Nearly every Integral Institute seminar involves the same joke. Ken Wilber or another teacher mentions the anecdote, usually during the first day. “ ...and then your friends start to run the other way when you approach them with a stack of books.” hahaha. Everyone laughs because they can relate. We all know that people’s eyes glaze over when the jargon gets laid on thick. But have you ever stopped to wonder why?
Among the reasons we as a community embrace integral philosophy, and hope to see it spread, is because it has the potential to change the world. 'Potential' being the key word. Sadly, If the ideas are not embraced and adopted by a significant portion of the population the impact of integral philosophy on humanity’s rise or fall may not register in the history books. The exponential or viral spread of integral ideas would provide ample evidence that consciousness is evolving. We are evolving, right?
With its sophisticated analytical tools and perspective taking, why hasn’t integral theory made more than a dent in our current dystopia? Why isn’t integral popular? This question hit my brain like lead bricks after seeing a 2 min video from the smartest bald man of our generation: Seth Godin of course.
Seth Godin illustrates the spread of memes beautifully. Meme is a term coined by Richard Dawkins that suggests that ideas replicate and spread analogous to genes. “Ideas that Spread Win.” What he doesn’t say is that the best ideas don’t always spread. It’s not a given that integral approaches will win out over fragmented partial ones. If we look at history it is easy to make the case that forward progress sometimes gets arrested and society regresses. So how do we spread the Integral Idea?
If Seth Godin can have 5 million people download a book on marketing, which is really only interesting to people who are into new technology and new entrepreneurism, then why is a field like integral languishing?
Unleashing the Integral Idea Virus.
Integral theory applies to the most elemental of human needs. It helps us understand a complex world and make meaning in our individual lives while grappling with that complexity. Yet, it sometimes seems that the same 25,000 people spread across the globe are participating in the integral conversation since I-I started 10 years ago. I don’t mean to down play the efforts of I-I and Integral Life.
For those who don’t know, Integral institute is the non-profit organization started by Ken Wilber about 10 years ago, while Integral Life is the for-profit company that carries that mission forward. I spent half a decade contributing directly to this mission as a full time employee, so I’m not disparaging the effort. The Integral movement has made some important strides, and I don’t want to minimize them, but the most important step of all -- reaching the everyday person -- has yet to happen.
A highly successful start up can grow 100% per year! A business that grows this fast is obviously an idea or product people are buzzing about. Is there a way to tap into our viral digital culture with an integral idea? If so, we haven’t found it yet. Let’s just say that if the integral movement had investors they wouldn’t be happy with our conversion rates.
The integral vision needs a big upgrade in its approach to fulfilling its mission. In some sense the very strength of the movement is what holds us back. Does over analysis interfere with action? Does our intense interest in spirituality prevent us from seeing the needs in the world?
Perhaps the theory buffs will say that one must be at an integral level to grok all the sophisticated perspective taking. Therefore most people are stuck in first tier and can’t perceive this integrating function of consciousness. This leaves them fundamentally at war with other first tier value memes, and stuck in a world of separateness and competition. A second tier individual would be able to see another person’s point of view and can increase their circle of care for all people. This is known as worldcentric consciousness.
Integral Philosophy promotes the idea that 2nd tier has greater depth and therefore less span. More consciousness, with fewer people evolving to that level. Greater depth and less span is the nature of the kosmos. One must accept that not everyone will understand the need for taking the view of others, especially if those people are not in our close circle of family and friends, or don’t have the same religion, race, or class status one does. We could also use developmental language to explain this: If people can’t meet basic survival needs--1 billion people can’t--or have the conditions to evolve to world-centric, then how could they birth the impulse to evolve high enough to get it and to understand integral. (This paragraph has the most unexplained jargon in this article. If you are new to integral and just got confused, then this reinforces my thesis)
This always feels like a stock answer to me. It sounds like a good explanation that supports the idea that there are only a small number of people at an integral level. But I don’t buy it. In my city of Boulder, most people at least know Ken Wilber’s name and many have studied his books. Exposure isn’t the only issue. I’ve concluded that Integral philosophy is a bit like a magnet. For some people they feel drawn deeply, while others feel repelled. Why? I don’t think we can assume the first tier/second tier distinction is the only or even primary reason. What if it is mainly the technical psychology terms are a main cause that prevents people from finding the onramp to the integral highway?
I’m not satisfied with stock answers anymore. Why isn’t integral popular? More skillful means and translations are needed. And we need to drop any self-reinforcing arguments that prevent the creation of those means. In short we need to take personal responsibility for formulating integral philosophy in a way that exemplifies simplicity beyond complexity.
Coming from a religious bible thumping family, I know well recursive thinking. One passage in Revelation directly tells the reader that the book must be interpreted literally, and not altered. This gives the impression that the work is divinely inspired cover to cover, and all the material needed to ignore reality and stick to a rigid interpretation is there. It is self-reinforcing.
For people who no longer buy into a dogmatic religious approach, scientific rationalism seems like a good place to hang our hat. I am generalizing here, but most people who see the world this way tend to think that if you can’t measure something then it doesn’t exist. Which is also a self-reinforcing belief. Even though these scientifically minded individuals have in some sense rejected belief for evidence there is still an underlying assumption that could unravel their position if it were examined and approached with a deeper questioning.
There are certain people who for one reason or another find both the dogmatic approach to life, and the rational data based path confining. A reasonable conclusion is that truth is relative. The aboriginals in Australia have a different view of truth than we in the West do. Some people even view gender differently than the heterosexual majority. Since we all have a different view of truth there must be different truths and nothing external to us, like God, could ever dictate a morality that works for us all. Once again: self-validating belief structures that hold water as arguments until a critical shift happens.
This is the shift from an aperspectival view to a centauric one…. Um, er. What now? Do you see what happened there? I switched from talking about perspectives in plain language to psychological terms coined by some researcher whose name I forget. And I’m left wondering, is it better to go and research the name of that psychologist on the web so I can validate my point with academic proficiency or can I keep writing in a translation of integral? Let’s forget this paragraph happened and start again.
That shift can occur for a person at any point in adulthood, but it usually involves the ability to see all of these different ways of living in the world as something outside of oneself. If feels a bit like this: I can see myself in that, and that, and this other thing, but none of them encapsulate me.
Maybe someone has an uncle who is a pastor, a business man for a father, and a teacher who encourages them to find their own path in life. These three mentors provides a window into a different way of viewing the world. Each of them have an approach to life that benefits and informs the growing person’s thoughts and experience. Suddenly the thought comes: If I had all three of these men in a room, they would surely disagree with each other, but to me they all seem right!
This is the shift to an integral awareness and could also come about by examining how these three points of view show up in the culture wars within modern society. Once we can see these three differing perspectives, the longing to integrate them starts to tug on us. This project can take a while, and if you find yourself in this place I invite you to give yourself a wide berth and keep coming back to curiosity. I often ask myself: Is there another truth that can inform this conversation?
As we downshift toward the end of this article I want to point out that the openness of curiosity and questioning is the fuel for an evolutionary impulse. The spacious awareness of curiosity is quite different in quality and tone than the stance of the next paragraphs which point back to the purpose of this article. There is no point, or purpose in the curiosity that leads us on. Frankly, it’s just interesting and fun. Back to business!
An Integral zeitgeist begs us to be more than a spiritual club for smart people. It compels us to impact our culture and the systems that support it. If we are to make significant headway in this mission we must jettison the confines of simply integrating all the available perspectives and embrace a perspective that allows us to simplify the integral message without watering it down.
A great way to think about this is simplicity on the other side of complexity and its exemplified by the late Steve Jobs. By keeping the complexity behind sleekly designed closed doors, Apple has managed to get its technology in the hands of millions, while making millions for its stockholders. Steve Jobs was as great an integral leader as there ever was, but I bet he never taught people about the quadrants. He was too busy making things that changed our lives.
The second example of integral translation is a video by Mathias Weitbrecht.
Mathias is a senior student of Thomas Hubl who encourages students in his 3 year training program to complete a project that gives back to the world in a tangible and skillful way. This video attempts to explain integral philosophy in a succinct way and I believe it accomplishes that mission. The 2007 book by Ken Wilber, Integral Vision, also attempts to condense integral to a few key concepts that are easier to understand. These are a good start, but I’m wondering if we can offer the world a map that doesn’t have the jargon that can alienate a significant portion of the population.
As a community, we have to look at current trends with soberness. The culture at large doesn’t read 800 page books about the evolutionary impulse. In most cases they won’t even read a blog post or email fully unless the writer has taken the time to consider the reader’s perspective and tell them what's in it for them to keep reading. This is known among the blogging community as writing Sticky. Marketers are the masters at this, and conscious communities are cluing in. Stay tuned.
I’ll leave you with a challenge to talk about integral to the people around you without the technical terms and without name dropping. See if you can find an integral question to ask the cashier that won’t freak her out. Or better yet, I dare someone to re-write Ken’s Integral Vision with zero jargon or technical terms. I’ll Race Ya.
Jason Digges is a video producer, writer, and small business consultant thinking and growing in Boulder, CO. His online magazine practicalART, uses edutainment to explore creativity, online business, and integral translation. Find him on twitter or facebook.