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The “Lesser of Two Evils” Fallacy
And Wilber's Basic Moral Intuition
The US electorate has never been more polarized than it is at present, at least not in my lifetime.
Sometime before the election you are probably going to hear someone earnestly pronounce that, although Joe Biden is not perfect, he is the lesser of two evils. This is a terrible argument. Instead, they are presenting an emotional defense of their world view and their sense of self and using rationalizations, avoidance, denial, personal attacks, and other defense mechanisms to pretend they are thinking. You need to do them a favor and calmly explain to them how they are embarrassing themselves so that maybe, just maybe, they will stop.
When People Think With Their Emotions They are No Longer Thinking
Most people have already made up their minds about who they are going to vote for in November, in the US Presidential election, if they are going to vote at all. People who have their minds made up are not open to hearing dissenting points of view. They will ignore you and, if that doesn't work, attack you. The US electorate has never been more polarized than it is at present, at least not in my lifetime. Therefore, there are no facts that can be presented, no testimonials or case histories, that are likely to change anyone's mind. Trump voters will continue to think he is a victim of coronavirus, Russiagate, and China; Biden voters will continue to believe that he is the lesser of two evils. Even if they believe Biden is corrupt and increasingly losing it, many, perhaps most, intelligent progressives and liberals will vote for Biden because of TINA - “There Is No Alternative.” They forget what that illustrious sat guru Erma Bombeck famously observed: “The grass is always greener over the septic tank.”
The Good and the Bad About Electing Biden
It is appearing increasingly likely that Democratic Party will sweep the 2020 elections, placing Democrats in control of the House, Senate, and the White House, bringing great rejoicing and sighs of relief to all those who place ending the reign of Trump above all other priorities. I am all in favor of getting rid of Trump, since his erratic misdirections have been a continuation of policies of both parties since Reagan that have enriched elites at the expense of the vast majority of US citizens, while putting the US on automatic pilot, steaming like the Titanic, toward irreversible destruction. With Democrats in power there will be a greater possibility of both police reform and the end of the “War on Drugs,” not so much because Democrats have won, but because of a fundamental shift toward public intolerance of police violence and the incarceration of a disproportionate proportion of minorities for non-violent crimes. With a Democratic administration, there may even be a return to nuclear treaties with Russia, which should be greeted by all life forms with a great deal of relief. The worst depression in US history, surpassing the Great Depression of 1929, is likely to produce both Universal Basic Income and a massive FDR-type infrastructure improvement programs. These might even be proposed and enacted by Trump between now and the election, in a desperate attempt to get re-elected. Republicans in both the Senate and House, seeing which way the wind is blowing, might even back such legislation.
Under Democrats we can also expect a series of relatively cosmetic changes: a widely heralded recommitment to the Paris Accord on global warming, more minorities in government, attempts to promote more “liberals” to US courts, and better relationships with European allies. These are likely to be relatively superficial propaganda narratives because big business interests who fund both parties stand to lose billions with a serious turn away from energy from petrochemicals; although I am for equal opportunity criminality, Republicans have a long and honored tradition of successfully stonewalling and blocking liberal judicial appointments; and our allies are there for the table scraps the lions and wolves throw them. Once those disappear, their own interests will suddenly, magically, as if out of nowhere, become priorities and the US will be left to grovel in its own self-pity.
On basic policies that set the overall destiny of the US and its allies, there is no reason to expect significant change by a government with Democrats in control of both the White House and Congress, because we can expect a return of “old hands” to government service, since Biden is himself such a person. Therefore, no one should be surprised or “shocked” to find the Dawn of a New Era witnessing the resurrection of people like Victoria Nuland, orchestrator with Hillary Clinton of the Ukrainian fiasco, and of course Obama himself, as a behind the scenes puppeteer, once again providing hope and change. A continuation of Obama-Clinton policies and positions are to be expected. If you liked Obama and Hillary, you are likely to love Biden. Immigration policy, which was more stringent under Obama than Trump, is likely to remain essentially the same. Sanctions, color revolutions, and drone assassinations will continue to be necessary to protect the country from attack. But attack from whom? Its own police? The Federal Reserve? Protests will continue to be infiltrated and put down, as Occupy Wall St. was under Obama. Suppression of dissent, greater under Obama than any other US President, will continue to flower, like the alien pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
But none of this will change the basic economic dynamic at work: the increasingly desperate support by both parties of the Fed and its policies of bailing out plutocrats at the expense of everyone else. Democrats and Republicans are equally culpable in goosing up massive inequality in order to protect their donor base and enhance their own financial security. The only thing that will prevent that disparity from increasing will be a profound, abysmal crash of the entire US (and probably global) financial system, which will hurt the poorest most but will completely discredit some seventy-five years of neoliberal trickle-down, since Bretton Woods in 1944. Not that it will matter to True Believers who never lost faith in Obama or before him, Clinton, forgetting that both once had control of both the House and Senate as well but blew it. The monkey will be squarely on the back of the Democrats for what can be expected to be at least eight years of the country struggling to recover from the dual plagues of depression and coronavirus.
US elections are the contemporary equivalent of Roman Bread and Circuses, phony mud wrestling and reality TV to keep us entertained in the living room while our furniture is being carried out the back door. What exactly does it take to wake people up to the fact that both parties are hand puppets of the same plutocratic oligarchs? The good news is that great innovation is happening outside the sphere of US control, indeed, largely forced by its sanctions, as well as locally across the world, as people lose faith in central governance in France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Brazil, Argentina, and of course, the US. Alternative financial, energy, communications, industrial, and agricultural systems are being developed and tested world wide by an amazing variety of non-profits and extraordinarily creative individuals and organizations.
Excusing thievery is generally not a winning proposition
There are a lot of smart progressives in the US that I respect that are getting ready to vote for Biden because they hate Trump. On the international scene, there are a lot of knowledgeable progressives who feel and think the same way. They may even admit that Biden is corrupt and senile but will tell you that the moral imperative is to vote Trump out of office. Some of these people made the same calculation in supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, knowing full well that she was also corrupt. Corruption is a strong word and powerful accusation. Is it accurate? Wikipedia defines corruption as
...a form of dishonesty or criminal offense undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, to acquire illicit benefit or abuse power for one's private gain. Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement, though it may also involve practices that are legal in many countries. Political Corruption occurs when an office-holder or other governmental employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain. Corruption is most commonplace in kleptocracies, oligarchies, narco-states and mafia states.
Does Biden's previous behavior merit this definition? You can decide for yourself if any of the following acts rises to the definition of corruption. Biden:
The Lesser of Two Evils Fallacy
Those who have their minds already made up respond to such realities with some version of “Yes, but...” or deflection, changing the subject to Trump's innumerable unpardonable crimes and offenses. Again, people who have emotions to protect are like monkeys that see, hear, and speak no evil of their Chosen One, while throwing every variety of feces they can find on their opponent. They resent the presentation of such facts and attack those who present them as secret Trump supporters or “useful idiots.” Often the rationalization that is heard is that Biden, Hillary (or one's candidate of choice) is “the lesser of two evils.” But this is a logical fallacy with disastrous consequences. If you hear it, you need to challenge it. Here's how.
The “Lesser of Two Evils” reasoning commits a number of logical fallacies regarding political candidates that fall into three broad categories.
“Lesser of Two Evils” talks about the character of politicians when it ought to be talking about policy, it narrows the issue to what is immediate, and it confuses practical with moral requirements. Martin Luther King neatly summarized an even more fundamental problem: “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.”
That is where this line of “thinking,” which is actually prepersonal rationalization, ends. Remember these arguments and bring them up the next time you hear someone say their candidate is “the lesser of two evils.”
The limits of “The Lesser of Two Evils” argument
When and how does a candidate become too corrupt to vote for? Where do progressives draw the line regarding what is moral and what is not? Under what circumstances and in what ways can it be considered a moral decision to support a candidate that we are personally convinced is corrupt? There eventually comes some point, generally when our personal interests are threatened, at which point we will say, “Biden (or whomever) is too evil for me to support.” Like rights advocates drawing the line somewhere below shrimp and above cockroaches, where do progressives draw the line on personal and public issues that have a moral component, like voting for a candidate who they know is corrupt?
Do we draw the line at supporting policies and laws that bail out the financial elites while allowing everyone else to financially twist in the wind? Naw. A lot of progressives, myself included, voted for Obama twice, and Obama bailed out the wolves and lions early in his first term. Murder? Naw. We have presidents of both parties routinely murdering people. Do we draw the line at killing someone ourselves rather than ordering others to do our killing for us? Maybe that's where morality kicks in? Naw. We have had presidents like Jackson and T Roosevelt who personally killed people. It's a heroic, patriotic act to murder people in war and we should reward such people with high office. How about apartheid? Naw. Obviously not, at least not until it becomes economically disadvantageous, as in South Africa. Sexual misbehavior? Naw. Obviously not. But perhaps pedophilia? Are we to believe that the elites of both parties who cavorted with Jeffrey Epstein didn't know what he was up to?
Wilber's “Basic Moral Intuition”
Integral AQAL offers guidelines to help us make such moral decisions on a collective, social level. Ken Wilber created something called the “Basic Moral Intuition.” It is defined in the Integral Glossary as
A person's intuition to protect and promote the greatest depth for the greatest span. Also summarized as the depth of “I,” extended to the span of “we,” embodied in an “it” objective state of affairs.
As an “intuition,” we know that morality, as understood by Wilber, is fundamentally an interior personal quadrant awareness, since that is what intuition is. This model of self-development says that ideally our interior personal awareness expands to encompass all others, from an egocentric to a sociocentric to a worldcentric to a theocentric sense of self. The problem with this definition is that it is self-centric, that is, it is based on the perceptual framework of the self. It is what “I” intend or judge, even if I expand my sense of self to include you, all others, and all sentient beings. The perspective of the interior personal represented by the Basic Moral Intuition, even when it is expanded, as a deontological interior collective value, as an exterior individual behavior, and as an exterior collective interaction, is not the same perspective as that of the exterior collective quadrant. It represents morality from the perspective of the “I” in the interior individual quadrant, not morality as experienced by “others,” or “out-group members,” in the exterior collective quadrants. Therefore, it cannot claim to be an integral, holonic, or four-quadrant description of morality. It speaks for self-centered moral intention, not for other-centered ethical behavior and social justice.
What if “you” are someone who disagrees with me or who experiences themselves as being abused by me? Do I go with my basic moral intuition that tells me I include your perspective or do I listen to you when you say that I do not? Morality that is based on what you, not I, intend, has nothing to do with intuition, because it is what you tell me or demonstrate you like or dislike by signaling to me in one way or another. You are telling me I abused you; I don't have to intuit anything and you are unlikely to care about what my basic moral intuition is.
This is why both social norms and codified laws exist, because there are honest disagreements among well-meaning people about how to slice and dice the Basic Moral Intuition in specific circumstances. Where you and I do not or cannot agree, there exist forms of arbitration, truth finding (science), and social justice to settle the matter. These are external collective determinants of morality, quite different from interior personal ones like Wilber's Basic Moral Intuition. However, we do not have to choose among various understandings of morality, but recognize that a four quadrant approach has room for a variety. Integral AQAL, as presently constituted, relies more on self-based definitions of morality, such as Kohlberg's and the Basic Moral Intuition than it does on morality as manifested in mundane daily transactions, social norms, and laws in the collective quadrants. It does so despite its treatment of outer quadrant morality in its Integral Life Practice and its “Clean Up” and “Show Up” recommendations. This has important implications for both personal and collective morality.
Consequences of a morality of convenience
How do we square voting for corrupt candidates with the Basic Moral Intuition? Are people like Hillary Clinton or Biden just not corrupt enough? Perhaps functionally, for progressives, there really isn't “something below shrimp” that really is immoral. Maybe morality is inherently subjective and relative to my degree of inclusion of you in my definition of who I am, which is convenient, in the same way that utilitarianism and Smith's “invisible hand” in economics are convenient: I can appeal to morality when my interests are threatened and ignore it when it is inconvenient or not to my advantage to do so. However, the unavoidable consequence of a morality of convenience is that there really is no moral line, except when we want or need to insist or demand one, which is mostly when our rights and those of our in-groups are being infringed upon. How broadly or narrowly we define our sense of self determines our sense of moral outrage. For one person it might be when children in Africa are killed; for others it might require an attack on one's own daughter or the stealing of one's personal property. However, if morality is so arbitrarily determined, the entire concept that morality is a core line is more a sentimental “feel good” nod to our self-image than anything that actually defines progressives, “integral” or “spiritual.” If so, that is acceptable, as long as we, like Trump, simply abandon pretense and declare that our world view has everything to do with personal expediency and nothing to do with morality. However, most progressives and “evolutionaries” prefer to think of themselves as having transcended such a narrow definition of self-interest.
It is in this sense that our moral decisions are also an indicator of just how narrow or broad our definition of “self” is. When we vote for a corrupt candidate we are essentially saying, “Those who are abused or victimized by this individual are not part of my in-group and not really part of how I define myself.” If we vote for Joe Biden we are stating that we really don't find the interests of those that were bankrupted, jailed, or otherwise abusedby one or more of the above stated examples of corruption by Bidento be so important or consequential as to change our minds. We are essentially dismissing the seriousness of their claims of abuse. In such cases, how are we taking a different position, when we vote for the lesser of two evils, from that famously expressed by Secretary of State Madelyn Albright under Clinton, when she justified the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children via sanctions imposed by Clinton, as “worth it?” When we vote for candidates who have voted for the funding of illegal wars or have come out in support of them, how are we not voting for murderers? How do we, as progressives, avoid the moral implications of our choice? In the eyes of the members of the out-groups that are abused by those for whom we vote into office, we can't; we are morally culpable.
Do we want to take the position that voting for one murderer is better than voting for another, or do we at some point take a definite stance and say, “all murder is immoral and I am not going to vote for anyone who has supported policies that have ended up murdering people.” Of course that gets tricky. Where do the shrimp leave off and the mosquitos begin? At ordering killing? At supporting non-sanctioned wars? At supporting the sale of armaments that kill people? Do we throw up our hands and say it is too complicated and subjective to make any moral decision? Do we, as integralists, agree with Arjuna and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and justify killing on the basis of some concept of cosmic Dharma?
When we vote for a candidate that is corrupt or look the other way when people are being abused by those who represent us, or by the economic system from which we derive personal benefit, it may be that we are actually saying, “You people aren't members of my self-sense.” “I don't include you in how I define myself.” We can see this pretty clearly in class, race, and gender distinctions and get morally righteous about it, because in those areas we see abuse with which we identify. But the starving and killing of children in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, or Gaza? Not so much. The passing of arcane laws that squeeze a couple more pennies out of our paychecks to fatten the accounts of bankers? Not so much. Stuff passes either over or under our radar, based on how narrowly or widely we define who we are and our self-interest.
Personal Consequences of “The Lesser of Two Evils” Deception
“The lesser of two evils” argument fails on a personal level too. It is pretty obvious that Wilber, while embracing his moral intuition in the interior collective quadrant as a deontological determinant of morality, views his critics as members of an out-group with which he does not identify, thereby defining his own moral self-sense as something less than worldcentric. His identity does not include his detractors. His multi-perspectivalism doesn't extend that far. Those who agree with his world view, or who view morality as a measure of personal preference or convenience, will have no problem with this. However, to out-group members, that is, his critics, and those who believe themselves slighted or demeaned by him, it does indeed matter. We can either say that these critics, as out-group members, are simply not “second tier,” not so highly evolved, and are stuck in prepersonal or personal levels of development, which, I think is a fair assessment of Wilber's position, or we can say that Wilber is being inconsistent in his application of his Basic Moral Intuition. That is, the moral intuition in the interior collective quadrant is appealed to as a general principle of behavior. Interior individual intention and judgment take priority over exterior collective out-group judgments of what is moral and what is not. Again, this is not a four-quadrant or holonic analysis of morality.
A four-quadrant, multi-perspectival, integral approach to morality does not regress to a logical fallacy, such as “the lesser of two evils,” nor does it duck moral issues by pretending we are worldcentric or even more laughable, “theocentric,” when in fact, we ignore the abuse of out-group members. Without a four-quadrant approach to morality we do not have moral tetra-mesh, which Wilber says is necessary for level to level advancement. If that, in turn, is not the case, while line development remains, to the extent that morality is a requirement, the entire schema of self-development collapses. If we exclude morality by not taking it seriously or rationalizing it away, then we are declaring that self-development is something other than moral or spiritual. If we do not take morality, as defined by out-groups in the exterior collective quadrant into consideration, both integral and spirituality become posturing, a form of persona in pursuit of the relational exchange of status.
Morality and the Future of Progressivism
While there is plenty of room to honestly and authentically disagree on what is moral and what is not, it is worthwhile to look at history and remember that we are embarrassed and appalled at actions like slavery and abuse of women that were commonly considered moral not that long ago. We can then ask, “What actions and candidates am I supporting today that my future self will likely be embarrassed and appalled about?” “If I assume I am a moral person and morality plays an important role in my self-sense, what does morality look like in all four quadrants in my political and personal decisions?” “What do I need to change to be more consistent in moral behavior, as defined by out-groups in the exterior collective quadrant, and my own personal intentions regarding morality?“
Integral AQAL is evolving quickly, taking the enormous strengths of Wilber's model and building on them in ways that make it an effective tool for problem solving in almost any area of life. Most of these contributions are and will remain invisible, by people who are adopting perspectives derived from AQAL but who have no familiarity with the model itself. These ideas include multi-perspectivalism, a four-quadrant, holonic world view, the subjection of belief, theory, and dogma to empiricism, a differentiation between prepersonal and transpersonal claims and experiences, and a subjection of both to reason. Idealism and spirituality will continue to be increasingly circumscribed by data from science. Self-definitions will continue to expand to at least worldcentric, due to an irreversible increase in the interdependence of all humans and life forms. In-groups which define us will continue to expand to include more and more out-groups. We need to be able to take something like Wilber's Basic Moral Intuition and apply it in both political and personal realms for it to claim any four-quadrant authenticity.
Wilber's Basic Moral Intuition needs to be balanced by the Out-Group Justice Requirement which states, “If you abuse me, I require justice.” The Out-Group Justice Requirement does not care what your Basic Moral Intuition is. It demands that you be treated with respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy, and if there is abuse, that justice requires some form of compensation. It might be a simple admission of abuse and an asking of pardon, or it might require court and submission to fierce and unpredictable legal proceedings. The lesser of two evils rationalization, as well as the Basic Moral Intuition ignore the claims of victims of abuse at our own moral peril.
The next time you hear someone say, “I'm voting for them because he/she is the lesser of two evils,” do them a favor and help them see that the consequence of their thinking is that they not only support evil within themselves but signal their consent for other people to do evil to them. That might not be such a good idea.
We need to be able to take something like Wilber's Basic Moral Intuition and apply it in both political and personal realms for it to claim any four-quadrant authenticity.
 Duby, T., Fallacy Detective: Three assumptions made by Lesser of Two Evil Voters, members.classicalconversations.com, 31 October, 2012.
 “When Party P voters say that Candidate P is a lesser evil than Candidate Q, most are stating the claim with regard to personal character: Candidate P is Christian (or at least something like it), while Candidate Q is a heathen, postmodernist cigarette smoker with lots of skeletons in his closet. (For the purpose of this example, let it be assumed that we know Candidate P is neither a closet-smoking nor skeleton-hiding candidate.)
 “When Candidate P is recommended as being the “Lesser of Two Evils,” the argument is always confined to the immediate presidential term: after four years of Candidate Q, the “Lesser of Two Evils” proponents say, the country shall be worse off than it would after four years of Candidate P. (For the purpose of this example, we will assume that they are correct, and that the country would, in fact, be worse off after four years of Candidate Q than it would after four years of Candidate P.)
The problem is, this assumes that the two choices being put before voters are:
a) Four years of Candidate P
Actually, the two choices being put before voters are:
a) Four years of Candidate P, and Candidate P subsequently up for reelection
People who do not like Candidate P now are unlikely to like him any better four years from now. By voting for the “Lesser of Two Evils,” they are almost certainly locking him into the ballot four years from now instead of taking the chance that the next challenger might be someone who does not make them hold their noses.
By framing the debate, the “Lesser of Two Evils” proponents are accepting a lesser good now and rejecting a greater good later.” Duby, T., Fallacy Detective: Three assumptions made by Lesser of Two Evil Voters
 “One candidate is considered the “Lesser of Two Evils” by many of the people who are going to vote for him.
Adopting such a stance concedes that Evil #1 and Evil #2 are the only possible optionsor at least, that the badness of Evil #1 constitutes such an emergency that Evil #1 can only be combated by submitting to Evil #2.
There are at least two flawed assumptions with this concession.
The first is that while exigencies of time or convenience do have the power to limit our practical options (one might not have time to study for both exams, and so prepares for the one on which a poor grade would be more disastrous), it does not follow that they have the power to limit our moral options. And it is in moral terms that the “Lesser of Two Evils” argument has chosen to present itself.
For example, when making merely practical decisions (clean part of the house now or have to clean it all later), it is acceptable to choose the lesser of two inconveniences, and in fact we do so all the time. But when making moral decisions (and the “Lesser of Two Evils” proponents, by that very vocabulary, believe that this is one) choosing the “less bad” of the two options is not the correct way to go about it. This is because a moral decision is being made as if it were a practical decision. One does not even have to disagree with the candidate who is being chosen in order to dismiss this particular decision-making process.
The second assumption is that the two options need always be unappealing. “Lesser of Two Evils” reasoning accepts a state of affairs that it deems unacceptable, instead of trying to change it over time by the influence of the dissenting “conscience vote.” There is as yet no law that compels us to vote for either Candidate P or Candidate Q, and while voting for someone else might indeed be the impractical choice, once again remember that the reasons against doing so ought to then be cast in terms of practicality (such as “choosing the lesser of two inconveniences”), not in terms of morality.
Oddly, a political climate has arisen in which the impractical choice is deemed to be evil, and the practical, or self-proclaimed “less evil” choice, is hailed as being good.” Duby, T., Fallacy Detective: Three assumptions made by Lesser of Two Evil Voters