Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education

R. Michael Fisher
Integral Philosophy & Ken Wilber in Perspective (Part 1)
by R. Michael Fisher - Saturday, August 29, 2015, 07:06 PM

"From atomic holocaust to ecological suicide, humanity [since the 1960s-70s] began facing on a massive scale its single most fundamental problem: lack of integral development." -Ken Wilber (2000, p. 104), in A Theory of Everything

This series of several Parts, I can imagine, are the basis for a book I want to write on the work of the integral philosopher Ken Wilber (1949-). I am aware of Wilber's severe handicapping health condition as he ages (he's not written any substantial text in nearly a decade), for one reason--that I want to honor his life and work and its creative and profound influence on my life and work, and on the founding of the Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education itself (among other things). Just for the record, this series is, more or less, autobiographical, an intellectual history of ideas (especially, the idea of "integral") and a history of integral philosophy via Ken Wilber's version. Note, it is not going to focus on Ken Wilber the "man" (the philosopher, theorist)--as that is another portion of the book I will write, and I have written in various places. Okay, and just for the record, I am a geek in my quest to find the "best" philosophy for this planet earth, and how it can help us unwind from the insanity, the toxic conflict and violence, and the fear/terror we have all grown up with that is so not necessary--if we had a better philosophy of life. I began reading Ken Wilber in 1982, just after I (early) retired from public school teaching in W. Canada.  I picked up his (1981) book Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution in the University of Calgary bookstore (one of my fav place to visit whenever I was in town)--buying it because it struck me upon scanning it in the book store as something very "deep" and "profound"--and I did so place down my 20 odd dollars on a hunch, without any knowledge of who Ken Wilber was or was becoming in parts of the USA at that time. That book is my most worn out of all the original Wilber books in my collection (19 to be exact). I wouldn't trade it for anything. I'd take that book to the desert island alone to die.

Just one more thing about that 1981 book. It is what Wilber called the dark-side assessment of human evolution, and really, it is a bit mis-titled, it ought to read in the sub-title: A Transpersonal View of Human Cultural Evolution, by which he means the interrelationship of consciousness and culture. Now, that's a big deal, and still equally important to me 33 years later. I was 30 years old when I picked up a serious philosophy book of a kind that I have never seen since, and I doubt will be equalled in its depth and breadth and profoundity of revealing the dark-side of human culture, or what nowadays I call the CULTURAL dimension (which is one of the big three of the whole: the other two, being NATURAL and SPIRITUAL dimensions)--now, I add this because integral philosophy (not that it was called that by Wilber in the early 1980s, nor was it recognized Wilber was an integralist thinker either back then) is what I want to reflect on in this series of Founder Forums-- I don't know how many I will write before I do the book.

Integral philosophy (and theory), as they are now recognized well in many circles, is my fav. all-time philosophy that answers the call for the "best" philosophy that will guide humanity out of the mess it is in--now looking at that mess of cascading crises in the early 21st century. Wilber started his transpersonal philosophy in the mid-1970s and it evolved as he did in his thinking and critique of the transpersonal thinkers, into integral philosophy in the 1980s, but especially in the 1990s and onward. He is now known as the major contemporary (most controversital) integral philosopher-theorist (amongst others) in the world. I began my quest for that philosophy long before I met Mr. Wilber's work (yes, "Mr." because he doesn't have a doctorate degree and he has always been an independent scholar and public intellectual since he was 23 yrs old--a genius, by anyone's standard). I studied a lot of Eastern philosophy and Ecological Philosophy in my 20s before finding Wilber. It also took me many many years to figure out what a 'gem' I had stumbled upon in the University of Calgary bookstore that day in 1982.

Oh, my parallel (and most recent treasure) fav philosophy is a philosophy of fearism. You may not have heard of that, nor even known I have been "onto" it for the past 9 mo.'s or so. I have just co-authored a book (with Desh Subba, founder of philosophy of fearism, in Nepal) entitled, A Philosophy of Fearism: A First East-West Dialogue (soon to appear on the Internet for sale before Xmas 2015, if all goes well). The link I am drawing here is that integral philosophy is the underpinning of my own evolution of a philosophy of fearlessness as I have called it since 1989 and the co-founding of the In Search of Fearlessness Project. My transformation, intellectually, in meeting Subba's work, was to merge my philosophy of fearlessness with roots in an integral philosophy (a la Wilber) with a philosophy of fearism. That's the mix of the 3 philosophies that I am working with now, and I suspect until the day I die. All part of my quest for the "best" philosophy for the 21st century.

Now, I've been busy on a lot of research and writing projects in 2015, and a 6 mo. sabbatical with Barbara in Canada, so why am I onto Wilber again at this moment tonight? Writing a Forum piece, creating a series out of it? I have been triggered by a few events, which I'll cover in little detail here, and maybe pick up in more detail in the next installation Part 2. As part of finishing the book with Subba, we asked several reviewers for endorsements, which publishers like, and readers thinking about buying a book. One of the reviewers is a colleague I very much respect, an Emeritus professor (philosophy) of Education and yet, I never had met him. I was delighted he told me he read most of the book in 10 days or so. And then, he wrote some feedback, Most of it good, but he then said, rather cooly and distantly, he's tried reading a few Wilber books back several years ago and he put them down quickly. His comment in this recent email to me was "sorry" which meant he couldn't get excited about my philosophy of fearism developments in the new book because I always undergird my philosophy with integral philosophy/theory. He then added, in regard to Wilber (and his work)--"It's pretentious." End of story. No curiousity and no engagement. I so well know that criticism. Yet, it hasn't been awhile since I had heard that one again. It is the shutdown that is painful to me, and yet, I am okay that people have their views. I began tonight journaling on Wilber and integral philosophy. I began to realize that my excitement about a new philosophy of fearism (note: Subba has not read Wilber at all) going out into the world was going to be riddled with critiques. I don't mind that, nor does Subba. What I realized is that it is going to be very common for the academics (and others) to reject the philosophy of fearism in its full merits, because of my (quite implicit) reliance on what I call a holistic-integral approach in that book (a la Wilber). Mostly, Wilber is only referred to in the End Notes.

Ouchy! It has been a big reminder that the academy can't stand Wilber (99.999% of it anyways). They reject integral philosophy, and prefer their own philosophies and fav philosophers. It's a battle of philosophies, of knowledge-power-politics. It's nasty often. I know it well as I have reached out to literally hundreds of academics over the years to pitch integral philosophy and my philosophy of fearlessness--neither of which went over well, with only a few rare exceptions. That rejection hit home tonight. "Pretentious" is such an easy word to throw out there--and, I find it so shallow, when not nuanced. And it wasn't in this professor's commentary. I knew, even though this professor said they distinctly support my project and they wrote an endorsement for the book, that the reception of this new book would be hindered because of my association with integral philosophy as the bedrock of my thinking and critiques of culture, that is the culture of fear. It still stings to write about this. I am not where I was 10 years ago, however. I got really mad then. I was indignant 20 years ago, and I was livid 30 years ago when I heard the quick write-offs of so many people when they encountered integral philosophy and Wilber.

I mean just think about it, the Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education, as this new supposedly alternative higher education site for the future, is only here because of my ties with integral philosophy-theory (primarily, but not only, Wilber's version). Huh, it is a 'tag' or an 'albatross' for me and for CSIIE, if you really think about it. I haven't thought about that actually since founding CSIIE in 2009. Hummmm... I guess, I am awakening again to how hard it is to put "integral" on the contemporary map of the intellectual and culture wars going on in the academy and in the world at large these days. So, the last trigger that got me thinking and writing this series, is that I'm working on a serious journal article for submission to a very leftist, progressive, critical Cultural Studies <-> Critical Methodologies publication in the next few months. My article so far is entitled: "Educators, We Have a Culture of Fear Problem." I have had many journal submissions rejected, it is the norm. I tend to self-publish to deal with the mass of ideas that come out of me and all the research I do constantly. I have never written one to this journal. I know it is going to have a problem with the insert I added to my beginning draft today, where I added in Wilber and his definition of "integral" (which I will re-quote here as it is one of my fav's of his, and it speaks to the very problem of my article ever getting past the first-screening by reviewers of this journal). Oh, I added this only in an End Note but the word integral is in the main text of the paper. Here's Wilber (2000) at his finest and revelatory writing, I must say, I still get goosebumps on the implications of integral philosophy for the world:

"Integral- the word means to integrate, to bring together, to join, to link, to embrace. Not in the sense of uniformity [conformity], and not in the sense of ironing out all the wonderful differences [conflicts], colors, zigs and zags of a rainbow-hued humanity, but in the sense of unity-in-diversity, shared commonalities [universal generalizations] along without our wonderful [and particular] differences. And not just in humanity, but in the Kosmos at larger: finding a more comprehensive view [sounds like Bucky Fuller]--a Theory of Everything (T. O. E.)--that makes legitimate room for art, morals, science, and religion, and doesn't merely attempt to reduce them all to one's favorite slice of the Kosmic pie. And of course, if we succeed in developing a truly holistic or integral view of reality, then we will also develop a new type of critical theory--that is, a theory that is critical of the present state [culture] of affairs in light of a more encompassing and desirable state [culture], both in the individual and he culture at large. The integral paradigm will inherently be critical of those approaches that are, by comparison, partial, narrow, shallow, less encompassing, less integrative.... But it is definitely not a final view or a fixed view or the only view; just a view that attempts to honor and include as much research as possible from the largest number of disciplines in a coherent fashion (which is one definition of an integral or more comprehensive view of the Kosmos). Yet, the very attempt itself does raise the interesting question: can a truly integral vision exist in today's climate of culture wars, identity politics, a million new and conflicting paradigms, deconstructive postmodernism, nihilism, pluralistic relativism, and the politics of self? Can a T. O. E. even be recognized, let alone accepted, in such a cultural state? Aren't the cultural elite themselves [academics especially] in as fragmented and rancorous a state as ever? Perhaps the masses of humanity are bent on tribal warfare and ethnocentric cleansing; but what if the cultural elite is likewise so inclined? We are talking, in other words, about the leading edge of consciousness evolution itself, and whether even the leading edge [elite circles of thought] is truly ready for an integral vision" (pp. 2-3).

Interesting his focusing on the resistance to integral anything by the current "cultural elite" (in the widest sense of that term). Note, all of my recent paper under construction for the journal, is dedicated to a "culture of fear"--and, sure enough, behind that construction (in part) is the responsibility of the cultural elite in promoting a particular "cultural state" of the late-20th century into the 21st (at least in the USA, North America, the Western world of so-called "developed nations")... on and on, I could spin, but I think I'll close off the Part 1 of this series about here. I trust you'll see what I am a little upset that "pretentious" is thrown by a colleague I respect all over this work and this genius Ken Wilber. If you are yourself, as reader of this Part 1, already moving away from being motivated to engage me with this Forum in mind, and moving away from integral philosophy, I urge you to contradict that. See what happens if we explore further, and side-step quick opinionated judgements and dismissals of an entire philosophy. I am so aware that this dismissal so quickly may be the fate of my own philosophy of fearism of which I think is my best work so far in my career.

And, just to recall the connection: Wilber's complaint of the current "cultural state" is equivalent with my complaint of the current "culture of fear"--that, is becoming a precious insight for me having written this (arguably, an apologetic) reflection on Wilber's work. I say, that it is apologetic in some regards that I dedicate this work, but it is not sympathetic nor nostalgic to my relationship with Ken Wiber the man (or his closest Wilberites)--if anyone, my god, I ought to be spitting puss at this man and some of the things he has said, written, done that are not honorable at all. Yes, he has criticized me and my work in many ways, mostly implicitly since about 1994. However, I'm not about to use "pretentious" and diss anything about integral philosophy (or Wilber) without giving it a good second, third, and fourth accounting and critical reflection. The integral philosophy and theory is a critical philosophy and theory--a newest version (arguably)--and so is a philosophy of fearism, btw--and it is critical philosophy, theory and pedagogy which are my core foundations for everything I do in the world as a research, teacher, curricularist, etc. It behooves me to really 'work through' all the distresses I have around integral philosophy and the Integral Movement (and Integral Education)--as I too have been 'exiled' pretty much from them all. I am however, still in the 'game' of emancipation just like all of them, and Wilber as one of the pivot leaders of such a project--of which, I am proud to say I "found" because I sniffed it out! And, 33 years later, I'm not the slightest bit bored with reading integral philosophy and utilizing it in my own work.

So, there is a first go at this re-examination of Integral Philosophy & Ken Wilber... in "perspective"-- the perspective of my liberational leadership, and my life's work. I trust you'll find it interesting... or something...

.... to be cont'd...