Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Edward Berge has been studying all things integral since 1998. He graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English Literature from Arizona State University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society. By profession he has been a massage therapist and is currently a professional liability insurance underwriter focusing on medical malpractice. By avocation he is dancer, researcher, writer, and art and literary lover and critic.

Giving Guns to Children

Edward Berge


People in lower developmental levels can hijack, for their own purpose, tools gleaned from higher levels. For example an oppressive, power-based tyranny can hijack a nuclear weapon to devastate its opponents, even though its own cultural development could never produce such a weapon. Hence there is the notion that for the health of the entire spiral such a culture should be prevented from obtaining nuclear power until it is ready to use it responsibly.

More than physical tools can be hijacked; language and ideas can be as well. Wilber notes the following in “Deconstruction of the World Trade Center”:

Moreover, for the last several decades, the various Third World groups, factions, insurrectionists, and even terrorists have actually adopted the postmodernist lingo coming out of American universities in order to justify their actions. This is very like the Berkeley student protests of the sixties…where a set of truly postconventional ideals were hijacked by bands of preconventional, egocentric terrorists in order to aggressively deconstruct anything conventional. (2001, Part I)

Wilber goes on to suggest that postmodernists are at least complicit in this hijacking:

The extreme postmodernists are not the actual cause of any of this crime, but they are complicit, they are deeply complicit. The list of those complicit is endless--that is, the list of boomeritis scholars with philosophical blood on their hands is truly endless: starting with Heidegger--and shall we note his now infamous, unrepentant complicity with the Nazis? (2001, Part I)

Business leadership coaches and trainers should seriously consider the above when they introduce integral ideas to corporate leaders. People in lower levels of development will by nature interpret and use higher-level tools according to their own understanding. Michael Putz recognizes this regarding teaching the stage conception of the integral model to business leaders:

In pragmatic terms, the lens of stage development is an advanced tool, used primarily by coaches and other corporate human development practitioners to hone their development plans, but is rarely made explicit to the clients themselves. One of the reasons is that reliable stage assessment tools are few and typically expensive to administer. More importantly, stage development tools must be used with great care and discretion, as they raise understandable concerns about potential misuse and misunderstanding. (2004)

Despite Putz's warning, is this the rule rather than the exception? Are business educators heeding this or rushing headlong into teaching stage developmental models in intensive weekend or weeklong workshops? And if so, what precautions or screening is taking place to insure that the information will not be misused?

Given the above, this essay contends that just as postmodernism is complicit in how the terrorists use its language to justify their actions, integral business educators--and the integral movement in general--are even more complicit in how business will use its language because they give it directly to business leaders in seminars. Additionally, an integral ethical perspective has a higher duty and responsibility that goes beyond mere complicity.

What Level is Business?

First of all, let's examine the center of gravity in the general level of development where business resides to determine its strengths and weaknesses. It seems there is agreement that as a whole business's center of gravity is at the egoic-rational level of consciousness with an orange value structure and a burgeoning post-conventional morality. Its level of consciousness displays the use of formal operational thinking combined with a strong sense of individuality. It values the rights of the individual over the former mythic notions of rigid, herd rules of behavior in a religious context. And for the first time the arena of care and concern is extended to all people, not just one's own ethnocentric group; it is the beginning of a worldcentric perspective with liberty for all. This led to the modern liberation movements like the abolition of slavery and equal rights for minorities and women.

For simplicity, the overall center of gravity will be referred to using the Spiral Dynamics color coding, even though the latter technically refers to the values line of development. Here are some of the qualities of the orange level per Wilber (2001, Part I): individualism; individual liberty and freedom; capitalism as a system of trade, production, innovation, and progress; secularism; reason; free market; world commerce. Wilber describes the worldcentric aspect of the orange level in Sidebar C:

With the emergence of formal operational consciousness (formop, reflexive, abstract-universal), a person can begin to 'norm the norms,' to reflect on society's rules and roles and thus rise above them to some extent--which moves consciousness from ethnocentric to worldcentric, from conventional to postconventional. This is the great and grand advance that the western Enlightenment brought on a large scale, even if it did not always live up to that bright promise. (2002)

The worldcentric dignity of this level has been used to defend the idea that business would not take advantage of or exploit its labor force because it wants freedom, justice and prosperity for all. Some have argued that business gets its bad reputation from the 1st-tier, pluralistic level of development with green values that attacks business unjustly and doesn't see its inherent worldcentric dignity. This argument fails to remember that not only is there dignity to each level but limitations and disaster as well, including the level at which business resides. It also fails to see that orange business is only at an incipient, burgeoning worldcentric perspective with much more growth and development needed to achieve maturity.

Wilber established that with the orange level as a cultural center of gravity in the Enlightenment came the reduction of interior depth to exterior span. While the Enlightenment differentiated the value spheres of morals, art and science, it not only failed to integrate them but also reduced all of them to the material, exterior focus of science. (Wilber, 1996, pp. 248-249). This led to an instrumental rationality with an industrial techno-economic base that valued only the exterior domains, AKA flatland. As a result a “dehumanized humanism” was created wherein humanity itself became the object of scientific research. (Wilber, 1996, pp. 264-270) The rift between interior and exterior left a disengaged subject divorced from nature that sought to dominate and control the latter as an object. (Wilber, 1996, p. 280) But not only nature was objectified and manipulated; so were people and everything else.

Wilber discusses some of the disasters of modernity (the orange level) and how they were corrected by the dignities of postmodernity (the green level):

But the formal stage is certainly not the highest stage of consciousness. Beyond it lie postformal developments, the first of which is the pluralistic-relativistic wave. Where formop can grasp the nature of a truly universal system, that system tends to be conceived in a static and monovalent fashion, and also as something of a straightjacket into which all local color is dissolved. The abstract-static nature of formalism has often been commented on--rather negatively, which is certainly understandable. (2002)


This is where postformal developments are so important. For the pluralistic stage takes formalism and differentiates it into numerous, multiple systems, each with its own wonderful richness, color, local context, and diverse backgrounds. This is, of course, the major wave behind multiculturalism, the diversity movements, and postmodernism in general. It is responsible for being able to take multiple perspectives and appreciate all of them with sensitivity and care. (2002)

One can see from this that the typical level of business functions from the very beginning of a worldcentric perspective that limits its embrace in an abstract, static and monovalent fashion that marginalizes diversity. In its infant stage it can't help but fail to live up to the “bright promise” of the mature worldcentric perspective that requires the pluralistic level for further development. While the latter level has its own dignities and disasters and is not itself a mature, worldcentric perspective, it certainly has improved upon increasing the scope of inclusion ignored by the typically orange business version.

Another disastrous expression of the orange level is that it uses the metaphor of warfare in the usual course of conducting business: “You see, with pre-orange memes, violence (or the threat of violence) is almost the only way you can end violence. At orange, physical war shifts to economic war, and the battle field switches to the board room--same war, different means (Wilber, 2001, Part I).”

This metaphor focuses on winners that must defeat losers for a purely material objective: money. “Somebody at orange is a slave to his profit drives (Wilber, 2001, Part II).” And profits are for the winners, in this case the stockholders in the corporation. The profits are not distributed fairly to all stakeholders but are disproportionately distributed to the investors of capital. There is a clear separation of labor and capital and labor is exploited to increase capital to its investors. Business is so focused on maximizing profit with minimal investment that this often leads to squeezing every last ounce of work from its laborers in the name of productivity and efficiency. This view does not consider other factors into its flatland rational perspective, like the levels of stress induced on its labor via overwork and minimal wages. Management typically shows more concern for computer systems than human labor. However this is consistent within the flatland perspective that does not see the interior human elements in its workforce.

Given the above, we can expect that whatever management tools are given to business leaders they are going to implement it for the above objectives in the above manner. It is incumbent on an integral perspective to ask some questions like the following: Do we want to contribute to the exploitation of labor? Or do instead we want to help business understand these limitations and begin to grow to a higher worldview that addresses these injustices? Are we so focused on sharing our newfound integral perspective that we'll sell it to business before they are ready for it? Or should we instead focus on providing leadership methods that are more suited for its level while inspiring movement to the next level and addressing some of the inherent limitations?

Taking the above into consideration, how then do we educate business from an integral ethical imperative? How do we not hide our light under a bushel yet provide information and tools responsibly in the context of an integral perspective? This essay suggests at least the following two areas as a start in this direction: using a more comprehensive business educational model and developing an integral code of business ethics. A third suggestion—forming an integral business association that 1) oversees the training, testing and certification of business educators and 2) enforces the code of ethics—will be reserved for a latter essay.

A Broader Educational Model

Since the beginning of the human potential movement it has become vogue to educate people via the weekend workshop, or if one is “really serious,” in the weeklong intensive workshop. It seems these options are a great supplement to a long-term, disciplined educational process, much like supplemental vitamins are important additions to a balanced, nutritious diet. Unfortunately in the quick-fix rush to enlightenment the supplements are being confused with the meal. Often one's entire education is a series of weekend or weeklong workshops and the staple of a long-term, consistent and progressive education is missing altogether. Would you just want to consume vitamin supplements for your entire diet? Of course not. But this same principle doesn't seem to register when it comes to integral business education.

Granted this view has evolved in recent years in the human potential movement. Many have recognized that a long-term, disciplined and progressive approach is needed to advance to higher stages of development instead of just experiencing temporary states. Wilber stated that a long-term meditation program can elevate someone two levels of development at an accelerated pace. But he also cautions that in the short-term it will help one to translate more efficiently at the current level. Hence Wilber has said that initially meditation practice will help one be a better killer, if that is their current level (Walsh & Wilber, 2004).

Leonard and Murphy, realizing the limitations of short-term training, have developed a long-term approach called integral transformative practice (ITP) that advocates study over time in a number of lines, levels, types, states and quadrants to facilitate one's overall growth and development. They note:

In a culture intoxicated with promises of the quick fix, instant enlightenment, and easy learning, it was hard to accept one of the most important lessons that came to us out of those powerful but short-term experiences: Any significant long-term change requires long-term practice, whether that change has to do with learning to play the violin or learning to be a more open, loving person. We all know people who say they have been permanently changed by experiences of a moment or a day or a weekend. But when you check it out you'll generally discover that those who ended up permanently changed had spent considerable time preparing for their life-changing experience or had continued diligently practicing the new behavior afterward. (1995, pp. 6-7)

This essay will combine the ITP methodology with the true but partial aspects of traditional models of education to suggest solutions for ameliorating some of the inherent, possible disasters that business will likely implement with integral tools and information given to them.

A main principle of public education is evaluation and assessment. At each level of development one is tested to see that he has grasped the material sufficiently to move on to the next grade or level. Assessment is also involved in moving into college, where the SAT is required to evaluate basic competencies. It's extended to graduate college application, where the GRE and other exams are used. At each stage of educational development there is assessment and evaluation so that appropriate informational material is assimilated, building on the previous material in an educational holoarchy.

When it comes to business education it's a bit of a different story. Most of business leadership has already graduated college with at least a Bachelor's degree and has a basic command of those educational competencies. But from an integral perspective only a fraction of the various lines have been developed in the usual, cognitively based, public education and usually only to the formal-operational level. Other lines, especially moral and interpersonal, are typically underdeveloped and these are crucial to some of the issues discussed above. Thus integral business training would require a comprehensive evaluation and assessment of business leadership with established methodologies (e.g. Piaget for cognitive, Kohlberg for moral, etc.) Only then can appropriate educational materials in each of those lines be provided.

It appears that participants have been “screened” in past integral business leadership seminars. But what is this screening process? One can guess that this includes some familiarity with the integral model, in particular Wilber's or SDi's version. But is this enough of a screening process? Is it enough that one has the money to pay for the workshop? It can be rationalized that these are tier-2 to tier-2 workshops, meaning that both the teachers and participants have achieved this level. But with what testing methodologies was that determined? Was it merely familiarity with the integral model by reading books? Or by evaluating one's cognitive development? Were any of Piaget's tests done to determine this? Does tier-2 simply mean that one's cognitive line is at integral-aperspectival? It appears that none of the above criteria are thoroughly evaluated and that familiarity with the reading and money are the two main screening processes. This is simply not enough of a screening or evaluation within a higher ethical framework to prevent misuse of the information.

As noted previously, the educational process takes long-term discipline and study. This can be supplemented by weekend or weeklong workshops but needs the underlying and ongoing base to actually move people to higher levels of growth in the various lines of development. The long-term approach simply must be implemented in an integral business educational model. It might be fine to have the workshops as introductions but there must be follow-up, long-term offerings with degrees or certification via a process of rigorous examination to obtain such. There must also be a commitment between business educators and business leaders to long-term growth via contracts that require periodic audits to evaluate implementation of the ideas learned.

If we just let the customer decide what they get because it's their money (what level is that?) then is it ok to sell a gun to a child just because they have the money? Note that in both the areas of education and ethics the person with the money, or the customer, isn't always right: That is a notion inherent in orange business. In education and ethics (as well as fields like psychotherapy) someone else is the competent authority who makes the assessment and tells the recipient what they need, not the reverse. Because business education and ethics are on the line here we need the latter approach. By participating with business on its own level (the customer is always right) we might think we are “speaking their language” and thus getting our foot in the door. More likely we are being manipulated into selling them guns before they can be used responsibly or we are fooling ourselves and compromising our own higher ethical stance.


In Wilber's statement "The War in Iraq" he envisions what an Integral World Federation would look like. He notes that laws are enacted from the highest level of a given society and these higher laws are imposed upon all the lower levels within that society. For example, murder is not permitted, even though that might make perfect sense to a red meme. When we get to yellow-integral law though, it must also include restrictions of functions higher than red and blue to include orange and green.

A second-tier, integral, World Federation—in my Utopian view—would therefore prevent any first-tier memes from dominating, attacking, or exploiting any other populations. If necessary, a World Federation would do so by using force, just as all democracies today have an internal police force to curtail murder, rape, robbery, extortion, and so on. (Wilber, 2003)

In applying this to ethics it is incumbent upon an integral perspective to prevent orange-dominated business from exploiting labor and environment. Granted there has been progress with green contributions, e.g., reducing work days to 8 hours, workplace safety, minimum wage and child-labor laws, pollution restrictions and so on. Less obvious but equally important is the inherent integral responsibility to not provide higher-level tools to lower-level memes that 1.) could never have been produced from their own level and 2.) will inevitably be interpreted and utilized for their own less than integral purposes.

In a recent Integral Institute seminar on Ethics taught by Walsh and Wilber (2004) (hereinafter, “the seminar”), Wilber noted in his introductory remarks that ethics, for the purposes of the seminar, were equated with morals. He said that technically speaking ethics was a more relative term applied to a particular group, like professional codes. Morals related more to the universal stages of development. In the seminar the term “ethics” was intended to mean the latter moral stages.

Wilber went on to explain that ethics were first stabilized as a level of development in the mythical stage. This is the reason why ethics get a bad rap; they can be perceived as ethnocentric. But this does not mean that all ethics are at this stage. Like all developmental holoarchies, ethics continues to grow into higher and more inclusive views with concomitant dignities and disasters. So first of all let's explore what a higher ethics might entail.

In the seminar Wilber elucidated that ethical practice will not lead to enlightenment by itself, but without it you will not get there—it is necessary but not sufficient. Enlightenment is the ever-present realization that “one is that” in the absolute realm. However, ethics provides the structure to manifest this realization in the relative realm. It helps in the healthy translation of the absolute into everyday living. It makes one take on the perspective of the other in a loving embrace. As Wilber euphemistically puts it, enlightenment is an accident but an ethical practice makes one accident-prone. This is why in most contemplative traditions ethics is one of the 3 great pillars of practice (the other 2 being meditation and awakening). An ethical practice is essential and this practice evolves up the spiral of development with increasing embrace and responsibility.

Walsh said in the seminar that ethics was a foundational practice, the starting point and cornerstone for all other integral practices. He said that at post conventional levels of ethical development we are no longer bound by the conventional rules of right and wrong. At this stage it's more of a consciously felt, intuitive choice to act with appropriateness to each situation. It becomes more a spontaneous sense and expression of our true nature. That is why Wilber calls it the basic moral intuition, as they are no absolute rules for every case. Wilber gave an example of 10 people in a stranded lifeboat that could only handle 7, so who do you throw out? The BMI would take into consideration if one were Einstein versus if one were Hitler. While maintaining that there are no absolute rules on the one hand it sounds like the BMI does in fact have some universal criteria: save those that have greater depth and can make a higher contribution to the greater span of society.

But the BMI will be interpreted from each level of consciousness and will hence generate that level's moral stance. The typical warrior ethic, for example, will extend the greatest depth to a span only of itself, whereas the sociocentric stance will extend the span to a particular culture. The worldcentric stance extends the span to all people, but in orange's flatland orientation depth is reduced to a mono-level happiness (typically exterior monetary success). This early level of worldcentric embrace cannot yet differentiate the different kinds of happiness or different levels of depth. However, the integral-aperspectival (yellow) level can make these differentiations. But at this level and higher the BMI must extend beyond a mere intuition in only the subjective, UL quadrant. A full ethical theory must embrace all four quadrants. (Wilber, 1995, pp. 613-615)

“Otherwise we will very soon slide into solipsism and subjective idealism, which plays heavily into the hyper-agentic, hyper-masculine, disengaged and dangling subject of the fundamental Enlightenment paradigm.” (Wilber, 1995, p. 615)

Walsh reiterated this idea in the seminar by saying that a peer group is needed for a post-conventional ethics. This is so that we can make commitments to one another and be held accountable. In that sense ethics in not just what each individual decides is right based on their individual moral intuition. Like Wilber's above statements on integral law and the BMI, this must be validated in an intersubjective community of the adequate to hash out those universals that can be applied to case-by-case situations. So we'll now turn our attention to communal ethical practices within the framework of a professional code of ethics.

An Ethical Code

In short, the type of techno-economic base of a society constrains its various probability waves in very strong ways. Thus, it appears that there is a crucially important (if partial) truth contained in Marx's most famous statement about these facts, namely (to paraphrase): "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their reality but their economic-material realties that determine their consciousness." That is, the Lower-Right quadrant (which includes the techno-economic base) clearly has a profound influence on the types of beliefs, feelings, ideas, and worldviews of men and women. For us, of course, this is in every way an AQAL affair--we needn't buy into Marx's tendency to absolutize the LR quadrant. At the same time, it is very hard indeed to overestimate the impact of the LR quadrant on the various modes of consciousness and culture. (Wilber, n.d., Excerpt A, Part III, p.1)

This statement can be applied to the creation of an integral ethical code that expresses in the lower right quadrant, thus providing structural guidelines for those involved in business education. We cannot “overestimate the impact” of this quadrant or such a code. An integral ethical code will provide a necessary and profound influence on those with business education experience, as well as those that are just coming into the field. Granted this structure arises with the lower left, intersubjective, moral values that we must agree upon and develop. To go beyond the merely subjective BMI both of these lower quadrants must be included in the necessary development of an integral, professional code of ethics in general and in business education in particular.

Many organizations develop ethical codes to set standards of behavior that are consistent with general principles of purpose. For example, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) Code of Ethics lays out broad parameters in its General Principles:

In their professional activities, members of the Academy are committed to enhancing the general well being of society and of the individuals and groups within it. Members of the Academy are especially careful to avoid incompetent, unethical or unscrupulous use of criminal justice knowledge. They recognize the great potential for harm that is associated with the study of criminal justice, and they do not knowingly place the well being of themselves or other people in jeopardy in their professional work. (2000)

The ACJS is acutely aware that knowledge can have deleterious effects on society at large if used incompetently, unethically or unscrupulously. While usual business practices are not considered such from the orange level, we need to evaluate whether this is so from the highest “law” or ethical perspective, in this case, integral. While the ACJS Code is also committed to the free and open access to knowledge, there needs to be a balance between this and possible misuse. An integral code of ethics would do no less.

The American Psychological Association's (APA) Ethical Code also recognizes the need for free and open inquiry for the benefit of society:

Psychologists are committed to increasing scientific and professional knowledge of behavior and people's understanding of themselves and others and to the use of such knowledge to improve the condition of individuals, organizations, and society. Psychologists respect and protect civil and human rights and the central importance of freedom of inquiry and expression in research, teaching, and publication. (2002, Preamble)

But it also recognizes inherent misuses of said knowledge when it warns the following:

Psychologists refrain from taking on a professional role when personal, scientific, professional, legal, financial, or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to (1) impair their objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing their functions as psychologists or (2) expose the person or organization with whom the professional relationship exists to harm or exploitation. (2002, Section 3.06)

In addition to the duty to prevent harm or exploitation discussed above, this section of the code also refers to possible conflicts of interest. Because business is paying for the training there might be pressure on the trainers to give business what it wants instead of what is appropriate to their needs based on assessment. As noted previously, a common business notion is that because the customer is paying they are always right. But in psychotherapy and in education that does not hold: the therapist or educator decides what is appropriate and when to provide it. As business education combines a bit of both of these professions they must adhere to these general principals and not let the business recipient dictate what they receive because of monetary remuneration. Otherwise financial interests could be construed as impairing objectivity. At the very least it is agreeing to business's terms on its own level instead of requiring higher level ideals.

Once a business educator becomes aware that their training is being misused or misrepresented it is incumbent upon them to do something about it. Part of an integral ethical code should contain something like the following from the APA code: “If psychologists learn of misuse or misrepresentation of their work, they take reasonable steps to correct or minimize the misuse or misrepresentation (2002, Section 1.01).” An integral educator's responsibility doesn't stop at the end of a short workshop. Given the higher ethical standards of a 2nd-tier level one must follow up on how the information is used via a continuing educational model and correct misuse by all means available.

The above are just a few initial samples of what might be included in an integral code of ethics. The process of developing such a code requires intensive study and work on the part of numerous people set within an intersubjective background of mutual understanding. Hopefully this will motivate this necessary process to begin.


If we fail to implement something like the above suggestions we fail in our ethical responsibilities to prevent harm to a large span of humanity, its workforce. We should consider in-depth assessment of those we teach in a broader, long-term, educational model. We should take action to put into effect a communal ethical code that is more than individual intuitions. This does not have to be a rigid, dogmatic code but a living, breathing, ever-evolving code that grows with the times and development, much like our Constitution. If we fail in these endeavors we can only hope that future history, paraphrasing a quote in the Introduction, doesn't find the following: “And shall we note the integral movement's now infamous, unrepentant complicity with business?”


Thanks to Eric Hornak for editorial assistance and being a competent and caring sounding board.

Thanks to the teachers and students of the “Introduction to Integral” graduate course through Integral Institute and Indiana University of Pennsylvania for their discussion on this topic.


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Walsh, R. and Wilber, K. (2004). Seminar on Ethics, Denver: Integral Institute.

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Wilber, K. (posted 4/19/2003). The war in Iraq. Retrieved 11/26/2004 from

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