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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
An Interview with Daniel Gustav Anderson
Daniel Gustav Anderson
This is a transcript of an interview Erik S. Thornquist conducted by email between 30 April and 26 May 2009. It has been revised for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
The purpose of integral theory is to inform responsible practice.
EST: How did you become interested in integral theory?
DGA: How I came to be interested in integral theory and integral culture is a separate question from how I came to be committed to an integral project. I'll try to address both of them.
The first has to do with everyday life for me. I am an intellectual by trade and a practicing Buddhist. My politics have always been to the left as a matter of conscience. There are other factors but I don't think my life is interesting. I find memoirs rather dull and, as the great American sage Steveland Morris observes, I don't want to bore you with my troubles. The gist of it: my commitment to this project comes from an unwillingness to endure the sufferings of others when that suffering could be avoided. I don't want to see children who should be developing into responsible adults go hungry and not learn to read, for instance. There's something wrong with me that I can't tolerate it, like you can't just sit there and watch your grandmother trip and fall down a flight of stairs with a disinterested attitude. I can't do that, I'm not that cool, so I have to step in and do what I can. This has meant that I have spent most of my adult life learning how to do certain things, and learning what is possible for me to do well. I read a lot. I am slowly losing my hearing, so I will never be a revolutionary piano tuner, but I have found that I can write American English. So, I write American English.
How specifically did I become committed to integral theory? I was teaching English Literature surveys as a lecturer at the University of Idaho. My students were struck by some passages in Matthew Arnold that I had asked them to read, which reminded me of some materials I had been studying on my own in Aurobindo Ghose. I have long been an admirer of Aurobindo's poetic work, and had some notes on a paper regarding some problems in Aurobindo's poetry and also his theories of time and race. So I put all this together in a tidy package and submitted it on a lark to the Integral Review. The editors at that journal did a remarkable thing: they decided to publish it but more importantly they challenged me. I grumbled about it at the time but this was the best thing they could have done and I owe them an immense debt of gratitude for throwing this gauntlet down. Take a step back: there are basically two tasks in any critical project, a negative one and a positive one (if you want to correlate these to the two interventions I propose in the micropolitics paper you may get some interesting results). I had done the negative task, which is to show how something is problematic. The positive task, of proposing something else, was left undone because I hadn't done that. The positive task is a commitment to something: not that, but this. Yes we can! It is an affirmation. If you affirm something to be true, you make a commitment to that truth claim. It is irresponsible to say the sky is green and then deny you ever said it when someone shows it to be black or blue or hazy gray. Later I was involved in organizing some conference panels on the subject. This is how I became committed to integral theory.
But it is a funny kind of commitment because it came on the heels of the negative, or strictly critical, task. I remain very critical of Aurobindo as a cultural theorist; some of the stuff I have written about on Hegel applies directly to Aurobindo and by extension Wilber, and yes, I did this intentionally. That aside, I was making positive claims for the value of something that I just showed to be unstable and problematic. This means, basically, that my job had to do with the revolutionizing or radicalization of integral theory, as pompous and ridiculous as that may sound. I'm not a public or professional revolutionary; I am not a charismatic in the classical or Weberian sense. I have no business proclaiming myself as capable of bringing about the next stage in evolutionary paradigm-transformation or whatever, so I don't; it's a ridiculous gesture for anyone to make really. I am very uncomfortable with that kind of heroic self-fashioning, because it seems so dishonest, like false advertising. What does that mean, then, to put forward another way of doing integral theory? In part it means looking at how others have done it in the past and also to find people to collaborate with. I am a poor collaborator but I keep the invitation out in case someone might be interested.
Let me indulge in an analogy. Stanisaw Lem was a great science fiction writer. He made two observations on science fiction that are really appropriate to this situation in integral theory. The first is that it is wholly interesting, useful, productive because it gives a space in which to think the new. This is a utopian aspiration: science fiction at its best allows people to think big, to reflect on issues that are difficult to negotiate in the prosaica of constipated realist fiction or positivist philosophy, for instance. But the problem is that you have to be honest when you write, which means you have to tell your reader certain things that he or she may not want to hear. To give an example Lem doesn't use, consider Herbert's first Dune novel. Herbert shows what happens when training that looks quite integral to me goes very, very badly. Maybe you want to identify with Paul Atrides, until you realize he's a total fascist, that the Atrides are no better than the Stalinistic Harkonnens (they just have a better sense of public relations and have a better design sensibility), that the trade guild is a cipher for the Seven Sisters and Arrakis for the petro-state (think the 1956 coup in Iran had something to do with Dune's development, or Herbert's familiarity with the San Francisco new age scene at the Mentorgarten and so on?)... the point is that Dune is a really critical view of imperial capitalism at the pitch of the cold war, but it's written in such a way as to be seductive and people lapped it up. That is the problem Lem identifies, actually. Science fiction is synonymous very often with total garbage that people buy because they want to have their own values reaffirmed, not to be surprised but to be titilated and flattered, to feel like they're special just the way they are or are part of something that will become really important. So you have something with revolutionary potential, utopian aspirations, but is also compromised to a greater or lesser extent by this pandering to commercial interests. You can see this too in Dune knock-offs such as Star Wars and The Matrix, where the specially-trained savior (Luke Skywalker, Neo) really is a savior and not a sociopath like Paul Atrides. People love that crap. They so badly want to believe in a savior they can consume, and are totally willing to pay retail for it. Star Wars is a dippy film series about a dog driving a spaceship and Dick Cheney holding a bikini girl hostage but a lot of people find a lot of Meaning in it so who am I to judge?
I think this science fiction analogy maps out onto integral theory fairly well. My intervention into integral theory would correspond not to Lem's observations, which are useful in themselves, but more closely to Darko Suvin's work, which has in my opinion been unfortunately marginalized because he works with science fiction, although Fredric Jameson has picked it up as well, to his credit. It is not an exaggeration to say that Suvin revolutionized science fiction studies by claiming that SF at its best does a kind of cognitive mapping of what human life is and can become. You can compare this to Ernst Bloch's idea of hope not as an emotive identification with a messianiac or charismatic project, but as an intentional, cognitive act. I like Lauren Berlant's distinction between living as a stereotype (one is tempted to say, rather sarcastically, "archetype"), which is basically a mimetic, imitational function, and becoming-historical, which is the difficult and risky proposition of not repeating the same boring bullshit over and over. This is what I aspire to do in my interaction with integral theory. Whether I am up to the task is another question entirely (I am skeptical to be frank) but what other choice do I have?
I see two ways for me to keep my commitment in this context. One is to take integral theory and integral culture as a kind of archive or object of analysis, as a segment of popular culture that is my own domain for analysis in my work in cultural studies. That is, I could take a kind of detachment from it, like an anthropologist, and do deep description if you will. Or I could do what I think is the better approach, and make the claim I think is correct: that the methods of cultural studies and critical theory, particularly radical social theory, can actually help provide a way out of the rather sorry state integral theory finds itself after Wilber. This means I have to do integral theory as such, rather than limiting my scope to a scientific analysis of it as someone else's subculture.
By "after Wilber" I mean that the sun has set on Wilber's project in a number of ways, at least as a practical and intellectual project. It may carry on as a religious institution, which is beyond my concern for it. The "Wyatt Earp" episode should have made this obvious to anyone concerned why this is so, if it wasn't clear to them before this.
As a last thought, since I have it in front of me, David Harvey in his book Spaces of Hope has a nice description for what I think integral work ought to be doing: "to find ways, against all odds, to bring together all the various highly differentiated and often local movements into some kind of commonality of purpose." It's about talking with people and listening to them, not so much about talking down to them and "organizing their freedom," as the liberatory superholon is presented to do in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (SES).
EST: "After Wilber" it does have a dangerously religious tone to it! More worrisome to me is I sense Wilber has veered from his own original intention. Though grateful for Wilber's synthesis and analysis of the movements of our selves and of history, I worry about how his more recent work applies to our daily world. It seems he has
moved away from creating and dialoguing in favor of defending and attacking, a territorial sign, one that perhaps indicates that he has jumped the shark, so to speak. Your view seeks more to put the thought into practice, which I appreciate. In your view, what are some ways that integral theoryright nowpushes via commonalities into phenomena that affect our lives?
DGA: I don't know what Wilber's original intention was, but I'm not worried. I'm quite optimistic, actually.
This is why I think your question hits right to the heart of the matter. Later on maybe we can discuss how Wilber's project has come to be in the situation it's in now (I think there's a concrete reason why he's moved in the direction you diagnose). But first I think I should address the broader question of integral theory generally, not just Wilber, as it relates to everyday life, things people are capable of doing with what they have available to them if you will.
By everyday life I mean precisely that. Look around you. It opens up the question of how this came to be, how it is going to continue this way, and so on. You have certain responsibilities; if you are a parent, you care for your children. We make certain commitments, as I discussed earlier. If your intention is to live an examined life, then you need to examine your life in terms of your habits and your mindspace, of course, but also in terms of your life-chances, your position, what you have available to you, and how that came to be. What is this spectacle? (And I mean "spectacle" in the sense Guy Debord uses it, but also the vernacular sense.)
Your life is problematic. Please don't take that personally, because it is true for everyone. Those who claim their lives are unproblematic are deluding themselves or are Buddhas. Good for them (the Buddhas I mean). This problem can become an object of analysis, an open question. What is this and what am I to do with it?
To your question: Wilber's answer to this question recently seems to be: Buy more Integral stuff, attend more Integral events, &c. So your everyday life becomes the expression of a brand preference: Mazda car, Weinhard beer, Integral Life Practice. I can give more on this later if this seems an interesting question to pursue. I'm thinking of Eva Illouz's work on emotional capitalism here.
My own position is that there are many methods available once you diagnose the bald fact that you have a Problem, that the world is characterized by its problematicness. ("Problematicness" would probably work in German, but not in English.) This becomes a question of commitment. In the Buddhist world it is said that there are 84,000 doors to productive practice, 84,000 viable methods to be useful to others or at a minimum not harmful to others. It is a matter of finding the right file, the right chisel, and the technique of filing and chiseling. Or dissolving the damned thing in a vat of acid. Or philosophizing with a hammer. Use whatever metaphor you like, there are certainly enough of them. For myself, I'm committed to Mahayana Buddhism. When I walk, I practice meditation; when I sit or stand, I do the same. At least I try, most days. That method works for me. As a general rule, and this is just my own opinion from one human being to another, if you find a path that cracks the thing open for you, then you dig in with that method. The logic of the two interventions I lay out in the micropolitics paper works on this scale, that of someone trying to first break it open and then work with that breakout, as well as the sociopolitical problem of activist life, of transformational practice among others.
I am interested in competence as a concept, and becoming-competent as a process. I've taken some criticism because competence has historically had some counterproductive applications in terms of gender, and still does. It has been assumed, for instance, that women are simply less competent than men; there are other variations, but the bottom line is that competence and incompetence are sticks with which women's lives have been beaten around for some time. That sucks. I think it is a measure of one's incompetence when one fails to recognize competence in another due to something as negligible in most cases as gender or race or class for that matter. Think about competence in everyday life: my grandmother, for instance, was able to walk her neighborhood, harvest mushrooms and berries or whatever was in season (she knew all this from careful observation and asking the right questions), or she'd go fishing; she'd smoke the fish, press the berries and ferment the must into wine; she knew the birds and had about an acre of land under cultivation (some rather obscure vegetables and herbs in there). That is a model of competence in my view: she had a measure of control over her life because she knew how to do many practical and satisfying things and do them well, and had the discipline and energy (and the resources mind you) to do them well. She was a very tough person. I wish she had taught me how to make some of that wine. My point is that this kind of competence can be extrapolated into a number of spheres of life, critical thinking and meditation and political action among them.
There is another wrinkle to this, as I suggested a moment ago. When you do things you do them among other people, with others, and at best for the sake of others (not just people either but for all of animated life I think). This raises political questions and historical questions, and questions of responsibility. Who is responsible for whom? Who can claim responsibility, and behave responsibly, for others? We know it is possible to learn a skill; you can teach someone how to be responsible for a pet or a garden, or for the care of other people. Under what circumstances can people become more comprehensively responsible for the well-being of others? These questions do not arise on accident is my point. Marx sometimes spoke of "species-being" which is an unfashionable concept now but the gist of it was that people are capable of being responsible if given the chance, are capable of certain things in the same way that other species have evolved with specific traits and capacities. I can't hold my breath as long as a whale can or see ultraviolet light, but I can pick and cook Chanterelle mushrooms in west coast Cabernet because my grandmother taught me how.
Anyway, I think what we call integral culture is a specific kind of response to specific kinds of life conditions, particularly those presented by modernity, where modernity is understood as at least latently capitalistic and capable of mechanical reproduction of texts and means of colonization, means of travel and transport and conquest too. Generally, these responses or integralisms are either conscious and intelligent, or simply mechanical "flickers" or representations as theology or metaphysics or the underlying economic base, or an aggregate of both. The former is in my view desirable, as it amounts to an intervention into a status quo with an eye toward transforming it, while the latter is a means of maintaining the status quo, the present regime of power and in nearly all cases oppression. I discuss this at length in the micropolitics paper.
Methodologically, I think it's reasonable to say that if you want to understand a cultural object or event or phenomenon such as integral culture, one needs to read some history. You ought to look at how and under what conditions something arose as coherently novel, what are this thing's conditions of possibility, and then observe how that thing arises in time and changes throughout different kinds of contexts. The earliest coherently integral moment I know of comes with the pedagogies of Ramus and his follower Comenius in the late Renaissance. If you follow Walter J. Ong, these are necessarily modern pedagogies; you need moveable type and plenty of paper in order to reproduce them. Ramus and Comenius anticipate AQAL by presenting a spatial representation of all possible concepts. AQAL is in this sense over four hundred years old, as old as the ability to reproduce those charts and graphs representing all possible forms of inquiry in a mechanically-reproducible way. So this kind of method depends on the availability of particular technologies (moveable type), particular commodities (paper and binding and ink), and so on. This isn't providence, it's a back-and-forth and convergence of people doing their thing with what they have.
Roger Williams is a key figure in this history in my opinion because in his work establishing the Providence Plantations colony while in London in the early 1640s you can see all the elements of integral culture beyond simple pedagogy in place. You see the coincidence of a Comenian theory-of-everything with a Providential Spirit moving through the world bringing about an immanent new age (not unlike an "omega point" if you read Williams carefully), in a frontier space (later it was the American West) and a marketed alternative spirituality, that is, an spirituality that is explicitly alternative to the mainstream but still marketable as a commodity in this brief window where books weren't censored for religious content. This establishes a pattern. And don't forget the colonial aspect of it as well, which informs the whole thing from soup to nuts. Williams sought to show that all subjects, including English and Naragansetts, were uniformly comprehensible, homogenous, and predictable in development; that colonize subjects had analogous values to English values, that cultures and value systems are in a sense variations on a single theme. Does this sound familiar to you?
One can see how, later, Rajneeshpuram in the edge of the Oregon desert is one heir to Williams's antinomian colony on the frontier edge of the English colonial enterprise. And also heir, say, to Vitvan's project of synthesizing General Semantics and protestant Christianity and a certain kind of Hindu Tantrism into his School of the Natural Order in various locations in the West (Vitvan is in my view underappreciated by contemporary integralists). Or Eckankar's also privatized units of universal spirituality, predicated on the writings of a charismatic leader? Or, earlier, the San Francisco scene, the Mentorgarten? I could go on, as this is all present research for me, so it'll come out sooner or later.
The conclusion I take from this history is that Wilber's integral theory is but one manifestation of a much broader historical phenomenon. It is a bit disingenuous to say that it's a singular work of singular genius as some like to imagine it is, anymore than the so-called Cartesian worldview was a strict result of some French guy's geometry homework. Wilberism is not particularly unique in this sense. Actually, Wilber's project has all the formal characteristics of any other subcultural phenomenon (see Dick Hebdige's work on subcultures). The difference is that Wilber's subculture, the subculture identified by affiliation with objects Wilber produces or endorses, is privatized to a nearly unprecedented degree. Aficionados of romance novels or kung fu films or like myself particular professional sports teams engage with all these objects as commodities, surely, but imagine if one kung fu director and his associates claimed that only his movies represent the authentic vision for the genre and, further, the only solution for humanity's complex of problems. It would seem preposterous to me but then again when Wilber makes such claims or allows such claims to be made on his behalf, people buy it.
So what kind of cultural phenomenon is this? It's a cultural phenomenon like anything else, which means it can be understood in the way any other cultural phenomenon (psychoanalysis, the novel, internet discussion boards) can be understood. I suspect this is one reason why Wilber is so hostile as in Boomeritis and elsewhere toward humanities disciplines and those of us who work in them. We are the ones who have read the books and the secondary scholarship he claims for his own, and can call him on it when he makes mistakes or preposterous claims, and we have plenty of practice in reading carefully and examining arguments. This makes us less developed, if a bit more rigorous I suppose. Anyway back to the question I posed a moment ago, another way it it would be to take another look at something like Clement Greenberg's essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" or Dwight MacDonald's "Masscult and Midcult." My hypothesis is that Wilberism is kitsch precisely as Greenberg defines it, and midcult precisely as MacDonald defines it. Those terms, kitsch and midcult, are really problematic in other contexts but guess what? They work really well in this one. Readers who enjoy the kind of "mass man" critique common in a weird way to the Adorno-Marcuse set and liberal idealists like Ortega y Gasset will get something out of Greenberg and Macdonald. Greenberg makes a useful distinction between "the bad, up-to-date old and the genuinely new." MacDonald's take is an interesting intervention if I remember correctly because his "midcult" is characterized by a tendency toward looking for abstract "universals" and ultimate "meanings" in things, which is as Wilberian as you can get (or rather, Wilber does that to the nines). I try to get at that in a more precise way in the micropolitics paper, what does it mean to be something authentically new or something manufactured to look new but actually is just a flickering of something old and tired?
Please understand that I am not being dismissive or reductive by invoking subcultures and kitsch in this context. On the contrary: if you want to find conscious activity, live possibility for change, as opposed to unconscious repetition or passive consumption, look to the subaltern or the marginal. The authentically new lives here too, in everyday people doing their thing, not just the kitschy flickers. I'm not the first one to make this claim about this kind of subculture, either. Check out Andrew Ross's book Strange Weather; it includes a cultural-studies account of certain new age practices that wholly anticipates Wilber's project, right down to Wilber's whole-hog endorsement of Habermas.
From yet another angle, there's the methodological problem of trying to speak responsibly about the lives and experiences of others. This is a concern broadly speaking that Michel de Certeau takes up in his book The Practice of Everyday Life, which has been in the back of my mind as I think through some of the issues that connect back to your question. One way of thinking about it is that there's really no way any one set of concepts, any one "theory" as such if you understand theories as discrete commodity units, is appropriate to any and all tasks in the present. This is because those methods arose to solve their own problems. One point of criticism about my own work that I'd like to make is that I rely rather carelessly on the model of radical democracy Laclau and Mouffe propose (it is not unproblematic). This was a model that was specific to its time and place: they wanted to understand how it was possible for people to vote against their class interests, even when they knew better, and vote for Thatcher and Reagan (and later, Bush-Cheney-LePen). I find this useful now because of the emphasis on "democracy" and "democratization" in American culture. Who dislikes democracy? Ranciere made that point. So it is useful for my own present purposes in that way but it would be more responsible for me to invent a fresh set of concepts to address the object at hand, right now, or to qualify those older ones, much the way you might adjust your table saw to cut a particular piece of wood in half, or buy a fresh blade for it, to make sure your method meets the matter. I have attempted to do this to a limited extent. I mean, I have attempted to address commodification of traditional Buddhist and Hindu and Sufic devotional and contemplative practices into means of stress relief or Personal Meaning in the form of Integral Theory (tm) as Wilber presents it, with some irony actually, by recourse to precisely the interventionary logic of the dialectic of four categories as proposed in Madhyamaka. Since Wilberism takes a neoliberal reading of Hegel as its European antecedent, I link Nagarjuna's dialectic to that of Marx, which allows interesting analogies to be made by those who find such analogies interesting. In other words, I tried to set it up so there critical intervention is redoubled with a rhetorical punch appropriate to the context, to the object of analysis (this is the micropolitics paper). Whether I've succeeded or not is another matter, and this addresses the everyday also. You can't just repeat what has been done before. Mechanical reproduction is for repeating things, not making new things.
Now think about it: it's quite a claim to make that one can organize the suffering and dispossessed masses around a common object of responsibility (maybe "bare life" as Agamben understands it, although I'd push that concept in another direction). Okay: what language is that project going to speak? In whose discourse? Who is speaking for whom? These are the kinds of methodological questions I leave unanswered in my work on integral theory so far (and yes, I mean that as a self-critique as much as a criticism of anyone else's work).
Somewhere in there is an answer to your question. Perhaps characteristically I raised more questions than I answered. At this point I think this is healthy, I mean raising questions and reflecting on method may well be the best thing integral thinkers can do right now. Why worry? It is time to work, at least to identify useful projects and plan how to approach them. One last formulation of what I'm trying to get at here. Debord makes a distinction between "the spectacle" on one side and "art" or "dialogue" on the other. Spectacle includes all the bullshit: all the crazy stuff that capital pushes at people in order to distract them or compel them to buy more things, all the images that make our girls and women so fearful about their appearance and makes our boys and men afraid their cocks are too small, all of it in total, since all of it is an integrated global system, each unit of which ultimately plays for the same team, which is capital. This is a first-rate analysis of neoliberalism in my view. By contrast, art or dialogue is really the only thing Debord proposes as something people can do to resist the spectacle, to transform it. This is right there in everyday life, right here where you eat your breakfast (or go hungry, by choice or by need). I stand for dialogue against the spectacle, which is a one-way top-down flow, as in the desiring-machinery Deleuze and Guattari do so much good work with.
Enough already from me on this question.
EST:What I want to get from you is this: What is the point of integral theory?
DGA: The purpose of integral theory is to inform responsible practice. I lay out a prescription for what I mean by becoming-responsible in the micropolitics paper, so I won't dwell on that now. There are some unanswered questions around it and some problems with it that I'd like to clarify.
Right. People do things because they need to or want to, or out of force of habit in an out of control kind of way. (I'm addicted to caffeine and slurping coffee as I type this. Totally out of control.) There's a fantastic study of this kind of behavior, that is behavior as such, a sadly underestimated book called The Encyclopedia of Stupidity by a Dutch author, van Boxsel. The argument is that stupidity is an objective force that characterizes our world, our species-being if you will, everything we do. So what we call "culture" is just an accumulated mass of tactics for dealing with our own incompetence (this version of "culture" is distinct from the spectacle as Debord presents it, which has much more in common with stupidity than with tactics for getting through your day in a sane, nonviolent, even helpful way). I accept van Boxsel's view on this. It implies we're clever enough to see that we're backward and getting in our own way, and willing to try (sometimes, some of us, under certain conditions) to make it right, as best we can, if we are prepared to continue working and working and working at it.
The purpose of practice (doing things in a purposeful way, methodically, as distinct from just doing things out of habit or compulsion) is to observe that beings are suffering unnecessarily, needlessly, and to work without compromise for the alleviation of that suffering in good faith. It helps to know what you're doing so you don't leave behind a bigger mess than the one you found in your effort to be useful. It's not personal. It's not about self-realization or personal enlightenment or freedom from commitment or relief from stress, although a certain capacity for self-directed activity is definitely implied here (increasingly as you go on, you become more capable of this). It is instead about the opposite: taking on the troubles of the totality, undergoing them, on purpose, out of respect and honor for the totality and all of animated life without exception.
You don't need to put your faith in the inevitable descent of world-spirit or your own need to transcend anything, although if you like to believe such things, then believe them, but be prepared to listen to others who may have reason not to share your beliefs. But I digress. My point is that this isn't a regime of belief, it's not about adherence to this or that paradigm or Weltanschauung (worldview) or set of values as in Spiral Dynamics. It's about practical, tactical action informed by method, taken on intentionally. There's no need to draw the question of anyone's metaphysics in. This is a nonviolence of nonmetaphysics.
Anyway this can involve all kinds of other practices, such as critical thinking (and by critical I mean to imply dialectical as well), properly put-forward meditation, and so on. The point is that you need to be methodical about it: to have a comprehensive, coherent framework in which your practice is understandable, to keep you on task and to coordinate your work with others. Otherwise you're just making a mess, or you risk making a mess most days and doing the right thing on accident, sometimes. And that means your theory needs to be dialogic in a way, democratic, rather than the proprietary intellectual property of this corporation or that ambitious entrepreneur. This way actual conditions where beings live, not the metaphysical yearnings of one class of those beings, inform your theory in the first instance.
There is a problem with this (and here comes more self-critique): if you want to claim responsibility as a political program, if you will, as a program for living on purpose among others (and that is the old-school definition of politics), you need to frame an object of responsibility, which I haven't done. I've discussed elsewhere what the subjective conditions of responsibility may be, but not a coherent object. I sort of gesture toward it when I discuss the totality of all relations but I don't really spell it out. So how about this: when I say one must become-responsible, you ask, responsible for what? And I say, responsible for the conditions of possibility for reproducible, capable life.
That is a rather compressed formula. Let me unpack some of those terms: life, capable, and reproducible.
By "life" I'm following Agamben here and distinguishing two kinds of life: one is life as such, biological life, the characteristic that distinguishes a mass that is alive from one that is dead (call that zoe), while another is bios, or recognizable, political life: a life form with political rights, an identity, a passport if you will. One problem is that the two can be separated. It is possible to be alive but to be excepted from the law, as in a concentration camp or in a migratory moment from one nation-state to the next. Bare life or zoe is vulnerable in a particular way, Judith Butler calls it "precarious" and I think this is appropriate, because it can be killed without consequence. Turn that around and you can also say that the consequences of ordinary actions (burning coal for instance) puts the totality of all life at risk, by undermining the conditions for that life's continued existence. So life is vulnerable, precarious. What is not assured for any form of life are the possibility for continued life, in oneself or in one's children or legacy so to speak, or the possibility to develop oneself, to learn new things, to grow. These things can be hampered.
By "capable" or "capability" I mean the latter. Bare life seems rather a reductive object of responsibility. It might exist on Mars but there's no Stravinsky on Mars, no James Joyce. You see? The point is to take responsibility for the spaces, contexts, conditions under which life can not only live but live well, to live a life of dignity and value and creativity in relative peace.
And these conditions and contexts should be sustainable. That is: capable life should be able to reproduce itself more or less indefinitely. Hardt and Negri make a cognate point to this one in The Labor of Dionysus, that the main point of human activity is production and reproduction. I am not wholly convinced by that argument but it is a compelling one.
If the purpose of integral theory is to inform responsible practice, and becoming-responsible has certain subjective characteristics, then perhaps this may be a useful way of thinking about what one is taking responsibility for: the well-being, the life chances of life as such, all of it, present and future.
So the point of integral theory is not in the first instance to map out all possible spiritual states for their sake (although that may be interesting for some purposes). It's a method for practical compassion in action, working on existential problems of ordinary beings, inclusive of those who cannot speak for themselves, which itself introduces another orchard of ethical questions. It is an examined life, a critical life.
I'm speaking here at a certain level of abstraction, I'm not naming specifically what kinds of meditative practices you should be doing right now, in part because I don't presume to know what everyone ought to be doing right now in that way, but also because I think I'm talking too much here.
EST: Much of your thinking and I think much of your method in writing seems to be influenced by comedy, by humor. This is what I see:
Laughter equals surprise. And not coincidentally, information equals surprise, new information. Without surprise, the words you hear are somehow cookie-cuttered. The words you hear are following whatever form/script the speaker subscribes to or is subscribing to at the moment. So how can you get a laugh? To get a laugh, flip scripts. Apply a script to something way way out of its normal domain. Use critical theory to take apart a tune by Busta Rhymes.
But how a comic gets a laugh is different. A comic's job is raise or lower status, either of the comic or another place, person, object, or concept. Also, comedy works off of patterns, and of expectation. This expectation forms as you listen, so when your expectations are wrong, you laughboth because it broke the expectation in a novel way and in part as a lesson; in essence, you laugh so you won't get fooled again.
Think about comedians. Certain comics wear thin after ten minutes or so. Sometimes this happens because the comic has no material; more often material is there but it follows a limited number of patterns. Comedy audiences, having heard a lifetime of set-ups and punches (from comics or disguised as movie banter, advertising, etc), pick up the pattern underpinning the words. Once the audience can get to the punchline before the comic the comic is deadunless preaching to the converted.
The best comics are at their best when they or because they attack the underpinnings - the "deep structure" as Chomsky might say.
I would like you to comment a bit on these different kinds of surprises and how they are structured.
DGA: I think you've done my work for me, actually. I think your comment on Chomsky there is really valuable because, well, one might say that surprises would be impossible if we didn't have those deep structures dinned into our heads from conception to resurrection.
It would be really helpful if someone would do a comparative analysis of Chomskian transformational grammar, the "deep structures" as he represents them, and Wilber's model of "deep structures" and what he means by that. How different are Wilber and Chomsky on this question, and are they even saying the same thing? You need to know that in order to get the rest of the joke: the punchline would be to lay out the Deleuze-Guattari stuff on rhizomes, that rips Chomsky open in a surprising kind of way (this is in A Thousand Plateaus). Does the D&G critique of Chomsky apply also to Wilber? I think it does but I haven't thought it through yet with much care. The bigger question would be, might that be a conceptual basis for a theory of punchlines for integral thinkers? Something good could come from that, and I'm not going to write it, but I wish someone would. That is the kind of work I would like to read, the kind that works both ends from the middle.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't say you have an interpretation of Aristotle in there that I hadn't thought about before, where you're talking about status. The old line is that we empathize with those who start out high and end up small due to their own incompetence, but we feel contempt for those who start out small and keep screwing up, or those whose bad habits are so vile we can't see any good in them. I like your idea that we resolve not to be duped anymore, we won't be fooled again. You could go places with that.
To answer your question, yes, I think you have advanced what I was sort of gesturing at, which is largely derived from Brook Ziporyn's book Being and Ambiguity. That is a brilliant book, very funny actually; it recontextualized a lot of what I had thought I understood with this set-up and punchline conceptual and temporal structure. This is an area where much productive work could be done, and I would like to encourage people to dig in.
EST: As an outsider, I came in late on the Wyatt Earp episode and have witnessed only the fallout. It's like going to a pond and seeing the ripples without knowing who threw the stone. Please forgive me for asking this, but who did throw the original stone and how did the episode progress? More importantly, in your mind, what has the episode revealed about both Ken Wilber's mindset and the integral field as it stands today?
DGA: There are ways in which Wilber himself threw the first stone (his comments on the "descenders" in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, his bizarre comments on the "'sick fucks'" who run health care, education, and other services in Boomeritis, and so on could be cited for evidence there, or whomever is marketing him as the most important philosopher since Nagarjuna, or whomever is allowing that to happen on his behalf). There are other interpretations, however. Wilber's freakout was in response to a piece of criticism written by Jeff Meyerhoff and published on Frank Visser's website starting (if memory serves) in late 2005. I think Meyerhoff's work is reasonable, responsible scholarship on the whole, and it holds up well in hindsight. What can be learned from the whole fiasco, where Wilber convinced everyone through his words and actions that he could not tolerate anyone questioning his doctrines or his credibility through reason and reference to fact?
Some people have remarked to me privately that the "earp" episode in 2006 was the worst thing that could have happened to integral theory, I want to saynot really. It was a serious embarrassment for Wilber and those who adhere to the particular theology he is proclaiming, certainly. But the terms "Wilber" and "integral theory" are not the same thing, they are not coterminous, even though Wilber has tried to privatize the integral project and integral culture as such as his own trademark or brand. Did he coin the phrase? Well, in SES, he put forward "integral universalism" as if it were his commodity reply to Ayn Rand's "rational objectivism," which is to say, his latest-greatest product line (new-improved second edition). Anyway if "earp" signals a crisis for integral projects in the plural, it only does so insofar as any one of those integral projects remains in Wilber's shadow, his debt intellectually or otherwise, or within Wilber's copyright so to speak, his "intellectual property" (however that term is understood at present). That's one aspect. There's another.
Is the "earpy" episode the worst that could have happened, in that it revealed something undesirable about Wilber that was unknown before? I don't think so. Go back a step. Wasn't Boomeritis a first-rate embarrassment? That book betrays several kinds of incompetence, ignorance, and poor judgment born of overconfidence. Please understand, I'm no Puritan. I don't object to fuck scenes on principle. I rather like fucking. My claim on Boomeritis is that those fuck scenes (and yes I know they were the fantasies of a juvenile) were stupid: badly drawn, badly contextualized, self-indulgent, childish. Boomeritis reads like a book written by a man who really wants to seem cool but is not cool and knows that too, but keeps trying too hard anyway. What could be less cool than trying to be cool? If you look today at the Hey Look At Me kinds of mass culture references and the attempts at using slang, you can see that the thing just hasn't aged well at all. Again, mass culture in and of itself is not a problem; Ulysses is full of it. The difference is that James Joyce is a credible thinker and a competent writer (even as I disagree with much of Joyce's ideas, I would be irresponsible to dismiss him as a credible voice). Boomeritis by contrast tells us that Wilber issomething otherwise. One can readily see "earpy" coming if you've read the first chapters of Boomeritis, a novel written about a man named Wilber (not the imaginary young one but the meat-world Ken Wilber) who thinks he's smarter than he really is and tries to prove it through make-believe.
Wilber's well-rehearsed comments on the Iraq war are of roughly the same vintage as Boomeritis (2003), and just as problematic. It's not even obvious what it is he's trying to say there, except that he thinks anti-war voices are idiotic.
Go back from there to 2000 or so. How about Wilber's full-scale endorsement and adaption of Spiral Dynamics? This is a symptomatic moment in my view on par with Boomeritis and "earpy," although I recognize that my critical position on SD is a minority view among integral theorists who for whatever reason find themselves taking SD seriously. (Does it not seem a bit too easy to you, the color-coded thing?) I cover my reasons, some of them at least, in the micropolitics paper, my reasons for eschewing the SD model altogether and outright. One may well argue that Wilber's appropriation of SD is the problem, that he mixes his colors and his categories and levels and "vMemes" inappropriately. Certainly, Wilber is very careless with his categories. His 2003 comments on Iraq are an ample enough demonstration of this. The Iraq comments, SD, and Boomeritis are all symptoms of Wilber's political alliance with the cultural right in the U.S., expressed as the Reagan Revolution but really going back to the Nixon-Pinochet years at least in my view. Perhaps Europeans don't see all the ways in which he lines up with neoliberalism and the cadre of people who later put Reagan into power in many of his more minute gestures, but if you survived the culture wars of that period, you see where Wilber stands.
Berlant explains this as well as anyone. This is the cultural policy of neoliberalism, late capital, where one defends "authentic values" or "traditional values" or "values" as such which is to say one defends "traditional" class and gender and racial privileges against socialization, democratizationone protects the status quo against a radical critique. Those who defend the status quo are those who tend to profit from it, so that person is defending against a perceived risk against profitability. The silly polemics Wilber puts forth as if they are serious concepts against the "green" meme should be understood in this way: Wilber is still carrying water for the Reaganites because he stands to profit from doing so, to gain from it, specifically to gain actual capital or cultural capital. Why else would someone play this game? Remember, neoliberalism is a form of identity politics as much as anything else, but one's identity or selfhood is expressed through consumer choice or brand preference. You are what you consume. Trungpa Rinpoche's advice against spiritual materialism comes in handy here.
If "earpy" shows us that Wilber is more interested in selling enlightenment lessons and accessories than in producing responsible theory or science, the cultural politics of Boomeritis and Spiral Dynamics (already latent in SES, the "angry book"), the actual politics of the Iraq fiasco show Wilber to be invested in anti-intellectual work in favor of business interests, late capital (criticism is bad, praise is good). This means his project is quite the opposite of a transformational model when you get down to it. He is invested in maintaining the status quo, of producing transformations that maintain and reify the status quo. Zizek's critique of "western Buddhism" applies directly to Wilber in precisely this sense. If that is your interest, then fine, so be it, but at least be honest about it. Say so, and don't pretend to some kind of novelty or fundamental transformation. Admit it. But if you object to this situation, then do something else. That "something else" has been my own path.
I've been accused of being a "Wilber hater" as a consequence of this position. This is actually kind of amusing because I don't know Ken Wilber at all. I've never met him, not even bumped into him at the food co-op in Boulder. I'm not particularly interested in him or his work except as a symptom of a particular kind of cultural trend, for reasons I've already given. I don't care enough to make it personal like that, to "hate" the guy. I try not to hate anyone actually. Even people like Augusto Pinochet and Dick Cheney are deserving of compassion. Certainly a marginal and much less significant case like Ken Wilber is deserving of compassion and not hatred. So no, I don't hate Ken Wilber, but my emotional life relative to Wilber is irrelevent despite the efforts of those who might try to deflect criticism from their magical teacher by projecting emotive stuff onto my person rather than my analysis. This is intellectual work, not a devotional relationship. Wilber is not my guru, has never been my guru, and never will be my guru. The question of my emotional attitude toward Wilber's person or his work has nothing to do with a critical appraisal of his project, which is what actually counts. This provokes the question: why, then, do you write about Wilber, Mr. Anderson?
I'm committed to the integral project, as I said before. If I want to claim that the critical method I propose is more productive than the metaphysical model Wilber promotes, then I need to prove that (the negative task). This requires an engagement. I must also confess a fascination with the eccentric behavior of some of Wilber's professed followers: these are true believers, almost fanatical in their devotion in some cases. I say this out of compassion. It is also an act of compassion to shake the shit out of them, to disabuse them of this juvenile behavior (look up images of Komokuten, a Japanese Buddhist diety, to see what I am aspiring to here, with a brush in one hand and a scroll in the other, rising from the west to protect the mandala from nonsense so that goodness can prevail and selfishness can be burned away, also known as Virupaksa).
If you want to believe personally in the infallibility of Ken Wilber or Paul Twitchell, do precisely that, go on with your belief, go in peace, listen to your conscience; no one should be troubled because of their beliefs. It's public knowledge that I believe in things that seem crazy to others, so it would be irresponsible and vulgar for me to deny others the same courtesy I expect for myself. But if you want to claim that others must share your adherence, must join your cult, as a theoretical or scientific matter or worse yet as public policy or a political programbe prepared to debate that not as a belief but as a theory, on scientific and rational grounds. All this recalls the debates over so-called "intelligent design" in the U.S.: where theology (and rather simplistic theology at that) tries to pose as science but just can't hold up on scientific terms, opening itself to parodies such as Flying Spaghetti Monsterism. (Which reminds me: anyone else think that the section in The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster on the "enlightenment institute" may have something to do with... maybe... Integral Institute?) So no, I don't love or hate Wilber, I don't particularly care any more or less about Wilber the man than I do about any other sentient being. I am committed to the welfare of the world and all beings that inhabit it as a matter of practice. I cultivate this on purpose daily, for better or worse (although I freely admit I am not always very good at it). My interest is in working for their welfare, not promoting my own species of make-believe. I'm not selling anything and I'm not accepting donations.
In the end the best question to ask about the "earpy" episode is what can be learned from it. What happened, and what should we avoid later? It's a really important methodological question. You don't want to be in that situation again. I am tired of thinking about this ridiculous situation and I do not want my own work defined in terms of the mistakes of others due to rather spectacular incompetence.
To go back to Meyerhoff for a moment. Meyerhoff's criticism of Wilber's work and problems with it provoked Wilber's meltdown in 2006. Is it possible that Meyerhoff was slightly too accurate in pointing out the real and rather obvious problems with Wilber's project, which causes a marketing problem for Wilber? It's hard to allow others to say that you're the greatest genius from sun to sun if someone demonstrates clearly that you don't or can't consistently use a library catalogue or basic reasoning skills, you don't know deduction from induction, which is what Meyerhoff shows of Wilber. "He's Mistra Know-It-All." The "earpy" episode may speak to the strength of Meyerhoff's scholarship in an interesting way. That is an issue worth exploring in detail.
As an aside I feel silly typing "earpy" like this. Is it not a ridiculous name for a crisis, or for anything or anyone? Wilber seems prone to juvenile neologisms like this, which I find irritating. I don't mind neologisms as such (witness my own appreciation for Deleuze and Guattari, and also Berlant, who invent concepts and label them in innovative ways). This may speak to my own hangups as much as anything else, so you just wasted your time reading this paragraph. I apologize for that.
I'm in something of the same boat as you though, because I did not start engaging with the integral scene until 2006, when the kerfuffle was cooking already and I was not particularly aware of it, since my research habits don't lead me to online discussion forums very often for this purpose at least (I'm more interested in Aurobindo and Vitvan than I am in Wilber, for instance). This is actually a serious deficit for me, and I mean this earnestly, because so much of what happens among people who identify as "integral" happens through the mediation of these machines. This includes the institutionalization of Wilber's model through private universities that offer online degrees. I think if you want to understand how integralism works as a subculture, I suppose one would have to devise ways of doing ethnographies of people who interact online, such that their spiritual, intellectual, and perhaps professional lives are expressed through this medium.
EST: Before we finish the conversation, I would like to wholeheartedly thank you for sharing your insights as you bring IT into your daily practice. You have done more than given me things to consideryou have widened my view of the discipline itself. Integral theory as you see it is more expansive and inclusive than my previous view, which leads to the final subject I would like to discuss.
The last question I have concerns how integral practice is being assimilated into academia. On the surface IT and academia seem disjointed; despite the recent trend to mash-up university curricula to produce cross-disciplinary partnerships, the majority of academic turf is still defended in a territorial way (i.e. - those without the proper pedigree aren't allowed to the table & and the table only has so many seats). Historically, this kind of canine behavior flies in the face of integral theory, which feels more collaborative in nature and broader in scope. Much of the best published material that I have seen has come from non-academic writers (webmasters and freight throwers and, most famously, dishwashers) who have worked to tie together a disparate array of empiricism and belief even as they keep the spirit behind the discipline honest. I guess what I fear is compartmentalization: can integral theory and practice continue to be a field where a person without formal training in integral theory can still add to the discipline? As academia absorbs integral theory and disseminates it, how do you think IT will evolve? Right now, where in academia do you think the discipline is being well represented? And an interesting final thought - what's an advanced degree in integral studies worth, anyway?
DGA: Thank you for the kind words. That's an appealing way to frame this question, having thrown some freight myself. There is a way in which this kind of inquiry has definitely arisen on the outside of the academy, of academic institutions, perhaps in response to a perceived lack or lacuna in academic methods. Wilber frames SES as a response to a problem with the scientific method, for instance. Bourdieu makes some interesting claims on where intellectual innovation comes from in and around institutions in his book Homo Academicus.
But before I write another word I'd like to qualify an offhanded comment I made earlier, the one where I aspired to the kind of enlightened activity that Virupaksa can accomplish (apropos of being an outsider). It should not be implied that I am trying to mythologize myself in any sense of the terms myth or mythmaking or the hero's journey or any of that. I am aiming for a particular kind of method and with a particular goal in mind, that is all. Would I rather be in a position where it made sense to aspire to something like the activity of Benzaiten (in Sanskrit, Saraswati), who brings knowledge with sweetness and light and elegance? Yes, but as we learned in Der Dreigroschenoper, "The circumstances, they are not so" (my translation). The method has to match the needs of the moment. Anyway I don't want to claim anything more than that about myself. Whether I am capable of applying this method usefully and appropriately is another question, and not one I can answer properly for the obvious reasons. I am concerned that my earlier comment may be misunderstood by readers acculturated to Jungian and New-Age kinds of predilections, which are fine in their native habitat but are not the language I am speaking in here.
Now, to the question. A step back first: what makes integral theory valuable? For my own purposes, it's valuable, worth the trouble of engaging with in good faith, because it is willing to think in utopian terms that actually make a lot of very reasonable critical thinkers uncomfortable. It's willing to think the totality, to imagine the full-on transformation of all possible relations on more just terms. What other intellectual projects attempt such a thing? Maybe science fiction if you catch it on its best behavior, ecocriticism by intention but inconsistently, cultural studies but not without complications. If you look you can find it in Kosik to be sure, Debord in a way, among critical thinkers, but their works lack the kind of subcultural following that integral projects have. So what happens when you have a significant cultural project that is committed to the full-scale transformation of the totality, and not totally hostile to intellectual rigor, come under the rubric of particular academic institutions?
To address that question you need to understand what institutions are, where they come from, what they can and cannot accomplish and so on; to understand what it means to work within and on behalf of an institution (Bourdieu again). I'd like to think otherwise or imagine otherwise but when I get down to it I think Weber's correct, that it's not really possible to accomplish much without some kind of relationship to an institution. I've experienced cultural studies through institutions. That is to say: my own radicalism (for instance) is in one way (but not the only way) an expression of an institution, a response to institutional conditions. How do you carry on with intellectual work without institutions? I don't mean that as a rhetorical question.
So if you want to get something done, you have a choice. You can try to do without any kind of institution, which has doubtful precedents historically. You can start an institution on your own, but you do so in the context of others that are already established and on certain conditions by which institutions operate under neoliberalism, the social order of the present. Or you can work within the context of an established institution and hope for the best. None of them are ideal choices in my opinion. If you want to think through what choice to make in order to do what you think is the thing to do, right, you need to consider what those conditions of possibility are, what it means to operate in and of an institution under neoliberalism.
Step back again. When I say "neoliberalism" I mean a political and economic tendency (actually that's too soft a word, tendency) that corresponds to what is often called the postmodern, or neo-fordism, or late capital. I touch on this periodization in the micropolitics paper. You can think of neoliberalism in a handy way as an attempt to initiate and institute privatized solutions to public problems, that is, to privatize institutions that are concerned with matters of public concern (which goes back to the traditional definition of politics). In the case of the Iraq war, who cooks the food? Soldiers used to cook for themselves, but now that task is privatized, done by a private contractor. Private contractors do some of the dirty work of war (interrogations, torture, "security") as well, as in Blackwater and in a different way Halliburton, apropos of Spiral Dynamics. And who is this war serving? Iraq is the obvious example of a state-sponsored military intervention serving the interests of capital; if you want to prove to someone that the most powerful militaries in the world are the private armies of capital, just point toward Baghdad and shrug your shoulders. "See?" Salvador Allende knew it very well in the early 1970s, the dawn of neoliberalism. His story is a valuable lesson here, a lesson in courage among other things. (This is what I was hinting at earlier, when I suggested that Cheney and Pinochet are more significant historically than Wilber is. I don't think Wilber is a monster like those two are; I do think Cheney and Pinochet represent historical movements that have effected more lives than Wilber has and in more profound ways than Wilber has done. This comparison will make more sense if one recalls how each of these three historical figures, Pinochet-Cheney-Wilber, relate to neoliberalism institutionally and ideologically. I'm not making many positive claims, simply presenting a rather provocative question for the gallery to grok. To the gallery: dig in.)
"No-values relativism" is in fact a characteristic of this kind of postmodern regime, but not in the way social conservatives like Wilber expect. Your values in neoliberalism are expressed in your consumption choices, where one choice is in a certain sense of the same value as any other. This is why I keep going on about "brand preference." To the point, institutions of education, like prisons, are matters of public concern in liberal democracy. The state does that. Universities are socialized. Prisons are socialized. Now, there's always been private education in the U.S., starting well before Cotton Mather; I'm thinking of religious-affiliated institutions. Liberalism gave us the state school, the land-grant school, which was from the beginning tied to military and agricultural education, public concerns. This change transformed the older schools, and some, like Rutgers and William and Mary, became state schools themselves. That pattern repeats with the advent of neoliberal political economy, which produced corporate training programs and for-profit private education, such as The University of Phoenix, which is really a chain of strip-mall campuses in the ring of suburbs surrounding most American cities that sells units of learning like so many homogenized commodities. You consume your degree like a gas station cappuccino. State schools, land grant schools, as well as older private schools have adapted to this, becoming corporatized for research purposes and not unlike spa resorts in an effort to attract profitable undergraduates. Higher education has come to be understood as a mode of consumption, but a necessary one, given the contingencies of the labor market in the United States (it is not a leisure activity). If you want to be employed, you're told you need a degree or two. Failing this, you're off to Iraq soldier, because the military is the employer of last resort, the only employer for young men in many parts of the country now. People aren't talking about
Iraq these days because they are concerned with unemployment here in the US, failing to see the connection between a labor surplus and this enormous standing mercenary army's hiring practices (promising money for college and free health insurance, two things the regular economy can't offer many Americans). But I digress.
My overarching question is this: is the Integral Institute's affiliated programs with JFK University and Fielding Graduate University on the for-profit solutions-distribution model, and if so, what does that tell us about the future of integral theory as Wilber is promoting it, Wilber's version of integral? By contrast, is the California Institute of Integral Studies analogous to the Catholic institutions established in the 19th century, or the neoevangelical religious institutions of the mid-late 20th century, such as Liberty University or Regents University or Orel Roberts University, where the mission is to instill adherence to particular values in students, which is to say, indoctrinate them in a particular theology rather than a method of inquiry such as critical thinking? (As an aside, one may want to check how many graduates of such schools held significant positions of responsibility in the Bush administration, and the consequences of this pedagogy on the health and safety of the world.) How about Naropa? Or the Center for Consciousness, Transformation, and Human Potential that is now getting started at my own state school, George Mason University, as I understand it on the basis of a private donation?
I don't claim to know what the situation is at any of these places, frankly. I am very curious, and more than a bit concerned in some cases. I am interested in the ways in which the kinds of cultural capital or even emotional capital that can be accumulated through acquiring an online degree through the auspices of Integral Institute, and how that emotional capital might be fungible into social capital and plain old capital capital, as Illouz's analysis suggests it should be. This would mean that these online degree programs are part of a very long history in the US of corporations looking for ways to manage emotions in the workplace, and promoting people who have disciplined their emotional and subjective lives in particular ways to be good and happy workers, wizards of the spiral of accumulation, masters of the art of the happy acceptance of everything (and not organizing horizontally in class terms, but integrating vertically into the "depth" of an organization, willingly subordinating oneself to a "higher power").
I would like to remind our friends of Paolo Freire's pedagogy of problem-posing. I'm laughing because you and I have discussed this at length in the past when we worked together. Now, in the case of JFKU or FGU or CIIS or Naropa: is this a banking model, where the student makes a withdrawal of a theology-commodity and the institution makes a deposit of value-commodities? That, to be sure, is to be avoided. I very much doubt that education as problem-posing, where you're pulled out of the cave and exposed to an indifferent light (this requires some adjustments), can be profitable in the same way a retreat center or health spa dedicated to rearranging the furniture in the cave according to proper design principles would be. Learning is challenging and is designed to produce a certain capacity for independent action; it is not pandering and designed to produce dependence on an institution or a charismatic figure or a metaphysics.
Students who have more familiarity with the specifics of these sites will be able to draw their own judgments from these conceptual tools. And seriously, read your Freire if you haven't yet done so. His critique of institutional education is as trenchant now as it has ever been.
The nitty-gritty detail of your question, Erik, has me speculating on how one might tackle the question of what good a degree in integral theory might do for someone. I take for granted that people who enroll in these programs are earnest in their aspiration to be helpful to others and to serve an ideal that is greater than their own immediate and proximal needs. Surely these people are doing it on purpose. But they are also investing substantial capital (money and time and effort) on this project of earning a particular degree that entitles them to a particular social role: as a therapist, a teacher, or what have you. These are institutional roles. So, are students enrolling in these programs with an eye toward becoming-institutional in particular ways, that is, of taking on professional titles in clinical and educational institutions themselves? I returned to graduate school myself two years ago in part because I wanted to learn more things and to develop as a thinker but also because I knew I needed better credentials to keep an academic job in the Canada or the U.S. Cultural capital (my knowledge of early modern culture, of critical theory) becomes fungible into social and financial capital (through a projected academic job). The logic of this process recalls Kosik's observation that consciousness under capitalism is all about the future, all about planning and projecting a future relative to capital. In the case of integral theory, and following Illouz here, I wonder if one can say that emotional and even spiritual capital can be fungible in the same way into social and financial capital (earning a degree, gaining a credential, taking a job), as I gestured at before. It's ironic, really, given Wilber's comments on the academic disciplines and professional fields these programs prepare students to work in, as in Boomeritis ("sick fucks" he calls these people). Anyway these are only speculations. I think an ethnographic study may be in order if one is to properly address this aspect of your question in detail.
Institutions or not, I would like to encourage people to continue learning, to keep thinking. Wilber's professional and intellectual career so far has been predicated on the implicit claim that he is capable of speaking on behalf of God, sometimes in the voice of God (to those who think he is enlightened), justifying the ways of God to ordinary, everyday people so to speak. One problem with Wilber's work is that, insofar as one accepts this claim, his method may represents a kind of final answer: the Hegelian Absolute, or Spirit, or Evolution is there to abut lines of flight. I propose instead that people who are interested in thinking integrally to give the Absolute a rest for a while and to work with those lines of flight, to find an open question and pursue that, not to simply assume going in that the answer is going to be Evolution or Spirit or whatever. That only leads back to the same place, which is fine if it's a perfect place. I suppose one will need to answer the question of whether that place is perfect or not, and to reflect on the question of whether this kind of methodological reflexivity is possible once Wilber's integralism has become institutionalized for its own sake.
EST: Last thoughts?
DGA: Yeah, I've left more than a few questions unanswered. One of them: what should integralists be doing now in a practical sense, after all this stuff on method and methodology? I'll suggest three things, but they're interrelated. In a way these follow from the fourfold prescription for responsibility and becoming-responsible I lay out in the micropolitics paper.
First: read more. And I mean read, with care. Read difficult books, not flattering feel-good ones. Three particularly useful ones for what I've been talking about here: Kosik's Dialectics of the Concrete, Bloch's The Principle of Hope (especially on "anticipatory consciousness") and Trungpa's Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Get thee to the library.
Second: Cultivate a hermeneutics of suspicion. Don't just consume ideas and "theorists" like you would Prell shampoo or Ford cars (to borrow a Deleuze-Guattarian trope) and identify with them. Examine this stuff, test it, make it your own. This is not a process of faith, it is a practice, a craft. An analogy might be that of a carpenter examining the work of another carpenter, looking first for the qualities and weaknesses of the work, and also looking for new techniques or lines or other compelling features to incorporate into one's own practice but critically, not mechanically or mimetically. To make sure I'm not being misunderstood, I'll word this one differently. Let's cultivate a practical refusal to be flattered, particularly by advertising and public relations (apropos of Habermas and the public sphere, given Wilber's claims on Habermas). Certainly the appeal of joining a movement that claims to represent the cutting edge of Divine expression evolving in this
world of forms by buying a book or a seat at a conference has tremendous promotional appeal. It sells itself, in the patois of salespeople. Let's not be flattered into believing that buying this novel, the one that claims it "will set you free," or that $200 "starter kit," or this or that meditation retreat, will in and of itself fulfill the promise of the promotional rhetoric. A hermeneutic of suspicion is in order at a minimum. I would say that best practice would be a Great Refusal or Big No to these kinds of patterns.
Alternatively, even if the advertising is true and you are "second-tier" and on the cutting edge of evolving Spirit (I won't rule it out, it might be true after all), try not to be an ass about it. Try to be humble, because you're claiming to be a spokesmodel for Spirit and you wouldn't want to misrepresent That as being tolerant of pompous, arrogant, narcissistic, megalomaniacal behavior. Right?
Third, and this follows from the second: Put your work in the public domain, and restrict your integral activities to not-for-profit organizations and research materials readily available at public institutions. Stop buying shit because it has the word "integral" on it, unless you feel it appropriate for your guru and your idea of Spirit to be working as prostitutes such that you need to keep paying and paying for intervals of integral embrace. We call this "voting with your wallet" and it's the only kind of critique that works in some corners of neoliberalism. It may be the only form of criticism that Integral Institute will respond to at this point. Monkeywrench the flattery machine by not buying into it. Instead, one can help democratize and socialize the integral project, becoming an active participant rather than a passive consumer of content as it were.
Fourth of three: Above all, remember that if you have the means to participate in this conversation, you are in a position of great privilege: social and material privilege I mean. At this moment, the petroleum window has not yet closed (one can fly and drive and get cheap imported goods), but most of the world still lives in abject poverty, the kind where it is a daily struggle to find clean water, for instance. How do you justify this privilege, how do you redeem your debt to the others who get such a small slice of the pie compared to yours, while you eat their share of the resources and in some ways benefit from their underpaid labor, while you eat the habitat of countless species? Pursuing one's own fulfillment for its own sake as a kind of hero's journey, a journey on the throats of the world's population, seems rather self-indulgent in this context. Better in my view at least to devote your efforts, your material privilege, to the welfare of all other beings without exception and into the future as best you can. Better to be a servant than a "wizard" and not only because the costume is cheaper.
I heard somewhere that love ain't for keeping.
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