists. Other terms to describe them are traditional, universalistic, and pluralistic worldviews [Wilber, 2000; Gebser, 1991; Kegan, 1994] and blue, Orange Altitude (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.

“>orange and green value memes [Beck and Cowen, 2005].)

In summary, any social holon will have a legitimacy crisis if its cohesion is threatened, and it will need to create some type of therapy to restore wholeness; and that therapy will depend on it’s predominant worldview. (Wilber, 2004, p. 113)1. Understanding the dynamics of social groups involves sensing the social discourses and nexus-agencies that hold them as cohesive social holons, and then it can be seen why certain boundaries, when threatened, must be defended.

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This entry was posted on 2017/06/12 by and tagged .



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