Quora answer: What is wrong with Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory?

Feb 20 2014

I think what most people don’t realize is that Wilber’s theory is an intensification of dualism. It distinguishes between subject and object (I-it), and then intensifies that by taking it to the group level of we-things (its). This is an intensification of the subject-object dualism, and thus a step back philosophically into a more intense dualism. An alternative is nondual philosophy such as is explained by David Loy in his book Nonduality. And now we have to say not just nondual but non-integral in order to avoid the intensification of dualism by taking it from the individual to the group level. For an example of a nondual philosophy see Nondual Science Institute

See also Kent Palmer’s answer to What is the Integral Theory?
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Answering the question of Corrie K. Campbell:

The first level of dualism is I-it, and does not recognize Buber’s distinction between this and I-thou.

Second level of dualism is We-things, which merely introduces unthinkingly plurality on both sides of the equation, intensifying the I-It duality stated at the first level.

Now plurality introduced this way is a quirk of English and is no way universal, and so to create a whole categorical system based on it is on fairly shaky grounds to begin with. But then to take this arbitrary pair of crossed dichotomies and somehow think it describes “reality” is somewhat ludicrous. Philosophically it is overly simplistic and untenable. But of course it is popular with new age types who do not know their own tradition and are basically ignorant of philosophy in general.

Most disturbing this step backwards into intensified duality is presented as if it were a way to understand non-duality, which is false. In this sense it is a farce. There are a lot of peddlers of non-duality out there who have no idea what they are talking about and Wilber is one of them. But what is so ironic is that while he talks occasionally about non-duality (as being all four modes together) what he is really doing is taking a step back from the progress made in the western tradition already, and not understanding the import of truly nondual philosophical systems at the same time.

So to me this whole thing is akin to snake oil. Utterly useless. Leading folks into greater ignorance, and a great example of the intensification of nihilism. It is a also an excellent example of where not thinking will get you, i.e. lost deeper in the mire of dualism, even worse than the Western tradition is on its own, all in the name of taking in everything and categorizing everything, when actually he is merely sucking the meaning out of all the system he is trying to encompass, many of which are actually meaningful in themselves, but merely become accouterments in his overarching system based more on hubris than any real insight.

It is sad that the general public that takes these ideas of intensification of dualism seriously are so ignorant of their own tradition, and the other traditions that are being exploited in this imperialistic categorization of everything that Wilber can pontificate on these issues without being laughed out of the room. This is in stark contrast to the French for instance who have contributed significantly to the understanding of our tradition over the last sixty years or so since WWII. Americans taken in by this new age rubbish just do not know how ignorant they are, not just of their own tradition which is being ignored, but of the other oriental traditions that are being exploited. Isn’t it time we put away childish toys, and actually did the hard work of coming to terms with our own tradition, and the other traditions that have genuine nonduality and tried to understand at a more profound level, which will never be captured by categorizations what is at stake?

Our dualistic tradition, cannot escape the train crash that is going to happen when it has to come to terms with actual nonduality. Intensifying nihilism and dualism will not save it but is merely denial. What is actually happening is that many significant Buddhist texts are now being translated that were preserved in Tibet. This Tibetan tradition which has been part of a living tradition since the Buddha, is a formidable opponent of the Western Dualistic view enforced throughout our history by Inquisition and  murder and genocide of all advocates of nondual positions, as well as radical dualists like Wilber.

Normally what happens is that Western scholars just do not study oriental philosophies and so it is then easy to avoid the uncomfortable ramifications of those approaches to knowledge. But in our globalized post-colonial world where we have access to primary texts the best of which are those of Mipham, eventually scholars are going to realize that Buddhism is far more sophisticated than Western philosophy, and they will have to deal with what Hinduism dealt with long ago with the advent of the Buddhist Heresy which is the fundamental significance of nonduality. And when that occurs not only dualism but all the superficial intensifications of dualism born out of denial will be wiped away, and we will have to start over to understand who we are the core of our existence beyond the illusions of Being.

At that time it will be incumbent upon us to focus on taking what I call the homeward path, which is the path of realizing the nondual kernel of the Western worldview itself as a resource for dealing with the shattering of the illusion of dualism and its intensifications. I am advocating leaving childish things like Wilber’s overweening and bloated categorical imperialism behind and to attack this problem ingrained dualism genuinely from its Western roots sooner rather than later.
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Further response to comments

I don’t think psychoanalysis of me will make Wilber’s work any more interesting or valid. If you are adherent, then I suggest you look at the ingredient of the concoction you are buying, prior to consuming it. Until you asked I was leaving it more less for people to read between the lines, but since you asked that suggested I needed to be a bit more viperous.

Snake oil it should be noted was something that Chinese workers used to sooth their work worn muscles, but it was taken up by Whites, who added all sorts of crazy ingredients. Eventually there were so many kinds of snake oil that those who prided themselves on actually doing something worthwhile put their ingredients on the bottle, and that is where the idea came for putting ingredients on products that were sold. There needs to be a little truth in advertising with respect to pseudo-philosophies of this type. SeeHow Snake Oil Got a Bad Rap (Hint: It Wasn’t The Snakes’ Fault)

They attempt to comprehend everything, as sure sign of sophism.

They intensify nihilism, in this case by doubling dualism, rather than coping with nonduality which is the key point to be contrast with dualism.

They are ignorant of their own tradition, i.e. know nothing about the progress made in Western Philosophy, which by the way dwarfs these pseudo philosophies.

They do not build on what went before but pretend to bring something new, when it is in fact just false pandering to the ignorance of the masses in the form of supposed knowledge.

They actually make things worse rather than better for those who embrace these false ideas, because they think they understand something when in fact they are made more ignorant by the idea.

Sure sign is when everyone accepts it without question that they are substantive, even though no one can say why.

Categorical systems like this with no substance is where we began with the Pre-Socratics, so it is as if they are staring all over again.

They are imperialistic like old dogmas because they intend to include everything in their category system.

They do not question where the categories come from, or what allows these distinctions to be made, other than they were made by fiat by the sophist.

They ignore all the warnings that Plato gave us about sophistry.

They are examples of the intensification of nihilism, i.e. eventually those who adhere to them will accidentally learn something about philosophy and see that they are meaningless and at that point they will produce alienation and anomie due to their inherent emptiness.

Actual philosophers are not understood in their times, cf Socrates, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, etc. They are engaged in attempting to make non-nihilistic distinctions within their traditions on the cutting edge. They assiduously to the extent any philosopher can try to avoid sophism, but occasionally engage in it ironically, and sometimes fall into it by accident after trying to avoid it. They are not running for a popularity contest, or trying to sell books by saying what others want to hear, but instead say things that others do not want to hear like Ken Wilber does not know anything about anything because he tries to talk about everything and pretends to know how to categorize everything in his ‘system’.

Philosophers start with the premise of their own ignorance as Socrates established, and they work on the problem of their ignorance exclusively. And then eventually they discover what Socrates did that they are the only ones who do know anything because at least they know what they do not know. Everyone who pretends to know, is in fact just fooling themselves and others.

Ken Wilber is an excellent example of someone who not only does not know, but in fact increases everyone’s else’s ignorance because they follow him into that unknowing, unknowingly, thinking he must know something because he says so.

When I realized that the basic point that Wilber makes was to increase dualism rather than to confront nonduality then I thought it was a good idea to point it out, especially when I realized how unpopular it would be, because he is almost universally approved. I am afraid that someone has to burst the bubble by calling a Sophist a sophist.

It is not a blind spot in myself. In fact for a long time I was totally disinterested in Wilber, because he had nothing to say of any interest. But then I discovered that he was actually taken seriously by someone who should know better, and so I decided that I should actually speak our just so the chorus of applause was not universal, because someone needs to say the simple fact that this emperor of categorization has no clothes, i.e. no ideas worth repeating. The fact that he uses nice buzzwords like Integral is all the more reason to be suspicious. And our suspicions are confirmed when we discover that this word actually has no meaning because it is used to describe everything he does.

And we know that we are on the right track when we see his marketing apparatus in action selling mentoring for a fee by himself and his adherents. If people would just read Plato, and his challenge of the Sophists of his time, then people would save lots of money, and also know that if they are to find the truth they must do it via their own thought and hard work themselves confronting their own ignorance, rather than buying snake oil (‘enlightenment’ or in this case endarkenment like core mentoring to gain sublime Integralness) from every shyster that comes to town.

If they are charging for it you should be wary. Only data and information can be sold not knowledge, nor yet wisdom. You have to work yourself for the latter. That is why we pay to go to college, because knowledge is work one does oneself. There are many small time sophists in college class rooms But there are also many more good teachers that do their best to lead their students to knowledge as they understand it, but they cannot make them drink at that fountain. Those that teach well impart information and techniques of learning, but one forges knowledge oneself, and this is also true of wisdom only that is much more rare and occurs when knowledge confronts reality in a lifetime of experience that allows one access to the non-representable intelligibles beyond the representations that we come to know.

Sophistry says instead that it can confer knowledge and wisdom for a small fee. In school just because a tea her teaches a subject they do not guarantee that the sudden will get it, but instead they devise tests to attempt to gauge how much the student has learned. The tests are about knowledge, information, skills, techniques, but nothing guarantees that all this turns into knowledge for the student, but the chances are much better if the curriculum is passed by the student successfully.If they are charging for it you should be wary. Only data and information can be sold not knowledge, nor yet wisdom. You have to work yourself for the latter. That is why we pay to go to college, because knowledge is work one does oneself. There are many small time sophists in college class rooms But there are also many more good teachers that do their best to lead their students to knowledge as they understand it, but they cannot make them drink at that fountain. Those that teach well impart information and techniques of learning, but one forges knowledge oneself, and this is also true of wisdom only that is much more rare and occurs when knowledge confronts reality in a lifetime of experience that allows one access to the non-representable intelligibles beyond the representations that we come to know.

Sophistry says instead that it can confer knowledge and wisdom for a small fee. In school just because a tea her teaches a subject they do not guarantee that the sudden will get it, but instead they devise tests to attempt to gauge how much the student has learned. The tests are about knowledge, information, skills, techniques, but nothing guarantees that all this turns into knowledge for the student, but the chances are much better if the curriculum is passed by the student successfully.

Let me give an example of a very popular book that is in fact good, which is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance [Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance]. In that book the author is struggling with understanding and he takes us along for the ride, literally. The fact that he attributes his idea of Quality to Plato rather than Pepper is a small point compared to what he teaches us about Gumption and about having the gumption to confront our own ignorance, and to learn knowledge and wisdom ourselves from that. An excellent example of someone who shows this in an outstanding way is Eric Hoffer the longshore-man philosopher who shows us that anyone from any walk of life can obtain this knowledge, wisdom, insight, realization one must forge oneself.  Hoffer had the kind of Gumption that Persig identifies. And this is an exemplary characteristic of the Pragmatic American philosophical tradition which includes Peirce, James, Dewy, and Mead but is most pure in Hoffer. See Eric Hoffer.

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