Boomeritis or Bust…
finally located and bought a copy of Boomeritis,
Ken Wilber's latest: Yankee Doodle Dandy-fied eastern philosophy
meets postmodernist social criticism and more. Reading more like
Bootie-ism than Buddhism, the “novel” is set up around
Spiral Dynamics® which Wilber exploits to go after things he
doesn't like in contemporary culture and to justify the things
he does with contrived theoretical support. By putting his words
into the mouths of characters this time, there's plausible
deniability throughout. With usual
immodesty, the promotion-savvy Wilber, newly-converted missionary
for the Second Tier, sets up his thinly veiled cohorts and their
"integral" institutions as the solution to what he
sees as a spiral-stopping malaise – the supposed dead-end at
the sixth level of human existence – the
dreaded and fuzz-filled Boomeritis. He proposes an 'integral'
workaround to locate the truth that's MIA in the
with treatments for the egocentric, narcissistic postmodern syndrome he’s
he caught the virus while writing Boomeritis.
The clearest symptom? Toward the end he actually claims he's
written a bad book intentionally. OK, that's an understatement.
Actually, it is awful. In a smirking self-exculpatory way,
Wilber suggests that it was all meant to be pretentious,
repetitive and shallow as an illustration of the ills that have
come into the world since Derrida (rather than Pandora) opened
the postmodern box of evil uncertainties. His apologia proposes
that it was planned to be a mess of inept prose, egocentric and
shallow dialogue, misapplication and sloppy interpretation of
others' work, annoying and puerile sexual fantasies set off in Homer Simpson "D'oh!"
boldface, and everything else that is, in his view, wrong
with ‘postmodernism.’ On those fronts he succeeds admirably.
by imagineering a sound-alike pack of authoritarian stage-bound
teachers, obviously wanted Boomeritis
to be instructive for the Gen X/Y crowd. He would have done well
to get more feedback from them and listen to it before allowing
this embarrassment to go to print. Editors, where art thou?
Shambhala legal department, where art thou? Friends of Ken,
where were you? Much of it reads
like the fantasies of a preachy refugee from Pleasantville enroute
through beatnik to hippie to the consciousness confessional, but
not much in tune with the far more
complex-thinking and problems of young people today. But wait.
Of course. That, too, was part of his grand plan to reach down
for the coolness of absolute mediocrity all along. How utterly
dialogue is forced and the character development - what
character development? - is flatlander as a pancake - and cliché,
to boot. It repeats over-used materials time and again. Of
course, that repetitive redundancy illustrates another point
about Boomeritis and postmodernism, doesn't it? Thus, what we
have here is what Wilber seems most comfortable with -
self-reflexive meditations on the mirrored ceiling of his
consciousness - and yet another protracted interview by Ken
Wilber with Ken Wilber about Ken Wilber - a portrait of the
narcissist as a young man.
the often annoying style and very unWilber-like absence of
either notes or responsible citation of materials he's copied
(readers are instead referred to his website for the
save-a-tree concordance), the principle reason
we find Boomeritis
troubling is simply this: he does a consummately lousy job with
Spiral Dynamics®, again. He’s dead wrong as often as not about the
little bit of theory that he includes which is not typology, and
even that is distorted. Boomeritis
is full of revisionist theory, bias, and presumption. As far as Graves/SD
is concerned, it’s a pitiful waste of good paper and a great
Wilber tries to apply but doesn’t actually understand
Gravesian theory, he confuses the levels/colors like a novice.
He doesn’t know Green from Orange or Yellow. Thus, the
elaborate arguments he lays out are constructed on quicksand
because he fails to recognize the essential nature of the eight
nodal states, much less the transitional phases which are
actually what he’s often trying to describe, or the forces
that energize any of them. By bollixing up these fundamentals,
many of the well-reasoned and potentially useful discussions
begin with false premises, so the conclusions point to the wrong
place. He's bombing the wrong targets brilliantly. And because he sounds authoritative, newcomers to SD will
believe they're getting a valid overview of Graves/SD from Boomeritis.
Quite the contrary – they’ll have been led down a rabbit
trail into a labyrinth of all quadrant, all level nonsense. For
the people who really know the Gravesian theory, reading it is a
cringe a minute.
of F-S (Green) are attributed to the hyped-and-mighty Second
Tier – the second loop through the six basic Gravesian themes.
It is not the two-step short cut to godliness and
salvation-revisited that Wilber so desires;
and no, Coral is not the portal to the third tier and life eternal
with God and her silicates. That's a very different spiral. Frequently
confusing E-R (Orange), F-S (Green), and A’-N’ (Yellow) he
lays claim to “the good stuff” from each, especially F-S!, and
promotes that to “Integral” status. Much of E-R (Orange) is framed as “mean
Green” drawing on E-R’s
individualism, autonomy-seeking, and right-thinking express-self
perspective - not Green at all. Then he tries to drag in C-P
(Red) as if anger, indignant emotion, and aggressiveness somehow
reside mostly there. The cyclical aspect of the theory is
ignored, and he dismisses the double-helix and concentrates on
categories. When he pulls in other developmental/emergent theorists
to lend support, he sticks them at the
wrong places on the SD model. In the confusion of hunting
down his enemies, Wilber has misidentified
what he wants so much to expose and transform. Boomer -it -is: sometimes
nearly poignant, sometimes very scary; but at all times making a
mess of the theory.
some reason, Wilber
still insists on calling virtually anything a "meme,"
thereby befuddling both himself and the reader. He apparently
fails to recognize that his own promotion of a "mean Green
meme" [sic] is the spreading of a meme about a vMeme,
just as his Boomeritis is a meme integrating a hodgepodge of vMemes' traits. The Typhoid Mary of Cerebral Boomeritis doesn't
appear to care very much about accuracy in language, but then
that's just a symptom of pluralistic relativism, egocentrism,
and postmodernism in the virus he's spreading, isn't it?
the propensity to lift others' work in ways that verge nigh unto
plagiarism and then to misinterpret outrageously and
high-handedly after doing so is another of the postmodernist traits
Wilber intends to spoof. Perhaps he does understand SD quite
well and is just pretending a shallow, distorted view - a slick
writer trying to be instructive by modeling his points instead of one with a chronic
blind spot and a wide-reaching but fundamentally made-up mind. If
that's the case, he's accomplished his goal, though not very
the theoretical blunders are carried over from his previous
renditions, not new with this one. Thus, his butchery of the SD
theory and rudimentary confusion about the nature of the levels
of psychological existence (vMemes) is a chronic
condition that his “integral” cures seem unable to remedy.
The bastardized version in Boomeritis
will mislead the novice and both surprise and offend those who know
the model from other than the Wilberian skew. What a waste.
doubt this very criticism will be turned as an argument against
the critic: "Aha! A typical first tier Boomeritis victim who just
doesn't get it - point made. Told you so. See? Humorless.
Gotcha'! Only some closet deconstructionist infested with Boomeritis
wouldn't appreciate this brilliant classic of revisionist
re-construction - clueless and Blue-less. What's the problem? Hurt your feeeeeelings?
Want to dialogue? Chill, dude.
that's been a darned clever strategy of Ken Wilber's for some time:
'anybody who doesn't like me is a mean Green; everyone who does is
a Turquoise or better.' That works when dealing with people
centered around D-Q/E-R (Blue > Orange) and looking to
discover self at the feet of a righteous master, and others who
believe that Green is human nature's anti-matter to Blue instead of a
works with E-R/F-S (Orange > Green) minds lining up to
join that exclusive "second tier" club – the mile-highers
of the spirituality biz - definitely a winning tactic since they
integrally make the Omega sign and sing in lockstep: “Hello, logos, here
I come, right back where I started from!”
of the "integral" approach Wilber describes is
expansion in the E-R to F-S transitional zone with some rah-rah
religious zeal from D-Q/e-r thrown in for good measure. Much of
the frustration given voice in Boomeritis could well be an expression of inability to make the step
to F-S from the E-R/f-s and e-r/F-S states - hardly a
lamentation upon looking back from “second tier,” of course. Some
expresses the guilt and needs of mortality-driven D-Q (Blue) in
a sad and almost desperate call to "grow" and be beyond
self, to build a legacy, and to glow in cosmic consciousness.
is nothing wrong in that – tens of millions of people
are in the Orange-Green transition and need guidance and hunger for
gurus to teach transcendence.
It might even come from seeing evidence of the more elaborated
systems from within the D-Q/E-R zone and believing that Green,
rather than a necessary and neutral stepping stone on the path
to further emergence, is a boulder blocking the way to progress,
to perfect enlightenment, to a fulfilled selfless self. It’s hard to
tell; so much is mushed together in the Wilberian blender that it all
comes out Bass-O-Matic brown. (Boomer humor.)
wrap this up, the book recognizes its awfulness and seems to
hope the reader will stick around long enough to get the 450
page joke. 'Hear that laugh track, folks? Nyuk, nyuk…' Devoted
Wilber fans will; and people recovering from multiple fractures
in full body casts just might. Boomeritis
does offer its share of interesting insights; Ken Wilber is no
fool. That's the tragedy of it. And his normally soporific prose is mercifully broken up
with attempts at dialogue and interspersed with some keen social
observations and occasional laughs wrapped up in the usual
Greekish words and philosophical mini-treatises that sound
impressive as hell. What he sees in today's world is noteworthy
and often rings familiar. His reach is wide and he remarks on
many foibles and possibilities in modern times. Debate his
opinions, his politics, his bigotries, his competitive
his conclusions; but give him due credit for breadth.
is where he loses it. From an SD perspective, Wilber still fails
to relate all of these observations accurately to the
model he uses as a centerpiece.
Since his take on SD theory is so far off base, everything else
becomes suspect, especially the insultant's heavy-handed lessons for
Green and the glorification of a second tier he frames as
separate from the first. That's our recurring frustration - all that
brilliance missing the mark so badly. To use language typical of
Boomeritis: If he
wants to fuck with something, let him fuck with himself and his
own integral shit. If he's going to keep exploiting SD/Graves to serve his own
ends and support his claims, why not do it right so his
writing adds constructively to the body of knowledge instead of
promoting the SD name on one hand while undermining the essence of
shamelessly with the other? Maybe he honestly doesn't understand the
difference; and maybe he just doesn't give a damn.
is absolutely no doubt that Wilber cultists and those waiting
with tickets in hand for a ride on the train to the land of consciousness-chic and a reserved seat at 'third way, Second
Tier' will climb aboard and find Boomeritis
inspirational, empowering, and revelatory - "we are the
champions of the world - toot, toot. Next stop, Third Tier. All
aboard!" Those 'Green
swamp' dwellers and others without the delusions of second or
third tierrany and who worry about schemes by elite
crowds devoted to reforming the world on their own authoritarian,
self-righteous more-conscious-than-thou terms will, as the engineer acknowledges, be derailed by this book early on.
They're the lucky ones because the concluding section is a train
Boomeritis-infected critics (who
know or care nothing about SD) might well buy into Wilber's argument
that he's created a brilliant postmodern anti-novel rather than
cleverly rationalized an unholy mess. Readers
who expect even satire to be competently structured and written
in a way that amuses through subtle wit rather than
sledge-hammer blows to the genitals will find it a dreary go.
Those in search of another
philosophical compilation that skims over vast domains will not
be disappointed; Ken Wilber is an impressive synthesizer.
Anyone who knows Spiral Dynamics or understands Dr. Graves' work
will find the theory applications at first old hat, then laughable, then bizarre and embarrassing, and finally
irritating and uncomfortable - not because they hit so close to
home, but because they stray so far from it. In that respect Wilber’s great postmodern parody
of a novel backfires – the supposedly deliberate fuck-up
actually does fuck up the theory so badly that the joke becomes
a reflexive satire of itself – the joke is on the jokester -
but you only get the big one if you know the model well.
meta-postmodern strategy appears to be: baffle them with
bullshit and convince them they're ignorant fools – or
anti-integral - if they say it smells other than sweet. It
worked for the emperor with the new clothes; the crowd cheered
his nakedness and believed something was wrong with themselves
because they couldn’t see the nothing there until an honest kid spoke up and
broke the trance.
the long-running strategy will continue to serve the Bodhisattva of Boomeritis as his
speed-reading imagination swings naked on a chandelier, too,
though anyone who actually knows the Graves theory and SD will
see his bare butt hanging out after trudging through this
"novel" exercise in male/female integration. Bottom
line: it ain’t pretty.
then, the whole thing was just a cosmic dream…nyuk.
Chris Cowan, 8/24/02