The Polarization Series: The Search for an Integral Politics

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More often than not, we are lured into the temptation of conformity and group think. As social animals we care deeply about the opinions of others. We concern ourselves with our relative position and status within society. At our core, we all want to fit in and gain approval of our peers and respective groups that we are associated with.

Group evolutionary adaptation, which enabled us to temporarily forego selfish self-interest in pursuit of the greater good of our communities is both a blessing and a curse. While this drive motivates us towards mutual co-operation within groups it can pull us towards antagonism and tribal politics between groups.

Of course, this has become evidently more apparent in our society with rising polarization in our politics and the general decline in the quality of public discourse. On issues that are of high importance to us, we tend to be unwilling or unable to understand potential criticisms of our view. We remain deeply rooted in our positions, dumbfounded by the counter arguments of our adversaries.

Morality binds and blinds. This is not just something that happens to people on the other side. We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right and they are so wrong. We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind

Breaking the Deadlock

So how can we go beyond these rigid political and ideological narratives that we find ourselves entrenched in?

How can we find a way to find a truce between these different ideological tribes?

In order to do so, the first thing that we must acknowledge is that each worldview has both positives and negatives. There is always a trade-off. For instance, policies which promote greater economic liberty and reliance on the free market (i.e. free trade) may collectively increase GDP while leaving certain groups of low-skilled workers worse off.

Additionally, each set of paradigms or beliefs has at least some degree of truth. That is not to say that each of these worldviews is equal or that one can not be categorically better than another. Rather, it is to argue that there is always some signal within the noise. While we may disagree with others on certain issues, if we remain objective and modest we can see that beyond someone’s beliefs they may have good and honest intentions. Perhaps they hold their view simply because they think it is what is the best for themselves or their loved ones.

An Integral Approach

Everybody — including me — has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honored, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace.

Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything

The basic premise of integral theory is that we ought to seek to integrate different perspectives by incorporating the positives and discrediting the negatives of each paradigm.[1] Rather than rigidly maintaining our fixed ideologies, the integral approach advises that we approach new ideas with a sense of humility and curiosity.

In disagreements with those with opposing views, we can ask ourselves, what are the areas of convergence?

A useful way to conceptualize this approach is by thinking of how venn diagrams work, that is they highlight the areas of intersection and differences between various sets of concepts or ideas.    

Venn Diagram.

As an example of how we these can work in the real world, let’s look at a model developed by the integral philosopher Steve McIntosh in his article Towards a Post-Progressive Political Perspective.

 McIntosh claims that three major worldviews characterize our world’s different values and belief systems, and each consist of both both positives and negatives. These paradigms (ways of seeing the world), along with there pros and cons can be seen in the chart below.


WorldviewCharacteristicsPositivesNegatives
TraditionalismAssociated with social conservatism. Seeks to preserve traditional values such as one’s duty to family and country.Acts as a social ‘glue’ which binds individuals together through a common set of beliefs.Can disregard the rights and values of vulnerable minorities, and lead to the oppression of these groups (i.e., racism, sexism, homophobia).
Modernity  Promotes individual liberty and political and economic freedom.  Has led to unprecedented economic growth within the past few centuries.  

Resulted in a shift towards government which respects the rights of individuals, and led to the emergence of democratic institutions.
Prioritizes economic growth over environmental concerns leading to biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and climate change.
Progressivism  Connected with advocacy and social reform. Concern for the protection of the environment. Focus on the rights of vulnerable groups within society.  

Inclusive world-centric morality which aims to address inequalities within society.
Divisive identity politics which disregard any benefits that traditional values may bring.  

Can lead to relativism which claims that no one system is better than others, making it difficult to promote consensus or social cohesion.
Based on Steve McIntosh’s article: Towards a Post-Progressive Political System

McIntosh argues for a system called post-progressivism which seeks to provide a synthesis of these three paradigms by integrating the benefits and disregarding the negatives. For instance, this can include policies which promote the use of business and the free market to develop innovative technologies to curb climate change. Moreover, it can recognize the past injustices of Western colonization while appreciating the economic liberty and scientific progress modern society has brought us.  Moreover, these individual freedoms and innovations can be leveraged as a mechanism to promote greater equality for historically disadvantaged communities.

Integral Consensus

The key to moving forward is to cultivate a sense of intellectual humility and resist the temptation towards group or tribal thinking. Of course, there is nothing wrong with affiliating yourself to a particular political party, group or ideology. However, it becomes a problem when we stubbornly hold onto rigid beliefs without questioning their validity or assumptions.

We must both celebrate our differences as well as recognize our common humanity with others. Disagreements are inevitable, but we can always settle them in a respectful and cordial way. As society is pulled towards the extremes, we must always search for areas of consensus and convergence.

In an increasingly inter-connected world, our collective wellbeing depends on our ability to work together.

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[1] This is an oversimplification of integral theory which contains various stages and models of growth and development. For a primer on this work see Ken Wilber’s A Theory of Everything


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Sensemaking in the 21st Century: A Conversation with Noetic Nomads Founder Albert Kim

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Amidst the growing uncertainty of the world around us and the erosion of public trust and good faith dialogue, I was drawn to several thinkers and platforms which offered a critical analysis of the current state of global affairs. The frameworks and structures that we’ve relied on for so long are no longer a sufficient to make sense of events in an increasingly complex, divisive and fractured world.  With vast changes in the media, politics, economics we need to critically assess how we can become more informed and equipped to deal with the many changes, challenges and demands of the 21st century.

The real problem of humanity is the following: We have paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a crisis overall

Edward O. Wilson

Emerging in a narrow corner of the internet is a group of thinkers paving the way forward to more beautiful futures, thinking about how we can shift from zero sum (win\lose) to positive sum (win\win) societies. That is, how can we transition to a world which puts wellbeing above profit, appreciates the finite resources on the planet and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to get ahead?

Of this group is Albert Kim and his project Noetic Nomads. I have attended a couple of his sessions where he gathers a diverse range of intellectually savvy thinkers to discuss how we can foster collective wisdom and insights to address some of these difficult and complex issues we face today.

I reached out to Albert to get his thoughts on the current set of crises, and to learn more about how he navigates the modern media landscape.

  1. Tell me a bit about what got you interested in groups like the Stoa and Rebel Wisdom? What attracted you to the sensemaking space? 

I’ve been immersed in the holistic health/biohacking space for around a decade in an effort to heal/improve myself outside the conventional medical paradigm. Through podcasts such as Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Radio, I was exposed to the supplement company Neurohacker Collective around the year 2017. I then discovered the Collective Insights podcast hosted by Daniel Schmachtenberger and it had, by far, the most mind-blowing conversations I’d come across, period. Daniel eventually left the show which I lamented.

After COVID hit, I had an itch to search for more podcasts featuring Daniel, of which one was Rebel Wisdom. I then found the Rebel Wisdom YouTube and the Sensemaking 101 course, which changed my life, as well as The Stoa through a YouTube recommendation for one of Daniel’s appearances on there. So, basically, Daniel Schmachtenberger.

Sensemaking refers to the idea of making sense of the unknown and coming to an understanding of what is going on in our external environment.

2. What is Noetic Nomads and what are some of the goals of the project?

My tagline is that Noetic Nomads is a community of radical thinkers and doers coming together to co-create a more beautiful future. The primary goal of the project is to attract a diverse assortment of minds from across the disciplinary spectrum to work on projects in service of a better world. Secondary goals include providing a platform for which community members can create and publish their own content, offer services, and support themselves financially. A bigger goal is to actually bootstrap our own circular digital economy (with cryptocurrency, for example), create a digital nation, and perhaps integrate it with an intentional physical community.

3. Many have said we live in a ‘post-truth’ world, with media organizations which interpret facts to align with their existing narratives. What is your approach in sensemaking and arriving at truth?               

To state we live in a post-truth world is to presume we once lived in a ‘truth world’. I’m not sure when we lived in that world or what that world would’ve looked like. My approach to sensemaking and to arriving at truth is essentially to believe in that which is useful and/or in that which I like.

Much of the time what is useful is conforming with what many others believe, other times it’s to dissent, and there are times when it’s useful to believe in things which I know are likely far removed from any basis in ‘reality’, whatever that means. And sometimes I just believe in things which I like. I don’t think I’m much different than most people.                       

  4. Do you have any advice to try and look at different perspectives objectively, and resist the temptation to be drawn into various competing ideologies?

I don’t really believe in the concept of ‘objective’ reality—I’m more so into idea of intersubjective realities. The concept of an objective observer is a contradiction in terms. My advice to one trying to make sense is to understand that everyone including themselves is simply making up a story. It may be a useful story in one case or another, but it’s still just a story. Use your discernment to parse out which stories are most useful.

5. Lastly, how can we build a more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible?

Love, and deeply rooted connection to the universe.

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You can check out more of Albert’s work at Noetic Nomads – | Connect | Envision | Alchemize | Connect with radical thinkers, artists, technologists, and spiritual practitioners. Co-create a more beautiful future.


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The Polarization Series: A Look at our Moral Foundations

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In my last piece in this series, I argued that our minds are susceptible to a host of biases and deceptions which influence our decisions. We are inclined to jump to conclusions, and make up stories to justify our beliefs – even when we lack concrete evidence to back up our claims.

This can partially explain why we are sometimes dumbfounded when questioning the judgements or actions of others. Of course, we all have the ability to act rationally, but our capacity to think clearly about issues is in large part shaped by our environment, as well as our emotions.

Let’s continue to peel the layers of and explore what factors influence our judgements.

With so much cultural and moral diversity apparent throughout history and across different societies in the modern era, is there anything that binds us together? After all, in spite of these disagreements on what we consider right or wrong, each of us humans share a common ancestry.

Moral Foundations Theory

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues developed a theory to try and answer these perennial questions. Moral Foundations Theory proposes that we all have a set of fundamental moral intuitions which guide our behaviour. In the Righteous Mind, Haidt puts forth six building blocks of morality. 

Moral FoundationDescriptionExamples
(1) Care\HarmWe are sensitive to others who are suffering, and are inclined to care for those who are vulnerable or in need.Care for a small child, or someone who is ill.
(2) Fairness\CheatingEnables us to be aware and reject ‘free riders’ in instances of group collaboration, that is those individuals who get the rewards of something but didn’t contribute.Explains our aversion towards those who are rewarded without ‘paying their fair share.’
(3) Loyalty\BetrayalEvolved to allow us to build coalitions and work collaboratively. Motivates us to reward those who remain faithful to a cause, while punish those who detract.Think of when your favourite player gets traded to a rival team.
(4) Authority\SubversionObedience to hierarchy, rank and position. Also includes the desire to follow traditions, institutions and shared values.Respect for parents and family, cultural traditions, and institutions.
(5)Sanctity\DegradationClosely associated what we deem as ‘sacred’.   On the flip side, feelings of ‘disgust’ arise in cases where someone degrades what we hold as sacred.Principles, objects or places we place an infinite value on.   Religious symbols, objects of patriotism including national flags, saints or heroes.
(6) Liberty\OppressionInclination to resist unwarranted authority, domination or tyranny.Desire towards equality and freedom.

Haidt comes up with yet another brilliant metaphor to explain a pluralist account of how we can all share these moral foundations yet have starkly different attitudes towards various contentious issues.

The analogy is as follows. All of us humans have the same five taste receptors, but like a variety of different cuisines. Cultures have different foods which satisfy our desire for sweetness. I may like churros while a friend may prefer baklava – nonetheless both desserts are satisfying the same taste receptor.  

Further, some of us could be more inclined towards foods which are more bitter, while others prefer foods which are sour. Just because we have the capacity for different tastes doesn’t mean we like them all equally.

Haidt’s thesis states that we are all born with the same six moral intuitions.  However, the variety and differentiation in our morals and values comes as a result of us our societal and cultural upbringings as well as our social interactions.  Different practices can satisfy the same moral foundation, and some groups may be drawn to some values more than others.

This allows for both rigid moral foundations, yet flexibility in the development of cultural norms.

Political Applications

What is interesting about Moral Foundations Theory is that can be applied to a range of issues, mostly notably politics.

Haidt’s research is able to help us discern what moral foundations underpin the values of liberals, conservatives and libertarians.

  • Liberals are motivated by (1) Care\harm and (2) Fairness\cheating foundations and (6) the Liberty\Oppression foundation. Focused on issues of fairness and social justice, liberals are driven by the desire to push for policies which expand equal treatment to minorities and marginalized groups. The attention is on the individual rights as opposed to the group.
  • Haidt found that conservatives appeal equally to all six foundations, giving the most weight to upholding tradition, social intuitions and shared values in order to uphold social cohesion.
  • Lastly, libertarians prioritize the (6) Liberty\Oppression foundation, namely advocating for freedom from interference by the state.

Search for the Grey Areas

Moral Foundations Theory offers us a starting point to better understand those who disagree with us on certain issues.  It is easy to simply talk past one another, especially in cases when two people have a different set of moral values.  As postdoctoral researcher Kristin Hurst notes,  

People on both sides of the political spectrum tend to frame their own issues using the language and arguments that align with the moral convictions of their own group. We can have a hard time recognizing the legitimacy of each other’s moral convictions and, because of that, find it difficult to craft arguments that resonate with people who prioritize a different set of values 

While we may not be convinced by another’s argument nor change our mind, at a minimum we can gain insight on which of the 6 moral foundations someone is appealing to.  With this, we can understand how to frame the issue in a way which is more sensitive to the moral concerns of others in order to try and develop a common ground on what is actually being debated.  

Each of the political paradigms or ways of seeing the world have both positives and negatives. For instance, there is a tradeoff between promoting individual rights (liberalism) and upholding traditions and social cohesion (conservatism).

Issues arise when we divide others into right or wrong or slip into black and white thinking. Rather than becoming fixated on our differences we can try to work towards searching for the ‘grey areas’, the things we can agree on and search for compromise.


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