Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
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].


Integral Politics and
the Entrepreneurial Self

Joe Corbett

The election of Trump is the result of a failed neoliberal model of development promoted by both liberal elites and corporate conservatives.

Frank Visser raises a good point about Ken Wilber's integral political analysis when he says that Ken Wilber has a potentially valuable contribution to make in the field of political theory if he would expand and properly elaborate on the insight that conservatives all seem to be internalists whereas liberals all seem to be externalists, and that a balanced, integrated view would see the necessity of both perspectives in any political discussion.

Moreover, in his piece on the election of Trump, Ken Wilber seems to think that Trump is a political self-correction for the over-valuation going back to the 60s the left has put on facts and external causes for the worlds problems, and that a necessary correction of the internal causes are now over-due with the sweeping into power of a post-factual far right and it's extreme internalist perspective. In short, we can see the emergence of Trump as a contemporary version of the return of the repressed shadow, the monstrosity of a failed integration of the lower levels of our collective self.

My own view is that the political “correction” we are currently seeing is not a conservative reset on a left that has gone too far without sufficient integration of preceding levels, as Ken Wilber seems to think, but is the result of a political establishment of liberal elites, from Clinton-Obama and the Third Way Blairites to the EU, who have abandoned the working-classes in favor of a global politics of neoliberal austerity. This move has been done in the name of bringing the internal discipline and values of capitalist austerity to the masses while the global elites enjoy freedom and exuberance. The result has been massive inequality and political corruption, and it has nurtured not a docile and disciplined working-class, but a cynical, distrustful and rebellious working-class ready to blow-up the whole system after elites have waged war and opened the refugee floodgates to economic and cultural competition with an already beleaguered multitude of precariat workers.

So don't tell me, Ken Wilber, that the current political correction has to do with bringing internal attributions more in line with external reality. That's far too reductionist and simplistic, and it flies in the face of the more complex reality involving a global class of elites who seek to enrich themselves by remaking the expectations of the multitudes with neoliberal policies. The election of Trump is the result of a failed neoliberal model of development promoted by both liberal elites and corporate conservatives, known over the last 25 years as the Washington Consensus. And now it has blown-up in their faces. But what emerged from the ashes didn't have to be Trump, as we all know very well, for Bernie Sanders was a true “alternative” reality that could have been, and that has been marginalized and repressed by the establishment just as much if not more than the far right cultural conservatives.

Indeed, the way forward in the future should not be a continuation or a doubling-down of the Clintonesque compromise with the Republicans, but the Sanders compromise with the populists. That's a big difference, and one that Ken Wilber does not seem to recognize with his support of Clinton and Obama neoliberals, who were actually just sell outs to elite interests. In other words, red, blue and green hatred of the MOM (mean orange meme) was justified, yet Clinton resisted it. Where green truly went wrong was in its own narcissistic identity politics, which epitomized the Clinton crew and its denigration of Amber parochialism and Red ignorance with cultural liberal elitism. In contrast, Sanders attack was relentlessly focused on the Mean Orange Meme without being anti-capitalist per se, always in alliance with the working-classes without alienating them or the healthy cultural identitarians, which is why he was not just Green but a truly Teal unifier beyond the modern-postmodern conflict. His only problem was that he was not capitalist enough for the Mainstream Media and his corporate-Democrat competitors.

Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos

Wendy Brown, in Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (2015), documents how Foucault spoke of the making of a neoliberal self as the entrepreneurial self in a series of lectures as early as 1979. Her thesis is that the global neoliberal project not only forms an entrepreneurial self, but that this formation is profoundly depoliticizing, transforming the deliberative self of exchange and interest into the flexible self of competition and sacrifice, ultimately destroying the very basis of democracy as a project of political sovereignty altogether. What we see today as the destruction of democracy in the election of someone like Trump has been preceded by decades of discursive-practices and policies that systematically undermine the interior basis of the external reality we call political sovereignty.

Instead of the rational deliberations of self-interested subjects electing someone like Sanders, they opt for someone like Clinton who offers just rewards for all (regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.) who properly sacrifice themselves at the alter of competition (liberal arts degrees precluded), or, not finding credibility in this false promise, the masses shift into predatory bloodsport mode. They become ready to burn down the global system that has thrown them into the frying pan, and they become set to put into the cross-hairs anyone else who is perceived to be a potential threat in a world that has undeniably become a more existentially insecure place, thanks largely to neoliberalism.

In other words, the formation of a neoliberal interiority is precisely what has gotten us to this dangerous post-factual point in history in the first place, not the repression and exclusion of conservative interiority. And to this I might add the alarming observation that the politics of integral (not integral politics) have served as a kind of central hub, a grand central station if you will, for the project of the neoliberal entrepreneurial self. Rather than providing a critique of power and how it extends its tentacles of control over the tissues and nerves of our bodily and psychological practices, the integral brand has served as a platform for the extension of neoliberal power into the depths of our very soul. If ever there was a betrayal of spiritual trust, I would say this is it.

If I was concerned about Ken Wilber's contribution to political theory in the distinction he makes between conservative internalists and liberal externalists, perhaps it would be less regarding the distinction itself and more regarding his promotion of all things integral as a model for adapting to and thriving within a neoliberal regime, with all its depoliticizing (even anti-politicizing) consequences.

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