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Wilber's dislike of the Ecospiritual Movement

I will begin this page by saying that while I do not know whether Wilber loves Nature as much as I do, I am sure that he has a great love of Nature. This being so, it is strange that he should attack those who argue philosophically for the values of Nature in its own right, and those who work in the activist movement against the current ecocide. But, with his "Mean Green Meme", this is what he certainly seems to be doing.

Of course it may simply be a matter of those who have a lot in common regarding their approach and worldview disagreeing among themselves more than those who have more differences. I critique Ken a lot because I agree with a lot of what he is saying (we are both Integralists after all). Wilber critiques eco-philosophers and the Green movement because he agrees with a lot of what they are saying? Maybe?

Well, maybe not.

The following passage from A Brief History of Everything (where the eco-movement is identified with the "Descenders", as opposed to the mystic other-worldly "Ascenders") shows that either Ken, although sincere, completely misunderstands the ecological movement (the way he misunderstands Darwinism, or Sri Aurobindo, perhaps), or he does understand them but is deliberately misrepresenting them.

"The Descending path...reminds us that Spirit can be joyously found in body, sex, Earth, life, vitality, and diversity"

(so far so good...)

"But the Descending path in and by itself, has its own limitations. If there is no transcendence at all, then there is no way to rise above the merely sensory; no way to to find a deeper, wider, higher connection between us and all sentient beings."

This seems a strange statement, since eco-spirituality is by its very nature concerned with precisely this unity of all beings and all life (for example the external link Council of All Beings which, while coming from a physicalist (or perhaps pantheistic) framework, involves concepts and practices for the very purpose of establishing, in Wilber's phrase, "a deeper, wider, higher connection between us and all sentient beings."

Now, if Wilber wants to criticise the pantheistic or physicalistic paradigm, fair enough, but he should criticise people and movements for what they represent, not for the opposite of what they represent.

Ironically Wilber himself, by rejecting the metaphysical "Great Chain of Being" described by Huston Smith and the Perenniual Philosophy, in favour of a "post-metaphysical" Great Nest of Being bound to the physical, is himself guilty of the very attitude he accuses the eco-movement of.

To continue

Q. You call the merely Descended world "flatland"

KW Flatland, yes...this superficial world of drab and dreary surfaces...

When I was involved in the Alternative movements (Greenies all, and "Descenders" (secularists) mostly) I noticed a universally held spiritual awareness, a sincerity, a sense of compassion and sensitivity to all beings, and a receptivity and openness to various spiritual paths. I never encountered a single reductionist physicalist among them, never a single "flatlander". In fact they were as opposed to "flatland" materialism as they were to the exoteric literalist patriarchal "Ascender" religions. Interestingly vipassana, an "ascender" practice, tended to be popular, so much for Wilber's simplistic classification.

Wilber then makes the following statement:

"Whether with capitalism or Marxism, industrialism or ecopsychology, patriarchal science or ecofeminism - in most cases, our God, our Goddess, is one we can register with our senses, see with our eyes, wrap with feelings, worship with sensations..."

I'm sure that many pagans would be quite surprised by that assertion! This lumping together of disparate types under a single catch-all category is not unlike the Creationist Fundamentalist association of Darwinism, atheism, rock music, occultism, roleplaying games, the New Age, homosexuality, etc. A number of completely unrelated things are all lumped together for polemical purposes, painting the world in black and white.

In any case, Wilber's dislike Ecospirituality is well-known; in fact he shocked a lot of people when he came out with an anti-eco position in Amazon com Sex, Ecology, Spirituality This position was reiterated in Amazon com A Brief History of Everything, where I first read it (and in reply to which I provide the above refutation), and I was very surprised too. I can only assume that this stems from the much publicised feud between Wilber and some academics at the California Institute of Integral Studies (see Ken Wilber critics - scroll down to de Quincey and McDermott). But just because some eco-feminists may be physicalists (and I wouldn't know, not being familar with the subject), that does not mean that eco-spirituality as a whole is the same as materialism (and this is something I do know). The problem may be that Wilber does not get out of his ivory tower to meet real people. Given external link a chronic illness which causes him serious physical incapacity and thus would make travel a problem, I certainly do not condemn him for this, but one would think he should make all the more attempt to understand what he is writing about, rather than make absolute statements reducing ecospirituality to materialism, on the basis of handful of academic texts that no-one in the grass-roots hippy / alternative and neopagan movements would ever have heard of (and this, mind you, is even assuming he understands those academic texts right - see comments on specialised knowledge - maybe he does, maybe he doesnt.) Ironically, although he bemoans his critics external link for not understanding him (and fair enough, maybe they don't!) he seems to similarily not understand those he criticioses, as his interpretation of eco-spirituality shows.

But ultimately, Wilber's confusion of ecospirituality and materialism seems to be based on the one-dimensional linear and rigidly inflexible nature of his philosophy. For Wilber, everything has to strictly pass through the same sequence of stages. No amount of waves and streams and lines of separate evolution change this simple fact. The result is a pre-trans reductionism according to which anything that smacks of nature mysticism has to be automatically regressive, because (in this worldview) it precedes modernist thinking and eastern (especially advaitin-zen-Daist) philosophy.

This brings us to the Wilber-Beck "Mean Green Meme" concept - or Mean Green Meme meme :-) - or MGM for short (an anagram that suggests confusion with a movie studio). This sees those who hold to Green values and ecophilosophy and ecospirituality as dangerously misguided, and perhaps the most serious obstacle to the evolution of society and the collective consciousness to a more progressive level. In other words, all those who subscribe to values of care for the environment, sustainable lifestyles, alternative technology, and so on; all of which one would surely think are an essential part of any viable New Civilization, are dangerous reactionaries who must be shown the error of their ways. Being Green they are inferior to the Yellow and Aqua typologies in the Wilber-Beck Spiral Dynamics model; in other words they are still on the "Lower Tier" and have not risen to the required higher level of thinking and understanding and acting in the world necessary for true social transformation.

It seems however that this whole divisive attitude originally derives from a rhetorical strategy by Wilber and external link Don Beck. On the surface it seems like a misguided attempt to drag the ignorant and deluded Greens kicking and screaming in the 21st century. Ray Harris has powerfully argued (in his essay external link Left, Right or just plain wrong? - Politics in the integral movement) that it can be taken as an attack by the dominant Orange and Blue on the nascent Green progressiveness. The Wilber-Beck MGM methodology and approach has also been external link critiqued by Matthias Larsen (essay reproduced in P/I: Pluralities/Integration no.63). And it is interesting to note that external link Chris Cowan, the former colleague of Don Beck, has since broken from Beck and external link is very critical of Wilber's use of the Spiral Dynamics Model developed by external link Clare W. Graves. See also Michel Bauwens critique of the Wilber-Beck SD-Integral movement.

My own explanation for Wilber's anti-eco-movement (MGM = anti-Green) attitude is that this comes from a Rationalistic Bias that is inherent in Wilber's teachings. Such a bias, and indeed the whole adversorial anti-ecophilosophy approach of Wilberian Integralism, argues that this is not yet a truly integral philosophy, despite its claim to the contrary. Because integral by its very nature means including and embracing everything, not attacking and rejecting those worldviews, perspectives, understandings, and paradigms that do not fit with one's own preferred understanding.

It remains to be seen whether this bias will be corrected, but it is hoped that future developments of Wilberian thought will be able to embrace the intuitive, the eco-philosophical, and the alternative, in a constructive manner.


Web links Links Web links

on-line document Ken Wilber's Critique of Deep Ecology and Nature Religion: A Response - Gus diZerega

on-line document Ken Wilber's Critique of Ecological Spirituality - Michael E. Zimmerman. (pro-Wilber but takes issue on this point)

on-line document Transcending this Poor Earth - la Ken Wilber - Stan Rowe - from The Trumpeter (2001). Zimmerman and Esbjorn-Hargens would dedicate a disproportionate part of their book Integral Ecology to replying to Rowe.


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original content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 15 June 2004, last modified 10 July 2006 (and 2 August 2009 - menus)