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PART I | PART II | PART III | PART IV | NOTES
Do Critics Misrepresent My Position?
A Test Case from a Recent Academic Journal

Part III



PANPSYCHISM

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:

I accept the Whitehead/Griffin version of prehension (as far as it goes), but I state a personal preference: "I accept the notion of Whitehead (Hartshorne, Griffin) that we can picture 'prehension' as perhaps the earliest form of interiors (every interior touches--prehends--an exterior at some point, since interior and exterior mutually arise), but when that prehension is explained in terms such as feeling or emotion, I believe that is overdoing it."

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.[5] 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 position:



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?

KW: It helps me if I remember that there are at least two different meanings or types of emotions or affects, which we might call horizontal and vertical.

With the former, we are talking about the types of emotions that exist at a particular level of consciousness, and in most cases this means a not-very-high level at that. In Vedanta, for example, we have the five major levels or sheaths of consciousness, which are: anna (or matter), prana (or emotional-sexual), mano (or lower mind), vijnana (or higher mind), and ananda (or bliss)--and then Atman (or I-I). Notice that the emotional level is only the second level--not very high at all, and a level that, if clung to, is definitely an impediment to higher levels, as you note.

Prana, of course, is the level of dense emotions--anger, fear, hope, envy, hatred, jealously, desire, longing, lust, and so on--all of which, as you say, tend to cloud and veil awareness. And not just spiritual awareness: prana can (and does) cloud lower mind and higher mind (and everything higher than that). This prana-maya-kosha is the engine of species preservation, and it will--especially in lower stages of development--completely over-ride and cloud individual mind and soul--if it gets the upper hand, so to speak (which it always does at early developmental stages).

The traditions are pretty unanimous that those emotions have to subside, even be subdued and conquered, in order for any sort of enduring development to occur--not to mention enlightenment.

But then there are the "vertical affects," as it were--which are a type of subtler and subtler emotions--and these occur as part of the process of actual growth and development itself--and include such affects as care, compassion, mercy, universal love, and transcendental bliss. These are not detractions from higher growth, but the motivational currents of higher growth: good news in every way.

We have many examples of this from orthodox developmental psychology. A quick example: the work of Carol Gilligan.

Gilligan found that female moral development goes through three or four major hierarchical stages (yes, contrary to popular misconceptions, Gilligan maintains that female development, just like male development, occurs in hierarchical stages), which she calls selfish, care, and universal care.

Those are the same general stages as preconventional (egocentric), conventional (ethnocentric), and postconventional (worldcentric). Males go through the same hierarchy, but they tend to emphasize rights and justice whereas females tend to emphasize care and communion, according to Gilligan. But, says Gilligan, both males and females can then reach an integrated stage, which largely integrates male-agency and female-communion. (This integral stage I call the centaur, which is the doorway to the transpersonal.)

Well, here is the point: the emotion-affect of care/concern/compassion starts out, in the preconventional stage, applied only to myself (the selfish stage). This is basically the prana-kosha level, the level of emotion in the "bad sense" (although it serves its absolutely necessary function at that level, including species preservation.)

But as the lower mind emerges (mano), these selfish emotions expand into the stage of care (where care and compassion is extended to members of my family, clan, group, tribe: ethnocentric). As the higher mind emerges (vijnana), care once again expands to universal care (worldcentric), where I extend care and compassion to all peoples, regardless of race, sex, color, or creed (which can be further integrated in the integral stage).

And finally, as the transpersonal wave emerges (ananda), these emotions expand yet again into transcendental love-bliss, universal compassion not just for all humans but for all sentient beings, the radiance of the Divine.

Each of those higher emotions-affects are actually the motivating engines of each of the higher stages of consciousness development. So they are crucial components of our own liberating growth. Far from taking us away from the Divine, they take us closer and closer.

(Of course, in the formless, there are no affects; but when you arise from the formless, you arise with compassion, and that motivates the entire life of the bodhisattva: in other words, never are we without these vertical affects in the realm of manifestation.)

I hope this helps, good sir....



As you can see from that exchange, I believe that feelings or affects in the broad sense span the entire spectrum, from lowest to highest (and yes, at the very lowest ends I prefer to speak more in terms of "interiors" than in terms of affects, a bit of word quibbling that I explained earlier). Thus, going all the way back to books such as The Atman Project, where I give over a dozen levels of consciousness, I always give a column that says "affects" or "emotions," and these range across the entire spectrum, top to bottom. I again clearly repeat this in Integral Psychology, the book de Quincey is ostensibly reviewing (it left me wondering if he even looked at the charts in that book). Once again, de Quincey profoundly misrepresents my actual position, and then uses his misrepresentation to attack me as person who lacks feelings and therefore cannot see that feelings span the entire spectrum.



TONE

Unfortunately, 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 respond.

Fortunately, I am one swell guy with a fun-loving, deeply feelingful, charming and witty sense of humor; a clear, expansive, wonderfully spiritual and open awareness that smiles on everybody equally; I do not take these snotty attacks on me personally, having long ago transcended all ego (cough, cough); and gosh, I am like total fun at a party. So with that honest and objective introduction, let's get started.

We have already heard de Quincey's basic argument: I live in what he calls a "Zombie world, lacking any felt interiority." That is, I am out of touch with feelings in general. But then, he adds, that is not quite right, because I am clearly in touch "with Wilber's vitriol and anger, and lack of compassion." This renders me unfit to "speak and write about higher, spiritual, states or stages of consciousness."

On what evidence does de Quincey base this assertion? Since he has not met me--and since most of the critics he cites have not met me, either--he is presumably basing his condemnation on my writing alone. Two points:

One, in his own article, de Quincey insists (quite correctly, I believe) that we cannot draw conclusions about Whitehead the person merely from the writings of Whitehead. De Quincey then proceeds to do exactly that with me.

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 core?

If polemic means, as de Quincey suggests, that a person is not spiritual, then for those first twelve books I must have been a very spiritual person. But then, apparently very abruptly, I lost all spirituality and became a vitriolic, angry, uncompassionate fellow. (But that also must mean that, in the numerous books since ES that contain no polemic at all, I must have regained my spirituality?)

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 was from this group of a dozen or so theorists that what can truly be called vitriolic attacks on me as a person first arose. Those attacks were repeated by others--none of whom had ever met me--and this whole notion that my entire body of work is marked by anger and vitriol was launched. It was repeated by others (who had also not met me), and every time the story was told, I seemed to become nastier and nastier. Right up to the present where de Quincey (who, as we will see, is a good friend of exactly these theorists) will refer to my work as what he calls "The Great Chain of Being Nasty" (p. 183).

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.[6] 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.

As interesting supportive evidence, notice this striking fact: de Quincey got his Ph.D. from CIIS, but in his autobiographical statement in the Journal of Consciousness Studies in which his ad hominen attack on me appears, he completely omits that fact. He states that he holds degrees from JFK, but as for his Ph.D., he is strangely silent. Odd thing to leave out, isn't it?

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.

PART I | PART II | PART III | PART IV | NOTES



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