Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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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.
The Opportunity in Trimemetic Chaos
Self-described “atheistic libertarian” Brendan O’Neill, editor of the British e-magazine Spiked Online, has written an important article entitled “The Crisis of Character,” which looks at the progress of the postmodernist campaign to hollow out the advances in human evolution achieved by Western civilization. The attack on modernity has many fathers going back to the rages of François-Noël “Gracchus” Babeuf during the French Revolution, but this particular viciousness was created and promoted by the embittered clerisy at the Frankfurt School and its promulgation of “critical theory.”
The signal contribution of the orange modern stage of Kosmic evolution is the liberation of the individual from the tribe. The critical importance of this to the spectrum of consciousness seems to elude many integralites. Only the individual, confident in his self-identity as such, can prepare the way for transcendence into the transpersonal, second tier stages where identity shifts to a much more comprehensive collective such as humanity as a whole. This development can only occur when the individual is free to release his self-identity, and this can only occur once we fully occupy our discrete autonomous self.
I have written elsewhere about how underdeveloped the structure of this stage of evolution remains in both LH quadrants. As Ken Wilber has noted, integral postmetaphysics suggests that the stages of consciousness behave as probability waves of interiority; the more we occupy and work them, the higher the likelihood that they will conform to predictable patterns. All the prepersonal stages up to orange have been around for millennia and therefore present relatively stable structures.
Orange, Wilber’s “rational/egoic” stage, is only five hundred years old as a mass phenomenon of development. Further, it is the center of gravity of consciousness for only 20% of humanity. Even among the 20% the evidence strongly suggests that we still have quite a way to go before orange displays the same stability as the prepersonal stages.
Integral postmetaphysics also suggests that no future stages to emerge are guaranteed; that is to say, neither the inevitability nor the structures of the transpersonal as a mass meme are predetermined. As we always have since the earliest hominids dropped out of the trees, we will have to make it up as we go along.
Don Beck and the Gravesians aver that, as Said Dawlabani, author of Memenomics, puts it, “in most cases, we ascend to higher levels of sustained bio-psycho-social development when solutions to our Existential problems can no longer come from the current system.” This neo-Marxist view, recapitulating Marx’ assertion in The German Ideology that “life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life,” nonetheless offers grains of truth. As long as we recognize that there are no pre-existing “higher levels of sustained bio-psycho-social development,” the transcendence impelled by the failure of “the current system” to solve “our Existential problems” is new territory to be structured by the trial-and-error efforts of increasing numbers of humans blessed (or cursed) with a radically new awareness.
So now, in the past fifty years we have created green (which I see as actually higher orange, since it is an improvement on but not a radical advance over individual identity). Green’s contribution is the awareness that every human is capable of and entitled to the dignity of autonomous-self identity, extending orange’s creation of individual dignity to everyone universally. However, as a brand new stage, its structures are tentative and plastic; the current predominant Boomeritis variant with its postmodernist rejection of Reason is highly unstable and riddled with regression to amber with its tribal identity.
Contributing to the hodgepodge nature of this wave is the incompletion of orange. This is characterized by the aggressive and stubborn presence of neuroses and other mind parasites born in the prepersonal stages of development, whose traumatic experience remains unhealed and unintegrated in both the individual and collective shadow. Although it is easy enough to examine oneself to become aware of this as it impacts us individually, it is tougher to pinpoint in the collective.
Surely, as social scientist Brene Brown has demonstrated, the persistence of alcohol and drug addictions, indebtedness, and obesity among large numbers of us is evidence of unhealed psychic trauma in our culture. The recent explosion of postmodernist self-deconstruction is yet another indication of something gone amiss.
O’Neill starts to put his finger on it by observing the recent rash of “identity as” rhetoric and social compulsion, emblemized by the Caucasian Rachel Dolezal justifying her masquerade as an African American by asserting that she “identifies as black.”
Ours has been branded an era of identity politics. The New York Times calls 2015 “the year we obsessed over identity.” Many have observed, often critically, that Western campuses in particular have become hotbeds of identity politics, or what is sometimes referred to as the “identitarian left,” which now defines itself, and engages with others, through the prism of identity rather than on the basis of ideas or shared or conflicting material and political interests. In student life and new-left circles, people are “identified as,” or they self-identity as, white, black, men, women, gay, straight, bi, trans, agender, non-binary and so on, and their politics takes place entirely at this level. . . . Politics is no longer the sphere in which interests are expressed and convictions crash, but rather has become an arena for the pitting of personalised identities against one another: a new caste system, in effect. The individual with conviction has given way to the insecure possessor of an identity, whose primary concern is with the protection of his or her identity from ridicule or assault. We enter the public sphere as self-ossified categories rather than as thinking, convinced persons; as ciphers, representing something, rather than characters, containing something.
“A new caste system,” indeed; others call it the “retribalization” of our culture.
While the emergence of orange and its modern culture has generated unprecedented material prosperity for an exponentially expanded humanity, it has failed to address the amber counterrevolution and thus has laid itself open to the postmodernist determination to reverse its accomplishments in the name of “re-enchantment” and other utopian fantasies. I have called this global dynamic “the Trimemetic War,” the conflict of three disparate perspectives jockeying for hegemony in our individual and collective consciousnesseach desperate to knock the next higher out of the arena.
Ken Wilber has said that the greatest challenge to humanity is the stabilization of orange, and O’Neill is pointing to yet another reason to take Wilber at his word on this.
It is a conundrum to the intergralite that the advances of modernity, particularly in the physical sciences, have produced useful tools for the counterrevolutionaries to deploy in their drive to eviscerate orange’s achievement of tribal transcendence. (Is there any way to avoid the complications of the Trimemetic War?) Marx famously helped himself to the fruits of the aristocracy, burying himself in the reading room of the British Museum endowed by Sir Hans Sloane to ferret out data scattered throughout its vast collections to support his faith in scientific materialism as the basis for social organization.
From his efforts and those of thousands inspired by the achievements of scientists in RH inquiries, institutions invariably arose dedicated to the social “sciences,” confident that our interiors would yield measureable insights with the same tools we used to investigate the physical universe. The exemplar of the postmodernist institution established to house assaults on modernity is the Institute for Social Research at the Frankfurt School with its promulgation of “Critical Theory.”
Wilber has noted that a signal characteristic of first tier stages is their conviction that their perspectives are “correct,” and that therefore all those others are deviant and erroneous, if not downright dangerous. Thus the postmodernist disdains the supposed disenchantment of the world brought about by the modernists, but the premodernists are never acquiesced to the transcendence of modernity in either the individual or collective LH quadrants. This fundamental memetic conflict generates war, both in our souls and in the exterior world where our inner life plays out.
The Conundrum of Trimemetic Chaos
Trimemetic war is upon us, whether we want it or not. Is it serving an evolutionary purpose? How could it be otherwise?
The integralite will, properly, concern himself more about the function of that war in the evolution of consciousness than its fruits. Clearly the conflict is fundamental and purposeful, and at the very least serves as a challenge to our beliefs about accessing the “peace that surpasses understanding.”
Yet properly appreciating how the elements of the conflict impact understanding and its development through the stages of consciousness can be a useful contribution to how we embrace and behave in the current phase of Kosmic evolution.
Thus we start by embracing this reality just as it is. Trimemetic war is upon us, whether we want it or not. Is it serving an evolutionary purpose? How could it be otherwise? It is tempting to convict the “identitarian left” as rogues outside the mainstream of evolution, but surely that is a partial judgement more redolent of first rather than second tier.
Is there a purpose to the systematic undermining of orange’s radical emergent, individual identity? Perhaps about this achievement there is less than meets the eye, or perhaps its radical divergence from amber requires a lengthy “toughening up” period before it can settle into a dependable probability wave upon which we can confidently rely as a stage from which to make the momentous leap.
This raises a more comprehensive question: how does this unprecedented and unnerving Trimemetic War itself serve the course of Kosmic evolution? Throughout history we can clearly see how devolutionary chaos served to clear out room for critical emergents, much like forest fires clear away underbrush to open up space for younger trees to sprout and grow. The Cretaceous extinction made the emergence of mammals possible. The last Great Ice Age paved the way for the invention of agriculture and tribal societies. The collapse of Rome eventually made the Renaissance possible.
O’Neill appears to grasp the subtlety of this analysis in the conclusion of his essay.
What is today referred to as the rise of identity politics is in truth the hollowing out of the institutions, beliefs and freedoms around which life and identity were shaped and cohered for centuries. It is a crisis not merely of politics, or class, or the left; it is a crisis of character, a questioning of what it means to be human, an uncertainty as to how we become fully human. Addressing the emergence of new, weak identities, and the corresponding creation of a therapeutic industry and new forms of moral censure to prop up these identities, will require more than ridiculing the new left or the so-called “identitarian movement.” It demands nothing less than the reconstruction of public life, and the rediscovery of our faith in the strong individual who both makes and is made by the world, rather than simply needing to be consoled by it. It requires that we refuse to acquiesce to alienated, subjective identity-making, and instead recreate the conditions in which people can develop their identity through the exercise of moral autonomy, and through creating and engaging in new institutions, new ideas and new societies.
“It is a crisis of character, a questioning of what it means to be human, an uncertainty as to how we become fully human.” This is the essential point. The accumulated RH wealth, both quantitative and qualitative, unleashed by modernity’s Great Enrichment, has not yet been fully reflected in our interior lives. We are still at war with ourselves, uncertain about the value of the autonomous individual liberated from the secure and stable tribe. This war is obvious in our culture and our politics, but so far we most of us repress the inquiry into how it rages within.
It seems clear that the Great Enrichment, launched by the rise of the four quadrants and the distinct spheres of Good, the Beautiful, and the True, was a necessary precondition for the hard work of the consolidation of healthy orange. The ethic of scientific inquiry established a universal method for discovering, testing, and establishing fundamental principles beyond those pertaining to the physiosphere.
In this period of trimemetic chaos we have the opportunity to apply to the Individuation Project the vast intellectual and spiritual riches made available through the gifts of modernity. This crisis of identity that O’Neill so skillfully analyzes calls us to more firmly establish “the conditions in which people can develop [our] identity through the exercise of moral autonomy, and through creating and engaging in new institutions, new ideas and new societies.” The revelations of the integral can be a significant contribution to this renewal.