Too busy to blog

But check out these fluffy links: on racism and white privilege from TimBomb… on integral relationships from Bill… on defining religiosity from landonville… on beadaholism by Jean… Greg’s post on recovery and more… and then there’s Hugo’s “Another long one on Christianity, feminism, ezers, and gender roles” post that I haven’t had the energy to reply to yet. Will definitely write something up by 2007.

Update: Can’t wait to write about Naomi Wolf’s encounter with Jesus.

Equanimity in action

Equanimity in action. What’s it look like?

Some days, I think I’ve got an answer. And other days, I’m confused and uncertain. Is it do nothingness? Is it the ethic of non-attachment that is also not attached to non-attachment? Is it receiving forgiveness from God, and then going and sinning no more? Is it another version of the paradox of faith and good works, both seemingly incomplete without the other? Is it surrender to your Higher Power, and then go and be clean and sober because your self-will run riot is no more?

It’s helpful for me to think of a concrete example, so as I often do, I turn to the gay rights movement. So many of us are working as advocates for change. We are beating back the homophobes, responding to their criticisms, while trying to take stock of the gay culture and its needs for reform and internal criticism. The work can get exhausting. I personally find the work of reading the anti-gay rantings of conservative religious bloggers to be the most demanding, because they can often push my buttons in ways that knock me off my more usual balanced frame of mind. Your hot button issues may be different, but follow along.

How do we respond to those who push our buttons so? Do we do nothing? Do we respond with gentleness and kindness? Or a shaming fuck you that puts them squarely in their lowly place? Or do we buy their cell phone records, stalk them, and slash their tires? I honestly believe there’s a time and a place for all of these responses (except for the criminal acts), depending on the context. Just so we understand that some of these responses are basically expressions of pretty base, mean, or crude impulses. Good can come from the expression of even the basest impulses, however more often one fuck you leads to another, and a cycle of misunderstanding, anger, and pain continues needlessly. Fuck you responses bring bad karma.

Doing nothing. If I care about equal rights for all and cultivating a culture of respect and acceptance for diversity, is it really an option? Change isn’t just going to happen all by itself. Or will it? According to research, the world is changing… all by itself, one might say… and the actions of any one particular individual are completely irrelevant. Wider trends are at work in the world that are far outside our control. Basically, the wicked homophobes are dying. Jerry Falwell and James Dobson are 71 and 69, respectively. They won’t live forever. Bye bye. Opinion polls one after the other tell us that pro-gay beliefs are increasing among the younger generation. Each younger generation gets more and more pro-gay. If we close our eyes, sit back, do nothing and just wait for all the old farts to die off, the world would change for the better. To put it bluntly. (Forgive me, all you good old farts. I’m not talking about you. Just the bad geezers.)

We surrender to the Spirit outside our own control. As I wrote once last summer, it’s a recognition that there’s a Force in the world history, a marching forward to greater depth and equality and expanding liberation for more and more people… and beyond that, the liberation of all sentient life. If present trends continue, progress happens… even without our explicit efforts. This isn’t knowledge. Admittedly, it’s a form of faith, a fragile thing in a world where nothing is inevitable and the possibilities for the catastrophic destruction of the planet are within our reach. Change on a massive scale rarely happens because of the actions of any one individual, but as a result of the collective interaction of millions.

In surrender, we find our equanimity in action, or at least glimpse its possibilities. We do what we do, we say what we say, think the thoughts that arise, as if it were all inconsequential, and as if it were all the most important thing we could possibly do. It matters not because the action has intrinsic significance or value. It matters so much because we matter, and we all need each other so very much.

But are they in on the joke?

Andrew Sullivan wisely takes a step back on his praise for so-called “post-PC humor” after a reader reminds him that not everyone is “in on the joke.”

It’s difficult to quantify, but the best example I can give is when I watched some Chappelle skits with some southern relatives of mine who would be charitably described as racist. I couldn’t figure out why they were laughing at what was clearly a sketch written to make fun of people with attitudes and beliefs exactly like theirs (The blind, black KKK sketch). I noticed they were laughing not only at the wrong time, but for what appeared to be for the wrong reasons. Later, when they were quoting what they considered the “funny” parts of the skit, it wasn’t what everyone “in on the joke” was quoting.

The e-mail author’s relatives: pre-PC. The e-mail author, who is “in on the joke”: post-PC. The problem with so-called post-PC humor is that it really only works if your audience is exclusively or almost exclusively post-PC, too. A joke among a few friends, for example. But bring it to a mass audience and you’ll hear lots of laughter, but it’s the racists, sexists, and homophobes laughing the loudest… and for reasons that are likely to appall. They’re reinforced in their prejudices while you get your lollies and ignorantly congratulate yourself on your sophisticated, post-ironic sense of humor. Not funny.

Gawd iz ded

Pranksters sprayed graffiti on a church in Searsport, Maine, saying: “God is dead.” They also painted “UPS Yours” at the post office and “Skool is kool” at the high school.

But it’s their quote of Nietzsche that will get likely them convicted of aggravated criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, and possibly a hate crime. Religionists looking for more evidence that their so-called Christian lifestyles face horrible persecution need look no further than the menace posed by these dangerous Searsport hooligans. Next these hate-filled youth will surely be feeding pastors, postmen, and principals to the lions.

The criminal mischief and disorderly conduct charges I can see. But here’s hoping the prosecutors in Maine have the good sense to tell real hate from juvenile crankiness.

Thanks to The Revealer for the link.

Taking a stand on Alito

Many Democrats are coming out against the confirmationof Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court. Although I had previously been leaning in favor of his confirmation, I began to lean the other way this week. The turning point for me is precisely the issue that the Democrats seem to be bringing forward: Alito’s basically a rubber stamp on expanding executive power.

Our great nation can’t afford such a profound weakness in so crucial a role at such a poignant time. For this reason above all others, I do not support Alito’s confirmation.

Kryptonite and confessions

What’s a guy to do when his girlfriend calls him a “Wilber freak” and he finds himself agreeing with integral critic assholes? Well, he could write a “painful confession” on his blog. Thanks for the post, William.

The experience of having a painful “falling out” with Ken Wilber’s philosophy and integral theory seems to be a very common one. Some critics have even speculated that there are phases corresponding to the level of disillusionment (the more disillusioned you get, the more evolved you become in your post-Wilber lifestyle).

I guess I’m one of the lucky ones who have been mostly (so far) spared this particular version of the dark night of the soul. Wilber’s books more than any other I have discovered have helped me to organize and systematize the inner workings of my consciousness. But I don’t think there was ever a time when I felt that the particular details of Wilber’s conceptions were really all that important. I honestly couldn’t care less if Wilber characterized the work of some specialist in a way that others would disagree with. Or if the fact checker at his publisher occasionally missed something. In my opinion, it’s right for Wilber to trailblaze with a machete and not a butterknife, and it’s also right for those who try to follow his trails to hack through the brush with greater precision, and steer in a different direction if necessary. When Wilber and I have read the same books, I can always say “that sounds about right,” or “I think that’s just about what I remember Carol Gilligan saying,” etc. In short, in areas where Wilber and I share a common base of research, I’ve always been able to say “close enough.” That inspires me to give him some credit, and to hold critics of his research to exacting standards. My love of Wilber is focused on the truth, beauty, and goodness of his big picture; that he is doing difficult work as a trailblazer; and that he shares so deeply, honestly, and courageously from his heart, soul, and spirit.

But I should add that I have had a virtual sort of falling out with Wilber, in a sense. There was a time once… It was about six months after finishing my book and having sent the manuscript to Wilber. My book basically tells the story of how I encountered integral theory and what happened in my life afterwards. Then I wrote a screenplay adaptation of my book, a fictionalized version of a true story. It was awful, though I didn’t fully appreciate just how unmarketable, unfilmable, and really unbearable it was at the time. Still, it was an important step in my growth as a writer. I poured my heart and soul into something so dreadful I would never allow another human being to ever read it. Anyways, despite its immaturity, the screenplay had its moments. For one, there was now a completely fictionalized moment when I got to tell Ken Wilber to go fuck himself. Hurrah for me! There was also a moment in a subtle vision where Ken Wilber emerges as the anti-Buddha. I have to muster the strength to kill him. In a manic e-mail to Ken, I wrote something like: “Ken, I’ve finished my screenplay and you’re in it. You play Lex Luthor to my Superman.” Great! Way to go, Joe. No narcissism or grandiosity there. Nosireebob.

Later, having regained somewhat my sanity, I realized that the screenplay vision of defeating the evil Ken Luthor was a powerful moment of healing from the Wilberitis disease (a malady probably related to sophomoritis). It helped me to realize on many different levels of my being that it’s okay to be different, to be unsure, to be critical, and to sometimes be angry. It’s okay to whack the brush in a different direction and be unsure if the trails will cross down the road. It’s okay to be my own man, even as I recognize that I am nothing without all those on whose shoulders I have stood. Criticism is no kryptonite.

Post-PC? Give me a break

Andrew Sullivan gloatingly describes a real cultural phenomenon as the emergence of the “post-PC era.” In his most recent post, he adds this caveat: “Maybe political correctness was indeed a necessary phase in our churning popular culture. I’m just glad it’s over.”

His error, as I see it, is simple: PC is not only a necessary phase in popular culture, it’s also an enduring necessity. It’s not over. If PC is ever over, then post-PC ceases to exist. You can’t have one without the other.

Don’t get me wrong. I think post-PC is real. It’s part of the emerging integral, post-postmodern sensibility. But the emergence of post-PC is fragile, and it’s not to be taken for granted. It is built on the foundations of postmodernism and PC-influenced sensitivity, inclusion, and acceptance of diversity. Destructively tear away the foundations–attack it mercilessly, unfairly, and ungenerously as so many of its conservative critics do–and post-PC falls. If you haven’t gone through a “PC phase,” whatever that looks like to you, here’s the bad news: you’re not post-PC, you’re pre-PC.

Let’s say you’re white and you want to laugh at a dog barking at a black man and saying it’s okay because he (the dog) is a Democrat. Funny, isn’t it? (This is an example Sullivan cites of post-PC humor.) If you’re PC, you’re not laughing. If you’re laughing you’re either post-PC or pre-PC. And that makes you either hip or a racist. Take PC out of the equation, as Sullivan hopes happens, and your options narrow. Laugh at the barking dog, and you’re just another sorry sap who thought he was hip when everyone around him was laughing nervously. You look over your shoulders and see all these white faces enjoying the sight of a dog barking at a black man, and start to worry that maybe y’all shouldn’t be laughing so freely. The laughter dies down.

Post-PC isn’t a stylish new purse you inherit because it’s a hip cultural fashion. You can’t put it on and then throw it off. It’s a state of mind, a way of being, an aspect of a level of consciousness, and it must be earned. In Sullivan’s naive gloat that the PC era is over, he raises the distinct possibility that he hasn’t quite earned what, perhaps, he thinks he has.

Gnosticism, integral theory, and elitism

Elitism is a frequent complaint against both Gnostics and integral theorists. On Pop Occulture, Tim Boucher compares Gnosticism and orthodox Christianity on the topic of elitism (thanks to Integral Practice for the link). Boucher explains that he frequently hears complaints from mainstream Christians that Gnosticism is elitist. This is so, they say, because Gnosticism teaches that secret knowledge is required for access the highest levels of salvation. Not everybody has that knowledge, therefore Gnosticism is derided as inegalitarian. Boucher says not so fast. Of course there’s a basic truth to this criticism, he says: “[T]here are certain experiences of God which are only accessible to certain people…. According to this gnostic method of thinking, everybody starts out at the same place and has the same options before them. The difference comes in according to the choices and level of effort that people put into realizing their potential.”

It’s orthodox Christianity that’s really inegalitarian, because orthodox beliefs damn all those who have not accepted Jesus to hell. Only a religion of Universalism—holding that everyone is saved, no matter what—is truly egalitarian.

Boucher only concedes that the “barrier to entry” may be lower in orthodox Christianity than in Gnosticism, though he seems doubtful of even that much.

Elitism is a tricky charge to answer. All excellence is elitist. All knowledge is elitist. Even the knowledge that 2 + 2 = 4 is elitist if you’re a child who hasn’t learned your numbers yet. It’s all a matter of perspective. Ken Wilber’s frequently cited response to integral critics is a good beginning. Yes, integral is elitist, but it’s an elitism to which all are called. Boucher’s response to orthodox Christian critics is also a good beginning. Yes, Gnosticism is elitst, but so are all religions. So, one might suppose, let’s just count how easy it is to get into heaven and whosever religion has the lowest barrier to entry wins. Wilber responds to the elitism charge by bringing forth the egalitarianism in his philosophy, whereas Boucher responds to the elitism charge by bringing forth the elitism in the philosophy of his opponents.

In general, my response to integral critics is to say that both responses may be appropriate. Life contains both equality and inequality; an adequate philosophy must be able to accommodate both aspects. Because all belief systems have egalitarian and unequal aspects, it’s possible to level charges of elitism against all religions and philosophies. Even a religion that preached Universalism is basically attempting to establish new hierarchy of flatness: everyone is equal in God’s eyes, and therefore excellence, virtue, knowledge, and beauty are meaningless. Rather than attack and defend integral theory or any other belief system against charges of elitism, I would try to focus my energy on discussing what the appropriate balance should be between egalitarianism and inegalitarianism. Does Gnosticism have an acceptable balance? Or is the balance in orthodox Christianity more wise? Is it acceptable that integral theory appeals most strongly to the most educated members of society? Should this be a source of concern?

Both Gnosticism and integral theory frequently face a common charge of elitism, but otherwise there is much that separates the two. One is an esoteric religious philosophy based on a pre-modern religion; the other is a postmodern philosophical theory based on a cross-cultural comparison and analysis of processes of development across many disciplines and domains of knowledge. With integral there is not some philosophy “outside” yourself, but a map of potentials that are already possessed and can, perhaps, be more fully expressed. It’s worth stressing this point, because integral philosophy is not a sub-set of Gnostic belief, and vice versa. However, it would certainly be fair to talk about more or less integral forms of Gnosticism, and for integrally informed interreligious dialogue to address Gnosticism as one of the “conveyor belts” of consciousness that can allow adherents to more fully express their true nature.