on 11 December 2011
"Integral Spirituality" is a book by Ken Wilber, an author towards whom many people have a strong love-hate relationship. Small wonder. The book is free-wheeling, wild, and definitely unedited. Sometimes, it's intentionally humorous, even frivolous. Most of the time, it's unintentionally funny.
I actually wanted to post four extended quotations from the book in my review, but Amazon wouldn't let me. Perhaps they feared copyright violation...or maybe the quotes were just too feisty! (Read the first two pages of the chapter "The Conveyor Belt", and you'll get my drift.)
Of course, Wilber's style of writing makes his ideas difficult to grasp except in broad outline. The difficulty is compounded by the exotic editing: endnotes are found only at one of Wilber's innumerable websites, and the reader is constantly referred to Excerpts A-G, another work by the author (at another website, presumably). Wilber has also revised his ideas (known as Integral Theory) several times. I believe his present "post-metaphysical turn" is known as Wilber V, while his magnum opus "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality" (SES) is Wilber IV. Personally, I'm Ashtar Command III.
If you *really* want to grok this outrageous man, the best place to start is probably his work "A brief history of everything" (an incredibly boring book compared to "Integral Spirituality"). Another tip would be Frank Visser's "Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion". Visser later broke with Wilber. He is to Wilber what Simon Magus was to Paul. Or what Trotsky was to Stalin, if you don't like Wilbie. Ken Wilber's infamous posting breaking all relations with Visser would definitely be banned by Amazon, and I'm not talking copyright violation. An incredibly boring critique of Wilberitis can be found in Jeff Meyerhoff's "Bald Ambition" (only the title's funny - Wilber is bald-headed).
So what did I think of "Integral Spirituality"? I admit that the scenery changed so fast, that I didn't have time to think! Is this how non-dual adidam realization feels like? After emerging, I realized that I'm Orange with a slight whiff of Amber (Visser and Meyerhoff are mostly Grey). There are many differences between Wilber V and Ashtar Command III, it seems.
Wilber wants a synthesis of premodern, modern and postmodern. He considers postmodernity to be the latest phase in the evolution of Spirit. His "synthesis" concedes too much ground to postmodernism, however. On this point, I prefer "A brief history of everything" and SES, which was mostly a synthesis of premodern and modern, with postmodernity being very much the whipping boy. I consider postmodernism to be a sign of decay, not of growth. It's a decay caused by the lack of spiritual-scientific synthesis within modernity.
Wilber doesn't seem to understand that postmodernism is connected to "Boomeritis", the narcissistic individualism he rightly condemns. True, Wilber wants to give postmodernism a "social" spin through intersubjectivity, but that doesn't work either. 1000 sub-cultures are, at bottom, no better than 10,000 Boomers crying "me, me, me". Does Wilber really believe that a World Federation can be created on the basis of the present intellectual climate within academe? My hunch is that Wilber has given up on science, and therefore has stopped his work on a scientific-spiritual synthesis. Instead, he wants to conquer the humanities, but in order to do so, he has to masquerade as a savvy, wordly-wise postmodern. But postmodernism is just an intellectual fad, not much different from existentialism, structuralism, neo-structuralism, post-structuralism, Maoid Neo-Marxism and what not. When postmodernism cracks, those adapting to it will crack with it. Frankly, I'm surprised people still believe in the crap!
Wilber's "post-metaphysical turn" simply rehashes the usual contradictions of the subjective idealists, but space doesn't permit me to go into that. (I may post Excerpts Q-X at Facebook, though.) Let me just say: Mr. Wilber, I assure you there's only one dog. Its name is Spot! And yes, Spot actually *is* an energy sink in black matter leading towards the 11th dimension. No kidding you there.
Another problem is Wilber's conception of the Divine as a vast Emptiness, a vast Clearing in which phenomena just arise. This Emptiness is Freedom. Spiritual evolution takes place in this Emptiness, but evolution is a creative sport, somehow existing for its own sake. There is no ultimate "goal" of evolution, just the never-ending, creative play of Spirit. This, of course, is based on Vajrayana ("Tibetan") Buddhism. It's also implicitly antinomian, especially since the post-metaphysical Wilber rejects all Platonic forms and other eternally existing archetypes. What's to stop the Spirit of evolution from becoming the Spirit of EVIL-ution, to evolve more and more bizarre and morbid forms of evil? By what right can a human condemn evil in a system where there is only Freedom-Emptiness and "Creative" Evolution?
Wilber does point out that the Divine can be conceptualized in three different ways, which he calls "I", "You" and "It". The "I" is roughly similar to the Hindu Atman. The "You" is the personal God of Christian theism and other theist or theistic religions. The "It" seems to be a pantheist world-soul, or perhaps the world itself, seen as divine (as in naturalistic pantheism). Wilber does say that all three views of God are equally important, and even criticize those who downplay the theistic "You". In practice, however, Wilber himself also downplays "You", emphasizing "I" and "It". My hunch is that the author wants to have it both ways - on the one hand, he cooperates with Christians such as Father Thomas Keating, but on the other hand, his view of God is really that of an impersonal Emptiness. It's also unclear whether Wilber believes that God *actually does* take three different forms (which I think was Aurobindo's position, but I could be wrong there), or whether the Divine only *appears* to do so, the latter position being fully compatible with Advaita Vedanta, the perennial philosophy, Vajrayana, etc.
"Integral Spirituality" has the sub-title "A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world". However, Wilber's prescriptions at this point are awfully naïve. He points out that virtually all terrorists are "Red" (a form of consciousness, not a political designation), fighting the emerging "Green" and "Turquoise" consciousness. True, as far as it goes, at least if you accept Wilber's colour-coding. He then proposes that the established religions should attempt to convince the "Reds" that one can bee "Green" or "Turquoise" while remaining a Catholic, a Muslim, a Protestant, a Hindu, etc. Also true, as far as it goes - modernist Islam would be better than fundamentalist Islam. What Wilber doesn't see is that the "Red" Muslim fundamentalists would gladly kill "Green" and "Turquoise" Muslims just as much as they dispose of the ditto infidel. To take just one example, ayatollah Khomeini and his so-called Islamic regime in Iran viciously persecuted the PMOI, at the time a modernist-Marxist-Muslim organization. A modernist split from Islam known as Bahai was almost completely extirpated, and so on. The idea of fundamentalist Muslims listening to modernist Muslims, or the idea of fundamentalist Christians listening to Bishop Spong, is naïve. I think Wilber's hero Aurobindo would have had a more old-fashioned, "Amber" solution to the problem of fundamentalism: just drop a bomb on those guys, and let's get it over with!
To sum up, "Integral Spirituality" isn't a very good book for those completely new to Ken Wilber and Integral Theory. Although Wilber's thinking is constantly (creatively?) evolving, the older work "A brief history of everything" and Visser's "Thought as passion" are better places to start. You might also attempt to skim through SES (it's over 800 pages, I know). However, if you have immersed yourself in Wilber's thinking for some time, you're probably man enough for this intellectual roller coaster ride. I admit that it stimulated my thinking as well (yes, really), but in directions very different from those of the author. Yet, I suppose that's how crazy wisdom works. For that reason, I give it four stars.
But hey, Kenneth, there's really just one dog... ;-)