Today I clicked on a Google Ad for Be Scofield’s article, “Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen & The Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment”, which she has published on Medium and Frank Visser’s website. According to her bio, Be is a queer/trans writer and digital strategist who founded the magazine Decolonizing Yoga. As part of her work, she has even gone undercover in the communities of some spiritual gurus that she wants to tear down by digging up evidence that will paint them in a negative light.
Be’s article is one of several pieces of adversarial journalism that have criticized aspects of the Integral movement from the standpoint that it hasn’t done enough to curb “abuses” by the spiritual teachers Andrew Cohen and Marc Gafni, or because it received inspiration from another guru accused of moral impropriety, Adi Da. Other integralists come under scrutiny because they haven’t done enough to protest “abuses” loudly enough, or because they are “enablers” (Scofield names Ken Wilber, Craig Hamilton, and Terry Patten specifically).
Furthermore, the fact that some Integral online courses and educational programs are funded through memberships, subscriptions, or tuition payments is evidence that the whole movement is some sort of scam, merely “a very large money making machine” as Be puts it. Be doesn’t ask whether these programs are actually profitable or whether their fees are excessive relative to other sorts of psychological or educational programs; the mere fact that money is being charged is apparently grounds for her anti-Integral moralizing and muckraking.
And make no mistake, it is “anti-Integral” rhetoric. She puts “Integral Abuse” in a headline and blasts it across the internet through advertising in much the same way that Islamophobes talk about “Islamic Terror” or anti-Semites talk about “Jewish Abuse” or racists talk about “Mexican Rapists”. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that the Integral movement is a diverse group of people who don’t deserve to see the word associated with their identity linked unfairly and uncharitably to “Abuse” as she does. There’s no such thing as “Integral Abuse”; that’s just a cheap smear. Nobody’s writing “Mean Green* Scofield, There She Goes Again” in a headline or sub-headline, are they? (Oops.)
And Scofield is concerned to indict not only the prominent figures on the Integral scene, either, but anyone who doesn’t follow her example of shunning and speaking out against Cohen and Gafni, loudly denouncing their alleged “abuse, manipulation, and cultish behaviors”. Unless you signal your virtue or parade your Opression Theory-based credentials in a manner like Be does, you are part of the problem. Comparing integralists to participants in the horrific Jonestown massacre and the shocking pedophilia of Roman Catholic abusers, she says that unless they speak out as she does, then they are spiritually unfit to instruct anyone about how to confront the shadow or give any sort of credible advice.
I don’t know Be personally, but she and I exchanged a few comments back and forth once on the Integral Agape forum. I had read an article she wrote to expose the Sedona-based guru Bentinho Massaro and while I applauded its commitment to justice and agreed with some of the major points she made about the guru, I also noticed its overall poor quality. I agreed with others who said that it was a little bit nasty and vicious (she used pictures of the spiritual teacher dressed up in a Halloween costume to undermine him). It was also heavily biased, using out-of-context quotations in a manner that made it impossible to know what to take seriously and what to take with a grain of salt.
But these weren’t the most important criticisms I had of her article. From an Integral standpoint, it seemed to me that Be was incapable of distinguishing any of the spiritual teacher’s potential gifts or positive qualities or true aspects of his teachings from the allegedly questionable or abusive ones. I noticed that whenever she heard someone talk of “spiritual realization” or “psychic experiences”, she derided it as narcissism and loopiness. She threw her critical net so broadly that it would capture anyone of any quality or moral uprightness attempting to galvanize a spiritual movement.
Furthermore, I also noticed that she failed to demonstrate the ability to articulate or apply some critical theoretical distinctions enabled by the Integral theory that she claimed to have familiarity with as a former student at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Ken Wilber’s notion of the pre/trans fallacy is rather important for a lot of integralists because it allows us to distinguish between pre-rational spiritual beliefs (psychotic delusion, mere charisma, silly superstitions, etc.) and trans-rational spiritual beliefs (those based on authentic mystical insight, contemplative practices, mythopoetic analysis, etc.). Whereas a good Integralist would look at a guru’s body of work and attempt to disentangle the puffery from the prajna, the smoke from the samadhi, etc., Be Scofield merely used mockery and sardonic jabs to achieve a sort of rhetorical filicide: throwing away baby and bathwater alike. To her way of thinking, authentic spiritual paths that involve gurus who challenge the ego have no place at all — they are merely excuses for bad people to verbally abuse victims, because they’re bad phonies and cultic boogeymen and that’s just what they live to do.
Well I’m sorry to disappoint some of my readers, but today I’m not going to defend Andrew Cohen or Marc Gafni or any other spiritual teacher that Be has criticized (they or their students can do that for themselves if they choose). I believe every integralist and every journalist has a responsibility to try to hold to a rigorous evidential standard for denouncing cults so that bona fide healthy new and old religious groups and spiritual movements aren’t so easily tainted by association with them. I believe spiritual abuse and exploitation is wrong; I also think that it’s hard to define, that definitions vary from culture to culture and “from within” guru-based spiritual traditions and “from without” guru-based spiritual traditions. I also believe that someone who is accused of abuse by some people may yet have much that is valuable to contribute to the world and its enlightenment. (Don’t read too much about my few words on this topic today or assume that you know what I’m thinking about Cohen or Gafni. It’s just that I have a lot on my plate and I’ll talk about it in my own time when I feel the time is right.)
As an integralist, I believe the world is at a critical point where we need to be open to evolution in our religions and spiritual traditions and in virtually every aspect of our culture and philosophies. It’s like threading a needle while standing on one foot. It’s like walking through a minefield blindfolded. To get there, we’re going to have to have more complex and nuanced ways of looking at leadership in our movement than are on offer by the adversarial journalists. For one thing, I’d like to see a world where people can be enthusiastic about a spiritual group or set of ideas or teacher and not be cast as a victim of cult mind control the minute they go on a juice fast to do some basic state training that requires an ounce of asceticism or crazy wisdom. Perhaps Scofield doesn’t share this vision because, as she wrote at Integral Agape (a public group):
Yeah, not into any concepts of awakening. And I’m surprised you are given that awakening never has any sort of social justice lens either.
Nevertheless, Scofield wants to grab the word “Integral” for herself — she writes:
I am a fan of integral theory in general—not of the Wilber sort, but the principle behind it.
Somehow we’re supposed to accept that she’s a “fan of integral theory” — just not the kinds that have a place for awakening, i.e., like the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber based on Grow Up, Wake Up, Show Up, Lighten Up. She doesn’t seem to believe that awakening happens. So what she offers instead of enlightenment is consistent with what you would expect to happen at early-to-mid Systemic-Mind (i.e., northeastern flatland; the Green altitude*): aversion to growth hierarchies except their own two-level hierarchy which puts anti-hierarchical thinking on top and everyone else on the bottom, disbelief in stages of attainment in quality or excellence, and a tendency to cast the “real bad guys” in society as the folks who don’t believe as they do about these things. And to get you to buy into their worldview, they aren’t beneath using genuine victims as shields, painting themselves as the pure defenders of helpless unfortunates and integralists as the morally stained enablers of the perpetrators of abuse.
Be Scofield’s lack of discrimination in her style of adversarial journalism makes the task of creating nuanced and healthy dialogue around the topic of enlightenment significantly more difficult than it needs to be. One of the vexing problems we face, I think, is secularization which is removing the religious roots and absolute perspectives — often replacing it with nothing but reductive, resentment-based neo-Marxist materialism or just crass consumerism. Someone without a concept of awakening to the Transcendent settles for idolatrous forms of awakening instead, finding sin in smaller and smaller slights to less and less comprehensive matters, and redemption in louder and shriller denunciations of such. Liberation itself gets cheapened when we let that happen. Liberation of what kind? Liberation for what? If there’s no transcendence of suffering, the devil’s in charge of the world and we’re already living in hell. And don’t think that if our world is hellish already that it can’t get worse. It definitely can, particularly if we let the Dharma die a death from a thousand attack-blog-bites or suffocate the Holy Spirit under a pillow stuffed with festering doubt.
In conclusion, let me repeat something I wrote earlier about Be Scofield’s journalism: I’m glad that she went undercover to infiltrate an allegedly sketchy spiritualist’s den to shine some light. I think she was courageous and that her work can contribute valuable perspectives to a broader integral synthesis which includes rebuttals from the targets of her attacks as well as mainstream journalists who will apply more stringent standards for evidence. There’s a “partial, but useful” role for muckraking of her sort, whether it’s applied to the New Age community, the Integral scene, or anywhere else.
But it also needs to be scrutinized and relativized as I have done, and we ought to learn a lesson from her mistakes: even the best-intentioned people often do at least as much harm in the world as we do good and we do so over and over again, not because the values we hold are wrong, but because they are held like a blindfold over our own eyes to obscure a more awakened reality.
The Mean Green Meme (MGM) refers to the quasi-fascistic, socially stagnant, self-corrupting and anti-evolutionary forms of postmodernity. It utilizes but degrades the normal cognitive and temperamental complexity of this level of “meta-” intelligence. This not only makes actual Green Consciousness weaker but also inflames (by justifying) the upset of Modern and Traditionalist cultural agents who view Progressive Postmodernity as a surrender of all the holy attainment of human civilization.
Etymology: Used by Ken Wilber to describe the deleterious social effects of the imbalanced “Green” phase of social and cognitive consciousness — truncating the use of “value-memes” in Spiral Dynamics. (Source: Doowikis)