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 Retrospective on Ukraine

Joseph Dillard

In addition, integral needs to do a much better job of actually advocating for justice by demanding universal adherence to international law.

The Ukraine war is not over yet, but, to allude to the Book of Daniel, the handwriting is on the wall. A retrospective on Ukraine is relevant for an integral audience for several reasons: How and why did so many intelligent and well-intentioned integralists get the war in Ukraine so wrong? What does that say about integral, integralists, and human nature in general? How do we keep from being so misled and making such significant incorrect judgments in the future? What does that imply about some alternations in integral that could be made to improve it? Let us take these questions one at a time:

How and why did so many intelligent and well-intentioned integralists get the war in Ukraine so wrong?

The west has lost, or is in the process of losing, the military, economic, and informational wars that it has been waging on Russia. This was already obvious back in April, 2022.[1] Russia's military is now far stronger than it was prior to the war. The Russian economy has withstood all sanctions and is thriving. Far from becoming an international pariah, Russia has gained broad support from the global south. In addition, as of this writing, the military, economy, and government of Ukraine are on the verge of collapse. This will likely leave a power vacuum, one that Russia is most likely to fill.

Did many intelligent and well-intentioned integralists get the war in Ukraine wrong? Absolutely. I have written essays explaining how and why Robb Smith, Hanzi Freinacht, and Edgar Morin got it wrong.[2] All of those integralists who confidently labeled Russia some combination of “red/blue” while viewing Ukraine as approaching a “green” western democracy got it bizarrely wrong as well.

I certainly got it wrong. I was as surprised as anyone when Putin invaded Ukraine. I was convinced that to do so would be to break international law and that Putin would not do so, for multiple reasons. The people of Ukraine were clearly victims of aggression. The US government, NATO, the EU, and many integralists clearly came to a similar conclusion. There were objective reasons to do so. The error lies not so much in those reasons as to how the good intentions of those who hate war and injustice were manipulated and used to justify an even larger aggression.

There is very good evidence that western governments decided that if Russia did invade Ukraine, that the aggression could be used as an excuse to wage full-out economic, informational, and proxy war on Russia. The expectation was clearly that such an onslaught would gravely weaken Russia, hopefully instigating a change in government to a more compliant one, more like that of Yeltzin, or perhaps even leading to a dismemberment of Russia itself. If Russia was baited into invading Ukraine, it could be labeled a global pariah and the invasion worked to the advantage of the West. An attack by Russia could be used as justification for a western war on Russia. Most westerners were taken in by this manipulation. These calculations by the combined western powers have turned out to be horribly wrong on all counts.

I did get several things right, mostly because I listened to people like John Mearsheimer and Jeffrey Sachs, who provided a multi-perspectivalism unavailable in western news sources. I understood that the Maidan was a US-sponsored coup that overthrew a democratically elected government, installing an overtly neo-Nazi government and military, and that this neo-Nazism was being fully supported with funding, military equipment, and propaganda by the US, EU, and NATO. I understood that the millions who were posting Ukraine flag icons and “Slava Ukraine” thought they were standing with the victimized civilians of Ukraine, when in addition they were making themselves complicit in support for neo-Nazism and a calculated genocide against ethnic Russian Ukrainians. I do not believe that was their intent, but functionally, they were supporting the manipulative and misleading narrative generated by western power centers.

I also got critical aspects of the war wrong for several reasons. I misunderstood international law. I didn't recognize the extent or chronicity of Ukrainian bombing of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine for seven years. I didn't realize that the West had sabotaged Russian attempts at diplomacy to avoid conflict for seven years. I didn't know that an attack by Ukraine to retake Donbas was imminent in February, 2022. I chalk these errors up to a combination of a lack of information and my captivation by groupthink.

Regarding international law, I was unaware that it makes provisions for the right of nations to protect attacked minorities.[3] I was also unaware of how Russia historically regarded Ukraine as a part of itself, rather as the US regarded the seceding southern states during the civil war to be part of itself. I was woefully not only undereducated on Russian history, but willfully misled regarding the Russian Worldview.

Regarding my lack of recognition of the extent of Ukrainian bombing and murdering of ethnic Russian civilians in eastern Ukraine, and of the seriousness with which Russia took it, I have to chalk that up to the predominant narratives of Western media, which minimized reporting of same.

Regarding the extent to which Russia/Putin had negotiated in good faith, assuming that Minsk II, passed by the UN Security Council with the consent of the western powers on the Council (the US, UK, France) would be treated as international law, to be upheld by all participants, I had no idea that seven years of “diplomacy” had been a western subterfuge to buy time to arm Ukraine. I did not recognize how seriously Russia took Nazism and neo-Nazism. Finally, I had no idea that the real intention of the west was to make Ukraine a de facto member of NATO, with its troops and armaments on the Russian border. I also did not fully appreciate how serious Putin was when, in 2008 at the Munich conference, he stated that Ukraine joining NATO was a “red line” that Russia would not accept or tolerate.[4]

“NATO has put its frontline forces on our borders,” although as yet, we “do not react to these actions at all.” NATO expansion, he stated, “represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?” (Vladimir Putin, 2008 at the Munich conference)

I still consider the Russian rationale to invade Ukraine under UN Article 51 self-defense to be pretty thin soup. I support the general principle that countries that invade other countries are committing punishable war crimes. Yet, where does that leave the US, NATO, and EU, who have invaded multiple countries, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya? Are those war crimes? If not, why not? Are we not facing a two-tiered interpretation of the law, one set of standards for the west, another for its opponents? And how about NATO troops and weaponry on the borders of Russia? Aren't we ignoring the Monroe doctrine and the undoubted response of the US if the situation were reversed? Are we not looking at a clear two-tiered statement of international law: “International law for thee, the 'rules-based order' for me?” How is that not exceptionalism based on military impunity: “If I have the power to impose my will, then it is legal”?

Under such circumstances of non-reciprocity before the law, at some point that double standard has to be confronted. To do otherwise is to consent to domination. I liken it to an abused spouse continuing to excuse the abuser: “I know he doesn't mean it.” “He's promised that was the last time.” “He will realize how much I love him and change.” “He isn't an alcoholic/drug abuser; he just overdoes it now and then.” “He's really a wonderful man and provider. He gets me everything I want. It's just that he loses his temper every now and then.” At what point, after how many beatings and life-threatening threats, does that spouse say, “enough!” and mean it? That is, when does she call the cops, get a restraining order, and file for divorce? At what point, when she or the kids are being physically attacked, is violence on her part justified?

That is why Article 51 of the UN Charter exists: there are circumstances in which self-defense calls for and justifies violence. Those circumstances exist when everything else has been tried and has failed to stop chronic violence against civilians. This is the reasoning that made me recognize that NATO and the west were forcing Russia at some point to either capitulate or resort to violence. I then had to ask myself, “Would I capitulate under such circumstances, in which multiple non-violent alternatives had been attempted over a long period of time, with the result that they were merely taken as signs of weakness, or would I resort to violence?”

Many will argue that Putin did not try everything short of invasion. My response is, “what did he not try?” “What could he have done differently that would have ensured the safety of ethnic Russians who had petitioned him to protect them?” It was my inability to answer this question that brought me around to respecting the Russian perspective on the war. Yes, invasion of Ukraine was an act of war. So was the arming of Ukraine, support of neo-Nazis, and the never-ending encroachment of NATO on Russia's borders. Was Russia to give up its right to self-defense while the west did not? Is that an arrangement the west would agree to if circumstances were reversed? Obviously not.

The reality is that the west was determined to subjugate Russia for a number of reasons. First, it confused post-1989 Russia for the Soviet Union and took Putin to be a KGB spy. Many westerners imagined they were still fighting communism. Secondly, the size and natural resources available to Russia intimidate some in the west, including British governments since the 1800's. Most Americans don't know that the US invaded Russia under Woodrow Wilson in 1919, but Russians know that history. Third, the US feared a potential alliance of Russia and Europe. Fourth, some western commentators have wanted to neutralize Russia in order to take on China, which they viewed as their real international peer competitor. I think hubris and a poor reading of both Russian history and character combined to cause the west to badly miscalculate the cards it had to play, those which Russia held, and how it would play them. It still does.

Intelligent and well-meaning integralists got the war in Ukraine wrong because they wanted to believe that their country and Ukraine represented “higher level” democracy and freedom while Russia and Putin represented “lower level” authoritarianism and oppression. None of these conclusions stand up well under scrutiny. While it is easy to call Russia authoritarian, what does that make western democracies that support censorship, repress, jail, and kill journalists, and vote to send arms and otherwise support a state conducting apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide? Princeton University has done a study that demonstrates that the US is an oligarchy posing as a democracy.[5] In fact, it shows that elections and “the will of the people” have almost no impact on governmental policies or behavior in the US. A similar case can be made for the electoral politics of Germany, the UK, and France. Governments change while policies remain remarkably stable, regardless of who is elected. Those policies largely reflect the priorities of elites, not the public. In Europe, the policies of governments largely reflect the will of Washington. Silence regarding the sabotage of NordStream and the subsequent deindustrialization of Germany is only one example. Regarding Ukraine, its government is the most corrupt in Europe, making it more of a mafia state than a democracy.[6] Its ultra-nationalism is founded on solidarity with Third Reich collaborators in pogroms and massacres that killed thousands of Jews, Poles, and Russians. However, this inconvenient truth - that westerners are supporting and collaborating with neo-Nazis - is widely ignored or discounted in the western media and by at least some integralists.

Westerners, including integralists, need to wake up and realize they have been lied to and betrayed by their own governments. A lifetime of social and cultural scripting has led them to believe as true things that are distortions meant to create social cohesion to justify the continuing dominance of the western worldview. This lying and betrayal is continuing today. We are complicit, in that these lies have maintained our comfortable lifestyles which have afforded us the time and resources to think integral thoughts.

That indictment does not thereby defend or excuse Russia. Its acts should be tried in international tribunals just as should acts by all other nations, including the US, Israel, and other western nations.[7] Because we take responsibility for our own bad behavior does not mean we support the bad behavior of others. On the contrary, by calling out our own bad behavior we gain credibility when we call out the crimes of others. Just because we understand the bad behavior of others and even its necessity, in this case, of the invasion of Ukraine from the perspective of Russia, doesn't mean we support it. This is why justice recognizes degrees of criminality and why it provides lesser punishments for crimes of self-defense than it does for premeditated murder.

What does that say about integral, integralists, and human nature in general?

Integralists are first and foremost humans, which means we are far more like other humans than we are different from them. We have the same basic needs, fears, hopes, and weaknesses. The integral model amounts to an ideological difference from other humans. Ideology is a superficial, cognitive difference, a surface veneer. It is prepersonal, in that it is a system of belief, even if it is a rarefied, transpersonal belief system. Belief systems are prepersonal because they exist primarily to support and validate identity, bending and selecting facts to justify our worldview. Because we identify with our thoughts, our worldview and ideology take on an out-sized valuation for us. Because our worldview is multi-perspectival, we must be multi-perspectival. Because our worldview includes and transcends other worldviews, we must include and transcend the worldviews of others. It is easy and natural to therefore conclude that our transpersonal ideology demonstrates that we are stabilized at a transpersonal level of development instead of recognizing the much less grandiose truth: our ideology is prepersonal.

In addition, our good intentions outweigh, justify, and compensate for our bad behavior. Our investment in expanding our consciousness, attaining enlightenment, and being spiritual presupposes that we are moral actors, despite profound evidence that we are complicit in massive immorality.

The ongoing genocide in Gaza has driven these points home. Pictures of infants crushed and dismembered, of hospitals, universities, and relief organizations bombed, of women and children murdered by snipers, with western supplied weapons in the name of democracy and “right to self-defense” has opened a vast cynical chasm between what we are being told and what is being done in our names. It forces the realization that those children could be our children, and that humanity is more fundamental than race, religion, ideology, nationality, or “feelings.” When the full realization of our responsibility and complicity becomes unavoidable, one rational response is that of Aaron Buchnell: acts of ultimate protest.

How do we keep from being so misled and making such significant incorrect judgments in the future?

Because we humans feel and think, our sense of self is largely wrapped up in what we feel and what we have been taught to think. We have been taught what to believe to be true and good and what to believe to be false and bad. We have been taught to identify with our feelings and to be in solidarity with the prevailing zeitgeist of those groups with which we identify. The result is that we are easily misled by our feelings and our thoughts. We pretty much hear what we want to hear, that is, what conforms to our worldview, and filter out information that challenges or contradicts it. This is a hard-wired cognitive bias called the “confirmation bias.” Fortunately, it can be compensated for, but only if and when we become aware of its presence and recognize that our innate tendency is to discard or filter out information that does not validate our worldview.

The solution lies in learning to surface and question the assumptions on which we base our identity and humanity. Are we supporting morality or merely intending to do so? Are we complicit in immorality or not? If we are, what do we want to do about it? Is our government worthy of our trust or not? Is it telling us the truth or lying to us? Is it delivering the basic services that are the function of government or not? Do our votes impact government policy and behavior or not? Is our government responsive to the public will or not?

The questioning of our feelings, thoughts, worldview, and identity are not meant to generate a quagmire of relativism, which is one way to avoid responsibility: “There are contexts” (since we are multi-perspectival) and “it's complicated.” When we question our beliefs and identity we find that there is a solid foundation beneath all the relativism. There are some things that all humans want and need and can agree on. Wilber talked about these as fundamental relational exchanges of security, safety, and labor. There are also moral universals. Everyone desires respect, reciprocity, empathy, and reasons to trust. Making a priority of securing basic relational exchanges for everyone while attempting to abide by these moral universals is a place to start to keep from being so misled by our feelings and identity, and making such significant incorrect judgments in the future.

What does that imply about some alternations in integral that could be made to improve it?

Integralists would do well to limit stage development assessments to individuals and refrain from applying them to collectives, as they often do toward the west, Russia, China, Israel, Palestine, and other national and ethnic groups. This is because the stereotyping that is inherent in these assessments becomes embarrassingly wrong and absurd the further we get from the specific instance of this or that individual. For example, South Africa, not commonly included as a western democracy, just argued a very strong case against genocide before the International Court of Justice. Why weren't the western bastions of democracy, like the US or UK, doing so instead? Why wasn't Germany, which has every reason to abhor genocide, doing so? Why was it instead supporting genocide and censoring support of Palestine? Aren't western democracies more developed than South Africa in regard to the basic question of safeguarding human rights, according to integral theory? If you use integral stage development assessments you know what the answer is.

Regarding matters of justice, a much better approach is to give priority to overt, observed behavior and the facts that prove behavior, over intent. This is what law does, and it does so because justice demands that it does so. Justice asks, “Who is telling the truth?” “How do I know?” Justice does not settle for answers like, “it's complicated,” “yes, but…” or deflecting responsibility by attacking the other side. To this end, integral needs to do a much better job of taking the assessments of outgroups in the exterior collective quadrant into account, instead of relying on the rightness of their intent in the interior individual quadrant and the righteousness of their “values” and moral judgment in the interior collective, as Spiral Dynamics and integral theory do.

In addition, integral needs to do a much better job of actually advocating for justice by demanding universal adherence to international law. Integral theory tends to assume morality and lawfulness as already present “givens,” foundational to higher levels of development. If you are 2nd Tier, multi-perspectival, or have mystical experiences you are therefore assumed to be transpersonal, spiritual, and moral. These are unsubstantiated and unwise conclusions that reflect both hubris and the built-in cognitive bias known as “the halo effect.” We know this common assumption is unwarranted because higher levels of development can and do demonstrate immorality and unlawfulness, not as “shadow” or “bugs,” but as characterological. Some people are simply “bad to the bone,” which is why a diagnosis of personality disorder is not mythology and why their behavior cannot be chalked up to the “mean” side of an authentic higher level of development, as Wilber attempted to do by referring to people like Andrew Cohen as “rude boys.” Other people are subordinated to toxic social and cultural scripting. Groupthink has destroyed their objectivity, but they remain in vigorous denial of same. Justice has to be protected and defended at all levels of development; it doesn't magically become a non-issue because we become cognitively multi-perspectival or have mystical experiences. To be authentic, the pursuit of enlightenment requires the determined pursuit of justice for everyone.

Regarding Ukraine, it is immoral for the west to ignore the long history (since the 1950's) of the US financially and militarily supporting neo-Nazism. The west ignored the reciprocity reflected in the principle of the Monroe Doctrine by ignoring Moscow's red lines. Hubris caused the west to wildly overestimate its strengths and underestimate those of Russia. The consequence has been self-sabotage and ongoing deindustrialization. More importantly, the rest of the world looks on in horror as the west supports neo-Nazis and a genocide against the Palestinians.

Integral cannot claim impartiality on such issues, based on its transcendent, spiritual perspective, and at the same time claim to be humanistic, just, or subservient to international law. It cannot appeal to “divine law,” “dharma,” or an imagined realm of “absolute truth” as a way to avoid accountability to socially constructed law.[8] This is an irresponsible and immature dodge. It may be a good faith transpersonal statement, but it reveals a prepersonal identity. Can we integralists see ourselves as the global majority sees us? For the sake of the survival of the integral model, we had better learn to do so.


  1. Dillard, J., Why is Russia winning the economic and military wars?,
  2. Dillard, J. Is Putin Red and the West Green?,
    Dillard, J. Critiquing a metamodern critique of the Ukraine war.
    Dillard, J. Integral and the “Halo Effect” Edgar Morin's Critique of the War in Ukraine.
  3. Putin argued the following legal grounds for this action:
    • in accordance with Article 51 (Chapter VII) of the UN Charter (self-defence). It reads: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
    • in execution of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic, ratified by the Federal Assembly on February 22.
    The President said the purposes were to “protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime.” He also said Russia would “seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine”.
  4. “NATO has put its frontline forces on our borders,” although as yet, we “do not react to these actions at all.” NATO expansion, he stated, “represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?”
  5. Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page: “Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy”,
  6. Welcome to Ukraine, the most corrupt government in Europe.”,
  7. In fact, they have been. For example, Ukraine took Russia before the International Court of Justice on charges of genocide and the Court ruled on those charges.
  8. For an exploration of this common “spiritual” justification of war, see Dillard, J., “Critiquing Wilber's Defense of Krishna's Justification of Murder in the Baghavad Gita”,

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