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CHAPTER IX

BALD NARCISSISM



A few years ago, a book honoring Wilber, Ken Wilber in Dialogue, collected the views of many ... critics, allowing Wilber to engage them all. But I found it illuminating that he did not concede a single substantive point to any of these critics, and that he identified a single writer out of them [i.e., his close friend Roger Walsh] whom he felt completely understood his system—the only writer who made no real criticisms of his system at all (Smith, 2004).
[T]he believers of a purported synthesis [by Wilber] will have to work overtime and employ a great deal of cognitive dissonance not to see the facts and theories that don’t fit into their integral embrace (Meyerhoff, 2006).

ON JUNE 8 OF 2006, Ken Wilber posted a very revealing entry on his blog, exhibiting something of a “Wyatt Earp” complex. That is, as an underappreciated gunslinger/sheriff/savior, out to save the Wild West according to his own version of the Kosmic Law. From that embarrassing rant:

In short, it’s just ridiculous to say that I try to hide from this criticism, I live on it!.... This is what second tier does automatically anyway, it takes new truths wherever it finds them and weaves them into larger tapestries. It can’t help doing so! If I find one, I am ecstatic! So mark this well: Only a first-tier mentality would even think that one would run away from good criticism.

Wilber, however, does indeed run away from competent, thorough criticism like vampires flee from the sunlight. Mark that well. You do not need to be first-, second-, or nth-tier to see that; all you need to be able to do is recognize competent research when you see it, and then note kw’s derogatory response to (or freezing-out of) that. You will not find anything resembling the same academic competence in Wilber’s own writings, which is exactly why he needs to so hysterically marginalize people who can think and research far more clearly and thoroughly than he has ever been able to do.

If you read that full rant, you will notice that nowhere in it does Wilber address the reality that a large percentage of the criticisms which he brushes off as being “first tier” are taking him to task for having provably misrepresented the purported “established facts” in the fields which he claims (falsely) to be integrating. Whether or not developmental studies are in “complete disarray,” for example, Wilber has brutally misrepresented the purported agreement regarding Piaget’s stages of psychological development. There is no way around that fact; so, not surprisingly, all kw can do in response is to claim that he understands the relevant fields much better than his harshest critics do ... thus apparently licensing him to utterly/unprofessionally misrepresent the ideas in those same fields ... and thus actually showing, for anyone who wishes to see, that he either hasn’t understood them or is deliberately and dishonestly misleading his readers.

I am not going to keep responding to the lunatics, nuts, fakes, and frauds.

But, into which group does the present author fit? Lunatic, nut, fake, or (well-footnoted) fraud? Or maybe a “perv” (Wilber’s word) instead? (Yet, both Huston Smith and James Fadiman endorsed my since-disowned first book on Eastern philosophy with far greater enthusiasm than they have ever given publicly to any of Wilber’s own attempts at scholarship. That, after all, is one good reason why he cannot openly include me in the “first-tier” category of those who purportedly cannot, even in principle, understand his ideas.)

From the same blog entry, this is a partial list of Wilber’s fertile imaginings regarding the purported shortcomings of persons such as myself, who dare not only to have no use for his philosophy but to further point out, in reasoned detail, why his conjectures make so very little sense:

lunatic and cacophonous ... so deranged as to be laughable ... suck my dick ... level of scholarship is so mediocre ... worthless ... you morons ... lame criticism ... painfully sluggish critics, dragging their bloated bellies across the ground at a snail’s pace of gray dreariness, can frankly just eat my dust and bite my ass ... nonsensical ... neither true nor false but empty ... criticism so deranged you just stare at it wide-eyed and dumbfounded ... criticism so absolutely loopy you just stare in disbelief for minutes, pie-eyed, slack-jawed, say whaaaaaat? ... numb-nut young Turks and no-nut old Turks, many of whom have studied [my] work for up to 3 full hours....

As a wise man noted, all that one would have to do is read that blog by Wilber (and nothing else) to see why he is losing respect even from those academics who used to think he deserved his high standing in the transpersonal/integral community. Indeed, kw’s childish response makes him look much worse, in his character, than any criticism of him by others could ever have done.

Regardless, if you have to “rape and pillage” the details in any field in order to get them to “fit” with your grand theorizings—as Wilber has done throughout his entire career, and without which intellectual abuse there would not be any AQAL or the like—you are not integrating anything. Conversely, when people see details to which you (kw) are “legally blind,” and correspondingly reject your supposed “integrations,” it is not because they are seeing less than you are, but rather because they are seeing more.

Ironic, to be sure. But the reality is that if you simply pay proper attention to details and to elementary research, you cannot be “integral,” by Wilber’s use of the term. Because it is exactly that attention to detail and broad knowledge-base which proves that things do not fit together—and most probably never will—in anything resembling the fashion which kw pretends they do. And then, because you will not accept his detail-ignoring claims, you can only be “first tier.”

The whole kit and caboodle of recent criticism just reeks of Nietzschean resentiment [sic]—in plain English, resentment, deep and long and ugly resentment (Wilber, 2006).

KW is royally fooling himself if he imagines that any of the recent criticisms by myself or Meyerhoff, for example, are based in envy, lack of “second-tier” perspective, or resentment deriving from his (ill-gotten) “success.” Anyone who wants to deceive others by presenting fairy-tale ideas which have no real hope of being true is indeed on a well-traveled road to “success” in this world. But there are still those of us who would rather get our recognition the honest way.

If you are even a competent undergraduate student with a conscience, there is next to nothing for you to envy in Ken Wilber’s work or character: you already have more of what makes a decent human being in you than kw will ever even want to recover from his own wasted life. All you can really learn from the likes of him is what not to do with your life, and how not to behave in attempting to make a name for yourself.

On June 11 of 2006, Wilber published a “Part II” to his previous diatribe, claiming to have only posted the earlier scolding as a “test.”

First, from one of his fans, as quoted in that follow-up (2006a) piece:

NEVER in over two years have I witnessed anything like this. THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU [KW] ARE REALLY LIKE. I repeat, I have NEVER seen you act like this.

Bauwens and Dallman, however, long ago saw that side of kw. He has shown enough of it in his mistreatment of the late David Bohm, too, the latter of which is in black and white by his own hand, as noted in the appendix to this book.

From another quoted Fan of Ken:

Sometimes the most compassionate thing one can do is to cut down dangerous and terrorist egos.

Is that what we are now to Wilber’s loyal followers? Dangerous “terrorist” egos? Being cut down “compassionately”? For trying to warn people that Wilber’s teachings and community are not what they appear to be?

Another Fan:

I read Meyerhoff’s MS a couple of years ago. There were some interesting points here and there, but even these I assumed you would be capable of rebutting with little problem.

Why would Wilber’s admirers assume that? On what possible grounds? And why would kw publish this excerpt, when it really only shows how little actual questioning his friends and followers are capable of?

In the same letter, Wilber and his quoted friends touched on the “big picture” nature of their ideas; the need to deeply understand integral notions before criticizing them; and the supposed responsibility of critics to provide reasonable alternatives to the ideas they are critiquing. They also suggested that anyone, particularly business executives and politicians, would first do an appropriate level of “due diligence” before becoming involved with the integral ideology.

First, note that details are not mere “gotchas,” nor does taking a “50,000-foot view” release you from the obligation of squaring your overarching principles with an honest representation of each and every detail. It was exactly because of the confirmation (to within experimental accuracy) of the predictions of Einstein’s theories that he and his ideas became famous. Without that precise validation, no one would even know his name today, much less care about the elegance of the core ideas underlying those theories. In the integral world, by contrast, you can trip over details, and even actively misrepresent them, as much as you like, and the followers in that field will only defend your reasons for doing so, rather than taking you to task for that gross unprofessionalism.

Further, when one can prove that the principles on which a theory is founded are false (or grossly misrepresented), one actually doesn’t need to separately debunk its conclusions. If the premises are wrong, the conclusions will be wrong, too. (Of course, by pure chance, someone like Wilber may still manage to get a few conclusions right—as even Velikovsky did, in astronomy.)

In any case, in fields of real scholarship there has always been room for persons who merely gave harsh criticisms of the prevailing ideas, even without being able to offer better alternatives themselves. Never mind that, in the integral world, having an alternative will only be held against you, via the claim that in tearing kw’s ideas down you are just trying to get your own work noticed.

Meyerhoff has done an appropriate level of due diligence, in going back to the original sources which Wilber claims support his view, to prove that they regularly do not. How has he been treated by the integral community for doing so? And, how many people who get interested in kw’s ideas would even be able to find the time, much less the interest, to do the same? Without that, all they can do is trust that the community wouldn’t let incompetent or dishonest work rise to the top. That trust, as we have seen, is very misplaced.

As to the politicians in the UN, or our world’s corporate executives, as targets for integral proselytizing: They would not do even one-tenth of that work. Rather, they will just look at the roster of “big names” endorsing the fallacious integral ideas, and then proceed in the confidence that “a hundred thousand Wilber fans can’t be wrong.” Those are people, after all, who cannot look past an executive summary to the details in the first place.

Wilber himself:

I got several calls from spiritual teachers around the country, and they all said almost exactly the same thing: “I wish I had the nerve to do this.” That was a very common response, and many teachers went on to lament the “green swamp” their own sanghas [i.e., spiritual communities] seemed to be, “and what can I do about it?”

Yes, the “green swamp,” after all, wants democracy and dialog in what is inherently a dictatorship. “What can I do about it?” Indeed: Any guru would like nothing better than to suppress that disrespectful talking-back.

KW again:

you don’t like us, you hate us, you hate I-I, you hate wilber, you hate this and you hate that—we heard you loud and clear. And we saw you. And now we know each other, don’t we? But was that you or your shadow responding?

Personally, until around half a dozen years ago I was still considering donating money to the Integral Institute; it was only in documenting Wilber’s provable and gross misrepresentations of David Bohm’s work that I began to sour on him, and since then to find his life’s work throughout exhibiting exactly the same dismal caliber of thought and research. If you can look at that simple following-of-the-evidence and see only projection or hatred ... well, as Wilber says, “What We Are, That We See.”

More from a couple of Ken’s admirers, in support of his “compassionate rage”:

I trust the meta-vision you see of human and social evolution, and if this posting as is serves the Kosmos, then so be it.
I couldn’t list all your third-tier reasons for this, but I deeply know that Integral resonates with, and works for, those who are ready for it. It is a truth that doesn’t need a prop to stand.

Of course Wilber must be “third tier,” uniquely able to judge the effect of his actions on the Kosmos. That should have been obvious by now. After all, the first thing any spiritual leader must learn is that you must always keep at least one step (in purported spiritual evolution) ahead of the followers. But, when a pandit/guru tries to tell you that you are “first tier” and shadow-projecting simply because you won’t stand for being manipulated or misled, or that “second tier would get it, and that is who it was meant for”—well, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Another Fan:

Yes I was pissed off about [Integral University] hosts being referred to as minions ... fuck the crazy critic.

First “terrorist egos,” and now “crazy,” too. Would the most committed members of any cult behave any differently?

Personally, I had never publicly referred to Wilber’s close followers as “minions.” But, truth be told, that is exactly what I regard them as being. Their thoughts as included on the “I was only kidding” blog by kw have only confirmed that for me.

Yet another admirer of Ken:

[D]oes telling a group of mental masturbators that they’re off the mark actually legitimize them in a way? If their intent is simply (!) to fantasize, they are unlikely to have the decency to be embarrassed at being caught once again with their pants down around their knees.

First, does the integral community not realize that they are seen by skeptics as being every bit as “crazy,” and unworthy of legitimization, as they now view Wilber’s critics? No, of course they don’t realize that. But it is nevertheless true.

And how ironic, that they reduce cogent criticism to the status of fantasy, while elevating their own transpersonal fairy tales and outright delusions to the status of “reality.” Myself, Meyerhoff, and other solid critics have nothing to be “embarrassed” about, if the previous lacking-in-substance blog entry by kw is the best that he can offer in terms of trying to prove us to be “mental masturbators.”

And where is Wilber’s own “decency”? Or his sense of embarrassment at having been caught, repeatedly, with his own “pants down,” blatantly and unconscionably fabricating information? Or his understanding of humor, or of group dynamics/laughter, for that matter?

The best response actually came from Wilber’s close friend, Stuart Davis:

it’s fantastic, it’s overdue, and i feel it is appropriate and proportionate in tone and content. i laughed out loud half a dozen times, and it’s right on the money. how fucking LONG are you supposed to sit back without comment while these toxic, petty fuckers make preposterous attacks on work that’s ten years old? and only one in a hundred even knows what the fuck they’re talking about, because like it or not YOU’RE RIGHT TO SAY it is a cross-altitude issue. these green shits take pot shots at 2nd tier morning, noon, and night, and they are literally not capable of registering the content, the locations, the addresses, the altitude of 2nd tier. it’s insane, and i’m relieved to see you calling a spade a spade in this way.

Speaking of psychological shadows, Davis could hardly be showing his own more clearly.

Still, all that he and Wilber’s other anonymously quoted supporters are really doing, throughout the above, is to parrot what Ken has previously told them about the “first-tier, green, wanna-be,” etc., nature of his critics. And in doing so, they are acting as very effective mouthpieces for kw, to voice on his behalf what he himself could not say without completely blowing his reputation as a “compassionate, spiritually evolved scholar.”

In any case, even work a decade old is certainly worth debunking, particularly for how the provable dishonesties and/or incompetencies in it reflect on the character of its author; and also, for how the same shortcomings suggest the (un)likelihood that his current work will stand up to future criticism. (See Smith, 2003; 2006; and 2006a.) Not to mention that, as others have noted, if Wilber-5 “transcends and includes” the decade-old Wilber-4, the debunking of the latter will still be directly relevant even to kw’s current ideas.

The point of putting these criticisms of Wilber’s work into print is to do what one can to prevent others, not merely from wasting their time on Wilber’s fabrications, and not merely from meditating to the point of developing clinical psychoses when they think they are working toward psychological stage-growth. For, as if those issues were not enough, with Wilber’s continuing endorsements of various “problematic” gurus, surely more than one person has already thrown his/her life away on exactly those “Great Realizers.” If one were working for the integral movement, attempting to stop such dangerous foolishness would rightly be called “compassion.” Here, however, it gets you branded as a “petty fucker.”

Davis himself, as per his “Universe Communion” song from the Self-Untitled album, genuinely believes that the “Dagon” (sic) tribal people received their purported knowledge of astronomy from extraterrestrials. He actually says (1998) that the song was “inspired by John E. Mack’s wonderful book Abduction, which I recommend to anyone open to new possibilities of what we perceive as reality.”

The late Dr. Mack was, of course, Harvard University’s embarrassingly credulous “UFO expert” (Carroll, 2004).

And Wilber proudly puts all of the above pandering into (online) print, without so much as a twinge of realization as to how it looks to the real world.

KW again:

I should mention that when IU opens we will be having specific classes, for those who want, where we analyze various forum responses for their altitude, their levels and lines, and their shadow elements.

Yes, nothing bonds an in-group like laughing together at the flaws of their out-group critics, who just cannot see things as clearly as they, the “special ones,” do. And that will be done at a “university,” no less.

Another Fan of Ken:

all we have to do now is send people to that [initial, “Wyatt Earpy”] blog and watch their response. if it freaks them out, it’s unlikely they would do very well in any type of second-tier work. so at least we know. the thing is, K loves these people, I’ve seen him work with them because he’ll work with anybody.

Yes, so will every guru-figure who has ever been caught in a web of deceits, and been publicly exposed for it. They all still “love” you, and would like nothing more than to see you cave to their terms, so they can “work with” you at making you a better person. That is, at teaching you how to progress spiritually by becoming “more like them.” (Also, note that the all-lower-case writing style of these supporters of Wilber exactly mirrors his own use of that affectation. It would be interesting to know how many of them wrote in that way prior to becoming part of kw’s inner circle, would it not?)

And through all of that, has Wilber offered any cogent, intelligent response to any of his recent critics ... never mind to David Lane’s critique from 1996? No, of course not. What he has posted could rather just as well have all been a deliberate smoke screen, to distract from the real issue. That is, to obscure the fact that his ideas consistently do not stand up to any kind of thorough questioning—a point which is hardly mitigated by him trotting out a few anonymous “experts” who naïvely imagine the contrary.

Frank Visser—author of Ken Wilber: Thought As Passion (with a foreword by kw) and at one time, with Michel Bauwens, a founding member of the Integral Institute—gave his own (2006) response to Wilber’s bloggings:

Wilber writes: “Have you noticed that the people who complain the most about the concept of boomeritis almost always have the worst cases of it?” So what about the #1 crusader against boomeritis himself? Looks like he has a particularly bad case of it. Even jokingly mentioning “I am at the center of the vanguard of the greatest social transformation in the history of humankind” is telling. Sure, it’s a joke. Or is it? Why mention?....
I will not get caught in this game of praise and condemnation, so reminiscent of cultic milieus I have been in before. Instead, I will tirelessly go on publishing writings which I consider helpful in understanding integral philosophy. I may be wrong, I may be right—but that’s not the issue. [T]he issue is that there should be an open, public forum where all voices can be heard. That’s why Integral World is valuable.

Bauwens, too, posted several excellent responses to Wilber’s “integral meltdown.” From “On the Logic of Cultism at the Integral Institutes” (2006):

Being integral is increasingly being defined as: “agreeing with Ken Wilber.” This is the only critique being accepted within the movement. And basically it takes the form of: yes you are a genius, but wouldn’t you consider that xxx. Such a form of self-denigrating critique is the only one acceptable, and it can only serve to strengthen the edifice and the influence of the master....
[Even without Joe Firmage’s money in the founding of I-I, and Don Beck’s reinforcement of kw’s narcissism] the totalizing edifice and the particular personality of Wilber would in all likel[i]hood have evolved in this way eventually....
Can there be any hope for such a movement? In my opinion: none whatsoever. The point of no-return has long passed.

And, from “Ken Wilber is Losing It” (2006a):

[Wilber’s rant and Boomeritis, plus, I would add, kw’s telephone interviews as featured on Integral Naked] sounds like the expression of a man desperately in need of confirmation by the young, attempting to be “cool,” but not quite knowing how to do it, and revealing his own immaturity in the process....
At one point in our lives, we may seek a system of systems that may put to rest of fears of paradoxes and contradictions, showing how different truth claims can nevertheless be all true at some higher level of integration. But at another point in your life, if you are not intellectually and spiritually lazy, you have to learn again to live with the uncertainty of knowledge, and then, frankly, any reliance of a total edifice a la Wilber becomes counterproductive.

Personally, I agree strongly with nearly all of the points made in both of those fine postings.

Visser then published a truly excellent “companion article” to his own response to kw. From Chamberlain’s (2006a) “Sorry, It’s Just Over Your Head”:

I read many responses to Wilber’s part I, and the only person who speaks as if he might actually feel anything remotely like actual “hate” toward Wilber is Geoffrey Falk, and I think that calling Falk “hateful” would require us to read more into Falk’s way of expressing himself than may be there. But let’s say for sake of argument that Falk hates Wilber and I-I.

I cannot quarrel with any of that. But, of course, we should always leave open the possibility that I, too, have been deliberately trying to “push the buttons” of Ken and his followers. You know, in addition to obviously enjoying saucily “calling a spade a spade” when it comes to leaders and followers with whom one sadly cannot reason. So, one might as well (generally justifiably) insult them (after having first proved them to be in the wrong) and hope that something gets through in all that.

Still, love or hate the way in which I express myself, it makes no difference to the validity of the criticisms I have made of kw’s ideas (and character). And really, without those solid critiques, which the members of the integral world cannot counter even were they disposed to responding cogently rather than reflexively, would Wilber have been pushed to his embarrassing meltdown, with that being very damaging to I-I’s grandiose “mission” in the world? Perhaps ... but perhaps not.

(I don’t want to take too much “credit,” since Meyerhoff’s outstanding work seems to be bothering kw much more than mine, at least by name. Probably a significant part of the reason for that, though, is that my own previous work has again been endorsed by the respected likes of David Lane, John Horgan, Len Oakes and Susan Blackmore—not to mention Smith and Fadiman—whom Wilber cannot easily dismiss without undercutting his own high position in the world.)

It is an open question as to whether or not I personally “hate the sinner” in any of my irreverent (“Eighth Deadly Sin”) criticisms of our world’s gurus and pandits. But I certainly “hate the sin,” no question about that! Anyone who tells me half-truths or worse to try to get me to cave to his ideas, in religion or otherwise, has picked the wrong person to try to deceive.

During the same period of these responses to Wilber’s “Wyatt Earpy” postings, an anonymous blogger gave a fantastic analysis (reprinted in [Chamberlain, 2006a]) of kw’s guru-like “card-playing”—in his claims that his behavior constituted a skillful teaching, that people failed to see that only for not having evolved to his high level, and that the objections to that “teaching” were based simply on his critics’ psychological projections:

Folks, outlining how and why this is classic cultic behavior is too elementary to even go into. Just pick up any book on the subject, or go read about the true root of all this: Adi Da....
In the end, Ken is trying to silence critics/outsiders by asking that they simply STOP, which is all he really wants at this point. He asks that they take a moratorium on judging others, on loathing and condemning him. Notice that none of this addresses anything of any real substance; it’s just an attempt to bring it to an end, with him still on top as the teacher. He is the game-master, after all. In real academic and/or spiritual circles (or within an adult community) such cards are considered completely and totally out of bounds. They only work in guru and cultic environments. Ken, PLEASE, you are the one who needs to STOP.
Is there anyone at I-I with the courage to tell him this?....
The herd mentality that Wilber should concern himself with is the herd mentality he encourages in his young followers, the groupthink, the in-group versus out-group dynamic, the loading of the language with jargon and psychobabble, the arrogance, narcissism, and grandiosity.

Is it not amazing that all of that cultic behavior has become so clear, through kw’s own actions, that only people in complete denial (of which there are, sadly, plenty) could fail to see it?

More from Wilber (2006b):

I want to be hated for the real me! I am perfectly capable of generating massive irritation all by myself—I don’t need your shadow to do it. So please do me the honor of hating the real me!

Yes, that is precisely what I have been doing, though the “hating” thing is still an open question.

Okay, jokes aside: Let’s forgive and forget the past, and start afresh. And let’s see who honestly wishes to deal with this, and who wants to continue gun-fighting their own shadows....
Both sides could use a little confession, repentance, and forgiveness. I can say that, right here and now, I fully forgive any and all hurt that has been inflicted on me by unfair and unwarranted accusations, criticisms, and condemnations. With full heart, I sincerely mean that.

Yes, the magnanimous Wilber “forgives” his critics. Particularly the ones whose criticism is clearly warranted and inarguably valid, but which he can only deal with by absurdly pretending that he is being misunderstood by first-tier “morons” who have treated him unfairly.

How unbelievably self-centered of the man—to offer such “forgiveness” to others without asking, nay begging, for the same from them.

Wikipedia (2006b), then, has this to say on the subject of narcissism:

While in regression, the person displays childish, immature behaviors. He feels that he is omnipotent, and misjudges his power and that of his opposition. He underestimates challenges facing him and pretends to be “Mr. Know-All.” His sensitivity to the needs and emotions of others and his ability to empathize with them deteriorate sharply. He becomes intolerably haughty and arrogant, with sadistic and paranoid tendencies. Above all, he then seeks unconditional admiration, even when others with more objective views perceive that he does not deserve it. He is preoccupied with fantastic, magical thinking and daydreams. In this mode he tends to exploit others, to envy them, and to be explosive.

That, of course, matches Wilber’s behaviors point-by-point. From his childish bloggings, to his misjudging of his most cogent critics as “morons” compared to his own “brilliance,” to his know-it-all nature, to his insensitive “forgiving” of others (and simultaneous failure to ask for forgiveness himself) when he is clearly the one in the wrong. And more, to his haughtiness and arrogance, to his paranoid (i.e., disproportionate to reality) feelings of being loathed and condemned, to his obvious need for undeserved unconditional admiration. And from there to his certainty, from his own misinterpreted experiences, that paranormal phenomena and mystical winds exist—implying the magical ability of his thoughts to influence the world around him. And finally to his unconscionable manipulation and exploitation of others to ensure his own “greatness.”

Completely consistent with that diagnosis, Matthew Dallman (2005a) has independently noted, of Wilber:

I have ... never met a more self-absorbed person....
Any real teacher is someone abundant in their help; in my experience, and according to accounts of several long-time associates, Wilber helps no one unless it serves to help him and his reputation....
It also turned out that what I thought was a think-tank [i.e., the Integral Institute] was, in reality, a company, which went on to produce products like any company would. Those products include self-help DVDs, for-pay websites promising exclusive access to him, as well as expensive seminars and experiential workshops. Essentially, the whole thing is to sell Wilber as well as his model, even if advertised otherwise.

And to what may kw look forward, in his own “psychological development”?

A personality disorder arises only when repeated attacks on the obstacle continue to fail—especially if this recurrent failure happens during the formative stages (0–6 years of age). The contrast between the fantastic world (temporarily) occupied by the individual and the real world in which he keeps being frustrated (the grandiosity gap) is too acute to countenance for long. The dissonance gives rise to the unconscious “decision” to go on living in the world of fantasy, grandiosity and entitlement (Wikipedia, 2006b).

Of course, Wilber is blessed to not have to retreat into complete fantasy in order to live all that out: He has already created the “reality” of the Integral Institute in which to act out his delusions of greatness and entitlement.

Len Oakes wrote an entire book (Prophetic Charisma) on the typically narcissistic personality structure of cult leaders. What we are seeing with kw is just par for the course and would, as Bauwens has noted, have happened eventually even without any “critical” provocation: Wilber was always an “institute” waiting to happen.

On June 22, 2006, in the third installment of his “Wyatt Earp” series of blog postings, Wilber (2006c) gave his best yet still embarrassingly limping arguments, as to why his Integral Institute is supposedly not a cult:

Based on a year-long study ... we arrived at this 3-variable, 8-box grid, which has continued to be highly accurate in spotting and predicting cultic behavior, because it is based, not on making judgments like “it doesn’t allow criticism” (which is meaningless), but rather on several nonjudgmental variables that have been found empirically to be associated with behavior that injures groups and individuals. (This stops people who don’t like a movement from labeling it cultic by coming up with checklists of things they don’t like, which are just tautological.) It was, and is indeed, a landmark publication.
[Actually, a lot has happened over the past twenty years in the cult-studies field and elsewhere; what was (wrongly) regarded as being insightful back then, hasn’t necessarily stood the test of time. Who in the cult-studies field actually uses the ideas in kw’s co-written Spiritual Choices today? No one that I am aware of; I cannot recall even having seen the book cited, and have read it only because it is part of kw’s “canon” of supposedly “landmark” works.]
I am glad to report that both the structure and beliefs of Integral Institute fall in the box (out of 8 boxes) that, in the past, has had the lowest number of cultic behaviors.... There are all sorts of other integral philosophies, integral forums, and arenas where somebody can play if they reject our approach, and I support the existence of those other forums and always have.

Yes, you are welcome to go and “play,” as children do, with some other guru or organization if you cannot take the heat at I-I, or if you are simply too unevolved to understand the Great Work they imagine themselves to be doing. “So long, Failure. You never even existed here.” Ask Matthew Dallman (2005a): “I was the first composer featured on that site, but any reference to me was removed after I resigned from IU.” Plus, kw’s previously reported regard for “arenas” such as the California Institute of Integral Studies as being “cesspools” can hardly be reconciled with his more recent, strategic equanimity.

In any case, I already have a whole chapter in Stripping the Gurus pointedly titled “Spiritual Choices,” debunking the false claims to excellence of Wilber’s book of the same name. Have the “8 boxes” of kw and his co-authors really “continued to be highly accurate in spotting and predicting cultic behavior”? No, they have not. From STG, as published well over a year prior to Wilber’s self-endorsement of Spiritual Choices:

Incredibly, most of the “enlightened” individuals and ashrams included herein would have been considered to fall close to the “safest” of the categories in the typologies of Dick Anthony (1987), et al., via the Spiritual Choices book. That is, nearly all of the spiritual teachers we have met thus far (not including the leaders of the Hare Krishnas, Moonies, or Jim Jones) were:

  • Monistic rather than dualistic—i.e., working toward realizing a state of inherent conscious oneness with all things, as opposed to placing God as inexorably separate from creation and approachable only through a unique savior such as Jesus, with the failure to follow the appropriate savior leading to eternal damnation (exceptions: none)

  • Multilevel—i.e., having a “distinct hierarchy of spiritual authority,” in gnosis versus teachings versus interpretations (unilevel exceptions, which “confuse real and pseudo-transcendence of mundane consciousness,” include Findhorn, Scientology, Rajneesh and TM [notwithstanding that the Maharishi’s teachings themselves are rooted in the Vedas]), and

  • Non-charismatic—i.e., emphasizing techniques of spiritual transformation (e.g., meditation), rather than relying on a personal relationship between disciple and teacher as the means of evolution/enlightenment of the former (exceptions: Ramakrishna, Meher Baba, Neem Karoli Baba, Adi Da, Muktananda, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, Jetsunma, Cohen, and Sai Baba and Chinmoy to lesser degrees)

Trungpa, Satchidananda and Zen Buddhism were all explicitly placed in Anthony’s “safest” category—of “multilevel, technical monism.” In his second-safest grouping (“multilevel, charismatic monism”) we find Meher Baba, Neem Karoli Baba, Muktananda, Chinmoy and Adi Da.

If those are “safe” spiritual leaders and communities, though, one shudders to think what “dangerous” ones might look like. One’s jaw drops further to find that, as late as 2003, Wilber has still been recommending Spiritual Choices to others as a means of distinguishing “safe” groups from potentially “problematic” ones. That such recommendations are coming years after the central thesis (as documented above) of the text has been wholly discredited in practice, is astounding.

Fooled by the arguments of Anthony, et al., I myself had endorsed Spiritual Choices at one point in a previous work. Obviously, however, my opinion of that book and of its authors’ ideas has matured significantly since then. Indeed, by this point I very much regret that previous naïvete on my part, particularly when it is coupled with ideas such as the following, from the same group of “experts”:

[Tom] Robbins and [Dick] Anthony’s own contribution [to In Gods We Trust (1982)] includes a superb introduction—perhaps the best single chapter in the anthology; a complete and devastating critique of the brainwashing model; and an insightful report on the Meher Baba community (Wilber, 1983b).

The relevant meager, twelve-page, utterly simplistic chapter on brainwashing, however, is anything but a “complete” critique, much less a “devastating” one. Whatever one may think of the brainwashing and mind-control debate, how could a five-thousand word treatment of that complex subject possibly be “complete”? Entire books have been written from both sides of the controversy without exhausting it; entire Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication designations exist for the subject! Even if the short paper in question were the greatest ever written, it could not possibly be “complete”!

For myself, I have found the chapter in question to be utterly unimpressive. Indeed, it shows near-zero understanding of the psychological factors influencing one’s “voluntary joining,” and later difficulty in leaving, such environments. There is nothing whatsoever “devastating” about the text, whether one agrees or disagrees with Anthony’s overall perspective.

For a revealing example of Anthony’s own wilber-esque attempts at critiquing other scholars’ ideas, see Zablocki (2001).

Further, it is well-known that destructive cults also form around political and psychological leaders. In those cases, the “important” dichotomies of monistic vs. dualistic, and of multilevel vs. unilevel, are completely absent. That is, Wilber and Anthony’s “matrix” reduces to simply whether the group follows techniques of (political?) transformation, or relies on a personal relationship between follower and leader! So, in any non-spiritual context, their “landmark” contributions there reduce to merely two boxes. One could hardly do better for exhibiting binary, black-or-white thinking.

Thus, even if the matrix worked in terms of reliably evaluating spiritual communities, it would be all-but-useless in any of the other contexts in which one needs to evaluate whether or not a given group is a destructive cult. That should be a glaring indication that the criteria given by Wilber and Anthony for spotting potentially destructive spiritual groups have little relevance indeed to reality.

Plus, in terms of tautologies, we have Wilber using his own past theorizings to “prove” that his current community is okay. But those previous theorizings (by himself and the utterly misled “cult-apologist” Dick Anthony [see Ross, 2003]) were, of course, created from within exactly the same psychological blinders which have produced his current community.

If “it doesn’t allow criticism” is a meaningless criterion for defining what a cult is, then how about “it doesn’t allow persons to make competent, thorough and valid criticisms of its leaders’ teachings or character, which the leaders cannot refute, while still permitting the questioners to remain members in good standing of the community”? That, at any rate, is exactly how one could reasonably describe Wilber’s institute and surroundings.

KW again:

Ordinarily you would tell somebody that their capacity to love is wonderful, something to be nurtured and increased. The more they love, the better. EXCEPT if they love me. If they feel any sort of love for me and say so, then they are a cultic idiot. So apparently if anybody loves me, they are sick.

If, after becoming aware of Meyerhoff’s and my own work (etc.) in exposing Wilber for the manipulative spiritual leader that he is, you still don’t get what kw is up to, well, then yes, I cannot see any other conclusion than that there must be powerful factors in your own psychology blinding you to that reality. And those are indeed some of the same factors which get people into, and life-long stuck in, even the worst recognized cults.

And if, after having had it demonstrated to you that a person’s “philosophy” cannot manage to be self-consistent even in the midst of its gross and inexcusable violations of truth, you still continue to accept that worldview as being valid ... well, in any non-spiritual field of knowledge you certainly would not be regarded as thinking clearly or competently.

Nevertheless, those of us who have been through cults ourselves don’t generally refer to other people, who in the absence of proper debunking of their leaders may simply be as gullible as we once were, as being “cultic idiots.” (In the cult-studies field, with its emphasis on coercive persuasive, a.k.a. “brainwashing,” they would never refer to followers in that way.) I have indeed used the phrase “integral idiots” to describe followers of Wilber who go out intent on teaching (or censoring) me, for example, without having first done their homework; I have even referred to the same people as “dumb FOKs” (Fans of Ken). But that is very different from viewing anyone as being a “cultic idiot” simply for “loving” Wilber.

If you can love a raging narcissist, who by all believable reports will “love” you back only so long as you are useful to him, more power to you. But even then, don’t get fooled by his “theories,” because as soon as you go back to primary sources to verify their supporting claims, it all falls apart, and the manipulations of their author become obvious for anyone with eyes to see.

Far too many of the individuals fawningly expressing their “love” for kw in the wake of his “Wyatt Earpy” bloggings were, I think, not merely “loving the sinner” but also “loving the sin.” That is, lapping up the clear manipulation in which Wilber was overtly indulging, and correspondingly being utterly unwilling or unable to evaluate that critically and see it for what it really is.

As anyone familiar with Wilber’s work knows, the context in which such needy “love” is expressed matters immensely; kw “skillfully” omits that fact from his above “analysis.” The problem is not that his followers “love” him and openly express that sentiment in spite of his glaring character flaws and the near-worthlessness of his “theories.” Rather, the worrisome thing is how they feel the need to gushingly express how they were moved to tears by his great and “compassionate” teaching methods in the very midst of being blatantly manipulated, with that unsettling reaction being presented as proof of their own “second-tier,” “saved” status in the unquestioning community. And yes, when “love” is expressed in that context it is indeed disturbingly cultic.

All of that is a far cry from Wilber’s simplistic, sadly controlling and narcissistically paranoid framing of the issue as being “if anybody loves me, they are sick.” But then, kw didn’t get to where he is today by paying attention to nuances.

[Wilber] may have footnotes galore, but he is no scholar. He is a speculator who co-opts the insights of others.... He is the parasite, not his critics, and not the thinkers/scholars whose shoulders he wants to stand on. As demonstrated by this [“Wyatt Earpy”] “essay,” this man’s ideas are sick, his intentions laughably irrelevant. Seeing some of his endorsed defenders in their ghastly display of non-thinking, it is clear that he infects the thoughts and words of others like a virus ... baldly embodying all that he criticizes in others (Dallman, 2006).

Sad, but very true. Or, as Meyerhoff (2006c) noted:

The way I see it, my critique and that of others has left so little of Wilber’s integral synthesis standing that he has to devise ways to avoid responding to them in order to fool his followers, and probably himself, into thinking that his system is the best integration of contemporary knowledge available. Wilber’s techniques of avoidance are long and getting longer....
My conclusion is that the emperor has few clothes. The cowboy is circling the wagons to better defend an untenable position. He’s been exposed and can’t confront it nor admit it, and so he avoids critical engagement through an array of diversions.

But then, we could have anticipated no small part of all that simply from Wilber’s longstanding, gross misrepresentations of the positions of even his mildest critics, as in Rothberg and Kelly’s aforementioned (1998) Ken Wilber in Dialogue.

First, Michael Washburn:

Wilber’s exposition of my ideas in his response is marred by egregious misrepresentations....
Wilber formulates my view backwards ... [and] attributes his own metaphysical assumptions to me.

Then, Stanislav Grof:

[S]ome of the concepts or statements that Ken attributes to me and criticizes me for, have not been part of any stage of my intellectual evolution.

And finally, Peggy Wright:

I have found Wilber’s presentation [in SES] in the area of human evolution and development to be at odds with a number of sources that are listed in his bibliography....

So, the pattern has always been there, in terms of Wilber’s despicably unprofessional methods of responding to even his most overly respectful critics. It has been there, too, in his egregious misrepresentations of the ideas of his sources, being always twisted only as to support his own position.


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