Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On Tami Simon, Marc Gafni, et al. - Part I - "Short" Version

I've been pondering how to respond to this for a very long time. I've probably written this blog entry five times and trashed it. I've decided to take another go at it. I think I owe it to the small number of people in my community who might find themselves reading this blog in the future to be honest and clear about my take on these events. This is a subtle and difficult subject. You might disagree with me. I don't think you're a bad person if you do. I don't even necessarily think you're incorrect or misguided if you do. The answers here aren't clear. It’s hard to know the good and the true. The beautiful in this case, I'm not so concerned with. It might be the easier perspective to take - because regardless of where you stand I think most would agree that this was ugly.

This is a complex topic and it’s easy to make incorrect interpretations of what anyone might say. I'm going to post short versions and long versions - if you find that you disagree with me vehemently, you might want to read the long version to make sure you really understand my intent.

I want to be clear that I am a skeptic and critic of Gafni. I don't write as a supporter or defender. But it’s very important to be fair. My personal suspicions and opinions are obviously not the ultimate arbiter here.

My opinion on the ethics of what I understand Marc did and did not do.

Bottom line, I don't think that Marc did anything obviously wrong here. There is no widely agreed upon ethical standard for polyamorous relationships and there's also no widely agreed upon standard for the ethical behavior of post-traditional spiritual teachers. Marc has been public about his beliefs on these matters and he's acting in accordance with those beliefs. I don't know of any testimony or evidence that Marc was abusive in any of these relationships or that he was acting in bad faith with regard to any of his relationships. What we have is a woman, Tami's friend, who was uncomfortable or even deeply troubled by her secret, though apparently fully consensual, relationship with Marc - and that knowledge of her emotional discomfort undermined Tami Simon's provisional support for Marc Gafni - provisional in light of earlier allegations against him having nothing directly to do with these events.

Based on all of this, I really can't make a strong condemnation of Marc's behavior in good conscience. These were all consenting adults and the woman who seems hurt by her relationship with Marc is not one of his students that I can tell. At worst, what Marc has done is to make a bad choice for a relationship partner - someone who really wasn't up to the complexity of the kind of relationship Marc offered.

At the same time, I really can't fault Tami's behavior. Sounds True is her business. She can publish or not publish whoever she wants to. If Marc's behavior undermined her trust in him, then that is just what it did. Whether Marc was guilty of any ethical violation or not, Tami was no longer comfortable working with him.

In general, my personal opinion is that Marc's behavior is not giving due consideration to dual relationships. I think that there should be an ethical standard of behavior for spiritual teachers and I think Marc should be expected to sign up to it - but that's just my opinion.

I wish him and his students and associates peace. I applaud his relatively recent honesty and transparency about his intentions and his behavior. I hope he becomes more transparent and more honest. I hope his behavior and choices no longer invite drama into the integral community (as for my hopes about the rest of us in the integral community - I'll get to that later).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On Tami Simon, Marc Gafni, et al. - Part I - Long Version

On Tami Simon, Marc Gafni, et al.

I've been pondering how to respond to this for a very long time. I've probably written this blog entry five times and trashed it. I've decided to take another go at it. I think I owe it to the small number of people in my community who might find themselves reading this blog in the future to be honest and clear about my take on these events. This is a subtle and difficult subject. You might disagree with me. I don't think you're a bad person if you do. I don't even necessarily think you're incorrect or misguided if you do. The answers here aren't clear. Its hard to know the good and the true. The beautiful in this case, I'm not so concerned with. It might be the easier perspective to take - because regardless of where you stand I think most would agree that this was ugly.

I'm going to take this in four chunks, not intentionally aligned to any quadrants. What I think happened; My opinion on the ethics of what I understand Marc did; My opinion on the ethics of how some of us have reacted to it; and finally: Some thoughts on our community and its capacity to deal with events of this kind.

I want to state at the outset that I'm skeptical of Marc Gafni. I tend to think that some of the many allegations against him are true in some way and that he hasn't dealt with them adequately. But I can't prove that or make a convincing argument for it so it would be unfair to Marc to insist that my suspicion is actually the truth. I've made unfair and mean comments about Marc on my FB page and I've apologized directly to Marc in a public conversation for that. I sincerely mean my apology. My comments were unfair and thoughtless. Even if my suspicions about Marc should turn out to be true, the comments were still mean. I say all this up front so any reader can know that I'm not a supporter of Marc's, I'm a skeptic and a critic, but I'm trying to be fair to him because we all deserve that. Its possible that I'm wrong. I want to be able to live with myself if it turns out that I am.

What I think happened.
--------------------------------
By reading the various blogs and public statements by Tami Simon, Marc Gafni, Ken Wilber, Joe Perez, William Harryman, and various FaceBook discussion threads - this is, as near as I can tell, the facts of the matter. I may have something wrong or have left out something important - please feel free to point it out to me. I apologize for the rehash - feel free to skip over this if you feel like you know the facts and have pondered them ad nauseum.

Marc had some kind of partnership with Mariana Caplan who became pregnant and gave birth to a child.
Marc began relationships with two women, one named Marcy who is or was on the Board of CWS and is also a spiritual student of Marc's in some sense, and another women whose name I do not know - I'll call her Tami's friend. Marc agreed with both of those women to keep their relationships secret. Both women knew they were not Marc's only relationship. At some point in the past six to twelve months, Marc began publishing essays in a few places on the internet saying that romantic and sexual relationships between spiritual teachers and their students were allowable and maybe even productive. I don't recall if Marc wrote that he was planning on engaging in them or not.

Tami's friend became troubled in some way by her secret relationship with Marc and spoke to Tami Simon about it. The knowledge of these relationships damaged Tami's trust of Marc and she chose not to publish Marc's pending book. Somehow word of this occurence spread - obviously through rumor and hearsay. William Harryman researched the rumor with plans to publish a blog post on it with whatever facts he could assemble. He asked Tami Simon for a comment on it and she chose to give him a statement for publication. At some point, Integral Life, Integral Institute, and CWS indicated they were reviewing their relationship with Marc Gafni and the allegations about his recent relationships. William Harryman published Tami Simon's letter on his blog as well as his understanding of the events and his opinions on their ethical implications.

There were many reactions. Joe Perez weighed in. Various personalities in the integral community weighed in on their blogs or on Facebook - some reluctantly. CWS and Ken Wilber both indicated they would delay judgement until more was known and passions died down. Many individuals on Facebook and in their blogs criticized Marc. Many defended him. Some condemned him. Some exonerated him.

Marcy of CWS publicly defended her relationship with Marc, stating something to the effect that it had been an unequivocally positive experience that she had entered into freely. Tami's friend, to my knowledge, has not made her identity known nor made any kind of public statement.

Over time, passions did die down. Everyone said their piece. Eventually CWS and Ken Wilber independently announced that they felt that Marc Gafni was without fault in these events and they would continue to work with him in all capacities. I believe that Integral Life, Integral Institute, and Integral Spiritual Experience may have chosen to distance themselves from Marc. I do not know if they continue in that posture. Integrales Forum in Germany published a statement indicating they would not work with Marc in the capacity of spiritual teacher but that they did not condemn or disavow his work, his writing, or his ideas.

My opinion on the ethics of what I understand Marc did and did not do.
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Bottom line, I don't think that Marc did anything obviously wrong here. My inclination was to immediately condemn his actions - but as more of the facts have come out I have to admit that there's nothing to see here. There is no widely agreed upon ethical standard for polyamorous relationships and there's also no widely agreed upon standard for the ethical behavior of post-traditional spiritual teachers. Marc has been public about his beliefs on these matters and he's acting in accordance with those beliefs. I don't know of any testimony or evidence that Marc was abusive in any of these relationships or that he was acting in bad faith with regard to any of his relationships. What we have is a woman, Tami's friend, who was uncomfortable or even deeply troubled by her secret, though apparently fully consensual, relationship with Marc - and that knowledge of her emotional discomfort undermined Tami Simon's provisional support for Marc Gafni - provisional in light of earlier allegations against him having nothing directly to do with these events.

Based on all of this, I really can't make a strong condemnation of Marc's behavior in good conscience. These were all consenting adults and the woman who seems hurt by her relationship with Marc is not one of his students, that I can tell. At worst, what Marc has done is to make a bad choice for a relationship partner - someone who really wasn't up to the complexity of the kind of relationship Marc offered.

At the same time, I really can't fault Tami's behavior. Sounds True is her business. She can publish or not publish whoever she wants to. If Marc's behavior undermined her trust in him, then that is just what it did. Whether Marc was guilty of any ethical violation or not, Tami was no longer comfortable working with him. I'll say more about this later.

Marcy has spoken in public about their relationship and she seems unharmed and content. When I consider all of her various relationships to Marc - student, investor, supervisor, lover, friend - on the one hand I think there are so many duelling obligations already existing that complicating them by the introduction of a sexual relationship was more than a little crazy. On the other hand, its clear that their various roles served to balance the power in their relationship so that I think there's a good argument that the power concern just isn't a part of it. If a dual relationship were going to work well - it would be a relationship like that. In short - I think that Marc chose a good partner for such a relationship in Marcy.

Still, I want to weigh in more generally on this ethical problem. My personal opinion is that, if spiritual teaching possesses the power that I think it should, then romantic and sexual relationships with students have to be handled with great care. It should be incumbent upon the spiritual teacher to establish that sufficient care has been taken to justify a specific exception to this. Obviously some spiritual teachers directly use sex as a modality in spiritual teaching - but even in this case a romantic relationship with a student should still be treated with the same care, maybe even more so given the confusion of the already existing sexual relationship. I don't see that spiritual teaching can be exempted from the concerns that we apply to psychotherapy and other kinds of ministry. In my opinion, if it comes to light that a spiritual teacher is having a dual relationship with a student, that teacher should be able to clearly justify to their community why the relationship is not harmful to the student or to their spiritual seeking - and justifying, to me, is not simply stating that sometimes its ok. Why is it specifically ok in this case? What are the principles for determining whether its ok or not? How will you know if you're mistaken? What steps will you take if you are? That is the kind of care that dual relationships deserve. I'll write more about the complexities here another time. Clearly enforcement of this kind of ethical standard can become draconian and ridiculous. That's not at all what I'm talking about here.

So, in that sense, I think concern about Marc's relationship with his student is justified and that its up to Marc to explain why this specific relationship is not harmful. I don't think Marc's writings do this - I think they just give a general justification for why dual relationships are not always and unequivocally wrong. I'm not sure I agree with his argument, but even if I did, it would not specifically address this.

But that's just my opinion. Marc hasn't signed up to any ethical standard that says he's obligated to do this. I think he should be expected to, but we don't seem to have a strong consensus in our community on this. So while I think Marc's relationship choices are ethically suspect and unwise - I don't think I have grounds to condemn him for making them - especially given Marcy's apparent unconcern. There's been no harm here that I can see. I might suspect that things might not turn out well later - but that's just a suspicion.

As for Tami's friend, all we can really say is that it turned out to be a poor relationship choice for her. That's all we really know. Maybe there is more that we don't know. But maybe there isn't. That's all anyone can go off of.

Its hard for me to admit this. I don't approve of Marc's choices. But his obligations here are very poorly defined. I don't think he's being smart. I don't think his practices are wise. I still have many concerns about past allegations against him. I wouldn't recommend him as a spiritual teacher to work with directly. I probably wouldn't even recommend his writing or lectures (though not for any reason directly related to ethics). But condemn him because of these recent events? Claim that his actions here are deeply heinous and despicable? I just can't do it in any kind of good conscience. Part of me wants to - but it would be unjust to do so.

I wish him and his students and associates peace. I applaud his relatively recent honesty and transparency about his intentions and his behavior. I hope he becomes more transparent and more honest. I hope his behavior and choices no longer invite drama into the integral community (as for my hopes about the rest of us in the integral community - I'll get to that later).

In my next post, I'll talk about the ethics of our reaction in the community. Later I'd like to talk about some structural questions about our community and how it enables or limits our ability to deal with events and questions of this kind.









Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More on sexual ethics and spiritual leadership.

So lets just talk about sexual ethics and spiritual leadership.

I want to just jot something down here, and I'm not going to take too much effort to be subtle about it. I'll just present it like its the ten commandments and then we can talk.

Its OK to:

Be single and promiscuous
Have an open marriage.
Create polyamorous relationships, married or not.

Its not OK to:

Screw your students.
Screw your clients.
Screw the underaged.
Cheat on your commitments to your significant other(s).
Cheat on your commitments to your spiritual community.

Its very easy when talking about sexual ethics to descend into a kind of puritanical response, or to accuse valid critiques of performing this descent. When anyone discusses sexual ethics and spiritual teachers, they're actually talking about power, not sex. A spiritual teacher can have all the sex they want with as many people as they want provided they aren't committed to a tradition that frowns on that. Power, integrity, commitment, responsibility. These are the important topics, not Tab A into Slot B or who falls in love with whom.

Now a separate topic might be whether or not promiscuity, open marriages, polyamory, etc. are spiritually advisable. Are they safe? Are they healthy? But this is a different ethical question than "What are the limits on sexual behavior that one must accept to be a teacher or guide to others?"

I even can allow that there might be spiritual paths that actually do involve teachers and students having sexual relationships. But they would be distinguished by making the sexual relationship a conscious, central part of the practice. I've read there are actually erotic tantric teachers who do this, though I have yet to meet one or know enough about anyone actually doing this to form an opinion. But that is a very different thing than cheating, secrecy, and exploitation.

This obviously has come up because of Genpo and I didn't write this to dog on Genpo. Genpo didn't betray *me*. He betrayed his wife and his sangha and his students, most especially the students with whom he had romantic/erotic relationships. He has a lot to make amends for there - to those people, not to me. I'm writing about this because we can let our shock and outrage run out of control and take irrational positions about sexual misbehavior. When we allow ourselves to just be shocked by the sexual component, which honestly in Genpo's case is pretty tame, we cloud and confound the issue. Its not about who a teacher *screws*. Its about *who* a teacher screws. If I am not careful with this, then any critique I make can be discounted as simple sexual puritanism.

It doesn't matter to me if a spiritual teacher wants to have hot monkey sex with the entire population of Kalamazoo. As long as s/he isn't teaching any of them and as long as that doesn't break any of their commitments to spouse and community.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spiritual Teaching and Sexual Ethics: Genpo and Gafni

So Genpo is stepping down and he will be Roshi no more. I wish I knew why. The rumor mill (that is, my friends who I have frantically canvassed in an attempt to discover what happened and so gain some illusory control over my world) says he had an affair and this is why.This raises so many questions, so I'm going to write about it as if it were true. But maybe its not, at this point I can't know.

A friend of a friend on FB compared his actions to Gafni in a positive way, lauding Genpo for handling this with integrity while reviling Gafni. I tend to agree with her but I wonder about the dependence on context and reaction. Can one's actions after the fact really exhonerate one? Is the original sin so terrible?

So lets be clear. I understand that Genpo is rumored to have had an affair and that this is the reason he is stepping down. He did this once before in Maine, I have read. In general I am indifferent. An affair is a private problem between spouses, although it certainly damages a teacher's ability to expound on sexual ethics unless he finds a way to integrate the transgression honestly into his teaching. It becomes more complicated if the affair is between Master and student. I don't know what the standard Zen position on this is. I suspect that in a deeply traditional way, Zen tolerates this as the purview of the feudal community leader. But I don't know. I do know that its inappropriate in the postmodern world. We know too much about human relationships and power dynamics to believe this is ok. If a spiritual teacher has a sexual relationship with a student, at the very least they have to forsake one of the roles. Either the sexual relationship ends or the teaching relationship ends. Honestly I doubt that this minimal response would be sufficient, but its at least necessary. So, not knowing the details of Genpo's situation, I speculate that he may be taking this minimal step.

Or he may be acting to satisfy our more puritanical urges, paying homage to our inner traditionalism.

Or he may be acting to divest himself of these traditional expectations so that he can go about his business with what he perceives to be more freedom. As I said above, I don't think that would work given our postmodern understanding of power.

Some part of me that wants to think the best of Genpo, fantasizes that he is stepping down as an act of leadership within the integral community. That he is showing up the sexual ethics of others, demonstrating the way sexual infractions on the part of spiritual teachers should be handled. I suspect this is just a fantasy projection of mine.

No matter how I look at it though, I think this action, if he did have an affair with a student, is appropriate. I think it satisfies community needs on multiple levels: the traditional, the modern, the postmodern. I don't think he should give himself a pass and stay in his position as Roshi. Perhaps he could come back to it later, but stepping down for now seems right.

I can't leave this topic without touching on the question of Gafni. There are multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Gafni, some of them involving underaged girls. Gafni's respons has been to deny and respin, maintaining that he's just behaving in postmodern and postconventional ways and being judged harshly by the unselfreflexive traditionalists among us. And he does deny - allegations involving a very early involvement with an underage girl (she was 13, he was 19) are met with claims that it was a sweet teenage romance. He produces lie detector results showing that he believes he once had a letter from her establishing the kind regard they held for one another. He only produces lie detector results because he can't produce the letter. He claims other stories were invented by disgruntled spouses, or by hysterical teens, or by shady and unscrupulous journalists. Every claim has enough confusion around it that there's no smoking gun and Gafni remains largely unaffected - though I suspect he would rejoin that losing his ministry in Israel was hardly remaining unaffected. I could only respond that he seems to be landing on his feet quite well, once again.

So I think the differences here are pretty clear. Genpo had two relationships with students seperated by 20 years. He stepped down in both cases. Clearly he has a problem remaining monogamous, but as far as I know his infractions are against his marriage vows, not any kind of abusive relationship. I think its appropriate that he step down from his role as Roshi. As an informal student and admirer of his, I expect him to deal with this with a certain amount of transparency if we are to continue to look to him as a spiritual teacher, Roshi or not. Otherwise I don't think we'd be giving appropriate attention to the power dynamics involved in teacher/student relationships. I hope he does exhibit some leadership on this and threads the needle between transparency and accountability on the one hand, and tabloid voyeurism on the other. God knows the integral community could use some leadership by example in this arena of sexual ethics.

By contrast, Gafni is accused of multiple infractions that go beyond simple affairs and he has admitted to guilt in exactly zero of them. He's misunderstood. He's vilified. He was naive. He was a "young kid in love" etc. etc. etc. Anything but responsible. Google "Secoya teenage Gafni" and tell me if they sound like "young kids in love". I am distantly connected to Secoya through my personal relationships (real-life, not merely Facebook), and I have every reason to believe the online letter is genuine. I can't expect the general public to take my word for it, but I know whose account I believe.

Genpo and Gafni are anything but equivalent, in their teaching, in their authenticity, in their infractions, and in their responses.

I hope Genpo goes the extra mile and provides the integral community with leadership on spiritual teaching and sexual ethics. We badly need it. I suspect that I hope in vain, but I still hope.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Commodification of Integral Theory and Practice.

I wrote the following in response to a thread my good friend Bruce Kunkel stared on Facebook.

His status was:

"Is integral thought in danger becoming "clubby" and "orthodox"? Do you believe that integral thought and progress have the greatest opportunity for authentic fleshing out as open source? - as "radically free". Or do you feel that commercial gatekeepers/commodifiers to integral dialog and discussion is the right turn to make?"

Forgive the disjointed nature of this post. I wrote a lot on Bruce's thread and gathered it together here. Hopefully it makes some kind of sense. The last few paragraphs are new, so my friends from FB can just jump to the end.

The integral subculture can't skip stages, regardless of the individual development of some of the participants. Our social structure is Red/Amber - not even Orange. Consider whether the leaders of the integral subculture are beholden to any communal standards of ethics or behavior. Is there any body to which members of the integral subculture may appeal in case of dispute? There really isn't. We're kings, courts, and serfs. The kings cooperate because it suits them to. When it no longer suits them, they will go off on their own.

Perhaps the more relevant question is whether we can escape being a subculture. I'm not sure we can.

Getting to the point of critique is important. I have strong areas of disagreement with Wilber as well, however I'm probably not the best person to pursue the debate. More I am aware of them as i pursue applications. The metatheoretical view is very helpful to differentiating and contextualizing Wilber's work. I think it ends up being simultaneously more powerful and less powerful than many realize. Bonnie has said - and I follow some of her line of thought on this - that much of what she's doing was consciously and subconsciously implicit in Wilber's work all along. I think there's a lot of great work here to be done.

Still - that doesn't have much to do with the social holon that is the integral community. Our individual development, opinions, etc. do not necessarily determine how we interact. Its both a function of our individual social lines of development and the social structures we put in place. To the extent that we *are* putting social structures in place, they are pre-democratic, imho.

But back to the commercial aspect of this thread - how's this for a reframe - a guy's gotta eat. Nobody in the integral community is cleaning up on these products. Robb Smith, CEO of II and I Life, works for free. Integral coaches, counselors, and consultants work for a fee. Ken's books have never been free. So what does Open Source mean? If someone builds an expertise as a skilled conveyor of integral concepts, they deserve compensation for their services and payment for the educational materials they've created.

I think another mistake might be to think about things like ISE and Integral Life as places where the work of developing integral theory and practice is going to happen. Where its going to happen is at ITC, at JFKU, at Fielding, in JITP, and in the other integral journals. ILife and ISE are forums for propagating knowledge, not developing and debating it.

As for orthodoxy - I think yes its certainly in danger. Studying the underlying source material helps a lot to head off the reification of Wilber's model. Take the evidence for Third Tier for instance - its very thin - its a speculative take on some interesting case studies more or less, at least to the extent that I understand it. Then look at Kegan - in Kegan's work he makes explicit reference to social learning as a means to transform, something Ken makes very little reference to except in the most implicit way. Kegan also makes very little distinction between Green and Teal, viewing Green, Teal, and Turquoise as sub-stages of 5th order, while Orange is 4th order and has similar sub-stages that just aren't spelled out in Wilber's spectrum. This is less to play gotcha with AQAL and more to reinforce the limits of metatheory. There are very important details about developmental theories that are just lost at the AQAL metatheory level - I think its arguable that its not a good enough meta-model given the degree to which the details of the underlying theories are obscured.

To me, my experience with Mark Edward's metatheory class at JFKU left me quite concerned that our primary task at this point in the integral experiment is to prevent integral theory from going the way of Marxist and Neo-Marxist orthodoxy. We need to stay open and stay in dialogue with the "non-integral" world as well as all the other integral currents and projects in the world that have little to do with Wilber.

I think when we express concern about the behavior of our leaders and the institutions around them we need to be specific about our concerns. Really, the biggest criticism I can make about the various practices of the I-I, Ilife, ITC, ISE, etc., is that I am always skeptical about spiritual teaching that costs a lot of money. Well, that and I think some of the 'teachers' attending are of questionable character. Still, ISE isn't any more expensive than any other conference, so its not the charging money for a conference that's the problem - the problem only arises when the word "spirit" gets added to it. Its really, in my case, a reaction to the long history of religious shysters conning old people out of their pennies. God isn't short of cash - to paraphrase Bono.

But for the rest of it? It costs money to teach people. It costs money to provide a place where people can come together. The only reason we can have this "free" dialogue here on FB is that we allow ourselves to be bombarded to some extent by advertising. That's hardly "free" and is hardly superior to paying membership dues on I-Life. (Not to mention the frequent risks to our privacy).

Further, I think we have to be careful not to conflate Ken's lack of social graces with some kind of institutional nefariousness. I know from listening to the folks on the ITC critiques panel that people were treated unfairly, dismissively, and impolitely in the early days of I-I. Interacting with Ken its pretty clear he really doesn't seem to know how to relate to people. And this had something to do, I'd expect, with the demise of all the various I-I endeavors, the transformation to I-life, and the export of Integral University to JFKU and Fielding. Ken doesn't lead anymore. He hasn't for years. Its not his sweet spot. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to hold this period against integral theory and the various wilber related institutions. I don't think we have to forget. But we should forgive. Good critique of integral theory is actively sought now. It was clear at JFKU that one of our tasks was going to be creating good critique where so much of it hasn't been.

So I think its good to reflect on the integral products that we are being offered and to realize that going to expensive conferences isn't going to advance integral theory and application. But I also think it would be a mistake to equate these products with the integral endeavor in general.

In short, final response to Bruce's thought provoking status.... No I don't think integral thought is in great danger of being closed off and commodified. I think its getting more open than it has ever been. But I do think we, the integral public, are in danger of mistaking products for something else.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An approach to critiques of integral theory.

When considering essential critiques of integral theory it is important first to consider just what we mean by "integral theory". In this context, of course, we are largely referring to the body of work created by Ken Wilber. Although this work is beginning to be augmented by others, both in the metatheoretical sense and in applications of the metatheory, the core of integral theory is obviously the work of Wilber. Beyond recognizing this obvious core, we must also recognize that Wilber's work is not monolithic. It is, at times, theory, metatheory, criticism, defense, polemic, application, and popularization. Wilber's work also is constantly and ever a work-in-progress with at least 5 major stages, if not more. So out of this evolving, heterogeneous mass of ideas, what, then, is the essential core of integral theory? And when we seek to offer essential critiques of integral theory, just what are we critiquing?

In brief a relatively short list of distinct areas comes to mind:

metatheoretical claims - this would be the most current metatheoretical structure Wilber has offered in which he sythesizes multiple theories into his overarching and unifying claims - roughly speaking this would be his AQAL, IMP, and IPM structures, however he may offer metatheoretical perspectives that do not fit neatly into these categories. It seems likely that the substance of these core metatheoretical claims should be Wilber's primary intellectual legacy and it is critiques of this core that are the most essential and relevant. Critical inquiry might address the degree to which integral theory successfully orients one toward individual fields of study, the degree to which anomalies or conflicts are resolved by integral theory, or the universality of its key elements.

theoretical claims - At times, Wilber allows his speculation to descend out of meta-theory and into theory itself, perhaps because he sees an implication of his metatheory that has not been metatheoretically realized, or perhaps because his understanding of his source material has led him to some position on is own. Both of these are valid areas for him to attempt. One might argue that his unique expertise is more suited to the former than the latter and one might also be justifiably skeptical of outright theoretical claims made from this secondhand standpoint without direct access to raw data and injunctions of the various theorists. If we consider the metatheoretical claims as the object of needed critique, then simple theoretical implications would be analogous to the predictions of simple theory that are tested with empirical data. The validity of those predictions are a valid test of Wilber's metatheory.

factual and theoretical support for those claims - Theory and metatheory take data and theory, respectively, as their object. One must build arguments based on those objects for the validity of theories and metatheories. It is always possible to critique a theorist's data, their injunctions for generating it, their interpretation of it, etc. Wilber's case is no different. The objects of his theorizing and metatheorizing are open to criticism and some may turn out to be invalid or weak, in which case we have to consider whether Wilber's theoretical constructs based on those objects are invalidated or weakened in turn. It does not automatically follow that this would be the case. A theory is not inexorably dependent upon the validity of every data point in its view. But problems of this kind also can't be dismissed out of hand.

rhetorical structure and implications of the above - similarly, the manner in which theories are communicated, recorded, delineated, and argued may be examined. Data may be sound, theory may be sound, and yet the structure and surface of the arguments advanced in support of the theory may be weak for any number of reasons. Some easy targets in Wilber's work have been his rhetorical flourishes which may be argued to be irrelevant or even perhaps counter-productive through offering insult to his audience. While it is easy to get distracted by these surface features, they alone do not invalidate integral theory and while they may be essential critiques of Wilber's literary offering, they may not qualify as essential critiques of integral metatheory.

postmodern critiques of bias and structure - While not directly a critique of theoretical content, these critiques are valid and relevant. What is the worldview that produces integral theory? What are its biases and weaknesses? How are those weakness embodied or overcome in the theory itself? What are the implications of the metanarrative integral theory offers? How might a conscious or unconscious adoption of that metanarrative affect power and justice in the world? What are the strengths and weaknesses of a worldview informed by this metanarrative? What perspectives are excluded in spite of the integral ambition to enfold and include all perspectives? What might the cultural consequences of this metanarrative be?

institutional and personal embodiment - related to the postmodern critique might be a direct critique of the persons and institutions informed by, and involved with, integral theory. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How are they revealed in embodied action and experience? How are those related to integral theory itself? What might those real consequences reveal about integral theory itself? For instance, one might critique the behavior and consequences of institutions, staff, and programs of JFKU's Integral Theory program, Fielding's program, Integral Institute, Integral Life, EnlightenNext, iEvolve, Integral Coaching Canada, Pacific Integral, etc. This is subtly different than a critique of applications of integral theory. It is more a look at how human beings and their organizations manifest, develop, and behave when attempting to realize an integral application or to propagate, develop, or study the theory itself. How has integral theory actually manifested in human life and interaction? What might that say about integral theory itself?

applications - subtly different from the institutional and personal critiques above, critiques of applications would have to be twofold - firstly, one could criticize an application according to many of the same lines outlined above for integral theory, then secondly the degree to which the application faithfully followed the principles of integral theory would have to be examined. If an application failed to withstand critique in an important way, was that failure related to its use of integral theory? If so, was its use of integral theory faithful and etc., or did it suffer from some key failure to apply integral theory properly?

Probably the most direct and relevant areas in which essential critiques will arise are in the metatheoretical claims, the support for those claims, and the postmodern view of the metatheory and its claims. Critiques of the rhetoric of integral theory, the excursions into simple theory, and the embodiment and application of integral theory, while important to greater and lesser degrees, are not the indispensible critiques that the community of integral scholar/practitioners must pursue to establish the validity of integral theory.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ken Wilber's Endorsement of Guruji

I can't decide what to do with these endorsements Ken makes. They are always limited in scope - his endorsement of Adi Da was as a writer and spiritual adept rather than as a teacher for instance - but I see this as a general problem in the integral community. We get so attached to the "Yes, And" of integral that we forget that there is also a "Preserve and Negate" aspect. Sometimes its appropriate to say "No, But". If you have one researcher producing astonishing results its only appropriate to say that its provocative and bears considering. To endorse things like this, is - I think - , an over-reaction to the thoughtlessly skeptical position that "it just couldn't be."

Its similar to conversations I've had about numerous speculative subjects. 911, UFOs, ESP, PK, ghosts, etc. There's actually some very good work in these fields but it gets overshadowed by a lot of irrational argument - and I'm not just talking about believers. There's a false dichotomy created between "Its true and real" vs. "Its false and imaginary." It is possible to have evidence that gives ample reason to suspect that something more than meets the eye is occurring without giving proof of the phenomenon or proof of a proposed theory of the phenomenon, or conversely without disproving or disallowing the phenomenon. This is why its called "speculation"! One can defensibly speculate about things. Its when we force the choice to be between True and False that we run into trouble.

So, in the case of subtle bodies and subtle energies, there is ample reason to suspect there is a physical mechanism at work that we don't understand - that is, that prosaic explanations are not sufficient or satisfactory. However, there is not, that I know of, enough evidence to make strong 3rd person claims of truth about this kind of thing. But there is *plenty* of reason to devote energy to investigation. The false dichotomy arises when you try to claim that "Its all True!" vs. "Skeptically we must conclude it is False!"

So in this case, if Ken is claiming 3rd person truth here - I think he's wrong. 3rd person requires validation with a community of the adequate. One researcher does not make a community of the adequate. However, an endorsement of further investigation into the claims around Guruji is fine - the evidence of a single researcher can support that.

And, I - for the pittance that its worth - endorse this. We need open eyed investigation into these things. They are worth it. What we don't need is new age over-credulity and sarcastic skeptical arrogance. My friends and I, William Harryman for instance, don't put ourselves in the sarcastic skeptic boat. I think, speaking for myself, that Ken's endorsement just seems a bit too strong and not well measured. It is far too easy to thoughtlessly accept that endorsement. I see this all the time in integral community - "Ken says its been scientifically proven!" when a close reading of Ken's writing reveals no such thing. He just wasn't careful to caveat his comments so while he can't be said to completely endorse something or someone, he also leaves one to wonder whether he actually was aware of the necessary reservations when he was writing.

In the end, this kind of thing frustrates some of us. Its hard to separate the natural human desire to nitpick the big monkey from the necessity to remain skeptical about our intellectual leaders. Its also hard to keep anxiety about his health and mental state out of things. Those of us who value his contributions worry about him. I certainly do. I'm greedy. I want more of his magic with words and ideas. They make the world so much more interesting, exciting, and understandable. And I feel a personal sense of gratitude for all the magic he's created already. I want the best for him and if his writing and behavior seems to show decline (understandably) it worries me. Deeply. I feel the same way about many of my favorite writers (Bradbury, Pratchett, etc.) but Ken has had a stronger influence on my life than any of them.

I think these claims about Guruji are interesting and make me want to understand more about them. Maybe that's what Ken wanted to achieve with this - just raise some interest. His post seemed to imply more than that though.