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Thursday, June 08, 2006
His newest words are truly disgraceful. They speak for themselves. His treatment of Frank Visser (Visser, of all people!) is reprehensible. The relatively mild (by conventional standards) criticism he is presumably responding to (from Visser, Meyerhoff, Cowan, maybe Falk) perhaps has touched more of a nerve than he's letting on. He still hasn't responded in any meaningful way to criticisms, and I think it is clear that he does not want to unless they buy into the marketing scheme that he's pushing. I think we can stop asking him to answer critics, now. I've never been strongly attached to him doing this anyway, because requiring it simply reinforces the essential teet that Wilber wants to personify. He is no mother! For those of us who have followed Wilber's work for academic/intellectual reasons, it is better that he not respond at all than do what he just demonstrated. He gives a big ole finger to those who were prone to take his oft-advertised erudition seriously. So much for that, and the only silver lining here is knowing we no longer need waste our time with "Wilber theory". I will revise this opinion if he ever takes a 180-degree turn from his behavior over the last decade and actually generate a book that contributes to the humanities. I am not holding my breath.
As far as intellectual discourse in the public sphere, I wouldn't bat an eye if Wilber completely disappeared. The fact is, he's only been a small blip on the radar as it is. Other people are already doing work in their fields in far more resonant and responsible manners. In art, Camille Paglia (to take but one example) has said everything Wilber has ever said about art, and done it more forcefully, rigorously, thoroughly, and in a manner that sustains through countless readings. I asked her recently if she'd heard of him. "No, I haven't," was her answer. Doesn't that say it all? And talk about engaging others in the public sphere. She's done radio and television, interviews, she's published in conventional journals and magazines, and she's taught in the classroom for over 20 years things Wilber rarely, if ever, did at all, and still doesn't do, even before he decided to go the cartoon character direction. Furthermore, in the early- to mid-nineties, she successfully used artful polemic (on feminism, on the French post-structuralists) in the public sphere to create resonance and then real change that Wilber can only wish for. What, exactly, is the need for Wilber's work at this point, for those academically serious, and dedicated to restoration of the humanities?
I encourage all who currently are associated with him, as well as those thinking of trying to be, to consider going a different direction. Rediscover the primary sources of the canon of Western arts, literature and the humanities. Study world religions comparatively. Renew your commitment to absorbing the history of ideas. When you let the bald messiah go away with all his shadows, you realize just how narrow the prism is around him. All his colors form a web that neatly fits around his own psyche. All is strangely psychological, both in dealing with him as well as tackling the various disciplines of human thought through his theory. Ecology becomes essentially psychological; politics becomes essentially psychological; the arts become essentially psychological. My god, psychology is a true but partial approach aspect of such things, not the alpha/omega! It is simply wrong to assume psychology's preeminance. All does not come down to psychology, or psychological development.
Look, I acknowledge that relatively few have walked a similiar road to me into and then out of Wilberland. I acknowledge that some people read my words through the lens of "he used to be associated closely with Wilber" and it's true, I was. But it is wrong to reduce my perspective to that. To do so is an example of non-thinking card-playing, the shadow card. One reason I continue to write about Wilber is to emphasize that the road out of Wilber exists, if you had any doubts, and it always will. Follow those voices that are telling you to leave, to stop defending him, to end his line of credit. Stop playing his games that explore the extraordinary range of human experiences from A to B (or, if you like, H to I).
Part of it is simply not to spin your wheels. It is tempting to stop when one find his work, because he promised so much. Yet as I agreed with a recent commenter on Frank Visser's blog, if anything, if you are academically drawn to Wilber's theory, then proceed directly to the primary sources in his bibliography; if on the other hand, you are spiritually drawn to it, then take up a serious religious path of whatever your inclination. Thereafter, allow him to be irrelevent because, as evidenced by this vitriolic "essay", he's burning decency and civility to oblivion. Like Wikipedia, Wilber is best thought of as a gateway drug to truth.
Note that, again, he is doing precisely what he has long said he is loathe to do. Before it was making a Hegelian system, or becoming a de facto guru. He did both though he claimed he wouldn't. Here, it is drawing attention squarely upon himself, his shadows, not his theory. This is all about him, folks, and his reasons, right underneath his absurd "Wilber Shrugged" take off on Ayn Rand that is pasted on his blog. Him cementing irrelevence to the leading edge of intellectual discourse is, as it were, a self-fulfilling prophecy. By fighting for whatever new ground he can stand on to escape obligations to criticism, he moves further away from the kind of common reality required in order to provide insight to others. You'd like to think it didn't have to be this way, but I'm not so sure. There is a reason, it turns out, that he did most of his substantial work on a mountain (in an expensive house with expensive cars), and that he burns through associations with people.
The real effect of his "essay" is delicious when taken exactly opposite of what he asserts. What he wrote here does more disservice to those in his network of scholars/associates/employees than all the words of all critics put together, and then squared, multiplied by itself, and then raised to the power of n+1. His lame comments about critics (mind you, their cognitive "altitude" or "shadows" far more than anything they've written, to which he devotes less words than his "11 digits" um, eww) are beyond the pale of intellectual nihilism. What good comes from using your own system as a shield? Doesn't that, more than anything else, merely implicate the value of the system, and (at best) confine it merely to the the field of pop psychology? His megalomania is in full effect (he's the self-proclaimed "center of the vanguard of the greatest social transformation in the history of humankind"), and he completely owns up to the "hero journey" (which I've previously cited) where he's the hero, on a horse with a pistol, his butt filled with pellets.
He attempts plausible deniability, to make escape hatches from responibility for this obnoxiousness (no no! it's all a big joke!), to create distance between himself and Don Beck/Chris Cowan (whose work he, ironically, treated as religion for nearly a decade, and now, like Ray Kroc, has coopted and mechanically bastardized from its creators, and now treats with insinuations), and even to head off criticism of it by presuming the cognitive altitude (his phrase) of those who respond might respond critically, but (get this) hadn't yet. Do we need any clearer evidence that Wilber's is not a "search for truth" but rather a sermon about truth as he sees it? He fails because his intentions (if we are to take them at any point on face value) were small to begin with. He shouldn't be allowed to get away with it, and he shouldn't be apologized for under any circumstances. He's been apologized for for over a decade, and probably far longer. He's a grown man, he's a human, he isn't perfect, all that stuff that goes without saying because it applies to all adults (and is useless as real defense of any one person). No one is saying he burned down a real house, and thus ought be jailed. No, it is the shame of burning down his own intellectual house (as well as the bivouacs that people like me put up in order to better study his ideas) that is so tragic.
Please, this isn't "coyote wisdom", or "coyote medicine", where he plays the role of asinine, pathetic, bizarre wiseman/trickster, who dupes people into deeper consciousness by personifying exactly what one needs to grow beyond. We are all not as imbalanced as you, Mr. Wilber, nor do we need your oh-so-bald wisdom to coach us through our shadows. What presumptuous filth! The coyote archetype is of course an important part of mythology from various American Indian tribes. I've heard people characterize his work in this way from time to time (though not for a couple years and only person-to-person over many beers). I did an independent study of American Indian literature in college, so I have more than a passing familiarity with this stuff. The problem is that this is yet another "escape hatch", that releases Wilber from intellectual obligation (has he ever felt it?). If Wilber's ideas cannot be held accountable through traditional argumentation/debate tactics (as all of his serious critics have done), then Wilber's ideas deserve less and less to be accounted for in the first place. To claim it is impossible to critique his work unless you satisfy the cognitive assertions of his work is nihilism, plain and simple. No one gets to make rules like that. He claims this was a "test"; sir, this is nihilistic to the humanities, which many thought you were onboard with attempting to restore its rightful place in American culture. Wilber is clearly the perpetrator of an intellectual crime of the highest order, and has only gotten away with it because of the plausible deniability built into his work, and the failure/fear of his fan base to hold his feet to the fire. With the vague, non-thinking sloganeering (cf. "true but partial") so common to his work, he is able to deftly change his address when people beat down on his vacuousness. Somehow, I think he doesn't send back the royalty checks from sales of the books that embody the houses he supposedly has vacated.
The demonstrable delusion of all this is remarkable, even if (as I've implied ever since I resigned from association with his quixotic "university" around his work) not entirely unexpected. He may have footnotes galore, but he is no scholar. He is a speculator who coopts the insights of others, writing as if he is crystal meth is being pumped 24/7 into his veins. He is the parasite, not his critics, and not the thinkers/scholars whose shoulders he wants to stand on. As demonstrated by this "essay", this man's ideas are sick, his intentions laughably irrelevant. Seeing some of his endorsed defenders in their ghastly display of non-thinking, it is clear that he infects the thoughts and words of others like a virus. Isn't it creepy to see others using his tongue and written rhythms when they defend him and his ideas? I think so. No amount of endorsements or explanations from his friends, or nursing back to reasonability by the many hard-working and underpaid employess of his company, can change what he does publically, of his own accord, acting the cognitive/linguistic equivalent of fourteen.
So what to do, for those of us who care about integral but have zero tolerance for this immaturity? I don't have many answers, but I do propose this Wilber: keep your horse, your brilliant-sounding theory in whatever number of variations you invent, and go on your way with whomever you can convince of your importance. When you do, how about you give us "integral" back, since you've slyly attempted to steal it from its intellectual tradition for purposes of your marketeering and branding as a commodity for the self help and actualization market. Some people actually care about what it means, what it could further mean, and where it comes from, at least in its delicate germination in the North American philosophical tradition, something largely invisible to your work. How does that sound? Do we have a deal?
Wait, I forgot. He's out in the desert with his horse and pistol, in an echo-chamber of his own intelligent design, laughing it up with people gathered round his cyber-teet, and baldly embodying all that he criticizes in others. It's no use.
Here is a declaration. I hereby call for an intellectual divorce. There is "Wilberian theory", which belongs to him. And there is "the integral tradition", which belongs to no one in particular, and the two are distinct. Wilber no longer forwards "integral" anything. He simply forwards "Wilber theory", and it is referred to as such. "Integral", furthermore, is no longer confine to the realm of "theory", which is something of the laboratory, to be "tested" but inevitably replaced by some other "theory".
No! Integral, as a philosophy/worldview/archetype, is wider, deeper, more encompassing than "theory". Integral is made up of theories, many of them, too many to count. Integral belongs to the humanities, and those monastic souls that earn the right to evangelize for it, to lit the fires of passion for the arts in others, non-egoically. It is called being thorough as we analyze, explore, or artistically evoke experience born of interdisciplinary (or transdisciplinary) thinking and being. Theories such as Wilber's theory and many others come and go, but the prime imperative towards fullness (the beating heart of integral across the ages) remains no matter what. And in this way, all artists from the beginning of time that have evoked fullness through their art are integral, all thinkers who have evoked fullness through their analyses are integral, and those of today and tomorrow that accomplish this are integral and part of a long, historical tradition, a great mighty river. So "Wilber" and "integral" (note the lowercase letter i) are permanently severed. We have no time for this trival game-playing; read Eric Berne and be done with it. This divorce must be, because as far as I can see, there is no no functional difference between Wilber and lost cause of self-reflexive hall of mirrors. Sorry sport, you just had your "come to Jesus" moment and you failed miserably. We have real work to do to restore the grandeur and influence of the humanities (that task will contribute in no small measure to survive this Age of Terrorism, for to do so requires the humanities well-rooted in the imagination of the populace).
Am I the only one to think this pretty sad, given what we hoped his work would be, and hopefully lead towards, and why we so thoroughly devoured his work, wrote about it, and so passionately talked up to others? For ... this? For this wild west of unseriousness, this adolescent and cloying incivility, this wildly misplaced attempt at mass therapy? Am I the only one feeling more than a little depressed? Even though I'm beyond my nine lives with Wilber, whom I think has proved himself hopelessly new age, and to whose work I have already issued my public goodbye, that is exactly what I'm feeling now. Depressed. Oh well, you hope for the best and when you don't get it, you move on. As so it goes, for those that keep the faith of the beating heart of fullness.
UPDATE: Please take note of insightful comments by Tuff Ghost, Geoffrey Falk, Ebuddha (Part I, Part II, Part III), and DASHH (welcome back, buddy).
Also, if you care to examine more extended comments on Wilber, you can read an early draft of a new essay of mine (new in the sense of a thorough revision of a blog entry called "Let Me Set The Record Straight"). I'm still working on it, but several of the broad contours are in place. Work remains to, as it were, put some more beef on the bones.