[UPDATE] (Apparently Ken Wilber’s rant, discussed below, was made on purpose to “separate the 1st-Tier people from the 2nd Tier”).
It has long been apparent that the movement around Ken Wilber, despite all the good people it is still attracting, is becoming a closed cultic environment. One of the key symptoms is a total inability to deal with criticism.
One of the sites where such critique is expressed, and it should be noted that most participants there are sympathetic to Wilber’s project, is the excellent site of Frank Visser, who has built a model site bringing various forms of critique, in a space which is open to dialogue.
Wilber has never accepted such criticism, and has said so on occasion. The only critique that he accepts, are the ones that are written in the particular form of the panegyric. They have to recognize the overriding importance and truth of his system, and then suggest some changes, which he then welcomes as a contribution to his own system of systems. Moreover, most of that type of criticism is unavailable for the public (and said to happen within the integral community), but you can get an idea of what it means by reading some Shambhala site reviews where some of his fans are dealing with his critics. Surely, the difficulty of dealing with critique is not particular to Wilber, it is a human frailty that is easily recognizable. Yet one must fight it, because if one wants to be recognized especially in the academic world, subjecting oneself to peer review is a must; and in the internet world, that is extended to the broader public at large. This means on occasion a willingness to deal even with criticism which one esteems to be qaulitatively lacking.
But sadly, Wilber has gone one step beyond, and has published a long raging rant against mostly anonymous critics, which you have to simple read to believe. There’s so much wrong with it, that it is hard to know where to begin: 1) his critics are mostly anonymous, so that he is ranting against adversaries whom we cannot identify and who cannot defend themselves; 2) when named, the attacks are systematically ad hominem and very condescending and harsh. For Wilber, critics are simply morons. There is not a single paragraph where an actual argument is taken into account and a counter-argument offered; 3) critics are systematically described as being cognitively deficient, ‘constitutionally unable’ to give a reasoned account of his work; 4) he absolutes forbids any critique that does not take into account the full 3,000 pages of his work, with the permanent claim that any critique has already been superseded by his subsequent work, but no detail is ever given, you have to take it on faith.
Then there is the style and tone. The Boomeritis novel had already shown a strong, I don’t know if I should call it infantile or adolescent, streak in his style, which is simply full of sexual innuendo that we should not expect, and I think, accept, in a man of such purported stature. It sounds like the expression of a man desperately in need of confirmation by the young, attempting to be ‘cool’, but not quite knowing how to do it, and revealing his own immaturity in the process.
Let me add that I normally do not engage, and readers of my blog and newsletter will appreciate this, in ad hominem of personal attacks. However, I do believe that those who are still taken in, in a uncritical way, by the SDi movement, should imperative get to know what kind of man hides behind the rhetoric. Not to blame Wilber as a person, but to recognize that what is in the making, with increasing financial and institutional support, is a new type of neoconservative ‘Leninist’ movement, that seeks power for a purported cognitive elite, and disqualifies those that disagree, from the space of debate. In fact, that you disagree, is by itself the proof that you are not integral. This is the space that Wilber is attempting to create with his rant, and it should be resisted.
Frank Visser has written an spirited defense (but nevertheless with many good and well argued points and questions) against the personal attack against his site, and the many critical voices that he has offered refuge.
Some intellectual movements can be at one time progressive, and so was integral theory in the atmosphere of the seventies and eighties, as it argued against reductionism in science and spirituality, but at some point, they can change and turn into their opposite.
At one point in our lives, we may seek a system of systems that may put to rest of fears of paradoxes and contradictions, showing how different truth claims can nevertheless be all true at some higher level of integration. But at another point in your life, if you are not intellectually and spiritually lazy, you have to learn again to live with the uncertainty of knowledge, and then, frankly, any reliance of a total edifice a la Wilber becomes counterproductive. This is what the Wilber critics are showing, and they should be applauded for it. Judging from the past, I do not think that the institutional integral movement has any capacity to deal with such challenges, and any movement that cannot integrate honest criticism, will not only stagnate, but degenerate. It is this which we are witnessing at a more and more rapid scale now, and it is a sad spectacle.
Please do read the rant, and see what integral theory is in danger of becoming, if it were the property of one man, rather than the broad church of integrative opinion that it should be. If you are looking for integral theory, I would suggest also looking at alternative attempts, such as those of Roy Bhaskar, Erwin Laszlo, Edgar Morin.