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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).
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Hubris and Hypocrisy Are Present On Both Sides
A Reply to Joseph Dillard
Abstract by ChatGPT. Frank Visser critiques Joseph Dillard's essay on the Ukraine conflict, challenging the idea that the West's relationship with Ukraine caused the war. Dillard emphasizes balance over transcendence, hinting at Western hypocrisy. Visser contrasts the West's democratic nature with Russia's autocracy. He also disputes Dillard's use of "Green" and "Red" as societal metaphors. While Putin cites security concerns and Neo-Nazi influences for invading Ukraine, Visser sees it as a power play. The UN largely condemns Russia's actions. Visser suggests Dillard might be overly favorable to Russia and China, underscoring the universal allure of freedom.
It seems indeed likely that if the West and Ukraine hadn't had their romances, this war would not have happened.
In Joseph Dillards latest essay "Is Putin Red and the West Green?" he offers a familiar contrarian view, this time to the current war in Ukraine. Instead of joining the Western choir of moral outrage, he points to some geopolitical facts that might explain why this war started, how it could possibly end and how further disastrous escalation can be avoided. The essay has received strong comments, ranging from "you have no clue what integral means" to "this is the most integral view I have read so far"—so perhaps we should leave integral out of the equation for the moment. As if integral has an authoritative answer to all of life's problems.
The Balance of Power
However, to put this essay in the context of his other writings for Integral World, Dillard's main point has always been that "balance is more important than transcendence." He has objected to what he sees as an overly individualistic emphasis in integral thought, restricted to the Upper Left quadrant, and its spiritual levels at that. In his opinion, this has lead to hubris and a lack of consideration for the well-being of others, especially out-groups, and for their opinions of us. This way, he has offered a way of "healing integral".
Translated to the field of global politics, this would mean that balance of power is more important than (supposed or claimed) superiority on the side of the West. Hence he raises the rhetorical question: "Is Putin Red and the West Green?" Obviously, his answer would be negative. But wait a minute: isn't the whole point of Integral Theory or Spiral Dynamics, for what it is worth, that the First World West features higher stages of social development compared to both the Second and Third World countries? He doesn't seem to deny this ("heterarchy doesn't deny hierarchy" he says at the end), but it doesn't feature prominently in his essay. Perhaps he rather means that the West hasn't lived up to the lofty heights it usually assigns to itself? That could of course very well be true. Hence the verdict of "hypocrisy".
But the first thing to establish, I think, is that the West has produced pluralistic democracies, especially in Europe (though not yet in the US or somewhat in the UK), whereas Russia has turned into an autocratic dictatorship with severe repression of its dissidents (not to mention poisoning or being sent to detention camps). These higher memes are worth upholding, especially when confronted with blatant aggression from a lower-stage (former) super power. Now I know Joseph has grown cynical of US democracy, for in his view it doesn't really matter which President is chosen—"it's Coke or Pepsi"—for the establishment will always be on the side of big capital and support for Middle-East dictatorships. Be that as it may, democracy is always imperfect, but to my mind, even an imperfect democracy is preferable to repressive dictatorships.
And yes, the West (and Ukraine as an aspiring Western country) has lower memes as well: extreme left- and right wing groups including Neo-Nazis. So has Germany. So has Russia (the Wagner group). So has Ukraine (AZOV).
Dillard uses "Green" and "Red" as shorthand for "late-personal" and "late-prepersonal" (his terms), but it is also good to mention that the dichotomy he points to is much more layered and complex. For Western society is more adequately characterized as "Orange-Green" (materialistic-pluralistic) and Russian society as "Red-Blue" (aggressive-fundamentalistic), given its strong alliance with Russian orthodox-Christianity. And yes, the West (and Ukraine as an aspiring Western country) has lower memes as well: extreme left- and right wing groups including Neo-Nazis. So has Germany. So has Russia (the Wagner group). So has Ukraine (AZOV). But the center of gravity of the West (and Ukraine) and Russia is decidedly different. To my knowledge at least, nobody has called modern day Russia Green, though some see a future role for this country in the field of spirituality. Nor is the West "simply Red". Both geographies are a meme stack of conflicting memes.
So perhaps we should rephrase the title to: the West's Green is pathological, hypocritical and shows hubris. Fair enough. But so can Russia's Red (or Blue) be seen as unhealthy, when it is bent on destroying Ukraine's cities, cultural treasures and citizens. Dillard's point seems to be that the West holds an idealized self-image, and acknowledging this would lead to huge cognitive dissonance, which can't be allowed. Well, the same would hold for Putin's Russia, which claims to be the home of true Christianity ("the Third Rome"). Hardly something that tallies with large-scale destruction and murder, as it is happening before our eyes. Yes, Dillard would reply, but wasn't the War in Iraq a war crime as well? Of course it was, and based on the same false narrative as the current war: an imagined threat to its existence.
Putin's security concerns
Leaving these terminological subtleties aside, Dillard seems to argue that by neglecting Putin's security concerns and actively courting Ukraine to join NATO and/or the EU, the West has crossed a red line, and Putin has been left no choice but to strike back. Can't we see things from his perspective for once? Well, we can, because Putin's mindset is one of grabbing countries to increase his empire's power. Former Eastern European countries were not freely added to the USSR, but violently conquered. By contrast, most of these countries have gladly joined NATO (and more are aspiring to do so) precisely because of the Russian threat they have experienced in the past.
Besides, NATO is a defensive institute. Nobody in Europe would ever want to conquer Russia. For what purpose and gain? But Russia has always expressed an interest in incorporating the Baltic states, or other satellite countries, including of course Ukraine, which is the Motherland of all Russians, going back to the times of the Vikings. Kiev was flourishing when Moscow was still in the woods. Yet, Putin feels the Eastward expansion of NATO is somehow a threat to Russia's security. I find this hard to believe. "The US is parking missiles on the porch of our house", Putin claims, and that might be an unwise decision from the part of NATO. On the other hand, if Ukraine joined NATO it would for sure never be attacked by Russia anymore.
Putin's stated motives
Getting to Putin's stated motives for invading Ukraine, he has mentioned these two arguments: to "demilitarize" and "denazify" Ukraine:
When asked about the reason for his use of the term "denazification" and it was pointed out that Russia too has these groups, he answered cynically: "Yes, we do, but we don't have them in our government like Ukraine." He did not tell that all dissidents or opposition candidates have been prevented from joining the Russian government—to put it euphemistically. At least Ukraine has a multi-party system of government, a huge advance. Nor does he mention that the Azov-related extreme rightwing party National Corps did not gain any foothold during the 2019 elections:
"During its campaign for the 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election, [National Corps] formed a united radical right nationwide-party list with the Governmental Initiative of Yarosh, the Right Sector, and Svoboda. This coalition won a combined 2.15% of the nationwide electoral list vote but ultimately failed to win any seat in the Verkhovna Rada."
The civil war in the Donbas has lasted for several years now, and to my knowledge, Russia has always (overtly or covertly) supported and participated in separatist groups in that area. So yes, a lot of casualties on both sides have been counted, and the Ukraine has answered these threats by involving Neo-Nazi ASOV and similar groups. These ultra-nationalists led the fight against separatists. Perhaps this has given Putin the impression that Neo-Nazis are everywhere in Ukraine but this is most definitely not the case, as far as I can tell.
And ironically, ASOV and Putin have much more in common given their cult of masculinity, white superiority and Christian nationalism.
The ASOV regiment fiercely defended the hugely strategic city of Mariupol some years back, when the Ukrainian army was incapable to do so, and does this today again (they are named after the nearby Sea of Asov). Actually there is not much in common between the ASOV splinter groups and the current Ukrainian government, except for a common Russian enemy. And ironically, ASOV and Putin have much more in common given their cult of masculinity, white superiority, Christian nationalism and their intense dislike of the gay and other minority scenes. But they are a gift from heaven for him, so he can imagine to heroically fight the Nazis like Russia did in WWII.
It would have been understandable—and more realistic—if Putin, after having recognized the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as independent states, had incorporated these into Russia, as he did with the Crimea. And leave it at that.
19th century geopolitics
So this situation all boils down to Russia's stated "security concerns". John Mearsheimer states in his video how Russia still follows 19th century geopolitics, where super powers claim the right to decide on the fate of neighbouring countries, and he derides the 21th century "idealistic" mentality of the US, that thinks geopolitics don't matter anymore (so that all countries should be allowed to determine their own fate and harmoniously work together). His philosophy is called "offensive realism." It is definitely a clash of worldviews and time periods. How should we respond, as citizens of the 21st century to this anachronistic form of aggression? Meet Red with Red, or wage a Green information war? Or do both?
It seems indeed likely that if the West and Ukraine hadn't had their romances, this war would not have happened. But doesn't it count anymore what the citizens of Ukraine want at this moment in time? Is it just their bad luck that Russia is their neighbor and do national autonomy and sovereignty not apply in the case of Ukraine? As in: sorry, but this is how the world works?
In the end stopping the war has the highest priority, for sure. Putin seems to have overplayed his hand, by gambling he could defeat—or at least "demilitarize and denazify"—Ukraine. Ukrainians have proven to be fiercely resisting his whole plans. They haven't welcomed him with flowers, not even in the Eastern provinces. Instead of just recognizing the fringe of the Eastern Donbas areas, or all of these provinces, he has decided to move towards the Ukrainian capital and larger cities. Destroying both the Ukraine and his own country's economy, which was already going downhill.
With an economy comparable to Brazil or South-Korea, he has no resources to finance such a huge military operation, let alone to occupy such a large country as Ukraine. All he can think of is destroy and kill. The Bear has indeed woken from his sleep, and he seems to be in a rather bad mood. Of course, within his own mindset Putin is eminently reasonable, but taking his perspective for the moment —and Dillard claims integralists are incapable of doing so—in no way condones his current behavior. One can pursue irrational ends with rational means.
Dillard makes much of the fact that at the UN many countries abstained from condemning Russia's invasion, but most will have had their own self-centered reasons for that. Only five countries voted against the resolution condemning Russia's aggression: North Korea, Eritrea, Syria, Russia and Russia's close ally Belarus. And is it really something to be proud of when Bashar al Assad comes to Putin's rescue, by supplying (well-paid) soldiers to combat the "Nazis" and accuse the West of only telling lies? I would scratch my head when another mass murderer echoes my own political views.
An "emergency special session" is held at the United Nations whenever the Security Council is not unanimous due to a veto from one if its members (i.e. Russia). Two of such special sessions have been devoted to the Ukraine crisis.
United Nations General Assembly Resolution ES-11/1 is a resolution of the eleventh emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly, adopted on 2 March 2022. It deplored Russia's invasion of Ukraine and demanded a full withdrawal of Russian forces and a reversal of its decision to recognise the self-declared People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. (Wikipedia)
This is how the UN members voted on the resolution, roughly 75% approved of it:
With no evidence of reversal of the invasion of Ukraine, the emergency session reconvened and they adopted Resolution ES-11/2 on 24 March 2022, which reiterated demands and concerns expressed in Resolution ES-11/1.
So what are we to make of Dillard's impassioned plea to resist the dominant view which outright condemns Putin's behavior and have an honest look at both the US foreign policies and Putin's "rational" motives? To my mind Dillard, in his disillusionment with American politics has gone to the other extreme of having a very rosy image of both Russia and China. Western, Russian or Chinese expansionism are equally bad. But for one thing at least, the US did not force everybody to drink Coca-Cola, it worked exactly the other way around. Once freedom from oppression has been tasted, the taste is never forgotten. Russian and Chinese culture still have to match that universal attraction.
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