TRANSLATE THIS ARTICLE
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.
Are Most Adults at Prepersonal Levels of Moral Development Sociopaths?
Why This Question Matters for Integral
In a recent correspondence with a smart and respected colleague, he stated, “…IF AN ADULT IS AT THE MID-PREPERSONAL MORAL LEVEL HE OR SHE IS LIKELY A SOCIOPATH.” That this statement was capitalized implies that this individual emphatically believes it to be true. Is it? Is the mid-prepersonal moral level likely to be pathological when adults inhabit it? I don't think so. I want to explain why I believe this conclusion to be problematic and why this issue is important for the integral community in general, and then to invite your perspectives on the issue.
What is sociopathy?
Sociopathy is a label for a particularly egregious variety of irresponsibility and non-accountability. As a sub-category of personality disorder, sociopathy is a diagnostic category of mental health disorder that did not exist before the 20th century. It is commonly associated with fixation at a mid-prepersonal level of development. While not directly associated with the moral line diagnostically, functionally and socially, it very much is. Sociopaths break rules occasionally, ignore social norms, are dishonest, manipulative, impulsive, violent, dangerous, display threatening behavior, an absence of guilt feelings and an attitude of chronic superiority, a lack of empathy, are disrespectful, commit crimes, may abuse drugs, and show an unwillingness to take responsibility. Characteristics associated with sociopathy include many behaviors that are not atypical for most humans at one time or another. However, many of them have to be present to create a sociopath.
Four types of sociopaths have been postulated. Hostile, Dysocial, Disaffiliated, and Alienated. Hostile sociopaths are very aggressive, angry, and violent. They feel that they are not welcomed in society, and they try to hide their feelings of sadness and frustration under their anger. Dysocial sociopaths support ingroup norms and abuse those that break group stereotypes and societal norms. Disaffected sociopaths do not experience affiliation, care, or intimacy in their relationships, causing them to feel less love and attachment. Alienated sociopaths lack the ability to empathize.
The diagnostic criteria for sociopathy in DSM V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Psychiatry) are:
The percent of the population with a personality disorder is 10-13% of the universal population. It is estimated that 9% of adults in the United States have at least one personality disorder.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, about three out of 100 males and one in 100 are sociopaths. Approximately 70 percent of sociopaths who come from fatherless homes and 30 percent are born out of wedlock. As many as 15 to 25 percent of prison inmates who show signs of being sociopaths.
Sociopathy is partially explained by adaptation to socially and culturally conditioning circumstances in any society, in any historical age. However, there also exists a large body of research that supports the opinion that when all the diagnostic criteria of personality disorder come into play, there exists a genetic predisposition. This combination of nurture and nature makes sociopathy, and personality disorders in general, not only relatively rare but also extremely difficult to treat.
While sociopaths can be coerced by patterns of societal rewards and punishments to demonstrate respect, reciprocity, and trustworthiness, because empathy, one cornerstone of morality, is largely subjective, it is notoriously difficult to shape or evoke in sociopaths.
The absence of empathy - for instance in the Narcissistic and Antisocial personality disorders - predisposes people to exploit and abuse others. Empathy is the bedrock of our sense of morality. Arguably, aggressive behavior is as inhibited by empathy at least as much as it is by anticipated punishment.
But the existence of empathy in a person is also a sign of self-awareness, a healthy identity, a well-regulated sense of self-worth, and self-love (in the positive sense). Its absence denotes emotional and cognitive immaturity, an inability to love, to truly relate to others, to respect their boundaries and accept their needs, feelings, hopes, fears, choices, and preferences as autonomous entities.
Are Adults Fixated at Prepersonal Developmental Levels Sociopaths?
It has been a common assumption in mainstream psychology and psychiatry that adults fixated at prepersonal developmental levels are sociopaths, and Wilber has agreed:
…somewhere between 50%-70% of the world's population is at the ethnocentric or lower levels of development. This means amber or lower in any of the lines. To put it in the bluntest terms possible, this means around 70% of the world's population is Nazis.
This is, as we have seen, a more extreme position than that taken by contemporary psychology, which estimates sociopathy to be limited to something like 3-5% of the adult population. Even if we broaden the definition of sociopathy to equate it with “Nazis,” an attribution which puts even sociopaths in the worst characterological and moral light, the claim still remains that any adult who remains at a prepersonal level of development is functionally sociopathic. However, most people who remain at prepersonal levels of development are either members of a prepersonal collective (a “tribe” in a general sense - it could be a clan, cult, club, ethnicity, or even national identity, like National Socialism) - or they are uneducated, ignorant, or victims of some developmental disability. However, none of those conditions can be equated with sociopathy. In my decades of clinical practice it has been rare for me to come across a bona-fide, card-carrying personality disorder, and even more rare to come across someone who could be correctly diagnosed as a sociopath. The people I have worked with who were uneducated, ignorant, victims of developmental disability, or members of various sorts of “tribes” were rarely diagnosable as personality disordered, much less sociopathic.
Are children sociopaths?
Wilber has stated,
Every time somebody somewhere has sex, they are producing a fresh supply of Nazis.
Most children spend their lives not as Nazis, but playing and attempting to conform to expectations while forging an identity. The vast majority of humans don't start life as sociopaths and we don't spend our childhood in sociopathy. There exists plenty of studies of altruism in young children, who are clearly at prepersonal levels of development. The average young child lacks empathy but is not a sociopath.
Were most people living in previous generations sociopaths?
Throughout history, most adults have existed at prepersonal levels of development and have not been sociopaths. Why should we imagine that reality is different today? Most people throughout history spent their lives hunting and gathering, tending to their flocks, herds, and families, pursuing physical security in a very insular and generally peaceful way, much like most people today. They did so because peace, stability, and cooperation are supportive of happiness and development and because foundational relational exchanges of safety and sustenance have to first be secured in order to have the time and freedom to pursue higher relational exchanges. Throughout history, just like today, non-violence had major survival value most of the time for most children and adults. However, because danger from the unknown and from unknown others was real, violence was also an adaptive necessity, and continues to be so today.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that hunter-gatherers were more violent than the vast majority of humans today, it is a mistake to equate that violence either with sociopathy or conclude that therefore adults at prepersonal levels of development are not only fixated or regressed, but fixated or regressed in a destructive, pathological way, associated with sociopathy, a warped sense of morality, or are in some way personality disordered.
Evolutionary adaptational pressures largely select for cooperation and non-violence while maintaining violence as an essential survival mechanism. But “normal” violence, both in animals and humans, has to be differentiated from sociopathically-based violence and abuse, which is relatively rare, in relation to violence in general. People in ancient times were rarely clinically insane or totally indifferent to the suffering of others. They simply lived with a completely different set of social mores and values than we do today. Their lives were harder, their exposures to other cultures and races more limited, and the value their societies placed on human life was lower.
If we view children, those from the past, or those at lower developmental levels, as being sociopathic or “Nazis,” functioning at an intrinsically lower moral register than ourselves, we ignore the fundamental, characterological similarities in humans, despite the historical epoch in which they live or the level of development of this or that line. The result is a sense of not simple meritocracy based on competencies, but a meritocracy based on assumptions of characterological superiority. As a consequence, lessons to be learned from the experiences, worldviews, and perspectives of those living simpler and harder lives can easily be ignored or discounted and such people proclaimed sociopathic.
How do we square assumptions of characterological superiority, whether by ourselves, our ingroups, or those of some historical individual or group with objective behavior? And if we cannot, what are the implications? We put ourselves in danger of both committing and justifying the immoral/amoral acts we decry in others. This is not an abstract concept but one that has real world application and consequences. The United States views itself as the “exceptional,” “irreplaceable” nation, representing democracy, freedom, and human rights. Yet, since World War II it has been responsible for the deaths of over 20 million people worldwide and is the chief sponsor of terrorism in the world.
Evidence for cooperation, not violence, as the developmental norm
Describing all early developmental stages, and everyone at those stages of development as essentially dysfunctional, predatory, and exploitative cannot be dismissed simply as a clever literary device. It echoes Hillary Clinton's epithet of “deplorables,” only worse, implying not only elitism and ridicule, but sociopathy. When we use “sociopathy” or “sociopath” to describe the moral state of adults, we risk projecting a narrow definition and clinical classification onto most people who have ever lived. Historically, most people have been pre-literate, uneducated, and tightly bound to their familial socio-cultural identity. This is true as well today; what has changed is that now, with widespread literacy and education, the cognitive line has raced ahead while we have developed multiple clever technologies that cocoon us in layers of comfort and dissociation from life as it has been lived by the masses of humanity throughout history. The question is, “What about the moral line? As the cognitive line has raced ahead in the last few hundred years, has the moral line raced ahead too?” Based on how casually the attribution of “sociopath” is thrown around, apparently not.
Humans are inherently competitive with regard to mates and cooperative with material resources until a certain threshold of survival pressure is reached. In conditions of scarcity, where cooperation is not likely to increase either the overall resource production or the individual share thereof, the competitive response wins out. There is, however, plenty of evidence of altruism in the animal kingdom. Chimpanzees, which are known for their violence toward outgroup members, are normally and typically cooperative and non-violent. Lions and tigers are known for their ferocity but at the same time are functionally cooperative not only with each other but non-violent toward species of animal that they do not consider prey. Crocodiles do not eat crocodile birds that sit in their mouths, yet show no mercy to ducks. I have on many occasions, while snorkeling the reefs of Bimini in the Bahamas, observed the behavior of nurse and Caribbean Reef sharks, up close. Despite their reputations, the reality is that sharks are temperamentally non-violent creatures. Most of the time they are not hungry. It is common to see schools of small fish, that they could easily eat, swimming just in front of their mouths, unmolested. Sharks simply ignore humans, and it is probable that most cases of shark “attacks” are cases of mistaken identity.
While our cultural values and circumstances are indeed capable of changing radically and have done so, we humans have not changed morally, in our basic character, over the relatively short span of recorded history. We can point to more sophisticated deontological pronouncements and forms of reward and punishment, but not to actual changes in fundamental human character. People at all times, in all ages, at all levels of development, ask the same basic questions of each other: “Do they show me respect?” “Do they reciprocate?” “Are they trustworthy?” “Do they demonstrate empathy?” We do not actually ask these questions; rather they reflect experiential conditions governing relationships. Disrespect indicates an experience of the devaluation of identity or life itself. Lack of reciprocity indicates an experience of being cheated or a violation of justice. Lack of trust indicates an experience of betrayal. Lack of empathy indicates an experience of amoral disconnection. The assumption that most adults at prepersonal levels of development are sociopaths implies that most children or indigenous adults somehow, for some reason, never develop and interest in perceiving these fundamental conditions of human relationships. Where is the evidence for that assumption?
These fundamental moral criteria even descend down into observable behaviors in the animal kingdom. Dogs look for signs of respect from humans. They respond to reciprocity and the lack of it. They calculate how trustworthy another dog or a human is. They apparently respond to signals of empathy by physiological secretions of the social bonding hormone, oxytocin.
There is every reason to expect that five thousand years from now that humans will base their moral assessments of one another in the exterior collective quadrant of observable relations on these same core criteria. There may indeed be others, but we can be confident that these will remain.
Some societies and organizations train citizens and leaders to exhibit sociopathic-type behaviors
Most adults who exhibit sociopathic, “Nazi-like” behavior aren't suffering from mental disorder. For example, most Nazis, let alone Germans in general under National Socialism, were not sociopaths. Instead, some used sociopathic-type behaviors and worldviews to gain power and status, because those behaviors and worldviews were socially rewarded. To not act sociopathically was punished. Those conditions still largely prevail in corporate leadership and politics, and they prevail today among Ukrainian fascists and their supporters. Government funded camps exist in Ukraine to train children to exhibit ultra-nationalistic beliefs and behaviors, including hating Russians.
If you take some of the worst of the Nazis, like Hitler, Mengele, or Goebbels, what you find are sociopathic characteristics, but those characteristics are not sufficient to diagnose these people as sociopaths. To do so you have to demonstrate that they were incapable of empathy. Also, you will notice that one of the DSM V criteria for a sociopathic diagnosis is “consistent irresponsibility.” People do not get promoted into positions of power in the Third Reich, Ukraine, or in today's corporations or political zoo by being consistently irresponsible. On the contrary, many powerful adults exhibiting immoral or amoral behavior are highly responsible within the societal contexts that confer upon them power and status.
If you find historical record of instances of selective, but nevertheless genuine empathy and altruism in adults you deem sociopathic, it is much more difficult to contend that these odious and criminal individuals are in fact sociopaths or suffer from personality disorders. For example, under pressure from Biden, Bernie Sanders has withdrawn legislation that would limit military support of the ongoing genocide in Yemen, a war that has killed and continues to kill thousands of children, in the full knowledge of the political leadership in Washington. It would not be surprising to find objective observers concluding the decision to continue support for this war immoral, if not evil, but even if so, that is not sufficient reason to label Biden or the vast majority of Senators of both parties that refuse to support the end of military support that maintains this conflict as sociopathic. To call those adults “sociopaths” who exhibit sociopathic traits, including murder or even torture, because they are rewarded by their society, is clinical malpractice, if they have not been professionally diagnosed as patients, regardless of the credentials of the person making the allegation. We can say these people exhibit sociopathic-like behaviors, but that is something very different from labeling them as sociopaths.
Are adults who are at personal, vision-logic, or transpersonal levels of development never sociopathic?
The assumption that adults at prepersonal in their moral development are sociopathic also assumes that adults that are not at prepersonal developmental levels are not sociopathic. There are no transpersonal “Nazis.” Unless you define sociopathy in such a way that it inherently and automatically equated with prepersonal moral development, something of an unassailable tautology, that adults that are not at prepersonal developmental levels are not sociopathic, is an assumption that requires evidence. Where is it?
To disprove this belief, all one has to do is find one example of an individual widely considered to be transpersonal in their development who exhibited sociopathic behavior. Krishna, as an incarnation of God, arguing for mass killing, approaches that definition, even though he is a mythological figure. However, any specific individual that can be named can have his behavior excused as mandated by God or as the result of social conditioning and therefore not truly sociopathic, or in some other way either justified or ignored. To understand how and why individuals highly advanced on this or that line, including that of spiritual intelligence, can still be sociopathic we have to take a look at how Wilber understand morality.
If morality is indeed a core line, along with cognition and the self line, as Wilber states, and I agree, then it has to tetra-mesh not simply for us to advance morally as individuals. The moral line must tetra-mesh for our overall self-development to evolve level to level. All four quadrants have to demonstrate some degree of complementary development. There has to be some degree of congruency between our moral intent and how moral our behavior is judged to be by a reasonable and realistic selection of outgroups. An “outgroup” is any collective that does not share our identity, worldview, or values. Their assessment of our morality is an exterior collective condition for moral line tetra-mesh. That is because our own assessment of our morality is inherently subjective while the assessments of our ingroups not only reflect a common worldview but have vested interests in viewing us as moral, since group cohesion and personal identity are both supported by mutual validation.
As Wilber also notes, any line can race ahead in any individual or collective at any level of development. For example, there is no necessary correlation between having a mystical experience and higher levels of development or morality. Sociopaths can have near-death experiences and develop high awareness on the line of spiritual intelligence. Adolescents can take drugs and have openings into some sort of mystical experience. Criminals can have mystical experiences as a result of head injuries or falling off one's horse, as Saul did, on his way to Damascus. (Of course, cause and effect got reversed in the Biblical account.)
A consequence of the assumption that there are no highly developed individuals who are sociopaths may be that those who view themselves as exceptional conclude they are inherently incapable of prepersonal immorality, not only in contrast to the vast majority of previous generations throughout history and from the assessments of outgroups today, but from their own “Nazi” childhood. One only has to survey the statements of major contemporary political figures from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and most recently, Angela Merkel, to bring into serious question such an assumption, sociopathy aside. One only has to compare the behavior of those who have claimed enlightenment with their professions of intent to demolish the belief that there is a necessary correlation between high levels of development and morality. But because this belief so strongly supports our own self-image as being of high moral character, it is a delusion that dies hard.
Because evolution on the moral line is so dependent on the evaluations of others, I also do not consider myself competent to pass moral judgment on others by other than these four criteria of respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy, which it would clearly be dishonest for me to claim not to employ, since I have just claimed that they are universal criteria. However, I apply them from the perspective of someone who views themselves at a mid-prepersonal level of overall development, struggling to attain a stable late prepersonal level. That is my moral reality, due to my committing or enabling both immoral and amoral acts in the eyes of a reasonable and realistic assessment by both ingroups and outgroups. Such a conclusion is worthy of generating the expectation of considerable humility, regardless of the fact that I have reason to assess myself at vision-logic in cognitive development and not being totally bankrupt on the line of spiritual intelligence.
Implications for integral
The integral approach to morality is largely intentional and deontological, as in the Basic Moral Intuition: “The greatest depth for the greatest span,” a fine principle in general, but one which requires the absence of outgroup moral condemnation in the external collective if tetra-mesh is to occur. At this point in human history, there are considerable human outgroups, numbering in the millions, if not billions, who view themselves as victimized or exploited by behaviors of the collectives to which most integralists belong. Individual integralists cannot avoid responsibility for those actions or their consequences, and one of those consequences is the failure of tetra-mesh in our overall development.
The assumption that adults who are at prepersonal levels of development are most likely sociopaths creates a very warped and misleading picture both of human development and of what it means to be integral. It leads us to conclude that an “integral” individual couldn't possibly be at prepersonal levels of development when there is every reason to believe that individuals who have mystical experiences while embedded in prepersonal collectives, such as tribes, are themselves at prepersonal levels of development. There is also plenty of evidence that individuals who hold themselves to be integral, or are judged by others to be so, are capable of committing acts many would consider sociopathic, even if they fall short of a clinical definition of sociopathy.
These are not trivial distinctions. Calling someone a sociopath is a very serious charge, and to keep it from being a mere under-the-belt ad hominem, certain criteria have to be met, as we have seen. In addition, when this term is applied to entire levels of development, in the assumption that most adults who are at prepersonal developmental levels are Nazis or sociopaths, millions, even billions of adults who have lived on this planet, or still do, who have never moved beyond prepersonal developmental levels, are smeared with character assassination. Discounting, which is one variety of Wilber's Pre/Trans Fallacy, is a behavior integralists probably don't want to be associated with.
When those at prepersonal developmental stages are viewed as “primitive” or “unevolved,” or “Nazi,” or “sociopathic,” there exists a common tendency to deride those with whom we disagree as at some earlier developmental level; they are just not evolved enough to understand, much less appreciate, the nuances of our position because they are…“Nazis,” or “sociopaths,” or “amber,” or “red,” or “blue.” Can anyone detect any self-serving elitism in such assessments? Is it so difficult to see how this discounting of other individuals and groups as “less evolved” serves to reduce our cognitive dissonance and protect our identity as moral and highly evolved individuals? Is it so difficult to see that it intrinsically contradicts any meaningful definition of what it means to be “spiritual?”
A foundational assumption of integral is multi-perspectivalism. Making value judgments in the internal collective quadrant about the motivations of others tends to shut down discussion and polarize worldviews. It is contrary to empathy and forecloses the building of trust. It does not respect reciprocity for the simple reason that we do not want others to make value judgments about us that put us at a characterological disadvantage. It is contrary to respect in that it confounds behavior with identity. Because an action is immoral, amoral, or sociopathic does not justify the conclusion that the individual themselves is immoral, amoral, or sociopathic. Identifying individuals themselves, rather than their aptitudes on this or that line, with levels of development does precisely that.
Recognizing, understanding, and respecting multiple moral perspectives is not moral relativism. That is because there remain fundamental criteria by which individuals differentiate right from wrong and good from bad. To reiterate, these are, “Am I being respected (regardless of whether the other agrees with me or not)?” “Is there reciprocity in ways that generate fairness and justice?” “Are there grounds for trust? (“If so, in what ways, since trust is not monolithic nor does it need to be)? “Is there empathy?” (“Do I find that my intentions, feelings, and motives are understood, regardless of whether or not others agree?”) Note that these criteria are based on objective behavior in the exterior collective as functional fit, not simply on interpreted values in the interior collective as cultural mutual understanding.
Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of stages of moral development does not take into account that the fundamental moral criteria of respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy apply equally at all stages. So while cognitive measurements of morality in the interior collective change developmentally with the expansion of cognitive aptitudes, the moral line as a whole does not because it cannot. Freinach's otherwise excellent analysis of morality in all four quadrants also does not take into account the fundamental reality that these four criteria exist equally in all four quadrants at all levels and are determinative of morality for the exterior collective quadrant, necessary for tetra-mesh.
The opinions of others regarding how our behavior affects them in the exterior collective quadrant is the outer face of morality that is communal, heterarchical, and process oriented. But to call attention to its general neglect yet vital importance to moral tetra-mesh is in no way to ignore or neglect the reality, necessity, and importance of structure, hierarchy, and agency for moral tetra-mesh. However, the assessments of others is critical for the moral line in ways and to a degree that is not so central to other lines. You can be a gifted artist, athlete, or philosopher without the validation of others, although such validation is fundamental to both empiricism and reality testing. Everybody makes their own assessments of how respectful, reciprocating, trustworthy, and empathetic we are, and those assessments determine, short of coercion, the depth of relationship they want to have with us. The distinction is between all other lines, in which characteristics in all four quadrants advance, including and transcending from level to level, and the moral line, in which the criteria for moral behavior stay consistent throughout all lines. Morality is more of an off/on switch: you either respect, experience reciprocity with, trust, and experience empathy from someone or not, in a specific situation for specific criteria, like making change or providing spiritual instruction. You may choose to suspend moral judgment for various reasons to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, but finally, it is up to you, not them, to arrive at your own conclusion, just as in a court of law. With the moral line, we are drawing characterological conclusions based on observed behavior, while on other lines we are simply assessing competencies. This is true even for our assessment of other aspects of the self-system line. In this regard, the core moral line appears to be not only fundamentally different from the other core lines of cognition and the self-system, but fundamentally different from non-core lines.
Like structure, hierarchy, and agency, meritocracy is a reality, and is to be both acknowledged and rewarded. Meritocracy matters, and attempts to ignore or avoid it, perhaps in the interest of “diversity,” “non-discrimination,” “equal opportunity,” or “affirmative action, by say, doing away with university admission examinations, as has recently been done by the California university system, results in a general dumbing down of the population and the reduction of value and competency which a degree is supposed to indicate. If I can't understand equations I'm not eligible to join the collective of physicist peer communication. If I don't play an instrument with a certain degree of proficiency I can't join a band or an orchestra.
Advancement on any developmental line is to be celebrated. Demonstration of such competency is indeed different and even “better” than lower stages on any line, because higher development not only includes but transcends lower stages. This is fundamental integral doctrine, and I agree. However, the core moral line is different.
How then can we accurately assess meritocracy on the moral line? Regardless of my personal assessment of my morality, my overall level of morality is dependent upon your assessment of me, and your assessment can easily be skewed one way or the other. Because I am your ally, pay your salary, or donate to causes you consider worthy, you may excuse my immoral or amoral behavior. Because I am your enemy or you fear my power and ability to control you, you may unfairly conclude that I am immoral or amoral. You may assess me as moral because my behavior conforms to immoral social norms, like say, the moral necessity of guillotining monarchists during the French Revolution or of kidnapping people, taking them to black sites, and torturing them. This subjectivity can only be addressed by considering a broad range of both ingroup and outgroup assessments. Ingroup assessments are important because they know us best; outgroup assessments are essential because members of such groups, like monarchists and terrorists, may be the recipients of abusive or exploitative actions and behaviors that we excuse, disown, or justify.
Meritocracy doesn't appear to apply to the moral line because people can be moral, immoral, or amoral at any and every stage of development on any line, regardless of how they score on Kohlberg's scale, their previous history, or their own declaration of their intentions. The assumption that higher development on this or that line implies higher development on the moral line is not only not true, but a very dangerous fallacy and delusion.
Ignoring the inconvenient truths that the moral line must tetra-mesh and that lower levels of development are not inherently amoral or immoral while higher levels are not intrinsically moral, allows us identify with our level of cognitive development, which is our leading line in self-development. It allows us to ignore the reality that the moral line leads in social and collective development. Since we understand AQAL, we are probably at integral-aperspectival on the cognitive line. Because we tend to identify with our thoughts, our self-system line also is experienced as at vision-logic. Then, when we add our mystical experiences to that, we have evidence that we are perhaps even in the transpersonal realms in our overall development. Such identifications, combined with our moral intent, builds a broad, deep, and tall wall of denial that defends us against any evidence that how outgroups view us may in fact be legitimate, genuine, and realistic, despite their conclusion that we are immoral, amoral, or both.
It is far past time for both both psychology and idealistic worldviews of all kinds to disabuse themselves of the delusion that morality is naturally associated with high advancement in this or that developmental line. It isn't. Meritocracy and morality are different things. Just as it is not true that most adults are sociopaths if they are developmentally prepersonal, so it is not true that Integralists, idealists, liberals, and progressives are necessarily moral actors if they are developmentally at vision-logic or beyond on this or that line, or multiple lines. As Wilber has stated, it's time for us to wake up, grow up, clean up, and show up.
It matters that people at prepersonal levels of development can be moral actors and generally are, while people at personal and transpersonal developmental levels can be sociopaths, immoral, and amoral actors. Placing our spiritual development in the care of such people is a major and fundamental betrayal of both spirituality and humanity. If you have a mystical experience or possess a highly developed cognitive line validated by advanced university degrees, that in no way precludes the possibility that you may be functionally prepersonal in your moral development, with major societal consequences. Idealists, progressives, liberals, integralists, gurus, and mystics, or simply hard-core conservatives who score high on the cognitive line, having more knowledge and thereby more power and responsibility, possess an outsized ability to damage collectives by their immoral and amoral actions.
For example, in 2010, two esteemed Harvard economists, Kenneth Rogoff and Reinhart, released a widely circulated and heralded study, “Growth in a Time of Debt,” essentially validating trickle-down economics. It served to provide official credibility to an essentially predatory and exploitative form of economic behavior. It was only sometime later, after many influential people had seen and been impressed by this study, that a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts analyzed the underlying data and found it was distorted in ways that supported the underlying premise. When the data was re-analyzed it was found to contradict the findings and conclusions of Rogoff and Reinhart. But the damage was already done; in the minds of many, trickle-down economics was scientifically validated. Neither of these individuals, presumably highly developed on a number of lines, were in any way held accountable for mistakes that would have flunked their students and which, because those conclusions validated corruption, yet were false, were fundamentally immoral. Was this a “moral” failure or simply a massive failure of cognitive line competence? Or was it both? And what can we conclude about the morality of a society that fails to hold powerful elites responsible for actions that support corruption and damage society? What do we make of representatives of spirituality, like Catholicism, which ignore and justify pedophilia for centuries, refusing to police themselves? My conclusion is that it is naive in the extreme to expect either individuals or collectives to police themselves, because their own survival and development is inherently their priority. Unless we create and utilize institutions that demand transparency and accountability, on what grounds should we expect anything other than eventual betrayal and sociopathoid behavior? While there were no professional consequences for Rogoff and Reinhart, public trust in the economics profession was undermined by their actions, and that is a moral issue. It implies an inability to tetra-mesh beyond a prepersonal level of morality, at least in the sphere of professional or career responsibility and accountability.
In another example, if we are members of German National Socialism, or collaborators with same, such as Stepan Bandera, the national hero of Ukraine, and our collective slaughters Poles, Jews, Gypsies, and Homosexuals, that impacts our ability to tetra-mesh regardless of our personal intent in the interior individual quadrant, our professions of moral values in the interior collective, or even our own personal moral behavior in the exterior individual quadrant. That is because in the exterior collective quadrant the behavior of the collective of which we are a member is immoral, and although immorality occurs at any and all levels, it is commonly assessed by sources as diverse as world religions and Kohlberg as reflecting prepersonal development. So for instance, despite the many noble and inspirational aspects of Catholicism, its failure to police its own chronic history of sexual abuse disqualifies it as a moral authority. Beyond that, it strongly implies that it is an institution with an overall prepersonal level of moral development despite its intentions and multiple strengths. Wilber has pointed out in Integral Spirituality how self-development is contingent on collective development in the context of enlightenment. The breadth and height of the enlightenment of Bronze Age mystics like Buddha or Jesus is constrained by their cultural context, meaning that our capacity for enlightenment in our present age is broader and higher, because we are free of many constraints that were inherent for Bronze Age exterior collectives. Similarly, the breadth and height of our individual moral development is constrained by the morality, or lack of it, of the collectives and ingroups to which we belong.
Integralists are one point of a multi-perspectival spear leading an idealist revolution in worldviews. However, integral is only a bit player in a global drama in which a long tradition of Western idealism has the most to lose. Idealists of all stripes tend to embrace exceptionalism and elitism, which they regard as justified, based on meritocracy. They have advanced farther and have more than others because they are smarter, work harder, have had mystical experiences, or have been rewarded by fate or destiny because of the innate righteousness of their worldview.
Integral, as a generally idealistic worldview, is geared toward higher relational exchanges that the vast majority of humanity, whose focus is necessarily the foundational relational exchanges, cannot relate to. Those groups include children and the majority of adolescents, the working poor, and those so addicted to power and status that idealistic, higher relational exchange priorities are pursued merely to the extent they provide instrumental advantages. For example, I may practice philanthropy to gain status and social leverage. For largely non-idealistic outgroups, morality is not about ideology or interior quadrant preferences, beliefs, and worldviews, so much as it is about access to resources necessary for safety and security.
A moral disjunction from humanity subsequently arises due to a focus on fundamentally different relational exchanges. Once security and safety have been secured one has time to think about things like self development, enlightenment, and to do things like meditate. Such people have a reduced need for the support of others because they have insulated themselves from basic fears of a loss of shelter, energy, food, and safety. Therefore they have a tendency to move from a collective to an individualistic focus on things like self-development, self-esteem, liberty, autonomy, independence, and protecting one's “rights” from government and collective interests. We have the time and energy to advocate for such benefits,in principle, for everyone. This becomes an increasingly vulnerable and alienated position because we never know when we are going to require the support not only of collectives, but outgroups. Right now chronically liberal Europeans are being forced to address the foundational necessity of fundamental relational exchanges, such as warmth and food security. They are having to face the reality that they are interdependent with outgroups that they have historically looked down upon and held in disdain.
We can see this in the different responses to the covid pandemic. Countries that insisted on maximizing individual freedom and choice, like the US and most Western nations, fared much worse than those that insisted on maximizing interdependence, like China, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea. We can also observe that same consequence in Western sanctions on Russia. Ideology, which claimed the higher moral ground, ignored realism. There was no thought given to the energy vulnerability of Europe and what that would mean for the fate and destiny of some two hundred million Western Europeans. There was no consideration of the possibility that sanctions might actually strengthen Russia and turn it into the most autonomous global autarky on the planet.
Idealists tend to be blind to the lack of trust outgroups have for them or the reasons for it. Nor do their ideas take root with about half of the general public. These outgroups, comprised of people who are on the whole not idealists but may include them, innately ask of politicians, philosophies, and governmental policy proposals questions that are associated with the foundational relational exchanges: “Does it put food on the table?” “Does it lower or raise my bills?” “Does it increase the educational opportunities for my children or not?” “Does it improve my access to health services I want and need or not?” These are more concrete concerns than the more ideological issues idealists and liberals tend to focus on, such as, “Does it reduce discrimination?” “Does it increase freedom?” “Does it improve human rights and welfare?” “Is it more democratic?”
Westerners in general, but more specifically a group I've termed WILPs (Western, integral, liberal, progressives) ignore, mischaracterize, or purposefully distort the Global South perception of our morality. (I say “our” because I consider myself to be a member of this ingroup.) This distortion occurs for several good reasons, the major one being that to acknowledge personal and collective responsibility and accountability generates massive cognitive dissonance by threatening our self-image as moral actors who represent human rights, the elimination of discrimination, and the support of the impoverished.
The question sociopaths, like children, lawyers, politicians, and spiritual gurus must be made to ask is, “Am I going to be held accountable for behavior that impacts others, and if so, how?” In the preverbal world of dogs and infants, accountability is a matter of natural boundaries, like gravity, experienced behaviorally, in the upper right exterior-individual quadrant. Sociopaths show themselves quite capable of learning and respecting natural boundaries like gravity and adapting to them. In the social realm of the lower right, exterior collective quadrant, we are accountable to interpersonal boundaries, most fundamentally assessed by our degree of demonstrated respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy. Sociopaths can indeed learn the first three, respect, reciprocity, and trustworthiness, because they can be objectively defined. However, these are seemingly only learned by sociopaths if they are given no other choice. Regarding empathy, how can it be objectively defined? There is only one way, and that is through defining how empathy is demonstrated and then validating its occurrence. In dealing with infants and sociopaths, just like in dealing with the vegetative world, the problem is with one's expectations, not with grass or trees. We simply have to recalibrate our expectations regarding empathy to that which is realistic for both certifiable sociopaths and those exhibiting sociopathic behaviors, while setting up attainable and objectifiable boundaries regarding respect, reciprocity, and trustworthiness.
Focusing on exterior collective definitions of morality forces both accountability and responsibility. It interrupts the efforts by self-righteous Westerners to studiously avoid third-rail issues like the continuing support of the genocidal war in Yemen, Israeli apartheid, fascism in Ukraine, the export of international terrorism, or the maintenance of the largest financial scam in history, the maintenance of offshore tax shelters and money laundering for corporations and the one percent, by a collusion of bankers, lawyers, accountants, and politicians. An immoral “might makes right” ideology is maintained through a “rules-based order” that refuses to hold itself accountable before the UN International Criminal Court or apply international economic rules to itself when they are not to its advantage, as the failure to allow the World Trade Organization to rule against the US by blocking the appointment of necessary judges. At the same time, an amoral “profits over people,” “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor” economic policy maintains a colonialist system of global exploitation that extends to the desertion of the citizens of Western countries themselves. These policies are not only dishonest, immoral, and amoral, but massively hypocritical, and the majority of the world's population, despite the global reach of the Western disinformation narratives, see it, know it, and experience it.
Regarding the broader issue of our assessments of morality, we need to learn to uncouple our assumed level of morality from our competencies on this or that line and instead subject it to determination by others, in particular the judgment of a broad assortment of outgroups. To do so generates authentic humility that is a necessary and vital antidote to the hubris, self-validation and self-justification, which is hard-wired into our make-up, as Gregg Henriques in particular and history has demonstrated again and again. It is only in the context of authentic humility that responsibility and accountability overcome denial, obfuscation, and avoidance, so we can move into both the personal and global truth and reconciliation that we so badly need.