Breaking the Meme: From Insular Integral to Integral Tradition

By: Mark Forman

The major theme of Ken Wilber's most important work - Sex, Ecology, Spirituality - is that integral consciousness represents the next great wave of cultural and individual evolution. In SES, Ken's AQAL model is explicitly presented as one expression of this stage of consciousness, and certainly not as the final word on it. Similar messages about integral being our next collective step were offered half-a-century earlier by Jean Gebser and his contemporary Sri Aurobindo. And there were others even before them predicting an "integral future," such as Harvard Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin.

And yet, approaching our third major international conference, we find ourselves stuck with a stubborn cultural meme which is the opposite of this message. The meme is demonstrated in this way: Almost every time one publicly sees either praise or criticism of the "integral community," the community is equated to Ken, to AQAL, or to those who surround him. The contributions of that specific community are defined as the essential contributions of integral, and the failings of that specific community are defined as the essential failures of integral. We believe this is neither fair to those in that community nor fair to those who take other integral perspectives. It is far too much pressure for one sub-group to carry - to be put under that kind of microscope - and it is far too little attention paid to others, who are rightly discouraged and put off.

Before we proceed with this point, however, let's ask this question: Why does this matter? Who cares how integral is defined and perceived? Isn't it enough to just make it work in the real world, or in one's personal growth, no matter what you call it?

To this we say "absolutely it matters" and let us tell you why.

Integral NGOs, corporations, practices and practitioners - by many names and under many systems - are currently multiplying at a fast rate. Complex global problems - social upheaval, terrorism, global warming, the world economic crisis - impact us directly in our daily lives and will bend to nothing less than integrated solutions. We believe that in the relatively near future, there will be a "tipping point" when integral practitioners and systems will move out of the position of being an underground thought-and-practice movement and have the chance to take a seat at the table with the established leaders of our social and intellectual discourse. How the field is defined once that transition begins will make a huge difference.

If we don't break this reality-resistant meme - that Wilber=integral - we may miss this critical opportunity. We will not be ready to compete in the institutions that shape our societies. This may have a serious impact on the larger integral zeitgeist, and even ironically for Ken's work itself. Progress will be set back or potentially lost.

Here's the hard truth: Ideas that are identified solely with singular geniuses often die or are marginalized. They can become insular and self-referential. Or they can be easily dismissed as charismatic movements or personality cults, fairly or not. History repeatedly shows us this.

On the other hand, when we open ourselves up to being a group composed of many voices, opinions, and perspectives, we become a tradition. Traditions can live on and on. In the words of Huston Smith, traditions "gain traction in history in the long run."

So we are taking this moment to say something very bold, both because we believe it is fact and because we believe it is important: We - namely all those who have presented and gathered at the ITC over the past three events, including 1500 people from over 30 countries, coming from many perspectives - as well as those who gather at similar events such as ILiA (Integral Leadership in Action) - represent the identity of the *real* integral community much more accurately than what is often narrowly defined as *the* integral community.

Our participants, of course, include the Boulder/Denver integral community - and we are dedicated students and practitioners of AQAL approaches - but we also respect and include so many more ideas and practices who are not part of that particular view. We are more broadly international, dialogical, and committed to creating an academic and practical tradition that critically examines and researches itself. We employ multiple models and perspectives beyond an AQAL-only perspective. We approach each iteration of the conference as a new opportunity to ask how we might continually foster and represent this larger, integral, transdisciplinary  tradition. We want to gather the *whole* integral wave, not just one part of it.

We need your help to break the current meme. Here is how you can help: The next time you hear someone identify the integral community as simply Ken or AQAL and those who work with him, please interrupt that discussion and conversationally disagree. Let them know that integral is a worldwide and historically-grounded movement of which Ken and AQAL are an important part, but definitively not the whole. Point your peers to other integral thinkers (Gebser, Aurobindo, Morin, Bhaskar, Torbert); to the many integral books and pieces of literature written by the larger global community, which are appearing more frequently each year; and to events similar to ours - including ours - where all types of integral views are welcome. If you are an "integral leader." and present on integral to others, do the same. Help us break the meme and thus create a tradition.

Comments

Submitted by geoff@pacificin... on

An integral, "Aho!" to you. :)  I've felt and spoke this for a long time now. I think this integral movement is much broader than then "integral community" as we know it and will happen one way or another. To me one of the most important impacts of what you say is that it gets us out of our own conceptual and relational straight jackets, which is really what the moment is continually calling for. Thanks for stating it so clearly.

Geoff

Submitted by geoff@pacificin... on

Of course, deepest respect for Ken and his work. 

Submitted by ma.cutaia@yahoo.com on

I'm greatful to second Geoff here. This is a key point that I have been trying to make when integral comes up in conversation since hearing Sean in the opening keynote of ITC 2. I'm glad to hear the message that much more strongly now going into ITC 3.  It whets my appetite for the kinds of conversations we'll be having during the conference and beyond! Thanks, Mark for putting out the masage strongly!

Submitted by ekelly11@gmail.com on

Mark, I have often wondered why Torbert's Action Inquiry hasn't received more attention in Integral Circles. It offers three levels of inquiry (in the first-, second- and third-person), in four territories of experience with single-, double and triple-loop feedback. It is a dynamic integral approach. Ed

Submitted by eugenepustoshkin on

I heard that MetaIntegral teaches action inquiry in their leadership courses (Mi members will correct me if I am wrong). I personally agree with you that it is a wonderful approach that deserves our fullest attention. It has been influencing me enormously since 2009. 

Submitted by f.visser3@upcmail.nl on

Hi Mark,

I've read your blog and can see where you are coming from, but have the following brief comments:

Integral is more than Wilber, in the sense of a historical traditions of integrative approaches. But Wilber seems to be the most eloquent representative of that tradition, so a focus on Wilber makes a lot of sense. Actually, I have always felt that we don't focus *enough* on Wilber.

But Wilber is also more than AQAL as Hugh Marin argued in his "The Tyranny of AQAL" a while ago. Wilber is also someone who thinks he has solved the mind-body problem, or has exposed the shallowness of evolutionary theory, or that psi phenomena exist beyond any doubt.  Claims that haven't been validated yet by professionals in these fields, to put it mildly.

There are several communities that can be called integral: there's a more religiously inspired group, the "evolutionaries", next to the more scientifically inclined group, such as the ITC partidipants. And then there are web communities such as Integral World where the larger scientific claims of Wilber have repeatedly been challenged.

The fact that there are many world problems should never be an excuse not to re-think our most fondest philosophies or philosophers. As Kristian Stalne wrote on Integral World: "Integral and there is integral. Integral in the first sense is believing in a certain story... Integral in the second sense is killing your dearest darlings..."

Getting these worlds together might be a bigger challenge then exchanging thought with other integral luminaries.

Submitted by f.visser3@upcmail.nl on

I noticed the quote from Stalne was incomplete. It should read "There is integral and there is integral..."

Frank Visser
Amsterdam

Submitted by eugenepustoshkin on

Dear Frank,

I want to express my gratitude to for what you wrote here, in your response “Beyond Wilber and Back.”

I confess I have always used to disagree with the tone of your writings which appeared to me a bit too antagonistic. I also disagreed with parts of what I interpreted as how you decided to reconstruct Wilber’s contribution in a way that, in my opinion, didn’t convey his perspective in a congruent way. Frankly speaking, in a comment or a conversation here and there I often wrote more or less harsh assessments of what I perceived as your approach towards Integral and Wilber.

But then you sent me a very cordial response by email after I sent you info on recent Wilber’s translations, wishing me a good luck. I noticed and appreciated it.

And now you wrote this beautiful comment.

I may not agree with your take in this paragraph: “Wilber is also someone who thinks he has solved the mind-body problem, or has exposed the shallowness of evolutionary theory, or that psi phenomena exist beyond any doubt.  Claims that haven't been validated yet by professionals in these fields, to put it mildly.

At the same time I recognize that, according to a certain perspective, these are relevant questions to discuss and tackle communally. To bridge between so-called Integral avantgarde and various mainstreams (not necessarily in order to let mainstream views dominate but in order to create more connections and loopholes).

And I think Wilber’s Integral Theory can successfully respond to most or all these critiques from mainstream (such as the critiques of Wilber’s vision of evolution from Darwinians)—it’s just we really don’t have enough focus on Wilber to be able to recognize the necessity of doing such dialogical work. I think it is not Ken’s task to personally engage with the innumerous essays; but it is definitely our task as members of various integral circles to do so and participate in the mutually informing dialogue (while not necessarily shifing our positions, unless we truly believe they need a shift).

Simultaneously, I fully agree with the general kindness that I see in this particular post of yours. And I am fully in agreement with your statement here: “Integral is more than Wilber, in the sense of a historical traditions of integrative approaches. But Wilber seems to be the most eloquent representative of that tradition, so a focus on Wilber makes a lot of sense. Actually, I have always felt that we don't focus *enough* on Wilber. 

But Wilber is also more than AQAL as Hugh Marin argued in his "The Tyranny of AQAL" a while ago.

Thank you for writing briefly essentially similar ideas which I tried to express in too many words in a conversation with Mark over Facebook.

I fully agree with the following bulletpoints:

• “Integral is more than Wilber, in the sense of a historical traditions of integrative approaches.”

• “But Wilber seems to be the most eloquent representative of that tradition, so a focus on Wilber makes a lot of sense.”

• “Actually, I have always felt that we don't focus *enough* on Wilber.”

• “But Wilber is also more than AQAL as Hugh Marin argued in his "The Tyranny of AQAL" a while ago.”

THANK YOU!

Now is the time to move on from older archaisms of (unconscious or semiconscious) rancor into very interesting beginnings of something new. In the forthcoming months I personally will attempt to reassess my perspective on your project Integral World. I really sense there is some shift that might be happening in relation to the energetics of the broad Integral movement. Some older irrational resistances in all camps start to gradually disolve. New voices (such as mine) emerge, often persistently calling for more awareness towards neglected areas. Some really wonderful events in various communities happen. This dynamics is conducive to a large-scale dialogical feast.

Blessings,
Eugene Pustoshkin
St. Petersburg, Russia