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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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The 'Catch-22' of Ukraine
A Response to Dillard
Virtually any description Dillard uses to disqualify the West can be used (with some variation) against Russia itself.
In his latest essay on the Ukraine crisis, "Our 'Catch-22' and Ukraine", Joseph Dillard adds another frame to his support for Russia and its outlook on geopolitics. His recurring theme is that the West has used a double standard when it comes to the rules of the political sphere: we are entitled to invade countries as much as we like, but we deny other countries that same right. Therefore, the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 is widely condemned by Westerners (with some notable exceptions) and sanctions and military support against Russia are advocated, thereby ignoring Russia's demand to be recognized as a (former) super power with its own geopolitical interests. He specifically condemns the hypocrisy of this situation, and the virtue signalling of those who claim to support Ukraine from a distance.
ECHOING RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA
As much as I can agree with Dillard's analysis of Western hypocrisy in the global political arena, I have argued early on that this isn't a Western privilege. What is more, this very analysis can be applied to Russia's behavior with regards to Ukraine. For this country exists within a catch-22 situation with regards to its neighbour Russia, which doesn't even accepts Ukraine as an independent nation. It is Russia that "creates arbitrary rules in order to justify and conceal its own abuse of power" or that is "detached from relational exchanges" in this conflict, to use Dillard's own phrases. He uses the example of a student government in high school or college, which can play democracy while at the same time being placed within a rigid school hierarchy. Well, Ukraine is in the same predicament: it can imagine itself to be an independent country but has to deal with an enemy that denies its cultural identity.
Virtually any description Dillard uses to disqualify the West can be used (with some variation) against Russia itself. Dillard writes: "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." In the same measure, Russia wants to hold on to its dreams of a "Sacred Greater Russia", with its superior culture of orthodox-Christianity, supposedly expressing higher values than those of the materialistic and decadent West, nor does it care about the severe "issues of security, safety, food and shelter" that millons of Ukrainians are now experiencing.
To give another example, Dillard writes (echoing Russian propaganda channels): "Sooner or later, the West will agree to a neutral Ukraine, its demilitarization and denazification, and to respecting the sovereignty of Russia." We might amend this to: "Sooner or later Russia has to accept the days of the Russian Empire (or the Soviet Union) are over, and agree to respecting the sovereignty of Ukraine." Geopolitics tends to crush individual countries, not to mention the lives and livelihoods of real human beings. Dillard ends with some didactic questions: "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?" Well, not we, but the people of Ukraine would lose a lot if we/they simply give Russia what it demands.
Dillard has no qualms belittling "our idealist focus on higher relational exchanges", which hides his contempt for Western values of democracy, anti-corruption and freedom of the press. As I mentioned in another essay, Russia performs worse than Ukraine in all three of these dimensions. So while it is true that Ukraine is still a corrupt country, it at least has made steps in the direction of true democracy (as is evidenced by the various elections it has had, oscillating between Western and Russia-oriented governments). Russia has nothing like this, due to Putin's legal manipulations he has made himself practically a Tsar for life. And while things have deteriorated in war times for Ukraine, this is an unfair comparison. There is a real clash between democracy and autocracyeven if this is more a gradient than a black-and-white phenomenon, as these transparency indexes clearly demonstrate.
A CLASH OF NARRATIVES
Ukraine's own narratives about the crisis and its right to sovereignty are frequently overshadowed by the narratives of larger powers.
There is a real clash between the Russian and the Ukrainian narratives. In no particular order we might list the following items.
The list could easily be made much longer, but you get the idea. In fact, multiple overlapping and contradictory narratives are involved here. In a British University Consortium study of 2018, "The Ukraine Crisis: A Clash of Narratives?", even three prevailing narratives are discussed when it comes to the Ukrainian Crisis: American, European, and Russian.[4a] Suggestions are made to make these overlapping narratives work for Ukraine, without increasing geopolitical tensions in that area:
This essay will take a step back from the numerous, conflicting narratives about the individual events of the crisis and the short-term factors which contributed to it. Instead, it will discuss broad Russian, US and European Union (EU) metanarratives of the crisis, which are crucial to understanding the long-term causes of the conflict. These metanarratives do not relate directly to Ukraine itself, but rather reflect a clash between these self-perceived 'great powers' over the geopolitical orientation of Eastern Europe, with Ukraine caught in the crossfire. Ukraine's own narratives about the crisis and its right to agency and sovereignty are frequently overshadowed by the narratives of larger powers. Nevertheless, these competing narratives constrain Ukraine's ability to act, and need to be taken into account. Neither a focus solely on Ukrainian internal politics, nor on Russia-West relations and geopolitics, will resolve the current situation. Unless the current Russia-West tensions caused by these conflicting metanarratives ease, there is little hope of Ukraine being rid of armed conflict, let alone free to make independent choices about its future.
To these three narratives we can add the Ukrainian narrative:
THE RUSSIAN ‘ALTERNATIVE’
Dillard's recurring message seems to be: there would not have been any Ukrainian casualties if Ukraine had just surrendered to Russia, no matter what. Cultural identity be damned. To hell with democracy, freedom of the press, or anti-corruption. Let's just give Russia what it wants from us (i.e. Donbas territory and strategic access to the Black Sea). Would Dillard have advised the same to the Netherlands in 1940? How many Dutch people would still have been alive if we just had surrendered to Hitler and his armies? Did he have "legitimate" geopolitical aims as well? There would also not have been any Ukrainian casualties if Russia has not invaded Ukraine in the first place. Oh, but they had no other choice, Russia propagandists tell us...
As I said before, it is one thing to try to understand Putin's agenda (if he has any)and that's certainly a good thing, if only to know our enemy of the free world, but it is entirely something else to completely identify with his perspective. I don't know if Dillard actually endorses Putin's behavior or if he only wants to understand it from a distance, but I am getting a bit suspicious by the bits he omits from his analysis. Let me explain.
It is one thing to try to understand Putin's agenda (if he has any), but it is entirely something else to completely identify with his perspective.
Just this weekend there was a conference in Amsterdam organized by the right-wing Forum for Democracy party of Thierry Baudet (a good friend of Russian ideologues and even admired by Aleksandr Dugin, "the most dangerous philosopher in the world", who called Baudet "a ticket to the future"). The unabashed adoration for Vladimir Putin as a true European "leader" who does "what is best for his country" makes me shiver. This cheering for autocracy in a democratically governed country is painful to watch. Don't ever try to do this in Russia or China! In his openingsspeech Baudet passionately argued for freedom of speech, complaining we in the Netherlands live in a "quasi-dictatorial" country where "alternative views" are censored. Yet, Russia would be emblematic precisely for such a culture.
At this conference, British Euroskeptic and conservative John Haugland bluntly stated: "Ukraine is a fiction... [pauses for suspense], Kosovo is a fiction, Bosnia is a fiction, the European Union is a fiction... Covid is a fiction", upon which the audience applauded repeatedly and enthusiastically. (It must be noted that, quite atypically, Dillard is no Covid-skeptic, but most Putin-enablers definitely are). Why is Ukraine a fiction? Forty million Ukrainians apparently think otherwise. Ukraine is a divided country, he adds. Yes, so is the United States, very much so. But because it is a fiction, it must be upheld by force, and hence there is so much censorship and control. Laughland echoes Dillard when he says the sanctions on Russia are suicidal for the European economy. "Europe has shot itself not in the foot, but in the head."
Ironically (and very telling) Ukraine itself was hardly discussed by the participants. "Ukraine is a fiction." That basically ends all exchange and debate from the start. The German right-wing party Alternatives for Germany (AfD) holds a similar position like Forum for Democracy. Would these well-to-do but disgruntled Westerners seriously suggest the Russian autocracy is a viable alternative for Germany? Even the self-inflicted damage on the EU by the sanctions (one of Dillard's favorite themes as well) was welcomed, for it would destroy the hated EU. Exactly following Russia's not-so-hidden agenda to cause discord and disarray in the West by as many means as possible. Hard to not see these people as useful idiots of a foreign enemy.
The further irony is that the Russian political system is very far from being a healthy democracyeven a flawed oneas you can see from this democracy index:
To end with a sober statistic, which of the two countries should have "security concerns", should consider itself to be a victim, and has a moral right to use arms in its defence?
The same glaring asymmetry can be seen in the fact that none of the NATO countries has any interest in, or the military capacity for, attacking or invading Russia, whereas Russia has the habit to continuously start wars in its satellite countries, or at least to destabilize these, under the pretext of defending Russians abroad. The Russian/Soviet agenda has always been expansionist. This makes sense for a land-based country that can't increase its influence through over-seas colonies.
I rest my case. Those who start wars like this lose all entitlement to consideration.
JORDAN PETERSON ON THE WAR
An interesting alternative take on the Ukraine crisis comes from the conservative philosopher-psychologist and internet celebrity Jordan Peterson. In this recent YouTube video he condemns the Russian invasion as "unconscionable", and "the collusion of the leadership of the russian orthodox church is even more unforgivable". While Peterson is no fan of communism, he literally abhors it and equates it with mass murder, he does soberly conclude: this is a war we cannot win and we will lose a lot by prolonging it by our participation (soaring energy prices, food shortages, famines, mass migrations, to name a few of the consequences of this war).
Peterson lists three reason that may account for this war: (1) Putin is an imperialist, expansionist thug, (2) Russia feels threatened by careless and provocative Western expansionism and (3) Russia's concern about maintaining its primarily fossil fuel based economy in relation to Europe. But he adds a fourth reason: he sees this as a crisis of meaning, in which Russia stands for meaningful, traditional religion and the West for materialistic nihilism (he quotes from Dostojevki and other Russian writers who believed in a revival of Christianity. He notes that "Putin himself in principle is a practicing Christian", though he adds that this is a matter of debate. He applauds Putin's efforts to raise this issue of seeing religion as a bullwark against Western decadence, something no Western leader has covered, least of all Justin Trudeau (whom Peterson detests). This is certainly something Peterson resonates with.
In this context, David Fuller's analysis of Jordan Peterson is relevant. He documents Petersons turbulent career, and includes a statement from Ken Wilber who opines "Peterson initially tried to synthesise different perspectives, mythic, traditional, modern and postmodern, but over time became increasingly captured by reactive traditionalism." I haven't followed Peterson's development that close but believe that traditional religion has always been one of his main topics, with a huge allergy for postmodernism and leftist politics. So Peterson must be in some sort of cognitive dissonance, where he denounces mythic imperialism and its religious justification while at the same time praising traditional religion itself. Peterson does seem to subscribe to Putin's analysis that the West has a crisis of meaning, and he even foresees an upcoming civil war (is "culture war" not strong enough anymore?):
The civil war in the west can only be won on the intellectual or even the spiritual front and the victory will be defeat of the radical ideas of marxist inheritance that are currently destabilizing our societies, Russia and Ukraine included. It is the job of classic liberals and conservatives and more importantly adherence to the Abrahamic traditions to bring about that defeat in the realm of ideas, where the true battles most truly rage. (46:00)
In any case, Peterson makes it clear that being skeptical about the use of sanctions on Russia and sending weaponry to Ukraine not necessarily means endorsing Putin's view of the world, but might as well be a merely pragmatic conclusion that aims to contain the amount of suffering that is upon the world, now and in the future.
 Joseph Dillard, "Our 'Catch-22' and Ukraine", www.integralworld.net, July 2022.
 Frank Visser, "Hubris and Hypocrisy Are Present On Both Sides, A Reply to Joseph Dillard", www.integralworld.net, March 2022.
 Frank Visser, "Putin's Dark Ideology of a Sacred Greater Russia", www.integralworld.net, April 2022.
 Frank Visser, "Is Putin the new Tsar?, Stephen Kotkin on the Ukraine Crisis", www.integralworld.net, June 2022.
[4a] Emma Mateo, "The Ukraine Crisis: A Clash of Narratives?", uc.web.ox.ac.uk. The University Consortium is an inter-regional training program for outstanding students from the US, Europe, and Russia.
 Frank Visser, "Is Putin the new Tsar?, Stephen Kotkin on the Ukraine Crisis", www.integralworld.net, June 2022
 "Casualties of the Russo-Ukrainian War", Wikipedia
 "2022 Ukrainian refugee crisis", Wikipedia
 "Ukraine to Unveil Massive Rebuilding Plan Even as War Drags On", www.bloomberg.com
 Rebel Wisdom and David Fuller, "What Happened to Jordan Peterson? A turning point for his audience", rebelwisdom.substack.com, July 9, 2022.
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