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

Joe Perez is a Seattle-based writer. Everyone's got their own definition of Integral. His own definition of Integral (2006)--called STEAM--is found in his book Rising Up: Reflections on Gay Culture, Politics, Spirit. This posting is a close reading of Sections 2, 3, 4, and 6 of M. Alan Kazlev's Essay "Redefining Integral", which appeared earlier on Perez' blog "Until: an integral voice on spirit in real life". Perez sent this piece as a Letter to the Editor of Integral World.

Questioning Kazlev's

Joe Perez

In Section 2, "The Problem", Kazlev attacks views prominent "especially in America and on the Internet", especially "Integral forums such as the Integral Naked website and What is Enlightenment? magazine". Presumably, he is refering to the Integral Naked online forums, a medium with many hundreds or thousands of active users. But criticizing online chat rooms as a way of attacking the forum sponsor is invalid. It's like criticizing a magazine based on their published "letters to the editor", or a Weblog based on the comments of its readers, or a writer based on the contents of her or his fan mail. Attacking the usually anonymous posters to an online forum is not a valid way of criticizing Ken Wilber, though it may have validity if Kazlev is seeking to paint a portrait of the "Integral Movement." But there is no substantiation provided in Kazlev's article for the conclusions that he draws: that the Integral Movement is a

"spiritual narrowing ... trivialisation ... misrepresentation ... lacking in spiritual insight ... overintellectual ... lack of true understanding ... Californian feel-good holistic lifestyle ... secularised" etc.

To persuade, Kazlev must cite research on the Integral Movement of some sort, and cite specific examples for each point he wants to win. However, he cites no specific emails, Weblog posts, forum posts, articles, or dialogues. As a result, what he presents amounts to nothing more than an opinion, perhaps based on hunches or gut feelings, without substantiation. Such opinions are notoriously subject to psychological projection, as when Kazlev writes an article in an academic style and uses this style to claim that his opponents are guilty of "overintellectual approach". Perhaps there is truth to Kazlev's charges, but it's hard to say since there is no evidence cited.

In Section 3, "The Need for a Definition of What Constitutes 'Integral'", Kazlev once again makes additional attacks against the Integral Movement: "narrowness ... religiosity ... personality[-centered] ... head-centered", etc. But once again he fails to cite examples or evidence to make his case. In this section he refers to an "emerging Post-Wilberian community and discourse" which represents a "broader Integralism" because it "incorporates many other teachings and themes". Intriguing. Which teachings and themes are included that are excluded from the Integral Movement? Kazlev doesn't say, nor does he cite evidence that such teachings are in fact excluded from the Integral Movement. But Kazlev's main point is that each of many different theorists has their own definition of "integral". This point is indisputable. Therefore he offers definitions for five distinct entities: Wilberism, Integral Movement, Larger Integral movement sensu stricto, Integral Movement sensu lato, and Integral Yoga. He also provides a graphical "genealogy" of Integral groups. Whether these distinctions are helpful or unhelpful, I suggest, depends on how stupid you think people are or how grandiose is your rhetoric. Wilberism, according to Kazlev, includes only those who "follow [Wilber] in a religious or uncritical way" (presumably these are the dumbest sheep of the herd). The Larger Integral Movement emerged in 2003-2005, says Kazlev, and (as if size is everything) it is certainly more grandiose than the narrow IM. However, it's not clear why this group should not be included within the IM sensu stricto or if it should be considered a splinter movement and therefore a very small movement indeed (consisting perhaps of a handful of disgruntled but vocal critics). Kazlev presumes to grant these critics such importance as to make their approach the Larger than the Smaller IM, but it's not the very Largest. The Largest Integral Movement (or Integral Movement sensu lato) includes the above groups plus those who practice Integral Yoga or other paths as an Integralist. Since Kazlev is a member of this group which happens also to be the largest, broadest, and most inclusive of them all, one suspects that these definitions are rather self-serving. They may or may not be helpful, but they definitely privilege those folks who consider themselves Integralist but who walk a path as far from Ken Wilber as possible. This map therefore seems to smack of the venting of a personal grudge rather than a neutral and objective look at the territory.

In Section 4, "The Basic Thesis", Kazlev tells us that the definitions of Integral include "at least five ... evolutionary stages of individual and collective consciousness" with the first two being the Integral sensu lato and the Post-Integral. Interestingly, Kazlev argues definitely that these stages "will emerge in a progressively shorter and more overlapping time-frame". He then attributes this view to "Wilber and his holon hypothesis", but distinguishes his view from Wilber's because Kazlev does not believe that evolution occurs in "as rigid and inflexible a manner as Wilber himself describes". Wilber himself has repeatedly responsed to charges that his evolutionary model is rigid and inflexible (for example, in the Introduction to the revised version of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality), and has elaborated on the many ways that his model allows for a great deal of flexibility. Since Kazlev does not enter this dialogue, and instead only reasserts charges that have been countered, his remarks seem perfunctory and unsupported. Moreover, Wilber never claims that successive stages of evolution "will emerge in a progressively shorter and more overlapping time-frame" (because if they did that would be rather rigid and inflexible), but Kazlev himself makes this rigid and inflexible assertion.

In Section 6, "A New Definition", I want to focus on one huge problem. Kazlev distinguishes his new theory based on five different definitions of integral, the first being a pseudo-definition. Why pseudo? Because it's religious. "Integral as a New Age cult or religion. One finds this most developed among the more enthusiastic followers of Ken Wilber, who refer to everything they do as 'integral'. This is the only use of Integral that I find dysfunctional (I am not a fan of religion)." Unfortunately, Kazlev falls into the same trap as many contemporary pop-atheist writers: he does not define religion, but writes as if everyone knows what he is talking about, and then attacks it as "dysfunctional" and a "cult" without actually making any useful distinctions between the different varieties of religion. Moreover, his rhetoric goes over the top of civility by painting unnamed persons as members of a "cult" without substantiating these allegations with any serious attention to any of their words or actions.

At this point, Kazlev's essay continues to a total of 24 sections. However, when so many of the foundational theses of his argument have such shaky basis, the value of continuing to study Kazlev's essay becomes highly dubious. On the other hand, if you don't need evidence to believe Kazlev's points because you are already convinced of their truth, then you can take his essay as an exercise in storytelling narrative grounded in faith.

I will, however, make one additional point. The thrust of Kazlev's argument may be characterized as saying that Ken Wilber does not recognize the higher "Post-Integral" stages of consciousness such as Divinisation recognized by Sri Aurobindo. However, this is prima facie false. In Integral Spirituality, Wilber identifies the Integral level of consciousness with the turquoise label, and then identifies indigo, violet, ultraviolet, and clear light labels for subsequent stages of consciousness (stages which are actually defined using the labels of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy). Those Post-Integral levels of consciousness are not the focus of his book because he is writing for a specific audience. However, any claim that Wilber ignores Sri Aurobindo should at least examine Wilber's relevant writings and identify their insufficiency (how is Divinisation really different from the stage of consciousness identified as ultraviolet or clear light in Wilber's Integral Spirituality? Does not Wilber incorporate Aurobindo's gnosis, but simply not make the transmission of this gnosis the focus of his book?). Without offering a close reading of Wilber's relevant texts, Kazlev's screed sheds less light than he thinks it does. And given the bombast of his anti-Wilber rhetoric, it will probably do little to encourage the mainstream Integral movement to take up the study of Aurobindo.

I find much value in Kazlev's serious attention to the Aurobindian tradition. It would be a terrible shame if serious students of Integral were put off study of this wise and valuable tradition because they encountered a presentation which regarded others in the IM with such a demeaning and derogatory framework. .

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