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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).
‘They All Need Therapy’
Ken Wilber on the War in Gaza
In sum, Wilber's view of politics seems very naive and Western-centric, which is quite a disadvantage for a philosopher who advocates taking all perspectives into account.
In my previews essay I commented on a small fragment of a video related to what drives evolution, at the end of a recent interview by Raquel Torrent of Ken Wilber about the situation in the Middle East. Of course, this was a bit off-topic within the context of the video as a whole, and we will therefore now do a close reading of that video.
The Middle East conflict has captured the attention of the world, even to the extent that the Russo-Ukrainian war seems almost forgotten. Wilber has always maintained that integral politics is high on his list, and this Middle East conflict would therefore be a perfect integral test case. Is Integral Theory able to throw light on this long-standing and highly complex conflict situation? Or is the situation not complex at all and should we simply and firmly take sides, either for Israel or the Palestinians?
The interview is remarkable for it is one of the very few instances I know of where Wilber gets challenged on his particular views. Credits to Raquel Torrent for taking up this task, given the fact that she is at the same time a huge admirer of Wilber. More often than not, this prevents a critical attitude and turns most conversations with Wilber into a long and repetitive monologue. It is interesting to see that Wilber clearly feels uncomfortable in this new role, and tries to make the best of it. The full interview can be viewed here. I will break it down into the questions Raquel has formulated, summarize Wilber's answer and add a few comments of my own.
Raquel starts with disclosing where she comes from. She wants to understand and help the current horrendous situation Gaza, where Israel is daily bombing the infrastructure, leading to thousands of casualties, mostly women and children (much more than the casualties of the Hamas attack that happened on November 17). Incidentally, this is usually the case: the number of victims is usually 10-20 times higher on the side of the Palestinians, compared to those on the side of Israel, mostly due to the highly advanced military equipment of Israel. She deems Wilber, which she calls "my mentor and friend", as the foremost thinker to throw light on this situation.
RT: Which would you say that are the real causes of the conflict between Israel and Palestine which has provoked this unacceptable atrocity that the people from Gaza are experiencing and that represents a real humanitarian crisis do you think it's something historic or political economical or religious?
KW: We need to take all of that into account for an integral approach. Historically, the Jews have had a claim on that land for thousands of years. But so did the Arabs. And both had a fundamentalistic, mythical view of religion. And when two mythic religions clash, violence, antagonism and aggression are the inevitable result. But Jehova or Allah, both are mythological beings, comparable to Zeus, Afrodite or Apollo. This contrasts sharply with mystical forms of religion, which speak of a Ground of Being, "a very real metaphysical concept, which answers very real metaphysical questions". And what is more, "mystics have a very real experience of this Ground of Being and so they feel one with the entire universe". And most of the founders of the religions, like Jesus or Mohammed or Abraham, had these experiences. But the fundamentalist followers don't, they are at the level "of a five or six year old" child.
KW: As to the political aspect, both groups claim ownership of the same land, but the Jews have been much more successful compared to the Arabs, and this is framed as being oppressed. That's another source of conflict. But wasn't the land just taken from the Palestinians by the British and given to the Jews, asks Raquel. Yes, Wilber says, "there is truth to that, that's a problem", but the problem is compounded by the fact that the members of Hamas have psychological problems, like jealousy, hatred, envy, attack mode. "Many Arab muslims have this personality disorder" that they want to go out and kill Jews—men, women, children and babies, like they did on October 7th. Wilber concludes: "one of the main problems we have is a psychotherapeutic problem that affects Hamas more than it affects the Jews." But does Wilber think it is acceptable what Israel is now doing to retaliate this attack, asks Raquel. Wilber: but Hamas is using hospitals as headquarters and humans as human shields. "I am not making this up, it is in The New York Times and The Washington Post." But don't the Jews have psychological problems of their own, Raquel retorts, by trying to eradicate a terrorist organization at the cost of many thousands of civilian lives? "It is a really difficult situation, that's for sure", Wilber adds.
FV: What strikes me as odd is that Wilber creates a (otherwise very real) contrast between mythic and mystic religiosity, suggesting that mysticism would somehow resolve the problems caused by fundamentalism. This is, to put it mildly, a rather far-fetched suggestion. Perhaps we should just bring more reason and rationality into this conflict, plain human common sense, that however complicated this conflict historically is, two rival populations should accept eachother and live peacefully, either within one state of as two separate states? And would it not be valuable to analyze why this hasn't happened in the past 75 years? If these two warring populations (or actually their extremist governments) are not capable of reaching that rational level, it should perhaps be enforced by the greater powers that be? But then, why does the US stand by Israel even to the point of vetoing (as the only country, with an abstention from the UK) a resolution that demands a cease fire? Yes, there are unhealthy cultural aspects on both sides, among the extremists, but Wilber totally seems to buy into the Western frame "the West is best". Perhaps he should do well to consult other news outlets like Al-Jazeera.
RT: Next question, what do you think about what the West is doing now, from an integral perspective. How would you define what's happening and which would be an integral solution that politicians could implement?
KW: Politicians should start thinking integrally so they can take all perspectives into account. Again, Wilber brings up the problem of mythical religion, this time in the case of fundamentalist Christianity: "so I mean if you're actually going to believe that there's a guy walking around who's the one and only biological son of the one and only creator of the entire universe and there's only one of them the Son of God well I'm sorry that's not reality that's not anything near a reality." But when myths clash, "there is nothing to appeal to that will end that conflict." Raquel further suggests: if the essence of Jehova and Allah is love and respect, could we not find common ground between these religions? Wilber thinks only mystics are able to do that. Wilber adds: "More wars have been caused by religion than any other factor in human history". And: "one historian calculated that for every one year of Peace in humankind's history there have been 13 years of war."
FV: That last claim is doubtful. Says ChatGPT: "While religion has been a factor in some conflicts throughout history, wars are usually caused by a complex interplay of political, economic, and social factors. While religious differences can contribute to tensions, they are seldom the sole cause of wars. Political power struggles, territorial disputes, and resource competition are often significant contributors." We can ask: was World War I a religious conflict? Was World War II a religious conflict? Most of these countries were Christian, for God's sake! Wilber seems to have totally skipped the question raised by Raquel about what politicians should do about this conflict. He side steps the issue by again discussing different forms of religiosity. As to the question about war being the rule and peace the exception in human history, ChatGPT tells us: "While conflicts and wars have been prevalent throughout history, periods of peace also exist. Societies can experience extended periods of stability and cooperation. It's essential to work towards promoting peace and resolving conflicts, viewing it not as an exception but as an achievable goal." There is defaitism in Wilber's comments, as if we are in deep problems unless we all get integral. Where are the next steps, the easy wins, the realistic goals?
RT: How do you see the role of the United States and Europe that are playing in this horrendous conflict or crisis or War whatever we want to call it
KW: "I hate to become repetitive but politicians should become integral so they can take all perspectives into account." We can start with the four quadrants, he adds, but then we should take the eight zones into acccount as well. Leadership should acquire the capacity to understand everybody through their own perspectives, so everybody feels understood. People will intuitively feel when a political leader has such a wider view. "We have to put pretty much all of Hamas and all of Israel through a psychotherapy session or several." For Wilber that's the main reason that this Isreal-Palestinian conflict is so unyielding, has been around for so long and shows no chance of resolving.
FV: Again, Wilber seems oblivious to the geopolitical reasons this conflict has endured for so long, with the United States backing Israel all the time, even if it has a record number of UN resolutions raised against its practice of colonization of Palestinian land and the treatment of its inhabitants. The US sees Israel as a strategic foothold in the Middle East, that would otherwise be a playground of other powers. That being the case, it should be the prime candidate to order the Israelian government (mostly headed by Netanyahu) to stop colonizing Palestinian land and to actively work towars a two-state solution. Again, Wilber gives zero analysis of the rold played by the West (the US and Europe) in the perpetuation of this conflict. This is a glaring omission, which points to bliind spots in his view of world politics. Reducing everything to psychotherapy of mystical religion is not going to make a difference. Raquel ends with the need to turn negativity into positivity, but again that is a spiritual-psychological recipe that will not do.
RT: In which way do you think that Western Civilization has contributed to the hatred that radical Islam has against Westerners, in which way and why would you say that many people are also against the Jews and why also the West criticizes Muslims in general?
KW: The Western contribution is the notion of ownership of the land, and of capitalism. Anti-semitism is 6000 years old, and is fed by the notion that Jews killed Jesus. Islamic hatred against the West is caused by its warrior mentality and its "worship of war and fighting and killing", going back all the way to Mohammed. But could the reason also not be, Raquel asks, that the West is hated because it is not consistent, "one thing and another day we say another thing"? Wilber adds that Western democracies have turned out to be relatively wealthy and that is seen by the rest of the world as a form of oppression. And although a few centuries ago Western countries were at war with eachother all the time, Europe has emerged as fairly unified.
FV: Again, Wilber plainly overlooks the way the West has invaded, colonized and infiltrated many countries all over the world to sustain its hegemony. That alone would explain the resentment felt by many non-Western countries towards the West, what we now call the Global South. He doesn't analyze the Western relation to islamic immigrants at all, and the reasons for the widespread islamophobia in the West (of course fuelled by terrorist attacks). But when it comes to the number of casualties caused by individual countries the US clearly tops the list. Again, in the case of the current Middle East conflict, it is easy to point to the raw (and repulsive) violence enacted by Hamas extremists, but when it comes to counting body bags Israel consistently is the clear winner, not in the least because it is not restricted in any substantial way by the US.
In sum, Wilber's view of the Middle East conflict and world politics in general seems very naive and Western-centric, which is quite a disadvantage for a philosopher who advocates taking all perspectives into account. He sidesteps issues of geopolitics, justice and morality, and sticks to his hobby horse of mysticism and teaching integral principles to political leaders. But when he envisions these poor guys to get trained in the 4 quadrants and even the 8 zones, I think integral theory has devolved into Integral Scholasticism, which doesn't offer much to solve the worlds problems.
In my personal opinion, the recent wave of anti-Semitism that is rolling over the West is directly related to Israel's misbehavior in Gaza. Pointing to the Holocaust is eternally playing the victim card. In the past the law of the desert "an eye for an eye" was introduced precisely to prevent such disproportionate retaliation, but Israel clearly hasn't lived up to even to these very modest moral standards. I agree that fundamentalist religion plays a role, but a solution needs to be sought in the direction of practical measures. Israel needs to stop treating Palestinians, either within or without its borders as second rate citizens (or worse). It needs to remove the colonist settlements on the West Bank. It needs to stop treating Gaza as an open air prison for two million people. That will clear up the major obstacles for a road ahead to peace. These are just rational measures that any child can understand: treat eachother fairly, understand eachothers pain, and constructively look for a common future.
 Frank Visser, "Evolution as 'an actual Force in the universe', Integral Evolutionary Theory is New Age Physics", www.integralworld.net
 Frank Visser, "Taking Sides of Bothsidesism, A Catalogue of Positions on the Middle East War", www.integralworld.net
 Joseph Dillard, "What is an Integral Approach to Gaza?", www.integralworld.net
 "Israel-Gaza crisis: US vetoes Security Council resolution", news.un.org, 18 October 2023
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