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.
Integral Trump, or, the Center Cannot Hold
"But I have no power to make other men see the truth . . .”
Yet there will be no transcendence of the individual ego until the individual ego is mature and healthy enough to support transcendence.
We are progressing deeper into a most dangerous period of human history, a period whose beginnings we can trace to the years between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party in 1991. Elements of human social, cultural, and political economic development—dynamics of the Trimemetic War—are splintering and diverging in ways too numerous, subtle, and unprecedented to properly keep track of.
I originally sketched out the contours of the Trimemetic War ten years ago in a series of essays entitled “Three Blind Memes,” where I wrote:
Let us look at our world today. Green is struggling to emerge and replace Orange in the advanced sector. Given the intensity of the civil war between them, it is perhaps not surprising that Green has yet to prevail. Still, in two generations it has secured a solid foothold. Orange is struggling to emerge and replace Amber is two critical areas of the world, China and India, as well as in lesser economic powerhouses like Russia, South Africa, Brazil, and the nations of Eastern Europe. We see Amber tribal states like Iran and Pakistan, where Orange has only a tentative presence, seeking the benefit of its technology by developing nuclear power with its potential for conversion to weaponry.
Written after 9/11 but before the collapse of the housing bubble with all the attendant collateral damage in 2008, we simply note that the centrifugal forces driving disintegration of the modern political economic institutions of the post-World War II era are accelerating.
They are accelerating in great part for two principle reasons: first, on a daily basis the dynamics of our Information Age political economy introduce exponentially greater disrupters of previously reliable structures and containers; and second, the “hole in the soul” of the Advanced Sector introduced when modernity split from our premodern, tribal past remains grievously aching and raw, its unhealed pain in our collective subconscious demanding more and more of us even as we seem increasingly powerless to respond effectively.
The combination of these trends outwardly appears as chaos, rage, confusion, arrogance, disdain, and addictive behaviors both individual and collective. Surely we feel, as did William Butler Yeats in 1919, that
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
In America the situation is explosively reflected in the seizure of the GOP nomination for president by the thoroughly postmodern Donald Trump. His triumph, in part, is a reaction to the behavior of the incumbent president, the first truly committed postmodernist to occupy the office. Putting icing on this chaotic cake is the Bernie Sanders campaign, another romantic Boomeritis attempt to correct severe imbalances and dislocations by championing even more imbalance and dislocation via ever-expanding state intervention into civil society.
But Europe, too, has been manifesting similar symptoms in its own idiosyncratic ways. The British vote to leave the EU, the immigrant crisis, the green utopianism, the endless dithering over Syria, ISIL, and Iran, the complete inability to deal with Putin, the sluggish economy, the fragile banking sector—all reflect this disruptive situation that has been unfolding now for the past quarter century.
Asia—particularly in China and Japan in their own ways—also reflects the turmoil. China’s furious drive to industrialize introduced by Deng Xiaoping’s Four Modernizations policy starting in 1978 underwrote its goal of becoming the world’s second-largest power. Its progress was, however, severely disrupted as the globe sank into “recession” in 2008, and further damaged by the poorly mitigated environmental harm its industrial mania generated; it is now in a moment of hesitation and uncertainty. On the other hand, Japan, having fully modernized during its recovery from the devastation of World War II, began faltering at the commencement of its “Lost Decade” in 1991, from the effects of which it has never fully recovered.
Few other regions of the globe offer any cause for optimism, either. Africa, a continent of great promise, remains mired in its post-colonial inability to generate stable political economies. Central and South America also have significant potential for development, but as the cases of Brazil and Venezuela caution, the foundational preconditions for sustainable progress remain out of reach for the majority of their citizens.
Modernity: the Target of the Trimemetic War
I call this period “dangerous” not out of fear or foreboding—although I am possessed of both from time to time—but simply because of our seeming inability to respond collectively with wisdom, common sense, and confidence to the ever-multiplying dynamics that are rearranging our world. That our world will be thoroughly rearranged seems to me beyond debate; how and into what it will be rearranged is not at all obvious—or even discernible. Can we find a way to re-center ourselves and proceed more appropriately? More explicitly, how should integralites orient ourselves to deal with the world that humanity is producing?
The dangers we face seem of a piece with all such circumstances throughout our history when one phase or center of power started faltering, to inevitably be replaced by another. Whether it’s the decline of the ancient Egyptian, Persian, Macedonian, Roman, or Han dynasties, or the downfall of European monarchies at the end of World War I, we humans have experienced cycles of expansion and collapse for millennia. At the same time, as I note in “Three Blind Memes,” we humans have never before faced a circumstance in which three distinct worldviews were at war with one another. We have no precedent from which to derive applicable lessons.
In the face of this unique dynamic it would seem foolhardy to seek them anyway. At the same time, we could at least review our history if only to appreciate how these three worldviews have arisen and might be interplaying. We might be able to derive some comfort in the face of overwhelming dynamics that appear indifferent to individual influence. After all, while many people suffered during our earlier upheavals, humanity as a whole continued to flourish and eventually expand both in numbers and quality of life.
One can argue, as Ian Morris does in his excellent history Why the West Rules—for Now, that from the rise of the Agricultural Age the scale of what he calls human “social development” rose imperceptibly slowly and, for the vast majority of us, with almost no significant material impact on our daily lives. From the end of the last Ice Age c. 10000 BC until two centuries ago, the change in social development barely inched up from its starting point. This relatively stable economy at the macro level nonetheless went through those expansion/collapse cycles at the ground level; it would seem, therefore, that these occurrences did not negatively impact human civilization as a whole. Should this seeming paradox not offer a rich variety of historical examples to help us get through our own period with some modicum of long-term optimism?
What we generally fail to appreciate, however, is that with the rise of modernity starting in 17th century Holland and 18th century England, a new and unprecedented element was introduced into the cycle: the rise of individual identity and the concomitant rearrangement of society to support this phenomenon. Until approximately the period of the Protestant Reformation, for thousands of years human identity was tribal; that is, we saw ourselves primarily as inseparable seams in a tribal, clannish, or regional garment.
Modernity was characterized by the introduction of a radical new version of identity: the individual as distinct and unmoored from the tribe. This thoroughly disruptive new feature of our evolution has been spreading over the globe in fits and starts since the late 18th century, generating an exponentially enormous spurt in the rate of social development.
Deirdre McCloskey, in her Bourgeois Era trilogy that seeks to explain the origins of this revolution, asks us to
Look at the numbers. Average daily expenditures by Haitians and Afghans expressed in present-day U.S. prices at “purchasing power parity”—and so allowing for inflation and the relevant exchange rates among currencies—are well below $3 a day, which before 1800 was what the average human more or less everywhere expected to make, earn, and consume. So it had been, always, back to the caves. Imagine living each day on the cost, spread over all your activities, of a gallon of milk. If you’ve been to Liberia or Afghanistan it’s not hard to imagine. Today, after two centuries of increase, recently accelerating, the world figure, an average than includes even the extraordinarily poor Liberians and Afghans, has arrived at an unprecedented $33 a day.
It is difficult for us today, even in our own unique version of dangerous times, to appreciate the radical significance of this revolution to the course of our history. McCloskey explores the origins of this revolution in depth, but suffice it to say that it was generated by the shift in identity from tribe to individual—and like all revolutions, this emergence has generated resistance, reaction, and counterrevolution.
The Great Enrichment, as McCloskey characterizes the rise and spread of modernity, and the resistance, reaction, and counterrevolution against it, has characterized our history since 1800.
In this period cycles of expansion and collapse continued as before, but they were qualitatively different from all those that preceded it in the long economically stable and impoverished centuries upon centuries of premodernity—those years when almost everybody lived forever with no hope or expectation of improvement on no more than $3 a day.
Orange as the Fulcrum
In order to understand the difference, we must start to appreciate more profoundly the internal dynamics that the leap into modernity required and caused. Even today, in our mighty postindustrial Information Age, our interiors have not at all caught up with, much less integrated, all the implications that this discontinuity introduced into our human experience.
(In all my reading of integral material and discussions with integralites, I rarely discern the slightest awareness of this challenge—other than from the pre-Wyatt Earp Ken Wilber. [Gosh, was that ten years ago already?] Mostly people appear distracted with dewy-eyes by what they want to see in the integral possibility, quite impatient with Wilber’s previous admonishment that you can’t skip steps. Unfortunately, with the rise of the Integral Institute and Wilber’s making peace with the Boomeritis tendencies in Boulder in return for the benefits of a modest commercial venture, he no longer polemicizes against this tendency. This belief in step-skipping is a form of magical thinking, a retrogression which, though perfectly understandable, has driven much of the violence of the past two centuries—and is likely to produce much more.)
I do not have the scientifically-verifiable evidence so beloved of the modern mind to “prove” that much of our turmoil derives from an internally-generated lag in coming to terms with the gifts of the modern on both an individual and a global basis. I explored this a bit in a previous post, and I think it’s important enough to continue to investigate, as it offers a satisfying explanation of what’s going on today. (“Satisfying,” of course, isn’t the same thing as “accurate.”) This is especially necessary in light of the postmodern monster rampaging through our modern institutions hell-bent on restoring the premodern world through chaos and violence, all sanctimoniously in the name of “progress.”
(That some integralites participate in this excess without retching mystifies me. Here I align myself firmly with Robert Godwin, author of One Cosmos under God. But I suggest those truly with a center of gravity in the transpersonal realms where authentic integral awareness dwells are still rather rare, the soi–disant “integral community” notwithstanding. But more of that later.)
It bears repeating that the gift of the modern, the discontinuity that distinguishes it from the previous structures of consciousness, is the rise of individual identity. This singularity produced a disruption in the previous amber order of things that is still reverberating throughout humanity. That we in the Advanced Sector grew up during the apotheosis of modernity means that as a society and culture we had no embodied experience of premodernity; our entire experience and consciousness was shaped by immersion in the RH manifestations of modernity: steady economic growth with its significant contributions to the individual standard of living; vastly expanded social surplus and leisure that could be invested in a wide range of individual and social luxuries never before available to the common man; a political system firmly grounded in the modern nation state, offering relative peace and stability to its citizens; an astonishing array of scientific breakthroughs that contributed to economic expansion; and a platform from which to begin to deal with the social disruptions of modernity.
And, as McCloskey demonstrates, the gifts of the modern are so powerful that those still in amber cultures cannot help but be attracted by them—even as they might simultaneously be repelled. This human civil war has been playing out ever since orange emerged from amber, for from amber’s perspective the independence of the individual poses an existential threat to the survival of the tribe. If the majority of the tribe’s members decide to step out on their own, that they no longer need the tribe to fulfill their destinies, how long will the tribe remain intact?
No wonder the counterattack has been so furious and sustained!
Thus what we now know has not yet happened is that the lines of development in the LH realms have not caught up to those in the right, and it is here where we find the source of our unhappiness, confusion, and self-violence. For the counterattack is not only played out in the political and economic realms, it is also played out in the personal and collective psychological and spiritual realms.
Postmodernity v. Boomeritis
And what of the gift of green postmodernity? It, too, bears its own unique threat to modernity, obscured though it is by its Boomeritis malformation. For the postmodern reveals the universality of individual dignity, that every human possesses a unique individual identity, and that no one person’s self-authorship can be privileged over anyone else’s. It also dismisses the presumption of “the given,” of the notion that all the Kosmos yet to be revealed exists in a predetermined structure by whose logic we are bound. These threaten orange assumptions that each person’s perspective is an absolute, for if you and I are the same in our identity, how can I maintain the uniqueness that seems to characterize my day-to-day experience? How do I keep from sliding back into the tribe? They also undermine the myth that the answers to our questions are “out there” if only we seek them hard enough. Instead, the postmodern insists that we are creating reality as we go along, transcending and including the past but not, alas, following a preordained path. The universe is not a clockwork mechanism.
Given that we have not yet as a culture fully integrated the gifts of the modern, we are even farther from absorbing the gifts of the postmodern, as the prevalence of Boomeritis suggests. Green’s struggle to break free of orange seems to make common cause with amber, attacking from both sides, as it were, our fragile individual identity and the social institutions we created to support and reflect it.
The even more fragile condition of green, whose probability wave is extremely volatile given its relative youth, renders it extremely susceptible to detours like the enticements of the French-style leftwing postmodernist dialectics created by Foucault, Derrida, Althusser, Lacan, and the like. Hidden in the Orwellian doublespeak of this monstrosity is just another version of the pre/trans fallacy: anything anti-modern may be used in the drive to destroy it. But since the modern left began in the French Revolution as a premodernist revolt against orange, authentic green will ultimately have to confront and shed retrograde Boomeritis fantasies in order to transcend, include, and integrate orange. For the most part almost no one centered in Boomeritis green is bothering with transcending and including, to say nothing of integrating!
Kim Holmes’ recent book The Closing of the Liberal Mind offers a clear road map for understanding how liberalism, once the wellspring of the modern revolution, was hijacked by the counterrevolution fancying itself postmodern, and poisoned the well for an authentic and expansive liberalism grounded in the yet-to-be-realized gifts of the postmodern. In its place we now have fellow citizens living with this devious, tribalist, anti-rational mindset—“authoritarian wolves in sheep’s clothing,” in Holmes’ characterization—that in the Trimemetic War is undermining everything that gave rise to the Great Enrichment. It is essential that integralites understand the difference between authentic green postmodern insights and the postmodernist movement birthed in the Frankfurt School and in Paris as a determinedly left-wing counterrevolution against modernity itself. Wilber devotes a great deal of energy examining this crucial issue in both Sex, Spirituality, and Ecology and Marriage of Sense and the Soul, as well as in his unpublished works on integral post-metaphysics. It is well worth revisiting his insights.
But still, it’s the first tier food fight, and all’s fair in love and war.
The Trimemetic War Here and Now
Perhaps now we can begin to make sense of what is happening in the world, for at the very least we can hypothesize that the triumph of Donald Trump in the US and of the Leave vote in the UK mark the mass emergence of a counter-counterrevolution: orange against the de facto amber-green alliance.
And this is powerfully influenced by amber’s unrelated war against orange, as embodied in the various Islamist rebellions that have been erupting out of the Middle East for the past several generations. As we seek to understand the interplay of the three major structures of consciousness in the first tier food fight, let us appreciate the push of amber—the oldest and most stable of the three.
For the most part, Islam, unlike any of the world’s other major religions (except Judaism), was and is a system of belief founded in a particular time and place to address real problems of the day, in Muhammed’s case the thoroughly amber world of the Arabian peninsula of the seventh century AD. Any universal truths to be discerned in the Quran cannot be abstracted from his practical goal in disclosing it: to purify and unite the Arab world in an ummah governed by the laws of Allah.
From the beginning the Muslims discerned no distinction between the principles of rule and the polity that applied them; the caliphate that the jihadists seek to restore is the ideal polity that nurtures the Dar al-Islam, the tribe of Allah. As I have written elsewhere, Muslim nations in general, and Arab countries in particular, are the primary centers of amber consciousness today, and the specifically amber nature of Islam makes it relatively impervious to modernization.
Thus for some time to come, these nations will constitute a home base from which amber’s counterrevolution against orange (and green, although Boomeritis doesn’t understand this) will be conducted in the political arena.
There are, of course, other nations where amber still predominates, but none of these are as dominated by a mythic religion with the pull and drive of Islam. Thus as the Advanced Sector continues to offer the gifts of the modern, the premodern world will continue to struggle with its love-hate relationship with it.
And so, complicating the orange counter-counterrevolution against green postmodernism’s war against it are the incursions, as we have seen in Paris, San Bernardino, and Orlando, of Islamic-based counterattacks against orange.
And as we have also seen, orange and Boomeritis green have very different interpretations of and responses to these bloody incursions. Orange sees them as a straightforward attempt to destabilize and undermine Western power and self-confidence, while Boomeritis sees them as just rewards for Western imperialism and alliances with backward authoritarian regimes like those of the Saudis and the Mubarak-al Sissi cliques in Egypt. On the other hand, amber does not distinguish between orange and green, whether of the mature or Boomeritis variant; in amber’s view they both champion the destruction of the tribe and are thus to be resisted.
If this were the only amber front in the Trimemetic War we might at least be able to appreciate why it behaves as it does, and account for its impact as history unfolds.
But, alas, it is not. We actually confront an amber fifth column as it were, not just in our own societies but in our own psyches, for the individuation project launched by modernity is far from complete. The number of authentic, self-actualized individuals who have fully transcended, included, and integrated the earlier waves of consciousness appears to be a minority even in orange cultures. The prevalence of addictive behaviors, magical thinking, and fear-based reaction formations is evidence of the power of internal amber dynamics to impede the emergence of self-confident, self-affirming individuals centered in robust orange. The susceptibility to reverting to the tribal need to congregate with the like-minded and avoid different opinions is further evidence of amber’s continuing subversion of orange in the LH quadrants. The self-governing republic of citizens imbued with the civic virtue necessary to voluntary sharing of individual sovereignty envisioned by the American founders remains beyond our grasp when we have yet to master our own internal fears and contradictions.
It is a truism of developmental theory that one cannot skip stages. Further, it is evident from a careful study of human history since the emergence of orange that it is no mean feat for a structure of consciousness to solidify completely enough to permit genuine transcendence. Perhaps amber could not give birth to orange until it had reached a certain degree of viability as a probability wave; it had to be strong and ripe enough to serve as the foundation of its own transcendence. If this is a general principle of development, then it is understandable why green has thus far failed spectacularly to emerge as a genuine discontinuity from orange, and remains pitifully permeated by red’s magical thinking and amber’s tribal yearnings.
Yet integralites generally appear uninterested in the challenge of nurturing and encouraging healthy and mature orange. Most are so enamored by their conjectures of a world centered in second tier that they have little time for the hard work of helping Spirit make that possible. At the same time most, but not all, have also been attracted to integral theory from a Boomeritis perspective with its toxic postmodernist romanticism. Yet there will be no transcendence of the individual ego until the individual ego is mature and healthy enough to support transcendence.
The Indispensability of Mature Orange
How does this—Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Brexit, terrorism, you name it—impact the maturing of orange?
Wilber himself has consistently urged that those genuinely interested in and committed to this possibility engage in serious and in-depth shadow work—“an absolutely crucial and foundational part of anybody’s growth and development,” he has written. This seems to me to be, along with a solid meditation practice, the sine qua non of transcendence of this particular stage. But shadow work is hard and often excruciatingly painful, and requires not only personal commitment but a dependable group of similarly committed people within which to practice. Wilber suggests in his “3-2-1 shadow process” a useful outline of how this work is done, but assumes that anyone following the formula will therefore be doing shadow work. Perhaps a truly blessed individual can apply this tool successfully on his own, but for most of us, it’s not going to happen. We require disinterested mirrors to reflect back to us what we cannot or will not see concealed in our subconscious minds.
As long as we harbor the unhealed trauma that we experienced in the pre-personal stages of our development—the preverbal first two to three years of our lives—we are at their mercy. This is how amber, which is the environment of this trauma, fights the individuation drives of our later stages of adolescence and adulthood. Until we can see how this happens and embrace these psychospiritual turbulences with compassion and unconditional love, they will impede our growth toward authentic individuality—and thus the promise of orange remains unfulfilled. For most of us, the work of transcending, including, and integrating amber still remains to be done.
This brief look at the multi-dimensionality of the Trimemetic War gives us just a flavor of the challenges coming at us from all directions. And while I believe wholeheartedly that this is all Spirit unfolding itself in this particular time and place in the dimensional world of Form, I also recognize the difficulty we face in finding equanimity in the middle of this seemingly ever-increasing chaos.
In a recent blog post, Godwin addresses the essential truth of our predicament. Commenting on Fritjhof Schuon’s Survey of Metaphysics and Esoterism, he writes:
I'm looking at the foreword, written by Bruce Hanson, [who says,] “At the level of being we are, of course, human; which is to say, every child who is born of human parents comes into the world with a human essence.”
Precisely, indeed! We are engaged in the great Atman Project, the challenge of becoming fully human, realizing the deep divine potential embedded in each of us. “Biological nature develops us only up to a certain point, and then we must individually, with great deliberation and full consciousness, seek the rest,” pretty much describes the current human condition. This work cannot be done other than individually, the successful achievement of which offers us a chance to do it collectively. As integralites, in other words, we must set our intention to support the maturing of orange, the only stage in the spectrum of consciousness that champions the work of individuation.
Amber and green, being first tier structures, are at war with orange—which is also at war with green. Authentic green, however, remains mostly a potential; the actual version of green haunting our world is the Boomeritis, leftist postmodernist version that uses the genuine longings of the actual insights of green as a disguise for its amber project to retribalize the world. This complicates the Trimemetic War by sowing confusion among all the parties; this is perhaps why things seem so chaotic and disintegrating. There appears to be no center of certainty from which we can undertake the humanizing of our species. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Still, this confusion is, like everything in our worlds, a product of our own making. So as integralites we might consider rededicating ourselves to serving the individuation project by seeing everything that happens through the eye of Spirit: how does this—Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Brexit, terrorism, you name it—impact the maturing of orange? How am I serving as an exemplar through my own spiritual practice dedicated to becoming a full, authentic, consciously self-creating human person? For what awaits us at the consummation of this task, as another great poet, writing during a similarly tumultuous time in our nation’s history, declared, surpasseth all understanding:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,