Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joseph DillardDr. 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: and his YouTube channel.


A Question Regarding Growth and Dominator Hierarchies

Joseph Dillard

Growth Hierarchies Are Greater Than Dominator Hierarchies (Linkedin)

Integralists typically assess individual and collective levels of development based on the strength of various developmental lines. There are a number of reasons why this approach is deeply flawed, but in this short essay I want to address only one problem: how and why it arrives at both inappropriate and self-destructive conclusions.

Growth and dominator hierarchies

Wilber defines dominator hierarchies as “.In pathological hierarchy, one holon assumes agentic dominance to the detriment of all. This holon does not assume it is both a whole and a part, it assumes it is the whole, period. This is to be contrasted with “pathological heterarchy,” in which individual holons lose their distinctive value and identity is a communal fusion and meltdown. This holon doesn't assume it is both a whole and a part, it assumes it is a part, period. It becomes only instrumental to some other use, it is merely a strand in the web, it has no intrinsic value." (Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, p. 23)

He contrasts them with normal/growth/actualization hierarchies or holoarchies, which he describes as manifest evolutionary movement toward higher levels of integration through the self-transcending capacity of holons. (SES, P 23)


Functionally, dominator hierarchies are the pathological, “shadow” or “mean” side of a developmental level. What this distinction allows integral theory to do is to maintain that an actual developmental level has been attained by an individual or collective, but that it has been hijacked by its dark side.

Is this true? When one holon assumes agentic dominance to the detriment of all, is this a “bug,” that is, a glitch, or “shadow” eruption, or is it a “feature,” that is, something determinant of the actual authentic level of development that exists?

If it is a bug, then the concept of healthy hierarchies as determinants of level of development is maintained. However, if a serious, chronic flaw is instead a feature, the entire question of a higher level of development comes into question.

Lest one conclude this is a trivial or abstract issue, consider the following individual and collective examples.

Narcissistic or narcissistic personality disorder?

Let us consider that a young lady falls for a handsome, charismatic man. Yes, he is an egotist, but he is strong, charismatic, confident, and capable, and she is sure her love will overcome his selfish tendencies. In other words, she has no reason to believe that his narcissism is anything other than a “bug.” It's certainly not a “feature.” He is far too wonderful for that. However, over time, despite her empathy, love, patience, and obedience, her man remains a narcissist, focused on his own interests and concerns and ignoring or discounting hers in important, not trivial ways. He is jealous, possessive, hits her, and cheats on her.

The question is: at what point does she conclude that her man has a narcissistic personality disorder, that is, a chronic condition? At what point can she no longer excuse or ignore his bad behavior by rationalizing that it is his “dark side,” “shadow,” or a “bug” of his personality, but instead a chronic, instilled “feature,” something that is not going to change regardless of how much she loves him or what spiritual practices she undertakes?

If her man is simply a narcissist, then we can discount his bad behavior as essentially trivial, and her belief that she is spending her life with someone who is essentially highly developed is maintained. However, if we conclude her partner has a narcissistic personality disorder, then we have to conclude that despite having any number of highly developed lines, his overall development is in the basement, do we not?

This conclusion is in line with what Wilber has concluded regarding personality development in his essays on same in Transformations of Consciousness.

Implications for higher levels of development

The implications of this logic for higher levels of development are not pretty. For example, what do we get when we find non-dual Tibetan monks supporting generations of functional slavery? What do we get when we find Andrew Cohen exhibiting chronic abuse toward clients? What do we get when we find western democracies, that we contend represent late personal levels of collective development, chronically supporting colonialism and practicing genocide?

What Wilber, and integral on the whole, want to do is ascribe bad behavior in such examples, to the “shadow” of higher levels of development, to “dominator hierarchies” functioning as the “mean” underside of genuine, authentic higher developmental levels. Really? How are these examples different from our young lady determined to believe that her narcissistic personality disordered partner is “really” just egotistical?

Is Andrew Cohen just a “rude boy, and egotistically inclined, but really an enlightened sage? How about Marc Gafni? How about Rajneesh? How about Da Free John (or whatever name he wants to go by)?

We know that Wilber has waffled on this issue. While he has testified to the spiritual bona-fides of such individuals on multiple occasions, he has been unable to put to rest genuine collective outrage regarding the behavior of such people. Wilber's general response has been to back away from these individuals without dealing with the underlying issue: “Are these people enlightened masters demonstrating “shadow” or are they at a prepersonal level of overall development with a number of important lines, such as cognitive, self, and spiritual intelligence, that have raced ahead?


Here is a collective example of why this issue matters.

Consider China. Traditional integral thinking is a version of Wilber's psychograph, concluding that Chinese “overall” development is early personal “blue.” That is because while it has strong authoritarian (red) characteristics and strong rational, technological (orange) characteristics, it is fundamentally centered on its collective identity, which is early personal (blue).

However, this critique depends on ignoring or discounting several highly significant inconvenient truths about China. These are 1) China's remarkable abolition of absolute poverty, something unprecedented in human history, and something western democracies have not accomplished; 2) China's democracy, which is highly regarded by its population, and something that westerners know nothing about and regard with high skepticism; 3) the consistent high degree of trust that Chinese place in their government - levels unheard of in the West; 4) the high level of organization and functioning of Chinese society in general, when compared with western societies; 5) the lack of an exploitative colonialist tradition in Chinese culture and history; and 6) China does not practice or endorse genocide, unlike the west.

Now you can doubt or challenge these factors if you want. Certainly they are up for debate. However, for the moment, for the purposes of our discussion, let us assume that they are true. When you combine these six factors, what you get is a society that is arguably more highly developed than that of the west. But if that is true, how does that not blow the integral developmental model, as applied to societies and civilizations, out of the water? Can we really claim that China is “actually” at a lower level of development, and that these characteristics are propaganda, “flukes,” or misunderstandings? At what point do we confront the cognitive dissonance they create and say, “There's something wrong with the integral developmental assumption that China is overall developmentally inferior to the west, at early personal while the west is at late personal?

Reality has upended basic integral premises regarding how we evaluate our level of development and that of other individuals and collectives.

My conclusion is that the integral developmental model fails in two basic ways. It fails in the psychograph that it uses to assess overall developmental level. It does so by giving all lines equal weight in its averaging. What it needs to do, what it has to do - but does not do - is give greater weight to the core lines of cognition, self, and morality, and particularly to morality. If the moral line does not or cannot evolve (tetra-mesh) then it acts as a stopper to any claim of overall development.

Why must integral make the moral line a determinant of overall development? Because that's what we do with each other and in our assessment of collectives. If we do not respect the other, how do we assess their overall development, regardless of their proficiency in this or that area? If they do not reciprocate, how do we assess their overall development, regardless of their proficiency in this or that area? If they do not demonstrate empathy with our perspective, whether or not they agree with it, how do we assess their overall development, regardless of their proficiency in this or that area? If they prove untrustworthy in ways that are critical to our relationship, how do we assess their overall development, regardless of their proficiency in this or that area? If they fail in these areas, we can still respect their talent and competency in this or that developmental line, but in terms of our overall assessment, it is likely to be more like our overall assessment of Trump or Biden than our overall assessment of say, Mandela or Gandhi.

Based on this line of reasoning, what we conclude about historical Tibetan Buddhist non-dual meditating mystical monks that support a society based on indentured feudal servitude of the vast majority of Tibetans, is that they are extraordinarily developed on the line of “spiritual intelligence.” We can also conclude that in terms of moral intent and values they are extraordinarily developed. However, on the level of collective moral behavior, their overall level of development is prepersonal. That is because they do not treat the vast majority of their fellows as they would want to be treated. They ignore, justify, or rationalize away the fundamental religious/spiritual/moral principle of reciprocity.

The further conclusion is that integralists would do well to stop the nonsense of talking about Israeli and Palestinian societies in terms of relative developmental level, as Wilber does today. (Israel is early personal, Palestine is late prepersonal.)

Integralists would also do well to stop the nonsense of talking about Russia, Ukraine, and the west in terms of relative developmental levels as Wilber, Smith, Freinacht, and Edgar Morin have done, to name only a few. Why? Because it is not only inaccurate but unhelpful. It does nothing to move the argument toward any sort of meaningful resolution. All it does is end the conversation with “we are developmentally superior, so we have the right to assert our interests over (Palestinians/Russians/Chinese…).” The result is that we get ruled by a “rules-based order” instead of by international law and by divine law instead of by social justice.

How is that working out? Well, sanctions on Russia have spectacularly backfired. So far, US sanctions on China have backfired. The proxy war on Russia in Ukraine has spectacularly backfired, with the result that the west has not only depleted itself of its weapons stockpiles but has demonstrated the relative impotence of its weapon systems. Regarding Israel/Gaza, the war has destroyed the credibility of both Israel's deterrence and the west's claims to the role of defender of human rights, upon which its claim to a late personal level of development is largely based.

Reality has upended basic integral premises regarding how we evaluate our level of development and that of other individuals and collectives. It has blown those premises out of the water and far out, into the Land of Woo, with disastrous consequences.

Comment Form is loading comments...