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

powered by TinyLetter
Today is:
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".

Bryan O'DohertyBryan O'Doherty currently works as a consultant for an Engineering and Construction company. He grew up in Portland Oregon (US) and graduated from Portland State University with degrees in Architecture and Japanese. He currently lives in a very rural part of Japan with his wife and three kids, where in addition to his work, he is attempting to live a more simplified life, more in tune with the land and with his family.


An Integral Use of Violence: A Third Perspective

Response to Joe Corbett and Elliot Benjamin

Bryan O'Doherty

How far do you think the vested (rational) interests will go to maintain hold of their power?.

Joe Corbett has expressed in words what I am sure many of us feel in those dark times when we are most frustrated at the current state of the world, most frightened of our potential future on this planet, and most bewildered about how others cannot see the dangers ahead and take appropriate action to stop our own self imposed annihilation. In those dark moments I can well understand his desire for action—action that will affect the most immediate change possible. In large measure I agree with Elliot's response[2]; overt violent action is not an ethical option for the integral community. But I do have a slightly different perspective on this.

Others may disagree with me, but I have come to believe that on the question of ethics the second tier is marked by a certain perspective when it comes to answering whether or not a given course of action is "ethical." That perspective, which I believe is unique to second tier, is that the means justify the ends, rather than the opposite. It is the means that are of primary importance and will determine the value of the ends—the means and the end are one. In other words, if we use violence in order to impose a certain (partial) vMeme on all of society, the result will be more, and perhaps bigger, problems. The cycle of violence will only continue.

I agree with Joe that "major change does not come by working with your opponents, particularly if they are the vested interests of out-moded powers,"[1] but I strongly disagree that the proper method of instituting change is to usurp that power and restructure society from the top down. In whose vision shall our new society be created? And which vMemes will be left alienated by it, so that they in turn become revolutionaries themselves? Violence begets violence. Joe was right about another thing; it is all cyclical. Since the first tribe conquered their neighbor 10,000 odd years ago and created the first state, humanity has been living under a constant cycle of violent pathology. Our recorded history is a vicious pathological spiral of Conquer-Rise-Peak-Fall-Be Conquered, over and over and ever more violent and destructive with each turn. In fact not only does it have a cyclical characteristic but also a wave-like or dare-I-say "spiral" like characteristic in that each successive cycle is larger, more encompassing, it's fall more destructive. Witness the final death throes (after three centuries of war and revolution) of the mythic cycle as it gave way to the rational, culminating in the atom bombs going off over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

How far do you think the vested (rational) interests will go to maintain hold of their power? My guess—a war between integral and rational forces would end in the destruction of the world. The integral answer should not be to renew the cycle, but to break it completely, and institute in its place a healthy (non-violent, non-pathological) cycle.

I would also like to address something else, which I saw in both Joe's article and Elliot's response. That is that both seemed to maintain the assumption that what integral needs to do, is somehow take hold of the reigns of power and use them to create and/or impose, in a top down fashion, their vision of an integral society (whatever that may end up being). While Joe's suggested method of achieving this was violent revolution[1], Elliot countered by pointing out the effectiveness of Gandhi's and King's non-violent resistance[2], but both seemed to never-the-less imply a top-down approach to social change. In my view, any top-down approach will simply renew the cycle of violence, rather than break it.

Second Tier must break the cycle in my opinion, otherwise why even distinguish it from First Tier? If an "Integral Society" continues First Tier pathologies I believe humanity is doomed to extinction. This may very well be the litmus test that determines whether a sentient species is allowed to take their place in the larger kosmos. Will we transcend, or will we destroy ourselves in the attempt?

I think we have a bit more time than Joe believes. The earth is a resilient mother, and a forgiving lover, and in 6 billion years, has gone through much worse than what we have inflicted on her. As we mature and begin to see the Earth as lover rather than mother [3], it is easy to become jealous and angry at those who still suck greedily at her breast (and tear out her hair, and eat her flesh, and defecate in her womb... yeah I know it's bad). But I believe that violent action during the next transcendence from rational to integral will likely only make matters worse, where patience and creative-positive action will eventually prevail. I believe that the only way to save ourselves and the earth as a whole is from the bottom up, not the top down. Start with what you can control and go from there.

As I have said before [4], we should be busy creating integral communities of our own, helping grassroots movements for positive change (at every level of the spiral), and acting as visible examples of what is possible, so that others (particularly green) can follow. Resist when effective or when necessary. Create local solutions to local problems as your first priority, and lend whatever support you can to the larger global problems. Most importantly, withdraw your consent! Stop buying products from companies you feel are irresponsible, stop voting (it just encourages them). Instead, create and participate in counter economies to provide for as much of your needs as you can. Be an example for others.

Creation is far more difficult than destruction, (although destruction, like death, has its place) but if we are to end the cycle of violence on which the current pathological corporate/state system is based, we must take the high and difficult road, and we must have patience and trust that our earth is tougher than she looks, while at the same time do everything we can to heal her, and defend her from further damage. These transitions/transformations take time to blossom to their full form, sometimes several generations. Our mission as "early adopters" is to pave the way and create positive examples of our visions for an integral society, so that future generations can continue down a healthy path toward greater depth.


[1] See Joe Corbett (2013), An Integral Use of Violence for Social Transformation,

[2] See Elliot Benjamin (2013), An Integral Use of Violence Would Lead to More Violence; A Response to Joe Corbett,

[3] Thanks to Charles Eisenstein for this apt little meme. It is very illustrative of the difference between Modern and Postmodern/Post-postmodern views of the Earth.

[4] See my own essays on Integral Politics

Comment Form is loading comments...