Monday, July 15, 2013

Jeremy Johnson - “Everything that Rises…” or Synthetic Thought, Florilegium and the Networked Age: ITC 2013

Jeremy Johnson, who blogs at Evolutionary Landscapes, is the official blogger for the 2013 Integral Theory Conference, which begins later this week in San Francisco. I can't imagine a better choice than Jeremy, a man who is thoroughly educated in integral theory and is also an outspoken critic on some of its shortcomings.

Below is the beginning of his first post for the conference - an excellent piece of writing in my opinion.

“EVERYTHING THAT RISES…” OR SYNTHETIC THOUGHT, FLORILEGIUM AND THE NETWORKED AGE: ITC 2013


July 13, 2013
by Jeremy Johnson

I’m fast approaching my 5 A.M. flight on July 17th. The night before will likely consist of a heavy 9 P.M. dose of melatonin and meditation-unto-sleep. I had come up with a few clever titles and openings to my pre-conference blog, but, I think I’ll stick to the honest basics. Let’s start where I am: enthralled heartbeat, sweaty palms, swooning contemplation about what happens when you put more than one integral meta-theory practitioner in a room. Yes, this year’s theme is certainly “meta” (see urban dictionary for a proper definition). First thing’s first: this conference is hosted by proponents of a theoretical and philosophical system of “orienting generalizations,” a veritable theory of everything—Integral Theory, originally developed by American philosopher Ken Wilber. Next, we have Edgar Morin, a French sociologist and “integral” thinker in his own right, author of Homeland Earth and the developer of what he calls “complex thought.” Lastly we have Roy Bhaskar, the founder of the school of Critical Realism. Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, author of Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World and conference organizer, will be speaking on behalf of Integral Theory. So let’s talk about context.

Each of these scholars claim to some degree that the human race is at the precipice of some major event—a global crisis at the edge (or some say, end) of history—where we need to bring our disparate modalities of thinking and being-in-the-world together. The notion of a “cosmopolitan,” according to Webster dictionary, means having a “worldwide rather than limited or provincial scope or bearing.” Now add the “K” to “Kosmopolitan,” and we’ve remixed it with the old Greek word, “Kosmos” which Wilber was so fond of in his seminal book, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution.“Kosmos” originally meant “the universe” or “the starry firmament,” but went on to include our planet and all its denizens. While it’s certainly meant to be a play of meaning, I think it’s relevant to the meat and bones of this conference.


“Kosmopolitan” implies that the desire to look out at that starry abode is something we’ve inherited as a species. That no single theory really owns this impulse, any more than any religion truly holds captive the sense of the sacred. That East, West, Europe, America, and every nation and tribe has drawn constellations of synthesis into (perhaps, out from) the heavenly firmament. This is the “Integral Kosmopolitan.” A movement with no center, no periphery: articulated by all but owned by none. Integral thought—if there really is such a thing—is in fact a larger “epistemic impulse” as Trevor Malkinson articulates in his excellent essay, “The Rise of the Synthesizing Mind in the Planetary Age.” As we come into an awareness of planetary issues and human interdependence with the rest of the biosphere—so too do our “meta” theories gain the robustness of discovering they are co-initiators of planetary culture.

Jean Gebser—of whom I am a deep reader of his phenomenal text, The Ever-Present Origin—came to a similar realization after publishing the first installment of his tome, only to discover that in India, Sri Aurobindo had been writing and working on his own version of “integral consciousness” in The Life Divine.

Now, I am inclined to believe that a healthy embodiment of this integral impulse isn’t interested in assimilating another’s work, which I think degrades and diminishes the integrity of fellow authors and scholars, but instead, attempts to realize a form of “synthesis” that is more decentralized as its primary characteristic. As Trevor writes in his article, “what frustrates me… is that talk of integral or integrative thinking is often reduced—by adherents and critics alike—to simply being about the work of Ken Wilber.” Over the past few years, I think the Integral Theory community has gradually recognized this criticism, as Sean writes over at MetaIntegral: “Our approach recognizes that Integral Theory is not as integral as it could be, and so we continually strive to make Integral Theory more integral through respectful inquiry and debate with other streams of integrative thought.”


This is why I am eagerly anticipating the conversations in the conference halls as three autonomous theories—Critical Realism, Complexity Thinking, and Integral Theory—mesh and mate, exchange their memetic material and show up in a couple of months with a mutant baby or two. Yeah, something like that.
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