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.