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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Marty Keller is a native of the Detroit area. Graduated from the University of Michigan in 1973 where along with everybody else he fell in love with socialism, and has had at least ten different careers and political journeys since then. Came to California in 1983 and completed Masters Degree in Consciousness Studies at JFK University in 2004. He has always had a compelling interest in our political system, with a special devotion to the example of Abraham Lincoln as the quintessential American statesman. Recently completed 12 years of state government service, and 14 years in the Unity movement; now works to support disabled veteran business owners. He started writing commentary on Wilberian ideas with the WilberBlog in Jordan Gruber's now-defunct enlightenment.com web site; has been posting desultorily on AQALBlog for the past eight years. Regularly unwelcome at Boulder-centric events.
I offer for consideration that an acid test for demonstrating our integral awareness is the capacity to account for the Donald Trump phenomenon.
Ever since Ken Wilber inaugurated the Integral Institute to establish a formal platform for launching integral inquiries among both academic disciplines and entrepreneurial and business ventures, the rigor of his earlier work has dissipated and the value of the Integral Model has been watered down by many of his students and critics.
We find a similar phenomenon among those attracted to the Beck & Cowan interpretation of Clare Graves’ work—although this could be a result of the fact that Graves did not elaborate upon or further develop his research as extensively as Wilber could.
In particular, we have slammed hard up against the barrier separating first and second tier, and failing to make the Momentous Leap™ in any noticeable numbers, have collapsed back into the higher stages of First Tier [see Table 1 below for an explanation of this tier-terminology].
This is in large part because the Integral Model, by the very terms enunciated by Wilber in Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and the unpublished follow-up insights in the so-called Kosmic Karma series found on his web site, cannot be fully internalized as a purely conceptual construct. It cannot be merely thought of; it is not ultimately an object of study, particularly in the modern sense. But because Wilber necessarily had to present it in prosaic terms, missing this critical perception is probably unavoidable.
Wilber’s Integral Model is a framework for understanding our experience as humans in the unending unfolding of dimensional reality out of the supranaturnal, metaphysical Void which, as Wilber puts it in No Boundary, always already is. It is the attempt to apprehend via a specific injunction that which is dynamic and ever-changing. Thus it is not an academic endeavor but rather a faith walk seeking to embrace and identify with (as), through the amazing range of diagnostics available to humans, the totality of the Kosmos. Thus applying methods of critical analysis of an academic inquiry alone will entirely miss the mark.
This faith walk may employ conceptual understanding as one of the many tools useful to the journey, but it cannot rely on it alone—even though the temptation to employ this single tool is unavoidable. But as Wilber demonstrated in the concluding chapter of The Eye of Spirit, most of us have to keep hammering away until we internalize the futility of the attempt, and give up. This could lead, as mystics in every tradition have averred, to a more immediate, direct knowing that bypasses the mental functions and reveals itself to our awareness intuitionally. This understanding enters through the Eye of Spirit, not the Eye of Mind.
Most of us attracted to the integral inquiry do not have sufficient practice at seeing the activities and limits of our minds, and thus dwell in First Tier orange/green awareness while thinking (!) that we have entirely transcended the great barrier because our cognitive capacities have done so. By downplaying or ignoring lines of development we taken a detour from discovering what the Model implies. Since each of the five dimensions [quadrants, levels/stages, states, lines, types] is essential to reaching the integral embrace, failure to incorporate any one of them automatically cancels the possibility of achieving it.
Wilber allows that one may be “integrally informed” without having transcended into Second Tier: I may be able to see the way things might work integrally, but my identity—the key indicator of center of gravity of consciousness—is still in First Tier. But since identity is the driver of our movement along the spectrum of consciousness, we may be able to see integrally or holistically while remaining firmly in orange or green [see Table 1 below for an explanation of this color-terminology].
One’s identity cannot make the Momentous Leap until one has done sufficient shadow work to uncover the hidden self-beliefs that permeate our individual (orange/green) identity and thereby inhibit a comprehensive assessment of our self-conception. We cannot transcend the individuated self-sense until we can see it as an object of our subjective awareness. And until we can uncover these subconscious self-beliefs, we have almost no capacity to heal the childhood traumas the sealed them into the darkness of unawareness where they reveal their power only through projection.
The capacity to uncover and heal these is the key to growing into full individualized autonomy, i.e., to fully inhabit orange/green, has been developed in only a rare number of people to date—Wilber’s rather enthusiastic 5% assertions notwithstanding. Review of the “integral” output by various people claiming to offer an integral perspective does nothing to nullify this observation. This is not a knock but merely an observation.
Once our center of gravity has transcended First Tier as a result of this work, we no longer identify as this particular body/mind; rather we identify as someone/thing much larger, e.g., as humanity as a whole. That does not mean we no longer see or experience our individuality, for it remains the vehicle by which the larger awareness acts. Remember: the evolutionary dynamic is transcend => include => integrate. We include awareness of the individual self-conception, but we no longer identify as this entity.
Now instead we lean into being one with the humanity of every individual we encounter, an embrace that includes awareness of and appreciation for the group dynamics we humans generate as part of our social nature. This apprehension of “being one” is not a conceptual construct but a felt sense in the now integrating body/mind/soul. It is a knowing that cannot be comprehended by the Eye of the Body or of the Mind. Yet, as Wilber points out so masterfully in The Marriage of Sense and Soul, it can be verified by the Eye of Spirit via the three elements of the scientific method manifesting in Second Tier perspectives.
Missing Integral Ingredients
What I observe in most writings and discussions from people claiming to have their center of gravity in “integral” awareness—something rarely defined, by the way, or at least not universally agreed upon—is how far from an actual integral (I am using “integral” as a marker for Second Tier, i.e., transpersonal, consciousness) perspective we usually are. (See “What Is Integral” for a more thorough examination of this question.)
What is missing almost universally is the awareness and acknowledgement of the individual self that is speaking, analyzing, opining. If I am not aware of the source of my own beliefs, judgements, and opinions, I cannot engage in an actual integral dialogue, for by leaving my own out I cannot incorporate all perspectives. That is because I do not see my perspective as one of many, and therefore I cannot locate it in the Integral Model. This is, of course, characteristic of First Tier stages of consciousness, the unexaminable assumption that mine is a perspective of absolute truth. None of these stages, even green, can distinguish and embrace the other stages as necessary and proper elements of the evolution of consciousness and of the Kosmos as it is.
The emergent discontinuity that launches us into Second Tier is the novel capacity to see our own individual awareness, our own system of beliefs and self-concepts that characterized us at the earlier orange and green stages which are now transcended and become objects of our new subjective awareness.
The hard truth is that, for the most part, those longing to understand ourselves as “integral” are in fact still mired in Boomeritis green. As Wilber so devastatingly points out in Trump and the Post-Truth World, the toxic postmodernist creed that perverted green just as it showed potential for becoming a mass emergent has aborted the greater possible expression of green that could have yielded yet a further discontinuity that would transcend and include orange. The Boomeritis variant of green, which neither transcends nor includes orange, is in fact a gussied-up version of amber hijacked by the postmodernists to serve their counterrevolution against modernity. Their deadly injection of nihilism and narcissism into the birthing of green has ensured that what could have been a powerful new wave of consciousness was strangled in its cradle, ensuring that green would not yet become the new leading edge of consciousness evolution.
Until those of us yearning for teal become aware of this dynamic, we will continue to inadvertently (to put it charitably) serve the counterrevolution and thereby, ironically, subvert the possibility of mass evolution of consciousness into Second Tier, which Wilber asserts is the best antidote to our current mess. And while this may be true, I am unconvinced as I argue extensively here. If postmodernism has thwarted green as the leading edge of evolution, that is in great part because orange has not yet become stable enough to serve as a platform for transcendence. The work is still the development of a healthy orange in individuals and the cultures that support us in significant enough numbers to support transcendence into green.
I offer for consideration that an acid test for demonstrating our integral awareness is the capacity to account for the Donald Trump phenomenon. When we dismiss or disparage the President and the political expression he represents, we fail to speak from an integral frame—simple as that. The Integral Model seeks to include all phenomena without judgement, something that simply cannot be accomplished from any First Tier stage. Thus people’s analysis of Trump is a great marker of their center of gravity. Wilber’s Trump and the Post-Truth World offers an example of an integral analysis of our time works.
This does not, obviously, require agreement with Mr. Trump or with the political currents that he is a manifestation of. But it does require a dispassionate awareness that accepts him as fully belonging to humanity’s working through our consciousness evolution. It does require us to seek to understand our own opinions about him and, if we are feeling gut-level revulsion, to discern whether and what degree of projection may be involved. Failure to do this is neither good nor bad, but it is evidence of whether we have actually made the Momentous Leap.
When we identify as humanity (teal and higher), then all currents and permutations that we seven billion generate moment to moment belong to the picture without judgement. All the good, all the bad, all the ugly simply are, and Second Tier perspectives take this as given, for they are generated by a higher and more comprehensive identity than found in First Tier.
The Problem of the Left
It seems, although I cannot prove this, that a significant number of individuals attracted to explicit notions of integral perspectives can be found on the political Left, among which I do not count myself. One giveaway is the persistent and unexamined reference to an integral “movement,” as if the evolution of consciousness were a mere political campaign. This may account, in part, for the determination of so many of us to see in this or that left-leaning politician the integral Mahdi, come to free us from our First Tier chains.
Another giveaway is the persistent unwillingness to address the excrescences of postmodernism, and to face the fact that its initial expressions devised by mostly leftwing academics in France were explicitly part of the counterrevolution against modernity birthed by the Bolsheviks and their fellow-travelers in Europe. Postmodernity is a political movement, part of a two-century old campaign to quash individuality and the polities (specifically the United States) that support and encourage the emergence and self-conscious social and political organization of sovereign, self-actualized individuals.
Even Ken Wilber, who bursts forth from time to time with fairly compelling and accurate denunciations of the mess bred by the postmodernists, fails to look clearly and dispassionately at the political agenda that drove invention and propagation of the madness in the first place. This permits him to adopt leftist shibboleths like their agenda on climate change, which in turn undermines the clarity of his analysis of and prescriptions for addressing the collapse of Boomeritis green as the pretender to be the “leading edge of consciousness evolution.”
Michael Walsh has authored two books that are essential to appreciating the evil mess that would eventually birth postmodernism concocted first by the likes of Antonio Gramsci and György Lukács, and shortly thereafter by Max Horkheimer, Felix Weil, Theodore Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and the others associated with “Critical Theory” invented at the Frankfurt School starting in the 1930s. First in The Devil’s Pleasure Palace (2015) and then in The Fiery Angel (2018), Walsh uses the lens of the great (and often obscure) works of Western art that so precisely reveal to us our actual human condition to examine the leftist assault on Western civilization and its generation of orange modern consciousness, culture, and social capital.
Walsh maintains that a central distinction of Western civilization from its siblings around the globe is its willingness to embrace rather than suppress the ambiguity of being human. The earliest amber cultures arising in the major cradles of civilization developed the rigid social and spiritual order of the tribal hierarchy to support their survival. But starting with the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, the School of Athens of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and the great tragedians of 5th century BC Greece, the seeds of what became modern orange consciousness were planted.
For the next several millennia, these seeds slowly generated a new perspective about humanity which not only embraced but sought to profit from the way humans uniquely included both devils and angels. This perspective, greatly nourished by the rise of Christianity, would clash with the amber notion of the depravity of our nature, which required that the gods and their human representatives on earth keep a firm grip on society, lest our depravity lead to our demise. Eventually as orange emerged, this peculiarly amber appreciation would evolve into an embrace of the utopian possibility, which would also require control by the gods and their appointees.
Other cultures, principally Oriental and Islamic, similarly presumed a rigid social and spiritual hierarchy comprising corrupt humans. These continue to this day to have their collective center of consciousness in the amber, mythic/membership stage.
From the works of the Greek philosophers, dramatists, and epic poets down to the art of great 20th century composers, painters, and poets, Walsh shows the consistent themes of what we eventually called humanism that underwrote the emergence of modernity in the sixteenth century. It was this civilization, and this one alone, that gave birth to orange, green, and the possibility of teal and the transpersonal.
And, tragically but lawfully, as soon as orange began to create social, political, and economic institutions to encourage this trend toward individual dignity transcending tribalism, amber began its great and ongoing counterrevolution, starting explicitly in the French Revolution and continuing to this day in postmodern leftist parties and platforms. It was no accident that utopian currents in the West have naively allied with the West’s long-term Islamic adversary. Islamic, and particularly Arab, culture has resistance to modernity built into its faith tradition, which demands that the ummah follow the prescriptions of the Quran in order to remain in the good graces of Allah. And so the postmoderns of the dar al-Harb subconsciously find fellow travelers in the dar al-Islam. (For a more detailed analysis of Islam’s imperviousness to modernity, see my essay “Comments on Steve McIntosh's Paper on Modernizing Islam.”)
(Many integral writers, Wilber included, fail miserably to comprehend conservative and right-wing currents in the U. S., often conflating them with those similarly labeled in Europe. Although outside the scope of this essay, it is important to point out that they confuse conservative-leaning orange with amber. Conservatives in the U. S. are simply not royalists or aristocrats yearning for some American version of a Bourbon or Stuart restoration; they are rule-of-law individualist supportive of what they view as the original faith of the Founders.)
Walsh lays out the evidence and states not only his vigorous defense of Western civilization, but also the somber warning that the counterrevolution could prevail, and that amber could indeed subdue orange. This would, in his view, lead to a clash between Islamic forces and the Boomeritis utopians in the West which the West would now be unprepared to win. Some, like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently did, understanding history much better than most of us in the West, speak of a new “war between the cross and the crescent.” Unlike the Western utopians, they understand that the long-simmering clash of civilizations between Christian Europe and Muslim Asia and Africa, as old as the Crusades, is still as spirited today as it was when Pope Urban II organized the First Crusade in 1095.
The postmodern Left, willfully ignorant of historical reality—amber is unaware of the four quadrants—thus casually consigns Islam and its adherents to the invented political category of “the oppressed,” thereby inadvertently becoming allies of a political and cultural expression otherwise dedicated to wiping out the values that the Left ostensibly champions. A return to a pre-Westphalian imperial order would be slow-motion suicide which, as Wilber points out in Trump, is what we are left with when nihilism and narcissism unite.
Those in the integral inquiry should be able to see this, and, if we disagree with Walsh’s argument, should be able to develop an integral response that honors the hypothesis and refutes it from an integral, aka more inclusive, perspective.
Repeat after Me: Healthy Orange is Key
Ain’t gonna happen, at least until such time as orange becomes stabilized enough to permit mass transcendence.
We can await such responses but I wouldn’t hold my breath. As I note above, levels or stages of consciousness are organized around identity: who am I? The answer to that question yields the world that each particular identity sees; these are the stages, and they are distinct because the identity claimed in each stage is distinct.
As Jesus observes in Matthew 7:16, “you shall know them by their fruits.” Here he is speaking of “false prophets,” who “come to [us] in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” So too with the stages of consciousness: we can know them by the world they see and proclaim.
First Tier identity moves from its earliest stages into tribal (“I am my tribe”) and then into individual (“I am this particular bodymind”). Second tier is called transpersonal because here identity transcends “this particular bodymind” and expresses in and as a universal (“I am humanity”). Almost none of us has adopted this transpersonal identity, and thus almost none of us has a truly integral center of gravity.
But the possibility of such an emergence was created only in the West, and nowhere else on the planet. Not only in our willingness to embrace the ambiguous nature of humanity with our propensity to crawl in the dirt with the worms and soar into the heavens with the angels, but in our liberation of the individual to act freely across these possibilities in defiance of the tribal order.
In The Fiery Angel, Walsh offers this concluding observation regarding this state of affairs:
The history of our art reveals, and constantly revisits, the norms of Western culture. But no matter how “transgressive” we might wish to be, the fundamental things apply: the relationship of mankind to God; the physical and spiritual bond between men and women, and its absolute primacy in the world of human creation; and the need for heroes. Iconoclasm comes and goes, often literally, but it must be seen as an aberration, the yeast in the ferment of history, if we are to have faith in our culture, our civilization, and our future; it cannot be the norm. Likewise with revolutionaries, manqué and otherwise. We must learn to distinguish between those who are the fulfillment of Western foundational principles, such as the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, whose revolution was against their own, and our, imperfection; and those whose transient “truths” have ended up, like Marx himself, on the ash heap of history, no matter how many icons they smash along the way to the boneyard.
History, therefore, is neither an arc nor a plot. Neither “his story” nor “her story.” It is our story.
He then presents the declamation of the Women of Athens in the concluding scene of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, where “the trilogy ends on a pre-Christian note of forgiveness, of a world restored, with the transformation of the Furies into the Eumenides.”
All the tropes of Western civilization are there, present at its creation. In 458 BC: the childless children of the night (what music they make), the bravery in the face of dread and danger, the healing power of justice and forgiveness, and, above all, the light of the sacred flame, borne by the eternal feminine, to illuminate the conflict between reason and unreason that is Man’s endless and unwavering lot—to provide for us a beacon, and inspiration, and a goal.
In Trump and the Post-Truth World, Wilber seeks to remedy the miserable collapse of postmodernist Boomeritis green as the “leading edge” of consciousness evolution by a feckless exhortation to a mass emergence of teal. This, alas, is edging close to utopian thinking.
How many times can I say it? Ain’t gonna happen, at least until such time as orange becomes stabilized enough to permit mass transcendence.
The authentic healthy self-actualized individual is the fulcrum of evolution. Only an integrated and autonomous individual self can be transcended; only an integrated and autonomous individual self can be ally with others to develop authentic self-government to liberate the soul. A mere 20% of us live in cultures more or less centered in orange, and most of those have both premodern and postmodernist termites gnawing away at their foundations. Until orange wakes up and reclaims its heritage and drive, the collapse that Wilber addresses may just be permanent. Amber will reassume its earlier prominence, and with that will come the horrible collapse of standards of living, life expectancy, male and female equality, health, and all the other gifts of modernity.
It is problematic that the current state of integral dialogue does not recognize that, for the most part, we remain in First Tier. The lack of genuine integral analysis, along with the tendency of too many in the integral inquiry to fail to recognize the truly toxic effects of postmodernism, results in many integralites inadvertently participating in postmodernism's war on orange and thus on transcendence. Surely we seek the integral to follow the better angels of our nature by working toward, rather than against, the Momentous Leap. This means promoting healthy orange within ourselves and our societies, fending off all its enemies for the sake of ever greater depth.
Michael Walsh gets the last word:
That this [the Oresteia] comes at the very beginning of Western civilization, not its end, ought to tell us something. The battle fair for Pallas’ town continues. We have our guides, if only we will heed them.