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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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].



Jeff Salzman, Ken Wilber, and the Missing Link in Integral Theory and Practice

Joe Corbett

Here one begins to wonder if this is an interview or an open session of Wilber's psychoanalysis.

Recently, Jeff Salzman celebrated his 100th pod-cast on current world events in his weekly broadcast “The Daily Evolver” at Integral Life by inviting Ken Wilber to join him as a guest.[1] Jeff begins his talk with an obligatory salutation to the Good, the Beautiful, and the True (“the big three”), thus setting the stage and drawing the lines for what is to come, namely, a discussion of current events that is entirely devoid of any structural analysis or acknowledgement of social institutions and the prevailing forms of justice within society. This glaring omission of the L-R quadrant of Justice is typical of Jeff's discussions, as it is of the discussions of all those in the inner-circle of Wilber-speak who say volumes about what they stand for by what they don't say. But if integral means anything it means including a discussion of all four quadrants, not just three. By continuing to announce “the big three” without Justice, the inner-circle (and the founding members of the integral movement no less!) continues to fail at being truly, fully integral -- better than “half-ass” as Ken accuses common wisdom of, but still only three-quarters-ass, and a “broken humanity” to boot without Justice on the horizon of our awareness.

Jeff Salzman
Jeff Salzman

The consequence of failing to acknowledge the lower-right quadrant as the dimension of Justice is no less than an absence of an integral political agenda to mobilize the members and adherents of integral philosophy into a unified organization promoting the ideas and goals of a more beautiful, good, truthful, and just world. Without the vocabulary to properly articulate and frame what's in the AQAL model it cannot be properly and fully enacted. Discontentment and failure of the movement as a whole is sure to follow without its full realization as a truly integral theory and practice, and that must start by lifting the veil of omission in the Wilber-speak of “the big three”. The silence of integral leaders on the dimension of Justice is deafening, and it reflects similarly how “middle-way” liberals proclaim allegiance to progressive values, but then won't talk about the role of the apparatuses of power and money in preventing those values from being realized. Which leads me to the next question, are integral leaders at Integral Life and elsewhere corrupt in their own way, just as politicians and others are who walk the line between their donating client/patrons and the authentic interests of truth, beauty, goodness, and justice?

Let me now illustrate how not naming the L-R quadrant as Justice, the inter-objective political and economic relations of society, distorts the articulation of a proper integral analysis and ultimately falsifies its vision and conclusions. In their talk, Wilber and Salzman speak as if the development and expression of consciousness takes place in a vacuum, without social and historical context and free of the distorting influences of power and money. No consideration is given in their analysis to how institutional structures of power and money (media, schools, religion, the corporate-military-police-state) systematically prevent and retard human development. You would think that the founding figure of the integral brand would have learned his lesson from Habermas, but I guess not. How power/money shapes, inhibits, and distorts the development of human consciousness is not even given a passing mention, and this is astounding considering the discussion is coming from leading figures of the integral movement who purport to be concerned about improving human development at large through an integral understanding of its formation and dynamics. Do you really think the corporate-media has little or no influence in holding back the development of human consciousness and society, such that you don't even need to mention it once? Come on, guys!!

Instead of a structural analysis of the historical and relational obstacles to human development, in their discussion of the Middle East we get a static and essentialist view of ethnocentric tribesmen as little boys with dangerous modern weapons who need to be stopped (you guessed it) by means of dangerous modern weapons. No mention is given to how American foreign policy has contributed and continues to contribute to the interior formation of “terrorists”. Ken does mention, echoing Thomas Friedman, how the Arabs have used oil as a crutch to buy their way around interior development, but he fails to mention that this is the same oil that the corporate-military-fossil-fuel-industrial-complex has sought-out in their own designs for a highly centralized hierarchical global dominance. But without looking at the role of power/money and its effects on global social justice, such contrarian perspectives become invisible, even impossible. So, Ken and Jeff, if we can't let 7 year olds (with ego based self-esteem) have missiles, then are we to let 16 year olds (with striver-achiever based self-esteem) have them? This kind of questioning is precluded from their a-historical and uncritical analysis.

Wilber also launches into a discussion of the totalitarian forms of western Marxism that arose in China and the Soviet Union, “strangely putting a clamp on the magic-mythic levels” in those countries, even though it is well understood that this is what the leading secular intellectuals of orange-green would naturally do to make their operations more efficient. In the case of Europe and the West, religion (the magic-mythic level) was more organically fused to the leading intellectuals, and it could also be used for control and distraction of the population in the interests of the orange ruling classes, not only for the efficiency of a secular imperialist-state but for the efficiency and valorization of private enterprise. Furthermore, in this context Wilber fails to mention that corporations are basically private tyrannies, and in western capitalism they constitute the vast majority of the economy. These private tyrannies also have overwhelming influence in the political process, thus making capitalist societies essentially corporate democracies, or “totalitarian societies with privatized characteristics”, in a variation on China's “socialism” with Chinese characteristics. But none of these inconvenient truths are visible to an analysis that doesn't include Justice, a perspective on the inter-objective relations of society, as a critical dimension, and in the case of Ken Wilber it is clearly the blind leading the blind.

On the prospects of democracy, Jeff Salzman (who is horrified by the twitter-feed video beheadings of Westerners, but doesn't seem to be bothered at all by the drone killings of Muslim women and children) says “we don't need direct democracy” and that “representative democracy is better than direct democracy” because elites know better, and Ken agrees. However if direct democracy was the standard practice of governance, even with continued corporate propaganda in the media, polls consistently show that Americans would support things like a living minimum wage, no cuts to social security, single-payer universal health care, and policies that prioritize the environment over economic growth ( But for Wilber and Salzman, the fact that Kansas might ban the teaching of evolution in schools and Texas would outlaw abortion is important, whereas empowering people with the vote to make significant changes in their life and using that as a lesson in democracy and responsible self-governance is not. How else are people to self-develop if they don't have their betters making decisions for them in a politically skewed and un-representative way?

The Daily Evolver

As for Wilber, he says he's in agreement with Plato's notion of democracy, where he also proposes an alternative in the philosopher-king who rules over the ignorant masses and is surrounded by his military protectors and business servants. Here one begins to wonder if this is an interview or an open session of Wilber's psychoanalysis. Ken also thinks we now have “democracy based on the pure egalitarianism of one person one vote”, but he doesn't acknowledge that the influence of money in politics, money as free speech where the wealthy have more free speech than everyone else, is such that the influence of voters on policy is virtually non-existent.[2] Instead, Ken is concerned that Mother Teresa and Jack the Ripper are getting equal voting representation, not that people like the Koch brothers and corporations have the system in their back pocket. Perhaps the fact that Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush, the new fascist Ukrainian government, and a host of corporate heads are using integral ideas “in their own sort of quiet way” is enough to keep Ken hoping that power and money (along with Ken's own super-human uber-man philosophy) will eventually light the way to our integral deliverance, perhaps in grand goose-step style.

Regarding the transition to an integral society, Salzman says “you can't be a successful global leader of an organization without being functionally teal”. I guess for Jeff that means the integral society has already emerged at the global level under neo-liberal capitalism. We just need more of them, up to a 10% tipping-point when their values will diffuse to the rest of us, and then we'll all finally see the virtues of free-trade, deregulation, and privatization along with our superiors. Ken is infected by this magical-thinking of the 10% as well, thinking the values of the “leading edge” automatically percolate to the masses when they reach the critical point of 10% of the population. Never mind that the founding fathers of America numbered far fewer than 10% of the population. They were quasi-military adventurists and capital land owners who had the resources to organize and mobilize their political interests into a populist military, and then into the binding laws of the land, regardless of alternative values, interests, and ideas. They staked their claim as the new leaders, and imposed their will. Cunning and force is the secret behind the “diffusion” of values, not demographics. As Karl Polanyi shows in “The Great Transformation”, modern orange values and discipline did not spontaneously diffuse but were coerced upon a resistant population of citizens, workers, and consumers who were ultimately bought and sold the paradigm of modern capitalism and representative democracy to replace their community-based systems of equity and reciprocity.

Neither did postmodern values magically diffuse to the masses at a 10% tipping-point. The cultural and political upheavals of the late 60s had been brewing for years in the political struggles of the civil rights, free speech, and anti-war movements. In other words, postmodern values were brought about through the struggles of political activism fighting for greater social justice, not by a magical demographic number. But an “integral” analysis without the dimension of Justice, as the inter-objective political and economic relations of society, is not likely to see this. In the final analysis, one wonders if Ken Wilber's aversion to the “mean green meme” is an aversion to critical thinking more generally, particularly with regard to himself, and to issues of social justice surrounding some of his most powerful and wealthy client/patrons who operate out of the mean orange meme. What is clear is that Ken Wilber and Jeff Salzman have yet to reach their own tipping-point of a structural realization concerning social Justice and a truly, fully integral understanding of the world.


[1] Jeff Salzmann, "The World According to Wilber",, September 22nd, 2014.

[2] John Light, "A Study in Plutocracy: Rich Americans Wield Political Influence, the Rest of Us Don’t",, August 14, 2014.

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