A Test Case from a Recent Academic Journal
De Quincey starts this section with typical charity: "Related to his unsatisfactory treatment of the mind-body problem is Wilber's problematic characterization of panpsychism. It is really his own invention, another 'straw man,' easy to knock down, but of little practical value because it does not inform us about real panpsychism."
De Quincey's main
objection--again, it is very hard to tell exactly what he is objecting to,
since he subtly retracts his criticisms or acknowledges that I do, after all,
seem to know what I'm talking about--appears to be as follows. I
believe that interiors "go all the way down"--this is a form of
panpsychism that I call "pan-interiorism." I often say that I am
not a panpsychist, I am a pan-interiorist, but that's just word quibbling.
But I quibble for this reason:
De Quincey uses this to claim that I reject all panpsychism (which is obviously not true), that I don't understand what Whitehead and Griffin mean by that term (a claim not shared by Griffin himself), and that "What's happening here is either Wilber engaging in one-upsmanship word quibbling, or he is committing the emergence fallacy." Typically, these are the only choices I am allowed.
Well, in this case, I am word quibbling, as I myself point out. There are two reasons that I accept "prehension" but not "feelings" as a name for the interiors that go all the way down. De Quincey's authoritative assertion is that I reject the word "feelings" because I am out of touch with mine, and therefore I cannot see the truth of his position. But I maintain that I don't use the term "feeling" because: (1) as I said, it's just a bit much, and yes, this is word quibbling (for whatever reason, I can believe that atoms have prehension, but atoms having feelings is a tad overboard for me. But that's all it is, a personal preference, as I make very clear), and (2) the deeper reason I try not to characterize or qualify the nature of interiors is that ultimately (and here I am switching from a relative to an absolute form of argument a la Madhymaka), ultimately the interiors of each holon open directly onto radical, absolute, unqualifiable Spirit or pure Emptiness, so that the interior of each holon acts as an opening or clearing in which other holons can emerge, so that all holons are mutually arising in the clearing that they mutually supply for each other. (This is also the ground meaning or ultimate meaning of intersubjectivity, which exists alongside the four or five others.) This meaning is explained in length in several endnotes in SES, and is carefully repeated in Integral Psychology. Although it is a view that is based on something of a combination of Heidegger, Nagarjuna, and Asanga--and helped along by Michael Zimmerman's wonderful readings of those theorists--I believe this view itself is rather novel and unique. De Quincey discusses none of this view, or even mentions it, but readers can consult IP and SES if they would like to pursue it.
De Quincey then subtly retracts: "Wilber's 'interiors' all the way down and Whitehead's 'prehensions' all the way down are tokens of the same ontological type. This is the essence of panpsychism." Correct, as I myself state on numerous occasions. De Quincey has once again excoriated me for something I do not believe, and then himself retracted his attack in a footnote.
In the course of his condemnatory
attack on my "straw-man panpsychism"--which I explicitly
identify with Whitehead's and Griffin's--de Quincey moves into
a long discussion of the confused nature of my treatment of feelings in general.
De Quincey claims that I relegate feelings or emotions ONLY to the lower,
prerational levels of development. This is categorically false. In an online
interview with Jim Fadiman, I summarize my overall
Jim Fadiman: A serious question. I have a fairly good idea of the value of the intellect, of thinking, observing, analysis, etc. I see it as being turned to positive ends as one develops. The positive value of emotions is less clear to me as one develops spiritually. They seem to be filters, veils, disturbances in the force, etc. Many spiritual traditions seem to downgrade them as one gets closer to the Divine. Can you offer some clarification?
because de Quincey spends so much time on my allegedly vitriolic tone, I must
respond. And, also unfortunately, this puts me in the awkward position of
having to defend myself as being a basically decent person. It's
lamentable that I have to do this, but when the Journal of Consciousness
Studies allowed de Quincey to include almost four full pages of a
mean-spirited attack on me as person, I really have no choice. That the
Journal of Consciousness Studies printed this lengthy ad hominen attack
is reprehensible, but it leaves me no choice but to
Two, which writings of mine are supposed to be vitriolic? Apparently, two books--Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and The Eye of Spirit. As students of my work know, there was a period that spanned three books out of twenty (namely, SES, BH, and ES), where, for the first time in my life, I engaged in a modest amount of polemical statements in a book. In the twelve books preceding Sex, Ecology, Spirituality--spanning a period of 25 years of writing--there was literally not one single polemical sentence. Students have calculated that, as a percentage of my total writings, the polemical aspects amounted to 0.0007 of my total work.
There are some interesting questions here.
Why, out of so much written material, did that little bit of polemical writing
exist at all? Why did I do it? What was motivating me to do this? And what
was the nature of the few theorists that I attacked polemically? Why did I
select a dozen or so theorists (out of thousands mentioned in SES) to criticize
polemically? Did they do anything to possibly bring it on themselves, or was
this just a unilateral case of me being rotten to the
And here's a final set of questions: Who would take 0.0007 of a person's writings and make that the total example of his style? De Quincey explicitly does this; but why such a narrow and biased reading of my delivery? What's going on here?
To begin with, if you would like to know why--after twelve books and hundreds of articles with no polemic in them at all--I did indeed include, in SES, a series of what most people would call very mild polemical criticisms of about a dozen theorists (I will give an example of my "vitriolic anger" in a moment)--then you might want to look at the introduction to the second revised edition of SES (which is out in paperback from Shambhala), where I discuss my motives at length. I also review my motives in a three-part interview posted at wilber.shambhala.com.
As for the dozen or
so theorists that I polemically criticized, every single one of them, without
exception, had engaged in "condemnatory rhetoric" of equal or
usually much worse dimensions. Some of the venomous writing of these people
made mine look like a Girl-Scout picnic. And frankly, I decided to give them a
dose of their own medicine. I fully grant that this was not exactly turning the
other cheek, but it did show us that while these folks can dish it out, they
don't take it very well at all.
It should also be said that virtually every one of the theorists that I criticized has taught at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). When I was first criticizing these theorists, I did not know that they all shared a CIIS connection; it was only after the fact that I realized that, for whatever reason, CIIS was attracting this type of (what I claimed to be dubious) scholarship. I will return to what I feel the meaning of this might be in a moment.
So, exactly how bad was my "vitriol"? Robert McDermott, who was president of CIIS at the time that SES came out, led the attack on me as a person with an article called "The Need for Dialogue in the Wake of Ken Wilber's Sex, Ecology, Spirituality." From the title you might think that this was about the need for dialogue in the wake of Ken Wilber's Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Actually, it was page after page of what a deeply flawed person I was.
The gist of the article was that polemic of any sort indicates a lack of spiritual consciousness. As an assertion of fact, this is of course categorically false. Virtually all of the truly great and widely recognized spiritual philosophers have engaged in polemic at various times, including Plato, Plotinus, Nagarjuna, Hegel, Fa-tsang, Asanga, Schelling... the list is endless. And never mind that the amount or intensity of what little polemic I have released comes nowhere close to that of my esteemed predecessors: the fact is, I am in good company (as are every one of the theorists I criticized).
When the editors asked McDermott to give actual examples of this "great chain of nasty" that is me, here are the worst offenses that McDermott could find: I referred to one group of theorists as "power-hungry"; I referred to some others as being "angry" and "monological"; and, finally, I used this sentence: "These are some of the most quarrelsome groups around--trying to get various eco-groups together is like trying to herd cats."
On the basis of that evidence, I was publicly condemned and pilloried by McDermott. His chums at CIIS began repeating his criticisms, and from that epicenter word spread that I was a mean, uncaring, uncompassionate, and nonspiritual or even anti-spiritual person--notions all spread by people who had never even met me. (Which, as we will see, is probably one of the problems--as a person who does not make the circuit, I am a bit of an unknown; I become something of a Rorschach blot which invites all sorts of projections onto me, both unrealistically positive and negative.)
Sidebar: After the vituperative response of these theorists to SES, and a series of articles in ReVision that continued to pillory me, I was approached by a group of editors who wanted to do A Guide to Ken Wilber, in part to undo the distortions of my work that were rampant. I agreed to participate, but only if they added a section called "Kindred Visions," where I would invite other important theorists--and all of my critics--to have their own say. The editors agreed. I approached every critic who had attacked my position and offered them space for their views; I also approached many of my own favorite integral thinkers. Some 80 theorists responded with wonderful essays--including Stan Grof, Jorge Ferrer, and Michael Washburn (among the critics); and many theorists, such as John Searle and Charles Taylor, offered very moving summaries of their attempts at a more integral philosophy. The only person out of 80 who refused to join this dialogue was Robert McDermott, which certainly seems to make his plea for "the need for dialogue in the wake of SES" appear not very genuine.)
More than one critic has pointed out that the criticisms I leveled against these dozen or so theorists were very strong, often fatal criticisms. It was also pointed out that these criticisms have never been satisfactorily answered. Instead, these theorists switched tactics and began a campaign of character assassination in what would appear to be an attempt to divert attention away from the inadequacy of their theories. The argument, which de Quincey also uses, is: Wilber is a bad person; therefore what he says is not true; therefore I do not have to answer his critique of my position, I only have to repeat, louder and louder each time, that Wilber is a mean and uncaring person.
I repeat, none of those people have met me, none of them know me at all. And conversely, there are no examples of people who know me well going into print saying that I am essentially a mean, angry, vitriolic, or uncompassionate person. Those charges are made only by people who do not know me. One conclusion would seem to be that I am acting as a Rorschach blot for these folks to project their unresolved issues onto me. However, since I don't know them, either, I will not formally pursue that charge, although I must say that many who know these people well have made that charge on my behalf.
I personally feel that
the worst that can be said about that 0.0007 of my work is that I displayed an
acerbic wit--which, let me add, the letters to Shambhala showed that the
vast majority of people liked and appreciated (mail has run 10 to 1 in favor of
my tone)--and that I wanted to mix things up to get this field agitated a
bit, and I can swing a pretty good club (as can every one of the theorists I
chastised). But it has been patently apparent for several years that anybody
who raises this issue of "tone" is usually acting in the orbit of
CIIS and those theorists who have angrily engaged in character assassination as
a way, it seems, to avoid the inadequacies of their own theoretical offerings.
So, one last time for old time's sake, I am going to sink into that horrible vitriol which has marked my entire writing career, and say that I think all of those folks are a bunch of randy toadies and ninny bunnies.
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