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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe 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]
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Ken Wilber's model of justice has a peculiar resemblance to the 2500 year old notion of justice found in Plato.
In the past I have been critical of Ken Wilber's omission of Justice as a seminal categorical dimension of the AQAL matrix (LR quadrant), as he has consistently not only not given it even a second rate consideration to the so-called 'big three' of truth, beauty, and goodness, but he has completely erased it as a consideration at all from the integral agenda. This silent omission (slight of hand? misdirection? suppression?) is a clear sign that a shadow force is at work in the subconscious of Ken Wilber and his inner circle of devotees. The shadow is likely to appear wherever there is an absence due to neglect or repression of a necessary part of ourselves, in this case Justice, and in the case of KW and the inner integral circle it is most likely to appear in the form of the vested self-interests of inter-objective social relations and their strategic manipulations in the pursuit of power and money.
Alas, on closer inspection one will in fact find a notion of justice (the nature of the inter-objective relations between people in society), whether consciously chosen or not, operating in the life and works of Ken Wilber, and that model of justice has a peculiar resemblance to the 2500 year old notion of justice found in Plato. At the top of the social pyramid in Plato's utopian Just society sits the philosopher-king (Ken Wilber). Surrounding him are the loyal and obedient warriors who protect and defend him by any means necessary, whether he is right or wrong (the inner circle of Wilber devotees). Next comes the merchant class (Joe Firmage and other wealthy benefactors of the Integral Institute), the lowly but necessary servants who support the needs of the philosopher-king and his warriors with booty that the king and his warriors have helped to secure from the common masses (the clients and patrons of the books, merchandise, and seminar-workshops of Ken Wilber Inc.). And just in case anybody forgets who the beloved philosopher-king is they need only look at the front cover of any given Wilber publication adorned with the face of none other than KW himself.
This social hierarchy of justice is aided and abetted particularly by the strategic manipulations of the institutional supports at Integral Institute, the 'official' integral journals of 'IR' and 'JITP' as the mouthpieces of integral dogma, as well as the web of online sites that give privileged access for paying customers to insider resources. This veneer of professionalism and privileged access with all its commercial rules of participation and community norms of reverence for the monarch (sacred icon) has left the integral project of KW open to accusations of cultism. However, it is to be expected that particularly within a commercial enterprise with a charismatic leader and a psychological model of hierarchies there will also be a sociological model of hierarchies, with all the usual gate-keeping duties of separation and selection, and without there being anything necessarily cult-like about it, unless one regards the usual process of in-group/out-group distinction (and intra-group status formation) to be a cult phenomenon as well.
Although this process can be disturbing, what concerns me most is not so much the apparent cult-like tendencies of the inner circle of KW-integral, but the almost banal stride with which a social Darwinian perspective makes its way into integral theory through none other than the king himself, KW. Individual survival strategies in response to collective crisis seems to be all the fashion-rage among new age self-help gurus these days, indeed, as it always has been in America. Personal responsibility for ones fate in life beyond external determining forces of oppression is also a well known tenet of integral politics, and of a Buddhism that has historically been used to justify the caste system in traditional Eastern societies. In fact, Wilber has gone so far as to claim that Buddha was a Republican, thus recruiting Buddhism to the cause of joining the chorus of those right-wing conservatives who blame the victims of social injustice for being lazy, irresponsible, not of right mind, and generally deserving of what they get. The war of all against all in a neoliberal world of the global race to the bottom thus seems to find a champion in the KW-integral call for individual responsibility, mental discipline, and physical austerity, aka, blaming and punishing the victims of the unregulated excesses of financial and political elites.
The fact that KW takes pride in having helped influence the decision under the Clinton administration to dismantle the social justice programs of the 1960s is just one more notch demonstrating his mastery over an integral model that is skewed toward right-wing individualist value-memes and his willingness to compromise the moral integrity of things integral by emphasizing interior accountability regardless of the external circumstances of social justice. And so, on behalf of the nearly one in three children who now live in poverty within the richest country in the world, I just want to say… gee… thanks, Ken. Maybe now we can show them how to pick themselves up from their own bootstraps.
Others within the sphere of influence of the integral movement have likewise demonstrated a penchant for right-wing sympathies, such as Mr. Texan Don Beck, who declared in 2000 that George W. Bush had second tier leadership abilities! And Mr. integral environmentalist Michael Zimmerman, who recently declared a 'positive trend' at American universities that are demonstrating more openness to conservative scholarship. Gee, Michael, I wonder if that has anything to do with the increasing influence of corporations (especially the energy industry interested in refuting globing warming claims) on the research agendas of universities? And Robb Smith, who recently declared that Obama was a 'collectivist'. Hey, Robb, is that the same Obama who has received more donations from Wall Street than any politician in history? And does this mean you think Obama is a Muslim socialist from Kenya too? You get the picture. The disconnection from reality within some of the 'integral' leadership is truly remarkable.
The influence of Ayn Rand on the trajectory of Ken Wilber (and a substantial proportion of the architects of the global financial collapse, including Alan Greenspan) is not to be underestimated. In fact, Integral Institute has been the target of some of the same criticisms that were made of the Nathanial Brandon Institute, which was set up to promote Rand's egoist philosophy, and those criticisms revolved around the cult-like conformity and excessive reverence for the iconic figure of Rand. And can anybody deny the uncanny parallel and unlikely coincidence that Galt's Gultch, the rebel-elite strong hold in 'Atlas Shrugged', and the den of Integral Institute are both in the mountains of Colorado?!
Randianism has been the undeclared official ideology of 20th century social Darwinism.
Known for its support of libertarian, Republican, free market, and anti-Communist crusades that exalted individual genius over self-sacrifice and collectivist ideas, Randianism has been the undeclared official ideology of 20th century social Darwinism. In the worlds of Wilber and Rand, an Atman superhero (KW, John Galt) is poised to take on the world, only to eventually achieve mastery and domination over it by setting up a separate world of his own based on the evolutionary principles of rewarding the victorious and shrugging off the losing majority. In this way the true spiritual genius of humanity will at last come to be recognized for what it is: a big selfish asshole. And by the way, have a happy Thanksgiving and a merry Christmas, Ken, from all the hungry and homeless children in America.