May 31 2012

Saying “No” to Ken Wilber

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“Those who know, don’t tell.
Those who tell, don’t know.”
 -Tao Te Ching

Some of you may recall that I had originally wanted to go to Boulder this summer to attend a weekend with Ken Wilber. Unfortunately, events conspired against me, and I was unable to go. Truthfully, I am hoping to go next summer if the seminar is offered again. But in the meantime, I’ve had some time to reflect on things a bit. My posting this is mostly inspired by a comment someone made in an “integral” community that I read here on LJ. It kind of touches on a few things I’ve observed myself.

To make some disclaimers, I do not think that Ken Wilber has the answers to all that is wrong with humanity, or life, or society, or any of that. However, I do think Ken has some good ideas. I am intrigued by his use of Spiral Dynamics. I think he is dead-on that there is a spectrum of consciousness. I think also that extending this to his “four quadrant model” is an intriguing map. How he’s expanded this model even further (or at least the previews I’ve seen of it) make sense. I own four of his books, and there are about four more that I would like to read. I think he’s made some interesting and important progress.

But it is only progress. And these are only maps. Useful progress. Useful maps. But as is often said, “the map is not the territory.”

If you’re reading this, and you’re not familiar with Wilber’s ideas, I can’t really do them justice here. I would suggest picking up his book A Theory Of Everything as a quick, easy-to-read introduction.

Where I see “map” being confused with “territory” is in a lot of people I’ve met who have read his books, and suddenly find all the answers they need. And I agree. Wilber’s ideas are very seductive. A lot of them make sense. A lot of them are very full of hope for the future. A lot of them speak to what troubles a lot of us. Wilber’s ideas of “integration”are good ideas. And I agree that we should strive for integrating the various parts of ourselves into a “whole” person. But where I read Wilber as a set of intriguing maps, and (I think Wilber would agree), “a work in progress”, and one person’s philosophical explorations and attempts to make sense of existence, I see others with glazed eyes and waiting for the next set of divine drops of wisdom from an enlightened master. Not everyone. Just a number of “integral” types I’ve met.

There is a dark side I see brewing.

“I meditated three hours today, and you only meditated two. I question your commitment to integration.”


“He is just a ‘blue’. He needs to be shunned.”

There is a potential for fascistic tendencies, I think. And while I’ve never heard either of the above sentences uttered, I wonder how long before such things begin to surface. How soon until the movement devolves into another Church of Sc*entology. After Wilber’s death? Before? In some ways, it seems that the movement is already beyond his control. But then again, I don’t know if he originally even intended to start a movement. Again, the seduction of ideas.

In a way, I’m fascinated.

And in a way, I’m a little saddened.

He has some good ideas in his books. But I should also add, that I’ve also been left feeling somewhat empty after reading some of them. While I have found significant chunks of them helpful, and interesting ways of viewing things, there are also parts of me that are not being spoken to in them. And while I admire Ken for his quest, his quest is not my quest. Nor should it necessarily be anyone else’s. And again, I don’t know that he’s saying it should be. But again, I see too many letting him take their journey for them.

Learn from him. Utilize his ideas. But also make your own journey. Find your own answers. Don’t rely on him, or anyone to tell you things that you need to find out for yourself.

Question. Always question.

And doesn’t the word “question” contain the word “quest” as well?

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