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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.
Questions Regarding Metamodernism
Does this mean that China does not fit into the metamodern definition of modernism? Perhaps.
Metamodernism is a hot topic in Integral circles today. Some of the integralists that I most respect, like Bruce Alderman and Layman Pascal, put a lot of time and energy into understanding and elaborating metamodernism. For various reasons, I have not given it much attention, and while I have a decent grasp of AQAL and Spiral Dynamics, I hardly consider myself to be someone to consult regarding metamodernism. Therefore, my perspective is largely an exercise of multi-perspectivalism that questions integral and metamodernism from the outside looking in, without thereby implying that my perspective includes or transcends either. It doesn't.
Gregg Henriquez, a creative and notable psychologist and academic, and the philosopher Daniel Görtz, two prominent authors and innovators in the metamodern community, have provided an easily accessible summary via Henriquez' essay, “What is Metamodernism?” which draws heavily on Görtz's thought. I will quote extensively from the article, and these quotes will be interspersed with questions that I have regarding metamodernism.
Let's start with the subtitle:
Metamodernism is the cultural code that comes after postmodernism.
What is a “cultural code?”
In a linked Psychology Today post by Henriquez, we find the following:
Lene Rachel Andersen's Metamodernity offers a clear articulation of the metamodern sensibility. She characterizes metamodernity as an alternative to both modernity and postmodernism, a cultural code that presents itself as an opportunity if we work deliberately towards it. Such a sensibility includes the indigenous, premodern, modern, and postmodern codes that preceded it and thus it provides a kind of “meta-cultural consciousness” that allows for a moral tapestry that weaves together intimacy, spirituality, practical religion, science and self-exploration at the same time. In short, it is about developing a new system of understanding that will function as integrated pluralistic justification system that scales from the individual to the globe.
This strikes me as an amplification of what I know about AQAL, with an emphasis on the interior collective quadrant, since it is the realm of culture, worldviews, and “codes.” What Henriquez is here adding that is new and interesting is his concept of “justification,” which he sees as a fundamental psychological process and motivator underlying cultural codes. Metamodernism intends to weave together indigenous, premodern, modern, and postmodern “codes,” providing a “meta-cultural consciousness.” Does the non-Western world want or need a “meta-cultural consciousness?” Does even the greater West want or need a “meta-cultural consciousness?” How do we know if it is a way forward or a doubling down? And how does metamodernism allow for a moral “tapestry?”
The “Metamodernist Manifesto” states:
We propose a pragmatic romanticism unhindered by ideological anchorage. Thus, metamodernism shall be defined as the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt…
Where do morality and justice, exterior collective priorities, fit into metamodernism?
Henriquez and Görtz also link to a Wiki entry on the “mindset or sensibility or cultural code that comes after postmodernism.” Following that link, we find:
To many, (metamodernism) is characterized as mediations between aspects of modernism and postmodernism; for others the term suggests an integration of those sensibilities with premodern (indigenous and traditional) cultural codes as well. Metamodernism is one of a number of attempts to describe post-postmodernism.
The essay defines modernism as emphasizing reason, rationality, science, capitalism, and the idea of human progress as well as emphasizing individuality and universal human rights.
Most "modern" industrial societies are primarily organized by these values and codes.
This definition immediately raises a host of questions around what and who is left out by this definition of modernism. Are China, India, and huge swathes of the global south that make up some eighty percent of global population and well over half its industrial output, included in this definition? Is it true that most non-Western global cultures are either “indigenous” or “traditional?
Reason, rationality, science, capitalism, the idea of human progress, individuality and universal human rights are ideas associated with the Western enlightenment, that is, primarily Western Europe and the United States, but also including Australia and Canada. If this is indeed the case, then modernism can be assumed to be largely an enterprise of the West that has been exported more or less successfully to the rest of the world.
Are most “modern” industrial societies primarily organized by these values and codes? For example, is China? While we can certainly point to strong traditions of reason and rationality in China, these greatly predate the Western enlightenment and are not historically associated with a revolution in science or an underlying idea of human progress. Chinese society does not emphasize individuality, nor does it historically conceptualize human rights as does the West, although it is a signatory to the UN Charter on Human Rights. As an economic system, capitalism is largely a Western construct and export, not a Chinese, Indian, Russian, African, or Latin American one. While China does indeed include important and significant capitalist elements in its society, it proclaims itself to be communist, not capitalist.
Therefore, we are compelled to ask: Is China not a “modern” society? Is it “traditional?” China has the largest middle class in the world; it has succeeded in raising some 800 million citizens out of abject poverty, a feat unparalleled in world history; as of 2015, China had fifteen megacities, each with over ten million inhabitants. It leads the world in high-speed rail transportation.
We are also compelled to ask, “Is China not an “industrial” society? In terms of industrial output, China surpassed the US as the world's foremost trading nation in 2014. In 2008 it surpassed the US in automobile production. China surpassed the US in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2014 and is predicted to surpass the US in GDP by 2029, only seven years from now.
Does this mean that China does not fit into the metamodern definition of modernism? Perhaps. It could mean several things. It could mean that metamodernism generates a synthesis that includes “modern” industrial societies that are primarily organized based on the above mentioned values and codes. If so, how does metamodernism deal with modern, industrialized civilizations like China which are not centralized on modern, post-modern, or metamodern values or codes? We can keep that question in mind as we continue to read Henriquez' description of post-modernism and metamodernism:
Postmodernism arose mostly in the back half of the 20th century. In direct contrast to modernism, the postmodern viewpoint offers a skeptical critique of modernist knowledge and concludes that the knowledge we generate is always contextual. The postmodern argument is that there is an inevitable fusion of truth with social power. It was consolidated by philosophers like Jaques Derrida, Paul Feyerabend, and Michel Foucault. It manifested in movements such as the massive civil rights and feminist positions that emerged in the 1960s, as people demanded changes in the existing power structures that were seen to be connected to a Christian, white male hegemony. In 1979, Jean-François Lyotard captured the essence of the postmodern sensibility as being the absence of the grand narrative.
There appears to be little in the above definition that addresses the worldviews or “cultural codes” of the global south, and in particular, China. Post-modernism appears to be a conceptual reaction to modernism as a “cultural code” of Western, not global civilization. Let us see how Henriquez and Görtz define metamodernism:
At its broadest contours, the metamodern view can be considered a kind of higher-order synthesis that includes and transcends both the modernist thesis about rationality and science and the postmodern antithetical critique. In addition, metamodernists tend to view the current state of our knowledge to be overly chaotic and fragmented and advocate for a more integrated pluralism that allows for positive, constructive work on what some have called a "post-postmodern grand meta-narrative."
Metamodernism involves a synthesis of two Western “cultural codes” or worldviews. At what point and in what way does it include in its synthesis non-Western worldviews? I suspect we already know the answer from Wilber. “Indigenous” and “traditional” Western and non-Western worldviews are, in AQAL, largely represented by prepersonal and early personal, “pre-enlightenment” levels of socio-cultural development.
At this point the alert reader may be thinking, “Aha! This piece is an apology for pre-rational cultures!” But that would amount to a version of Wilber's “regress express” and demand our recall of his scathing assessment of Rousseau in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The reality is that AQAL doesn't address, to the best of my knowledge. how contemporary China fits or doesn't fit into modernity, post-modernity, or metamodernity. If that is indeed the case, why not?
The essay continues by defining metamodernism in terms of six different domains described by Daniel Görtz. These six dimensions of metamodernism are:
Metamodernism as a Cultural Phase is defined as
…trends within the culture at large that include the visual arts, theatre, architecture, literature, music, film, and so forth. In this context, it is the movement that comes after and redeems the cynicism and irony of postmodernism.
This first definition of metamodernism is cultural, that is, a manifestation of the lower left, interior collective holonic quadrant. Is it a four-quadrant, holonic definition?
The second definition of metamodernism, as a developmental stage of society and its institutions, implies it applies to all societies. How well does it apply to Chinese society and its institutions, “cultural codes,” and values?
…we can trace the evolution of cultural justifications and the instructions that support them via identifiable stages. These include pre-formal indigenous justification systems that characterize hunter-gatherer and horticultural societies. Here oral narratives, face-to-face exchanges, and magical/mythic ritualistic practices to cultivate participatory meaning-making are key features.
Three to four thousand years ago, we saw the emergence of pre-modern formal systems of justification. These are the great religious and philosophical traditions, like Buddhism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and the Judeo-Christian-Islamic belief system. These belief systems consist of sacred written texts, offer a formal narrative for what is and what ought to be, and function to coordinate huge numbers of people. Approximately 400 years ago, we saw modernism and then approximately 70 years ago, postmodernism.
This definition draws from stage models, such as those of Gebser, Wilber, and Graves, as well as on Henriquez' concept of systems of justification. Notice that we jump straight from Bronze Age civilizations of India and the Middle East to enlightenment modernism and then post-modernism. How does it account for the phenomenon of China, currently with some 1.4 billion inhabitants, and the Chinese worldview and “cultural code”? Where does China fit into this picture? Clearly, China was once a Bronze Age civilization. Is it now? Clearly, China was once a “traditional” culture in a “traditional” society. Is it now? We have seen how China is presently as modern as Western civilization and even more industrialized, yet based on values that are either not a part of the continua from pre-modern to modern to post-modern to metamodern. Or perhaps, from a metamodern perspective, China's “cultural code” is included, but that part is not addressed so far in this definition of metamodernism. If so, why not? What are the assumptions that lead to the minimal treatment of the enormous and growing impact of China and its worldview on the world? Based on that reality, what are we to conclude about the breadth and depth of metamodernism?
The third of Görtz's metamodern domains is “a relatively late and rare stage of personal development.”
Here is what the essay has to say about that:
As noted by many developmental psychologists, and perhaps summarized and popularized most broadly by Ken Wilber, we can trace the development of moral, cognitive, emotional, existential, and relational stages. Across development lines, people move from pre-verbal stages at birth into concrete and relatively simple ways of thinking as young children into more abstract and conventional forms of thinking and relating and then into more holistic, integrated, and post-conventional ways of being. As such, metamodernism as a cultural code also lines up with a higher stage of personal development. (See work on ego development and self-transformation by such theorists and researchers as Robert Kegan, Hanzi Freinacht, Susanne Cook-Greuter, Michael L. Commons, Michael Basseches and Michael Mascolo, Kurt Fischer, Theo Dawson, Terri O'Fallon, Clare Graves, and Gerald Young.)
While levels of development of both individuals and societies have been laid out for every imaginable line, as is well depicted by Wilber's famous charts in one appendix of his Integral Psychology, that metamodernism represents “a relatively late and rare stage of personal development,” may be a conclusion that surpasses present evidence. While multiple lines may race ahead, psychographs, such as Wilber presents in Integral Spirituality and elsewhere, show a median level of self development that is always lower than the highest lines. (The implication is that this is true for societies as well, and I agree.) Higher development in multiple lines is therefore not necessarily indicative of “a relatively late and rare stage of personal development.” In addition, since the moral line, according to Wilber, is a core line, and must tetra-mesh for personal development to evolve level to level, we have to ask, “What does it mean if multiple lines, like those of cognition and spiritual intelligence have raced ahead while the collective moral line remains identified with “might makes right,” clearly a prepersonal and immoral perspective? What can we conclude if metamodernism is enmeshed in a capitalist cultural code, whether it wants to be or not, and with “profits over people,” clearly a prepersonal and amoral perspective? All religions regard morality as foundational to spirituality, and Wilber agrees. Both immorality and amorality are indicative of prepersonal levels of development, are they not? Self-development is at least partly dependent on our responsibility for the collectives in which we are enmeshed, is it not? Isn't that the essence of justice and morality in the interdependent relationships that define the exterior collective quadrant of both individual and social holons? If we are on board with these assumptions, then can we conclude that the metamodern domain is “a relatively late and rare stage of personal development?” Or do those assumptions lead us to conclude that metamodernism is a relatively late and rare stage of the cognitive line of personal development, but is not reflective of overall human development?
The next domain is “metamodernism as a meta-meme.” So what is a “meme?”
A meme is a cultural idea or icon that replicates and spreads. Some consider metamodernism to be a kind of meta-meme. This refers to a deep code that consists of pattern-of-patterns within the realm of meaning-making and symbols, with its own social, economic, and technological dynamics. Consider, for example, the concept of "emerge" as described here. This movement can be thought of as a meta-meme that signals themes that come together in a coherent, non-arbitrary manner, where the different parts resonate with one another and mutually reinforce each other, particularly around the emergence of a digitized internet society.
Memes, as cultural ideas, are denizens of the interior collective quadrant. Metamodernism can be understood as a form of meta-cognition: ways of thinking about thinking, ways of objectifying previously subjective patterns of thought, feeling, behavior, and relationship by unearthing and analyzing how and why we think about ourselves, others, and life the way we do. As such, this definition of metamodernism describes a cognitive tool that is probably universal but is theorized to be in the process of becoming more conscious and utilized by humans, particularly those who are familiar with metamodernism. I suspect that is indeed the case. As such, this definition presents metamodernism once again an interior collective, hermeneutic elaboration on the line of cognitive development. Why can't one just understand, respect and enhance meta-cognition? Doesn't it exist independently of metamodernism as a human capacity?
The fifth dimension of metamodernism is not about The Age of Aquarius but rather positing a holistic philosophical paradigm:
Metamodernism is a way of viewing the world that emphasizes a kind of integrated pluralism. As such, we can think of it as a paradigm or model or schema that consists of a philosophy that includes a family of ideas concerning ontology, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics. Some examples include Karen Barad's agential realism and onto-epistemology and Quentin Meillassoux's speculative realism.
Philosophies and paradigms, models and schemas, like memes and meta-cognition, are constituents of the lower left, interior collective quadrant.
Metamodern philosophical paradigms tend to emphasize elements such as holism; complexity science, information theory, and cybernetics; developmental views on emergence; ways of reconciling the natural and social sciences; a focus on the potential that bridges scientific and humanistic considerations. As a metapsychology for the 21st century, the United Framework, grounded as it is in (Henriquez') Tree of Knowledge theory of knowledge, represents an example of a metamodern philosophy that transcends and includes the key ontological, epistemological, and ethical considerations of both modernism and postmodernism.
Does it begin to appear as if metamodernism is largely a project of the interior collective quadrant? If so, how is it holonic, that is, giving equal weight and consideration to the other three quadrants?
Both postmodernism and metamodernism, as reactions to modernism, have grown up largely within the Western conceptual tradition. The authors are here saying that metamodernism includes and transcends both modernism and post-modernism. Is it claiming to include and transcend elements that are outside the Western socio-cultural, philosophical, ideological, progressive, liberal, and idealistic tradition? I believe it would say that it does. However, would that be the conclusion of societies, cultures and worldviews that stand outside it? And is that not a question fundamental to any thorough-going multi-perspectivalism?
Metamodernism can also, in a final dimension, be considered as a societal and political project:
Emerging primarily in relatively "progressive" countries and segments of "developed" societies, (metamodernism) is driven by ideals of creating open, participatory processes, collective intelligence, inner work and "embodiment," co-development, and an experimental view on rituals as well as attempts to "re-construct" everyday life and social reality, as well as attempts to bridge and synthesize perspectives of the Left and Right and the different sides of the culture wars, e.g., between traditionalists and progressives. Metamodernists tend to emphasize inner development as a political and sociological issue, deliberation and perspective taking as political tools, and focus on the intersection of inner depth and outwards complexity. The demographics of this movement is primarily drawn from what Hanzi Freinacht has termed the "Quadruple-H population" (Hipsters, Hackers, Hippies, and Hermetics).
Are the authors describing metamodernism as largely or completely a Eurocentric/Western perspective? Does metamodernism look at the world through the lens of the evolution of Western idealism, or does it have a wider, broader focus? Metamodernism, as a form of multi-perspectivalism, asks, “How is metamodernism viewed from Chinese, Russian, Indian, African, and Latin American perspectives?” Where are those answers? And what are those answers?
Are China, India, Russia, or Iran to be considered “progressive” countries? Hipsters, Hackers, Hippies, and Hermetics are not populations that have gained much traction or credibility in non-Western populations. Should they? What does it say about metamodernism that they haven't? It strikes me that most of these metamodernism “ideals” would probably be viewed as either foreign or largely irrelevant to such societies. If so, is that because they are not “modern?” Would they then not be considered “developed societies, but rather 'traditional'?” If they are instead to be considered developed societies, do we not need to consider their understanding of and relation to metamodernism? If not, then are we to recognize metamodernism as an extension of the tradition of Western idealistic philosophies and admire it on that basis?
While this may sound like advocacy for China and its worldview, to some readers, that would create a bipolar and competitive intellectual framework. Instead, I am advocating for the inclusion of China and its worldview, as well as the worldviews of the global south in general, in much greater depth, than simply relegating them to a “traditional” and lower stage of societal development. This is not only a failure in multi-perspectivalism but supports the ongoing collapse of the West by ignoring what it leaves out.
We have seen that metamodernism, at least as described by Henriquez and Görtz, appears to be largely an interior collective quadrant enterprise. If so, then what about the other three quadrants? How does it manifest in them? And if it does, where are the indicators that it does so as much as it emphasizes the interior collective? While one might also read into this an advocacy of morality at the expense of cognition, it isn't, nor is moralizing. Why can't we simply put as much weight on responsibility and accountability for our behavior as we do on cognition?
Returning to the “Metamodern Manifesto” for a final thought, it states,
We propose a pragmatic romanticism unhindered by ideological anchorage.
Really? Is this even possible? Are not romanticism and pragmatism ideologies? Is the proposal to disown ideological assumptions realistic? While we can imagine metamodernism as being less an ideology than either modernism or post-modernism, it seems to exist and promote values that exist largely within a Western socio-cultural context. The Western socio-cultural context, on a far more fundamental level than modernism, post-modernism, or metamodernism, is a civilizational perspective which, to much of the greater global population, is indeed anchored in strongly held and powerful ideological assumptions.
For Wilber, Integral, and metamodernism, the cognitive line leads. We can see that in the heavy reliance of metamodernism on the interior collective quadrant. However, for human relationships, the moral line leads. Fundamentally, all of us evaluate each other in terms of four criteria: “Do they show respect?” “Do they reciprocate?” “Are they trustworthy?” “Are they empathetic?” Levels of cognitive, linear, or self-development are irrelevant if we flunk one or more of these criteria in a way that matters to the other. The question then becomes, “How does metamodernism address non-cognitive-based and particularly moral aspects of human experience?
Could it be that the global south is in the process of creating and defining a cultural code that includes and transcends metamodernism? If so, what would it be? If so what will it look like?
Such questions would appear to be pertinent, as world events are quickly marginalizing Western perspectives and narratives. If we do not ask such questions, isn't it likely that others, beyond our control, will both redefine and recreate our reality for us, whether we like it or not? And isn't that exactly the predicament in which the West, including metamodernism, currently finds itself?