TRANSLATE THIS ARTICLE
Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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.
Our ‘Catch-22’ and Ukraine
A looming crisis in the West
I always thought that the acceptance of responsibility and being accountable was a fundamental sign of emotional and psychological maturity.
As I write this, there is widespread fear that the industrial base of Germany, the largest economy in Europe and the linchpin of the EU, could collapse, and with it, the banking sector, if multiple sanctions on Russia cause the West to get what it has wanted: the termination of all natural gas supplies. Westerners may end up not only getting from Russia what they have demanded, but get it, as H.L. Mencken put it, “good and hard.”
In May, 2022, Germany ran a trade deficit for the first time in thirty years. The Euro is at a new, twenty year low. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the UK and an ultra Hawk on Ukraine, has resigned, implying a similar fate may await Western leaders who advocated multiple rounds of sanctions on Russia which boomeranged, devastating Western economies. The White House is in disarray, with the long knives within the Democratic Party and its donor elites being unsheathed. While Republicans laugh and relish the tidal wave of power November will bring, the truth is that they too are out of ammunition. They simply hope that the logic of electing “the lesser of two evils” will once again fool the public into busying themselves rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. To what can we attribute such collective, self-destructive determination to drive Western civilization off a cliff, like a bunch of lemmings, or Wile E Coyote?
Zealotry is too soft a word for the collective “madness of crowds” that has infected the West, every bit as completely and virulently as did the preceding pandemic. But unlike covid, that zealotry was always there, hidden beneath a teflon veneer of civic platitudes and virtue signaling about democracy, human rights, and Western Enlightenment.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. (H.L. Mencken)
Our responsibility as integralists
Integralists have a special causative responsibility in this, precisely because we claim to “transcend and include.” I know, because I am a WILP (Western, Integral, Liberal, Progressive) and I have been a card carrying member of the integral flock for decades. While we dabble in consciousness, spirituality, and self-development, the screams of the disenfranchised grow louder. We didn't hear the Palestinians; we ignored the terrorized inhabitants of eastern Ukraine, shelled and slaughtered by our own government for eight years because we were too busy navel gazing and speculating about metamodernism, who is red, blue, green, or turquoise, and the nature of consciousness to see the civilizational iceberg dead ahead. Will we do any better at addressing issues of social justice and recognizing the importance of foundational relational exchanges like security, safety, food, shelter, and health care when inflation and recession come to our street?
We Integralists claim that our multi-perspectivalism, imbued with spirituality, earns us the right to a clearer, more unified, and spiritual vision. We need to have compassion for those poor, misguided red Republicans, Trumpists, and unwashed masses who have not yet received the dispensation of Integral AQAL. Because we integralists see the big picture, because our motives are noble, because we have had mystical experiences and know formless oneness with reality, we not only are confident of our correctness, we transcend responsibility and accountability.
We are not alone. We share this stance with most Westerners, liberals, and progressives, that is, with other WILPs. The problem is, WILPs can't have it both ways. We can't claim our perspective is superior and at the same time deny ourselves greater responsibility and accountability. Either our perspective is superior and we are more responsible and accountable, or, if we don't want to be held accountable and responsible for the civilizational disaster befalling the west, then we have to conclude our perspective does not “transcend and include” and that it isn't, after all, superior. Regarding this conclusion, we integralists largely remain at the first of Kubler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief: denial, garnished with 2nd Stage fits of pique that Russia is not rolling over at our command.
I always thought that the acceptance of responsibility and being accountable was a fundamental sign of emotional and psychological maturity. It's something we need to learn to get through school or hold down a job. It's something partners in relationships expect of each other. To watch fellow integralists ignore and deny our personal responsibility for the current civilizational collapse and instead focus their energies on blaming Putin and Russia is, therefore, mind-boggling. It can only be explained by entrainment to multiple unrecognized hard-wired cognitive biases. This explanation has pragmatic functionality, unlike the ongoing attempts to shift blame, which we see everywhere, every day, or to assume we possess some characterological flaw or moral defect that is the cause of our bad judgment. Humanity, including its best and brightest, simply hasn't learned to spot, neutralize, and avoid cognitive biases that cause us to persist in self-destructive thinking and behavior.
“Catch-22” and the Ukraine fiasco
I have already addressed one of these, in a previous essay, “Integral and the 'Halo Effect' - Edgar Morin's Critique of the War in Ukraine.” It addresses the questions, “How can someone as brilliant and well-intentioned as Morin be so wrong about geopolitical realities staring him in the face?” “How can intelligent and compassionate integralists be so deluded as to buy what Morin is selling?” In this essay, I want to highlight another source of self-delusion, which is not so much a cognitive bias as a largely unrecognized logical fallacy. It's commonly called “Catch-22.” Along with George Orwell's “doublethink,” “Catch-22” has become one of the best-recognized ways to describe the predicament of being trapped by paradoxes from which we cannot escape because of contradictory rules or limitations. An example is, “How can I get any experience until I get a job that gives me experience?” Here is another example:
Everyone, then, who deals with organizations understands the bureaucratic logic of Catch-22. In high school or college, for example, students can participate in student government, a form of self-government and democracy that allows them to decide whatever they want, just so long as the principal or dean of students approves. This bogus democracy that can be overruled by arbitrary fiat is perhaps a citizen's first encounter with organizations that may profess 'open' and libertarian values, but in fact are closed and hierarchical systems. Catch-22 is an organizational assumption, an unwritten law of informal power that exempts the organization from responsibility and accountability, and puts the individual in the absurd position of being excepted for the convenience or unknown purposes of the organization.
Integral theory and idealisms in general, including progressivism, liberalism and libertarianism, are hierarchical worldviews that privilege themselves over other worldviews, thereby bestowing power and status on themselves while generating resentment in the unwashed goats who have not yet awakened to the perennial truths of enlightenment, spirituality, democracy, and the Western “rules-based order.” This is not to claim that hierarchies are wrong or bad, but only that they are dangerous, in that, as Wilber has pointed out on numerous occasions, easily turned into toxic abuses of power. It is beyond ironic that Wilber is so aware of this danger and yet succumbs to it, as he does in validating this power and status disequilibrium in his essay on Trump. Wilber, Robb Smith, and WILPs in general are blind to this because we are subjectively immersed in and identified with our worldview. By definition, subsets aren't sets and subcontexts don't recognize the contexts that generate their identity. While we integralists believe we are exceptions to this rule, by virtue of both our multi-perspectivalism and mystical experiences, which have allowed us to transcend and include all contexts, our behavior and track record demonstrates this is a convenient, self-serving delusion.
Catch-22s often result from rules, regulations, or procedures that an individual is subject to, but has no control over, because to fight the rule is to accept it. Voting for the lesser of two evils in a democracy is a potent example. By doing so voters are giving consent to a government even if they do not support it. While we integralists define ourselves as moral, at the same time we believe we “transcend and include,” meaning we are exceptions to that principle. We are not accountable to social norms or collective law and are free from responsibility within it, while non-integralists are subject to this Catch-22. For example, non-integralists (or non-idealists, -liberals, -progressives, -Westerners) are subject to international law, and therefore are accountable and held responsible, as we hold Putin and Russia responsible for the aggression of invading Ukraine, while WILPs are free to bomb and exploit the global south without accountability. The Catch-22 is that the global south has no way out of a position of victimization by us, because we define reality in a way that makes them less powerful than us. As long as we retain the ability to make the rules, a top dog/underdog power differential remains in effect.
Creators of "Catch-22" situations create arbitrary rules in order to justify and conceal their own abuse of power. Integralists do so by taking refuge in absolute truth accessed via mystical experience. For example, spiritual leaders justify violating social norms by stating there are valid perspectives that transcend accountability to society. Marc Gafni, Adi Da, Andrew Cohen, and Ken Wilber have all voiced this opinion. Liberals and progressives make comparable cut-outs for themselves by taking refuge in egalitarianism and pluralism, not recognizing, as Wilber has pointed out, that they are committing a performative contradiction. That is, they demand egalitarianism for all worldviews except their own, which is the sole exception, in that it transcends and includes all worldviews, including egalitarianism.
Why we use “Catch-22”
WILPs don't consciously set out to be elitists or to excuse themselves from the rules they apply to others. They don't consciously claim they are more moral or “better” than others. However, at the same time, they gain the benefits that accrue from living in a privileged society, having a better education, having the time to be better informed, and having a better network of well-placed friends. We Westerners are therefore exceptional in relationship to the global south, Russia, and China. Exceptionalists win either way because they have the power to define rules so that non-exceptionalists are in a no-win Catch-22. Employing Catch-22 bestows privilege and comfort to those who are in a position to evoke it. They themselves are in denial about this usage; they see themselves as blameless and having only noble intent.
We do not escape from this dilemma by virtue signaling or by embracing woke agendas, like reparations for slavery or using culturally correct gender designations. We are embedded in a privileged culture and have acquired stratospheric worldviews that are detached from the relational exchanges where children, adolescents, the poor, and most of the global south live, breathe, and have to live. Fake humility will not suffice, nor will self-loathing, or hand-wringing. We have to call each other out on ways we can be more responsible for actions done in our name and to hold ourselves more accountable for them. Beyond punishment is “truth and reconciliation,” meaning being transparent and accountable, and negotiating ways to even the playing field. This has not been done with Russia, although Russia continues to demand that its sovereignty be respected. Our continued failure to recognize our responsibility and accountability before international laws we agreed to is bringing down our own house. Does our western world have to completely collapse? Are we really “Better dead than red?” Can't we find some accommodation based on mutual respect?
Our continued failure to recognize our responsibility and accountability before international laws we agreed to is bringing down our own house.
The answer is clear and obvious. Ukraine would still possess Crimea if it had not undergone the 2014 Maidan revolution and US funded an organized coup. It would still possess the Donbass if it had implemented Minsk II. Thousands of Ukrainians would still be alive if Ukraine had not insisted on creating a proxy NATO army threatening Russia. However, instead of acknowledging these realities it is more convenient for WILPs to deflect responsibility by blaming Russia. The longer that self-defeating non-strategy continues, the less of Ukraine will exist to bargain. Sooner or later, the West will agree to a neutral Ukraine, its demilitarization and denazification, and to respecting the sovereignty of Russia. Already, almost 50 percent of polled Germans support Ukraine making territorial concessions to Russia. It can either do this now, and pay a lesser price, or later, and pay a far higher one. This should be clearly evident to everyone by now.
What keeps rationality and the geopolitical realism of John Mearsheimer from ascendency in the minds of WILPs is, in part, a strong investment in employing Catch-22: “A 'rules-based order' for me, international law for thee.” “Power and status for me, the imposition of Western norms for thee.” The problem is that we WILPs possess enormous comfort, power, and privilege in comparison to the Global South and we don't want to lose it. We want to hold on to our elitist position on the spiritual and cognitive developmental lines. We don't want to give up our idealist focus on higher relational exchanges or have to worry about mundane and difficult issues of security, safety, food, and shelter. We don't want to share power if it means giving up some of our comfort and prerogatives.
Our problem lies in our lack of trust that power sharing generates more power and freedom rather than less. The underlying pathology is found in the black and white, polarized, win/lose worldview common to WILPs. We are good, Russia/China/Iran bad. Wealth and status proves our self worth; your lack of wealth and status proves your irrelevancy. We are Teal [integral]; you are Red [aggressive] and Blue [dogmatic]. However, life is not a zero sum game. If we give to others and they win it doesn't mean we have to lose. The only way we can learn this is by “losing.” Concretely, in our present world circumstances, that means giving Russia what it is demanding. Why not? So what? Why is that so difficult? What are we really losing by doing so?
In contemplating that possibility, look at the objections that come up in your mind. Analyze them. Are they based on anything other than fear? And if they are based on fear, how realistic is that fear? The vast majority of our fears have been implanted in our worldview by elites who need us to stay fearful in order to generate our consent for wars, abuse, and exploitation. Until we recognize that reality, we remain useful tools of elites, who are more than happy to have us retreat into integral theory, consciousness, wokeness, or arguments about the pandemic, guns, abortion, and the next election. None of that affects the ability of elites to make money by exploiting people. It's nothing personal; it's “just business.” Unless we unmask the amorality of “profits before people” and recognize how we support and maintain it, our civilizational Titanic is destined to continue to sink.
How do you find yourself in Catch-22 situations? How do you participate in putting others in Catch-22 situations? What can you do to avoid them and to help others to do the same?
Sooner or later, the West will agree to a neutral Ukraine, its demilitarization and denazification, and to respecting the sovereignty of Russia.