The Rise and Fall of Ken Wilber?

In this post I take a look at some critique from Mark Manson (this Article). I agree with a lot of what he says, but about some things I have a quite different view. This is strictly my personal opinion about a topic, which some see as the “fall” of Ken Wilber, which I simply don’t see this way. Ok, let’s start…

A first thing that comes into mind is that in this whole article Mark always refers to Version 4 (Wilber-IV) and not one single time to Wilber-V, which is the current version. Actually, this is done by a lot of critics. This is quite fundamental as Wilber-I to Wilber-IV concentrate more on ontological issues (where and how objects are), whereas Wilber-V concentrates on views and perspectives (a more epistemological variant if you like). This renders quite some critiques obsolete. But this is not the main point I want to highlight.

I really like the points that Mark says have influenced him the most. For me there would be some missing, the first and quite important one is the Wilber-Combs Lattice (I described it in an earlier article), the perspectives, zones and cosmic addresses as well as their effect on ontological objects. But of course, all of them are from Wilber-V, so Mark may not know these concepts.

I am not going to comment the descriptions of what Mark experienced at the Integral Institute, I was never there and I don’t know the people there, I just watched some of them online. But I met quite some people from here in Europe, which are sometimes different, sometimes similar.

First to Mark’s point about the self-adulation which can be found in the integral community. Yes, actually I found that also. This is one of the pathologies of Petrol, to get a bit “elitistic” and to look down on other stages and padding themselves on the back on how “second tier” they are. I know that, I have been there too. My opinion is, this should be treated as the pathology it is (i.e. a Red/Orange-Petrol Boomeritis). On the other hand, I think this is also another symptom to which I come later.

I can’t say much about the Integral Institute and what happens there, on what they did or didn’t do. I don’t know the aims and goals it had. I don’t know about what output was expected from there. Currently there is some output of integral thinking which is active and working on change like e.g. John Bunzls Simpol or Integral School of Organization Development.

But I watched people from the Integral Community and found some points, which I want to mention, as they seemingly did not occur to Mark.

The first point is, that people often have a consumer attitude. They come to seminars and trainings and want to consume something and expect everything to be worked out well. But since the Integral levels (Petrol, Turquoise) are completely new we haven’t really worked much of them out. This already starts by group structures and how to do things. The normal group structures from Amber, Orange and Green don’t work as well here. And I did barely see real Petrol group structures in practice. I have seen some theoretical constructs, which can work e.g. in corporate environments (and sometimes do), but not in real life action. I myself live in a group of people which are on a quite satisfactory level of development and we are not only aware of this problem, but we try to tackle it and it is hard. We are trying different things out, some work better, some worse. I am also currently working on integrating Japanese Martial Arts and Medicine with the AQAL model and it is really hard sometimes to get to a satisfactorily result. Why? Because all the methodolgy to do that has to be developed because it is simply not there. While doing it you stumble across a point which is missing or needs some effort to integrate all the time.

The second point is, and this is a quite bad one, that in my experience, quite a lot of supposed 2nd tier people are not really 2nd tier. In my observation I have seen a quite common pattern (which of course does not apply to all): they are 2nd tier (Petrol) on the cognitive development line, lower (mostly Green) on the value (Graves/Spiral Dynamics) line and also much lower (Red, Amber, Orange) on the emotional line. On the kinaesthetic line, well, let’s not mention it. How to see this? Well, when things are discussed (and not only Integral Theory), they can think about it and argue on it in an integral sense (Petrol). But when I observe how they “live” it (i.e. applying it in their own life or act unconsciously which corresponds in large parts to the value line (Graves)), there is often not much. What these people often live is more Green than they think. And if I watch the emotional responses in discussions, it is often really obvious, that on the emotional line, they haven’t even reached Green. I could watch development of the kinaesthetic line as a trainer for martial arts and japanese medicine. Very, very few have a “feeling” for their own body, let alone a natural body movement.

So if these major developmental lines are not on 2nd tier, then it’s quite hard for the center of gravity to be on the 2nd tier (say: it’s simply not there). And that’s a major problem in the integral community, a lot of people are thinking, they are 2nd tier when their center of gravity is not.

Most there seem to think, that only to understand AQAL, think about it and talk about it is an actual application of it (which is a view if only the cognitive line is on Petrol), which is simply not true. In an interview, Wilber discovered this and was quite shocked, as the practical side (which includes things like meditation, body work, emotional work and integrating AQAL things in daily life) was widely neglected.

So we have a combination of more issues, people who are not as developed as they think, therefore cannot apply the model as it would be needed to and there are basic building blocks missing. And in my opinion, this is why the seminars are most of the time seminars for personal development and not practical applications, as well as one reason why Wilber concentrated on meditation and mystic stuff the last years, because he saw serious under-utilization in this areas. AQAL is not about brain-wanking about it, it is about applying it in an integral sense, which means also the developmental lines, the states of consciousness and the body. Other reasons why he concentrated on mystic stuff are that one point of Wilber-V is that religion is the key elevator for helping developing people up the spiral and it is his current personal interest (he doesn’t get younger and his health is also not at optimum). Still he continues to explain and develop his theory (e.g. in this article: Integral Semantics).

Also because of his illness he disappeared quite some time as the leading figure. This, combined with the consumer mentality and that “not so much 2nd tier” problem is in my opinion the main reason for the “stall” Mark observed.

Coming to Wilber himself: no, he clearly is not perfect, he is sometimes worshiped like a prophet and yes, there are a lot of details which should be worked out better from experts in that field and be corrected. I myself have found some points I would like to see clarified or added. But that is also something he as always stated quite clearly, that he just wanted to provide a general framework and let the details to be worked out. Also he never wanted to be put on a socket (this is why he claimed to be no Guru, but a Pandit). And of course he has his own shadows and will have them until he dies. Of course he made a lot of mistakes. Each of us do has shadows and made mistakes and to expect that a person you put on a socket doesn’t have one is a bit naive. Also to expect that a person who developed a really big and complex meta-model like AQAL can instantly utilize every area of it in his life testifies that either the person with this expectation has either not understood the complexity of AQAL or falls into the worship category which transfigure it’s hero into a guru (which is exactly what Wilber said he never wants to be).

So why exactly are all critiques that I read targeted on Wilber-IV and not Wilber-V? Why are quite some of the critiques just personal attacks? Because of his “childish” reaction (even some of these were written before this post)? Did anybody of the critics read his later explanations about his motivation for this post (you find the links below his “childish” post) and did understand it? Do they know that he peer-reviewed his “childish” post before putting it online and got a clear “go” from the peers (70% from 200 people who read it before)? Why do the critics then feel “convicted” not to be developed enough? Development is not about being guilty about your stage (otherwise children would be the most guilty persons), so could it be that there are some Green values which slipped in (since a common Green meme is that hierarchies are always bad, ignoring that without grow hierarchies they wouldn’t be alive themselves)?

Really, some of the critiques are valid in my opinion. Wilber likes to be polemic sometimes and his post clearly falls into this category. It did nothing to lower the entry barrier to the “bubble” of the integral community around Wilber. But did it really “clarify nothing”? Well, it was not an attempt to address factual content. But it clarified clearly where Wilber sees the perspective, from which the critiques were coming (see below) and also the non-differentiation between real serious critique and some which originated from not understanding his model. Did he personally attack everyone? Well, he attacked some people by name, but not everyone (at least I was not attacked and did not feel attacked, and at least his peer reviewers which gave him a go also felt not attacked), so this claim is untrue. Did he “straw-manned the shit out of his critic’s claims”? Huh? Where? Direct quote:

But Frank’s website has an ungodly mixture of some real fires and ten times that amount of fraudulent fires, fake fires, and idiot fires—and Frank can’t seem to tell the difference.

If he admits “real fires”, he takes at least some critics seriously. And at least some of them he adressed in Wilber-V. So he does not just blindly punch around against everyone. It may be though, that he didn’t take a critique seriously, where the author of it felt the urge for it.

So ask yourself a question: if you felt upset by this post, why exactly do you feel this? Put some mindfulness on the issue. And if it is because you feel directly attacked or “you simply can’t do this”, why? And then put this “why” onto a developmental line and see where it comes from. And I bet if you do this as objectively as you can, you will find Red, Amber, Orange and Green but no Petrol or Turquoise.

And I have to emphasize that there are also quite a lot of critiques, which if you look at the core of them are really just boomeritic Green. And in this cases, Wilber is right. Sorry to say that, but he is right in this regard.

Regarding some people which did misbehave in some form (in the article Marc Gafni, Andrew Cohen, Adi Da), I can’t comment much on this since I don’t know much about them. If Gafni really molested a child and Adi Da sexually abused women, then yes, Wilber should have distanced from them. On Cohen, as I understand, he is a very confronting teacher so without knowing the facts about what happened, I can’t comment on him. It also surprises me, that Genpo Roshi was not mentioned, as he was part of some controversies.

Ok, and on the last part, that Wilber turned to a New Age celebrity. Ok, first Mark doesn’t like New Age, which is perfectly fine. It’s just that the integral view (again) is, that every perspective contains some truth (he did write this in his article). From what I know about New Age (and through the japanese medicine I had contact with a lot of people from there) I found about 98% bullshit, but there are 2% that have at least some knowledge about what they do. And out of this 2% about 25% can reliably reproduce something they do. So yes, it is in large parts translational instead of transformational, it’s claims are sometimes as ridiculous as claims from religious fanatics from pre-rational stages, a lot of it is based on pre-rational thinking, and, far worse, boomeritic thinking, so it’s ok to not like it, but to simply discount it as complete bullshit is not objective at least not in the integral sense (remember the empirical methods of the integral pluralistic methodology?). As said above, some of them can reproduce effects they claim, just their world view is sometimes a bit strange (to me).

And where did Wilber turn to a New Age celebrity? Actually, he still makes a lot of jokes about them and also turns down quite a lot of their views in his current writings. He concentrated on the mystic, transpersonal side in the last years, yes, but this is very clearly not New Age. I disliked the branding and advertisements for his “Superhuman OS course”, which I attributed to “ok, this is american for Americans”. But e.g. his recent Full Spectrum Mindfulness Course is really good and aims at releasing drift anchors on lower development stages, which hold people back from further development or are even pathologies (which New Age isn’t even aware of). I think what upset Mark is about this “bizarre spiritual claims (such as this one about an “enlightened teacher” who can make crops grow twice as fast by “blessing them”). He adresses Wilbers post an Guru Trivedi for this. Well, to be fair, I haven’t even heard of Trivedi until now. I haven’t looked with depth onto his case, but I found some pages listing law suits against him as well as ex-members of his community really talking bad about him. Also he has his “Trivedi Effect” registered as a trademark, which generally can have three reasons:

  1. Somebody has used your name for things you don’t want to get associated with
  2. To earn (a lot of) money
  3. Both of above

So this makes me highly suspicious about him. I think, this is really a point, where Wilber was off the mark (without knowing about his motivations for his endorsement). Maybe Mark is right and his health state at that time was quite bad and Trivedi was a kind of the last straw.

To be fair, Wilber seems to have realized that he hit the fan because the article has been removed from his blog as well as from the archive. A copy can still be found at the integral life website though. It seems that Wilbers method to handle situations like this is to silently step back and not to perform official condemnation.

Anyway, his latest courses and writings are back on old quality, so I personally can’t see any sign of a fall. It’s ok that he makes mistakes, if you don’t make mistakes, you will never learn. And you don’t have to see him as the allmighty-always-right-in-every-situation guy, in fact that would be stupid. Still I find that he is right in many many issues, because the predictions of AQAL simply work. And this is what makes his model a very good model. Because a model is always as good as it predictions, but necessarily incomplete. And AQAL does a really fine job in this.


2 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Ken Wilber?

  1. Subuddh

    Hello, thanks for the interesting read. I came to this post because I was looking for a more nuanced view of integral theory v/s the true believer view.

    I am writing from California and have been involved in the new age growth world for a while. I find it is exactly as you say – I have met many people, men and women who claim they are in tier 2 petrol, but their actions seem to come from red.

    I know I am not in Petrol, and I have yet to meet anyone I could actually say I felt is in Petrol( or Turquoise ). We are all business people underneath it seems, and no one actually changes that, they only wear an outer mask.

    This seems to be the case for Green too. I havent met anyone who is genuinely in Green either, people say they are, they are tolerant, practice relativism, but underneath they are tribal, amber.

    Red and amber is by and large the human condition and I suspect it always will be. The best we can hope for is some moments of grace, where we lift ourselves up for a little bit. And maybe that is okay, who says we all have to be turquoise?

    Thanks again for the post.

    1. michaelo Post author


      Yes, I think this is still largely the case, though I start to see some sparks appearing here and there. As I conclude from the last years where I observed people, on the cognitive development line there are people on green and (significantly less) on petrol, but the other developmental lines are often much lower. Especially the emotional development is in large parts quite low and stuck on amber and below. I think that this line is triggered a lot these days (another saying of Wilber is that if a perspective is different from my perspective with more than 5% this will trigger my emotional line because the threat is taken as a critique on my own personality and therefore the emotional line is activated). I mean, who really learns to deal with the own emotions (other than often just suppressing them, or the other extreme, just let all impulses out). Parents? Teachers? Do they do this? This is currently mostly in the realm of therapists and not much people like to go to therapy or can even afford it regularly.

      The other point is still the pre-/post fallacy. If you have not developed a healthy amber, how can a healthy orange or green or petrol even emerge? Especially as green tries to destroy amber and orange (mostly because of it’s fear of hierarchies ), there can’t be any healthy green (and therefore the real center of gravity cannot be green). If there is no amber, development stops at red. And the already existing amber, which is threatened, fights back and gets into unhealthy ways (the extreme right, tribalism). And that is what I currently see ongoing in the world at a large scale.

      I think you are right, moments of grace are important. Wilbers hope is that enough petrol will appear to actually deal with the pathologies. It’s currently hard for me to see that (though there are some sparks, but we will have to see if there will be enough of them). To do the real work, we need a healthy amber and orange, there is no way around that and the current status of green does not allow for that.

      We had some meetings with politicians here in Austria and talked about this (because we correctly forecasted the last elections, they at least did listen to us). We’ll see how this turns out…

      And you are right, it’s ok that not all have to be turquoise, that’s not even possible as constantly new humans are born at infrared to start developing up the spiral. Turquoise doesn’t automatically mean “better”, just more complex and more capabilities for solving problems. There will always be all other stages and the task now is to start integrating them.


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