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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Dr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: integraldeeplistening.com and his YouTube channel.
What is an Integral Approach to Gaza?
The Integral response to the war in Gaza is merely the latest example of a fundamental and endemic problem I see in Integral theory.
I have hesitated in writing anything about the war in Gaza for a number of reasons. Views are already polarized, as are my own, and I could think of nothing to write that would not add to that polarization. Such polarization is a form of prepersonal, pre-rational, emotionally-based cognitive distortion. It supports and enables extremely dualistic Manichaestic thinking and behavior. Secondly, any outcry against the ongoing genocide, apartheid, racism, and ethnic cleansing by Israel on Palestinians will only sound like virtue signaling to supporters of Israel. Third, I am not a fan of setting oneself up for the usual, boring “anti-Semitic” slurs that are the prepersonal stock-in-trade of supporters of Zionism. Instead, what I intend to do here is reference the Integral response to the war in Gaza as merely the latest example of a fundamental and endemic problem I see in Integral theory. By that, I am referring to Wilber's version of integral. However, integral is larger than Wilber and is evolving, so my criticisms are not of the integral worldview itself, which I respect and support.
Integral views on the war on Gaza
I have to date experienced three varieties of response to the war on Gaza by integralists.
The genocide by Israel is real
While racism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid are relatively easy to ignore, rationalize, justify, or overlook, the genocide of women and children, daily in your face on TikTok and even main stream media, is much more difficult. After all, genocide is a war crime, and is in fact the worst of war crimes because it involves the murder of innocents who have nothing to do with the war. In the case of Israel and its war on Palestinians, it includes not just the extra-legal imprisonment of civilians, including children, but the maiming and torturing of them. It includes not the apocryphal murdering of babies in incubators, as was used to justify war against Iraq, but the real murdering of babies in incubators. We are not talking here about heresay or opinion; we are talking about documented, photographed, graphic realities.
In addition, we are not talking about theoretical genocide. We are witnessing real, ongoing genocide by a state, not simply a terrorist organization. There is a very real difference in culpability under international law. That state genocide is being actively supported by the United States and the EU via military and political support, making them - and their citizens - accomplices in genocide. Despite immense hand-wringing that would make Pontius Pilate blush, the United States and the EU refuse to call for a cease fire, much less brand Israel as a terrorist state conducting genocide under international law, which it most obviously and surely is. Please do not take my word for it. Instead, consult Raz Segal, a Jewish Israeli scholar on the holocaust, and Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Also note that this is the opinion of multiple Jewish groups. For example, many rabbis have held demonstrations publicly denouncing both Zionism and the State of Israel for ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Are these people “self-hating Jews” or are they Jews who recognize our common humanity and place it before any tribal or religious loyalties? The racism within Israel society is not imaginary. Over 90% of Israelis do not want a cease-fire in Gaza. That is, they support the ongoing ethnic cleansing and genocide. In addition, there are videos of Israeli children supporting genocide, demonstrating how deeply rooted endemic racism is in Israeli society and culture.
While we can and should support citizens of Israel, the state of Israel has destroyed both its credibility and grounds for international support. We can say the same thing about the citizens of Ukraine, the EU, and the US due to their military and political support of Israeli genocide. While their citizens deserve and need our support, by supporting genocide and ethnic cleansing they have destroyed both their credibility and grounds for international support.
Why ambiguity regarding Gaza continues to exist within the integral community
So why does ambiguity about the Israeli and Western war on Palestine continue to exist within the integral community? While I have already named some of the intellectual and emotional reasons, I want to focus on an important fundamental intellectual error in Wilber's integral that has been used to justify war and war crimes.
Wilber himself has made the case for the justification of war in his defense of God, in the form of Krishna, telling Arjuna to murder his kin in war. To be clear, I am not a pacifist. I recognize the importance and legitimacy of war in some circumstances. I argue from an analogy to self-defense. For example, victims of spousal abuse who have tried talking and appealing to authorities for help and are pursued by their attackers, even when they attempt to seek shelter in half-way houses or other places, are justified in attacking their attackers. Courts have upheld such cases. Parents and adults are not only justified, but legally required to protect their children from physical and sexual abuse. If doing so requires physically attacking such abusers, courts have upheld that defense.
On an international scale, this is how I view Russia's Special Military Operation, its invasion of Ukraine and war with it. Russia attempted diplomacy, under the UN Security Council authorized Minsk II Accords, while ethnic Russians were being shelled by Ukraine almost daily, killing women and children. It turned out that there was no serious intent by Ukraine or the West for diplomacy; Merkel of Germany, Hollande of France, and Poroshenko of Ukraine, among others, have publicly stated that Minsk II negotiations were a ruse to provide Ukraine with time to arm itself for the defeat of ethnic Russians in the Donbass. Russia invaded after it had exhausted all other alternatives and Ukraine had greatly increased its shelling of the population in preparation for an imminent invasion.
However, I am not writing to justify Russia's position in the Ukraine war, which I have argued elsewhere, but to use it as an example of how and why I am not a pacifist, while at the same time critical of Wilber's justifications for war. Here is my argument:
For Wilber, integral, world religions, and spirituality, morality is a core line.
What does it mean for something to be a “core line?” While any line, core or otherwise, can race ahead of the others in one's development, the advancement of “core lines” is a pre-requisite for overall developmental advancement, level to level. For example, while you can take up sports and become a star on the proprioceptive line, or take up music and become a rock star or a operatic singer, or go to university and become a whiz at math, philosophy, economics, or politics, those skills and aptitudes are on individual lines that can race ahead. While we often confuse such development with overall development, that is a delusion and a false conclusion. The “Halo Effect” is a fundamental inherited cognitive bias in which we presume that because someone is outstanding in X, they must also be outstanding in Y, Z, A, B, and C. Just because Einstein was a genius in physics doesn't mean he knew anything worth listening to about ballet or medicine. Just because Wilber is a genius at understanding and explaining multi-perspectivalism does not mean that he is, in fact, multi-perspectival in his overall level of development. If Wilber cannot demonstrate that he is multi-perspectival in his overall level of development then he cannot demonstrate that he has achieved any higher, transpersonal level of development - except on specific lines, such as that of spiritual intelligence. That is the same for all integralists. We have to demonstrate competency at lower levels in order to claim competency at higher levels. We have to demonstrate competency not just in this or that line, but in the three basic core lines of cognition, self, and morality, in order to claim competency at higher levels. How come?
What is the moral line?
Sometimes Wilber subsumes the moral line as one of several “identity lines” while at other times he says it is a stand-alone core line. I favor the latter interpretation due to its importance, and also because “moral identity” generally refers to our intent and values. We then rationalize our behavior in those terms, regardless of the assessments of others. Wilber also talks about “basic moral intuition,” and defines it as
A person's intuition to protect and promote the greatest depth for the greatest span. Also summarized as the depth of “I,” extended to the span of “We,” embodied in an “It” objective state of affairs.”
Wilber also addresses morality not only in terms of compassion but in terms of “cleaning up” and “showing up.” However, if you look at the index of his The Religion of Tomorrow, you will only find one or two references to morality. How important a part does morality play in Wilber's religion of tomorrow?
Wilber's “basic moral intuition” is a good interior individual (UL) definition of morality. However, the UL is only one of the four quadrants. Morality in the interior individual addresses moral intent. In the interior collective (LL) quadrant, a good value-based definition of morality has four components: respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy. Respect is fundamental, because if we do not respect someone, in this or that aspect of our relationship that matters to us, on what basis do we want to interact with them, in that aspect? If we do not respect someone, what is our assessment of their morality? Of course we can disrespect each other in some ways and respect each other in other ways. However, in those cases where we do or don't, we are making a moral statement. Regarding the second of the qualities of morality mentioned above, reciprocity is enshrined as the basic moral principle in all major world religions as this or that version of the “Golden Rule.” Morality is the stated as well as the assumed foundation of religion and spirituality. Those who meditate and/or have attained transpersonal states are assumed to be moral individuals. As indicated above, this is not a logic-based inference but rather a cognitive bias. Morality has to be assessed independently of excellence in any other developmental line. Regarding Palestine, respect and reciprocity, this is what famed British philosopher Bertrand Russell had to say:
The next interior collective moral value is trustworthiness. Like respect, we don't have to be trustworthy in all ways to be considered a moral individual, just in ways that happen to matter to the other party in our transaction. For example, if the check-out person at the market gives correct change, we don't care if they are a child molester or not. It's irrelevant to our transaction and our trust. If you do not trust someone, you are unlikely to consider them moral, because you do not respect them and do not consider them capable of reciprocity - at least in ways that matter to you.
Empathy is an interior collective moral value because it assesses our ability to be multi-perspectival. Empathy, contrary to its common definition, is more than imagining we know what others think or feel. That belief has to be confirmed by the other party before we can know we are being empathetic. If you are crying, I may conclude you are feeling grief and say, like Bill Clinton, “I feel for you.” But what if you are crying because you stubbed your toe or because you are enraged at some injustice, but feeling powerless at your inability to do anything about it? Unless we check out our assumptions about the interior states of others and receive validation we cannot claim we are being empathetic. However, if we do so and we do receive such validation, the other is likely to perceive us as a moral person because we have the capacity to care enough for them to look out at the world from their perspective.
The importance of tetra-mesh
Wilber notes the importance of considering morality in all four quadrants when he says that it involves “I,” “We,” and “It” (Its) as an “objective state of affairs.” “It,” “Its” and “an objective state of affairs” refer to the external quadrants of the moral line and how our behavior is assessed objectively, by others. This is very important because inclusion of exterior collective quadrant assessment of our morality by others greatly expands the criteria by which we must determine whether we are moral or not. We tend to assess our own morality in terms of our interior individual intent and our interior collective values. We then justify our behavior in the exterior individual quadrant based on our intent and values. We also tend to discount differences in objective assessments in our behavior in the exterior collective quadrant by placing more moral weight on the echo chamber of our groupthink collectives and less moral weight on the assessments of those who do not share our common group definitions of moral behavior, particularly if they view our behavior as amoral or immoral.
For example, Israelis commonly justify their killing of women and children in Gaza in terms of God's promises and therefore divine law and birthright, as superseding social, humanistic international law. Another example is members of the US Congress and Executive justifying their support of Israeli genocide because of “Israel's right to defend itself from terrorist attacks.” Such defenses do not stand up to definitions of morality that include the exterior collective quadrant. This is because “objective” moral judgments do not only include the assessments of our echo chambers (such as other pro-Israeli members of Congress) but the assessments of non-group members when their assessments reflect the basic principles of international and social law. The relevant principles of international law are that apartheid and genocide are crimes against humanity and that state occupiers do not have the legal right to defend themselves from the non-state, occupied actors, as is the case of the relationship between Israel and Palestinians, including Hamas. The relevant principles of social law are respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy. In terms of these two exterior collective quadrant criteria, the moral arguments of Israel, the US, and the EU regarding the moral and legal justification of their war on Gaza fail.
How does this relate to the concept of “tetra-mesh?” Wilber defines tetra-mesh as
The act whereby a holon meshes or fits with the selection pressures (i.e., the validity claims) of all four quadrants. In order to tetra-mesh, each holon must, to some degree, be able to register its own exterior accurately enough (truth), its own interior accurately enough (truthfulness), understand its cultural milieu (mutual understanding), and fit within its social system (functional fit). Also referred to as tetra-enactment or tetra-evolution, meaning that all four selection pressures must be dealt with adequately in order for a holon to evolve.
The key here is similar to Wilber's noting that “Basic Moral Intuition” includes correlation with “an objective state of affairs,” meaning the assessments of outgroup standards in the exterior collective quadrant. It is not enough for our compatriots to validate our position, as Israelis do of each other and as the US and EU governments are doing with Israel. Tetra-mesh of the moral line requires that our behavior is deemed moral by international law on a legal level and by outgroups (the “Global Majority”) on a societal level. The behavior of Israel, the US, and the EU regarding the war on Gaza does not meet this standard and therefore the moral line does not and cannot tetra-mesh.
What are we to conclude from a failure of the moral line to tetra-mesh?
If our behavior is not assessed as moral by objective outgroup standards in the exterior collective quadrant, that is, by law and by the universally accepted social standards of respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy, then it does not tetra-mesh. Then why do we think that it does? Essentially, it is because our self line identifies with our cognitive line, which for integralists and many other “spiritual” types, races far ahead of many other lines. Because our cognitive line is vision-logic, integral-aperspectival, post-personal, and our intentions and values are moral, we assume that we are moral actors. For example, because Westerners embrace democracy, freedom, and human rights we assume that supporting Israel is a moral action even when its actions and our support of them is objectively immoral. This delusion is reinforced if, on top of possessing a cognitive understanding of integral theory, we have had mystical experiences. These tend to validate our belief that we have indeed attained some transpersonal level of personal development.
Because the moral line is a core line, its tetra-mesh is a requirement for personal development level to level, regardless of how far advanced we may be in other core lines, such as the cognitive and self line, or how outstanding we may be in non-core lines like charisma or wealth accumulation. If our core moral line is unable to tetra-mesh, what we are forced to conclude is that in our overall development we remain in the developmental gutter, regardless of our intent or how outstanding and even moral our actions may be in this or that area of life.
Based on this line of reasoning, I believe that the only realistic conclusion I can arrive at for myself is that I am at a mid-prepersonal level of overall development striving to stabilize at a late prepersonal level of development. I say this despite the case that I can make for much higher development on the cognitive, self, and several other lines. My moral line is at mid-prepersonal for several reasons. One, my actions do not match my intentions and convictions. I do not practice what I preach. Well, sometimes I do, but not sufficiently so from the perspective of non-ingroups in the exterior collective quadrant. In addition, because I am embedded in collective group, national, and international holons that are immoral, I am complicit in their immoral actions. Because my elected representatives act in my name and support genocide, I am complicit in genocide, whether I like it or not. I also cannot ignore the various ways that I personally have benefitted from illegal foreign wars, from past genocides on Amerindians and other peoples.
Knowledge of this is not designed to generate guilt or shame, which do nothing but generate more behaviors worthy of guilt and shame. Instead, it is to generate what the South Africans have called “Truth and Reconciliation,” that is, acknowledgement of my responsibility and accountability and then to undertake good-faith efforts to make amends. The collectives to which I belong, such as integral, US citizenship, and German immigrant status, are nowhere near demonstrating the ability to practice Truth and Reconciliation. Their typical responses to being confronted with the inconsistency between their professed intent and values on the one hand and their behavior of supporting apartheid and genocide, on the other, is denial, attempts to shift blame, and if these measures fail, then regression into guilt and shame (as Germany has done regarding the Holocaust).
This assessment of the failure of moral tetra-mesh is not only applicable to myself. When I look at the integral community as a whole, my assessment is that we are all stuck at a mid-prepersonal level of overall development, but with the difference that most integralists and fellow travelers on the path of self-development remain in denial. They think they are integral-aperspectival and post-personal in their overall level of development. For that to be the case, they need to challenge the argument I make here and give me evidence why it is mistaken.
What is an integral approach to Gaza?
In conclusion, an integral approach to Gaza involves recognizing that what is happening is genocide, and an international war crime that is also immoral by standards of social moral norms. We have to acknowledge our complicity in those crimes. Beyond that, we have to take steps to rectify our complicity. What those steps are can be individually determined, but they have to be validated by objective outgroups in the collective exterior quadrant. One such example is participation in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction movement (BDS), because it is supported by the Global Majority and has shown itself successful at ending South African apartheid. We also have reason to believe it will be successful in this case due to the various steps Israel has taken to outlaw it, indicating it fears its effectiveness at shutting down the Israeli economy and therefore its ability to pursue policies of apartheid, racism, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
That all nations have at one time or another participated in apartheid, ethnic cleansing is no excuse or justification for integralists to continue to allow themselves to be associated with it either indirectly through acquiescence or directly. If you want to “Stand with Israel,” stand with moral Israelis and Jews who decry a state that has racism and apartheid enshrined in its constitution and who renounce ethnic cleansing and genocide of Palestinians. Support a single state in which the international community respects and protects the rights of both Palestinians and Jews.
In conclusion, an integral approach to Gaza involves recognizing that what is happening is genocide, and an international war crime that is also immoral by standards of social moral norms.