In a recent exchange with another integral blogger, there was a dispute about orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, can you believe it! The word seldom came up, but it lurked in the background… the day has arrived where integralists can now engage in the sort of disputes over orthodoxy that in days of yore only religious traditionalists/rationalists could do.
Here’s the deal with orthodoxy. Integral is not a set of doctrines or beliefs about the nature of reality. It doesn’t tell you what religion to follow. It is not, strictly speaking, a worldview (when worldview is understood as a conceptual framework and symbolic system). Integral includes a worldview as part of its entire nature (technically speaking, if worldview is a mode, then integral is first second-tier level of that line of development; it is also possible to speak of worldview as “existing” in the Lower Left quadrant or angle), but integral is more than a worldview. Integral is a systematic way of thinking, being, and relating to the world that apprehends a fundamental Unity to reality.
This, at least, is a short summary of how I have defined integral. But people disagree about such things. Integral is a fuzzy word. To avoid confusion or unnecessary debate over definitions, when I mean to specify Ken Wilber’s systematic philosophy in its entirety, I use AQAL(tm) the proprietary term that he invented, uses, and owns. And when speaking about my approach to integral, I speak of STEAM, an acronym I coined. This allows me to say things like “It may be integral, but it’s not AQAL, and it’s not STEAM.” or, “STEAM is based on AQAL, but with the following differences…” In short, it allows me to label a systematic philosophy in its entirety and thereby avoid unnecessary confusion over terminology.
Some people would call AQAL the “orthodox integral.” I can see why they might say that, given the close association between Wilber and integral. However, I’d rather allow integral to remain a generic term that can be used by a wide variety of people to point to the cultural intellectual trends towards integration and unity that many are observing. There’s no need for anyone to monopolize integral.
But terms like AQAL and STEAM have very specific meanings. If an author claims that her philosophy is not only integral, but specifically also AQAL, this claim can be tested by the community of integralists aligned with Wilber’s philosophy. To make such a claim while simultaneously rejecting many of the key tenets of the integral framework seems truly dishonest. And there’s no need, since the integral label is available to all. I’m not even sure why anyone would want to call herself AQAL while rejecting, say, the notions of second-tier and third-tier, Spiral Dynamics, and integral as a level of consciousness. To use individual elements of Wilber’s philosophy–say, his distinction between liberal and conservative as responses to suffering–is not specifically AQAL.
If you think it’s ridiculous to believe that there would exist individuals who might seek to call their philosophy AQAL while simultaneously calling for a post-AQAL integral, trust me, they’re out there. Eventually someone will probably say, “The essential ethos of integral is sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll… and you can’t tell me otherwise, because I reject all aspects of integral theory that contradict that essential message.” The danger they pose in their writing is not grave, so far as I can see, but it is concerning. They can confuse the public understanding of what integral and AQAL are all about, so that they become useless words with no accepted meaning. Integral is already in that category to some extent. Hopefully words like AQAL can maintain some of their specificity of meaning for a while longer.
In Christian theology, there are some beliefs that are so essential their rejection would indisputably lead to charges of heresy. For example, belief in the existence of God or the divinity of Christ. On the other hand, there are a range of beliefs about how to interpret the Bible, and there are esoteric matters such as the doctrines of purgatory or limbo that are highly controversial. What are the comparable beliefs for AQAL? Well, I’m not sure that I’m the one to say. But since AQAL is a term used to describe the entire system of Wilber’s systematic philosophy, with a particular emphasis that all levels, types, states, quadrants, and lines be included, then at the very least a philosophy that refused to include all those elements as Wilber has described them would have to be non-AQAL. For example, a philosophy that denied integral as a level of consciousness would indisputably be non-AQAL.
So it seems in my old age I’m becoming more orthodox in my beliefs. I do think there is value in defining boundaries to flavors of integral, and being able to clearly say “this is outside the boundary.” But you can only do this if you have some sort of locus of control over the intellectual terrain. Perhaps for AQAL that locus of control will be Ken Wilber himself for now, or eventually Integral University. As more and more individuals begin to align themselves with AQAL or near-AQAL integral philosophies, perhaps others will follow my lead by coining a unique term (mine is STEAM) to describe their own integralism, so they can properly distinguish their ideas from others in debate if necessary. As an ex-Roman Catholic, I am enjoying the irony here of finding myself now advocating for the practical necessity of orthodoxy and a need for an authority to define the boundaries of the theory.
Defining orthodoxy should not be the end of discussion, but merely a helpful prelude. In integral approaches based on AQAL, there is no condemnation associated with being unorthodox. If you’re non-AQAL, you’re not wrong. Calling someone unorthodox is not an argument, and probably not even an effective rhetorical strategy for debate. But AQAL is a tool that can help place non-AQAL approaches into a specific location in a fairly comprehensive scheme. In other words, you can use AQAL to say, “this is where your ideas and approach fits into the AQAL map of reality.” In this way, the partial truths of the non-AQAL approach can be assessed, and you can describe what aspects of reality are overlooked by the more partial perspective, if it is in fact more partial. If the alternative to AQAL is more comprehensive and unitive in its approach to reality, then perhaps that alternative could eventually be described as post-AQAL or trans-AQAL. Who knows what is possible in the future with ideas as fresh and embryonic as these. At the very least, being able to attach a label to a flavor of integral is a helpful way to start an interesting discussion.