Integral Institute Australia pt 2

In the end, cross-posting my previous blog entry over at Integral Life caused some debate. Today, it even sits as the “Editor’s pick.”

Smith makes an effort to field my criticism of integral business and practice being the same-old, but is genuinely convinced that I’m stuck in some developmentally inferior quagmire and therefore unable to see the partial nature of my own critique. The latest response is:

I have to admit I am genuinely sad because it is obvious how difficult skillful action can be in these situations.  We humans still have so much to learn about how to manifest our deepest desires, the case at hand being a desire to truly understand another human being even when the chasm is scary and wide.  I don’t insist on a unitive monism in our interactions, integral’s promise is rightfully an integrative pluralism (thank you Mark Edwards).  Which means that I take very seriously our freedom to disagree even while integral promises an ability to situate the disagreement.  I believe that the normative calling of integral is to be able to listen deeply from presence as much as it is to situate what we’re hearing. More so, in the final analysis.

I participate in or lead a dozen significant integral projects across the world at a work load of 80 hours a week.  Why, I ask myself, do I invest the time in this interaction with you?  We must have significantly different epistemological and experiential frames from which we view the world.  This interaction, thus far, I have found to be emotionally-laden and the signs I get from your language do not seem to adhere to the integral discursive aim: “to inform, not to insult; to be informed, not to be insulted.”  I am not insulted by your criticism (or is it an attack? interesting that there are two 1p views on that question, neither of which are exclusively “true.”).  Nevertheless I am trying to become informed. And to answer my own question, this is practice I need.

The story so far as I read it:  your ego is highly irritated by what you perceive to be the overall economic bearing of the integral movement, particularly as you interpret it to exist under a hegemonic auspice of Ken Wilber vis-a-vis Integral Institute (and perhaps Integral Life?).  It would be unfair and unwise for either of us to account for the psychological characteristics of the other that are determinative in why we hold the views that we do.  Nor will I take the easy but crude route and opine on your developmental level or level of economic action-logic.  I work regularly with the best developmentalists in the world, a neat privilege, so I’m very comfortable with my meaning-making system and the wide diversity of others.  So I will only offer information that attempts to better illuminate my view:

  • This is a situation, and millions others like it every day, where the false self is a real problem because it convinces the ego that there is something for which to fight.  There is nothing to fight over. Who is doing the arguing?
  • Your views on the economic structure and function of Integral Institute were merely uninformed. I hope that the information I gave you in my former reply clears that up.  You can cite a pre-trans fallacy if you want, mistakenly in my view in any case, but in the final analysis we have a very simple and uncontroversial economic structure.
  • Integral Institute and Integral Life are not the integral movement. (It’s an interesting question whether and how there is a movement.)
  • We have no hegemony over anything, usually (or especially) even ourselves.
  • Integral Life does sell products, services and events in many different topic areas, one of which is spirituality. But spirituality is not for sale.  We cannot sell it because we do not own it.  For someone to claim otherwise implies they could use some instruction in spiritual practice.  In any case, should Harvard not charge for its divinity degree or book publishers to charge for books? (Incidentally, is your book free? When I looked it was not.)
  • The money we collect goes not to pay Gods and Goddesses for their spiritual wisdom. Alas, it goes to more mundane things like office rent, healthcare for team members, mortgage payments, and books for their children.  Let’s think of the children! 🙂
  • Integral Life still loses money for the privilege of serving this community.  Who pays for that and stands behind the success of this effort? Because it’s not you, it’s very easy to ignore the herculean stress and commitment that it takes to do so.
  • Finally, and I mean this sincerely, stop worrying about salvaging Integral Life and our community from the integral ideal.  Integral mecca is a useful fiction, there’s no wizard behind the screen.  It’s a messy evolutionary affair that is whole, perfectly whole, right now.  If you think we’re great or you think we suck, you’re right.  That’s all the jumping off point you need to go do well for others, be of service, go risk it all to help your fellow man.  Go build something fantastic yourself.  Live for a happy death.

Finally, you say you’re not integral.  I say you can be!  Integral is not a level of development (or only is in a rough construction of what’s deeply distinctive about it.)   Integral is in how we behave, what we value and the ethics we die for.  Hold yourself to a standard of love at all costs, to listening deeply even when it hurts, to take time to make love to the majesty of every moment, to actually hear the symphony of perspectives all around, to seek the greater wholeness in the next breath even while surrendering to the perfect wholeness of this breath, to hold where you see fracture, to embrace where you see divide…

That’s the integral practice for all of us, and thank you for helping me to work on mine alongside you.

To which I reply:

Robb, I appreciate the effort, but you continue to analyze this position from what you perceive to be a developmentally privileged position without realizing you inhabit a more pedestrian space. Call it “emotionally-laden” or an “attack” if you like, but it’s simply the way I see a lot of Integral Business. In this context, the tit-for-tat becomes an exercise in cross-purposes, as we’re both demonstrating to one another.

I say I’m not integral not because I feel I have yet to achieve such giddy heights, but because I reject the idea that integral is a developmentally privileged place (at least when such a place is demonstrated by business as usual). Your working with some of the “best developmentalists in the world” doesn’t mean much to me: I know enough about knowledge production to know how these things work; I know how alliances are made, both among the Integral Few, and in the orthodox academy. Given that I reject the integral position (as it is presented in this context, at least), I reject the patronizing analysis you offer me, both for its content and claiming to come from a place beyond my developmental level (which you say you don’t want to say, but nevertheless do say, which is a bit of a yawn).

Why do you invest the time in this interaction with me? Yes, that’s a good question: I can speculate, but I doubt you’d agree with my psychoanalytic take, so we’ll leave it at an opportunity for you to put your integral worldview into practice. Why do I invest my time with you? I have real jobs too Robb: we’re both big boys! A couple of times in this thread you’ve basically told me to go away to another community. Certainly, I won’t stay forever. It is not my life mission to undermine the integral position in the spiritual marketplace, however unsavory it may be; I don’t find it that interesting or important (as you know, my focus is masculinities and spirituality/religion). However, for the time being, when I see the emperor is wearing no clothes, I am compelled to say he is (integral) naked.

I have a few theories about why Smith takes the time to try and answer my critique (albeit failing to do so). But they all sound mean, and I already seem to be turning into the Accidental Dawkins in this debate, which I certainly have no desire to further facilitate.

6 thoughts on “Integral Institute Australia pt 2

  1. Joseph,

    Seeing your site I can now appreciate the apparent directions of your intentions and strategy, but at the level of tactics, the bait-and-switch is, now more obviously, key.

    Dumbing down, presenting as a caricature of male jerk, feigning disinterest, omitting any detail of your critique, designing for provocation, you’ve crafted what amounts to manufactured deconstruction. Clearly you didn’t want to be directly addressed. That wouldn’t provide what you with material for your projects.

    I have been played. And I like how that shows me aspects of my participation in masculine conspiracy culture. I love that I took you seriously despite your languaging.

    So I was wrong. You do walk your talk. You simply have a variety of steps served by your various voices.

    1. Kerry, your reading of the situation is a complete mystery to me. I am transparent in my aims: to unpack problematic manifestations of spirituality and gender (both in combination and separately), specifically from within a spiritual worldview, rather than the likes of the New Atheists. There is nothing manufactured about my deconstruction, and nothing that dumbs down (I make no apology for writing about complex ideas in relatively simple language: it’s a rare skill). You may not be used to my style, and I may not be what you initially thought, but you most certainly have not been “played” by me. Perhaps, though, you’ve discovered that you need to question how you perceive things, which is no bad thing.

  2. Joseph, A cursory look around the IL site for references to your IIA blog would give an indication of how you’ve tended to come across there, whether or not you realize any responsibility for the discrepancies between how you present yourself here on your own site, and how you present yourself on the other. Your language doesn’t lie.

    1. I use different tones depending on what I feel is most appropriate for the person I am communicating with and the point I am making. They do not work against each other, nor is it deceptive: I hold them in tension. You’ll find, for example, that I use different tones *within* the IL post comments, not just one here and one there. I am quite competent in my use of language: it is not an unconscious tool for me. But of course, you are welcome to your own readings: authorial intent is but one.

  3. Thank you Joseph. I’m concerned that you verbal facility can be a liability. That you are not employing agenda driven context dependent voices is not something you can tell me. I would have to be shown.

    1. “I would have to be shown”: Don’t interpret this as simply another strategic switch in tone, but I completely agree with you. In reference, for example, to the debate in the IL blog comments, I quickly hit a wall, and to get beyond this I need to actually spend time with someone, “to be shown.” Of course, we don’t usually have the luxury of this: that’s when we have to look at the net effects and implications of our output. Despite your snipes in the first comment here (all fair rough and tumble), I have spent years working very seriously on these subjects. Via my own writing and that which I publish in Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality (available free to everyone), I’ve done a fair bit to build a community of researchers in my subject. I am currently doing my best to reframe what I know about masculinity (not dumbing down) into a non-academic online book (which I’m giving away for free). I spend a lot of time sharing my thoughts where I can. Of course, there is a certain amount of self-serving in this, but mostly it ‘aint fun or even paid (I don’t have a paying academic job, for example): I do it because I believe it’s important. If that’s not good enough for you, then I’m sorry: but I’m doing the best that I can with the limited time and resources I have at my disposal.

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