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What We Are, That We See

Part I: Response to Some Recent Criticism in a Wild West Fashion

Ken Wilber

June 08, 2006 16:24

About once a decade, a portion of the criticism of me and my work gets so lunatic and cacophonous, that some sort of response is demanded. Unlike serious criticism, I try to ignore this kind of stuff, as my record clearly shows, but these folks need to understand that libel and slander are not without costs. Their bill is due.

The scholarship in these criticisms is so deranged as to be laughable (or pitiable, it's hard to say), were it not for the perverse attention it receives, usually from those even less gifted (colossally difficult as that is to imagine). It's made worse by the fact that if you are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being the leading figure in a field—as its Wyatt Earp—then every punk with a pistol comes gun-slinging for your ass. (I deliberately used that analogy so some of these critics can make note of the use of nasty, aggressive metaphors.) Still, I'm tired of picking lead out of my butt, and so I'm simply going to have to take a few shots in self-defense. On a personal level, every now and then it gets so bad you just have to blow off steam, because it really hurts, ya know? And like I said, every decade or so, I blow.

It's gotten to the point that one critic cringes when I simply use the word “simply” (as in the previous paragraph), because it means something horrible is going to follow. In this case, true—the horrible thing that followed was this critic's charge. But simply still, I simply cannot stand this simple criticism of simply anything, let alone “simply,” so simply suck my dick, whaddaya say?

Okay, having gotten the humor out of the way—and separated green from yellow, because green simply will not forgive the “simply suck my dick” thing, so there you go—but for the rest of you:

One of the most loudly aired criticisms is that developmental studies are in trouble—are, in fact, in “complete disarray,” as one critic quaintly put it. Well, developmental studies are not in trouble. Absolutely the opposite. After a two-decade banishment by the mean green meme, they are back with a wonderful vengeance. What has happened is that in various ways the green meme (and usually the mean green meme) has come in and done its deconstructive dirty work with full-force aggression, tearing down everything it sees, putting nothing in its place, and claiming victory, loudly patting itself on the back for all to see and hear. This adolescent jerking off was fun for the first decade or two, but guess what? Derrida is dead, the adolescent rebellion of tearing things down and spray-painting your name on the ruins is over, and the adults are now in the process of, as usual, contributing something constructive and creative for the advancement of humanity in general. And for adults, developmental studies are wonderfully re-emerging. But the general notion of development itself has never gone away and can be found anywhere you look. It's called the study of growth, morphogenesis, and evolution in general. All I fundamentally need from those specialists is the idea of altitude, and they give it to me in spades—and this includes specialists by the droves. Sheeesh, just hit “evolution” on Amazon, for a start…...

But this part is easy: I will take any developmental model that any of these critics wants to advance. I assume that they will concede that the acorn gets to be an oak by developing or growing somehow, and that, likewise, infants get to be adults by some sort of growth or maturation process, so that you can say that something is “more developed” than something else in a particular organism. Whatever that altitude is, I'll use it. That's all I need from those folks. On the other hand, if they can't offer any model of growth, then of course we can ignore them when it comes to that topic (which I usually do, unless Visser puts them in the headlines and screams).

Second, just let me know if there are any common milestones that humans go through, or if every single person goes through a completely different pathway in their development, so that if there are, say, 6 billion people on the planet, there are 6 billion COMPLETELTY different growth pathways. And if they do go through different pathways, then describe what those pathways are like. That description itself is a context-transcending sentence, and I'll be glad to work with that.

In other words, the idea that developmental studies are in complete disarray is hogwash. What is in disarray are the deconstructive armies as their three-decade advance has run out of steam—and rather completely, I might add. I don't know a single major theorist who buys pluralistic relativism, not one. Extreme pluralism is used to criticize other folks, but puts nothing believable in its place—at which point we are fully entitled to ignore them, which, as I said, we usually do.

Incidentally, that particular critic also did what many of my critics have done. In the chapter of his book manuscript where he struggles to give his actual positive recommendations, they are watered-down versions of the Integral approach and recommendations. This is a common ploy from Cortright to de Quincey, namely, take my basic ideas, change their names and give them a slightly different flavor, then radically condemn my entire approach, then promote their newly-named, watered-down version as the new paradigm. Aside from some major yucks afforded scholars, who duly noted the shenanigans, I find it really annoying, but I suppose it comes with the territory.

(Incidentally, that critic's level of scholarship is so mediocre that his book manuscript and his many articles have been rejected by more book publishers and journals than I have digits—which means at least 11, if I'm really turned on, but who's counting? One of his articles submitted to an academic journal where I sit on the board had some truly horrid evaluations, from official readers and others, ranging from “outdated” to “prejudiced” to “badly misinformed” to “childish.” Myself, I found it all four, reflecting my integral attempt to pull things together.)

Some of these critics do offer some valid suggestions—and guess what? In almost every case, I have either included those ideas immediately or made changes in subsequent writing to include them (with full acknowledgment), or—and this happens regularly—I point out the fact that I have already included those ideas in my work but that the critic missed them (usually unintentionally, simply due to the vast size of my written material).

But let me get one thing extremely—and I mean extremely—clear. Any honest criticism that I find I take seriously, at least long enough to see if there are any important truths that I might be missing. There is an old saying, “You do not understand your opponent's ideas until you can argue them better than he can”—and I take that seriously. Some critics are fantastic in the number of new truths you can learn from them; and some critics are just worthless—I mean Meyerhoff is adolescent postmodernism 101 with an attitude; I've already gone over his ideas 10 times more acutely than he has, and I did so years ago. This is why such critics keep saying things like, “Well, um, gosh, I guess Wilber in his latest writings has started to move in the direction I recommend, but, um, I'm gonna attack his old ideas that he held a decade ago cuz I really want to get noticed. If I take down Wyatt Earp, I'll make a name for myself overnight.” But please notice that the reason that “my recent writings” (although the ones you critics are referring to have actually been out there now for over FIVE and sometimes TEN fucking years, you morons)—but the reason they have “moved in this direction” is that a decade ago I began reading the people that these critics just discovered, I fully got what they were saying (I can explain them a hell of a lot better than the critics' loopy writings have), and I immediately INCORPORATED their important perspectives and truths into my work, which was one of the reasons for moving from wilber-4 to wilber-5.

But in general, good criticism shows me new areas that I can include. I FUCKING LIVE FOR GREAT CRITICISM, IT MEANS MORE TRUTH FOR A MORE INTEGRAL MODEL. I have a Geiger counter that clicks like crazy when the good stuff gets near, and the good stuff is any stuff I haven't been able to make room for, to include, to not marginalize, to not exclude, to transcend-and-include. Not only did I grok what the postmodernists were saying, I have given, in dozens of writings, what numerous experts and specialists in the field (including experts on Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, among others) have called some of the best, and in a few instances, THE best, treatment of these topics. As only one example, the chapter on postmodernism in The Marriage of Sense and Soul one reviewer called “the best short introduction to postmodernism available.”

The reason Wyatt Earp's recent writings have not only moved in this direction but nailed it, is that I have done my homework, and done it much better than my critics, and years ago I incorporated it and moved on, looking for yet more truth and goodness and beauty. So when I see lame criticism like this, I nonetheless spend a few hours with it, looking anxiously for yet more good stuff, and if finding none, I quickly move on. It's settled; it's done; it's obvious; it's over; it's bye-bye. I spend 3 hours on it; these critics hang around spending 3 months and even 3 years on it, banging on a door in whose house I don't even live any more, looking for somebody who years ago split. I am long gone, dude, down the road, flying at the speed of thought, looking for yet more yummies to share with readers, and these painfully sluggish critics, dragging their bloated bellies across the ground at a snail's pace of gray dreariness, can frankly just eat my dust and bite my ass.

As in, “Frankly, Scarlet, I don't give a damn.”

In short, it's just ridiculous to say that I try to hide from this criticism, I live on it! Every new truth I find, I rejoice. That's why it went from wilber-1 all the way to wilber-5. This is what second tier does automatically anyway, it takes new truths wherever it finds them and weaves them into larger tapestries. It can't help doing so! If I find one, I am ecstatic! So mark this well: Only a first-tier mentality would even think that one would run away from good criticism. But then these folks…. Okay, I won't even take a shot at that one, too easy.

But I suppose it should be pointed out that many of the ideas these critics offer are in fact at a green or orange altitude, and not even teal or turquoise altitude, where they could at least begin to see the integral patterns that connect. These critics simply cannot see these phenomena, which are “over their heads,” to borrow Kegan's felicitous phrase—and they get absolutely furious, and I mean furious, when this is pointed out or even mentioned.

But furious or not, that happens to be a completely valid critical approach. So I'll stop teasing the animals for a moment and get serious. For the developmentalist, some ideas are not at the altitude of those they are criticizing, and those criticisms, in those specific aspects, are nonsensical. Strictly speaking, they are neither true nor false, but empty.

For example, if a blue vMEME says to an orange vMEME, “Excuse me, but I can prove that your entire notion of evolution is wrong, because it is not in the Bible,” then that statement, qua criticism, is not so much false as nonsensical: it is not even in touch with that which it is criticizing, and thus this “cross-level” problem is a paradigm clash, and it cannot be decided with any amount of facts that blue will accept.

In other words, blue will continue to believe that evolution does not exist, no matter how much evidence you produce to the contrary. Blue will actually produce a ton of what it considers to be facts; it will quote the Bible chapter and verse, bringing forth what are indeed actual phenomena and actual facts at that blue level, facts that are absolutely true at that level. So these types of arguments are futile as regards their core claims (although you can always learn something from both sides, simply because they are both producing interesting truths and facts and evidence at their own levels.) But when it comes to cross-level truth-claims, neither side will reach a happy resolution to their core disputes. Orange will not be happy because blue does not accept evolution; blue will not be happy because orange does not accept the Bible. Nor will they be happy until blue evolves to orange (or orange regresses to blue)…. But absent that, both of these less-than-integral levels violate, among other things, the principles of integrative epistemology (see excerpt B).

Thus, it is a completely valid argument for a developmentalist to point out that fact (i.e., the cross-level or paradigm-clash intractability). There is nothing that turquoise or indigo can ever say to green that will make it happy. Thus, the idea that, for example, turquoise is supposed to enter a “dialogue” with green is nonsensical, and nothing in that dialogue will change green's mind fundamentally (unless green transforms to turquoise). Turquoise can see green and its facts, but green cannot see turquoise and its facts, and thus this cross-level altitude problem jams any real dialogue in that capacity—and yet all that green does is scream for dialogue, dialogue, dialogue…. which in these cases are empty, empty, empty.

I am truly sorry, but that is the developmentalist's answer to the cry for dialogue in these cross-level cases (again, something can always be learned by both sides, but that is not the issue here). And green always takes turquoise's failure to make green happy as proof that green is right and turquoise is a bastard. And even a bald bastard with ambition, I might add, instead of even being able to lay blame where it in fact belongs, which is on its own sorry-ass, first-tier, lame-brain case of arrested development, a two-bit, no-fit, nobody-quoting, self-promoting, gas-floating, over-bloating, no deposit, lame composite, really lost it, never had it, wanna bees, felled at the knees, first-tier fleas, flick 'em off his back and never look back: “Holy mackerel! let's go get a slurpee,” says lonesome rider, Wyatt Earpy.

Um, sorry.

By the way, the fact that phenomena are level-bound or altitude-bound (and are brought forth or enacted by particular exemplars or paradigms) will also AFFECT WHAT A RESEARCHER IN THE FIELD WILL ACTUALLY SEE OR REGISTER WHEN DOING RESEARCH. For example, when empirically studying human beings undergoing development, if the researcher is at first tier, he or she will not see or register second-tier phenomena in the developmental research. “Empirical facts,” as we have seen, actually change and emerge at different levels. The psychological models of these first-tier researchers will therefore tend to lack any coherent account of development at all; they will even be hostile to the notion of levels, actualization hierarchies, holarchy, cross-cultural phenomena, context-transcending statements, quasi-universals, and so on. They simply will not see any integral phenomena or any fundamental patterns that connect, and their research, even if meticulously carried out, will be deeply flawed. And there is nothing in the world you can say, do, or show them that will fundamentally change their minds, or their truths, or their first-tier facts.

“What we are, that we see,” as Emerson so perfectly expressed it.

Another criticism is that I don't use specialists in the various fields. Say what? Has this dude even read one of my endnotes? This is an example of criticism so deranged you just stare at it wide-eyed and dumbfounded. It's like saying the Pope doesn't really pray, now does he? I mean, not really, you know? No, dude, I don't know.

Hey, did you see the one where a critic said that my methodology consisted of “orienting generalizations,” and then attacked the shit out of orienting generalizations? Or rather, gave a really embarrassing, green, performative-contradiction attempt to do so. I wonder if his guy has ever heard of Integral Methodological Pluralism, which uses at least 8 different methodologies. This is an example of criticism so absolutely loopy you just stare in disbelief for minutes, pie-eyed, slack-jawed, say whaaaaaat?

I won't really get into the minor criticism of the concept of boomeritis from some quarters (the major criticism is serious and I dealt with it elsewhere, as properly befitting). But I do have two things to say about it. Have you noticed—I'm serious here—have you noticed that the people who complain the most about the concept of boomeritis almost always have the worst cases of it? It reminds me of the laboratory tests showing that the most active heterosexual crusaders against gay porn actually show more arousal levels when shown gay porn than straights do. In other words, the thing they hate the most, they secretly possess. It's a shadow law of mathematical precision. We use this in the 3-2-1 shadow work at I-I, and believe me, I used it a few times when I re-read this post, before I posted it. But I'm probably guilty, too, and I'm not claiming otherwise (I'm only claiming that I might actually be aware of my own shadow to some degree).

Cowan and friend tried to prove that Grave's original data showed that boomeritis couldn't exist, which is hilarious, first, because it's not based on Graves, but second, because it's an unconscious pathology and cannot show up on test data asking conscious questions. (It's like asking, “And now, please tell us all those things that you are completely unaware of?”) And what do you make of the fact that the two guys who developed SD, nobody really wants to work with?—and in fact, they even refuse to work with each other, as if to put an exclamation mark on the point.

I mean, is that just weird or what? Maybe it's just me? I don't think so, everybody I know seems to agree. (I will say that personally I have never seen any professional writing as toxic as Cowan's: his anger laces every word, acidly, unrelentingly, eating away at the reader, as it surely must its author.)

Anyway, I personally love SD as an intro model (seriously), and we will definitely continue to use it at I-I. We just can't find anybody who will work with its founders. I take that back, I just thought of two. But mostly….

As for applying the AQAL model to specific fields, check out the 3000 plus pages of new academic material written in 24 specialties—in the 24 colleges of Integral University—coming this fall. The AQAL model has been applied by specialists and professionals in these two-dozen fields, and in incredibly detailed fashion, and it's absolutely awesome—and we are offering it the world and inviting anybody who wishes to come and play with us—to use the model, criticize it, extend it, whatever they like….

Think the critics see this as positive? Get the fuck out of here! Where you from, son? What the fuck you been thinking? You hitting that weed again man, doing them drugs overtime? Hell no, bro, they see all of this as being nuttin but a bunch of “Wilber's minions.” Now watch my face get serious: Do you know how insulting that is to the scholars and teachers at I-I? Critics think they are insulting me when they say that? We are talking about people from Father Thomas Keating to Michael Murphy to Tony Robbins to Al Gore. Calling these people—ALL OF WHOM HAVE EMBRACED THE AQAL MODEL AND ARE USING IT IN THEIR OWN SPECIALITIES—and they do so simply because they find that it works—but calling them kw's minions is perhaps the single most shallow (and despicable) criticism I have seen tossed this way. And probably the most common—from those, and only those, who can't cut the mustard and haven't been included in the open circle of now more than 1000 scholars around the world.

Count on critics to then say, well, Wilber is too specialized, you know, and where are those bold assertions he used to so beautifully make? Although another critic just lambasted me because I am too bold. And Wyatt takes another one in the butt. Fortunately, the many years of sitting on his butt, not just in the saddle but on the zen mat and writing chair, have made his butt completely numb, so he can't really tell, except as the lead keeps coming he keeps putting on weight, for reasons he can't figure.

As for the Frank Visser site ( I suppose it's time to really put all the cards on the table here. I really like Frank personally, and I have always have, even hosting him at my house (see photos on his site). And as much as Frank tries to hide it, he is a major fan of my work. As only one of many examples, Frank told me that when he read the chapter in Integral Psychology that deals with the mind-body problem, he put the book on his head and danced around the room in joy because this problem had finally been solved. Which it had. Did it get unsolved recently, I'm curious?

I invited Frank to be the Devil's Advocate of the European branch of the original I-I. Silencing in one stroke the idea that I hide from criticism, the DA position showed that not only do I address responsible criticism, I encourage it. All of I-I's 12 or 13 original branches had DA's, whose job was to viciously criticize any and all aspects of our operations. Of course, the criticism needed to be based on some sort of reality—the DA was not supposed to yell “fire” if there was no real or credible fire.

But Frank's website has an ungodly mixture of some real fires and ten times that amount of fraudulent fires, fake fires, and idiot fires—and Frank can't seem to tell the difference. But he claims that if you don't address fake fires, you are avoiding fire entirely because you are afraid to confront fire. This is lunatic.

The fact is, Frank feels left out. He feels abandoned by me and by the integral folks over here, and he is lashing out, using some real and wonderful fire (e.g., Edwards) and tons of first-tier and/or fake fire (e.g., Meyerhoff). Frank is mad that we didn't include him more in Integral University as it developed. When he was over here for a meeting of Integral Institute, most people found him combative and difficult and unyielding; I'm afraid I had to agree with them. Frank saw this as real fire; we saw it as fake fire and Frank's shadow fire. But in any event, it is true that Frank got slowly left out of I-I, and for this, he lashes back.

Well, so be it, and for that I truly am sorry. I wish it had worked out differently, and it still might. And I still think Frank's site serves a very important function, because for every perv that posts there—and dominates the site—there are occasional real jewels. For all of that, it is a wonderful site.

But please, I am not going to keep responding to the lunatics, nuts, fakes, and frauds—and those whose idea of scholarship means to read the classic comic-book version twice. Wyatt has got more important things to do than dig bullets out of his ass from numb-nut young Turks and no-nut old Turks, many of whom have studied his work for up to 3 full hours. I mean, pluuuuuu-eeeeeeease……………….

Many people know that Frank is a dedicated Theosophist. He wrote a fine overview of levels of being and knowing across traditions—an excellent summary of the metaphysical view of reality, to which he subscribes, we think. He has been a great fan of my work up through phase-4 but not phase-5, or the post-metaphysical re-interpretation of the great wisdom traditions, which in one sense threatens the great traditions, which Frank resents, but in a deeper sense actually saves them. Integral Post-Metaphysics is the only way to salvage the wisdom traditions in the face of both modern and postmodern claims. Even the folks who scream about developmental studies being kaput are only attacking wilber-4, not wilber-5 (as we saw), because the latter incorporates many of the postmodern truths, which confuses these critics no end (but then, so does warm butter, but this is not my fault).

So Frank says that he agrees with many of the recent criticisms of my work; but surely he knows that that criticism applies even more to theosophy and its levels. As I said, the recent attacks are on wilber-4, not wilber-5, and if wilber-4 goes down, so do the metaphysical traditions pretty much in their entirety.

So, what is it, Frank, no longer ye ole Theosophist? What do you believe in, then? Sliding chains of signifiers? Way cool, dude. How do you meditate using those? “Signify, signify, signify, we must, we must, we simply must signify…” Just curious how that works…. Probably don't use “simply,” right?

In other words, I find all of this disingenuous, all the way down. The whole kit and caboodle of recent criticism just reeks of Nietzschean resentiment—in plain English, resentment, deep and long and ugly resentment. It wears thin, these things of so little substance, hurled with such force, driven with such envy, spiked with such anger, seasoned with such bitterness, laced with such self-aggrandizement, and drunk so slowly and lingeringly, this draught of deep resentiment.

It is certainly a draught that flows freely at the site of Integral World, named when I pleaded to change it from “The World of Ken Wilber,” which it ceased being as soon as it was put up, and became instead “The World of Alternatives to Ken Wilber,” which is precisely its value. As I said, it contains some real fire—amidst the flames of the many fires of resentiment. A world of bubbling and boiling resentment, sealed in a website, delivered to your door, all in a neat bundle.

Well, enough. Wyatt has got to go back to work now, back to the real world of real problems, problems that beg for integral care and consciousness. And thus…. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot to include a violent metaphor. Let me think. Let me think really hard. Okay, Wyatt has got to go back to work now, protecting the true and the good and the beautiful, while slaying partial-ass pervs, ripping their eyes out and pissing in their eye-sockets, using his Zen sword of prajna to cut off the heads of critics so staggeringly little that he has to slow down about 10-fold just to see them.... and then rip their eyes out and piss in their eye-sockets, and slay the….

(Well, you get the point. I will lay you 20-to-1 odds that at least some of this stuff will actually be used in a studious analysis of my poor ole psyche. I can see it now: “Oh, the arrogance! The arrogance! The unbelievable arrogance! Although, perhaps I should mention that I am at the center of the vanguard of the greatest social transformation in the history of humankind. Well, anyway, Oh, the arrogance! The anger! The sense of humor that I completely lack! The….” Well, you'll see when they start hitting the websites. And of course I realize that this essay will give these dear souls something to rage about for months, in what one smart observer called “rants and uber-mega-projections.” I'm not sure which will get the most outrage, the “suck my dick” thing or the “pissing in the eye-sockets” thing (which, I confess, I got from the movie “So I Married an Axe-Murderer”—highly recommended; it's the Alcatraz-tour scene). But that's cool: rant and rage, get it out there, get it over with, let everybody see your perspective. I fully understand that the responses will generally polarize into those who find this post really fun and those who find it really repulsive—or cultic, or isolated, or insular, or repugnant, or sick, etc. Green, natch, will all respond in the latter fashion; I'm not saying that anybody who responds in the latter fashion is green, just that anybody who is green will respond in the latter fashion; use it as self-test, if you like. But one thing is for sure: the blogosphere is damn smart. People will make up their own minds. I just wanted them—wanted us—wanted you—to have some other facts and perspectives to take into account when making up your mind… which I hope will be to include both sides, all sides, in a larger picture. I already have moved to do so in my own mind, and I hope that you will too, because there is room for all in Big Mind, in a third-tier stance as big as the Kosmos. Things float by as clouds in the sky, with effortless ease in the all-inclusive Presence that is witnessing this screen, and this room, and this world, arise in luminous clarity and radiant splendor… and that is why it all rolls off the back so easily, when all is said and done, for all are textures of your very own Self, alone in the Alone….)

So slurpee in hand, Wyatt Earpy rides on, undaunted and unfazed, although slowly putting on lead weight, but otherwise transcending and including more outlaws than any lawman dude type person in history. And when he dies, his posse will stand on the shoulders of his smiling corpse and carry on, transcending-and-including old Wyatt himself, in their own search for even more truth and goodness and beauty than even Wyatt could see, and they will succeed spectacularly, and thus it goes never-endingly….

And so goes the urban legend of you know who, riding off into the sunset of integral peace and harmony, in a relationship with his horse that is slightly questionable, but otherwise, he seems a pretty fine chap….

Ta-da. kw

The Wyatt Posts:

  1. What We Are, That We See. Part I: Response to Some Recent Criticism in a Wild West Fashion
  2. What We Are, That We See. Part II: What is the Real Meaning of This?
  3. Take the Visser Site as Alternatives to KW, But Never as the Views of KW

Follow-Up Posts:

  1. The Unbearable Lightness of Wyatt Earpy. Follow-Up #1.
  2. On the Nature of Shadow Projections in Forums. Follow-Up #2.
  3. What Would Wyatt Do? Follow-Up #3.

The Shadow Series:

  1. The Shadow Series. Part 1: How to Spot the Shadow.
  2. The Shadow Series. Part 2: Integrating the Shadow.
  3. The Shadow Series. Part 3: A Working Synthesis of Transactional Analysis and Gestalt Therapy.

Check out: The Wild West Wilber Report: Looking back on the Wyatt Earp Episode

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