Humanistic Psychology, Progressive Politics and ‘Occupy’: An Integrated Perspective

Reference: Integral World

By Elliot Benjamin

 NOTE: In this article I continue to use the term “integrated” to describe an approach that unifies diverse perspectives, which is consistent with the basic framework of “integral,” but without utilizing the particulars of Wilber’s theory of four quadrants, eight perspectives, levels and lines, traits and types, etc. (see my previous Integral World essays Integral vs. Integrative (Benjamin, 2007) and Challenging Obama in the Primaries (Benjamin, 2011a).

What do humanistic psychology, progressive politics, and the current peaceful “occupations” all over the country protesting the unlimited greed of banks, large corporations, and Wall Street  have in common? Utilizing the original formulation of humanistic psychology’s focus upon caring, empathy, personal growth, and authenticity of relationships (Rogers, 1961), the following two humanistic principles can be selected from the various descriptions of what is motivating the occupations, as described in the General Assembly Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

  1. The future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members.
  2. A democratic government derives its just power from the people, and places people over profits.

These humanistic principles extended into the October 2011 antiwar demonstrations that took place in Washington DC, which protested against our ten year war in Afghanistan and the military/industrial complex that has been financing that war.

In his later books, Carl Rogers, one of the key founders of humanistic psychology, realized that his precious ideas about the primacy of empathy, caring, and authentic relationships between therapists and clients (Rogers, 1961), and between teachers and students (Rogers, 1969), needed to be extended into the worldwide political arena (Rogers, 1980). To his credit, Rogers (1980) traveled to various violent conflict-ridden places in the world and immersed himself in putting into practice his person-centered group process approach. Rogers was able to make significant headway in healing the hatred and animosity between various rival political and religious groups (Rogers, 1980). In his later life, Rogers certainly believed that humanistic psychology needed to enter the political arena, and he dedicated his last years to making this happen.

The basic principles of humanistic psychology can also be seen in some of the core features of progressive politics, in particular from the progressive platform of the Rebuilding the American Dream organization. The platform of the Rebuilding the American Dream movement includes ten generic areas, much of which has overlap with the political/humanistic anti-corporation and/or antiwar focus of the occupations. The Rebuild the American Dream platform was painstakingly built up from the grass roots meetings of over fifteen hundred “house parties” all over the country in July, 2011. Having facilitated one of these house parties in my own rural Maine community, I was actively engaged in creating a political/humanistic group atmosphere that I believe Carl Rogers would have been very pleased with. In spite of the enormous and overwhelming political agenda that was given to us by our overseeing organization MoveOn.com (http://front.moveon.org/), we were repeatedly instructed by MoveOn to spend a good portion of the meeting in small group discussions where every person was encouraged to tell his/her story of how she/he was affected by the economic meltdown that our country is suffering. I broke up my group of about twenty-five participants into three small groups, each with its own facilitator, and it was very moving to me to hear the various emotional personal sharings of lives that took place that afternoon.

I then actively structured the remaining time we had to insure that the small groups focused on the necessary discussions and decisions they needed to make to prioritize the various “ideas” to formulate the Rebuilding the American Dream platform. This grass roots democratic humanistic/political process was happening simultaneously in a multitude of house parties like mine, all over the country during that weekend in July, and it had been preceded by millions of online ratings of thousands of ideas. Thus the Rebuilding the American Dream progressive platform is intrinsically humanistic by the local democratic group process in which the ten core areas of the platform were found.

Is our country heading toward a “revolution,” as many comments on the occupations are suggesting? (see the comments on the above referenced occupations sites). Time will tell, but the conservative status quo forces combating humanistic/political changes are enormously powerful. I believe that the battle needs to be fought on a number of fronts, inclusive of continued peaceful street demonstrations and “occupations” all over the country, forward moving progress in progressive political movements such as Rebuilding the American Dream, MoveOn.Org, and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and exerted continuous and unrelenting pressures put on President Obama to move him away from the center and right-of-center agendas he has been engaged in the past three years, and more in the direction of a progressive left-of-center agenda.

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