A More Integral 2015

I’m back from a holiday season vacation and I’ve noticed several wonderful articles and podcasts in the blogosphere that I want to give my attention in the days to come. But first, I want to express my New Year wish for the Integral community.

Let’s let the past be the past, especially the controversies and divisiveness and any ill will that has cropped up between one part of the community or another, one leading figure to another, or person to person. Let’s give everyone a chance to show a new side and demonstrate the capacity for growth.

Let’s let go of resentments on account of not having been noticed, or given our fair share of credit, appreciated enough, seen as right, or whatever the case may be.

Let’s let go of resentments that have arisen because some folks have taken the Integral movement in a direction that we would rather have it not go, made some important mistake, not done their homework well enough, or not used our preferred terminology or schema for consciousness, or not spoken with enough care.

Let’s let go of resentments towards those we may see as “less evolved” (inside and outside the community) on account of their ignorance or failure to grow, and let’s go of resentments towards those we may see as “more evolved” because they haven’t done enough to lead the way.

Let’s let go of resentments towards popular culture and mainstream society and conventional politics and so forth, for being filled with first-tier dysfunctions.

Let’s start 2015 with a simple desire that the world become a more Integral place. How much more Integral? Just as Integral as it needs to be, and at least a bit more for the sake of delight.

We will know it is becoming a more Integral world because…

  • people who thought only of themselves will begin to think of their neighbors as well, and leaders who thought only about their community’s interests begin to think about the globe
  • people will begin to evolve their traditions to allow for new ways in which we can all co-exist together, recognizing our common depth of unity behind all the surface diversity
  • people will take the reigns of evolution and consciously grow as part of an integral, coherent, systemic whole world order
  • people will begin to “wake up” at whatever station of life they are at, becoming re-born into their Supreme Identity
  • people will begin to “grow up” to see their unsolvable problems “solved” at a higher level of consciousness
  • people will begin to look around for others who share a more expansive consciousness and when they do they will be attracted to the body of books and blogs and movies and art masterpieces and workshops and educational programs and therapies and spiritual teachings and leadership development offerings and think tanks that we in the Integral / Evolutionary community have developed.
  • having been drawn to the offerings of the Integral / Evolutionary community, its philosophers, artists, activists, healers, business people, educators, and so on, many new people will join in the movement, contributing their gifts, and becoming full participants in the larger game.

As these many thousands and even millions of new people encounter the Integral / Evolutionary community for the first time, do we want them to be greeted with in-fighting and disarray and dysfunction, or a true unitas multiplex?

It’s time to do our part in creating a more integral / evolved world in 2015. What a beautiful opportunity for practicing being our Self/selves together as  Unique We!

Integral Blog will be there along the way, playing a small role in the blogosphere ecosystem to help draw connections and build community. I started this blog largely out of a sense that the Integral movement needs a healthy ecosystem of publications and social media presence to thrive, and it takes all of us doing our part. I am looking forward to taking this journey with you, and open to the possibility of becoming more fully integrated and whole in my own 2015.

Properly Integral: A Response To Frank Visser’s Three Disappointments

I read Frank Visser’s “Reaching Out to the World” with appreciation and, at times, exasperation, particularly the conclusion in which he instructs the reader as to the “proper” way of approaching Integral philosophy. Here are my initial reactions, for what they’re worth.

Reading Visser’s essay, which he calls a new chapter of his decade-old book Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, helps me to know Wilber better and see the Integral community and its detractors more clearly. That is a huge gift. I wish Frank nothing but good tidings for the future of his projects, especially Integral World.

For those who don’t know who he is, Visser is an intellectual biographer of Wilber’s who over time became one of his greatest detractors. After all these years, Frank admits that he is “disappointed”, actually a kind of “triple disappointment.” He regrets (1) that Wilber’s understanding of science was not “that deep”, that (2) Wilber did not respond to online critics who contributed to his website (which was formerly called The World of Ken Wilber, BTW), and that (3) the Integral community didn’t seem to mind.

All three of these disappointments color Frank’s new chapter, which is really sort of an old chapter for those of us who have been paying at least a little attention over the past decade. Let’s take a look at each of them.

The First Disappointment

I guess Visser’s critique of Wilber’s take on neo-Darwinism is almost supposed to be self-evidently true, a knock down by a giant of a 98-pound weakling in a grotesquely mismatched prize fight. But it doesn’t really convince. These two paragraphs are the crux of Visser’s argument, beginning with a Wilber quote:

In Integral Spirituality (2006) he [Ken Wilber] states:

That drive—Eros by any other name—seems a perfectly realistic conclusion, given the facts of evolution as we understand them. Let’s just say there is plenty of room for a Kosmos of Eros.[33]

This can be considered the core of Wilber’s philosophy—more central than holons, heaps, or artifacts; quadrants, levels, lines, states and all that jazz—not only the process of biological evolution, but the cosmos as a whole, is governed by a mysterious spiritual Force. Apparently, for Wilber, there is no other way to explain nature’s complexities. He is inspired in this respect by A.N. Whitehead’s process philosophy, which postulates an immanent divine force in evolution.[34]

While I have defended similar notions in the past, and have even criticized Wilber for misrepresenting the esoteric view of evolution[35] which postulates a divine upward drive towards complexity, after years of studying the field of biological evolution I would no longer hold that view. On the contrary, I discovered that science has offered many plausible explanations for the existence of cosmological and biological complexity. This makes the postulation of a spiritual Eros in the Kosmos rather premature. So instead of challenging Wilber from the perennialist position, which I did in my earlier writings, over the years I have challenged him on Integral World from the naturalistic position of science.[36] Let’s really get post-metaphysical. Let’s get physical![37] Though Wilber may be strong in the fields of mind and culture, his coverage of the domains of life and matter leaves much to be desired. This casts grave doubts on Wilber’s claim for a Theory of Everything.

How about that! If you hadn’t been paying attention, when Wilber opposed metaphysics Visser was for it, but later apparently Ken sort of came around and acknowledged that his work had one metaphysical premise, and just then Visser coincidentally turns around and becomes anti-metaphysical. Well, okay, fine. They’re both permitted to evolve, aren’t they?

I would ask you to notice two things about the Wilber quote chosen by Visser. First, that Wilber describes Eros as a “perfectly realistic conclusion”. Second, Wilber says that “there is plenty of room” for Eros in his philosophy. Wilber nowhere invokes Spirit as an “explanation” for the universe.

Continue reading “Properly Integral: A Response To Frank Visser’s Three Disappointments”

Steve McIntosh: Our Most Important Activism Today is Building the Integral Worldview Itself

We all know what a product brand is: a name, design, logo, or some more intangible quality that identifies one good from another in the marketplace. Marketers sometimes say that a brand is really the first thing you think of when someone mentions a product; in other words, its reputation in totality or the impression it leaves after the product is out of sight.

Continue reading “Steve McIntosh: Our Most Important Activism Today is Building the Integral Worldview Itself”

Defining “Integral” (or: What Harvey Milk might say to the Integral movement today)

Several months ago, Zachary Stein of DTS and the Harvard University Graduate School of Education passed along his paper, “On the Use of the Term Integral,” (published in the proceedings of the 2nd Biennial ITC in 2010 and forthcoming from SUNY). I intended to write about the issues it raises on my blog, but then I took an extended writing leave.

Now that this blog is finally going again, I think Stein’s thesis is well worth considering right out of the starting gate. What is the term “Integral” all about? And, since this is my blog, how do I intend to use the term on Joe Perez (the blog)?

Three Ways to Define “Integral”

There are basically three varieties of answers to the first question. First, answers from those who are “in the know” about the so-called Integral movement, a loosely defined constellation of books, teachers, coaches, conferences, events, and even blogs centered around Ken Wilber‘s many writings and the work of previous “Integral thinkers” such as Sri Aurobindo and Jean Gebser, who used the term in ways that inspired Wilber.

Second, answers from those whose use of the term is connected to its more common uses (i.e., the dictionary definition meaning “whole” or “essential”) or easy use in the New Age movement, where it is occasionally used along with terms such as “holistic” without any intended association with Wilber’s philosophy.

Third — and this usage doesn’t really concern us much because it is so uncommon — is the appropriation of “Integral” by a few bloggers and such who are familiar with Wilber’s work but are opposed to his views. Some have insisted that their own views are best called “Integral” and that Wilber and allied thinkers aren’t really “Integral.”

Exorcising the “Integral” Demons

Zachary Stein’s essay focuses on the first usage of “Integral,” which is also the sense in which the term will be used generally on this blog. He conducts what he calls a “terminological exorcism;” that is, expelling “magical,” “richly luminous,” or “almost religious” connotations in favor of more careful and accurate use of the term.

It’s not that Stein wants to de-legitimize the “deeply religious bent” of the term’s most influential proponents (Sri Aurobindo, James Mark Baldwin, and Jean Gebser among them). Instead, he wants to clear up confusion about how the term is actually used when describing human development. He asks us to consider whether we are using the term descriptively or normatively.

“Integral” fails when it is used descriptively, Stein argues, because it is often applied liberally to refer to stages at the upper end of the spectrum of human development and to provide a positive, normative valuation of those stages. But, Stein says:

[O]ne form of common usage [of “integral”] entangles this term with discourses about the higher levels. But these ways of deploying the term integral—where it is used as a descriptive term—are liability prone, and land us in confusions about what the higher stages are really like. Using the term as a catch-all for characterizing properties and products of late-stage development blinds us to the heterogeneity of what shows up beyond formal operations and the non-obvious value thereof. (p. 14, 15)

He says that uses of the term as a catch-all are connected with a highly problematic “growth-to-goodness” philosophical assumption present in the Integral movement (though not Wilber’s own writings, which are “poly-vocal and rich with footnotes and caveats.”) Indeed, he supplies several examples intended to show that “Integral” is more of a potential made available at higher-levels rather than a description. Additionally, he says:

[I]t is more accurate to take Integral as a term used with reference to a specific sub-set of high level capabilities, dispositions, and artifacts. These would be those that are taken as valuable, admirable, and worthy of pursuit. That is, out of all that becomes possible beyond formal operations, Integral is used as a label for what is preferable. (p. 15)

All in all, I find Zachary’s recommendations compelling, at least as a guide for the sort of usage of “Integral” that I find most helpful for this blog going forward. I’ll leave it to professional psychological theorists to weigh in on the question or whether it is appropriate to dispense with the term for the basis of their research. I suspect that Stein’s recommendation will probably not meet much resistance.

The Struggle to Use “Integral” Well as a Term of Art

Freeing the term “Integral” from any assumption that it describes the psychological stage of maturity of those to whom it is applied is liberating. In the early days of this blog, I struggled (e.g., here and here) to find ways of applying the term in critical discourse without appearing to be making some sort of illegitimate psychological profile without adequate empirical data.

When I used the term “Integral” as a descriptor in Rising Up, I was constantly sidetracked by a need I felt to justify a “diagnosis” rather than simply weigh-in on certain formal features of someone’s writing. Moreover, the book’s (and blog’s) use of developmental models in cultural criticism was largely ignored both by the mainstream pundits and even among most Integral writers. I don’t know why, but my suspicion is that others were hesitant to follow in the direction of using “Integral” in cultural criticism because of some of the confusion between descriptive and normative terminology discussed by Stein.

Nevertheless, I gained some important lessons from “cutting new grooves” with Rising Up that are salient to this conversation. Most of all, I learned that the act of applying the label “Integral” to the discourses we experience — whether they are internal thought dialogues, conversations with friends, or blogs on the World Wide Web — is a valuable and consciousness-expanding practice.

There is, I believe, a stage of development in which a person may find themselves needing to use evolutionary or developmental metaphors for repairing fragmented worldviews and restore psychological equilibrium. For individuals with this psychic structure, it is worthwhile to remember “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (Mark 10:15), and thus pick up everything they encounter as a child takes a toy, hold it up for examination, and say, “This is Integral. This isn’t Integral,” or “This is Red meme. This is Blue meme. This is Orange meme. This is Yellow meme,” and so on.

Without going through the process of mentally recalibrating the engines of thought to account for new developmentally-framed discourses, my maturation process would have been short-circuited. While it’s fine to distinguish between descriptive and evaluative in theory, and it’s probably a commendable discipline to practice for psychological theorists, in practice the two are often interwoven.

The statement, “Barack Obama’s speech about ‘red America’ and ‘blue America’ is an example of ‘Integral’ discourse,” would not be disputed by any Integral thinker that I know (or would respect as an “Integral thinker” if I knew.) But is that sentence descriptive or evaluative? How could it be re-written so as to be one but not the other? It makes my mind pause to even attempt such exorcism of language on the fly.

Opening the Door to the “Integral Closet”

Is it really important that people at post-formal levels of development make this distinction in everyday conversation, or is that really just a concern for psychological theorists who need to get their papers approved by editorial boards sometimes filled with academics ignorant of the last few decades of developmental literature? I suspect the latter is the case. Continue reading “Defining “Integral” (or: What Harvey Milk might say to the Integral movement today)”