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".
This column is written partially in response to the article cited: The Mean Green Hypothesis: Fact or Fiction? by Natasha Todorovic. There have been additional comments that have been published on list serves. In addition, there have been other recent exchanges critiquing and defending various perspectives on integral theory, Spiral Dynamics® and their proponents in relation to contemporary politics and other issues.
Integral For the Masses!
by Keith Bellamy
I tend to consider myself as a fairly simple soul, although others who are close to me might think differently. Since discovering Integral Theory, I have attempted to lead my life in a manner that allows the decisions that I take to be integrally informed. I have the humility, I hope, to recognise that I still have a long way to go before I can hope to achieve that stage of development where I am permanently integrally conscious and that my insights into life, the universe and everything naturally stem from this higher enlightened state.
I am reasonably comfortable with this state of being. It provides the inspiration for further personal development. It also allows me to seek integral insights that influence and inspire my everyday decisions. I have to admit, however, that it is not easy; in fact it is darned hard. Whilst not having a particularly addictive personality, I am finding it very hard kicking the habit of rational thinking and being able to see the world, when appropriate, from a trans-rational perspective.
Flatland thinking served me extremely well in my career in the world of business, and to be honest I would probably be better off in terms of material rewards if I had remained “hooked” on that particular cognitive opiate. However, it was not to be; circumstances conspired in my world that left me with no choice but to move on. In more lucid moments, I like to think of the path that I am pursuing as the equivalent of “Integral Cold Turkey!” It is hard to make the shift and it cannot be done alone.
I need help, and achieve much assistance by actively seeking out the writings of the giants in the field who can provide me with the doses of Integral Thinking that are the equivalent of Methadone to the Flatland heroin that has been such an important part of my life for so long. In this struggle for personal growth, it saddens me when I see some of these giants battling amongst themselves. As I look around at all of the issues our planet is facing and how integrally informed decision making could make such a significant difference, I find that some thought leaders seem to be acting more like medieval monks discussing how many angels can dance on a pin-head!
This was all brought to a head for me when I was sent a copy of the March issue of Spiral Dynamics Newsletter edited, I assume, by Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic. I was aware, of course, that there was a rift between Chris and his erstwhile writing partner Don Beck. I also knew that Chris had made some fairly scathing comments about Wilber in the past. None of this particularly worried me, as no one person has access to the absolute truth and that discussion, disagreement and debate are essential elements in pushing against the barriers of understanding.
What I didn’t understand, before reading this newsletter, is just how wide and pernicious the gulf between the parties appears to be. Looking forward to a set of insights that were different from those promulgated by the Integral leaders in Colorado, Texas and Massachusetts (to name but a few), what I found was a bitter, negative publication that was more interested in proving that the others were wrong and that the “Spiral Dynamics people,” as they choose to call themselves, are right. Now I have no doubt that actions, either real or perceived, may well have left a bitter taste in the mouths of the newsletter editors; but the vein of negativity that ran through the publication detracted from the positive contribution that could and should be made to the Integral debate.
Let me hasten to add, I do not side with one party or another in this affair. I like to describe myself as a neo-Marxist of the Groucho rather than Karl variety. Following his immortal line, “I would not be member of any club that would have me as a member,” I shy away from becoming too closely aligned with any particular camp. By “blindly” following the teachings of one prophet to the exclusion of all others has the potential to restrict the way I think about issues, and I perceive this to be very dangerous. The Integral movement does not need bunches of groupies shouting, “Ken said this,” or “Don said that,” or even “Chris & Natasha think the other.” What we need are individuals who know what Ken, Don, Chris & Natasha have said and think and then, through their own lens of personal experience, provide an unique perspective that none of the previous could ever have uttered.
What never ceases to amaze me is the way that the “Cobblers Child” Syndrome tends to emerge in situations like this. All the parties involved use their insight into evolutionary unfolding to help other individuals, corporations and even nation states to overcome internecine rivalries that are destructive and detract from the value that all the parties have to offer. Never, has the need for command, “Healers heal thyselves,” been so appropriate and necessary. As I mentioned earlier, the need for integral perspectives has never been so great in so many different areas than it is today. Yet, the credibility of practitioners is sorely undermined by the feuding that is taking place.
Don’t get me wrong, I am under no illusion that all of the participants should sit down around a table and come out at the end of the negotiations as bosom-buddies. I gave up that level of naïveté many years ago. I am not arguing that the parties necessary have to agree with one and other, in fact disagreement is a good thing. What I am arguing is that the parties stop attempting to undermine one another and that the undercurrent of personal animosity be removed from a debate that is so vital to all 6 billion plus of us who inhabit this planet today.
I really do not have the time and space in this article to dissect and criticise what has happened in the past, and I’m not sure that it would serve any purpose other than opening old wounds and sores. Our focus should be on the future and building an Integral movement that recognises the differences of opinions that exist and acknowledge them as jewels not worthless baubles.
In such an environment we would recognise that Wilber’s use of Spiral Dynamics to illustrate his Theory of Everything was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Graves’ theory enhanced by Beck and Cowan provided a wonderfully understandable insight into what is a highly complex subject. However, in doing so, it diluted many of the complexities and intricacies contained in the original work. Then again, A Theory of Everything gave Spiral Dynamics a far wider audience and opportunity to influence decisions in so many fields than had been the case up until its publication.
The colour-coded levels of the spiral became the de facto lingua franca in Integral circles, yet when it was applied to Holons other than the societal level in which it was originally rooted it started to become misused, abused and sometimes the source of confrontation. In the blink of an eye we had created our very own tower of Babel. So when somebody claimed that the CEO was operating from Red it could be both true and false simultaneously! From the purist societal Holon the statement is obviously nonsensical, however from the Enterprise Holon context this is a perfectly valid statement.
I think it was Peter Drucker, the great business thinker, who pondered the paradox as to why businessmen would march down Wall Street to the tune of “Free Markets” only to arrive at their desks to become dictators of their own “Planned Economies” as they attempted to control everything in their personal empire. Drucker failed to come up with an answer to this conundrum. Pure Spiral Dynamics doesn’t answer the challenge either. Applying SD within the AQAL model of Integral Theory and the contradictions dissolve completely.
If Integral is going to permeate the lives of a broader constituency, we need to recognise that work is required at all levels of the developmental spiral. Just because some focus their attentions on the pathologies emerging lower down whilst others are working at enticing the higher levels to become more established makes neither party wrong. They are just operating from a different perspective and if we are to be true to the Integral Model, we need to be able to accommodate both.
This is not achievable when one group publishes pseudo-scientific papers attempting to demolish the arguments of another party. I am sure that if one were to listen carefully, one could hear the body of Benjamin Disraeli spinning like a top in his grave. If we listen really hard, the hum being generated sounds very much like “lies, damned lies and statistics.” Attempting to blind us with disputable facts and figures is designed to create division rather than reconciliation.
Furthermore, it really helps when the paper is attempting to refute the same thing as the other party is talking about. The Mean Green Meme debate is a case in point. Wilber & Beck are talking about the emergent pathology that can arise from the Green v-meme. Cowan & Todorovic are talking about those people who reject Green values. Both interesting subjects, but different; and when you cut to the chase, there is a very strong case to suggest that they run the risk of violently agreeing.
I could go on but fear that the thrust of my argument will get lost. My belief is that if we are to build a world where leaders are at a minimum integrally informed and over time increasingly integrally conscious, then we have to get our own house in order. If we are perceived to be acting like kids in the playground shouting, “my dad’s bigger than yours!” then we are not going to be listened to by those with most to gain from allowing Integral Theory into their worlds. The biggest victim in all of this is that an opportunity to make a real difference could be lost. I think all of us associated with the nascent Integral movement need to think long and hard on this the next time we decide to side with one party or another in defending what is really indefensible.
Keith Bellamy is an independent consultant to businesses in Great Britain. He formerly was an IT executive and a futurist for Barclay’s Bank. He is active with Integral and Spiral Dynamics groups in London.
Source: Integral Leadership Review, April 2005 Issue, Volume V, No. 2. Published with permission by the author.