An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year’s clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See:


Moving Toward a More Integral Integral

Joseph Dillard

Sadly, Wilber and we Integralists too often uphold an exceptionalist status quo by emphasizing self development and interior quadrant issues.

In Integral Spirituality, Wilber explains why the width and breadth of enlightenment, both collective and personal, is constrained by the level of development of the social (LR) and cultural (LL) contexts in which it occurs. He cites the world views of Buddha and Jesus as examples. His conclusion is also that our capacity today for enlightenment is greater than theirs was because we live in broader and deeper contexts.

The implication is that this analysis also applies to overall individual development. That is, while we may race ahead into the developmental stratosphere on this or that line, such as Integralists clearly do on the leading cognitive line and the line of spiritual intelligence, their overall development is constrained by two major factors: that of the socio-cultural context in which they are embedded and the level of development of the core moral line.

If so, this presents major challenges for Integralist assessments of level of development. Because we typically identify with our thoughts, our self-system generally tracks pretty closely with our cognitive line. That means that if we grasp multi-perspectivalism, as in Integral AQAL, we assume that our level of development must be at vision-logic or close to it. Then, if we have had various mystical experiences, as many Integralists have had, that validates for us that our development is at least at vision-logic, if not into the transpersonal bands.

However, this analysis tends to ignore or minimize the influence of the socio-cultural collectives in which we are embedded on our overall level of development. Again, if these determine the width and breadth of enlightenment, they must do so for our ability to develop level to level. As a result, Integral AQAL provides an assessment of development that is highly skewed toward self and interior quadrant, measurements, such as cognition and self-system, rather than collective development and its major consideration: our moral development as viewed by others, particularly out-groups. A thoroughly Integral assessment of development will give equal weight to exterior and collective factors in evaluating our overall level of development. This is something Wilber claims AQAL provides, but I am here making a case that it does not.

Integralists tend not to factor in the implications for development of Wilber's conclusions about the width and breadth of enlightenment for personal development because the results of doing so are not flattering. They do not validate our generally high self-regard. If we do examine the implications of his concept of enlightenment for personal development we will necessarily conclude that our actual level of overall development is much lower than we generally assume. If this is true, then it means our self-assessments of our development by our psychographs and Wilber's various charts at the back of Integral Psychology are generally self-validating, elitist, exceptionalistic, and grandiose. There are at least two major collective factors that act like sea anchors, limiting our developmental rise, one economic and the other governmental.

Our amoral economic anchor

“Frank Visser
brings light
and sanity to
the miasmal
confusion of
suspicions and

(David Quammen)


We live in an economic system, neoliberalism, that is not so much immoral as amoral. Economic exploitation and abuse is nothing personal; it's “just business.” The first allegiance of commerce, whether it is a fruit vendor or a multi-national corporation, is to make a profit, to protect and grow the bottom line. If we don't make a profit, we're out of business. However, here is the problem: when the relational exchange of economic security is our priority, morality is not.

Profit is essentially an amoral priority, and one that is not associated with the rational mid-personal, as often assumed, but with mid-prepersonal pre-rationality. Because we can think rationally about economics or morality does not mean that our economics or morality have evolved to mid-personal, but only that our cognitive line has done so. Like animals, we seek advantage, which commercially is profit, because it has instrumental value as an adaptive strategy. We then rationalize and justify gains at the expense of others with our reasoning ability - our mid-personal rationality.

For Kohlberg and Wilber, amorality precedes pre-conventional morality. Economics in general is amoral with a thin gloss of rationality and moral veneer. It's not even fundamentally immoral. For Kohlberg, amorality reflects a lower, animalistic, level of development. Amorality is not immoral. Therefore, recognizing that economics is essentially amoral does not make it fundamentally “bad,” but it does make it primitive, in the sense of existing prior to, or independent of, morality. At best, it represents the foundations of morality: reciprocity and mutual respect, trustworthiness and even empathy. At worst, it represents the foundations of immorality: exploitation, cruelty, and violence. We find all of these existing widely in the animal kingdom, prior to the development of morality.

Our immoral governmental anchor

In addition to living in an amoral economic system, we live in a governmental system which is fundamentally immoral. It allows child poverty and homelessness. What sort of society does not provide for its children? The US, the self-proclaimed exceptional beacon of democracy, has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with at least half of its prisoners imprisoned for decades for non-violent offenses. As a country we have supported and in some instances still support colonialism, genocide, apartheid, the illegal detention of prisoners in Guantanamo and black bases around the world, torture, drone assassinations, and illegal warfare. This is equally true of both parties, Democrat and Republican. A vote for candidates of either of these parties has proven to be a vote for a continuation of these atrocities. Arguing about which party destroys lives more humanely is like sheep arguing about the advantages of being eaten by wolves or lions.

Our government runs on “might makes right,” a pre-conventional level of morality which, in the eyes of those victimized, is immoral. Following Kohlberg, Wilber associates immorality with pre-conventional egotism, narcissism, as well as “might makes right” world views and behaviors. These reflect at worst, a dysfunctional mid-prepersonal level of development (as in personality disorders) and at best a healthy late prepersonal, thoroughly self-centered level of development, like that of a four-year-old. Together, our economic and governmental systems imply that the socio-cultural collectives in which we are embedded are functioning at an economic level of mid-prepersonal amorality and a governmental level of late prepersonal immorality. These are compensated for by much higher development on various other lines - cognitive, proprioceptive, musical, mathematical, spiritual intelligence, and the self-system. This combination of amorality and immorality is also disguised by a thin veneer of moral posturing: elitism, exceptionalism, claims of egalitarianism, pluralism, “democracy,” “freedom,” and cultural superiority. Moral intent is supposed to compensate in the estimation of society for amoral economics and immoral governance.

Roots of our delusion

It is important to remember that almost everything we think or say is a justification, rationalization, and excuse that validates who we are, our world view, our feelings, and why we are doing what we are doing. The end product is that we build elaborate systems of thought that maintain our self-image and reduce cognitive dissonance. By the use of multiple cognitive biases, dissenting information is shut out, ignored, repressed, or otherwise denied. This allows us to rationalize our high level of development, our votes for corrupt and criminal politicians, our abuse and addictions, and excuse our lack of concern for the weakest and most victimized - flora and fauna, children, the elderly, those with disabilities.

If the moral line is indeed “core,” as Wilber says, then it has to tetra-mesh for overall development to move forward. All four quadrants of the moral line have to more or less evolve in sync to dialectically advance from one developmental level to the next higher one. If the socio-cultural quadrants of our moral line are stuck at mid-prepersonal to late prepersonal, then the moral line acts as a sea anchor holding down our overall level of development regardless of the height of any other individual lines, including cognitive and spiritual intelligence. This is why people like Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Rajneesh, Adi Da, and Andrew Cohen crashed and burned. While they were brilliant and enlightened, they proved to be moral pygmies, and they lost credibility, respect, and trust in the relationship-based reality of the LR. Individuals and societies eventually collapse down to their authentic level of moral development because, while in self-development the cognitive line leads, in collective or overall development, the moral line leads. This process of collapse may be swift, as when we are discovered to be cheating, or it may take generations, as it has for Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Jesus and Buddha.

How did the misunderstanding, that self-development and the core moral line are somehow independent of the collective quadrants, occur? Wilber follows Kohlberg but adds a post-post conventional stage of moral development. Kohlberg and his followers, including Wilber, have never been able to show a correlation between the development of moral judgment, which is an interior quadrant cognitive and value judgment competency, on the one hand, and moral behavior, on the other. All one can say is that there is a tendency for moral action to follow moral intent and a common expectation that it will. However, intent is neither necessary nor sufficient for moral action, and all of us can cite many, many examples of people with high moral intent, from Wilber to Obama, who have acted in immoral and destructively amoral ways. We can also cite examples of great good coming as a by-product of horrendous criminality and exploitation. While Wilber excuses immorality by those high in the line of spiritual intelligence as “shadow” or “regression” by “rude boys,” they reflect behaviors that are accepted, ignored, or reinforced by the groups and collectives in which we are embedded, strongly implying a collective and extremely serious moral fixation at mid-prepersonal to late prepersonal.

A widespread collapse is now occurring both in the US and West. Our self-marketing and self-image do not match our behavioral track record. In a desperate paroxysm of denial, a heavy pall of censorship is descending upon us all. A lack of congruence between interior quadrant intent, as represented by the propaganda or scripting provided by parents, teachers, employers, and media, and exterior quadrant social justice, as represented by multiple symptoms of loss of public trust and socio-cultural collapse, also largely explains the lack of widespread adoption of Integral. Most people don't want to be “superhuman” and they don't need us to be superhuman either. They don't care if we've opened our “Eye of Spirit” or not. They don't want to be lifted up to second tier, but only to have enough food, access to health care and education. They would be content to have us stop mouthing compassion and instead address these very concrete relational exchanges that consume their time and energy.

The great emphasis on most Integral forums and much Integral writing on self-development, spirituality, philosophy, consciousness, idealism, post-metaphysics, and world view is largely at the expense of an emphasis on social justice and collective responsibility. While we all benefit from healthier, broader world views and expanded consciousness, it is clear they are not producing the answers to exploitation, abuse, addiction, war, and environmental devastation that are required and increasingly demanded. More of the same is not likely to stop our ongoing societal collapse, much less turn it around.

Sadly, Wilber and we Integralists too often uphold an exceptionalist status quo by emphasizing self development and interior quadrant issues, like the “Superhuman IOS,” at a time when the nation and world are screaming for exterior collective focus and solutions that implement real social justice - not the phony weak soup offered by SJW's, diversity aficionados, and leftists, liberals, and progressives in general. There are notable exceptions; the intent of almost all Integralists I know is moral and worldcentric, and an Integral Life Practice can and should include advancing social justice in concrete ways in our spheres of influence.

Nevertheless, overall human development, including that of Integralists, is centered at mid-prepersonal, due to the above realities. This is not the same as Wilber's conclusion that two thirds of humanity are at stages before mid-personal; all of us are at prepersonal stages of overall development, but this reality is hidden by our exceptional development on various lines. While this conclusion has been dismissed as sanctimonious moralizing or moral posturing, one does not have to consider themselves more moral than others to point out a skewed world view that needs greater emphasis on social justice. One does not have to be beyond mid-prepersonal in their own moral development to do so, either. Recognizing our overall low level of development does not have to be either a statement of false humility or an expression of too much humility. It is not too harsh an assessment, because it fully acknowledges excellence in any line and does not condemn us as individuals because of our failings on the moral line.

The evidence that our lagging moral line has combined with a solidly prepersonal socio-cultural context can work to inject a much needed dose of self-searching humility into all of us. It helps explain why the left and right in the West are now finding common cause, as in the recent and ongoing Reddit trader rebellion, against the broad socio-cultural center of the West. It also helps to explain why long-time advocates of Integral AQAL, self-development, and spirituality like myself are now feeling betrayed and angry. The brightest and most compassionate have greater responsibility. They are to be held to a higher level of accountability instead of given a pass due to the Halo Effect. We have been gifted with great abundance and knowledge. Are we putting it to use to raise up the least fortunate among us? Are we using it to call out the rampant injustices of our socio-cultural contexts? As Integralists, we need to do a great deal better at recognizing our own hubris, rationalizations, and neglect if we are to earn and deserve credibility beyond the echo chamber of our little in-group.

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