I enjoyed reading Frank Visser’s reply in “What Would Wilber Do?” to my earlier post called “Properly Integral: A Response To Frank Visser’s Three Disappointments”, after I got over a bit of frustration at having my arguments characterized to make me look as ridiculous as possible. It’s all a fair part of the blogging game and done in good fun.
Visser begins by once again bemoaning the lack of engagement with criticism he sees with critics by the integral community and especially by Ken Wilber, citing the example of Jeff Meyerhoff’s book. Since I have previously discussed this issue and note that he didn’t specifically reply to my points regarding Ken’s many responses to critics, willingness to change, and so forth, I am tempted to move on. He continues to repeat the canard that Wilber doesn’t engage with critics regardless of how many times this is pointed out to be incorrect in so many ways, the ways that really count.
There are other responses in Visser’s article which I am not going to take on directly because I think the answers suggest themselves to the discerning reader. To respond would only take the discussion in the direction of “Didn’t Wilber say a few inaccurate things over the course of more than twenty books, and why doesn’t this bother you as much as it bothers me and should bother everyone?” and “Doesn’t the fact that I’m subscribed to a bunch of opt-in E-mail lists that I personally joined prove that Integral thought is, in fact, overly marketed in the whole wide culture throughout all media markets everywhere in the world?” and “Doesn’t the fact that Wilber once wrote that Spirit offers a ‘spiritual explanation’ mean exactly that he thinks it is actually a ‘scientific explanation as these signifiers are understood by the orange vMEME’ too, and therefore his philosophy as a whole is bunk?”
Let’s move on from these distractions and focus on one key area of conflict. At the end, I am proposing a novel way forward by issuing a challenge to Frank Visser.
Two Cultures or Two Altitudes?
Let me quote Visser regarding the topic of Integral criticism. He writes:
In my opinion, there are two cultures at work here. Are we looking AS Wilber/Integral or AT Wilber/Integral—that’s the question. And these cultures will clash, unavoidably and spectacularly. The first culture is guided by the motto “What Would Wilber Do?” (WWWD). It sees the world through Wilberian glasses. It will therefore spot only Wilberian facts. It will look at things AS Wilber does, identifying itself with his point of view. It will be essentially uncritical towards Wilber. For how can be greatest philosopher in history be wrong?
The second culture will ask itself the question: “Wilber or Truth?”. Not to imply that these two can’t go together, but that the focus should be on truth, even if we admire or respect Wilber for what he has accomplished. What matters in the end, is that Wilber’s statements are either validated and corroborated, or refuted and rejected, in a free speech environment. This is the “agenda” of Integral World, if you will. It is still a minority standpoint, especially among those who have discovered Wilber’s work in the past few years, but an integral niche to be cherished. But the integral landscape should be wide enough to accommodate all these initiatives.
If one substitutes the word “altitude” for “culture”, then Visser is basically repeating an observation made in Ken Wilber’s Wyatt Earp post (“What We Are, That We See. Part I: Response to Some Recent Criticism in a Wild West Fashion”), namely that there are two groups of participants in the Integral conversation, some criticizing from a standpoint within its framework of discourse and some criticizing it without. Visser sees two cultures; in the worldspace that I inhabit, and in reality, there are different altitudes. The internal participants in the Integral worldspace come in for heaps of condescension at Visser’s hand, for he compares their ethos to that of religionists following their master (asking “What Would Wilber Do?”), wearing “Wilberian glasses”, spotting “Wilberian facts”, etc. It does get wearisome reading these sorts of characterizations over and over.
Visser looks at folks in the integral community, the ones who are AS Integral, those actually working to put Integral ideas into action as opposed to lobbing stones from the sidelines, and he doesn’t notice that they are operating at an altitude different from his own. He describes them as accurately as he possibly can, as similar to Christian evangelicals who have Wilber as their messiah, because that’s what it would be like for him personally to step inside the framework AS Integral. For Visser to stop looking AT Integral and start looking AS Integral he would lose his status as a bona fide independent freethinker. He is unable to conceive of a way of keeping his intellectual integrity while actually stepping into an AS Integral stance. Such a leap would require finding a way to be original and a systematic thinker at the same time.
Visser sees out of the prism of, I would estimate, the orange altitude — and this is just how the conflict looks to him. His growth over the past several years away from metaphysics and towards a natural scientific perspective seems like it may be evidence of his growth from amber to orange (or the blue vMEME to the orange vMEME). Talking about Visser’s worldview in this way is no reflection on his intelligence or morals, but it is necessary if I am to respond adequately to Visser’s response at all. Remember the point made so forcefully by Wilber in Wyatt Earpy: pointing out a difference in altitude is an entirely legitimate thing to do. Visser senses the altitude differential himself and he cognizes it as a difference in how two cultures of people venerate or fail to venerate a dominant authority figure, either by believing he “is right on almost everything under the sun” or that he is flawed. Well, from my viewpoint, that is just bullshit, and he ought to know that it bears little relationship to reality as I see it. For starters, Ken Wilber wears awful socks. I cannot and will not defend his socks.
It is not merely Frank Visser’s so-called AT Wilbers who seek truth. I think we are all seeking truth, beauty, and goodness, for sure, even the AS Integrals. It’s just that at orange altitude truth is monolithic and based on simple correlations between supposedly objective facts and a sensible reality; scientific method is the pivileged form of inquiry, its findings granted special standing; poetic, aesthetic, and spiritual truths are disqualified. That’s the truth that Visser and other orange-level AT Wilbers are pointing towards, and that’s all well and good if that’s their best. It’s an orange view of truth and its critique of Ken Wilber or anyone else generates orange facts. There are also views of truth from every other worldspace in consciousness, and for many people in the Integral movement it is their work to increment truth through means other than being an orange critic.
Many integralists find themselves “completing the map” drawn by Wilber or another thinker, adding new insights into the contours and textures of the map through the work. I guess they’re too busy doing this sort of thing to review the latest modernist or postmodernist missive published on Integral World. They find ways in which Integral theory needs reform before it can work in practice. They find ways in which Integral theory is more partial than it at first seemed to them, not because Wilber inadequately responded to Meyerhoff, but because the data from their lives-as-experiments revealed new and more adequate levels of sophistication that are possible in a truly Integral worldview. It is through construction and extension and expansion and embodiment that integralists are offering their boldest critiques of Integral Theory. And let’s not forget the post-Teal/Turquoise folks either (the post-integralists or third-tier thinkers), who have plenty of differences they see with the dominant Integral methods and philosophies, but who enfold those differences in an appreciative and actualized embrace even as they turn to other matters.
Calling an Orange an Orange
I know some readers are probably aghast that I spoke of Frank Visser’s arguments as orange. I recall something useful in this context written by Terry Patten and Marco Morelli:
Let’s be more careful about the tendency to designate people or groups by the categories of “integral” and “non-integral” (and likewise, “first tier” or “second tier” or the various colors of Spiral Dynamics and the AQAL altitudes of development). As veteran integralists, we have no problem with developmental holarchies, particularly in theory and specific applications. But these labels can be less useful in real world interactions, working with diverse people. In fact, they can be downright damaging to human relations, when applied carelessly. The attempt to narrowly define what is “truly integral” is a turn-off that echoes the kind of absolutism that we typically see in right-wing politics and religion. Instead, we can practice the generosity of seeing integralness everywhere, while often dropping the nomenclature altogether—simply letting beings be, as Martin Heidegger (that most abstruse of philosophers) described the “essence of truth” in his later thought.
So let me be clear about something. I am aware that some people would prefer not to use labels. However, in my judgment to avoid labeling Frank Visser’s argument as orange would not allow me to fully express who I am in relationship to him and would overall just distort the discussion terribly. I am unwilling to put my integralism in the closet in the interest of sensitivity to his feelings, which might be hurt if someone says he isn’t integral enough. I think Patten’s and Morelli’s approach might be right for some situations, however situations vary, and there is a big risk of burying the gift of a genuinely Integral critique through an unwillingness to state the truth as we see it. I have promised to practice unapologetic integralism on this blog, not sneaky integralism. I want to occupy an up-front Integral movement, not a secret integralism hidden behind “letting beings be”. Visser and I are both public figures on account of our writing and I’m sure we’ve both grown pretty thick skin. This is one of those situations where you just have to call an apple an apple and an orange an orange. I have a proposition to make Visser that might just move the debate out of empty signifiers into something actually interesting and valuable.
Here it is. Frank, if you are as committed to truth as I’m sure you are, then get your altitude on the table for everyone to see and I’ll do the same. There are assessment tests you can take that will identify your level of ego-maturity, and I’m thinking of the StAGES assessment developed at Pacific Integral and LDF assessment which was developed by Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter. If you prefer another assessment that’s your right. I for one have taken these assessments not once, but twice spaced out over the course of two years, and I am overdue for a third assessment, as part of an ongoing research study conducted by the scholars at Pacific Integral who have, incidentally, taken Cook-Greuter’s work to the next level through wonderful innovations. There are thousands of people who have undergone assessments by Dr. Cook-Grueter and Dr. O’Fallon and their associates, and I invite you, writer-to-writer, to take the test and write about your experience personally. I’ll do the same. If you won’t take it, why not?, and how do you reconcile your unwillingness to get clear about your altitude with your commitment to truth? This is a proposal for mutual sharing, not a contest or ego match or competition. It’s a form of sharing that could actually move the discussion forward in unexpected ways rather than stuck in the mud.
What do you say? What Would Frank Visser Do?
Note: This conversation is continued in “Since I’ve Been Away … Or: Have We Become Altitude Denialists?”