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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).
Where Are The Good Guys Anyways in this World?
The Law of Reverse Effect in US Foreign Policy
We have to get along with other cultures and superpowers, even if we don't like their ways of life or religious or authoritarian forms of government.
In the past several months we have published several essays on IntegralWorld covering both the Russo-Ukraine war and the recent war in Gaza. These were written from various perspectives, as it should be. The good thing about allowing perspectives that might offend or contradict your own cherished views is that you always learn something from them, and they allow you to sharpen your own point of view. For myself, it has been an education in thinking more globally, to be more specific: geopolitically, and zooming out from the specific conflict situations. In the case of Ukraine, we have seen both pro-Ukraine and pro-Russia reflections, often responding to each other. Ditto for the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine points of view. Not surprisingly, emotions run high in these matters of life and death. I have tried to find some middle ground in these two world conflicts, but run the risk of being disowned by both parties.
As Westerners living in the Western world, there is a strong tendency to favor the Western point of view in these matters. However, we should resist the often strong and visceral initial tendency to see our opponents (either Russia or Hamas) as the Bad Guys, and paint our own culture in the most glowing colors. After all, are we not higher developed in the scheme of integral stages? Do we not reach far beyond the First Tier stages of aggression, ethnocentricity and bias? Do we not stand for democracy and human rights, even reaching into the Integral stages and sometimes even beyond? Does Integral not offer a viewpoint from the highest possible mystical states? Are we therefore not in a unique position to evaluate what the hell is going on in this world of war and destruction?
Well, not really.
As some authors have pointed out, the West is perceived by the rest of the world, often called the Global South, as hypocritical in the extreme, given our history of colonialism and global capitalism. This was brought home most forcefully to me by reading some works of US arch-critic Noam Chomsky, or listening to, for example, Norman Finkelstein's views on Gaza. More often than not, US foreign policy and the military interventions based on it have resulted in most if not all cases in unmitigated disaster for the countries involved. One need only to think of Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and so on. Instead of bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East, these actions caused either the disintegration of nations and/or the rise of extremist Islamic movements bent on destroying the West.
Beyond these lofty ideals there were the ugly motives of self-interest and world hegemony. We have given the world every reason to be seen as the Bad Guys. Let's take a few examples, from the book Blowback by German Middle East specialist Michael Lüders:
None of these interventions can be said to have been successful, or at least to have decreased the tensions in these parts of the world. On the contrary, as I said, countries have been ruined, tensions between rival religious factions have come to the surface, and there was never any clear idea about how these countries should evolve. Wars are started very easily, but ending them is a different matter, and when this finally happens hundreds of thousands of casualties can be counted. But one thing is clear: the weapon industry has always won, mostly to the benefit of Western companies.
But if we are the Bad Guys, does that automatically make Iran, Russia, Syria, Hamas and other opponents the Good Guys? Without exception, I would not want to live in any of these countries, given their religious intolerance and often harsh medieval interpretations of scripture. So we are stuck. Where are the Good Guys anyways in this world? Am I missing something?
Perhaps the West is right about the ideals it professes to believe in, but is consistently unable to live up to them, let alone bring these blessings to the rest of the world? Perhaps we should be more modest about our own achievements and appreciate that not all countries will follow the developmental trajectory we have followed in the West? Make no mistake, these "lesser developed" countries are as prone to black-and-white thinking as we are—if not more so. Iranian slogans often amount to not more than "Death to the United States, death to Israel!" And Vladimir Putin has portrayed the West as decadent, nihilistic and even satanic, against which he is now waging a Holy War, with large support from the population. Obviously, that is not at all a promising way to view one's opponents. We all have to share this one planet.
Be that as it may, each culture and country has to figure out how to realize both individual freedom and social responsibility, even if the accents my differ. We need to have a clear and honest look at how the West behaves and has behaved in world affairs, without denying the ideals it stands for. But we also should not blindly romanticize the non-Westen cultures, as if they provide a scenario for us to follow. More often than not, that is not the case, I would say. But we have to get along with other cultures and superpowers, even if we don't like their ways of life or religious or authoritarian forms of government. As to ugly dictators, it is sometimes said that anarchy is worse. So we really need to think twice if regime change comes up again as the goal of Western foreign policy. Most of the time, this backfires spectacularly, to the detriment of all countries involved, including our own.
Intentions and ideals don't mean much—it is the behavior and the real world consequences that count.
 Taken from the book Wer den Wind sät: Was westliche Politik im Orient anrichtet (Verlag Beck, 2014) by Michael Lüders, which I read in the Dutch translation. English translation: Blowback: Six Decades of Western Interference in the Middle East. E-book subtitle: How the West f*cked up the Middle East (and why it was a bad idea). The author is arabist and political scientist, and was for many years correspondent for Die Zeit, while living in the Middle East. See: https://michael-lueders.de/ (in German).
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