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.


Overton's Window

Integral's Overton Window

Opening or Closing?

Joseph Dillard

How open or closed is Integral's "Overton Window?"

Integralists have different perceptions of AQAL, in terms of whether it represents a narrowly defined Overton Window or a relatively “open” one.

Charles Hugh Smith, in his essay, “Prying Open the Overton Window,"[1] describes the Overton Window as “the spectrum of concepts, policies and approaches that can be publicly discussed without being ridiculed or marginalized as 'too radical,' 'unworkable,' 'crazy…'” (All quotes below are from Smith's article, unless otherwise noted.)

The above is a picture of the media's Overton Window, but it can easily be adapted to Integral. In the center would be “Mainstream Integral Thought,” as represented by Wilber, Corey DeVos, and those individuals closely identified with Wilber's understanding of what Integral AQAL is. This depiction implies that mainstream media is a relatively open Overton Window. Many would disagree with that, drawing a much tighter circle. “The narrower the Overton Window, the greater the impoverishment of public dialog and the fewer the solutions available.”

Similarly, Integralists have different perceptions of AQAL, in terms of whether it represents a narrowly defined Overton Window or a relatively “open” one. Adapting the above picture to Integral AQAL, the areas surrounding “Mainstream Integral Thought” would be the areas of specialization of the four quadrants: upper left spirituality, consciousness, and intention, lower left intersubjective world views, interpretations, culture, and values, upper right objectively observable behaviors of entities (holons), and lower right interobjective relationships among individuals and within systems. Integralists identify to a greater or lesser extent with the narrative or world view of “Mainstream Integral Thought” and their individual “windows” aren't circular like this one, but instead strongly encompass some quadrants while embracing less of others. As an over-generalization, the stereotypical Integral AQAL Overton Window will embrace almost all of the Upper Left quadrant of intention, most of the Lower Left quadrant of world view, value, and culture, some of the Upper Right quadrant of behavior, and some of the Lower Right quadrant of social and systemic relationships.

The Overton window is the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse, also known as the window of discourse. The term is named after Joseph P. Overton, who stated that an idea's political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within this range, rather than on politicians' individual preferences. According to Overton, the window contains the range of policies that a politician can recommend without appearing too extreme to gain or keep public office in the current climate of public opinion. (Wikipedia)

Every structure, in order to maintain its identity and differentiation from its surroundings, has features that function as boundaries and foundational limits, which the Overton Window represents. Integral prides itself in being multi-perspectival, and indeed it is. When it comes to synthesizing and integrating world views and making sense of them, it is unparalleled in its breadth and utility. However, all world views, including Integral AQAL, can define themselves by boundaries that are not only inflexible, but wrong, and not only wrong, but work to undermine the credibility and longevity of that world view.

In this essay, we identify some structural features of the Integral world view that are commonly viewed as essential but which may not be, and attempt to imagine what Integral would look like either without them or with a reduced influence in its world view. Those Integralists who do not recognize that Integral AQAL is in need of rehabilitation are inadvertently supporting its slide into irrelevancy. They are sure its Overton Window is wide open when in fact, with the enormous avalanche of new knowledge and perspectives, it is closing. Therefore, identifying undermining structures, that is, areas that close the Overton Window of its world view and separate what Integral is and is not from areas that undercut its integrity and influence, is essential to its broad adoption and longevity.

Why the Integral Overton Window tends to close

Smith points out that “those holding power in a socio-economic-political system that's unraveling devote their remaining energy to closing the Overton Window.” I would amend Smith's observation to note that we generally attempt to close our Overton Window whether or not our world view is unraveling. This reflects a natural effort to maintain a status quo that functions to maintain our identity and support our addictions to one or another relational exchange: wealth, sex, status, power, autonomy, or transcendence. Wherever we are strongly self-identified is where we are most likely to experience cognitive dissonance when threatened and respond with various psychological defenses designed to narrow the Overton Window: denial, repression, regression, projection, personalization, or sublimation, to name a few. These defenses will generally go unrecognized because they will be authentic, that is, congruent with our identity, but in fact function as reason in the service of a pre-rational world view, as indicated by the presence of cognitive biases, logical fallacies, and emotional cognitive distortions.

Wilber does not typically respond to critiques of AQAL, perhaps mostly because he is focused on getting his own message out, yet partially because he knows he can become irritated and regress to juvenile mud-slinging. Wilber often dismisses critics with bon mots that demonstrate intellectual superiority and gently signal, “I know better than you; you don't know what you're talking about.” Despite the breadth of the Integral world view, this sort of self-assurance is a hallmark of a rigid, narrow Overton Window. In the case of Integral, it is a sort of rigidity that manifests a Performative Fallacy: “I accept and value all perspectives - except those that I do not accept and value.” This helps explain why a rigid Overton Window goes hand in glove with elitism and exceptionalism.

In a rigid, narrow Overton Window, only approved narratives and policies that support the status quo are allowed into the public sphere. In the realm of the political, “everything outside this narrow band of status-quo-supportive narratives is immediately disparaged as “fake news,” “Kremlin talking points,” or other highly charged accusations designed to narrow the Overton Window. In the realm of Integral, that which lies outside its narrative may be disparaged as “flatland,” materialism, lack of transpersonal opening of the “Eye of Spirit,” or fixation at a lower level of development.

Whether in the realm of the political or that of world views, a process that Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman termed the “manufacturing of consent” applies. When perspectives outside the scope of our model or world view are discounted, we are likely to accept our status quo world view as “all there is and all there can possibly be.” I certainly did, as a True Believer in Integral AQAL for over twenty years.

What are some of those core beliefs that define Integral AQAL's Overton Window? In addition to the basic concepts of AQAL, these include the assumption that development is self development, that evolution and involution are spiritually driven, the necessity of quadrant tetra-mesh for development, physical, mental, and spiritual empiricism, and various varieties of logical fallacies, including the Pre-Trans Fallacy and Level/Line Fallacy.

Advocacy for popularized, mainstream definitions of Integral benefit those who profit by maintaining the status quo. Those whose identities are tightly wrapped up in the validity of traditional narratives work to manufacture consent for their sense of self, which is personified by their world view or particular Overton Window.

A clear indication of this is when Integralists insist on doing more of what's not working and what has failed. Past sources of personal development, such as the need to maintain self-control or a belief that mystical experiences are evidence of personal transpersonal level attainment, are believed to still be central to ongoing and future development and internal psychic stability. New sources of personal development or identity that call into question strongly held assumptions are viewed as threats because they challenge and threaten to overturn old sources of stability, in a move from thesis to antithesis in the developmental dialectic, and therefore must be combatted in order to reduce cognitive dissonance and maintain identity.

Past time for a major revision to Integral AQAL

Blind adherence to transformative ideas of the past, due to our reluctance to release our identification with them, is a common and core indication of the closing of the Overton Window. The basic narrative of Integral that Wilber pioneered in the 1970's 80's, and 90's has not undergone any major revisions in twenty-five years, since the release of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, in 1995. That is a very long time in a world in which the exchange of ideas and therefore the pace of innovation continues to accelerate. In terms of technology, since that time there have been major disruptions due to the advent of the Web, Email, Search, with the knowledge of the world immediately available via the mobile phone, paperless currency, bitcoin, the influence of blogging, MP3, eCommerce, mainstream GPS, 3G telecommunication networks, soon to be replaced by 5G, Cloud computing, social networking, YouTube, gestural wearable computer interface, personal retail DNA testing kits, and mobile computing. In that same period of time, we have seen an increasing fracturing of common cultural narratives with a rise in conspiracy theories and a decline of public trust in almost all public institutions. This has been accompanied by a slow but constant breakdown in society and a massive increase in culture wars as old narratives are challenged and new ones fight for supremacy in all areas—economics, politics, science, the humanities, and religion.

Our world is fundamentally different from that of 1995, not simply in terms of shifting political, ecological, and cultural meanings and balances of power, but in terms of our understanding of what identity is, what world views are, how and why we hold on to outgrown perspectives, and at what cost to ourselves. It probably is not too much of an overstatement to note that the Overton Window of Integral is stuck in its 1995 position.

The most important job of alternative perspectives within Integral, for example those found on IntegralWorld.Net, as well outside Integral in the perspectives of meta-modernism, the Intellectual Dark Web, as well as the world views of Russia, and China, is to open its Overton Window.[2] There is no assurance that acquisition of a 2nd Tier Integral cognitive multi-perspectivalism and world view will translate into a more open Overton Window, and attitudes toward Russia, China, and Israel pretty much confirm that.

Let's assess some of these forces that appear to be at work to close Integral's Overton Window and see if in fact they do, and if so, what might be done to reduce that process so that Integral's Overton Window is opened further instead of pushed further shut over time.

Various confusions of the pre-rational with the trans-rational

Integral AQAL is likely to become increasingly marginalized as a pre-rational dogmatic cult, largely irrelevant to solving the pressing issues of the Sixth Great Extinction.

These are violations of the Pre-Trans Fallacy, Wilber's famous insight that anything transpersonal has to include the personal, or else it is actually something prepersonal that we are convinced is transpersonal. This is called “elevationism;” its opposite, “reductionism,” occurs when we take a transcending awareness and misperceive it as some lower level phenomenon.

“Spirit” is the first and foremost example of the Pre-Trans Fallacy within Integral AQAL. Personal and private mystical experiences, as transformative and real as they may be, are commonly taken to be Collective and Universal as well. This is an example of a State/Level fallacy, in which personal and private state access is taken to be personal transpersonal level attainment into a collective reality available to the initiates, those who have opened their “Eye of Spirit.” It is a subset of the Pre-Trans Fallacy.

We have been trained to believe that spirituality, most closely identified with the upper left quadrant, is our savior, when it is clear that those who espouse this position are no more likely to be ethical than anyone else, are as subject to cognitive bias, emotional cognitive distortions, and cognitive fallacies as those looked down upon as locked within prepersonal and early personal world views, and as subject to emotionally driven beliefs and preferences as anyone else.

Wilber himself, in Integral Spirituality, noted five different meanings of “spirit” and stressed that if one was not careful to disambiguate usage, that conversations using the term would be like ships passing in the night, with each person believing they understood the other, when in fact each were translating a “spirit” and “spiritual” into a framing comfortable to their own identity. The fact that Wilber then went on to publish multiple books and essays that did not disambiguate “spirit,” thereby contradicting his own cautions, only underlines the bankruptcy of the term. Sadly, it has outlived its usefulness.

It should be evident by now that a world view centered on “spirituality,” however we choose to define it, is not going to save the world, because it essentially represents one, the upper left, of all four quadrants. While Integral vociferously contends it does not privilege any quadrant, it is difficult to name any religion or school of psychology or philosophy that does not make a similar claim for itself.

The problem with spiritual elevationism is that it closes Integral's Overton Window to the rational by claiming that it transcends personal levels of development when in fact it does not include empirical tests associated with mid-personal levels of validity. The consequence is that Integral loses its claims of validity to those who require personal level validity claims to be satisfied, as applied by science and research on phenomena in any field that is subject to objective measurement. A good example are traditional claims of psychism that are supposedly associated with transpersonal states. Due to the lack of confirmatory personal level evidence, despite the fact that more people are meditating using more approaches than ever before in the history of the world, claims of psychism have largely dropped out of Integral literature.

One possible solution to the problems raised by the use of “spirit” would be to substitute the word “sacred,” since it is a more narrowly defined term and therefore less susceptible to ambiguation. We can also assume, until proven otherwise, that claims of mystical and transpersonal level attainment are most likely state openings of individuals at prepersonal early personal levels of development, yet with precocious development of lines of spiritual intelligence and cognition. In such a way, mystical experiences of oneness are acknowledged as real and sacred without putting them into conflict with science, because mystical experiences give up their claim to transcend the mid-personal as a developmental level while maintaining their claims to authentic personal transformation and access to transpersonal realities. The “spiritual” remains real and sacred, but is not confused with attainment of this or that level.

While Integral AQAL does not have to make this change, broader definitions of Integral, as well as maps of reality in general, largely have done so. Without recognizing that reality and adapting to it, Integral AQAL is likely to become increasingly marginalized as a pre-rational dogmatic cult, largely irrelevant to solving the pressing issues of the Sixth Great Extinction and a growing insistence on the enforcement of universal human rights. However, it may be that Integralists are unlikely to make such a revision to their understanding of “spirit,” because to do so may be a fundamental threat to their self-definition as 2nd Tier as well as a change too fundamental to Integral AQAL to imagine its existence without it.

“Eros as Spirit-in-Action”

This is Wilber's famous explanation of evolution that belongs in the tradition of Intelligent Design. It provides a teleologically-driven metaphysical consciousness, both immanent as “self-organization” and transcendent as absolute reality, Spirit, or Eros. The problem is that Wilber's formulation is fundamentally non-falsifiable and therefore not empirically verifiable, although Wilber claims it is through the empiricism of the Eye of Spirit. Eros as Spirit-in-action is essentially a prepersonal system of belief, based on the conviction of individual and collective mystical state experiences of oneness. In addition, it is another example of the Pre-Trans Fallacy, as a process that can be adequately and parsimoniously explained as prepersonal that is mistakenly framed as transpersonal. This is elevationism.

As long as Eros as Spirit-in-action remains the position of Integral AQAL, its Overton Window will continue to close, as education in the science of evolution spreads and more of its theoretical foundation is empirically verified.

The antidote to the possibility of AQAL being reduced to a backwater of irrelevancy in terms of evolutionary theory is for it to recognize the sacredness of natural processes in all four interdependently co-originating quadrants, without insisting on calling Eros as Spirit-in Action “truth” or “reality” and Neo-Darwinism and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis as “flatland” or scientific materialism. Integral AQAL needs to take a strong stance that scientific empiricism embodies and manifests the sacred as much as any other aspect of experience.

Transpersonal level attainment

This is the common Integral belief that because we understand cognitive multi-perspectivalism our identity is at vision-logic, integral aperspectivalism, or 2nd Tier, if not higher, at some transpersonal level. This is a major selling point for an Integral world view, because it magically inflates our identity to grandiose dimensions. In yet another example of the Pre-Trans Fallacy, because we understand a multi-perspectival world view, and we identify with our thoughts, we conclude that we must be at a trans-personal level of development. Wilber implies that this is true when he claims that some percentage of the population is already 2nd Tier and we just need to get 10% to that level, which seemingly would occur if only people would embrace Integral AQAL.

This type of “logic” is what Wilber himself has termed a Level/Line Fallacy, in that it conflates the advance on some line, the cognitive in this case, with advance from level to level of the self-system, and therefore with identity itself. This is further validated by advances on the line of spiritual intelligence, due to mystical experiences that Integralists commonly use to validate their high degree of personal development. All of this conflates line development with level development, which is one version of Wilber's Level/Line Fallacy.

The result is massive psychic inflation, grandiosity, and exceptionalism, about which I have written in another essay, "Exceptionalism; Integral's Blue Pill". The solution is for Integralists to realize that high attainment in cognitive and spiritual intelligence, or any other line, does not equate with high development in level. A much more realistic conclusion, due to what we now know about the pervasiveness of prepersonal cognitive biases, emotional cognitive distortions, and logical fallacies, is that we commonly use reason to validate prepersonal emotionally-based beliefs and world views. We use our intellectual rationalizations and justifications to convince ourselves that we really have evolved to some 2nd Tier or transpersonal level in order to validate our inflated sense of development, in a version of Wilber's Atman Project. To admit that this is a self-validating delusion and that in our overall development we are not so different from the mass of humanity, grounds Integralists in collective humanity rather than in exceptionalist dogmas and experiences.

Exceptionalism via hierarchialism

Integral AQAL discounts lower stages of development as less than their own, and by implication, the individuals themselves at those lower levels of development, as Hillary Clinton did when she referred to those who supported Trump as “deplorables,” when it embraces a hierarchical, agentic model of development over a heterarchical, communal human reality. Integral denies that it does so, just as it denies it prioritizes the Upper Left quadrant, or idealism over naturalism, but the record speaks for itself, for those who are objective and not brainwashed by groupthink as True Believers.

Exceptionalism via hierarchialism also closes Integral's Overton Window when it discounts the unethical behavior of gurus, pandits, and those who claim enlightenment. When these are referred to as “rude boys” or their ethical lapses passed off as “shadow” of a higher, genuine level of development, Integral loses not only cognitive but moral credibility via the elevationism of a moral Pre-Trans Fallacy. The result is that trust in Integral AQAL and Integralists is reduced, accompanied by an existential or foundational separation of Integralists from others in a toxic form of exceptionalism that not only closes the Overton Window but backfires on Integral when Integralists find themselves excluded from those realms it wishes to influence.

The solution, or a way to open the Overton Window wider in relation to this issue, is to give up application of the Buddhist doctrine of Upaya, “skill in means,” in conversation with those which we view as possessing a more limited map of reality than we possess. As Wilber describes this process, Integralists need to talk to people at their level of development and a bit above it, to generate a sense of mutual understanding while encouraging them to wake up into their next higher level of development. In addition to Upaya being manipulative, it is judgmental in that it assumes that, like the Buddha, we are relatively enlightened and others who have not yet grasped our understanding of Integral AQAL are relatively unenlightened. To imagine that the “deplorables” will not smoke out the superficiality of this ploy is naïve. Nobody likes being talked down to, which is essentially what Wilber is recommending. In this regard, Integralists would do well to do some serious soul-searching regarding the difference between false and authentic humility.

Unbalanced Quadrants

While Wilber and many Integralists vociferously deny that Integral AQAL favors the interior quadrants, pointing to statements that consciousness exists in all four quadrants and that all four in balance are required to tetra-mesh from one level of development to the next, in practice many Integralists might agree that Integral AQAL gives precedence to idealism over sacred naturalism. In fact, it is loath to view naturalism as authentically sacred, because in its eyes nature is prepersonal instead of transpersonal. In a sense, this is correct, because the physiosphere underlies and grounds the noosphere, and also because those who have not had access to transpersonal states are going to have a world view which is much less inclusive and transcending than those who have. Similarly, those who understand the AQAL map really do have a broader sense of what the sacred includes than do those who do not.

We can recognize those realities and yet replace our perspective with one that more approximates that of life, which doesn't make such differentiations between the sacred and non-sacred. The way this falls out in practice is that we give precedence to the sacredness of the mundane and secular over that of interior quadrant idealism and intent.

In addition, Integral AQAL is ambiguous about the necessity of the moral line for tetra-mesh, that is, the advancement of the self from one level to the next. Is the moral line “core” or not? If it is, it is required for tetra-mesh, meaning that without it you have unbalanced quadrants that cannot maintain access to a higher level of development. But Integral AQAL implies both that the moral lie is core and that many of us have indeed balanced quadrants sufficiently to advance to mid-personal or higher.

My perspective is that this conclusion is fantasy or self-delusion—take your pick. As I have written about elsewhere, there is ample evidence that there is no correlation between claims of high level development and morality. The necessary conclusion is that, if morality is indeed required to tetra-mesh level to level, our overall development is in the basement. We are all most likely at a mid-prepersonal level of overall development, despite the fact we have multiple highly performing lines, due to the fact that our quadrants remain unbalanced as a consequence of inconsistency in our behavioral ethics, as determined by the judgment of international outgroups.

“Justice” as a cultural and intersubjective value

Because it does not call out injustice in the lower right or insist on justice in that quadrant, Integral AQAL is not a strong advocate of social transformation. It is much more focused on personal salvation in the form of transpersonal realization and enlightenment than the transformation of socio-cultural contexts which determine when, how, and what is realistically possible in terms of personal salvation.

While justice certainly is a lower left cultural value and personal sensibility, that understanding has not reduced historical global violence. What has reduced global violence is justice as a lower right social practice, personal and collective responsibility, along with collective definitions of fairness, codified as enforceable laws, with associated punishments. As such, justice in the lower right provides one of the foundational measurements of the advance of civility among humans. What has reduced violence is justice as understood in the lower right quadrant, not the lower left.[3]

For Integral AQAL to continue to emphasize justice as a lower left value is to position justice in the subjective realm of culture, interpretation, and world view, a much more postmodern treatment, in that justice is relativized. Justice in the lower right is much less relative. It attempts to be clear and impartial; in comparison to lower left justice, it succeeds, in that its ability to deter crime and increase public safety is undeniable, despite the obvious subjectivity, partiality, and unfairness that is intrinsic to the administration of any law.

If Integral AQAL desires to gain relevancy among the disadvantaged in the world it needs to take a stand as a much stronger advocate of justice in the lower right. This is something Integral has hesitated to do. It has not been a strong proponent of law, national or international, which is strange, considering that any higher or more inclusive social structure reflective of some higher level of development has to first include obedience to law in order to transcend it. It should be obvious to everyone, not only that the US and its allies, including Israel, while demanding that other countries and groups conform to standards of justice in international law, pronounce their own exceptionalism, manifested primarily as the primitive preconventional morality of “might makes right.” Unless and until Integral takes a strong stand for the defense of the victims of injustice and demands accountability for perpetrators, it will lack international credibility among victimized nations and peoples and continue to be seen as an elitist and discriminatory ideology. Furthermore, claims that it has attained mid-personal, much less any higher level of development, will be undercut by its failure to uphold the universal application of justice in the form of universal human rights.

The belief that one can be 2nd Tier without complying with international law

Universal human rights is often viewed as a late personal issue, but as codified in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by the US and Israel, as well as many other nations, and thereby legally binding them to it, defense of universal human rights is a criterion for attainment of a mid-personal world view.[4] If one claims to embrace human rights, as most Integralists do, while supporting governments and politicians that violate human rights, they lose any claim to any level of development higher than early personal, although they may be much higher on individual lines. One cannot be a PEP (“Progressive Except Palestine”) Jew, Christian Zionist, neoconservative, or progressive Democrat and claim a level of development beyond early personal. Similarly, support of those politicians that authorize internationally illegal wars, drone strikes, renditions, or imprisonments disqualifies an Integralist from any level of development beyond early personal.

The solution for this is to stop making exceptionalistic excuses and rationalizations for illegal behavior and demand obedience to laws that have been agreed to by citizens and nation states. Not to do so is to fail in the principle of reciprocity, foundational to behavioral ethics, which implies a pre-conventional or amoral level of moral development.

Development is self development

In our childhood, because our priority is to develop a strong centralized, executive sense of who we are, self development is central, and the world evolves around us, in what might be called “psychological geocentrism.” Most people never outgrow this orientation; we merely spend our lives attempting to acquire different varieties of self-control: higher competencies on more lines and security in more relational exchanges, such as wealth, safety, status, sex, autonomy, and varieties of experiences of oneness. Most therapy aims for mid-personal cognitive stability and social competency. As a psychotherapist, I was taught to strengthen a client's sense of self and to help them to return to “normalcy,” which is, of course, highly over-rated.

However, some will shift their development from the self to the Self, generally as a result of having mystical experiences or reading about those who do, in what can be called “psychological heliocentrism.” In this world view, self development is still central, but the self is now the Self, one with all, either through oneness with nature, devotion, formlessness, or a non-dual integration of form and formlessness. Vedanta, Integral AQAL, and, to a lesser extent, Jungian psychology, are examples of psychological heliocentrism. In therapy, these clients are interested in working toward “self-actualization.”

Beyond psychological geo-and heliocentrism lies overall development, or “polycentrism,” which emphasizes an experience-based form of multi-perspectivalism. Polycentrism is analogous to finding ourselves at any specific point in the universe, in that all are equally the center; there is no “ontologically prior” space, nor, in the vastness of space, without temporal or special reference points, is there any way to separate self from other. The concepts of time, space, and self no longer have relevance because they have no reference points. Since every point, every “now,” every self, is the center of the universe, in the experiential multi-perspectivalism of overall development, none is privileged.

While all three of these conceptions of development are valid, polycentrism transcends and includes psychological geocentrism and heliocentrism. It is fundamentally associated with humility, because it has no need to reference any conception of self at all, but does use the self as a functional tool to address relationships with others and the mundane world. Hardly anyone has interest in accessing such a world view, either in therapy or out of it, because it emphasizes neither the attainment of greater self-control nor self-actualization. It is not concerned with the attainment of any of the relational exchanges that generally preoccupy the time and effort of most humans: the pursuit of wealth, safety, sex, status, power autonomy, or oneness.

Integral AQAL explains psychological geocentrism and generates maps that differentiate various levels, lines, states, quadrants, and types of the self as a form of cognitive multi-perspectivalism. This provides a way for us to make sense of mystical experiences and to move from identification with psychological geocentrism to psychological heliocentrism. The drawback is, that in self development, as Wilber states, the cognitive, not the moral, line leads. We now know that we can become a non-dual mystic and remain abusive and behaviorally unethical from the vantage point of collective, lower right perspectives of justice. In overall development, or polycentrism, the moral line leads, not the cognitive. Instead of ethics being foundational, as it is proclaimed to be for self development by religions of the world as well as by Integral AQAL, for overall development, it becomes the priority at every level, for every transaction, every line, every relationship, as respect.

Respect, as approached in overall development, is not determined by ourselves in the interior quadrants, but by others. It is validated when others can say, “I am respected by you.” External, objective validation of respect by others is necessary to prevent self-delusion, in which we know we are being respectful when the other knows they are being ignored or abused. Respect is itself defined here as empathy, trustworthiness, and reciprocity.

In a polycentric world view, advancement of the self or Self is not the priority, but rather the expression of respect, as determined by others, not ourselves. Integral AQAL and Integralists need to demonstrate respect in such a way that others say, “I know I am respected by you, even if we disagree.” “I am being heard and my perspective is being taken into account. What is important to me, as who I think I am, is being acknowledged by you in a meaningful way.”

Obviously, Integral AQAL and Integralists already do this in important ways, and that is to be applauded. There are also some people who don't care if they are respected, and there are Integralists who use the respect of others as a manipulative tool. This is where ethical empiricism is important, in the form of collective determinations of what is and is not respectful behavior. While these collective determinations of what is respectful evolve as well, they serve as the judge and jury of last resort as long as we are dealing with collectives. Integralists would do well to focus on doing what they can to gain the respect of those they wish to influence. Obviously, this is not always possible, because we can't always please others, and we need to attempt to do so within the context of maintaining our own self-respect.


There is no teleology in spirituality that magically causes Integral AQAL to generate a workable, practical solution to social ills, make it a preferred world view for scientists or the mass of humanity, generate a sustainable environment or economy, or distribute political power equitably. Integral AQAL has not delivered such results and is unlikely to do so, primarily because no world view or map can. It is not so much a failure of Integral as it is of the common human belief that world views define identity and that identity is stable and needs to stay that way through the exercise of self-control and defense against that which threatens our sense of self.

With some adjustments, Integral can open its Overton Window to maintain and grow in legitimacy in the decades to come. To repeat, these are:

  • A more realistic assessment of spiritual attainment as state access rather than permanent stage acquisition;
  • Evolution as sacred naturalism;
  • Recognition of exceptionalism and its substitution with humility;
  • Giving precedence to the sacredness of the mundane and secular over that of interior quadrant idealism and intent;
  • Taking a strong stand for the defense of the victims of injustice and to demand accountability for the perpetrators;
  • Stop making exceptionalistic excuses and rationalizations for illegal behavior and demand obedience to national and international law;
  • Lead with the moral line of polycentrism and overall development, not the cognitive line of self development.

I make these recommendations out of a desire for Integral to reach a broader audience and maintain its appeal to Integralists as they individually continue to develop. I respect Ken Wilber's brilliant vision and acknowledge the multiple ways that I have benefitted from his perspective as well as his contributions to human development. I respect his right to maintain whatever version of Integral AQAL that he finds most manifests his vision.


[1] "Prying Open the Overton Window",, October 21, 2019.

[2] These last two will surprise some readers, because we have been so spoon-fed powerful mainstream narratives all of our lives regarding each, that it is nearly impossible to view Russia or China outside of those cognitive filters. However, it is important that we do, because both are at present succeeding where the West is failing. Rather than denying or rationalizing those successes, which are merely attempts to protect our cultural identity within the world view of a closing Overton Window, we had better start focusing on what they are doing right that we are not.

[3] Steven Pinker, in his well-documented study of the origins and solutions to human violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature, provides massive evidence that justice in the lower right quadrant, not justice as a value in the lower left quadrant, is responsible for one of the most momentous advances of civilization in the last 10,000 years.

[4] The Declaration consists of a preamble and thirty articles:

  • The preamble sets out the historical and social causes that led to the necessity of drafting the Declaration.
  • Articles 1–2 established the basic concepts of dignity, liberty, and equality.
  • Articles 3–5 established other individual rights, such as the right to life and the prohibition of slavery and torture.
  • Articles 6–11 refer to the fundamental legality of human rights with specific remedies cited for their defence when violated.
  • Articles 12–17 established the rights of the individual towards the community (including such things as freedom of movement).
  • Articles 18–21 sanctioned the so-called "constitutional liberties", and with spiritual, public, and political freedoms, such as freedom of thought, opinion, religion and conscience, word, and peaceful association of the individual.
  • Articles 22–27 sanctioned an individual's economic, social and cultural rights, including healthcare. Article 25 states: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services." It also makes additional accommodations for security in case of physical debilitation or disability, and makes special mention of care given to those in motherhood or childhood.[6]
  • Articles 28–30 established the general ways of using these rights, the areas in which these rights of the individual can not be applied, and that they can not be overcome against the individual.

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