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".
Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician,
counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a
number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health
. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY ELLIOT BENJAMIN
AVATAR, EST, AND
A COMPARISON OF CULT DANGERS
In my previous article “Wilber vs. Hubbard: A Comparison Between Scientology And Integral Institute” on the
Integral World website, it can justifiable be argued that this comparison is not particularly meaningful because Scientology is widely considered to be a spiritual organization with high cult danger, which is the conclusion I have come to in my Spirituality & Cults article (available at www.integralscience.org). I utilized Scientology primarily to illustrate the absurdity of taking some of the anti-Wilber proponents too seriously in regard to Integral Institute possessing alarming cult dangers.
I cannot believe that even Geoffrey Falk would say that Integral Institute has anywhere near the cult dangers that are present in Scientology, but then again I certainly would not want to predict what Falk would not claim in regard to the cult and guru dangers of Integral Institute and Ken Wilber.
However, operating on the assumption that a number of anti-Wilber proponents will say that Scientology is in a class of cult danger significantly higher than Integral Institute, but that Integral Institute still possesses cult dangers that need to be taken seriously, I want to now make a comparison between Integral Institute and two spiritual organizations that I have placed in the Moderate and Mild cult danger classification in my Spirituality & Cults article, namely Avatar (Moderate cult danger) and est (Mild cult danger).
As in my previous article comparing Integral Institute with Scientology, my purpose is not to make a complete and exhaustive comparison on every item of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale or on any of the other scales that I have utilized, but rather to illustrate with a few examples that in my estimation Integral Institute is much safer than either Avatar or est, and thereby my Neutral placement of Integral Institute in regard to cult dangers is one that is reasonable and justifiable. But once again, as I have stated in a number of my previous articles, my experiential analysis is a subjective one and is meant to convey only my own experiences with these organizations, and is not meant to be any kind of objective scientific analysis.
However, I also believe that there is value and merit in conveying this kind of qualitative subjective experience, as long as it is taken in conjunction with other descriptions that do include the kind of factual research based writings that is what I think people like Geoffrey Falk do make important contributions with.
Lets begin with Avatar. Avatar was originated by an ex-Scientologist named Harry Palmer in the late 1980s, and was actually an outgrowth of a Scientology mission (small church) that Palmer was running (see my articles “On Avatar” in the 2005 ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) E-Newsletter at http://cultinfobooks.com and my above mentioned Spirituality & Cults article)). The Avatar trainings are extremely expensive the first one costing $2,300 plus hotels, restaurants, transportation for a nine day training, and I have already stated that I have concerns about the comparable costs of attending the Integral Institute seminars (see my article “On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis” in Integral World).
However, there are many different ways of being involved in Integral Institute, many of which have quite minimal costs, in comparison to Avatar where the entire focus is on selling the beginning workshop to the public with the intention of inducing people to take the follow-up Masters and Wizards workshops, the Wizard workshop reaching the cost of $7,500 plus all the extra hotel, restaurant, and transportation costs. The salesmanship and manipulations and guilt inducing and constant telephone calls to get people to sign up for Avatar workshops became completely sickening to me, but I experienced the total opposite in regard to any kind of pressure or personal coaxing to sign up for an Integral Institute seminar.
My respective Bonewits Cult Danger ratings in the category of Wealth was “10” for Avatar and “5” for Integral Institute. Given that there is certainly a widespread internet promotion to induce people to join Integral Institute with minimal financial cost, and that the recruiting in Avatar does not induce people to leave their jobs and join the organization on a full-time basis the way I experienced Scientology in the 1970s, I put my ratings for Recruiting somewhat closer, though still two steps higher for Avatar: “6” for Avatar and “4” for Integral Institute.
In regard to sexual manipulation I gave the lowest rating of “1” for Integral Institute and the next lowest rating of “2” for Avatar as well as est. Falk questions in one of his recent blog entries why I would give a “2” rating (instead of “1”) when I talk about individuals being taught to develop their freedom of choice which could lead to making significant changes in their sexual relationships, and apply this “strange” reasoning to Avatar and not to Integral Institute.
Well, in my Modern Religions book (which Falk has supposedly read) I talk about the concept of ”Pseudo-Realness” in relation to est, which is my own original portrayal of how a cultish spiritual organization can induce one to feel like there is a “real” interaction of mutual caring going on in est this was done specifically with a mass of 300 strangers in a crowded hotel ballroom over a weekend. In Avatar I believe there is a similar phenomenon going on, and it is for this reason that I have some concerns about the kind of freedom of choice that is an outgrowth of the est workshops that I experienced in the 1970s and the Avatar workshops that I experienced in the 1990s.
Along these lines, I would like to state that although I have acknowledged a number of errors that Falk has pointed out in my articles (especially that 59/15 should be rounded off to 3.93, not 3.94), I do take offense at his “trashing“ of my work in areas that he is either not qualified to judge or has not read. I am referring for example to his reference of my Group Theory/Consciousness article available at www.integralscience.org which Falk describes as “more nonsense than sense.” I don't mind intelligent meaningful criticism that pertains to the mathematical ideas that I am writing about, but it does require someone to go through the mathematics in a serious way to do this. It is obvious that Falk did not have the interest or want to take the time to do this, and I think it is an extremely poor model of intellectual criticism to simply denounce something without giving any kind of intelligent explanation whatsoever.
Similarly, Falk describes my work as having no original ideas to describe the psychology of cultish organizations and that I utilize old scales that have questionable value. But he has supposedly read my Modern Religions book, and I would contend that my discussion of Pseudo-Realness, comparison of Scientology with Judaism, my Hessian model (based upon German novelist Hermann Hesse) of why people go into modern religions, etc. are certainly my original formulations that I did not “borrow” from anyone. I also believe that the way I have used the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale in conjunction with the Anthony Typology and what I refer to as the Wilber Integral Model is a creative interplay of a variety of scales and criteria that effectively safeguards against an over-reliance of any one type of measurement. At any rate, a reader can certainly judge for themselves if my experiential analysis has merit for them to undertake.
But what concerns me the most is the whole tone of criticism that Falk dishes out; for example, his little witty undertones such as “We learned this in high school right?” or “Even someone with a Ph.D in mathematics should be able to use a calculator,” or his highly insulting ending to his 7/24 blog entry: “With astonishingly credulous “guru-debunkers” like Benjamin, one hardly needs apologists.”
Yes they are funny at my expense, and I must admit that I even laughed myself. But they are also insulting to me in the context of the rest of his critical remarks about my work. I do not wish to stoop to this low level of critical assessment of someone else's work, and I must say that it reminds me of Falk's own accusations toward Ken Wilber in Wilber's less than civil remarks about some of his own critics.
I do not condone Wilber's sarcasm and insults to his critics nor to I condone his crude and crass language in a philosophical context, and in the same way I do not think that Falk is helping his own cause by indulging in what I consider to be childish and immature attention getting language to describe errors in someone else's writings, regardless of whether he views these errors as major or minor.
But back to my comparison of Integral Institute with Avatar and est.
When I was in Avatar I questioned the leaders of the Masters seminar about their finances from the workshop (see my essay “On Avatar“) and was given remedial exercises to do, suspected of being a reporter for the New York Times, and eventually was not given a satisfactory course completion license to practice Avatar even though I had finished the course with flying colors. As I described in my previous essay comparing Integral Institute with Scientology, I have experienced absolutely no negative consequences from including critical statements about Ken Wilber and Integral Institute in any of my articles on Integral World. Yes, I do have a significant degree of concern about how Ken Wilber deals with his critics, as I have mentioned in my previous articles, but once again I rate Avatar two steps higher than Integral Institute in the area of Paranoia; Avatar gets a “7“ and Integral Institute gets a “5.”
Lets bring est into the picture and compare the ratings in Wisdom Credited. I acknowledge that Ken Wilber is held in high regard by the members of Integral Institute, but from my interactions with the members I have come into contact with, inclusive of well respected consciousness author Allan Combs, I have found them to be generally aware of their own beliefs aside from what Wilber sets forth. It is a blurry state of affairs, but from my experiences with both Avatar and est we have distinct phenomena going on. Harry Palmer wrote down the procedures for the exercises to be done in the Avatar training with absolutely no deviations allowed (see the Avatar books referenced in my Spirituality & Cults article) and anyone who wants to remain a member of Avatar must follow these dictates completely as written, as Palmer is looked upon as the infallible guru to them, not quite to the extent of L. Ron Hubbard to his Scientologist followers, but nevertheless to quite a high degree.
Similarly, Werner Erhard, founder of est, was treated as the brilliant source of estian wisdom, but the processes were more flexible than that of Avatar and Scientology and in my experience there was little focus upon actual philosophical process and material in est compared to Avatar and Scientology. My comparative ratings in the area of Wisdom Credited are “6“ for Integral Institute, “8“ for est, and “9“ for Avatar (and “10“ for Scientology). As I described in my above remark about Pseudo-Realness, my rating for Sexual Manipulation in est is “2,” the same as Avatar and higher than my “1“ rating for Integral Institute. The emphasis on est in recruiting new members and “guests“ to attend introductory sessions was extremely high and personally invasive to me, surpassing that of both Integral Institute and Avatar, as I gave est an “8“ rating or Recruiting.
The overall Bonewits averages I came up with (I'll keep my original two decimal place numbers for continuity purposes) are 3.94 for Integral Institute, 4.07 for est, and 5.40 for Avatar. This is only one of the three scales I utilized (although the most important scale) to place organizations in my final generic classifications. But when it comes to a final determination of choosing between Mild cult danger and Neutral, in say comparing est to Integral Institute, when all is said and done I also rely upon my own intuitive sense from what I have experienced, and my gut level feeling when I compare Werner Erhard to Ken Wilber and est to Integral Institute in terms of guru and cult dangers is that we have a different classification here. It is more than the mere numbers in the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale that I have come up with, althugh I have found these numbers to be useful in conjunction with my other scales as well as with my own intuitive experience.
The bottom line once again is that this experiential analysis is simply my own, and is not to be taken in the objective scientific research context that Falk has chosen to take this. My intention in this article is to describe some of my own experiential reasons for distinguishing Integral Institute as not having serious cult dangers in comparison to the other spiritual groups that I have explored.
Falk is correct that I have had different levels of involvement with different groups that I describe, as I make very clear in my “Modern Religions” book. I have had a fairly high degree of involvement with Scientology, a moderate degree of involvement with est and Avatar, a minimal degree of involvement with SRF (Self-Realization Fellowhip), and somewhere in-between a minimal and moderate degree of involvement with Integral Institute.
Falk takes much heated issue with his portrayal of my minimizing the cult dangers in SRF. But I am not disagreeing that his much greater involvement and experiences with this organization should be paid far more attention to than my own personal descriptions of my experiences with them, as I refer the reader in my “Modern Religions” book to his own “Stipping The Gurus”. But according to what I myself have experienced in SRF, I did not enter the upper echelons and I did not experience the negativity that Falk has written about.
I have no doubts that what he has written about takes place, but perhaps it is also meaningful to know that one can buy the SRF lessons package and study the material for two years for
a nominal fee, and not receive even one phone call to attend an SRF conference. And I also must say that I have found the SRF literature to be somewhat inspiring, just as I have found passages in SRF founder Paramahansa Yogananda's book Autobiography Of A Yogi to be inspiring (see my SRF experiential analysis in my full Spirituality &Cults article available at email@example.com and my SRF essay in my Modern Religions book).
This is in complete contrast to anyone trying to study Avatar or Scientology on their own, as once their name gets registered with the organization it will not be long before they get constant phone calls and mailings and sales pitches to sign up for the Introductory workshops that lead to the entire trap. And in a somewhat similar way to SRF, one can study Integral Institute and Ken Wilber material all one wants to without having to worry about being harassed by them to attend their workshops, etc.
I understand that Falk has had his own emotional upheaval with Self-Realization Fellowship and that he has done excellent research about the unethical and dangerous practices of many highly esteemed spiritual gurus. But I do hope that he finds the ability to broaden his understanding regarding my own different kind of experiential writing from what he does, and that at any rate he refrains from engaging in the condescending insulting unprofessional kind of “trashing” of writing that he does not appreciate, which sounds to me ironically very similar to what he accuses his arch target of nearly all of his criticism, Ken Wilber (I say “nearly” because I seem to be lately taking on a bit of Falk's “trashing”) from engaging in.