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".
Giorgio Piacenza is a sociologist student in the Certificate program leading to a Master's degree in Integral Theory at JFK University. .


Cultural Influence
on Individual Stages

A Brief Opinion Regarding
Integral Theory for Latin America

Giorgio Piacenza

Quite often it is loosely assumed that the ways individuals develop in the U.S. is essentially the same way people basically develop in other parts of the world but that may not be exactly the case. Although I think that the main tenets of Integral Theory appear to be logically sound, foundational and broadly adequate to function as the most comprehensive theory in the making, I also see that, by and large, the activists and intellectuals that support or challenge the Theory apparently come from the same self validating, sub cultural network of post humanist, Buddhist-no dual, green-oriented, First World, euro American individualists, partly influenced by a long history of distinctions between conservative protestant and liberal ideological struggles within a territory in which native Americans were –for the most part-secluded and non assimilated. Although, as a student at JFKU and as a member of Integral Institute, I attest that there's a general willingness among Integral theorists to be intellectually honest and, nonetheless, as an observing foreign-born person striding between two cultures, I must say that there are certain inadequate assumptions due to the blinding projections of cultural bias.

As a sociologist and as a Latin American (Peruvian) student of Integral Theory, I notice that a majority of people in Latin American countries do not seem to follow the developmental pattern which is apparently expected by orthodox followers of the Theory and -by all means- this needs to be taken into account more seriously if we expect to develop the most germane theoretical model in relation to great swaths of human experience. The less advanced magical-into- mythical pre Hispanic stage of the Inca Empire was partially suppressed, scrambled and combined with a more advanced Western mythical-into-modern stage leaving a compromise with less strict boundaries and values. Nowadays, convenience seeking, pragmatic behavior alongside with a half-hearted use of modern rationalist tactics amidst relativist, post modern ethics that merges well with the interpretations of red selfishness seem to profusely coexist in the cauldrons of Latin American urban centers alongside with greater or lesser attachments to mythic and magical beliefs. Today, very few individuals (except perhaps for those in older generations and in the most isolated rural places) show solidly mythic, amber characteristics or purer pre mythic ones. Also, very few Peruvians nowadays behave under strongly coherent pre modern, modern or post modern cultural codes. Our historical processes heavily defined by the simultaneously biased (and probably schizoid) cultural and political inclusion and exclusion of native populations have ensured the superficiality and incompleteness of our general acculturation and, in my view, non isolated, semi acculturated people do not follow a clear-cut sequence of the developmental stages as apparently expected by followers of orthodox Integral Theory.

In fact, I think that stages may be skimmed through or experienced with less attachment while more easily blending with the defining characteristics of other stages without necessarily provoking great inner turmoil. I also think that this trait can be seen throughout Latin America and in other places where foreigners forced an incomplete cultural fusion with natives while assimilating and intermarrying with them.

Unlike the patterns more carefully observed for individual development, the patterns for cultural development seem to me be more like learned extrapolated assumptions. Moreover, the influences of these latter patterns upon individuals have not been carefully investigated. In relation to Latin America, I don't particularly see a simple stage-like path for cultural development. In fact, this seems to have been the case since the initial, dramatic, cultural disruption brought forth by the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors. Since both assimilation and intermarriage grew hand in hand along with discrimination and exploitation for several centuries, I think that in Latin America most of us have half-heartedly inherited the values of both our pre colonial and our colonial past turning us into chameleon-like, adaptive Republican era survivors. Thus, as a rule, neither Western nor indigenous values seem to be taken too seriously and this may be a reason why corruption and political instability has been a widespread, rampant reality throughout our region. Personal convenience seems to rule supreme over the lip service paid to orange and amber level values and what we have learnt from the Spaniards, from the early Republican period landlords and from current successful politicians and petty dictators (of left and right leanings) is that might makes right regardless of how culturally sophisticated the political discourse might be. In many ways, I could say that a typical Peruvian is a person capable of coping with the requirements of any stage of cultural development without being solidly settled in any particular one.

I believe that here in Peru (and in Latin America in general) neither Western nor pre-Columbian values have ever been thoroughly interiorized while the onward march of modern and post modern systems and perspectives has always been intensifying. Here we are living in a blend or mixture of many cultural stages including a self-serving and disrespectful red, a comforting and superstitious but half-hearted amber, a general admiration and respect for orange methods and ideas (such as progress) while simultaneously being easily able to partake in the adapted remnants of shamanism or in pious visits to miraculous shrines filled with the effigies of healing saints, Catholic churches (and now Evangelic Temples) so as to find solutions to our day to day needs in whichever ways that feel useful. The fact that many sophisticated “orange” professionals may visit a curandero with hope and awe in his heart and that a curandero may also educate himself in “orange” professional ways says that, here in Peru, we are not prone to discriminate against the ways, methods and solutions of any of the classic cultural stages.

I'm trying to say is that, collectively; our vital allegiances and –therefore- identities tend to be more flexible than those usually found in Europe and in the contemporary United States. Thus, since there's not a clearly defined way of being, and most of us have been exposed to a variety of cultural stages and demands forcefully brought into our countries, we may be more disposed to suspend exclusivist styles of judgment against the ways developed under any particular stage. Also, thanks to our ambiguity, we may generally be more open to accept apparently contradictory kinds of assistance to palliate life's problems. This flexibility allows us not only to use (and abuse) the Lower Right legal, political and economic systems created by more distinctly orange-level individuals, but also to partially assimilate the interior, cultural and individual codes and values associated with what (for others) may seem like mutually exclusive, stage-dependent kinds of systems. Thus perhaps, here in Latin America, a majority of us seem to find little or no contradiction in more fluidly adopting aspects of the interior dimensions of the various worlds that have been enacted from distinct levels. This characteristic seems to have multiplied since mid Twentieth Century due to the massive migration of farm workers to large, cosmopolitan urban centers, a migration in which simpler blends of amber, pre amber and modern identities were further disrupted while new identities were once again forged with the added impetus of result-seeking, material world transforming modern and post modern ideas, values, systems and practices.

Here I want to ask how the so called (UL) “lines of development” might tend to rise and combine as a cluster among individuals from different cultures since I think that this issue has not been either carefully pondered or researched. A consequence of possibly differing meta patterns in the clusters of the developmental lines of individuals living in different cultures may be hinted by how individual stages could be more or less rigidly perceived and defined. The perception of more rigidly defined stages of development that need to be seriously questioned, rejected and re integrated in order to move to the next stage (a la Kegan and a la Wilber) may be more prevalent in individuals heavily influenced by some cultures than others. To assume or to leave unqualified the idea that the meta patterns in the psychographs or clusters of lines representing the development of individuals are essentially alike for individuals living in developed countries as for individuals in living former colonial (and now modernizing, emerging) countries may be an oversight owed to an unconscious cultural bias found in the founders and developers of Integral Theory. This may also be called an unwarranted unconscious projection.

Nowadays, attempting to find out in Peru (and in Latin America in general) who is predominantly red, magical, mythical, rational or beyond may not as simple as in the U.S. due to the fact that most people are expected to behave in modern, pre modern and post modern ways according to need. Getting things done in a place where social systems are not as defined or binding also requires an adaptive human character. Our chameleon-like, flexible value systems, the value of adaptability plus the fact that we are less culturally inclined to define ourselves in individualistic terms (that, naturally, exclude) also influence how we may be combining our developmental lines. Here, a technologically savvy young person acculturated with the latest worldly trends, movies, songs and fashions may, for instance, have been recently taken by his uncle to visit a curandero. He or she may study a hot career in a somewhat modern and post modern “integral” university (some institutes and universities proudly announce themselves using “integral” as their buzz word), may entrust himself to divinity each morning using a rosary or a saintly figure in his car, may be more than willing to bribe government officials when necessary. He or she may steal anything of interest that may fall into his or her hands, drive like an uncivilized dare devil as a part time taxi cab driver disrespecting his also disrespectful fellow citizens while developing a budding concern for the environment because his friend may be a tour guide working with foreigners and his father could once have been a farmer before arriving in Lima. On the other hand, a non formally educated peasant farmer who, nevertheless, is informed about current events by widespread radio and TV coverage may actively participate in the modern political system, may display kindness, honesty, reliability and integrity in relation to his family, his community and beyond even as he offers gifts to Mother Earth and goes to church on Sundays.

I'm not saying that (judging from the scandalous high levels of corruption so dramatically evident throughout all socio economic strata) in relation to ego identity and to ethical development, many, if not most individuals, are not seriously partaking in red and incipiently First Tier characteristics. What I'm saying is that –due to the history and influence of their unique cultural milieu- it may generally be easier for them than it may be for well acculturated citizens of developed countries to reinvent and redefine themselves manifesting characteristics found in higher stages of development. Furthermore, a certain amount of selfish behavior may be explained by the need to get things done while being surrounded by overcrowded spaces, lack of resources, widespread informality, deficient public education and unreliable legal and political systems. Nevertheless, I certainly call for psychological developmental studies in Latin America to get a clearer and scientifically validated sense of how red, amber, orange, green and Second Tier stages may be unfolding for individuals in the region.

I do strongly suspect that in Peru and in Latin America at large we are somehow blending individual stages of development without having clearly established ourselves in any particular one. This could be understood as taking place at least from the standpoint represented by orthodox Integral Theory. If this is indeed the case, perhaps we could be mostly doing it for reasons that have not been considered in orthodox theory, or for reasons related to the resiliency of individuals having to survive. Maybe our sheer duty towards our primordial survival as manifest beings transcends the expectations generated by any one theory. Perhaps more comprehensive structures are only temporarily or experimentally allowed by an indispensable core of effervescent Life anxious need which -in turn-could be closer to what we call Spirit or that which allows things to be?

While I recognize that in Latin America there indeed are degrees of difference and preference among partially mythic, partially red and partially orange individuals (usually divided according to geography, age and education), I see that stage demarcations as clear as those found in the U.S. are not in full force because our forefathers were –from the seminal forging of our post Hispanic national identities-partially accepted and partially despised and treated with condescension. They were people who were led both to belittle and to aggrandize their past while syncretically blending it with an amber present even as the impingement of the modern and post modern worlds also gradually increased with an inescapable and continuous influential crescendo.

Unless leading thinkers and practitioners of Integral Theory seeking to influence the world of ideas consider that the observed patterns of personal development in the U.S. may not neatly apply to a majority of contemporary individuals acculturated in Latin America (and perhaps in other former colonial countries in which natives massively intermingled with foreigners and became part –largely as second class citizens- of the new nation), a new totalizing and culturally skewed grand vision may once again pretend to sell a vision of impartiality and integration on the basis of its own blindness. Left unchecked in its own circles of self reinforcement, Integral Theory could subtly become the next outward appearance of a rekindled kind of cultural imperialism stemming from a more inclusive but, nonetheless, self centered and multi culturally blind, partial intellectual pretensions of the intelligentsia of a still dominant but gradually less imposing society. Due to its powerful set of explanatory, applicable, meaning-making, comprehensive ideas, Integral Theory may be more enticing but damaging when it comes to exporting it into the flexibly defined identities of Latin Americans. These enticing, “Integral” set of beautifully connected meta concepts may, nonetheless, and unbeknownst to its well-intended exponents contain the germs of ill-conceived assumptions capable of subtly redefining the identities of people at a time in history when the possibility of large scale education and individual self revaluation is at hand. Unless a clearer understanding that distinctive forms of cultural development have on individuals is further honed, exporting Integral Theory as the broadly competent next promise in human understanding could lead to a sadly slanted journey of self discovery for millions of individuals.

Comment Form is loading comments...