INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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SEE MORE ESSAY WRITTEN BY MARTY KELLER
Reposted from aqalblog.blogspot.com with permission of the author.
Marty Keller is a native of the Detroit area. Graduated from the University of Michigan in 1973 where along with everybody else he fell in love with socialism, and has had at least ten different careers and political journeys since then. Came to California in 1983 and completed Masters Degree in Consciousness Studies at JFK University in 2004. He has always had a compelling interest in our political system, with a special devotion to the example of Abraham Lincoln as the quintessential American statesman. Recently completed 12 years of state government service, and 14 years in the Unity movement; now works to support disabled veteran business owners. He started writing commentary on Wilberian ideas with the WilberBlog in Jordan Gruber's now-defunct enlightenment.com web site; has been posting desultorily on AQALBlog for the past eight years. Regularly unwelcome at Boulder-centric events.
Green’s Failure as
“the Leading Edge”
Some Comments on Wilber’s
“Trump and a Post-Truth World”
The entire evolutionary struggle is complicated by the very incomplete state of the maturing of orange.
I’m happy to welcome Ken Wilber back to the resistance to the postmodernist, Boomeritis green worldview that has generated such nasty and revolting behavior among so many otherwise decent and civilized people in the Advanced Sector. In his recently published “Trump and a Post-Truth World,” Wilber surgically dissects the contradictions, pomposities, and insecurities that riddle almost every Boomeritis green analysis of and policy prescription for today’s lawfully chaotic world.
This is particularly welcome as it seemed that, with his post-Wyatt Earp emphases on “integral spirituality” and “the fourth turning,” he had withdrawn his sharp insights into what his own model revealed about our political economy, thereby leaving the field of integral political analysis to the very Boomeritis green perspectives he knows and now has pronounced to be a spiritual and cultural dead end.
What virtually all of the above [Trump] voters had in common was ressentiment—they resented the cultural elite, whether in government or universities or “on the coasts,” and they wanted, if “revenge” is the wrong word, it’s not far off. But there was, I am suggesting, another and very strong, hidden current in all of this, and that was the antagonistic reaction and turning away evidenced by a leading-edge that had gone deeply sour and dysfunctional, and wasn’t even serving the 25 percent of the population that were themselves at green. The deeply self-contradictory nature of “there-is-no-truth” green had collapsed the very leading-edge of evolution itself, had jammed it, had derailed it, and in a bruised, confused, but inherently wisdom-driven series of moves, evolution was backing up, regrouping, and looking for ways to move forward. This included activating an amber-ethnocentric wave that had always been present and very powerful, but that had, for the most part, been denied direct control of society starting around a century or so ago (as orange and then green stepped in).
As I’ll indicate below, while I think much in his analysis of the amber and orange wave is weak or incomplete, his critique of the Boomeritis variant of green is dead-on, including his recapitulation of a potentially strong and vibrant “healthy”—or, as I prefer, “mature”—version of the actual and necessary postmodern green which is struggling to survive suffocation by the Boomeritis believers.
Diagnosing the Postmodernist Madness
Wilber, when he’s set his mind to it, has been consistent in his critique of this very immature version of green since the 1995 publication of Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, and emphatically in the 1997 release of The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad.
He was savagely attacked for what he wrote in Eye by, of course, the very folks who had adopted the Boomeritis assumptions embedded in the meanderings of the (mostly) French postmodernist “thinkers,” who were actually leftists championing the ongoing counterrevolution against the orange, modern, individual, rational world that had the audacity to jettison the tribe and, like Prometheus, declare independence from the gods.
If there was one line that summarized the gist of virtually all postmodern writers (Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Bourdieu, Lacan, de Man, Fish, etc.) is that “there is no truth.” Truth, rather, was a cultural construction, and what anybody actually called “truth” was simply what some culture somewhere had managed to convince its members was truth—but there is no actually existing, given, real thing called “truth” that is simply sitting around and awaiting discovery, any more than there is a single universally correct hem length which it is clothes designers’ job to discover.
So it ended up that for postmodernists, all knowledge is culturally bound; there is no universally valid perspective; therefore all knowledge is based on a mere interpretation announced from a privileged (therefore oppressive) perspective; knowledge is not given but is constructed (created, built, fabricated); there is nothing but history, and therefore what any culture takes as “true” today will dramatically shift tomorrow; there is no universal moral framework—what’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me—and neither of those claims can be challenged on any grounds that do not amount to oppression; the same is true for value: no value is superior to another (another version of egalitarianism); and if any truth or value is claimed to be universal, or claimed to be true and valuable for all, the claim is actually nothing but disguised power, attempting to force all people everywhere to adopt the same truth and values of the promoter (with the ultimate aim of enslavement and oppression); it is therefore the job of every individual today to fight all of the authoritarian truths handed to them from yesterday and to be totally, radically autonomous (as well as not entertain any truths themselves that could or should be forced on anybody else, allowing everybody their own radical autonomy as well—in short, to not entertain anything called “truth” at all, which now was seen as always being a power-grab). You simply deconstruct every single truth and value you find (which, again, usually slid into nihilism and its tag-team member from postmodern hell, narcissism). In short, the aperspectival madness of “there is no truth” left nothing but nihilism and narcissism as motivating forces.
Unfortunately, Wilber spends little time examining the particular historical circumstances in which this poisonous belief system arose, and so much of the analysis he offers is flawed. Boomeritis green and postmodernism did not arise in a vacuum. Without the particulars of history it is difficult to truly appreciate the depth to which we have sunk ourselves following this dead end journey, much less discover a reasonable path to transcendence.
The first expressions of green arose on the crest of the wave of the best modernity had to offer—and its Boomeritis variant promptly rejected it in an act of narcissistic hubris as astonishing as any that Sophocles or Euripides explored in their amber-era dramas. Modernity was characterized by the rise of individual consciousness, which in turn unleashed the four quadrants with their championing of the scientific method and entrepreneurial creativity. It had also, as Wilber again points out with devastating accuracy, generated a higher moral order that for the first time could revile slavery and the discounting of women as equally human as men.
It is that higher moral order that made it possible for humans to create cultures and societies dedicated to the principle that all are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And, as the American founders knew well, a new civic order had to be created, implanted, and deepened among the predominant amber world that would guarantee the deepening and success of this radical new insight.
“A republic, if you can keep it,” Ben Franklin reputedly said in response to an inquiry about the work of the Philadelphia convention in 1787.
As optimistically as the best of us in orange might see it—and in the intervening 230 years modernity has generated an unprecedented exponential increase in human social capital—we have nonetheless been engaged in a titanic struggle by those committed to “keeping it” to bring along those determined to undermine and discard it. As Franklin’s comment squarely implied, the outcome was never—and still is not—predetermined.
Modernity's Failures Birthed Green's
I have chronicled at length the nature of amber’s counterrevolution against modernity, and the devious role that Boomeritis green has played as an enthusiastic ally equally committed to the demise of orange. All of this is suggested by Wilber’s accurate observation of the self-involved nature of first tier levels: each cannot believe other than that its perspective is the only valid one.
Further, the entire evolutionary struggle is complicated by the very incomplete state of the maturing of orange—we are far, far from fulfilling its promise as a basis significant enough to form a platform for emergence of a mature green. This is why so many modernists are susceptible to falling for Alinskyite attacks against them: they haven’t developed the self-confidence of the authentic self-actualized human being. They secretly fear that what the Boomeritis group say about them is actually true, that they are greedy, sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., and that these, far from being universal characteristics of all humans in first tier, are the specific products of modernity.
They could not perceive that Boomeritis green, being an even less mature expression of its possibility than orange is, inherited orange’s own immaturities and simply (if unconsciously) reflected them back. Rather than taking up the challenge, most of us in orange succumbed to our own flatland tendencies and fell to the temptation—impossible for the prepersonal and personal stages to avoid—to simply engage in a new round of the first tier food fight.
But this is also why green, equally non-self reflective, has yet to solve its Boomeritis problem.
The catch-22 here was that postmodernism itself did not actually believe a single one of those ideas. That is, the postmodernists themselves violated their own tenets constantly in their own writing, and they did so consistently and often. Critics (from Jürgen Habermas to Karl Otto-Apel to Charles Taylor) would soon jump all over them for committing the so-called “performative contradiction,” which is a major self-contradiction because you yourself are doing what you say either cannot or should not be done. For postmodernists, all knowledge is non-universal, contextual, constructivist, interpretive—found only in a given culture, at a given historical time, in a particular geopolitical location. Unfortunately, for the postmodernists, every one of its summary statements given in the previous paragraph was aggressively maintained to be true for all people, in all places, at all times—no exceptions. Their entire theory itself is a very Big Picture about why all Big Pictures are wrong, a very extensive metanarrative about why all metanarratives are oppressive. They most definitely and strongly believe that it is universally true that there is no universal truth. They believe all knowledge is context bound except for that knowledge, which is always and everywhere trans-contextually true. They believe all knowledge is interpretive, except for theirs, which is solidly given and accurately describes conditions everywhere. They believe their view itself is utterly superior in a world where they also believe absolutely nothing is superior. Oops.
And this slurry of sterile mythological cant has sloshed around in our Advanced Sector cultures for four decades now, fueled first by the blind allegiance of European communists and the American New Left to the Soviets, Maoists, liberation theologists, and class ideologists, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to the Gramscian notions of “multiculturalism,” “social justice,” and other half-baked beliefs incubated in the academy (birthed by the Frankfurt School) to be added to its anti-capitalist ideology.
All of this got to ride along with the emerging postmodern Information Age political economy that began to emerge during the 1980s, which began to spread increasing economic, cultural, and then political disruption throughout the post-World War II institutions designed to serve the modern industrial era that lasted, as it turns out, barely half a century.
So we have arrived, as Wilber asserts, at a smashing, spectacular—and utterly predictable—dead end.
And thus postmodernism as a widespread leading-edge viewpoint slid into its extreme forms (e.g., not just that all knowledge is context-bound, but that all knowledge is nothing but shifting contexts; or not just that all knowledge is co-created with the knower and various intrinsic, subsisting features of the known, but that all knowledge is nothing but a fabricated social construction driven only by power). When not just that all individuals have the right to choose their own values (as long as they don’t harm others), but that hence there is nothing universal (or held-in-common) by any values at all, leads straight to axiological nihilism—there are no believable, real values anywhere. And when all truth is a cultural fiction, then there simply is no truth at all—epistemic and ontic nihilism. And when there are no binding moral norms anywhere, there’s only normative nihilism. Nihilism upon nihilism upon nihilism—“there was no depth anywhere, only surface, surface, surface.” And finally, when there are no binding guidelines for individual behavior, the individual has only his or her own self-promoting wants and desires to answer to—in short, narcissism. And that is why the most influential postmodern elites ended up embracing, explicitly or implicitly, that tag-team from postmodern hell: nihilism and narcissism—in short, aperspectival madness. The culture of post-truth.
. . . Nihilism and narcissism are not traits that any leading-edge can actually operate with. And thus, if it’s infected with them, it indeed simply ceases to functionally operate. Seeped in aperspectival madness, it stalls, and then begins a series of regressive moves, shifting back to a time and configuration when it was essentially operating adequately as a true leading-edge. And this regression is one of the primary factors we see now operating worldwide. And the primary and central cause of all of this is a failure of the green leading-edge to be able to lead at all. Nihilism and narcissism brings evolution to a traffic-jam halt. This is a self-regulating and necessary move, as the evolutionary current itself steps back, reassess, and reconfigures, a move that often includes various degrees of temporary regression, or retracing its footsteps to find the point of beginning collapse and then reconfigure from there. [Italics in the original.]
And so, through almost sixty pages of devastatingly concise analysis, Wilber throws out what I believe is an unattainable challenge: he avers that those with their center of gravity in Boomeritis green must admit defeat and come over to the right side of green. They “must” take on “the self-correction that evolution is looking for.”
The leading-edge cannot lead if it despises those whom it is supposed to lead. It cannot go forward one more step if it has no idea of what a true “forward” means (which it doesn’t if it has no belief in “truth” itself). It cannot move into a greater tomorrow if it denies “greater” and “lesser” (growth holarchies) altogether, and instead simply sees all values as absolutely equal (which we saw it doesn’t really believe anyway, because it definitely believes its values are superior—what it needs to understand is that the capacity to embrace its green values is itself the product of several stages of development or a growth holarchy, and hence —even if it just wants to see more green get produced—then it categorically must get behind that genealogy or growth holarchy as a truly valid—and “true”—way to move forward in a pluralistic postmodern world).
But in truth, this is teal (or higher) speaking to Boomeritis green, which is incapable of hearing this as anything but babble. It’s a first tier wave, for Pete’s sake; it alone is correct, and it certainly isn’t about to heed the words of some soi-disant pandit criticizing its denizens so hurtfully even if he does live in Boulder.
Green Requires Mature Orange
Wilber always was optimistic with his numbers and with evidence of the world conforming to his beliefs; after all, he’s human like the rest of us. This seeing the integral glass as half-full leads to assertions not particularly backed up by compelling evidence:
Given that green is the present (ersatz) leading-edge, with some 25 percent of the population, its fairly large numbers make it at least a possible candidate for making this change itself, given that it is now widely self-conscious that something is very, very wrong with what it has been doing (and Trump’s election has cemented this suspicion—for every green that simply blames and hates Trump, another green starts to ask what it has itself done to help bring this about). The realization is slowly dawning that elite urban green, not just ethnocentric rural amber, drove Trump into office (a dynamic virtually nobody saw, hence the shock everywhere at Trump’s election—and a dynamic that green has a profoundly difficult time understanding, or rather, admitting).
Given the well-organized and publicized temper tantrums thrown by the opposition about everything the President is doing, it’s not likely that we’re going to see a mass outbreak of responsibility from “the elite urban green” for driving “Trump into office.” More likely anyone urging a mature self-reflection on this possibility will be hounded into silence by the harpies of the new nihilism.
No, too many people have identified with the tribe of Boomeritis green; like all those with amber perspectives they are scared to death that the demands of individual autonomy will kill off their tribe, which is the source of their security and belonging.
Don’t get me wrong; if Ken or his friends at the Integral Institute want to set up revival tents in Central Park or Golden Gate Park and preach redemption to the Boomers of urban America, I’m in.
But even Wilber knows it doesn’t, alas, work this way.
So what’s the alternative? Why, he suggest, if maturing green won’t work, join the integral bandwagon!
The other possibility that would work to help the present self-correcting dynamic of evolution actually get some traction would be to introduce not a healthy green (although that would always help), but to directly introduce a turquoise integral-stage leading-edge. This will happen, come what may, at some future point. But there is no reason some aspects of it cannot start to take hold now. The reason this would be so effective is that while green can push itself and strive to be more open, understanding, and compassionate toward all previous levels (which now exist as stations of life in society), the integral stage does this automatically, inherently, and in a much deeper, more authentic fashion. We saw that the integral stage is the first developmental stage in all of history that feels that every previous stage has a great deal of importance and significance. It does not necessarily agree with them, but it fully accepts and embraces them (though not their limitations)—if nothing else, each previous stage is indeed a stage in an overall human development, and no stage can be skipped or bypassed. Loathing previous stages is deeply, deeply suicidal. The integral stage thinks that each previous stage is important, while each previous stage itself thinks that only it is important.
All of this is very nice, indeed, but highly speculative at best. Wilber admits as much:
But the stunningly far-reaching effects of a truly integral leading-edge is something that we of today can barely fathom—and for the simple reason that humanity has never, at any point, had anything like this in its entire history. Never have we had a leading-edge that truly embraced and included every previous stage. We have no precedents for this whatsoever; we have no idea what this might be like. It is so dramatically different than any previous situation that it almost falls into the category of science fiction.
Even though “we can barely fathom this,” he then goes on to assert that “[w]e already have around 5 percent that is already at integral, and it might reach 10 percent within a decade or two.” This is surely mistaken. He doesn’t say five percent of what population group; if it’s the Advanced Sector comprising the US, Canada, western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, then you’re talking about roughly fifty million people. Really? Fifty million of us have made the momentous leap and now have our center of gravity in second tier?
Maybe he meant just the United States. Five percent of us comprise sixteen million, or twelve million if we just include adults. Again, really? Just where are these teeming millions, and why hasn’t their impact been more decisive?
No, this is all at best an optimistic belief. I dare say the actual number is far under a million globally.
Wilber once said—although he fails to revisit this in this essay—that the central task of evolution today is the maturing of orange. No higher waves can mature while standing upon this still-firming foundation. Orange has given us the fulcrum of evolution: the self-actualized, authentic individual; now our challenge is to encourage the development of a critical mass of these.
Arthur Young, in his brilliant investigation of the evolution of consciousness The Reflexive Universe (published in 1976, the year before release of The Spectrum of Consciousness), argues that individuation is the fulcrum, or “turn,” upon which the trajectory of Kosmic evolution stands. I agree.
In hypothesizing about “the stages through which man as an individual monad evolves,” Young asserts that individuation involves “a combination of all his human faculties: intelligence, emotion, intuition, will, and, above all, integration of all his talents into a single whole” [italics added].
Young’s description of the levels of consciousness as they have unfolded to the present day parallels Wilber’s; he is quite clear on the distinction between amber and orange, and is quite insistent on appreciating mature orange as the only fulcrum from which transcendence into the transpersonal can possibly proceed.
It is often insisted that spiritual growth can forego this worldly competence [i.e., of mature self-autonomy], a position to which religious persons incline, but I would urge that however noble the surrender of personality, like the sacrifice of worldly goods, this sacrifice can only be authentic after personality has been fully achieved.
In other words, I insist that merging into a superorganism [i.e., the momentous leap], if at all, can occur only after the individuation has been completed. For just as the third substage [amber] sees the separation of the self from the group, so the fifth substage [teal] would see the end of individuation and reunion of the self with the group, bringing to it the value learned from the experience it gained as an individual.
The impact of orange emergence on the trajectory of evolution is unmistakable, but so too is the evidence of how far we have to go to the point where the majority of us in orange have truly developed such “integration of all our talents into a single whole” that we at once can see and embrace ourselves as truly autonomous and, having fully occupied it, feel free, if not compelled, to leave this stage behind.
Although the Advanced Sector as a whole has its center of gravity in orange, that orange still requires a lot more deepening before it achieves the maturity that amber has reached. We are, most of us, still bedeviled by separation and other childhood traumas that, festering in our subconscious, prevent us from mature autonomy. The outward signs of this inward conflict are everywhere, reflected in a myriad of additive behaviors, fiscal and ecological deficits, and a compulsion to over-dramatize events personal and public. But most telling is the increasing absence of logic and reason in our choices and relationships. It’s as if our entire lives resemble a typical Drudge Report.
Much of this, of course, is the result of the disastrous adoption by Boomeritis green of the toxic memes of leftwing postmodernism; but that was only possible because of the incomplete development of orange.
So if Boomeritis green was the leading edge and it has now collapsed upon itself, we are back to orange, my friends, and the possibility of green. What percentage of us have even achieved a mature, post-Boomeritis green? I’ll bet that’s not even 5%.
The great American author and mystic Jacob Needleman captures succinctly the condition of orange and green in the introduction to his latest book, I Am Not I (2016). The book discusses the deepest questions of consciousness and identity. Not long after he began his career as a professor of philosophy, Needleman “discovered there exists in many people a yearning for metaphysical thought, for ideas about reality and human life that bring the hope of discovering a great purpose in the universe and, correspondingly, in one’s own given life.”
Yet how people explored these great questions was impaired by the shallowness of the culture; matters of “ultimate meaning and purpose” are
questions that the current scientific worldview delegitimizes through its materialist standards of logic and evidence. It troubled me to see how so many contemporary explanations of higher human faculties—love, art, religious feeling, and even scientific thought itself—reduced these faculties to mechanically “evolved” automatisms, serving such goals as meaningless physical survival and meaningless physical or egotistical pleasure. It troubled me to see the dominance of toxic ideas and concepts that offer no hope for the attainment of the transcendence that is the unique possibility written into the very essence of human consciousness. Such toxic ideas and the worldview they engender cannot help but have a dark effect on the aspirations and morals of entire peoples, whether consciously or unconsciously.
I was especially concerned about how this situation plays out in the education and development of the younger generation of men and women, as represented by the students at the university. They come to my classes immersed in habits of thought and explanation that flatten both their perception of the world and their sense of identity. It is so even when they show up already intensely interested in philosophical questions, or great works of art and literature, or the astonishing discoveries of modern science. . . . Always, in almost all of these young men and women, their entrenched standards of thought and understanding, shaped by a toxic tangle of ideas about the universe, human nature, and Great Nature itself, have locked their minds in an airless reality devoid of intrinsic meaning and purpose.
So we have arrived here, where our mass media reflecting our collective psychospiritual impoverishment demonstrate on an hourly basis that “airless reality devoid of intrinsic meaning and purpose.” We flock to social media, those vessels of shallowness and channels of our id, to demonstrate this “toxic tangle of ideas about the universe.” We shout at one another in an ever-increasing cacophony that effectively hides from ourselves and each other the universal truth that all we really want is to be loved.
This Boomeritis nightmare was gestated in the immaturities of orange, especially those that desiccated “explanations of higher human faculties—love, art, religious feeling, and even scientific thought itself” into a mechanistic flatland.
What Is to Be Done?
Integralites might just want to acknowledge the mundane truth that orange still needs a lot of work and that, as a mass expression, it is still the leading edge. Yes, yes, there are of course sturdy shoots of green and possibly even teal popping up here and there among various individuals, but the inescapable fact that Donald Trump’s election was a result, among other things, of the Boomeritis dead end brings us integralites right back to orange.
Strengthening and maturing orange is now, however, a tougher challenge than it was forty years ago, thanks to the postmodern long march through our cultural and political institutions initiated by the New Left and its takeover of the American academy and the Democratic Party in the early 70s. The orange cultural norm of personal responsibility has been severely vitiated by the postmodernist self-esteem, social justice, and anti-religion tropes. Not for nothing do conservative figures ridicule “snowflakes,” “trigger warnings,” and “safe spaces” on our campuses. It has had the desired effect of making the central feature of orange—self-actualization and the discipline it requires—a merely partisan assertion. The hollowing out of reasoned debate and the politicization of science for partisan ends is a further strike against the institutions central to the nurturing of a culture of healthy individuation.
I suggest that, in the chaos of the collapse we all have participated in, we integralites owe it to the health of the Spiral to engage in serious dialogue about how to support or devise cultural, political, and economic institutions that encourage the re-engagement of the self-actualization that is, as Maslow pointed out, an intrinsic necessity for the human who has his or her junior needs permanently satisfied.
We cannot skip stages. Until orange evolves to its fullest potential, mass emergence of the next levels of consciousness will remain beyond our realization.