Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Source: The Art of Change, April 22nd, 2008

On Ken Wilber
and Integral Naked

Scott London

My initial euphoria upon discovering Wilber some years ago gave way to a deepening sadness.

I was dazzled by Ken Wilber’s book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality when it appeared in the mid-1990s. Rarely had I encountered a writer and philosopher who expressed himself with so much energy and clarity of insight on the difficult business of human consciousness. His grasp of the complexities of evolutionary theory, systems thinking, metaphysics, contemplative tradition, postmodernism and other daunting subjects was not just impressive, but masterful. Here, I thought, was someone who could finally make some sense of our strange predicament at the turn of the millennium — someone who could help us distinguish between frontier and fringe thinking and clear a path through the thicket of psychobabble that makes up so much of what’s being written today about personal growth and human consciousness.

After finishing the book, I went on to read every book of Wilber’s that I could get my hands on. The love affair lasted several years. But by 1999 I found myself having increasing reservations about his method, and perhaps also about the man himself. I wrote about some of these in a review of his book One Taste that appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Parabola Magazine (see my review here).

The questions I had revolved around the certitude with which he puts forth his views, the definiteness of his assertions. They were always explanatory rather than exploratory. I had thought someone with his intellectual gifts and spiritual insight would be more sensitive to complexity, to metaphor, paradox, mystery. If anything, I felt he did a violence to ideas that were, by definition, boundary-spanning — such as liberal political theory or ecopsychology or the role in psychology of myth — by forcing them into narrow categories that served his own theoretical interests. I was constantly amazed by his misrepresentations of great thinkers such as Huston Smith, Gerald Heard, Stan Grof and others.

My initial euphoria upon discovering Wilber some years ago gave way to a deepening sadness that this was the man being heralded as one of today’s most original and significant philosophers. The notion that he represented some sort of “Einstein of the consciousness movement,” as somebody once said, struck me as preposterous.

Even so, I was excited when Wilber spearheaded the launch of Integral Naked, a website featuring audio interviews with brilliant and visionary thinkers, about five years ago. I was an enthusiastic early supporter of the site. But, again, my excitement gradually gave way to a sinking feeling that what Wilber and his friends had created was a little club of people calling themselves “integral thinkers” who used a common vocabulary but were in fact increasingly insulated from the world around them — not because they were uninterested or uninformed about the world at large but because they were convinced they had the best system or theory that could explain what was going on (exemplified by such grandiose book titles as A Theory of Everything and A Brief History of Everything).

I eventually unsubscribed to Integral Naked. My reasons for pulling the plug are summarized in this open letter to the site:

From Integral Naked:

Dear Friend,

If you're receiving this email, it's because you were once a member of Integral Naked, the web's hottest spot for integral dialogues, performances, and events. Then, for one reason or another, you had to leave. Ever since then, we've wanted you back!

So, we've been growing, changing, and evolving the IN site... adding new features we heard you want, fixing things up, and tossing in a few surprises as well. We wrote up a Top 10 list of reasons to come back. Take a look, and then visit to experience the new IN!

Top 10 Reasons to Come Back to Integral Naked:

  • 10. Therapia Radio. Discuss your personal, professional, and spiritual questions with the very best integral teachers and coaches. Featuring Dr. Fred Kofman ("Ask Dr. Fred") and Rabbi Marc Gafni ("Ask the Rabbi"). And, coming soon, David Deida!
  • 9. New Search and Archives. Find over 2 years of the hottest and coolest audio, video, and art. It's never been easier!
  • 8. We Love You! We're giving away iPods, lifetime memberships, and even free trips to Boulder!
  • 7. Podcasting. IN content delivered straight to your iPod or MP3 player. Too cool!
  • 6. Guest Host Stuart Davis! speaking with thinkers and artists at the wild and wooly edge of integral life. Be sure to check out the Stu Cam video series of Stu's adventures on the road!
  • 5. RED HOT Performances available nowhere else, featuring Billy Corgan, Saul Williams, Eddie Kowalczyk (of Live), Stuart Davis, Ottmar Liebert, 54-40, and Yungchen Lhamo.
  • 4. Ken Wilber in dialogue with Hollywood stars — Rick Rubin, Larry Wachowski, Julia Ormond, and Michael Crichton.
  • 3. Ken Wilber in dialogue with leaders in business and success training — Tony Robbins, Warren Bennis, Nathaniel Branden, and Fred Kofman.
  • 2. Previews and excerpts from Integral University and Integral Seminars, including training video clips from Integral Ecology, Integral Psychotherapy, and Integral Transformative Practice.
  • 1. Ken Wilber in dialogue with Integral Spiritual Center Teachers — David Deida, Lama Surya Das, Sally Kempton, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Father Thomas Keating, and Genpo Roshi.

This is the best time ever to be a member of Integral Naked! Won't you come back and join us? Just click over to See new stuff on the What's New page. Then get your free month by signing up now!

Best wishes,
The IN Team

My Reply to Integral Naked:

I just received your "Top 10 Reasons to Come Back to Integral Naked" e-mail. Wow. What an avalanche of hype! Part of the reason I cancelled my subsciption was because of this very problem. Too self-referential. Too self-congratulatory. Too much of a sales pitch.

"Giving away iPods, lifetime memberships, and even free trips to Boulder!" Let's be serious for a minute. Is that really what it takes to get new subscribers? iPod giveaways?

As I see it, the whole point of reading Ken Wilber, of engaging integral ideas, of connecting up with the Integral Naked web site, etc., is to go a level deeper, to move away from the kind of information culture that is constantly selling you on the latest, the hippest, the greatest, and that speaks to a different sensibility, one based on authenticity, discernment, and a higher truth.

The work of Ken Wilber and his friends is compelling enough without all the marketing gimmicks and flashy graphics aimed at making the ideas appear sexy and fresh. In my view, that approach cheapens the whole thing. Somehow I now look less favorably on the books, the seminars, the audiotapes, etc., after my experience with Integral Naked.

I have been subscribed twice. I signed up when the site was first launched. I subscribed again a few months ago thinking I would have another go at it since I'm so deeply interested in all this stuff — read it, eat it, sleep it, drink it, etc.

I get testy when I listen to the audio dialogues between Ken and his friends. The sound quality is aggravating, yes, but the really annoying thing is that the dialogues themselves are not very interesting. In many cases, they are downright awful. How could that be when these are some of the most interesting people on the planet!?

Ken goes on and on about his own ideas without really engaging the other person in a real dialogue. There are exceptions, of course, but not enough of them. I would like to see a more serious exploration of the ideas of other integral thinkers. How about getting people off the phone and into a setting where they can really share their thoughts and ideas, like a face-to-face interview or an intimate workshop setting?

I tell people, save the $10 a month and put it toward a SoundsTrue audio program like "Kosmic Consciousness" instead. Your money is much better spent and you can pass the tape-set on to a friend when you're done with it.

It's not about the money, of course. But every time my credit card statement comes and I see a $10 charge for Integral Naked I feel a little pissed off. Like, "if they are going to charge me for this stuff, they should really get it together."

Don't know where this feedback will go, but hope it echoes the sentiments of others who have answered this survey. I can't be the only person feeling turned off by Integral Naked. And surely I can't be the only person disappointed to discover that the site hasn't lived up to the high standards we've come to expect from Ken and his colleagues.

Thank you and best wishes.

In recent years, Wilber’s Integral Institute has become more firmly established and Integral Naked seems, from what I can tell, to be going strong. But Wilber’s critics have grown more numerous. And he himself seems increasingly insular and cantankerous. In a now infamous blog entry, Wilber embarrassed himself in front of the world, as his biographer Frank Visser put it,

“by abusing and insulting those of his critics who did not ‘understand’ his work, and invited those who ‘did’ to come to his integral ’sanctuary.’ His main complaint was the low level of the criticism he had received so far, especially from Integral World authors.”

It was a depressing blog entry, to say the least, and perhaps also a cautionary tale about what happens when we go too far in defending our own intellectual constructs. Ideas at their best are meant to edify and inspire, not divide and isolate. When we find ourselves growing hard and brittle in defense of our own theories, then we have given our own constructs more power than they deserve.

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