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

Source: Dashh: A Day In The Integral Life , June 8th, 2007.
Reposted with permission.

Winning the
Integral Game?

A Response to Scott Parker

Shawn Heath

The irony is that Wilber’s own description of stage growth seems to apply with some people’s experience with Wilber and his work.

I just read an excellent essay called Winning the Integral Game? by Scott Parker over at Integral World. After reading it this morning, I felt Scott was writing my exact experience with the work and world of Ken Wilber. What Scott describes as the transition from Wilber “fan” to Wilber “critic” is very similar to my own experience and description of the stages of Wilberism . And I have a feeling that we are not alone, as many have either moved to a more critical post-Wilber integral while others have just dug their heels in and take their stand as fanatics. This dichotomy of “fans” and “critics” as Parker describes it is very real in Integral and and a very interesting phenomenon to observe and experience. The key point for me is that you can be not just a fan or critic but a student-critic if one desires. The road to the post-fan, student-critic stance in regards to Wilber's work is becoming expressed more and more often these days.

There are many great points in this essay so I wanted to point out a few that really struck home for me.

Yet these are precisely the kinds of rhetorical games employed by and about Wilber. His defenders inevitably refer to themselves as “fans,” as if they are rooting for the home team in a crucial game against their cross-town rivals. Those rivals, of course, being the “critics.” With the sides exclusively drawn, the Integral conversation shifts from a dialogue, where we can engage and learn from one another, to a debate, where we can have only one winner.

I would say that debate is not even applicable since Wilber’s technique is to play more or less the Integral authority figure that sets the playing field for what is and is not integral (or capital “I” Integral for Wilber’s version of integral). I’d love to see Wilber actually debate with other philosophers of mind to see what could come of such a dialogue in terms of integral philosophy. I’d like to see him engage with John Searle, Owen Flanagan, Daniel Dennett , etc. instead of just dismissing them as reductionists (see this post). Instead, we get IN clips of giddy conference attendees who can talk the integral talk and want to get the Integral word from the authority on all things integral. They usually consist of a question and then a monologue of Wilber giving his position - the Integral position on the subject. (I was once a giddy fan of Wilber myself and when I took the first Integral theory course I was very excited to be able to actually ask Wilber a question on a conference call. Being drunk with integral, as Matt Dallman puts it, is a very powerful thing.)

Over the last several years, Wilber and his fans have become so fluent in the language of Integral, Integral-this and Integral-that, that they have effectively created an in-group/out-group scenario reminiscent of the blue meme's good and evil, that they are so (rightly) critical of. You're either for Integral or against it. (And if you have a different definition of Integral, it's wrong.)

This is very true. I would add that Wilber often notes that his version/model/theory of integral (Integral) is only one of many, but usually qualifies that by saying that he feels his is most comprehensive out there. What has happened over the years is that Wilber has created a brand with his version and that brand represents a very specific model called AQAL. If you do not include all the elements of AQAL then you are not Integral per se. You are integrally informed perhaps but not Integral. Then, if you do include all elements and meet Wilber’s “AQAL kosher”, as it once was put at IU, litmus test then you may get AQAL certified. Then you have levels of AQALness as well. This marketing/branding turn for Wilber is something that many, including myself, seem to care for less and less.

A more likely rebound for Integral will take place by the work of others, taking what of intellectual value can be found in Wilber's writing and removing it from the tragic context of the Integral movement. Integral-with-a-hyphen must be rebranded or debranded, losing the gimmicky marketing ploys altogether.

This is where I am at personally. There are some great ideas in Wilber’s work and I am at the place of trying to tease out those ideas and compare, contrast and synthesize them with other philosophers. Integral Review is an alternative to Wilber’s Integral worth checking out.

The process of developing that doubt was slow for me, much slower than my acceptance of Wilber had been previously. As these doubts first began to develop in me, I had a hard time admitting to myself that I was having them, so sincere was my devotion. With time, as the intellectual counter-arguments mounted, I had to face my psychological resistance to change. If I rejected (or at least took a step away from) Wilber, I would be left without the comprehensive view that had been such a comfort to me. I'd have to rethink everything I had come to know, redefine my place in the world. It was intimidating to relinquish that certainty, that confidence. Still, my doubts proliferated and were accelerated by criticisms I began to read and agree with, particularly those that brought Wilber's scholarship under heavy (and unanswered) question. It began to look to me like Wilber was cherry-picking his sources to support a particular story he wanted to tell, not using the method of orienting generalizations as democratically as he professed.

All I can say is that I could have written the jest of this paragraph myself as it mirrors my own experience so well. The irony is that Wilber’s own description of stage growth seems to apply with some people’s experience with Wilber and his work. You have the introduction/reading of Wilber, identification/embeddedness with Wilber and then dis-identification/ transcendence of Wilber and his work. Interesting. So if that holds true we may see more people moving into the “critic” stage, even though that stage is really more of a “student-critic” position for some.

For whatever reason, I needed a comprehensive view of the world, which Wilber offers, and rightly points out is a comfort to postmodern fragmentation. But comfort is a psychological issue, not a philosophical one. Whether we accept or reject postmodernism or metaphysics, what Wilber provides is a description of reality. The comfort to be gained if Wilber's version is accurate does not outweigh the burden on him (or someone else) to prove that it is.

As I’ve detached myself somewhat from Wilber’s work and began to read more about naturalism, I felt the comfort begin to be challenged. It is always good to challenge and reflect on anything you think describes everything – theories included. Not that I’ve totally changed my model of reality. I feel that my desire for a comprehensive approach has been there for a long time and will continue to guide my experiences. Wilber’s work for me has been a great way to illustrate that approach and inform me that there are others who feel a similar approach to the world is possible.

What interests me, personally—and this is the Meyerhoffian turn—is what were the psychological reasons that I was so strongly drawn to Wilber's work and is my present skepticism of Wilber due strictly to shortcomings in his work or also to a deeper skepticism of comprehensive worldviews in general, discomforting as it may be to wonder? I ask (though I don't answer) these questions publicly, because I suspect that what drew me to Wilber is what draws most people and what turned me away is what is turning many away today.

I have thought about this often myself. Why was I so drawn to Wilber and his work? I think there are many reasons, several of which I am sure that I am not even aware of. I think there is certainly a very similar phenomenon/pattern that is associated with “fans” of Wilber as well as those that become “critics.” For me, the dynamics of that process are both fascinating and a little scary to reflect on personally.

Speaking for myself, I don't know what Integral philosophy is, let alone where it stands, apart from Wilber's shadow. I don't think it is a question that has been adequately answered yet.

I’m with Scott on this one. Some days I wonder why I even call my blog A Day in the Integral Life because I am uncertain at times what integral is anymore.

Dialogue is what separates philosophy from dogma.