The Integral Critic’s Dilemma: Beams And Struts Or Soft And Squishy?

By Joe Perez

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 “What We Are, That We See. Part I: Response to Some Recent Criticism in a Wild West Fashion” (the Wyatt Earpy post), Ken Wilber wrote:

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.

Continue reading “The Integral Critic’s Dilemma: Beams And Struts Or Soft And Squishy?”

Hairpin: Interview with a Postmodern Pagan

In the first of a series of interviews with people who are professionally religious, a general-interest women’s website talks to a pagan clergyman, 29-year-old Brian. Brian leads a pagan church in Nashville, Tennessee.

A selection of questions and answers from the interview:

Could you tell me more about what you believe specifically?

norse6My cosmology is based on ancient Northern European religion, and my source material is mythology and epic poetry written about and by the ancient pre-Christian Northern Europeans. I’ve always been a history buff, which is part of why this appeals to me. And within this particular brand of paganism, people often think of the Viking aesthetic, macho men going out looting and pillaging. But in the source text, from an anthropological view, you’ll find a really complete society.

I do tend to worship male gods, but I’m a cisgender male, and I identify as such. Therefore I tend to resonate more with gods than goddess or gods with more fluid gender indenties.

What gods are you talking about?

Recently, Odin has decided to rear his head in my life. I started off working with the god Thor, and as I’ve gotten older, Odin has started to appear more. I also work with Freyja and Frigga, a little bit with Idunna, and the god Tyr.

What do you mean when you say you work with them?

I pray to them, I offer them time, I meditate on them. When I say that I work with a god, I mean that I engage in a practice of reciprocal gift-giving. I develop and maintain a relationship with my god by giving gifts to them and thanking for the gifts they give to me.

That’s a really nice, simple way of putting it. Do you feel that you also atone for yourself to them? Is there an analogue to Judeo-Christian punishment and repentance within paganism?

With paganism being so varied, there’s no set code of ethics. Most pagans tend to believe that people know what the right thing is. They don’t need a father figure to say, “Don’t kill people, and don’t steal.”

Most pagans believe in a variation of the Hindu belief in karma, and the variation comes from the fact that pagans tend to believe that what you do will come back to you not in the next life but in this one.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

I do believe in an afterlife, and I also espouse the idea that I have not been there so I can’t really know. Within paganism, you find a concept that your soul prepares itself for its next incarnation after you die, that you are reincarnated because you have learned certain lessons and still have more to learn, but that’s an extreme generalization. My personal view includes Asgard, Helheim, and all the various afterlife aspects found in Norse myth.

What’s something that you believe that could apply to anyone?

I really try to accept people for who they are. I very much believe in an individual’s decision to lead their lives for themselves and find meaning however they want, and that process is a beautiful thing. That’s one of the reasons I became a minister, was to help people find what gives meaning to their lives.

And this is true for any religion, but I should say that it’s very difficult for a single individual to be representative of paganism as a whole, because our faith structure is a postmodern one. Paganism—neo-paganism—only really broke on the scene in the ‘50s when England repealed its anti-witchcraft laws. So, fairly uniquely, paganism has always been defined by ease of access to information, which led us to emphasize diversity over orthodoxy, and promote tolerance, and acceptance of people walking their own paths.

Read the whole interview.

Brian’s observation that the faith structure of “paganism as a whole” is a postmodern one is pretty accurate description for neo-paganism. The pagans he is talking about aren’t indigenous people in Africa or Australia but the new pagans in America many of which are fleeing Christianity. The fact that the core meaning of the religion boils down to “I really try to accept people for who they are” is also pretty important for the consciousness of postmodernism in general.

Postmodern people don’t have to be pagan to have an ethos of accepting people’s individual self-expression. Postmodern people generally do, except of course when they are rejecting people who are fundamentalist or traditional or capitalistic or conservative or sexist or intolerant in their beliefs.

Paganism may or may not be a growing spirituality or religion in circa 2013, but my belief is that the growth of postmodernism has probably already peaked, give or take a few percentage points. I may be wrong. Paganism per se is not at the front line of consciousness, but is a spiritual expression that may already be waning, at least in its postmodern expression.

A more integral paganism is a topic that we will be visiting on Spirituality Post. What comes post-postmodern paganism? Basically I will argue that what is coming does away with the religious relativism of the postmoderns and recognizes a spiritual and cultural and social evolution through a spiral of development which requires attention to the health of the spiral as a whole. That’s too hard a pill for postmoderns to swallow unless they go through a conversion experience that leaves them adrift from postmodernism and the currents that swept them into the sea of relativity and hyper-sensitivity. Post-postmodernism is integral and evolutionary, broadly speaking. It is a subject of great interest to me, and I look forward to exploring it with you over time.

Getting clear on the definition for integral

Here’s the new template boilerplate for this blog:

STEAM is a systematic way of thinking, an interconnected mode of being, and a comprehensive model for transformations of self, culture, and world… it’s about being authentic to your life’s purpose, embracing the ineffable and ever-present Oneness of Being and realizing ever expanding degrees of compassion and love… some call this approach integral or AQAL; others call it second-tier or post-postmodernism… I call it STEAM-powered living, and this blog is all about rising up to realize our true nature.

A careful reader will notice that I’ve de-emphasized “integral” in this statement of my blog’s mission. Why? I’ve decided that integral is too vague for some of my needs, so I’m taking a closer look at the ways that I’m describing my approach to writing this blog.

Here are some common questions that arise as a result of the vagueness of integral talk, stated as generically as possible: Is such and such integral? Is this or that something an integral person would say or do? How do you know if such and such is really integral?

Defining integral is an important step in being able to have meaningful conversations about such questions. At least the dictionary definition is clear: integral means “composed of integral parts; lacking nothing essential.” If anything’s got the essentials, it’s integral.

Today integral is a word that’s getting a heavy burden placed on it by many people. As I see it, today there are a large and growing number of systematic and evolutionary thinkers in many disciplines whose work is pointing towards new ways of thinking that have many broad, overlapping similarities. Different thinkers describe those connections in different ways.

The most comprehensive thinker that I know who has charted those similarities and differences is Ken Wilber. But his theories (written in over twenty books) require a depth of study that few people have the time or inclination for; and even among those sympathetic to Wilber’s approach, there are differences of opinion about precisely what is and isn’t really integral. Integral is not only an intellectual position, it is an embodied movement in personal, cultural, and socio-political development. As such, it is embodied at many different levels of self-consciousness.

“Ken Wilber doesn’t own integral,” as someone recently said on an online forum. True enough, however that’s like saying that Hegel didn’t own German idealism or that Freud didn’t own psychoanalysis. It seems silly to have to rebut the notion that any individual can own such a vast movement as integral, and yet it is sometimes necessary. Wilber himself has made similar observations many times. However, Ken Wilber and Integral Institute have recently taken steps to protect the intellectual property associated with a particular variety of integral theory and practice techniques. Thus, they have been using the trademark symbol on such words as AQAL™, an acronym short for “all quadrants, all levels…” To me that sounds like it’s probably a prudent step. I’m not a lawyer, but from where I stand as a writer it’s actually quite helpful in distinguishing between flavors of integral. There’s generic integral or second-tier consciousness or post-postmodernism, and then there’s Ken Wilber’s version of integral: AQAL. (Actually, you can probably just say “Ken Wilber’s version of integral” and be generally understood.)

Every spiritual teacher, philosopher, or writer who is bold or stupid enough to call their work integral could have their own integral approach that says “this is how I’ve fleshed out the details,” and nobody need ever get confused. If a controversy arose as to whether Joe Blow’s work is integral, at the very least you’ve got a benchmark that allows you to say, “Well, it may or may not be integral, but it’s definitely AQAL-compliant.”

My own approach to integral has been to follow the AQAL model in a broad sort of way, and then fill in the details as they come to me out of my own life practice, observations, and writing. Since May 2005, I’ve been using the acronym STEAM to describe the contours of my approach (it’s short for stages, types, experiences, angles, and modes). If AQAL is like an operating system, then STEAM is intended to be an AQAL-compliant application.

Why bother making these sorts of fine distinctions? Just to get a little more clarity. If I write some juicy nugget such as “Integral means never having to say you’re sorry,” I don’t really want to get into back and forth about whether that’s really true about some mythical beast that somebody else is calling integral. Pretty soon nobody’s talking about the importance of apologies and everyone’s debating the definition of integral (and that gets way tiresome). I think it’s better to simply talk about my approach and ideas and relate them to a systematic model (that is, STEAM) in a way that lets readers separately consider the validity of both my point regarding the subject matter at hand and the systematic model. If I were to say, for example, “STEAM-powered living means never having to say you’re sorry,” then right or wrong, at least the conversation can stay focused on what I’m saying, not on the matter of defining integral.