October 23, 2019

Integral Wisdom Blog: Mile-high Manjushri

Ken Wilber, Integral Theory, and The End of The World as We Know It

by Dr. Zachary Stein

zakThese are some reflections on the work of Ken Wilber. I’ve been studying his writings for almost half my life. We’ve met a couple times (that is Ken, Rollie, and me pictured), talked at some length on the phone, and exchanged countless e-mails. Ken’s got vocal critics and Kool-aid drinking followers. I’m neither of those. I’m more of what is sometimes called an “integral kid,” meaning I’ve been reading Ken since before I could drink legally. There is a unique kind of indebtedness to those teachers who brought you out of adolescence. But it also means I’ve grown up with, in, and out of this way of thinking. So I have a special kind of distancing and even reactivity and withdrawal from it, again, like one also has with one’s best teachers. All things considered, I think you gotta love and be fascinated by all his books…

Anyway, this is mostly just me yawning at all the simplistic and pedantic Wilber haters….

Theorizing at the edge of history

If we are going to take a step in the transition from civilization to planetization, we will need a map. Each of us carries within, an image of space and time, and this cognitive map tells us who we are, where we come from, and where we are going…. [This map is] an imaging of personal values and cultural forms…. A culture provides an individual with a mapping of time and space, but as the culture goes through a period of change and stressful transformation, the [map] becomes distorted. In periods of intense cultural distortion, the [map] becomes so changed as to be almost obliterated. Then the individual becomes lost, profoundly lost in the ontological sense of not knowing who or what he is, where he comes from, and where he is going. For some this can be a moment of terror, for others, a time of release. In a moment of silence in which the old forms fall away, there comes a new receptivity, a new centering inward, and in an instant there flashes onto the screen of consciousness a new re-visioning of the [map]. There in the receptive silences of meditation the new possibilities of time and space announce themselves, possibilities that lie beyond the descriptions of the old institutions of the old culture. This is the prophetic moment, the annunciation of a new myth, and the beginning of a new culture.

—Thompson (1977 p.14)

Philosophers work in socio-cultural contexts, under historically specific conditions, with access to certain communication technologies, libraries, and media. Ken Wilber has been publishing books since 1971, producing a corpus that spans well over 10,000-thousand pages. He has worked with the changing times, from pen and paper to word processor, to the personal computer, and eventually to Internet facilitated multi-media educational initiatives. Moreover, Wilber has worked in response to a dynamically transforming American culture during a period of tremendous global change.

Popular philosophical movements are especially symptomatic of their times. In retrospect historical moments are often best understood in terms of the ideas that thrived during them. Athenian Democracy and the Sophists and Socrates, Medieval Europe and the Church, The American and French Revolutions and the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and Darwinism and Romanticism—no trick of critical historiography could disentangle these groupings of ideas and events, these civilizational eras. What ideas will be associated with the past 60 years, the era since the start of the so-called American Century? What have been the popular philosophies in the post-industrial social systems that emerged after World War II? This question is complicated by the dynamics of the era, which witnessed explosive advances in informational technologies that enabled an unprecedented diffusion of ideas before a growing global public. It is too soon to tell, but the culture of late capitalism—post-modern culture—may very well be defined in terms of its having lacked dominant comprehensive doctrines (Habermas, 1990; Jameson, 1992). This has affected all aspects of life, from the media-saturated textures of our action-orienting self-understandings to the economic policies that structure national geographies.

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