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Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, a psychologist of religion, founded 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.

A Self-Help Guide for Democrats

Review of Ken Wilber's
"Trump and a Post-Truth World"

Frank Visser

By painting an ink-black picture of the troubled state of green, he makes it very easy for himself to present a massive step back as a necessary and healthy maneuver.

The application of Integral Theory to the field of politics has always been high on the agenda of Ken Wilber. In a fax-interview I had with him back in 1995 he explained why, in a train of thought stringing together the major fields of the social sciences.[1] It is worth quoting in full, to understand why politics if so important for Wilber, and where he is coming from in his dealings with current affairs in culture and society. This essay will first sketch the genesis of Wilber's views on an integral approach to politics, followed by a review of his recently released ebook on Donald John Trump.

(T)he study of psychology inevitably leads to sociology, which inevitably leads to anthropology, which leads to philosophy. And then strangely, bizarrely, that leads to politics.

It works like this: an important branch of psychology is psychotherapy. All versions of psychotherapy begin with the fact that people are unhappy. Psychotherapy attempts to locate the cause of this unhappiness in the human mind (or human behavior). Somebody who has a "mental illness" or a "neurosis" or a "maladaptive learned behavior" -- by whatever name -- that person is "not well adjusted" to reality. Everybody agrees on that.

But what is reality? As the comedienne Lily Tomlin put it, "What is reality? Nothing but a collective hunch." In other words, isn't what we call "reality" in large measure socially constructed? How can we possibly say somebody is not well adjusted without knowing what they are supposed to be adjusted to? What if you are "not adjusted" to living in a Nazi society? Isn't that a sign of mental health, not illness?

And thus, all of a sudden, if you want to define "mental illness" you have to define what a "healthy" society is. There is no other way to determine what is actually maladaptive! Maladaptive compared to what? "Sick" compared to what definition of health?

So then, as a theorist, you must start looking at different societies and cultures, in an attempt to understand how human beings in different times and places have defined "health" or "normality" or even "reality." And this leads you very quickly into anthropology, or the study of the development of the human species at large.

So back you go into history and prehistory, trying to make sense of it all, trying to find what it means to be "normal," because otherwise you have no way to define what it means to be "abnormal" or "sick;" and therefore -- if you are honest -- you have precisely nothing you can actually recommend to your patients. How can you "cure" them if you can't even define "health"?

And -- I hate to divulge the inside secret of anthropology, but, there are no answers in anthropology. All you find is that human beings start to show up, say, 400,000 years ago. And then a bewildering variety of cultures and societies start to flourish, and thousands of different norms and rules and beliefs and practices and ideas and arts and everything else imaginable, simply explode on the scene.

So very soon you realize that you can't even begin to make sense of all that without some sort of mental categories that will help you sort and classify and organize this differentiated mess. What is useful and not useful? What is good and bad? What is worthy and unworthy? What is true and false? And suddenly, you are a philosopher.

Oh no! You cannot even begin to make sense of the human condition without looking deeply into philosophical issues. Even those who totally reject the importance or the validity of philosophy -- they give philosophical reasons for the rejection! In other words, whether you like it or not, to be human is to be a philosopher, and your only choice is whether to be a good one or a bad one.

And so, once you decide that you want to try to be a good philosopher, then this tends to happen: if, as a philosopher, you ever allow yourself to decide that you have some actual conclusions -- about the nature of reality, the nature of human beings, of spirit, of the good and the true and the beautiful -- than you very quickly realize that it is absolutely mandatory to try to make society a place in which the greatest number of people are free to pursue the good and the true and the beautiful. That becomes a burning categorical imperative, and it eats into your soul with its unrelenting moral demand.

As Foucault pointed out, one of the many great things about Kant is that he was the first modern philosopher to ask the crucial question, What does it mean for a society to be enlightened (in Kant's essay, "What is Enlightenment?")? In other words, not just "enlightenment" for you or me, but for society at large! Or Karl Marx: philosophers in the past have merely tried to understand reality, whereas the real task is to change it. To be socially committed! And so, as a modern philosopher, you are suddenly in the broad field of political theory. You realize that Bodhisattvas are going to have to become politicians, as weird as that might initially sound.

Still, none of Wilber's many books written in the past four decades (1977-2017) have dealt with the field of integral politics in any detailed way. Here's a brief overview of relevant passages from Wilber's books touching on how he has searched for a view of politics from an integral point of view.


As early as 1981, in the final chapter of Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution called "Republicans, Democrats and Mystics" we see the first sketches of such a theory. In this chapter, Wilber stated that in general, Democrats and Republicans differ fundamentally in their analysis of the cause of human suffering. Democrats point to external structures, that oppress and exploit human beings, and which should be removed to reach equal opportunities for all. Republicans, in turn, locate these causes in subjective factors such as a strong and reliable character and innate talent. Inequality for them is a fact of life. But If we try hard enough, conservatives think, everything becomes possible—the American Dream in a nutshell. (And mystics, who transcend both the subjective self and objective reality, see the greatness of existence as it is, says Wilber, but that is hardly of relevance for current politics).

None of his subsequent books written in the '80s and mid-'90s dealt explicitly with the topic of politics. But in his 1997 book The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad, we find a Note to the Reader called "On God and Politics". Wilber writes that "the most pressing political issue of the day, both in America and abroad, is a way to integrate the tradition of liberalism with a genuine spirituality." (p. xiii). Religion shouldn't be left to the Conservatives, he feels. But conservatives share a sense of community we should try to preserve. Here again, he oversees his writings up to that date, and sees a common thread, tangentially related to politics:

Almost all of my books (especially The Atman Project; Up from Eden, Eye to Eye; A Sociable God; Sex, Ecology, Spirituality; and A Brief History of Everything) are prolegomena to exactly that topic: the search for a liberal God, a liberal Spirit, a spiritual humanism or humanistic spiritualism, or whatever word we finally decide will capture the essence of this orientation.

A liberal God depends, first and foremost, on how we answer the question: Where do we locate Spirit?. I will return to this topic in the last chapter[2] and discuss it a length; and subsequent books will continue to take up this theme, in even more explicit form. (p. xvi-xvii)

In his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998), which dealt with the integration of science and religion, in the last paragraph "Political Awareness" of the final chapter "The Integral Agenda", Wilber continues this train of thought and advocates an integration of the “Western Enlightenment” of individual liberty, and the “Eastern Enlightenment” of spiritual awareness:

The only possible way to integrate these two demands is to realize that the summum bonum of the Good life lies not on this, but on the other, side of the political liberalism of the Enlightenment. That is, spiritual or transrational awareness is transliberal awareness, not preliberal awareness. It is not reactionary and regressive, it is evolutionary and progressive ("progressive" being one of the common terms for "liberal"). (p. 211-212)

What strikes me in these various pre-2000 passages is that Wilber is on to something that doesn't yet find its place in a book or book chapter, or even a long essay. It is often presented as either a Foreword or an Afterthought, as if it got inserted at the last moment before publication.

Several entries in his spiritual diary One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber (1999), which covered the year 1997, deal with politics In the Oct. 3 entry, he deplores a regressive tendency in society:

We are seeing various trends that want to surrender the postconventional, worldcentric, liberal gains of the Enlightenment and regress to sociocentric and ethnocentric revivals, identity politics, racial essentialism, gender essentialism, blood and soil volkish movements, ecofascism, tribal glorification, and the politics of self-pity. (Not to mention even further regression to egocentric and narcissistic me-ism!) (p. 246).

Wilber's concern is that liberalism and multi-culturalism, in the boundless tolerance and openness to other views, betrays its promise of a truly world-centric point of view, ignoring the fact that it is, itself, the result of a long process of development. Wilber seems to side with the Democratic stance, but is highly critical of its contradictory and self-defeating characteristics. In the December 10 entry he suggests that the Conservative stance is therefore more "healthy" then that of Liberalism: "So there are our political choices of today's world: a healthy lower level (conservative) versus a sick higher level (liberal). (p. 340). A thus healed liberalism would be truly "progressive" and "evolutionary" in that it understands its own history and accepts interior growth of consciousness. He concludes:

And, of course, it is my own belief that this postconservative, postliberal vision would open us to post-postconventional awareness, by any other name, Spirit. The debate, truly, has been decided: You are born in chains, but can everywhere grow into freedom, finding, finally, your own Original Face. (p. 341).

In A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality (2000) Wilber introduced the model of "Spiral Dynamics", based on the work of Clare Graves, a contemporary of Abraham Maslow, but carried forward by Don Beck and Chris Cowan in their book Spiral Dynamics (1996). It specified "value memes" or more specifically stages of value development, denoted by colors, which ranged from the premodern to the modern and the post-modern. In the chapter "The Real World" the first paragraph is about Integral Politics (p. 83-89). (This paragraph Wilber offered to Integral World and was published as "Some Thoughts on Integral Politics", actually in response to an essay by Gregory Wilpert, "Dimensions of Integral Politics", that was posted on Integral World in 1999). In collaboration with a few political theorists, Wilber claims to be in contact with "advisors to Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and Jeb Bush, among others" (p. 83) in his search for an approach to politics that unites the best of liberalism and conservatism. He refers back to the distinction made in Up from Eden (1981) between the internalist (Republican) and externalist (Democratic) explanations for human misery.

Integral Theory would offer a "Third Way" that concerned itself with a healthy version of that higher level (i.e. liberalism), but with a strong belief in the underlying reality of human development. In A Theory of Everything similar ideas were voiced, and some exchanges with the ideas of political theorists such as Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations), Francis Fukuyama (The End of History) and Thomas L. Friedman (The Lexus and the Olive Tree) can be found. But the treatment remained sketchy at best. Again, these two notions are stressed: (1) conservatism and liberalism relate to two different stages of development, the premodern mythic-religious and the modern (and postmodern) rational stages respectively. And (2) where the conservative stage still recognizes interior realities and stages, liberalists deny this and focus almost entirely on external reality, thus denying even their own higher status. When liberalism allows expression to all possible views, premodern and modern, it is in danger of being outnumbers by the premodern views. It gets stuck in relativism, without any means of assessing the value of any political views.

Summing up: according to Wilber an integral political model would emphasize both the external and the internal causes of human suffering (thus honoring both the Left-wing and Right-wing points of view), but it would also be sensitive to stages of development, which would roughly correspond to political worldviews. Liberalism can be seen as a higher stage compared to Conservatism, as modern and scientific rationalism stands to premodern an religious fundamentalism. But liberalism has a peculiar problem: because it doesn't pay attention to interior realities and is caught in the grip of scientific materialism—or "flatland"—it cannot not see it was itself the product of a process of interior development.

In the first half of the '00s Wilber would elaborate on his political views rather casually on Integral Naked or Integral Life, in brief videos in which he showed himself as very critical of Left-wing politics, in so far as it denied interior reality and development and focused almost completely on oppressive structures of society. According to Wilber (and Don Beck, whose color-coding terminology Wilber adopted and later amended, after his split with Beck) it suffered from the Mean Green Meme, the extreme and distorted version of the regular Green Meme, which he often briefly praised for the "many gifts" it had given us (the various emancipatory movements for the liberation of women, of non-Western peoples, care for the environmental movement etc.). But apparently that didn't persuade him to any more detailed engagements with the Left. I have always suspected Wilber exhibits a strong allergy for the Green value meme, to the extent that the Green meme itself became suspect in integral parlance. (which prompted Ray Harris to write the essay "Rescuing the Green Meme from Boomeritis" for Integral World in 2003). If the problem with the Democrats was as Wilber diagnosed, I would have expected an active engagement with leading Democrats, in every level of political organization.

Comparison Between Wilber, Deck and Graves
A comparison of Ken Wilber, Don Beck and Clare Graves

By then Wilber had almost stopped publishing books, but in 2006, two online chapters, "Integral Politics: Or Out of the Prison of Partiality" and "Integral Politics: A Summary of Its Essential Ingredients" (as part of the a manuscript called The Many Faces of Terrorism, a "trilogy of novels"(?) that never saw the light of day—one can only guess for the reasons) became available through One also wonders why a book that claims to have diagnosed the problem of worldwide terrorism—"a riveting glimpse into the long-awaited response to today's fragmented world situation, from the most inclusive thinker alive" —has never been published. I suspect that its literary form made it impossible to digest by those who are working in the field of political science. The literary form of these chapters makes it difficult to focus on the core ideas. Like his postmodernist novel Boomeritis (2002), many pages are spent on the thoughts and interactions of students of an imaginary "Integral Center" (a clear and thinly disguised reference to Wilber's own real-world flailing Integral Institute). However, this pre-published online chapter contained some new concepts of integral politics, reflecting Wilber's thinking about the subject. One of them is that if 10% of the population reaches a certain higher stage, society as a whole will be transformed, because according to Wilber (or his alter ego in the novel) that 10% elite will be 10 times more efficient in solving the world's problems. A World Government was to be expected in twenty years, and a "Cultural Singularity" or "Transformation Point" in thirty years.

As is clear from these two chapters (and presumably the book on terrorism as a whole), we are no longer in the realm of serious essays on political science or political philosophy, but in the world of fiction, in a novel that describes the very developments in human culture and politics Wilber supposedly expects to see in the real world—within a time span of several decades. There is an eerie kind of disconnectedness in these fictional reflections Wilber has offered. Around that time, Integral Institute struggled to become the foundation for integral initiatives in the world, but though hopes were high in previous years about the role it would play in the real world, not much came out of it in terms of real impact. US Presidents went (Bush) and presidents came (Obama), but not much sophistication was added to the above musings on what could be an integral political theory. Wilber was struggling with his health, and seemed to have given up on the whole subject. The various US Elections in the intervening period often generated some activity from integral corners, where Wilber's ideas were presented again and again, but no deeper analysis on the state of US politics seemed forthcoming.

However, in this online chapter on "Integral Politics", a further distinction is introduced that deserves some mention: "what is progressive today, is conservative tomorrow" (p. 37). In the past, the situation was pretty straightforward. Republicans had a religious and premodern worldview (Blue, "conservative") and liberals a materialistic and modern worldview (Orange, "progressive"). But with the introduction of the postmodern culture in the '60 (Green), things were getting more complicated. Both orientations now span two distinct developmental levels—causing severe internal strains in both camps or wings:

Political landscape in the US
Developmental stages and political stances

What is interesting and instructive to see from this diagram is that where first Blue religious conservatism ("Old Republicans" or "Old Right") fought against Orange materialistic liberalism ("Old Democrats" or "Old Left"), we now have Green multi-cultural postmodernism ("New Left") fighting against Orange liberalism ("Old Left") and Orange Wallstreet conservatism ("New Right") fighting against Blue religious conservatism ("Old Right"). And let's add—I don't think Wilber mentions this—Wall Street Republicans ("New Right") fighting multi-cultural and environmental movements ("New Left").

Wilber concludes[3]:

'[T]he political Right' today is a strange mixture of amber [blue] and orange, just as 'the political Left' today is a strange mixture of orange and green. (What holds them together? That's correct: the Democrats are all externalists, and the Republicans are all internalists). (p. 41-42).

As one consequence of this presentation: the same developmental level (Orange, or rational modernism) could sustain two opposite political orientations (Left vs. Right). This should not really surprise us, for there are Christians at both sides of the political spectrum, and why would this also not be the case with modernists—or Integralists for that matter? I can't judge to what extent Wilber has been original in these conceptions, but they seem to be promising and worthy of further reflection. An interesting question would be where this fundamental dichotomy between internalists and externalist comes from. Apparently it is independent of one's stage of development. It needs a separate explanation, especially because whole geographical regions seem to be of one of these types.[4]

It is here that one thinks Ken Wilber potentially has a valuable contribution to make to the field of political theory—if he would widen his scope to include non-US political systems, and most importantly, in my opinion, if he would be able to decide on the proper communication channel and literary form.


Excuse me? Has evolution in Wilber's universe all of a sudden now become a strategically and politically savvy agent of change? Seriously?

Even the election of Donald J. Trump seemed to have passed by unnoticed by Wilber, even as it sent shock waves through the world of political opinion media. This is strange, because it would serve as a test case for any valid integral political theory, especially since almost none of the political commentators of the Left and the Right had foreseen this outcome. Some individual integral bloggers or commentators who were active on social media most often expressed their horror of the prospect of having Trump as President (see Jeff Salzman's "Trump the Terrible"), with one notable exception (Marty Keller, who has contributed some essays to Integral World, and who belongs to the Republican side of the political spectrum). But would an integral political view be automatically a Democratic view? Or would it not be the essence of integralism that it unites the best of both the liberal and conservative orientations?

I was therefore much surprised—and even somewhat thrilled—to receive a notification from the recently redesigned website, which offered a new and long (80 page) essay by Wilber on Trump called "Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction". It was published as PDF, not an ebook, and available to anyone willing to leave his email address. Apparently the text was meant to seduce potential members of IntegralLife to sign up to its newsletter.

Had Wilber finally found the time to flesh out his ideas on US politics and cast it in the form of a serious essay that could be offered to mainstream political discourse? The subtitle "An Evolutionary Self-Correction" made me shudder. Knowing Ken Wilber's mis-conception of evolution—as a Spirit-driven process in nature and culture, which is at variance with the scientific conception of evolution, and should more aptly be characterized as "pop-evolution"—inside-out and having critiqued it at length on Integral World, it looked from the start like Wilber has attempted to frame this whole Trump-phenomenon in such debatable, pseudo-scientific terms.

Which he, indeed, seems to have done (in this, he is as incorrigible as Trump himself):

Every now and then, evolution itself has to adjust course, in light of new information on how its path is unfolding, and it starts (apparently spontaneously but with this deeper morphic field actually operating) by making various moves that are, in effect, self-correcting evolutionary realignments. (p. 4)
And under such circumstances, evolution finds it’s necessary to take certain selfcorrecting moves. These moves will not obviously appear as necessary correctives—they might indeed appear alarming. But the only thing more alarming would be for evolution to try and move forward on the basis of an already badly broken leading-edge. The disasters would simply increase. Green, as a leading-edge, had collapsed; and evolution itself had no choice but to take up a broadly “anti-green” atmosphere as it tried to self-correct the damage. (p. 27)
The deeply self-contradictory nature of “there-is-no-truth” green had collapsed the very leading-edge of evolution itself, had jammed it, had derailed it, and in a bruised, confused, but inherently wisdom-driven series of moves, evolution was backing up, regrouping, and looking for ways to move forward. (p. 32)
This, after all, is exactly what the self-correcting move of evolution itself is attempting to introduce. And anybody adopting an Integral stance would be riding the very leading-edge of evolution itself, with all of its goodness, truth, and beauty. (p. 71)
Evolution, in a decided move of self-correction, has paused and is in the process of backing up a few paces, regrouping, and reconstituting itself for a healthier, more unified, more functional continuation. What virtually all of these regroupings have as a primary driver is a profound anti-green dynamic acting as a morphic field radiating from the broken leading-edge itself. (p. 74)
(And conversely, to the extent that at least this first step is not taken, then the self-corrective drive of evolution will continue to push, and push, and push into existing affairs, driving more Trump-like “disasters” as evolution redoubles its efforts to force its way through these recalcitrant obstructions.) (p. 77)
Understanding this election—as well as similar events now occurring all over the world—as a manifestation of a self-correcting drive of evolution itself, as it routes around a broken leading-edge green and attempts to restore the capacity of its leading-edge to actually lead (while also seriously starting to give birth to the next-higher leading-edge of integral itself )—this gives us a glimmer of real hope in an otherwise desperately gloomy situation. (p. 78)
In the deepest parts of our own being, each of us is directly one with this evolutionary current, this Eros, this Spirit-in-action. (p. 79)

Excuse me? Has evolution in Wilber's universe all of a sudden now become a strategically and politically savvy agent of change? Seriously?

Evolution "had to adjust course"", "starts by making moves", "finds it necessary to take certain moves", "had no choice but to take up", "was backing up, regrouping, and looking for ways to move forward", "attempting to introduce", "has paused and is in the process of backing up", "will continue to push, and push, and push into existing affairs", "it routes around... and attempts to restore"?? As a modern-day Hegelian, Ken Wilber's sees signs of Spirit in all manifestations of nature and culture. No scientist in the world would subscribe to such a notion of evolution. Wilber is free to use this vocabulary in any metaphorical way he wants, but it is obvious from this writing that he means business—and that he really believes all this.[5]

He dismisses the scientific conception of evolution in one paragraph as a mere "holdover" from the past:

Evolutionary biologists in general tend to deny any sort of directedness or telic drives to evolution, seeing all of it as a random series of events selected by a blind natural selection. But this is just a holdover from the reductionistic scientific materialism of the 19th century. It overlooks more current scientific concepts that, starting with Ilya Prigogine’s Nobel-Prizewinning discoveries, even insentient material systems have an inherent drive to self-organization. When physical systems get pushed “far from equilibrium,” they escape this chaos by leaping into a higher-level state of organized order—as when water that is chaotically rushing down the drain suddenly leaps into a perfect downward swirling whirlpool—referred to simply as “order out of chaos.” If nonliving matter inherently possesses this drive to self-organization and order out of chaos, living systems certainly do—and that definitely includes evolution—a drive that philosophers often call “Eros,” an inherent dynamic toward greater and greater wholeness, unity, complexity, and consciousness. (p. 9)

This is a rather technical discussion—involving the complex topics of evolution, entropy and emergence—for which I refer the reader to other essays on Integral World. But I can guarantee that, whatever valuable insights Ken Wilber has to offer in the field of culture and politics, this framing of the issue in a metaphysical scheme of things will block all possible acceptance from the very start. One argument will suffice: if this inherent drive towards organisms with greater complexity and deeper consciousness exists in evolution, why has it not affected all of these organisms, even and especially down to the level of bacteria? Why didn't all fish go on land? Why are there still amphibians, reptiles and mammals? To make things worse, why does this supposedly cosmic force of Eros seem ineffective and impotent on Mars, or Pluto—to restrict ourselves to our cosy little solar system? It's because in these extra-terrestrial regions the proper conditions for life and evolution don't exist. Ah, but then it is these proper conditions that deserve closer study, and postulating an inner drive that takes care of all that is a bad example of begging the question.[6]

Discarding this metaphysical baggage[7] for now, Wilber's message to the Democrats would be: you are in fact responsible for the election of Donald J. Trump. Many political analysts would probably agree with that assessment—if for different reasons. His reasoning goes as follows: Green government (presumable he refers to the eight years of the Obama administration we have just had) was "a Leading Edge that blatantly failed to lead" (p. 36). And it failed to lead because it was stuck, without a sense of direction, and purpose. And it was stuck, without a sense of direction and purpose, because it didn't acknowledge the long developmental process it was itself the result of. And because it denied its developmental past, it could not see the developmental future ahead. It was affected by what Wilber calls "aperspectival madness" (all view are equally valuable).

In Wilber's own words—and pardon the jargon:

When the leading-edge has no idea where it’s going, then naturally it doesn’t know where to go at all. When no direction is true (because there is no truth), then no direction can be favored, and thus no direction is taken—the process just comes to a screeching halt, it jams, it collapses. Nihilism and narcissism are not traits that any leading-edge can actually operate with. And thus, if it’s infected with them, it indeed simply ceases to functionally operate. Seeped in aperspectival madness, it stalls, and then begins a series of regressive moves, shifting back to a time and configuration when it was essentially operating adequately as a true leading-edge. And this regression is one of the primary factors we see now operating worldwide. And the primary and central cause of all of this is a failure of the green leading-edge to be able to lead at all. Nihilism and narcissism brings evolution to a traffic-jam halt. This is a self-regulating and necessary move, as the evolutionary current itself steps back, reassess, and reconfigures, a move that often includes various degrees of temporary regression, or retracing its footsteps to find the point of beginning collapse and then reconfigure from there....
Because nothing was true at all, there could be no true order, either, and hence no preferable direction forward. And so as the leading-edge of evolution collapsed in a performative contradiction, lost in aperspectival madness, evolution itself temporarily slammed shut, and began various moves—including a regressive stepping back and searching for a sturdier point where a true self-organizing process could be set in motion once again.

That's quite a statement, and an accusation at that. Wilber uses the technical philosophical term "performative contradiction" here, which has been one of his favorite sticks to beat the Democrats. Here's another statement, that clarifies this term:

And here’s its performative contradiction. Green officially will perceive nobody as fundamentally “lower” or “needing to actually grow,” because to suggest that any group truly needs to increase its developmental depth—implying that some levels are “better” or “higher” than others—is to be guilty, in a world of aperspectival madness and extreme political correctness, of being “racist” or “sexist” or some horrible crime against humanity. No stance is recognized as superior to any other, and there certainly is no such thing as a “higher” or “better” stance—although, when you think about it, just how are you going to get to truly “higher” and “more inclusive” stances such as green claims to idolize if you don’t develop them?—green itself is the product of five or six major developmental stages, but it allows this development for nobody, and even to suggest such is totally anathema—a colossal and massive failure, due to aperspectival madness, of the leading-edge. (p. 43)

The argument is repeated several times in the book, but these examples will suffice. This line of reasoning again has an eerie kind of disconnectedness from political reality. The leadership style of Obama[8] has been characterized by a strong humanistic and personal flavor, a communicator with tremendous oratory talents, who could connect with his audience. He also was not too good to acknowledge missteps of his administration and tried to correct them. Some have blamed him for being to hesitant in the geopolitical arena, but what's wrong with thinking twice before starting another war? Instead of blaming an abstract, free-floating "green mentality" for committing some kind of logical fallacy, it would be more convincing if Wilber commented on specific actions of specific green politicians, be it Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders—and last but not least: Donald Trump. What I find sorely missing in Wilber's treatment of green political actors is a deep appreciation for their strong sense of humanitarian values—they are hardly a case of being stuck or without direction—nihilistic or narcissistic or otherwise.

It may be a logical conundrum to state "no view is higher then any other" and "this is the highest view", but brought back to real life situations, what is wrong with acknowledging that our own view isn't necessarily fit for all sizes and peoples? What's particularly stuck about Black Lives Matter? What's objectionable about providing health-insurance to the poor? What's without direction about helping refugees from war countries? (Andrea Merkel's "Wir Schaffen das!" was as inspiring to Obama's "Yes We Can!", and was equally derided by their opponents). If we might err to the side of being too open, where occasionally terrorists might slip into the country when at the same time hundreds of thousands of man, women and children find shelter, what suffering would be caused by erring on the other side of being to closed? Especially given that one is "14 times more likely to die in your bathtub than in a terrorist attack".[9] Can we have some perspective please?

Perhaps Wilber is just not the most likely candidate to give a strong and believable portrait of the green stage of development.

Perhaps Wilber is just not the most likely candidate to give a strong and believable portrait of the green stage of development. He seems to worry a lot about comedians who no longer go to campuses because of the over-sensitive mentality that is cultivated there (seriously, this argument is given on p. 23, 26, 27 and 61). Let him worry about the big themes of global warming (for the solution of which Trump would not only be a step back, but a major and momentuous set back)[10], massive immigration, Islamic terrorism, and war-refugees—a complex and interrelated set of problems in contemporary society. Problems our new US President has very quick and simplistic answers to, based on fear and self-interest: close borders, build walls, put a ban on travelers from dangerous countries (but not if you do business with them). In this atmosphere of populism and paranoia, I would expect a philosopher to stand strong on the highest principles he can think of, condemning this whole-scale regression to racist, sexist, anti-refugee, overly patriotic platitudes in no uncertain terms.

Without the metaphysical and bombastic phraseology, Wilber makes a fine point about how Trump could mobilize the manifold regressive voter groups, from Nazis to Christian fundamentalists, to highly ambitious business men. Everything, in fact, as long as it was not the much despised "softness" of green (which Obama embodied).

And the one thing that was true of Donald Trump—more than any other single characteristic that defined him (more than his sexism, more than his racism, more than his xenophobia)—is that every word out of his mouth was anti-green.

Now this means that Trump’s anti-green rhetoric could have resonated with and activated, in general, one (or more) of the three main pre-green stages: it could have activated orange worldcentric (achievement, merit, progress, excellence, profit); it could have activated amber ethnocentric (racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, hyper-terrorist sensitive, homophobic, hyperbolic patriotic); or it could have activated red egocentric (preconventional, self-serving, self-promoting, narcissistic). (p. 27-28)

Where in Wilber's theoretical musings, as we have seen in the first part of this essay, we were having a healthy premodern blue conservatism and an unhealthy green progressivism, we now seem to be confronted with a most unhealthy—or shall we say sick?—anti-green mentality. Isn't that something to be mighty concerned about? Isn't it one big rationalization to state that this is all for the larger good and even sanctioned by the mighty forces of evolution? By painting an ink-black picture of the troubled state of green, he makes it very easy for himself to present a massive step back as a necessary and healthy maneuver. It's always good to mitigate any extreme versions of any stage of development, but it is paramount to present all stages in their strongest forms. That would really be helpful.

Wilber's message to the Democrats is a therapeutical one. They need to re-connect to their roots in the working class world, instead of primarily interested in the urban multi-culturalists. That may very well be a good advice. In most European countries, such as the Netherlands, the UK, France and Germany, traditional Left-wing parties are in decline, and their voters have moved over to Right-wing populists. Perhaps it is not so easy, for a stage of development as advanced and sophisticated as green, to keep in touch with all that went before? According to Wilber, green should not look down on the lower stages (and classes)—remember Hillary's "basket of deplorables"—but reach out to them, "they have to try to reach out, to understand, to include in the dialogue, and to extend the courtesy of a rudimentary amount of compassion, care, even love, to the whole basket of deplorables" (p. 76). This book is a self-help guide for Democrats, if nothing else. He recommends two lines of action:

So the process of a broken green fundamentally healing on its own level and returning to its central and much more healthy “true but partial” tenets is one possibility for a way forward. This depends, first, on green’s releasing its perverse hostility to virtually every previous stage of development that came before it. Not deplorable, but compassionately empathized. And second—and more difficult—is to realize that the actual and true basis of its “negative” judgment about the previous stages is that all previous stages are indeed less inclusive, less embracing, less complex and less conscious than is green in its healthy forms (because they are all lower levels of growth and inclusiveness). And that is most certainly true, and is grounded in an authentic genealogy, a true evolutionary unfolding. (p. 69)

The book ends with a familiar assurance that when green would make it into the next stage of development, called turqoise—what has happened to teal, which is now all the craze in European integral circles?—the healing process is quickened tremendously. And yes, we are invited to joint, where we can experience this quickening of development ourselves.

The other possibility that would work to help the present self-correcting dynamic of evolution actually get some traction would be to introduce not a healthy green (although that would always help), but to directly introduce a turquoise integral-stage leading-edge. This will happen, come what may, at some future point. But there is no reason some aspects of it cannot start to take hold now. (p. 71)

To make this message work in the real world, a lot of pruning and editing are in order. The valuable ideas presented in this volume are at times burdened too much by an ideology, which claims to be able to see the inner workings of the world from a both a scientific and a spiritual perspective. It is marred by personal obsessions of the author, which don't hold up when compared to the sobering facts and figures. As it stands now, this is too much a sermon for the true believers. But after all, it was only meant to increase membership of


[1] Frank Visser, "Bodhisattvas will Have to Become Politicians", PANTA [Dutch transpersonal magazine], Spring 1996., originally posted on, July 15th, 1995. An interesting statement from the author of the back then only recently completed Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution (1995), Wilber's magnum opus.

[2] "Always Already: The Brilliant Clarity of Every-Present Awareness" describes who the Ever-Present Reality of Spirit can be contacted through meditation. It doesn't deal with politics.

[3] Wilber's reflections obviously focus on the US two-party system and would gain importance if the European multi-party system would be included in the analysis. In the Netherlands, for example, we have had not only a socialist party for many decades, which is lacking in the US political landscape, but also a party (and even a cabinet) which explicitly aimed at integrating Left- and Right-wing action points. As you can see our Liberals or on the Right-wing side of the spectrum now and the Socialists on the Left-wing side. These in turn have been superseded by the Green parties that have emerged. One secular center-Democratic party would count as integral. Our Right-wing conservatives compare to US democrats (both are called "liberals"). Compared to Trump we have only.... Geert Wilders.

Political landscape in the Netherlands

To temper any overheated expectations of what an integral political party would be able to accomplish in the real world of politics: after a few years of having a "Purple" (i.e. a combination of Red socialist and Blue liberal) cabinet in the the years 1994-2002, spearheaded by the social-liberal Dutch party Democrats '66, many traditional Left- or Right-wing voters (who apparently can hold on only to half-truths—many saw this pragmatic cabinet as "boring" and "business-like") felt betrayed and the cabinet fell. Currently we are having a similar center-cabinet headed by liberal Mark Rutte, which, because of the huge rise of the extreme Right-wing populist party PVV was condemned to form a coalition, this time without the help of the integral center-democratic party. Again, many on the Left felt that their interests were sold out to the liberals on the Right, and many turned to the new extreme-Right (!) Party of Geert Wilders. It would be interesting to see how the many populist parties springing up in Europe fit into this scheme.

[4] This is comparable to Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics George Lakoff's characterization of Democrats and Republicans living from the frameworks of the "Nurturing Mother" or the "Strict Father". See: George Lakoff, "Why Trump?",, March 2, 2017: "The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative)." This of course raises the further question why some people, often whole regions of a country, belong to one of these two types.
Lakoff, for one, has at least made efforts to actively help the Democrats in formulating their objectives in a convincing way—pre-Election, that is, not after the fact. See for example: "George Lakoff: In Politics, Progressives Need to Frame Their Values",, November 29, 2014 (repost from

[5] Imagine a creationist claiming that God has intervened in the US elections, or was at least responsible for an unexpected turn of events! Shoud we alert the CIA or FBI? In Wilber's case: it weren't Russian hackers after all, it was, well... Spirit! Replacing Spirit with God shows how outrageous this conception actually is. Wilber is a crypto-creationist, even if his phraseology sounds more sophisticated and sciency.

[6] Wiber's take on self-organization is rather questionable. For him, self-organization is a drive of cosmic proportions, which takes are of about every emergent phenomena we know of. What he systematically overlooks is that self-organization is often triggered by the influx of energy (and disappears instantly when this energy flow is withheld). We live as long as we eat, but when we stop doing that we die. How self-organization and natural selection compare in the biological world is hotly debated, see for example Stuart A. Kauffman, The Origins of Order: Self-organization and Selection in Evolution (1993). But strong caveats—contra Kauffman (and mutatis mutandis his fan Ken Wilber—are made by Brian Johnson & Sheung Kwan Lam in "Self-organization, Natural Selection, and Evolution: Cellular Hardware and Genetic Software", BioScience 60: 879-885, 2010: "The basic question we address is whether self-organizing mechanisms evolve by natural selection or are simply intrinic properties of physics and chemistry. If self-organizing mechanisms are intrinsic properties, then the importance of natural selection to the evolutionary process would drastically be decreased. However, as we will argue, self-organizing mechanisms within biological systems are adaptations that evolve by natural selection."

[7] Wilber would deny that his notion of Eros or Spirit is metaphysical, calling it post-metaphysical at times, or he would hold that is a necessary postulate in a "minimalist metaphysics", but this is all sophistry. For example, when pressed to clarify this notion he called it "not meta-physical, but intra-physical", but this doesn't hide that it is a force outside of even the wildest conceptions of physics. No such "inherent drive", responsible not only for the complexites of nature, but those of culture and politics as well, has never been detected.

[8] Daniel Goleman, "The Three Obamas: The One We Elected, The One We Got, The One We Want", The Huffington Post, September 13th, 2011. Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, Primal Leadership and Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence, is critical of some aspects of Obama's leadership, but states: "There's the inspiring leader who articulated a shared vision, speaking from the heart to the heart. That Obama moved millions to elect him. Then there was the Obama who sought consensus, giving up too much to appease his opponents. That Obama disappointed millions. Finally, there was the bold and confident Obama who faced down his opponents in his commanding address to Congress on jobs. All three of these Obamas are familiar to me; each represents one of six styles that exemplify the leaders who get the best results, whether in business or politics."
Goleman mentions six styles of successful leadership, all of which can be functional in certain situations and dysfunctional in others:

  1. The Visionary Leader
  2. The Coaching Leader
  3. The Affiliative Leader
  4. The Democratic Leader
  5. The Pace-setting Leader
  6. The Commanding Leader

[9] Zeeshan ul Hassan, "A Data Scientist Explains Odds of Dying in a Terrorist Attack", Techjuice,, October 15, 2015. For a psychological and evolutionary explanation of why our sense of safety and danger is not factually based, see: Jenny Anderson, "The psychology of why 94 deaths from terrorism are scarier than 301,797 deaths from guns", Quartz, January 31, 2017.

Atkins & Wilber, Wicked & Wise: How to Solve the World's Toughest Problems

[10] In fact, Wilber has done so recently, as co-author of the not widely promoted book: Alan Watkins, Wicked & Wise: How to Solve the World's Toughest Problems (2015), the first in a series about "complex" problems which demand "complex" (i.e. "integral") solutions. Has this book been reviewed at all by integral or mainstream media? The irony here is that, if development is the solution to society's major problems, why have the "developed" nations contributed to these problems the most? A second irony is that what brought close to 200 countries to a viable consensus at the Paris Climate Conference was not some uber-complex integral approach—in which the whole arsenal of quadrants, lines, stages and states is brought to bear on this topic, as advocated by Wilber and Watkins—but a negotiation method derived from African tribal people! "Negotiations are difficult by nature. Managing negotiations between 195 countries in order to arrive at a legally binding agreement, on the other hand, is nearly impossible. This was the problem that United Nations officials faced over two weeks at this month’s climate-change summit in Paris. To solve it, they brought in a unique management strategy. The trick to getting through an over-complicated negotiation comes from the Zulu and Xhosa people of southern Africa. It’s called an “indaba” (pronounced IN-DAR-BAH), and is used to simplify discussions between many parties." Akshat Rathi, "This simple negotiation tactic brought 195 countries to consensus", Quartz, December 12, 2015.

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