Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education

R. Michael Fisher
Integral Theory's Gutting By Neo-Wilberianism
by R. Michael Fisher - Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 11:21 AM

One of the current movements in the Integral Movement (and development of integral theory and its applications) that is most disturbing is what I have dubbed the ideology of "neo-Wilberianism." This ideology is highly gutting of the critical (conflict) theory tradition of integral theory, both before Wilber's version of integral theory, but primarily during his time-- that is, post-1997 Wilber.

I have written this critique of this ideology several times, but not always so explicitly, and it has now become so hegemonic and dominating in integral theory discourses around Wilber today, that I find it is imperative someone challenges it, and its apparent blind-spot (shadow) it will not acknowledge. As part of the DIFS agenda, I am leading the study of "integral" in all things, especially the Wilber impact on this development.

This short forum post is to inform you of my intentions in the months and years ahead. It is not the place to give the entire argument set for my critique of neo-Wilberianism. I have said before that a combination of functionalism and pragmatism (especially in America) has gutted the core of the darker-side of Wilber's psychosocial and cultural critique, which is most poignant in Wilber's 1981 book Up From Eden.

The extra impetus calling me to name the ideological dis-ease in the Integral Movement, and to expose it, and offer alternative approaches, came from reading works by Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and Norman O. Brown, all writing in the 1940s-60s, and writing about the appropriation (depoliticizing, ahistoricizing) of Freudian psychoanalytical theory and its anthropology. These brilliant critics saw in Freud's work not just a healing methodology, not just a psychology, but a meta-psychology and more particularly a view of human nature that challenged the notion of "culture" and a sociopolitical relations on any scale from the mother-child, family, to society. They all critiqued the critique that grew after Freud's discoveries, that is, they critiqued what was dubbed in some circles positively as "neo-Freudianism," of which Marcuse, Fromm, and Brown make cases that such an ideology was anything but positive, and was a disastrous appropriation of the radical critical social theory Freud had created.

Again, this is not the place to elaborate all that, but to say it inspired me to take the same kind of positioning, relatively, and analogically with Wilber's early (pre-1996) theory. Wilber's work of this period is definitely radical as a psychospiritual theory but more so as a sociocultural (anthropological) theory of human nature, the human situation and human potential. I call it the darker-side of Wilberian thought. Those that have largely ignored it, and they are legion, and they are growing in number with more and more shallow interpretations of Wilber's work, are the neo-Wilberians, as I will call them from now on. They are perpetuating a mis-reading of Wilber's work, and depoliticizing it, turning it into meta- abstractions and methodological procedures, for the most part. This is tragic in my view, as someone who has specialized in Wilberian thought for 30 years. The newbies reading Wilber in his later stages of writing, especially Wilber-5 period have really a very distorted "gutted" notion, and a Wilber-lite though process. They have dismissed what critical (conflict) theory is, and how Wilber's work, as I have argued in my book, is deeply embedded in that tradition, not in functionalism and pragmatism.

Has Wilber himself colluded to create this neo-Wilberianism? Yes, to some degree. That's another story I shall be researching and writing about for some time. Have the so-called self-labeled "post-Wiliberians" salvaged early Wilber (i.e., pre-1997)? No. They instead have critiqued Wilber's domination of the Integral Movement and integral theory making, and that is worthwhile, but they have not seen through the ideology going on in Wilber's later writing and his followers. They are themselves, often embedded in the same ideology of neo-Wilberianism, from what I have seen for decades now.

I invite CSIIE faculty and students, and others to join in this re-evaluation of what is "integral" and what is "Wilberian"? I ask us to give a listen and critical thought to the argument for a critique of the destructivity I see of neo-Wilberianism.