Tag Archives: Ken Wilber

The Trump Administration: Children in a Fantasy

The American philosopher Ken Wilber called Trump, when he was running, “the boy who would be King,” by which he meant that Trump was at the psycho-emotional level of a young child, and urged voting against him:

Not because he is a big alpha figure who would bust up the establishment. Not because he’s vulgar. Not because lacks a coherent policy vision. Those things can actually be evolutionarily potent in their proper measure. No, the real problem with Donald Trump is that in important lines of development he is arrested at the level of a five-year-old. Keep nukes out of the hands of children. Make sure to vote!


[For more on what is meant by “development” see my article “Integral 102”]

Now that Trump has tapped Steven Bannon for his inner circle, I looked at a Breitbart article (Bannon is a Breitbart executive). The article made the “argument” that the key to women’s happiness was to “uninvent” the washing machine and the birth control pill, both of which had made them completely “miserable.” First, nothing is ever uninvented. Once technologies catch on – especially labor-saving devices – for better or worse, we seem to be stuck with them. Second, if anything needs to be “uninvented” is it really the washing machine? Not the nuclear bomb? To think that these things can be uninvented and that there’s not a population problem is to live in a fantasy world. They want women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen – no wonder they were against Clinton for President!

Trump also speaks of using nuclear weapons, imperiling us all, as if only the US has them! Or only the US and Russia. As if he doesnʻt know that there are at least 13 nuclear states. And his responses to questions about their use is consistent with that of an adolescent boy: “Then why do we have them [if not to use them]?” This shows no understanding that nuclear weapons, to the extent that they have any valid use at all, are deterrents.

Finally, as far as I have observed, Trump has not once used the word democracy in his campaign, a campaign that has shown nothing but contempt for the idea. If things go the way many are predicting, Americans will have – proudly – voted their own, hard-won rights away by handing the nuclear codes, the Bush-Obama surveillance apparatus and the power of commander-in-chief of the US military to a child.


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On Consciousness

This is number 5 in my “On” series. Others include On Capitalism, On Privilege, On Freedom and On Constitutionalism. Forthcoming: On Fear and On Democracy.

The philosopher Daniel Dennett tells a funny story: he says when he’s at a party and someone asks him what he does, and he says he’s a professor, their eyes glaze over. When he’s at a party of professors and one asks him what his field is and he says “philosophy,” their eyes glaze over. And when he’s at a party of philosophers, and one asks him what he studies and he says “consciousness,” their eyes glaze over. So the philosophy of consciousness is not something that inspires excitement in even the most scholarly among us, but I argue here that it is precisely where we’ve gone astray and is the solution to most of the problems we – the modern world – face.


Daniel Dennett

I’ve written at some length about the idea of development, that is, that we change and grow over time. This is an idea about which most modern societies have some ambiguity; we both know and do not know that it is going on. We all know that children develop – that phases of development are natural and normal, and it is normal for your two year old to be self-centered in a way that would make an adult appear like a psychopath. But then we have the idea that development somehow stops at some magical age – between 18 and 21 – after which we are “all equal.” And yet we also know that this is not true, which is why you have to be 35 to be president of the United States, and no undergrads are tapped to be university presidents. What I’m saying is not new agery, but standard developmental psychology: development continues on throughout adulthood and most never come anywhere near the “end” point.


Graham Hancock

But what I want to address here is not so much the level of consciousness, but the state of consciousness prevalent in the modern West (and increasingly, the East). I was prompted to this by a “banned” TED talk by Graham Hancock, who makes a strong case that there is something like a conspiracy against certain states of consciousness. Now Hancock holds that these preferable states are accessible through certain psychotropic plants – he is not the first I’ve heard say that it is highly likely that the substances used in the ancient mystery schools (of which Plato was probably a member) were psychotropic. I don’t condone the use of these substances, in fact I’m fairly neutral on them, but Hancock also argues persuasively that the societally approved drugs – particularly ones like caffeine and ritalin – promote a state that, while good for problem-solving, is not conducive to examining the moral questions we face. This may be why the “best and the brightest” of our societies have brought us the nuclear bomb, GMOs and a generally more dangerous world. They know “what” to do but not “why” it should be done – it shouldn’t.* This “rational” state that we are encouraged to remain in makes us good cogs in the gigantic machines we are all part of, thoughtlessly commuting to jobs that generally make the world worse.

It is my view that these preferred states are accessible without any substances; through introspection and perhaps meditation, though they probably do require the elimination of the “approved” substances and daily stresses. Hancock is quite compelling in his argument that the prevalent state of consciousness has created most of the problems we see around us and that they cannot be solved from that same state of consciousness, but require another.

  • For those who would accuse me of being anti-science: I’m not recommending going back to what was before science, but going beyond it – putting science into a larger framework which factors in moral considerations.


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The Generalists

Today is the age of the super-specialist. In a technical age, while we get technical wonders, we also get what comes with it: technicians. The age of the generalist is long gone, it seems. That time when people would dive headlong into an endeavor with the healthy attitude of the amateur – now that’s a bad word. Technicians know everything about a very small field, but have little in terms of an understanding of the bigger picture. In an age when problems cross boundaries – both national and mental – this puts us all in peril. But a few thinkers have retained this attitude, and form a small group of what I call generalists. Their work has incredible potential to bridge the expertise of the specialist with the perspective of the generalist.


Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel was a runaway international bestseller and cultural phenomenon. His thesis, that colonialism was the result of an admixture of factors, but was mainly geographical rather than a product of any racial superiority, was both politically correct and explanatorily powerful. It also withstood critiques (from specialists, or course) of geographic determinism among other things. It even had its beginning in the   deceptively complex question of a Papua New Guinean: “Why do white people have so much cargo?” (This referred to the sheer volume of stuff that the West was able to export, and came to be fetishised in “cargo cults” in New Guinea.)

If Guns, Germs and Steel had been Diamond’s one hit wonder, it could be considered a fluke, and he might not be thought of as a true generalist. But Diamond followed with generalist offerings such as Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and The World before Yesterday, which continued his synthesizing prowess. Diamond’s warnings are as relevant as any specialist’s about what needs to be done to avoid a civilizational collapse of our own.


Quinn’s Ishmael was a semi-underground cultural phenomenon. In its essence, it taught a generation of disillusioned seekers that the world isn’t here for us. This seems simple, but the amount of data that Quinn had to sift through in order to reach this conclusion was somewhat staggering.

Early in my own history of internalizing theories, I came across Quinn’s, and even attended retreats on his thought and its applications. The understanding came over me just as Quinn describes in his books – like a mosaic that slowly takes form and gains clarity. An understanding of ecology is here blended with history and social science in a way that only someone like Quinn could do – he was an editor of encyclopedias. Quinn’s generalist thought does for social organization what Diamond’s did for the history of colonization: it gave clarity to its past and the way forward.


The way forward was a central piece of a book it seems I grew up hearing about: Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. A review in 1987 said:

Its reconstruction of our past, present and future is based on neglected (and even suppressed) as well as long-established findings from a wide range of fields, and … this reconstruction differs greatly from traditional views.

The book offered the controversial (at the time) view that there was a “golden age” of gender equity, when gods and goddesses shared the pantheon. This view is firmly established in many fields of endeavor, has in a sense been popularized by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and took a very wide-arching view and a study of many fields to produce.


The founder of Integral theory, Ken Wilber created a map that integrates the major domains of reality: the physical (biology, physics), the social (sociology, anthropology, political science), and what could be called our interior (psychology, religion, philosophy), into a meta-system. And here is where it collides with one of the prevailing approaches of academia: postmodernism. Postmodernism is a view that allows for the simultaneous existence of multiple worldviews, even within an individual. It is suspicious of meta narratives, or grand narratives that claim to be independent of their cultural context.

Because Integral makes this claim to be cross-cultural, it violates postmodernism’s prime directive. And yet Integral sees postmodernism as a high level of consciousness development, and it is this development that makes up the next component of Integral theory.

Ken Wilber

As Wilber wrote of his theory in the Journal of Consciousness Studies:

An extensive data search among various types of developmental and evolutionary sequences yielded a `four quadrant’ model of consciousness and its development (the four quadrants being intentional, behavioural, cultural, and social). Each of these dimensions was found to unfold in a sequence of at least a dozen major stages or levels. Combining the four quadrants with the dozen or so major levels in each quadrant yields an integral theory of consciousness that is quite comprehensive in its nature and scope. This model is used to indicate how a general synthesis and integration of twelve of the most influential schools of consciousness studies can be effected, and to highlight some of the most significant areas of future research. The conclusion is that an `all-quadrant, all-level’ approach is the minimum degree of sophistication that we need into order to secure anything resembling a genuinely integral theory of consciousness.

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An Overview of Integral Education from Dr. Umi Perkins

This is my talk at TEDxYouth@Kamehameha and my most thorough explanation of Integral theory to date.

It gives a cursory explanation of Integral and describes my experiment of introducing these concepts in my


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November 7, 2013 · 9:25 am

Integral 102

This is a sequel to Integral 101, posted a few months ago here on the universe, and also recently on my new blog, imiponointegral.wordpress.com, which is a site for an organization I plan to start, which will study political and cultural issues from an integral point of view.

Why are you unhappy?

Because 99.9 percent of everything you think,

And everything you do, Is for yourself,

And there isn’t one.

– Wei Wu Wei

Ken Wilber notes that there are two threads in religions – one that consoles the self, the exoteric, and another that obliterates it, the esoteric. The first he calls translation, a reinterpretation of reality meant to console the self. The second he calls transformation, a deconstruction of reality which points to the reality in the quote above – that there is, in fact, no self at all (at least not one separate from other selves).

In the film Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon’s character “schools” a Harvard graduate student, not on history, but on the ways the student will view history as he progresses through his program. What we think of as the stable self is, in fact, highly unstable. This instability has two dimensions: it is unstable from moment to moment (this is bad), and also over long periods. This second form of instability is positive, as it is development itself. Having gone through phases of historical understanding, Will Hunting knows that these are predictable stages of understanding.

The first human stage dates to the tribal period in which connections to tribe and kin meant life or death. In this phase, connections to one’s close group are the only ones that matter. Wilber relates these phases to the chakra – the first phase’s focus is survival, it’s color is red. In the second stage, early states or empires claim  allegiance. In this phase the idea of “civilized” people, as opposed to “barbarians” begins to emerge, as in the Hellenic nations which shared a code of honor which did not apply to non-Greeks. This stage’s focus is reproduction, its color is amber. The third stage is modernity, which corresponds to nation-states and their reliance on reason and science. Its emphasis is ambition, its color orange. Developed countries tend to have a center of gravity at this level, with approximately half of its citizens at this level, and slightly less than half at lower levels. The fourth stage is postmodernity, and emerging level of development found mainly in academia, among environmentalists and artists. Its emphases are diversity and compassion, its color green. About 10% of modern societies’ citizens are at this level. The fifth stage is the first of the integral levels, at which a postmodern aperspectivial confusion gives way to a more holistic view that begins to reintegrate the insights of religion that are jettisoned at the orange level and critiqued at the green level. Its emphasis is balance and its color turquoise. Between two and five percent of the populations of advanced societies may be at this level, and perhaps much fewer. The level(s) above turquoise are so exceptionally rare that only a few individuals in history have reached them/it.

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Integral 101

First premise: there is spirit. For all the rhetoric of the atheists, there is overwhelming evidence of a realm beyond what traditional science describes, including cutting-edge science itself, such as quantum mechanics. While it has been co-opted by many new age and other groups, quantum mechanic shows that reality is closer to what has traditionally been described by mystics. In fact, in his book Quantum Questions, Integral philosopher Ken Wilber shows through their own writings that the great quantum physicists were, to a man, mystics. But the primary evidence comes from what may be called the “wisdom traditions,” of all cultures and religions, which when viewed in their proper context – as metaphors – show a stunning degree of agreement on the nature of reality. More on this below.

Ken Wilber

Second premise: there is evolution. For all the rhetoric of the creationists with their alternative intelligent design, the fact of evolution (and it is a fact, natural selection as its mechanism is a theory) is nothing less than consciousness becoming conscious of itself.

With those premises out of the way, Integral theory is a map that integrates the major domains of reality: the physical (biology, physics), the social (sociology, anthropology, political science), and what could be called our interior (psychology, religion, philosophy), into a meta-system. And here is where it collides with one of the prevailing approaches of academia: postmodernism. Postmodernism is a view that allows for the simultaneous existence of multiple worldviews, even within an individual. It is suspicious of meta narratives, or grand narratives that claim to be independent of their cultural context. Because Integral makes this claim to be cross-cultural, it violates postmodernism’s prime directive. And yet Integral sees postmodernism as a high level of consciousness development, and it is this development that makes up the next component of Integral theory, and to which we turn next.

Postmodernism ignores psychology

Postmodern theory denies, or at least opposes all heirarchy, and for good reason, oppressor heirarchies have dominated the last millennia of history – the Catholic Church, authoritarian governments, bureaucracies, the military and police forces have forced often arbitrary structures of domination on countless millions in the name of power and order. But few would deny that parents can and usually should have fairly authoritarian control over their children, precisely because they are developing. Indeed, there is an entire field in psychology devoted to this, Developmental Psychology. In order to oppose all hierarchy, it becomes necessary for postmodernism to ignore at least the developmental aspects of psychology. This is why you probably won’t see postmodern developmental psychologists. So we see that accepted and valid forms of hierarchy do exist, but in Arthur Koestler’s terminology, these could be called holarchies – they consist of wholes (individuals) which are simultaneously parts (of larger structures, such as societies).

Development and evolution

Developmental Psychology shows that individuals go through stages, each of which consists, in a general sense, of a gradual reduction in egocentrism or narcissism. Most people understand this either explicitly or intuitively, but tend to assume that this development simply stops somewhere around age 18 or 21, and that after that, we are all basically equal. This is what Robert Bly has scathingly called the “sibling society” – a society without even legitimate heirarchy.

Here the wisdom traditions as diverse as Buddhism and Gnostic Christianity agree that development – of what we’ll call consciousness – can continue through multiple stages toward what we could call enlightenment, nirvana, or a state of grace. It is by understanding this cross-cultural map that one can see the direction of (you might say) evolution, whether personal or societal. Societal evolution or development reflects the “center or gravity” of a society. Education obviously becomes a major factor here, but it also tends to produce narcissism, which is precisely what development is meant to avoid, and we’re back where we started. So the type of education is important here, and an Integral theory can provide the map needed to avoid such regression.

Below is Ken Wilber’s Integral map, which shows the four quadrants, or domains in which development (evolution) occurs. It is divided into sections based on the interior (thought, theory, ideas) and exterior (physical objects), individual and collective dimensions:

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