Given that I wrote recently about an essay of Frank Visser’s which raised the topic of Ken Wilber’s 2006 Wyatt Earp post, I was given the opportunity to re-read what Ken had to say about cross-altitude criticism. It’s an important topic owing to the Integral worldview’s finding that there is not one consciousness that all people share, but a variety of worldspaces conditioned by our developmental level, each of which interact with other extant worldspaces out of virtually inescapable prisms of their own action-logic. Religious fundamentalists and postmodern feminist theorists don’t just disagree about facts, they talk right past each other in ways that neither quite understands.
In short, it’s just ridiculous to say that I try to hide from this criticism, I live on it! Every new truth I find, I rejoice. That’s why it went from wilber-1 all the way to wilber-5. This is what second tier does automatically anyway, it takes new truths wherever it finds themand weaves them into larger tapestries. It can’t help doing so! If I find one, I am ecstatic! So mark this well: Only a first-tier mentality would even think that one would run away from good criticism. But then these folks…. Okay, I won’t even take a shot at that one, too easy.
But I suppose it should be pointed out that many of the ideas these critics offer are in fact at a green or orange altitude, and not even teal or turquoise altitude, where they could at least begin to see the integral patterns that connect. These critics simply cannot see these phenomena, which are “over their heads,” to borrow Kegan’s felicitous phrase—and they get absolutely furious, and I mean furious, when this is pointed out or even mentioned.
But furious or not, that happens to be a completely valid critical approach. So I’ll stop teasing the animals for a moment and get serious. For the developmentalist, some ideas are not at the altitude of those they are criticizing, and those criticisms, in those specific aspects, are nonsensical. Strictly speaking, they are neither true nor false, but empty.
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.
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)…
SR.JOSE PEREZ; Es la primera vez que leo esto que usted propone la espiritualidad ,como algo muy importante ,yo siempre estuve en la busqueda de esa espiritualidad ,y de los diez ,pasos que usted da , creo que en todos me encuentro yo de alguna manera ,Y ademas estan interesante que me gustaria conocer mas , sobre este tema ,para mi la espiritualidad es como estud la presenta ,y yo busco eso el bienestar ,para el futuro de los que vendran a esta tiera que el mismo hombre esta destruyendo ,es por eso que me intereso muchisimo , le agradeceria que si tiene mas informacion ,poder tenerla o copiarla ,o no se , pero me encuentro en cada uno de esas 10 señales . muchisimas gracias .
Thank you, Maria. I read Spanish a bit better than I write Spanish (and with Google Translate I get even better!), so please forgive the English in this reply. I understand that this may be the first time you came across the sort of proposed vision of spirituality that I wrote about, and you would like to study more on the topic. You are moved by a deep concern for the world and the destruction of the planet, and want to learn more about the 10 signs specifically.
Let me tell you about the two labels that I use to situate my spirituality, so you can better see where I am coming from. Those two labels are “Integral” and “World Spirituality.” I believe that if you identify at least in part with many of those 10 signs, then your spirituality is probably already in harmony with “Integral” and “World Spirituality” as I understand them. That’s what I think, but it’s up for you to decide if those labels are helpful to you or not.
Yesterday I shared an academic paper by a scholar named Sean Esbjörn-Hargens. Esbjörn-Hargens describes the philosophical framework upon which people today throughout the world are talking about a World Spirituality based on Integral principles. Specifically, he outlines the major features of the AQAL model of consciousness, which is one of the chief tools that spiritual practitioners have found helpful.
In this paragraph, Sean talks about how the word “Integral,” which was originally used by the esteemed philosopher of Vedanta, Sri Aurobindo, became connected to an American philosopher in the late 1990s. The American philosopher, Ken Wilber, is no ordinary scholar. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Wilber or not, so I’ll say a few words.
Called by some admirers the “Einstein of Consciousness,” by the turn of the Millennium, he had created a philosophical system which reconciled (possibly for the first time) how the Enlightenment thinkers of the East and the psychoanalytical thinkers of the West were all talking about consciousness.
In the mid-1990s, Wilber advanced a vision for a genuine World Philosophy for the 21st century which could usher in an era in which religion, science, and postmodern thinkers could forge deeper connections to heal the planet and overcome obstacles to the full liberation of all people (indeed, all sentient beings). Here’s how Sean describes Wilber’s adoption of “Integral”:
Wilber first began to use the word “integral” to refer to his approach after the publication of his seminal book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality in 1995. It was in this book that he introduced the quadrant model, which has since become iconic of his work in general and integral theory in particular. Wilber’s quadrant model is often referred to as the AQAL model, with AQAL (pronounced ah-qwal) standing for all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, and all types. These five elements signify some of the most basic repeating patterns of reality. Thus, by including all of these patterns you “cover the bases” well, ensuring that no major part of any solution is left out or neglected. Each of these five elements can be used to “look at” reality and at the same time they represent the basic aspects of your own awareness in this and every moment.
Today, Ken Wilber is the most widely translated scholarly writer in the world today, with his books appearing in 24 languages. The goal of AQAL, as Esbjörn-Hargens suggests, is to allow people to carry a vision of the world they live in that is radically inclusive and holistic. What Wilber shows is that such a vision of the world is not merely a look at something happening “out there” somewhere else, but also something that is right in your own awareness right now, if you just open your eyes to look.
Ultimately, Wilber’s philosophy is a smokescreen (that is, a pretense or fiction). He does not want people to stop eating and bathing themselves, caring for their children, going to work, and doing good things in their community…just to sit alone reading philosophy books and staring off into the distance. He wants people to enter fully into life by becoming more aware of what is really going on within themselves and in everything they encounter.
As people become more aware, he shows, they know that they are not separate beings but connected to all things. As we wake up, we know we are not in this world alone, and we become more compassionate and loving. Out of the greater compassion and love flows a higher awareness that instinctively helps us to show up more fully in our relationships and work and spirituality.
This is a long way of beginning to answer your question, I know. You don’t need to read Ken Wilber’s books, though I highly recommend them because they can help to quiet the questioning mind while simultaneously arousing a passion for learning more about spirituality. Ken’s books are a good place for many people to continue their study of an Integral framework (though they aren’t for everyone).
Ken’s works have been one influence in creating international movements called the Integral Spirituality or Evolutionary Spirituality or World Spirituality movement. I don’t want to give you the impression that he’s the head honcho behind the whole thing; there are many people doing many things and he’s one very important part of it. The World Spirituality movement is increasingly today where I find my home, because it recognizes that the Integral Philosophy can be useful intellectually, but it is just the beginning.
World Spirituality, as Marc Gafni conceives it, isn’t a new religion or even really an interfaith religious movement. It is friendly to religion in general, and welcomes people of all faiths, and it doesn’t ask of them to give up their scriptures, rituals, prayers, and relationships that they hold valuable. It doesn’t ask them to shed their particular beliefs in favor of very general beliefs that everyone has in common. It asks us to find God in the world in ourselves, other people, and all things.
World Spirituality gives religious people a “trans-path path,” a way of being in the world as a “dual citizen” of their own faith (if they have one) and as a citizen of World Spirituality. It gives people without a faith an intellectually rigorous way of embracing the best wisdom of mystics of every religion while also embracing science and postmodern insights into the historically conditioned and socio-culturally constructed nature of understanding.
And one of World Spirituality’s core beliefs — which I share and find very exciting — is that enlightenment isn’t only for a rarefied, elite few. It’s for everyone, and it’s very important that everyone raise their consciousness, because our world desperately needs people who are more awake, alive, and aware.
I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had a good education in philosophy, theology, comparative religion, psychology and sociology of religion, and so on. This has given me the chance to see how the brightest minds, past and present, have addressed the fundamental question in philosophy: “How am I to live?”
Those smart people haven’t always agreed. In fact, the study of these subjects in college is pretty much an exercise in learning the different schools of thought and how to argue one side against another. In ethics, there are consequentialists and Kantians. In psychoanalysis, there are Freudians and Jungians. And then there are about a million different views of religion.
It wasn’t really until over a decade after I finished my formal study of religion that I encountered the work of the philosopher, psychological theorist, and mystic Ken Wilber. His work was remarkably different because he didn’t care less how exactly one thinker disagreed with another thinker. He was only really interested in what they had in common. How were they looking at the world in such a way that he could understand that in a way they weren’t really disagreeing? He saw that they were only talking past each other, comparing apples to oranges.
For Ken Wilber, there really is something that you might as well call Truth with a capital “T,” to distinguish it from all of the various perspectives that people have about truth. He doesn’t think we ever really are able to talk about Truth or grasp it intellectually without diminishing it to truth with the lower-case “t.” There is Truth. And then there are perspectives on Truth. And we are always, everywhere, taking a perspective.
The most important thing Wilber helped me to realize is that just because we can’t know Truth without taking a perspective doesn’t mean we can’t know Truth fully and absolutely. We absolutely can know Truth, he assures us…and I believed him…because it was something I already knew. The Truth we know fully and completely and confidently is the Truth of our real nature. Ken Wilber sometimes calls this our Ultimate Identity, drawing on an important term from the Hindu spiritual masters and people they’ve influenced. Another important integral thinker, Marc Gafni, drawing on the Hebrew enlightenment tradition, calls this our True Self.
And one thing Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, other integral thinkers, and the entire lineage of mystics and enlightened sages, points us to is the same Truth, each putting that Truth into perspectives…turning that Truth into truths. Because that Truth is something we know with our whole being integrally — body, mind, soul, and spirit — not just intellectually. And we can’t express Truth without taking a perspective because that Truth is always communicated with language in societies that are evolving — biologically, culturally, socially, spiritually — and so every religion and philosophy colors that truth in different and interesting and unique ways.
The Truth of enlightenment is that there is a True Self — our Ultimate Identity or Absolute Spirit — and that there is only one.
So it’s no wonder that Wilber’s integral worldview lacked an interest in dividing the world according to methodologies, philosophies, religions, ideologies, and so on. From the integral vantage point, such divisions could only tell us relative, partial truths…disguising the path to Truth. He saw that the deeper you looked at all of these divisions in thought, the more their boundaries began to blur and hidden patterns of unity began to emerge. Constructing a map of those common threads became his dharma, a pandit’s work that has already produced over 20 major books.
In 1977 American philosopher Ken Wilber published his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness. This groundbreaking book integrated the major schools of psychology along a continuum of increasing complexity, with different schools focused on various levels within that spectrum. Over the next 30 years he continued with this integrative impulse, writing books in areas such as cultural anthropology, philosophy, sociology of religion, physics, healthcare, environmental studies, science and religion, and postmodernism. To date, Wilber has published over two dozen books and in the process has created integral theory. Wilber’s books have been translated into more than 24 languages, which gives you an idea as to the global reach and utility of integral theory. Since its inception by Wilber, integral theory has become one of the foremost approaches within the larger fields of integral studies and meta-theory. This prominent role is in large part the result of the wide range of applications that integral theory has proven itself efficacious in as well as the work of many scholar-practitioners who have and are contributing to the further development of integral theory.
(For a great concise overview of Integral Theory, see this paper.)
There are many potential uses of Integral theory in academic studies and practical applications for people working in a variety of fields (business, law, organizational development, coaching, psychotherapy, etc.) But what concerns me most in Awake, Aware & Alive is the application of integral principles in the realm of World Spirituality.
It is far too dangerous for our world to ignore the many difficult issues we face together. We’re all in this life, this world together…because we are all ultimately one. The root of the problems we face, I believe, is that far too few people know this truth, believe this, and put it into practice. We act as if we are separate beings, when the truth is that we are not.
As Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, and many other people have taught me, an authentic World Spirituality needs to grow out of an integral worldview because no other worldview can do better the task that most needs to be done: show us how we are all really, truly connected and one at a time when vast billions of people act blindly as if we weren’t.
Here’s a thoughtful, if flawed, essay from a critic of all religion and meditation from the standpoint of scientism, embodied in the view of John Horgan:
Those who emphasize Buddhism’s compatibility with science usually downplay or disavow its supernatural elements (and even the Dalai Lama has doubts about reincarnation, a philosopher who discussed the issue with him once told me). The mystical philosopher Ken Wilber, when I interviewed him, compared meditation to a scientific instrument such as a microscope or telescope, through which you can glimpse spiritual truth. This analogy is bogus. Anyone can peer through a telescope and see the moons of Jupiter, or squint through a microscope and see cells divide. But ask 10 meditators what they see, feel or learn and you will get 10 different answers…
So since meditators disagree with what meditation reveals and since Horgan tried a few Zen sittings and didn’t immediately find total enlightenment, he doesn’t dig Buddhism. That’s valid up to a point, as an expression of opinion, like saying he doesn’t dig hip-hop music or popcorn ice cream. I’m not going to quibble with preferences. But a genuinely holistic spirituality calls us to move beyond statements of opinion into knowledge encountered in the trans-rational field in which opinion arises.
My question is about the higher structures in the cognitive line. Could you describe how you use Vision Logic, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind, Overmind and Supermind in your day-to-day life, what does the experience of each look and feel like? And what did the move to each higher cognitive structure involve, how did you make the moves?
Ken Wilber’s response begins in this way:
Vision Logic is thinking wholes, Illumined Mind is sseeing wholes, Intuitive Mind is feeling wholes, Overmind is witnessing wholes, and Supermind is being whole.
Vision Logic, thinking wholes, feels just like thinking. What anyone would recognize when they think about thinking. But it thinks holistically. It thinks from one whole to the next. It doesn’t see individual ideas, but networked ideas, holistic ideas, big pictures, things that are hooked together intrinsically. And it still has a type of gross orientation to some degree. Nonetheless it is opening itself up as well into third-tier or more transpersonal aspects. But it is essentially thinking whole and in terms of wholes.
Illumined Mind is seeing wholes. That’s just actually an immediate perception so it’s not thinking from one whole to the next whole, it’s an immediate seeing of total wholes. And these just come into the horizon and it’s a total grasping, a total embracing. It’s seeing all the individual parts together in a single whole. And moment to moment, it moves from total whole to the next total whole to the next total whole. It’s very immediate and direct, as is Intuitive Mind, which is feeling whole.
I’m just giving very simplified versions.
Feeling whole is an immediate presence. It presents itself as a feeling awareness, but it is holistic. The thing that makes it somewhat different than the two preceding ones in terms of being more holistic is that it is actually feeling the connections. Instead of just thinking something or seeing something from a distsance in a third-person stance, it’s feeling it directly and immediately. It’s an immediate holistic presence that presents itself from moment to moment to moment from one felt wholeness to the next felt wholeness to the next. This feeling of whole is sunk in transpersonal awareness so it’s starting to include not just gross elements but definitely subtle elements. It’s an interesting type of cognition because it’s one of the first that’s anchored in an enduring subtle apprehension. It’s starting to see wholeness from the subtle domain. And yet because it transcends and includes it’s anchored in gross perception as well.
Overmind is where the witness becomes a permanent subject so it’s witnessing wholes and the Witness at this point is somehow, somewhat different from the Witness as a state at lower stages. The Witness as a state can be experienced at any structure, at any structure-stage. But here when the Witness becomes the permanent subject, absolute subjectivity, what it witnesses is whole. It is witnessing gross, subtle, and causal wholeness. That’s what makes the Overmind so interesting and so deeply holistic is that it is a permanent ongoing witnessing. It is a permanent ongoing radical subjectivity. It’s the subject that cannot be made an object, and yet what it is seeing, what it is primarily looking for, is gestalts. Holistic patterns. And these include patterns in gross, subtle, and causal domain.
The Overmind itself is anchored in the causal domain and so it sees from that perspective, and it sees a causal gestalt, subtle gestalt, and gross gestalts. And the gestalt nature is simply determined by the nature of what’s happening at any particular moment. So the gross wholes, subtle wholes, and causal wholes are simply those that present themselves from any of the quadrants at that particular moment that the Witness is witnessing. That just depends on where you are, what’s happening, outside and inside, and so on. But the difference here is that the Witness is being aware of gross and subtle and causal occasions, whereas the Witness as a peak experience can happen at red. And the it’s only aware of gross occasions. Red isn’t seeing anything in the subtle or causal domain. But here it is aware of all three.
And then Supermind is being whole. That is where suchness knows itself. Suchness is self-aware. That means with anything that enters the field of awareness is self-liberating, it’s self-cognizant, moment to moment to moment. That’s the ultimate state of cognition. And it discloses every single individual phenomenon in the entire world is self-manifesting, self-arising, self-knowing, and self-liberating. And that’s just all Supermind sees. It includes Big Mind, but it also has an awareness of all the earlier structures all the way down so it is the ultimate holistic viewpoint.
As the interview continues, Wilber explains how he uses these domains in everyday life to “spiritually hang out” and “check AQAL Theory” as well as how he moved from one to the other. He also answers the question of what he thinks is higher than Overmind, notes how his views compare to Sri Aurobindo’s, and where worldviews fit in.
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.
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).
The claim that Justice is not included in the triad of “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness” without consideration that Justice is included within Goodness.
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.
Using inflammatory, derogatory language towards other integral thinkers, calling them “devotees” of a charismatic cult reader, an insult and smear.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Nobody wants to be abnormal. Who in their right mind would want society to tell them they are undesirable, unlovable, unworthy?
The existentialist Albert Camus said, “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
The cultural middle is not the place you want to be. It puts to sleep your genius and your ambition. It closes your heart to joy and numbs your body with dullness. It promotes idiot spirituality as the new humanistic ideal.
The cultural center of gravity may be the way others construct their reality, but it doesn’t mean you have to live in its papier-mâché world. Ignore it.
The energy you are putting in to fitting in is filling you with cynicism and depression. You are being dragged down by what Ken Wilber has called a “cultural center of gravity which acts like a magnet on individual development.”
If you change, you will need to explore new ideas, fresh approaches, and foreign concepts. The way you think — the operating system powering the software of your mind — will change permanently. You will lose yourself as you have taken yourself to be.
You will need to fight a magnetic force embodied in your friends, family, girlfriends, boyfriends, or spouses. You will put yourself at odds with your co-workers, bosses, or employees. There is no way of getting around it, unless you resign yourself to despair and let the unique light within you go out.
We in the World Spirituality community know that there are other ways of being human in the world. Once we lived in normal, every one of us. Now we are on a path of recognizing our own Unique Self and from this source we are more awake, alive, and aware.
The demographics of death penalty supporters closely tracks political partisanship. Gallup notes:
Support for the death penalty is highly partisan in nature. Almost three-quarters of Republicans and independents who lean Republican approve, compared with 46% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic. Additionally, men, whites, and those living in the South and Midwest are among those most likely to support the death penalty. Americans younger than age 30 are less likely to support the death penalty than are those who are 30 and older.
What’s missing from the survey data is information that reveals why Americans support the death penalty, what their reasoning is, and how those beliefs are tied to their underlying values and worldview. Without more nuanced and complex data, it is difficult to predict future trends or assess strategies for shifting public opinion over time.
In Ken Wilber’s version of Integral Theory as it has been formulated in recent years, the prime directive of ethics is to insure the health of the entire spiral of development across every stage. As I noticed in a blog post six years ago, this line of reasoning tends to lead in the direction of consequentialism, suggesting that a particular action such as the death penalty is not necessarily wrong in itself, but wrong in relationship to the consequences in society.
Thus, in relationship to the death penalty, the integralist does not have an absolute moral prohibition against the government taking a human life per se. The integralist asks, “How does or does not executing a criminal contribute to the health and welfare of all members of society?” The case for and against the death penalty thus must be made with a calculus attendant to a multi-faceted context which takes into account a spectrum of ethical values held by people across multiple developmental stages.
A case against the death penalty
One of the most influential cases against the death penalty is made by the American Civil Liberties Union. The website is the #1 Google hit for “case against death penalty.” The ACLU writes:
The ACLU’s opposition to capital punishment incorporates the following fundamental concerns:
The death penalty system in the US is applied in an unfair and unjust manner against people,largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim and where the crime took place. People of color are far more likely to be executed than white people, especially if the victim is white.
The death penalty is a waste of taxpayers money and has no public safety benefit. The vast majority of law enforcement professionals surveyed agree that capital punishment does not deter violent crime; a survey of police chiefs nationwide found they rank the death penalty lowest among ways to reduce violent crime. They ranked increasing the number of police officers, reducing drug abuse, and creating a better economy with more jobs higher than the death penalty as the best ways to reduce violence. The FBI has found the states with the death penalty have the highest murder rates.
Innocent people are too often sentenced to death. Since 1973, over 138 people have been released from death rows in 26 states because of innocence. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed.
The ACLU’s central case is about justice and fairness, conceived as treating people equally under the law and ensuring that no individual is singled out for unfair treatment. It is particularly concerned that the death penalty may result in severe race-based inequalities. It employs rational analysis of factual data to undermine the argument that the death penalty deters crime. It also appeals to the value of wise use and conservation of public funds, arguing that crime deterrence is better achieved through more cost-effective means.
A case for the death penalty
One of the most influential voices for the death penalty is Dudley Sharp, Death Penalty Resources Director for Justice for All, author of the primary document featured on prodeathpenalty.com. The website is the #1 Google hit for “case against death penalty.” He writes:
The death penalty debate in the U.S. is dominated by the fraudulent voice of the anti-death penalty movement. The culture of lies and deceit so dominates that movement that many of the falsehoods are now wrongly accepted as fact, by both advocates and opponents of capital punishment. The following report presents the true facts of the death penalty in America. If you are even casually aware of this public debate, you will note that every category contradicts the well-worn frauds presented by the anti-death penalty movement. The anti-death penalty movement specializes in the abolition of truth.
Imposition of the death penalty is extraordinarily rare. Since 1967, there has been one execution for every 1600 murders, or 0.06%. There have been approximately 560,000 murders and 358 executions from 1967-1996 FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) & Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
Approximately 5900 persons have been sentenced to death and 358 executed (from 1973-96). An average of 0.2% of those were executed every year during that time. 56 murderers were executed in 1995, a record number for the modern death penalty. This represented 1.8% of those on death row. The average time on death row for those 56 executed – 11 years, 2 months (“Capital Punishment 1995”, BJS, 1996), an all time record of longevity, breaking the 1994 record of 10 years, 2 months.
Death penalty opponents (“opponents”) state that “Those who support the death penalty see it as a solution to violent crime.” Opponents, hereby, present one of many fabrications. In reality, executions are seen as the appropriate punishment for certain criminals committing specific crimes. So says the U.S. Supreme Court and so say most death penalty supporters (“advocates”).
Opponents equate execution and murder, believing that if two acts have the same ending or result, then those two acts are morally equivalent. This is a morally untenable position. Is the legal taking of property to satisfy a debt the same as auto theft? Both result in loss of property. Are kidnaping and legal incarceration the same? Both involve imprisonment against one’s will. Is killing in self defense the same as capital murder? Both end in taking human life. Are rape and making love the same? Both may result in sexual intercourse. How absurd. Opponents’ flawed logic and moral confusion mirror their “factual” arguments – there is, often, an absence of reality…
Like the ACLU, Dudley Sharp cites facts and figures in support of his case, but he is most concerned with establishing the rarity of the death penalty, an interesting point but not one central to assessing the ethics of capital punishment. His tone is also strikingly hostile and defensive, railing against his opponents’ “flawed logic,” their “absence of reality,” their “fabrications,” their “fraudulence,” and a “culture of lies and deceit.”
The key to Sharp’s argument in this brief statement is to say that “executions are seen as the appropriate punishment for certain criminals committing specific crimes.” But here again he is not really arguing; he is stating a definition much as opponents of same-sex marriage argue about the definition of marriage. On his view, executions are simply defined as appropriate punishments in some cases.
An integral case on the death penalty
I couldn’t find any explicit statement by Ken Wilber on the death penalty on Google’s top hits for “‘ken wilber’ ‘death penalty,'” but there was an article in the American Thinker by Ralph Alter implying that Wilber’s view on idiot compassion might suggest a turning away from liberal orthodoxy on the subject. Alter writes:
This focus on what Ken Wilber calls Idiot Compassion enables liberal thinkers to support abortion but reject the death penalty for serial killers or to whine about the disproportion of an Israeli response to decades of terrorist attacks.
That doesn’t seem right to me. “Idiot compassion” (which is a Buddhist term that Wilber did not invent) refers to a particular spiritual context, and its application to political debates doesn’t work. If a critique of liberals’ selective employment of compassion for particular groups is to be made, it isn’t helpful to reduce their complex All Quadrants, All Levels motivations and beliefs to a simple formula that they suffer from “idiot compassion.”
The key to developing an integral position on the death penalty is to make a sound judgment which incorporates the truth and wisdom in all other positions. Looking today only at the views of the ACLU and Dudley Sharp, an integral view would include perspectives which align Sharp’s views with the values of predominant concern at the amber altitude and the ACLU’s with the orange altitude (maybe with a bit of green). Thus, the views are neither absolutely right nor wrong, but relatively full or partial. The ACLU’s view is more comprehensive than Sharp’s, but both views are more partial than is possible and beneficial to take.
Integrating the concerns of the two camps is a matter of (a) respecting Sharp’s concern that decisions must be based on factually true and reliable data and that overly simplistic equations of the death penalty with murder are overblown, and (b) respecting the ACLU’s concerns with justice, social welfare, and factual analysis. Of course, there are many other components to an AQAL analysis, but this is a starting point.
With Americans beginning to turn against the death penalty owing to concerns about justice, one question raised by an integral analysis is whether the change reflects a shift in public opinion towards late modern to early post-modern decision-making over against pre-modern and early modern styles of thinking. Public opinion can shift rapidly, so it is impossible to draw conclusions on the basis of one year’s data; however, the questions remain to be considered in the years ahead.
My own view is that the death penalty probably contributes more harm to society than any possible benefit, and it is time for its abolition. I believe that law enforcement and courts are inadequately humane and conscious to ensure fair distribution of criminal penalties including the death penalty. Also, I believe that no system can prevent the execution of all innocents because no system is perfect, and this fact suggests to me the need for a justice system that is more humble and cautious in its dealing of justice, and one which is able to account for the value of forgiveness.
Is the American public beginning to look at issues such as the death penalty with a more complex framework, assessing competing values based on their partiality, and generating opinions influenced by integral frameworks? It’s time to start asking that question and conducting the research needed to get answers.
Two of the Beams & Struts bloggers reveal the course of their spiritual autobiographies, or at least that part concerned with Ken Wilber, the Integral philosopher.
Juma tracks her journey in a three-stage process from romance to rebellion to appreciation; Chris speaks of the three stages of childhood, adolescence, and mature sweetness. It’s worth noting that in their general orientation, knowingly or unknowingly, they employ the Three Stations of Love dynamic described by Marc Gafni and others and taught at Integral Spiritual Experience 2.
All I have now is gratitude. My life would not be what it is today without the work of Ken Wilber. He taught me better than any teacher I’ve had how to be at once sincere and critical, open and discerning, and maybe even, someday, wise.
And yet, it is coming time for a torch to pass, not just from Ken, but from his generation to the next, and from the structures that he helped erect to those that are just now emerging.
For several years, I’ve been bantering around with friends about how a second generation, or Second Wave, integral would look. Meaning, reports from the field from those who are considering, embodying and integrating the work, and who have grown up with it in their bones.
And suddenly we have a group emerging explicitly calling themselves Second Wave. And certainly that is the thrust of our efforts here at Beams and Struts. Creating platforms for emergence. Opening spaces for collective intelligence. Inviting people to lean in towards genuine liberation.
Stage 3 is the second naivete–or better second simplicity. A simplicity, a certain kind of sweetness. The sweetness is in a sense putting down’s one arms and dropping the suspicion. It is becoming suspicious of the suspicious mindset. There’s a coming home feeling.
This response in relation to integral has a great deal to do with the state of Ken’s health. It’s heartbreaking to watch someone I love dearly suffer so greatly.
I think back to experiences and insights he shared with me. I remember how as a young (and full of myself) 25 year old, I went on a Dzogchen Tibetan Buddhist retreat. It was at that retreat that I was graced with an awakening. I came back from this retreat, blissed out on Consciousness, and wrote a long flowing email to a circle of friends and family. It was a paean to the merits of Enlightenment and the Perfect Nature of all arising reality. I had originally meant to send the note to friends and family first and then separately and individually to Ken. But somehow I ended up sending it to Ken as well. Ken then hit ‘reply all‘ and wrote very simply:
“Nice letter. Nice experience. Now get on with your life.”
I don’t have a whole lot to say about my relationship to Ken Wilber at this time. The story of how I notoriously introduced myself to Ken Wilber is told in his Foreword to my book, Soulfully Gay. Since then we have met and corresponded warmly, but since it’s a personal relationship I don’t feel a need to write about publicly now.
What I most take away from the posts by Juma and Chris is the importance of becoming rooted in one’s relationship not so much to Ken Wilber as to the Integral movement itself. Even as they have each chronicled the steps in their journey away from infatuation with Ken and his writings, they remain within the paradigm of “Me and Ken, Me v. Ken, Me and Ken in a new way.”
Relatively few people who are touched by Integral ideas or practices will actually have personal relationships with Ken Wilber, but many more will come to know Ken through the people who he has touched, is touching, and will touch. I am more interested, therefore, iin how Juma and Chris are embodying or not embodying the Integral philosophy in their own ways.
Until we get on to telling the story of “Me and Integral, Me v. Integral, Me and Integral in a new way,” then Integral will remain immature and what is to emerge will be a ghost of Ken’s ideas and not a living, breathing, embodied reality within each of us.
From time to time I hear about someone who is becoming disillusioned with “Integral”; that is just part of the course, and may be the station they remain with for years or even for life. There’s nothing wrong with abandoning the Integral philosophy or movement and walking a different course. Integral is not a cult; nobody comes knocking on your door. Juma and Chris show how the story can have a happy ending, one which allowed them to embrace the fullness of their humanity.
When I say Juma and Chris are overly focused on Ken Wilber himself, I’m not saying that they are not telling their Integral stories in all the various things they write, not in the least. They are part of the Integral story, and helping to create new Integral stories in others.
What I am saying is that I would like to see many more people who have been touched by Integral books, people, and events telling their stories publicly. We are the Integral movement, and what that movement is is US. When we talk about our relationship to Ken Wilber, we are really talking about our relationship to our own self.