Jeff Salzman: Justice Is Fully Included As An Integral Value

Postmodernists are on alert when reading Integral thought for any shred of evidence that their pet values aren’t getting supreme attention. If Integralists say too many nice things about conservative values or fail to make central institutional features of power and money, then representatives of the Green Meme are soon on the attack.

Recently theorist Joe Corbett criticized two Integral thinkers, Ken Wilber and Jeff Salzman, for — oh my! — forgetting about Justice. On The Daily Evolver today, Salzman replies to an essay by Joe Corbett published recently on Integral World:

Corbett’s essay reveals a fruitful friction often found among integralists. First let me address his opening theoretical argument that when justice is not included on par with the primary human values of goodness, truth and beauty it is a “glaring omission of the L-R [lower right] quadrant”, and therefore the conversation Ken and I had is “entirely devoid of any structural analysis or acknowledgement of social institutions and the prevailing forms of justice within society.”

This is nonsense of course; suffice it to say that Ken WIlber, author of AQAL Theory, didn’t just – ooops! – forget about the exterior collective dimension of reality. Indeed Ken and I both talk about the structures of society all the time, including in our conversation. I wouldn’t know how to discuss current events without doing so.

Part of the confusion may come from a misreading of AQAL Theory where Ken relates the four quadrants that make up a human being to the three native perspectives a human being can take: first person (I and me), second person (you and we) and third person (it and they)…

Read the whole article and listen to the podcast.

Integral Thought and Queer Theory, a reply to Daniel Gustav Anderson

Daniel Gustav Anderson
The following letter by Daniel Gustav Anderson‘s just came to my attention this morning:

An Open Letter to Joe Perez

28 October 2011

Dear Mr. Perez,

We do not know each other well. So I hope it not too impertinent for a stranger like me to make a public demand on your time and attention. I do this in a spirit of friendship, and with an eye toward pushing the horizons of contemporary integral thought forward.

Here is the thing: It seems to me that you are in a unique position to contribute to the integral studies discourse in a productive and creative way, and not only because you already have a readership of significant numbers among those who are interested in this material. I am referring instead to your legitimacy in writing on issues of gender and sexual identity. You are able to write the queer with authority, as you did in Soulfully Gay.

That is point A.

Point B: There exists a lively, provocative, and occasionally problematic body of scholarship and reflection uneasily categorized as Queer Studies. You may be surprised to hear that there is significant and evocative overlap between your project in Soulfully Gay and the concerns of queer theorists such as Lauren Berlant, Michael Warner, and most especially Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who describes her experiences in meditation in Touching Feeling. I am also of the opinion that Juana Rodriguez’s Queer Latinidad is a quietly soulful book.

I am writing you to bring points A and B into meaningful dialogue in your mind. I am asking you, Mr. Perez, to give this work a careful and critical reading, and then to write about it. The readers of the JITP would surely benefit from this. How so? In a few ways. This will take some explaining.

I bring this up with the understanding that there is nothing particularly “postmodern” about the material I am drawing your attention to. Seriously. If anything (and Berlant spells this out in Queen of America), the practices described are a reaction to, a resistance to, the postmodern condition, to cultural life under Reagan and neoliberalism. (See David Harvey’s classic The Postmodern Condition, and Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, to specify my meaning. You surely know this work, Mr. Perez, but since this is also a public document, I want to foreclose public misunderstandings before they arise.)

Engaging with queer theory in detail will give you a chance to broaden the understanding of queer identities and experiences and practices in integral theory (which you are uniquely positioned to do), and along the way to tighten up the concept of the postmodern as it circulates in integral studies. That is the take-away. You can do this effectively, and this discourse will benefit when you do.

So please. Enlighten the counterpublic.

In friendship,

Annandale, Virginia

Hi Daniel,

First of all, I really appreciate your remarks in the letter and that you’ve noticed that I’ve been pretty silent on the topic of Queer Theory since the publication of Soulfully Gay. If I’ve largely ignored writing about LGBT/Queer Studies scholars, it’s fair to note that they’ve ignored Soulfully Gay, so far as I know. That’s not true in the non-academic discourse of Gay Men’s Spirituality, by the way, even though my own work is located as a critical voice within that movement.

On my part, this is an oversight I intend to remedy in time, but I am blessed and cursed with several different areas and modalities in which I desire to contribute.  I do not foresee writing another book or substantial essay on Queer Theory for another year or more. I have a shelf on my bookshelf devoted to the latest developments in Queer Theory including some of the books you mention, and will be writing short pieces in the months ahead.

Let me be blunt: apart from a few authors such as Gilles Herrada, I have not yet read a single Queer Theory book even closely approaching an Integral or post-postmodern level of consciousness. That’s not to say there aren’t glimmers of post-postmodern insights in different writers, as one would expect a few decades into the rise of postmodern discourse in academia. Of course there are. However, academia is pretty abysmal right now. I perceive more interesting emerging integral voices in the LGBT community in spirituality, literature, art, and music — but not yet among academics.

I take issue with your judgment “there is nothing particularly ‘postmodern’ about the material…” of Queer Theorists. We clearly disagree. I guess that depends on your definition of postmodern. In 2009, I wrote a post for a popular audience called “Top 10 Signs Your Spirituality Might Be Integral” for Integral Life. It’s not intended as an academic paper, more of an “at-home self-test” of integral perspectives.

But if you ask questions like those 10 of your typical Queer Theorist you will find that the answer is definitely “No, their writing is NOT integral.” There are two important senses in which I intend this point: first, that the authors’ writing so far as I can tell probably does not evidence levels of ego-development centered at post-Individualist maturity in Susanne Cook-Greuter’s scale of ego-development maturity; secondly, that the positive values articulated by Integral Theory such as inclusion of developmental diversity, comprehensivity, non-dual perspectives on spirituality, etc., are not valued as such.

I try to hold the former judgments lightly (and generally privately), given that I have not administered any diagnostic assessment of the author and in any case it’s rarely necessary to talk about an author’s implicit psychological profile when it’s much easier to talk about the author’s explicit values.

A telltale sign of a postmodern Queer Theorist is that they value diversity in its own right and refuse to situate their discourse in a “big picture” of an evolving human nature; a sign of an integral LGBTQ/gay theorist is that they value both diversity and unity together and situate their discourse in a model of gender and sexuality capable of making sense of the facts of development in their particularity and in their general principles. An early exemplar of this approach is my own Soulfully Gay.

I want to add that there’s nothing wrong with Queer Theory as a vibrant, healthy postmodern (but non-Integral) expression of critical consciousness. “Not Integral” is not an insult in my book, it’s a tool of criticism itself, a pointer to the ways in which a writer has omitted something essential that could provide a wider and more useful perspective.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was a brilliant theorist whose contribution to scholarship was seminal; without her work in developing various postmodern critiques, integral scholarship could not stand on her shoulders. Her brilliance as a postmodern thinker is not diminished by the fact that she had not made certain connections obvious from a more integral perspective; indeed, it is from an integral view that her brilliance is all the more valued even as the partiality of her methodology comes more clearly into view.

Healthy postmodern perspectives are needed today inside and outside academia, just so long as they are willing to allow integral voices to work alongside them. There are destructive and constructive phases of postmodern criticism, and as writers naturally flow away from tearing down reality into appreciating and beautifying reality, they naturally progress into more integrative modes.

Warm regards,


P.S.: I contract every time I hear you talk on your blog about “Wilberians” and “Wilber and his followers,” or attaching “dynamics of exploitation” judgments to spiritual teachers without a justification that I find persuasive. Such dismissive pigeon-holing is a major turn-off to me; it’s a common tactic of academic writers, I know, but I find it cringe worthy. I’m looking forward to having time after my vacation to cutting through the contractions and commenting on your work including your new essay. Overall, Integral needs to pay more attention to justice issues, and I’m glad there are folks out there who take them seriously.

As the world searches for a 21st-century philosophy, Objectivism and Integral thought vie in Russia

The twentieth century philosophy of Objectivism staunchly opposed statism and collectivism and defended laissez-faire economics as the salvation of the all-important individual. This philosophy, born of the passions of Ayn Rand, the Russian-American philosopher and novelist, is one of the most influential edifices for rationally defending an essentially pre-ethnocentric worldview — that is, a mindset dominated by an individual’s own needs and wants, incapable of much psychological insight into oneself or others. Rand once said:

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

Rand did not intend to encourage raw, brutal domination or criminality, I don’t think. She decried motivations rooted in power-lust or the desire to beat others. And yet according to Objectivism the achievement of an individual’s happiness is an end to itself, without any understanding of what creates happiness or any ability to distinguish immature forms of happiness from more mature forms. It’s a “rebel without a cause” philosophy (very popular, as it happens, with teenage boys).

The limits of Objectivist philosophy

The result is a philosophy easily misunderstood and misused by individuals without the psychological maturity to employ it as a pit-stop along the path of philosophical self-discovery, not the end of the line. In Russia and elsewhere today, intellectuals sometimes recourse to Objectivism (or more mild forms of libertarianism) in reaction to oppressive governments. When they embrace Objectivism with too much enthusiasm, their newfound liberation may become a mask for greedy, chaotic, self-destructive impulses run amok.

Could an Integral philosophy such as one drawing upon the work of Ken Wilber, Don Beck, Steve McIntosh, Allan Combs, Ervin László, or others become a sort of 21st-century alternative to Objectivism, one that could provide a healthier psychological foundation capable of bringing societies further along the developmental spectrum rather than regressing them into pre-ethnocentric rationalizations? According to a new article in Integral Leadership Review, there are hopeful signs.

Integral philosophy: an alternative to Objectivism for emerging societies

In “Notes from the Field: The Implications and Remarkable Moments of ‘Russian Davos,'” psychotherapist and organizational consultant Eugene Pustoshkin describes the cultural moment in Russia like this:

Today’s Russian society, gradually empowered by online social networking and information-based, increasingly cybernetic ecosystems (which is rapidly interiorized as a natural environment by consciousness of both younger and older generations), witnesses unprecedented trends of social integration and defragmentation which, most likely, will eventually catalyze massive shifts in Russian cultural consciousness. For instance, the Internet allows reconnecting Russian emigration (which fled the country in the end of 20th century) with the “continental” Russian population and reunions of classmates and childhood friends as I observed in many instances—including my own parents who now communicate with their friends who live in a surprisingly diverse set of countries from the Americas to the Middle East and Asia.

This openness to the world pressures Russians into leaving the habitual tunnel of nationalistic self-isolation and start inhabiting the worldspaces of global citizenship and unity-in-diversity of us all. What the candid American philosopher Ken Wilber calls Eros and Agape, the forces of loving transcendence and embrace, almost tangibly comes into play in this large-scale dynamic intercourse, thus manifesting the viscerally felt zeitgeist of novelty in Russia. Of course, Freudian neuroses and fixations, resistances of all sorts to novelty and self-healing, addiction to power games and a scarcity-based mindset (which drives towards zero-sum exploitation and opportunistic corruption) generate enormous force of self-harming, self-defensive tendencies, something that Freud called Thanatos or the destructive force. In addition to these obstacles Ayn Rand’s psychologically inadequate Objectivism apparently somehow started to play an important role in rationalizations of the elites and entrepreneurs, remaining an influential attractor for construction of a selfish narrative (with her books having been translated to Russian and promoted by libertarian intelligentsia in the recent years). However, the deepening exposure to the world’s best wisdom traditions and integral practices may counteract this trend (especially if a set of actions is to be taken to systemically distribute information on the plurality of perspectives in the coming years).

Read the whole article.

According to Pustoshkin, the Internet and social networking have unleashed a wave of newfound social integration, bringing people together across diverse stratums and distances into greater interaction. These developments are beginning to turn Russians away from “nationalistic self-isolation” towards greater “global citizenship.” Indeed, one can look at phenomena such as the use of Twitter by Iranian rebels and imagine that the World Wide Web may be shifting many cultures in unprecedented and poorly understood ways throughout the world.

It is human nature for people facing the loss of their distinctive cultural identity to react with powerful emotions, sadness, fear, and anger. Mourning creates the opening for new ways of creating meaning out of cultural chaos, but denial of a changing reality can close the opening just as fast.

Into a dispirited and vulnerable population the limited philosophy of Objectivism (which was arguably more suited for a world in a cold war) can become a festering cancer. A philosophy extolling the virtues of immaturity can cease to empower newbie entrepreneurs and others to taking control of their own destiny, and instead encourage them to start fucking other people over.

In contrast, an Integral worldview provides a genuine philosophical alternative. Integral philosophy in Russia and elsewhere can empower people by insisting on the protection of the sovereign liberties of individuals while also making space for the individual’s responsibilities to families, neighborhoods, communities, nations, and the global commons.

Objectivism and Integral thought: two different views of the self

Integral thought is grounded not in Ayn Rand’s pledge to “never live for the sake of another man,” but in the wisdom of the world’s mystical traditions, scientific discovery unfettered by religious restrictions, and postmodern insights into the culturally constructed nature of reality. If it will have more appeal to rising leaders, it may be on account of its having a more hopeful and forward-facing vision for humanity.

Objectivism and Integral philosophy share a common starting point: the self. As Ken Wilber wrote in the Foreword to Conscious Business:

But perhaps the best place to begin with an integral approach to business is with… oneself. In the Big Three of self, culture, and world, integral mastery starts with self. How do body and mind and spirit operate in me? How does that necessarily impact my role in the world of business? And how can I become more conscious of these already-operating realities in myself and in others?

However, whereas Rand concerns herself with the self’s desires and wants, Wilber employs a much more expansive definition of self. On my reading, Rand’s writings use language of value statements similar to what one would expect of persons at preoperational cognitive development (Self-protective Stage 2/3 in Cook-Greuter’s model) and formal operational cognition (Conscientious Stage 4).

There’s nothing wrong with articulating a philosophy with the values she does per se; but thinking your values are the only valid ones is symptomatic of early stages of cognitive reasoning, a rather shaky foundation for building a worldview which supposedly elevates Reason to the highest pinnacle. Surely there are more adequate philosophies for an enormously complex world.

An Integral philosophy allows for a more complex self to emerge, a self-in-relation more at home in a globally interlinked 21st century world than the defensive self lauded by Rand, the Russian émigré who fled oppression to find salvation (and fame) in personal autonomy. Whether Russian intellectuals and elites will be more influenced ultimately by Objectivism or Integral thought or some other philosophy, the choice they face is momentous for all of us.

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