(Note): As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m just a few chapters into my quest to finally read Ken Wilber’s opus Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. I’ve started the thing several times in the past, but have never made it more than a quarter through (not including the 256 pages of footnotes, which even Wilber himself notes can be read as a separate book unto itself), but this time, I feel confident that with the aid of a reading group (yeah Colin!) I’ll finally be able to conquer this beast. I’m still toying with the idea of writing periodic posts/reviews as I go, though I’m leaning towards waiting until the end for a big bang write up that can get more in-depth with the entirety of the thing. However, after this week’s reading group meeting dissecting and discussing chapter 3 (Individual and Social) I’m inclined to offer-up what follows. On the heels of my own inclinations (some of which I’ve tried to flesh out in past posts such as my An Integral Politic I, II, and III) and spurred much further thanks to some of Colin’s great questions and insights, I’ve decided that a rebuttal of the chapter- or, more specifically, of Wilber’s map of how social/cultural evolution fits into his larger Theory of Everything schematic (a schematic that I largely and enthusiastically embrace and agree with) is due. In hopes of propagating my thoughts on this first and foremost through the “integral community” I’m writing here specifically with them as my audience; which is to say if you’re not particularly “in” on these ideas and theory’s, this is just not likely a post for you (and I realize that excludes the vast majority of my regular readers- sorry ’bout that).
Wilber’s Integral Vision– and that of Integral Theory in general- is largely brilliant and singular in it’s importance. However, I think there’s a crucial error in integral’s political (social/cultural) position and I’m very interested in (an attempt at) patching this hole. This is one piece towards fixing this problem.
I’ve written in the past about my concerns with the integral community’s propensity to embrace capitalism- and specifically green capitalism- and European “democratic socialism” as somehow being a second tier, integral politic; in short, capitalism of any form (and in fact, all State systems) are oppressive, coercive, violent constructs that are by definition dominator, or pathological, holons. Here I’d like to hone-in more specifically on the map of social/cultural development that Wilber outlines in chapter 3 of SES. Actually, I don’t have much of a problem with the chapter itself (it contains some very important ideas and some very useful clarifications); so most specifically, I’m going to jump right to the diagram on page 108 (Taylor’s Emergent Geopolitical Systems Levels) which maps the social development of people from Kinship System (families, tribes, clans) to Village System (villages and groups of villages) to Empire (continuous resource control, administrative districts, specialized townships) to Nation-State System (noncontinuous resource control, federal States) to Planetary System (federation of states, interstate organizations).
The most glaring problem I see with this map is the fact that, as far as I know of, there are no instances whatsoever of human development past Village Systems that have been accomplished in a healthy (non-pathological) manner. I’ll allow that perhaps there’s a better, more germane name for the levels past Village System (Regional Communal System instead of Empire?), but to my knowledge as soon as we move beyond the second stage, or, as we move beyond the second stage, we have by definition a social/cultural system based on individual greed, violence amongst differing factions, war, oppression, genocide, coercion, involuntary servitude, and slavery. There is simply no instance in history (that I am aware of) where the transition beyond Village System does not happen in a pathological manner; they are all and have always been in the form of dominator wholearchies; pathological holons. The only argument against this observation would be to conclude that slavery and genocide and oppression are somehow healthy, necessary components of human social/cultural development, a premise that I wholeheartedly reject and find dubious. From the vantage of individual Tier development, I see and understand the components of lower-level world views which easily incline and set the stage for such manifestations; however, if lived-out in a healthy, free from pathological interference environment, it doesn’t seem necessary to conclude that oppression, genocide and slavery are necessary steps in human evolution.
At the very best, if this map is an adequate one (and by all means, if very well may be), we should be asking “what, or why is it, that we’ve been largely if not entirely unable throughout history to make this transition free of pathology?” Most frightening to me is the manner in which this observation could be used (and in fact, may be the source of their logic) by primitivists in their attempt to de-legitimize human social development beyond the stage of Village System. It is obvious that such a perspective is anti-evolutionary and anti-development (and therefore un-natural and ignorant), but it is a fascinating and important problem to explore nonetheless. Is it possible that the AQAL model fails entirely at capturing social/cultural development? Does social/cultural development rightfully end at a more primitive stage such as the Village System? Is this map entirely correct and Wilber is suggesting that slavery and oppression and mass murder are necessary elements of human development? Is human history virtually, if not entirely, void of healthy, non-pathological, non-dominator hierarchies beyond the Village System? My answers to those questions would be no, absolutely not, I hope not, and seemingly yes. Towards that final “yes”, we need to ask “why?”.
That “why?” may just hold the key towards the healing of a vast, deep social pathology that has hitherto infected all of human political development and which may finally emancipate us from a fractured, violent world.
To be absolutely clear: I think that Wilber (and much of the integral community) have laid out an excellent schematic and contributed- created– a way of mapping the known Kosmos (a Theory of Everything) that is unparalleled and unprecedented in human existence. The AQAL model is more than a jumping off point for future generations of integral thinkers, but is really the very light which we will be able to use to guide us through the cave. Hell, it gives us more than the light that guides us, but is the light and the spare batteries in our pocket that will guide us through the cave. But Wilber, and almost all of the integral community that I’ve encountered- are not coming into the conversation from a political background; as people who in their lives have been particularly committed or concerned with political (social/cultural) matters. While the vastness of Wilber’s intellect does seem to touch on nearly all fields (from his background in science to his studies in religion to his grasp of history to his experience in matters of spirit and on and on) he, or anyone for that matter, cannot and should not be expected to fully grasp the particulars of all things. And I find this true of most of the integral community: a high personal development in many spheres, but often not including political study’s and theory’s of social/cultural (power) relations. A “fixing” of the short-comings here in the integral community are necessary and urgent, and could unleash a powerful intellectual and creative force upon the unhealthy state of human political (social/cultural) affairs.