Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meyerhoff's criticism of Wilber's work provoked Wilber's meltdown in 2006

Nonviolence of Nonmetaphysics An Interview with Daniel Gustav Anderson. Daniel Gustav Anderson is presently a graduate student in Cultural Studies at George Mason University. His interests include critical theory, ecology, and European and South Asian traditions of dialectical thinking. He is the author of "Of Syntheses and Surprises: Toward a Critical Integral Theory" and "Such a Body We Must Create: New Theses on Integral Micropolitics", which have been published in Integral Review.

EST: As an outsider, I came in late on the Wyatt Earp episode and have witnessed only the fallout. It's like going to a pond and seeing the ripples without knowing who threw the stone. Please forgive me for asking this, but who did throw the original stone and how did the episode progress? More importantly, in your mind, what has the episode revealed about both Ken Wilber's mindset and the integral field as it stands today?

DGA: There are ways in which Wilber himself threw the first stone (his comments on the "descenders" in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, his bizarre comments on the "'sick fucks'" who run health care, education, and other services in Boomeritis, and so on could be cited for evidence there, or whomever is marketing him as the most important philosopher since Nagarjuna, or whomever is allowing that to happen on his behalf).

There are other interpretations, however. Wilber's freakout was in response to a piece of criticism written by Jeff Meyerhoff and published on Frank Visser's website starting (if memory serves) in late 2005. I think Meyerhoff's work is reasonable, responsible scholarship on the whole, and it holds up well in hindsight. What can be learned from the whole fiasco, where Wilber convinced everyone through his words and actions that he could not tolerate anyone questioning his doctrines or his credibility through reason and reference to fact?

Some people have remarked to me privately that the "earp" episode in 2006 was the worst thing that could have happened to integral theory, I want to say—not really. It was a serious embarrassment for Wilber and those who adhere to the particular theology he is proclaiming, certainly. But the terms "Wilber" and "integral theory" are not the same thing, they are not coterminous, even though Wilber has tried to privatize the integral project and integral culture as such as his own trademark or brand. Did he coin the phrase? Well, in SES, he put forward "integral universalism" as if it were his commodity reply to Ayn Rand's "rational objectivism," which is to say, his latest-greatest product line (new-improved second edition). Anyway if "earp" signals a crisis for integral projects in the plural, it only does so insofar as any one of those integral projects remains in Wilber's shadow, his debt intellectually or otherwise, or within Wilber's copyright so to speak, his "intellectual property" (however that term is understood at present). That's one aspect. There's another.

Is the "earpy" episode the worst that could have happened, in that it revealed something undesirable about Wilber that was unknown before? I don't think so. Go back a step. Wasn't Boomeritis a first-rate embarrassment? That book betrays several kinds of incompetence, ignorance, and poor judgment born of overconfidence. [...]

To go back to Meyerhoff for a moment. Meyerhoff's criticism of Wilber's work and problems with it provoked Wilber's meltdown in 2006. Is it possible that Meyerhoff was slightly too accurate in pointing out the real and rather obvious problems with Wilber's project, which causes a marketing problem for Wilber? It's hard to allow others to say that you're the greatest genius from sun to sun if someone demonstrates clearly that you don't or can't consistently use a library catalogue or basic reasoning skills, you don't know deduction from induction, which is what Meyerhoff shows of Wilber. "He's Mistra Know-It-All." The "earpy" episode may speak to the strength of Meyerhoff's scholarship in an interesting way. That is an issue worth exploring in detail.

As an aside I feel silly typing "earpy" like this. Is it not a ridiculous name for a crisis, or for anything or anyone? Wilber seems prone to juvenile neologisms like this, which I find irritating. I don't mind neologisms as such (witness my own appreciation for Deleuze and Guattari, and also Berlant, who invent concepts and label them in innovative ways). This may speak to my own hangups as much as anything else, so you just wasted your time reading this paragraph. I apologize for that.

I'm in something of the same boat as you though, because I did not start engaging with the integral scene until 2006, when the kerfuffle was cooking already and I was not particularly aware of it, since my research habits don't lead me to online discussion forums very often for this purpose at least (I'm more interested in Aurobindo and Vitvan than I am in Wilber, for instance).

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