Dances with Bioluminescent Wolves... (Wilber's Review of Avatar)

This just in from Integral Life:


"Avatar was a cultural phenomenon from the very first day of its theatrical release. As it exploded onto the global zeitgeist with its revolutionary use of advanced 3D computer visuals and digitally-enhanced actors, we knew this was something to pay attention to from the very first frame. Much has been made of its staggering commercial success, with a worldwide box office of over 2 billion dollars (to date). But even more interesting was the heated controversy that emerged, concerning its themes of environmental warfare and the clash between not just human and alien, but modern and tribal worldviews.

From an integral perspective, Avatar looks at first glance like a classic postmodern romantic view of an alien tribal culture locked in mortal combat with the most extreme forces of modern earthlings—somewhere in the vicinity of Dances with Bioluminescent Wolves, or perhaps Pocahontas In Space.

But after repeated viewings, some more subtle questions emerged. In this review, Ken thoroughly explores the developmental themes that Avatar presents, but also explores whether or not Cameron left the door open for the next film (reportedly already in development) to go beyond mere developmental stereotypes, and really explore about what might happen if the best of human and Na'vi traits actually evolved together in the world of Pandora. Join us as we plug in and link up with James Cameron's sci-fi epic story, Avatar!"



Listen to the (free) review here.

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I listened to the first 14 mintues and heard the usual kennilingus. It does however once again raise the point about worldviews, and whether they are transcended and included or replaced. In the "transitional structures" thread we explored that K thinks they are completely replaced, whereas in the opening minutes of the vid he says we need to not replace but include prior worldviews in an integral view. He reiterated that only 1st tier WVs replace prior ones and that somehow at integral they are included. I'm not sure if he resolves this further in. Anyone hear it all and can report?
I'm also wondering about Gebser's IA level in that he thinks all prior worldviews can exist simultaneously within an individual. I see how they can exist in an individual at different times in different contexts a la Lakoff, but simultaneously? Where would be the "transcend" in that? K's integral WV, while including the prior, allowing for them to co-exist is the appropriate settings, still transcends them and presumeably requires the IWV to be the dominant monad in terms of law and governanace. See for example "The war in Iraq" where K says:

"There are two basic points to keep in mind about any future world governance system. The first is that laws, to be laws, are enacted from the highest average expectable level of development in the governance system.

"The second basic item to keep in mind, namely: no matter how highly developed a society might be—including one whose center of gravity is yellow—nonetheless everybody in that (or any) society is still born at square one.

"That means that, even in an integral society (yellow or higher), there will still be pockets or subcultures of individuals at purple, red, blue, orange, and green. This is not only unavoidable, it is healthy, normal, desirable. What is not desirable, however, is that any of those waves dominate the governance system and therefore attempt to force their values on others—whether those are red values, blue values, or green values. A yellow society, in short, would have laws that basically stem from that second-tier level of consciousness. And the basic defining characteristic of yellow is that it accepts all previous values without letting any of them repress or dominate others.

"A second-tier, integral, World Federation—in my Utopian view—would therefore prevent any first-tier memes from dominating, attacking, or exploiting any other populations. If necessary, a World Federation would do so by using force, just as all democracies today have an internal police force to curtail murder, rape, robbery, extortion, and so on. Somebody whose center of gravity is green will not commit murder, rape, or robbery. However, somebody whose center of gravity is red will do any or all of those, sometimes happily. And because everybody is born at square one, and must progress through purple, red, blue, and so on, some sort of police will always be necessary to protect others from those who do not evolve to a worldcentric level of care and compassion."
This time I got to around 30 minutes. At around 25' he talks about how the movie mix-and-matches the best of pluralism and tribalism in a future integration that is remotely possible but unlikely given the way worldviews "develop." He wasn't clear here for me. Was he referring to the way WVs are replaced so that mixing like this is not likely? And yet above he seems to indicate that an integral WV does exactly that, takes the best of each in its inclusive WV.
I got to 44 minutes this time. A theme Wilber keeps pushing is that the movie with its green pluralist view sets up earth and modernism as all bad and magical tribalism as all good. Here he is stuck in his own imaginary MGM chimera instead of seeing what is obvious to others, including the interviewer. The latter notes that the biological human-Na'vi hybrid Jake inhabits partially at first, and fully by the end, sets up the possibility of integration for these diverse memes. But Wilber again sticks to his rusty guns by saying it will just create a half good, half evil being.

First of all Wilber completely misses that the movie is not about modern technological society being all bad. Yes it is highly critical of the misuse of such by a greedy, corporate structure that values only profit above all else at the expense of cultural and environmental destruction. Hello, can anyone say BP? But the movie also shows how modern technology and culture create the Avatars and a humantarian, archeological program to commune with the natives to negotiate a peaceful settlement regarding their natural resource. Presumedly there is some governmental agency behind this endeavor, not the corporation, but nevertheless this is depicting the good side of modernism. It is not all bad.

And the same is true of the human-Na'vi biological hybrid that Jake becomes at the end. It is more a statement on the integration of our dissociated body-oriented nature and culture that has occurred in modernity. Jake is in a very real sense an integral centaur that could function as a metaphor for what integrality can become. And yet Wilber, caught is his own inept theory, can only see this as a pomo good versus bad sceniaro. I think it is more Wilber's projection of his own dissociated egoic rationality imposed on a valid, competing, integral idea.

Ah, there's the rub; it competes with, and it better than, his own notions. That explains a lot.
Listening to the last 15 minutes Wilber explores briefly the above, how Jake can grow into an "integral" character. I'm wondering though if that's what he thinks will happen after laying all that MGM pluralism on Cameron, not giving him credit for the possibility before this.
I finally had a chance last night to listen to a good part of that interview, too. I agree that he seemed to miss, or to leave out, the good side of modernity -- those scientists and anthropologists and so on who supported the Na'vi, who perceived the injustice of what was happening, who were interested in the enlightening and enlivening potential represented by the discovery of a pan-nature network-intelligence or awareness, etc. In the movie, the different "sides" were presented in a rather stark way, without sophisticated character development or nuanced depictions of modern and pre-modern worldviews, but I don't think the picture was as black and white as they discussed in the interview: modernity wasn't presented as "all bad."

Although I agree with Wilber that idealization of "tribal people" as morally and developmentally superior to moderns is a classic, retro-Romantic, pre/trans move, I thought the movie offered an opportunity to think about alternative evolutionary pathways. Wilber seemed to be essentializing his stages in a way -- presupposing that the evolutionary trajectory that has unfolded on earth, particularly culturally and cognitively, is universally given, instead of being a particular historical enactment. Especially if you think about the importance of embodiment in the enactive view of evolution. I think this is something that Riordan was getting at -- the unique "evolutionary opportunity" offered to a species like the Na'vi, which has the ability to "link up" to the consciousness of other individual beings, and to plug in to collective (historical and present) consciousness through the tree of souls. While the Na'vi have not significantly advanced technologically, and they still live in clan-like systems, might they nevertheless have developed forms of sensitivity and emotional intelligence and responsiveness that exceed those of many human beings, given their biological ability to plug in to other entities and take their perspectives as well (and at will)? Jake, after all, seems like a child to them when he first enters their world. He is sensitively, emotionally, stunted, in their view.

I agree with you that Jake makes a good model for the centaur -- once he learns from Neytiri and is better able to inhabit, and attune with, his hybrid body and the world of Pandora. But he also brings something to them, and I am interested how / if this will be developed in the next film (if there is one). The Na'vi expect the world intelligence to be indifferent, to maintain balance without regard for the fate of individuals, and Jake's communing with Ehwa either proves them wrong about how Ehwa operates, or else introduces something altogether new. What do you think?
Yes, I too was considering Wilber's projection of evolution on earth to Pandora, as if it proceeded universally regardless of the different life conditions inherent to a particular world. One of the things I picked up from Cowen is that particular stages arise within specific life conditions, so you're right, different life-world conditions such as Pandora could well produce at least variations and hybrids in "stages" if not entirely different structures.

As to what Jake brings, one point Wilber brought up might be relevant here in that so-called tribes in his version of evolution aren't about the individual; that concept didn't even arise yet. Perhaps so with the Na'vi, that with the advent of Jake's modernist individualism he has introduced that element into Pandora, even to the point of getting an individual response from Ehwa through the Mother Tree. Prior to Jake only the clan mother could interpret these "divine" messages, so perhaps with Jake this will introduce the notion that each person can not only commune with the "all" in some tribal, group way but also as individuals?
you know how ken says that a worldview wars with the one preceding it; it seems that kenny's obsession with the mgm is the integral/teal warring with the green?
jakes experience with the ehwa seems to look like the philosophy of panentheism? this is where i lean spiritually although i have know idea what god is or whether it can at times get personal.....the paranormal/ miracles do seem to happen on occasion:)
Woo hoo... an integral discussion on avatar! Now we can finally answer one of the questions I've always been thinking about... how does Neteri's top necklace/leaf always stay on even though she is always moving around? Glue?

(Seriously though, I think the saying of "I see you" emphasized the aspect of "seeing again" something or someone in a manner of "seeing clearly" the essence or spirit of a person, as opposed to simply dismissing it or overlooking them already, and thus meeting that person without their usual prejudments. I think Jake learned this process as he socially interacted in this world, bridging a divide between cultures (at least in himself), genders, and even across species ... instead of the narcissistic slant that Ken makes it out to be. ) Jake I think, wasn't alone in this process...because their were other humans who understood this and attempted to prevent/minimize the destruction of the Navi homeworld...but I think Jake was one of the central characters who showcased this transformation...another was Neteri, and how her perception of Jake changed.)
Since the movie came out something has been nagging my subconscious that finally articulated in my mind while ironing my outfit for work this morning. The avatar bodies that Jake and company inhabit seem to be property, to have no life or personality of their own. They are exclusively for the use of their inhabitating, outside consciousnesses. This is ethically wrong from a cosmocentric view. It seems representative of the modern view that nature, including bodies, are to be used functionally to suit our purposes. It also displays the view of "false" reason and consciousness, that it is somehow the primary force in the universe from which all else derives. All very metaphysical. Whereas a biologiccally grown brain and body will have an "embodied" (if you will), inherent intelligence and personality, even without any cultural conditioning.

In a sense it is similar to the modern view overtaking the natives but played out by the "good" moderns, because they take over organic bodies for their own use. Even the ending where Jake "becomes" the native body; what of the native that was inherent to that body? Was he transcended and included?
Edward, that's an interesting point; I think you're right about that, that the body is treated here as a "suit" for a disembodied -- portable -- consciousness. But in the end, it does seem something else happens: he is "born as" the body, the "user" relationship is abandoned ... ?

Speaking of Avatar, two brief pieces of related news: 1) I just heard a Special Edition of the movie is coming out on August 27, featuring deleted scenes. I wonder what that will include... 2) I just posted notes from my recent TSK retreat which featured some Avatar-inspired images: The Object and Its Glow.
Even if Jake is born anew into the Na'vi body, what happens to the previous inhabitant? It's as if there was no such being before, just an empty vessel. All of which brings up the nature/nurture issue. Granted if this body has been grown in a tank its entire lifespan it might have have been "conscious," but by virtue of its embodied brain would still have a sub- and unconsciousness. Perhaps even dreams? So maybe it doesn't develop a "personality" proper because it's never had a conscious inculcation into language and culture. Still, it's a living body that is interacting with its environment, even if it is only a tank of water with air and nutrients. It is still a living being. Is it ethical to override such a being's autonomy, however simple, for another being's purposes?

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