Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rejecting simplistic linear interpretations

The more I contemplate this subject, the more I realise that the Integral movement, the Integral evolution - as a bringing together / convergence of different ways of being - goes beyond popular forms of a intellectualised New Age, New Paradigm etc.

For one thing, practice is most important, theory is secondary. All the theory and theorising and mapmaking in the world doesn't matter, if there is no practical outcome.

Also it is necessary to get away from the Gebserian, Wilberian, and Beck and Cowan (Spiral Dynamics) idea of a march of evolutionary progress from archaic magical thinking to modernity and postmodernity, and beyond that to an integral or "upper tier" perspective, as if they are all part of a simplistic linear sequence. These linear, ethnocentric and anthropocentric assumptions need to be challenged, they are simply part of the myth of modern man, an update on European colonial ideas of social evolution, white man's burden, etc

A true Integral or full or complete (purna Sri Aurobindo, pleroma Teilhard) perspective and transformation represents and includes all elements, both the human and the natural worlds, both the technological west and tribal society, both secularism and yogic transcendence. But - and here is the key, and here is also where I differ with "orthodox" integralism - it isn't a sequential, linear artificial series like a temporalised "great chain of being" (or if you want to be a Wilberian holarchist "great nest of being"). The human noosphere is not a step above the natural biosphere, they are both equal in importance. Ditto the technological west and tribal society, ditto yogic or mystical transcendence versus secularism. It is not that one is "higher". Concepts of higher and lower tiers so beloved of Spiral Dynamics and Wilberian Integralism, concepts that "only man has a soul" such as Teilhard retained from his Christian belief, the idea that a mystical life of renunciation is better than life in the world, or vice versa, all these are misleading and relativist conceptions that profoundly take away from our understanding of what an Integral Transformation will be like.


Blogger goethean said...

The human noosphere is not a step above the natural biosphere, they are both equal in importance. Ditto the technological west and tribal society, ditto yogic or mystical transcendence versus secularism. It is not that one is "higher".

But humans are different from animals. And animals are different from plants. And the West is different from traditional societies.

And humans evolved after animals; animals evolved after plants, and the West developed after traditional societies.

Stephen Jay Gould said that human beings are no more complex than cockroaches, that they just adapted to environmental conditions and that evolution was like a drunk guy randomly weaving back and forth down an alley -- intelligence was no more inherently likely to evolve than any other feature. Natural selection is merely adaptation, not progression.

Clare W. Graves, on whose work Spiral Dynamics is based:

"I am not saying in this conception of adult behavior that one style of being, one form of human existence is inevitably and in all circumstances superior to or better than another form of human existence, another style of being. What I am saying is that when one form of being is more congruent with the realities of existence, then it is the better form of living for those realities. And what I am saying is that when one form of existence ceases to be functional for the realities of existence then some other form, either higher or lower in the hierarchy, is the better form of living. I do suggest, however, and this I deeply believe is so, that for the overall welfare of total man's existence in this world, over the long run of time, higher levels are better than lower levels and that the prime good of any society's governing figures should be to promote human movement up the levels of human existence."

10:14 AM  
Blogger goethean said...

Maybe if you substitute the word "later" for the word "higher" in the Graves quotation it becomes more palatable.

Thompson sees Gebser's structures of consciousness ("levels" in Wilberian) as reflected in different ways of doing math.

Galilean dynamics..mental
chaos dynamics.....integral

Is algebra "better" than arithmatic? Not necessarily, but it's certainly more useful in some situations. But it might not be so useful to a Stone Age hunter.

10:23 AM  
Blogger m alan kazlev said...

hi Goethean

Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

First of all, I would like to qualify everything I say here in my reply with the disclaimer that my ideas on these various matters are still in flux, and may and probably will change, especially in the process of writing my book, which is really a sort of exercise in Jnana yoga itself!

And perhaps there are also still errors of understanding on my part here regarding Wilberian, Spiral Dynamic, and other forms of Integralism, which need to be rectified.

So, that said, to reply...

"humans evolved after animals; animals evolved after plants, and the West developed after traditional societies."

True, there is an unfolding, an emergence of greater diversity, new forms arising, with more specialised forms arising from simpler and earlier forms. btw in current biology animals didn't evolve from plants, but Metazoa (multicellular animals) evolved from unicellular ancestors. Plants an animals both evolved from ancestral eukaryote microorganisms. Sorry for the hair splitting, but phylogeny is one of the subjects i know about ;-) But let's take the evolution of plants and animals from earlier eukaryotes. It's not that the earlier forms died out (well, maybe some did), but that the biosphere became more complex. So it went from simple microorganisms to complex microorganisms plus plants plus animals. That is indeed an advance, an evolution. But to posit a linear sequence A --> B --> C--> a la a temporalised version of the traditional Great Chain of Being is meaningless. A branching tree is a better analogy, and the branches sometimes converge as well!

Similarly for example a world with Western + Traditional Society is more diverse and interesting than a world with only Traditional Society. So this imho can be considered an evolutionary progression. But a world with only Western Society is not a progression, it is simply one thing replacing another.

Stephen Jay Gould said that human beings are no more complex than cockroaches...

Well cockroaches are amazing critters, and it is not generally realised that there are only a few species that have actually benefited from the urban environment (and hence are declared "pests"), while there are thousands more species that live in natural environments and are rarely if ever seen, like e.g. the giant Australian wingless cockroach, which looks nothing like the household variety. So to me it is not a matter that either man or cockroach is better or worse, but both are different forms of manifestation of the Supreme. The equality of compassion Sri Ramana showed to all sentient beings (and even to plants) is very meaningful to me too. Here we see the foundation of a true Integral morality.

But getting back to Gould, it's worth pointing out that almost none of his colleagues agree with his claim that natural selection does not result in a progression to greater complexity. The consensus is that it does (there is an interesting online article refuting Gould on this but unfortunately i didn't save the url). e.g. Cambrian ecosystems were more complex than Proterozoic ecosystems, but less complex then modern-day ecosystems.

But with a few exceptions like paleontologist Simon Conway Morris (a Tielhardian Christian), all evolutionists deny teleology, or that humanity has a special place of significance. So complexity is seen as a sort of emergent process. In this regard, Erich Jantsch provides an excellent compromise between reductionism and teleology; his Self-Organizing Universe is one of best books i have ever read (albeit heavy going in parts and starting to be a bit dated as science moves on).

Thanks for the Clare Graves quote - very interesting!

Of course there is still the problem of what constitutes "higher" and "lower". These terms themselves apply a 19th Century Great Chain of Being hierarchy. Is a human "higher" than a non-human animal? More rational intelligence, sure. But more loving? How do we decide what is "higher"? Is a schizophrenic's understanding of reality inferior to that of a normal person. Less well-adjusted, sure, but perhaps they see amazing vistas the rest of us don't. Charles T. Tart makes some interesting points re unspoken assumptions of Western rationalistic psychology.

I haven't studied Graves' work so I don't know how much it differs from the later ideas of Beck and Cowan. I do know that there is something seriously screwy in Wilber's elitist hierarchical conception of first and second tiers. Of course it is quite possible that Wilber is totally misinterpreting Spiral Dynamics, certainly Cowan has harsh words to say about Beck and Wilber's interpretations. But like I said I'm not knowledgeable to judge these things.

"Maybe if you substitute the word "later" for the word "higher" in the Graves quotation it becomes more palatable."

But why should later be better than earlier? I am not denying qualitative differences, hierarchies, etc. To do so would be to reduce everything to what Wilber calls "flatland", and I am as opposed to that perspective as he is. It is my thesis that qualitative differences do not mean a value hierarchy, in which one is more important or special than another.

"Is algebra "better" than arithmetic? Not necessarily, but it's certainly more useful in some situations. But it might not be so useful to a Stone Age hunter."

Sure, no problems there! And similarly a world in which there is both algebra and simple arithmetic is more complex and so better than one in which there is only algebra alone, or simple arithmetic alone.

Two things have inspired this new insight in me, and motivated me to write that blog post. The first has been my experience with Ramana. Before I was contacted by Ramana's Light I was happy to slot him in the overall scheme of literalist Aurobindonian stages. Having contacted Ramana's Light personally, I find it equal to Sri Aurobindo's Light. To me they are both avatars, it is not that one is better than the other. Yet to look at their teachings from a mental (intellectual/theoretical) perspective, there is no doubt at all that the Aurobindonian teaching is far more inclusive, more integrative, than Ramana's or Shankara's Advaita! But Ramana's personality and presence is greater than his outer teachings indicate. So if you only take his external teachings, you only see part of the picture. Ditto for Sri Aurobindo's external teachings. This is why trying to understand Sri Aurobindo from a merely intellectual perspective doesn't work (and I argued in part 3 of my first essay on Integral world this is where Wilber is in error).

But, to re-emphasise, a mental perspective of a sage's or an avatar's teaching is not false as such, but partial. It's like the story of the blind men and the elephant, where a part of the elephant is mistaken for the whole. The blind man who grasped the elephant's ear thought the whole elephant looked like a fan, and so on.

Similarly much of the Integral movement up until now is based on the meme of a simple linear series of progress. It is thus stuck with making wrong assumptions based on partial knowledge.

But the real thing that triggered my post was attending an introductory talk for this symposium and this really got me thinking about the place of tribal wisdom. Not just as something that archaic stone age man would use, but as something that is relevant to the Western world today. And this is not in the sense of replacing the West of course (I for one absolutely love my Western lifestyle and Western toys!), but existing alongside it, and recognised as equal but different and complementary, not as an archaic and primitive ancestor.

Note that in current Integralist - certainly in Wilberian - terms, shamanic and tribal knowledge is (mis)interpreted as belonging to the pre-rational "Magical" stage. Or when adopted by the modern activist or environment movement as "Green" and "lower tier", or even "Mean Green Meme". It can thus be dismissed as inferior to the "higher tier" of the integral position. This is the same attitude shared with many religions and philosophies, they all have a hierarchy of insight with their own mental dogmas enthroned at the top. And it is this whole elitist, exclusivist attitude, which I see as the antithesis of the true integral perspective.

Anyway thinking about the perspective of mainstream Integralism, it seems to me that all it is doing is rehashing the old racism, chauvinism, and specieism, in which all the "earlier" stages are simply states on the way to our present level of development. In this context Wilber is very 19th century Victorian, and so is Integral Spiral Dynamics (Clare Graves I haven't studied enough to comment on).

This is not to say there is no truth in these things, just as it would be wrong to say there is absolutely no truth in the 19th century Eurocentric concept of the Great Chain of Being. But what is of value in these things - what is true in them, in other words, which is that there is a hierarchy of levels and gradations of being - is heavily distorted and mythologised and totally confused with objective material reality, and so needs to be interpreted with the right hermeneutic (i.e. with esoteric and spiritual insight). It's exactly the same as with the Bible and other religious scriptures, which are just as equally distorted and mythologised.

What I am interested in then is taking the Integral movement to a new level, beyond its current 19th century memeset. Not saying that the 19th century memeset is wrong of course. Like everything else, it's only partial, not wrong ;-)

8:41 PM  
Blogger goethean said...

Note that in current Integralist - certainly in Wilberian - terms, shamanic and tribal knowledge is (mis)interpreted as belonging to the pre-rational "Magical" stage. Or when adopted by the modern activist or environment movement as "Green" and "lower tier", or even "Mean Green Meme". It can thus be dismissed as inferior to the "higher tier" of the integral position.

Wilber wouldn't accept this description of his ideas (shocking, I know), but it does accurately describe a bastardization that is common among Wilber's followers. And maybe something in KW's work gives rise to these misinterpretations. Although it must be said that KW does emphasize "transcend and include" which, if followed, would lead to a position of the sort that you are espousing rather than one that you aer ascribing to Wilber.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Mushin said...

Dear Alan,

I have recently toyed around with a different view of hierarchies which might relevant here.
Still very much in flux, the idea...

So what if we start to talk about competence instead of higher or lower, better or less good etc?
In a hierarchy of competence learning and unfolding might be happening along these lines. I might be competent in teaching German, and you in post-Wilberian integralism; so I can learn from you in one area and you from me in another.

So were Ramana might not be so competent in an intellectually satisfying teaching, Sri Aurobindo might... and so on. Trouble starts when one regards someone else in being competent generally, as there is no 'general competence'.
The old view of hierarchies - or holarchies - are very much generalized, and thus at max. competent in a general area (high flying over some area), and also linear... it reminds me much of the hierarchies of political power.

Linear hierarchies (hierarchies of power) are best dealt with by political animals... in the slowly emerging 'age of cooperation' they are relevant as something that needs to be transcended...

Forgive my unthurough ramblings. Just thought there might be something in there.

Love & Peace,


9:13 AM  
Blogger Tusar N Mohapatra said...

The modern mind with its democratic ethos shudders at the sight of a superlative and hastens to believe that "there is no 'general competence'." Amal Kiran once described the multiple facets of Sri Aurobindo as Mount Everest facing Mount Everest. How else can one express about such eminences?

3:28 PM  
Blogger m alan kazlev said...

Goethean thanks for your continued comments!

Mushin I like your idea of competence, but what happens when two equally competent individuals have different perspectives and mutually contradictory theories?

So for example, I find Sri Aurobindo more intellectually (nothing to do with spiritually) satisfying than Ramana's Advaitin approach, but what about those devotees of Ramana who find his teachings more intellectually satisfying than Sri Aurobindo's?

This is the paradox, how to honour all perspectives.

And yes I agree hierarchies imply authoritarian political (and/or quasi-political) structures.

Tusar I very much like the analgy used by Amal Kiran!

4:48 PM  
Blogger Mushin said...

Hi Alan,

interesting question about equally competent individual having different views or even contradictory ones.

Talking with a friend recently he informed me of the concept and the difficulties connected with "meritocracy" and I guess the concept doesn't hold up very well under scrutiny, as an answer to the difficulties that the perennial philosophy and similar systems of 'linear developments' in spirituality (and other areas) pose.

Living in a community that originally I founded when I was still much into the 'vertical spirituality' as I tend to call that stream, and stepping down as the 'spiritual teacher' or the 'spiritual authority' and now experimenting much with what I now call 'relational spirituality' I'm often faced with the paradoxes of hierarchy and the human need/desire for it.

Coming back to the conflict between differing theories, teachings of 'sages' and/or other people of competence...
How to decide - and this seems to be the underlying question - what is better, 'higher' etc.?

I do not think that I ever made an important decision based on analysis or intellectual criteria. Actually it often goes somewhat like this:
* an uncomfortable feeling with the situation sets in
* it moves in the direction or becomes suffering
* a change is sorely needed (insight thorugh non-avoidance of the issue presenting itself)
* I question myself deeply (asking for guidance inwardly is often a part of that, but also speaking with friends)
* the next move presents itself convincingly
* I find reasons to support the decision
* I do the step

Now this, too, is not a linear process and the steps I present here are just a very rough indication of such a process.

So back to the original question of conflict between competent people, and - added - what about differmnt people's different views? Wouldn't it be good to actually have a hierarchical, linear framework to decide?
Well, in principal: yes. In practise, definetly NO. The downside of such systems - as we did see last year very clearly in the case of Wilbers Wyatt Earp rant, but one could see it in many cases of abuse of some sort or another - is that it is being used to 'persecute' others who do not share that system. And it really doesn't seem to matter how high the spiritual development has flourished (and I do take Wilber as a very enlightened being).

It all seems to be a matter of the values one is deeply connected with, and how these values unfold in ones actions. (Wanting to honour all perspectives being such a value.)

So my values have shifted very much to "relational spirituality" where competence is very important ("by their fruits ye shall know them" Jesus) and also what is between us.

Love & Peace,

PS. I have now linked you to my blog, I really find your views and what is being discussed here and also how very edifying.

4:50 AM  
Blogger m alan kazlev said...

Hi Mushin

Thanks for your thoughtful comemnts! I pretty much agree with almost all of what you have to say. We seem to be in agreement with how dangerous authoritarian power structures can be when it comes to spiritual and so-called spiritual teachers. The interesting thing is that while many are motivated by egotism or desuire (even those who start out sincere), others like Sri Ramana, Sri Aurobindo, Martinus (an intriguing figure i was recently told about), the Dalai Lama, etc have a much more sincere Presence about them. But even with them one shouldn't have a hierarchy, because hierrachy brings in ego because it means one assumes that one's own teacher or guru or religion is better than all the others. And even though in my book for example I posit a number of stages to Supramentalisation (a "hierarchy" if you will), this is just my own mental classification, one possible map among others, and should not be taken as a dogma. Because Spiritual Revelation is beyond all words and all dogmas. Ultimately one's own Inner Light is the true guide, and if one is inspired by certain spiritual teachers, it is one's own relationship to their Light, not mediated through human personality power trips.

Thanks for the link too!

8:08 PM  

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