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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
A RESPONSE TO SCOTT PARKER
First off congratulations on your piece Winning the Integral Game? It struck me as very thoughtful and sincere. I liked how you walked the reader through your own process of identification and disidentification around integral, giving very concrete examples. I thought you communicated your own experience and reflection on your experience very well.
I think what you call “the Meyerhoffian turn” is a good one to take.
My one criticism is that you seem to me to assume that now you are out of the loop of connecting to psychological needs. At least that is how your essay read to me. [You don't anywhere specifically say that you are now immune from this needs tendency, so I might very well be wrong on this hunch].
In other words, if you (in part) accepted Wilber's system out of desire for comprehensiveness, it is equally as true that you taking the Meyerhoff turn, again in part, for psychological reasons.
I wouldn't presume to know what exactly those are nor that there is something wrong with needs playing a role in our philosophical positions. Just that you might consider as you are reflecting (from some space of objectivity it seems) on what were the needs vis a vis Wilber, what are the needs now? So that the false identification you rightly pointed vis a vis Wilber does not reproduce itself in a Meyerhoffian fashion.
The rabbit hole like the turtles goes all the way down and up.
In short, there is always a psychological/needs element of any thinker-outlook. Reflecting on what those needs are, say possible unconscious needs for the writer him/herself and the needs for the reader/oneself is an important step to take.
The danger of course with investigation of the psychologizing outlook is that it can become subjectivism. The only thing to study becomes the needs that different systems fulfill, not whether the content/ideas contained therein in the different outlooks are manifestly better or worse, more correct or less so. I'm not accusing you of having done that, just as a general universal warning.
And if you want to expand this reflection further, the needs angle is not the only turn to make. Just a few examples of some other possible turns worth investigating:
- All philosophical systems embed preference for certain forms of social-technological and political organization. Marx was the first to realize the profundity of this truth.
- All knowledge involves power—power over or power with, and usually some combination of the two. Foucault is the master of this domain.
- All knowledge/systems involves some degree of elision in order to promote its elements of coherence, fluidly understood and understandable, and the whole over the messy, incomplete, and mistranslated. Derrida for this account.
- Judgment and ranking is always in play. Even the judgments of so-called “non-judgmentalism”: i.e. people who judge are bad. Wilber is very solid on this point.
- Everyone has a meta-narrative. Even if the meta-narrative is an anti-meta narrative narrative (like Lyotard). Even post-metaphysics has its own metaphysical elements.
In any form of integral, Wilber's or otherwise, all of the above will always apply in some measure. Not to mention any others I'm neglecting. They do not however exclusively define I hold any philosophical position.
Now with all of these turns the same proviso applies: keep to the partially true avoid the absolute.
With Marxian analysis, of course, the absolute comes to mean that all philosophy is nothing other than the ideology of the ruling techno-economic class. Corollaries could be marshaled for deconstruction, power/force, and narratives critiques.
The negative tendency I see in all of the above (Marx, Meyerhoff, Derrida, etc.) is that at least in their interpreters/followers if not in the thinkers themselves, there is a general feeling that by realizing that say power is involved in any discourse or that political-economic concerns are never absent from any philosophical outlook, that someone one has become free of this tendency.
Those who realize these tendencies then become a neo-cognoscenti, an elect saved by grace of such realization from the massa damnata, granting permission to remain aloof from the humdrum of daily discourse and thought, too often devolving into dogmatic skeptics, arrogant and closed off in mind and heart.
Not all critics and criticisms are created equal.
In my own experience I discovered there is (some) freedom to be found in such meditations. Just not total Freedom. When relative freedoms are mistaken for the Ultimate Freedom, the problems named above ensue. I'm saying that for anyone who may read your piece and following your lead take this psychological turn.
There is no cure for any of these deep processes. In fact I don't even like the word cure because it implies the foregoing are diseases, which they are not. For me these influences are simply neutral, i.e. “the way things are”—though these intrinsic aspects certainly can become problematic, particularly to the degree they are unconscious/unrecognized.
That is why I agree with you that dialogue is so important. Particularly that integral thinkers learn humility and honesty. The best that we can do is become more aware of the psychological, class-economic, power, narrative, and linguistic influences that are always at work—again in degrees (the four quadrants all the way up and down).
We can be far more open about what they are, why we would hold them, and live with the consequences, cognizant of how fallible we all can be. Hopefully an integral lens would also teach given that these forces are always in play, to be more adept in their use (as with say power, ranking), more intelligent in their application. As a simple example: making keeping in the mind the distinction around judgment/ranking in integral: they are judgments of levels of attitudes, actions, points of view, ethical positions and so on, not people themselves.
Still a proviso. In my experience, however, I've found all these turns can subtly take on lives of their own. Take psychotherapy. It is a good thing, but no one could ever actually have enough of it in the sense that they would ever be completely healed. The ego is well aware of ways to manipulate the otherwise good platform of therapy to continue its psychodramatic existence.
Just so with taking any of these intellectual turns; it is a good and necessary turn to take. Nevertheless the ego will want to find ways to always keep reflecting on what are the psychological reasons for subscribing to one position over another, the social-political reasons, etc. This way it never has to be held down to a position, never pinned down to taking stands, living with the incompleteness of the mental-egoic levels of our being.
All of the above actually do not cover the actual description of a system: its methodologies, principles, arguments, proofs, and so on. I believe it is essential to keep this dyad in mind, especially in integral discourse: that the influences mentioned above are never absent and yet they are not definitive for any thinker/system either (nor for a reader/intellectual disciple).
Thanks again for the piece Scott. Peace.