Ramblings of the Conscientious Detailer

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Hey fellow artists,

Couldn’t fall asleep, so I logged on. Saw a gorgeous work of art shared by my friend Heather who writes: “instead of pointillism, this is like visionarilism, painting with discrete visionary wholes. Love it!”

The artist is Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado, and while I haven’t seen his art before, it is truly a life-giving vision to behold. Originally from Torreon, Mexico, Calzado says, “I am an artist obsessed with detail. Expresing emotions and imagery through broken down elements of form and color, infusing a great light into each of my paintings.”

As it happens, I couldn’t have found this detail-obsessed art at a more appropriate and helpful time. This is the week that I have begun to re-launch my Web presence with more than one series of new posts that will elucidate my vision of a world philosophy, via a holy/unholy combination of art, philosophy, literature, poetry, and drivel.

(This is an example of the drivel.)

Every detail is so ALIVE in Calzado’s oil paintings. What’s the corollary in my philosophy?

It is a philosophy where every WORD is re-engineered from the ground up so that it is comprised of phonemes (sound-meaning units) which are strung together to tell stories about the Nature of Things in the Way Things Are and Could Be. I’m calling it Lingua-U … and only a few days ago kicked up the #linguau on Twitter and Facebook.

Yuck!, a hypothetical critic might say. Who wants a philosophy grounded in WORDS!!! (Especially when there are gurus sellling silence for free, sign up today!!!)

Ah, but I reply, you have misunderstood the role of WORDS in my philosophy. It is not logocentric. It is grounded in a series of nine major trans-metaphysical Integral practices which will simply be more DETAILED in important ways than we have previously seen if their stories are more fully told.

You can look at my first posts on a new Integral martial art — Taɪčivi — to see that it will bring 39 new primary forms of integrated body/mind practice, all of which are essential and integrated, and harmonized completely with the Lingua-U. Learn Lingua-U, you know the essence of the martial art. Learn the martial art, and you know the essence of Lingua-U.

It is the same with the New Zodiac which I have begun to write out for you. 54 new animal totems in 27 new signs in 9 new houses … all indispensible, all interwoven into a aesthetically pleasing whole with Lingua-U and beyohd.

And I haven’t even gotten to the really cool stuff, the hyper-detailed epic poem which constitutes Part Two of my forthcoming book The Black Stone, The Kalendar: Book One. Look for it this fall from Tangent Publishers.

Sometimes I feel my detail-obsession can get too onerous for me and tedious for others. Do we really need all that detail? The self-doubt creeps in.

Some spiritual teachers say there’s a simplicity on the other side of complexity. That’s true, sometimes, but then I look at what they offer up as simplicity and I know they haven’t quite seen the thorny problems in the complexity which they bypassed rather than solved in their own version of simplicity.

I’m an Enneagram 1 (The Perfectionist) with a 9 Wing (The Peacemaker). Does this help to explain it? It’s fascinating to me on multiple levels, but that’s a topic for another day. I’m rambling now.

What I want to say because it’s therapeutic to me is that I’m scared. I’m only at the beginning of a multi-year process of unfolding this PHILOSOPHICAL SPIRITUAL ART and sometimes I really feel that no one is paying attention, no one cares, that it’s all for nothing. I get caught up in my egoic feelings and wounds and wonder if I’m ever going to be good enough.

I’m not one of those spiritual thinkers who can crystallize their message into simple slogans like Happiness and Love and Peace and Nothingness is Wonderful or God Loves You, and then watch the adoration and money flow in to their ministries. I envy them because I imagine their work is easier than mine. But it probably isn’t. They’ve probably encountered just as difficult challenges on their path in their own unique ways. My path is more solitary. The Enneagram suggests that a good label for me is Conscientious Detailer (one of the sub-types of the Perfectionist).

Maybe the sooner I get around to accepting my unique gifts in this respect, the sooner I can get over my limiting beliefs stopping me from ROCKIING THIS WORLD.

I frequently feel like a sculptor chipping away at granite slowly in full public view. People walk by, see the incomplete sculpture, and hit the Unsubscribe or Un-Like or Un-friend buttons. That hurts. Moving on, celebrating the infinite joyous possibilities I could be attending to instead…

Love & Light,

Joe

Growing Pains at Zappos Draw Attention to New Management Operating System

Imagine that you can belong and involve yourself in an organization without bosses or hierarchical org charts. You must become self-managing, evolving into new capacities and roles. In the management philosophy of Holacracy, you are becoming more present in the moment and evolving into what you truly are.

It’s a management philosophy with a deep affinity with the Integral movement, beginning with the notion (of Arthur Koestler’s adopted by both Ken Wilber and Brian J. Robertson) that reality is comprised not of parts or wholes, but holons organized into holarchies.

In the weeks ahead, I will write more about Holaracy and its role in our world, starting with a discussion of Brian J. Robertson’s new book Holacracy (which I’m reading now). By way of introduction, let’s notice the front page article on the philosophy at today’s The New York Times in “At Zappos, Pushing Shoes and a Vision”.

Unfortunately the article doesn’t dig deep into Holacracy’s intellectual influences, but there have been a slate of articles on Zappos in recent weeks. Some of them have gone there.

The NYT seems most interested in talking about the difficulties in the Holacracy implementation process: confusion, employee buyouts, and one person stuck in five hours of meetings in one day. It charcterizes the philosophy’s adoption as unenthusiastic and problematic:

Nothing about Holacracy is easy to understand. In place of a traditional organizational chart are concentric circles of responsibility. Employees get to choose which circles they belong to and what projects they work on. The jargon is relentless. At meetings, “tensions” are resolved. People don’t have one job; they have multiple “roles.” “Lead links” are designated to communicate between circles. Everyone must use the Holacracy software, called Glass Frog.

Such self-management remains the exception in the workplace today, yet its advocates constitute a small but growing movement. Holacracy has other adherents, including the David Allen Company, a consultancy, and Medium, the blogging platform started by the Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, though none of the other users are as large as Zappos.

“I feel like I’m in control without being controlling all the time,” said Ruben Timmerman, who adopted Holacracy at Springest, a 25-person online education company he founded in Amsterdam. “The team is more efficient and more creative because of the sharing, and also more accountable. It has definitely helped us.”

At Zappos, Mr. Hsieh seems to regard Holacracy as a way to revive the close-knit community feeling that made the company so special 10 years ago, when it was just a few hundred people taking on the giants of e-commerce. “Once you have that level of friendship, there’s higher levels of trust,” he said. “Communication is better; you can send emails without fear of being misinterpreted; people do favors for one another.”

If only it were so simple. Holacracy has been met with everything from cautious embrace to outright revulsion at Zappos, but little unequivocal enthusiasm.

The article does nothing to refute the adage that there is no such thing about bad press coverage. Sure there are difficulties at Zappos, the largest implementation of Holacracy that’s ever been, but now many more companies can be exposed to this important new management approach. I think the conflict adds dramatic tension to the  stories that reporters hunger for, even as they are set in the context of one of the most radical and far-reaching business management experiments ever conducted.

One thing I will be looking for as I read Holacracy is how well it spells out the proven benefits of the new management style that make implementation difficulties worthwhile. Judging from today’s NYT article, it’s going to be more important than ever to tell the success stories as well as the growing pains.

Tangent Publishers to Bring Out “The Kalendar Series”

Friends, I am delighted to announce that I have partnered with Tangent Publishers, an imprint of Integral Publishers, to bring you my next three books. Tangent is a great fit because they are committed to publishing ground-breaking, iconoclastic, and leading-edge works. And the Kalendar Series fits that mold perfectly. Look for The Black Stone, the first book in the series of nine, in the Fall of 2015.

The Kalendar Series is a genre-disrupting fantasy/adventure mix of poetry, fiction, philosophy, and art. The story tracks the life and events of Kalen O’Tolan, an immortal being granted 3,000 years on Earth, starting at Year 0 CE through the Year 3,000 CE. Kalen is a warrior, a poet, and a magician who has been tutored in a magical language—the use of which has the power to create or destroy Worlds.

To learn more about Tangent Publishers and The Kalendar Series: http://tangentpublishers.com/

Defining “Integral” (With Postscript Regarding Zak Stein)

Note: The following post was originally published on Joe-Perez.com on August 2, 2011. Since writing this piece over three years ago, my views have become more clear. I have therefore added a postscript to show my current view, which is that the cultural critic may safely ignore Zak Stein’s argument. 

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” (With Postscript Regarding Zak Stein)”

A Challenge To Frank Visser

apple-and-orangeI enjoyed reading Frank Visser’s reply in “What Would Wilber Do?” to my earlier post called “Properly Integral: A Response To Frank Visser’s Three Disappointments”, after I got over a bit of frustration at having my arguments characterized to make me look as ridiculous as possible. It’s all a fair part of the blogging game and done in good fun.

Visser begins by once again bemoaning the lack of engagement with criticism he sees with critics by the integral community and especially by Ken Wilber, citing the example of Jeff Meyerhoff’s book. Since I have previously discussed this issue and note that he didn’t specifically reply to my points regarding Ken’s many responses to critics, willingness to change, and so forth, I am tempted to move on. He continues to repeat the canard that Wilber doesn’t engage with critics regardless of how many times this is pointed out to be incorrect in so many ways, the ways that really count.

There are other responses in Visser’s article which I am not going to take on directly because I think the answers suggest themselves to the discerning reader. To respond would only take the discussion in the direction of “Didn’t Wilber say a few inaccurate things over the course of more than twenty books, and why doesn’t this bother you as much as it bothers me and should bother everyone?” and “Doesn’t the fact that I’m subscribed to a bunch of opt-in E-mail lists that I personally joined prove that Integral thought is, in fact, overly marketed in the whole wide culture throughout all media markets everywhere in the world?” and “Doesn’t the fact that Wilber once wrote that Spirit offers a ‘spiritual explanation’ mean exactly that he thinks it is actually a ‘scientific explanation as these signifiers are understood by the orange vMEME’ too, and therefore his philosophy as a whole is bunk?”

Continue reading “A Challenge To Frank Visser”

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”

Reading the Magical Letter Page

Until Monday when I begin the discussion of Lingua-U and philosophy, there is another important body of work that requires serious attention and study. It is the field of phonosemantics with a leading voice in the prominent and unconventional linguist Dr. Margaret Magnus.

Magnus has gifted the world with an extensive website on topics that revolutionize the study of language, or ought to, if more linguists were not blinded to the evidence she has compellingly presented. She provides a variety of resources from the scholarly (her entire doctoral dissertation at M.I.T.) to the popular (a series of informative looks at the “magical” properties of the English consonants and more).

I do not dispute her strongest claim: that she has successfully demonstrated the validity of Plato’s “Socratic Hypothesis” regarding the nature of language. This is how she tells her story on the opening page of her website:

I read dictionaries. And I write dictionaries. It was an occupation which seemed initially thrust unfairly upon me by financial necessity, one which over the years I have come to love deeply, one which I now practice fervently at my economic peril. It has taught me to experience words and language quite literally as living beings, as beings who outlive each of us, who are recording within their very selves the patterns of our thoughts, as beings who care a great deal how they are employed. I wander into their dominions ever more deeply moved, ever more faithful that there is after all a reason behind this chaos of experience….

These voyages into the forest of dictionaries have rewarded me with what for me was a major insight into how word semantics works, though, of course, my understanding of the Word continues to evolve daily. I literally begin to feel the words in a different way than I did before, and there’s no doubt in my mind that what I feel actually is there. What I see runs counter in a big way to what most linguists assume about word meaning. The gist of what I see can be stated fairly simply:

The Socratic Hypothesis

Each consonant and vowel in a language has a meaning, in the sense that every word containing that sound has an element of meaning which words not containing that sound do not have. What underlies this sound-meaning is the form of the sound, i.e. its pronunciation – a sound means what it is. For example, to pronounce a stopped consonant [b, d, g, p, t, k], you completely block the flow of air through the mouth. Consequently all stopped sounds involve a barrier of some kind. The nature of that barrier varies depending on whether the sound is voiced [b, d, g] or unvoiced [p, t, k], whether it is labial [b, p], dental [d, t] or velar [g, k], and so forth. This meaning is different from the referent, which is what we normally think of as the meaning of a word. Reference is a separate process from sound-meaning, and is layered on top of it. Reference is less central to word semantics than sound-meaning, although it is much more obvious to the casual observer. This aspect of meaning which is determined by sound lies much closer to what we call the connotation than the denotation. Sound meaning does tend to predispose referents, but does not largely determine them. That is, you can’t predict what a word will refer to based on its sound, but you can predict that a high percentage of words beginning with /b/ in every language will involve explosions, birth and loud noises. You can also predict that if a word referring to a sound begins with /b/, the sound will either begin abruptly or be very loud or usually both. Sound affects meaning in every word in every language. However, because of the way reference interacts with sound-meaning, its effect is not as obvious at first glance in concrete nouns and other words with very inflexible referents. What all the various referents or senses of a word have in common is their sound-meaning. Thus by virtue of its sound, the ‘get’ in ‘get up’ is the very same word to the English-speaking ear as the ‘get’ in ‘get away’, ‘get involved’, ‘get through’, ‘get fat’, ‘get a Lamborghini’. The glue that holds all these senses together is the meaning of the /g/ followed by the meaning of the /e/ followed by the meaning of the /t/. All of this can be and has been verified empirically by simply cataloguing the relationship between sound and referent and taking statistics.

I have come closest to this mysterious encounter with the Word by spending time within speech sounds and their relationship to the meanings of the words which they form. I am not a lone wanderer in this particular forest. I count among my more prominant predecessors none less than the gods!

So you see, I have verified the Socratic Hypothesis for all the English monosyllables in a commercial spelling checker word list. The fact that this test has been carried out on all the words in a well-defined portion of the vocabulary is important, because it constitutes scientific verification of a fact which is very central to the workings of language, and which is not in general acknowledged to be true. If only those words which fit nicely into a pattern are accounted for, you have demonstrated nothing. For example, you may show that lots of ‘gl’ words concern reflected light, but unless you show that all letter combinations are similarly limited and that other letter combinations do not contain a similar percentage of words concerning reflected light, you have demonstrated nothing, and you have no solid foundation from which to go forth and make really general and far-reaching claims about the nature of language. This Socratic Hypothesis could in principle be proven false, but can in fact be verified as true by repeatable experiments, such as those outlined at this Web site. I therefore strongly encourage readers who are at all interested in whether the Socratic Hypothesis is true to check it out for themselves. In addition, in myAnnotated Bibliography, the interested reader can find references to other accounts of comprehensive tests which have been conducted for other languages.

Explore Margaret Magnus’s website.

How does the proof of the Socratic Hypothesis inform my reading of Ken Wilber’s Integral Semiotics and the nature of Lingua-U? We’ll turn to that question next week.

Is There a Spiritual Crisis Among Young African-Americans?

 

young-afram

An editor at Sojourner’s thinks there’s a Black crisis caused by the “promise of integration”. A provocative commentary published by Anthony A. Parker is called “Whose America is It?”:

The effect this loss of control has had on my generation is devastating. Growing up in “integrated” America has established a pattern of cognitive dissonance among young blacks. Inoculated with secular values emphasizing the individual instead of the community, and progressive politics over theology, young blacks rarely recognize each other as brothers and sisters, or as comrades in the struggle. We’re now competitors, relating to each other out of fear and mistrust.

The decay of culturally specific institutions in the black community has meant the supplantation of concrete programmatic policies designed to alleviate our worsening condition in America. Whereas black America once had a unique platform from which it could (and did) address issues, we are now reduced to angry rhetoric. Without ownership of black institutions, our best interests will never be served, our leaders will not be held accountable, and the only vested interest we will have is in our problems. And they are legion. Black-on-black violence, drug abuse, high school drop-out rates, teen pregnancy, single-parent households, high rates of incarceration, crime, homelessness, and inadequate health care, just to name a few.

WHO ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE GOING? And how are we going to get there? We can no longer answer these questions. Indeed, we have stopped asking them. But just as the future of blacks seemed to be in peril when integration was introduced decades ago, our future as a viable racial and ethnic group in this country will be greatly diminished unless a new model for racial and cultural development is established.

Let’s just say this much: ASSIMILATED DOES NOT EQUAL INTEGRAL. Assimilated means the particularity gets left behind in favor of the universal. Integral means that both the particular and universal are affirmed. And “integrated” is just a confusing term one ought not use if one really means Integral or Assimilated.

For what it’s worth, the article is based on something the author wrote in 1990. I remember that time well, my senior year studying Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Harvard. It was postmodernism’s heydey, the Green revolution. How well has it aged?

On the philosophy of personal branding and selling

Personal Branding

One of the most important pillars of the integral worldview is its understanding that there is not simply one self, but a myriad of constructed selves operating in highly complex contexts which are themselves manifestations of an ultimate reality.

So the self is personal and transpersonal; either way, the self does not exist independently from the language used to communicate its nature. The self is always communicated; that is to say, from a perspective which emphasizes certain values, the self is always branded.

One contrarian, Olivier Blanchard, hates putting the word personal next to the word brand. On The BrandBuilder Blog, he writes:

Here’s the thing: People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. (Most of the time, becoming a brand means they become all three.) Unlike people, brands have attributes and trade dress, slogans and tag lines which can all be trademarked, because unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something.

That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something is at the very crux of the problem with “personal branding.” Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?

Perhaps more to the point – and this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are? And I am not talking about iconic celebrities, here. I am talking about people like you and me.

Think about it. Those of us who truly value attributes like transparency and authenticity (and that would be the vast majority of people) don’t want to sit in a room with a guy playing a part. If I am interviewing an applicant for a job, the less layers between who he is and who he wants me to think he is, the better. Those extra layers of personal branding, they’re artifice. They’re disingenuous. They’re bullshit. I am going to sense that and the next thought that will pop up in my head is “what’s this guy really hiding?”

via R.I.P. Personal Branding.

Leaving aside whether Blanchard has accurately described any actually existing school of personal branding thought, he does have a perfectly legitimate view of the self from a perspective which sees business values (reputation, image, profit, etc.) as anathema to personal values (namely transparency and authenticity).

His view resonates with postmodernism’s obsession with transparency at the expense of all other values, and its de-coupling of authenticity with achievement (“Tell me how you really feel, not what you want to achieve.”) Blanchard can hardly imagine that achievement and its necessary components (e.g., slogans, tag lines, resumes, etc.) can actually be authentic to a self, apparently because they are foreign to his self-sense (they look like artifices to him).

Blanchard’s post earned a strong and lengthy rebuke at the Personal Branding Blog, where Oscar Del Santo replies, in part:

His tirade begins with a statement that sadly lacks philosophical or sociological sophistication and can therefore be easily dismantled: “People are people,” he tells us, “they aren’t brands. When people become brands they stop being people.” Not quite, I’m afraid. By the same token and under the same faulty premises we could fallaciously argue that people are not consumers, clients, voters, patients, citizens or biological entities. Yet people are of course all of those things and many more depending on the specific context and focus under consideration. And there is no question in my mind that in our digital 2.0 world people are (perhaps for the first time) also brands and have brand-like attributes they can use for their benefit without in any way, shape or form forsaking their humanity or their identity as people.

From the ulterior development of his argument, we learn that the animosity Mr Blanchard feels towards brands and personal branding stems from his negative associations with selling and the misconception that we can only sell by becoming “a character or a product”. “That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something”, he states, “is at the very crux of the problem with ‘personal branding’. Can you realistically remain authentic and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?”. The answer to his question is obviously a resounding ‘yes’: I have not surrendered myself to any evil process or become inauthentic to create a successful personal brand and sell my services any more than I believe he has done so in order to become a social media author and sell his books. To claim otherwise without proof is intellectually arrogant and plainly misguided. And of course, both he and I – along with everyone else with a career – have “a business agenda to drive” (even if it is is just to remain in business!) and need to sell a product, service or idea: and we are none the worse for that.

I am glad to find in his post the words transparency and authenticity and once again sad that he should need to retort to expletives and offensive accusations to put forward his case (“those extra layers of personal branding are artifice… They’re bulls**t… Don’t be a fake. Drop the personal branding BS”). On at least one account I can most certainly put his mind to rest: nobody here is trying to be a fake or condone such behavior. In fact, our personal branding philosophy goes well beyond his own premises and not only has transparency and authenticity at its core, but is emphatically built on the primacy of values, can be profoundly spiritual, and is open to people from all walks of life including minorities….

Del Santo correctly realizes that Blanchard is attacking a straw man, not personal branding as it is actually described by its proponents. He and Blanchard seem unable to recognize whether “selling” can be part of the “authentic” self or not. Drawing on his personal experience (and that of others, I’m sure), he disagrees.

But is it really necessary to say that one or the other must be correct? When human development is understood as a continuum, and the self is understood as a developmental line, then actually both views can be viewed as correct from a certain point of view.

Let us loosely apply the labels modern, postmodern, and integral to describe the different philososphical points of view, each arising in a developmental sequence.

  1. The modern self is seen as divided between personal and business, and the latter is often taken as a roadmap for personal development. You are what you earn. Your business is like your family. You are the CEO of your own life. Your life has a bottom line. Achievement is everything. You work with brands, but you are likely to think of those brands as external to yourself. Your work life and personal life are highly differentiated and possibly segregated, and it is common to want to “leave work at the office.”
  2. The postmodern self is seen as authentic. You are more than the sum of your achievements. You are what you feel, think, and do. You are so inherently complex and nuanced that no social structure, no business, can fit you without alienating who you really are. Being real is everything. You know what’s real because it’s what you are developmentally moving away from: it’s everything that a business is not. The postmodern self sees its own stage of development as the end-point of self-actualization and does not recognize the difference between the modern self and the integral self.
  3. The integral self is seen as both authentic and an achievement. You don’t just be yourself, you become yourself; thus, selfhood is finally recognized as an achievement. Excessive attention to the interior life and its dramas fades away. Excesssively anti-business views and anti-achievement attitudes fade away. What remains is an achieving, evolving self. The new self must find ways of communicating itself and connecting with others who recognize its value. The new self reaches for a (trans)personal brand, a (trans)personal image, a (trans)personal worldview, etc., which allows it to integrate the stages of its previous development and interrelate with others.

So when looking at the debate between personal branding and its critics, it’s important to ask yourself: what is the self that is being branded? There is not just one self, and people often talk past each other when they fail to recognize this philosophical point.

A letter to Sam Harris: the world will never be ready for libertarianism

sam-harris-from-samharrisdotcomPosted to Sam Harris’s “Contact the Author” page:

Hello Sam,

Although I have all the same interests as you (though my Philosophy degree is from Harvard) and few of the same positions, I really admire the stand you took in your recent blog post on “How Rich is Too Rich?”

So much so, it was one of the first times I posted anything about you in as long as I can remember. Your questions were fantastic, your imagination was far-sighted, and your courage to speak outside the maturity zone of your most fanatical readership was joyful.

What a coincidence that just as you are saying incredibly smart things about Ayn Rand, I was just writing a bit about her last week on my post, “As the world searches for a 21st-century philosophy, Objectivism and Integral thought vie in Russia.”

I’ve long wondered why you’ve avoided saying anything publicly about Integral thought (which surely you must know about), and long suspected it had to do with your unwillingness to confront the strong “autism rebranded” maturity level apparent in so much of your readership. But now with your post, “How to Lose Readers Without Even Trying,” I see I might have been wrong. I guess we all get the readership we deserve eventually, and I wish you luck in replacing some of those “You are scum” readers with more suitable ones.

I’m sure our paths will cross in person one day. Until then, thanks for pushing back against your rebellious readers in the way you did.

Hasta lluego,

Joe Perez

P.S.: The world will never, ever be ready for libertarianism. It is only in recent centuries been ready for individual liberty, and if current trends in cultural development continue, the next thing we will be ready for is a more integral politics, not a return to the wild west.

Cross-posted to my blog at www.joe-perez.com

I’m not holding my breath for a reply, but I have much admiration for the guy and like the direction in which his thought is evolving. Maybe someday he’ll even look carefully at the evolution in his thought, identify the patterns that connect it all together, and consider whether he needs to take development seriously.

Photo Credit: SamHarris.org