I blog, therefore I interact (part 5 of 5)

This is the final installment in a five-part series on why I blog.

Five. I experiment. I speculate. I follow a beat. I lie. And I am doing all of this before some sort of audience of readers. But who are they? What do they want? Why do any of them keep coming back? As I’ve said before, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll get more clarity in the next year once my blog officially launches. But for now, consider this: you are part of the experiment, a fellow voyager on the integral beat, and a co-conspirator in the lies.

I don’t know who you are, but here’s what I imagine about this blog’s audience. You are probably among the 20 to 25 percent of the US population that falls into one of these three categories: pluralist, integralist, or higher. I do not consider hard core atheists and anti-spiritual secular humanists part of my target audience, though I believe many of them are open enough to find some value in the contents of this blog.

(And if you aren’t in my target audience–trust me, it’s often flamingly obvious in your interactions–well, you’re definitely welcome to visit. I may not even delete the Bible verses about the abomination of homosex you sometimes sprinkle in my comment boxes, but only because I think it can be educational for my actual audience to be reminded by your ignorance of the pathos of the world. But just so we’re all clear, I’m not writing for you. I may choose to listen to your feedback if you care to share any, or I may not, but I almost certainly won’t respond. Every publication has an audience, a target market, a home base. You’re not mine, so read quietly or you might hear me saying a little lie: “Go away please.”)

I check my blog site stats regularly, and I admit to enjoying positive trends in my traffic and fretting when I seem to be losing readers. When I first started blogging, I went through a phase of checking on my traffic daily and obsessing over who was linking to me and plotting strategies for getting more links so as to rise in the blogging ecosystem. My first blog got several tens of thousands of visitors over about a year. This blog has received just over 50,000 page views in its beta period (since May 2005). Now I’m pursuing the opposite strategy: I actually prefer to fly “under the radar screen” and do not actively promote the visibility of this blog. Perhaps in the future, when my book is published, I will take a different approach. But for now it suits me. I’m naturally quite shy. It’s easier for me to speak authentically and be more experimental when I know that my readership is in the dozens, or low hundreds, and not in the thousands.

I am envisioning that the audience for Rising Upwill consist of two distinct groups: (1) persons familiar with Ken Wilber’s integral theory and possibly the work of other integral writers, and (2) persons who are curious about integral, not turned off at first sight by a little jargon, and are willing to check this blog out enough to see if there’s anything worthwhile they can take away. And that’s it. In the past, I’ve thought that liberal religionists or political progressives who are not familiar with integral theory might be interested enough to become regular readers, but that idea has never materialized so far as I can tell. For whatever reason, they just haven’t connected with my writing. They’re definitely in my target audience so I hope that changes, but the fact is that at this point in time, they’re not my actual audience. Therefore, I won’t change the way I write this blog in an effort to appeal to them and I don’t seek out links on their blogs.

Perhaps I use too much jargon for their taste. Some critics have suggested that integral writers should always refrain from using jargon and should speak instead in “everyday language.” To such critics, I say “good luck with that” and “when you start taking your own advice, let me know.” I’ve previously explained why that’s not wise. More importantly, it’s just not much fun as a writer. And why blog if it’s tedium and not fun? It would be horribly irritating to have to censor myself or refrain from discussing integral concepts in order to try to “convert the masses,” no matter what the cost in intelligibility by the uninitiated. It doesn’t take long to learn the basis of all the jargon I use on this blog. I’ve summarized everything in six blog posts of under a thousand words each. If a reader is too lazy to spend five to ten minutes learning about STEAM, they need to go back to their Beavis and Buttheadre-runs. They really do. Neutering my writing is simply not an option.

You’re my audience. If I had zero audience, I wouldn’t blog (I’d write a private journal.) But I blog so I can interact, share, commune, build friendships, engage in the sort of interactions that makes life more meaningful and fulfilling. If what I’ve said about my intentions for Rising Up in 2006 appeals to you, do come and check this blog out to see what emerges. And until I blog again, Happy New Year… and most especially, Happy Bridge of Light.

I blog, therefore I lie (part 4 of 5)

This is the fourth in a five-part series on why I blog.

Four. Bloggers can be way too self-righteous and serious about what they do. Certainly anyone reading the last three posts in this series could get the impression that I have donned my shining armour, have received the blessing of the Lord and Lady of the kingdom, and am getting ready to set forth on a dragon-slaying adventure. I suppose I probably deserve that. So now let’s turn to the dark underbelly, the unconscious world of shadow motivations: I blog, therefore I lie.

I wish it weren’t so, but it really is. There is nothing I can write that doesn’t contain the seeds of deception and error within. In fact, there may be something about the integral and higher levels of consciousness that is particularly keen at cloak and dagger games (I like to think that it’s greater awareness of the limits of language and the duplicity that exists all around us, rather than any particular malevolence that springs to life among the integrally inclined.) I don’t mean to say that I intentionally deceive so much as that I often make conscious decisions to withhold beliefs and judgments that aren’t particularly useful in a given context.

For example, I’ve learned over the past two years of blogging that it is rarely worth my time to engage in dialogue with conservative religionists on homosexuality or other highly emotional subjects. I can point these folks to archives of my writings, but I simply have no interest in ongoing communications with them for more reasons than I care to divulge except in these brief remarks. Nor do I have a particular interest in being polite or friendly with these folks, except for a desire to avoid the bad karma of causing suffering in another sentient being. So you see, when I do engage in back-and-forth with conservative religionists, I do so for no other motivation than self-expression and enjoyment. (An exception is when I read a genuinely interesting argument that I’ve never heard before, then I may respond with seriousness.) Usually my responses appear to others as as gleeful mockery, mischievous antagonism, or impudent rudeness. Terry Mattingly once called me the “heckler” of the GetReligion blog. Fine. I have no problem with being a heckler. I have no desire to persuade or engage in debate of any sort with most of these traditionalists (as I said previously, if they want argument, they can read my writings and respond with an essay).

In this example, my “lie” is that I may communicate unintentionally that I actually have more respect for a person’s religious beliefs than I really do. I may have great respect for a person’s intellect, eloquence, and achievements in life, but have zero respect for her particular religious convictions about homosexuality. In fact, I might judge that she’s an idiot or a bigot, though I would never say so publicly unless it was plain obvious. Often, the most honest response I could muster would be, “Go away and come back in ten years when you’ve evolved to the point where we can actually have meaningful discourse.” But that’s considered a mean thing to say in our culture, so instead of speaking the truth I tend to let Mr. Nice Guy say something more ambiguously dismissive, something like, “Go away please.”

(Too often people speak about the need to respect religion. I think that’s ridiculous. Religion is not a good thing in itself, it is a bearer of traditions that range from respectable to horrible. Respect people. Tolerate religion. Respect religion only if it deserves respect. Many of the religionists–including some prominent religion bloggers who have scads of readers–have a religiosity that I don’t respect, and don’t pretend to.)

Here’s another example. Ken Wilber has stated that the central presupposition of his philosophy is that “Everyone is right.” That’s a lie. He usually follows immediately by saying that “To be precise, everyone is partially right.” Ah, that seems to be closer to the truth (but it’s not really). Then he proceeds to say something like, “Now here’s how everyone else is limited but true.” Which then enters the ears of a listener as a particular vibration that actually sounds like, “Now here’s how everyone but me is wrong.”

I like this example of Wilber’s writing not because I think it’s true, but because it’s darn clever. As I see it, Wilber is making a statement that appears to be a fact of some sort (“Everyone is right,”) but he is actually doing something quite different. He is introducing a thought like a Zen koan, a paradox like the lying Cretan, an invitation to wonder. He is stating something as some sort of fact that couldn’t possibly be true, unless Truth itself is different than you have conceived.

That’s why I read “Everyone is right” not as a statement of fact, but as an injunction that goes like this: “Consider the possibility that everyone in the world is right. What sort of world would have to exist in order to allow for this possibility?” (And if you don’t know the answer to that question, consider reading Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything or another book to hear a very interesting story.)

“Everyone is right,” could very well be a mantra for this blog in 2006. Not because of its truth, but because it’s a useful lie. If I engage other bloggers in challenging argument, I do not need to explain to them how terribly they are wrong. I can critique in a new way, not the old fashion of critique that displays the usual sort of intellectual arrogance of setting one’s self on a pedestal and explaining how everyone else isn’t reasoning well enough, is committing atrocious logical fallacies, and so forth. (Well, that sort of diatribe has its place in certain contexts. I think it’s often a good way of responding to rationalists by speaking their own tongue.)

What’s the alternative to the old sort of blogging-as-critique that shoves down everyone’s throat how wrong they are? Well, we can follow Wilber’s injunction and see where it leads us. We can assume the truth of someone’s vision of reality, and then explicate (as best we can) just what they’re missing in their picture of the world, where they are more blind than they need be, where they are partial in their apprehension of truth, where they are less comprehensive than they could be, and how they could begin to a few steps down the path of greater integration from whatever point they’re at. And if it takes a lie–basically an antithesis in a dialectic–to do the trick, so be it.

I blog, therefore I follow a beat (part 3 of 5)

This is the third in a five-part series on why I blog.

Three. Although I’ve edited and written for many student and corporate publications, and even founded a few publications, I’ve never received a paycheck for journalism. My college degree is in comparative religion and philosophy; my graduate studies are in the psychology and sociology of religion; I have no formal journalism training. So it seems more than a little odd to me to find myself wearing the journalist’s hat as I set the editorial calendar for Rising Up in 2006. The most pressing question: What’s my beat?

Starting on January 1, 2006, I’m calling my blog’s beat “the integral beat.” What’s that? I’m not exactly sure. There are very few role models. There are other integral bloggers, but few are doing the sort of writing that I’m envisioning. To be frank, nobody’s written the sort of beat that I want to cover before. I know that I certainly haven’t, and I’ve been blogging for two years. By “integral beat,” I don’t mean to imply that I’m going to be looking inward at controversies and developments in whatever might be called the emerging “integral community.” While I don’t intend to overlook such things as the spring launch of Integral University, I expect writing on such matters will be a very small part of the integral beat.

As I see it, following the integral beat means taking a look at the intersection between individual perspectives, cultural values, religious beliefs, and social development. Within that broad territory, there are certain stories that are more interesting than others. The most interesting stories, at least from an integral standpoint, are often those stories where there are suprisingly overlooked perspectives, conflict arising from misunderstandings across different developmental stages, and dynamic elements of fusion and integration of surprisingly disparate elements.

Covering the integral beat, even as an unpaid blogger, requires a certain sort of detachment that is able to hold the tension between “letting the world be,” and making a proactive effort to advocate change. My view is that an integral approach doesn’t require me to take a supposedly objective stance; rather, integral describes a way of looking at issues that reveals a hidden or unconscious unity, synergy, and potential for integration. What I hope to do by following the integral beat is to bring those sorts of insights to fruition in the wide open territories of self, culture, and nature.

When talking about abortion, let’s not overlook the individual and collective interiors

I’ve written previously on the importance of rising above the fray on the issue of abortion. Not a middle ground, but a higher ground. This means affirming the fetus’s value as a sentient life form (i.e., the ground value, or its worth from the point of view of Spirit) as an absolutely beautiful, unique, and precious aspect of Spirit. From this absolute perspective, all sentient life is equally valuable.

But it’s not enough to stop there. At the same time, my STEAM-based perspective doesn’t lock anyone into a rigid belief that equates abortion with murder. There are also intrisic and relative perspectives that are important to take to gain a full appreciation of the value of life. From these perspectives, we can recognize that there is a hierarchy of value when it comes to sentient life (a human being is worth more than an ape, an ape is worth more than a snake, a snake is worth more than a bacterium, and so forth). These perspectives also lead us to consider the need to balance competing values, including respect for the autonomy of individuals as moral agents to make decisions related to their bodies with minimal interference from the state. (This balancing, by the way, leads me to advocate policies that permit safe and legal abortion only during the first trimester of pregnancy; under other circumstances, I would see abortion banned except to save the mother’s life or severe, permanent injury to her health.)

Although I’ve blogged on the topic of abortion previously, the issue rarely catches my notice. In contrast, many conservative religion bloggers talk about abortion constantly. To them, it’s an issue with the moral weight of genocide. And progressive bloggers are generally in a reactive stance. Their concern is mostly with beating back legal efforts to re-criminalize abortion or with the fate of the Supreme Court. I’ve been wondering lately if perhaps I’m not talking enough about abortion and similar issues as a legitimate ethical concern. Perhaps my lack of volume on this issue has led some readers to wrongly assume that I am unequivocally “pro choice,” (actually I resist both the “pro choice” and “pro life” labels as meaningless propaganda).

If I were to make new year’s resolutions related to my blogging, perhaps “talk more about abortion” should be one of them. For starters, I would resist the temptation to snicker at the “Insane Religious Fanatic [Who] Subverts Dominant Paragdigm” (to quote a Mark Shea headline). When I read headlines that say the pope is preaching that “God loves every embryo,” I can’t help but wince. I think of a classic Monty Python skit (you know the one). It’s true that the pope’s rhetoric badly obscures the distinctions between ground, intrinsic, and relative perspectives on value. It’s also true that the pope talks about God’s love for every “creature,” but when’s the last time you heard the Vatican calling the killing of animals equivalent to the crime of murder or genocide? Still, the pope’s basic moral intuition that life has dignity that must ultimately be grounded on a transcendent basis is a sound one.

One of the most important things to say about abortion, it seems to me, is that to reduce abortions we need to address the relevant issues of the interior dimension (the subjective, personal angle and the objective, cultural angle). We need to talk about how to best develop the individual psychological structures that are able to perceive a transcendental value of life and are capable of exercising the sort of responsibility necessary to avoid the dilemmas the result in abortions. But above all, we must find ways to grow an awareness that all sentient life forms should be respected, nurtured, and valued as part of an interconnected whole. That includes unborn children, but it also includes greater respect for animals and the environment.

In this report, Evelyn Nieves of The Washington Post describes how South Dakota has made abortion rare: doctors there are too afraid of social stigma to actually offer abortions (Even though abortion is legal, South Dakotans have to travel outside the state to get one.) This is an excellent example of the key role that both personal and collective interiority can play in reducing abortions. The personal interior dimension: even doctors who support abortion rights are choosing that when it comes to their career, the costs of performing abortions are greater than the costs of not performing them. The collective interior dimension: stigma in the form of backlash against “baby killers” has contributed to a cultural environment hostile to abortion.

Of course, there will be those on the left who will decry the situation in South Dakota. And others who could raise the legitimate question of whether South Dakota has really reduced abortion demand or simply burdened women with the need to travel to neighboring states. But for the purposes of keeping this blog post reasonably concise, let me just say that the article highlights often neglected aspects of the abortion debate. Individual choices and our collective cultural mores often have a far greater impact on how we value life than the votes we cast in our elections or the judges on our courts.

Conservativism, integral, and political methodological pluralism

Matthew Dallman has recently written on conservativism and integral. Here’s the money quote:

…much of what I perceive as the integral worldview has to do with stewardship, respect for the institutions that foster development (including religious institutions and religious practice), the necessity of clear thinking and reasoned debate, and a rebirth of interest in history through a planet-centric moral lens, this all has the sounds of conservatism, to me. And it importantly suggests that “integral conservatism” isn’t quite right (as in, “integral conservatism” and “integral liberalism”, two sides of the integral coin). Rather, I see conservatism as the overall ethos of integral, within which there are preferences, dispositions, and types of variation. Integral, as I now see it, offers new kind of conservatism, one that is planet-centric, concerned for the health and development of all peoples, and is able to diagnose and see through the wads of false reasoning presented falsely in the name of “post conventional”.

CJ Smith offers some important criticism of Dallman’s post here. Like Smith, I’m not inclined to say that the word that best describes the “overall ethos of integral” is “conservative.” My impression in reading Dallman’s post is that he somehow came up with a list of attributes (respect for institutions, the need for rigorous debate, a rebirth of interest in history, etc.), proclaimed that the items on the list are important both to integral and to conservativism, and therefore concluded that the essential ethos of integral and conservativism is virtually identical. There’s some truth in there, and I certainly have no qualms with any of the items in the list as being linked to some degree with integral thinking, but it hardly proves an identity between integral and conservativism. One could just as easily come up with an alternate list of attributes and argue that integral is really liberalism or Marxism or something else entirely.

One important truth about Dallman’s point that I see is that the development of consciousness from the pluralistic stage to the integral stage involves an expansion of consciousness that frequently includes ownership of all that has been previously hidden, repressed, and denied about relativistic pluralism. For most people, this means that they may get a healthy dose of religion, conservative philosophy, and respect for the institutions of society… whether they want to, or not. And if they’re deeply ingrained in the left-leaning pluralistic variety of thinking, they’re probably going to need to take a hard right turn. (On the other hand, some rationalist-stageconservatives may find something of value in integral philosophy, and so they use its intellectual edifice to try to turn the tables on the left. However, they may be limiting their own development. They can hardly transcend that which they have not yet fully embraced. They need to take, not merely a left turn, but a U-turn.)

I have other objections to calling conservativism the guiding ethos of integral as well. As I and others have previously argued (here among other places), the essence of an integral approach to politics is something that must be described as a methodological pluralism. Practical change is supported on the basis of divergent rationales grounded in an overarching moral and spiritual framework of values, even rationales that appear to be logically incoherent and practically inconsistent. For example, it’s possible to argue for gay marriage on the basis of (1) classical liberal tolerance, (2) a positive view of gay marriage as benefiting the common good and welfare of a communitarian society, (3) supported by Bible ethics, properly understood, and (4) the common sense view that if I want it and it doesn’t hurt anybody else, I should have it. The integral approach isn’t to say that some of these arguments are right or wrong, good or bad, so much as it is to identify them when they take form, coordinate their beneficial impacts in society, and mitigate their deleterious effects. When it comes to politics, I understand integral methodological pluralism to demand tolerance for, if not outright advocacy of, a variety of different and sometimes contradictory approaches (not unlike the way some politicians skillfully address different values and use different language before different audiences).

Therefore, in light of this framework of understanding, I would respond to Dallman by saying that to specify the dominant ethos of integral in language that privileges the values of a particular first-tier value sphere (in this case, the traditionalist/rationalist set) is not a good idea, even if there are important truths that are illuminated by so doing. Why privilege, say, the notion that integral places a value on institutions as bearers of development (quite true) over say, the notion that integral places a value on transforming institutions to bring their values into harmony with worldcentric over ethnocentric concerns. Stressing the former makes integral sound conservative, while emphasizing the latter makes integral sound progressive. Perhaps this is a case where it really is important to say that integral can certainly be made out to sound very different depending on the context, and for what it’s worth that’s the curse and blessing of our predicament.

Speaking of conservativism, there’s an interesting new opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by Jeffrey Hart. Hart sets forth a conservative manifesto or “my assessment of the ideas held in balance in the American Conservative Mind today.” Among these are his unusual notions of a new role for religion in the conservative mind:

Religion is an integral part of the distinctive identity of Western civilization. But this recognition is only manifest in traditional forms of religion–repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion. This meant religion in its magisterial forms. What the time calls for is a recovery of the great structure of metaphysics, with the Resurrection as its fulcrum, established as history, and interpreted through Greek philosophy…

Now it would be a mistake to equate Hart’s essay with conservativism as such. But it strikes me as an important representation not of integralism or proto-integralism (as Dallman might hold), but instead as a striking alternative to integralism. In its nostalgic yearning for a discredited Thomism, and in its typically dramatic MacIntyrianfashion, it seeks to return our political discourse to premodern forms. Instead of looking at Christian revelation as of a piece with the best trans-rational revelations of all the world religions, it seeks to privilege one tradition’s mythic heritage as definitive. (It puts God in a box circumscribed by medieval metaphysics updated for the times, presumably with a papal imprimatur.)

Hart’s is a sort of thinking that can be quite intellectually rigorous. But no thank you. Integral provides an alternative to this sort of conservativism, a world philosophy grounded in spiritual evolution and the mystical core of the world’s wisdom traditions. Our worldviews can probably benefit greatly from mutual dialogue. And in the spirit of integral methodological pluralism, there’s no reason why we should not encourage conservative neo-Thomists to pursue their quixotic quest for a new metaphysics based on Christ’s resurrection. The Thomists’ work in developing a new metaphysics could have salutary consequences that they, and we, cannot anticipate in advance.

It would be foolish to try to deny that Spirit could be expressing itself among conservatives, even when their ideas sometimes strike some of us as off base. But let’s be very careful when defining the integral ethos in sweeping generalizations. To tie the emerging philosophy too closely to conservativism or any other intellectual or political movement is inaccurate, unwise and unnecessary.