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


A Story On Hermeneutics &
The Wilber Inner Circle

David Jon Peckinpaugh

After all, how integral is an institution that excludes dissenting voices?

There are relatively few authours who have informed my own understanding and appreciation of life as has Ken Wilber. His work, especially that which took place in the 1990's, has been seminal in my own development as a writer of non-fiction works. That being said, however, I am increasingly uneasy with recent developments, along with statements made by Ken Wilber over the past several years. All of which has led me to this point: to sharing these concerns with others who may also feel a touch uneasy with recent developments in and amongst the 'Wilber inner circle.'

In other words, I suspect that I am not alone. That the concerns I have regarding some movements that Ken Wilber has made, and statements he has issued, are not mere figments of my own personal imagination, but rising matters of concern amongst those who see a tendency amongst the Wilber Inner Circle to 'co-opt' the whole Integral Agenda and make it their own personal domain, with Ken Wilber as Vajra-holder of the Integral In-crowd.

Perhaps you are thinking that this is just more sour grapes from someone who has been left on the outside looking in: that I am merely another whining combatant blaming my self-chosen opponent for not including me in their discussions and dialogues. That I am outcast, criticizing the 'Integral Clique' that Ken Wilber is the Alpha Male of. And you could easily convince yourself that this is indeed the case. Yet, by doing so you might miss out on elements of truth in what the 'outcast' has to say. For the outcast is the dissenting agent or force that can potentially see the collective unconsciousness of the clique. That is, the outcast, the outsider—the one not included—is that one who is able to best offer the most trenchant criticism of the clique and their agenda.

This brings us to the first point of concern that I would like to raise for your consideration. That cliques—and most especially in their institutionalized manifestations like that of the Integral Institute—by nature, are subject to external criticism because of their very structure, like how they are set up to operate and function. They are 'exclusionary' in terms of both praxis and orientation. And all cliques have their spoken or unspoken litmus tests. And it appears that Ken Wilber stands as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the matter of who is, and who is not, integral enough.

This ties in with the second fundamental concern I have regarding the Wilber Board of Directors and their CEO, Ken Wilber. As mentioned before, the sense made transparent to me is one of an increasing attempt towards co-opting Integralism as a whole. I can certainly understand how Ken Wilber might feel a bit protective when it comes to Integralism—if not overprotective. Yet the risk is that the Inner Circle will become so exclusionary and reactive that authentic voices are effectively denied and shut-out of all Integral Proceedings and Processes.

One of the points that I have raised time and time again, in various discussions with friends, is that the new Integral Movement does indeed have a lineage and tradition. In both Japanese Zen Buddhism and the Renaissance we are able to witness a similar sort of Integralism—one that focuses on the mutli-dimensionality of sentient existence by seeking to cultivate and nourish the many different dimensions, realms, dharmas, capacities, and truths of one's own beingness. Thus, we see the Samurai, who happens to be both warrior and poet meditator and citizen. Or we see the man of the Renaissance who is both an artist and a scientist, a social activist and a contemplative: one who marries Heaven and Earth, Ascending and Descending Currents of the One without a second.

It has certainly done me some good to be reminded that the current Integral Movement is but the latest incarnation of that which has some historical precedent. Apart from the example of the Samurai in Japan, and the Renaissance man in Europe, we have the example of Sri Aurobindo in India. These are historical, worldwide instances that reek of what we now know as 'Integralism.' They are also examples which help to re-contextualize the proceedings that are now well underway, by sowing the seeds of remembrance regarding former generations who themselves were unable to make any final claim on what was… or was not… a fully developed Integral Man, Woman, Culture, or Spirit.

The Overseer & Ever-Present Unconsciousness

The danger inherent in relying upon any one person to define and determine 'Integralism' should be obvious to anyone who has cared to heed the relevance of the Freudian Weltanschauung. Simply put, we are ripe with unconsciousness. Some more. Some less so. Some are unconscious in certain realms, dimensions, aspects and dharmas than are others. For example, I may not be as conscious of the 'emotional sheath/body' as another is. Similarly, they may not be as conscious of the 'vital sheath/body' as I am. And because our unconsciousness is unconscious, it stands to reason that we are each rendered blind, deaf and dumb to that which we are… well, uhm… not at all conscious in relation to.

This is why when someone points out to us that which we are unconscious of we will tend to dismiss them as mis-taken. We just don't see it! We are not conscious of that which is un-conscious. Period. So we tend to be dismissive of others who may see in us what we are not able to see in ourselves. Given this fact of life, how can it not be obvious that what follows for a person is also going to follow for an institution? Hasn't that been the story of the Roman Catholic Church? Hasn't that been the story of patriarchy and alleged male-dominated socio-political society? Hasn't that been the story of each and every sin-stitution that has ever emerged on the face of this blue-green Orb?

Even Ken Wilber's own criticism regarding the 'Atman project' the 'monological gaze,' 'deep ecology,' and 'boomeritis,' has been an attempt to make conscious the unconsciousness inherent in one or another camp or clique. The question, though, is this: Does Ken Wilber and the Inner Circle think that they are somehow immune from unconsciousness, such that they are immune from any and all critical insight and observation offered up by the outcasts, dissenters, and outsiders among us?

The Power of Veto and Executive Exemptions

I am sure you have heard the stories about Sigmund Freud in the early years of the psychoanalytic movement during the first part of the 20th Century. There is even a tale told by the renowned Freudian disciple and eventual defector, Carl Jung, about the time when he offered up an interpretation of a dream that Freud had shared with him. Of course, Freud's immediate reaction—we are told by Jung—was one of utter defensiveness and total resistance to any external interpretation of his dream. You see, our dear Dr. Freud was not analyzable by those who were beneath him (or, at the very least, this was the case in his own eyes!).

Anthony Storr, in his study of gurus, Feet of Clay, has written that:

Freud's dogmatism and intolerance of disagreement led to the departure of many colleagues, including Adler, Stekel, Jung, and eventually Rank and Ferenczi, from the psychoanalytic movement. When his associates remained faithful disciples, Freud gave them his approval; but when they disagreed, he abused them, or accused them of being mentally ill. Adler was described by Freud as paranoiac, Stekel as unbearable and a louse; Jung as brutal and sanctimonious.

In addition, Richard Webster writes in A Brief History of Blasphemy (notice the eerie similarity in the title) that:

What is remarkable about Freud's leadership of the psychoanalytic movement is that although he quite clearly did not believe in any kind of supernatural creator, he adopted almost without exception the strategies of those who did. In effect he treated his own theories as if they were a personal revelation granted to him by God and demanded that others should accord to them the reverence which the sacred word usually commands.

Unconsciousness has a way of slipping in through the cracks in our theories of everything. There is even the tendency for theorist and theory to become fused (if not con-fused); such that a criticism of one's pet theory becomes seen as a personal attack, and is treated as such by the theorist in question.

It is easy to understand why this can so easily become the case. After all, for many their well-developed theories are much like their own children. They are their babies. They are their intellectual offspring. So the theorist can often be a bit touchy and defensive when criticism regarding their baby is offered up by others; just like a mother who can criticize her own child, but will not take too kindly to anyone else doing so!

This is not to say that this always follows for Ken Wilber and the Inner Circle surrounding him. Even though my own sense of Ken's public response to criticism is one of off-handed dismissal and defense, I also hold out the option that Ken is truly open to valid criticism. Yet, that option needs to be coupled with the realization that because Ken Wilber is a sentient being (Buddha-Nature included!), just like the rest of us, there must also be a degree of unconsciousness present which he cannot be aware of. Therefore, only others, outside the hermeneutic inner circle are able to provide valid insight into the potential unconsciousness evidenced therein.

Like any institution with an executive branch of governing influence, it seems apparent at this point that Ken Wilber has granted himself the right—or has been granted the right by proxy—to wield the power of veto over that which does or does not pass as being sufficiently integral. In his latest letter, "A Suggestion for Reading the Criticisms of My Work posted at the Frank Visser managed Integral World website", Ken offers to exhibit what he calls an effective instance of 'dialogue.' Strangely enough, though, Ken's own example comes off as being yet another instance of executive-like monological correction on the do's and don'ts of integral minutiae. In other words, for those who care to take a gander at Ken's example of 'dialogue,' what one sees instead is not really an example of dialogue in my book—which would include a mutual give and take, would it not? Instead, what one witnesses in Ken's own self-chosen example is little other than a pure and unadulterated instance of Ken's instruction to the questioner in the details of yet another integral conceptualization pertaining to the heaped and/or holonic nature of a rock.

Before I wonder about how the rocks happen to feel about a discussion into their own self-nature taking place without their consent, let me go so far as to make the outlandish suggestion that a true dialogue goes both ways, i.e., is a mutual, complimentary, give-and-take affair. And is not simply a matter of one person instructing another in a top-down fashion and manner as indicated by the example that Ken shares with the reader.

Our Logical Meeting Place

Dialogue is a term etymologically derived from the Greek… dialogos… and can be noted as effectively being the place wherein two logics meet. Now, some may tend to assume that one of these logics ought to always be triumphant over the other: that in dialogue we have a winner and a loser, such that we discover who is true and who is not, who is right and who is wrong (or who is enlightened and who is deluded). Yet, this very assumption—although applicable in certain instances—is not always relevant as an effective practice, or form of skillful means. In short, there need not always be a winner in dialogue… or a loser, for that matter. At times there can be, instead of a top-dog logic and a bottom-dog logic, a mutual interpenetration of the two logos evident in any true dialogue or dialectical exchange.

For example, if we are sitting down for a talk and I end up doing most of the talking, then it stands to reason that the use of the term 'dialogue' for what is taking place is a bit specious at best. Yet, is this not precisely what occurs in the real-life example that Ken shares in his suggestions to those reading criticism of his work? The questioner is just that, a questioner! He or she is merely a recipient of Ken's superior logic. And we see no evidence that Ken himself has benefited from the so-called interchange. All we see is Ken expounding at length in the attempt to clear up the fuzzy logic of the questioner. And I am not sure that that ought to be classified as an example of 'dialogue' or 'dialectical exchange.' Instead, it rather comes across as being far more similar to Freud's reminders to Jung's increasing queries before they eventually parted ways: that repressed sexuality was truly the hidden seed behind all neurosis and psychopathology.

But that is the problem when we have closed ourselves up within a supposedly closed hermeneutic loop: no further interpretation is warranted. None is needed! Interpretation has been closed.

Here a certain fundamentalism starts to reign, and what difference if this fundamentalism is integral or conservative? When we do not allow for external interpretations of our pet theories, and effectively shut ourselves in a perfectly sealed hermeneutic container of pure interpretation, then how can that form of praxis not be anything other than the forms of praxis that Ken Wilber has often been so critical of himself?

I understand some of Ken Wilber's concerns regarding mis-interpretations of his work and person. Yet, are these not inevitable? Are these mis-interpretations not unavoidable? At the same time, isn't there a risk of throwing the baby of valid criticism and insight out with the bathwater of mis-interpretation? And does this risk not increase to the exact extent and degree that we only allow those voices to be heard whom we already understand to be in predetermined agreement with our 'inner circle interpretations?' Is it not a bit like George W. Bush only hearing the central intelligence that he wants to hear; that is in agreement with his preconceived notion that his interpretation surrounding connections between terrorism and Iraq is final?

Integral Dissent and the Democratic Spirit

My final point may be seen as the most unwarranted by some (such as those committed to an unattainable purity as their stated aim and goal). Yet it is this final concern that I am going to raise for your consideration, which is the one that may be the most essential of all for us to consider, if not implement. This final concern has to do with the implementation of dissent within the Inner Circle surrounding Ken Wilber and his many Integral offspring (such as the Integral Institute and Integral University). After all, how integral is an institution that excludes dissenting voices? Isn't such an exclusion of dissent itself also evidence for a lack of true Integralism?

There are many indications that the collective ego of I-I could tend to become too insular and self-protective. The noble intentions of maintaining the alleged 'purity' of the Integral Movement could end up becoming corrupted by the very effort to do so. Merely sealing off the borders surrounding the hermeneutic Inner Circle surrounding Ken Wilber could have the exact opposite effect than the one desired. Precisely because Ken Wilber cannot be in dialogue with all who are interested and compelled by an Integral Weltanschauung, there stands a good chance that the excluded outsiders, dissenters, and outcasts could represent the true heart of the Integral Movement: that while the Inner Circle is busy defending and maintaining the purity of their interpretations, others are busy with the business of continuing to live the Integral Life, in the same spirit as a Renaissance man or woman, a Samurai, or a Sri Aurobindo.

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