Continuing from where I last left off, I wanted to look a bit closer now at the spectrum of realities (I, We, It) that are often referred to (and slightly expanded) as the Four Quadrants of human experience; but as I began to explore these quadrants it turned out that I needed to look closer at some of Integral Philosophy’s key concepts (also known as Integral Theory, or Integral Approach, shorted here for simplicity as IP).  So before I get to the Four Quadrants, lets detour a moment (regular readers of my big, theoretical pieces may be noticing a pattern in my style developing here).

Last time, before moving forward I felt it necessary to make a cursory note about Ken Wilber.  This time, I want to say a quick word about the New Age movement:  A lot of this stuff can often sound, at first, quite New Age-y.  For folks not interested in those beliefs (myself one of them) this can be quite off-putting.  I urge you to try and understand IP as a school of thought- a way of understanding the world, of approaching the world- that moves way beyond any singular belief system.  IP is itself a map which seeks to account for all worldviews beyond any simple right/wrong dichotomies.  It is an intellectual (and yes, spiritual as well) pursuit of furthering our understanding of how life, and the universe, work.  As will be explained bellow, IP understands New Ageism at its particular place within human consciousness development.  Even more so, under the parlance of Wilber (which is used by many) New Age spiritual beliefs are generally seen to be at the Green meme stage of development (and a terribly unhealthy function of that stage no-less!); but we’ll get more into that in a bit.

The mistake that some make in identifying IP as a form/offshoot of the New Age movement is a sadly shallow understanding of both fields, IP especially.  One of the major limitations of IP, in my opinion, are the terms- the language- that it often uses.  This is one of the main reasons that I seldom find an appropriate way to directly speak in terms of IP with folks unfamiliar with the field.  However, it’s important to look beyond what our initial associations with many of these terms may be: IP speaks its own language, and should be given a chance to describe itself on its own terms, not within the frame work of any other philosophy or set of beliefs.  I will try my best hand at de-stigmatizing the most loaded terms that IP uses for its own.  As well, for those readers who don’t at all find themselves to be “spiritual” in their beliefs, I’ll suggest that you go along for the time being with IP’s spiritual premiss; I will spend ample time shortly in this series to explore what the actual terms, premisses, and assumptions of IP’s spiritual underlinings are really all about- and at that point it may be (more) fair for you to pass your judgement as to whether or not you agree. 


The key concepts I want to start with (taken largely from Wilber’s A Theory of Everything & and his monstrous Sex, Ecology, Spirituality):

Holons:  Everything in the known universe (physical or not) is a holon, and as well is made up of holons.  This is the recognition that everything is both simultaneously a Whole, unto itself, as well as a Part of a larger Whole.  Everything, in fact, is a Whole/Part; which Integral has taken to referring to as a Wholon, or Holon.  A letter is whole, unto itself, but is a part of a word.  Words are a whole thing unto themselves, but are yet a part of a sentence.  As well, a whole atom (itself made up of smaller parts, i.e. neutrons and electrons, which are made up of Quarks) is a part of a whole molecule, which is a part of a whole cell, which is a part of a whole organism (which is a part of an whole ecosystem, and on and on).  Whether trying to look downwards, or upwards in this chain, there is in fact no limit.  Sure, there are often limits to our current knowledge (physicists are currently unable to find matter smaller than a Quark).  Still, any student worth his or her weight in salt can recognize that today’s unknowns- today’s limits to our knowledge- are inevitably tomorrow’s discoveries.  A quick reminder of the recent past tells us that there was a time when atoms were thought of as the “building block” of all matter; until it was eventually discovered that they were in fact wholes made of smaller parts.  Now, what happens to the breadth, versus the depth, of any particular whole/part as we look at it in bigger or smaller terms will have to wait for a bit; but this will be important to understand and I’ll certainly come back to it.  And so it goes…

Waves and Streams:  I’ll leave it to Clare Graves, the visionary pioneer of the system of human development known as Spiral Dynamics to introduce the concept of Waves:

 Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as an individual’s existential problems change.  Each successive stage, wave, or level of existence is a state through which people pass on their way to other states of being.  When a human is centralized in one state of existence, he or she has a psychology which is particular to that state.  His or her feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning system, belief systems, conception of mental health, ideas as to what mental illness is and how it should be treated, conceptions of and preferences for management, education, economics, and political theory and practice are all appropriate for that state.

These Waves of human existence are typically mapped as at least 8 specific stages, especially when concerning the individual (and we’ll see, next time, that the evolution of the individual is only one piece of the map of human experience).  These stages are also given a color/name in order to help simplify the diferenciation between them each.  Very quickly, from the bottom up (from Wilber’s TOE):

1. Beige: Archaic/instinctual.  The level of basic survival; food, water, warmth, sex, and safety have prioity.  Uses habits and instincts just to survive.  Distinct Self is barely awakened or sustained.  Forms into survival bands to perpetuate life.  Examples include:  First human societies, newborn babies, senile elderly, starving masses, shell shock.

2.  Purple:  Magical-Animistic.  Thinking is animistic; magical spirits, good and bad, swarm the earth leaving blessings, curses, and spells which determine events.  Forms into ethnic tribes.  The spirits exist in ancestors and bond the tribe.  Kinship and lineage establish political links.  Examples:  Belief in voodoo-like curses, blood oaths, ancient grudges, good-luck charms, family rituals, magical ethinic beliefs and superstitions; strong in third-world settings, urban street gangs, athletic teams.

3.  Red:  Power Gods.  First emergence of a Self distinct from the tribe; powerful, impulsive, egocentric, heroic.  Magical-mythic spirits, dragons, beasts.  Archetypal gods and goddesses.  Feudal lords protect their underlings in exchange for obedience and labor.  Enjoys self to the fullest without regret or remorse.  Examples:  The “terrible twos”, rebellious youth/rock star excess, feudal kingdoms, epic heros.

4.  Blue:  Mythic Order.  Life has meaning and purpose, with outcomes determined by an all-powerful Other or Order.  This righteous Order enforces a code of conduct based on absolutist principles of “Right” and “Wrong”.  Examples:  Confucian China, Dickensian England, Puritanism, totalitarianism, codes of chivalry and honor, and of course, religious fundamentalism (Islamic, Hebrew, Christian, etc).

 5.  Orange:  Scientific/rationalist.  Here, the Self escapes from the heard.  Truth is sought through individualistic terms: “scientific” in the typical sense.  The world is a rational and well-oiled machine with natural laws that can be learned, mastered, and manipulated for one’s own purposes.  Highly achievement oriented and often materialistic.  Examples:  The Enlightenment Project, Wall Street, colonialism, capitalism.

6.  Green:  Pluralistic Relativism.  Communitarian, human bonding, networking.  Feelings and caring supersede cold rationality.  Establishes lateral bonds (rather than coercive ones).  Examples:  Postmodernism, humanistic psychology, politically correct, diversity movements, deep ecology, the New Age Movement.  

At this stage, we have now covered the vast majority of the world’s population.  We have also come to the end of what is known as “First Tier Consciousness”.  The leap that happens from here to the final two (known) stages- the first two “Second Tier” stages, is immense.  The seventh & eighth stages, “Yellow: Integrative” and “Turquoise: Holistic”, are estimated, at best, to comprise 5% of the world’s population.  But it isn’t until we begin to reach these stages that we begin to recognize Integral; a natural hierarchy (holarchy if you prefer) of systems and forms that are flexible and interwoven.

An important component to all this is the manner in which lower stages fight fiercely to deny and discredit the higher stages.  It isn’t until Green (and a healthy Green at that) that we begin to appreciate and understand any value whatsoever in a stage other than our own.

As we will see bellow, these stages arise hierarchically, but not in a manner that overpowers or oppresses the previous stages.  These waves arise in a manner that transcends and includes the previous stages.  Just as we could say a cell transcends but includes the stage of being that is a cell, so too this body is more than the sum of its part (but nonetheless isn’t much of a body without all it’s parts).

Furthermore, while it is more or less true that we can identify an individual (or group of them) as existing primarily at one particular stage (or wave), it is also true that each specific aspect of our Self can actually develop on its own, faster or slower, than another.  So, while it may be true that this person or that person generally fits the definition of an orange, scientific-rationalist, their emotional, moral, cognitive, relational, physical or spiritual development each may be at their own particular stage (and there is really no limit to the number of these streams that can be identified as an aspect of the human experience).  True, the idea of streams is in contrast with Graves’ quote from above: such is the incredible complexity of reality.  I would argue that both ideas are right, to their own degrees.  Likewise, any of these streams (or waves for that matter) can- and often do- develop a pathology, which in tern effects not only the continued development of that stream, but of the entire individual.  More on this in a bit.

Hierarchies:  An inherent trait in Waves, Streams, and even Holons that you may have noticed is that they are hierarchal in their nature.  This was very difficult for me to come to terms with at first, because so much of my politic (which is just an extension of my beliefs in human nature and society) is based on anti-authoritarian, cooperative, mutualist ideals.  The crux of the matter, however, is that hierarchy is a natural, organic trait of the entire Kosmos.  The most important thing to understand (and the most misunderstood part of this) is that there are two types of hierarchies: natural and dominator.  The hierarchy that anarchists and anti-authoritarians (very rightly) wage war against are dominator hierarchies.  A dominator hierarchy is the subversion of a holon that is, in one fashion or another, overpowered by the holon of which it is a part.  I’ll clarify this is a second.

Natural hierarchies, however, are simply and honestly everywhere and everything.  The atom to molecule to cell to organism to ecosystem to bio-region to subcontinent to continent to planet to solar system (etc- phew!) example suggested earlier is a hierarchy, but it is natural and even undesirable to disrupt.  We can identify the pieces of any natural hierarchy by noting the ordering of the holons which are quintessential to the existence of that which follows it in this great chain.  So, as from before, a letter is a whole thing in and of itself; yet we also can define a letter as being the building blocks- the parts- of words.  Words, therefore, are something other than just a letter; are in fact many different letters that only together, in a hierarchal way, form the word.  Another way to see this natural hierarchy: as we go downward on this chain of holons, we experience a greater Breadth but only at the expense of Depth.  A molecule represents a more specific understanding of the building blocks of a cell- but when we look at a cell we see a bigger, deeper expanse of life.  A key function to all this is that this hierarchy is asymmetrical- it does not happen in reverse (seeds grow into flowers, atoms join together into molecules, letters make words- not the other way around).  These natural hierarchies are immensely complex, and Wilber takes these intracacies into some very fine and nuanced detail.  But this is a central tenet to understanding some powerful truths that IP can reveal.

 Now, another aspect of natural hierarchies are that the higher functions are in no way “better” than the lower functions.  Holons which are higher on a given hierarchy do no encompass a greater scope of reality; not in a way that de-values the lower levels in the chain anyway.  Could we really say that a molecule is better than a cell?  Hardly, given that the cell is merely made up of a bunch of molecules.  So while the higher stages of a given chain may provide us with a more complete understanding of the overall system, each part of the overriding whole is more or less equally important to that whole.  As Wilber puts it in SES:  

But a higher-order whole, of which this lower-order whole is a part, can exert an overriding influence on each of its components.  Again, when you decide to move your arm, your mind- a higher-order holistic organization- exerts influence over all the cells in your arm, which are lower-order wholes, but not vice versa: a cell in your arm cannot decide to move the whole arm- the tail does not wag the dog.

He continues:

In any developmental or growth sequance, as a more encompassing stage or holon emerges, it includes the capacities and patterns and functions of the previous stage (i.e., the previous holons), and then adds its own unique (and more encompassing) capacities… Organisms include cells, which include molecules, which include atoms (but not vice versa).

One more of Wilber’s examples (because I think understanding that there are healthy, useful, natural hierarchies and knowing how to tell them a part from unhealthy, dominator hierarchies is crucial):  

In cognitive and moral development… the stage of pre-operational or pre-conventional thought is concerned largely with the individual’s own point of view (“narcissistic”).  The next stage, the operational or conventional stage, still takes account of the individual’s own point of view, but adds the capacity to take the view of others into account.  Nothing fundamental is lost; rather, something new is added…. each stage is adequate and valuable, but each deeper or higher stage is more adequate and, in that sense only, more valuable (which always means more holistic, or capable of a wider response).

 As we’ll see in a minute, any individual holon is capable, for countless reasons, to become unhealthy or pathological.  It could even be said that precisely because of the vast and in fact infinite degrees of complexity inherent in the universe, something is bound to go wrong somewhere.  When things do go wrong, the result is a dominator hierarchy of one form or another.  Riane Eisler puts it clearly I think:

An important distinction should be made between domination and actualization (natural) hierarchies.  The term domination hierarchies describes hierarchies based on force or the express or implied threat of force.  Such hierarchies are very different from the types of hierarchies found in progressions from lower to higher orderings of functioning- such as the progression from cells to organs to living organisms, for example.  These types of hierarchies may be characterized by the term actualization hierarchies because their function is to maximize the organism’s potentials (emphasis mine).  By contrast, human hierarchies based on force or the threat of force not only inhibit personal creativity but also result in social systems in which the lowest (basest) human qualities are reinforced and humanity’s higher aspirations (traits such as compassion and empathy as well as the striving for truth and justice) are systematically suppressed.


Pathology (or Healthy versus Unhealthy):  As just alluded to above, any individual holon can, for a plethora of reasons, become unhealthy or pathological.  And the only way to fix such a problem (as with all problems) is to cure the root source.  I’ll let Wilber himself continue on (still in SES):

The cure for any diseased system consists in rooting out any holons that have usurped their position in the overall system by abusing their power of upward or downward causation.  This is exactly the cure we see at work in psychoanalysis (shadow holons refuse integration), critical social theory (ideological holons distort open communication), (populist) revolutions (monarchical or fascit holons oppress the body politic), medical science interventions (cancerous holons invade a benign system), radical feminist critiques (patriarchal holons dominate the public sphere), and so on.  It is not getting rid of the holarchy, per se, but arresting (and integrating) the arrogant ones.

Note Wilber’s interchangeable use of the word holarchy for hierarchy, in trying to separate the notion of natural as opposed to domination hierarchies.  

All of these things, contrary to the most misguided and reactionary dismissals of it, do not make up an attempt at a new religion, cult, or New Age diatribe.  IP is a language, a set of terms, an approach to better understanding and articulating the true nature of ourselves, life, and the universe as a whole.  When we interact with the world using an Integral Approach, we deepen and expand our ability to arrive at what is truly Right or Wrong, Good or Bad; in so doing, we free ourselves to lead happier, more fulfilling lives, and to make a more positive impact on all that we come in contact with.

I know that was a shit load to go-through (we’ll see how many of you actually do so); and I know almost all of that just begs more questions.  Stay tuned, there’s plenty more to be said that will hopefully tie it all together into a complete picture….