Saturday, December 10, 2011

Occupy AQAL

I am not alone in my dismay at the muddled “thought” that substitutes for the commitment to rigorous spiritual principles among the trendy spiritual gurus of mass American culture.

Deepak Chopra, Jean Houston, Marianne Williamson, and Neal Donald Walsch, and others of these media gurus have enunciated truths that contain relatively accurate insights from the perennial wisdom.  I have learned much from each of them.  In particular I have great fondness for Jean Houston, whose Mystery School program made such a contribution to my father. But something trips all of them up whenever they stray into real world politics.  Without exception, demonstrating not the slightest absorption of the spiritual truths they present, they come across as New Age liberals without a scintilla of integral insight.

They simply haven't studied the integral model at all.

Thus their glamorizing the Occupiers and misreading of their influence is telling but not surprising to anyone who has followed their work.  Not only does it spring from their ongoing falling for the pre/trans fallacy, it is also an expression of the very real confusion among Greens about the actual structure of the transpersonal realm.

As Wilber has often pointed out, Boomeritis Greens are particularly susceptible to the pre/trans fallacy because of their vehement rejection of reason.  Thus they are apt to label anything nonrational as transrational, thus falling time and again for the communitarian bling of the left's rejection of  individual freedom in favor of group rights.  Their embrace of the Occupiers is just the latest demonstration of the problem.

As a group, these media spiritual gurus lambaste our market economy, insisting that we must put “human values” before “economic values,” as Williamson demands in her speech to the Los Angeles Occupiers.  Indeed, our friends offer spiritual cover for the political demand for something they call “economic justice,” a very vague program centered on more vigorous redistributionist policies.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Boomer Reflects on Boomeritis

Walter Russell Mead (born 1952), James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is one of my favorite commentators on the world political economy.

Although I have never heard him mention Ken Wilber, his writing is certainly integrally informed.  He understands and writes about the impact of cultural dynamics on historical, political, and economic trends globally.  He acknowledges the role that our human foibles play in the way we make and carry out public policy.  He looks for and analyzes the interplay of events and impulses, both personal and collective.

He recently posted a useful polemic on the impact of Boomeritis on our generation—although he doesn’t use that term.  In “Listen Up, Boomers: the Backlash Has Begun,” Professor Mead takes us Boomers to task for what he sees as a generational failure whose seeds were sown from the very beginning.

He, like Wilber, certainly acknowledges the many contributions we have made to the material advancement of humanity.  But these pale in comparison to our disappointments.
But at the level of public policy and moral leadership, as a generation we have largely failed.  The Boomer Progressive Establishment in particular has been a huge disappointment to itself and to the country.  The political class slumbered as the entitlement and pension crisis grew to ominous dimensions. Boomer financial leadership was selfish and shortsighted, by and large.  Boomer CEOs accelerated the trend toward unlimited greed among corporate elites, and Boomer members of corporate boards sit by and let it happen.  Boomer academics created a profoundly dysfunctional system that systemically shovels resources upward from students and adjuncts to overpaid administrators and professors who by and large have not, to say the least, done an outstanding job of transmitting the cultural heritage of the past to future generations.  Boomer Hollywood execs created an amoral morass of sludge — and maybe I’m missing something, but nobody spends a lot of time talking about the towering cultural accomplishments of the world historical art geniuses of the Boomer years.  Boomer greens enthusiastically bet their movement on the truly idiotic drive for a global carbon treaty; they are now grieving over their failure to make any measurable progress after decades spent and hundreds of millions of dollars thrown away.  On the Boomer watch the American family and the American middle class entered major crises; by the time the Boomers have finished with it the health system will be an unaffordable and dysfunctional tangle — perhaps the most complicated, expensive and poorly designed such system in the history of the world.
And, he points out—channeling Wilber’s indictment of Boomeritis—“all of this was done by a generation that never lost its confidence that it was smarter, better educated and more idealistic than its Depression-surviving, World War-winning, segregation-ending, prosperity-building parents.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Flaws in Wilber's Integral Politics, Cont.

Thus, it seems that my generation is an extraordinary mixture of greatness and narcissism, and that strange amalgam has infected almost everything we do. We don't seem content to simply have a fine new idea; we must have the new paradigm which will herald one of the greatest transformations in the history of the world. We don't really want to just recycle bottles and paper, we need to see ourselves dramatically saving the planet and saving Gaia and resurrecting the Goddess that previous generations had brutally repressed but we will finally liberate. We aren't able to tend our garden, we must be transfiguring the face of the planet in the most astonishing global awakening history has ever seen. We seem to need to see ourselves as the vanguard of something unprecedented in all of history: the extraordinary wonder of being us.

Well, it can be pretty funny if you think about it, and I truly don't mean any of this in a harsh way. Each generation has its foibles; this appears to be ours, at least to some degree. But I believe few of my generation escape this narcissistic mood. Many social critics have agreed, and not just in such penetrating works as Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism, Restak's Self Seekers, Bellah's Habits of the Heart, and Stern's Me: The Narcissistic American. Surveying the present state of cultural studies even in American universities, Professor Frank Lentricchia, writing in lingua franca: The Review of Academic Life, concluded: "It is impossible, this much is clear, to exaggerate the heroic self-inflation of academic literary and cultural criticism." 

In our on-going series on integral politics, we continue to wrestle with the notions of “integral” and “Second Tier” consciousness.

Second Tier refers specifically to the first transpersonal bands of consciousness, to which Wilber refers as Teal and Turquoise.  These appear to be the psychic wave he identified in earlier works; this is confirmed by examining the comparisons of various metrics of the spectrum of consciousness published in Integral Psychology. “Integral” he uses more loosely, although always in a transpersonal context.

It is vexing to the student of the integral model that these terms, while often used synonymously, are not strictly speaking identical.  One of Wilber’s many gifts to this work is his insistence on intellectual rigor (even in the light of some of his critics’ charges of shortcoming in that area); thus my frustration in applying these terms as accurately and specifically as possible in these posts.

Whatever the case, it seems clear as a cognitive exercise that there can be no genuine integral consciousness until one is able, at the very least, to inhabit perspectives other than one’s own without judgment or prejudice.  This is for the obvious reason that, unless and until one can accept with equanimity the validity of other perspectives, there really isn’t anything to integrate in the first place.

Thus experiencing anything “integral” beyond this capacity to conceptualize elements in a tetradimensional space requires direct Second Tier experience in the other lines of development.  This, in turn, is unavailable without extensive Shadow work, because Shadow elements are designed to keep us firmly rooted in the First Tier.  As I noted in my last essay, it is difficult for most of us, coming as we do out of Boomeritis Green, to move our center of gravity into the transpersonal until we have integrated a significant portion of our underdeveloped or stunted psychological material, especially in the emotional and relationship lines of development.

Until we do, the prepersonal Red and Amber dynamics churning away in our Shadow are in charge of our final individual self-realization at genuine Green.  And only when we have fully inhabited Green in its full post- (but not trans-) personal glory will we be prepared for the momentous leap into the Second Tier.

So for the most part, any analysis of integral politics (or integral anything, for that matter) must remain in realm of cognition.  And because integral analysis is perforce tetradimensional, we must simultaneously confront—to the extent this is even doable—our collective, generational Shadow, the one that created and fell for “the extraordinary wonder of being us” that so infects the Green meme.  If we do not, we will not be able to identify and thus objectify its distortions: no disidentification from the personal, no transcendence into the transpersonal.

That’s just the way it works.

No Left = Exterior/Right =Interior

In our last essay I suggested three areas where Wilber’s integral politics suffered from even conceptual flaws:
Here’s a clue: not all Democrats and liberals dogmatically assume external causation of social problems, and conversely not all Republicans and conservatives assume internal causation. Clue two: Wilber’s own insights into the nature of Amber, Orange, and Green provide sufficient data to understand what’s going on in the American political economy. Clue three: integral politics must meet a world standard in order to claim validity. Wilber basically assumes that American political divisions prove his case—an astonishing lapse in his usually rigorous writing.
In light of the recent battles in Congress over raising the federal debt ceiling and the subsequent stock market turbulence, it is valuable to review the dynamics of left and right as they actually are.  Wilber’s insight in Up from Eden, that liberals ascribe external and conservatives internal causation to political economic problems, appears from the perspective of thirty years later to be an intuitive insight unverified by data.

Significant historical analysis, starting with Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, and including Stephen Hayward’s The Age of Reagan, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, and Mark Steyn’s America Alone, demonstrate convincingly the left’s commitment to internal causation as a factor in our political economy.

The godfather of the left, Karl Marx, based his economic analysis on the primacy of consciousness in human affairs.  Robert Sullivan of Brown University writes,
Marx's "materialist conception of history" is based on the following premises: that human beings, in all historical eras, enter into certain productive relations (hunting and gathering food, the relation of lord and serf, the contract between labor and capital—that is, certain economic foundations) and that these relations give rise to a certain form of social consciousness. He maintained that: "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness . . ." Perhaps Marx's greatest contribution to modern thought (as opposed to his economic theories which have been subject to various revisions) is his comprehensive investigation into the role of Ideology, or how social being determines consciousness, which results in certain (for the most part unconscious) belief and value systems depending on the particular economic infrastructure pertaining at the time. 
The leaders of the French Revolution, that epochal catastrophe that birthed the first modern version of the Church of the All-Powerful State, were students of Rousseau’s critiques of society.  Rousseau acknowledged the role of consciousness in the ruination of humanity.  In his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau asserted,
The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows.
One cannot make a claim of ownership from the Right-hand Quadrants; it is an interior making of meaning and assumption.  So when Rousseau concludes his observation, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody,” this too is entirely a conceptual product.

And when we leap ahead several centuries to our present time, we find this title of a key book of one of the loudest voices on the left: The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman.  One’s conscience, of course, resides entirely in the Upper Left.

In fact, it is not possible to take the stance that all problems reside in objective (i.e., Right-Hand) facts without deriving that from the interior space where we manufacture meaning.

We could devote equal space to evidence that the conservative has the same appreciation for the objective world that Wilber ascribes to liberals.  Just look at the debt ceiling controversy, for one instance.  Conservatives assert that decades of government deficit spending will lead to a complete collapse of the government’s credit and ability to fulfill its constitutional functions.  Financial data are very much Right-Hand Quadrant stuff.

A More Accurate Analysis

If one masters Wilber’s analysis of First Tier waves of consciousness, one has everything necessary to appreciate liberal and conservative approaches and perspectives.  As Walter Russell Mead has pointed out, classical liberalism is a commitment to expanding liberty in any political economic epoch; conservatism in context is either the resistance to this expansion or, in democratic societies, the commitment to protect the victories of classical liberalism against tyranny in its many disguises.

Where Wilber might have found more useful analysis is in applying his insights that the waves of consciousness have both healthy and pathological expressions.  The same can be said, I think, of the liberal and conservative stances. 

In the United States, clearly the Orange liberal aspirations of the Progressive Era to free individuals from the economic bondage of monopoly capital have degenerated into the Boomeritis determination to use the apparatus of the State to eliminate every possible inequality.  Similarly, the Orange conservative commitment to preserving the advances of liberty has been undermined by a significant Amber fear of the results of universal exercise of that liberty.

Finally, it goes without saying that Wilber’s “liberal = exterior/conservative = interior causation” could only apply to those societies with a center of gravity in Orange.  Only Orange societies could even conceive of the notion and value of individual liberty.

Amber societies, by definition based upon tribal and clannish consciousness, cannot differentiate the Four Quadrants and therefore have no way to appreciate individual expression except as an existential threat to the community.  In tribal societies the liberal/conservative divide is seen only in the simple question of how to deal with heretics: banishment or murder?

Wilber asserts that the majority of humans still dwell in preconventional stages of consciousness, so for most of us this very discussion is unintelligible and meaningless.

So the key distinction we must face is an experiential one.  Once one’s identification with one’s individual self conception begins to fade, one’s interior experience of the world shifts dramatically.  In essence, the line between the Upper and Lower Left begins to dissolve, because as we identify with a space much larger than our personal interior we move inexorably into the collective consciousness.

And thus an integral politics starts in the equanimity that arises when one appreciates the contributions of the entire First Tier.  But since that equanimity is not a product of the mind, discussing it (i.e., using the communication tools of the mind) becomes dependent upon the experience of those in the conversation.

In future posts I intend to examine to the best of my ability this experience and see what conclusions we can draw for an actual integral politics.  In the meantime, let us continue the practice of observing what is unfolding and our own reactions to and analyses of it as intentionally as possible.  This is a practice from the future, as it were, assisting us with the disidentification from our individuality that alone makes possible the great leap into the Second Tier, which makes integral consciousness real.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Flaws in Wilber’s Integral Politics

The stress points pervading our national, regional, and global political economies only increase the impetus for an understanding of and focus upon an integral politics.

Wilber has been turning his attention to this since at least 2001 when he posted “The Deconstruction of the World Trade Center” on line. He elaborated his examination in Boomeritis, and, more recently, in excerpts from the unpublished Integral Politics: the Three Faces of Terrorism posted on his web site. He also addresses it in his interview with Tami Simon in Kosmic Consciousness.

In each of these attempts to explicate an integral politics, Wilber flounders where he and most of his collaborators tend to lose their way: in the chasm of the momentous leap into the Second Tier.

I have examined this problem in previous posts (see “Green Is Not Integral,” “The Immediate Need: Healthy Green,” and “Second Tier Speculation Traps”). The problem is this: once our identity transcends the First Tier, the contours of our individual ego become objects of our awareness, so that now we can see the grasping and defensive activities of that ego. This occurs simultaneously with the appearance of a new, larger identity, whose locus is now in the Lower Left. “We” replaces “me.”

But because the experience and trajectory of human evolution to the present has been, almost exclusively, in the First Tier (“me” and “pre-me”), we have nothing upon which to base an understanding of the experience of the leap into Teal and beyond.

The transcendence into the Second Tier is momentous precisely because for most of us, it is totally without precedence. It is a singular and original emergence. Further, the escape velocity necessary to sustain a center of gravity in Teal and beyond is—at least to the experience of one lingering on the border between the two tiers—extraordinary. One has only to immerse oneself in the literature of the experience reported by mystics in all religions to appreciate the magnitude of the shift that occurs.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Render unto Caesar

They came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere. You don't favor any individual, because you pay no attention to external appearance. Rather, you teach the way of God truthfully. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or should we not?"

Seeing through their hypocrisy, Jesus replied to them, "Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it."

So they brought one. Then he asked them, "Whose face and name are on this?" They said to him, "Caesar's."

So Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were utterly amazed at him.

As we hover on the border between the First and Second Tiers, the ego/mind has many questions. And as Wilber noted drily in his amazing essay “The Great Search,” first published in The Eye of Spirit, that while “[t]he separate-self is, at bottom, simply a sensation of seeking,” part of the very structure of evolution involves the inescapability of undertaking the Great Search regardless of our mental conviction of its ultimate futility. “You and I are already convinced that there are things we need to do in order to realize Spirit. We feel that there are places that Spirit is not (namely, in me), and we are going to correct this state of affairs.”

And so we take on the journey to enlightenment. We read the sacred texts, we study the injunctions of the avatars, we sit on our cushions and meditate, we open our hearts to the Divine. We do the work. Wilber continues:
William Blake said that “a fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” So nondual meditation simply speeds up the folly. If you really think you lack Spirit, then try this folly: try to become Spirit, try to discover Spirit, try to contact Spirit, try to reach Spirit, meditate and meditate and meditate in order to get Spirit!
But of course, you see, you cannot really do this. You cannot reach Spirit any more than you can reach your feet. You always already are Spirit, you are not going to reach it in any sort of temporal thrashing around. But if this is not obvious, then try it. Nondual meditation is a serious effort to do the impossible, until you become utterly exhausted of the Great Search, sit down completely worn out, and notice your feet.
So perhaps the work is nothing more or less than an extended Zen lesson: indulging the Orange ego/mind’s endless demand for definitive and absolute information until even the mind has to throw in the towel and let go.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Egypt and the Global Financial Crises

Much hubbub about the amazing turbulence in Egypt; especially in the wake of the popular uprising in Tunisia that deposed Ben Ali, I wonder if the “Arab street” in Egypt is finally awakening to the tremors deliberately set off when the United States forcibly deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Remember that the rarely-voiced strategic approach by the Bush Administration and its allies to addressing Islamist terror and its generators was to begin to undermine the autocratic regimes across the region against whose tyranny groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and others were primarily agitating. The invasion of Iraq was not an end, but the necessary intervention to get the whole chain reaction moving. Iraq, located in the center of both the Arab geography and the Sunni-Shi’a split, was always the linchpin—as Saddam and his neighbors knew before Osama bin Laden’s attacks forced the U. S. to change its strategic relationship with the area.

Let’s see if we can’t link the financial turbulence to what’s happening in the Middle East today—see if we can’t find the place of integration of what may not seem linked intuitively.

The primary impetus driving world evolution today is the transcendence of the Orange Industrial Era by the rise of the Green Information Age. (There’s a whole lot to say about how the Information Age itself was created by what the transformations of the Industrial Era gave rise to with the emergence of what we know today as science. The severing of the “objective” and “subjective” worlds, or the granting empirical inquiry the same dignity as religious seeking, inspired an explosion of knowledge about the physical world that emphatically includes the triumphs of Albert Einstein and his quantum physicist colleagues. It was their discoveries that made possible the technology undergirding the Information Age.)

Since we are, relatively speaking (as far as we can hypothesize), at the beginning of this new age, there is a lot about it that we cannot yet say with any certainty. From an Integral Model perspective, we would say that the Kosmic habit being created by true Green is still plastic and variable, so while we can make useful comments about its contours, we must hold these rather lightly.