I came across a conversation with Bill Torbert this morning that I wanted to share here.  I referred to his work a couple years back in a blog I wrote on Integral Life (Three Nows, The Future Infinitive, and Triple Loop Awareness), and I enjoyed a workshop he gave at the Integral Theory Conference in 2008 (he seemed to find many of the "Integralites" at the conference to be a bit naive), but up to this point, his work has mostly been at the edges of the horizon of my attention.




Conversation with Bill Torbert

July 11, 2002

William R. Torbert, PhD, author and teacher, consultant and artist in his own right, works with Susann Cook-Greuter and others in the application of integral and transformational concepts in leadership and organizations. His most recent book, co-authored with Dalmar Fisher and David Rooke is entitled Personal and Organisational Transformations: Through Action Inquiry. After teaching at Yale, SMU, and Harvard, Bill has been at Boston College for the past 23 years,
serving as Graduate Dean of the School of Management for 9 years and Director of the PhD program in Organizational Transformation.

RV: I'm really interested in having conversations with people who are doing things that, for me, feed into the idea of an integral approach to leadership. And an integral approach to leadership, it seems to me, is one that is very much concerned with questions of development. And what I'm hoping to do in this interview involves three stages. The first stage is to have you talk a little bit about the role of action inquiry in your work. When I look at materials you have on your web site it is very clear that this has been the heart of your work ever since you were a graduate student. I would like to talk about your perspectives on leadership and leadership development. Third, I'd like you to talk about your current work because you mentioned it has something to do with time, and I'm fascinated to discover what that might be.

BT: Great.

RV: You were a student of Chris Argyris and the whole idea of action inquiry has been central to your work. What is unique about your work in action inquiry?

BT: Although it is definitely true that Chris is a central influence in my life, and that is because he clearly was concerned with putting action and inquiry together, it's also true that at the same time as I met him at Yale I also got to know Bill Coffin, the Yale minister. He's sometimes called the white Martin Luther King, was very involved in the Civil Rights movement, was one of the first Freedom Riders, and later stood in the opposition to the Vietnam War.

There should be a relationship not just between social science theory and professional action, but also between spiritual inquiry and political acts. Chris was relatively conservative, not spiritually oriented and not politically oriented. Bill Coffin was more radically oriented.

And at the same time I was getting to know, not what we think of as philosophy today, but real Socratic inquiry where you are taking action in the conversation and having an influence on one another, almost an alchemical influence. At the same time I found my way into the Gurdjieff Work. This direct spiritual work is a work on attention. Through Plato, Bill Coffin and the Gurdjieff Work, I had a sense that the kind of action inquiry I wanted to do was not only professional in nature, but personal, spiritual and political. It was meant to affect my every waking moment.

All of those were playing a role when I started to inquire further into Yale and the graduate program with Chris Argyris. I took an intervention theory course with him years before he wrote his intervention theory and method book [Intervention Theory and Method, 1970-ed.] and years before he had come up with the name action science. In fact, it was my 1976 book, Creating a Community of Inquiry, about the Yale Upward Bound Program that I had founded that first introduced the
term action science.

I went into the doctoral program in Individual and Organizational Behavior with the understanding that I could study myself trying to take some action in some way. This turned out to be leading the Yale Upward Bound program: creating it and getting the original grant for it. When it turned out that there was nobody of a proper age to lead it, the Yale people let me do it at the tender age of 22. I was not intervening in a large, Fortune 100 corporation, which was more typical of Chris's work. I was engaged in a very incendiary interracial situation that had a political element to it. It had a profound educational element in it in that the students in my program had never had a good experience in school before. I was working with people who really didn't necessarily share my sense of rationality at all.

RV: What I'm getting as I'm listening to you is already an integral flavor to the way you're engaging with the world or at least with a notion of action inquiry. Not only were you doing an inquiry into the context -- the systems, the environments around you -- but you were also engaged in conscious self-development, a process that could only happen in that context.

BT: Exactly. It seemed to me that the people who ought to be most affected by an action were the initiators of the action. Even though the intent was also to have an influence over somebody else, if you didn't see yourself as learning and transforming through the action, then it seemed to me you were almost certainly off base in a profound way. I'm not coming up with the way in which I knew that at the time except for the fact of all these different influences.

I read Plato's Symposium about Alcibiades who later became the leading general during the Peleponissian Wars. He was the great corporate raider of the third century BC, moving his allegiances back and forth between Athens, Sparta and Persia, trying to create a just environment in a situation in which none of the states seemed just to him. And there he was, as a student of Socrates, saying that only Socrates could make him feel his nothingness. This seems to me to be the place from which all possibility begins -- the meeting of the inner and the outer in the moment when, listening beyond one's ego, one feels one's nothingness. This is the actual experience of what we're now calling integral.

[The rest of the conversation is available here.]

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Also see Gidley's Appendix A from her lengthy paper "The evolution of consciousness as a planetary imperative" in Integral Review 5, 2007. Therein she discussed Geber's concretion of time. She said (p. 176):

Gebser’s nuanced concretion of time does not represent a linear developmental endpoint like that of the modernity project, nor is it endlessly recursive in non-directional cyclical space as in Eliade’s “myth of the eternal return” (Eliade, 1954/1989). Integral consciousness as understood by Gebser does not place mythic and modern constructions of time in opposition to each other, as both modern and traditional approaches tend to do. Alternatively, Gebser’s temporic concretion is an intensification of consciousness that enables re-integration of previous structures of consciousness—with their different time senses—honoring them all. It opens to new understanding through atemporal translucence whereby all times are present to the intensified consciousness in the same fully conscious moment.

I will compare Torbert to Caputo below. Caputo is defending against the charge of relativism, a charge made by the likes of kennilingus against the likes of Derrida. But as one can see, there is a legitimate battle for defining exactly what is postformality with the likes of Torbert and Gebser on the side of Derrida and Caputo. Will the real Real please stand up? (Or at least the better one?)

Recall this from Torbert above:

"Any theory of development and transformation, such as this one, clearly has general, universalistic elements to it, and may be applied “in general” without specific attention to the uniqueness of the given situation. This, again, is a danger of the Strategist who tends to identify with the theory. In fact (or, more precisely, in act) transforming power is never properly applied in general, but always in response to the unique circumstances of particular situations and systems—always in response to a living awareness that revivifies and revalidates (or else disconfirms) the general categories of the theory.

"Put differently, transforming power is not enacted in a deductively logical fashion. It does not deduce a specific action from general principles. Instead, transforming power is enacted ana-logically. It seeks analogies between a general theory and an independent apprehension of the present situation, felt from the inside as a participant in it."

Now recall this from Caputo's Sunday Sermon:

"I think it [postmodernism] thinks in terms of situational, contextual, pragmatic conceptions of truth. I don’t think it’s relativistic, but I do think it’s relational. It’s very sensitive to the context in which you make judgments. It thinks in terms of the singularity of the situation. It doesn’t think that anything goes, because take this distinction that I referred to earlier, between justice and the law. With someone like Derrida, and I think most of the other post-structuralists are like this, too, they think justice has to do with the singularity of the situation, with what this situation, this context, demands. So, something is demanded of us. We are responsible before this singular situation. There’s nothing 'anything goes' about this.

"There’s the law, and then there’s this concrete situation in which the law has to be brought to bear. So, the law has to be brought to bear, but there’s an emphasis on the flexibility of the law. There’s no attempt or element of trying to do away with the law, or with obligation or with the demands of justice. But, there is an attempt to be flexible and to allow a maximum amount of leeway in adjusting to the singularity of the situation."


Recall above when "someone" said:

"But such progress does not move in a line from pure origin to guaranteed New Jerusalem. Its aim remains as Derrida insists, messianically yet to come, a to come that does not unfold as a predictable future outcome of present history. Progressive theopolitics might then entail an alternative temporality, the time of event–relations, in which our becoming together, now, makes possible but does not determine that which is to come tomorrow: a helical, fractal or rhizomatic kind of nonlinear progress."

That someone is Catherine Keller, who studied at Claremont, the home of process theology and Griffin's “constructive” postmodernism. Recall this thread where Keller rips Griffin a new assholon on this bullshit distinction. A distinction that Kennilingam picked up and ran with in his specious charge of deconstructive pomo relativism.

Kennilingam also gets some of this critique from Habermas. This insightful post goes into that part of the equation.
Interestingly, I read a comment by Robb Smith on Facebook yesterday, in which he said he no longer liked calling Integral a "Theory of Everything," preferring Edwards' notion of a "Theory for Anything" -- to emphasize an Integral pluralism.  So, maybe some folks "inside" I-I are coming around to these sorts of perspectives as well.
To the Lingam's credit, along with Sean E-H, the AQAL Journal, as well as the ITC, is slowly and painstakingly opening to these ideas. That Robb is also doing so is likely just his kennilingus following along, as I have yet to read an independent "integral" thought from him. Granted I don't read him much so I could be mistaken.

Trish Nowland, whom I believe is a leader or organizer for the Sydney Integral Salon (they are discussing my Kingdom Come paper today), posted a recent blog entry that I thought was relevant to some of our discussions here, so I'm posting a link below.


Engaging the New

Why don't you contact her to join our discussion of your paper here at IPS, to give us an update of her salon discussion, among other things.
:-)  Good idea.  I will.

hmmm. how tall, really...

Balder said:

Trish Nowland, whom I believe is a leader or organizer for the Sydney Integral Salon (they are discussing my Kingdom Come paper today), posted a recent blog entry that I thought was relevant to some of our discussions here, so I'm posting a link below.


Engaging the New

I was re-reading the thread today and this stuck out for me, given recent ruminations on time, axes and the virtual:

""A third dimension of time can again be imagined as orthogonal (the Z axis) to the plane defined by chronological time (X axis) and eternity (Y axis). The three-dimensional 'volume' of time can be imagined as holding all possibilities, all the potentialities of the future and the still-hidden meanings of the past, some of which emerge into the present (become act-ualized) and then pass into linear, historical time, through a translation process that quantum physics now describes as a 'quantum collapse.'"

Also see Gidely above. To reiterate, she notes in this work that Wilber recognizes linear time and the ever present (177). It seems though that the 3rd sort of time above, akin to Gebser's concretion, is either missing or underdetermined in kennilingus.* Hence we see such deficiencies in elucidating the kind of virtuality or excess discussed in this recent post (et seq.)

* "Wilber tends to swing between a primarily linear developmental model—albeit one that
includes higher stages beyond the formal, mental mode—and the spiritual Timelessness of the
non-dual. Sometimes, he brings both voices through in the same piece of writing, as indicated
above. However, it is unclear whether Wilber sees Timelessness as being synchronous with
Gebser’s origin. It appears likely that for Wilber this is an endpoint to be strived for rather than
something that can be experienced as a concretion of all the temporicities" (180).

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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