Since I’ve Been Away … Or: Have We Become Altitude Denialists?

Yes, it was a little bit of a stunt, a dramatic gesture not usually made in civil debate. But I did it anyway. I told Frank Visser, head of Integral World, that I believed his arguments to be “orange”, and then I asked him to take an assessment test. (The context: Frank Visser recently added a new chapter to his widely read book on Ken Wilber which I dissected in a way that Frank did not like.) If Frank would show the world his results, I said, I would share the results of my own assessments publicly.

Frank Visser’s only reply so far is a quip. [Update 12/12/2014: “Proud to be ORANGE” by Frank Visser]

Meanwhile, I’ve received a variety of supportive and critical comments from members of the Integral community. Some of these leave me genuinely puzzled and worried. You see, I haven’t followed every post on every Facebook forum or Ning community over the past several years, so I’ve got some catch-up work to do.

I’m a bit stunned. And I have to wonder aloud … since I’ve been away … has it become impossible to discuss altitude openly even within the Integral community? If that’s true then I’m afraid that the Integral revolution is over. And Integral has already lost.

There were early signs that I’d been away from the blogosphere for too long. Immediate reactions to my challenge to Frank: I was told that I was inviting an “altitude contest” and an “altitude competition” and “altitude waving” and “arguing from altitude” (John Vagnon). (There were also replies from outside the integral community that found my offer “appalling” and “Pulling Rank”.) Vagnon wrote:

Here’s my problem with argument from Altitude. It has nothing to do with hurting people’s feelings. Its just imprecise. If someone is arguing from a “blue/amber” altitude, they might be incorrect (or partially incorrect) about something – not because of their altitude – but because of reasons that come from higher altitudes. Those reasons are expressible in language. A blue (or lower) argument that the Bible is literally true is limited for reasons we can express without simply calling it “blue”. If Frank’s view is limited because his argument is limited to orange – and it well might be – those limitations can be identified with post-modern critique – with no need to refer to altitude or to engage in altitude competition.

Vagnon’s views were supported by Elliott Ingersoll, a psychologist and co-author of 2010 book, Integral Psychotherapy. Ingersoll wrote:

As psychologists we can’t even agree on what personality is, let alone consciousness or levels of consciousness – really. We’re all over the place….

There is no psychological test that functions to capture the whole of how a person experiences/interacts with the world….

The idea of levels of consciousness, even as a holarchy, may not be at all what is going on….

We need to use such tools carefully because – and here is the kicker – we don’t understand the 3 pounds of miraculous tissue between our ears that seems to be running much of the show….

It’s ok – we are a work in progress but there is no objective psychological science that can “explain” what a person’s views on a subject reflect so no test can be administered that “explains” those views (or explains them away)….

Continue reading “Since I’ve Been Away … Or: Have We Become Altitude Denialists?”

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

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

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

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

The limits of Objectivist philosophy

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

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

Integral philosophy: an alternative to Objectivism for emerging societies

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

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

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

Read the whole article.

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

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

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

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

Objectivism and Integral thought: two different views of the self

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The four quadrants of your career

A career is a peculiar combination of something that you do and something that you are. And questions about what you are, how to live, the purpose of life, and how you derive meaning are inherently spiritual or religious.

The connection between career and spirituality is deep, and that’s why my own work as a career coach is influenced by Ken Wilber, one of today’s most widely read thinkers about spirituality (a man once called “the most important philosopher you’ve never heard of” by Salon.com). Wilber calls his approach to life “integral,” and so do I.

An integral perspective on careers includes four different perspectives: individual subjective, individual objective, intersubjective, and interobjective (corresponding basically to psychological, biological, cultural, and sociological perspectives). Consider this illustration (from IntegralLife.com):

So when you think about your own career growth, there are essentially four different sorts of questions that you can ask, which are all variations on these themes: How do I think and feel about my career? How do I act in my career? What does our culture believe about careers? And how does our society structure the framework within which careers exist?

No consideration of a career is complete without looking at all these three angles. Accordingly, SeattleJobCoach.com will incorporate perspectives from all these domains, and we hope the result will be a more comprehensive view than you will find on other career sites (which tend to limit themselves only to the individual side of things).

I know it’s wrong, but I do it anyways

Psychological researchers call it moral disengagement. They are finding that ignoring morality not only gives human beings an evolutionary advantage, but in some cases it requires the religious or philosophical sanctification of pernicious actions.

Here’s a clip from this piece by Benedict Carey in The New York Times:

The innate human ability to disconnect morally has made it hard for researchers to find an association between people’s stated convictions and their behavior: preachers can commit sexual crimes; prostitutes may live otherwise exemplary lives; well-trained soldiers can commit atrocities….Now, psychologists at Stanford have shown that prison staff members who work on execution teams exhibit high levels of moral disengagement — and the closer they are to the killing, the higher their level of disengagement goes….

“You have to sanctify lethal means: this is the most powerful technique” of disengagement from a shared human moral code, said Dr. Bandura, who has expressed serious moral reservations about capital punishment. “If you can’t convince people of the sanctity of the greater cause, they are not going to carry the job out as effectively.”

So it’s not so much that religious and spiritual beliefs are suspended when acting out of moral disengagement… rather, they are simply shifted. Our philosophies and theologies change focus, allowing us access to new rationales that justify our violation of our own moral code. Ironically, we may even perceive a violation of our morality as an action with greater sanctity and righteousness than actions that conform with our own moral standards.

Among other things, this research is yet another blow to rationalists and religio-rationalists who insist on thinking of human beings as logical bio-machines in a carbon bag, despite all rational evidence otherwise. How long can people go on pronouncing that the answer to the world’s problems is in getting people to reason better and have more rational, substantive dialogue with finely honed arguments advanced to support their moral suppositions? Couldn’t we solve the world’s problems by giving deductive logic textbooks to the Muslims? How long will people go on with their rationalistic biases, despite growing evidence that people can shift between coherent reason and insidious rationalizations with the ease of pressing a button on a remote control? Probably as long as those folks stay stuck at the rationalist level of development, that’s how long.

Via The Revealer.

Is bigotry a mental illness?

Here’s an interesting article on whether bigotry should be classified as a mental illness. My opinion, such as it is at this time, is that there seems to be good evidence that there are extreme forms of bigotry that are distinct from “ordinary prejudice” and therefore may warrant a special mental health classification. I support further study of this topic, and would especially like to see efforts made to keep such study as free from political agendas and biases as possible.

John Avarosis has the view on this from his window on the political left. Here’s a quote:

I always thought the fundies were sick.

Okay, this is a long-term campaign for all minority communities to get together on. We should set a long-term goal to get the psychological and psychiatric associations to officially make bigotry a mental disorder. The religious right would flip, fun in and of itself, but this would set the tone for an entire change in the culture, where prejudice of any kind of is considered the work of sick people. That would influence every debate the religious right tries to weigh in to.

I’m really quite serious. One of the large gay groups need to pick this up and run with it. It will take years to achieve, but it’s the kind of long-term goal the religious right loves to embrace. A goal that ends up changing the underlying culture and helps them on EVERY issue.

This doesn’t make much sense to me. If “pathological bias” is pathologized, I can see no reason why this should only apply against bias by conservatives. People on all sides of the political spectrum could suffer from the disorder, if it exists. Woe to anyone so naive as to think that they can score political points by casting all their enemies as mentally ill, at least not without paying a severe penalty. Read the foul, hate-filled rants in the comment boxes on Avarosis’s weblog and tell me that a sizeable portion of his own readership doesn’t suffer from something that could potentially be called “pathological bias.”

William Harryman has a well-considered integral take on the dilemma. William argues that it’s wrong to pathologize bigotry because it would make it impossible to prosecute hate crimes. Also, there’s this:

As human beings develop, one of the stages everyone must pass through has “fear of the other” as one of its components. If adults also hold this viewpoint, then the “other,” in all its forms, is to be shunned, feared, hated, or killed. This is the foundation for tribal warfare, nation-states, gangs, racial identity groups, and all other forms of us-versus-them thinking. Most nations on the planet are still largely homogeneous, so nationality can still be a form of ethnic identity.

Read the whole post. Here’s my comment on William’s blog:

You make some excellent points, particularly the importance of not pathologizing a perfectly ordinary aspect of a stage of development that we all go through. And yet I think you miss the most interesting point of the article: that there seem to be diagnostically quantifiable distinctions between “ordinary prejudice” and “pathological bias.” I don’t know if this is true or not, but there seems to be significant evidence worthy of further research. If so, then I think such evidence needs to be pursued. Would you say that you shouldn’t classify depression as a mental illness because sadness is a universal human emotion? Of course not. And I’m really not worried about the legal consequences if “pathological bias” is eventually recognized as a mental illness. As the article points out, pedophilia is both a mental illness and also punishable by law. When you say that bigots should not be pathologized, but given the opportunity to grow beyond their limited worldview, this seems not to make sense. Pathologizing bigotry by classifying an extreme form of it as a mental illness (that is, if evidence eventually supports that conclusion) is a healthy way of actually giving such persons the opportunity to grow. They can “reach out and get help” for the problem that they are experiencing.