(Originally Published 11/9/2015)
Welcome to Square One!
As I am writing this, both my partner and I are expecting our child to be born at any moment now. Today is the due date that was forecasted several seemingly brief months ago and she will no doubt be arriving within a few short days or maybe even hours. This seemed to me to be as auspicious a time as any in which to write my first integral blog.
In integral theory in general, and integral psychology in particular, we spend a great deal of time talking about the development and maturation of organisms and systems of organisms. In the case of humans, we often talk about the amazing and complex trajectory that we navigate in moving from infancy, to childhood, to adolescence, to early adulthood, to mature adulthood and beyond (and boy do we integralists especially like “the beyond” part).
While the broad sweeps of this journey are absolutely breathtaking at each juncture, one of the common portions of our shared humanity is that we all, in some sense, “start off at square one.” That is, each of us must master the most basic of developmental tasks before we can move on to the mastery of intermediate and advanced aspects of our own development and unfolding. This has become something of a mantra within integral discourses of which I am aware, usually just stated as: “everyone starts at square one.” As the soon to be father of a bouncing baby Square Oner, I decided to interrogate this notion that we all start at square one.
Let us start with the “true” portion of this assertion. In general, in sequential chains of developmental unfolding we usually have fairly predictable stages in the process. We see a single cell before we see a collection of cells. We see a collection of cells before we see the early differentiation into specialized cells. We see specialized cell differentiation before we see organs. We see early organs before they mature to fully functioning organs… etc. In the case of the psychological maturation of the infant, we hear initial syllables before a full word. We hear a full word before we hear a full sentence. We hear a full sentence before we hear our children giving us more complex rationalizations about the necessity of them getting their own smartphone. This general move from less complexity and integration to greater levels of complexity and integration is something that presents time and again.
Now let us start to look at the “partial” portion of this assertion. That is, let us start to examine some of the ways in which it can be problematic to simply assume that everyone starts at the same “square one.” Just in looking at the paragraph above, we can see that there is a reference to a child or adolescent trying to argue for the necessity of their own smartphone. This is something that is far from universal. Before smartphones were invented, this thought would not have occurred to previous generations of adolescents even if they might have possessed similar levels of complexity and integration in meaning-making to our hypothetical adolescent (tween?) above. Even today, in many households in the world, this discussion or argument might never arise due to the child’s background awareness about the family’s low level of socioeconomic standing or due to differing sets of values than the ones that inform the background context of this writer and this writing. In short, I would argue that there are actually many differing “square ones” both historically speaking and in terms of the present distribution of available resources (material, economic, cultural, cognitive, etc.).
If we are being perfectly honest, we will acknowledge that our soon-to-be-born daughter will be starting at a very different square one than that of her mother and father or that of any of her grandparents. For starters, she is being born within a particular temporal and economic context that will present her with an array of environments, objects, practices, and ideas that are radically different than even three or four decades ago (let alone three or four millennia ago). She will get ample opportunities to be exposed to an unusual mixture of languages (between all the members of the extended household we will try to expose her to varying levels of English, Spanish, Greek, Polish, French, and German). One hour of the flashing, dashing, menagerie that passes for children’s entertainment these days probably contains more radicalism than would be needed to be burned at the stake for heresy only a few hundred years ago. She will be growing up in a household that will emphasize the learning of integral theory along with the usual array of discrete disciplines (whether this is a developmental boon or trauma remains to be seen). Additionally, should she depart from previous norms and expectations in terms of gender identity, attraction, or expression, she is likely to find herself (theirself) in a supportive and affirming environment (though the gods help her if she is a diehard football fan).
While our daughter will likely grow up with a great many privileges when compared with preceding generations and in comparison with some of her birthday buddies around the globe, she will also arrive in a time of unprecedented material challenge. It is entirely possible that she will live to see the implications of radical disparities in wealth distribution, 2 degrees Centigrade or more of increase in mean global temperature, and a real grappling with the disruptive effects of nanoscale, synthbio, and strong AI technologies. In short, it is likely that she will experience far greater challenges than even her forward-looking parents can fully comprehend at this time.
In reflecting on “square one,” I think that I am prone to agree in part and descent in part. Our daughter will indeed need to navigate a general series of basic developmental tasks (self/other differentiation, cultural acclimation, critical reflection, and post-critical integration) in order to become the world-aware citizen for which her times will likely call. She will also negotiate theses structural shifts within a set of contexts that is unprecedented in the course of human history and with a set of tools and experiences that is likely to further differentiate her from even the experiences of her own generational cohort. While she will indeed start at square one, it will inevitably be her square one.
Welcome to your square one sweetie!