INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
What is Critical
"Integral theory" is a contested term. For many, it connotes the theoretical work of one Ken Wilber... I am advancing a functional definition for integral theory.
Joe Corbett recently suggested I summarize my contribution to an integral critical theory. This is not the first time I have been asked to give some kind of introduction to the admittedly eccentric body of work I have cooked up, particularly in the two “long essays” published at The Integral Review: “Such a Body” and “Sweet Science.” The long essays are written in a tight, technical, and simultaneously figurative language; my comments at For The Turnstiles, I have heard, seem cryptic to many. Effective or not I do all this on purpose, but the question remains a valid one: could I work up with a crowbar for an outsider to use in prying into this material, just crack the door open a bit wider?
This essay is intended as such a crowbar. I mean it as a somewhat informal introduction to the intention behind the work, and some of the concepts in them. Coffee-shop conversation. While I have not covered all the ideas in the long essays or my other work here, nor have I uncovered the Easter eggs I hid in the notes and between the lines, I think someone who comes prepared will make more efficient use of the more precise and detailed presentation those essays offer.
“Integral theory” is a contested term. For many, it connotes the theoretical work of one Ken Wilber: that is, the category “whatever Ken Wilber writes” coincides precisely with the category “integral theory.” Some take a slightly broader view, such that the category “whatever Ken Wilber writes plus whatever canon of writings Wilber seems to rely on as authoritative” coincides precisely with the category “integral theory.” This second definition is the one I take to task in the long essays. Meanwhile, others, such as Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, take a much tighter position, where “integral theory” refers only to that work in the broader purview of integral studies that follows on Ken Wilber's AQAL model. I think a better approach will be to worry less about canon and the authority of the charismatic author (Max Weber has some interesting things to say about charismatic authority), and to instead advance an integral theory that is defined by the work it does. I am advancing a functional definition for integral theory. I think integral theory ought to attempt the impossible, which is to understand the totality of all lived relations in time and space, with an eye toward transforming the whole matrix. I will discuss what this means in terms of a canon for integral studies and an agenda for research in integral theory below.
But to touch on Corbett's request of me, in order to get to an integral critical theory, you need to work from premises that are both integral and critical, which is to say, you need a critical integral theory. There are ways that integral theory as presented in the writings of Ken Wilber and his followers, working from premises in different forms of idealism (Schelling, Hegel, Aurobindo) are uncritical (by criteria specified below). The "negative" task thus presented itself to me. I saw a need to identify these problems in extant integral work, which I attempted to do, sometimes hamhandedly. The "positive" task emerged dialectically in response to those problems, which is to say, I needed to affirm another way of working, of conceptualizing the work. Mirroring the "inversion" of Hegelian idealism in the work of Marx and Marxists, I found it productive to emphasize process over structure, history and determination over Spirit and Providence, the plural subject of interbeing over the singular subject of consumer capitalism, and the particular, local, and heterogeneous over the transcendent and homogenous. Put differently: where Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality might be understood as a shotgun wedding between the German idealist philosopher Schelling and the Mahayana Buddhist dialectician Nagarjuna (I will leave it unsaid whom I think wound up getting shot in this arrangement), I proposed to read Nagarjuna's central concept of dependent origination through the diction of Marxist and post-Marxist categories. This has a number of consequences, but it should be commented up front that Wilber and I are drawing on surprisingly similar archives (Nagarjuna and the Prajnaparamita literature for one instance) to reach conclusions that bear some resemblance but are also qualitatively different, that do different work. One might say that both of us practice integral theory to a greater or lesser extent as an exercise in comparative philosophy.
I will leave a summary of the "negative task" I set for myself for another time. More important for present purposes is a summary of the "positive" positions I have taken vis a vis critical integral theory, foregrounding the aspects that may help construct an integral critical theory. Further, I would like to take this as an opportunity to point out the shortcomings in it that I now see with the benefit of hindsight, and to engage with some typical criticisms I have received. I hope my mistakes might be addressed in future work by myself or others, or at least not reproduced.
A CRITICAL THEORY?
Wilber has emphasized that integral theory generally and his work in particular should be understood as critical. I agree with this aspiration entirely: this is just what we should be doing. But what does it mean to be critical? In a broad sense, a critical philosophy is a product of the European Enlightenment, and the philosopher Immanuel Kant is generally credited with inventing the concept and first attempting to practice it in earnest. The general idea is to account for the basis on which knowledge is made. This can take many forms. One of the most rigorous is called critical theory, and it is particularly relevant for integral studies because it ropes in the totality of human experiences by reference to corresponding concepts. Which is to say, critical theory attempts a critical theory of everything, from the most mundane of experiences to the most elevated or tragic, in multiple contexts.
My understanding of what critical theory is and should do follows more or less on Frankfurt School definitions (especially that of Max Horkheimer), but is inflected by my own readings in the early phases of the Birmingham School version of Cultural Studies, with an emphasis on the explication of the prison writings of Antonio Gramsci, among other things.
Start with Marx's eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Two interventions are called for here. The first is descriptive, like pointing out to someone his or her location on a map: here we are, this is our situation. The second is more demanding, which is to actively work from the first intervention toward a comprehensive transformation of the world described. This second intervention demands, among other things, a normative critique of extant values and the production of new values by which a transformation worthy of the name might be guided. And that demands a serious investigation of the category of the novel, the new. If ones job is to identify new values or create them, one needs first to come to grips with history, with what has come before, and the present as the product of a matrix of historical forces. This is the first consideration for a critical theory: it is concerned with carefully analyzing the relation of past determinations on present possibilities for transformation, with imagining those possibilities in a utopian way, and working like a fool to promote and advance that transformation.
A second characteristic of a critical theory specifies the “world” in Marx's thesis eleven: the world is understood holistically, as a whole and by reference to the relation of the parts to the whole. The category of contradiction is of particular importance here, as it toward ways in which the totality of relations is conflicted, in flux, in metabolic relation “within” and “without.” The emphasis is on the determination of the totality and its members by historical forces rather than on positing a spiritual Force that emerges through mindstuff, Worldviews appropriate to Ages as in the historicism Wilber deploys.
There is an element of pluralism at work here (and this is a third characteristic): a critical theory is willing to listen to knowledge regardless of disciplinary boundaries or whatever assumptions may be made about them. Further, it takes a reflexive position, critically analyzing the position of its own production of knowledge, in an attempt to account for its own limitations. This is particularly emphasized in “Sweet Science.” A helpful historical example of this kind of research is the tradition of American pluralism practiced by such thinkers as Richard McKeon, where one begins not with a doctrine or an agenda but with a puzzle, a problem, a question, a mystery that you have to grapple with. This engagement with one's limits and with the limits of extant knowledge leads to an inquiry (more on this when I describe the second intervention below), in which one may be surprised.
Cultural Studies emerged in Britain from such an understanding of critical theory, and which may be productively compared to the pluralist aspirations of the pragmatist tradition. Positive work emerges from a negative critique: Raymond Williams, for instance, proposes the category of the culturally “emergent” or novel (this is in Marxism and Literature) after a detailed consideration of the ways in which culture is determined, mechanical if you like. I think Cultural Studies is uniquely capable of providing a position of critique of Wilber's integral theory as a way to make knowledge and as a function of neoliberal consumer culture; this is what Cultural Studies does, and not infrequently in an integral way (attempting to account for the totality of relations in which cultural production and consumption does its thing). Wilber's attitude toward Cultural Studies is generally dismissive and occasionally dyspeptic. This is unfortunate, but it is also an invitation to bring a Cultural Studies approach to Wilber's work as a cultural object with a particular history and a certain kind of social space, like cult cinema or romance novels.
The bigger point is that I think integral theory as such should be able to do these three functions of critical theory, at a minimum: to describe and propose to transform the world as such, and as a part of that, to be ambitious and tackle the totality of relations in that world (and not just the mind-stuff). Further, integral theory should be capable of a rigorous self-critique of its own means of making knowledge, its own legitimacy as a way of making knowledge, and should embrace an authentic, cooperative pluralism. In terms of the dialectic of consciousness and conditions (of which more below), Wilber's work emphasizes “consciousness.” We need to account for both more completely.
To do this, you need to specify an ontology, a set of concepts that account for the stub-your-toe world of experience and limitations. There are real political and theoretical reasons for doing this, as I discuss below. But first, let me explain those concepts I have already put forward, and then take them to task for how they perform against to the goal I have set for them.
The first concept underlying the critical integral theory I have proposed is a dialectic of consciousness and conditions. This can be explained through the second concept, that of a coherence. Now, as a materialist in the philosophical sense I take matter for granted as something external to ordinary consciousness (see Sebastiano Timpanaro's book On Materialism for a detailed exposition on this, and to see that the materialism I am describing here does not correspond to that which is denoted by the term more typically in integral studies). I have never touched the moon, but I find it plausible to assume the scientific consensus is legitimate and the moon is matter whether its substance penetrates my nerve endings or not, whether it becomes an object of sense-consciousness for me or not. When this body fails, I accept the premise that the moon will carry on two-facedly to light the nighttime activities of those I leave behind. Particular configurations of matter, particular forms, arise and persist and decompose by causes and conditions internal and external to their configuration.
However, I do not assume that objects or “things,” apparent configurations or forms of matter, necessarily coincide with the ideas or images any one of us has of them. Here is a traditional example (this in lieu of Heidegger's jug): a fearful man walks into a dark space, and trips over a coiled viper. But the snake does not strike. Why? Even though he clearly and coherently perceived it as a viper through the screens and residues of his past experiences and habits of mind, in fact the snake was merely a coil of rope. “Mind forg'd manacles.” The limits of my consciousness, its habits, thoroughly condition how something becomes coherent to me as something specific, not as undifferentiated matter or form, but as a thing with a name and not something else, a coherence.
I lifted the term “coherence” from Brook Ziporyn's Being and Ambiguity,where it translates the Buddhist concept of a “dharma,” as in the Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra's admonition that “all dharmas are forms of emptiness.” What does it mean for something to be a form (a coherence) that is “empty”? Its arising, persisting, and decaying, and the forms these take (the particular ways in which something comes up and sticks around), are contingent on causes and conditions external to that thing. It does not emerge Providentially from World-Spirit, but instead is produced mechanically (dependent origination, the authentic meaning of “emptiness”). Further, its perception is also contingent on causes and conditions: the forms that are, of habit, projected onto matter and objects perceived in order to make sense of them. This dialectic can be understood in six contexts or categories, which are objects of mind and objects of the five senses (sense-consciousnesses). Sound-waves penetrate the ear consciousness and the machine of the mind puts sense to it, regardless of its material reality. Is it music? Coming from here or there?
The concept of coherence points to everyday instances where the double dialectic of consciousness and conditions, where consciousness is “empty” and conditions are also “empty,” as both mutually depend on each other and are impermanent. This is not about transcendence, but about coming to terms with the production of the everyday life we undergo. That is the import of the concept of a coherence (it is a noun) as I deploy it.
Meanwhile, the concept of totality is an attempt to recuperate a rigorous kind of holism. It is a necessary concept and also a rhetorically useful one, because it reminds readers that integral theory, in its dependence on wholes in relation to each other, holism, is really not so distant from totality understood in a materialist sense. In fact, Paul Burkett uses the term holism where one would expect to find “totality” in his description of the relationship between Marxist thought and ecology (in Marx and Nature). I would like, in the future, to specify the concept of totality further, likely in a comparison of Althusser's “structural causality” and Karel Kosik's “concrete totality.” But for present purposes, it suffices to point out that any coherence at any level is a totality, which is to say it is structured in relation to the parts that compose it, that the form those relations take is itself historically contingent and thus capable of becoming transformed, and that the totality typically takes a conflictual or divided form. It may be structured around a contradiction, as in the case of capitalist social relations. The totality is in metabolic relation within and without, interlocked with others as in a food web, which is a metaphor that is suggestive of how this holism differs from holarchy as presented in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality. Again, totality is not a concept I have adequately specified yet, but I do think it a necessary one for any critical integral theory to come to grips with. I have been asked to compare totality as I understand it with the map of reality AQAL presents. That remains an open question, as I am not yet satisfied that I understand how AQAL accounts for contradiction, if it does.
Any coherence is a totality. And all coherences are articulated (the are articulations), which is to say that a coherence is produced by a manifold of causes and conditions, as detailed above, not only in its content but also in its form. The process of articulation of seeming stabilities from a matrix of ongoing processes (coherences) is of interest here as the core of the consciousness-conditions co-dialectic.
This ontology puts significant pressure on history as the privileged site or archive for understanding the contemporary and the novel. Specifically, social and ecological history, as opposed to the idealist historicism of “worldviews” and “ages” in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, as means of making-coherent the reality of contemporary society, the means by which contemporary forms of consciousness (affect, spectacle) are produced and induced. The brilliant historian Perry Anderson helpfully describes history in this sense as “causal knowledge.” This kind of inquiry, into the causes and patterns of causation of the contemporary, is an integral part of the second intervention, of which more below. I do not think the concept of history or the practice of history is specified adequately in the long essays. In “Syntheses,” for instance, I rely on a Foucaultian (really Nietzschean when you get to it) approach, which is often appropriate but not really capable of giving a comprehensive picture. Further, the concept of time on which any historical inquiry depends is treated in a rather naïve way in these essays. Is time not, itself, apprehended through categories and lenses that are historically contingent? The hour, the day, the week are coherences too. This business of critical historiography presents a wide-open area for future work in integral studies.
Now, starting from an ontological question as I have done assumes the need for such a thing as an ontology. I think such a need is primary. An ontology is necessary. One of the great failures of the postmodern and poststructuralist trips that somehow seemed relevant many years ago was this refusal of ontology. Think of Bruno Latour, who went after science and matter in exactly the wrong way. By demonstrating that scientific certainty is anything but certain, but is instead contingent on certain social forces, Latour did make a contribution; but when this becomes absolute, as in such claims as germs do not exist until they are named by a scientist with a microscope, you have real trouble using a legitimate scientific finding, such as the fossil record in contradiction to creepy creationist narratives, evidence for industrial-caused climate change in contradiction to the ideologies of capital. Why? It becomes possible for Dick Cheney to use a Latour-ish argument to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change, or for a tobacco executive to undermine the scientific consensus on lung cancer caused by smoking (see Latour's article "Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?" where he makes this point himself). My point: you need an ontology if you want to claim that the results of a rape investigation are real and significant. If you want to claim that bodies matter, that species and their qualitative diversity matter, that webs of life in metabolic interaction matter, then you need to posit an ontology first. Before you can posit the need for a transformation or development of anything, you need to identify the space in which such a transformation might be warranted, and to describe just what and how it would be transformed. Matter, the stuff of life, must be accounted for and drawn forward as having a kind of reality (it does), a kind of coming-to-coherence (it does), a kind of qualitative and heterogeneous value (for myself, I take aesthetic value as real and exchange value as a kind of social fiction). Once you conceptualize the concrete and the phenomenal, you are in a position to do some real work: you can describe and prescribe. You can advocate. You can care and take care, you can take responsibility for an object or the totality of objects and processes. The point is that you have to start from first principles. This is the point of my work in ecocriticism, and I think it is equally relevant here.
Wilber, to his credit, does not hesitate to posit an ontology, and in substantial detail. I think this is one reason why some readers may have found his body of work an appealing alternative to the always-already poststructuralist scene of yore. He does this by invoking the historicism of the German Idealists (Schelling, Hegel...), refracted through Aurobindo, to produce the concept of Spirit. And all that material on holons? An ontology. This is better than nothing, because at least it offers a place to start. Readers of Ernst Bloch will readily admit that there may be some utopian sparks to be released from the Wilber scene. That said, I find much of Wilber's ontology untenable and unnecessarily problematic. Untenable because of contradictions and contra-indications in it, and the circularity of the arguments that are intended to demonstrate it; problematic because it reproduces certain positions it should instead set out to debunk (these claims are part of the "negative" work attended to especially in "Sweet Science." This is why I go in another direction from first principles, and I encourage others who are working in integral studies to consider doing the same. The "Such a Body" paper grew out of this attempt at first principles. Instead of working from an idealistic position (a historicism of Spirit), I instead attempted a nominalistic or materialistic proposal. This is where the concepts "coherence," "articulation," and "totality" come in; these amount to a preliminary attempt to think the Buddhist concept of dependent origination through Marxian or at least post-Hegelian categories: a co-constitutive dialectic of consciousness and conditions, subject and object, where "consciousness" is itself a product of causes and conditions, and "conditions" are as well. All this is still very provisional and in need of development, especially in terms of specifying the content of time. "Totality" is not the same as a holon, though, even though it expresses relations of subordination; as I understand it, totality is about tension and equilibrium, without the positive value one might assign a natural order. The point was to show what the situation at hand is (unsatisfactory), and to show what is to be done (transformation of the same).
I would like to suggest three criticisms of the ontology I have described so far, before moving on to discuss how this ontology warrants a certain understanding of intervention into the reality described.
First: this is clearly based in a "dialectic of nature" as developed by Engels, from premises established by Hegel as Lucio Colletti so clearly demonstrates. My use of "Hegelian" as an epithet for "idealist" may have had some rhetorical value, but at the cost of underplaying the influence of Hegel's reasoning and categories on my own thinking. Hegel had three children: idealism, phenomenology, and Marxism. I am working with two of those against the first, which is to say, I am clearly dining at Hegel's table and it seems appropriate I should be a less discourteous guest, even while I try to point out ways in which criticism of a certain kind of Hegelianism is very much a challenge to foundational concepts in Wilberism, which I seek to address with new concepts.
Second: The use of sources in the long essays too frequently seems slapdash and unwarranted (a result, perhaps, of working in haste). Throwing Georg Lukacs and Louis Althusser in the mix without accounting for the real disagreements among these thinkers is but one obvious example of this. Had I to do it over again, I would lean much more heavily on Kosik's concept of the "concrete totality" either in comparison to or just instead of Althusserian structural causality.
Third: Kosik also would have helped me make these interesting but totally speculative claims with more force and specificity, and hence with less reliance on speculation and rhetorical elan. I suggested a wholly different canon for integral studies in "Such a Body" from the one Wilber has constructed, where oppositional and transformative ways of understanding the dialectic of consciousness and conditions arise in concert with particular historical situations (where Krishnamurti is the integral thinker par excellence of the suburban lifestyle of Fordism, for instance); Kosik's claim in Dialectics of the Concrete that such oppositional forms of consciousness emerge dialectically in all societies (p. 102) would ground my claim more substantially, and thus open onto a way forward for a critical integral historiography as alluded to above. I would also like to point out that Kosik was an oppositional figure against Soviet political hegemony and its cosmological speculations, much as Antonio Gramsci was against the Fascists. Arguably, Kosik was the intellectual architect of the Prague Spring of 1968, and a very clever dialectician: he opened up the discourse of dialectical materialism, the philosophical exposition of Soviet state capitalism, from within to a radical self-critique.
In sum, I wanted to produce an ontology that is conscious and critical, does not reproduce (or "flicker") in a mystified form the problems of the society from which it has emerged, and stakes out a middle path between the extreme and reductive views of nihilism on one side and eternalism and idealism on the other side. I try to show how holarchy falls into idealism and reproduces the injustices of capitalist social relations in "Sweet Science." Which is to say, I think integral theory on the Wilber model assumes as a truth of the "Kosmos" what critical theory ought to take as an object of critique: the forms of consciousness and social relations that inhere in consumer capitalism. I think a different approach from first principles is warranted, and I have attempted to account in outline for some first principles that may be productive of a new approach in integral studies that does not reproduce the problems of the first.
Integral studies has, historically, emphasized the transformation of consciousness. People change their minds, and this is said to produce or induce other changes. However, these developments are rarely specified except in terms of consciousness, in terms of spirituality. Such transformations are of first importance in my view. I am committed to such a practice. However, in my experience it is just not enough to just change your mind about something, to experience a “paradigm shift.” Kensho and satori are interventions, they mark beginnings, but they are not ends in themselves. Recall the Zen aphorism that turns up in washrooms and coffee-shop tip-jars: After the ecstasy, the laundry. This process moves forward along two interventions.
The idea of two interventions is tied to the double aspect of critical theory: you need recognition, but once you have it, you find it opens onto a certain kind of creative labor. It is not sufficient just to understand or describe the world; the work is to transform it. The emphasis on machines and mechanisms as means of bringing to consciousness the sorts of impersonal determination brought to bear in and of the human subject and human society in the Gurdjieff literature is useful in explaining this. Everything one can identify with as “I” or “mine,” including the body, emotions, memories, fantasies, and the business of grasping at identity itself, is a wholly mechanical process. False consciousness. People are duped, stupid, and this stupidity must be accounted for and worked with. Put differently, one is wholly determined by “external” factors that sometimes seem “internal” (this is a dynamic I describe in “The Crying of Humanity”), until one is tricked into a recognition of ones actual state: the “Terror of the Situation” in Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson. One recognizes not only that one has been but one more incognizant bug in the gut flora of the cosmos, but that the totality of other beings is likewise so. “My” suffering is not mine alone, but is the same salty soup as hers, his, theirs, yours. That kensho is the first intervention. Like the punchline to a joke (to use Ziporyn's metaphor), this recognition radically recontextualizes the patterns of experience that had preceded it, set it up.
The second intervention is a long, long salmon-swim upstream, a commitment to a path of compassionate and conscious action, to the end, without compromises. And it is done with others because it cannot be done properly on one's own. It allows one to create situations in which the first intervention may be possible for others. This is called “teaching” or “pedagogy.” Remember the dialectic of consciousness and conditions: one transforms the one by the other, or even both at once. This can take the form of eccentric behavior, or performance, or silence. It is always an act of love. If not, it is a regression, a moment of error. Even when it appears to be momentarily unkind, as in “the fast way” to remove a baby tooth.
The first intervention insists that stupidity, that aggregate of error, selfish mechanical habits and automatisms, is a necessary precondition for recognition or learning. Error is OK. Shame is a big mistake. Stupidity is not something to be ashamed of. The world that appears before you appears this way as a consequence of your own ignorance and foolishness (remember the coherence). So really, why try to avoid it, through hairshirt transcendence or Urizen-style sage-on-the-stage denial? One has to undergo the limits of one's consciousness and its contents, really engage the body's earthy ups and downs, in order to recognize the situation objectively for what it is. Seriously, stop looking for transcendence, and especially stop buying shit that promises to “set you free” or whatever. Just eat the whole enchilada, do not hold back, until the punchline dawns on you. The second intervention insists on failure. Think of the bodhisattva's vows: it is an impossible commitment, but an adamantine and neverending laboring that just keeps trying. Repeated and increasingly creative failures as an intentional practice. One keeps going through sentence fragments and stubby sentences until samsara is emptied. Half-measures do not work. What works? Well, study history and find out; ask for advice and work with others who share your commitments; try to learn from your failures (this is the context for the emphasis on inquiry and praxis in the long articles). Look at each situation in its specificity and intervene accordingly. Important contrast: where Wilber insists (here true to his idealist heritage) that everyone is right, this perspective celebrates the tragic and hilarious and humane ways we are all terrifically wrong, out to lunch.
The context of pedagogy is a good way to understand the second intervention as becoming-responsible: responsibility as the capacity to lead, to teach, to be useful to others. I describe becoming-responsible in terms of four characteristics, with some overlap and texture among them: becoming-critical, becoming-competent, becoming-conscious, and becoming-compassionate. I put it in the gerund to mark an insistence on process in all four. One does not settle for playing the role of the God-Man, the sage-on-the-stage. One insists on continuing to learn.
Yet another way to understand the second intervention is through the practice of making new values. The first intervention is needed in order to understand thoroughly the dynamic of old values, old determinations; the labor of the second involves the competence of creativity.
In the way of self-criticism, it seems to me that a more explicit account of rhetoric and its uses than the one I give, or rather perform, is warranted in this context. These essays betray a poor understanding of the scholarship on the psychology of learning, and a limited grasp on the scholarship in pedagogy; it is unbecoming of an integral theory to give such short shrift to theories of development beyond mere allusion. In reply to these criticisms, I plead no contest. I do not pretend to have mastered all discourses, and hence cannot responsibly give account for all of them. These are real lacunae in the work I have presented so far, and I do not think I am competent to address them all myself. The work of specifying the concept of development for a critical integral theory will fall to someone whose expertise is appropriate for that task.
In closing, it might as well be admitted that there is an element of prankster-ism in the long essays themselves, along the lines of the set-up/punchline dynamic I have alluded to. This has been an attempt on my part to create a situation in which the first intervention might be possible for a set of readers with particular expectations. Imagine having convinced yourself of the correctness of a certain problematic A (the value of a transformative Theory of Everything), and the validity of a certain approach to that, B (Wilber's idealism), having to consider that a materialist, a Marxist approach may be more suitable to A and in direct contradiction to B. Surprise! I seek to foreground these sorts of contradictions in the arguments I present, but also in the words I choose, the paragraphs and sentences I build, the connections among concepts implied by literary devices such as alliteration and parallelism... “You can count on a [redacted] for a fancy prose style.”
Where in the above section on ontology I proposed expressing dependent origination through Marxist discourse, here I attempt to articulate the practice of the bodhisattva through the same, and in the process, I look to recover the concept of responsibility from the political right. Two particularly useful texts in this regard have been Ziporyn's Being and Ambiguity, and Peter Hershock's Liberating Intimacy. Intervention marks a transition from false to authentic consciousness, and from a mechanical to a creative and compassionate mode of being, singly and socially. Nonviolent, democratic, and mutually-supportive relationships in which ongoing learning and growth are possible: that is the goal.
While I take full responsibility for the content of the long essays, I cannot claim all the credit. The editors of the Integral Review prodded me at first, challenged me throughout, and demonstrated a remarkable broad-mindedness and patience with such a mercurial and inexperienced (and in 2008, ill) writer. I will always be proud of my association with this journal and its editors, and always grateful for the effort they put into the essays that bear my name.
I offer my gratitude to Frank Visser, for keeping the Integral World website going: an object lesson in the perseverance of the second intervention.
And I would also like to recognize with gratitude and appreciation Ken Wilber and his followers past and present, for “party conversation” in the noblest sense.
Note: some of the material in this essay appeared in draft form on my blog, For The Turnstiles, and in conversation with interrogators, agons, and friends who engage with me on these issues. Joe Corbett read an early draft of this essay, and helpful useful feedback I used in revision.