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)….
Dragged into the conversation by his blurbs was Zak Stein, the developmental assessment thought leader, who is quoted by Edwyrd on Facebook as basically decrying the entire worth of developmental assessments. I’ve seen the blurb before brought into a blogosphere conversation in order to squash the notion that there’s any use in developmental tests at all. Stein:
“There is overwhelming evidence showing that our metrics are limited and that we can’t touch the true complexity of human development. In this light, the idea that a holistic assessment could tell us about the essence of a person is absurd and flagrantly ideological. Development assessments at their best can only paint pictures of the differential distribution of capabilities within persons. We can’t assess people as a whole, we can only assess their performances along particular lines in particular contexts. And performances vary across contexts, which means that you may perform at one level in one context and at a very different level in another context. […] It is fundamentally wrong to think of a person as being ‘at’ a level” (11).
On a public, members-only Ning forum, Joseph Camosy invokes the authority of Robb Smith, Integral Life CEO, to decry the notion of an Integral developmental system:
From Robb Smith’s Facebook posting 10/25/12:
There are only two safe paths ahead for this project we call “integral.”
One is to treat integral characteristics as a typology, and the other is to treat it as a language system for value-free aperspectivality. As a typology it is developmentally-neutral and rejects growth-to-goodness language and epistemology. It also sees that “integral” is a typology of normativity that can be engendered by any and all people at any age and any stage: inclusion, deep listening, taking and seeking perspectives, contemplation beyond self, etc. (i.e., good 12 year old behavior). As an aperspectival language system it jettisons the normativity and seeks to refine meta-distinctions that are useful for emancipating occasions in the human life.
I have distanced myself from dialogues that evidence the cruder understandings of integral as a developmental system and I suspect I’m not alone. And I’m absolutely convinced that that path is a dead-end for this wide-ranging integral project. Good times.
These are representative examples of a variety of social media posts from within the Integral community itself which, I think, come awfully close to throwing up the white flag of surrender. Directly or implicitly, they tell us that because developmental assessment isn’t perfect, it isn’t worth doing. They tell us that because developmental assessments are constrained by their contexts and pertain only to lines of development (duh!), that they are of no use. They tell us that in public discourse the altitude of a person is not a thing to be talked about or asked about in any way, that doing so is illegitimate from an Integral point-of-view, because it is “fundamentally wrong”, based on a “crude understanding” and “flagrantly ideological”.
I don’t mean to associate Zak Stein or Robb Smith with these arguments, absent their input into this forum, it’s just that their names and stands have been invoked by others as evidence that Integral must move away from developmental models and the possibility of any kind of holistic assessment. I think that’s partly Zak’s view. and I don’t know Robb Smith’s full views.
The truth is there is a whole lot of hooey getting put out there in these conversations, and I partly blame myself for not having written a more nuanced post to start with. I do not subscribe to the notion that any developmental test is perfect, or capable of a completely neutral standpoint, or capable of telling a person’s general, all-purpose Level Of Consciousness. I never said I did. I suggested some specific tests that I had personal experience with which I found very useful, credible, and capable of shedding light on a person’s altitude. The Cook-Greuter model is included in Ken Wilber’s Integral Spirituality as a legitimate tool which is correlated to altitude, and the StAGES test which evolves the Cook-Greuter model also sheds light on altitude. Elliott Ingersoll seems to paint such a bleak picture of developmental assessments, I can’t help but feel he is not giving us a complete picture (just because a test doesn’t deliver “the whole of how a person interacts with their world” doesn’t mean it doesn’t deliver useful information, including information relevant about public figures for public discourse).
I can understand someone standing outside the Integral community writing a comment on Frank Visser’s site that they are “appalled” that I would ask Frank Visser to demonstrate his altitude. First-tier is shocked at any ranking. But I am astonished at the degree to which integralists themselves think that Visser’s altitude is not something suitable for polite conversation. He’s the leader of Integral World, for Pete’s sake, so his writings impact the Integral movement in significant ways in case you haven’t noticed, and if he’s writing from an “orange” altitude that’s legitimate, pertinent information. It’s also, basically, a knowable fact, from the TURQUOISE altitude.
While I was away, did it become illegitimate for those of us in the Integral community to talk about altitude, and to refer to developmental assessments as a source of useful information about it? When did this start? Can someone tell me the chronicle of how Integral discourse morphed into an altitude-free zone? I have to admit I dimly feared we might be headed down a darker road in 2012 when Terry Patten and Marco Morelli published Occupy Integral! and the very A-#1, Numero Uno item on their Manifesto was in effect a plea for integralists to squash all discussion of altitude, hide their colors, never talk about tiers, don’t ask what someone’s color is and don’t tell, because it’s “right-wing” and rubs people the wrong way. As I told Elliott, perhaps if Occupy Integral had succeeded in mobilizing a vibrant community of integralists empowered to be who they are I might be inclined to agree that Terry Patten had discovered a winning formula for mobilizing the community around “kinder, gentler” principles. I wish I had spoken to my fears at the time, but alas it seemed like Terry’s approach might be worth trying.
Let me make something clear I wish I had said two days ago. I asked for Frank Visser to take an assessment because I thought it would be an interesting thing which invited an unexpected outcome, a sort of “cultural exchange”. Why should I have to meet him at the level of instrumentalist / formal cognitive discourse and he not lift a finger to take an assessment that could really blow the conversation open? Why is his way of moving the interaction forward legitimate but mine is not? I did not claim that the test would explain Frank’s complex self, nor would it inflate or diminish his many accomplishments with Integral World. I did not even claim it would settle a single argument between the two of us. But speaking for myself, it sure would be interesting!
As I said recently, there are different rules operational when Sue and Sally the co-workers chit-chat over lunch and Sue says Sally seems “orange” compared to Sue the Cultural Critic writing a review of Sally’s art exhibit or philosophical treatise saying it is “orange”. There are Turquoise facts and Indigo facts, and altitudes are one of them, and we must co-create together a world in which it is safe to speak of such things and embody a genuinely Integral worldview. I am convinced that without the ability to speak of altitudes and culture or altitudes and politics or altitudes and religion, Integral criticism is dead. Caput. Worse than worthless, a sham. If we have indeed gone collectively down the road of Altitude Denialism, I hope it is not too late to shift the path.
I have received warm and robust support from other members of the Integral community, and I have been shown a document with some potent, future-facing ideas. I’ll have more to say about this in a future post when the time is right.