Dr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: integraldeeplistening.com and his YouTube channel.
As the picture at the opening of this essay depicts, I find it difficult to assign a virtuous or moral justification to either side in this conflict. The difference is that while the bear knows he's a bear, the eagle really does believe he is superior because he can fly higher and be "above" the bear. While that may be the case, it is no accident that in this global chaos, the eagle is looking and acting more like a vulture than an eagle.
Is Putin Red and the West Green?
Self-righteous outrage is, at least in this case, destructive to the fabric of Western civilization, including progressivism, liberalism, and integral.
In this essay I will attempt to show major, self-destructive flaws in how many Westerners, integralists, liberals, and progressives (WILPs for short) view the Ukrainian crisis, drawing upon common media narratives and an essay written by Robb Smith, a leader in Ken Wilber's Integral AQAL, and the co-founder and CEO of Integral Life. I will explain what “red” and “green” mean in the context of Integral, the WILP and Integral narratives on Ukraine, followed by the Russian perspective. I'll then explain why the WILP critique is more red than green, the psychological motivators behind this delusion and misrepresentation, and finish with a recounting of what WILPs have to lose and gain by abandoning their delusional worldview.
Ken Wilber's Integral AQAL has been a major positive influence in my life. As a psychotherapist in hospital, clinical, and private practice for decades, Wilber's elucidation of the psychopathologies of different levels of development in his essays in Transformations of Consciousness struck me as both brilliant and highly useful in the early 1980's, when I first came across them. I have found so much usefulness in Wilber's four quadrant model and his elucidation of lines, levels, states, and styles that I named my own life work “Integral Deep Listening” out of respect and appreciation for the Integral worldview. I am also the author of two books and some fifty essays on various aspects of Integral, posted at IntegralWorld.Net.
What is “Red” and “Green” in the context of integral?
Memetic colors according to Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics
By “Integral” I am here referring to Wilber's variety of integral, Integral AQAL, while both recognizing and advocating for a broader and more balanced understanding of integral. My title, “Is Putin Red and the West Green?” is shorthand for “Is Russia late prepersonal in its overall level of development while the West is late personal in its overall level of development? “Red” and “Green” are Integral jargon for late prepersonal and late personal stages of development. As a worldview, the late prepersonal is typified by tribalism, pre-conventional morality, pre-rationality, reason in the service of emotionality and physical survival, prepersonal values, might makes right, power over justice, egocentrism, control over understanding and cooperation, reductionism, concretization, and absolutism. At its best, the late prepersonal manifests as healthy four year olds. “Red” is often used by integralists as shorthand for prepersonal development in general. Dogs and mammals, and some birds express many characteristics of healthy prepersonal levels of development: spontaneity, altruism, loyalty, cooperation, healthy sensory and emotional aliveness, and problem-solving in the service of sensory and emotional sustainability and adaptation.
“Green” is shorthand for egalitarianism and pluralism. It is based on a mid-personal (“orange”) reasoned questioning of egocentricity and groupthink. In its enlightened form the late personal worldview is indeed noble, embracing the values of the enlightenment and translating them into the abolition of poverty and homelessness, non-violence, and environmental protections. The writings of Steven Pinker, which use reason to advocate for Western “enlightenment” values, is an excellent example of a positive manifestation of a late personal worldview. In its degenerative, pathological forms a late personal worldview uses reason to justify pre-rational and prepersonal emotional motivations and worldviews, veering into wokeness, social justice warriors, the abolition of meritocracy, idealism at the expense of reason and rationality, and rampant hypocrisy.
The WILP narrative on the current crisis as of March, 2022
Putin wants to own the Ukraine and denies its right as an independent state. He authorized a Russian invasion of the Ukraine, in violation of international law and committing a criminal act. Russia deserves global condemnation, sanctions, pariah status. and ostracism. Putin is an autocrat and Russia isn't a democracy. As such, both Putin and Russia embrace a prepersonal worldview. Russia is headed toward collapse as a failed state. The widespread outpouring of support for Ukraine, demonstrated by mass demonstrations and capitals draping their monuments in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, and its condemnation in the UN by 144 countries speaks for the widespread understanding that Russia is an aggressor state and that the Ukraine is a victim of aggression that deserves protection. Ukrainians deserve not only our emotional and financial, but military support. Western countries are, in contrast to Russia, democracies. Their leaders represent humanitarianism, egalitarianism, and pluralism and therefore embrace a late personal worldview. WILPs are, on the whole, moral, just, and wise while Putin and Russia are immoral, unjust, and stupidly crafty. The conclusion is that the WILP worldview includes and transcends that of Putin and Russia.
The case for “Putin red, West green” from an Integral perspective
To represent the “Integral” component of the “Putin Red/West Green” narrative, I will cite from Rob Smith's essay, “Russia Is Catalyzing the Transformation Age,” to substantiate that the above narrative is held by leadership in the Integral community. Smith's article echoes the case made early in 2016 by Wilber in “Trump and a Post-Truth World,” Smith writes,
… what should the world do when 21st century nuclear superpowers, especially those governed by non-accountable and non-checkable autocrats, begin to violate the prevailing international order and attempt to conquer sovereign foreign nations? Today it's Russia…
Smith is saying that Russia is a country ruled by a non-accountable and non-checkable autocrat and that it is violating the prevailing international order and is attempting to conquer the Ukraine.
… there is no legitimate justification using contemporary moral calculus to invade a peaceful sovereign neighbor... The Russian military can likely succeed in its initial conquest but fail perpetually to hold its territory in the face of a vicious insurgency, one that will continue to galvanize global public opinion against Russia, keeping it stuck as a total pariah in the community of nations… The pain of international financial sanctions will so destroy the Russian economy that Russian elites, perhaps even the Russian “street” (no matter that they are fairly manipulated by Kremlin propaganda), might end up taking Putin out of power… Russia increasingly degrades toward a failed state, finding itself with skyrocketing inflation and wracked by an economic depression… slouches ever more towards a completely failed state, ostracized on every level…
By Smith's account, while the West, progressives, and liberals may be “green,” Integralists, at least those who “know” and fully embrace Integral AQAL, are “teal,” or “turquoise,” meaning they are “2nd Tier” or higher. “2nd Tier” is Integral jargon for post-personal levels of development, particularly “vision-logic” or “integral-aperspectival,” the developmental stage that follows the late personal and which is the first which can see and respect all previous stages. It is “multi-perspectival,” which indicates a tolerance of ambiguity and an ability to contextualize different perspectives and worldviews. In addition to taking a multi-perspectival worldview, some are capable of taking a transpersonal one, indicated by “Teal” and “Turquoise.” A “transpersonal” worldview is one that not only includes and transcends all other worldviews, but is “spiritual,” in that it expresses the integration of one or more variety of oneness, that is, unity with nature and energy, divinity, formlessness, or the non-dual. Due to their multi-perspectivalism and unifying worldview, Integralists have the ability to not only critique Putin and Russian “red” worldviews, but also Western, liberal, and progressive “green” ones, since their worldview includes and transcends both in wisdom, purity of intent, and morality.
What is the Russian perspective?
NATO expansion Eastward over the years (Wikipedia).
Putin has stated the Russian motivations clearly in speeches in late February of 2022. Anyone who wants to understand the Russian perspective needs to listen to both the first and the second one. Those reasons are
Progressive Western encroachment, including the de facto NATOifcation of Ukraine, undermining Russian security interests. This argument is similar to the Monroe Doctrine.
Neo-Nazism in the Ukraine. Russia's demands are the demilitarization and de-nazification of the Ukraine and its establishment as a neutral state, like Finland or Austria.
I have spoken with my Western colleagues about denazification. They say: “What's the problem? You also have radical nationalists, don't you?” Yes, we do, but we don't have them in our government like Ukraine. And we don't have thousands of people marching in the streets with torches and swastikas like Nazi Germany in the 1930s? And we don't praise the men who killed Russians, Jews, and Poles during the war. But in Ukraine, they do.
We have seen 5 waves of NATO expansion. Now NATO is in Romania and Poland and they are deploying their missile-attack systems there. That's what we are talking about. You need to understand, we are not threatening anyone. Russia did not come to the US borders or the UK borders. No. You came to our borders and now you are saying, 'Ukraine will join NATO and will deploy their systems there. They will deploy their military bases and their attack-systems.' We are concerned about our security. Do you understand what that means?”
Russia's Putin: The US is parking missiles "on the porch of our house"
Russians watched in horror as a successful US orchestrated coup in the Ukraine installed a rabidly anti-Russian government and military in a region that was once the capitol of Russia. While WILPs frame this as a war of aggression by Russia against an innocent victim, the Ukraine, the Russians see its invasion as a necessary counter to a proxy war by the US and NATO, which is using neo-Nazis to attack and weaken it. Russia has good reasons for its perspective. These include the presence of neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian government and military. Over 27 million Russians were killed by Nazism during WWII. Russians view Nazism as an existential threat, validated by the killing of over 13,000 Russian speaking Ukrainian citizens over the past eight years. In addition, Russia has watched as successive “salami slicing” encroachments into its security sphere have taken place through the enlargements of NATO, despite promises and commitments made not to do so. They have experienced multiple attempts at color revolutions in Georgia, Kazakstan, and Belarus, designed to further encroach upon and fragment the Russian sphere of influence.
While WILPs frame this as a war of aggression by Russia against an innocent victim, the Ukraine, the Russians see its invasion as a necessary counter to a proxy war by the US and NATO, which is using neo-Nazis to attack and weaken it.
Russia has seen multiple treaties and agreements made with the West broken over decades. Hundreds of sanctions have been placed on Russia over three Presidential administrations. Attempts at negotiation to implement the UN approved Minsk agreements have not only failed, they have been used as stalling tactics while former eastern block countries were supplied with increasingly offensive weapons and the Ukraine made into a de facto NATO member through the provision of armaments and military “advisors.” From the Russian perspective, the US and NATO had to be stopped or else Russia would cease to be an independent nation. There exists a broad consensus around this conclusion in the Russian government, and it is supported by a broad majority of the Russian population, with polls showing Putin's approval rate at 74.2% while trust in Putin is at 77%. Meanwhile, Biden's approval rating hovers somewhere south of 40% with a massive wipe-out of Democratic seats in Congress in the fall.
There are other matters which WILPs tend to minimize, ignore, or toss off as unimportant but which matter a great deal to Russians. These include the history of Russia with Nazism, the opinions of the vast majority of Russian citizens, the significance of those countries that did not vote to censor Russia in the UN, bioweapons laboratories funded by the US Department of Defense, censoring, and sanctions.
Censoring: The US Bill of Rights guarantees free speech. Democracies in general are based on the concept. A hallmark of totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and fascism is censoring. At present, war-time censorship is being imposed by Western governments. Sites with counter-narratives are blocked. Internet corporations censor for the state. Integral blog curators are censoring individuals who do not support their guidelines. What are we to make of claims of democracy and freedom by WILPs who justify or demand censorship?
Sanctions: By now there are hundreds of sanctions against Russian businesses, government officials, and the economy in general. These have only moved the Russian economy toward autarky in the past and are likely to continue to do so. In the meantime, the West is selecting itself out of Russian markets, which will be filled by local or Asian companies, shifting the Russian economy increasingly away from the West. The US is currently begging Venezuela, Iran, the EAU, and Saudi Arabia to save it from its self-inflicted energy crisis.
Bioweapons: Victoria Nuland, US Undersecretary of State for Eastern Europe, has testified before Congress that the Ukraine has US funded Bioweapon labs and that if these fell into Russian hands that their contents would be dangerous. Nuland is admitting the US is breaking international law. What would the WILP response be if Russia put bioweapons labs on US borders?
The significance of outgroups: WILPs are alienating sizable and significant global out-groups with its policies and actions, as is Russia. The recent UN General Assembly vote to sanction Russia succeeded in garnering a majority of 144 member states in favor, but failed due to the make-up of the 39 states that either were opposed or were neutral. These include China, India, and almost all the countries in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. The vote highlighted a broad lack of support for “Russia red/West green” by the rest of the world.
Russian citizens: Any hopes WILPs had that Russian citizens would rise up and overthrow Putin have been dashed by a combination of a natural upsurge of nationalism associated with the invasion and popular outrage at sanctions. What we can observe instead in Russia is a decrease in the influence of the West.
Any of these factors, if the shoe were on the other foot, would be casus belli for the West. Sadly, WILPs are highly unlikely to view any factual information that contradicts “Russia red/West green” as legitimate. This is because to do so causes cognitive dissonance that threatens a worldview that validates their sense of self. To test this conclusion, ask yourself, “What does it mean if NATO really has been funding neo-Nazis?” “What does it mean if the West really has been attempting to undermine the sovereignty of Russia for decades?” “What does it mean if the Russian perspective really does include and transcend “Russia red/West green?” “If those things were true, what would be the consequences for my worldview and my identity?”
Evidence that the Western and Integral critiques are prepersonal worldviews disguised as late personal and multi-perspectival ones
To view Putin and Russia as red and the West, Integralists, Progressives, and Liberals as green is a vast over-simplification and intentional refusal to recognize the moral ambiguity of its context. While the purpose of the “Putin red/West green” narrative is to justify various forms of punishment of Russia, including the overthrowing of its government and dismemberment, what it actually accomplishes is something radically different, and for most WILPs completely unexpected. The reality is that “Putin red/West green” destroys multi-perspectivalism and substitutes prepersonal, pre-rational black-and-white thinking. Black and white thinking is a reductionistic, polarizing cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions use thought to justify aggression, anger, fear, and victim status. They create depression, anxiety, and various addictions intended to self-medicate the depression and anxiety. Black and white thinking is a form of emotionally-driven cognition that reflects prepersonal pre-rationality and pre-conventional moral development. It is one component of personality disorders, such as borderline, in which the world and individuals are reduced to “You are for me or against me,” things are either “good” or “bad,” and there is either peace or war. It does so by ignoring and denying essential factual context.
Black and white thinking is also one component of amoral, prepersonal sociopathy, justifying lying, stealing, and aggression. It says, “Lying is OK when it protects my interests.” “It's not stealing, because if I don't take it, someone else will,” or “It's not stealing because I am taking from those who have stolen from me.” “It's not aggression because he hit me first.” There is nothing liberal, progressive, or integral about the black and white thinking of “Putin red, West green” because it denies egalitarianism, pluralism, and multi-perspectivalism while earnestly posturing that it embodies democracy, freedom, international law, and, in the case of Smith, integral multi-perspectivalism. Just like the endorsement of hate speech directed at Russians while allowing praise of neo-Nazis, the “Putin red/West green” meme is both profoundly hypocritical and regressive. It is also built on a mountain of half-truths and lies.
“Putin red/West green” is a toxic form of groupthink. Groupthink is not only early personal; it is found in the swarming and collective behavior of animals and defines familial as well as socio-cultural scripting.
While groupthink is therefore an adaptive survival mechanism, it can be harnessed to generate fear and justify lying, stealing, aggression, immorality and amorality. To see Putin and Russia as red and WILPs as green is to identify with a pervasive societal and cultural perceptual distortion that is a form of civilizational groupthink.
The four countries that voted against sanctions on Russia in the UN are Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria. These countries are all either being economically sanctioned by the US or under direct attack by it, or both. North Korea is still officially at war with the US because the US refuses to negotiate a peace agreement. As noted above, the thirty-five member states who abstained the UN resolution include almost all the countries of the global south. Together they make up almost two thirds of the world economy. They represent a significant “out-group” of world opinion that WILPs simply ignores or discounts. Can an authentically late “green” personal perspective ignore or discount the perspectives of such a large global out-group? If late personal green cannot, then the perspective claimed by Integral cannot be authentically multi-perspectival either. That WILPs deny the rationality of the Russian perspective strongly implies that its worldview is not rational itself. That the power position of the West is “might makes right” implies that it is pre-conventional in its morality, or late prepersonal in its behavior. That its economic system is “profits over people” implies that the West is pre-pre-conventional in its morality, that is, amoral or mid-prepersonal. Such conclusions are shocking because they are a direct threat to the common Western assumption of developmental exceptionalism.
Psychological motivators to adopt “Putin Red/West Green.”
Let us now take a look at the psychological reasons to believe that Russia is late prepersonal in its level of development while the West is late personal. There are two distinct sets of actors, motivations, and means to advance this narrative. First, there are the motivations of those national powers that create and promote it.
Secondly, there are the motivations of those who are indoctrinated with it and accept it. State promoters include the State Department, the arms industry, politicians who receive campaign funds from the arms industry, businesses that are affiliated with the arms industry, stock market investors, and of course corporate media. State promoters also include captured or vassal states and their parallel national organs, which have a great deal to gain by adopting “Putin red/West green” and a great deal to lose by challenging it. The motivations of all these national promoters include genuine concern for victimization and injustice mixed with financial advantage, advancement in status, virtue signaling, and fear of the consequences of deviance. The means that these forces use to advance “Putin red/West green” include the construction of empathy with victims, moral outrage at aggressors, the cultivation of fear, and the suppression of oppositional voices.
Regarding the motivations of those who are indoctrinated and accept “Putin red/West green,” it functions as a way for nations and WILPs to justifiably express anger, hate, and aggression, as in “good wars.” We like to think of ourselves as evolved and enlightened. Facts that validate that worldview are promoted in order to support and validate our sense of self as moral, just, and wise. Those narratives that threaten our sense of ourselves by questioning our morality, justice, wisdom, stage of development, and enlightenment are ignored, discounted, denied, or otherwise dismissed. The reason is clear: such threats cause cognitive dissonance, or the undermining of our sense of who we are which we depend on to maintain control in our day-to-day functioning. The underlying fear is that if we allow questioning of “Putin red/West green” that the consequence will be decompensation, meaning that we will lose all control and meaning, regressing into a state of babbling incompetence. How realistic is that fear?
The “reasons” WILPs give themselves, when and if these conflicts ever rise to the level of conscious awareness, for accepting “Russia red/West green” amount to justifications that serve to reduce cognitive dissonance, or the discomfort and threat that conflicting truths present to their identity as moral, just, and wise. This cognitive dissonance is fought off with an army of cognitive distortions (emotional reasoning, blaming, filtering, generalization), biases (confirmation, stereotyping, in-group) and defense mechanisms (denial, repression, projection, displacement). None of us are immune to this problem because we all have identities that need to remain stable and exert control in order for us to adapt, survive, and have meaningful lives. The best we can do is be aware of our need to defend our identity and to recognize that our worldviews are partial and probably do not include as much of the “elephant” of reality as we want to believe they do.
Why “Putin red/West green” matters for integral, ourselves, and the world
The red/green narrative encourages escalation to nuclear war. 74 percent of Americans have said they support a US/NATO no-fly zone in Ukraine. Russia has announced such overflights will be considered acts of war. Do a majority of WILPs want war with Russia? Do a majority of WILPs view the Ukraine as a cause worth risking nuclear annihilation over?
Compassion for Ukrainian refugees and condemnation of both Russia and the West aren't contradictory
Does this information mean that we should not support Ukrainian refugees? Of course not. They deserve the support WILPs as well as many others are now giving them. Does it mean that Russia's invasion of the Ukraine was not in violation of international law? Of course not. It was. Does it mean that some wars are good? No. Of course not.
A genuine integral worldview, because it is multi-perspectival, embraces contradictions and tolerates ambiguity. The “Putin red/West green” narrative wants us to have compassion for Ukrainian refugees but to have moral outrage toward and even hate Russians and Putin. This is black and white, polarized thinking, the opposite of multi-perspectivalism.
Self-righteous outrage is, at least in this case, destructive to the fabric of Western civilization, including progressivism, liberalism, and integral. This is becoming immediately obvious in the blow-back from Western sanctions on Russia, which are already generating massive inflation in the cost of energy, metals, and food. The punishment being inflicted on Russia and Putin is damaging western interests much much more than it is those of Russia. Is that wise or is that “suicide by sanction?”
What do WILPs have to lose by giving up “Russia red/West green”?
The Ukraine would still possess the Crimea today if it had not accepted a US five billion dollar bribe to fund a coup that used neo-Nazis to overthrow the democratically elected government. The Ukraine would still possess the Donbass if it had acknowledged the rights of its Russian-speaking citizens. The Ukraine would not today be dismembered if it had not insisted on becoming a de-facto NATO state and said “no” to the arming of neo-Nazis. WILPs want you to ignore or dismiss these realities. Future generations will not allow that to happen.
What do WILPs have to lose by giving up “Russia red/West green? They will abandon their arming of the Ukraine and accept its neutral status. They will stop supporting neo-Nazis. They will recognize the reciprocal rights of Russia to security based on sovereignty. They will submit to the rule of law, which means reciprocity, transparency, and accountability. They will accept that freedom only exists in the context of responsibility. More fundamentally, they will give up their cherished exceptionalist status and the black and white thinking that supports it.
From a moral perspective, the fact that the US, NATO, and the EU stood idly by and ineffectually discussed politics for eight years during which the civilian population of Donetsk and Lugansk was continuously shelled by the Ukrainian “anti-terrorist operation” is utterly shameful. What WILPs have to gain is credibility in the eyes of out-groups that now view them as hypocritical and self-justifying and as seeking personal gain at the expense of others. In addition, it will slow down the West's slide toward economic and civilizational collapse.
Addressing objections and counter-arguments
No one will, or should be expected to change their worldview without good reason. For myself, it took years of questioning and reading outside the mainstream media to arrive at the position I present. Here are a few of the criticisms of this worldview and my response to them.
It's a straw man argument. “I haven't presented the position of Smith or Integral on this but merely distorted and misrepresented that position.” I would invite you to read Wilber's Trump essay and that of Smith, and draw your own conclusions.
Western values justify whatever lies the West has told or mistakes it has made. Human nature will always hold our intentions blameless. That's why we have laws and social norms. It is well to remember that, in terms of the UN vote for censure of Russia, some two-thirds of the world's population and economy does not agree with Western values regarding the situation in the Ukraine.
Reciprocity does not apply. National out-groups do not accept the “rules-based order” as an exclusion from accountability before international law. They do not excuse the shelling or holding of civilians hostage within their own cities followed by the expression of righteous indignation at Russian actions.
“Putin red/West green” is not black and white thinking. Well, what is it then?
The exceptionalism of the West is well-deserved and must be defended. This is “The White Man's Burden” argument, in which we get to think of ourselves as victims because we take on the responsibility, sacrifice, and duty to “educate” and “civilize” the barbaric Russians.
Hearing this argument as “either/or,” black and white - a straw man attack. I am not saying that because WILPs have it wrong that Russia or I have it right. Multi-perspectivalism is able to recognize and respect the motivations behind conflicting perspectives and then weigh them accordingly.
As the picture at the opening of this essay depicts, I find it difficult to assign a virtuous or moral justification to either side in this conflict. The difference is that while the bear knows he's a bear, the eagle really does believe he is superior because he can fly higher and be “above” the bear. While that may be the case, it is no accident that in this global chaos, the eagle is looking and acting more like a vulture than an eagle. There is a vast amount of data, much more than I can go into here, to support the belief that many WILPs not only hold a “Putin red/West green” worldview, but that it is a disastrous mistake. If you are skeptical or want more background information in support of this thesis, an excellent place to start are the presentations by the esteemed professor John Mearsheimer, a recognized American expert on international relations.
Why is Ukraine the West's Fault? Featuring John Mearsheimer, 2015
At some point WILPs are going to have to recognize that their chronic exceptionalism, what the Greeks called hubris, lies at the root of this delusional worldview and that it is both pernicious and a major source of personal and civilizational collapse. Integralists in particular have a responsibility to provide a multi-perspectival critique of “Putin red/West green” because of their claim that their worldview includes and transcends those of others. In Integral terms, to affirm communion does not deny agency; to affirm heterarchy does not deny hierarchy. To recognize the sanctity of all lives does not deny competence, aptitude, meritocracy, or the many vital contributions WILPs and Western civilization in general, have made to humanity. But it may avoid nuclear war and the end of all civilization, not just the Western one.