[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.
Wilbur sounds like a teenager complaining. Celebrities get fried by photographers every day and they only complain in private. Scientists get grilled by other scientists with different ideas, while friends can passionately disagree. I don’t get why he is so up tight about criticism. The fact is that he can’t control it. He is obviously very pissed off with the fact that other people have other opinions and that they misrepresent him or get things wrong. He says he thinks differently to how he did 10 years ago which warrants his defense against criticism. We are all changing our minds all the time, but that is no defense against a difference of opinion. I don’t see a humble man. I don’t see a listening man. And why are the comments on his blog turned OFF? Advice to Wilbur, grow up and join the wider conversation if you ever want to cross-over and gain a wider acceptance in other expert communities and among critical thinking integral thinkers, you have to let go of control…..
I have read Ken Wilber’s works. He is trying to emulate what is known as eastern mysticism.
I discovered a far involving and original log of Mr Singh — http://banarasthemovie.logpot.com
Watch out Ken.
wilber`s attitude reminds me of gagdad bob in his refusal to accept anything but cultish reverence. control freak.
I’m not a KW fan at all, but reading your critics is really funny, because it shows that you didn’t walk even one mile in his shoes. What I mean is: Your words are only superficial, showing that you you didn’t even try to understand what he said…
I think this post is more about how wilbur does not listen to others words, rather then wether we understand what he is saying. Incidentally what he does say in reply to his critics is a series of put-downs. That’s fine, if he want to feel more (w)holy, whateven he thinks he is more than his critics, but its ultimately a childish reaction.
I read Wilber’s post and everything thus far written here.
Wilber has always seemed to me like a zen teacher for academia. Zen teachers can, and have been, abusive now and again, but I don’t sense that here. (His crude images and metaphors are used consciously and playfully.)
I understand people’s difficulty in dealing with a mind as colossally able as Wilber’s. I struggle with him myself. I often don’t even know what to read after I read him, because he seems to have read everything and synthesized it so well.
But, in this case, a lot of the irritation people feel may boil down to: egos, including mine, don’t like zen teachers.
Ken Wilber is an arrogant, imnmature megalomaniac too imprisoned in his own ego to be any sort of spiritual teacher. He claims he’s a Buddhist, yet he clearly breaks the fundamental Buddhist precept of ‘right speech’ with his harsh, slanderous, vindictive, and puerile rant. And I do not buy the “it’s a Zen thing” flimsy apology. A Zen teacher fist cultivates a relationship of trust and understanding with his student before he starts using the technique of seemingly abusive/harsh language. Wilber ha not cultivated such a relationship with is critics, so he has no business using such behavior. He may have rational/logical intelligence and some interesting insights, but he completely lacks emotional intelligence.
What’s more, his writing is bombastic, embarrassingly self-aggrandizing, annoyingly repetitive, and overly simplistic or distortive of other fields of knowledge.
It’s time to expose the Emperor’s lack of clothes.
Wilber indeed must be the narcissistic and dogmatic person portrayed here…
this is my conclusion from observing that most of his critics take either a strong pro- or contra-Wilberian position. Someone who’s critics either make him God or the Devil really cannot have gone beyond dogmatism of any kind – whether mystical, mythical or secular.
all this dogmatism (by this I mean holding to opinions, even if they are reasonably argued) from Wilber-haters as well as Wilber-groupies tells me he – whatever his actual views might be – has failed in raising basic heuristic principles necessary for criticism. I find the following quite helpful:
if you want to critisize someone:
0. forget everything you already know about the topics treated by the author
1. read everything he has written
2. assume you have not understood him yet when something does not really make sense
3. take into account his references, study them in detail
4. try to grasp his major methodology and what he actually tries to achieve with his works
5. talk to the person instead of speculating on his present opinions
6. beware that in criticism you make statements on two issues: a. the quality of the ideas discussed, b. whether the person critisized really holds those ideas
after that you are free to give your estimation on where you think the author failed to report evidence or his major methodology simply does not work. There is no need to either hate or praise the person itself for good criticism.
wish you best
Wilber has actually been at this for a long time. If you look at his ad hominem attacks on his teacher, Adi Da, you’ll see a similar pattern: http://www.adidawilber.com. It’s just that he’s branching out to criticize many more now, and place himself on top as king of the hill.
Thanks for the comments, but I must disagree, as in that case, what was troublesome was rather how long Ken Wilber refused to say anything about the abuses taking place in the community.
For coverage, see the following excellent sources:
The first link refers to an online book, of which the postscript is a clear expression of the P2P culture of open criticism:
“But more significantly, this book is an expression of the new global community of free speech. Before the coming of the Internet, if you had intelligent insights worth expressing, you could share them with your friends, or else you could go through the laborious process of getting them published and distributed to bookstores.
The thoughts that are expressed in this online book are thoughts that cannot be expressed within the walls of Franklin Jones’ closed community. (But, as will become obvious, they are thoughts that many who know Jones intimately have wanted to express for a long time.)
This book runs against the mood and intentions of Daism — Jones and his followers have been at great pains to forestall public discussion of Jones, by claiming their right, as a religion, to be beyond critical examination. They have secreted most of their activities behind a slick and elaborate bureaucracy…and they have spent millions of dollars to build a private kingdom on a remote Fijian island, beyond the reach of the American legal system.”
I’ve read a number of Ken’s books, and I have been around folk who worship him. Perhaps I’m odd, but I never felt anything Ken wrote grab at my heart. He’s got a fairly good intellect, but it doesn’t seem to be affected much by great depth of feeling. No matter how great the intellect, as long a ego is present, it will corrupt the thought process.
I can hardly stand to listen to Ken’s voice. There is so much ego in his voice and approach. The narcissism is quite evident. It’s like a little boy saying, look what I can do!
I just don’t pay much attention to him. I just happened on this site. There is a place for this kind of critique.
Truth is beyond the intellect. Intellect is just a path. At the end of the intellectual path, one falls into the unknown. Ken knows about the unknown “intellectually” but he doesn’t appear have allowed himself to go over the edge. If he had, there would be an overwhelming humility. Without that humility, you can be certain he has not arrived at enlightenment.
The gurus that pull at your heart and your intellect have authority, but the authority is not theirs. It comes from Source. Therefore, as persons, they are humble. If you don’t sense the humility as well as the authority, be careful!
This post is over two years old now but I do think it is still worth remembering in the context of the “Integral Theory” Conference coming up this summer at JFKU. This may be an opportunity for Wilber to turn it around, or it may be more of the same. I suspect the latter, given how some of the panels are framed (where integral = AQAL, where the question of whether “integral = Wilber” is given serious consideration). Whuh? I find it difficult to imagine that the academy has much goodwill left for Wilber, given the kinds of polemics he has laid on us.
When I was a kid, Bhaghwan S. Rajneesh (remember him?) had set up shop down the road from Portland, my beloved hometown. It was remarkable what happened: Ma A. Sheela would get in front of a microphone, rant and rant and rant about how horrible people in Wasco County were to her and her guru and her community, and then wait for a response. That response was usually to play back video clips or audio of her ranting and ranting and ranting about how horrible people in Wasco County were. (Some of them probably were horrible from the start, if statistics do not lie; all of them were united against her at Rajneeshpuram after she opened up her mouth.) Then what? After provoking a lot of critique, much of it fair and some of it nonsense, she dismissed it all as being an attack on their spirituality. You can’t critique that unless you are a total bigot, right?
Hiding behind human rights like this, to deflect legitimate and helpful criticism, is really contemptible to people who suffer real human rights abuses. You can see Wilber do this though, not in a full-frontal way like M A Sheela, but in a “they don’t get it because they’re not spiritual enough” kind of way.
The irony: listening to some of this criticism, taking it to heart and making some changes instead of numbering the waves of his system as if they were Led Zeppelin albums (Wilber III rocks by the way) and keeping them all intact while moving past them (in Hegelese that is a “determinate negation”) would actually make Wilber’s project a lot, lot stronger. We would not be wasting our energy critiquing him for his ad hominems and other errors in basic reasoning.
Sad, really, because the integral project has so much to offer. The world is facing a lot of problems, coordinated problems; we need a coordinated set of solutions, and integral should be able to do this. At any rate this is what I am trying for in my own puerile work. If “big tits Kim” from Boomeritis shows up in anything I write, I do expect the peer-to-peer people to call me on it.
Last comment: This is the most “integral” concept I have read in some time. I offer it to you here anonymously because the author of it is a bit controversial and I do not want anyone’s prejudices to get in the way of a fair hearing:
“[W]e shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Unpack the holism of that concept, and what do you get? No one here gets out alive unless all of us, without exception, do. So what are we waiting for? Very compassionate proposal here.
Last last thought on an idea in the comments: Wilber is not “like” a Zen teacher. To be “like” a Zen teacher would be to have actual transmission from a lineage master authorizing him to teach. He may act like he can perform the Shout of Lin Chi, or the Big No of Chogyam Trungpa, but Wilber is not “like” these people. He is more like Da, really, who is a self-declared enlightened one.
Last last last thing: Logical fallacy alert. It is not necessary to read everything William Blake wrote in order to have something sane and meaningful to say about “The Tyger.” One simply has to qualify the scope of one’s inquiry. “In ‘The Tyger,’ Blake shows his contempt for the ideologies of empire and takes an oppositional position against… &c.” My (probably “first-tier”) undergrads are pretty good at this.
Daniel Gustav Anderson
We are basically very upset for Ken Wilber being subject to the human condition, that being an ego trip. What do we expect him to be besides human. One must make mistakes in order to evolve including Ken. I don’t think I could trust someone who didn’t could you? Think of all the mistakes we make, and if they were all pointed out and constantly used against us I bet most of us would react even worse. The fact is we all make this false conclusion that people like Ken can’t make mistakes because he is supposed to be better than human. His critics must think this or they wouldn’t take his mistakes so personally. Let us face it- We would be pissed off at him if did or if he didn’t make mistakes, and for people who aren’t happy with his theory… then ignore it! Stop wasting all of your time and energy in being upset with this MAN. Spend some time constructing your own theories and less time deconstructing others. Seems more practical and progressive.
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these posts are all extremely critical of wilber, single-pointedly so. lots of the points people have made here may be true but why is there absolutely no recognition of the importance of wilbers work, the sheer genius of it, how much his work has helped many people e.t.c. this all seems a bit too harsh and one-sided to me.
Yes, I think the some of the criticism levelled at wilbur is fair. He does seem to lash out sometimes, which is especially unbecoming of someone whose subject area includes spirituality. ok… I know its been said elswhere but Wilber over the years has been very ill ..
of course this does not excuse this behaviour entirely but wow, it seems like a real hard pain in the ass to live with.
As to the criticism itself… I’m sure Wilber would probably want to respond to all the various voices that attack, having as they do sometimes a genuine spirit of philisophical argument, but also are sometimes cleary angry and embittered and plain nasty. Someone that has written the kind of meta-system that he has is of course subject to offensives that normal researchers, philosophers and academics are simply not used to. If one can only apprehend what he has spent his life trying to do, its not hard to understand how someone, who has also become so famous, would court the amount of criticism.
All I can say is, before you critise him, at least read Sex, ecology, spirituality. … what a book…
Hi Alex, for the record, the Wilber critics have read Wilber, in my case, I own and have read the collected volumes. As you could see from reading Frank Visser’s website, the critique is much for civil than Wilber’s ranting himself. Once you familiarize yourself with serious scientific scepticism, you will discover that S.E.S. doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
what a fast reply that was! Well I’m not surprised that every bit of SES doesn’t convince you, although I’m aware of some of the debate about it, I would like to know the main areas you find at fault though as I’m sure your serious scientific scepticism (SSS 🙂 could provide some good ground for a little debate about the book.
I do think however, that despite inaccuracies, Wilber attempted something in this book that is rather considerable. I’m tempted to cut him some slack… so what if there are parts wrong with the book? If you were trying to write a synthesising account that bridged the worlds of pre/post modern philosophy, psychology, the hard sciences, anthropology, and spirituality, don’t you think there would be some mistakes?
Also, if by your SSS (sorry I couldn’t help acronymising it!), you mean steadfast empiricism, and you dont see the need enrich your viewpoint by being informed by different epistemologies (phenomenology, hermeneutics, systems, ethnomethodology, neostructurlism etc.) ie.. in wilber’s terms, the other 3 quadrants, then I venture you are bound to not get much out of the book either.
Being a researcher, (psychology) it is very uncommon to find people willing to advance big pictures, especially in the post-modern climate that I predominantly work in. However, this is changing. If you can get hold of the journal ‘theory & psychology’, there are some (eg. Greg Henriques, 2008) who are advancing these ‘meta-theories’ as this is the only way out of the extremely fragmented state of affairs in psychology. I must say that nothing that has really attempted what Wilber has advanced over the years. I have read some of Bhaskar and Morin’s work and whilst they are interesting for reconsidering the typical boundaries of epistemology (my undergraduate supervisor was a critical realist herself), they dont really offer the scope that wilber does and don’t address so much of the practical links to methodology that Wilber does. Laszlo unfortunately is a bit wacky for me. Essentially (in psychology at least) we still have many different epistemologies and no one talks to each other…. the neuro/cognitive folks play with their fMRI’s, the behavioural ecologists poke animals, the foucauldians analyse ideology and the cogs draw up a myriad of charts that look like plumbing diagrams that are supposed to represent thinking. I must reiterate… none of us talk to each other.
Isn’t it strange how we are all supposed to be studying the mind yet we carry on in ignorance of what everyone else is doing? Of course, if your a devout empiricist then you probably don’t care what the other quadrants are up to as you believe that the world is best seen as little pieces of stuff bouncing off each other (not to simplify the empiricist/physicalist agenda too much (!)).
However, if you are aware of the reasons for integration and the advancements, insights and most of all a sense of respect for different epistemologies this would bring (think modern evolutionary synthesis but bigger) then something like wilber’s integral methodological pluralism (integral spirituality, 2006) is a massive step in the right direction.
Come on, if were going to criticize wilber, lets at least be like Jorge Ferrer and advance a decent criticism. Mostly what I’ve heard on here is just about his personality, which isn’t really that interesting i’m afraid.
So he gets narked and shouts at people… his political allegiances are a little questionable… well, Heiddeger was a nazi! But I’m not about to through being and time out the window.
Hi Alan, I appreciate your interest in Wilber, but mine has waned so I don’t have too much time to devote to it at present. I enjoyed reading SES yes, it came across as a great synthesis when I was reading it. But what’s wrong with it is more than its parts. If you read the very careful investigations in Bald Ambitions, you will see that Wilber’s method of orienting generalisations just does not work. The assumption that every field has a core consensus, from which conclusions can be extrapolated, is just wrong. So Wilber synthesizes a few views he finds in agreement with his preconceptions and builds a whole architecture around it … You can’t rely on it at all, and serious academics will laugh you in the face if you come with wilber’s conclusions about their field … Read for yourself, in the primary sources, around the engaged actions you want to undertake in the world, in an integral way, but without any solution that any individual can master a global synthesis … as I once wrote, ‘the next buddha will be a collective’,
Hello Michel, its Alex by the way (no biggie!)
Interesting thought about buddha and the collective, of course from the buddhist perspective of codepedant origination, there is no buddha that is not a collective.
Back to wilber… (sorry) Yes I understand that many would feel Wilber has misrepresented in attempting to build a working framework, and I suppose that is one of the tasks for the integral community to be involved in; testing out which links are in need of revision and how best to proceed in changing them.
I would like to point out though that Wilber’s ‘method’ has never been just orienting generalisations, for me, it seems more of an admission that there are bound to be controversies, inaccuracies and problems in creating the integration; more of a rough patchwork than a beautifully woven Persian carpet if you like.
His approach is better captured in his integral methodological pluralism. Whilst your right, there is rarely consensus in most if not all the fields he describes regarding the data produced, the point is that most researchers work from some shared disciplinary view of what a given phenomena or reality might be (ontology) how we might best come to know it (epistemology) and the best way to go about measuring it (methodology). If a discipline does begin to have discord over those fundamentals, it tends to break away creating a sub-field. As Kuhn (1962) noted, good incremental science has to be relatively at rest over these fundamentals otherwise it just wouldn’t be an effective field, discipline, or mode of enquiry.
From this perspective, there may not be a core consensus (although my experience is that there definitely are many consensus‘es’) but there are core assumptions and agreed working practices that create conclusions that are a product of those assumptions and working practices; accordingly, they can be grouped together. It is wrong to dismiss the framework, as, while perhaps saying less about the conclusions, is still useful in orienting the processes by which we arrive at them. However, as well as systemically, integral theory is in need of looking deeply at each tradition to see what consensuses emerge within each methodology.. who knows, perhaps the more we find out, we will see that there is more consensus than might be imagined. Then, we embark on the task of seeing how those truths may be interpreted by other quadrants and traditions, creating integrally informed dialogue in a way no one single methodology on its own ever could.
It seems though that there still exists a tendency to dismiss big pictures using largely a priori arguments. If we are to embark on truly post-post-modern enquiries, we need to be more subtle, more pragmatic than that.
well its true that kens work is great, and some of these critics are downright nasty, however, i would like to point out that ken is often the trigger for making my blood curdle – and i actually want to be very nasty about him (mean red meme stuff) its usually when i hear him being nasty, i think there are a lot of reflections going on
I just discovered Ken Wilber and have read two books back-to-back, The Spectrum of Conciousness and Grace and Grit. So naturally I started researching him on the internet and here I am. I got about half way through the Rant & Rave on his blog when my eyes began to glaze over and I couldn’t take it anymore. Yes, Ken Wilber is brilliant and yes, Ken Wilber is only human, although he might argue with that criticism. Makes me recall the old saying that we shouldn’t put our heroes on pedestals because their clay feet will show. The same thing happened to me with Nathaniel Branden and Ayn Rand, but I’m too old to for heroes anyway so it’s not going to cause me any trauma. I do think it’s funny that Ken writes so convincingly about Trancending the Ego and yet is so egotistical himself. Isn’t life grand! As for all this spirituality stuff, it’s fun but I really think all you people are just as crazy as me, but in different ways and with higher IQ’s. After a 59 year lifetime of thinking about this stuff my opinion is, if the Universe is self-aware, there is God. If not, then no God. Take that, Ken Wilber!
Ken Wilbur is obviously one of the formidable intellectuals in the domain of synthesizing knowledge across disciplines. But, as with many, he is right in many ways as he could be premature in other ways. But, often – as he brilliantly gave the classification for paradigms himself – what I see is a paradigmatic clash between pro-Wilberians and anti-Wilberians.
Yet, as we evolve, our knowledge too evolves; not without the natural bumps and requisite patches.
One cannot – whatever maybe the academic credentials – claim to be the omniscient authority. We need to be open to criticism for agreeing and disagreeing is not the ultimate issue but an exchange of ideas. Afterall, whether we talk of ‘samadhi’ or ‘strings’, both are only ideas as long as we debate them through our minds. Expressions of experiences are not experiences in themselves.
We do not have historical evidence that Buddha lived or Jesus lived. But still assuming the metaphysics purportedly uttered by them to be true, still we have been left with only one Buddha and one Jesus. We have not had another Buddha or Jesus. Or for that matter another ‘Gandhi’ though there are many who call themselves as ‘Gandhians.’ What can one infer from this?
You can only be you. Though we can be influenced by ideas of the past, if experience alone counts, then its one’s experience alone that matters which is bound to be different on account of a number of reasons. It is one thing to adopt philosophical ideas of a past icon and it is totally another thing to ‘know’ anything through subjective experience.
Can’t one person’s subjective experience possess a ‘shared identity’ with another person’s subjective experience? Of course, that possibility cannot be ruled out through any ‘objective’ criterion (or criteria).
Our heritage of accepted meanings for words is a function of giving predominance to the semantic precedence in history. More out of a cultural habit than out of experiential reasoning unlike in science wherein, experimental reasoning is the bulwark.
I would like to end this incomplete comment with the legendary design science explorer Richard Buckminster Fuller’s (my) favorite quote: “TRUTH alters TRUTH only by REFINING the DEFINITION.” All definitions are limited and will be refined as we evolve and our knowledge/wisdom evolves too. Bye!
even ken wilber has not fully explained all the tier two pathologies that occur
even yoda needed shadow work from time to time
I stopped reading or speaking his name after reading Grace and Grit. It is a troubled human being who writes a book about beating up your wife who has cancer and thinks no one will notice. Did anyone notice?