Monday, August 2, 2021

Some Remarks on Wilber's Podcast on Epistemology

In his most recent dialogue with Integral Life director Corey deVos entitled “Marx, Mysticism, and Mathematics: Navigating Our Epistemic Collapse,” Wilber concludes the series by exploring the evergreen question “what is to be done?”  What’s a poor integralist to do in a world full of first tier narcissism?  

I urge those interested in what Wilber has to say to watch the whole thing.

As for me, I confess myself unimpressed with most of his observations in this final episode, but not by way of negative criticism.  We are in the midst of obvious evolutionary phase change, and so it is difficult if not impossible to give a definitive answer to such a tricky and vexing question.

Wilber lamely falls back onto what he has been saying for at least four years since the “Trump and a Post-Truth World” essay: if we were in teal everything would be better.  And, of course, if pigs could fly, Boulder would rule the world.

I don’t fault him too much for his anodyne sentiment, for it might actually be true, and in the long run of evolution we will eventually find out but, Wilber’s touching optimism notwithstanding, not likely in the near term.

But ironically in a commentary on Marxist epistemology, Wilber is unwittingly setting up the same straw man that Marx and all his revolutionary progeny found so tempting to employ.  Utopian wishful thinking is apparently a universal human trait; its political version says, “if we can theorize a better world, then such a world can and should replace this one.  Our promise of this better world should inspire everyone.  And if they resist this obvious good, we are justified to apply brute force to eliminate the unreasoning, selfish opposition.”  

This is a version of a fundamental error Wilber identified decades ago: mistaking the map for the terrain.  The theory that the proletariat seizing the means of production will create a more just and wealthier world is just that: a theory.  The tragedy comes when we let our infatuation with our theories overlook the reality we wish to escape.  Lenin, Mao, Chavez, Ibrahim Kendi, and Bernie Sanders have all succumbed to the same hideous fantasy: that their imagined improved humanity is a reality-in-waiting, if only someone has the will to force it into being.

It beggars the rational mind to have to point this out after the irrefutable evidence of the utter folly of this delusion: the millions of corpses strewn across the planet, the victims of the Marxist utopian lunacy.

And yet here we have Ken Wilber, calmly claiming in the safety of his nice home that teal will make everything better.  And who is to bring us to this kingdom of heaven on earth?  And whose teal are we talking about, anyway?

I recognize the bit of cynicism of my commentary, for I am not impressed much by the so-called “integral community,” which, as far as I can tell, is generally still riddled with unrecognized Boomeritis green.  As a first tier meme, which to his credit Wilber acknowledges, it has no room for the others.  It alone knows best.  So let Boomeritis loose on the planet and the results will be as bloody as all the other Marxist horrors.  We already see this in the United States and in Great Britain in the Twitter-fed “woke” world, a hideous reversion to amber tribalism which cannot but try to repress anything oppositional.  

The Warnings of Robespierre

If you think this is an exaggeration, I invite you to read A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution, Jeremy Popkin’s 2019 history of that tumultuous and terrible event.  His description of the social and emotional dynamics that led to the indiscriminate bloodletting of the Terror is chilling.  This irrational excess began, much like the situation we are in now, with an unstated mass agreement on the part of the so-called revolutionaries to discard reason, logic, analysis, and prudence that unleashed the full vengeance of amber against even hints of orange.

What began as a resistance to the amber political structure of France, with Louis XVI at the apex, ended in a chaotic and out-of-control mess that saw legalized murder at home and huge armies of revolutionary fervor abroad.  For a brief moment in the beginning, the revolutionaries focused on creating a new government organized on the principles of the Enlightenment-inspired Declaration of the Rights of Man, but this never got implemented.  Instead, events soon enabled the Jacobin utopian tribalists to impose their own version of the monarchical principle: L’etat, c’est nous.  

So rather than replacing the amber Bourbon regime with an orange republic, the French Revolution instead devolved into nasty tribal warfare that required the dictatorship of Napoleon to quell.

We have seen time and again how utopian revolutions eats their own children: Popkin describes in excruciating detail how the various Jacobin factions fought for control of the French state, a violent free-for-all that ended up in the Terror.  This bloody experiment with state terror (which so inspired Lenin) included a series of betrayals and double-crossings among the Paris-based revolutionaries, such that leaders of each faction took their turn in the tumbrils.  Only after the most notorious of these wannabe kings of the sans-culottes, Maximilian Robespierre, lost his head in the Place de la Révolution did the Jacobin auto-da-fé finally run out of steam.  From the high point of the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man to the low point of the Directory, the French managed to replace the monarchy with the Emperor Napoleon.  Thus in ignominy died the first modern utopian revolution. 

(Of course, the ignominy didn't end with the restoration of the feckless Bourbons.   No, France has continued to deal with the legacy of its failed revolution down to this day.)

In the meantime, another revolution across the ocean managed not only to avoid the amber utopian temptation, it managed to create by popular agreement a new republic actually based upon Enlightenment ideals of individual liberty, popular sovereignty, and multiple check and balances against the natural tyrannical impulse that was given free run in France.

Even with all its birth pangs, the new United States of America managed to avoid mass outbreak of political utopianism for a century, allowing the new ideals to take hold in the social and political practice of the nation.  During this period the country finally rid itself of the amber slave economy and launch its industrial revolution that quickly overtook Great Britain as the strongest and wealthiest nation in the history of the world.

Alas, nothing good lasts forever.  The orange wave of consciousness that birthed the Enlightenment and the United States necessarily provoked a reaction from amber.  This is the law of development: each new wave of consciousness, even though it is in part a response to the limitations of the previous wave, nonetheless provokes a defensive reaction by that earlier wave.  This is the first tier dynamic in action.

And so, inevitably, the dynamics of the orange revolution, of increasing individuation and the resulting dynamic political economy, prompted a counterrevolution by amber.  This first came in the form of the “progressive” movement, a political program based upon the conviction that individualism was becoming so excessive that it threatened the stability and performance of the nation.  This was in part a reaction to the business cycle problems that inevitably creep in when the productive sector gets disconnected from the financial sector.  This is a problem that has yet to find a satisfactory solution.  

These business cycle disruptions led to regular depressions and panics, and together with the off-and-on labor unrest these contributed to, caused resentment and fear among large masses of voters.  The progressives decided to blame bankers and other monopolists, holding them out as the evidence that individualism led to the greed that these “capitalists” deployed to put themselves above the nation.

And, not surprisingly, after a period of political trial-and-error in which Theodore Roosevelt played a major role, the progressives made the Democratic Party their home.  And the Democrats today, utterly in the thrall of the woke New Left and its Boomeritis values, are the major instrument of the counterrevolution against the Enlightenment values that inspired the establishment and success of their country.

The Trimemetic War

All of this has occurred in the on-going evolutionary dynamism of orange emerging from amber, with expressions in all four quadrants.  

Our challenge in integrally grasping the magnitude of what’s been going on since the rise of orange modernity starting roughly 500 years ago is that we don’t have much of a cultural (lower left) understanding of the process.  Neither our bodies nor our minds have evolved at the same rate as the political economy and our technologies of production and communication have.  This creates a disequilibrium across the quadrants that so far has deprived us of both a felt sense of appreciation for the relative speed of orange’s disruption of amber and a mental construct that accommodates it.  (I think in the podcast Wilber is trying to assert that this dynamic was first understood by Marx.)

This deficiency has only been exacerbated by the emergence of green, with all the grotesqueries showing up in its lurch toward a evolutionarily valuable structure.  We are, as I’ve noted at length, in an unprecedented “Trimemetic War” which I define as the three-way struggle among amber, orange, and green for hegemony. 

This is a first tier food fight for which we have no historical analogy.  This three-way no-quarter fight may account for the virulence of the American political situation.  In our state of fear and confusion, we have swept away the possibility of consensus based upon the common principles of our founding in an orgy of righteousness, demagoguery, nastiness, and mendacity all masking a deep almost existential dread.  None of us has a clue about how to bring this war to an amicable and enlightened end which might, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Fantasizing about a teal regime probably doesn’t do much to get us there.

But outside of this harmless wishful thinking, Wilber, trying to be more practical, suggests that we integralists engage in what he calls “mini-education.”  This is basically engaging in a conversation with people who aren’t yet integrally informed in which we integrally inform them about what they are failing to see.  We must use “gentle ways” of doing this, but “if it kicks in correctly,” Wilber avers, “they’ll actually be grateful.”  This is because people change our minds only when we have a better idea to change our minds for.

I’d love to invite Ken over to meet with some of my NPR-listening, government-loving Boomeritis-centered friends and learn from him which gentle ways of showing them the errors of their thinking will kick integral appreciation in correctly.  God knows I’ve stopped trying; in my experience it doesn’t work this way.

I’d like to think Ken knows better than to believe this inanity; he certainly must know that we are not engaging in an intellectual debate here.  This is because a central weapon amber uses in undermining healthy green is its relentlessly (and understandably) privileging emotion over reason.  People mired in Boomeritis have already unconsciously jettisoned reason and logic and turned to “feels” instead.  And every self-aware individual knows better than to argue with an emotion.

Let’s be perfectly clear here: from its perspective, amber is perfectly justified in weaponizing emotion; from an integral perspective we must appreciate that it doesn’t have a lot of choice.  Reason as a psychological tool in evolution only emerges with orange, so of course amber feels threatened by it, and of course it has to fight it off with its own primary psychological tool.

Let’s Get Serious

So what can be done is to hone the tools we integralists have, starting with our appreciation for the entire spectrum of consciousness.

If we truly grok the magnificence and efficacy of every shade along the spectrum, then let’s stop fantasizing about what we might find one or two wave ahead of us and focus on the current challenges.  These are two: reinforcing the individuation project of modernity, and challenging green to reject Boomeritis and find its true nature.  

Both stages have a “transcend, include, and integrate” challenge.  Orange is still struggling with integrating amber.  For individuals, amber’s resistance manifests in the persistence of the effects of childhood trauma which delays or even prevents emergence of the mature autonomous individual.  This manifests on the collective level as dalliances with the various flatland temptations that Wilber has identified as the “mean orange meme.”  

Green will go nowhere until it includes all the gifts of orange which the Boomeritis variant rejects.  This is why Wilber has correctly diagnosed Boomeritis as addled by narcissism and nihilism, twin saboteurs that threaten the emergence of healthy green.  (See “Transcend and Exclude” on this website for a deeper dive into this important matter.)

So for integralites, the opportunity is to dig deeper into our own experience, to hone our individual identity as the necessary prelude to experiencing the momentous leap.  As Wilber correctly suggests, shadow work is essential, not only for our individual maturation, but in the long run for the species as well.  By virtue of the four quadrants, when I do my personal shadow work, I am at the same time participating in collective shadow work.

For this inquiry, necessary as it is for healing the resisting amber psychological states that hamper our development as autonomous individuals, continues to be of value for the rest of evolution.  As Wilber suggested in his very first book, until the moment of final awakening, when identity expresses as “I = I,” there is always something lurking in the shadow of repressed Kosmic awareness.

Let’s also open our hearts consistently to the compassion that an integral perspective automatically discloses.  We are not yet capable as a species of choosing where we are in consciousness—what our “altitude” is.  Boomeritis may be a dead end, but it is real and those centered in it are not there by conscious choice.  Therefore, difficult as we may find those who don’t see what we see, we can welcome this struggle as another opportunity to dig deeper into our own resistance to the larger truths disclosed in the transpersonal realm.  This, too, makes a contribution to the possibility and the shape of human transcendence.

This is the consistent message that all the great avatars have preached: do whatever is necessary to shift our identity from the tribal, the personal, even the cosmic, to the One that always already is.  As we do this, we find our compassion for the causes of the Trimemetic War will help us focus on the specifics of what else we can be doing in these tumultuous times.

I also hope we hear the call to picking our words with care.  This is not always the case with our fellow integralites.  Some of it is, of course, unavoidable in the give-and-take of dialogue, or even in the solitude of composition.  And so we see throughout the discussion, Wilber and deVos are very sloppy when talking about green, often conflating the Boomeritis variant and its healthy potential.  This is quite problematic, for amber narcissism and tribalism essentially constitute an invasive species sucking the life blood out of the actual potential of healthy green.

Let us be clear: noting this is not condemning it.  In our daily ignorance we can easily forget that all of our human behaviors are the ongoing dynamics of the evolution of consciousness looking for the best ways to express as avenues for deepening our collective perspective.  The serious troubles that have resulted in Boomeritis variant are just the latest experiment in the unfolding of consciousness, the on-going trial-and-error that the human species itself represents in the greater Kosmos.

That said, there is value in intellectual rigor about this critical distinction between Boomeritis and healthy green.  If we don’t, we will make the same errors that Wilber makes here in his mischaracterization of Marx and especially of his revolutionary acolytes.  Yes, Marx had some useful observations about the relationship between modes of production and consciousness.  Yes, this has generated a useful inquiry into the larger question of the structures of consciousness.  Yes, Marx and Marxism are valid expressions of Spirit and have their place in the Integral Model.  But the Model’s commitment to “everything is in” does not require us to value everything equally.  The demonstrable errors of Marx’ general epistemology render it useless as a valid method by which to learn about ourselves and our development, except as an example of what not to value.

Indeed, a rigorous study and appreciation not merely of Marx, but more importantly of all the movements claiming him as their inspiration, bring us to confront the universal human tendency to utopian thinking that I noted at the beginning.  It may be that this psychodynamic is rooted in our fear of death and our assessment of death as some kind of defeat brought about by the flaws of our species.  Our postmodern neo-Marxist woke world may be the evolutionary dead-end that Wilber has suggested, but it comes from something human that we all share.

And that may be the ultimate gift that Marx will have given us: to force us to examine ourselves to discover and appreciate what Theodore Rubin calls our self-hate.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with us even as every one of us had died or will die.  This is the nature of the Kosmos; our task is to embrace it and identify as it, for this is also inescapably true.  

No comments: