Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Reflections on the 2010 Integral Theory Conference: Part II: The Community #itc2010

In the first part of this review of the conference, I looked more at the conference and the academics - this post is focused more specifically on the community itself. I want to be fair and not overly critical - on the other hand, many great ideas have failed as a result of the personalities in the inner circle - silence can be lethal.


Reflections on the 2010 Integral Theory Conference: Part II: The Community

One HUGE concern I share with many other integral folks is the perceived unwillingness to examine ethical issues in "we space" - instead, these issues are kept quiet and act as a community shadow, in my opinion. This is always the big elephant in the room, and most of us know it. It was a frequent topic of discussion during the weekend.

Related to this, Zak Stein several times mentioned his discomfort with the "growth to goodness" assumption, which can just as easily become the "Darth Vader move." To assume that development will always make people kinder, more compassionate, and more ethical (or moral) is to assume that higher is always better (and - my worry - that shadow material somehow just magically disappears as someone gains altitude). Integral is not necessarily integrated.

I'll let Stein speak for himself:
Because these models and metrics can be used to hierarchically rank human capabilities and dispositions they are often taken to heart—they become enmeshed in how individuals regulate their self-esteem. Moreover, because of the erroneous belief that “higher is always better” (more on this below) those who take certain models to heart position themselves and their models “at the top.” (Integral Review, p. 362)
Or this, which essentially rejects the "growth to goodness" myth:
Harry Stack Sullivan (1964)—who Loevinger (1976) called the father of ego-development theory—understood the integrative powers of the self-system as ethically neutral, arguing against defining maturity in moral terms. The progenitors of our field did not assume that higher-level performances were necessarily more valuable; they set out to test this belief, combining empirical and philosophical analyses. They limited their normative claims about development to well-specified areas of human capability, clarifying the developmental logic of certain specific learning sequences. And when they used prescriptive, normative, or ethical language, they did not draw it directly from the empirical substance of their models. (Integral Review, p. 363-364)
Or as Katie Heikinnen paraphrases Stein and then amplifies:
One point made by Stein in his paper (this volume) is of such great importance that I wish to restate it here: “disqualifying” certain arguments as coming from a lower developmental position is both illogical—because this stance uses the “truth” of a theory to negate critiques of that supposed truth—and unethical—because this stance devalues and marginalizes voices of opposition. But I’d like to extend his point to note that while “developmental disqualification” is a rather egregious sin, using developmental theory to label colleagues, even if in good fun, is nearly as egregious. (Integral Review, p. 368)
The reality is that it is entirely possible to reach higher stages of development and not be moral or ethical - and if this shadow stuff is not healed, it's manifestation becomes more subtle and more covert with higher development - and tougher to root out due to its rhetorical sophistication.


Part of what I and others have identified in the community is the elevationism that Roger Walsh identified in the ethics panel - or what my friend Brandy George identifies as "state chasing." This is another way of looking at the same issue as above - as seen from a different perspective (more subjective and less academic/objective)

Brandy posted an excellent and impassioned comment on a thread over at Facebook that she has graciously permitted me to reproduce here - it sums up a lot of what I and others feel:
My little "rant" . . . reflects the deep pain I feel over what I (and many others, as you know) have identified as the "integral shadow," referring to the "spiritual ambition" that manifests as quests for "2nd Tier Consciousness" or "vertical" structural development (which is really just the flip side of state chasing).

I don't really give a shit about people's theory qua theory. What I do care deeply about it what this theory means as dialectically reflecting and informing the way we relate to ourselves and other beings (and Being itself). In my opinion, one of the most pernicious results of not struggling with the relationship between states and stages (which can be more accurately understood as the "dia-logos" of ego and soul or ego and inner- and inter-Being) and coming to understand their interpenetration/co-potentiation is that we get fixated on what amounts to egoicly orchestrated projects in self-improvement that imperiously pass themselves off as spiritual practice often accompanied by an attitude of "more developed than thou." I realize this is over-stated and overly simplistic, but you get the gist. When vertical/structural "development" becomes the focus and aim, we cut ourselves off from the Development that is doing US, or the dignity and integrity of Being's Becoming that is INTRINSIC TO AND EQUALLY PRESENT IN ANY AND ALL "LEVELS" OF DEVELOPMENT OR ORDERS OF CONSCIOUSNESS. In short, we lose our capacity to practice Ontological Intimacy and unwittingly thrust the Life with which we are entrusted into a Procrustean bed of "development." What I'm saying, simply put, is that development as is typically understood and practiced by students of AQAL translates either to not realizing our always already pregnant Condition or to unconsciously wanting a different baby/Being than the one we are pregnant with and having little idea of how to non-instrumentally "bear" and "midwife" Being's Becoming *in* both ourselves and others.

So I assert that “cutting edge Integral” consists largely of a “next level move” beyond the subject-object shift, wherein we increasingly realize ourselves as always already "object" to that "Subject," or those archetypal "Forces and Fates" which have their own "Developmental Designs" and which we can never strictly "have" or "leverage" as an object (and whether she knows it or not, this is the territory that O'Fallon has found her way into - BRAVO and GOD BLESS!). This is a shift from subject-object theory and vertical development as a covert control paradigm - as the instrumental wielding of an “object” with the aim of effectively appropriating its subjective autonomy to our own ends (it must be realized that all objects are also subjects, or more properly, objective-subjects). This is a shift from control to collaboration, from instrumentalism to participation, from egoic seizure to soulful servant-hood. This is about allowing what is eternally larger than ourselves, which will forever and always “have us” to have its own Life, its own Love, its own Autonomy, and its own Aims, even as we are called to creatively "co-Author" its expression and unfolding, even as we are trans-determinedly Authored.
Damn! I love her vision and her passion. She nailed it for me.


As a result of all of this unresolved shadow stuff, we end up with integral's equivalent of a televangelist arguing that his unethical and inappropriate actions have been totally ethical (because he wrongly reasons that higher development means more ethical, more wise - so he couldn't possibly have done anything wrong) while those wounded by his actions (which do not break any legal codes, and yet are still problematic in a very serious way) are dismissed as liars or as acting out their own shadow stuff in claiming to be "victims" - what a convenient load of crap. Anyone who calls him (and his guardians) on it is misinformed, not developed enough, or has a vendetta.

Every movement is going to have leaders who abuse power and privilege, but the integral community seems to shelter a couple of these folks to some extent (or at least the ones who can generate income). And I believe that the "growth to goodness assumption" - and the higher is better assumption - and the "integral shadow" of "spiritual ambition" - and the quest for "2nd Tier Consciousness - are all a part of the problem.

On the ethics and development panel, Roger Walsh mentioned that his efforts at chasing higher stages of Buddhist consciousness many years back set his practice back at least two years - that is a direct though subtle warning to all of us about the risks in state/stage chasing.

In all fairness, it is a very small segment of the community where the real problems are going on, although it's at the highest levels (which is the problem many speakers talked around but never clearly stated this weekend).

ALL of the integral people I have met and know personally are wonderful people - this includes the people I interacted with who organized the conference.

And it was precisely these wonderful people (OK, not Mark F. and Sean) who were talking about my controversial pre-conference post and questioning the same issues I have been questioning over the last couple of years. I was constantly reminded this weekend that I am not alone in my concerns. Many people thanked me both online and in person for speaking out - and I will continue to do so.

My point is that as long as much of the long-time community knows there are these issues, there will be both distrust of the "leadership" among those who don't simply leave, and a continual loss of talent and energy as people who know about these issues - and the ways they have not been handled appropriately (despite claims to the contrary) - walk away.

I easily know as many people who used to be integral followers as I do people who are still involved. When I began blogging back in 2004 or so, there were a LOT of "integral" blogs - now I can count most of them on one hand. That's too bad.

More to come . . . .


Patrik Lilja said...

Wow, superb post, very important observations. Huge thanks for the conference coverage, feels almost like I have been there :-)

I have been following this blog for a month or so, and it has quickly become a favorite!

/Patrik Lilja (Gothenburg, Sweden)

Kevin Beck said...

Outstanding post. Makes me wonder if the Integral movement (to the extent we can call it a movement) is going through its own stages of development. Thanks!

william harryman said...

Thanks Patrik!


I do think it is having to confront some of its own stuff as it matures. It's one thing to have a group centered around one person - Ken (for better or worse, mostly better) has been "the integral dude" for two decades - but as his health has been an issue in recent years, his leadership in the public sphere (don't know about the behind the scenes, but I sense he is still a kind of Integral Godfather, of sorts), there are now a handful of public faces (Marc, Sean, Diane, Sally, and some others)

communities have shadows just as people or couples do (I'd guess each quadrant has it own shadow forms) - the integral community has some shadow work to do as it grows and develops from a small group into a public tradition - if it doesn't do its work, it will eventually implode, imo (and that would be sad, indeed)


MrTeacup said...

I think the issue of elevationism is quite a bit more complicated than what's being presented here. First, part of the appeal of Integral theory is that it asserts that spirituality is a feature of highly developed individuals, which is a sort of self-congratulatory belief for people who think that mainstream secular society or academia dismisses and even mocks their deeply-held spiritual beliefs and practices. AQAL is used as a diagnostic tool, a way of pointing out the inferiority of secular approaches that don't acknowledge spiritual perspectives (or just UL perspectives). So really, isn't the point of Integral to say that including spiritual perspectives is superior to leaving them out, in the fields of ecology, politics, psychotherapy, medicine, etc.?

I have not heard the critics of elevationism oppose this tendency to elevate spiritual over non-spiritual, so it seems like it's just a matter of where you draw the line. The critics want to say that as long as you're a spiritual person and in the Integral club, there shouldn't be any elevationism. But they want to retain their own sense of superiority, up to and including outright mockery of "scientism", atheism, skepticism, etc. At least those guilty of elevationism are consistent.

Federico Parra said...

(NOTE: message in two parts)


Hi everybody. Thanks again William for this second part (is there a third already published? could you publish the link?).

I have to repeat the concerns I published in the comment section of part 1 (http://integral-options.blogspot.com/2010/08/reflections-on-2010-integral-theory.html):

I see Zak critique as nonsense (AQAL description of Higher is highly multi-layered and complex; the COG - center of gravity - as a pedagogycal tool doesn't imply, at all, that AQAL theory limits to that, which in fact does not. AQAL (updated AQAL, that can be found in Core Integral cours) takes into account at least 12 lines, and a very delicate and complex set of rules that interconnect them (which of them are nessesary for the others to grow, and so on).
Then AQAL takes in account Shadow not as a simple issue but in all its detail (lets remember that Ken integrated all schools of psychology, which is a science dedicated to shadow work). So Ken wrote more than anyone else on the Darth Vader move, and also on the all the possible configurations of development (like a highly cognitive developed genious with an horrible morals, or a highly developed spiritual teacher with a terrible cognition capacity). There is NO ANY GROW TO GOODNESS assumpsion in Wilber presentation of AQAL. Zak is taking "popular" or pedagogycal descriptions of AQAL out of context; then trying to point out to a lack that is not really there; and then point to a solution, which was there all the time and never was needed in the first place! This is horrible, and it is a common practice in Wilber critics, which is very sad.
But more sad is for people to actually follow those critics (and I'm sorry but I see you William doing this), which in turn appear to prove that they never studied Wilber seriously. Since I'm not stupid as to think that is the case - I believe you know Wilberian theory even may be better than me - then I can't help but suspect that something very very strange and dark is going on. Why someone would critique the lacks of a simplified version of AQAL theory, while perfectly knowing it is only a simplified version, and that the complex-academic one have no such a lack? Isn't that even unethical? Or at the very best, missguiding?

Federico Parra said...

Part 2:

And then again, the cross level absurd ethical claim. Pointing out a cross-level mismatch can be unethical when done with bad intentions or in a bad context; every case should be carefully studied.


Of course there is reality to cross-level imposibility of understanding! And you don't have to buy Spiral Dynamics or Wilber to proof that, for god sake!

Ask a 5 year old boy to give you a description of a french kiss as seen on TV. He will give you a very funny description of that disgusting, apparently boring activity. At his stage sexuality is pretty asleep, and though he doesn't feel any kind of arousal at that image; nor he knows romantic love by experience, so he cannot either identify the beautiful emotions going on on the kissing couple. So, what kind of value would have the 5 year old boy's account (or critique) of a french kiss? To an adult? NONE!
And if we were to decide, let's say a legislation of a law forbidding or allowing french kiss; and if the 5 year old boy was one of the voters; would it be unethical for another voter (an adult) to point out that we CANNOT take in account 5 year old boy's account, because he CANNOT understand the very same event he is trying to describe/critique?

NO! In fact it would be compassionate to point that out in such a circunstance, because revealing that fact -that goes many times unnoticed- can help others to take that lower stage stance lightly; which hopefully we should do if we don't want french kiss to be forbidden! (living in Paris, I hope it will not be forbidden by the way... :)

So these 2 apparently "new" and celebrated "discoveries" of the ITC 2010, namely: 1) that cross-level mismatch pointing out is always unethical across the board and that 2) there is a "growth to goodness" wrong assumption in AQAL Wilber's theory, both stances are completely wrong, out of the mark, and there is no truth about them!

I would be grateful if someone point out something I am missing here...

Take much care everyone, and thanks you William anyway for this space and your noble work.

Federico Parra