Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Narcissism of "Mr. Know-All"

Geoffrey Falk, a "strong negative" Wilber critic, who has turned Wilber-bashing into an art, but who is never short on facts, reflects further on Wilber's recent rants:

"From the Wikipedia entry for Narcissism:

"While in regression, the person displays childish, immature behaviors. He feels that he is omnipotent, and misjudges his power and that of his opposition. He underestimates challenges facing him and pretends to be "Mr. Know-All." His sensitivity to the needs and emotions of others and his ability to empathize with them deteriorate sharply. He becomes intolerably haughty and arrogant, with sadistic and paranoid tendencies. Above all, he then seeks unconditional admiration, even when others with more objective views perceive that he does not deserve it. He is preoccupied with fantastic, magical thinking and daydreams. In this mode he tends to exploit others, to envy them, and to be explosive.

"Egad, it matches Wilber point-by-point! From his recent childish blogging, to his misjudging of his cogent critics as "morons" compared to his own "brilliance," to his know-it-all nature, to his insensitive "forgiving" of others (and simultaneous failure to ask for forgiveness himself) when he's clearly the one in the wrong, to his haughtiness and arrogance, to his paranoid (i.e., disproportionate to reality) feelings of being loathed and condemned, to his obvious need for undeserved unconditional admiration ..., and through to his manipulation and exploitation of others to ensure his own "greatness."

Truly a sad, sad state of affairs.

Read more on Falk's blog (June 20 entry)

Integral Ideology

When psychoanalysis was criticized, critics were labelled "sexually repressed".

When Marxism was criticized, people were told they had the wrong "class consciousness".

When Integralism is criticized, we are diagnosed as being infected with the "Mean Green Meme".

Can't anyone see the circularity in these closed, ideological systems?

Isn't this type of thinking incredibly... boring?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Criticism: Shadow or Challenge?

Wilber and me have a conflict, that's for sure. But what's the best strategy for conflict resolution? Wilber's suggestion to dig into one's own shadow might lead to the suggestion, that criticism is empty, and therefore needs a psychological explanation. This often becomes an introverted excercise, full of guilt feelings. He even talks about "forgiving his critics"!

In Holland a succesful conflict resolution strategy (pioneered by Daniel Ofman) works with the concept of "core-qualities", which are represented by a quadrant (nothing to do with Wilber's 4 quadrants though). The idea is that each mental quality has an extreme version (it's "pitfall"), but also its opposite quality (or "challenge"), which in turn has its extreme version (or "allergy").

For example: The quality of eloquence has the pitfall of being talkative, the challenge of knowing when to be quiet, and the allergy of never speaking up. Now an eloquent person will typically have an allergy for people who never speak up -- and a quiet person hates those who are talkative. When allergies escalate, a conflict is born. The trick of conflict resolution is to acknowledge and affirm both qualities in each other, while avoiding their pitfalls, c.q. allergies.

Is criticism heavily affected by shadow elements, as Wilber suggests? Perhaps, but the same goes for the glowing endorsements he received from his close followers. It is more constructive to apply the core quality model to this situation, I believe.

Wilber's great quality is to give wide generalizations, inspired visions, broad sketches of a theory. This has a pitfall: empty slogans, airy abstractions, and a tendency to repeat arguments. It's challenge would be: detailed criticism, specialized studies, gathering informed opinions. In turn, this has an extreme as well: nitpicking, endless processing, never ending debates. And that, obviously, is Wilber's allergy.

Personally I am more at home in the area of detailed studies, and have therefore always been impressed by the opposite quality which Wilber embodied for me: grand vistas of interdisciplinary studies. So, I might very well represent his shadow! and vice versa. Allergies fly high when Wilber sees all criticism as nitpicking, and I perceive all of Wilber's recent statements as ungrounded, especially when burdened by jargon, or slang, for that matter. The trick, again, is to affirm both the value of generalizations AND of detailed studies that may or may not, validate the integral model. The art is to avoid pitfalls in both areas.

Shadow theory often states that we hate in others what we hate in ourselves. Core quality theory says the opposite: we hate in others (the extreme version of) what we lack in ourselves.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Materialistic Spirituality

We al know what "spiritual materialism" means: using spirituality for selfish means. But there is such as thing as "materialistic spirituality" as well:

"One of the best secrets of life [is]: let your self go. If you can approach the world's complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only just scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things. Keeping that awestruck vision of the world ready to hand while dealing with the demands of daily living is no easy exercise, but it is definitely worth the effort, for if you can stay centered, and engaged, you will find the hard choices easier, the right words will come to you when you need them, and you will indeed be a better person. That, I propose, is the secret to spirituality, and it has nothing at all to do with believing in an immortal soul, or in anything supernatural." (Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 2006, p. 303).

Dennett, the arch-materialist in the current philosophy of mind, is eloquently criticizing the easy equation of spirituality with morality, and materialism with selfishness: "The misalignment of goodness with the denial of scientific materialism has a long history, but it is a misalignment. There is no reason at all why a disbelief in the immateriality or immortality of the soul should make a person less caring, less moral, less committed to the well-being of everybody on Earth than somebody who believes in 'the spirit'" (Ibid., p. 305).

Friday, June 02, 2006

Boldness Revisited

What I liked about Wilber is his boldness; what I currently dislike about Wilber is his boldness. Let me explain.

When I first encountered Wilber's writings in the early eighties, I immensely liked the way he took up one discipline per book (developmental psychology, anthropology, therapy, physics), gave both an overview of the field and added some new insights. All in a fluently written writing style, that was at the same time personal and abstract. (At the same time I started my university studies in the psychology of religion -- Wilber was my private teacher).

Over the years I have grown wary of this very approach. Especially phrases like "everyone from A to B to C believes this" (fill in your favorite authority) or "Absolutely nobody believes this anymore" (e.g. in evolutionary biology) have made me suspicious. The many times Wilber uses the word "simply" have made me pause ("For the wisdom traditions, a [subtle] “body” simply means a mode of experience"-- simply? Or simplistically?).

The standard reply to criticism from specialists has been that no specialist likes to be "framed" in a larger theory. True, but the opposite is also true: generalists can overlook details, can be biased in their views (something they typically can't detect themselves) or can end up with abstractions far removed from every day political or scientific reality.

Instead, we have more generalization and more popularization. In the latest manuscript of Integral Spirituality, it looks as if the audience is supposed to consist of grad students (the book is full of annoying remarks such as "If this sounds too complex, wait, I will explain it later on"). Of course, this audience will not be able to judge or refute it's content. Incidentally, it is also full of agressive metaphors (modernity "killed" premodernity, postmodernity "trashed" modernity), which seem wholly misplaced. When you start paying attention to it, it makes you wonder what bloody war is going on.

And instead of a public and academic Wilber debate, we have, we are told, a "private" Wilber debate, within the walls of the Integral Institute, and only with invited celebrities. And a huge promotional machine, spreading the Wilber meme to as many (young) people as possible.

By now, the time has come for the Generalissimo of all generalists to meet and talk to the specialists, in all the fields he has entered. To name a few: Daniel Dennett, who just published Breaking the Spell, a book on evolution and religion (presenting sources and recent studies never mentioned in integral circlies), Peter Berger (who maintains modernization doesn't need to lead to secularization, especially in the US, given it's high percentage of believers).

I am waiting for that day.