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An Integral Approach to Evolving Culture: Carter Phipps

An Integral Approach to Evolving Culture: A Profile of Carter Phipps and ICE

by Frank Poletti

For someone who was the executive editor of EnlightenNext magazine for several years as well as passionately involved in Eastern mysticism, the evolutionary sciences and the emerging integral worldview, Carter Phipps was well overdue for his inaugural visit to Esalen in the spring of 2013. Phipps was invited by CTR to participate in the third annual Conscious Business conference for good reasons: he has a fabulous new book out, Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Ideas, and he is a founding member of the aspiring think-tank the Institute for Cultural Evolution (ICE), based in Boulder, CO.

Presenting to a group of open-minded CEOs from such companies as Whole Foods and prAna sportswear, Phipps, along with ICE co-founder Steve McIntosh, described ICE’s integral approach to evolving culture (based on the ideas coming out of evolutionary theory, integral philosophy and developmental psychology). In particular ICE is launching a new campaign to ameliorate America’s tiresome political divide, which has blocked progressive social and ecological movements from achieving more tangible results. According to Phipps, the bitter antagonisms between three worldviews—traditionalism, modernism and postmodernism—are what frame the intransigence in the political sphere. By providing both an integral-evolutionary analysis and a set of outreach strategies, ICE thinks it can help mollify the bitter and unproductive antagonisms between these worldviews. Because ICE wants to contribute where it can be most effective, it has taken aim at the extreme polarization between the worldviews of modernism and postmodernism. As Phipps explained, ever since the 1960s, postmodernism (advocating environmentalism, pluralism and egalitarianism) has been a particularly harsh critic of modernism (which advocates capitalism, individualism and libertarianism), and ICE thinks this divisive atmosphere contributes to the lack of effective action on such pressing issues as climate change.

At the heart of ICE’s approach to social transformation is their evolutionary optimism—the belief that each of the three worldviews mentioned contains a genuine evolutionary contribution to the betterment of society. So ICE is reaching out to the postmodern environmental movement to encourage it to recognize the real evolutionary achievements of modernism, rather than focusing almost exclusively on its negative aspects. As it does this, ICE is helping the worldview of postmodernism itself to evolve—that is, to be less reactionary and antagonistic toward modernism. For example ICE would like to see prominent postmodernists, a Bill McKibben or a Naomi Klein, expand beyond the narrow focus on the pathologies of modernist capitalism (its degradation of nature or its extremes of wealth), so that it can also appreciate capitalism’s authentic gifts to the ever-evolving human condition—for example, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty and helping to spread education. In essence ICE thinks that as postmodernists start to realize that both the pathologies and achievements of modernism are closely intertwined, it will move out of a reactionary stance toward modernism and into a more synthetic or integral stance that can appreciate the genuine contributions of all worldviews. 

As postmodernists begin to appreciate modernist capitalism, this in turn will encourage modernists to be less defensive and more willing to embrace postmodern environmental values. ICE’s outreach strategy thus involves articulating win-win social and economic proposals that appeal to both worldviews. For example an integral-evolutionary approach looks at the challenge of climate change as both a potent opportunity to stimulate economic growth (a modernist concern) and a chance to alleviate environmental degradation (a postmodernist concern) through new green technologies that minimize, or even eliminate, pollution. In short ICE’s integral-evolutionary approach encourages people who tend to be locked into their defensive and narrow-minded worldviews to see social issues from a more integrative perspective.

Lastly Phipps also offered a few fascinating insights into America’s political spectrum. He thinks America has reached the “twilight of traditionalism” with Obama’s recent presidential victories. America’s political center continues to evolve toward postmodern values (for example, with positive attitudes toward same-sex marriage). Thus, the Republican base, centered in a more traditional worldview, risks offending too many moderns, resulting in lost elections. In the near future, Phipps envisions an integral political platform that will creatively build on the strengths of each of the three worldviews. For example a progressive or integrally-minded Democrat might come out in favor of prayer in school, as a nod to traditionalism. In general Phipps emphasized that ICE’s strategy is to make the value differences of the three worldviews less antagonistic to each other. This will reduce the threat that different constituents feel being posed to their underlying beliefs. And by putting each worldview at ease, so to speak, the natural process of cultural evolution will flow all the more readily.


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