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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Dr. 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: integraldeeplistening.com and his YouTube channel.
A Personal Note on the Evolution of My Perspective On Ukraine
I therefore concluded that the belief that I was 2nd Tier was a grandiose and even a narcissistic, self-validating delusion and fantasy.
At this rather late stage of my own development, I have fallen out of love with self-development, enlightenment, and spirituality. They all leave a bad taste in my viscera, deep down. Self-development, because it's time for me to grow up and get over myself; enlightenment, because balance is more important; spirituality, because it means nothing without respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness and empathy. Integral provides an excellent conceptual framework and it is worth defending and spreading. That is why it is paramount that it emphasizes justice for out-groups as adamantly as it emphasizes spirituality, consciousness, and enlightenment.
My background with self-development
Due to some fundamental disagreements with others with a strong background in Wilber's Integral AQAL regarding the war in Ukraine and the relative accountability Russia, Putin, the US, NATO, the West, and Ukraine itself have for that conflict, I have had cause to reflect on why we disagree and how I arrived at a contrarian perspective. Because those questions have some relevance to the relationship of WILPs (Western, Integral, Liberal, Progressives) to the situation in Ukraine, and to that between the US and Russia, which is in my mind the most serious international crisis since at least the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and perhaps the most serious since World War II, I want to share how I have arrived at my current perspective. I am sharing it not to justify my position or to convince anyone, but in order to provide a broader context that can hopefully throw a bit of light on my approach to Integral, for those who may be confused, irritated, or offended by it.
As most readers know, I come from a psychotherapeutic background, having worked with a broad mixture of clinical populations for over forty years. Consequently developmental psychology has been very important to me not only personally, but professionally. Therefore, I was in a position to not only appreciate, but make great use of Wilber's description of pathologies associated with different stages of development, which he laid out in several essays in Transformations of Consciousness in 1986. I read and studied that material in 1986-7 and applied it in my practice thereafter.
There are many reasons why Wilber's delineation of stages of self-development, what can go wrong along the way, and the various treatment methodologies that are appropriate at each stage, is extraordinarily important and useful. We can use that information to understand our own stage of development on various lines, what can go wrong, and what strategies are most likely to be effective at this or that stage. Similarly, we can use that information to guide our understanding and treatment of others, as I have done for years. Self-development is, after all, the central issue of childhood, adolescence, and for many, adult life. The integral perspective assumes that it will continue to be, with adults striving to move into transpersonal stages and perspectives that include and transcend those of self-centric development.
Another important self-developmental factor that shaped my shift from an interior individual to an exterior collective quadrant focus was my development of a therapeutic approach called “Integral Deep Listening.” For years I had interviewed characters in my own dreams and also the personifications of my life issues. I had also taught others to do the same, learning much in the process. Such interviews involve taking the perspective and assuming the worldview of imaginal images. This can be framed as an act of profound respect on a phenomenological level. It is respectful because it seeks to empathize deeply with any perspective, regardless of how irrational or absurd it may seem. It is profound because it involves the surrendering of one's own perspective, worldview, and identity. It is phenomenological because it is an introspective process of self-awareness.
The result of this process was the development of an ability to suspend my own assumptions and worldview in order to both deeply empathize with and demonstrate respect for all sorts of diverse “out-group” opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and worldviews, not just in the LR quadrant of relationships, but in the LL quadrant of intrasocial relationships. Over decades, this practice made me more respectful of interpersonal out-groups and to be more willing to extend reciprocally to them the degree of justice I thought I deserved.
What slowly became clear to me was that self-development was an “I” centered, or Upper Left, individual interior, perspective supported by worldviews, beliefs, interpretations, and collective norms in the Lower Left collective interior quadrant, that validated and strengthened a self-centric emphasis. The result was not only a focus on developing the self, but the Self, a sense of identity that was one with nature, devotion, the formless, and the non-dual. While theoretically, “Self” includes “all others,” meaning the collective quadrants, in practice Integral emphasizes self-development over justice in relationships with out-groups.
A second problem that I found, reflected in many of my early essays posted at Integral World, was a sense of elitism and exceptionalism associated with the Integral perspective. I did not view this as intrinsic to Integral, but as a blind spot that needed to be identified and addressed.
The third problem that I found was a disconnect between UL intention and LL values, on the one hand, and UR behavior and LR relationships, on the other. This was made clear by the inability of Kohlberg's model of stages of development of moral judgment to determine or predict moral behavior and relationships. Kohlberg could not find a correlation between moral judgment and moral behavior and I couldn't either. This was highlighted by spiritual gurus claiming enlightenment and access to Absolute Truth that transcended social norms. That certainty was being used to justify behaviors that violated social norms as well as expectations of what it meant to be a “spiritual” person: having sex with students, alcoholism, pursuit of status, abuse, lying, and using spiritual principles to justify behaviors that students viewed as immoral.
The fourth problem that I found was inflexibility. This showed up in an unwillingness to adapt Integral worldviews to science or the views of out-groups. It showed up as rationalizations and justifications for non-parsimonious spiritual exceptionalism, such as spirit somehow, some way replacing evolutionary science, and voting for or otherwise supporting corrupt, exploitative exceptionalists who use their power to manipulate, dominate, control, and kill others. This inflexibility also showed up as silence regarding chronic abuses to out-groups done in our name.
This led to the fifth problem, one which tipped the scales for me into a position that many view as radical and even irrational. I began to realize that my personal development, our personal development, is constrained by our collective context. Wilber first made this point in Integral Spirituality in terms of the socio-cultural constraints on enlightenment in a historical context. He apparently failed to recognize the broader implications of this assessment. I began to realize that unless there was collective justice, that amorality and immorality would limit personal ability to tetra-mesh to higher levels of development.
Analyzing my own collective context, I saw that economically, my development was constrained by an amoral “profits before people” collective worldview and that geopolitically, my development was constrained by an immoral “might makes right” collective worldview. These were both held not only by the country that my votes validated, the United States, and with its allies, primarily Europe, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, but also with the world as a whole.
Referring back to Kohlberg, I knew that amorality was correlated with a pre-moral, mid-prepersonal level of development and that immorality was correlated with a pre-conventional, late prepersonal level of development. From this I concluded that my LR quadrant was stuck somewhere between mid-prepersonal and late prepersonal and that therefore my overall development, regardless of how far ahead various individual lines may have developed, was stuck at mid-prepersonal, striving to be healthy late prepersonal. I also concluded that since these socio-cultural realities conditioned humanity as a whole at present, that this was most likely the authentic overall level of development of humanity as a whole.
This conclusion is a direct assault on Integral, which teaches and assumes that if one learns Integral theory that they are most likely to have evolved to at least a vision-logic, post-personal level of development. My conclusion implied that this was a line-level fallacy, based on the assumption that high development on the cognitive line, with mystical experiences thrown in here and there, indicated post-personal or transpersonal levels of development.
The reason I drew this conclusion was because “2nd Tier” ignored the critical importance of the level of development of the core moral line, which is clearly badly lagging in the collective, relationship quadrant. Integral theory only assumes that the moral line keeps up; it provides no evidence that moral intent is matched by moral action, particularly in the quadrant of relationship, and particularly with out-groups. Even if I were a moral paragon personally (I'm not), my LR interpersonal quadrant remains stuck in collective amorality and immorality and I am my socio-cultural context. The problem is that moral relationships, including those with out-groups, those with whom we disagree, are required for moral line tetra-mesh. If I do not elevate the collectives in which I am embedded, my development remains fixated, regardless of how smart I am, how many mystical experiences I have, how altruistic I am, or how highly developed I am in multiple lines. I therefore concluded that the belief that I was 2nd Tier was a grandiose and even a narcissistic, self-validating delusion and fantasy.
Consequently, justice became a central issue for me, something it had never been before. By “justice,” I don't just mean legal egalitarianism. Justice is physical and emotional security, access to a healthy environment, good health care, good educational opportunities, and supportive relationships, with particular attention to out-groups. Justice became more than a deontological proposition; it is a socio-cultural, LR imperative necessary for tetra-mesh.
I came to realize that unless I extended the same rights and privileges to all others, and particularly out-groups, that I expected others to extend to me, that I was committing myself to the moral basement and limiting my own development. The health, happiness, and well-being of out-groups became a personal issue for me; the advancement of the LR right quadrant became most important to me because I realized that was the area that was most lacking in my development. It was also the area in which I was most valuable to the world as a whole. It was not that I did not appreciate self-development, mysticism, and consciousness expansion, or did not appreciate a worldview that embraced cognitive multi-perspectivalism, or that I wasn't on the whole a good and compassionate person in my personal life. The problem was that I could not and cannot avoid responsibility for the crimes, abuses, and exploitation that are done in my name, and that responsibility constrains my overall development, level to level. I came to view capitalism as fundamentally amoral and predatory and my nation as an empire that oppresses, exploits, and murders those that it views as threats to its hegemony.
This might sound like some Social Justice Warrior variety of Wokeness. I don't think it is. I am not campaigning to tell other people how to live and I am not interested in shaming or guilt-tripping other people into changing their behavior. I am also not interested in virtue signaling how “spiritual” or “enlightened” I am by claiming some advanced level of compassion. Remember, I have concluded my overall development is mid-prepersonal. I am not in a position to be a role model of anything for anybody.
I came to view a great deal of Integral dialog as a process of justifying one's worldview based primarily on right and noble intention. Certainly, that's what I did with it for years. I think that's fine, as far as it goes. The problem is, it doesn't go far enough because right and noble intentions do not necessarily correlate with extending justice to out-groups. The ignoring of arming and training Ukrainian forces that indiscriminately shelled and killed their own fellow citizens for eight years is only one recent example, but one relevant to this discussion. Therefore, due to this chronic discounting of the relevance of out-group justice, I have lost patience with most Integral dialogue. To repeat, I am not saying that is a superior position or a “right” position, but only explaining why I depart so radically from many Integralists in my worldview in some respects.
For at least twenty years, I have read widely in alternative media, getting introduced to non-mainstream thinkers on a variety of subjects from opinion-aggregation sources like Information Clearing House. This education has functioned as a form of cognitive multi-perspectivalism. As a result, I have come to have much in common with the worldviews of people like John Mearsheimer, Scott Ritter, Chris Hedges, Bernhard at Moon of Alabama, Max Blumenthal, Aaron Mate, Glenn Greenwald, Richard Wolff, Michael Hudson, and Caitlin Johnstone. With the exception of Johnstone, these people are all clearly secularists and not idealists or “spiritual.” Most of them couldn't care less about enlightenment; they are interested in issues of justice. Most of them are angry at the injustices in the world, particularly those done in their name. Most are interested in developing solutions to those injustices. There are aspects of their worldviews that I disagree with, but in terms of their analysis of why the world is currently going through a crisis that may well collapse 500 years of Western ascendency, I am basically in agreement. That worldview states that due to hubris, grandiosity, and narcissistic exceptionalism, the West chronically over-reaches both economically and militarily. In my experience, progressives, liberals, and Integralists on the whole advocate for worldviews and assumptions that support this chronic over-reaching.
Of course WILPs don't see it that way. They strongly disagree and I respect that. Still, from my perspective, some (hardly all) are so subjectively identified with their worldview that they lack the objectivity to see how and where they are stuck and how it is contributing to civilizational sociocide. I shared their perspective for decades. I have viewed Russia as an authoritarian state and Putin as a corrupt authoritarian, so my perspective regarding Russia and Putin includes theirs. However, the inverse is clearly not the case. WILPs have not had the experience of taking the perspective of Putin and Russia (although they are typically sure that they know it), and so they cannot claim that their perspective includes and transcends my own.
I am very glad so many Ukrainian refugees are finding support in the West. The horrors and dislocations of war are tragic for Ukrainians, just as they are for Iraqis, Palestinians, Libyans, Syrians, and Yemenis. What is justice in this situation? My hope is that the US and West will recognize that the time has finally come to sit down and negotiate serious nuclear disarmament with Russia; if we cannot agree on causes of the injustices currently experienced by Ukrainians, surely we can agree on the need to reduce the likelihood of the greatest injustice of all - nuclear war.