Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Ray HarrisRay Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Since 2007 he took to writing his novels Navaratri, Wild Child and Eden. See for more information his website Harris lives in Melbourne, Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected].


What I Really
Meant to Say Was….

Some critical observations
about Ken's recent suggestions

There was certainly a tone of frustration in Ken's recent post. I can only speak for myself so I can assure Ken the frustration is mutual.

I guess I'm disappointed on two personal fronts.

The first is that in stating that Frank's site is the source “…of the greatest concentration of distortions of my work that I am aware of…” Ken seems to condemn the good work Frank has done to advance integral studies. Frank's site is often the main gateway to Ken's work for many people. The provision of ten language sections makes Ken's work accessible to many people outside the English speaking world. A service that is not offered at Shambhala or the Integral Institute's various sites. Ken might have acknowledged the positive contribution Frank has made.

The second is that Ken adds my name to his list, thus 'tarring' me with the same brush. I will address this issue later.

The public domain

In its reaction against religious dogma the modernist revolution made a public virtue of free and fair speech. The modernist revolution helped define the standards of open intellectual discourse. Along with these standards came related rights and responsibilities that applied to 'all' parties. Ken is absolutely right to expect that people quote him correctly and make ethical use of his work. Ken also has the responsibility to do the same with other people's work. One cannot apply certain standards to oneself and then apply different standards to others.

When Ken published his books he put his ideas in the public domain. Sure, the ownership of those ideas are protected by copyright. However, the idea of free speech gave rise to two related concepts and institutions: exceptions to the copyright laws that allow fair quoting for purposes of study and debate and the public lending library, where anyone can access information. Frank's site adheres to this principle and is somewhat like a public library. Why is this important? I'll return to it later.

The problem with Ken is that he tends to play with the conventions of public debate. He has used fiction and journaling to express his ideas and he has published serious 'academic' works as well as populist digests (A Brief History). I have no problem with that. I'm all for creativity. But despite this Ken still has a responsibility to properly present his ideas for open debate.

The frustrating thing for anyone wishing to engage him in critical debate is that he tends to make up the rules as he goes along. For example he has been criticized for his use of notes. I don't know about others but I always thought one should apply the standards written out in the various 'style guides'. I thought notes were designed to convey secondary material and that the substantive argument was to be presented in the body of the text. Yet Ken has sometimes complained that people failed to read the notes where he reveals what he really means.

Ken took his use of notes to another level with 'Boomeritis'. I ran foul of this one. It turns out that the notes are published on the internet, but get this, the book doesn't tell you this, or give you the email address. Occult notes – a new device in serious publishing – sheesh.

Now Ken has pulled another rabbit out of the hat – once you've mastered the notes that contain substantive points and the occult notes that exist on a website (bad luck to those who do not own a computer) – to fully understand Ken you must now be in dialogue with him. Interesting.

Of course I can hear the wails of complaint from those who feel Ken misrepresented their work in SES, TOE or Boomeritis. Was Ken in dialogue with them before he used their work? Of course not – double standards – you bet.

You can imagine my amusement over Ken's use of the example of dialoguing. It was a quote from a private conversation. This was not (it is now) publicly available. This is taking occultism to a new level. What Ken really means is now hidden away in private conversations – sheesh, gimme a break!

The requirement that people be in dialogue places an unreasonable burden on public debate. I would argue that it is Ken's responsibility to publish his work in a way that promotes free and fair debate. In other words, his 'substantive' argument should be accessible by being openly published and unambiguous.

The interesting thing about this dialogue demand is, what happens when Ken takes mahasamadhi and is no longer around to dialogue?

Double burden

Ken really had me scratching my head on the double burden argument. I mean, I'm no expert on logic but I thought the thing that mattered was the individual proposition, not whether it was put into one or two sentences. Or did Ken mean to say syllogism? If A believes X and B believes Y then X = Y, true or false?

Ken has a point only if he can show that his critics conflate his views with their own. Otherwise X and Y remain separate propositions.

Come on Ken, don't insult the intelligence of your readers. You see, the double burden must apply to your work as well. If you make a false proposition about someone else's work, say in SES, does that make the whole book false and “virtually worthless”? Clearly not.

The real problem is whether or not Ken's critics have quoted him correctly and/or have excluded substantive material. Mark Edwards can defend himself but from what I've read he usually goes to some length to provide several quotes. Are these selective quotes? In which case Ken should simply provide Mark with the material he missed.

But here we return to the difficulty of Ken defending himself with occult points of clarification – points made privately to a select few. It's hardly sportsman-like old chap! Ummm, X is completely wrong about me because I clarified my position when I was dialoguing with my friend over a glass of wine in my kitchen!

The tyranny of distance

Ken has raised this point and it's a good point. In my case I live in Australia and to be in dialogue with Ken has definite limits. I have met Ken (and others – some of my recent material is informed by, you guessed it, dialoguing). I made the journey and he was a delightful and generous host. But there has to be a way around this problem because the integral community is international now. It gives a natural advantage to people who can get to Ken, heck, it even disadvantages people who live on the East Coast of the US.

The other problem is time. I actually think it is perfectly legitimate for Ken to be selective about responding. He can't be all things to all people – there ain't enough time in the day. I personally don't expect him to answer me directly – I know he has considerable demands on his attention.

I just wished he'd used this particular opportunity more constructively.

Who the hell am I?

Ken makes some general comments about the double burden, dialoguing, misrepresentation – and then casually throws in my name as if I'm part of the same general problem. It puts me in the same category as 'people who outrageously distort my position'.

Ahem, I'm afraid I kinda, well you know, sorta, respectfully disagree.

For a start most of my writing on Frank's site is quite clearly my own opinion and is not a criticism of Ken's work. No double burden there.

But the interesting thing about those articles which do contain criticisms of Ken is that he has never, ever, not once, said that I have misrepresented him. Well, except once, privately, by email (unless my memory is faulty, which is possible). That particular instance was in fact a dialogue between myself, Ken and Don Beck over my 'Rescuing the Green Meme from Boomeritis' article. This is where I found out about the notes to Boomeritis on the Shambhala website. Now Ken may feel that I have misrepresented him horribly, the trouble is he hasn't shared that with me. I haven't been able to apologize, or correct, or justify, or defend, or squirm out of it, because I haven't been informed.

I reckon it's a bit unfair to be put into this reply of Ken's, as if I'm someone who has distorted his writing, without it ever being shown that I have. Have I?

This is the interesting thing about dialogue – it's two-way. You tell me if I've misunderstood you and I tell you if you've misunderstood me, perhaps we've mutually misunderstood each others misunderstandings. Perhaps I didn't understand that what I said was contradictory and perhaps you didn't understand that what you said was contradictory. So Ken, how can you include me as someone who has misunderstood you without dialoguing with me about it? Perhaps it's not that I have misunderstood you but that I simply disagree with you on some points, for example, Blair isn't integral he's just a centrist with a good PR machine. Maybe you've just made a bad call on this, and on other issues?

Ken, if you want to be treated fairly you must treat others fairly. And if I have treated you unfairly I'd like to know. At least then I can defend myself or crawl into a hole….otherwise don't imply that I have.

You see, here's the thing. I've only been getting positive feedback. The only person to take issue with me has been Don Beck (I'm green btw, rofl) and you were privy to that exchange. No-one has jumped in to say 'you asshole, you've misrepresented Ken'. So maybe I'm under the delusion that what I've been saying strikes a chord and is appreciated. Maybe more people agree with me than you realize.

The Integral University

I'm actually no stranger to the IU. I might not have dialogued directly with Ken about it but I have dialogued with the folks at Foresight here in Melbourne, the 'futures' faculty, and I have dialogued with Greg Wilpert of the 'politics' faculty. I'm not saying they agree with everything I have said but many of the issues have been discussed and noted. I'm not exactly on the periphery.

But what I want to say goes back to the idea of free speech and the idea of the public library – it's an important idea. The idea was to make knowledge available to those that could not afford to buy books or pay for university degrees, some great people have been self taught, Ken included. I'm guessing however, that if I want to cast my critical eye over the syllabus of the IU then I'll have to pay for the privilege? I hope that the IU casts its net wide and does not become yet another ivory tower. I hope the IU adheres to the well established rules of open inquiry. And I especially hope that the IU doesn't go down the road of conflating the institutional demands of running a liberal academy with running a business, a conflation that is eroding the academic standards of universities around the world.

The advantage of Frank's site is that it is free. And according to the positive feedback I've been getting my message has been getting through to precisely the people I want it to get through to.

You see, many of my posts are actually directed to the 'Integral community' in general. They are critiques of Ken for the consideration of the community. They raise questions and problems designed to get people to look at the issues at a deeper level. If you remember Ken, you once said you provided orienting generalizations – and that others needed to fill out the detail. This is the motivation behind my posts.

And Frank's site offers me the only opportunity to do so.

If integral theory doesn't deal with the questions and problems now then it will have to deal with them later, if not from me, then from others, if Ken doesn't respond, then others will. They are questions on notice.

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