Today we will look at some of the ideas put forward on the topic of evil by three thinkers aligned with the Integral or Metamodern worldviews. Along with many other notable philosophers, teachers, and artists, Hanzi Freinacht, Joe Perez, and Ken Wilber are pushing forward the envelope of our contemporary worldview into more synthesized and integrated perspectives informed by both a developmental theory and spirituality. Although they share certain overlapping tendencies of methodology or philosophical outlook, nevertheless when it comes to their views of “the dark side of the Force”, there are notable divergences.
(These three thinkers and artists are presented in alphabetical order.)
1Hanzi Freinacht, Metamoderna
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of The Listening Society, and the upcoming books Nordic Ideology and The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps.
From “Secular Karma, Spiritual Reason” (2015):
It appears that people who reach spiritual insight all come down with this same transpersonal perspective: don’t cast the first stone, because you are really throwing it at yourself. Just identify with everything, accept it, love it, and give it your best smack-down, all the while accepting that you will both fail and succeed.
So we can never be perfect, never “free from sin” (where “sin” simply means making mistakes and causing harm). And yet, we are always perfect or pure in the sense that no guilt or metaphysical notion of evil can ever be attached to our individual souls (because they are not there). We can always, in full love and acceptance of all things as they are, be forgiven and redeemed. There is no nasty Karma machine keeping count. That is the real essence of Eastern acceptance and Christian forgiveness. These insights are good news, which is the meaning of the word “evangel“.
Secular Karma, then, is the reasoned belief that this universe is a moral one. It is the insight that I am not the “good guy” or the “chosen one”, but that all I do matters immensely for all sentient beings. This is carried not as a burden, not as a duty, but as play – a play with tragedy, beauty and mystery; and yes, a play with the messy business we call politics.
Welcome to the impure, guiltless universe…
From “The Listening Society” via Hanzi Freinacht on Facebook (2017):
Here’s the deal. The more primitive and stupid your ideas about society, the cruder your “bad-guy theory” will be. To the Nazis, the bad-guys are the Jews, plain and simple. To the nationalist conservatives, the bad-guys are not necessarily Arabs, but certain problematic aspects of their culture and religion. To the modern libertarian, the bad-guys are laziness and lacking sense of responsibility — and all those pesky left-wing control freaks. To the Left it is capitalism. To the critical sociologist it is power structures. To the ecologist it is industrialism and a consumer society disconnected from the ecological systems.
To the metamodernist, there are almost no bad-guys left, nobody and nothing to blame: not even an impersonal structure. With the view from complexity, there is only the painstaking tweaking of many small things that can help us fix the failures of our society and mitigate the tragedies of existence. Fighting the power structures and killing the Jews might be more exciting. But it won’t solve our problems, I’m afraid…
2Joe Perez, Worldview Artist
Joe Perez is a Worldview Artist, Integral Visionary, Creator of Lingua-U, Translineage Mystic, Poet, Career Guy, Blogger, Whole Writing™ Coach, and the Author of Soulfully Gay and other books.
From “Rising Up” (2006):
The curse of our times is that even the best-intentioned people often do at least as much harm in the world as they do good and they do so over and over again, not even noticing the foul stench of festering cruelty deposited in their trail.
Our contemporary situation is seen most clearly as a comedy of horrors: unintentional slights, impulsive obsessions, mistaken premises, unspoken judgments, unrecognized biases, and unconscious actions lock us into kaleidoscope patterns of suffering that we do not intend but would not change even if we could. The harm perpetuated by the well-intended is usually done not contrary to the highest values we hold–but because of them. It is hard to escape the conclusion that we are all on the road to hell.
In a time of doom for the well-intentioned, perhaps this is an appropriate occasion for praising the virtues of the opposite. Could it be that the road to heaven is paved with ill desires? There is magic in the dangerous path of walking through the valley of our most secret longings and most unconscious despairs … discoveries so profound we come out of the darkness with our hair turned white. If we do not brave the journey, we risk never discovering the magic….
The problems that vex you cannot be overcome by shuffling your opinions, veering left or right–or by seeking solace in the comforts of power, sex, romance, religious authority, success, or politics. Individual problems must be risen above by discovering a new life instinct that propels you to a higher vista from which your previous problems disappear…
[T]here are moments when I wish I had an easier teaching. Like:
You are a precious snowflake.
God is love.
Just be present.
You are already enlightened.
My spirituality is kindness.
You are perfect just the way you are.
But there is blood on the snow, darkness in the mystery, cruelties that lead to a greater kindness, and you are perfect if you believe it so… and yet everything must change.
Realization is getting real, and human beings will do almost anything to avoid that, I fear.
If my tone is dark, blame the cosmos. This is the Week of the Swan in The Kalendar, after all… home of Eve and the snake, evil and sacrifice, sadness amidst mere satisfaction, samsara’s ashes, sackings and snatchings, slavery and slaughterhouses, smallness and solitude… perhaps the soul does not confront a greater slog. It is as if evening has come suddenly at exactly 8:40 AM, and the world is engulfed in an uncertain darkness. Do you hear the sound of evil in the air?
In ancient China, the scholars who followed Confucius and read their classics spoke of times like these with uncanny prescience. They noted that periodically in the course of human events the ways that people speak lose touch with reality itself. Language grew overconfident or overbearing and nobody seemed to notice. People spoke like they knew what they were talking about, but their words betrayed the truth on their lips before they were even uttered. Language had become a trap for the soul, one that threatened the stability of the nature of everything. In such times, goodness itself was at risk of being toppled by evil.
What did they do in such perilous times?
The wisest among them called for a “rectification of language”. They wrote poetry and sang songs and composed pithy aphorisms that used language in ways that were more natural, more attuned to the rhythms of the cosmos. And their words sounded mighty peculiar to everyone around them who had grown accustomed to spite-filled, ossified, and putrid speech. They even sounded a little nonsensical because sense had become divorced from the senses.
We too live in a climate of lame and languishing language so that common speech is laced with the cyanide of cacophony for the spirit, no matter how well-intentioned or supposedly “spiritual” one may aspire to be.
3Ken Wilber, Integral Theorist
Ken Wilber is an American writer on transpersonal psychology and his own integral theory, a metatheoretical intellectual edifice which suggests the synthesis of all human knowledge and experience. He is the author of over twenty books including The Religion of Tomorrow.
From “The Deconstruction of the World Trade Center: A Date That Will Live in a Sliding Chain of Signifiers” by Ken Wilber (2006):
The one thing that worries me is that when green slips into its more, shall we say, platitudinous side, the hyper-sensitive, over-the-top caring side, a response that is already circulating Martin Luther King’s statement: ‘The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’
But, you see, that statement is wrong on almost every count… in this case, I believe his heart was clouding his head. Real violence is almost always ended by stronger violence in saner hands. When you meet a Hitler in this world, the correct, noble, ethical, spiritual response is: get a gun and blow his brains out. We ended Auschwitz, not with love, caring dialogue, sensitivity training, and sweet thoughts, but with superior fire power, period. So it is with real violence in the real world—much of it stems from red, and red can only be forcefully contained until it develops its own internal blue constraints. Civilization, for the most part, does not produce barbarism, but curbs it.
Green’s basic problem is that the injunction to not have violence in your heart is confused with not using violence in the real world—at which point green begins to contribute to the problem, not the solution. This is yet another variation on the sad fact that green— and without doubt the MGM and boomeritis—have been complicit in the rise of insurrectionist violence around the world. Of course we should not harbor hate in our hearts; and of course, when you meet Nazis—you should kill them real hard…
So we have a history to how we’ve looked at God and how we’ve defined God and ways that we have attempted to know or reach or touch God, and then there’s a whole anti-God thing, things that don’t seem to be something that any decent person, let alone creator of the universe, would end up doing. So there’s a whole history on evil, the nature of it, where does it come from, is it personified or not personified, and what do we do about it, and that whole series of questions.
So maybe I’ll just start down one line, just because it’s sort of interesting, and that’s the nature of evil and how the history of that has changed and leading to that point, as I said, in modernity, where it just became so insignificant that it dropped out, it just wasn’t an issue for some reason. So what could that be? If evil is, in some sense, an anti-God particle then for evil to drop out of the picture, God had to have dropped out too, and, of course that, famously, “God is dead” came with modernity.
So if you go back and you track both of these, you track God and you track evil, and you see that they’re kind of a parallel trajectory, but certainly with evil, evil kind of starts out as generically it’s something that’s bad, and one of the ultimate bad things that can happen is that you can break your relationship or your covenant or your awareness to or of or with God. And so one of the really worst things that evil can do is nullify God. So we have, in a lot of its earliest versions, it’s personified and evil is an actual living person, in a certain sense, and certainly a living entity, and its whole job is to cause humans to sin, to commit evil, because that’s what the devil or Satan or Beelzebub or whatever name we give to this nasty thing is, that’s his job. So evil is originally something that an actual satanic being is all about. It’s why they’re here. It’s what they do. It’s what they’re made of.
It’s an actual substance in the world and, of course, that is what eventually would shift as theologians and philosopher scholars would attempt to come to terms with the fact that various definitions of evil weren’t working very well, just as various definitions of God were not working as well either. So these things both continued to unfold and evolve, as we were saying, kind of in parallel, but it starts out and it’s a substance, it’s a reality. It’s almost like you can buy a six-pack of it down at the local store, and if you drink three of those then you just might get to Heaven, but if you drink four you’re going to Hell, and that’s it.
So Satan is a real thing and evil is a real entity and it can fuck you up, and that’s its essential chore, is to seduce humans away from the good and away from God, and at that point that’s going to mean God as understood at that particular time, which in most cases is some form of mythic God that has some sort of covenant or bond or agreement with his essentially chosen people, and, if in no other sense, that each culture is ethnocentric and can only think of God as focused on it one way or another anyway, so whatever the version is. So Satan can disrupt your pledge to God or your covenant with God, your bond with God, by making you do actions that break this covenant. If you have pledged, let’s say, the Ten Commandments, then Satan is happy if he can get you to break any of them. The more that he can get you to break, the better off he is, and fundamentalists still think this way. You can still hear this in a preacher in Tennessee, that the devil spends his time thinking about how to get you to go against God’s law, which is whatever the particular preacher happens to say it is at any given time.
So that has its way for quite some time, and then as things start to get a little bit more rational and people start to ask questions a little bit more, both in a critical sense, but also in an attempt to support their particular belief in God, so consciousness itself is tending to evolve from mythic to rational and so we’re starting to just get a little bit more skeptical. We’re starting to ask questions and starting to try to figure out just really exactly what is going on. Then you find changes in all of those. You find some schools, for example, will challenge the omni part of God, and in some cases it’s because just no qualifications in general are really large enough to contain Ultimate Spirit. So, even something like omnipotent isn’t big enough to include all kinds of capacities. Simply being all-powerful doesn’t necessarily say anything about being the most creative or the most artistic or the most musical or even the most caring or most loving. You could be damn near powerful and not very loving at all.
So it was starting to question qualifications of Spirit, and in some cases this reaches very strong versions, as in Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka and sunyata and the idea that you really can’t say anything about Spirit at all, including that. That puts an end to God and evil and pretty much everything else, but all of that is part of a prelude to awakening a different type of knowing, and so that’s one direction that the evil discussion heads in. There are some others that we also have to cover, but one of them is that in denying ontological realities to any substance view of God or Spirit or any substance view of evil, or evil as a substance or reality, that all of those are merely dualistic concepts and Spirit, although this is also denied as a quality, but it’s not dualistic.
So it’s an attempt to get rid of any kind of thinking in concepts or ideas or categories at all, and to make room for a different type of knowing, which the knowing you’re trying to get rid of is vijnana and the “jna” in it in English is “kno” as in knowledge or “gno” as in gnosis. The “vi” means two. So vijnana is dualistic knowledge, and the knowledge you’re trying to get is just jnana which means just pure gnosis or prajna which is pro-jnana, pro-gnosis. That’s an actual awareness that can be known or realized in meditation, and so the general view is that things like good and evil are simply part of the manifest world which is dualistic in its nature. It manifests in opposites, and the whole point is not to have one of those opposites win. So it’s not to have pleasure win over pain, or good win over evil, or nirvana win over samsara.
You can no more have a world that is all pleasure and no pain, and all good and no evil, and all nirvana and no samsara, anymore than you can have a world that is full of all lefts and no rights, and all ups and no downs, and all ins and no outs. It’s just not possible. They arise together. They show up together. They disappear together. So you can get rid of evil, but you get rid of good as well, and so that non-dual awareness, then you’re also getting rid of the subject and object, and so you’re no longer looking at the world as a separate, set apart Self, you are one with the world. So being one with everything, you are what the Upanishads call free of the pairs. So you’re just simply free of all that. It becomes part of a type of knowledge that is inherently illusory, inherently misleading, inherently not ultimate. We used to think that way. We don’t think that way now. We have a way of getting in touch with reality that’s direct and immediate and ultimate…