|STRIPPING THE GURUS||
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From the beginning of my published debunking of Ken Wilber’s false claims and bungled research, the most loyal members of his community have predictably reacted very negatively to being informed of the truth about his shoddy, consistently unprofessional work.
Foremost among those “integral experts” and censors has been a follower employed as an “education analyst” in Wheaton, Illinois, going by the online name of Goethean. His response to my “Norman Einstein” chapter, and to my subsequent exposing of kw’s indefensible support of long-discredited principles of Intelligent Design, boiled down to this:
Geoffery [sic] Falk is an asshole who is not to be trusted on these matters [i.e., of Wilber’s misunderstandings of high-school-level evolution] whatsoever. His book, Stripping the Gurus proves on every page that he is out to gain fame for himself at the expense of those who are his superiors in every way. (He has samples online to prove it!) His words are pretty much irrelevant to any honest inquiry on any subject.
Since that same individual functions proudly as a self-appointed guardian of the Ken Wilber Wikipedia page, no one should be surprised to find that, for many months, he succeeded in blocking any mention of my debunking of Wilber from that public space, even when the relevant links to my work had been placed there by interested third parties with whom I have had no contact.
In his initial removal of the links to the NE chapter and that appendix, Goethean actually claimed to be doing it because those were “attack links.” So, there we see a fine example of the paranoia of the integral world, in which hard-hitting, valid criticism of the Great Heroes—whose ideas indeed cannot stand up to any competent questioning—can only be an “attack.”
Immediately after my first attempt at getting those critiques listed on that Wikipedia page, Goethean went through all of my other attempted contributions to the debunking of other spiritual leaders on Wikipedia, removing any of them that hadn’t already been deleted by other censors equal to himself. (Some of those pages already had links to Rick Ross’s immensely valuable but grossly copyright-violating website, collecting the non-book-length exposés of numerous gurus and so-called cult leaders into a single database.) He had only an IP address to go on there, however, and so could not reasonably remove those links for being “self-promotional,” given that the links were thus posted anonymously. Yet, that is exactly the reason which he gave for deleting many of them.
Goethean has since given the following extremely dubious justification for his censorial actions:
I agree with User:Nofalk’s assessment of the Geoffery [sic] Falk piece. I find it inappropriate for this page. It’s an essay by someone with a deeply studied ignorance of Wilber’s writings. It’s inaccurate to call it a critique. To dismiss something out of hand without understanding it is not a critique. It’s an unsympethetic [sic] dismissal. I had the link under that topic heading before the edit war started. There are writers who believe that Wilber’s influence on culture has been nothing but negative, and who eviscerate Wilber for what they percieve [sic] as fundamental theoretical errors. I can accept and even applaude [sic] those critiques, and will gladly link to them from the article and describe those critiques in the article. But Falk doesn’t even make a small attempt to understand the work that he’s criticizing. He’s like a bumpkin looking at a Jackson Pollack [sic] saying “I don’t know what art is, but that ain’t it.’
As usual in the Wilberian community, however, there is not even a hint given there as to how I have allegedly misunderstood Wilber’s ideas; just the unsupportable smoke-screen assertion that I have.
Plus, in my first attempt (on August 25, 2005) at getting my critiques listed on the kw Wikipedia page, I had given links not only to my “Norman Einstein” chapter but also to the Wilber and Bohm appendix from this present book. That appendix was Ph.D.-endorsed, even before the publication of STG, as being “brilliant and deeply insightful.” So, it would certainly qualify as a critique of Wilber’s shoddy work, even if one could argue (wrongly) that critiques of his character have no place in an encyclopedia entry. So why did Goethean remove it, then?
It is, of course, exactly in the nuances (of Piagetian psychology, Spiral Dynamics®, Bohmian physics, Darwinian
evolution, meditation-effects research, etc.), not from a crude “orienting perspective” distance, that kw’s
work invariably falls apart. Yet, the “Norman Einstein” chapter in STG isn’t even really meant to
address the SUV-sized holes in Wilber’s philosophy. Rather, it is much more about the obvious shortcomings
in his character,
notwithstanding that those do indeed skew and
The first appendix in STG—which I would assume Goethean has never actually read, as it was not initially (i.e., prior to May 30, 2005) available for free, online—deals with one aspect of kw’s bumbling forays into philosophy/physics. The additional Blind Eye of Spirit appendix deals with many more of them, in particular with how kw’s provable misrepresentations and/or misunderstandings are present even in the core aspects of his “theories,” to the point where a person would have to be a total fool, by now, to continue to take them seriously.
Of course, if it were up to “Truth-seekers” such as Goethean, nothing of the thoroughly researched work which I have done in exposing the lies and abuses perpetrated in the name of religion—whether integral or otherwise—by our world’s spiritual authority figures would exist anywhere. As he notes, with obvious satisfaction:
By the way, someone once tried to create a Wikipedia article about Falk’s book, “Stripping the Gurus”. After some research, it was deleted by the Wikipedia community (more of whom, it should be noted, are biased against Wilber, or have never heard of him, than are biased for him) on the grounds that the book was self-published on the internet and was not notable enough to merit an article. — goethean 16:43, 19 December 2005 (UTC)
But, do you think that the editors at Wikipedia go through every new page, and vet it for whether it is worth including on their site? Or, is it just the pages that certain “seekers of Truth” can’t stand, that must be removed?
Only around one-fifth of STG is about Wilber; the rest of the book would offend anyone, not merely the Followers of Ken, who wanted to believe in childish fairy tales. So really, only agnostic and/or atheistic editors wouldn’t have a personal reason to regard the book as not being “notable,” and thus to expedite its removal.
Interestingly, Goethean’s previous reference to Jackson Pollock (not “Pollack”!), far from being original, is something which he simply borrowed (without attribution) from a Stuart Davis song, “Pearls Into the Dirt.” (Of course, he is equally obviously borrowing the blanket denigration of my supposed “ignorance” of Wilber’s ideas, as ostensibly being a “studied” one, from kw and Keith Thompson, via my own “Norman Einstein” chapter. One truly begins to wonder whether the man has ever had an original thought, much less a correct one.) Davis’ albums, though, are all done on his own record label, i.e., are self-published just as surely as STG is, and correspondingly sell only a few thousand copies per release. (STG has had at least a comparable readership.) By parity of argument, then, why should there be a Stuart Davis page on Wikipedia? much less, pages for any individual albums of his? (Note: The same page is regularly maintained by ... yes, Goethean. Full marks for hypocritical inconsistency, at least.)
Over three-quarters of the American population self-identifies as Christian. Conversely, when less than 15% of the American people list themselves as having no religion, you are at risk of offending close to 90% of the population in speaking out against the delusions of religion and spirituality in general. So, anyone can see that although the majority of the Wikipedia community/editors will not have even heard of Wilber, when around 80% of STG has nothing to do with him but still addresses religion/cults in general, and when 85% or more of the editors and community members are not going to in any way welcome hearing the truth about the associated abuses and manipulations, it is built into the system that the text won’t receive anything resembling a fair hearing.
Goethean’s state of mind comes through clearly enough when he further says: “As someone else noted Dasein, you seem to have an axe to grind, care to share?” When even calm, reasoned dialog in support of alternative viewpoints is denigrated by self-appointed censors as arising only from one’s ostensibly having “an axe to grind,” you need not wonder why Wilber’s Integral World is viewed, by people who understand cult and in-group dynamics, as being on the verge of degenerating into a bona fide cult.
* * *
I am by no means the only cogent critic of Wilber to have run afoul of the integral “experts.” First, as Christopher Cowan and Natasha Todorovic have observed in terms of the reception given to their version of Spiral Dynamics® by the custodians of integral information:
Our own small adventures with the Wiki world have demonstrated for us how the psychology and motivations of contributors can sway “truth” and their approach to its promotion. If there is a culture of open inquiry and sharing, things have a chance to work. If there are fanatics with agendas—either ideological or financial—or fixated minds stuck on particular ideas, then the outcomes turn into products of endurance, competitiveness, and alliance-building. If you’ve got a couple of folks who believe themselves without peer, it’s a problem. And for those who find such things unpleasant or not worth the effort, truth inevitably suffers. It doesn’t take but a couple of rotten apples to spoil an egalitarian barrel. There has to be a mechanism for rotating the fruits and monitoring process, as well as content.
Jeff Meyerhoff has predictably fared no better for his writing of a full-length book critiquing kw (entitled Bald Ambition), being subjected to the following absurd dismissal from Wilber and his addled followers:
The importance of including altitude or levels of development—and the fact that some critics aren’t at the appropriate altitude to make cogent criticisms (Ken’s example: Meyerhoff). Due to this difference in altitude, there is nothing you can say to satisfy such critics. You can, of course, always learn something from any criticism, but that’s not the issue.
Personally, I couldn’t disagree more with such a foolish dismissal of what is one of the few cogently argued and thorough criticisms of Wilber’s consistently unprofessional and dishonest work. And so I will quote extensively, below, from Meyerhoff’s delightfully well-reasoned text:
Wilber presents his model as if the consensus of scientific opinion supports it, but this is not the case. By tracking down his sources, revealing in them what Wilber does not mention, and exploring more fully the disciplines he uses, I will show that Wilber’s version of individual development is not a valid generalization of scientific findings....
It is not only alternate sources that can be cited to contradict Wilber’s assertion of scholarly consensus, his own sources when examined closely yield a different picture than the one he presents....
Wilber now calls the basic levels of development waves and the lines of development streams, following the usage of Howard Gardner et al. in their 1990 article. He cites and quotes this article several times as evidence for his claims about the universality of the basic levels. And the parts of the article Wilber cites do support his contentions, but the quotes are carefully selected and a return to Gardner et al.’s article reveals evidence that runs counter to Wilber’s model.
Of course, if you are surprised by any of that, you have not been paying attention at all. Because it is all exactly what you would expect, just from knowing Wilber’s history, back to his first toddling steps in transpersonal psychology in the late ’70s.
Since the four quadrants, holons and the 20 tenets are interrelated, Edwards’, Goddard’s and Smith’s criticisms of the latter two have implications for the former. The four quadrant map, as originally drawn in SES, depicted the four different aspects of each holon. Each holon had an individual, social, exterior and interior aspect. Yet Wilber routinely referred to individual and social holons, not individual and social aspects of holons. This may seem to be a minor linguistic shortcut, but Wilber’s commentators have demonstrated in great detail how this semantic slip reveals what is crucially problematic about Wilber’s four quadrant model, causing Andrew Smith to recently conclude “that the four-quadrant model, in its original form, is dead”....
Smith’s criticism of the distinction between individual and social holons makes the separation of the upper right and lower right quadrants fall apart. The details of this criticism have been described elsewhere; Smith’s conclusion is that “the criteria that Wilber and Kofman provide for distinguishing individual and social holons are useless. Some of these criteria either fail to make the distinction at all—as shown by the fact that they apply to some of their listed examples of individual holons (‘molecules, cells, organisms’) as aptly as they do to social holons; others can’t be applied at all.”
Amazing, isn’t it? That the mess which Wilber has created in his “great breakthroughs” over the past three decades isn’t even remotely logically consistent. (“Instead of having one map in which we fit three overlapping classifications—objects of inquiry, methods and validity claims—we actually have three which don’t overlap. In addition, the distinctions which create each of these three maps don’t stay in their respective categories.”) And that’s worthy of being called “philosophy”? where no mere “fine tuning” is going to fix the problems, even should transpersonal/paranormal phenomena turn out to be ontologically real.
More, from Meyerhoff, in his “What’s Worthy of Inclusion?”:
Edwards describes Wilber’s principle of nonexclusion and uses it to argue that we should not use scholars outside of a field of knowledge to judge the results of scholars within a field of knowledge because the scholars within the field are the experts. In Wilber’s language, the scholars within the field have followed the injunctions, or the methods for looking at their field’s object of study; had the apprehensions, or perceived (or didn’t perceive) what is (or isn’t) there; and, checked with the community of inquirers who have followed these three strands of knowledge acquisition and had their results confirmed by that community. Nonexclusion is the idea that differing fields of knowledge study differing phenomena in ways particular to their field, so that people outside the field, who study different phenomena with different methodologies, can’t usefully comment on what goes on in another field.
But, as far as that laughably ad hoc principle of “nonexclusion” goes: If Wilber were to actually apply that principle, he’d be the first one to be disqualified from having anything to say that was worth hearing (not to mention being barred from having his “expert, scholarly” opinion quoted by his equally clueless transpersonal/integral peers)! Not that that ever stopped him from bumbling his way through Bohmian physics, though. (Yes, he took some undergraduate courses in physics; but a person would have to be a whole lot more self-honest than Wilber has ever been to be competently self-taught to a post-graduate level in any subject. Without that, you may well end up, like kw, trashing Nobel Prize-caliber ideas which you/he has never even come close to understanding.)
Plus: Could kw have come up with a better way of dismissing the criticisms against himself and his addled ideas by people outside the integral field? That is, people who by definition “can’t usefully comment on what goes on” there, for not having meditated until they hallucinated, etc. (Wilber’s Up from Eden was based on a vision he once had of the spiritual-evolutionary unfolding of the kosmos, in ontogeny and phylogeny. That alone should have been a glaring red flag, regarding the man’s inability to distinguish reality from his own fantasies/fabrications.)
Of course, Wilber claims (falsely) to be accurately representing the “agreed-upon-knowledge” in the fields which he includes in his Fore Kwadrants, thus conveniently giving himself a free pass on the difficulties of commenting on or evaluating areas in which he has no formal training and has made no recognized, peer-reviewed academic contributions. But, what happens, then, if you disagree with his frequently ineptly/dishonestly created “orienting generalizations,” executed on fields in which he has no more training than you do? Surely it’s just a matter of time until he invents some new principle to protect his half-baked ideas against that!
As with all true quacks, who pretend to value “constructive criticism” until it shows them up to be complete fools, and who then hide behind the fallacy of “inferior-to-them” others supposedly not understanding their “brilliance,” that man’s true colors are finally showing, far too blatantly. Of course, that will make no difference whatsoever to the 98% of the members of the integral community who have never been able, and will never be able, to think for themselves. But for anyone who wants to see the intolerance and even gross incapacity for rational thinking there, it’s painfully obvious.
Meyerhoff has made additional insightful points, regarding Wilber and his community, in “Six Criticisms of Wilber’s Integral Theory”:
Instead of the image of Wilber being confronted with a vast array of knowledge and fitting it together like a jigsaw puzzle, a more plausible explanation is that he already had a progressive, developmental, dialectical story of the Kosmos in mind and found, not the orienting generalizations of the sciences, but cherry-picked scholars who appear to validate the view he wants to be true.
Of course, it is actually much worse than that: Reading that fine collection of documented misrepresentations
by kw, it again becomes obvious that he either has not understood (even at an undergraduate level) the
basic knowledge in the fields which he purports to be synthesizing or, if he has
understood it, he is unconscionably twisting/misrepresenting it to suit his “theories,”
expecting to get away with that, for never having been properly critiqued by his cotton-headed peers in
transpersonal psychology. (And, prior to
1996 or so, he really didn’t get caught! So,
the implicit confidence was actually quite justified.)
No competent, honest person could be as consistently
wrong as kw is in
* * *
In the world of real science, not only was Ludwig Boltzmann driven to suicide by the relentless criticism of his colleagues for his correct support of the then-controversial atomic hypothesis around a century ago, but the Nobel Prize-winner Wolfgang Pauli, decades later, was renowned for his own scathing destructions of several ideas which, years later, went on to win Nobel Prizes. That is what you may expect to have directed your way if you venture into real fields of academia, even when bringing valid ideas into them which challenge the norm.
In the transpersonal and integral world, however, one finds more of a “covenant of lunatics,” whereby it is implicitly agreed that, if I take your “imaginary friend” (i.e., spiritual experiences and theories) as being real, you will in turn take seriously my delusions and elevation of perfectly normal phenomena to the status of paranormality. And neither of us will ever properly criticize the other, because “it’s all good.”
If you find the existence of that implicit “covenant” and its effects difficult to accept, consider the following independent observationregarding the reasonably suggested causes of widespread contemporary prejudice against atheists: “It is possible that the increasing tolerance for religious diversity may have heightened awareness of religion itself as the basis for solidarity in American life and sharpened the boundary between believers and nonbelievers in our collective imagination.” That is, of course, exactly the same dynamic, even in a comparable context, except that instead of hallucinations and the like being a common bond worthy of mutual respect, we instead have belief in a Big, Rule-Enforcing Daddy in Heaven. In both cases, though, “religious tolerance” and the death of reason (in not being allowed to point out the foolishness in others’ beliefs) go hand-in-hand, and are further accompanied by a blatant intolerance for others outside of that covenant.
So, no surprise by now that one is indeed allowed to respectfully find small, “correctable” flaws in the work of the Heroes (on whom be peace), and still remain a member in good standing of the integral cult. But, uncover glaring and/or fatal shortcomings in the ideas, and provable incompetence/dishonesty in their creators’ work and character, and what can you be but an “untrustworthy asshole”? Or at least, as Meyerhoff has experienced, be dismissed as “altitudinally-challenged” in proportion to the strength of your arguments against the foolish, grandiose likes of the bumbling Wilber and his “community of competent, intersubjective interpreters”?
There is a tautological element to any claim that in-group agreement alone confers validity upon the idea agreed upon. Here’s the tautology: To be a member of a group one has to believe in the idea that makes one a member of the group. Once one stops believing in that idea one is no longer a member of the group. All groups are self-selecting around the belief that makes one a member of the group. If you stop believing, you are out of the group. So consensus alone is not a good enough criterion for validity. Of course, Edwards and Wilber agree that practicing the three strands of any valid knowledge quest is necessary to constitute the kind of group they are interested in. But even allowing this, we’re back where we started from because it is in-group community consensus, the third strand in any valid knowledge quest, which determines whether members have valid knowledge.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. If the likes of Mark Edwards and Wilber can’t see the obvious cogency in such arguments ... geez, are those two even at a functionally rational level yet, in their practical/integral activities?
Further, with regard to “in-group agreement” as a purported measure of validity: It is obvious (and completely predictable from basic human psychology) that around 95% of the members of the contemporary integral world have no more interest than the average “good Christian” would in doing the “archaeology” of going back to the original sources which Wilber claims to be integrating. Were they to do that, of course, they would find that, just as the innocent mistakes and less-innocent influence of the personal theologies of ancient scribes created a “multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations” in ways that sometimes “profoundly affect religious doctrine” in the Bible, comparable distortions will occur even when madly typing “Manjushris with word-processors” are involved.
Of course, it is so much easier to simply believe what you’re told, and to rely on the “community” to not allow members to rise into positions of respect without their ideas being valid, than to question (and research) everything, back to its original sources/languages. No surprise, then, that those psychological realities apply just as much to the “trans-rational” integral community as to the “pre-rational” Christian one, and produce a comparable milieu, with members of both in-groups imagining themselves to be reasoning clearly from established facts, when all they are actually doing is rationalizing hazily from a set of (dishonestly or incompetently) distorted principles.
Back in second-year physics, during one of my own aborted attempts at a career, one of the other top students once asked the instructor, in a quantum-mechanical context, about David Bohm’s ideas. The otherwise-kick-ass, textbook-writing professor’s entire dismissive response was: “Oh, that’s just hidden variables, or something.”
Obviously, he had never read the peer-reviewed paper(s), first published in 1952. He didn’t need to, in order to “know” that the ideas were wrong, or at least irrelevant; their widely disrespected status in the community assured him of that. Except, of course, that the unexceptional members of any community, while perhaps being able to recognize quackery, will tend to lump works of real genius into the same category, for not being in a position to intelligently evaluate them.
Even Einstein had to wait a decade after the 1905 publication of his earth-shaking papers—on special relativity, the photoelectric effect, and Brownian motion—before the physics community (and shortly thereafter, the media) started to care about them. When Albert later did his Ph.D. thesis, one of the reviewers returned it with a comment akin to “I can’t understand a word of what you’ve written here.”
More recently, Benoit Mandelbrot experienced a similar decades-long dismissal of his groundbreaking work with fractals. That’s what happens, of course, when you trust the middling “community”—whether spiritual, scientific, or artistic—to be able to distinguish between genius and quackery, when by their very “average” nature they cannot.
* * *
Meyerhoff has pointed out yet more sophomore-level internal inconsistencies and circular arguments in Wilber’s ideas themselves, even without comparing them to “reality”:
Wilber contends that vision-logic incorporates the poststructural insight of contexts within contexts, yet he leaves out the crucial poststructural contextualization: the contextualization of oneself, the observer. Wilber reacts with such vehemence when confronting the relativists, and takes such repeated delight in exposing their alleged self-contradiction—they supposedly make the absolute statement that “all is relative”—because their alleged contradiction is his actual contradiction. His contradiction is that, on the one hand, he wants to claim that he is practicing a non-reductionistic, aperspectival synthesis of the partial truths of knowledge while, on the other hand, he is actually using an unacknowledged perspective and criterion of truth in order to decide what will count as truth. He uses the fiction of the orienting generalization, and its purported sanction of what he considers the facts, to promote as universal his highly partisan and selective vision of what is true for all....
Wilber’s unreliable reporting of the results of scholarly research is one central feature of my critique and this same problem arises, although less severely than usual, when he justifies vision-logic by citing scholarly research....
As Wilber himself says, in a curious statement for someone who says he’s relying upon the scholarly consensus for the validity of his integration,
[a version of the postmodern green meme, with its pluralism and relativism] has also made developmental studies, which depend on second-tier [higher stage] thinking, virtually anathema at both conventional and alternative universities.
This statement is so mistaken that I wonder if Wilber had a mental lapse when writing it since Wilber also contends, in that very same piece, that the developmental models he uses have the sanction of mainstream academia. In addition, even a superficial survey shows that developmental studies are well ensconced in academe.This, in my opinion, is the best one yet, in terms of demonstrating Wilber’s academic dishonesty (or inexcusable ignorance, or both; take your pick):
One example of an orienting generalization which Wilber uses that is not “largely-agreed-upon” is Piaget’s basic stages of cognitive development. All children who develop normally are supposed to go through these basic stages. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is central to Wilber’s description of the individual’s interior development. Yet in my chapter on individual development I cite five professors of psychology, all with concentrations in developmental psychology....
Wilber, writing a few years after these negative assessments, writes that “as for the cognitive line itself, Piaget’s work is still very impressive; moreover, after almost three decades of intense cross-cultural research, the evidence is virtually unanimous: Piaget’s stages up to formal operational are universal and cross-cultural.”
And, let us not overlook Wilber’s naïve political biases—his “stunning lack of political self-awareness”—as noted by Meyerhoff at the end of his Chapter 5:
While it appears as if the movement from archaic to magical to mythic to egoic-rational is a developmental progression, this is only true if you have already decided that the egoic-rational stage should be the destination point. Wilber’s analysis is made to sound like a neutral description of the traits these diverse types of consciousness and associated moralities exhibit, but it’s actually, when shorn of its false value-neutrality, an analysis which asks the question: In what ways are previous world views not yet like ours? Or, to phrase it differently, given that we are morally and cognitively superior, what are they lacking and what kinds of changes were required for them to eventually become like us?
That is, of course, the standard tack of “spiritual leaders” everywhere: Only by subverting your ego to theirs can you become “as great as” they are, etc.
* * *
Matthew Dallman has given his own fascinating comments (in his Group Think and Reader Response) on the dysfunctionality present in the Wilberian integral community. Dallman actually worked intensively as the volunteer art director for Integral University for sixteen months; he knows from whence he speaks. And thus doth he speak of “meanness, vitriol, nastiness, and insult directed by [Wilber] to myself and my wife.”
Wilber’s dismal treatment of Michel Bauwens (reported by Bauwens in Issue 15 [June 1, 2004] of the Pluralities/Integration newsletter) is also worth noting:
I was ... privy, since I was in regular email contact back then, to Wilber’s private denunciations of institutes like the California Institute of Integral Studies and the Naropa Institute, schools that I had monitored, visited, and have many highly qualitative [sic] teachers and researchers. It’s not that he said that they were imperfect, no, they were “cesspools” and one would have to stay at all cost away from them. This aggressiveness I personally found disturbing. I started to notice how easily Ken praised works that favorably use his work, he did it with my own magazine Wave, which he highly praised in a note even though he could not possibly read the Dutch-language it was written in, while being so aggressive with those who disagree.
Finally, there was a personal incident. In short, I had sent Ken, whom I considered a friend by then, since I had visited him and interviewed him for four hours, a draft of an essay on the new world of work, which clearly stated that it was inspired by his work, specifically mentioned a series of consultants working in his spirit, then went on to describe the four quadrants, and apply them creatively to my own domain, with notes and references and all. I got back a letter which threatened me with ‘exclusion from the network’ and even legal consequences for ‘intellectual theft.’ But how could that be, how could an essay mentioning him, using his method, of which I had send him a draft!!, be constructed as theft, and deserve threats of legal action??? I was deeply hurt, baffled, and entered into an email conversation which did not solve anything fundamentally. Though I got some kind of excuse in the end, he said that he was under pressure and that his ‘advisers’ had told him to react in that way, he also managed to say that “I didn’t understand all his theory.” Note that this has become Ken’s standard argument against
Now what’s the big deal? That Ken is just human after all, surely that is not a crime. Hurting the feelings of Michel Bauwens? However, you must remember, this is in the period that Ken wrote the One Taste diary, in which he claims that he is in the process of attaining longer and longer moments of nondual realization. So he is no longer content to claim that he is just a pandit (a ‘theoretician’ if you like), but a spiritual realizer himself (though he stresses he will never want to be a master himself). He even makes the explicit claim that the different phases of his work (four at that time) represents phases of spiritual maturation as well.
It is during these years that Ken’s great enemy started to be the Narcissism of the baby boom generation, that he started saying that the key problem of the world, is not the greed for profit and the ecological destruction, the unsustainable psychology of the new work ethos, or the pauperization of the Third World that results from neoliberalism, no, it is the political correctness of the postmodern academics in the U.S.! Does the bell start to ring? Could it not simply be that my essay’s great crime was not to mention him
* * *
Nathaniel Branden has given his own (partial) critique of Wilber’s transpersonal methodology in his The Art of Living Consciously. (Note that the ex-Randian Branden, in addition to being a founding member of the Integral Institute, explicitly considers kw to be “one of the most brilliant men I know.” So, he can hardly be viewed as being biased against Wilber.)
[L]et us ask: Why should we believe the mystics’ claims? On what grounds? Why should we even continue the discussion?
To this inquiry, Wilber mounts an interesting answer. It is given in his book Eye to Eye, which is an attempt to justify the validity of knowledge attained through “the eye of contemplation,” the mystic’s alleged tool of cognition....
The Christian mystic St. Bonaventure taught that there are at least three modes of attaining knowledge—“the eye of the flesh, by which we perceive the external world of space, time, and objects; the eye of reason, by which we attain a knowledge of philosophy, logic, and the mind itself; and the eye of contemplation, by which we rise to a knowledge of transcendent realities”....
[T]he process, we are told again and again, is in principle exactly the same as that by which one becomes a qualified scientist: knowledge is confirmed or disconfirmed according to whether qualified colleagues, having gone through the same steps, do or do not arrive at the same result. Experiments that are not reproducible or that do not yield the same results cannot be claimed to have revealed authentic truths. Therefore, in his or her own domain, the mystic’s assertion of knowledge is fully as reliable as the scientist’s....
While this is only the bare essence of a fairly complex argument, it is sufficient to invite some basic and serious challenges. And since, please notice, every step of the argument is an appeal to reason—in that factual observations and logical inferences are offered in support of each point—the argument can be challenged on its own terms, in the court of observation and logic....
What I found especially fascinating in the justification offered above for the knowledge claims of mysticism is that at every step the appeal is to reason and observation. The entire thesis is a long exercise in attempted logical integration, full of “becauses” and “therefores.” And in the end, what is the justification offered for accepting the mystics’ insights? In essence, the argument is this: Since all knowledge is built on taking specific actions, making observations, grasping the meaning or implications of those observations, checking one’s conclusions with the community of competently trained colleagues—and since this is the basic pattern of science and equally the basic pattern of mysticism—then mystical insights that follow the required actions, observations, and cognitive grasping and are shared and confirmed by the community of one’s peers are legitimately proclaimed knowledge. In other words, it is reasonable to accept the truth of such insights. Reason is still conceded to be the final arbiter. “It is logical to accept these nonlogical, nonrational insights because....”
That I regard the argument as fallacious is not my point here. My point is that, if one argues at all, there is no escape from using and counting on the very faculty mystics profess to have evolved “beyond.” And this is the ultimate dilemma of anyone who is too conscientious simply to proclaim “It’s true because I feel it.”
We may not always arrive at our insights by a process of reason, but reason is the means by which we ultimately verify them—by what is sometimes called “reality testing”—that is, integrating them into the rest of our knowledge and observations without contradictions. An appreciation of this truth is an essential element of what I mean by living consciously.
So what are we left with? A collection of assertions [by mystics, including Wilber himself] about the ultimate nature of existence that are riddled with contradictions, defy reason and logic, convey no intelligible meaning, invalidate our consciousness, destroy our concept of reality—and that we are meant to take seriously while being told our limited development makes it impossible for us to understand them. If one does not have an intellectual inferiority complex and is not easily intimidated, this is not impressive.
Branden is quite right, there; and this is just another way in which Wilber’s “brilliant” ideas fail to even hang together self-consistently. Plus, kw’s related, utterly naïve hope that meditative perceptions can be validated by a “community of competent, intersubjective interpreters” (full of their own obvious expectation biases) was completely shredded, in a mere two sentences, in the very same Skeptical Inquirer review which is otherwise passed around the integral world as proof that his invariably mistaken notions are being taken seriously by skeptics who generally excoriate New Age “philosophies.”
Sadly, Wilber’s loyal supporters never actually mention that disintegration, evidently caring so little about truth and reality as to quite obviously deliberately omit that essential and vital point, mesmerized as they are by the man’s purported “A Light in the Wilberness” brilliance:
From his footnotes and bibliographies alone, Wilber seems omniscient....
And as with meditation, clean living and exercise, one feels so much better after reading a little Wilber....
In my opinion, this [four-quadrant] tool is one of the greatest inventions ever proposed for orienting human beings toward their own evolution....
A Brief History ... is bound to seduce even the most casual reader into plunging into the intoxicating revelations of all the wise old trees to be found in the great magical Wilberness.
The same Brian Van der Horst who was responsible for the above ruminations on the “great magical Wilberness” is, not surprisingly, another founding member of the Integral Psychology department at kw’s Integral Institute.
* * *
At the recent World Economic Forum Bill Clinton mentioned the work of Ken Wilber to a large gathering of business people, and referred to A Theory of Everything saying: “...the problem is the world needs to be more integrated but it requires a consciousness that’s way up here, and an ability to see beyond the differences among us....” (mp3 audio)
Of course, Wilber had earlier given his own defense of the Clintons’ interests in transpersonal ideas, in his One Taste:
The cautionary tale. Michael [Lerner] is friends with Bill and Hillary, and his “politics of meaning” was particularly espoused by Hillary. The liberal media found out about it [in 1996] and had a field day. Saint Hillary, Michael was “Hillary’s guru,” and so on. This was very hard on Michael, and it never really let up until ... Jean Houston stepped in to take the flack. A simple visualization technique, used by thousands of therapists daily, was turned into Hillary’s “channeling” Eleanor Roosevelt, whereas all she was doing was creative visualization. But anything interior is so utterly, radically, hideously alien to the liberal media that they could hardly discuss the topic without snickering or choking.
Yet, in 1983, Curtis D. MacDougall, emeritus professor of journalism at Northwestern University, had written an entire book detailing the published attitude evinced toward gurus, clairvoyance, ESP, and various less “interior” spiritual pursuits (e.g., astrology, ghosts, witchcraft, and UFOs), by the very same “liberal media.” Not to “pull a Wilber” by simply quoting from the back-cover copy without having read the book, but nevertheless, from that (Prometheus Books) copy:
In Superstition and the Press, America’s most distinguished journalism professor and veteran newspaperman provides a devastating critique of the treatment by the press of claims of supernatural phenomena. This book documents virtually every story about paranormal events to appear in American newspapers for more than a generation. The author’s conclusion is that newspapers, with rare exceptions, treat claims of supernatural experiences and paranormal phenomena without questioning their validity.
Read even just a little bit into the skeptical perspective and you’ll find that, to the present day, skeptics are at least as disgusted with the overly credulous nature of media coverage of claimed paranormal phenomena as Wilber is with the same media for not being credulous enough! Skeptics, though, unlike kw below, don’t try to blame that on the supposed anti-religious biases of American journalists.
[Paranormal researchers] just have bad press. Another experiment is not going to change things. It’s already one hundred percent certain. Another experiment is not going to make it more certain. What you do have is a massive resistance to these kinds of things. And what you really need is an education system, a PR system, an advertising system, if you will, in the best sense of the word, to do that. Frankly, a lot of the money we’re allocating at Integral Institute, large portions of it are for research, but large portions of it are, in the best sense of the word, for PR. Education. We’ve got to get the word out about this stuff.
The reality is that any informed and unbiased presentation of the various transpersonal claims daftly accepted by Wilber would be “bad press.” And the more informed and fair the presentation was, the worse it would be for him and his ilk.
And what of Jean Houston, selfless flak-taker? Only this:
Jean Houston claims to have completed her doctrinal studies in philosophy of religion at Columbia-Union Theological Seminary and in psychology at Union Graduate School. According to various published biographies, she claims to have served on the faculties of psychology, philosophy, and religion at Columbia University, New York University, the University of California, Hunter and Marymount Colleges, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Oklahoma (New York Daily News, June 25, 1996, p. 2).
Yet researchers have discovered quite a different background. Columbia University claims that Mrs. Houston never completed her doctoral work. The University of Oklahoma and Hunter College have no record of her teaching there. In 1973 Houston received a Ph.D. in psychology from Cincinnati Union Institute, “an alternative education program,” that did not become accredited until 1985 (Ibid.).
She also made the same embellishment during an interview with Stone Phillips on NBC’s Dateline (June 25, 1996), claiming to have “a number of Ph.D.s.” When confronted with the documentation refuting this claim, she responded, “I just slipped—I was tired.” Yet she also blamed a repeat of this “slip” on her assistant in a later interview with the New York Daily News (June 25, 1996, p. 2).
* * *
Venturing further into “integral politics,” Wilber has predictably given his opinion on the war in Iraq:
I personally believe that any protest movement that does not equally protest both America’s invasion and Saddam’s murder of 400,000 people is a protest movement that does not truly represent peace or non-aggression or worldcentric values.
I am aware of no major protest movement that has protested both forms of violence equally, and that has insisted upon an immediate end to both aggressions, and offered a believable way that both aggressions could actually be halted immediately so that neither side can continue its homicidal actions.
That is, I am aware of no integral protest movement anywhere in the world, unfortunately.
Amnesty International is a “major protest movement.” While not officially condemning the war in Iraq, to any right-of-center political perspective they have done much more to “harm” the American cause there than to aid it:
Critics of AI have suggested that AI’s concern for the human rights implications of this war disproportionately criticize the effects of U.S. military action while in comparison they were less vociferous about the abuses of the Hussein regime and the human rights implications of the continued rule of this government.
Supporters of AI have pointed out that AI was critical of Hussein’s regime while Donald Rumsfeld was shaking the Iraqi leader by the hand, and that when the White House later released reports on the human rights record of Hussein, they depended almost entirely on AI documents that the U.S. had ignored when Iraq was a U.S. ally in the 1980s.
Indeed, “the September/October 1988 [Amnesty International] newsletter’s lead article was an appeal to the United Nations Security Council to ‘act immediately to stop the massacre of Kurdish civilians by Iraqi forces’ under Saddam Hussein.”
Wilber might try to hide behind the idea that AI hasn’t protested those two sets of evils exactly equally—which, by definition, it couldn’t have, regardless of which side it might (or might not) have favored. (Plus, in not officially taking a stand against the Iraq war, AI has obviously explicitly protested it far less than they have objected to the tortures and mass murders under Saddam’s rule. So, evidently, in order to show themselves to be properly integral, they should be protesting it more, odd as that may sound given their mission and history.) Amnesty also probably doesn’t have a plan to offer in which “both aggressions [i.e., the invasion of Iraq, vs. Saddam’s mass murders] could actually be halted immediately.” Do you? Does kw? Not bloody likely.
Really, by Wilber’s own absurd third criterion of needing to have presented such a plan in order to qualify as “integral” in his judgment, he fails as miserably as anyone: Not only is there no movement which meets that third (and quite unnecessary, in terms of evaluating one’s good intentions or state/stage of consciousness) standard, there is probably even not a single individual who does. (If there were a workable and obviously correct political solution to that problem, which kept everyone honest in the process, Bush would never have gotten away with that rushed invasion in the first place.) So why does kw even bother framing all that? Why does he set it up so that, in practical terms, no movement could possibly be “integral” with regard to the Iraq conflict ... even while he himself and his institute are “integral” by definition?
My strong suspicion? He’s doing it to reserve high integrality only for meditative beings such as himself, regardless of how superior the behavior of others may be in practice when compared to his own dismal ideas and character. If you disagree, consider kw’s clueless, self-aggrandizing statement, in One Taste, that “until the ecologists understand that the ozone hole, pollution, and toxic wastes are all completely part of the Original Self, they will never gain enlightened awareness, which alone knows how to proceed with these pressing problems.” There, too, he is basically integral by definition, even though being ecologically unconscious in practice. That he would have ever put the above “ozone” ruminations into print, without considering how blatantly self-celebrating and openly grandiose they are, smacks of something far worse than a mere occasional “mental lapse.” And again: Where is his workable, integral solution to the ecological crisis? Nowhere, even for ostensibly having the highest “enlightened, integral awareness.”
Compare Meyerhoff’s relevant observation:
Wilber’s argument [about why differences in levels of consciousness are supposedly to blame for other persons not being able, even in principle, to understand his ideas] is so weak that another explanation has to be found for why he’s asserting it. It’s obvious to me that this is a transparent, and somewhat sad, attempt to avoid criticism by devising a rationale that invalidates the criticizer. If, as he often laments, people don’t understand his theory, the explanation lies in their not being cognitively developed enough to understand it. In addition, all the explaining in the world will not help because they are constitutionally unable to understand; therefore no attempt even needs to be made. And, any criticism the critic makes can be ignored because of the lower level of consciousness of the person making it. Wilber is committing the common fallacy of the ad hominem argument—the argument against the man.
Given all that, it is no surprise that any other movement, such as Amnesty, composed merely of “ordinary mortals,” must be “non-integral” ... until its members (who obviously overlap significantly with the ecological movement) attain to the same exalted state of consciousness as kw thinks he possesses.
Consider also the perspective of Greenpeace—the typical “green” organization, explicitly cited as such by kw himself—in outlining their reasons for officially protesting the war in Iraq from the beginning:
We don’t support Saddam Hussein. We don’t back any governments or political leaders. When we decided to take a stand against this war, it was because we see a far greater danger in the concept of preventive war....
For one nation to take arms against another because it believes that nation to be a threat undermines the foundations of peaceful coexistence, multilateral institutions like the United Nations, and an “entire web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values,” to quote John Brady Kiesling’s letter of resignation from the U.S. diplomatic core.
As tempting as it may be to those who view Saddam as a cipher of evil to step in and remove him militarily, one has to ask what’s next?
After the U.S. conducts a preventive war on Iraq, will it set its sights on Iran? North Korea? And if the U.S. can wage a preventive war to protect its national security, shouldn’t India or Pakistan have the same right?
This is the first step on a slippery slope. It ends with the United Nations in tatters and the rule of might making right.
If you are wondering how significantly the membership and culture of Greenpeace overlaps with that of Amnesty, consider Rolf Schwendter’s explicit mention of those two groups in exactly that context:
Examples for the clusters and networks of pivot institutions [as gathering-points for members of overlapping cultures] ... would be groups like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund—a large number of political, cultural, human rights-centered, ecological, self-help-oriented organizations.
* * *
One does not have to look hard to see the increasingly cult-like nature of Wilber’s integral community—the reluctance to question his pontifications, the marginalizing of anyone who does dare to question his edicts, the paranoia which sees even cogent and completely reasonable questioning as an “attack,” the presenting of reported psychological abuse by the leaders as being done for your spiritual benefit, and the absence of dialogue with outside perspectives, etc. None of that, though, has been the product of any overwork or explicit coercion of its members, nor has there been an “escalating series of public commitments” required of the members to bind them to the ideology and community, nor is Wilber their “savior,” etc. Rather, the mess there has evolved, even against the best intentions of the persons involved (even including, in a skewed sense, the unreliable-from-the-beginning Wilber himself), via simple human nature. It’s just a group of people defending their “specialness” and salvation, and the “genius” of their Hero, against other less-special “outsiders.” That is, a group setting itself up as being “more integral than thou”—with us on the outside conversely being less integral, and therefore not worth wasting time on, because we’ll “never understand anyway.”
Of course, it (i.e., how cults start) is not supposed to work that way, without deliberate coercive persuasion or “brainwashing” to close off a community and make people afraid to leave; but it certainly does work like that. Sure, in a sense the members of the integral community were “tricked” into believing a bunch of false ideas from the foolish Wilber himself. But 98% of them wouldn’t have had it any other way. That is, if kw hadn’t fed them what they desperately need to hear, with a veneer of science and rationality, they would have found someone else who would.
Some competent social psychologist should really take it as a project to study the Wilberian integral community in detail for posterity, recording its descent into a completely closed community, in which doubters are branded as heretics, by whatever name, and good members are made to feel so special for being “integral” or second tier, as opposed to the “axis of non-integrality” outside, that they can’t bear to leave the community. For, that departure would equate to an admission of failure in their “most important, prime directive” spiritual quest. Or did you think that the degree of isolation from the “real world,” and the “Us vs. Them” mentality of the Integral Emperor and his loyal subjects, wasn’t going to get any worse than it already is? It can always get worse....
It would be intuitively plausible to say that the less sense one’s ideas make, the more they must be protected from questioning by competent outsiders. Wilber’s ideas make dangerously little sense, and he’s been caught, red-handed, fabricating information far too often by now, for anyone of sound mind and body to look past those deceptions/incompetencies as if they were anything less than pandemic in his work. In fact, the only way he’ll be able to preserve the “integral edifice” he has worked all his adult/“professional” life to create, against further disintegration, is by completely closing it off from any cogent questioning. So, what do you think he’ll be doing, in that regard, over the next few years? What does the dismissal of Meyerhoff’s delightfully reasoned work—so well-thought-out, in general, that it goes right over the heads of the vast majority of integral community members—as being “altitudinally challenged” tell you about what the “integral” future holds?
In any case, even without that increasingly cult-like environment, if evidence and reasoning mean anything to you, you won’t still be holding out anything more than the faintest glimmer of hope that Wilber’s philosophy will turn out to be more right than wrong. Even if my own work has no effect on you in that regard, Meyerhoff’s cogent debunking (incl. via Andrew Smith) of kw’s twenty tenets should be enough. Never mind that Wilber’s philosophy isn’t consistent with the “external” data (of “skeptical-materialistic science,” etc.), it isn’t even internally consistent!
* * *
Interestingly, if we saw behaviors such as were exhibited by “patriotic” Westerners at the start of the war in Iraq instead being shown in the religious world, at least 90% of cult-studies experts would daftly insist that it could only arise from “brainwashing” or destructive subtle coercion. Show it in the political world, however, and it is just business as usual.
It is worth considering, then, the fairly obvious point that both religion and politics utilize the same techniques of manipulation on their followers, bringing out exactly the same psychological defenses in their adherents. Does it really make a difference whether the Evil Other is Satan, or communism/terrorism? (If you studied Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible back in high school, with its intended parallels between the Salem witch-hunts and McCarthyism, you already know that it makes no difference.) Could the psychological reactions/defenses (e.g., the need for protection by a religious or political “savior,” the witch-hunting eradication of “evil,” and the willing surrender of one’s freedoms in that hunt) really be any different against one than against the other? Isn’t it obvious that, given a structurally comparable set of threats and fears in the political world as in the religious, the psychological reactions to those real or perceived dangers will likewise be hardly distinguishable?
Whether or not the dangers actually exist as presented by the leader/guru is secondary. To bring out the cult-follower defenses—e.g., death threats against the courageous Dixie Chicks, or the regarding of anyone who dares to question the claims of the country’s leaders as being “unpatriotic”—it is enough that one believes they exist and that only the right guru/president/ideology can keep one’s body and/or soul safe from them.
* * *
Even among die-hard skeptics, there is precious little interest in really understanding how cults work, or in learning of the details of the fraudulence perpetrated by guru-figures whom they have taken (with good reason) from the beginning as being con-artists, or at the very least wildly deluded individuals. And, from the other side of the fence, “true believers” typically want their guru to be the “best,” but not to be the only “authentic sage” around: Even if they get completely taken advantage of one or another contemporary guru, they still cannot believe that Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Aurobindo, or Jesus, etc., were less than what they claimed to be. Plus, a far-too-high percentage of the “anti-cult” community is composed of people who have extricated themselves from the Moonies or the like, but then just gone back to the “safe” religion in which they were raised, in spite of its witch-hunting or Inquisition-ing or kosher-eating “chosen people” past. So, while they are happy to save other people from all the false religions in the world, they cannot admit to themselves that the psychological needs which got them suckered into the recognized cult are exactly the same ones as later took them back to the traditional religion, i.e., they didn’t need to be “tricked” into believing its fairy-tale claims.
Further in terms of skeptics, Robert T. Carroll, Michael Shermer and Paul Kurtz all initially expressed interest in the present book when I first approached them about it, readily agreeing to read it in either manuscript or PDF. And that was the last I ever heard from any of them.
Carroll, for one, in his superficial understanding of cults, quotes the true but vastly overrated notion that “in most cases people [in cults] have not arrived at their irrational beliefs overnight. They have come to them over a period of time with gradually escalated commitments.” Yet, his own earlier attendance at the services given by SRF involved his own swallowing-whole of the existence of levitation, bilocation, Babaji as a deathless Himalayan avatar (with the power to make himself invisible), etc.—all of which claims were presented, completely openly, in Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. (Carroll calls himself a former “follower” of Yogananda.) No one subtly coerced him into believing those fairy tales over any period of time with “gradually escalated commitments,” any more than anyone ever tricked me into it. To become involved in one or another religion or less organized form of spirituality, it is enough that one merely be gullible; no other deliberate trickery on the part of the leaders is actually necessary.
Further, far from being a mark of cultic involvement, the escalation of (public) commitment is a feature of every group you might ever want to join, including every (group of two) romantic relationship. In none of those were all of the negatives or irrationalities ever explained to you up-front, for you to make a fully “informed” decision.
So rephrase it this way: Would you still want to be a member of the skeptical community if you knew, going in, that top skeptics have provably fabricated information on numerous occasions just to get you to go along with them and to discredit the “believers” with whom they so vehemently disagree?
Exhibit A—from Carroll’s own skepdic website:
While [Robert] Temple [in The Sirius Mystery] does also give versions [of diagrams] omitting some elements (to remove symbols irrelevant to his particular point), neither of the two corresponds with the version Randi gives—one includes less, one more. So, why haven’t any of the “skeptics” had the skepticism to check Randi’s reference? Just flipping through Temple’s book would fully discredit what Randi says. Why don’t any of them call Randi on this: shouldn’t they want to expose this...?
The January 2000 issue of Dog World magazine included an article on a possible sixth sense in dogs, which discussed some of my research. In this article Randi was quoted as saying that in relation to canine ESP, “We at the JREF [James Randi Educational Foundation] have tested these claims. They fail.” No details were given of these tests.
I emailed James Randi to ask for details of this JREF research. He did not reply. He ignored a second request for information too.
I then asked members of the JREF Scientific Advisory Board to help me find out more about this claim. They did indeed help by advising Randi to reply. In an email sent on February 6, 2000 he told me that the tests he referred to were not done at the JREF, but took place “years ago” and were “informal.” They involved two dogs belonging to a friend of his that he observed over a two-week period. All records had been lost. He wrote: “I overstated my case for doubting the reality of dog ESP based on the small amount of data I obtained. It was rash and improper of me to do so.”
Randi also claimed to have debunked one of my experiments with the dog Jaytee, a part of which was shown on television. Jaytee went to the window to wait for his owner when she set off to come home, but did not do so before she set off. In Dog World, Randi stated: “Viewing the entire tape, we see that the dog responded to every car that drove by, and to every person who walked by.” This is simply not true, and Randi now admits that he has never seen the tape.
And Exhibit C, from my own disillusioning experiences with The Amazing Randi and his Wilber-esque ability to make “facts” up out of thin air. (The primary difference which I personally see between those two “authorities” is that Randi has at least one hundred times more of reality on his side, so that he correspondingly is pressured into fabricating information less than one percent as often as is Wilber.)
So, knowing all that, would you still want to be a member in good standing of the skeptical community?
“Surely not!” you say?
Most people would still happily join. Because, after all, the social benefits outweigh the risks. (Note: Carroll “would not miss” Randi’s annual Amazing Meeting. For my own part, I live a relatively full and rich life without it. One thing is certain: If Carroll or Randi had caught any “believer” red-handed, provably fabricating such important information as in the exhibits above, it wouldn’t just be buried in a “footnote,” to only be discovered by chance. It would rather be Front Page News. As well it should; but “sauce for the credulous goose, sauce for the skeptical gander.”)
In reading over Carroll’s parroting of simplistic (but widely accepted) ideas as to why people join (or refuse to join) cults, it is obvious that he has missed the beam there, too:
Nobody would join a cult if the pitch were: “Follow me. Drink this poisoned-but-flavored water and commit suicide.”
But, all you would have to append to that statement is what would typically be implied anyway: “... by drinking the Flavor-Aid and committing suicide, you’ll gain eternal salvation.” Given that promise, people would be lining up to join.
Significantly, Jim Jones claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. That fact is vitally relevant.
No one would believe Jones’ claim unless they had been “brainwashed” or coercively persuaded? Sure.... And no one would believe that Jesus was the sole Savior of humankind (a proposition even less likely to be true than was Jones’ claimed reincarnation) unless ... unless what? Unless they, too, had been brainwashed or subtly coerced? What causes the conversion to any religion? Whatever it is, it’s obviously present to a huge degree in our daily lives, not merely in recognized “cults” where the members end up drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid. (Whatever the psychological details may be, isn’t it almost self-evident that people join cults for comparable reasons to why they join cliques? And that they can’t easily exit the former any more easily than they can leave the latter, again for fully comparable reasons, in suffering the punishment of “social damnation”? The intensity may differ, but surely the core psychological dynamics are the same. Both situations, after all, are in large part simply variations on “follow the leader.”)
Further, anyone who would simply think about how people regularly join abusive communities, knowing full well what goes on in them but believing that the (alleged) abuse is for their own good, would not continue to imagine that no one would ever walk into such a situation if they just knew what they were getting themselves into from the beginning. They walk in anyway, because the promised (psychological and salvational) rewards outweigh (they think) the risks. That’s the equation for all social-group membership, isn’t it? After all, short of being physically restrained, no one would ever remain in a group if he or she wasn’t getting something out of it.
More from Carroll:
What distinguishes the chiropractor’s rationalization from the cult member’s is that the latter is based on pure faith and devotion to a guru or prophet, whereas the former is based on evidence from experience. Neither belief can be falsified because the believers won’t let them be falsified: Nothing can count against them. Those who base their beliefs on experience and what they take to be empirical or scientific evidence (e.g., astrologers, palm readers, mediums, psychics, the intelligent design folks, and the chiropractor) make a pretense of being willing to test their beliefs. They only bother to submit to a test of their ideas to get proof for others. That is why we refer to their beliefs as pseudosciences. We do not refer to the beliefs of cult members as pseudoscientific, but as faith-based irrationality.
But, the Maharishi, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Ken Wilber (and their followers) all make exactly the same “pretense of being willing to test their beliefs,” and equally only bother with those tests as a means for getting “proof for others.” They are no less “gurus and prophets” for doing so, however, nor can one question their experience-based teachings (e.g., in the elevation of simple coincidences to the status of paranormality/synchronicity) and still remain a member in good standing within the respective communities. Plus, it is absolutely standard for any “true guru” to allow the disciple a “testing period,” in which he evaluates the teachings without committing to the “pure faith and devotion” of the guru-disciple relationship. Throughout that period, however, he is assured not merely by the guru but by everyone around him that the “miracles” are real, and the they have passed all of the appropriate tests—you know, just like even a professional scientist will have a near-complete level of faith and trust that the claims made in his field’s peer-reviewed journals have been competently and honestly tested.
Carroll again knows very well of Yogananda’s “scientific,” prove-it-for-yourself emphasis, from his own brief participation in the SRF cult (on “Sunday mornings” at least, so from a relatively safe distance) decades ago. He thus already has all of the data he needs, from his own experiences, to know that the line he is trying to draw between “pseudoscience” and “faith-based irrationality” is hazy at best. He also again has a copy of the PDF of this present book, which he does not appear to have read with any attention. So if he still doesn’t get how basic social psychological principles are overwhelmingly relevant when people join cults, and instead just quotes from the accepted authorities in the cult-studies field without understanding why their presentations are so inadequate, there is no admirable reason or excuse for that.
Three ideas seem essential to the concept of a cult. One is thinking in terms of us versus them with total alienation from “them.” The second is the intense, though often subtle, indoctrination techniques used to recruit and hold members. The third is the charismatic cult leader.
The tortures and damnations of both the Catholic/Protestant witch hunts and the Inquisition make even something as toxic as Scientology look relatively innocuous by comparison. Were such behaviors to occur in any “nontraditional” environment, they would be recognized for the cultish actions which they are.
So, if you know that the most respected leaders of a community will fabricate information to manipulate you, will overlook their peers’ blatant dishonesties, and will present themselves as experts after having read all of half a dozen books on a subject (e.g., of cults, as in Carroll’s case above), and you still want to be a part of that society ... well, good luck to you. (Also take serious note of Martin Gardner’s false portrayal of Krishnamurti in Skeptical Inquirer. The fact that his superficial and dishonest hatchet job made it into that magazine shows you just how thoroughly the ideas there are vetted. If that article was sent out for peer review at all, whoever did the review obviously lacked the knowledge-base to competently judge the paper’s validity.)
Incidentally, the book by Conway and Siegelman (Snapping) listed in the “further reading” section of Carroll’s “cult” page has not been taken seriously within cult studies for many years; and Walter Martin’s books are all done from a frightened, Bible-thumping Christian perspective, where anything non-Christian is inherently “bad.” (I have read Martin’s The New Age Cult, and at least one chapter from Kingdom of the Cults. If I had found his one-sided books to be the least bit useful as cult-references, I would have included them in my own bibliography, for STG, which covers just about every other relevant book known to humankind—though missing a few on Jonestown. Like the amazon.com write-up for Kingdom says: “This comprehensive new edition equips readers from every walk of life to use biblical truth to counter the efforts of cults to masquerade as mainstream Christians.” And that’s going to be an unbiased, much less insightful, source of information, worthy of recommendation? Personally, I’d be embarrassed to list the book as a resource at all, much less as being among the “top ten” which I had read. And on one of the definitive skeptical sites, too.) Lifton and Langone’s books are generally insightful and reliable, as are Steven Hassan’s. (I have corresponded with Mr. Hassan; he has actually read large parts of STG—though the manuscript at that point contained only the first hints of the Gurus and Prisoners chapter. He further suggested only a few minor corrections when I spoke directly with him on the phone about it in the summer of 2004.)
I personally am certainly skeptical of any and all paranormal claims by now, and have found much good and competent debunking of those on skeptical websites (including Carroll’s and Randi’s) and in their books. But to be a member in good standing of that community? No thank you. Not with respected leaders like that. Because as soon as you’re in, you start unconsciously deferring to the recognized authorities, attaching far more weight to their collective wisdom and veracity than they could ever deserve.
Fully in line with that, Carroll’s “knowledgeable” treatment of the subject of cults is not merely inadequate, it’s downright Wilber-esque. And ironically, he has rejected kw’s philosophizing on the basis of having read only the first chapter in A Brief History of Everything. Granted, it would have been generous of him to read further after encountering Wilber’s “half-truths and lies” (Carroll’s phrase) on the subject of evolution, there. But still, being properly informed about what you’re publicly supporting or rejecting never hurts.
In any case, with regard to the cult-studies field and its leaders in general: “Big, overgrown, diluted, traditional cult” members helping other “little, nontraditional cult” members to see things “more clearly” is certainly a bit of the old “pot, kettle, black” syndrome. Conversely, though, there is nary a peep coming out of the cult-studies field about the dangers of membership in, say, the Roman Catholic Church, even aside from its problems with clergy sexual abuse. A large part of the reason for that surely has to do with the fact that a significant proportion of the people working in that field have extricated themselves from little, destructive cults, just to go back and embrace a bigger and older, “safe” cult with a history of witch-hunts and Inquisitions, etc. But, of course, they can’t admit to themselves that the psychological weaknesses which got them into the little cult in the first place are also what now make them cling to the “safe, traditional religion” (i.e., big cult). So they instead have to contort their theorizings and insist that no one would ever join a destructive cult or adopt its odd beliefs if they hadn’t been tricked into it ... even while they themselves wholly believe equally wacky but “socially acceptable” fairy tales (open the Bible—or Bhagavad Gita, or Koran—to nearly any page to see a good number of examples of that).
Further, ponder this: If there really is a “reason for everything” in our lives, and if those lives are planned out prior to our births, for example, how can one go from being a “spiritual teacher” (as I was once considered to be, by the publisher of my first book) to an outcaste simply for telling the truth and doing simple, competent research? What does it say about spirituality as a pursuit of truth, when simply following truth to the best of your abilities is the death-knell for all forms of “spirituality”? Where, much as one might still reserve the right to “hope” that everything will all “turn out for the best” in terms of reincarnation, psi phenomena, auras and subtle energies, etc., no one who is even minimally informed about the debunkings which have been done for each of those “documented” claims could daftly “believe” that any of them are true. The most you can rationally do is to hope.
Conversely, if, rather than clinging to and trying to preserve the few aspects of the integral perspective which haven’t yet been shown to be untenable, you would instead build a philosophy only out of ideas and phenomena which are at least likely to be true—paranormality/psi is not—we would have little to disagree about.
I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.
Personally, the only reaction I could consider appropriate, by now, to the question of gurus and spiritual seeking, is to encourage people to not waste their time with any of it. I have no hope left that “genuine gurus” who can actually deliver what they promise exist now or have ever existed, nor do I think that what they’ve presented as the highest stages of human consciousness would be worth pursuing even if those (e.g., witnessing, or non-dual) phenomena/noumena were ontologically real.
Plus, closed-society in-group dynamics, particularly when combined with promises/expectations of enlightenment/salvation, have a way of reducing both leaders and followers to behaving in the worst pre-rational and conformist ways, regardless of how loftily they may test or behave in “normal” circumstances. (Compare the sadistic/submissive behaviors in the Stanford prison experiment, by persons who only qualified as subjects in the first place for being the most psychologically healthy of the applicants. Or, consider the psychological regression measured by Jane Loevinger in female university students—a “slight but consistent loss” of ego development from their freshman to their senior years.)
Maybe one in a thousand guru-figures uses his/her power wisely/non-abusively. Conversely, though, for all of Ken Wilber’s (for one) glaring personal and professional flaws, if he were to ever set himself up as an explicit guru, he wouldn’t even be among the worst 80% as far as narcissism, manipulation, deceit, false claims to (e.g., non-dual) enlightenment, or the psychological or physical abuse of others goes. That is no positive comment on him, of course—the man is utterly dysfunctional, and has been since at least his earliest “professional” days. It’s simply that the rest of the guru-realm is filled with such dismal individuals that, by comparison, kw stands out like a wise, compassionate and selfless man, even for all of his professional incompetence and/or outright manipulative dishonesty.
So, if you (rightly) think that kw’s books and character aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, but still believe that “genuine gurus” exist who can deliver the enlightenment they promise ... well, “good luck with that.” You’re going to need it.
In the court system, we have character witnesses to justify our belief that a person is telling the truth, based on his truthfulness and other behaviors in the past.
In the business world, you have references to assure potential employers that you will do the job properly in your new, “untested” capacity, based on your having delivered comparable goods to previous employers.
In the spiritual world, however, even if a “wise” authority figure is consistently wrong or outright dishonest about things which are actually testable, we are still expected to take their word for “things unseen.” They first unwittingly prove, time after time, that they cannot or will not do the simplest research to get the most elementary things right; and then they pontificate about the value in learning from ones such as them, that you too may attain to the same exalted realizations of “truth” as they have! Or they first prove, for example, that they cannot tell the difference between normal and ostensibly paranormal phenomena; and then they vouch for the existence of the latter, based on their own experiences! And followers, who themselves won’t do the most basic research into how such claims can be tested and invariably found wanting, swallow it all, hook, line and sinker.
Wilber has never been the “worst” among those “leading” damned fools; he’s simply the one who makes the most quantitative statements, and thus can be the most easily shown to be consistently wrong/dishonest, via simple research which any competent undergraduate should be able to do.
* * *
“But Geoff,” I hear you say, “surely you can’t be claiming that there’s no need to integrate the various approaches in the field of consciousness studies, or at least to point out the first- and third-person approaches that divide it? Surely listing the current schools of thought, and the attempt, by Wilber and others, to arrange them in some kind of order, can only help.”
Well, as a first point, it is exactly the attempt to find order in all those phenomena without having any idea about how to separate the real ones from the imaginary ones that has created the integral mess in the first place—giving equal weight to the “effectiveness” of long-ago debunked homeopathy and acupuncture, and to the “proven” (not!) efficacy of meditation in advancing psychological stage-growth, as it gives to a real process of evolution (which has to be utterly misrepresented in order to fit into the “theories”). Where, in life, do we get marks simply for “attempting” things, much less for giving the appearance of succeeding by dishonestly/selectively ignoring uncomplimentary, contrary information? Okay, I guess in sales and management....
And, the drop-off from a “theory of everything” to merely pointing out how first-person (subjective) approaches yield different and/or more enriching answers than third-person (e.g., physical science) ones, is a fairly Everest-like tumble. (Ironically, it’s exactly the combination of third-person and first-person approaches, in the use of basic statistics and double-blind settings to evaluate claims of the abilities to see auras or to do astral travel, for example, that has provided the most evidence that such claimed abilities are unlikely to be real. Of course, bring that up in the integral community and you can only be guilty of “skeptical-materialistic” thinking, when you are rather simply asking the minimal questions which must be asked in order to separate the widespread first-person imaginings—which can be whatsoever you want them to be—from reality.)
Plus, you can’t do anything resembling science by “including everything” now, and only later weeding out the stuff that doesn’t actually exist. As Steven Dutch has observed, “theories that hang together pretty well logically and are reasonably consistent with most of the evidence are a dime a dozen in science. It’s easy—anyone can construct one. The key to the problem lies in the qualifiers ‘pretty well,’ ‘reasonably consistent,’ and ’most of the evidence.’” Consequently: Until you’ve thoroughly determined what the “best evidence” that needs to be explained actually is, your theories are inherently going to be “dime a dozen” ones, which fit “pretty well” with whatever you hope may exist in the transpersonal and physical worlds. When exactly that same approach is being taken in the attempt to arrange current schools of thought into some kind of order, one truly doesn’t even need to read the “breakthrough” publications in order to know that they’re not going to stand up to questioning. That would be true even if Wilber, for one, were not the “bastard child of P. T. Barnum.”
Further, proper theories in any field don’t merely explain existing phenomena and predict new ones. Rather, they also “disallow” claimed phenomena which have failed to show themselves in proper testing. How is the integral “we’ll weed it out later” approach to a “theory of everything” ever going to accomplish the latter point? Even in principle, it cannot.
Would you read Velikovsky for his “insights” into astronomy, hoping that they’ll help to bring order to the divided and unordered aspects of that field? No? Then why do you read Wilber for his equally quack-ian “insights” into fantasial philosophy?
Am I saying that there is no “need to integrate the various approaches in the field of consciousness studies,” via Wilber’s bumbling attempts or otherwise? Not exactly: for people with an interest in such things, there will always be at least a psychological need for that integration. What I am saying is that kw (and at least 80% of his critics, and at least 99% of his followers) woefully lack the knowledge-base to effect that integration, or even to properly critique others’ attempts. (That knowledge-base would cover original sources, along with one’s understanding and applying of the fact that literally nothing of what one might like to believe about the hoped-for transpersonal aspects of reality has ever showed itself in any properly conducted and repeated testing.) If that weren’t true, everything I’ve ever written in debunking Wilber’s addled notions would already have been put into print previously, by others who are far more familiar with his “teachings” than I would ever wish to be. ’Cause even by now, I’ve sunk far less than 1000 hours into reading and critiquing his work. Further, since the integral community as a whole is blatantly unable to recognize false attempts at such integration even when the flaws are enumerated in precise detail, it doesn’t have a prayer of recognizing true ones, either. Its members simply won’t know the difference.
Still, it’s never an “all-or-nothing” proposition, right? Is the attempt to put current schools of thought into some kind of order, in principle, a good thing? Of course it is. Has any good come out of it? Of course. Has any bad come out of it? You betcha. Quite a lot, actually. Does integral philosophy do more harm than good? Based on lost productivity, the psychotic side-effects of meditation, and the like, I would say yes, it does significantly more harm than good; notwithstanding that, like all “opiates of the masses,” it does serve a social and salvational function for the in-group. Would I, personally, be a happier person today if I had never even heard of yoga, Wilber or integral philosophy? Yes, absolutely. No question at all. No comparison. Wasted the best years of my life on those combinations of sound and fury, told by conscience-bereft idiots, signifying sweet-piss-all.
The thing about integral/spiritual pursuits is that they’re never content to be mere theories; they always want to be applied to real lives. While that may sound like a good thing, it’s exactly in the applying that all the worst damage is done.
* * *
Many years ago, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman offered an insightful critique of the “cargo cult science” into which Wilber’s work falls so squarely:
[T]here is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school—we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty—a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid—not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked—to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.
In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another....
We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.
Ken Wilber may have garnered some “temporary fame and excitement” for his “cargo cult philosophy”—having always “bent over backwards” in exactly the wrong way, to obfuscate/ignore facts which did not mesh with his “theories.” But that “success” is fairly meaningless, being achieved only in a field of “pretend scholarship” populated by daft admirers who simply don’t know any better, and who will fight you tooth and nail should you try to present them with thorough research with utterly discredits their fallacious system of integral beliefs. The truth will indeed come out. And, in the end, the world will know Wilber for the dangerously stupid, authoritarian, ill-tempered, dishonest, narcissistic pretender that he always has been.
* * *
Endorsing the integral philosophy while listening to skeptical arguments against it is a multi-perspectival viewpoint.
Following the evidence, while still hoping that even the most wild-eyed of spiritual claims will turn out, upon competent testing, to be true, is also multi-perspectival.
In the former route, you end up believing in a wide variety of fairy tales, and discounting their consistent failure to show their purported effects in properly controlled studies as a mere temporary setback or a shortcoming of “skeptical-materialistic science.” You will also, if history and psychology are any guides, simultaneously elevate the “false positives” of improperly performed studies to the status of “best evidence”—happy to believe whatever you wish until it is “disproved,” in spite of the difficulty/impossibility of “proving a negative.”
In the latter route, you simply resolve to face reality, whatever it may turn out to be, even while still hoping that, by some Douglas Adams-ian coincidence, the universe may yet turn out to have a point to its existence after all.
Religion/spirituality could not exist without the former approach; the greatest discoveries in science have consistently been made by people who took the latter.
If you really care about having your beliefs correspond to reality, you have to be prepared to face, and act on, the possibility that they don’t.
And, if you think you can take the “good” from the integral perspective and leave the rest behind, consider this: Every point on which I, for one, have debunked Ken Wilber’s consistently untenable claims, was at one time supposedly part of what was worth saving from his ideas.
And as far as practice goes: Do you really need a formal philosophy or an integration of the current schools of thought in order to know enough to lead a balanced life (exercise, relaxation, good food but not too much of it, read a good book with proper footnoting now and then, don’t believe everything you’re told by persons who stand to gain from your willing obedience, etc.), or to justify living that way to yourself? If you do, here’s one:
We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.
You know who said that? Friedrich Nietzsche—a real philosopher, who didn’t need to substitute fairy tales for reality and then pretend that that was an improvement rooted in his own “exalted, second-tier spiritual realization.”
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