INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



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Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, a psychologist of religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997 (back then under the name of “The World of Ken Wilber”). He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. He is the author of the first monograph on Ken Wilber and his work: “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website.

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Games Pandits Play

A Reply to Ken Wilber's Raging Rant

Frank Visser

On June 8 2006 Ken Wilber published a long raging rant on his kenwilber.com blog about (mostly) anonymous critics in general and my person in particular. On June 11 this was followed by a second posting, listing some emails Wilber received when he asked feedback on earlier versions of his posting. Since I am the target of this punitive operation, because I host the Integral World website, and express some my own views on integral philosophy in my blog, it is only logical for me to reply.


Just to stay in line with the tone of Wilber's blog posting...
Do you find this offensive? Don't worry, it's a test.


But seriously, let me phrase my reponse in the most general way like this:

No amount of questions, or questioning of Wilber's model, justifies this type of behavior. Ever.

In my opinion, this is an all-time low in integral communication. Please check Tom Murray's recent research paper on collaborative knowledge building for some saner comments.

I will not comment on the immature and abusive language Wilber uses in his posting, other then that he suggests all that repulsiveness has a deeper significance. Now that is repulsive.

All the fireworks leaves me completely unimpressed – ehm, unyielding. I am still alive, and appreciate the many supporting emails I got (but I will not publish them ;-)

The Guru Trap

There is, however, something in the posting that really worries me.

I have spent long enough in the world of psychospiritual movements and literature to know when people start playing games. These are among the most favorite, although there are many more. All of them are evidenced in Wilber's recent blog posting, and the curious excitement it generates in the Integral Scene.

  • What the guru does is always good. Wilber's posting was phrased rudely on purpose: to separate the green from the yellow.
  • Making fun of critics. Portray them as loopy, nuts, deranged. They are the worst amateurs, "non quoting perverts".
  • Feeling persecuted or mistreated. Wilber presents himself as the lonesome cowboy who get's shot by bandits.
  • Getting rude and offensive before one's own audience. Here's where the posting gets deranged. But it's way cool! Kick ass!
  • Making ingroup / outgroup distinctions. Some are included in the fold of II, others, especially me, are "left out".
  • Praising and blaming/punishing people. Those who get it are great, those who don't get it are bad, VERY bad – real morons.
  • Overreacting to critics. Mild criticism from responsible writers is taken to be a vicious attack, that requires retaliation.
  • Turn opponents into caricatures. With minor exceptions, writers who publish at Integral World are presented as empty heads.
  • Create a common enemy. The Green Monster Meme is out there to get us. Only the Yellow Castle is safe.
  • Act out your emotions. Both Wilber's and Annie MacQuade's postings are an example of this. Rationalize this as authenticity.

Is this outrageous? Consider it as a test ;-) Those who are "in" will think so; those who are "out" will recognize these features immediately.

Incidentally, Wilber reports, 30% of the about 200 people Wilber consulted before posting his final draft were "strongly against" it and thought it would be "disastrous" to send it out (though primarily because of its tone) – a telling figure, whichever way you interpret it, if this was intended as a test for integrality.

All ingredients of cultic logic are in full swing now at Integral Institute...

Many Wilber-related blogs have started to comment on these recent events. In the Ken Wilber Forum of INTEGRAL WORLD forum I found a perceptive comment I want to share with you: "Sorry, it's just over your head"

Okay, so what's actually the crime here?

The crime is keeping a space alive on the Internet, nowhere else to be found, where there is absolute freedom to reflect on integral philosophy, with equal attention to those for and against. Not behind closed doors. Not "coming this fall" (or next fall, or...). And above all: it does not try to be "way cool". It's just a honest effort by ordinary mortals. Wilber's posting only proves the need for such a space.

Integral World has Wilber's complete bibiography, a complete list of online published criticism, and a list of most foreign translations – nowhere else to be found on the Net.

Legitimate questions

Critics at Integral World raise a lot of questions, to name a few:

  • Do the Twenty Tenets hold up to scrutiny?
  • Is Wilber's view of western history solid?
  • Can Wilber's take on mysticism be validated?
  • Are Wilber's ideas about holons consistent?
  • Is Wilber's recent states theory plausible?
  • How are stage models influenced by values?
  • Does Wilber report accurately on research?

These are all legitimate questions. None of them have anything whatsoever to do with stages of development – being green, yellow or otherwise.

Many of them are raised by Jeff Meyerhoff. Shouting "sloppy scholarship" – to pick one of the very few polite terms Wilber used in his posting – obscures the relevancy of these questions. They still stand.

In fact, SES is now a decade old, but I can't remember any review that thorough of the book (and I have collected all of them). Complaining that he doesn't address Wilber-5 is again avoiding the issues.

Besides, telling the audience Meyerhoff's book got rejected by publishers is a bit low: wasn't The Spectrum of Conciousness rejected 33 times?

Wilber writes: "Have you noticed that the people who complain the most about the concept of boomeritis almost always have the worst cases of it?" So what about the number #1 crusader against boomeritis himself? Looks like he has a particularly bad case of it. Even jokingly mentioning "I am at the center of the vanguard of the greatest social transformation in the history of humankind" is telling. Sure, it's a joke. Or is it? Why mention?

Sex, Ecology, Spirituality was supposed to be "a book of a thousand hypotheses", however, for better readability Wilber chose to tell the story "as if it were simply the case." (p. 6). How many people have mistaken his story for fact?

On Integral World these questions are openly discussed. The majority of these writers are people who have studied Wilber's work for years, and write in a restrained, respectable manner.

Integral World has produced authors, one of whom – Mark Edwards – is now "the only competent critic", as Wilber emailed me recently – how does that square with ignoring his writings for half a decade? Even as late as 2004, Wilber insulted Edwards by stating that his latest essay had very little to do with his views. In fact, Edwards excels in carefully quoting from Wilber's online writings, even to the numbering of the paragraphs. What kind of game is that?

Does all this turn me into a post-modern defector? Not at all. I am just interested in the interfaces of integralism with it's neighboring disciplines, such as perennialism and postmodernism. Not many from the field of perennialism have taken up the challenge, so I have done that in a couple of essays. Postmodernists can speak for themselves. Focusing on both areas may not always result in consistency, but that is secondary to the importance of exploring these fields.

Perhaps, due to my two and a half decades of focus on Wilber's work, there's the philosophical equivalent of a Gestalt switch involved as well – I am interested in those who do NOT agree. Just to see what they come up with and learn from them.

Pressing Issues

For example:

Why hasn't Wilber clarified his position regarding evolutionary biology? The careless statement in Brief History about a half-wing that will not work ("Absolutely nobody believes this anymore") has been contested by numerous biologists. Are they "reductionists", so they can conveniently be ignored? What if they are reductionists because reductionism produces results?

For someone who has subtitled his opus magnum "The Spirit of Evolution" it is crucial to first and foremost come to terms with present-day biology.

Reading Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea I was impressed by the careful attention to detail in his search for workable hypotheses – from Richard Dawkins to Teilhard de Chardin. Can integral theory beat this? What's the scientific value of the statement "There's an Eros to the Kosmos"? Isn't this "vitalism all over again", as one critic expressed it?

How does Wilber's view of evolution actually differ from Dennett's, considering the fact that Dennett explicitly refuted the religious view of evolution ("Darwin's assault on the Cosmic Pyramid"), as defended by Lovejoy, one of the key sources in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality? (Not to mention Sheldrake as major source for Wilber-5?)

And why does Wilber respond angrily to his own students when they dare to bring up this issue again and again? ("Give me a break on this"). Why does he point them to literature (cf. Behe's Darwins Black Box) which has been discredited widely by top scientific organizations? Because, as he says, he thinks he knows what scientists really think, but are afraid to say in public? What kind of psychic mind reading scholarship is that?

And isn't the recent Intelligent Design debate, which is capturing the attention of many both in the US and abroad, for Wilber a perfect opportunity to show to the world how he integrates science and religion? What's he waiting for?

In no particular order:

Since Wilber has had integral politics at the top of his list for over a decade, has any detailed integral political theory been forthcoming? One that goes beyond the US two-party system? One that contributes to our understanding of world fires? One that goes beyond "terrorism = developmental arrest"? (A conclusion Wilber announced in Integral Spirituality – but we still have to see the manuscript of The Many Faces of Terrorism).

Wilber mentions the mind-body problem, for which he has presented an interesting solution of his own. Why is there a complete radio silence in the philosophy of mind about this theory? (David Chalmers was kindly willing to add two of Wilber's papers on this topic to his online repository when I asked him to do so, but he filed it somewhere under "Miscellaneous"). What does that tell us?

Wilber mentions post-metaphysics, which I personally see as an adaptation of premodernity to the demands of (post-)modernity. But since when is (post-)modernity the rule when it comes to the larger scheme of things? What happened to the critique of flatland, which was inspired by the depth of premodernity? And what is left of premodern ontology but psychology? (cf. Wilber's approval of Trungpa's "psychologization" of heaven worlds as states of mind. That's about it?). And why isn't this a matter of discussion, instead of taking it as the New Integral Dispensation?

Etcetera, etcetera.

What's the matter with Frank?

No further pop psychological guesswork about my motivation ("The fact [sic!] is, Frank feels left out", "Frank feels abandoned by me", "Frank is mad that we didn't include him more") is needed to explain this enterprise.

As to my motivation for maintaining Integral World, is it sour grapes, as Wilber implies? Am I mad at him, because I have not been involved in Integral University? I don't think so, at least not as an overriding motive (yes, I did some soul-searching). The work I do with Integral World is necessary, in the absence of a public, academic integral debate, and an Integral Institute that operates in private, behind-closed-doors.

I will not get caught in this game of praise and condemnation, so reminiscent of cultic milieus I have been in before. Instead, I will tirelessly go on publishing writings which I consider helpful in understanding integral philosophy. I may be wrong, I may be right – but that's not the issue. the issue is that there should be an open, public forum where all voices can be heard. That's why Integral World is valuable.

Oh, and as to my being "combative and difficult and unyielding"? Perhaps those qualities are currently lacking in Wilber's organization? As for myself, I wouldn't mind helping restore the postive variants of these: independence of mind. But also some moderation, or even mediation seems to be in order. It feels to me like Integral World currently is a disowned part of the integral field. Anyway, I am open to suggestions. But obviously, I don't fit into an organization that is out to save the world and puts constraints on critical questioning. I would only spoil the party.

Fortunately, I get other, more positive feedback as well these days. From the board of the Integrativespirituality.org website, I received the following message (May 11th, 2005):

We’d like to take this opportunity to let you know how much we appreciate your Integral World website. It is truly unique and a great service to the global integral community. It is apparent how much time and energy and love you have dedicated to this valuable source of information. Therefore, we’d like to honor YOU in our next ezine as someone who has achieved and contributed invaluable service to the integral movement.

Well, it can't be that bad then, after all, can it?

June 14, 2006.


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