The Sweat Lodge of World Transformation

Scary, but also worth a read: For Some Seeking Rebirth, Sweat Lodge Was End John Doughtery – New York Times: October 21, 2009

The story summarizes the horrific manslaughter that resulted from a sweat lodge conducted by new age con man James Arthur Ray in Sedona, October 8. Three died, eighteen were hospitalized, and, Ray has yet to be charged. Ray herded paying customers into a dangerous environment and then—literally—allowed three to perish. His state of consciousness can easily be characterized: oblivious. On the website for the deadly new age huckster Ray, he offers bona-fides.

Throughout his life, James Arthur Ray has studied and been exposed to a wide diversity of teachings and teachers – from his collegiate learning and the schools of the corporate world, to the ancient cultures of Peru, Egypt and the Amazon. Armed with this comprehensive and diverse background in behavioral sciences, coupled with his experience as a successful, entrepreneur, and an avid thirst for spiritual knowledge, James boasts the unique and powerful ability to blend the practical and mystical into a usable and easy-to-access formula for achieving true wealth across all aspects of life.

I’ll return to this shortly.

Speaking of hucksters, here’s some excerpts of a pitch received from Ken Wilber, October 15.

This is Ken Wilber, and I wanted to take a moment to write you and tell you of the first and only organization that is the exclusive outlet of my Integral work and all projects connected with it. The organization is called Integral Life, co-founded by myself and my CEO, Robb Smith.

I’m truly excited by this organization and its development, because for the first time in history, although there are hundreds of projects and organizations and websites inspired by my work, this is the first one that has my personal seal of approval. The projects, partner organizations, academic journals and books, blogs and forums all have a quality checked by me to personally guarantee that my Integral model is being used accurately. That’s the problem with these hundreds of other applications of my work. As much as I truly appreciate the inspired use of my model by them, there are often misinterpretations of its leading ideas, resulting in less than truly Integral results.

What is an ‘integral result?’

Here’s what it looks like, symbolically speaking:


Wilber, is like Ray in a simple enough respect: if one wants to cozy up to the man and his accurate model, you have to shell out the smolians. Incidentally, this can be located in the blue-tending-toward-red memes of Spiral Dynamics. So: authoritarian, absolutistic, and, as should be self-evident from the above, able to issue a Seal of Approval. Big daddy!

Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other. Carl Jung, On the Psychology of the Unconciousness, 1917

Ray, as the article states, asserted his power to deadly effect. Wilber only asserts his power to stupifying effect. If you have even a mildly objective interest and view of Wilber’s Integral Model, it should be clear to you that his assertion on behalf of authenticity violates the aspirational goal of the Integral regime.

What if we took literally everything that all the various cultures have to tell us about human potential—about spiritual growth, psychological growth, social growth—and put it all on the table? What if we attempted to find the critically essential keys to human growth, based on the sum total of human knowledge now open to us? What if we attempted, based on extensive cross-cultural study, to use all of the world’s great traditions to create a composite map, a comprehensive map, an all-inclusive or integral map that included the best elements from all of them? Introduction to Integral Theory and Practice

Wilber:

Relational and Socially Engaged Spirituality The major implication of an all-quadrant, all-level approach to spirituality is that physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels of being should be simultaneously exercised in self, culture, and nature (i.e., in the I, we, and it domains). There are many variations on this theme, ranging from Integral Transformative Practice to socially engaged spirituality to relationships as spiritual path. The implications of an integral spirituality are profound and widespread, and just beginning to have an impact.

James Arthur Ray:

Just suppose I could show you a way to accomplish anything and everything you choose to accomplish in your life… You would be interested in hearing about that, wouldn’t you?

Here’s just a taste of what you’ll experience at the Harmonic Wealth® Weekend:

Break-through the unconscious chains that keep you frozen like a deer in headlights…
Literally vanquish stress and fears that have held you hostage and stuck…
Learn the nasty little trick your mind plays on you that keeps wealth and fulfillment out of reach and how to neutralize it once and for all…
Stop making excuses and start creating outrageous results…
Learn and master three little-known secrets to immediately increase your level of personal energy…
Learn to how to create true Harmonic Wealth in all areas of your life: Financially, Relationally, Mentally, Physically and Spiritually..

It’s a matter of degree. Check out Wilber’s 2007 book The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything, where the extravagant, history-shaking, claims are prolix.

New Age gurus, cults, organizations built around acceptance of the charlatan’s authority, are almost as timeless as the perennial philosophies or mystical methodologies, from which is appropriated, and ripped-off, the awesome secret of the ages recast as—hold on—a revolutionary technology. The next steps are: product line; brand; revenue processing infrastructure–in short, industrialization.

This casts the impressionable novice into the master’s hands, except, the new “post-modern” ritualistic mode, (called today: ‘a life practice,’) is, (borrowing here from Walter Benjamin,) ritual severed from its deep verity, and, instead delivered into the regimens of “personal” politics, and social relations ordinated by power.

All you need next are customers. My informed guess is such customers will be of several vulnerable types. If the technology is implemented effectively, the customer will be ‘transformed’ into an acolyte by having the most essential human capabilities with regard to the development of consciousness stripped out of their tool box: one, is their bullshit meter; the other is their ability to differentiate, discern, and, base their awareness in the gritty reality incumbent in the short human life span. At a minimum, these tools, when retained, allow a daring consumer to avoid getting themselves in the vicinity of, for example, Harmonic Wealth Weekends, or close up to the Quantum Leap or Integralproduct lines.

Consider: the cost of profound spiritual advancement is not measurable in any outlay of dollars because there isn’t any outlay of dollars that is a requisite to this kind of advancement. This is somewhat a time-honored principle given that a spiritual master is very likely to be on about the problem of the material world, rather than being a plain ol’ merchandiser, banker, or shylock.


As for Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, I mark a negative turning point happening around 2001-2002. 2001 was the year his book, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality, was published. It was also the year he gave an interview to Jordan Gruber (e.com). From this interview—my bolded highlights:

E.com: Are any of your projects at I-I still going forward, like let’s say the Encyclopedia of Transformation?

KW: Sure, yes, we’re still funding that, we’re still carrying the Human Change Process core team forward. We also refer to it as the Human Transformation Team. They are working on an Encyclopedia of Human Transformation, a complete literature review of all known forms of transformation for human beings.

Transformation seems to be a major concept that everybody talks about but we really don’t have a good literature review of what’s out there, number one, and number two, the type of research, what evidence is there that any of these things that say they transform people actually transform people. There are a lot of different ways you can at least try to look at that and get a handle on it, and we’re certainly doing that.

E.com: In the meantime, though, the grants that people could write to I-I for, none of that’s happening?

KW: No, what’s happening right now is that one of the main things we wanted to do with the original one hundred million dollars was to get it to as many people as possible doing work in this field, the general field of integral studies and integral endeavors. That’s one of the reasons that I started Integral Institute, to act as a funding source for people doing this kind of work because the marketplace doesn’t reward truly integral studies as all. It rewards New Age approaches to it, it rewards the experiential workshop approach, as it were, it rewards the green meme and the purple meme and everything in between, but it does not reward truly integral studies.

So, the only way we’re going to get real work done in this field is, frankly, if we have funding agencies that will do it. And once the real work is done, and the research is done, and we start producing really solid texts, and presentations, and articles, and research, then we can create a market off of that. That’s going to be probably three years from now.

So, what we’ve done at Integral Institute … the biggest change in our orientation happened not because of the market, but quite independent of that, a change we would have made whether the market went up or down. And that is, we went from being a kind of community of some four hundred founding members to focusing more on producing what we call “integral product,” actual books, texts, academic material in each of the ten branches. So we’re working on books in, for example, What is Integral Politics? What is Integral Business? Integral Medicine? Integral Law? Because what we found was that there were no really strong statements about an integral approach to any of these fields.

E.com: Which is one of the reasons academia can ignore it completely.

KW: It can ignore it completely, and the other things we found is that most people with very very good intentions would simply take what they’re doing and call it integral when it really wasn’t. They were leaving out certain aspects of the human condition that ought not to be left out. We could demonstrate that to them, and they would say, “OK, I guess what I’m doing is not integral.”

So before we can build community, or create a market, or have a web presence, or have conferences, we have to produce specific texts in each of these ten branches, put together by one of our core teams of recognized scholars and researchers, saying “This is our best shot as an opening statement about what integral business is, integral politics, integral education, integral medicine, integral law, integral psychology, integral spirituality, and so on.”

E.com: I’ve received quite a few questions from graduate students in different areas saying, “I’m an anthropology grad student, what do I do to try to bring an all quadrants all levels approach into my university without completing alienating the powers that be?” Or how can a psychology graduate student become more involved with integral studies and help boost the efforts in a green meme school? It’s sort of like they are dying out there for the kind of supporting materials you’ve just been speaking of.

KW: That’s exactly what we found. Until we have a series of really well-done, well documented, textbooks, if you will … here’s integral anthropology, here’s integral law and criminal justice, here’s integral medicine … until we have this series of statements, the field has no traction. It has no way to really move forward. Whereas, if you do have a book on integral approaches to education, for example, and it’s a textbook with eight authors … we plan on having these things be three and four hundred pages long … we want to make a real academic statement, to begin with. Again, it’s not the final word, it’s the opening word. It’s our first approximation of what an integral approach would actually look like, one that is truly all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states. Anything less than that’s not going to be integral.

Once we have this kind of book on, let’s say, integral anthropology, and a student calls up and says “I’m going to Arizona State,” for example, “and I would like to take an all quadrant all level all line approach to anthropological research. My professor thinks I’m nuts. What should I do?” And we say, “Give him this 400 page textbook, and here’s three hundred references, and here are supporting documents.

That would give them something to look at and respond to. And if they have criticisms of it, we’d love to hear it, because we’re going to keep refining these things over the years. What we have to have is a statement, a really strong academic statement to begin with, because otherwise the field is simply going nowhere. And it has gone nowhere in thirty years.

It boils down to a question:

How did Wilber’s Integral TOE go from a vision for “a really strong academic statement to begin with” to:

“All of the offerings of, and partnerships with, Integral Life have my personal seal of quality control” ???

Say what you will about the academic professionalization of the disciplines, it would not be the case that a given discipline requires its knowledge to be certified by a single person’s imprimatur. Aside from the academic world, itself problematic in many ways, all I’m suggesting is that the Integral framework would have benefitted from the jockeying of a cogent critical culture, democratization, and collegial collaboration. This requires no single-minded, single-leader, stewardship. Instead, “Integral” ended up with an overlord!

Incredibly, (to me–even to this day,) this astonishingly “blue” turn is unremarked upon within the now sealed ‘monasterium’ of wilberworld.

It didn’t have to happen. If Wilber had decided to seed his model in a select number of conventional academic environments,or done so among independent scholars, three productive and crucial developments would have followed. One, the questions begged by the model’s implicit meta-framework would have started to be addressed. (They have not yet been addressed by insiders.) Two, the Integral Model/Theory would have become democratized and pluralized, and, consequently, unhooked from the stewardship of Ken Wilber. Three, the Integral Model/Theory eventually would have come to be improved by the sociological environment and methods employed by rigorous researchers.

There’s another benefit, rolled into #3. Wilber’s own shortfalls in understanding many of his named source materials would have come to be corrected. Also, the large and diverse scholarly ongoing work in anthropology and social psychology and sociology already partially related—on their own terms—to some integral concepts could have figured in the further development of Integral studies. (For example, in anthropology, there is Henrietta Moore’s overview of meta-anthropology; and Steven Tyler’s work on antimony.*) Alas, Integral studies never was smartly promoted to, or partnered with, mainstream scholarly persons and resources.

The result is Wilber was right: the field he invented has gone, mostly, nowhere. (I exclude from this grim picture the handful of people working to advance the Integral framework from outside wilberworld. See: Integral World, for example.)

What did happen is that the self-help (ie. self-development) integral methodologies came to lead the integral charge, or, alternately, pull the integral cart. Why this came to be the main track of the integral seems to me obvious from reading Boomeritis(2003). There Wilber’s resentment of his conventional, materialistic, peers and fellow-baby boomers, not only oils much of the ranting, but comes to also fuel Wilber’s infantile jousts with his internet critics. Placing himself at the top of the Integral chain of being, (how ironic!) must seem to Wilber like the best revenge.

Yet, is there in the self-development industry a more peculiar and status-grubbing figure than Ken Wilber? What is one of Wilber’s goals? Well, he wants to “reconstruct the spiritual systems of the great wisdom traditions but with none of their
metaphysical baggage
.”
Why, when he could have helped in researching the variable nature of wisdom.

The road not taken; and thus the road taken:

There is indeed an Integral Revolution that is just now beginning to sweep the world, and by joining Integral Life you announce that you are an intrinsic part of this extraordinary worldwide transformation. In the history of the world, there have only been 4 or 5 truly major transformations—from magic/foraging to mythic/agrarian to rational/industrial to postmodern/internet. The Integral/meshwork is the 5th major transformation in all of humankind’s history, with the exception here being that you can actually be a direct part of this extraordinary transformation in many ways, a premiere way being to join Integral Life itself and become part of the worldwide community that is creating, right now, the very form of the future, this time in an Integral fashion.

The Integral/meshwork is the 5th major transformation in all of humankind’s history.

And we know this because it will be the very first to be spearheaded by one dude. There’s no need to unpack this grandiose vision. The Integral Theory became messianic doctrine.

James Arthur Ray:

James Arthur Ray is transforming the way the world thinks. As an internationally-renowned Personal Success Strategist, Visionary and New York Times Best-Selling Author who has traveled the globe dedicating over two decades of his life to studying the thoughts, actions, and habits of those who create true wealth in every area of their life, James delivers his practical teachings to hundreds of thousands of individuals and business leaders every year.


Hat tip to Daniel Gustav Anderson.

The work of making public knowledge has fallen into private hands. Neoliberalism has basically been a catastrophe for institutions of higher education, which effectively become corporations serving other corporations rather than sites of service to students and responsible to the public. Chomsky’s book The Knowledge Factory is as good a place to start on this question as any other.

I am entertaining the idea that Wilber’s Sham-Wow Integral Life thing represents the apotheosis of this process. It is absolutely undemocratic, and wholly commodified, for every aspect of a person’s life and learning, beginning with the most personally significant (spirituality, identity, relationships, &c). Knowledge-production, pedagogy, all of it not only under one roof but all of it with the same brand, all flowing from the top down to the lowly consumer. This is the “banking model” as Friere diagnosed it at its most baroque point of development. Maybe past Baroque to Rococo even?

I can’t think of a single reason to take Wilber, let alone Ray, seriously. The proof is in the noxious pudding, say of Integral Spirituality. That they’ve both managed to industrialize their own maniacal egotism and chalatanry, in one case to ring the register, in the other to cause manslaughter, is unremarkable. Albeit both are signs of our suckers marching-with-charge cards-in -hand times.


* There’s lots of integral scholarship which knows not the integral name. None of it is on Wilber’s radar screen.

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