On Integral World, Joe Corbett Calls Ken Wilber Not-So-Nice Things

Joe Corbett on Integral World

Joe Corbett’s “Ken Wilber: Philosopher King” (newly published on Integral World) is one of the most disappointing articles I’ve read recently purporting to address an integral worldview. It almost begins with an astute observation: there is limited attention paid to Justice in mainstream Integral Theory discourse. (Actually, I’m being too generous. Corbett falsely says that Justice is “absent” in the AQAL matrix.) Thereupon, the article self-destructs into (even more) psuedo-scholarship.

For example:

  1. Exaggerations of the degree to which Justice is treated in Integral discourse, and a total failure to examine any of the literature that exists on justice, ethics, morality, feminism, etc., including Ken Wilber’s books. No examination of Wilber’s Prime Directive and how the “health of the Spiral” is connected to concerns of justice. No examination of Wilber’s inclusion of Carol Gilligan’s model of moral development (justice and care).
  2. The claim that Justice is not included in the triad of “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness” without consideration that Justice is included within Goodness.
  3. Psychologizing criticism of the role of Justice by questioning the motives of integral thinkers, suggesting that they are motivated by “sleight of hand” or “misdirection” or “suppression” without citing any evidence.
  4. Using inflammatory, derogatory language towards other integral thinkers, calling them “devotees” of a charismatic cult reader, an insult and smear.
  5. Asserting a crude power analysis of integral institutions as arrayed worshipfully around a “philosopher king” of Ken Wilber, not only without evidence but without any detailed consideration of obvious counter-evidence (e.g., a plurality of integral thinkers and dispersed centers of influence, the existence of the blogosphere as well as publications such as Integral World).
  6. When Corbett does cite evidence, it’s laughable. In order to demonstrate the truth of his argument that the Integral movement is a personality cult, he cites that “Ken Wilber publications” are adorned with the face of Wilber. Corbett doesn’t bother to quantify how many times Wilber’s face is depicted on his books’ covers compared to the total number of his books or explain why this is evidence for any substantive argument about anything that we should be concerned about. It’s all supposed to be self-evident for Joe and whoever it is he is writing for.
  7. Corbett attacks the existence of paid subscription sites which give privileged access to certain thinkers over others without telling us how this is any different from the way academic institutions work or just about any other social organization. By Corbett’s standard, it seems, all academic journals that charge subscription fees are oppressive tools of evil capitalists. So are many social media properties and online magazines that have some content behind pay-walls. Okay.
  8. Joe also asserts that the existence of for-pay Integral movement websites is evidence that the movement is a “cult phenomenon,” without bothering to define what a cult is or how the existence of paid subscriptions to Integral publications is relevant to discerning a movement’s status as a cult.
  9. He ascribes to Integral thought “Social Darwinism” without defining the term or examining any of the texts which are critical of Social Darwinism (as in Wilber’s Eye of Spirit).
  10. He falsely claims that Ken Wilber claimed that Buddha was a Republican, citing the title of a blog post and audio recording by Clint Fuhs of Core Integral. The same article says that Jesus Christ was a radical socialist. All of these claims are obviously tongue-in-cheek, but they’re taken at face value (I think) by Corbett. (I must qualify that claim because one must question whether the entire article is serious or a parody of Ken Wilber’s most unhinged critics. As a parody, it succeeds.)
  11. He wrongly claims that Integral thought’s inclusion of the Upper Left-Hand quadrant (individual subjective perspectives) into an analysis of social phenomena is equivalent to “blaming and punishing the victims” and “conservative” doctrine. He cites not one instance of an Integral theorist blaming a victim for anything. One suspects there might be a legitimate criticism somewhere in there if one reads between the lines, but on the surface it’s absent.
  12. He asserts Ayn Rand is an influential figure in Integral thought, which is frankly the first time I have ever seen Ayn Rand mentioned as influential. In August, I wrote a blog post contrasting Rand’s Objectivism and Integral Theory, riffing on an article in Integral Leadership Review by Eugene Pustoshkin. I would be surprised if Joe can name even a few positive statements about Rand by an integralist, let alone provide evidence of his claim that the thought stream has been at all influential.
  13. Joe saves his most telling argument for last, the ad hominem, calling out Ken Wilber and others in not-so-nice ways (read it yourself). [Insert observation about shadow projection here.]

Although Joe’s biography on Integral World claims he has taught at certain unspecified American and Chinese universities, one doesn’t need to see his detailed C.V. to realize that his post is better categorized as a fact-free temper tantrum combined with ideological commitments that are neither brought into consciousness nor questioned than intellectually serious. He works in an evidence-free zone of pure emotion and presupposition that is foreign to the standards of mainstream academic discourse.

What a pity. It doesn’t serve the legitimate end of investigating the proper role of Justice within Integral thought whatsoever.

My own belief is that Justice is the essence of the intersection between Eros and Agape — an image of which can be found in what I call the “cross in the center of everything” in my book Soulfully Gay (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2007). (That’s an image that I connect with my own theology’s roots in Latin American liberation theology and Reinhold Niebuhr’s social ethics, by the way.)

Not to mention that Wilber’s Foreword for my book shows his support of the gay rights movement, a pretty significant dimension of social justice in today’s world. I may be biased, but I think it says something positive that Ken selected Soulfully Gay, a book which makes a passionate case for gay marriage and equal rights for sexual minorities as an integral piece of a broader platform for human liberation, as the second book published by Integral Books. Wilber personally edited the Shambhala imprint and selected the order in which its books were published (Soulfully Gay was published immediately following his own seminal book, Integral Spirituality, in 2007). Ken gets no credit for this, of course.

It will come as no surprise to longtime readers of Integral publications that Joe Corbett’s sort of pseudo-scholarship is published too often on Integral World, detracting from the website’s overall credibility. I would enjoy the prospect of the Editor, Frank Visser, explaining how exactly Corbett’s article meets his publication’s editorial standards … or, alternatively, give us a notice that he’s now publishing a parody.

And if we are to speak of ethics, Joe and Frank, what ever happened to not bearing false witness against one’s neighbor? Isn’t honesty in speech still an important value for either of you?

Note: Edited on 1/17/2012 to remove profanity from the headline and clarifying point #13.

7 Replies to “On Integral World, Joe Corbett Calls Ken Wilber Not-So-Nice Things”

  1. Hi Joe,

    Its good to see you taking on this kind of attack. There are certainly valid critiques of integral leaders, institutions, events, communities, etc., that might seem to echo Joe Corbett’s criticisms. Heck, I’ve made some of them myself. But pieces like this one lack subtlety and are more akin to facebook comments made during an attack of poor judgement (which I’ve done all too often) than to a well formulated and well presented analysis.

    For instance, I’ve often said that the structure (LR) of the integral community is essentially kings and serfs. This doesn’t mean there is a literal feudal structure in place. Obviously, we’re all taking part in this community voluntarily – for starters. I just mean that, as a community, we don’t have a democratic structure. We’re essentially consumers of a product and if we don’t like something about a product or a purveyor of a product, our options are not to engage in some kind of democratic process to change it, rather we can simply leave – that is, decline to consume the product. In terms of social organization, this bears more similarity, to my eye, to a feudal arrangement than to a democratic one. But its only a similarity and its the same system that the consumers of any product face.

    It seems like a common human mistake to confuse a metaphor for reality. In some ways, the suppliers of products and the consumers of products are like kings and serfs. In other ways, they aren’t (we’re all certainly free to criticize and analyze our integral suppliers for instance). A metaphor becomes ridiculous if taken too far.

    I’m glad you have the stomach to take this kind of thing on.


  2. I think Joe Corbett may not be a precise scholar but he is reflecting the fact that the Integral environment of Wilber is skewed to a certain political shade.

    The problem with Corbett is that he doesn’t understand that Wilber, beyond his own right-of-center Midwestern politics, is likely trying his best to keep (his) integral as far outside of the left-right paradigm struggle as he can, and that in itself is an internal political action that Wilber exercises within his Integral environment. Here Wilber is being practical with his politics; otherwise he would alienate many in his immediate circle. Therein the Philosophy of Integral won’t be thrown out with the bathwater of current politics.

    I didn’t myself understand this years ago when I critiqued Wilber on his Iraq war stance.
    Although I don’t take back that criticism, I do understand his views now in light of the responsibilities of what amounts to an individual such as Wilber who in essence is the pope of postmodern integral thinking. . . . And as the pope probably should maintain a moderate political stripe for the sake of the cause.

    I don’t mean this at all as suggesting that this is any cynical endeavor of Wilber since likely he believes in his politics yet understands the benefit of not swinging too far left or right.

    Wilber being very perceptive certainly doesn’t have a lack of awareness, as Colbert suggests, regarding issues of compassion and justice in the world, its just that Wilber, most likely wrongfully, is trying to apply his Integral theoretical paradigm where it would be best not to apply it to . . . that is to certain levels of world phenomenal suffering where the antiseptic and theoretical application of Integral theory doesn’t go over too well with his proverbial, as he would put it: mean green meme analytical thinkers.

    Unfortunalety I think Colbert doesn’t help his cause, which I think has decent and debatable points, with the Wilber is an asshole rap.

  3. john –

    i’m glad to see you have the subtlety to discern the feudal-like relations within the integral organization, like most any other corporate enterprise tyranny, and my poor judgement for recognizing the same is noted.

    zakariyya –

    you are correct, i sometimes roasted ken in a manner that would have even made steven colbert proud. i will promptly send my cv to his show, and if you could provide a reference i would greatly appreciate it.

    joe –

    you are right, ken may in fact be a big selfish asshole, which is not in fact what i actually ‘factually’ said, if you go back and check it for yourself. and the ‘fact’ that you were disappointed about my article means that ‘in truth’ you found it upsetting, troublesome, and worrisome, which is why you felt it necessary to write this diatribe against me, myself, and i. and by the way, this officially qualifies you as one of the anointed inner-circle members of the integral in-crowd. congratulations! thanks for your recognition and support!

    1. Joe,

      I wasn’t going to reply to you, but I can’t resist the temptation to ask one thing: with your Stephen Colbert reply to Zakariyya, do you mean to say that this entire post is satire of Ken Wilber’s critics? I thought that it might be, but if that’s the case, then why are you so upset by my reply (calling it a diatribe as opposed to a critique) and can you fault me for not being “in on the joke” since everyone I heard from seemed also to take your words at face value rather than a send up of KW’s critics.

  4. joe

    i would say that my post was a satire of kw, not of his critics, and that something can be humorous, or perceived to be in bad taste, or lacking in evidential ‘facts’, but still be truthful.

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