Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Argumentum ad Wilberiam: How truthiness and overgeneralization threaten to turn integral theory into a new scholasticism
~ Elijah J. Petersen and Mark E. Jaruzel II
I read a good portion of this paper right after the last Integral Theory Conference and had intended to get back to it during our ITC Paper Review, but we lost steam partway through the process and didn't get a chance to cover it. Trisha's recent mention of it in a discussion yesterday, however, inspired me to return to it and finally read it in full.
Petersen and Jaruzel raise an issue, or a constellation of issues, that I've often heard addressed at integral gatherings and in online discussions: the need for IT to better walk its post-metaphysical talk in providing a clearer reference trail, a clearer disclosure of its sources and methods of validation or veridiction, than we find in much recent writing (esp. where claims about developmental stages or the effects of certain contemplative practices are made). Without this, the repetition of unsupported, or only vaguely supported, Wilberian claims in the community tends to generate a cloud of truthiness: an enticing and attractive atmosphere of "truths" that we hold onto, and continue to propagate, because we'd prefer for them to be true (and because they feel right), rather than because we have good evidence (beyond Wilber's authoritative claims: Argumentum ad Wilberiam) for their truth.
The paper is not long, and is an easy read (with some amusing examples and turns of phrase), so I won't try to summarize it here. In general, I think their concerns are valid and relevant, especially for the 'academic' side of the integral endeavor. I've also often wished for Wilber to provide more support for some of his stronger claims regarding the influence of meditation on stage development, his evaluation of the "level" of certain ancient and modern texts, and his third-tier stage model (all examples given in Petersen and Jaruzel's paper). Certainly this information does not need to be consistently provided in all of Wilber's publications and communications, but -- to meet the demands of modern, postmodern, and integral research and scholarship -- they should appear somewhere.
I'm not sure there's a great deal of value in dwelling too long on criticizing Wilber for these shortcomings. I think the shortcomings should be clearly acknowledged, but hopefully primarily as impetus for others to engage in the work necessary to support or disconfirm these claims. (It is doubtful that Wilber at this point will be providing this, and there's no reason for us to rely on him to do so, in any event).
One issue raised in the paper -- Wilber's claim that meditation can catalyze rapid growth through three structure-stages vs. the evidence P&J cite that says meditation induces more modest growth, often within a single structure-stage -- is something I've wondered about in relation to a phenomenon the Wilber-Combs lattice was created to address: the advanced causal or nondual adept who still exhibits prominent Amber/ethnocentric thinking and valuation. I have not seen Wilber directly address the relation of these two scenarios: if meditation induces structure-stage growth, how is that related to those cases where meditation has provided access to deeper states and perhaps allowed for stabilization in those states, but which has apparently not induced rapid structural growth (and may even amplify and reinforce certain same-stage traits)?
Argumentum ad Wilberiam = clever academic way of saying kennilingus.
"I think the shortcomings should be clearly acknowledged, but hopefully primarily as impetus for others to engage in the work necessary to support or disconfirm these claims."
We at the forum have spilled much ink (or digital (telo)type) doing exactly that on any number of issues, even if not in particular the issue of how meditation does or not accelerate stage growth.
Yes, very true - I'm often (unintentionally) giving this forum too little credit for what goes on here (on good days :-) ) ...