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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].


Don Beck and the
General Pathology
of "Integral" Leaders

Joe Corbett

It is my feeling that there's a tendency toward an affliction of general pathology in those who work closely with hierarchically-oriented developmental models.

A spectre is haunting the integral movement – the spectre of tyrannical shadows. The historic breakdowns and break-ups of Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen are well documented here at integralworld and elsewhere. And now I think we can add Don Beck to the waste heap of influential integral leaders who have demonstrated either their unwillingness or their incapacity to walk the talk of their developmental models by demonstrating a civil engagement with their dissenters and contrarian critics. It is my feeling that there's a tendency toward an affliction of general pathology in those who work closely with hierarchically-oriented developmental models, and that is the egotistical sense of superiority they feel over others who do not 'get it', and consequently, they often have overly defensive reactions towards those who may have substantial criticisms or alternative interpretations of what might be their theoretical weaknesses.

Don Beck

In a response to my article, 'Banned from AQAL Integral Scholars', Don Beck sent me an unsolicited email. Needless to say, it was not a love letter, so I feel no obligation to protect any tender sentimentalities he may have regarding it by publically revealing its contents. Also, at the end of a second email in reply to my response to his first email, he reveals that he is not going to spend any more time and/or energy on me, so I guess it's not like I have any bridges to burn with Don Beck. So here it goes, in brief.

In the first email he begins abruptly by offering what I suspect is his reasoning for why I was banned from the AQAL Facebook group.

Apparently you must need an enemy.  We do have high standards. Do not sanction personal attacks; insist on respectful language; and the integrity of ideas.

So, according to Don, if I got banned it must have been because I deliberately started making enemies at AQAL integral scholars by making posts that were of low standard, included personal attacks, disrespectful language, and involved a lack of integrity in the ideas expressed. Well, I made many posts before I was deleted from the group, but since my history there has been erased, I'll defer judgement to others regarding whether they think the posts in my article 'Banned from AQAL integral scholars' were unworthy of the group and deserved exile. I do recall getting quite a few 'likes' for my posts, and no complaints that I am aware of.

Don goes on to say that he doesn't know of any gatekeepers at the AQAL Facebook group (really?) despite its vast diversity, so, by implication, if I got banned it was probably for a good consensual reason, similar to why they have a trademark on Spiral Dynamics, to 'keep away the idiots from misrepresenting the work of Clare Graves', a reference no doubt to me, the rogue idiot who dares to critique hierarchy as a mode of organization and simultaneously mock the SD trademark with a meme cartoon.

Finally, Don ends his first email by saying he resents the personal attacks I have made against Ken Wilber (Ken Wilber: Philosopher-King) because he is a good man. And I have no doubt that Ken is a good man, just maybe in the way that GW Bush is a good man, a man with good intentions, a guy you'd want to have a beer with, or smoke a joint with, but once you start putting the pieces of their words and deeds into a bigger picture it becomes much harder to separate the personal from the political with some people, especially ones in positions of leadership and influence who conspire to mislead and misdirect the flock of their followers by errors of omission and exclusion regarding the AQAL model itself.

None of my specific criticisms of Ken, by the way, were ever mentioned by me at the Facebook group. So perhaps I was pre-emptively banned, a favorite strategy of George W Bush himself, who is also, like Don, from Texas, which is the most notoriously backward territory this side of the Taliban, but Don calls it home. And by the way, did you know that back around 2000 Don proclaimed in an article he wrote that Bush was operating at second-tier yellow? Well, you should know, because for one who proclaims he's done so much good for the world, Don needs to do some explaining about why he got it so very, very wrong about Bush. Or maybe he still thinks he was right! I'm sure it had something to do with that Texas Dixie-cowboy camaraderie thing, and of course the potential for a very lucrative partnership with the devil himself.

To make a long story short, I responded to Don's first email with the following, which I give in full so you can see the context for Don's concluding remarks in his second email.


the cartoon was not a personal attack on you or spiral dynamics, it was a playful spin on the spiral dynamics name about a completely different dynamic that is at the core of american and global problems today.  nor have i made personal attacks on ken, but have attacked his apolitical and socio-political blindspot regarding the dimension of justice, which is a serious omission from the AQAL model, as many other critics have pointed out as well.

i think the real issue is why you, and ken, and the core integral group more generally, are so defensive and unable to receive criticism that might make you feel uncomfortable.  and that might have to do with the fact that most of you are conventional americans (with all the historical and cultural baggage that includes) organized to market your ideas and make a living to survive on the open 'free-market', which results in all sorts of corruption and defenses of the 'integrity' of the integral movement, as well as a willingness and eagerness to sell your wares exclusively to power and money in forms fit for consumption by the bourgeoisie.  so the only place i think you and the integral orthodoxy needs to look for an enemy is within, and among, yourselves.

respectfully, joe corbett

Notice in my reply that I do not equate Spiral Dynamics with the Shitty Dynamics analogy I made with the cartoon, but acknowledge the completely distinct (but often related) dynamics involved. To equate spiral dynamics with shitty dynamics is only one possible interpretation, and the most vulgar one at that. For Don or anyone else to assume that that was my interpretation, or my intent that it be interpreted that way by others, would only reveal their own vulgarity, not mine. So I ask you, where is the disrespect, personal attacks, or lack of integrity in the expressed ideas here if not within the mind of the interpreter, and specifically in this case the minds of the defensive gatekeepers who watch over the integral community for violations of sacred cows and holy names?

Why does all this matter? Why am I making such a fuss over Don Beck's angry, disrespectful email to me in which he accuses me (without sufficient argument) of being angry and disrespectful at the AQAL integral scholars Facebook group? It all became very clear to me that this was a much more ominous encounter than just with some cranky old man like I initially thought, when Don responded in a second email, addressing the issue of justice in America, and the consequences of the development of integral ideas within an environment of the survival of the fittest in a free-market of ideas, that I raised in my email above. He said,

You clearly exposed your real motives and I suggest you get out of this country you so hate… If this society has any blind spots, danger zones, and destructive concepts of "justice"… they are the product, in large part, of what poison you and others like you represent.

I and 'my kind' have heard these words before, not uncommon in the 60s when the counterculture that did so much to advance the cultural development of America and the world was reviled and spat upon by reactionaries who screamed, 'if you don't like America then leave'. These words are not uncommon in the land of Texas even today. And I suppose by 'real motives' Don means destructiveness, otherwise known as a critical view towards received wisdom and sacred cows.

While I and others like me are busy poisoning America with concepts like “justice” and trying to fill-in the empty spaces of history and society that the corporate media and integral orthodoxy refuses to fill, Don Beck and the gatekeepers over at AQAL integral scholars on Facebook are busy keeping us safe from hearing and seeing the voices that are too dangerous for their entrepreneurial agenda of ideas in the free-market of dog-eat-dog. For them, my banishment is a victory in their game of social Darwinian selection of the fittest. The only question is, who's next, and what kind of monstrous 'integral' creature is to come forth from all this in the end?

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