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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Bryan O'DohertyBryan O'Doherty is an entrepreneur, writer/blogger, husband and father of three. He grew up in Portland Oregon (US) and graduated from Portland State University with degrees in Architecture and Japanese. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. You can read more from him on his blog at


Further Thoughts
on Media Violence

and its Possible Causal Relationship
to Actual Violence

A Response to Elliot Benjamin

Bryan O'Doherty

I am just one example among millions like me, who would never willingly harm another person.

I would like to thank Elliot for his response to my critique of his essay. It immediately answered the main question I had of his piece to begin with, namely; what about his analysis of the issue was at all "integral" (in the Wilberian/SDi sense of the term). The answer, it seems, is that he had no intention of analyzing the issue from a so-called "integral" perspective.

"...apparently Bryan has construed my use of the term "integrated" to mean my lack of knowledge of Wilber's use of the term "integral." Much to the contrary, I am extremely familiar with Wilber's Integral Theory as well as Beck & Cowan's Spiral Dynamics theory and color schemes that Bryan is obviously very taken with, as he uses the Spiral Dynamics color scheme quite extensively in his analysis of gun violence. But I generally do not make use of these theories in my Integral World essays, as my focus is on a combination of my own experiences along with an analysis of what the relevant research studies have come up with."[1]

Elliot is absolutely correct here, I did indeed construe his use of the term "integrated" in exactly the way he describes. I apologize for the assumption, but hope it can be forgiven in light of the fact that Elliot's essays appear on, a "website [that] offers an independent public forum for critical reflection on Ken Wilber's integral philosophy"[2] and by extension Beck & Cowan's Spiral Dynamics theory, which I am seemingly so "taken with." So when I see a term such as "Integrated," my natural assumption (having not read Elliot's earlier work) was that the term was synonymous with "integral," "integralistic" etc.. I hope Elliot doesn't equate me with some sort of cultish KW fanboy. I have my disagreements with Ken Wilbur,[6] and after all, he is only human and can't be an expert in everything. As far as his Integral Theory goes, I do think Ken Wilbur, Don Beck and others were on to something. Yes, you could even say I am "taken" with the theory in a general sense. I have since, of course, tracked down Elliot's essay on his distinction between KW's "integral" and Elliot's "integrated."[5] It's a worthy distinction that I can find no fault with. I hope Elliot can forgive the fact that I have not read all of his work on Integral World. He is, after all, quite prolific.

Now that I understand that Elliot had no intention of representing his essay as a critical look at the relevant research in light of the above theories specifically, our disagreement becomes nothing more than a difference of perspective. He is the observer looking at the research and the data and his own experience working with troubled youth. I, on the other hand, am the layman, a mere data point, a living example of one of the vast majority of "subjects" that didn't become a psychopathic killer via exposure to violent media and access to guns.

I don't mean to "disappoint" Elliot, but I did read his essay several times, and I did note his treatment of both sides of the issue. My response, however, was focused specifically on the thesis of his essay; namely that there is a causal relationship between violent media and actual violence, and a causal relationship between access to guns and violence.

"There are undoubtedly many factors that led to this most recent tragedy, as there are undoubtedly many factors that have led to all the school shootings and other acts of deadly violence we have been witnessing. But I believe that a possible primary factor that should be taken very seriously, along with the primary factors of gun control and mental health issues, is media violence."[3]

It was his stated opinion and conclusion, not his balanced treatment of the relevant research, that I had issue with. Perhaps if I had made that distinction more clear (you know, by stating something like "My critique is simply of his analysis of the issue from an AQAL perspective."), my apparently misguided attempt to understand how those conclusions could be consistent with an Integral (i.e. Wilber/Beck Integral, as opposed to "Integrated") analysis of the research he sited so extensively would have been less disappointing to him. But I don't want to force Elliot to play the "Spiral Dynamics color game."[1]

I have no research studies to cite, and am strictly basing my response on personal experience as someone who grew up in the midst of media violence, guns, and all the other evils that Elliot sites as causal factors.[3] I am just one example among millions like me, who would never willingly harm another person. My experiences tell me that I am not unusual. Elliot admits that some researchers, such as Chris Furguson, believe that media violence is not harmful to the general population. I especially enjoyed Chris Furguson's peanut butter analogy,[1] and I am in general agreement with him that for those with pre-existing mental health problems, violent media does little to help those problems, and may in fact exacerbate them.

As Chris suggests in his e-mail to Elliot, parents of troubled children should certainly take precautions to avoid exposure to media violence. Such precaution certainly can't hurt. In fact I take such precautions with my own children, who are still quite young. We haven't watched violent TV shows or played violent video games in our house since the birth of my first son more than eight years ago (the occasional movie after the kids are in bed aside). I imagine however that as my son gets older, he will go through a stage where violent media is very attractive to him. I am still of the opinion that such media is a relatively healthy outlet for him to explore egoic themes and fantasies, as much as are competitive sports and other traditional outlets. I won't withhold such media from him, as doing so would be futile anyway (his friends will provide him access), and I would rather be in a position to retain some measure of control and monitoring capability. Again, I don't think such forms of art and entertainment are necessarily bad. They reflect a certain worldview; an egoic worldview that prizes instant gratification and vivid displays of prowess over others. Where might makes right, and success and status is displayed gaudily and openly. It cannot be denied that a significant proportion of the US population subscribes to this worldview; this "Red" level of the spiral (if one likes the spiral dynamics color games). I would much rather my son play Call of Duty and watch WWE or Ultimate Fighting in his youth, than join a street gang and shoot some other kid in a drive by.

Far more disturbing to me, in relation to violent media, is the support it has in the halls of the Pentagon, which uses violent videogames such as "Modern Warfare 3" as a recruitment tool to entice young people into a career of institutionalized violence.[4] I wonder if Elliot has done much research in that direction and if so, I would be very interested to get his take on that subject.

In conclusion, I'd again like to thank Elliot for his clarification. He certainly helped me understand his perspective. I would have to say that on this issue I am more in agreement with Chris Furguson, as his conclusions are at least compatible with my own experience. In addition, even though the issue of gun control was not a focus of his essay, he never-the-less made it very clear in that piece that he "would like to see as much gun control as possible."[3] I would very much like to get his response to my position that further gun control would in fact be a disaster in the US and would do nothing more than further enable would-be gunmen to attack without fear of being stopped by equally well armed defenders.


[1] See Elliot Benjamin (2013) Media Violence and Mental Disturbance: A Case for Concern and More Research Needed; Response to Bryan O'Doherty.

[2] See Integral World Home Page.

[3] See Elliot Benjamin (2012) Killing Sprees and Media Violence; A Primary Culprit in an Integrated Perspective?

[4] See any number of reports in the media. A web search of "video games developed by army" should bring up relevant articles. In particular:

[5] See Elliot Benjamin (2007) Integral vs. Integrative; a response to Parker.

[6] See Bryan O'Doherty (2012) Panarchy; The Political Paradigm of an Integral Society.

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