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 He elaborated his examination in Boomeritis, and, more recently, in excerpts from the unpublished Integral Politics: the Three Faces of Terrorism posted on his web site.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.

The integral model does us the service of demonstrating the challenges and the opportunities we find at this juncture. On the one hand, with the vast majority of the world’s population of almost 7 billion human beings still being at Amber, the inertia pulling against the higher levels is powerful. On the other hand, as Wilber rightly points out, the depth of the higher levels provides a different kind of evolutionary energy, such that ultimately depth trumps span—at least in theory.

While in the long run I believe we will see this to be true of this period as well, we still have a lot of work to do, even in the Advanced Sector with our tendencies toward Green, to achieve escape velocity for a critical mass of people. (Wilber speculates that we will reach this "tipping point" when 10% of the population has gotten to Teal.)

This work is that of making conscious those parts of our souls that, because of the woundings universally experienced in the first five years of life, are underdeveloped or even pathologically sealed off from integration with our more advanced capacities. This shadow work, as even Wilber has suggested, must be done before most of us will be available to the pull of the higher stages. Without it, the little wounded child lies curled up inside us, pulsating fear and shame from our subconscious, acting as a drag against transcendence. And because the evolutionary course is transcendàincludeàintegrate, unless we nurse these wounded parts of ourselves into a relatively healthy state, we will find our intentions to go deeper sabotaged time and again.

Worse, because the shadow is both individual and collective, we face the double gravitational pull backward. Even as we work to heal our individual autonomous self, we become aware of the collective psychopathologies that surround us and nourish our own.

As long as we were in the First Tier, these shadow elements did not stymie evolution up the spectrum of consciousness, because they were features of the First Tier. In other words, they were part of the structure of developing personal egoic consciousness. We can have our center of gravity in Green and still have significant shadow pathologies, i.e., unhealed elements from earlier stages. At Green we have transcended and included them, although we still have to integrate them. It is their integration, which can only be achieved by bringing them into consciousness, that sets the stage for the transformation into Teal.

This, of course, is because they are the last elements of our individual self to become objects of our awareness, rather than unseen energies of our subjectivity. The momentous leap occurs as the first stage of our disidentification from our autonomous self, and thus objectifying what had previously felt like subjective absolutes in our psyches liberates us for the next evolutionary stage.

Keep It Simple

And this brings us back to the subject of integral politics, which is, essentially, the work of viewing and experiencing political economy from the Second Tier. In The Three Faces of Terrorism, Wilber makes a number of critical category errors that undermine the work of outlining an integral politics. These category errors are related only in part to his sloppy thinking about a world entering the Second Tier. I also think he’s been living in Boulder too long, for there is more than a whiff of Boomeritis Green in his thinking.

While I have no doubt that Wilber himself has long ago evolved into Teal, Turquoise, or even Indigo—the colors he assigns to the Psychic, Subtle, and Causal realms of earlier writings—I find it curious that he seems so flat-footed in describing a world of potential Wilbers. I know that critics will argue that Ken still has some serious shadow work to do, and for all I know that might be true. But it might be equally true that, since we all have some serious shadow work to do on our collective psyche, it just may not be possible to say anything particularly cogent about a world that has, after all, not existed heretofore.

It would be preferable, I think, to refrain from too much speculation about a “second tier governance system and eventually a World League.” Most of us reading this will of necessity interpret it through the lens of our First Tier consciousness, and thus render it hollow.

On the other hand, there is value in applying AQAL to mapping our political economy. Here Wilber discusses his beliefs about Right Hand and Left Hand views of politics, which he actually started back in 1982 in Up from Eden. In that book he made the assertion that our First Tier political divisions arise from the different ways we answer the question, “why are men and women unfree?” or, as he also states it in Integral Politics, “why do humans suffer?”

One school of thought focuses on external causation, “which began with Rousseau, continued through Marx, and today forms the basis of what are loosely called ‘liberal’ political views, as well as all forms of humanistic psychology and philosophy.” It assumes that people “are born essentially free, essentially good and loving, but are initiated into a social and political world—an ‘objective’ world—that itself not only teaches but perpetuates social inequality, oppression, and ill will.”

The other answer focuses on internal causation, starting with “Hobbes and Burke, with Freud and the sociobiologists, and with the political conservatives and Republicans.”

Men and women are unfree, not so much because of objective, social institutions, but because of something in their very natures. The subject is mostly to blame, not the object. Psychologically, this view is best represented by the “horrid instincts” school of thought—Darwin, Lorenz, Freud, etc.—which maintains generally that humans are born, to use Freud’s particular phrasing of it, with three and only three desires: for incest, cannibalism, and murder. There is the subjective core of humanity. And thus it is a human’s subjective nature, and not his or her objective upbringing, that lies at the heart of unfreedom, cruelty, evil, and inequality.
Up from Eden offers this analysis in its final chapter entitled “Republicans, Democrats, and Mystics,” which gives a flavor of how he resolves the conundrum he lays bare.

But by the time we get to Integral Politics, the nuance of the earlier work has disappeared. “If you ask the simple question,” he writes, “Why do humans suffer?—you will get two major answers. The Right will say, You suffer because of yourself; the Left will say, You suffer because of someone else” [italics in the original]. And then over the course of many pages, he attempts to refine the nuances he sees in this simple dichotomy.

But as it shows up in his later work, this dualism is so simplistic as to be misleading. Further, the flaws that pervade much of his historical analysis render it unhelpful.

Like the unintelligible “integral mathematics of primordial perspectives” he attempts to establish in Integral Spirituality, the contours of his integral politics map are overly complicated and cluttered. And because it’s all based on his flawed left/right, exterior/interior schematic, it mostly leads nowhere useful.

The value of an AQAL analysis always is its comprehensiveness and capacity to indicate with reasonable accuracy velocity and direction. Thus it is essential that the starting point be as valid and coherent as possible. His overall integral model meets this test, and in cases such as his AQAL look at psychology and spirituality, Wilber provides a solid and sound basis for his conclusions.

But when he turns to politics, in spite of the decade he has spent working on it, it just doesn’t stand up. In my next post, I will look at some of the flaws and even the whoppers he has presented. 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.

It’s really not as complicated as Wilber makes it. Read my extended essay “Three Blind Memes” starting here; this will help illumine my next post on the subject.

No comments: