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".
Dashh: A Day In The Integral Life
, June 8th, 2007.
Reposted with permission.
A Response to Scott Parker
The irony is that Wilber’s own description of stage growth seems to apply with some people’s experience with Wilber and his work.
I just read an excellent essay called
Winning the Integral Game?
by Scott Parker over at Integral World. After reading it this morning, I felt
Scott was writing my exact experience with the work and world of Ken Wilber.
What Scott describes as the transition from Wilber “fan” to Wilber “critic” is
very similar to my own experience and description of the
stages of Wilberism
. And I have a feeling that we are not alone, as many have either moved to a
more critical post-Wilber integral while others have just dug their heels in
and take their stand as fanatics. This dichotomy of “fans” and “critics” as
Parker describes it is very real in Integral and and a very interesting
phenomenon to observe and experience. The key point for me is that you can be
not just a fan or critic but a student-critic if one desires. The road to the
post-fan, student-critic stance in regards to Wilber's work is becoming
expressed more and more often these days.
There are many great points in this essay so I wanted to point out a few that
really struck home for me.
Yet these are precisely the kinds of rhetorical games employed by and about
Wilber. His defenders inevitably refer to themselves as “fans,” as if they are
rooting for the home team in a crucial game against their cross-town rivals.
Those rivals, of course, being the “critics.” With the sides exclusively drawn,
the Integral conversation shifts from a dialogue, where we can engage and learn
from one another, to a debate, where we can have only one winner.
I would say that debate is not even applicable since Wilber’s technique is to
play more or less the Integral authority figure that sets the playing field for
what is and is not integral (or capital “I” Integral for Wilber’s version of
integral). I’d love to see Wilber actually debate with other philosophers of
mind to see what could come of such a dialogue in terms of integral philosophy.
I’d like to see him engage with
John Searle, Owen Flanagan, Daniel Dennett
, etc. instead of just dismissing them as reductionists (see this post).
Instead, we get IN clips of giddy conference attendees who can talk the
integral talk and want to get the Integral word from the authority on all
things integral. They usually consist of a question and then a monologue of
Wilber giving his position - the Integral position on the subject. (I was once
a giddy fan of Wilber myself and when I took the first Integral theory course I
was very excited to be able to actually ask Wilber a question on a conference
call. Being drunk with integral, as Matt Dallman puts it, is a very powerful
Over the last several years, Wilber and his fans have become so fluent in the
language of Integral, Integral-this and Integral-that, that they have
effectively created an in-group/out-group scenario reminiscent of the blue
meme's good and evil, that they are so (rightly) critical of. You're either for
Integral or against it. (And if you have a different definition of Integral,
This is very true. I would add that Wilber often notes that his
version/model/theory of integral (Integral) is only one of many, but usually
qualifies that by saying that he feels his is most comprehensive out there.
What has happened over the years is that Wilber has created a brand with his
version and that brand represents a very specific model called AQAL. If you do
not include all the elements of AQAL then you are not Integral per se. You are
integrally informed perhaps but not Integral. Then, if you do include all
elements and meet Wilber’s “AQAL kosher”, as it once was put at IU, litmus test
then you may get AQAL certified. Then you have levels of AQALness as well. This
marketing/branding turn for Wilber is something that many, including myself,
seem to care for less and less.
A more likely rebound for Integral will take place by the work of others,
taking what of intellectual value can be found in Wilber's writing and removing
it from the tragic context of the Integral movement. Integral-with-a-hyphen
must be rebranded or debranded, losing the gimmicky marketing ploys altogether.
This is where I am at personally. There are some great ideas in Wilber’s work
and I am at the place of trying to tease out those ideas and compare, contrast
and synthesize them with other philosophers. Integral Review is an alternative
to Wilber’s Integral worth checking out.
The process of developing that doubt was slow for me, much slower than my
acceptance of Wilber had been previously. As these doubts first began to
develop in me, I had a hard time admitting to myself that I was having them, so
sincere was my devotion. With time, as the intellectual counter-arguments
mounted, I had to face my psychological resistance to change. If I rejected (or
at least took a step away from) Wilber, I would be left without the
comprehensive view that had been such a comfort to me. I'd have to rethink
everything I had come to know, redefine my place in the world. It was
intimidating to relinquish that certainty, that confidence. Still, my doubts
proliferated and were accelerated by criticisms I began to read and agree with,
particularly those that brought Wilber's scholarship under heavy (and
unanswered) question. It began to look to me like Wilber was cherry-picking his
sources to support a particular story he wanted to tell, not using the method
of orienting generalizations as democratically as he professed.
All I can say is that I could have written the jest of this paragraph myself as
it mirrors my own experience so well. The irony is that Wilber’s own
description of stage growth seems to apply with some people’s experience with
Wilber and his work. You have the introduction/reading of Wilber,
identification/embeddedness with Wilber and then dis-identification/
transcendence of Wilber and his work. Interesting. So if that holds true we may
see more people moving into the “critic” stage, even though that stage is
really more of a “student-critic” position for some.
For whatever reason, I needed a comprehensive view of the world, which Wilber
offers, and rightly points out is a comfort to postmodern fragmentation. But
comfort is a psychological issue, not a philosophical one. Whether we accept or
reject postmodernism or metaphysics, what Wilber provides is a description of
reality. The comfort to be gained if Wilber's version is accurate does not
outweigh the burden on him (or someone else) to prove that it is.
As I’ve detached myself somewhat from Wilber’s work and began to read more
about naturalism, I felt the comfort begin to be challenged. It is always good
to challenge and reflect on anything you think describes everything – theories
included. Not that I’ve totally changed my model of reality. I feel that my
desire for a comprehensive approach has been there for a long time and will
continue to guide my experiences. Wilber’s work for me has been a great way to
illustrate that approach and inform me that there are others who feel a similar
approach to the world is possible.
What interests me, personally—and this is the Meyerhoffian turn—is what were
the psychological reasons that I was so strongly drawn to Wilber's work and is
my present skepticism of Wilber due strictly to shortcomings in his work or
also to a deeper skepticism of comprehensive worldviews in general,
discomforting as it may be to wonder? I ask (though I don't answer) these
questions publicly, because I suspect that what drew me to Wilber is what draws
most people and what turned me away is what is turning many away today.
I have thought about this often myself. Why was I so drawn to Wilber and his
work? I think there are many reasons, several of which I am sure that I am not
even aware of. I think there is certainly a very similar phenomenon/pattern
that is associated with “fans” of Wilber as well as those that become
“critics.” For me, the dynamics of that process are both fascinating and a
little scary to reflect on personally.
Speaking for myself, I don't know what Integral philosophy is, let alone where
it stands, apart from Wilber's shadow. I don't think it is a question that has
been adequately answered yet.
I’m with Scott on this one. Some days I wonder why I even call my blog A Day in
the Integral Life because I am uncertain at times what integral is anymore.
Dialogue is what separates philosophy from dogma.