Integral and the Myth of Progress


One of the alternative news sites I regularly visit is called ZeroHedge. It is geared toward an audience of financial gamblers, that is brokers, Wall Street financiers, bankers and other people who make obscene profits, essentially by leveraging other people’s money without adding any goods, services or creative contributions to society.[1] Made up of highly intelligent, motivated and competitive people, I call them the “parasitic class” because they essentially make a living off the societal contributions of others. I like reading the comments section at ZeroHedge to get a feeling for just how unhinged so many very smart people in our society can be and to see if any of them are “getting it.” I can tell you that at least a few of them are, indeed, waking up.

One of them is Mike Krieger, whose articles at his site, Liberty blitzkrieg blog, are often cross-posted at ZeroHedge and sometimes picked up by, an alternative news compilation site I regularly visit. Krieger’s background is as a commodities analyst and running a “family investment office,” so he is a card-carrying member of this financial menagerie, meaning he carries street cred with the other mongrels in this pack. Since Americans tend to be infatuated with people with wealth, status and power, I figured he might, through an article he authored, get Integral some air time in the financial community. He has indeed, and he is to be thanked for it.

In the spring of 2017 I ran across an article of Krieger’s on ZeroHedge that surprised me.[2] Krieger had read Ken Wilber’s essay, Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction, (Feb. 2017) and was favorably impressed, almost infatuated, judging by his rhapsodic tone. Here he was on ZeroHedge, extolling the virtues of Wilber’s analysis to fellow financiers! I thought this was excellent, because cognitive multi-perspectivalism is something everyone needs for a mutitude of rather obvious reasons.[3]

I have recently come across another post by Krieger, Americans are Rapidly Descending into Madness.[4] Krieger’s diagnosis of the problem of our times is good; it’s the solution Krieger offers that sticks in my craw and that this post is about. I was going to write Krieger, but then I realized that his perspective is wide-spread and that I needed to address my remarks to a broader audience.

First, his diagnosis, which I agree with:

“People are rapidly morphing into radicalized mental patients.”

“…this environment is providing a backdrop for the most destructive people of my lifetime – neoconservatives and neoliberals – to preen around on corporate media as the “voices of reason.”

“…if we really want to deal with our very real and very systemic problems, the last thing we need is a population-level mental breakdown that leads to a longing for the criminally destructive political status quo, yet that’s exactly what seems to be happening.”

Krieger then proceeds to sing the praises of Wilber’s solution:

“…Wilber thinks 10% is a key tipping point. In other words, if we can get 10% of the population to center around a yellow second-tier level of thought, which consists of a momentous leap in consciousness, the entire world will change for the better. I agree.”

While Krieger also suggests sensible actions, such as the decentralization of power into local initiatives such as community farming and food production, I am writing to take issue with his central thesis, which echoes that of Wilber:

“It’s imperative that we vigilantly guard our wisdom and consciousness, because the best solutions will only come from a place of spiritual and mental health. If you descend into the gutter with everyone else, your output will also end up looking like trash. That’s the last thing we need.”

What I hear Krieger and Wilber doing is favoring the interior quadrants, which is something that I discuss at length in Healing Integral, while de-emphasizing ethical behavior, accountability and transparency in the external quadrants. Krieger is also imagining the solution lies in separating the sheep, who understand Integral AQAL, from the goats, the poor, unwashed deplorables who have yet to receive the light of True Knowledge. This is what I call the “Myth of Progress.” The idea is that if we just expand our consciousness enough we will evolve ourselves out of the mess we have created of our world. If you don’t or won’t, you don’t deserve our respect, because you aren’t our peers in the elitist realm of cognitive multi-perspectivalism, but you do deserve our compassion because, after all, you’re lost and deplorable.

We should know by now that the Myth of Progress is not only patently false; it generates exceptionalism and elitism that simply creates greater personal and societal imbalances, leading to greater, more profound and deadly “legitimation crises.” I don’t know why intelligent people like Wilber and Krieger and the Integral community as a whole keep getting sucked into this ancient mythology. The Myth of Progress is a version of the psychology of eschatology, which in its negative incarnation manifests as the history of the apocalypse: people proclaiming the end of the world, getting others to sell, give away or donate all they have, climb up onto mountains or dig graves, put on grave clothes, and climb down into their own graves at the appointed hour. The first accounts of this Chicken Little catastrophizing are found at the beginning of written history, with the Sumerians. If there is any persistent collective psychopathology which can be found world-wide, this is it. For an amusing and impressive romp through a profoundly embarrassing history of human stupidity, I recommend A Brief History of the Apocalypse.[5]

In its positive incarnation, as the Myth of Progress, we have the history of utopias, the promise of Lands of Milk and Honey; of justly-ruled Republics; universal love and peace, provided by colonialist and exceptionalistic Christians, Moslems and Jewish elites, chosen by God to rule; transformative democracy, liberty and justice administered by the generous imposition of Western imperialism by the US, NATO and the EU; national financial salvation via IMF administered regimens of austerity provided by friendly financial exploiters, up to and including Integral 2nd Tier wonderfulness, if we only embrace the Integral vision of our true nobility.[6]

I do not have a problem with the cognitive multi-perspectival map paintakingly and thoroughly laid out by Wilber in more than twenty books over five decades; it is the confusion by Krieger, Wilber and most spiritual elites of the map with the territory that I take issue with.[7] We buy the promise of the map, thinking that it will enable us to walk the territory. Because we understand a worldcentric morality we assume we embody a worldcentric morality. This is the Myth of Progess. We are drinking ancient, stale and toxic Kool-Aid.

It is the same mistake Greeks, Romans, Armenians and others made when they listened to Paul, or Saul of Tarsus; it is the same mistake Jews made when they listened to Theodor Herzl, Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Sharon, Netanyahu and other supporters of Zionism, telling them God gave them the right to poison people’s wells, steal their land, run them off, murder them, and lock them up in ghettos and concentration camps, not for years, as the Nazis did to Jews, but for decades. It’s the same mistake Western liberals make when they buy promises of hope and identity politics while looking the other way as international laws are broken and their Constitutional rights gutted. “Just vote one last time for this sell-out pathetic excuse of a human being we offer you as a champion of human rights, and we promise you that next time we will deliver you justice, freedom, a 2nd Tier candidate, or whatever else you need to hear from us to get you to give us just a little more time to suck the rest of the life out of the middle and lower classes.” The Myth of Progess: snake oil for the masses.

The historical record is that there is no causal connection between buying some map of salvation and salvation itself; if you want “salvation” for yourself, your family, your community, your society, you have to meet objective, exterior quadrant standards of behavior, accountability and transparency regardless of what map you are reading. This is integral ethics. If you meet universal social standards of behavior, accountability and transparency, it doesn’t matter if you worship Jack the Ripper, Hitler or know Lucifer as your savior. It doesn’t matter if you are 2nd Tier yellow or merely a tribalistic, ethnocentric deplorable follower of Donald Trump. What matters are objective, measurable criteria of trustworthiness: Will I lie to you? Will I steal from you? Will I undercut you behind your back? Will I abuse you? Will I kill you? Will I listen to you and demonstrate that I hear you, even if I don’t agree with you?

These are the sorts of practical considerations we all care about; if we don’t, we are either naive or self-destructive. If these criteria are answered, we not only gain but deserve respect, regardless of our level of development, age, religion, race, ideology or mental state. We can be flat-out crazy, but if we meet these objective criteria of trustworthiness, we gain respect, and we deserve it. On the other hand, if we advocate 2nd Tier wonderfulness and do not meet these objective criteria, why should we expect anyone to trust us? Why should we expect anyone to respect us?

The reverse is even more true: Why in the world do we continue to drink the Kool-Aid? This is not something we can lay at the doorstep of Wilber, Democratic politicians or spiritual elites, but on our own. If we choose to trust those who have not only not demonstrated their trustworthiness but have demonstrated their untrustworthiness, whose problem is that? Whose responsibility is that? What level of maturity are we actually expressing? Are there any readers out there that really want to imagine that such misplaced trust ethically represents something late personal “green” or higher?

As I argue in Healing Integral, such ethical elitism and exceptionalism indicates a mid-prepersonal morality, nothing higher, because emotional irrationality is overwhelming not only rationality but late prepersonal self-interest in a profound and fundamental way.

Where is the evidence that grasping 2nd Tier integral cognitive multi-perspectivalism is correlated with ethical behavior? Yes, you can correlate it with moral intent and judgment, but behavior? Where? When? How? What? Where is the evidence that Integralists are more ethical than non-integralists? The reasons for this painfully obvious cognitive dissonance that has led to our present “legitimation crisis” and “evolutionary self-correction” are explained in depth in Healing Integral.

Whether or not you and I grasp AQAL and cognitive multi-perspectivalism has proven itself to be largely inconsequential, when measured in the context of the over-all evolution of society, as we watch committed integralists vote for Hillary Clinton, support neo-liberalism and globalism, demean Trump supporters as “deplorables,” imagine that the hope and change promised by the likes of Obama, Sanders or Warren is going to represent a break from the violation of international law, the criminal disregard of the Constitution, or support the vampire squid embrace of AIPAC on the American political system.

This is not an argument to throw out Integral AQAL. I have embraced it since the 1980’s and use “Integral” in the name of my own life work. I am an admirer of Wilber and AQAL. However, I am not an admirer of the Myth of Progress, and its latest incarnation in Wilber’s 2nd Tier prescription for the  current “legitmation crisis” is a contemporary verion of eschatology, a bait-and-switch switch from social responsibility to the idealism of consciousness expansion.[8]

Here is one powerful example I cite in Healing Integral. Most authorities, including Wilber, agree that Japanese Zen Buddhism teaches a form of meditation that is causal and accesses the non-dual. It is rather difficult to promise access to a higher, clearer state of consciousness, since none exists, unless you want to start talking about parinirvanas. Japanese Zen Buddhist meditators have a non-dual practice, which is 3rd Tier, that is, quite a way beyond the 2nd Tier utopia Wilber promises if only 10% of us learn Integral AQAL and grasp cognitive multi-perspectivalism.

However, the history of Zen Buddhism during World War II demonstrates that there is no correlation between access to non-dual states in meditation, that is, accessing 3rd Tier, much less 2nd Tier consciousness, and ethical action, as these meditating monks picked up arms and fought in service to a fascist, colonialist, murdering regime that committed well-documented war crimes. The rationalization that they didn’t know will not serve; what is true is that killing and other abominations were justified by service to the Emperor. We have the writings of Zen monks from the time that substantiate it.[9]

This is where Krieger is doing a disservice to his financial-class audience and where Wilber is doing a disservice to the “spiritual elite.” They are validating a strategy that has an ancient history of failure, and that is the conflating of cognitive maps and consciousness, on the one hand, with territories and accountability, on the other. Just as non-dual meditation does not predict ethical action, so Kohlber’s hierarchy of moral judgment, adopted by Wilber, does not predict ethical action. Progress in moral judgment does not indicate progress in objectively measured moral action, as the Myth of Progress implies.

What you and I, spiritual and financial elites alike, need is less emphasis on expansions of consciousness; we have had enough of that already, from flower power, psychedelic salvation, shamanism, brain-wave machines, lucid dreaming, yoga and meditation retreats. By all means, continue to expand your consciousness! Avail yourself of all the incredible tools that are out there and are multiplying at an astounding rate. However, what we need is not a greater imbalance between intention and cognition, on the one hand, and credibility in the external quadrants, as determined by others. What we need is to make ourselves increasingly accountable and transparent to each other in our everyday lives.

This means we need to keep our word and our commitments; to conform to social standards of conduct instead of pretending that because we have superior knowledge that we are exceptions to group norms; to ask people how they want to be treated and honor their preferences instead of imposing our own; to realize we are only as sick as our secrets and make our lives an open book, while demanding the same of our government officials, elected representatives and guardians of the public purse. We need to stop blaming other people, knowing that, as James Baldwin said, “Whoever debases others is debasing themselves.” This is founded on the principle that as we treat others we are treating those aspects of ourselves that they personify. If we abuse others, we are inevitably abusing ourselves. This includes lying, cheating, stealing and killing not only on both personal and governmental levels, but intrapersonally, that is, to outgrow our addictions and our various forms of self-abuse.

None of the depredations that are undercutting democracy and human rights are going to stop because we learn Integral AQAL and attain 2nd Tier, just as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Western democracy and capitalism have not lived up to their promise to end man’s inhumanity to man. Atrocities will end when we ourselves set a personal example of responsible, accountable, and transparent action and living. This is not only integral ethics; it is ancient common sense.

So please, Krieger, Wilber, Integralists, spiritual elites: we all, beginning with myself, need to stop calling for even greater imbalance by encouraging advancement to 2nd Tier. It’s time to de-emphasize consciousness and focus on accountability in the exterior quadrants. Generating elitist, exceptionalist delusions and over-emphasis on consciousness, as represented by the Myth of Progress, is killing not only ourselves, but civilization as a whole and the living systems upon which humanity depends for its survival.

[1] Arguably, the last concrete improvement to society provided by the financial sector was the advent of the automated teller in 1967.

[2] Krieger, M., Why Increased Consciousness is the Only Path Forward, Liberty Blitzkrieg, Feb 10. 2017.

[3] Cognitive multi-perspectivalism is not experiential multi-perspectivalism, which transcends and includes cognitive multi-perspectivalism. Cognitive multi-perspectivalism is grasping of a multi-perspectival map, like AQAL; experiential multi-perspectivalism is a yoga, a meta-integral life practice that actually identifies with multiple other perspectives instead of simply grasping them cognitively. One example of experiential multi-perspectivalism is Integral Deep Listening, which is discussed in Healing Integral and at IntegralDeepListening.Com and DreamYoga.Com.

[4] Krieger, M., Americans are Rapidly Descending Into Madness, Liberty Blitzkrieg blog, Aug 16, 2017.

[5] A Brief History of the Apocalypse,

[6] The great scholar of comparative religion, Mircea Eliade, in his The Myth of the Eternal Return (1971), compares cyclical and linear time, sacred and historical time. In a sense, my argument resonates with his, but instead of a return to a mythical, original time, it urges the return to first ethical and moral principles, with the common thread that to do so generates an authentic sense of the sacred, because time and behavior are both thereby grounded in actuality and authenticity instead of a cognitive line that has far outrun the other three, generating not only massive imbalances but what Eliade calls, “The Terror of History.”

[7] However, as explained in Healing Integral, I see Integral AQAL as applying to left quadrant intention and cognitive development but in no way an accurate representation of development in the exterior quadrants, because of the overwhelming power of societal holons in which we are embedded. These generate groupthink and collective norms which at present maintain the center of human civilizational gravity firmly at mid-prepersonal. Because we must tetra-mesh, we cannot ignore the reality of the groundedness of our moral and empathetic lines in prevailing societal groupthink. Our holons are not independent of the contextual societal ones in which they are enmeshed; they are interdependent, which means that our individual development is dependent upon and limited by the altitude of the social holons in which it is enmeshed. We can avoid or ignore this reality by escaping into monasteries or other sub-societal holons that ignore or minimize contextual social holons, but we cannot escape them. For example, see the history of the destruction of Indian Buddhism by Mogul invasions. When we evaluate our level of development by our lagging or fixated core lines, ethics and empathy, the necessary conclusion is that we are yet to tetra-mesh to late prepersonal.

[8] There is, however, an important distinction between the Myth of Progress and progress itself. While the Myth of Progress is an idealistic, utopian fantasy that promises the carrot to the donkey as it dangles in front of its nose, progress itself is an inexorable mandate of life. Negentropy is as genuine and valid as entropy and synthesis; that is, dialectical advance to higher stages is as real as antithesis, or “evolutionary self-corrections.” But our ability to recognize, support and participate in authentic progress is not helped by belief in the Myth of Progress; on the contrary, the embrace of this delusion makes genuine progress less likely by defeating the balance between the internal and external quadrants that is required to progress to our next highest level of development.

[9] “Author and Zen priest Brian Victoria has written extensively on the role that Buddhism played in supporting the Japanese Imperial Empire before and during World War II. In Zen at War and Zen War Stories, he chronicles the little known and disturbing history of renowned university professors, Zen masters, and lay monks of many different sects who gladly assisted their nation in waging multiple ‘wars of compassion.’ The Japanese Emperor was compared to the Buddha, and Buddhist teachings became an excellent tool to eradicate individualism and dissolve the “small-self” into the larger nation-state. Hitler was jealous: ‘Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good?’

“One of the many people Victoria profiles is Zen master Yasutani Haku’un. Yasutani was the teacher of prominent American Buddhist Phillip Kapleau, author of the now classic Three Pillars of Zen. While he received high praise from the likes of Huston Smith and delivered talks in the U.S., there is another side of him that went untold until relatively recently.”

“Although Yasutani’s influence on American Buddhism is widely revered, Victoria refers to him as a ‘militarist, not to mention ethnic chauvinist, sexist, and anti-Semite.’ On the question of Buddhism and killing, Yasutani was unequivocal:

‘Those who understand the spirit of the Mahayana precepts should be able to answer this question immediately. That is to say, of course one should kill, killing as many as possible. One should, fighting hard, kill everyone in the enemy army. The reason for this is that in order to carry [Buddhist] compassion and filial obedience through to perfection it is necessary to assist good and punish evil . . . This is the special characteristic of the Mahayana precepts.’

“At the time, Japan was engaged in a cruel war of imperial expansion. This received full support from Yasutani, who stated: ‘In making China cede the island of Taiwan, and, further, in annexing the Korean peninsula, our Great Japanese Imperial Empire engaged in the practice of a great bodhisattva, a practice that reveals itself through compassion and filial obedience.’ Yasutani also warned of the demonic ways of the Jews, dismantled liberal reforms, and reiterated sexist statements. He insisted that ‘the universities we presently have must be smashed one and all,’ and referred to trades unions and alternative political parties as ‘traitors to the nation.’

“Sadly, Yasutani was not a marginal voice. Rather, he was emblematic of how institutional Buddhism wholeheartedly embraced the worst aspects of Japanese imperialism.

Sawaki Kodo, ‘one of Japan’s best known modern Soto Zen masters and scholars,’ was a similarly staunch supporter of the unity of Zen and war. ‘My comrades and I gorged ourselves on killing people,’ he testified. ‘Especially at the battle of Baolisi temple, I chased our enemies into a hole where I was able to pick them off very efficiently. Because of this, my company commander requested that I be given a letter of commendation.’ Another Zen Master, Yamada Reirin, explained how Buddhism shaped his love for the state:

‘Wherever the imperial military advances there is only charity and love. They could never act in the barbarous and cruel way in which the Chinese soldiers act. This can truly be considered to be a great accomplishment of the long period which Buddhism took in nurturing [the Japanese military].’ In other words, brutality itself no longer exists in the officers and men of the imperial military who have been schooled in the spirit of Buddhism.

“Buddhist monks and leaders taught Zazen (sitting meditation) to “discover, through a thorough-going examination of the self, the origin of the power which enabled them, in their various work capacities, to serve the emperor.” This, they believed, would allow them to “realize infinite power.” When the tide turned against the Japanese, Zen priests abandoned this ‘thought war’ and took positions in factories producing military goods.”

“Books were also written to defend the Japanese empire. In The Buddhist View of War (1937), Komazawa University Professor Hayashiya Tomojiro argued that the Japanese aggression should be seen as ‘wars of compassion.’ Stating his strong support for the war effort, Tomojiro insisted that Japanese Buddhists would ‘as part of our self-sacrificial public duty . . . work for the spiritual general mobilization of the people.’ The aim of the war, he claimed, was to ‘save sentient beings and guide them properly.’

“While these examples are disturbing in their own right, this pairing of Buddhism and war isn’t confined to the Japanese Empire. The edited volume Buddhist Warfare (2010), clearly illustrates how Buddhism has been used to justify violence throughout its history. In a review of the book, Vladimir Tikhonov notes that: ‘From its inception, Buddhism was integrated into a complicated web of power relations; it always attempted to accommodate itself with the pre-existent power hierarchies while preserving a degree of internal autonomy; and it inevitably came to acknowledge, willingly or otherwise, that the powers-that-be use violence to achieve their objectives, which often overlap with those of the Buddhist monastic community.’” Scofield, B., 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice (Kleio Press, 2012.) The question integralists need to ask themselves is, “If Integral AQAL were to be adopted as the “state belief system” of the US or the West, or any country, for that matter, why and how do they believe it would escape a similar fate?

Posted in Cultural Dreams, Fables and Cultural Myths

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *