Reflections on Ken Wilber's The Religion of Tomorrow (2017) - Parts I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII - PDF
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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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Integral Overstretch, Social Media Addiction, and Unbridled Narcissism

Elliot Benjamin

But the Occupy movement has come and gone, and it appears that all we are left with at this point in time is "unbridled narcissism."

In Frank Visser's Integral World essays The Wolf of Wilber Street: Integral Goes Superhuman and Integral Overstretch[1], he describes how Wilber and his Integral organization has overstretched its legitimate boundaries and has entered territory that is ripe with what can be described as unchecked egoism and unwarranted assumptions of scientific knowledge. I don't disagree with Visser's portrayals, and part of Visser's concerns is actually consistent with concerns that I expressed about Wilber's egoism in my very first Integral World essay in 2006[2]. In a more recent article I have conveyed what I believe is our whole (Western) society's addiction to social media technology, which I will now more briefly describe as simply “social media addiction”[3]. However, I now realize that the phenomena of excessive egoism as well as social media addiction is in actuality part of a larger context that permeates virtually every aspect of our Western society. This larger context is narcissism.

A few months ago there was a widely publicized murder of a television reporter and cameraman in the United States[4]. This murder received a tremendous amount of publicity, in particular because the actual murder was captured on video for millions of people to watch on their television sets, as purposely and successfully planned out in detail by the killer.[4] As I read about this horrific murder I came across an explanation of the phenomenon of people wanting to be “famous” by publicizing their aggressive acts, including severe beatings and murders, on videos for millions of people to watch. And this explanation had everything to do with our whole narcissistic society. The explanation was given by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, and I learned that they had written a book a few years ago entitled The Narcissism Epidemic[5] which described in much detail various destructive aspects of what they referred to as the epidemic of narcissism in our Western culture, with in-roads that are entering Eastern culture as well.

Killer's Ultimate Selfie

The concerns that we live in a narcissistic culture are certainly not new, as this awareness was spearheaded with Christopher Lasch's 1979 bestselling book The Culture of Narcissism[6]. However, in more recent years there has been a number of research studies on the phenomenon of narcissism in Western society, and the picture presented by Twenge and Campbell is one that strikes me with a great deal of alarm. For virtually every aspect of the world that we (Westerners) live in is pervaded by the combination of “me first,” self-promotion, crass materialism, physical appearance obsession, social media addiction, wanting to be “famous,” credit card debt, and lack of depth in relationships. This translates into a complete transformation into what is now considered “normal” in Western society, which includes a tremendous increase in people of all ages, though especially young adults, promoting themselves continuously on social media sites, undergoing cosmetic surgery, going into lifelong debt from using credit cards beyond their financial means, and then what I consider to be the most alarming of all: posting vicious beatings and murders on videos for millions of people to watch so they become “famous.” In this context of the unbridled narcissistic culture that we live in, is it any wonder that Wilber and his integral organization has become “overstretched” in the context of excessive egoism and public promotion?

Wilber is currently promoting his internet course to enable people to become “superhuman”[1]. While Frank Visser previously raised serious concerns about the egoistic appeal that Wilber was promoting[1], I decided to play devil's advocate and give Wilber the benefit of the doubt that perhaps it was not as awful as it appeared to be and was his way of trying to help the world[7]. I don't have a definitive perspective about this at this point in time, but it may very well be true that to gain the kind of public appreciation Wilber wants for his integral organization, appealing to the narcissism in our Western society may be necessary. This is how Wilber explained his rationale for using the term “superhuman,” as he described his goal of gaining people's interest and then working with them to enable them to achieve the “higher” integral perspective[7]. Of course this plan is rife with dangers, not the least of which is that it accentuates Wilber's “guruship” to people, as well as Wilber's own rather excessive quality of egoism. But my point is that given the narcissistic society in which we live, Wilber's promotion is actually “normal,” however we feel about it.

Now please don't misunderstand my use of the word “normal” here. “Normal” certainly does not necessarily mean “healthy” or “natural,” as famously emphasized by radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing in the 1960's[8]. Furthermore, what I am describing as “normal” in our narcissistic society is completely counter to one of the basic premises of humanistic psychology, which is that beneficial social relationships need the qualities of warmth, caring, and genuineness, which has been found to be one of the key ingredients for successful psychotherapy of all forms[9]. Much to the contrary, I think that what has become “normal” in our Western society is abhorrent and “unnatural” in terms of what I still like to believe are the basic “good” potential qualities of human beings. I have described a number of the alarming aspects of this new “normal” in my previous articles about social media technology addiction, inclusive of what I have experienced in my current undergraduate psychology teaching[3] and I won't repeat these alarming aspects here.

But I can remember back in the 1970s when I was in my 20's how our “new age” young adult generation revolted against what we perceived as the “crass materialism” of our mainstream society. I identified with this rebellion, and it involved a combination of the hippie generation, free love, the new age movement, psychedelic drugs, the peace movement, and Eastern religions[10]. A few years ago I was amazed to see a courageous, though brief and unsuccessful (at least unsuccessful directly), attempt of young people to make an idealistic difference in the flagrant economic conditions of unbridled capitalism, through the Occupy movement[11]. But the Occupy movement has come and gone, and it appears that all we are left with at this point in time is “unbridled narcissism.” Is there anything that can in actuality be done about this situation? Twenge and Campbell try hard to come up with some viable constructive ways to fight against “unbridled narcissism” but I must say that I do not find their remedies to be pragmatic or hopeful, and I do not think that they themselves would bet any money on their remedies working[5].

Then why am I bothering to come out of the woodwork and write another Integral World essay about my concerns about our society's new “normal” of “unbridled narcissism”? Well this goes back to the simple reason that I see myself as a philosopher, and a philosopher philosophizes. Whether it be about metaphysical speculations, war and terrorism, cult dangers, the creative artist, humanistic psychology, or excessive egoism, social media addiction, and unbridled narcissism, I like to philosophize and this is why I write. If anything good happens to come of it, so much the better—but I have no unrealistic expectations of changing our unbridled narcissistic society.

References and Notes

1) Frank Visser (2014), The Wolf of Wilber Street: Integral Goes Superhuman and Frank Visser (2015), Integral Overstretched: Some Perspectives on “Integral in Actions with Ken Wilber” at www.integralworld.net

2) Elliot Benjamin (2006), On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis at www.integralworld.net

3) Elliot Benjamin (2015) Do We Live in a Social Media Technology Addicted Society? at www.integralworld.net and Elliot Benjamin (2015): Humanistic Antidotes for a Social Media Technology Addicted Society, Pinnacle Psychology, Vol. 2(2), available at www.pjpub.org

4) See the article Killer's Ultimate Selfie: Roanoke Horror Becoming the New Norm in the Washington Post, 8/26/15, which is also available on the internet.

5) Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell (2009), The Narcisissim Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. Atria.

6) Christopher Lasch (1979). The Culture of Narcissism: New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

7) Elliot Benjamin (2015), The Non-polarized Mind and “Superhuman” at www.integralworld.net

8) R.D. Laing (1967). The Politics of Experience. New York: Ballantine.

9) Carl Rogers (1961). On Becoming a Person. New York: Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Bruce Wampold (2001), The Great Psychotherapy Debate: Models, Methods, and Findings. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

10) See Eugene Taylor (1999). Shadow Culture: Psychology and Spirituality in America. Washington D. C. Counterpoint

11) Elliot Benjamin (2011). Humanistic Psychology, Progressive Politics, and the “Occupations” at www.integralworld.net




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