Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Defining Integral

There is a bit of a war (see The Mean Meme War) between Chris Cowan co-author of the original Spiral Dynamics book) and the Wilber/Beck integral camp. A recent article from Cowan's NVC Consulting group, entitled "Premature Integral," argues that much of what is discussed as integral really isn't.

Considering that I am currently taking Beck's SDi certification course, I'd have to respectfully disagree with Cowan's assessment of the integral camp. I do believe he has some valid points in objecting to how SD has been used by Wilber, but my experience of Beck suggests that he is trying to stay true to Graves' original work, while presenting it in a marketable "integral" wrapper.

From the article:

“You’ve got to differentiate before you can integrate,” commented Ed Edwards - futurist, physicist and businessman - during a discussion at our SD certification training in Santa Barbara. (The next is April 18-24, 2005.) This remark sheds light on an idea some Spiral Dynamics enthusiasts find compelling. The word “integral” is playing large and loud for many who have come to Dr. Graves’s work via the Wilber-oriented route. Indeed, it’s been tacked onto Spiral Dynamics to market a separated branch of the work from ours by slight rebranding. (The differences go far beyond mere labeling at this point, but that’s another story.) What’s going on?

Integration has a number of meanings and usages depending on what is being integrated and in which field: philosophical ideas, people, mathematics, electronics, social categories, business units or departments (i.e., manufacturing integrated with distribution), political systems, economic interest groups, consciousness, spirituality, etc. Thus, for many people “integral” is merely an adjective describing connectedness and openness to drawing together a range of parts, functions, information/insight. The word “integrative” has been part of Spiral Dynamics for years as a synonym for systemic-type thinking, one of the variations of conception within the open-ended SD model.

For others, though, the adjective “integral” has taken on metaphysical significance and become a noun. It’s an organizing principle to rally their thinking – the flag that flies over their lives. Much as a religion provides the answers for righteous living to True Believers who have adopted other spiritual philosophies, integral becomes a goal of life. This form of integral becomes a state of being, an existential condition: “I am integral!” “Proud to be an integral!” “My child is integral at Thomas Edison Elementary School.” SD turns into articles of faith.

In our experience, many of the people using the word thusly are following a fashion trend, tossing it around without thinking through the implications. The idea that everything connects is alluring; coalescing an eclectic mix of fields into a laser-like focus sounds intriguing; and pulling all the fragmented chunks together and replacing them with holism or a unified field that explains everything has been a dream for many thinkers, including Graves. The catch is, as Ed pointed out, one must also be able to differentiate clearly. It’s not a matter of integral OR differential – both are important. However, the concentration on integral has blinded many to a broader range of possibilities.

Read the rest here.

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