Rich Carlson’s critique of Integral Theory: 1) the ideological aspects Michel Bauwens 4th August 2008
It is always great when you feel that you have discovered a 'soul brother’, someone whom you feel has a similar understanding of the world, even though of course many details may differ. One such person is Rich Carlson, who is an integral/integrative thinker who went through Aurobindo’s school of Integral Yoga, but has processed his tradition in his own way. I discovered him through a critique of Wilber’s theory , which echoes my own.
Peer to peer theory is very indebted to integral/integrative approaches, because only a non-reductionist (inter) subjective-objective understanding can do justice to the manyfold emergence of peer to peer, which is ‘at the same time‘, a way of being, a way of knowing, a technology but also a ‘way of life’. I have tried to explain my own methodology in the launch essay of the Integral Review (see page 14 and following), which sadly refused the excellent essay by Rich Carlson I will discuss next.
The sad truth is indeed that most of what passes for integral theory is a front for system-confirming ideological approaches, sometimes aligned with the neo-conservative war party that has dominated the last US administration, but such a conclusion would be superficial, as quite a bit more is at stake.
Rich Carlson has finally tackled this aspect in a systematic way, and his essay is now published in Integral World, the excellent site maintained by Frank Visser. I will attempt to present this essay in several parts. An introduction today, a critique of the politics of Don Beck and Ken Wilber tomorrow, and finally a critique of Wilber’s mapping compulsion as exemplifying a particular type of consciousness, which according to Rich Carlson, is not an integral one.
Here is how Rich Carlson introduces his work:
“This paper explores the relationship between integral theory and ideology. I have identified three ideologies specific to a variety of integral theories and practices. Using categories which most easily demonstrates how these ideologies correspond to those which drive world events, I refer to them as fundamentalist, neo-liberal, and neo-conservative.
My hope is to provide an in depth analysis of how particular integral theories and practices lend themselves to the three ideological orientations under review. Any attempt to understand the reasons that these ideologies have crept into specific integral theories or practices requires tracing their genealogy. In tracing genealogies I wish to show that the ideological sources particular to specific integral theories and practices are not only to be found in historical figures or events but are to be located through an excavation of their very organizing ideas.
The importance of this study is two-fold. The first of course is to uncover any ideological drivers integral theory brings with it to the table in its socio-political analysis.”
One remark imposes itself: what about the non-ideological approaches to integral theory, and specifically the participatory approaches? This aspect is not treated by Rich but doesn’t diminish the quality of his analysis.
Here are some interesting insights.
First of all, Rich Carlson shows that the evolutionary point of view of Wilber (so-called Recapitulation Theory), is not a necessary aspect of integral theory, and he shows how Gebser himself (sometimes seen as the founder of modern integral theory, while Gebser himself acknowledged Aurobindo), did not adhere to it:
“Perhaps more importantly Gebser’s thought is incommeasurable with certain key beliefs of Modernism, that he attributed to the “mental mutation”, such as the progressive values it assigns biological/cultural evolution. Gebser asserted that evolution was not continuous or progressive. Rather, Gebser viewed evolution as discontinuous, characterized by epochs with periodic ruptures and bifurcations in which new mutations of consciousness emerge. In speaking of Teilhard De Chardin, whose work he contrasts with his own because “Teilhard’s discussion is centered more on development of mankind then on consciousness itself. “(Gebser 1984 p103) he approvingly notes: “even a thinker who is indebted to the teleological principle of evolution, ultimately takes recourse to the concept of discontinuous occurrence that is mutation to explain the decisive events”. (Gebser 1984 p40)
Gebser’s conclusion that concepts such as progress are proper to the mental rather than the integral structure of consciousness are interesting in that other integral theories and practices are undergirded by ideas of progressive evolution. Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga grafts itself to the Modernist idea of progressive evolution. Although Sri Aurobindo, who was also attempting to reconcile the cyclic view of Yugas in Indian mythology with Darwinian evolution, referred to progress as curiously circular not linear. More recently, Ken Wilber has also voiced acceptance of a directional ordering of evolution. Although he claims its basic building block the holon exerts influence in either direction, the unfolding of evolution follows an arrow of time which is viewed as progressive.”
After considering the objections to the progressive interpretations of history, Rich then tackles the ideological assumptions, in three different rubrics.
“The specific population I wish to consider under the rubric of fundamentalism are Westerners who adopt Eastern spiritual practices. The fundamentalist tendency can present itself when one adopts a religion or spiritual teacher from the East yet, lacks a sufficient understanding of the broader cultural or political disposition which constitute the “nomos” (2a) (Bourdieu 1977) of its indigenous followers.
What appears to happen to some Westerners who adopt Eastern spiritual practices is that they also assimilate the unstated ideological assumptions which define the socio-political belief systems of some of their indigenous followers. These indigenous followers however, are themselves a sub-group situated within a larger cultural field. Because the new Western followers are reliant on the subgroup for knowledge of the larger cultural field in which the subgroup is located, they become dependent on the subgroups interpretations of the norms of the greater culture.”
Example: “It is in fact the transference of Hindu religious practices on to Integral Yoga which has facilitated a fascination of some of his followers with the fundamentalist rhetoric of todays militant Hindu nationalism (Hinduvta). ”
For this, Rich uses Zizek’s critique of eastern thought and the new age, as used in the West:
“What Zizek is stating is that these “new age” practices, many of which can be called “integral” practices, facilitate the conditioning of a neo-liberalist subject no longer concerned with matters of social justice but with simply feeling good and gaining a competitive edge.”
Example: “For example at M.I.T’s Society for Organizational Learning when Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge teach the theory of presencing or U theory to their corporate audiences, to my knowledge they do not first try to discern the executives emotional intelligence to determine their commitment to social responsibility nor, do they first perform environmental impact studies on their respective corporation’s global footprints in an effort to understand how their instruction will be applied. Rather these programs are offered to one and all regardless if the participants are representatives of non-profits, executives of major multinational companies, or major defense contractors interested in more efficient ways to wage neo-cortical warfare through advance applications of technology . ”
Rich Carslon here tackles specifically the role of Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics (which may be unfair to Chris Cowan’s branch) and Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute. I will quote extensively from this section separately in a next entry. This entry was posted on Monday, August 4th, 2008 at 10:04 am