The Need for Men’s Liberation via Integral Life

Rarely a month goes by without the Wilberian Integral Machine pumping forth new evidence of its alignment with the men’s movement, as outlined in various blog posts here.

This week’s Integral Life Newsletter is entitled “The Need for Men’s Liberation” and directs readers to a conversation between Ken Wilber and Warren Farrell where they will be offered “Instant Insights” such as:

  • “Power” is not defined by the amount of control someone has over others, but the amount of control one has over his or her own life
  • In terms of recognizing and developing their power, men are in a similar position today as women were in the late 1950’s, at the dawn of the feminist movement

Here’s the problem: Wilber and Farrell sound quite reasonable when they speak to issues such as “the urgent need for men to begin redefining their roles for today’s world”. However, when you scratch the surface, they begin to assert some rather more problematic positions. If you read my book you will find evidence for the following “Instant Insights”:

  • Wilber distorts the work of feminist scholars such as Carol Gilligan, and claims they support his view, when they do not.
  • Wilber and Farrell deny the historical reality of patriarchy, suggesting instead it was there to suit everyone.
  • Wilber and Farrell’s consistent reframing of “feminism” and what it “really” means is an overt act of depoliticization and masculine power.
  • Far from “redefining their roles for today’s world”, Wilber imprisons men and women into “types” on the AQAL matrix, falling foul of his own elegantly-formulated pre-trans fallacy.
  • Wilber relegates “feminine” spiritual values to the pre-rational, stating “more men make it into the universal, postconventional moral stages than do women”.
  • Wilber states that even in noospheric realms there can be no ultimate gender parity “given the unavoidable aspects of childbearing”.

How’s that for gender equality?

I know it’s getting rather boring with me making these comments about the integral men’s movement, but it seems that over the past year the Wilberian Integral Machine has gone on something of an offensive on this issue, which should be a worry for us all.

13 thoughts on “The Need for Men’s Liberation via Integral Life

  1. Amen and Hallelujah! I continue to be mildly irked by the reification of sex = gender = type. Those in the Integral Complex may argue that they’re simply “meeting people where they’re at [along the developmental spectrum]” but this is, IMHO, a sad state of affairs. I view it more as a continuation of polarization between masculine/feminine and the reification previously stated. Gah!
    Then again, I fell off the Integral-TM wagon a few years ago, largely due to hyper-intellectualism / reductionism within the community, at least from my perspective (ILP seminar and Integral Theory Conference 2008). And this is familiar territory. Who the hell made up this map anyway?! Heh.

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  2. Joseph, I’ll pick up a copy of your book, which I had not heard of before. Perhaps you’d like to air your grievances with the integral community, though it is a bit theoretical and there’s a large portion of the audience who may not understand what you’re talking about, it still might be worth a dialogue with Ken or others. I do note that the sort of hermeneutic bias you ascribe to Wilber comes through in your own writing (e.g., “integral machine”), but hey, we all get angry at something. Let me know about the desire to connect. Warmly, Robb

    1. Hi Robb: thanks for dropping by. My reference to the “integral machine” is more a reference to the technological and masculinist imagery used by KW that I unpack in my book, rather than reflecting an unacknowledged bias: but I certainly take your point.

      I’d be happy to enter into a dialogue with KW or other appropriate folks once they have read my book. I spent a good deal of time carefully reading KW and others’ work before framing my argument, so it only makes sense that they read mine before framing a counter argument. Best, J.

  3. Robb, you say my points are “a bit theoretical and there’s a large portion of the audience who may not understand what you’re talking about”.

    The whole of integral theory is based on, well, theory (a very grand term), so it would seem odd for the integral community not to understand my points because they are “a bit theoretical”?

    If the integral community does not understand some very basic lines of argument, then it really must look at why it is following something which purports to be based in theory, and certainly cannot claim in any shape or form to be “trans-” anything, rather “pre-”.

  4. Farrell, Wilber and the integral community’s inability to understand sexism, or other forms of oppression for that matter, are quite troublesome, indeed, particularly given their increasing presence and, perhaps, influence.

    But I am glad I happened across your site here. I’ll be checking it out more closely. Meanwhile, I just thought you might be interested in my reply to the Integral Life post. You can find it at
    or at my own blog:

    I look forward to familiarizing myself with your work, and to any conversation you might have with Wilber on this matter.

    Peace to you,


    1. Hi Raul: thanks for your comments. I read the post you link to with interest. I’m not very comfortable with developmental schemas, as a rule: I feel we often end up fitting behaviours into the schema (whether they fit or not) rather than using the schema to describe behaviours (not unlike the social construction of gender). THAT SAID, if I were following developmental stages, I would find your characterising of the “men’s liberation” post as “resistance” compelling. We’re back here in pre-trans fallacy territory: Wilber and Farrell assuming their conversation is far more developmentally advanced than it actually is.

      The most important point you raise for me is:
      ‘Of course, we can attempt to redefine what “power” means and, perhaps, as men, we can dare to redefine what “feminism” is, or maybe even try to instruct women on the true quality, nature and meaning of their experience. After all, a key pattern of men’s cultural dominance and institutional power has been, precisely, to define reality and, then, redefine it as is convenient to our purposes of maintaining power and privilege.’

      This is precisely what’s going on: I go into some of this in my own writing in relation to Wilber’s presentation of gender. This redefining strategy is particularly potent and damaging when received by an audience who have little critical historical-political awareness (i.e. those who don’t know any better).

  5. I’ve only been following Integral for five months, but my experience has already been replete with the hyper-intellectualism (might we say, “faux”?) and reductionism you speak of, Colin – as well as a marked patriarchal pattern (i.e., a patterned orientation toward all forms of dominance, not just a dominance of male over female).

    Makes me long for the Parker Palmers and Carol Gilligans of the world.

    Leaves me wondering, where what are the female Integralists saying? How are they functioning? The sound of silence is deafening. Perhaps telling.

    1. There are vocal female Integralists out there, as indicated by my companion post:

      I identify two main themes among female Integralists: those who choose to reframe feminism in accordance with Wilber (which strips out the dominance of patriarchy, suggesting it was in place for natural reasons agreed upon by both men and women); those who identify some value in integral thought, note that it deals poorly with the issue of gender, but try and salvage something good from it nonetheless. Neither is very compelling to me.

  6. Thanks, Joseph. You’ve saved me a lot of time. These aren’t choices. They’re simply different forms of denial. Patriarchy belies lower-evolutionary functioning. If the integral system has any value, perhaps those who subscribe to it might try applying it closer to home.

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