TRANSLATE THIS ARTICLE
Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
The Missing Nuance
The Integral Myth: Ken Wilber as Religious Preacher
A Four-Part Critique, Part Four
It is, in sum, Ken Wilber's creation story and it is essentially a religious myth he is peddling, even if he continually preaches otherwise.
Although Ken Wilber has been described variously as a Pandit, a Scholar, a New Age Philosopher, and a Synthesizer, I find that he is mostly a preacher for his own self-styled religion, Integralism. Now, to be sure, Wilber doesn't view his vast theorizing as advertising a new cult. Rather, he sees himself advocating an all-inclusive, all quadrants, all levels meta view of human development [AQAL]. Yet, percolating underneath his entire superstructure is a deeply held theological doctrine that evolution is driven by a divine purpose, what he has variously called Eros. Even though he has been severely criticized on several fronts (most astutely by Frank Visser) over his misunderstanding of biological evolution, Wilber persists in pushing his own version of intelligent design, dressed up in quasi-scientific garb.
It is, in sum, Ken Wilber's creation story and it is essentially a religious myth he is peddling, even if he continually preaches otherwise. A good illustration of Wilber's underlying apologue can be found in his numerous references to evolution and its purported foresight that are sprinkled through his new e-book on Trump.
Must it be stated so simply? Evolution is not a force like gravity, but rather an after-the-fact description of how and why certain organisms survive and others do not. Make no mistake, Darwin's natural selection isn't akin to electromagnetism or the strong or weak nuclear force. Natural selection is merely a descriptive term—and not an altogether accurate one—in which to explain how differential reproductive successes over time can help shape and contour organisms to a variety of environmental niches. But there isn't a conscious entity choosing and eliminating in light of some overall master plan. No, evolution, natural selection, genetic drift, genetic flow, etc., are humanly manufactured words to describe a blind and impersonal process that occurs without any end goal in mind.
Ken Wilber writes repeatedly as if evolution is a power in itself, continually conflating a descriptive marker with a prescriptive one. Wilber might as well say that Gravity (with a capital “G”) is consciously intending to create black holes, supernovas, and expanding galaxies. Wilber's constant references to evolution planning to do something or acting as some self-reflective correcting mechanism is a not so sophisticated form of animism, where one imputes “souls” and “personalities” to trees, to rocks, to mountains . . . or, in his case, “Eros driven evolution.”
Yes, Wilber may wish to believe such, but this is to completely misunderstand evolutionary biology and to replace it with his peculiar version of intelligent design. In other words, Wilber is providing us with his own Integral creation myth and preaching as if it is somehow a progressive scientific view when, in fact, it is nothing more than New Age theology.
Wilber is an AQAL preacher par excellence, despite his protestations that he is a “leading edge” theoretician on the very frontiers of science. What he does, instead, is cut off real science and replace it with his own “ism” so as to convince us that evolution has a goal. Yet, just as gravity doesn't have a “goal” or a clear mind about what should happen, so it is the same with the development of life on this planet. Wilber's animism is misplaced when it comes to natural selection and because he has built his entire Integral edifice upon such a mistaken understanding, his meta-theory has one very large, gaping hole in it.
Wilber repeatedly invokes evolution in a purely teleological sense, and lambasts current evolutionary theory for “deny[ing] any sort of directedness or telic drives to evolution, seeing all of it as a random series of events selected by a blind natural selection” which he claims without evidence is a 19th century materialistic holdover.
Not surprisingly, Wilber neglects to explain why the vast majority of working biologists don't subscribe to his theopneustic version of creationism, since that would necessitate actually engaging in a real scientific debate about neo-Darwinism.
It is interesting to see how many times Wilber uses the word “evolution” in his e-book (over 80 distinct mentions) and how almost invariably it implies a divine intelligence. Perhaps Wilber would be better off if he stopped using the word evolution when he really means to suggest “divine impulse.”
In any case, almost every time Wilber invokes the word “evolution” it is distinctly different than what biologists working in the field mean by it. Keep in mind that Wilber's dogmatic assertions concerning evolution's directional aim, is quite at odds with how most scientists view it.
I have listed 25 major examples in chronological order from Wilber's e-book to illustrate how he uses the term and what he is really implying by such:
1. Every now and then, evolution itself has to adjust course, in light of new information on how its path is unfolding, and it starts (apparently spontaneously but with this deeper morphic field actually operating) by making various moves that are, in effect, self-correcting evolutionary realignments.
2. The primary purpose of the leading-edge of evolution is to be just that: a LEADING edge of evolutionary unfolding, what Maslow called a “growing tip”—it seeks out (that is, part of its selection context rewards the discovery of) areas that are the most appropriate, most complex, most inclusive, and most conscious forms that are possible at that particular time and point of evolution (in Integral terms, the form that best fits the ongoing unfolding of the AQAL matrix in all its elements).
3. And when aperspectival madness infects the leading-edge of evolution, evolution's capacity for self direction and self-organization collapses.
4. Nihilism and narcissism brings evolution to a traffic-jam halt. This is a self-regulating and necessary move, as the evolutionary current itself steps back, reassess, and reconfigures, a move that often includes various degrees of temporary regression, or retracing its footsteps to find the point of beginning collapse and then reconfigure from there.
5. If nonliving matter inherently possesses this drive to self-organization and order out of chaos, living systems certainly do—and that definitely includes evolution—a drive that philosophers often call “Eros,” an inherent dynamic toward greater and greater wholeness, unity, complexity, and consciousness.
6. And under such circumstances, evolution finds it's necessary to take certain self-correcting moves. These moves will not obviously appear as necessary correctives—they might indeed appear alarming. But the only thing more alarming would be for evolution to try and move forward on the basis of an already badly broken leading-edge.
7. The disasters would simply increase. Green, as a leading-edge, had collapsed; and evolution itself had no choice but to take up a broadly “anti-green” atmosphere as it tried to self-correct the damage.
8. And that is the one thing they all have in common, whether they are red, amber, or orange—they are all energized in part by this anti-green self-correcting drive of evolution in search of a functional and self-organizing way forward (and a way that allows each of these stages an actual participation in the overall national dialogue, and doesn't aggressively deny and ridicule any of them as being merely deplorable).
9. Any specifically amber moves themselves are not directly part of the overall self-correcting drive of evolution, but the activation of amber itself most definitely is—and its voice desperately needs to be heard.
10. It needs to be “transcended,” most certainly, but it also—the lesson here—needs to be “included,” if evolution is to return to its general functional and self-organizing drive of “transcend and include.” That is the secret, hidden, but very real drive that Trump unconsciously rode to a victory that, because its primary driver was completely unseen, was a total shock to both camps and to every major pollster anywhere.
11. If it takes the latter route, it will be aligning itself with the self-corrective drive of evolution itself as it looks for a more inclusive and comprehensive base platform from which to again take up its leading-edge role of self-organization through self-transcendence, or transcending and truly including.
12. So the crucial issue at this time is: what do we do next? How can evolution, which has taken a deliberate pause in its ongoing dynamics in order to refurbish its foundations much more adequately and accurately, move forward from what appears on the surface to be such a complete meltdown (most visibly, but by no means solely, represented by Trump's election)?
13. Each of these stages “transcends and includes” its predecessor, which is the generic drive or Eros of evolution itself, the drive to self-organization through self-transcendence.
14. The ever-increasing inclusiveness—genuine inclusiveness—of holons and holarchies demonstrates a direction that is grounded in nature and that has been operative from the first moment of the Big Bang forward, a direction of self-organization through self-transcendence that is the primary drive of evolution itself.
15. And this indeed is exactly the type of genuine healing that embraces the self-correction that evolution is looking for.
16. Here's just one example of this slowly but widely growing realization of green's complicity in the election of an amber ethnocentric Trump—and an indication that the self-correcting drive of evolution is indeed kicking in.
17. The other possibility that would work to help the present self-correcting dynamic of evolution actually get some traction would be to introduce not a healthy green (although that would always help), but to directly introduce a turquoise integral-stage leading-edge.
18. This, after all, is exactly what the self-correcting move of evolution itself is attempting to introduce. And anybody adopting an Integral stance would be riding the very leading-edge of evolution itself, with all of its goodness, truth, and beauty.
19. The leading-edge has collapsed; it is now a few-billion-persons (or so) massive car crash, a huge traffic jam at the very edge of evolution itself, sabotaging virtually every move that evolution seeks to take. evolution itself finds its own headlights shining beams of nihilism, which can actually see nothing, or narcissism, which can see only itself.
20. evolution, in a decided move of self-correction, has paused and is in the process of backing up a few paces, regrouping, and reconstituting itself for a healthier, more unified, more functional continuation.
21. And—although Trump himself will do little to actually address the details of this—as each of these stages works to redress the imbalances inflicted on it by an extreme green and its aperspectival madness, the overall effects of these recent events can indeed turn out to be quite healthy, allowing evolution to generally self-correct, adopt a leading edge that can actually lead, and thus allow evolution itself to continue its ongoing march of “transcend and include,” a self-organization through self-transcendence.
22. In order for that to happen, not only do the various earlier stages (red, amber, and orange) need to throw off the deconstructed shambles inflicted on each by an unhealthy green, but green itself has to heal, has to become truly functional again, has to reject its nihilism and narcissism, has to let go of its aperspectival madness, has to learn the difference between dominator hierarchies and growth holarchies, and introduce a developmental-based discriminating wisdom, in order for evolution to again start moving forward in a truly self-organizing and self-transcending way.
23. (And conversely, to the extent that at least this first step is not taken, then the self-corrective drive of evolution will continue to push, and push, and push into existing affairs, driving more Trump-like “disasters” as evolution redoubles its efforts to force its way through these recalcitrant obstructions.)
24. Little by little, in other words, an Integral awareness is helping to embody an evolutionary self-correction in its very actions.
25. Understanding this election—as well as similar events now occurring all over the world—as a manifestation of a self-correcting drive of evolution itself, as it routes around a broken leading-edge green and attempts to restore the capacity of its leading-edge to actually lead (while also seriously starting to give birth to the next higher leading-edge of integral itself)—this gives us a glimmer of real hope in an otherwise desperately gloomy situation.
As is readily apparent from the previous list, Wilber not only believes that evolution is a real force (like gravity or electromagnetism), but that it has a unique desideratum.
Given that Wilber hasn't budged from his Eros driven agenda as the engine behind change in the universe, it is therefore not surprising that his “integral logic” can with a straight face imply that Donald Trump is somehow divinely ordained since he was needed to counter-balance the mean green meme which has wrought such havoc on the world!
Wilber is preaching a creationist gospel here, even if it is dolled up in pseudo-scientific garb. And like the good preacher that he is, Wilber ends his e-book with his own god-inspired sermon when he writes (again without blanching):
“In the deepest parts of our own being, each of us is directly one with this evolutionary current, this Eros, this Spirit-in-action, radiant to infinity and luminous to eternity, radically full in its overflowing overabundance and excessive in its good graces, wildly crashing off the heavens and irrupting from the underworlds, and embracing each and all in its limitless love and care. And the only ones who should be allowed to work politically for a greater tomorrow—and who should thus work—and those who truly understand that it is not necessary to do so; who see the utter fullness of the Great Perfection in each and every moment of existence, and who nonetheless work to trim-tab (or adjust through leadership) the manifestation of more and more and more of the Good and the True and the Beautiful, right here and right now in this gloriously manifest universe, moment to moment to ever-present moment, knowing full well that this entire world is nothing but the dream of an infinite Spirit, yet each and every one of us is directly this very Spirit itself, dreaming the world of our own amazement.” (p. 79)
It is to be sure an uplifting message, but make no mistake it is a theologically driven one from start to finish. After the homilies I used to hear in my Catholic Church, the ushers were quick to pass the plates to secure our money, particularly if it was a powerful and moving talk. Ken Wilber, like the priests and ministers before him, also follows suit and is not shy to recruit for new members to his Integral Church with the following plea,
“Seismic changes are underway in the 21st century, and in order to thrive you need to not only better understand your world, but to expand your mind and build the inner skills that will help you unleash your full impact. You can do so by joining Integral Life, where Ken and other transformational experts will provide you the principles, perspectives, and practices, delivered straight to your inbox every week, that represent the leading-edge of advanced personal development.” (p. 80)
Of course, maybe Ken could have shortened his request to a simpler slogan, such as