Stephen Colbert once said,
“Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes’.”
I’ve been thinking now and then about cynicism and the ways to make it obsolete, or at least unnecessary. I like what Colbert says on the subject, but there’s even more we can say about that Yes.
As I get ready to undertake a new blog, I paused for a moment to reflect on the ways that my old blogs had disappointed or upset people in the past. It wasn’t an easy thing to consider because I can easily strike a self-righteous pose, convinced that I am doing important work on behalf of global spiritual evolution and most people who don’t appreciate that have a serious problem!
The folks in my online community with whom I have tended to butt antlers have something in common: they are pretty cynical about many things, religion and politics top of the list. Anything “Establishment” is something to be forcefully opposed in their eyes, whether it is a movement leader, a spiritual guru, or a politician who plays by the rules in order to succeed.
These community members are hardly unique. A streak of cynicism and irritation at anyone who seems arrogant or condescending or holier-than-thou runs strong in American culture. At its best, the Integral movement swims upstream against this tendency, insisting that out of fragmentation can come wholeness, out of partiality can come unity, and out of many relative perspectives can come overlapping agreement and increasing degrees of truth.
Over many years of writing blogs related to integral spirituality in some way, some of the other writers and bloggers who I singled out for criticism and their friends took a dislike to me. A few left the Integral community on their own to pursue other interests more in line with their temperament, but a few of them stayed around its online forums to throw tomatoes at Integral spiritual leaders, criticize Integral philosophy and political theory, and attack anyone who utilized developmental terminology as committing an outrageous misdeed. They called me an “arrogant know-it-all”, but I’m not sure their problem was really with me. I think their problem was with the integral philosophy and the movement it has inspired, and they lashed out at me for showing them how far they had differentiated themselves from it.
The mismatch between these folks and our communal values got so bad in the most prominent Integral online forum in 2016, so “unintegral”, so devolved from any semblance of actual Integral theory and practice, that the forum administrator actually temporarily renamed the group. Robb Smith removed “Integral” from its title, proclaiming that the group was not particularly constructive but heavily deconstructive in its orientation.
I tell you this so to make the point that although in this particular subculture that separated themselves from Smith’s group I was not a well-liked personality, it was not merely about my personal relational style. People can just rub each other the wrong way when they are both passionately committed to being part of the same community yet they see the world in starkly different ways.
The integral community seemed at times to be dividing itself among the heterodox and orthodox, in parallel perhaps to the split in the 19th-century among the left Hegelians and the right Hegelians, and I stood with those who wanted to preserve and constructively build upon our valuable intellectual tradition. At the same time, I resented the implication that I was “orthodox” and was simply a “follower of Ken Wilber“, since anyone who read my writings knew that my intellectual stance had nothing to do with assent to an authority figure and everything to do with discovering that my own best insights were similar to those of an entire intellectual movement — the “evolutionaries” as Carter Phipps called them, so why not learn from each other and work together when we can?
Once, about a year and a half ago, when I launched a particularly audacious blog to take the mantle of spiritual teacher, I heard harsh words from several people who dislike me. I chose to take the words as gifts from God. Praise is easier to hear, but attacks are more useful. They said I’m a joke. They said that I’m absurd. It’s sometimes necessary to listen to people who are that angry because someone else is growing into a more prominent role. The blog didn’t last long, at least in part because of the deep cynicism that I encountered.
The cynics helped me to understand the challenges that I will face in having any sort of public mission. People who can’t “see” a spectrum of consciousness invariably believe that individuals who claim a high level of spiritual realization are “inflated” or “egotistical” or just “full of shit”. I’ve heard all the downers before, but still I needed to hear it again. It won’t be the last time; I’ll probably hear stuff like that again once this blog is underway.
So that’s what I’m writing to share with all of you. I’m a Worldview Artist with a bold vision about the future of religion, politics, culture, and spirit. I could go without defining myself in a way that could draw suspicious remarks, but that wouldn’t help advance the collective culture of this movement as it cuts new grooves in consciousness. I am willing to draw some friendly fire and let people talk about my successes and failures, if they are drawn to do so. I promise I won’t quit this blog any time soon.
I hear the cynics, especially when they show up in my own online community, and feel compassion. I want the world to be a place where cynics have no more reasons to be cynical. That’s what a more divinized world looks like to me. But I can’t change the hearts and minds of a diehard cynic on my own; all I can do is try to give them something, however flawed, to say Yes to. As Stephen Colbert might say, it’s up to them to replace self-imposed blindness with true wisdom.
I have a dream that together integralists can unite to make cynicism obsolete or at least unnecessary by giving the world something powerful and beautiful to say Yes to. Pessimism, suspicion, doubt, scorn, disparagement, and skepticism will not disappear entirely, but they do not need to be the leading demeanor, a pernicious default attitude, for so many. Hope, optimism, trust, goodwill, appreciation, and enlightenment can replace them. Are you with me on this vision?