A Needed Reset for Liberal Culture

By Gordon Anderson

The rise of Donald Trump, Brexit, Geert Wilders, and Marine Le Pen can be seen as a reaction to the failure of Western liberal establishment culture to successfully lead the transition to global society. These popular figures do not represent a higher stage of development, but a return to the last successful level of social development—nationalism.

We could say it is a reset. A “headwing,” or integral, worldview should supply the necessary elements that liberalism has so far ignored in its zeal to create a more just and inclusive world.

A Fall at the Top of the Growth Stage

Unificationists can view this nationalist retrenchment as a fall at the top of the growth stage in Christian culture. Reverend Moon observed  in 1960 that Christianity in the West had reached a peak and needed guidance to move the world to the next level. The cultural revolution of the 1960s sought equal rights, freedom from oppression, environmental sustainability, global harmony, and true love.

These were reactions against limitations in traditional societies that needed to be transcended. However, those who led the social revolution did not have solutions but reacted like children who had matured enough to sense injustice, but not enough to develop a parental heart or a responsible approach.

While a few extraordinary figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi sought to move to the next stage of development on spiritual foundations, the masses engaged in social movements that sought political solutions—solutions based on the force of law. The result was, in Unificationist terms, “a reversal of dominion.”

The force of law can be used to punish those who do harm, but does not create a higher spiritual perspective. In fact, in the absence of changes in heart, government programs created to serve the needy inevitably become sources of theft and corruption. Today, our political parties fight like children over the resources of society without showing concern for society as a whole. Political behavior at the national level in America is fallen behavior.

An Evolutionary Self-Correction

Philosopher Ken Wilber has recently published a pathbreaking book, Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction, that analyzes the weaknesses of liberal culture from the standpoint of the failure of growth in spiritual consciousness. Wilber’s integral worldview sees culture as going through a series of developments analogous to the development of the consciousness of individuals from birth to mature wisdom. Everyone’s path begins with total self-centeredness and moves towards maturity by expanding awareness and knowledge by transcending and including previous levels of consciousness.

Wilber uses the term “meme” to describe levels of consciousness. The “red (egocentric) meme” is closer to animal consciousness and might be portrayed by babies that kick, scream, and wave their arms when they don’t get their way. The “amber (ethnocentric) meme” is a bit more developed and uses rationalizations and dogmas to get its way, but still contains an element of oppression or coercion. The “green meme” that took hold in the cultural revolution of the 1960s recognizes the oppressive elements in the traditional meme, but was caught in too narrow a view and reacted against the previous meme, rather than transcending and including it—which would be an integral, or headwing, approach.

When people use words like “fight for peace,” you can recognize an opposition mentality, not a mentality of inclusiveness. People using such language may be at the top of the growth stage in awareness, realizing that there is oppression that needs to be eliminated, but they are still children in their behavior, wanting to solve the problem by fighting rather than with love.

Oppression Hierarchies vs. Actualization Hierarchies

Wilber sees as one of the main failings of the green meme the idea that “the lack of green values (egalitarian, group freedom, gender equality, human care, and sensitivity) is due to a presence of oppression. Lack of green = presence of oppression.” However, “the major problem with that view taken by itself is that it completely overlooks the central role of growth, development, and evolution” (p. 39).

Wilber argues that oppression is not the primary cause of unfreedom, but the absence of higher development. So long as the greens think that removal of oppression is a cure, they will never solve their problem. So, “it is not true that lack of green = presence of oppression: it is that lack of green = lack of development” (p. 40). “If we think that green values should be found universally, and their lack unerringly indicates an oppressive force, then we will see nothing but victims everywhere…. Our cure for this will not be to instigate factors that will help growth and development, but to punish and criminalize those at lower stages of development who are acting in oppressive ways” (p. 4, author’s italics). Thus, “to see intentional “oppressors” and “victims” everywhere is to totally mis-diagnose (and thus mis-treat) the illness (p. 42).

Wilber argues that the unwillingness for the greens to include “the deplorables” (those in an amber meme) in a national dialogue about cultural development — but to label them as racist, sexist or homophobic — is to be guilty of political correctness, which is simply another religion in the amber meme. To the politically correct greens that idea of development and growth for anybody is totally anathema because we have to accept everyone as they are, not that they are as they are because of the stage of development they have attained. Thus, “although the green will not allow the existence of any ‘higher’ or ‘better’ views, it still deeply feels that its own views are definitely ‘higher’ and ‘better’” (p. 43). This makes it an ethnocentric view, incapable of the inclusiveness it espouses.

Without a concept of growth and development, and without understanding there are hierarchies of development and actualization, those in the green meme do not have a “single path that actually works” (p. 46).

“One of the simplest points here is that for green to move from its extreme dysfunctional, unhealthy, and pathological condition to a state of healthy, vibrant, true leading-edge capacities, it is absolutely central that green heal its catastrophic confusion between dominator hierarchies and actualization hierarchies. Actualization (or growth) hierarchies are not exclusive and domineering, they are inclusive and integrating” (p. 52).

The Way Forward

We have heard an increasing number of liberals realizing that the hatred, name-calling, and ridicule of mainstream Americans put Trump in office. “The leading-edge cannot lead if it despises those whom it is supposed to lead….” (p. 57). Wilber argues that the failure of the greens was a lack of compassion:

“It is precisely a lack of compassion, care, and understanding that broken green avidly displayed (in academia, media, entertainment, and liberal politics); and more than any other single item, this mean-green-meme attitude is what led to the huge reservoir of resentment that led to Trump’s previously unimaginable win… It was a very high level of development that was infected with a low level of development. It was green pluralism infected with red narcissism/egocentrism” (p. 62).

After the green gets over its initial reaction against all hierarchies and abandons the idea that it has the complete truth, it will be able to begin healing. Many of the values espoused by Republican Party ideals (as opposed to Republican Party behavior), like responsibility, self-control, balanced budgets, and spiritual values, need to be transcended and included, rather than despised, ridiculed and excluded.

Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve, a Paragon House book by Paul Smith, presents the “perspectives of integral theory and practice, articulated by Ken Wilber, that help uncover the integral approach that Jesus advocated and demonstrated in the metaphors of his time – and that traditional Christianity has largely been unable to see.”

Wilber’s idea of moving from green consciousness to integral consciousness is a contemporary way of saying we need to adopt a parental heart, one that recognizes everyone is a child of God at some stage of development on their path to attaining a divine consciousness. The job of the true parent is to raise people to adulthood. Those people recognize others as God’s children who also need the tools to overcome evil, and work productively and responsibly to care for others. The confusion between oppressive hierarchies and actualization hierarchies needs to be overcome in the liberal worldview.

The Divine Principle recognizes three stages of growth as a core principle of the universe. A person at a lower stage of growth is not to be hated, mocked or despised, but loved and raised up by true parents. A person who hates, mocks and ridicules is, by definition, not a true parent but a person on the path to growth who has deviated or fallen off the path to perfection.

Traditional evangelical Christians largely remain in the “amber meme” because they also promote a form of exclusivism. Yet their value system includes concepts of inequality in growth that were not essentially oppressive but promoted a Christian perfectionism that led to a tremendous work ethic “to glorify God,” and great desire to serve others through voluntary organizations, as opposed to attempting to use state force.

The ecumenical movement in the churches was a spiritual precursor to the green meme in the culture at large, but ecumenical dialogues stressed rights and inclusiveness while ignoring responsibilities and universal principles. Ecumenical dialogues and genuine unification need to transcend and include past teachings that served a necessary purpose of human growth, economic development and social stability. This includes a reevaluation of the Ten Commandments, the parables of Jesus, and the sacred teachings of all religions in light of how they enable societies to move through formation and growth stages to the perfection stage.

Those trained at Unification Theological Seminary, in particular, should be uniquely positioned to help Christianity and all world religions attain the next level of social consciousness and not repeat the “fall” that the “green meme” has recently taken.♦

Dr. Gordon L. Anderson (UTS Class of 1978) is the President of Paragon House, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal on World Peace, and Adjunct Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He earned an M.Div. in Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

Graphic at top: The cover of Ken Wilber’s new book.

18 thoughts on “A Needed Reset for Liberal Culture

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  1. It was Gordon Anderson who first introduced me to the work of Ken Wilber, specifically his book, “A Brief History of Everything,” in which Wilber advocates the integration of truth, beauty and goodness, (the Big Three, as he calls them) in our attempt to fashion a wholistic approach to personal and collective betterment.

    As Gordon points out, the advocacy of a parental heart is a key issue in this quest. In the recent election, Hillary Clinton told members of Black Lives Matter that she didn’t believe in “changing hearts,” but rather she was for “using the resources of government,” to bring change. This is in accord with her concept of the “politics of meaning.” But as Gordon states, this modality of using government and seeking “solutions based on the force of law” is anathema to the idea of the parental heart.

    Compassion and caring are essential, but these virtues must be rooted in an understanding of what is “true.” In our “post-modern/post-truth” society there is an underlying rationale that truth is fungible.

    If the post-truthers can redefine truth out from under you they can, in turn, determine morality. It’s all very pernicious. This essay sheds light on the problem and offers the better remedy.

  2. Such a wonderfully clear and concise articulation of Western civilization’s (America First?) great dilemma and challenge within our essential Universal/Unificationist Principle framework.

    Even without the recommended readings​ here, in particular: “The ecumenical movement in the churches was a spiritual precursor [to the green meme in the culture at large], but ecumenical dialogues stressed rights and inclusiveness while ignoring responsibilities and universal principles.”

    Reconciling collective and personal responsibilities with agreed upon “universal principles” will continue to be our greatest challenge and calling in any “reset” or reconsidering.

    Within such process perhaps further (or continuing) self and organizational re-assessment(s) might also be helpful?

  3. Gordon,

    “The force of law can be used to punish those who do harm, but it does create a higher spiritual perspective.” Is this an editing error? I’d like to share your piece but this sentence is stopping me. Thank you.

  4. Yes, Melissa. Thanks for the catch. Should be: “does not create a higher spiritual perspective.”

    [Editor’s note: Corrected]

  5. Your observations and theories hit the nail on the head as to the cause of the political confusion that exists in this country — or for that matter, throughout the world. You expressed this in a way I could not find how to express in words. I absolutely agree with you and share the same mind that force of law is not the answer to resolving the basic problems facing humanity, especially the United States.

    For instance, the sentence that Melissa caught is absolutely right. Crime begets more crime and resentment, because punishment is actually written into U.S. Code and disregards any sense of rehabilitation. The United States is stuck at this juncture; it cannot understand inclusiveness, parental heart, or the entirety of universal principles. Society cannot grasp the wholistic approach taught by True Father.

    Hopefully, this “reset” will cause people to search again as they did in the ’60s cultural revolution of the West, and with rejuvenation of spiritual growth the U.S. will be in a position to act as an elder brother as it has been tasked to do by the Highest Realms of existence. When the U.S., even without Trump’s leadership, has transcended the growth stage of heart, it will begin to effectively resolve the true crisis in Asia and bring resolution to the resurgence of dictatorial governments we are witnessing in this age.

  6. Thank you, Gordon, for an excellent read and for providing perspective beyond the daily childish infighting of local and international politics. Wish the memes were portrayed visually!

    You correctly state that the move toward nationalism is regressive as we have seen ethnocentrism in too many jurisdictions worldwide. In Canada, we have been witness to a movement toward ethnocentrism for well over 50 years. Currently it looks like it has lost steam but it could re-emerge if the conditions are right. In my mind, it goes against the historical flow and we can hardly turn the clock back.

    Unification worldview promotes international, interreligious and inter-racial co-operation. Some view such a view as somewhat akin to the evils of globalism where an elite eventually takes control. The failure of both government and private industry provides too many with ammunition to accuse.

    Currently, the US and most developed countries are in serious trouble socially and economically.

    If a solution exists, it is not easily simplified. For example, the US has a disclosed debt tabulation in excess of $20 trillion. It has a devolving and fractured societal fabric, combined with the warring of the political parties. To the slightly pessimistic realist, the US finds itself in an unprecedented spiral into doom. Similar things could be said of the 20 or 30 national economies.

    Sadly, the disclosed debt of $20 trillion in the US is exceeded by tens of trillions of (unreported) unfunded liabilities. Simply stated, the US debt is far worse than it seems!

    Additionally, the collapsing shortfalls at the municipal and state levels, not to mention the growing problem of pension funds unable to meet their commitments, are hardly mentioned.

    The state of Kansas for example in 2014 was allowed to cut pension benefits to their constituents based on a new federal law. A cut of $1,400 per month to over 400,000 Americans. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

    South Carolina has 550,000 people dependent on a pension fund that is underwater by $24.5 billion. Detroit is going bankrupt. Chicago is likely worse. Not to mention that the state of Illinois is sending out IOUs because they have no cash. Apparently Dallas was in the news as its pension fund had virtually collapsed. The list is long.

    Is there a fix? Reason for optimism? The US is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Some suggest that history will be repeated with the initiation of a major war to distract and attempt to bolster the economy. But wars are not what they used to be. I strongly doubt the war scenario.

    Trade barriers and increased tariffs are not a solution. Neither are increased taxes. And one could ask, what is the end game? And why does it seem like few see this coming?

    1. Thanks, Franco. I agree with your comments. We have the memes illustrated in several of our books on integral thought. They became popular though Wilber’s book, A Theory of Everything, that David Eaton mentioned above.

      As for pension funds, nearly all of these collapsing pension funds were improperly designed. The two most serious problems are (1) defined benefits vs. defined contribution, and (2) having the government entity, company, or labor union (a third party) own the account after the employee leaves. When employees take their pension funds with them as IRAs or annuities, a corporate collapse, merger or acquisition, or poor fiscal management like in the state of California, won’t have an impact on the fund, poorly managed funds won’t bankrupt companies or piles of cash at companies or labor unions stimulate abuse or corruption.

      A glimmer of hope may exist in the fact that the (booked) U.S. debt has so far decreased every week that Trump has been in office.

    2. Thanks, Franco. Regarding the debt and pension obligations of various unions and government entities, there is reason to be pessimistic. I had not heard of James Howard Kunstler until a few days ago, but his blog is insightful and disturbing and he points to several of the issues you cite in your comments. He argues that “Trump’s call for restoring the factory economy of 1962 is a low-percentage prospect.”

      Moreover, Trump (any president, actually) is now “saddled with the collateral damage caused by the dishonest effort of his recent predecessors to borrow from the future to pay for the way we live now — that is, racking up debt.” This debt load is historical and no nation can be expected to survive this amount of debt without serious ramifications and severe pain.

      On one hand the idea of a social safety net, pensions and social security is admirable, compassionate — even parental. Yet as we know, if we as well-meaning parents spend beyond our means we’ll not be able to meet our obligations and our children suffer as a result. I’m not a big fan of Ayn Rand, but she was correct when she said, “One can avoid reality, but one cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”

      Post-truthers might want to to challenge Rand’s assertion, but it’s hard to refute. And we cannot avoid the debt reality anymore. Wouldn’t it be nice if post-truthers could just rhetorically explain it all away. Well, they can’t and it’s a tad ironic that the reality of our economic malaise proves just how baseless the post-truth meme really is.

    3. There is some glimmer of hope. I was vested in a defined benefit pension from a privately-owned company (Rodale). This publishing company suffered from the primacy of Amazon and the internet, to the extent that their sales were half of what they were when I was employed there. They offered a buyout of these pensions, which I took and converted that into an annuity with a life insurance benefit. The company was sold to a larger New York company (Hearst) without the pension obligations. This was a win-win-win solution.

      I also attended a business networking meeting last week with a young (I’m guessing under 35) state legislator (Pennsylvania). He reminded the audience of small business owners how that state pension liabilities went from 90% funded to 46% in 18 years, leaving a $54 billion liability. In 2000, then Governor Tom Ridge (R) decided to stop making the State’s contribution, to spend on other priorities, which are long forgotten. And 9/11 caused a huge hit to these once large funds and they were poorly designed in that their assumptions for the returns on their investments were way too high. The Republican legislature agreed. The next two-term Governor, a Democrat, Ed Rendell, continued this trend, spending those contributions and more. And of course the financial crisis of 2008 had a huge impact as well. The largest liabilities come from 1) police and firemen 2) public employees, and 3) public school employees. If the state has continued to make its contributions, along with the employees, the unfunded liabilities would still be there, but more like $20 billion.

      There is good news. The Republican legislature and the Democrat governor agreed to convert all new pension entrants to modified systems of 50% of individual and government contributions are going into 403(B) programs. This will save the state $50 billion over 20 years. It is not enough, but a start. And this state rep is not taking his pension at all. I think he is taking that in current pay now.

      I think converting defined benefit programs, including Social Security, to some modified system and pension buyout provide real options that can make a difference.

  7. Thank you Gordon and David. Seems the entire world is headed for a major shakedown and correction. The debt load in the US is staggering and even though US debt has decreased during the past two months, it might be too late to avoid major disruption. Restoring an antiquated manufacturing and coal mining economy stimulates only nightmares and is a step backwards.

    We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution where artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, 3D printing, online shopping and the emergence of online legal services may cause even law firms to shut their doors (not a bad thing). Folks predicting the future claim such major shifts in the economy are not decades away but within 5-10 years. Some are forecasting that up to 60 to 70% of current jobs won’t exist within 20 years due to the exponential changes in industries from agriculture to the automotive and aviation industry. Rand was right, David. The consequences of avoiding reality can’t be brushed off and future generations will be left with very sour sentiments toward their ancestors if the current crisis isn’t dealt with yesterday.

  8. Franco,

    One of the ironies of the high-tech world of AI, robotics, etc., is that there is now a growing number of displaced laborers who are without good-paying jobs and cannot afford to purchase the goods and services that the robots produce. I saw a PBS report last year that those in Silicon Valley who are producing all this high-tech wizardry are having second thoughts on their vision for a robotic world because the economics are potentially troubling.

  9. David,

    This has been an oft-repeated theme, that of automation replacing humans and reducing income/quality of life, etc., since the time of the Luddites and beyond. (Historical rumour has it that many were unhappy with Jethro Tull’s seed-drill and hoeing machine inventions in the early 18th century as being job-killers!) It has yet to be proved correct in the longer term.

    In 1961 a TIME magazine story was titled “The Automation Jobless”. A 2014 PBS NewsHour segment featured Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and his collaborator and co-author, Andrew McAfee, who have been arguing, vociferously, for the last 6-7 years that impressive advances in computer technology — from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services — are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10-15 years. You can read all about it in their book, The Race Against the Machine!

    Personally, I think humans are way too brilliant (in the UT Theory of Education we are all “geniuses” after all) to be displaced by their creations. As yet, machines lack flexibility, judgment and common sense. Also should it happen that human labour is indeed rendered superfluous by automation, then our chief economic problem will be one of distribution, not of scarcity! The unemployed in Silicon Valley need to invent something new!

  10. Wilber sees as one of the main failings of the green meme the idea that “the lack of green values (egalitarian, group freedom, gender equality, human care, and sensitivity) is due to a presence of oppression.” However, “the major problem with that view taken by itself is that it completely overlooks the central role of growth, development, and evolution” (p. 39). Thus, “although the green will not allow the existence of any ‘higher’ or ‘better’ views, it still deeply feels that its (whose?) own views are definitely ‘higher’ and ‘better’” (p. 43). This makes it an ethnocentric view, incapable of the inclusiveness it espouses.

    In contrast to Wilber’s trial (three) objective purposes — green, oppression, ethnocentrism — we have the paraphrased Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: Unity, Justice, Tranquility…to secure the blessing for ourselves and Posterity. It is an application of Unification Thought — three object purposes and the four position foundation family — as the central meme of universal (higher) civic virtues (interdependence, mutual prosperity, integration of science and religion) that can minimize the cultural oppressiveness of Wilber’s ethnocentrism. From this focal point of positive character reform the mean-resentment-meme is stripped away; thus, “ecumenical dialogues and genuine unification need to transcend and include past teachings that served a necessary purpose of human growth, economic development and social stability.”

    Ethos anthropoi daimon — a man’s character is his fate.” ― Heraclitus

  11. I didn’t see this article until yesterday. Thanks, Gordon, for highlighting Ken Wilbur’s work.

    Would it not be interesting to understand the “failure” of the Unification Movement in America to be on the “leading edge” of transforming American culture over the last 60 years (1959-2019)? We have plenty of opportunities during that time.

  12. Jack, If people could understand the behaviors associated with different levels of consciousness, and the fact that Wilber’s First-tier consciousness are all stages of growth on the way to adulthood, they could see that most of the “failure” is the result of Unificationists being at child-level stages of consciousness. “Perfection” or maturity in the Divine Principle is much like Second-tier consciousness in Wilber’s classification. In fact, I believe that you can even describe the four fallen natures as maldeveloped child consciousness and get away from biblical language that contemporary Westerners have such a difficult time seeing as proof of truth.

  13. Agreed. Information Wilbur shares through his writings has helped me understand better “why we behave the way we do.” I’d like to encourage you to take Wiber’s approach as given in this book to explain how it came to be that the UM in America, after investments over several decades well into the billions of dollars, and the undying devotion and work of thousands of members from around the world, finds us in our current 2018 status: a small, marginalized group.

    1. Jack,

      I appreciate your suggestion that I do this, but I’m swamped with other work, so maybe you could work on it. I remember the old saying “He who sees it first is responsible.”

  14. Thanks for the book review, Gordon. I read Ken Wilber a few years ago, but somehow it did not strike me as that relevant. I will have to reread it and look at these others.

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