Dr. Keith Witt – Are we at the beginning of something extraordinary?

In Making Waves Conversations by Mark Sylvester

Dr. Keith Witt

Clinical Psychologist, Lecturer, Writer, Teacher

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara since 1973. He has conducted over 65,000 therapy sessions and published eight books, including Loving Completely, Shadow Light, and Integral Mindfulness. In presentations and classes around the U.S. and internationally, Keith has explored love, intra and interpersonal relationships, and development, from multiple perspectives, weaving neuroscience, Integral theory, wisdom traditions, and numerous forms of psychotherapy into a coherent cosmology of love and healing.

Dr. Keith has a unique point of view of our culture. He believes that our collective worldview is fraying at the edges, and the process of change we are all experiencing is existentially scary and dangerous. Specifically, he will discuss three ways to look at our culture: Integration, Disintegration, and Reintegration.

Keith sent us this Essay version of his Talk for those interested in taking a deeper look.

Are we at the beginning of something beautiful?

It can’t keep getting worse forever

Homoeostasis, into disintegration, into reintegration

Personal, social, and biological evolution involves the current homeostasis being challenged, leading to relative disintegration of the current order, followed by reintegration into a new order—a new homeostasis—with a bias towards greater complexity. This happens when the current order is inadequate to meet challenges successfully.

Individual examples—there is discomfort and struggle at the disintegration/reintegration transitions

  • Physically, babies become uncomfortable with crawling and not quite adept at walking but struggling until they can walk and run.
  • Cognitively, the conformist worldviews of concrete operational children are inadequate to explain the new perspectives of formal operational adolescents, who reach for new, more complex understandings.
  • Individuals and couples unhappy with their current experiences go to therapy to cultivate new worldviews about themselves and each other, yearning to reintegrate into more love and harmony.

Cultural examples

  • The Enlightenment blossoming in the eighteenth century when the West was shifting from power-God/conformist cultures to conformist/rational cultures. This shift was driven by science, the industrial revolution, and the liberation/human rights movements that continue to this day.
  • The shift for many in the sixties from rational/conformist culture to pluralistic/rationalist culture.
  • The current inadequacy of extractive capitalism, and rule by the .1% through buying politicians (especially right-wing politicians) to use partisan gridlock/conflict as a tool to retain wealth and power and give as little as possible to workers. This is extractive capitalism which feeds parasitically on the body politic till it frays and splinters (disintegration). The next developmental stage is generative capitalism (like we’re seeing in the energy companies in Europe) where all stakeholders are substantively included in decision making (reintegration). We can see this as more leading-edge leaders and thinkers become world-centric and multi-perspectival in addressing human issues--this is becoming the new standard for increasing numbers of educated and motivated people around the world.

The reintegration process is initially led by forerunners (like Janet Reno as Attorney General wanting to prioritize helping at-risk children to reduce crime), and outliers like Bernie Sanders during most of his political career. Al Gore was an outlier for the environmental movement. Eventually, the new ideas become mainstream, reflected reintegration of the collective to new levels of complexity.

Directions for engagement

Post partisan conversation.

Post outrage consciousness.

Love always wins eventually. Progress is made, cultures evolve.

Evolution can be slowed by fear, hatred, and social control, but never indefinitely.

Progressives can offer empathy and positive regard, but not demand it in return.

  • The strength of pluralist consciousness is empathic concern for all people.
  • Conformist consciousness rejects perspectives at odds with sacred beliefs and objectifies groups outside the mythic membership.
  • Egocentric worldviews only care for personal agendas and easily objectify and exploit all others.
  • Conformist and egocentric worldviews are unable to have empathic understanding of progressives’ experience.

Outrage and cynicism block responsibility to attune to self and others

Outrage blocks empathic understanding. Cynicism blocks felt responsibility to contribute and take stands for fairness and care.

Progressives huge blind spot—many Republicans didn’t vote for Trump but instead voted against progressives.

An accurate conservative critique of progressives is that they are contemptuous and dismissive of conservatives. This is true! Progressives justifiably fear the republican power structure which has degraded the country and caused incalculable damage and mistakenly associate the republican electorate with the republican power structure, which in reality rejects most of the conservative core values.

  • Progressives tend to equate conservatives with the people they elected, whose real constituency are the wealthy republicans and corporate leaders who contribute to their campaigns and keep them in office.
  • The republican electorate has been savaged by their representatives for sixty years. Republican legislatures neglect, extract from, and oppress their middle class and poor constituents, and then successfully blame and vilify democrats, using Fox News and other outlets controlled by the republican ruling class. They then flatter the electorate while parading out key issues—mostly deeply symbolic social issues like abortion and gay marriage, and subtle identity politics like white nationalism--to enrage their base and manipulate their votes.
  • When progressives equate the republican electorate with their leaders, they project contempt and superiority. In return, the Republican electorate believes the big lies, embraces the false narratives of democrats not caring for them and wanting to attack their sacred values, and vote for representatives who will “protect” them from the progressive threats of change.

Asymmetric responsibilities

The one with the deepest consciousness has the most responsibility.

  • Progressives have responsibilities to reach for compassionate empathy for conservatives and to set external boundaries for egocentric power-seekers.
  • Conformist and egocentric worldviews don’t have the capacity to have compassionate empathy for progressives. They can’t see the world through progressive eyes. Progressives can empathize if they decide to, it is a strength of the pluralistic, world-centric worldview. To support the collective, progressives have a responsibility to look for shared values and shared action that can help the country move forward—knowing that they won’t receive credit for it from republican leaders and will be effectively attacked by the republican power structures for their efforts to help the republican electorate.
  • Ironically, the path forward is seeking out the healthy conformist and egocentric republicans, accessing their wisdom about how to make the country more healthy and secure, and joining with them to create change. This can’t happen in the legislatures, because they are owned by the republican ruling classes. It needs to happen with the Republican electorate itself.
  • Egocentric power-seekers will sacrifice others gladly for personal advantage and lack the personality structure to self-regulate exploitative behaviors. This is also true for most corporations and much of the republican privileged classes. They will not agree to forward (progressive) movement—it goes directly against the formula they’ve used to keep power for sixty plus years. They need external constraints—laws, and regulations enforced by government institutions—to change. To do this democrats need to take the senate and pass laws giving rights and protections to the republican electorate.
  • Progressives resist the reality that egocentric and conformist worldviews need external constraints before they can consider new perspectives. This hierarchical reality is objectionable to progressives and creates huge blindspots in politics and public policy.

Generous orthodoxy

Chester Wenger, a legendary Mennonite minister, conducted a gay wedding for his son, confessed to the church elders, and was defrocked. His faith and love of the church remained. His position on change? “We need to love and respect the body we’re trying to heal.” He wrote a long letter to his church that went viral, advocating generous orthodoxy.


Development is include-and-transcend. Progressives can benefit from traditional wisdom like functional medicine practitioners utilizing

herbal remedies. Conservatives can embrace change like Pope Frances endorsing civil unions for gay Catholics.

In generous orthodoxy, progressives can embrace traditional values and practices, like religious ceremonies, 4th of July celebrations, and respect for everyone’s core beliefs. Another example is respecting corporations’ and wealthy individuals’ legitimacy as powerful and central players in culture—they are necessary to move evolution forward.

  • Progressives lose legitimacy when demonizing privileged groups and attacking them, rather than advocating constraint of exploitation and support for generative options for healthy growth and profit.

Healthy orthodoxy is faith, love, and sacred principles, occasionally open to change. Unhealthy orthodoxy controls and excludes dissent and growth.

Generous orthodoxy allows growth towards more love and understanding, while always seeking new wisdom in the sacred texts.

Conservatism blind spot—you can be biased to freeze the status quo and keep trying to legislate a return to idealized earlier times.

Progressivism blind spot--you can lose respect for traditional wisdom and morality systems.

Cultures can be stuck in conservatism for extended periods of time. The Japanese Shogunate for 200 years, North Korea, Iran, etc. You’re less likely to be stuck in progressivism since change is central to a progressive orientation.

Block one quadrant and the other three become corrupted.

  • Block science--blind belief and prejudice can dominate.
  • Block individual experience--people can be objectified and injured.
  • Block a sense of shared humanity--people can feel morally justified in generating dominator hierarchies that oppress the objectified outsiders.

Most unhealthy approaches involve denial of objective scientific data and/or the objectification of other people.

  • When science is denied there is no shared hunger for deeper truths, just confirmation bias looking for data to avoid having to consider new perspectives.
  • When people are objectified, they can be attacked and exploited with moral impunity.
  • Systemic weaknesses support the current polarized systems—poverty, child abuse/neglect, extractive capitalism, and corrupt institutions.

Healthy approaches deal realistically with the worldviews and capacities of all stakeholders

  • Protecting children from abuse and neglect.
  • Providing quality affordable/free childcare, health care, and education at every level.
  • Take stands for sustainable ecosystems, renewable resources, and a reversal of climate change and environmental degradation.