developmental politics

Developmental Politics by Steve McIntosh (Book Summary)

“Developmental Politics” by Steve McIntosh explores how developmental thinking can help resolve America’s political issues. 

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*All sentences in quotations are direct quotes from “Developmental Politics” and are attributed to Steve McIntosh. Bold is added for skimmability. 

Understanding Culture and Worldviews

  • “Culture arises from the bonds formed by geographic region, by race, by class, by religion, by nationality, and increasingly by exchanges at a global level.”
  • “Like life itself, culture is an evolutionary phenomenon.”
  • “The proposition that culture evolves remains controversial.”
  • Culture is largely an interior phenomenon which can only be fully known by participating in the subjective agreements that give it life.”
  • Intersubjectivity is a concept used in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology to describe the relational connections in structures of agreement that exist between conscious minds. That which is “intersubjective “is neither completely subjective nor straightforwardly objective.”
  • “The recognition of the nature and behavior of intersubjective cultural systems is an important part of the new philosophy being advanced by developmental politics.”
  • “Subjective Systems Of Consciousness and intersubjective Systems of culture coevolve and are deeply intertwined”
  • “Although there are many ways of looking at culture the most promising is that of world-views”
  • A worldview is a coherent set of values and ideals that persist across multiple generations.”
  • Worldviews are large-scale cultural agreements about what is good, true, and beautiful.”
  • “Human motivations are largely determined by values, which are themselves circumscribed by the horizon of potential improvement that is defined by culture’s prevailing worldview.”


The 3 Major Worldviews

  • Modernism remains the majority worldview at 50% of the population, followed by traditionalism with approximately 30%, and then by postmodernism with perhaps as much as 20%
  • America’s political dysfunction is not simply the result of an exacerbated divide between the Democratic and Republican parties. Rather, we are now engaged in a three-way struggle between America’s three major cultural world-views: the traditional, modern and postmodern. 

Understanding the Worldview of Modernism 

  • “Because the worldview of modernity continues to serve as the dominant cultural structure in American society, it cannot be easily described or defined without resorting to stereotypes or overly narrow caricatures.”
  • “Contrary to the standard narrative of modernity’s emergence, which gives pride of place to the role of science and technology, the rise of the modernist worldview in the eighteenth century was accomplished primarily through the advent of a powerful set of new liberal values.”
  • “The advent of modernity instituted what is arguably the most powerful freedom of all — economic freedom.”
  • “Although the term liberal is now used in America primarily as a label for center-left Democrats, the original meaning of liberalism (now called classical liberalism ) entailed a new conception of justice that focused on the natural rights and liberties of each individual citizen.”
  • The liberal values championed by early modernists established a sphere of personal sovereignty for each individual — a domain of freedom from interference by the dictates of the collective.” 
  • These liberal freedoms included the legal right to think for oneself and to speak one’s mind in public, the right to gather with others and organize for a cause, the right to believe any religion or no religion, and the right to a fair judicial process prior to being deprived of one’s property or liberty by the government.”
  • All forms of modernism rely on and continue to use traditionalism’s previous value accomplishments.” 
  • In order to effectively use modernist values to achieve the freedom and prosperity that are the fruits of modernity, people need to have been previously socialized by traditionalism to obey the rule of law, to be honest and reasonably fair, and to continue to acknowledge the needs of the collective to at least some degree.”

Modernity’s Pathology: 

  • The oppression of slavery and colonialism, the destruction of indigenous peoples, the exploitation of workers and the degradation of the environment; growing cognizance of these tragedies have now largely eclipsed the immense progress that modernity has managed to achieve, at least within the opinion of a politically significant number of Americans.”
  • In order to prevent modernity from running completely amuck — we do need to find a way to care more about the fragility of the environment and the needs of disadvantaged people worldwide.


Understanding the World view of Post-Modernism 

  • The postmodern worldview has been instinctively striving from its beginnings to overcome the perceived hyper-individualism of modernity by reclaiming a new communitarian ethos – post-traditional form of collective solidarity based on the tenets of a new system of values.” 
  • Strong opposition to modernism’s increasingly evident pathologies began to appear around the pivotal year of 1848. By the mid-nineteenth century, many of modernity’s elite thought leaders had become critical and even disdainful of what they saw as the vulgar pursuits of the bourgeoisie.”
  • The most prominent figure in what is now recognized as the “revolt of the artists and intellectuals” was Karl Marx.” 
  • The liberal values of modernity were also deemed unacceptable because they lacked a strong vision of the transcendent — a form of ultimate meaning that is more important than the needs of the individual self.”
  • As modernity became untethered from its traditional moorings this seemingly benign devotion to the collective morphed into two dangerous, and in hindsight predictable, social trends. Communism and ultra-nationalism, each in their own way, became focal points of this new devotion to the quasi-transcendent cause of the people.”
  • “The religious fervor with which both communists and ultra-nationalists pursued their newly framed devotions to the people eventually led, of course, to the titanic clash if the Second World War.”
  • “Even though they had positioned themselves as modernity’s cultural critics, the artists and intellectuals who rejected bourgeois liberal values prior to the Sixties nevertheless remained embedded within modernist culture.”
  • “It was thus from the heart of modernity’s most successful expression up to that time — the prosperous American society of the early Sixties wherein the cultural truce between modernism and traditionalism still prevailed — that postmodernism would first emerge as a historically significant worldview in its own right.”
  • “Unlike traditionalism or modernism, contemporary postmodernism can be hard to pin down. Because if its inherent pluralism, and because it consists of many disparate cultural currents, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize as a coherent system of values.”
  • Postmodernism’s moral sensitivity finds its focus in a deep concern for the perceived victims of Western civilization.”
  • Honoring and empowering people who have suffered multiple kinds of injustice achieves the greatest possible good as defined by postmodernism’s value priorities.” 
  • “There is a clear and predictable trend toward postmodern values in the developed world. There is therefore little doubt that the postmodern worldview is in the process of becoming a relatively permanent feature of American culture that will continue to gain ground.”
  • The key to receiving postmodernism’s moral gifts, while avoiding its concomitant corrosion of our society’s pre-existing value structures, therefore involves working to integrate postmodernism’s emergent level of moral concern with the legitimate and still needed values of modernism and traditionalism.”

 Postmodernism’s Pathology: 

  • “Postmodernism’s sweeping rejection of western civilization will not be renounced until this form of culture recognizes how its ardent rejection is hindering the achievement of its own positive aspirations.”
  • “For modernists and traditionalists, it is postmodernity’s pathologies that are most evident because these aspects are the most threatening. 


Understanding The Culture War ( Beyond Left and Right) 

  • “The evolution of human culture unfolds through a dialectical process wherein new worldviews emerge by pushing off against the shortcomings and pathologies of previous worldviews.”
  • “The cultural discord that plagues American society is not merely a matter of differences in political opinion; the animosity is rooted in a deeper contest about values and identity. In short, our hyperpolarization stems from a clash of worldviews.”
  • “One of the characteristics of the culture war is that each worldview tends to see the others only for their downsides.”
  • “While postmodernists are almost all leftists, and traditionalists almost always side with the right, modernists are fairly evenly divided between the left and right wing of American politics.” 
  • Modernism is politically divided because, unlike these other two major world views, it is organized around an individualistic ethos.” 
  • Contemporary American culture is being pulled apart by the competition between two seemingly incompatible communitarian moral systems – one premodern and traditional, and the other postmodern and progressive. These divergent moral systems are currently engaged in an intense political struggle for the legions of the modernist majority.” 
  • “The dynamic currents of contemporary American politics can no longer be accurately analyzed or explained within the simplistic framework of left and right.
  • Most traditionalists backed Trump, despite his flouting of traditional values, because of their felt need for protection against Postmodernism’s delegitimization of traditional culture. Although clearly not a traditionalist, Trump has positioned himself as an Enemy of Postmodernism.”
  • America’s major world views have emerged by pushing off against each other in history, so they cannot be simply included all together in one static position because that would sap the charge that gives them life. Rather, they must be integrated in a way that continues to preserve their respective challenge to each other.”


America’s Four Major Political Positions 

America’s politics can be understood through four dominant political systems all with their unique set of values. Each set of values has its benefits and potential pathologies. 

The four major political positions and their respective values are:

1. Progressive Postmodernists – to whom caring values are most important

Caring Values Upsides include:

  • “Protect the environment above all else”
  • “Champion social justice and worldcentric morality” 
  • “Promote diversity, multiculturalism, and strong affirmative action”
  • “Promote feminism and LGBTQ equality”
  • “Promote localism and natural lifestyle”
  • “Expose America’s past abuses and question globalization” 

Caring Values potential pathologies include:

  • “Anti-modernism and reverse patriotism”
  • “Divisive identity politics”
  • Authoritarian demands and self-righteous scolding”
  • “Magical thinking and narcissism”
  • “Seeks to dissolve all hierarchies”
  • “Cultural bias and tribalism” 


2. Liberal Modernists – to whom fairness values are most important

Fairness Values upsides include:

  • “Champion the working and middle class against big business”
  • “Protect the rights and interests of minorities and women”
  • “Foster America’s economic and scientific growth, and promote its global influence”
  • “Promote liberal values internationally while limiting military force”
  • “Use government to ameliorate social ills and ensure none are in need”

Fairness Values potential pathologies include:

  • “Bloated government bureaucracy”
  • “Captured by special interests”
  • “Relativistic and indecisive”
  • “Can be scientific and hostile to religion”
  • “Results in elitism and crony capitalism”
  • “Cultural bias and tribalism”

3. Fiscally Conservative/Libertarian Modernists – to whom liberty values are most important

Liberty Values upsides include:

  • “Protect sovereign rights to individuals to think and act as they choose”
  • “Champion limited government, private property, and personal privacy”
  • “Champion spontaneous order that arises from free markets”
  • “Promote entrepreneurship, economic self-sufficiency, and balanced budgets”
  • “Protect individual freedom from interference by the collective”

Liberty Values potential pathologies include:

  • “Indifferent elitism and selfish exploitation”
  • “Results in gross inequality”
  • “Ideologically rigid and doctrinaire”
  • “Can promote anti-government anarchy”
  • “Drifts toward social Darwinism”
  • “Self-dealing and crony capitalism”
  • “Cultural bias and tribalism”

4.Socially Conservative Modernists & Traditionalists – to whom Heritage values are most important

Heritage Values upsides include:

  • “Promote patriotic love for America and its national interests”
  • “Champion America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and focus on family”
  • “Encourage ethnic assimilation and opportunities for upward mobility”
  • “Stand against threats to Western civilization”
  • “Promote industriousness, proportionality, and equitable just deserts”

Heritage Values potential pathologies include:

  • “Racism, sexism, homophobia, nativism, and bigotry”
  • “Religious fundamentalism, anti-science”
  • “Oppressive authoritarianism”
  • “Resists moral evolution and greater inclusion”
  • “Can be xenophobic and warmongering”
  • “Cultural bias and tribalism”


Understanding Values 

  • Values are conventionally defined as the “important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable.”
  • “Despite their presumed solidity, bedrock values can shift and change, and sometimes they do so with the force of a dramatic earthquake.”
  • Values always have a subjective or interpretive aspect of the discernment wherein the perceiver participates in constructing the value experience.” 
  • “The view that values are merely creations or projections of the human mind later became a central theme of existential philosophy.”
  • According to existentialism, the universe is simply absurd and there is no meaning to be found in it beyond what meaning we give to it.” 
  • “While values always have a subjective component, the most significant types of values connect with external realities — real intrinsic qualities.
  • “For the last 2400 years at least, numerous philosophers, theologians, artist, social scientist, and other sensitive thing is I’ve come to the conclusion that goodness, truth, and beauty represent the most significant kinds of value that humans can experience and create.”
  • These 3 values form a system where each value helps define and disclose the nature of the other two.”
  • Goodness is the essence of the moral dimension of human experience, truth to find the focus of the rational domain, and beauty can be broadly defined as the capstone quality of the Aesthetic Dimension of value.”
  • “We are faced with the challenge of translating different levels of goodness, truth, and beauty into a common direction of advance that all Americans can potentially agree with.” 


Integrating Values with Polarity Theory

  • Polarity theory, posits that certain types of polar opposition are actually generators of value that, when effectively managed, can build agreement and produce meaningful progress.”
  • “While polar dichotomies are ubiquitous in human experience, most of these forms of opposition can be recognized as straightforwardly positive or negative. Prosperity and poverty, for example, is a kind of polar relationship that exist between a value and a disvalue. In a positive-negative opposition such as this, the positive pole represents our goal and the negative pole describes what we’re trying to avoid or overcome.
  • Positive-negative polarities thus represent problems to be solved.” 
  • “Although most polar dichotomies are of this positive-negative type, there is another, rarer form of polar opposition where both poles are essentially positive. Unlike positive-negative forms of opposition, these positive-positive polarities are permanently recurring and indestructible, so they cannot be solved or laid to rest.”
  • “Examples of positive-positive polarities include: individual-community, liberty-equality, real-ideal, conpetition-cooperation, mercy-justice, freedom-order, challenge-support, relative-absolute, defense-offense, grievance-gratitude, simplicity-complexity, immanent-transcendent, and even masculine-feminine.” 
  • “These permanently recurring polarities continue to show up in the course of human affairs because polar opposition is a fundamental feature of the dynamic behavior of value.”
  • Values are energetic forces that naturally cohere in opposing pairs that are nevertheless inter-dependent. This interdependence can be seen in the way each pole uses the other to achieve its value-creating potential. In the pairs of polar values listed above, the strengths of each pole serve to mitigate and correct the downsides of it’s opposing pole in a recursive stepwise process that results in synergistic progress.”
  • “Managing these relatively indestructible forms of opposition accordingly involves bringing out the best of both sides while avoiding the limits of each.” 
  • “Rather than seeing the poles as equals seeking compromise, it is more accurate to recognize their interdependent relationship as part and whole seeking integration.”
  • “When faced with a positive – positive value polarity, the best way to advance the values of our preferred poles actually affirm the foundational values of the pole we oppose.”
  • “The insights of polarity theory reveal how favoring one side of an interdependent polarity while rejecting the other side eventually leads to stagnation or pathology.”

“ The opposite of a small truth is a falsehood, but opposite of a great truth is another great truth.” – Niels Bohr


Understanding and Developing Virtues

The seven fundamental virtues:

  1. Faith 
  2. Love 
  3. Justice 
  4. Temperance 
  5. Prudence 
  6. Courage
  7. Hope
  • “Virtues are traits of moral excellence or strength of character who is practice can lead to both ethical living in satisfying happiness.”
  • “Values represent the improved future conditions we desire. Virtues, on the other hand, represent a good qualities we presently possess; the quiet attributes of excellence and that become engrained into our basic nature through commitment and practice.” 
  • “Values may differ widely, and even be dialectically opposed, but virtues are something that just about everyone can affirm.” 
  • “Virtue ethics is agent-centered; its ethics are more about who we are than what we do.”
  • “According to virtue ethics, the first reason to be ethical is because it’s in our own self-interest.”
  • To duty we owe to our selves cannot be consistently fulfilled without also fulfilling a duty of care for others, and crucially, without also caring for something truly greater than ourselves – something that is authentically transcendent. 
  • “The potential for the virtues to become nationally popular can be seen in this practice’s proven usefulness for both individual improvement and personal satisfaction.”
  • “The practice of the virtues surpasses mindfulness by fostering both an ethical commitment to others and an active pursuit of the transcendent.” 
  • The obligations of virtues are to self, other, and transcendence.


The Importance of Transcendence

  • Human consciousness can feel the pole of values that transcend biological self-interest alone.”
  • “Our sense of duty to something greater than ourselves – comes from the magnetic pull up to transcendence itself.”
  • The remedy to our cultural dilemma can be found in an enlarged ideal of a transcendent higher purpose (or a coherent set of higher purposes) that can speak to the hearts and minds of modernists, postmodernists, and traditionalists alike.” 
  • “In order to be widely inclusive and politically compelling, the aspirational ideal of transcendence we require must be recognizable not only in peak experiences or mystical epiphanies but also in the ordinary realities of our everyday lives.” 


Understanding The Evolution of Culture and Integral Consciousness

  • Evolution has a definite direction. It’s not a straightforwardly linear direction like the arrow of time, but evolution has been evidently moving toward “something more “throughout most of its history, despite occasional setbacks and regressions. Some scientists have defined this direction of advance as “greater complexity, “but this rather thin description does not capture the radical nature of what is actually transpiring.”
  • “Alfred North Whitehead, defined evolution as an “increase in the capacity to experience what does intrinsically valuable.””
  • “Consciousness evolves as values evolve, and conversely, as consciousness evolves it grows and its ability to perceive that which is truly valuable. Therefore, because the co-evolution of consciousness and culture is directly tied to the evolution of values and our conception of the good, expanding the quantity and quality of what we can collectively value will create a more evolve to say – a society that is freer, fair, more inclusive, and more fulfilling for everyone.”
  • Integral consciousness is a perspective that affirms the positive values of each of the cultural categories we are examining.”
  • “Robert Kegan actually defines integral consciousness as “the capacity to see conflict as a signal of our or identification with a single system.””
  • “The integral worldview rejects Postmodernism’s rejectionism.”


Strategies for cultivating Cultural Evolution 

  • Evolving American culture by improving each existing worldview on its own terms.
  • Evolving American culture by fostering the ongoing growth of consciousness along the timeline of human history.
  • Evolving American culture by advancing an integral worldview that transcends postmodernism