Of Pandits and Bandits:  A Meanderin' Ride in Ken Wilber's Wild West 

     Boy howdy, word-slinger Ken Wilber got a nasty burr under his Integral saddle a few weeks ago, so he reared up on his high horse and bucked up a big cloud of dirt. In the rant posted on 8 June, Ken identifies himself with iconic old west figure Wyatt Earp - gambler, saloon keeper, occasional law man, gold miner, and character in tall Hollywood tales. He struts and self-congratulates on his intellectual quick draw (no surprise there) while kicking out at critics that have riled him lately. (They – real or contrived - just don’t get it, of course: "Tier-challenged, poor ole' thangs.") This time we were included on his hit list by name – sort of – and tacked up via an UnWanted poster next to others accused being enemies of the Integral people: "No Reward!" Oh, the shame of it; charged with ruffling the feathers of the fearless leader, and with raising uncomfortable questions and bucking the Integral neo-establishment, then missing the stage coach after bein' warned to git out of town, or else. Does an Integral lynching follow? Integral shunning? Integral tar and feathers 'fer bein’ agin' the herd mentality that's caught up some of these folk? 

      Briefly taking off his deputy marshal's badge to play act the role of Judge Roy Bean instead, Ken rules on our “professional writing” in his blog entry thusly: “…anger laces every word, acidly, unrelentingly, eating away at the reader, as it surely must its author.” Whoa doggie – must’ve chewed on that one for a while to get it so smooth and melodious - like a fine Kentucky bourbon rollin’ softly across the tongue, only to be wasted in an online spittoon. So if, gentle rider, you’re nervous about getting snake-bit by the venom dripping off every word to come, you’d best unsaddle your pony right now, pat her down, put her in her stall, give her some oats, and head back to the bunk house to practice singin' "Me & My Shadow" with yer guitar. Otherwise, it's head 'em up, move 'em out in kind to Wilber's Wild, Wild West – unrelentingly, acidically - so wear good reliable boots. [For a discussion of this episode as related to SD for the consideration of students of the model and theory, click here.]

A really big show
     Pardner, we don’t have a clue who or what triggered this strange display of horsiness on Ken’s part – we’re way out of their Integral loop and don't follow his trail, though we cross it now and then. Sure looks to us like he’s done a danged good job of shootin' himself in the foot with this High Noon demonstration of buck-naked petulance, though. The leader o' the Integral Institute's pack is callin’ out critics like an over-stimulated pistolero hankerin’ for a show-down at the I’m OK, You’re Not-OK Corral. "Toss one more criticism up in the air - I dare you - so I can shoot a hole through it with footnotes," yelled the not-so-peaceful warrior. More in line with Kenny-the-Kid behavior or a poor man's Blazing Saddles than a pandit or polemicist. 

      To read the Integral sheriff’s words for yourself, just mosey on over to http://www.kenwilber.com/blog/show/46 and have a gander at the show he puts on. There's ropin’ and dancin’, hootin' and hollerin' with all manner of yippee-kay-yay foolishness in this carnival. Yes, folks, there's hee-haw generalizations set up on a rail to be picked off like empty bottles at a turkey shoot. All that - and more! - psychoanalysis and bare naked bits full of piss and vinegar not printable in a family newspaper, nor fit for Buffalo Bill to boot. Then a whole pack of trained coyotes comes out yippin' in Integral Newspeak about how it's all second, maybe third tier brilliance, and that ambushin' critics and (former?) friends in the box canyon of his own blog somehow took real guts and was way past due: "You go, Marshal. Clean up Wichita once and for all!" 

There's bound to be a plan, somewhere

     Why somebody who claims to be doing so well with such a crowd of devout followers and lots of backing would get down and dirty wallerin' in the middle of Main Street like this is beyond us – sort a’ like stompin’ on your own hat. [Punch line of an old joke that might fit: "The difference is the pig enjoys it."] But we simply haven’t been able to cipher out the shenanigans over in this patch of Integral territory for years; maybe we're too simple. Despite the attempted homage to Wyatt Earp - actually a very complicated character - the quick-draw repartee is unusually sluggish in Wilber's fightin' words, what with all the narcissistic whining mixed with mad dog snarls. If the slow-draw word play was supposed to be clever westernized wit and some post-post-modern tongue-in-cheekiness to slap critics around with linguistic swagger, seems like the old tongue lost its wag and somebody’s trippin’ on his spurs – or just wildly shootin’ blanks. The coyotes would disagree, of course: "Why, this puts - yip, yip, yip - Sam Clemens to shame. Sheer genius. Simple."

Hangin' more critics up to dry?
     When this piece was forwarded to us as an FYI after it first appeared online (telegraph office must’ve been closed so it took a while), we were plain buffaloed to find ourselves included among critics worth almost-naming by Wilber. Whoa, doggie and aw, shucks! Made it onto a second Integral enemies list, what with our poison quill and dripping anger. “Come on – let’s smash the printin’ press and run that mean-green liber’l editor outta’ this here town fer good!” yelled a loud mouth in the mob as they waved their flaming torches in front of the Dodge City newspaper office. “Free speech is only for believers in the cause!” Adjusting a green eye shade and turning up the kerosene lamp a notch, the type setter continued picking sorts out of the case and placing the wooden letters into the frame for the developing front page headline – “MARSHAL BUSHWHACKED – Mud Slung Back by Critics.” The flickering light of the oil-soaked clubs danced through the windows ominously as the shadow of an Integral noose played across the pressed tin ceiling. Thunk – a well-worn W two inches high obediently dropped into place in the line of type as the compositor reached for the next letter. 

     Over at the jail, the marshal contemplated karmic consequences while he played with the pistol in his pocket. “Just glad to see me?” crooned Miss Lillie Langtry, a diaphanous musical vision wafting through his imaginings as she had preoccupied Judge Bean’s. The raving beauty with the flower in her hair went quiet as his fantasy gave way to the real life sound of smashing glass as the raging mob across the street surged to defend their hero against the critical onslaught, morphing into one collective mind. He’d get up and lead them - it - from behind in a minute – just as soon as he could strap on his gun belt and fasten it comfortably. “Ah, sweet Lillie from Jersey,” he mused as he patted his little Buddha. What the marshal wouldn’t give to watch her swinging from a chandelier...

     Bits of Ken’s online diatribe actually ring very familiar - disappointingly so for an often inventive writer. In addition to poorly informed arguments, he labels us with the stupid and dismissive "Cowan and friend." He's spewin' the same old snake oil we've tasted in nasty and threatening messages for years - nothin' new. It boils down to “I’m a’ gonna’ git y’all” – "Don't mess with the master plan" - and the famous closing last words: “Ah’ll see you in court!” (At least we didn’t get the ‘varmint’ and ‘little lady’ treatment.) In point of fact, we are mighty surprised that the Integral honcho assumes his blog’s readers even know who we are, hence the short-hand put-down. “Gosh durn it – we’re Infamous. Seems we’ve got a reputation. Quick, head for the saloon to celebrate, and slip that Derringer with the silver-tongued bullets in y’er garter, witchy woman! I’ll grab the trusty old Winchester 73 in case his gang is really gunnin' for us. Be careful - it might be an Integral ambush – shoot you in the back from all quadrants, all levels, all at once whilst callin' you their friend.”
      We do seem to be handy targets for any number of IP rustlers out to expand their herds by cuttin' fence and alterin' brands, or shamelessy stealin' pages word-for-word to stick on their websites. “Whoa doggie, neighbor, there goes that unrelentingly angry acid-tipped pen again. Jest holster it 'n be grateful for the attention. Ya’ ought ta’ see it as a comple-ment when people take off copyrights or rebrand yer stock. Means the ideas you bred from Dr. Graves's herd be of high quality, something worth havin’, I’m a reckonin’. Pay no mind to the second tier bull that's bustin' fences. Transcend and include, y'all."

And the enemy is whom?

      Enemies seem to invigorate this self-styled gun slinger, providing meaningful purpose and opportunity to ride around on his high white horse while pontificating about the moral decay in the world and the horrors in their nightmare vision of Green, just like Michael Savage and Rush (What Prescription?) Limbaugh of America's right wing radio paint their targets in simple monochromes. Like them, overwhelming ego sometimes leads him to pass judgment on things he knows remarkably little about, issuing ignorant pronouncements with an absolutist Flatlander's certitude while condemning the same in others. The trained coyotes always yip "hooray!" without doubts, though, proving their own closed-circuit cleverness in the process. By demonizing others and now us, maybe these group thinkers somehow enliven their vision of an Integral utopia because it demands enemies at the gates to hold it together – “circle the wagons.” Other more-hat-than-cattle establishment pundits use the dire threat of "the liberals are a' comin'" to rally their troops into obedient, unquestioning unity. Wonder what cry of alarm goes up inside the Integral stockade?

     All we’ve ever asked is that Deputy Wilber and his cohorts do their homework to get the Spiral Dynamics® (SD) model down so they stop making such a Gol-danged mess of it, given his reputation and the number of people who still believe what he says. Never mind figurin' out ol' Doc Graves - that's way too much to ask; can't they just try to understand what's already there in Spiral Dynamics. As to the rest, Lord only knows what he’s been told, what he's chosen to believe, what he's made up for himself, or why he doesn't seek facts before spittin' out judgments. Seems the lawman gathered the evidence he wanted and made up his mighty right-thinking mind about SD early on, so he sure hasn’t bothered with clarifications from us that might challenge assumptions he's bound n' determined to prove really are "second tier, maybe third." Thinkin' and talkin' ad nauseum about higher levels ain't the same as being there, folks, and many of the Integral Brotherhood don't seem able to tell the difference between an expansive and intelligent fifth level and higher states: "I'll anoint you a Turquoise if you proclaim me a Teal, then we're almost there - masters of the invisible universe, and of our own domains. Shake on it?"

      Ken and his committed devotees also seem to miss the fact that we honestly couldn't care less what he writes about - way too many city slicker words - except when he (and his hired hands) butcher SD and Graves’s work. They still haven't demonstrated a good understanding of either. Yet in this latest example the Wild West philosopher takes a whack at both by trying to demonstrate his own cleverness with a well-honed tongue; instead, he chops away at SD using a dull ax – again! - more typology and mushing levels and befuddlement over memes and Value Systems and tiers. Then he tosses a nice slab of color-coded e-vo-lution onto the pile for seasoning. The outcome is the usual Wilberian one taste sausage ground from a hundred borrowed scraps with lots of extender and a dearth of fresh beef, a pile of high falutin' Integral hamburger with no well-differentiated prime cuts. 

The simple truths are hard to come by

     Marshal Wilber (and a few boot lickin', brown nosin' buzzards who ride with him - with all due respect) are now goin' after SD real serious-like, except they're mostly aimin' at straw men, women and horse flesh, plus their own reflections. Pity is, he’s not even aware how much of his fussing is self-criticism; lots of what he doesn’t like isn’t from Graves or even SD at all, but it came out of his own imagination and the people he ganged up with. We still get stuck cleaning up the horse hockey after their parade moves on to the next stop, just as we predicted long ago. 

      We've always said quite openly that SD is an application of a theory. It's got holes, by definition. It's a complement with Graves; they work together, folks. Wilber claims to have gone through several phases of understanding; so has SD. Some of his sources are first generation interpretations - shallow semi-Graves from pre-SD days; most are only second stage when SD was the big deal and Graves was still poorly understood. So the pity is, the harshest critics are diggin' around at dry holes in their own shallow understanding instead of where a vibrant theory springs. It's still running - not some dried-up archaic thing preserved in stone - and gets attention from the likes of the fussy Wilberians precisely because its open-ended view resonates with contemporary findings so well. 

      Despite some attempted barn burnings and dirty tricks aimed to run us off, we’re bound and determined to keep at least one accurate rendition of the Gravesian perspective available - aside from the neo-spiritual medicine shows, New Age parsons' revival tents, or hustlers out to rewrite history in their favor. Not because it's sacred, but because as an organizing principle this point of view is darned hard to beat - it was integral before Integral was a brand and before it became a holy mission among the spirituality-for-profit set. If Brother Wilber and his intellectual drinkin' buddies are going to keep the SD bottle so prominent in the analytical bar – because it’s so versatile? - maybe they can develop a more refined taste with some depth and taste it more responsibly – or else stick to gussied up New Age sarsaparilla and leave this hard stuff alone. >

      We can’t help but wonder if people goad Deputy Ken into embarrassing moves like this posting: “Hey, Marshal, they’re calling you names over at the dance hall. You ain't gonna’ let ‘em get away with it, are ye?” Then they look for him perform his tricks? Or was it a spontaneous cyber meltdown of some kind - an emotional "second tier" one, of course? Or maybe yet another cunning contrivance:  “See, look what we were able to create with our clever machinations! Watch the fools take the bait. They asked for it - now let 'em have it! They're mesmerized by the flashing lights when we pull the levers. Ha, HA! Our Integral Wizardry trumps an out-dated spiral every time! Integral rules! Bar keep: a round of your finest meta-enlightenment for the house - the good stuff, out of the shadows under the bar.” Or perhaps Ken is merely an obedient hired hand, a water carrier working in cahoots with others to fill their trough while trying to pollute ours. “Bring me little water, Kenny, bring me little water now...” It sounds like he really hasn't a clue what he’s talking about in some respects, just playing along with an installed script – but maybe we give him too much (or too little) credit in the creativity department. Or maybe he longs for the simpler days of the pony express and taming Wichita and Dodge – or Boulder – or the whole world. "Imagine our mighty Integral movement stampeding over new markets" - a move back claiming to be a leap forward and believing its own PR. Or maybe it's a blend of several things and just who he is in his latest incarnation, and what he's got a right to be if such is what makes him happy and his backers appreciate the performance. 

Kin we object, yer honor?

      On one thing Marshal Wilber is quite right: we definitely object to the way bits of SD have been herded into their Integral Institute's domain and false claims staked out by cyber-Sooners elsewhere. That's not news. Now, mounting evidence suggests that the liaison has been more damaging than beneficial, sadly. (Not as much Integral pay dirt in them thar hills as some hombres thought there’d be when they signed on with the outfit? A little Treasure of the Sierra Madre Syndrome at work?) And now he shifts to a scorched earth approach to clear the ground for a take-over - quite a strategy - worthy of Custer.  

     More of our opinions on the state of integralism (and the Wilber version of it) are laid out in on our FAQ. That's probably off limits to the loyal members of the 7th Integral Cavalry - or would that have to be the 8th Integral since it sounds more 'second tier?' (The unit guarded "manifest destiny" with great determination after forming in California.) Either way, it's not hard to shoot holes in some of the Integral cavalry's articles of faith: who trained them in this stuff? It's as if they've never gone through the basic texts or even online materials, just faithfully chant the marching orders of their revered general.

      We’re willing to accept some lambasting for pointing out the gaps in the Wilber-based Integrals' typological CliffsNotes approach to Gravesian theory. But at this point, it's taken more and more like criticizing the emperor’s new clothes in the old fable. While most of the pack is obediently singing praises, someone needs to speak out with a reality check – “buck naked, fellers; buck naked.” Brand us outlaws and acid-dripping critics if you will; just don’t forget to give both the Integral emperor and his tailors their full due for creating a sad spectacle, as well.

"Stuck in a hole? Quit digging!"

      Whatever the underlying motives and whatever the consequences, if the June 8 piece be Ken's best demonstration of his Integral Institute's vision of "second tier" applied or a rendition of trans-"Turquoise" as the Integral believers seem to think they embody it, we've got to say "whoa, Nelly" and laugh out loud. Do these folks think horizontal complications and lots of philosophical boilerplate equate to vertical complexity? Sorry, they don't. So the marshal's tin star got tarnished by this one and he hasn't even recognized it. It’s sort of like a throw-back version of liberal-bashing AM radio and the Foxy Bill O’Reilly, both in content and style – smug urban cowpokes talking trash about sheep herders instead of figuring out how both can live together ecologically – integrally, even. 

     Ken's bare back approach might get applause from his new ditto-heads, but it looks mighty like cheap-shot rhetoric and slip-shod scholarship to an un-Integral skeptic. Moreover, the whole episode illustrates systems which crop up well before the sixth level of existence in Graves terms; archetypically so, in fact, as any competent SD students can see. Second tier? It's not even the upper-end of the first. If this specimen of Wilber’s writing is deemed by the majority of his fan base to be an illustration of enlightenment and a model of the neo-Buddhist cowboy bodhisattva at his best, then somebody grab a shovel and start digging a hole on Boot Hill for the Integral club ‘cause this sort of Tom Foolery can do it in. Res ipsa loquitur for anyone but card carrying members with blinders on.

     “After allegedly avenging his murdered brother, Wyatt Earp again became a saloon keeper and gambler, then took up gold digging, eventually staking out his claims in California after hanging up his guns for good. He died in L.A., a friend to important people and cowboy movie stars. The legend is now bigger than his life.” Is it really time for Integral Mixology for the Bar Keep: A Recipe for Everything, or the purchase of a pick, a pan, some coffee and beans, and a mule? Hubris took down many a gun slinger, even smart ones with powerful sponsors if they got too big for their britches. 

Chips outta' be in pastures, not on shoulders

     Dang it, we do regret that our opinions stuck in Deputy Ken’s craw so bad that he took offense and got so riled up he decided on an Integral Inquisition for a whole batch of critics and condemned them in one burning flame – without being able to recognize why we have big problems with his tactics over a period of years. We haven’t said much of anything new about him or his herds o' words in months. Actually, we try to give the K-Bar-W Ranch as wide a berth as we can - not exactly hospitable territory - so we don’t know where the burr that chapped his backside so badly sprouted from. Maybe he's of the 'best defense is a good offense' school, or determined to keep people from looking too close into SD/Graves lest they recognize all his misses and wild shots. 

      Ken Wilber says, “I will say that personally I have never seen any professional writing as toxic as Cowan’s…” – and whatever you say about his grasp of the meanings, the boy’s read at a heap o’ stuff. Never seen any... now that's quite a vitriolic charge for some son-of-a-gun talking about acidic writing to lay down in print. Yes siree. (And yet, Ken recently called us “my friend,” though we’d never met and barely even spoken by phone except in defense of NVC's I.P., trademark, and copyrights against abuse and co-option…sigh. On the other hand, a heap of self-righteous indignation from someone chompin’ at the bit to get shed of critics who don’t play by the standards he lays down, on his terms, on his turf, ain’t all that troubling. Just a little pathetic.

     Shoot, he’s actin' like he's the one being defamed, libeled, mischaracterized, and misrepresented by hired guns online and elsewhere; that his work has been confiscated by a competitive cult and a train load of scoundrels and carpet baggers buying Google links to SD trying to stake illegitimate claims that we should feel beholden to him for brilliant contributions to SD we sure as heck haven't seen as yet; and like he’s being accused of interfering with the personal corporation of his 4Q8L Doc Holliday in a lawsuit fired with loco-weed while this kind of bushwhacking proves its absurdity? "Mornin' marshal. Ready to wake up and smell the coffee, dude, or you plan to keep on dreamin'?" sang Miss Lillie as she ascended through his imaginings to slide back into the gilt frame hanging beside the shadowy, sepia-toned Daugerrotype of himself. Like the ceiling, the rest of the wall was mirrors.

     Yet given all of that, since colors and tier-speak seem to anchor their discussions of Integral posse, we’d still prefer that the many decent Wilber readers out there, even the fanatical ones, understand SD well if they’re going to depend on the lingo so much rather than pitch it around like an elitist cow pie. So even if it’s like showing a claim jumper where the gold seam is 'cause he’s blinded by the glimmer of shiny pyrite and pickin' all around the richest ore, we remain available for a palaver and to fact check and theory check Ken's SD-related ramblings before even more misleading bull cookies go into print. There's really too much craziness in this world to waste time on such silly range wars as this. We ain't holding any breath, though.

Scoutin' the trails ahead

     To close this sod buster’s counter-rant – and we’re like small-time farmers working a little plot of ground growin' corn surrounded by a big time cattle baron who seems to be goin' all out to put 'em under so he can grab their place to expand his own spread to keep his conservative bankers happy — any competent student of SD, much less those who've read and understood our Graves book, NEQ, should be able to catch the usual theoretical blunders in the SD references in Marshal Wilber's Wild West ride. 

     He's still confusing memes and MEMEs, conflating specific ideas with levels - contents/structures fallacy; cofounding his pet steer (Boomeritis) with Green (FS) and overlooking the mixtures and transitional stages for types; still stuck in pretentious tier-speak saturated with fifth level premises; fighting with mulish stubbornness to prop up the tired old MGM – “Green + Red” – yea’ right - (crimenently, figure out what Green is instead of lambasting what you don't understand); still missing the point that he's hung up in SD-lite and not Graves; inability to differentiate the systems accurately; trapped in color-coded typology; and the rest. Others can simply review the comments in our general FAQ tabs to find discussions of all these points and the Clare W. Graves website to learn more about the model and the foundational work. Then they can reach their own conclusions about the theory, the model and their implications. 

     It is always useful to look into several perspectives and getting all sides of a story rather than True Believing in any one - ours included - or falling for rants as if they are truth just because they are shouted loudly with metaphysical certitude by somebody perched on a soap box in front of a cheering, uncritical throng. “Aren’t the emperor’s new clothes beautiful...the marshal needs an outfit just like that. Oh, good Gawd a’mighty, he’s got one. Tantric dang me – he’s naked. Child, look away; that ain’t a perty sight. This here emperor needs his se'f an honest fool, if one could get a word in edgewise. Not likely, I'm a guessin'.”

     For thus is how pompous narcissists, smart-ass demagogues, delusional rabble-rousers, claim jumpers oblivious to their own delusional projections, pundits trapped in their own non-consciousness, controversy-dependent gurus building quasi-cults, and ‘rhythm of life’ demi-churches wrapped around imperious personas operate. It's not a path worthy of honorable pandits; scholars who respect the people who have studied and gained from their work; responsible spiritual teachers who model the best and not the worst; or even credible philosopher-writers serious about promoting an integrative view, something many in the much wider integral community do without craving to be big stars. So think and ask questions, gentle reader; think critically and avoid following this particular Integral horse down this trail too closely since you’ll inevitably walk into a pile of… well, you get the picture. Heck, you just did.*

* Any horse droppings can be removed with soap and water. Add a little baking soda if the preceding remarks were so acidic they begin to smart. Then pour a nice glass of your favorite libation, pull off your riding boots, and reconsider Frans de Waal and the nature of chimps and bonobos.

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