Blog

critique of wilber's terror (1)

This blogpost is a continuation of a few of my FM blogs and a book review (see on this website as pre-requisite reading background): (1) "A Re-Invigorated Religiousity on the Planet: Ken Wilber's Book" (May 2, 2017), (2) amazon.com book review "Wilber Targets the Dysfunction(s) of Religiousity" (May 2, 2017), (3) "Wilber's Use (Biasing) of Terms: Initial Fearnalysis (May 3, 2017) and (4) "Ken Wilber's Basic Vocabulary of the 'Pathological'" (May 9, 2017). All these are in the service of my critical examination of his new book The Religion of Tomorrow (2017) which I believe will prove to be an extraordinary work of his, and mostly the best and readable book to "hit" hard at all of us to truly examine the "Dysfunctions" of religion, religiousity and spirituality as they have largely been constructed over the past couple thousand years. He is saying we need to up-grade seriously and quickly a whole lot of different aspects in this domain of human existence--and religion, religiousity and spirituality cover a lot of deep territory, always have in our ancient past and always will, according to Wilber.

The First Three Pages (of ROT)

Now, this blogpost will be short but will cut into something I believe is essential to "get" which most people "don't get" when they read Wilber's work (or, I'm willing to grant they may "get it" or at least "read it" in his words, and then they deny it and move on to others things that distract them from paying attention to what was just said). I'll go back, to my last FM blogpost for a moment, please read it, to reiterate how Wilber opened this new book (ROT) in the first 3 pp, with 98% rather positive, barely critical (not wrist slapping) discourse on "what a possible religion of tomorrow might look like" (p. 1). He then explains a bit why he'll apply his Integral Theory (or Integral Spirituality) critique to Buddhism as the exemplar, but with "no particular bias involved" he says. All the Great Traditions can learn from his critique of Buddhism. He goes on to describe nicely how one can remain "spiritual but not religious" if they choose, even after his critique is applied in the book, and that those who are religious believers in the Great Traditions may also go on worshipping their core credos, etc. He makes rooms for "exoteric" and "esoteric" teachings and so far by the top of p.3 he is still being very generous and positive and looking at our human potential and how we may best "radically free men and women from suffering" etc. But by the lower 1/3 of p. 3, all is about to walk over the edge... his discourse shifts, and it comes up at you without you barely recognizing it.

This is where he "hits," writing from what is the esoteric (mystic) perspective, or what I will later suggest is the Causal Stage (standpoint: see Chpt.13). Wilber is fully capable of delivering the cannon in the sense of 'blowing up the ark' and challenging the shit out of our complacency and niceness. This is where people of all stripes who read Wilber seem to largely ignore and deny once they have read it or heard it. But right there on the bottom 1/3 of the page... there is the sentence I quoted in my last FM blog which is most relevant to a fearanalysis of Wilber's work (and ROT specifically). This is where he goes into the core of Fear (actually, terror). This is where he espouses the universal truth found by many esoteric practitioners of the Great Traditions, across religions, outside of religions, and across cultures and time-space. He does, in my opinion begin to open up his own "fearanalysis" of the human condition (existence of a conscious being on planet Earth). Religiousity and spirituality have also been interested in their own "fearanalysis" of the human condition and how to help humans (supposedly) be truly and "radically free men and women" (to recite Wilber's words on p. 3).

So, page 3, the bottom 1/3, slides the reader (and their gravity of consciousness) over the waterfalls of the beautiful river they had been floating on in pages 1-2 of Wilber's Introduction to ROT. The quote includes a few things, you can see in my previous FM blog, or read the book (p. 3). Here's the essence of the esoteric findings Wilber is synthesizing in his own words as he contrasts "Great Liberation," "True Nature", "ultimate Reality itself" and "ultimate Freedom" (positive stuff- Absolute) with the barrier that all the religions and spiritual practices (supposedly) are battling against (of sorts)... and, the barrier he notes is "the terror-inducing limitations of ordinary life" (negativ stuff = relative). This ontological explication, philosophy/theory of Wilber's favor here is in all his work going back to 50 years ago, more or less. I have never seen him slip away from this quite existential sounding claim of the terror at the base of human experience on planet Earth in a body.

"Terror" in fearanalysis is extreme Fear. So, I prefer to call it Fear so as not to fall into a fear-based over-dramatization complex or interpretive frame making everything "extreme" (unfortunately, such a tendency is part of the pop-culture X-treme movements and trope of the day). I don't think Wilber is over-exaggerating and trying to be dramatic, in fact, he is being very calm in claiming this ontological experiential ground of human existence (i.e., the human condition in the relative world). I appreciate Wilber's objectivity in regard to the subjectivity of an intense affective (emotion) word like "terror" (or even, Fear). In fact, only 15 pages in the 800 page book have "terror" or "terrorism" on them. Yet, it is right there in the opening 3 pages, and it is there before the word "Fear" appears in the text too. I don't think this is an accident, and I do believe Wilber was not going to give a write-up in the Introduction on the esoteric dimension of findings of the human condition without a little conscious 'shock and awe' to wake-us-up, at least a little. It's the first "negative" thing he says in this book, and I'm so glad he did it. I could see this as Causal View (transpersonal perspective) he took on it. It is from a high-altitude and standing back making the subject an object, which is essential to the transformation of developmental stages, a point and principle of his entire teaching (see also Robert Kegan, in this regard in terms of developmental psychology). Consciousness, for Wilber has to encounter the world along a spectrum from simple to complex (systems)... and "fear" (or "terror") is at each level, and if it is not managed well then the whole system (and/or holon) will start to go pathological. The core of that theory is based on his juxtapositioning of Eros/Agape (Ascending Love, and Descending Love) contra Phobos/Thanatos (Ascending Fear, and Descending Fear). Granted, Wilber doesn't quite spell his ontological theory/philosophy out that clearly but it is there, and in future blogs I will argue that.

Point, being, to wrap up, the entire religion, religiousity and spirituality 'game' of pursuits and aims, you could say from a fearanalysis perspective, is all about Fear Management (or Terror Management)--and, this I have always seen as a major gift of Wilber's synthesis to us Earthlings, if we pay attention to the "terror-inducing" side of existence and not become allergic to it and concomitantly addicted to the Love-side. Note in a recent blog I give a reference to my article published in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy (2017) as a critique of Paulo Freire's "radical love" concept which I show is not being used very radical because most all who use it (and Freire himself) are and were addicted to "love" and avoiding "fear" (or, archetypally, the Love-Fear Dynamic, as I call it). Again, I won't go into all those arguments for a revisioning ontology based on fearanalysis of a whole lot of literature including Wilber's. Now, my critique of where Wilber missed a good opportunity on p.3 (ROT) is his own Causal biased look at the human condition (i.e., esoterically). He didn't do a very good job of articulating the "terror-inducing" in an AQAL Matrix framing, rather he just (casually) jumps his discourse to this "negative" aspect of existence and does so coolly and collectively from the Causal level/stage (i.e., transpersonal)--which, I was delighted to see because it is a definite indicator of a transpersonal perspective of Fear Management at the core of the spectrum of consciousness, evolution, history, development.

Wilber's claim re: "terror-inducing" relative reality from a Causal level perspective (or View, as he is now calling stages)--is great, is high altitude Truth-- but inadequate to be really all that useful to most humans and where their center of gravity is at. It sets up what I have long written about as a Fearless Standpoint Theory (or Fear Management System 9a), and yet, isn't integral enough and thus won't undermine effectively "suffering" as all the Great Traditions strive for (supposedly). Yes, my friends, this is where the details come in. I won't articulate my critical integral theory of Fear Management/Education (see Fisher, 2010) [1], but what is important on p. 3 (ROT) is to see the thread, to feel the waterfall you just went over when "terror" was mentioned in Wilber's text. That begins to unthawing of the frozen ontological grip of terror (or, more accurately, what I call the 'Fear' Project and 'Fear' Matrix constructions). Wilber has always seen through The Matrix, you might say, and he focuses unfortunately, too much on the positive and the negative nearly never gets 'equal' attention (which would be an improvement). Yet, be clear, as I have seen in ROT, Wilber is highlighting "Dysfunctions" at all levels of the spectrum of consciousness (and in religion, religiousity and spirituality) like I have not seen him do so well. And, gosh, I haven't even read the book nearly at all. I don't skim over page after page of his texts. I study it in small pieces, and jump all around, looking for the important "pattern that connects" that I think will be really useful for us to better diagnose the "pathological." Then, can come the "cura" and "therapia"--which, from my perspective has to include Fear Management/Education. Now, to end, it is too bad, as I said, Wilber did not do an AQAL (basic) analysis of "terror-inducing" (or at least, a long end note when he used it on p.3)... one piece I would have added is that existentialists, following Ernest Becker's philosophy/theory of the human condition and evolution of culture, are now calling out how we have to come to terms with how "terror management theory" (TMT) [2] is exposing the deepest roots of the human dilemma (i.e., between Love-Fear as meta-motivations, and/or Growth-Defense, etc.)... and that would be the Lower Left quadrant input needed to bolster Wilber's Causal (Upper Left) claim on p. 3.

Okay, that's lots, and I realize it is a bit technical where I am going. Feel free to email me for clarifications. I also welcome your critiques and input. But whatever, you or I do, please let's not lose track of Wilber's Causal claim on p. 3 and what we humans are facing, and what religion, religiousity and spirituality have (esoterically) always had to deal with, and that is "How do we best manage terror/fear on this planet?" Folks, all the positive "psychotechnologies of consciousness transformation" (Wilber, 2017, p. 3) working toward the aim of the Absolute (e.g., archetypal Love) mentioned in this book (ROT) will only be 1/2 baked, and ineffective, if there isn't an 'equal' emphasis on study and practices of the Fear-side of things (i.e., AQAL fearanalysis of "terror-inducing" aspect of relative reality). It's annoying somewhat, to read in ROT, how much emphasis Wilber puts on the "positive" (see my last FM blog on this topic)--I said, it looks like his formula is to give only 12.5 % (1/8) of attention to the "negative" in his Shadow (work) part of the program. That is disasterous, if people follow such a formula. Terror/Fear management/education (as "Cleaning Up") are was too important everyday, at every moment, to avoid or limit to such a small amount of theorizing and practice. Next time, I will blog on how Wilber's actual text will tell a different story about how important it is to do Fear Management, than his simplistic formula (p. 264) and it goes way beyond how "Shadow" work is given attention in his explicit formula. So, stay tuned. And, I will continue to lament Wilber's progressive positive focus he seems to persist with since about 1997 onward (my less fav. of his works)... even in ROT he mentions he is developing a whole book on "Flourishing" (e.g., Seligman's positive psychology) interventions/practices for Integral followers... oh, my, this is definitely not going to cut it... why isn't he also developing a whole book on recognizing "Pathologies" and working directly with them... even, though, yes, I am well aware the positive and negative interventions (like via positiva and via negativa paths) are interrelated. He's doing it, with his colleagues, who want to be popular(ized), and marketable, that's why. Fear and Terror management/education is not as fun as Love and light and joy and flourishing, right?

Notes

1. Fisher, R. M. (2010). The world's fearlessness teachings: A critical integral theory of fear management/education for the 21st century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

2. See Wikipedia "Terror Management Theory"

Read more…