Irony: *Integral* ghetto

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fig tree

Transition week [i.e., mini-series epilog]

Last week concluded our (13-week mini-series) treatment of Nora Bateson’s provocation critiquing stage theory.



For over two months now, as I’ve written about this, no one has tried to deny the fact that there’s a significant problem with the way some/many people handle and work with stage models like *Integral* or Graves/Spiral Dynamics [SD]. Most SD folks rehearse in harmonic unison that: “Nah! It’s not BS; it’s just used in some BS ways.” 

Chris Cowan observed (and challenged), “paintballing,” [i.e., condescending ‘superiority,’ discounting/dismissal by stadial-color-code].



Superiority is the theme

OK, my questions have been (and continue to be):

  1. When does actual harm outweigh potential benefit?
  2. How narrow of a ghetto is one willing to occupy to preserve the stage aspect of the model (especially if stages are gratuitous)?
  3. When the model is mishandled, as it often is, and it creates unhelpful — even dangerous — understandings, at what point does it become enough of a problem to merit reassessment regarding our use of [gratuitous?] stages? Something here feels akin to a Second Amendment sentiment.  



Anyone who has attempted to work on issues of White supremacist ideology [Wsi] and racism with people in the church likely understands that our American way of interpreting life in stadial terms is largely unconscious and is a result of our (mostly ubiquitous) social conditioning — i.e., Americans are significantly conditioned to: ‘higher’ = better, superior. 


Meaning well, missing mark?

What originally alerted me to this troubling problem was a Ken Wilber [kw] quote.

“The people who say it [i.e., ‘systemic racism’] doesn’t exist and the people who say it is absolutely everywhere are both right.” —kw

Obviously, on the face of it, the statement is absurd, so what’s going on with that? We discussed this in a July, 2020, piece i.e., here, Integral’s coherence rests on a narrow ghetto of philosophical overreach. 

A problem with dogmatism? 

One of the core tenets of *Integral* philosophy is the axiom: “all perspectives are partially true.” Actually, I’m not sure what’s considered the specific original kw quote, as there have been several similar to: all perspectives are partially true. One popular kw ‘*Integral* quote’ is: “everybody’s right.” This may be part of the difficulty.

So, I have a theory for how the claim (whatever it was in its pristine form) got all messed-up in translation and application. 

I feel as though the “everybody’s right” expression is of particular interest here.

I see this dogmatic error as an extension of *Integral*’s prime directive to get as many perspectives (voices) together at the table as possible. Plain enough expression of (Gravesian) FS sensitivity values of inclusion.

—Obviously, I’m arguing that we don’t need to describe FS sensitivity values as “higher” than ER ambition values, merely as different.

Integral’s fig leaf problem



The problem that arises here is a cousin of the climate-change and science denial maneuver. That problem is a function of *political technologies* exploiting the idea that to be journalistically fair, one must include arguments of opposing views (as though both sides were always equally valid).

So *Integral* says: “if a person’s perspective says that systemic racism does not exist, then that person’s view still has a valuable place at the table because all perspectives are partially true.” Sorry, no! It can’t possibly work that way. Rather, all persons are welcome, errant perspectives subject to exclusion.



So, how does the errant claim that ‘systemic racism doesn’t exist’ suddenly become partially true? Well, the short answer is quadrant magic: an argument from phenomenology using perspectival relativism — what, previously, kw (correctly) called a “French parlor trick.”

With kw‘s quadrant model and sufficient motivation — i.e., a rock-ribbed doctrine that all perspectives are partially true — one is able to work out a position true to the *Integral* axiom that only violates fair discernment and plain common sense a little bit. Wait! What?!

In other words, the Integral urge to dogmatically include everyone breaks down a good bit in real-world applications around issues like Wsi.



The exercise to make Wsi partially true is a work in pretzel logic.

Wanting to include the idea that all persons carry some partial truths is much different than trying to make errant perspectives true. The fact that this perspectival relativism move is unacceptable seems to get overlooked in the dogmatic fervor. 

It may be true that a person fails to perceive systemic racism for some reason. That failure in no way justifies any claim that they are “right” in their error. Failing to perceive that systemic racism exists does not justify the denial of its existence. Period!


Even if an unintended result of well-meant doctrine, one thing we surely don’t need to provide is a formula for DJT/MAGA, or anyone, to get intellectually cute with their denial of systemic racism — like when ‘perspectival relativism‘ is imposed universally.

*Integral* providing a BS fig-leaf of perspectival relativism — blanket license to gaslight — is no bueno. 


Next week: Irony: online-Integralist TW. [this post ~850 words (~3 min. read)]

Your thoughts? 

Coming soon…

Conversation with: .



7 thoughts on “Irony: *Integral* ghetto

  1. Michael – thanks for taking us on a ride through the Stage Theory is BS discussion. My eyes have been opened to many different trains of thought and though it is hard to see sometimes when you are on a bucking bronco (which is what this felt like sometimes), in reflection, much has changed with me.

    Here are the notable discoveries in no particular order:
    1. White Fragility gave me tools needed to understand the BLM movement. And, the term systemic racism has a depth of meaning now that was not present in my superficial understanding before.
    2. Boas! An amazing guy who was way ahead of his time.
    3. Integral Group on Facebook. You mentioned this group in one comment and I have been following some of the discussions there. What an amazing and diverse group! There is everything from Wilber sycophants to those openly disparaging of everything Wilber. And, then on the other axis, we have the farthest out New Agers to clinical psychiatrists. And, I expected some kind of unanimity of opinion – ha!
    4. McWhorter – for a very intelligent guy, I am completely perplexed by his opinions on racism. I keep thinking I must be missing something and if I keep reading his writings it will make sense, but so far cannot fathom where he is coming from.
    5. Wilber. I have read about half his books and had mostly bought into his systems of thought. Something seems to have really changed with him over the last few years especially. For me, the last really hard-hitting and insightful writing by him was his Trump and a Post-Truth World essay. He now seems a prisoner of his own thought system. On the other side, there are people obsessed with taking Wilber down and to them I want to say, “hey get a life and move on if you don’t find him useful”. There is no need to pile on at this point and much of the criticism seems deconstructionist and needlessly negative.
    6. Stadial Theory. In the beginning of your series, I found the idea of questioning Gravesian Stadial Theory as flatland thinking. I now see how people use the stage labels to compartmentalize their thinking and make snap judgements. For example, I was a big fan of Jeff Salzman and thought the Daily Evolver videos were spot-on with his analysis. Now, when I hear him use a Green label to summarily dismiss an entire book like in his recent segment on The Dawn of Everything, that kind of analysis comes across as flippant and shallow. Jeff did a similar analysis of Bateson’s tweet that lead to this series using Graves Stage Theory for, in my mind, a superficial examination of Bateson’s position. There are definite limitations to Stage Theory models that can lead to faulty judgements and I discern people using ST to quickly dismiss new ideas they find uncomfortable.

    While I have not come up with my own grand theory of everything to replace displaced thought systems held before this series, at least I have rid myself of ones not so useful. In Taoist terms, you have to clean the house and eliminate unneeded and unused items before new and more meaningful things can be brought in. This is where I myself and that’s OK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for writing, Mike!

      Yes, in the past couple years my thinking has changed on some significant points, and Bateson’s provocation was a catalyst that has catapulted me to a fresh perspective (for me).

      “My thinking has changed in significant ways.” I’m thrilled to be able to say that. I wonder how often it happens for any of us no matter the context.

      Well, the closest thing to a “grand thesis” that I have is a friendship I’m blessed by with a person who lived a couple thousand years ago and my deep, abiding regard for his Love ethic.

      I appreciate you reading along with me here! As this is a volunteer writing gig, your feedback here is a gift indeed. Thank you so much for your heartfelt comments.

      Michael L. McKee


  2. Another follow-up comment regarding this series is I have started reading the “davids” book that was referenced several times, The Dawn of Everything. I’m about 1/4 the way through the audiobook and my first reaction is that the authors have written an entertaining thought experiment backed up by a reinterpretation of known facts that now account for a bias in their initial reading.

    Wengrow and Graeber are trying to back up before Western thinking dominated everything in our minds. It is a difficult task because that requires us to almost throw out everything we think we know. Very interesting so far and there is no sacred cow they will not slay.

    At this point they have relied heavily on 2nd and 3rd hand accounts of Native American philosophical discussions that were written in the 17th and 18th century. They have used various methodologies to ascertain what was really said by the Native Americans being quoted and where the French or English authors possibly introduced their own bias.

    Fascinating reading so far that certainly backs up Batesons tweet. The critiques of western civilization by the Native Americans as recorded by early settlers and explorers as compiled in the book is thought-provoking to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

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