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.


Why Ken Wilber isn't Second Tier - and You and I aren't Either

How to tell phony claims of enlightenment from real ones

Joseph Dillard

Source: "Common Lies of the Phony World of Mystics", Christopher Calder
Maintaining trust and respect is considerably more important than chasing perfection and enlightenment.

Yes, I understand this title feels like a direct, frontal attack on our grandiosity and limitless narcissism, and flies in the face of developmental psychology and human evolutionary theory, but by the time we arrive at the end of this essay I hope to have been able to show how we can emerge from this traumatic realization with our precious egos relatively unscathed.

Like many people, I have spent years - decades even - chasing unicorns farting rainbows. I can look back at my life and say, with considerable embarrassment, “How was I so naive as to believe THAT?” “How was I so blind as to believe HE was enlightened?” “How was I so grandiose as to believe I was second tier?” Even those who haven't gotten addicted to chasing spiritual pixie dust can probably relate in terms of teenage infatuations: “What ever attracted me to HER?” (Or him, as the case may be.)

Like many people, I can easily and conveniently rationalize all those years lost in delusion: “If I hadn't joined that cult I wouldn't be who I am today.” It's like saying, “If I hadn't been an alcoholic, killed those people in that wreck I caused, and spent five years in prison, I wouldn't be who I am today.” This way of “thinking” is generated by a cognitive defense called the “confirmation bias.” We don't know who we would be if we hadn't taken the path we did. We have zero comprehension of what vistas and possibilities might have opened up for us if we had made healthier choices, but we need to feel that all that time we spent wandering around in swamps fighting mosquitoes and fending of alligators was worth it.

Enlightenment is like that. Painfully aware of our deficits and incompletion, we easily glom on to people and world views that inspire us. If you make a convincing case that you are enlightened I am going to want to believe it, because you are giving me hope in my own capabilities, even if they are false hopes. Just as children prefer abuse to neglect, or no attention at all, so we typically prefer false hopes, conspiracy theories, and snake oil to the emptiness of no world view at all, which feels like meaningless when our identity is based on drama and delusion. Out of our desire to reduce challenges to our need to believe we can be enlightened, like Ken or Buddha or our favorite flavor of ego ideal, we repress and ignore all evidence that we are actually dealing with another plastic caricature of enlightenemnt. Ignoring all the warning signs, we allow nothing to interfere with the in-group cohesion from which we derive security and support. We forget the prophetic words of enlightened master Philip K. Dick: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.”

Wilber has stated on multiple occasions the belief that if you and I just learn the multi-perspectival world view of Integral AQAL, we will advance to a vision-logic, integral aperspectival second tier world view. Since most of us identify with our thoughts, our self-system line will also be second tier or close to it.[1] Therefore, in our minds we have attained the relative enlightenment of second tier status. If we meditate, we will do so even faster. If enough poor reds (late prepersonals), blues (early personals), oranges (mid-personals), and greens (late personals) will simply grasp the enlightened world view of Integral AQAL, there will be a monumental leap into the dawning of a new, integral global culture and society. For example, in his Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction, (Feb. 2017), Wilber says

…it would only be with the “monumental leap” to integral second tier that actualization holarchies became a standard and recognized part of the “intrinsic features” of the real world. (p. 63)

In Integral Spirituality, Wilber writes,

…considerable research has demonstrated that the more you experience meditative or contemplative states of consciousness, the faster you develop through the stages of consciousness. … For example, whereas around 2% of the adult population is at second tier, after four years of meditation, that 2% goes to 38% in the meditation group. This is truly staggering research. (pp. 196-197)

However, Wilber considers such an advance unusual:

It's very rare for individuals to develop into 2nd-tier Integral, let alone 3rd-tier Super-Integral structure-rungs of development. As a matter of fact, research based on Claire [sic] Graves's work suggests that about 5 percent of individuals are at second tier at this time, and those at the upper level of the 2nd-tier stage (high vision-logic, late centaur, Fulcrum-8) are not much more than 0.5 percent, which means, one in every two hundred people. The number at 3rd tier is a tenth of that, if that high. Consequently, when researchers investigate the average population, very few of which are long-time meditators, they will find very few people who have developed into second tier, let alone 3rd-tier, transpersonal, Super-Integral, or spiritual structure-levels of development. (The Religion of Tomorrow, p. 181-2)

Wilber states that there are at least three core lines that have to “tetra-mesh” in order for self-development as a whole to advance from one level to the next. These are the cognitive, self-system, and moral lines. For the purpose of this essay, the moral line is defined as equally involving all four quadrants, intention and moral judgment in the UL, deontological values in the LL, the morality of our behavior in the UR, and the assessment of the morality of our behavior by others in the LR. Functionally, morality is defined here as respect, as demonstrated by reciprocity, trustworthiness and empathy. What the above quotes imply is that development on the line of spiritual intelligence via meditation not only advances the cognitive and self-system lines, but the moral line as well, since at least these three are necessary for self-development from one level to the next, which is what Wilber is saying is speeded up by meditation. Does development of the line of spiritual intelligence speed up self-development from level to level? What research is there that indicates that is the case? While Wilber does share research by Alexander based on Transcendental Mediation[2], what is truly staggering (to use Wilber's term) is that he does not provide any research that explains how this speeds up the development of other lines that he states are necessary for advancement from level to level. He is making a claim that self-development toward enlightenment is speeded up by learning AQAL and meditating. Where's the evidence?

On the other hand, there are several strands of evidence that make these claims questionable, and more importantly, most claims by most gurus about enlightenment. This evidence includes the core nature of the moral line, the requirement that it tetra-mesh, the impossibility of moral line tetra-mesh without the lower right quadrant meshing, the proven ability of collective consciousness to limit and retard self-development, and the differentiation of states and stages. While access to second tier on multiple lines occurs, that is not at all the same as enlightenment, in the sense of transpersonal self-development, although it is commonly assumed to be, due to a very common version of the Level/Line Fallacy. Let us take a look at these various lines of reasoning that generate the conclusion that you and I are not second tier - and neither is Wilber.

The Level/Line Fallacy

High development on one or more line is not second tier attainment. We can all concede that Ken, you, and I are second tier on the cognitive, spiritual intelligence, or all manner of other lines, including the self-system, with which you identify, and still conclude that second tier has not been attained as a stable level of development. How is that possible?

Line development is not level development. To confuse the two is what Wilber rightly calls a “Level/Line Fallacy.” Corey deVos, at IntegralLife, defines a level/line fallacy as

The confusing of a level in a line with the line itself. There are two major versions of the level/line fallacy: fixation, where a level in a line is glorified and absolutized, and thus the entire line is frozen at the level where the confusion originally occurred; and repression, where a level in a line is denied or suppressed and thus the entire line is suppressed.

When we apply the fixation variety of Wilber's level/line fallacy to this assessment of our morality, we may easily conclude that amorality and pre-conventional morality are compatible with high levels of self-development. Our actual level of moral development is much lower and in fact frozen at the level where the confusion is maintained by amoral and immoral societal norms. Tetra-mesh of the moral line does not occur past where the fixation occurred, but we remain oblivious to that reality, because we continue to determine our level of moral development by UL criteria, supplemented by in-group validation in the LR. This overblown valuation is validated at work, by our political preferences, national allegiances, like the myth of American exceptionalism, belief in world view, and defense of this or that ego ideal (like Trump, Hillary, or Obama) or pandit (like Wilber). This produces a highly distorted and unrealistic conclusion regarding our actual level of moral development, one that conveniently coincides with our own self-image as highly evolved, if not enlightened.

Integral AQAL is a royal, fully-blown example of the fixation version of a level/line fallacy. Cognitive development, that is, the ability to grok a vision-logic, multi-perspectival Integral AQAL map, combined with access to this or that transpersonal state, results in a glorification and absolutization of the cognitive and spiritual intelligence lines as proof of self-system development to second tier, if not higher, since the self-system is highly likely to identify with both.

Another version of the Level/Line Fallacy Combines with the Pre/Trans Fallacy

There appears to be an unrecognized third version of the level/line fallacy, which involves the mistaking of a line or lines for a level of development. Instead of confusing a level in a line with the line itself, we imagine line development is equivalent to level-to level self-development. Psychographs imply that the level of self-development is the balancing point of multiple lines, when level-to-level self-development is in fact at the level of the core line most retarded in its ability to tetra-mesh. This is typically the moral line, for various reasons, as we shall see. Misperceiving our level of moral development as post-conventional, if not post-post conventional we conclude we are post-personal levels in the core lines of cognition, self-development, and morality, and generally back that up with our mystical experiences, that we take as evidence that we are at a high level of attainment on the line of spiritual intelligence as well. high development in this or that line, or multiple lines, for a higher level of development. This is a third, elevationistic, version of Wilber's level/line fallacy.

This delusion also involves an elevationistic variety of Wilber's Pre/Trans Fallacy because we typically assume access to mystical states via meditation, drug trips, near death experiences, dreams, or other means indicates enlightenment - high level to level development. Pre-rational states of oneness available at any and all stages are taken as proof of second tier transpersonal enlightenment. This is the elevationistic variety of Wilber's Pre/Trans Fallacy. An authentic low-level of moral development is conveniently ignored, denied, repressed, rationalized and excused. It is not enough to look at one's in-groups and conclude, “My in-groups, in this case, fellow integralists who share my world view, think I am at second tier, so I am.” Those who share your belief that accessing an integral world view means to achieve second tier status have a built-in bias to validate your high level of development, since to do so validates theirs.

This combination of level/line and pre/trans fallacies creates ominous consequences: grandiose delusions combined with catastrophic imbalances in self-development. One contributing cause is the pursuit of excellence instead of balance, largely because excellence is highly rewarded with status and power while balance is assumed or taken for granted. Another is the pursuit of some relational exchange, such as the pursuit of wealth, safety, security, or status. Such pursuits can become addictive ends in themselves, forming the reality beneath a social narrative of enlightenment. An additional contributing cause leading to massive delusions regarding our enlightenment is the ease with which morality can and often is compromised in the pursuit of this or that relational exchange. There are good reasons for this. As Upton Sinclair famously noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” We can expand on that insight by adding in-group status and self-identity to economic security as strong forces that can easily lead to us rationalizing away amorality and immorality.

Misperception of Our Level of Moral Development

We think we have attained the Plateau of Sustainability, at second tier when in fact we are still climbing Mt. Stupid.

When job security and in-group status depend on maintaining group think, regardless of morality or rationality, rationalizing moral behavior becomes a convenient and even “logical” choice. Morality is compromised outside of our awareness, as part of our job description, scripting, or membership in this or that group. If people question our morality, we can easily feel offended and insulted. Why?

We tend to equate our morality with our moral intent and judgment, which are interior and individual UL quadrant aspects of morality. Kohlberg's levels of development of moral judgment support and encourage this misunderstanding of the moral line.[3] Due to this reliance on interior quadrant criteria for our morality, if we find that we score at post-conventional or post-post conventional on the Kohlberg/Wilber scale of moral judgement (Wilber added the post-post conventional stage), our conclusion is likely to be that we are at a post-conventional level of moral development, close to, if not actually at, second tier in morality, if not having achieved an even higher post-post conventional level in our self-development.

In addition to this validation, it is not difficult to rationalize away “difficulties.” We can acknowledge that we have moral failings in the UR behavioral quadrant, but they are easily excused as “shadow,” - temporary regressions that do not reflect on or determine our actual high level of spiritual attainment. We can also acknowledge that there are people in the world, like our X's, that can point out our moral failings, but what do they know? They aren't members of our in-groups, who know us so well and who see and validate our high level of moral development.

Objective measures of level of moral development come from out-groups: Those who have the capability to evaluate our morality from a relatively neutral perspective. We typically discount those out-group conclusions that disagree without our own regarding our level of morality. Zionists are good examples, because they readily dismiss charges of apartheid as anti-semitism. However, all in-groups demonstrate such defenses, and necessarily so, because acceptance of charges of amorality or immorality are devastating both to group cohesion and to self-identity as a good, “enlightened” person. Many societies in the world today, particularly those in the West as well as those under the control of corrupt cabals and oligarchs are locked into an economic model of “profits over people,” which is an amoral stance, and a political and geopolitical model of “might makes right, ” which is a pre-conventional immoral stance. There are exceptions today in the world, and individuals who live in a society that has attained, say a conventional level of collective morality, would contain individuals who have authentically attained that level, because their moral line is supported in the lower right quadrant by the collective in which they are enmeshed. However, this is unlikely, due to the inability of the core moral line to tetra-mesh, our socio-cultural relationships in the LR act like a sea anchor on level-to-level development. This typically causes moral development to be stuck at amoral to immoral/pre-conventional levels, which is roughly equivalent to a mid-prepersonal level of self-development.

The gap between high attainment in various lines and authentic morality leads to a precipitous condition and an eventual Icarian fall to Earth. We see this in the arc of life of almost every guru for whom we have sufficient history and in every politician whose life and career is subject to historical transparency. Low moral development is obvious in criminality, and in particular white collar crime, and life failures due to addiction. However, it is very, very rarely obvious to us in our own lives or in the lives of those who we idolize or who represent causes that we are convinced we cannot live without. In a recent example, a Nation columnist, Katha Pollitt said, “I would vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them.” This was in reference to Biden's former senate staffer Tara Reade's allegations of sexual assault by Biden. Pollitt added, “Fortunately, I don't have to sacrifice morality to political necessity.” Pollitt was saying that she does not believe the allegations, but even if they were true, the political necessity of defeating Trump is more important to her than any standard of morality.

While this is an outrageous and extreme example, many progressives are willing to cast an immoral or amoral vote with the rationalization of voting for “the lesser of two evils.” I have heard similar sentiments expressed by numerous integralists regarding Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and now Joe Biden. I am not arguing about the wisdom or reasonableness of this choice - it may well be both. Such estimations are on a different developmental line, in this case the cognitive line, while on the moral line the vote remains amoral or immoral. Can decisions on the cognitive line be antiseptically divorced from the moral line? Can we authentically isolate our moral actions that affect the collective to which we belong, such as a vote, from a determination of our overall level of self-development? Would we like to? We need to isolate our actions from allegations of abuse and/or immorality from others in order to maintain our estimation of ourselves as a highly developed person.

However, failing to make ourselves morally accountable risks a potentially devastating collapse of our world view and sense of self. A case can be made that that is exactly what is happening now in the West in 2020. Innumerable cognitive decisions have been made in government, policy, business, entertainment education, and journalism that are divorced from moral considerations. Corruption, abuse, and exploitation have been justified for decades based on reasons that had little or nothing to do with morality, essentially because issues of ethical behavior were largely irrelevant, because there were no consequences. Too big to fail was, and continues to be, too big to jail. If you have the most and biggest guns, why heed international law? Those become standards to compel others to obey while relying on one's exceptionalism to flaunt them. This is why, in self-development, including its various lines, the cognitive line leads, as Wilber has stated. Greater cognitive ability is correlated with increased objectivity and a more inclusive world view, meaning that we are more multi-perspectival, tolerating ambiguity and recognizing the need to foster the development of other lines. However, the preeminence of cognition leads to a prioritization of characteristics of enlightenment associated with cognition, such as objectivity, witnessing, clarity, excellence, realization, intelligence, and agency with an unspoken diminution of the importance of characteristics of enlightenment associated with morality, such as collective norms, communion, and balance. To place this formula in an unflattering moral context, it means rationalization of behavior leads.

In this regard, integralists, and most subscribers to the enlightenment industry, are victims of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in delusion regarding our authentic, low level of self-development because we lack the objectivity to see how our lack of moral development keeps us from progressing level to level, regardless of how advanced we are in this or that line. We think we have attained “the Plateau of Sustainability,” at second tier when in fact we are still climbing Mt. Stupid.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Moral Tetra-Mesh is not Optional

Core lines have to tetra-mesh for Ken, you, and I to evolve level to level. This is because Wilber, following the major religious traditions of the world, considers morality to be a core characteristic of spirituality. I agree. Wilber has also said that for development to move from one level to another there has to be tetra-mesh, that is, some degree of sustainable balance among all four quadrants. Just because we are brilliant in any number of lines does not mean we have attained second tier, because of the necessity of Wilber's tetra-mesh:

Because each holon has at least four quadrants or four dimensions of being-in-the-world, and each of those dimensions must mesh with the already-existing worldspace, there are at least four types of selection pressures: each holon must mesh to some degree with its own I, we, it, and its [i.e., 'always already' perspectives embedded in linear languages]. Thus, each holon must be able to register the external it-world accurately enough (truth); each holon must be able to register its internal I-world accurately enough (truthfulness); it must be able to fit with its communal or social system of its (functional fit); and it must be able to adequately negotiate its cultural milieu of we (meaning).” ("Introduction to Excerpts from Volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy").

… a paradigm is a social practice or behavioral injunction, not simply a theory or intellectual edifice (although, of course, they tetra-evolve together). Accordingly, any new paradigm will include a set of exemplars and practices—practices that, if they contain more depth (or Eros) than their predecessors, will throw the old approaches into a legitimation crisis that can only be resolved by a vertical ('revolutionary') transformation—as we said, the crisis in legitimacy can only be resolved by an increase in authenticity. Thus, a new integral paradigm will therefore be a new set of injunctions and practices, not simply theories, not worldviews, not Web-of-Life notions, not holistic concepts—but actual practices. ("Excerpt B: The Many Ways We Touch—Three Principles Helpful for Any Integrative Approach", p. 6-7.)

Following Wilber, it is wise to ask, is the person who is making this claim of second tier or higher attainment and enlightenment in self-development able to fit his or her claims of moral development with his or her communal or social system of “its” (functional fit)? Most respondents will say “yes,” based on the validation of those they consider peers, or members of recognized in-groups. However, when these same individuals are evaluated on their moral line by those who are not peers or fellow in-group members, the assessment of their level of moral development is likely to be contingent upon any abusive actions that have been carried out by their collective. Therefore, if my country engages in illegal warfare, drone assassinations, torture, or illegal sanctions against another country, then that reflects on my level of morality in the lower right social quadrant, and that quadrant is just as important to tetra-mesh as any other. It will not do to think, “interior aspects of morality, that is my intention and judgment, are more important than either my actual behavior or the assessment of those who claim they are abused by my actions or those of collectives with which I am affiliated.” This dynamic is highly visible in US claims of exceptionalism, designed to create moral justification for actions which are, in the judgment of international law, violations of collective morality.

Those in out-groups are likely to place much more moral weight on the questionable behaviors of ego ideals than do those individuals themselves and their supporters. The infamous Wilber “Earpy” episode is a classic example. Apparently some 70% of those which Wilber shared a rough draft of his blog post with thought it was fine. When Wilber told critics they could “suck my dick,” he explained that statement as second tier “skill in means” and those who did not understand same as having unresolved “shadow” issues that they need to address, thereby shifting responsibility and accountability from himself to others, who lack the depth and breadth of development to understand his statement as a second or third tier teaching.[4]

In Wilber's second quote regarding tetra-mesh, above, he refers to higher order practices that produce higher degrees of authenticity. In fact, he says that crises in legitimacy can only be resolved by increases in authenticity. However, the abused in the LR do not care how authentic an abuser is or is not. Abuse is abuse, as determined by both personal and collective normative standards, whether abuse is “authentic” or not. Authenticity is irrelevant to the tetra-mesh of the moral line because it serves to validate the certainty of one's UL intentionality at the expense of collective definitions of ethical behavior. The higher level practices mentioned by Wilber, while not completely irrelevant, are largely beside the point. This is because the criteria for morality in the LR remain consistent regardless of level of development. You want to know, “Am I respectful? Will I reciprocate? Am I trustworthy in areas that matter to you and our relationship?” “Am I empathetic, in that I can accurately reflect your emotions and world view whether or not I agree with them?” If you have higher level practices and do not meet these criteria, which will others in interdependent relationships deem more important? A new, higher level set of personal practices does not change our collective practices as a society and a culture. I may meditate eight hours a day and be more philanthropic as Bill Gates, but if I violate your trust or use my influence in ways that disrespect you, that will affect my ability to tetra-mesh on my moral line.

There is no necessary correlation between interior quadrant moral judgment and intent and exterior quadrant behavior and interpersonal assessment of ethical behavior. Integral AQAL gives the impression that if you score high in moral judgment, say, post-conventional, or Wilber's additional post-post conventional stage, that you are therefore a moral person. Therefore, your moral line can tetra-mesh and you can evolve from level to level. However, the lack of correlation between interior quadrant moral intention and collective perceptions of ethical behavior are real and stop moral tetra-mesh. You and I or Wilber, Cohen, Gafni, Da Free John, or your favorite guru, can be in the stratosphere on the cognitive and spiritual intelligence lines, and have a well advanced self-system line, and ethically remain in the cosmic crapper. Because we identify with our “ego ideals,” we ignore, discount, or minimize their ethical failings. The lack of correlation between interior moral intent and judgment, on the one hand, and exterior ethical behavior, on the other, is a problem that Kohlberg could not solve and, as far as I know, Wilber has not addressed.

You and I can't develop level to level without the moral line tetra-meshing. If it doesn't, or it hasn't, what exists is the assumption of high self-development with an ignored reality of low authentic self-development. Collectively, our self-development is low because our moral line can't tetra-mesh beyond a mixture of amorality, since our economic system is based on amorality (profits over people), and immorality, because many of our relationships with international out-groups is based on immorality (might makes right). How low is our actual level of self-development likely to be? That is debatable, but there is a great deal of evidence that it is mid-prepersonal, because that is the approximate range of a combination of collective amorality and immorality. Obviously, all of US or Western society is not amoral or immoral, and high development in multiple lines is everywhere evident both individually and collectively. However, it is equally ridiculous to point out the bright moral lights of society and generalize a high level of social morality from them, just as it is to point out the excellence of this or that line I have developed and neglect the LR quadrant of my moral line.

It doesn't matter if I am teal, turquoise, yellow, or functioning at the mean brown meme; if I fail interpersonal normative criteria of respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy, I have reduced, if not lost, my credibility with you regarding some criteria that is important to you. So when Wilber obscenely disparages his critics, regardless of his UL intention or level of moral judgment, others in the LR are going to pass judgment on his level of morality based on those questions. Some will accept Wilber's argument that his comment reflects a higher, more enlightened level of development, while others will rate his level of moral development quite low. For those who associate morality with spirituality, cognitive dissonance will set in. However, in my experience, most integralists will simply respond with indifference, as I did for years, something I now view as a type of amoral non-cognition that serves as a defense mechanism. If I don't think about the moral implications I do not have to take the remarks or behavior of leaders, gurus, and other ego ideals seriously, particularly if I do not experience myself as the object of the abuse. Americans routinely use this defense regarding the victims of US wars of choice.

Which of these various responses is “correct” is completely subjective, in a multi-perspectival reality, but that is not the major interpersonal concern, which generates moral determinations in the LR. Instead, prevailing social norms regarding what is and is not abuse and what is and is not legal are the primary considerations. This or that deontological determination of morality is not the priority for social justice but rather objective evidence of damage. All of us pass judgment on each other and those judgments do matter, depending on at least two factors.

First, if a low level of morality is determined by a few powerful people, that is, by a court of law or a family seeking revenge or a mob or gang, consequences can be quite severe regardless of morality in the other quadrants and completely separate from issues of fairness or trust. Functional fit within some set of societal norms is the determinant. Secondly, if a mass of people with relatively little power conclude that I am just not enlightened, regardless of the height of my development on this or that line, then while I can believe whatever I want, just as jailed convicted criminals can steadfastly continue to believe in their innocence, I have lost my credibility with some important constituency in the LR regarding second tier or enlightenment arguments. Convicted child molestors are not likely to function as authoritative Catholic priests. This second point is also relevant to every day posts on integral or spiritual websites. If I claim to be spiritual but am deemed to be abusive or a poser, I lose credibility on my moral line and I am not likely to have or regain that lost credibility.

Collectives have a strong vested interest in maintaining current states of equilibrium, regarding how amoral or immoral they might be. While they may support individual excellence and societal development in this or that area, they are not interested in tetra-meshing and typically work to defeat it, because tetra-mesh threatens their core identity. If a society is built on a combination of amorality and immorality, as the neoliberal economic order and imperialistic foreign policies are, amorality and immorality end up being justified by the vast majority because they place priority on stability of the status quo over morality and ethical behavior. For example, a mythic religion that tetra-meshes is no longer mythic and may not even be a religion; a neoliberal corporation that tetra-meshes is no longer neoliberal, which means its entire rationale for existing has transformed. The non-prosecution of white collar crime in the West and the willingness to throw money into the machinery of war while neglecting health care, education, welfare, and infrastructure are examples of societal resistance to tetra-mesh, as is support for models of governance and economics that concentrates wealth, status, and power into a relatively small group of plutocrats. Lower class voters who are clearly the victims of increasing inequality consistently vote for the perpetuation of such systems.

Collective practices, whether they be laws, norms, customs, or policies condition and limit the ability of the moral core line to tetra-mesh one level to the next. Without collective ethical behavior our moral line does not and cannot tetra-mesh, because our lower right quadrant is relational and interdependent. What others do and do not do conditions our own possibilities for self-development. When our government tortures or supports apartheid, it acts in our name. Its level of immorality conditions and limits our ability to tetra-mesh. When our financial sector acts amorally by putting profits over human rights and well-being, its level of amorality limits and conditions our ability to morally tetra-mesh. We cannot ignore, we cannot rationalize away the way our relationships and collective embeddedness in the lower right quadrant conditions our moral development. We can race ahead with meditation and spiritual intelligence, cognition, but without all four quadrants of the moral line, there is no level to level development, only line development, which we conveniently imagine to be level development.[5]

Collective Norms, Expectations, and Values Limit Enlightenment and Therefore Self-Development

What is the road block in the external quadrants that stops moral tetra-mesh cold? Wilber alludes to it in Integral Spirituality:

…the same structure that 6000 years ago could be said to be fully Enlightened, is no longer so today. Somebody at mythic-membership today is no longer one with the Totality of all Form, because there are, “over the head” of amber, the orange and green and teal and turquoise structures. Those are now real, “ontological,” actually existing structures in the kosmos… (p. 247)

Here Wilber is not only acknowledging but making a strong case that socio-cultural factors in the collective, intersubjective and interobjective quadrants determine the width and breadth of enlightenment, and therefore self-development. If you live in the Axial Age the breadth and depth of your possible enlightenment is less than that available today because higher collective societal structures have unfolded since the Axial Age. The very same principle applies to morality. Prevailing laws, expectations, and cultural norms regarding morality determine the width and breadth of self-development, just as they do the width and breadth of possible enlightenment. I may be a saint, but if I am embedded in an abusive society, the abused will view me as morally culpable, because I am complicit and share moral responsibility as a member of that collective.

We attempt to get around this problem by determining our morality in the lower right quadrant by the determination of fellow in-group members: fellow criminals, drug addicts, prostitutes, politicians, lawyers, accountants, psychotherapists, and integralists, all of whom are likely to be in collusion to validate the worthiness of one another as in-group members, because group solidarity is correlated with increased adaptability, acceptance, and advancement of individual group members. Members mutually benefit from this collusion, so claiming a lack of personal responsibility is not honest. The life choices we make reflect on other in-group members. To support them, regardless of how depraved their actions may be, is to support ourselves. Americans, Zionists, Chinese, scientists, doctors, and the members of any group, religion, or professional guild inherently lack the objectivity to assess the level of moral development of their in-group because of the subjective enmeshment of their identity and perspective. Similarly, we integralists are in no position to objectively assess each others' level of moral development. One of the primary functions of collectives, whether they be nation-states or corporations, is to deflect personal responsibility for immoral and amoral collective actions. “I did not drone assassinate anyone; it was Bush/Obama/Trump.” “I did not crash the economy; it was the Fed/coronavirus via China/Trump.” Choose your flavor of the day persecutor to deflect blame and moral responsibility. As in-group members we work to validate each others' lack of moral responsibility. Out-group members are much more objective and likely to render judgments that are more realistic, but much less likely to validate our self-image. If integralists want an objective determination of their level of moral development, they need to ask reds, blues, oranges, and greens. This has indeed occurred, and the result is not a pretty picture. Wilber has been taken to task for describing Da Free John, Andrew Cohen, and Mark Gafni as “rude boys” with “shadow” issues.

What in-group members dismiss as “shadow,” psychological, interior quadrant framings, out-groups and those who are recipients of abuse view in social, exterior quadrant, terms. If somebody broke the law, there are legal consequences, regardless of intent or status. We see that principle at work in the bankruptcy of multiple Catholic dioceses, sued for the pedophilia of their disgraced priests, many of whom went to jail. If we break norms of ethical behavior, there are interpersonal consequences that occur independent of in-group status and intent. “Might makes right” may avoid such consequences, but whether it does or not, brute force functions from a pre-conventional level of morality. If we break norms of ethical behavior, moral tetra-mesh doesn't happen, regardless of how much meditation we do, how philanthropic and altruistic we are, or what our integral psychograph looks like.

Similarly, if I do nothing to stop the illegal wars and economic sanctions of my country that harm, abuse, and kill others, then those others and their families will be perfectly justified in viewing my level of ethical behavior as pre-conventional or amoral, since I am a member of a group that justifies abuse and I am either doing nothing to stop it or to disassociate myself from those acts. Israeli apartheid is an excellent example. When integralists do nothing to call out Israeli policies as apartheid they are announcing their level of moral development is either pre-conventional or amoral, depending on whether they defend abuse or simply ignore it.

I am not arguing that Wilber ignores the importance of m orality. That is not true. There is a strong section on the importance of behavioral ethics in Integral Life Practice. In The Religion of Tomorrow, Wilber spends time explaining the importance of “Clean Up” and “Show Up” and not just “Wake Up” and “Grow Up.” The fact that Wilber does an excellent job of explaining the importance of moral behavior has little bearing on the fact that many integralists imagine they are second tier in their self-development when they are not, or that there is a level/line fallacy and pre/trans fallacy regarding morality at the heart of Integral AQAL.

There are broader implications. Self, humanistic, and developmental psychology as a whole seem to miss or ignore the implications of collective morality/immorality on self-development. Just as Wilber does not make the connection between the limitation of individual enlightenment and the level of collective development, so most researchers into self-development do not make the connection between the limitation of individual self-development and the limitations in the level of collective moral development. This critique extends to the excellent contributions of stellar researchers and theorists like Maslow, Loevinger, Cook-Greuter, Washburn, Wade, Erikson, Grof, Battista, Baldwin, Kegan, and Gardner. The cognitive developmental models of Piaget, the moral developmental models of Kohlberg and Gilligan, Peck (on moral motivation), Rawls (on moral positions), Howe (on moral character), and Wilber, (on general moral development adding a post-post stage to Kohlberg and his deontological principle of greatest moral span and breadth), do not take this issue into account or address these arguments, to the best of my knowledge.

Neither do the broad transpersonal models of Plotinus, Underhill, Aurobindo, Smith, Jung, Adi Da, Alexander, Forman, in his A Guide to Integral Psychotherapy, or O'Fallon, take this issue into account or address these arguments, to the best of my knowledge. Neither do the illustrious historical and sociological evolutionary approaches of Habermas and Gebser, and Graves/Beck/Cowan (Spiral Dynamics), or idealistic philosophers from Plato to Hegel to deChardin or the rationalists and realists, from Aristotle to Kant to Wittgenstein to Popper, to the best of my knowledge. The New Age “you create your reality” crew, including people like Chopra, Robbins, and Marianne Williamson, and the energy medicine/new physics quantum everything crowd, including Capra, Zukav, and Radin, also do not take this issue into account or address these arguments, to the best of my knowledge. Cognitive scientists like Lakoff, Pinker, and Vervaeke also do not take this issue into account or address these arguments. Progressive radical voices such as Chomsky, Hedges, Unz, and Greenwald, people who are very concerned with the loss of moral compass also do not take this issue into account or address these arguments, to the best of my knowledge. Neither do the Intellectual Dark Web folks like the Weinsteins, Harris, and Peterson.

I am not questioning these models or perspectives or their important contributions as far as they go, but whether or not they go far enough. By stopping at self-development, or viewing human evolution, including spiritual development, through the lens of self-development, they tend to miss what self-development and human evolution look like from the lower right, from the human collective itself. As a psychotherapist for over four decades and a student of self-development for at least that long, I missed it too, because I also approached both self-development and human evolution from the perspective of psychological geocentrism, that is, from the perspective of the development of the self, not the collective, and not from a from a phenomenologically-based experiential multi-perspectivalism.

Most of these figures either predate Wilber or make their contributions without familiarity with his work and the various distinctions that he makes and so it is unreasonable to expect that they would reach such conclusions, which are dependent on several of Wilber's important distinctions, including the following: 1) there are core developmental lines; 2) morality is a core line; 3) the distinction between lines and levels; 4) the concept of tetra-mesh; 5) holons and four quadrants; 6) the Level/Line Fallacy; 7) the Pre/Trans Fallacy; 8) the realization that personal development is inevitably conditioned and contextualized by collective development. One not only has to put all these pieces together but we have to have a perspective that leads us to even think to put these pieces together.

Most researchers in self-development focus on the centrality of the self, not the collective. Most integralists focus on the transpersonal dimensions of development, which are still oriented around the self, only now it is a transpersonal Self rather than self as ego. Moving away from a perspective centered on self-development is not easy or natural because we are all naturally geocentric, psychologically speaking. Even transpersonal formulations center on a rarefied self, whether Atman, I AM, or Self as deity or pure consciousness. The absence of self, as in Buddhist anatma, still references the self. Arriving at a non-self-centered multi-perspectivalism is not the same as understanding a cognitive multi-perspectivalism such as Integral AQAL. Someone is becoming enlightened. That “me” transforms stage to stage and from line to line, but “I,” “We,” and “It” are still perceived from some conception of “me,” not the “other.”

Who has come closest to a recognition of the collective conditioning of our individual morality? Of those voices mentioned above, the Chomskys, Hedges, Unzs, and Greenwalds of the humanistic world come closest in the West, but in the East, Confucianism is a much stronger, rising, yet ancient and clear-throated representative of this perspective. This reality flies full-force in the face not only of a powerful and central current cultural meme but some five hundred years of Western modernism. However, Westerners know next to nothing about Confucianism.[6]

If we want to tetra-mesh out of the basement of self-development we have to raise not only our personal but collective standards of morality of those in-groups of which we are members. That extends from integral and political parties to national affiliations. To do otherwise is to be a poser, like PEP (“Progressive Except Palestine”) Jews, like those governments who supported the Saudi Arabian government that dismembered Khasshogi because its leaders are major global economic players, and those progressives who supported Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden because they were the lesser of two evils, not because they were perceived to be ethical individuals. To defend a guru who is alcoholic, abuses his disciples, or generates cult moral standards that violate the moral norms of the broader social collectives in which they are embedded, is arguably pre-conventional or amoral, regardless of one's level of moral judgment or personal intent.

We can see this principle at work quite clearly in terms of the realm of social justice. If you bring charges against me, the court is interested in facts demonstrating guilt or innocence. My intent or level of moral judgment, as well as my social status, have a greater or lesser bearing on the verdict, but the major issue is the determination of my guilt or innocence by objective behavioral (UR) and interactional (LR) standards. Law is supposed to be impartial, meaning it doesn't care if I am second tier or not. If it determines I am guilty, then how do I make the case that my morality has tetra-meshed and I am “really” second tier? This is, of course, a reflection of the ancient adage that “there are no guilty people in jail.” Everyone in prison has an explanation, justification, rationalization, or way of showing that their intention and judgment was moral, and that the accusers and court were unfair and the punishment was unjust. Why would Integralists think any differently when I point out to them that their level of self-development is actually very low because their moral development cannot tetra-mesh?

Can We Have Enlightenment Without Morality?

Absolutely, yes. The problem, as Wilber has explained, is with the depth and breadth of the enlightenment. An immoral enlightenment is one which is brilliant and blazing on some lines, typically the lines of cognition, spiritual intelligence, and communicative competency, but not the moral line. So when you have an alcohol or sex-addicted guru it does not mean that he or she is not enlightened. For example, I agree with Wilber's assessment that Da Free John was enlightened, and will also add that Rajneesh, Chogyam Trungpa, Andrew Cohen, and Mark Gafni were enlightened. However, do you notice yourself cringing at the inclusion of one or another of those names? Why is that? Is it because your social conditioning will not let you consider someone who is blacklisted by cultural norms to be enlightened, or is it something deeper than that? Perhaps it is a combination of the impact of a sense of collective betrayal, distrust and perhaps even revulsion, with a refusal to associate enlightenment with amorality or immorality. There is something in us that says, “If someone is going to claim that they are enlightened, they are also claiming they are a moral person.” Is this fair or not? Is it realistic? Is it true?

No, I don't believe it is fair, in the same sense that almost anyone found guilty of any crime can and will argue that the punishment is not fair. Also, I do not believe it is realistic, because the expectation that anyone who has achieved both breadth and depth of realization is never going to violate social norms is unrealistic, naive, and unfair. Whether the claim that an enlightened person is also moral is true or not depends on very subjective, constantly evolving social judgments in the LR as to what is moral and what is not. However, the basic criteria remain the same: Do out-group members consider me respectful, reciprocating, trustworthy, and empathetic? Clearly, not all of those characteristics are going to be important to everyone all the time, but failing at any of them can sink a relationship. Obviously, while there are some relationships in which these are minimally significant, such factors are likely to have considerable importance for our assessment of gurus, the “enlightened,” and other idealized others. Our definition of those criteria changes as we collectively evolve as societies and as humanity as a whole.

For example, is the bail out of the financial sector of the economy, a moral or immoral act? Is it even appropriate or realistic to frame it in terms of ethical behavior? The answer largely depends on who you talk to and your world view. Calling it a “bail out,” a commonly used term, implies an unfair give-away to the privileged, elite, and exceptional. Is it? Well, that's a subjective judgment, but how society as a whole ends up coming down on that issue does matter in terms of measures of morality of governments by citizens and history. If the stock market and fortunes of the privileged continue to soar while 40+ million are unemployed in the US, then at some point a subjective assumption will become a collective perception of reality, and at that point the mass of LR opinion will be that the US financial system is corrupt, which means amoral (“profits over people”) or immoral (“too big to fail or jail”) or both. The bigger issue, in this case, has to do with class inequality and egalitarianism, issues which are not simply “green” but go all the way up and all the way down.

You and I can disagree as to whether some guru's offenses are mere “shadow” or characterological and representative of bona-fide retardation and fixation of the moral line, but at some point enough individual votes add up to a collective judgment as to who and what is moral and what is not. Donald Trump provides a good example. Enough people in the US, located in strategic states, determined that his moral offenses were “shadow,” that is, not decisive enough in determining his qualifications for President, to keep them from voting for him. Enough of the voting collective determined Trump was either sufficiently moral, or he was immoral in ways that did not matter to the role description of President. Obviously, others violently disagreed and continue to do so, but the moral outrage seems to be both superficial and hypocritical since many of the acts Trump is condemned for are continuations of policies practiced under democratic administrations. Large segments of the population are horrified at the immorality and prepersonal characteristics of Trump while refusing to recognize how he is a reflection of the political collective that they have endorsed, either actively or passively, for decades. Personal determinations of morality occur in the interior quadrants while interpersonal determinations of morality, such as occur in transactions and courts of law, occur in the LR and are largely out of our control. However, because they exist in our LR quadrants, collective determinations as in courts of law and elections, can and do over-rule our own assessments, whether we like it or not, whether we agree or not.

State-based enlightenment is not higher level enlightenment

As Wilber makes clear, breadth of enlightenment is different from height of enlightenment, and a genuine understanding of enlightenment takes both into account.

Enlightenment is the realization of oneness with all states and all structures that are in existence at any given time. (Integral Spirituality, p. 241.)

Because experiences of transpersonal oneness are so inspirational, overwhelming, and convincing, we typically go away from them convinced that we have not only achieved an enlightened state but an enlightened level. States of unity do not make these distinctions. When you are one with all you are enlightened, period. It is only afterward, with reflection, and only then when distinctions such as the above have been made, that we can reflect and objectively evaluate the overpowering truth of a profoundly subjective experience of enlightenment. When we do so, the Law of Parsimony, which says, “entities should not be multiplied without necessity,” or “the simplest solution is most likely the right one,” leads us to first rule out the likelihood that what we are looking at is a state of transpersonal enlightenment that can occur at any level of self-development and is not necessarily a sign of or correlated with any level. Instead of assuming, “I am enlightened, in the sense of second or third tier, because I have accessed a form of nature, devotional, formless, or non-dual union,” assume, “I had one or multiple experiences of access to one or more transpersonal states and now believe that I have attained an enlightened level of self-development.”

We then have to ask, “What is the evidence in our lives for a higher level or height of self-development?” What you will get is evidence of the height of this or that line - typically cognitive (brilliance), spiritual intelligence (mystical experiences), and communicative (persuasiveness and/or charisma). This will lead to further inferences that our self-system line is highly developed (as we are generally already convinced that it is, on the strength of our other highly developed lines and our identification with the most highly developed ones, generally cognition and spiritual intelligence) and that we are, of course, moral. All of these assumptions are typically unquestioned both by the “enlightened” and True Believers who need to believe that their ego ideal is indeed truly enlightened. But as we have seen, believing we are moral and actually achieving moral tetra-mesh are two completely different things, and the gap between these two is typically not merely wide but enormous.

The realistic conclusion to draw and expectation to hold is that people that claim to be second or third tier or make other claims to enlightenment have high development of this or that line and have had genuine access to transpersonal mystical states of oneness and sincerely believe that they have attained high levels of enlightenment. It is also wise to look at your own need to believe in others, to elevate some on pedestals as ego ideals, and to defend them in order to reduce your own cognitive dissonance.

Chronic Elitism

Sadly, a major by-product of Wilber's formulation is self-inflation. We are very likely to end up thinking that because we understand Integral AQAL, meditate, and have had mystical experiences that we are second tier. I did so for years, even decades. I run into such people on integral forums regularly. It was not easy for me to spot my grandiosity and narcissism and begin to climb down out of it. As many have pointed out, the hierarchical nature of levels separates sacred sheep from can-eating goats in a way that is grandiose and elitist,[7] in a new age version of Zoroastrianism, Mithrianism, Hindu samkya, Manichaeism, or gnosticism, - pick your favorite variety of dualism, of which there are a multitude of contemporary incarnations. However, if you are an unenlightened first tier goat, what are you going to think about this? Is the realization that you are viewed as just not perceptive and evolved enough to join the elite going to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about integral and integralists? Let us just say it is not the wisest marketing strategy, unless your aim is to alienate potential integralists.

Euphemisms to Gloss Immorality

Wikipedia defines a euphemism as “an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that may be found offensive or suggest something unpleasant. Euphemisms can be funny, create alternative ways of perceiving and therefore understanding and problem solving, express endearment, or simply be practical. Euphemism comes from the Greek word euphemia, a compound of “eu,” “good or well,” as in “euphoria” or “uptopia,” and “pheme,” meaning talk, rumor, or prophetic speech. Wikipedia lists three purposes for euphemisms, avoidance, mitigation, and use as a rhetorical strategy to shift meanings to create narratives that support the agenda of the speaker.

Euphemisms may be understatements such as “asleep” for dead and “drinking” for consuming alcohol or understatements, such as “meat packing company” for “slaughter house,” and “processing” for killing and dismembering animals to eat. Instead of saying, “You are fired,” one might say, “I have to let you go,” or “The company has to downsize” in order to reduce guilt or a sense of personal responsibility for the hardship inflicted on someone else. If the “company” is doing the firing, then I do not have to take responsibility for causing economic harm to you. Another common euphemism to avoid accountability is “policy,” as in, “It's nothing personal; it's our policy.” A gravestone is a “memorial marker” and funeral costs are “final expenses.” A servant becomes a “staff worker” and a hired slave is a “front-line worker.” An employee may be called a “colleague,” or an “associate,” implying equivalence without the benefits thereof. A sex toy becomes a “marital aid” and a sex doll a form of therapy. Masturbation becomes a source of a veritable cornucopia of euphemisms, as in “beat the meat” and “choke the chicken,” or “jerkin the gherkin.”

Over time it becomes socially unacceptable to use the former word, as one is effectively down-grading the matter concerned to its former lower status, and the euphemism becomes dominant, due to a wish not to offend. However, warts don't go away just because we call them “beauty spots;” torture doesn't go away because we call it “enhanced interrogation;” kidnapping doesn't disappear because we call it “extraordinary rendition;” war doesn't go away because we call it “bringing democracy;” gambling doesn't stop being gambling because we call it “buying stocks;” larceny doesn't disappear because we call it “banking,” or “finance;” the rights of people don't go away just because we call them “terrorists.” There is an intense, ongoing effort to sanitize language in an effort to deflect moral responsibility for individual and state acts. Language does change perception, but abuse is defined by the abused and then codified into law. It is not defined by perpetrators.

Wikipedia also notes that “euphemisms are also used to mitigate, soften or downplay the gravity of large-scale injustices, war crimes, or other events that warrant a pattern of avoidance in official statements or documents. It gives as an example the use of bureaucratic euphemisms to obscure evidence for the holocaust in Nazi war records. However, this can work both ways. Philip Giraldi, himself a Jew, has written about attempts by Israeli-linked interests to outlaw as anti-semitic speech that is not supportive of Israeli interests.

As immorality has fallen out of fashion, euphemisms have been created to reduce the discomfort caused when we equate behavior in the exterior quadrants with character in the interior ones and character with identity: “You are a bad person.” Telling someone they are “bad,” or assigning a nation, group, or people “enemy” status is not only unfair but only superficially functional. Group unity is increased at the cost of splitting off aspects of ourselves that the “bad” people represent. Creating such internal warfare is not healthy or smart. The solution is to call out and punish bad behavior while avoiding making value judgments about the individual. However, naming, shaming, and creating social embarrassment and distrust in someone who has broken a law or agreement seems fair enough, as does the ancient punishment of ostracism as a form of self and community self-protection from those who violate social norms. I say this with some hesitancy, as many social norms deserve and need to be broken to creatively engage with alternative ways forward.

We can learn to listen to speech and read news, fiction, and scientific research with the question, “If what is being said were a series of euphemisms to gloss some underlying message to either make it more desirable or hide an intention of a dubious ethical nature, what might that message be?” This is a wholeheartedly skeptical approach, and some would say it crosses the border over into cynicism, and that is indeed often the danger. However, the underlying issue is to recognize that reason is often used out of our awareness to rationalize and justify our emotions, expectations, preferences, opinions, world view, and sense of self. That is, mid-level and higher skill sets are used to gloss prepersonal agendas that may be immoral or amoral. This is the first assumption to rule out if we want to understand the underlying narrative that another speaker is attempting to promote.

We typically defend our speech and deny our euphemisms, because to do otherwise would be to create cognitive dissonance that undermines our world views and identities. For example, many integralists would object to describing “second tier” as a euphemism for “superiority,” because it implies that the actual purpose of the term is to say, “my level of self-development is higher than yours, unless you are a fellow integralist to whom I give second tier status.”

Social implications

Maintaining trust and respect is considerably more important than chasing perfection and enlightenment.

Maintaining trust and respect is considerably more important than chasing perfection and enlightenment. It would seem that simple observation would be obvious enough, but both our economy and collectives typically reward us much more for excellence than balance, for success than for morality. What does it mean if someone who is clearly advanced on lines of cognition, spiritual intelligence, charisma, and perhaps other lines such as music, problem-solving, mathematics, or sports is discovered to be a murderer, a child molestor or an addict? What effect does that have on his or her level of self-development? Clearly, aptitudes remain; development in any line is not magically lost, even on a line like moral judgment. Just because Obama ordered drone strikes that assassinated women and children does not mean that his level of moral judgment “regressed” or that we are dealing with Obama's “shadow.” Obama's level of moral judgment remained where it always was - realistically at Kohlberg's post-conventional, which could be expected of a professor of constitutional law. What has actually happened is that his status carries an aura of invincibility, which means that those who distrusted and disrespected him before still do while those who trusted and respected him continue to do so. Immoral acts do not seem to change how we view others, once we have formed an opinion about them. For example, it generally takes repeated offenses over a considerable period of time for us to change our mind about someone. Perhaps it is because to do so is to admit to ourselves that we were wrong in our assessment, which brings our judgment into question.

The real problem with immorality or amorality are their profound ambiguity. No one wants to be considered immoral, yet amorality and immorality can both be very useful as sources of wealth and social status. Both give those who are sociopathic or who are simply clever, motivated, and devious a distinct advantage over those who are empathetic, play by clear rules and assume others do too. In addition, people tend to discount the seriousness of moral transgression, as Wilber does when he labels it from interior quadrant perspectives as “shadow,” and “temporary” or “limited” regression, rather than from exterior quadrant perspectives as the violation of social norms of ethical behavior.

In addition, we tend to assume others mean well and are good people, to give them the benefit of the doubt, because of reciprocity - that's how we want others to view us. We need to maintain unrealistic expectations of others, such as considering them as “enlightened," in order to reduce cognitive dissonance and maintain our own expectations, world view, and sense of self. Those who don't care about such concerns, perhaps because their priority is to increase profit, power, or status, or because they are addicts, or are sociopaths, have real and distinct social advantages in building relational exchanges valuable to them to the detriment of others and the broader collective. These people are, at worst, social predators and parasites, but they are not necessarily any less enlightened, in that they can have multiple mystical experiences and be highly developed on multiple lines. But a few immoral or amoral individuals, even if enlightened, can have disastrous effects on millions of others.

This is why the world is going to move to something like China's “social credit” system. The more interconnected we all are, the more a few financially or politically-driven individuals can destroy the stability of society as a whole. What social credit does is identify specific transgressions of social norms and arbitrarily and objectively take away some right or privilege, such as credit, the ability to travel first class, leave the country, or apply for certain types of work. China is using technology to make deviation from social norms much more risky to personal freedom to access social benefits or interfere with the lives of others.

Just as law is designed to move justice from personal, family, or tribal vendetta to an impersonal, objective level, so does the social credit system. The Chinese are famous for “trial spots,” which means local testing and evaluation of policies and procedures to see if they work, discover their flaws and improve them, before duplication in other municipalities. It is only after multiple successful duplications that new policies and projects like social credit bubble up from the local to the national level.[8] In the case of social credit, we know from numerous polls that most Chinese are willing to sacrifice personal freedoms and undergo increasing surveillance in exchange for greater social justice and less disruptive ability from the powerful or criminal. This is a rational choice, and it is the price of increasing social interdependence. One cannot expect to receive the benefits of that interdependence without paying a price in greater personal accountability, a trade-off libertarians, in particular, hate. Will the system be used fairly and sanction the powerful and wealthy, as well as government officials? In order for it to have credibility, and in order for citizens to accept reductions in individual freedoms, they will have to believe the system is fair. Otherwise, it will at some point lose credibility and be overturned.

If self-development requires tetra-mesh, there is no escaping lower right social norms and lower right collective accountability. Enlightenment doesn't somehow magically relieve us of the responsibility to behave ethically. To imagine self-development can occur without obedience to prevailing ethical norms is to define self-development as an interior quadrant project, which is the tendency of both those whose interests or careers lie primarily in the interior quadrants, such as philosophers, meditators, psychologists, sociologists, financiers, politicians, and economists. Their tendency is to bend the exterior quadrants to match the world views constructed in the interior quadrants in order to validate some desire, motivation, expectation, preference, and identity anchored in the upper left. However, as Philip K. Dick said, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.” Morality is like that. Social norms are like that. Law is like that. The entire lower right quadrant is like that. Social norms are what remain regardless of our expectations, mystical realizations, and personal desires. To the extent that is the case, morality determines self-development, has the ability to stop it cold in its tracks, and even nullify future development, as in prison or a death sentence. The fervent desire of idealism, as well as grandiosity and narcissism, is to find ways to deny, dismiss, or at least ignore this reality.

Anticipating Common Critical Critiques

One response I typically get from integralists regarding this argument is that I am self-righteous and view myself as morally superior, when in fact I have done everything I can to state that this analysis applies equally to me. Although I have some fairly highly developed lines, my overall center of balance in self-development is at mid-prepersonal, and this is largely due to my lagging moral line, and that in turn is largely due to the level of moral development of the collectives in which I am enmeshed. That is not an attempt to displace my personal accountability for my behavior onto collectives but to stress that morality interdependently evolves among individual and collective, interior and exterior quadrants.

Another response I hear is that I am exaggerating the seriousness of what is only “shadow,” or temporary regressions that do not reflect on the “real” level of development of the person. This is Wilber's position. When does a chronic alcoholic, drug, gambling, sexual or any other sort of addiction become “minor,” or “shadow” instead of what it is to those victimized by our behavior - a statement that from their perspective, we are still at a prepersonal, pre-operational level of moral development, at least regarding how they are impacted by the abuse?

This leads us to another criticism, which is to discount the judgement of out-groups because they are by definition less evolved and therefore not “peers” in the determination of our level of moral development. Wilber also takes this position and it is a common argument used by gurus to justify their “trans-social” morality, but it is also used by nation-states to dismiss the human rights of opponents and to avoid holding themselves accountable to the same standards that they hold others. It is commonly used by those who imagine that they are highly evolved, enlightened, or exceptional to justify the dismissal of charges of abuse. For example, Christianity and Judaism have used it for millennia.

A more specific variation of that criticism is that I really don't understand Integral AQAL, because my level of development is insufficient to the task. I must be green. From Boomeritis:

Green hates anything second tier […] Yellow, for example, honors and embraces nested hierarchies, ranked values, universal flow systems, and strong individualism. Green looks at all of those terms—universals, ranking hierarchies, individualism—and screams “oppression! domination! marginalization! elitism! arrogance!” And so on.

But I have no problem with universals, ranking hierarchies or individualism. They are all important pre-requisites for various forms of growth. I do not view them as oppressive, intrinsically domineering, marginalizing, elitist, or arrogant. What I do view as elitist and arrogant is the claim that level-to-level development has occurred because there is strong development in some lines without significant out-group validation of ethical behavior in the lower right interactive quadrant. Even then one has to be inquisitive. For example, Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is indeed indicative of an assessment of character at a level of global acknowledgement. However, what is implied by the fact that subsequent to receiving that prize, Obama ordered the drone assassination of hundreds of people over a period of eight years?[9] Does it mean that the Nobel Committee was deceived or that Obama changed his character once in the role of President? Collective norms, while important components of self-development in the lower left quadrant, are subjective and not necessarily “true” or “right.” In some circumstances Obama can be highly trusted to be respectful, reciprocate, be trustworthy, and empathetic, while in others he has proven to be both immoral and amoral. How disqualifying of tetra-mesh is that? It depends, it would seem, on the seriousness of the claims of abuse or violations in the context of contemporary moral norms. Just because US Presidents are able to escape being hauled before the Hague and charged with crimes against humanity does not mean that they are not guilty of them.

Wilber really doesn't like green. He continues to assume that those who question second tier development, like myself, are doing so not only because they are green (or some lower level of development) but out of hatred:

But green in fact hates orange, and it hates amber, and it doubly hates second tier integral (because integral reintroduces healthy versions of all the things that green fought against, including a healthy growth or actualization holarchy which green considers the core of domination, because it thoroughly confuses dominator hierarchies with growth hierarchies—a discovery made and corrected by integral. (Trump and the Post-Truth World, pp. 56-7)

This is a variation of the previous argument - to discount or minimize the objectivity and validity of the critiques of others in ways that maintain our own conception of our superiority. We have to ask, “When is abuse that is significant enough to bring charges in a court of law merely a sign of a lower level of development or hatred?” Can we not agree that these criteria imply questions from the perspective of the interior quadrants while ignoring the interests and concerns of the lower left? Charges of abuse are not made in the context of dominator or growth hierarchies; they are made in the context of perceived abuse. Because those charges are subjective, that is why laws and courts exist and cannot be ignored as major determinants in societal assessments of individual ethical behavior. Claims of enlightenment must yield before social norms in the LR. That is the take-away from the humiliation of the Catholic Church.

All of these “reasons” are at best rationalizations designed to reduce cognitive dissonance and maintain our self-image as exceptional, special, and as such, not subject to the same limits as others. Others abuse and deserve punishment, but we do not abuse and do not deserve punishment. What is that but an interior quadrant, self-justifying gloss of our exceptionalism, elitism, and supposed high level of self-development? In-groups, whether they be families, work places, political or spiritual organizations like Integral, reinforce this self-serving delusion in order to create and maintain group cohesion and identity.

Another criticism of this critique of enlightenment is to deny the legitimacy of the critique itself. Here is an example of how this can be done, as stated by Wilber:

In short, it's just ridiculous to say that I try to hide from this criticism, I live on it!.... This is what second tier does automatically anyway, it takes new truths wherever it finds them and weaves them into larger tapestries. It can't help doing so! If I find one, I am ecstatic! So mark this well: Only a first-tier mentality would even think that one would run away from good criticism. (Wilber, June 8, 2006, Blog "What We Are, That We See", at

If I define criticisms that do not agree with my world view as not “good,” then I will have no problem dismissing them out of hand. There is no reason why a built-in bias to defend our world view or reduce cognitive dissonance by dismissing viewpoints that threaten our sense of self should go away when we arrive at second tier on any line. It doesn't. It won't; we can be expected to continue to maintain biases toward our world view and that defend our sense of self.

Implications for integral and self-psychology

It is time that Integralists move from phony, superficial humility to authentic humility that is based on the knowledge that we can no longer tolerate identification with groups that abuse anyone, regardless of the reasons given.[10] We can no longer hide behind the excuse of voting for the candidate that is the lesser of two evils. Nor can we not hold ourselves blameless for the acts of those groups and leaders with whom we are affiliated. Nor can we hold different definitions of what is abuse for ourselves and our in-groups, on the one hand, and for out-groups, on the other. We now know that there are highly effective models of parenting, animal training, conflict resolution, and peacemaking between factions and nations that completely avoid blaming, exploitation, and abuse. Abuse is defined as such by the abused, not by the abuser, as well as by collective social norms, and if we do not hold ourselves and our fellows accountable to uphold standards of what is and what is not abuse, that reflects poorly on our claims to enlightenment as much, if not more, than on the behavior of others.

What does it mean if you accept claims of enlightenment and your transpersonal master turns out to be an addict, abuser, or criminal? Are you going to excuse it as “shadow,” or are you going to come to a more realistic and probable conclusion: you are looking at brilliant but highly unbalanced genius. The harder one strives for excellence the more likely they are to generate catastrophic imbalance. Above all, humility is in order; you never know when you are going to make a decision that will cost you hard-earned credibility with those who most depend on you.

What are the implications for self-psychology? Development level-to-level on any number of lines is real. Differences in development on various lines is real. Development to at least vision-logic on any line is real. Mystical state access is real. However, transpersonal levels remain completely hypothetical. The most realistic assessment of claims of second tier or enlightenment is that the claimant has attained authentic mystical states but has then confused them with proof that they have attained this or that level of transpersonal self-development. High level attainment is extremely unlikely due to the inability of the LR quadrant of the moral line to tetra-mesh. As Carl Sagan famously said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” A claim of enlightenment is extraordinary; it requires extraordinary proof.

Here is a suggestion: When you run into some integralist talking about second tier, consider posting a quote out of this article and then link to this article itself. Ask them for feedback and see if they have reasonable arguments to refute the case made here. If they do, then they have earned some credibility with you and I will be very interested in hearing their arguments. However, if they do not, but launch ad hominem attacks or change the subject, then they may just be selling kosmic swamp gas, true believers, in which case you are dealing with an emotionally-held conviction, and reasoning is not going to be heard or appreciated. Because it is easy for us to imagine that we have fulfilled the qualifications for the highest levels of this or that line, self-development psychology tends to generate and feed grandiosity. Be careful.


[1] However, not necessarily. As Marty Keller notes in Mistaken Identity, IntegralWorld.Net, “Wilber allows that one may be “integrally informed” without having transcended into Second Tier: I may be able to see the way things might work integrally, but my identity—the key indicator of center of gravity of consciousness—is still in First Tier. But since identity is the driver of our movement along the spectrum of consciousness, we may be able to see integrally or holistically while remaining firmly in orange or green.”

[2] For a highly informative and thorough review of Wilber's claims regarding meditation, see Andrews, J., Ken Wilber on Meditation IntegralWorld.Net June 2013.

[3] For an evaluation of Kohlberg's stages and their problematic relationship with integral, see Dillard, J. The Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy, Parts 1&2, IntegralWorld.Net June 2018. For a summary of various criticisms of Kohlberg's theory from other perspectives, see Toro, C. Criticisms to Kohlberg's Moral Development Theory

[4] For a very thorough exploration of the implications of this event, many of them moral, see FrankVisser's write-ups at The Wild West Wilber Report: Looking Back on the Wyatt Earp Episode, July 2006.

[5] For more on this topic, see Dillard, J. Dillard Problematic Assumptions About AQAL's Moral Line of Development. IntegralWorld.Net.

[6] I will not go into defending that conclusion here, because that explanation and defense is extensive, but an essay will soon appear on IntegralWorld.Net that attempts an explanation, entitled Chinese Humanism, Integral AQAL, and Integral Deep Listening.

[7] For example, see Berge, E., Hier(an)archical synplexity. IntegralWorld.Net, May, 2020, but there are many, many more, including Dillard, J., Trickle-Down Spirituality, Jan 2018, The Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy, parts 1&2, June 2018, Why Integral AQAL Has Not Gained Broader Acceptance and What Can Be Done About It, Sept 2019, Exceptionalism: Integral's Blue Pill, Oct 20i9, all on IntegralWorld.Net

[8] Roberts, G. China's Congresses in Action. Unz Review, March 10, 2019.

[9] “There were ten times as many drone strikes under Obama as under Bush. A total of 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama's two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush. …the US's estimate of the number of civilians killed - between 64 and 116 - contrasted strongly with the number recorded by the Bureau, which at 380 to 801 was six times higher.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism 17.01.17

[10] On this movement, see Dillard, J., An Integral Journey: From Hubris to Humility, IntegralWorld,Net. Oct. 2019.

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