DR. CHRISTIAN DE QUINCEY
is a professor of philosophy at John F. Kennedy University in California. He is also the managing editor
of the IONS Review, published by the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
(IONS was in turn founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell.)
2000, he published a critique of Wilber’s integral philosophy and emotional character in the
peer-reviewed Journal of Consciousness Studies (JCS).
(2001c) responded with over forty single-spaced pages of attempted
demonstrations as to how de Quincey had misrepresented his work and his character.
(2001) volleyed with a twenty-eight page “refutation of the refutation.”
One of Wilber’s students, Sean Hargens
(2001)—also a member
of the Integral Institute—then replied with fifty-plus pages of text to
“refute the refutation of the refutation.” In it, he simultaneously and reasonably asserted de Quincey’s
tendencies toward passive-aggressive behavior (in his writings), and reliance on pop psychology in his
character analysis of Wilber’s “nasty tone.”
And there the matter has rested.
It is not my purpose here to attempt to evaluate those authors’ respective criticisms of one another. Rather,
I would simply like to note several allegations which de Quincey has made regarding the behind-the-scenes
aspects of the relevant processes. Those may then give one pause when considering the overall health of the
consciousness-studies field. In particular, they may cast some additional doubt on the aspects of that field
which closely surround Wilber and his followers, shaping as that proximity does the allowed discussions around them.
In commenting on how Wilber may have obtained pre-publication knowledge of the detailed contents of his original
submitted paper, de Quincey
(2001) has suggested:
[Wilber’s] friend Keith Thompson, evidently, had passed along a series of private and confidential email
exchanges between Thompson and me. I had included Thompson in the group of prepublication reviewers, and had
lengthy online conversations with him—particularly about I-I [i.e., intersubjectivity]. However, I
explicitly prefaced our exchanges with a request that the contents of our conversations be kept confidential,
and should not be shared. Thompson agreed, and said he would honor my request.
Not only did he “approach” Wilber and “warn” him of “severe distortions,” Thompson used the content of my emails
to write a critique of my Wilber critique, which he sent off to JCS, suggesting that either his paper be
published as a Wilber review instead of mine, or perhaps alongside mine. Not surprisingly, the JCS editor
saw right through the ruse. Thompson took this underhand action without informing me, clearly breaching a
confidential agreement between us. Very unprofessional. A clear case of “Wilber police” mentality. (Thompson,
and his friend and Wilber acolyte Sean Hargens, later tried a similar tactic to suppress publication of another
article on Wilber I’d written for IONS Review!)
Any devoted disciple would, of course, have behaved in the same way, in defending his guru-figure’s “honor.”
That is, dissenting opinions are never allowed, and an (alleged) broken promise is a small price to pay for
preserving the sage’s public image.
Given all of the above, one further cannot help but wonder: Did Wilber himself know about those alleged attempts
Recall: According to de Quincey, their mutual friend Keith Thompson was in contact with both of them after
allegedly breaking his promise of confidentiality to de Quincey. He was also the same individual who reportedly
suggested to JCS that they publish his analysis of Wilber’s work, rather than de Quincey’s review. Would
Thompson have gone forward with that, without bouncing the idea off Wilber first?
If Wilber did know about Thompson’s alleged plans, his acceptance of that way of doing things, even if that
acceptance meant simply doing nothing to stop Thompson, would be absolutely chilling. The real Einstein, for
one, would never have stooped to such poor behavior.
(2000a) had earlier voiced his own attitude toward the need for a free
exchange of ideas within the
consciousness-studies marketplace and elsewhere. That was given in terms of the importance of passionately
communicating your vision, Kierkegaard-like, regardless of whether you are right or wrong, that it might be
heard and adjudicated by a reluctant world.
One wonders, though: Would Wilber and Keith Thompson allow de Quincey equally valid passion in speaking his
own vision, without (Thompson allegedly) covertly attempting to stop the publication of the latter’s
Regardless, contrary to Wilber’s impassioned but misled plea, being right does matter. For, being wrong only
makes it more difficult for correct ideas to be heard above the prevailing cacophony. Everyone who has ever
done fundamental, thrillingly original work in any field—e.g., Einstein, Bohm, Benoit Mandelbrot
(via fractals), etc.—has discovered that the hard way. For, the established misunderstandings place
literally decades of resistance into the path of the acceptance of right ideas. That Wilber has encountered
far less “wailing and gnashing” of scholarly teeth speaks much more to the synthetic and frequently derivative
nature of his own (esp. early) ideas than to anything else.
In my own case, regarding the “Wilber police,” from the beginning of my published debunking of kw’s false claims
and consistently inadequate research, the most loyal members of his community have predictably reacted very
negatively to being informed of the truth about his work.
Foremost among those “integral experts” and censors has been a follower employed as an “education analyst”
in Wheaton, Illinois, going by the online name of Goethean. His
(2005) response to my exposing of kw’s
indefensible support of the long-discredited claims of Intelligent Design boiled down to this:
Geoffery [sic] Falk is an asshole who is not to be trusted on these matters whatsoever. His book,
Stripping the Gurus proves on every page that he is out to gain fame for himself at the expense of those
who are his superiors in every way. (He has samples online to prove it!) His words are pretty much
irrelevant to any honest inquiry on any subject.
Since that same individual functions proudly as a self-appointed guardian of the Ken Wilber
no one should be surprised to find that, for many months, he (and others) succeeded in blocking any mention of my
debunking of Wilber from that public space, even when the relevant links to my work had been placed there
by interested third parties with whom I have had no contact.
Immediately after my first attempt at getting those critiques listed on that Wikipedia page, Goethean
went through all of my other attempted
contributions to the debunking of other spiritual leaders on
Wikipedia, removing any of them that hadn’t already been deleted by other censors equal to himself. (Some
of those pages already had links to Rick Ross’s immensely valuable but grossly copyright-violating website
[now at www.culteducation.com], collecting the non-book-length exposés of
numerous gurus and so-called cult leaders
into a single database.) He had only an IP address to go on there, however, and so could not reasonably
remove those links for being “self-promotional,” given that the links were thus posted anonymously. Yet,
that is exactly the reason which he gave for deleting many of them.
(2006) has since given the following extremely dubious justification for
his censorial actions:
I agree with User:Nofalk’s assessment of the Geoffery [sic] Falk piece. I find it inappropriate for this
page. It’s an essay by someone with a deeply studied ignorance of Wilber’s writings. It’s inaccurate to
call it a critique. To dismiss something out of hand without understanding it is not a critique. It’s an
unsympethetic [sic] dismissal. I had the link under that topic heading before the edit war started. There are
writers who believe that Wilber’s influence on culture has been nothing but negative, and who eviscerate
Wilber for what they percieve [sic] as fundamental theoretical errors. I can accept and even applaude
[sic] those critiques, and will gladly link to them from the article and describe those critiques in the
article. But Falk doesn’t even make a small attempt to understand the work that he’s criticizing. He’s
like a bumpkin looking at a Jackson Pollack [sic] saying “I don’t know what art is, but that ain’t it.”
As usual in the Wilberian community, however, there is not even a hint given there as to how I have
allegedly misunderstood kw’s ideas; just the unsupportable smoke-screen assertion that I have.
Plus, in my first attempt (on August 25, 2005) at getting my critiques listed on the kw Wikipedia page,
I had given links not only to my original “Norman Einstein”
chapter (in STG) but also to the original version of the “Wilber and Bohm”
appendix from this present book. That appendix was Ph.D.-endorsed, even before its online publication,
as being “brilliant and deeply insightful.” So, it would certainly qualify as a
critique of Wilber’s work,
even if one could argue (wrongly) that negative analyses of his character have no place in an encyclopedia entry.
Of course, if it was up to “Truth-seekers” such as Goethean, nothing of the thoroughly researched work
which I have done in exposing the lies and abuses perpetrated in the name of religion—whether integral
or otherwise—by our world’s spiritual authority figures would exist anywhere. As he notes
(2006), with obvious satisfaction:
By the way, someone once tried to create a Wikipedia article about Falk’s book, “Stripping the Gurus.”
After some research, it was deleted by the Wikipedia community (more of whom, it should be noted, are biased
against Wilber, or have never heard of him, than are biased for him) on the grounds that the book was
self-published on the [I]nternet and was not notable enough to merit an article. — goethean 16:43,
19 December 2005 (UTC)
In general, STG would offend anyone who wanted to believe in the set of fairy tales called religion/spirituality.
So really, only agnostic and/or atheistic editors wouldn’t have a personal reason to regard the book as not
being “notable,” and thus to expedite its removal.
Over three-quarters of the American population self-identifies as Christian
Conversely, when less than 15% of the American people list themselves as having no
religion, you are at risk of offending close to 90% of the population in speaking out against religion
and spirituality in general. So, anyone can see that although the majority of the Wikipedia
community/editors will not have even heard of Wilber, when 85% or more of the editors and community members
are not going to in any way welcome hearing the truth about the associated abuses, delusions and
manipulations in the spiritual world, it is built into the system that the text won’t receive anything
resembling a fair hearing.
Goethean’s state of mind comes through clearly enough when he further says: “As someone else noted
Dasein, you seem to have an axe to grind, care to share?” When even calm, reasoned dialog in support
of alternative viewpoints is denigrated by self-appointed censors as arising only from one’s ostensibly
having “an axe to grind,” you need not wonder why Wilber’s community was viewed—even prior to his
“planned meltdown” in July of 2006, the subject of the next chapter—by people who understand cult
and in-group dynamics, as being on the verge of degenerating into a bona fide cult.
I am by no means the only cogent critic of kw to have run afoul of integral “experts” such as Goethean.
First, as Chris Cowan
(2006) observed in terms of the reception given to his version of
Spiral Dynamics by the custodians of integral information:
Our own small adventures with the Wiki world have demonstrated for us how the psychology and motivations
of contributors can sway “truth” and their approach to its promotion. If there is a culture of open inquiry
and sharing, things have a chance to work. If there are fanatics with agendas—either ideological or
financial—or fixated minds stuck on particular ideas, then the outcomes turn into products of
endurance, competitiveness, and alliance-building. If you’ve got a couple of folks who believe themselves
without peer, it’s a problem. And for those who find such things unpleasant or not worth the effort, truth
inevitably suffers. It doesn’t take but a couple of rotten apples to spoil an egalitarian barrel. There has
to be a mechanism for rotating the fruits and monitoring process, as well as content.
Jeff Meyerhoff has predictably fared no better for his writing of a full-length
(2006) book critiquing kw’s ideas, entitled Bald Ambition. Rather, for that,
he was subjected to the following absurd dismissal from Wilber and his colleagues:
[S]ome critics aren’t at the appropriate altitude to make cogent criticisms (Ken’s example: Meyerhoff).
Due to this difference in altitude, there is nothing you can say to satisfy such critics. You can, of
course, always learn something from any criticism, but that’s not the issue
Personally, I couldn’t disagree more with such foolish denigrations of what is one of the few cogently
argued and thorough criticisms of Wilber’s work. And so I will quote extensively, below, from Meyerhoff’s
delightfully well-reasoned and well-researched text:
Wilber presents his model as if the consensus of scientific opinion supports it, but this is not the case.
By tracking down his sources, revealing in them what Wilber does not mention, and exploring more fully the
disciplines he uses, I will show that Wilber’s version of individual development is not a valid generalization
of scientific findings....
It is not only alternate sources that can be cited to contradict Wilber’s assertion of scholarly consensus,
his own sources when examined closely yield a different picture than the one he presents....
Wilber now calls the basic levels of development waves and the lines of development streams, following the
usage of Howard Gardner et al. in their 1990 article. He cites and quotes this article several times as
evidence for his claims about the universality of the basic levels. And the parts of the article Wilber cites
do support his contentions, but the quotes are carefully selected and a return to Gardner et al.’s article
reveals evidence that runs counter to Wilber’s model.
Even on other topics, the integral “facts” are no more accurately given:
Wilber’s unreliable reporting of the results of scholarly research is one central feature of my critique and
this same problem arises, although less severely than usual, when he justifies vision-logic by citing scholarly
Wilber’s characterization of the magic, mythic and rational stages often veers into caricature. This is because
he makes facts fit a particular theoretical mold to preserve his theory.
Of course, if you are surprised by any of that, you have simply not been paying attention. Because it is all
exactly what you would expect, just from knowing Wilber’s history, back to his first steps in transpersonal
psychology in the late 1970s.
The four quadrant map, as originally drawn in SES, depicted the four different aspects of each holon. Each
holon had an individual, social, exterior and interior aspect. Yet Wilber routinely referred to individual
and social holons, not individual and social aspects of holons.... Wilber’s commentators have demonstrated
in great detail how this semantic slip reveals what is crucially problematic about Wilber’s four quadrant
model, causing Andrew Smith to recently conclude “that the four-quadrant model, in its original form, is dead.”
(2001) himself put it:
[T]he criteria that Wilber and Kofman provide for distinguishing individual and social holons are useless.
Some of these criteria either fail to make the distinction at all—as shown by the fact that they apply
to some of their listed examples of individual holons (“molecules, cells, organisms”) as aptly as they do to
social holons; others can’t be applied at all.
Chapter 1, Section
B of Bald Ambition, drawing heavily on Smith’s excellent work,
Wilber’s vaunted “twenty tenets” to such a devastating degree that there is practically nothing left in
those supposedly universal principles to regard as being valid.
Amazing, isn’t it? That the mess which kw has created in his “great breakthroughs” over the past three decades
isn’t even remotely logically consistent. (“Instead of having one map in which we fit three overlapping
classifications—objects of inquiry, methods and validity claims—we actually have three which don’t
overlap. In addition, the distinctions which create each of these three maps don’t stay in their respective
categories.”) And that is worthy of being called “philosophy,” or even just “competent scholarship”?
Wilber wants a duality in Plato’s thinking to be the essential duality driving Western civilization;
“the dualism of which all other Western dualisms are merely an incidental subset.” To do that, the influence
of Plato has to be inflated, hence the [dishonest] changes in Whitehead’s aphorism [from “the European
philosophic tradition consists of a series of footnotes to
Plato,” to encompass all of “Western civilization”]....
Reardon’s study [i.e., Religion in the Age of Romanticism] demonstrates how integral an ascendant spirituality
or other-worldliness was to Romanticism’s great interest in nature and history’s this-worldliness. This
directly contradicts Wilber’s characterization of it as mired in “flatland ontology”
More from Meyerhoff, in his
(2006b) “What’s Worthy of Inclusion?”:
Nonexclusion is [Wilber’s] idea that differing fields of knowledge study differing phenomena in ways particular
to their field, so that people outside the field, who study different phenomena with different methodologies,
can’t usefully comment on what goes on in another field.
But, as far as that ridiculously ad hoc principle of “nonexclusion” goes: If Wilber were to actually apply that
idea, he would be the first one to be disqualified from having anything to say.
Plus: Could kw have come up with a better way of dismissing the criticisms against himself and his unsupportable
ideas by people outside the integral field? That is, people who by definition “can’t usefully comment on what
goes on” there, for not having meditated until they hallucinated, etc. (Wilber’s Up from Eden was based on a
vision he once had of the spiritual-evolutionary unfolding of the kosmos, in ontogeny and phylogeny. That alone
should have been a glaring red flag, regarding the man’s inability to distinguish reality from his own
Of course, Wilber claims (falsely) to be accurately representing the “agreed-upon-knowledge” in the fields which
he includes in his four quadrants, thus conveniently giving himself a free pass on the difficulties of commenting
on or evaluating areas in which he has no formal training and has made no recognized, peer-reviewed academic
contributions. But, what happens, then, if you disagree with his frequently inaccurately given
“orienting generalizations,” executed on fields in which he has no more training than you do?
Meyerhoff has made additional insightful points, regarding Wilber and his community, in his
(2006a) “Six Criticisms of Wilber’s Integral Theory”:
Instead of the image of Wilber being confronted with a vast array of knowledge and fitting it together like a
jigsaw puzzle, a more plausible explanation is that he already had a progressive, developmental, dialectical
story of the Kosmos in mind and found, not the orienting generalizations of the sciences, but cherry-picked
scholars who appear to validate the view he wants to be true.
It is actually much worse than that, though: Reading that fine collection of documented misrepresentations
by kw, it again becomes obvious that he either has not understood (even at an undergraduate level) the basic
knowledge in the fields which he purports to be synthesizing or, if he has understood it, he is
unconscionably twisting/misrepresenting it to suit his “theories,” and expecting to get away with that,
for never having been properly critiqued by his peers in transpersonal psychology. (And, prior to
1996 or so, he really didn’t get caught. So, the implicit confidence
was actually quite justified.)
No competent, honest person could be as consistently wrong as Wilber is in (mis)representing other scholars’
positions to make them appear as if they support his own.
There is a difference between, as it were, negligence, which is random in its effects, i.e., if you are a
sloppy or bad [source of information], the mistakes you make will be all over the place. They will not
actually support any particular point of view.... On the other hand, if all the mistakes are in the same
direction in the support of a particular thesis, then I do not think that is mere negligence. I think that
is a deliberate manipulation and deception (Richard Evans, in
Wilber’s mistakes are indeed always in support of his particular point of view. And for that, he has been
subjected to a good amount of spicy criticism, from myself in particular.
That is hardly unfair to him, though: In the world of real science, Wolfgang Pauli, for one, was renowned
for his scathing destructions of several ideas which, years later, went on to win Nobel Prizes. That is
what you may expect to have directed your way if you venture into real fields of academia, even when bringing
valid ideas into them which challenge the norm.
In the transpersonal and integral worlds, however, one finds more of a “covenant of lunatics,” whereby it is
implicitly agreed that, if I take your “imaginary friend” (i.e., spiritual experiences and theories) as
being real, you will in turn take seriously my delusions and elevation of perfectly normal phenomena to the
status of paranormality. And neither of us will ever properly criticize the other, because “it’s all good.”
If you find the existence of that implicit “covenant” and its effects difficult to accept, consider the
following independent observation
regarding the reasonably suggested causes of
widespread contemporary prejudice against atheists: “It is possible that the increasing tolerance for
religious diversity may have heightened awareness of religion itself as the basis for solidarity in American
life and sharpened the boundary between believers and nonbelievers in our collective imagination”
(American Atheists, 2006). That,
of course, is exactly the same dynamic, even in a comparable context, except that instead of hallucinations
and the like being a common bond worthy of mutual respect, we instead have belief in a
God and Morality. In both cases, though, religious tolerance and the death of reason (in not being allowed
to point out the foolishness in others’ irrational beliefs) go hand-in-hand, and are further accompanied by a blatant
intolerance for and distrust of others outside of that covenant.
So, no surprise by now that one is indeed allowed to respectfully find small, “correctable” flaws in Wilber’s
work, and still remain a member in good standing of the integral world. But, uncover glaring and/or fatal
shortcomings in the ideas, and provable incompetence and/or dishonesty in their creators’ work and character,
and what can you be but an “untrustworthy asshole”? Or at least, as Meyerhoff has experienced, be dismissed
as “altitudinally challenged” in proportion to the strength of your arguments?
It is obvious (and completely predictable from basic human psychology) that the vast majority of
Wilberians have no more interest than the average “good Christian” would in doing
the “archaeology” of going back to the original sources upon which their respective systems of beliefs are
based. Were they to do that, though, they would find that, just as the innocent mistakes and less-innocent
influence of the personal theologies of ancient scribes created a “multitude of mistakes and intentional
alterations” in ways that sometimes “profoundly affect religious doctrine” in the Bible, comparable distortions
will occur even when the best of integral theorists are involved.
Of course, it is so much easier to simply believe what you are told, and to rely on the “community” to not
allow members to rise into positions of respect without their ideas being valid, than to question (and research)
everything, back to its original sources/languages. No surprise, then, that those psychological realities apply
just as much to the “trans-rational” integral community as to the “pre-rational” Christian one, and produce a
comparable milieu, with members of both in-groups imagining themselves to be reasoning clearly from established
facts, when all they are actually doing is rationalizing hazily from a set of (ineptly and/or intentionally)
When Albert Einstein did his Ph.D. thesis, well after his “miracle year” of 1905, one of the
reviewers returned it with a comment akin to, “I can’t understand a word of what you’ve written
here.” More recently, Benoit Mandelbrot experienced a decades-long dismissal of his groundbreaking
work with fractals.
That is what happens, though, when you trust the middling “community”—whether spiritual, scientific,
or artistic—to be able to distinguish between genius and quackery, when by their very “average”
nature they cannot. For, the unexceptional members of any community, while perhaps being able to recognize
quackery, will tend to lump works of real genius into the same category, for not being in a position to
evaluate them intelligently.
In addition to the analysis of kw’s work by individuals such as Meyerhoff, Matthew Dallman
(2005b) has given fascinating comments on the dysfunctionalities present in the
Wilberian community. Dallman actually worked intensively as the volunteer art director for
Integral University for sixteen months; he knows from whence he speaks.
And thus doth he speak of “meanness, vitriol, nastiness, and insult directed by [kw] to myself and my wife.”
Wilber’s dismal treatment of Michel Bauwens
(2004) is also worth noting:
I was ... privy, since I was in regular email contact back then, to Wilber’s private denunciations of
institutes like the California Institute of Integral Studies and the Naropa Institute, schools that
I had monitored, visited, and have many highly qualitative [sic] teachers and researchers. It’s not
that he said that they were imperfect, no, they were “cesspools” and one would have to stay at all
cost away from them. This aggressiveness I personally found disturbing. I started to notice how easily
Ken praised works that favorably use his work, he did it with my own magazine Wave, which he highly
praised in a note even though he could not possibly read the Dutch-language it was written in, while
being so aggressive with those who disagree.
Finally, there was a personal incident. In short, I had sent Ken, whom I considered a friend by then,
since I had visited him and interviewed him for four hours, a draft of an essay on the new world of
work, which clearly stated that it was inspired by his work, specifically mentioned a series of
consultants working in his spirit, then went on to describe the four quadrants, and apply them creatively
to my own domain, with notes and references and all. I got back a letter which threatened me with
“exclusion from the network” and even legal consequences for “intellectual theft.”
One does not have to look hard at all to find, in Wilber’s integral
community, the reluctance to question his ideas, the marginalizing of anyone who does dare to
debate his edicts, the paranoia which sees even cogent and completely reasonable questioning as an
“attack,” and the absence of dialogue with outside perspectives.
None of that, though, has been the product of any overwork or explicit coercion of its members, nor
has there been an “escalating series of public commitments” required of the members to bind them to
the ideology and community, nor is Wilber their “savior,” etc. Rather, the mess there has evolved,
even against the best intentions of the persons involved, via simple human nature. It is just a group
of people defending their “specialness” and salvation, and the “genius” of their Hero, against other
less-special “outsiders,” while basking in the comfort of a sadly-false
worldview in which “everything makes sense.”
In a sense the members of the integral community could be viewed as having been
“tricked” into believing a set of false ideas from Wilber himself. But 98% of them wouldn’t have had
it any other way. That is, if kw hadn’t fed them what they desperately need to hear, with a veneer of
science and rationality, they would have found someone else who would.
And so the environment develops in which doubters are branded as heretics, by whatever name, and good
members are made to feel so special for being “integral” or second tier, as opposed to the “axis of
non-integrality” outside, that they can’t bear to leave the community. For, that departure would equate
to an admission of failure in their “most important, prime directive” spiritual quest.
It would be intuitively plausible to say that the less sense one’s ideas make, the more they must be
protected from questioning by competent outsiders. Wilber’s ideas make dangerously little sense, and
he has been caught, red-handed, fabricating information far too often by now, for anyone of sound
mind and body to look past those deceptions and/or incompetencies as if they were anything less than pandemic
in his work. In fact, the only way he will be able to preserve the “integral edifice” he has worked
all his adult life to create, against further disintegration, is by completely closing it off from
any cogent questioning.
So, what do you think he will be doing, in that regard, over the next few years? What does the dismissal
of Meyerhoff’s delightfully reasoned work—so well-thought-out, in general, that it goes right over
the heads of the vast majority of integral community members—as being “altitudinally challenged”
tell you about what the “integral” future holds?
Closed-society in-group dynamics, particularly when combined with promises/expectations of
enlightenment/salvation, have a way of reducing both leaders and followers to behaving in the worst
pre-rational and conformist ways, regardless of how loftily they may test or behave in “normal” circumstances.
Compare the sadistic/submissive behaviors in Philip Zimbardo’s
(2004) Stanford prison experiment, by persons
who only qualified as subjects in the first place for being the most psychologically healthy of the applicants.
Or, consider the aforementioned psychological regression
measured by Jane Loevinger in female university
students—a “slight but consistent loss” of ego development from their freshman to their senior years.
Personally, I don’t think that people need to be “tricked” into joining destructive spiritual organizations,
nor kept there via mind control, to nearly the degree to which that idea is given currency in the cult-studies
world. But that simply means that I consider the situation to be much worse than does the field in general,
not that mind control isn’t practiced ... even at the hands of integral pandits. It is practiced, but most
people will fall for the community’s claims and slip into unquestioning obedience even without that
suppression of debate, or the like. Regardless, where you have mind control, you proportionately have
a cultic environment.
In July of 2006, following Wilber’s planned meltdown, I was contacted by the head of one of the major
anti-Scientology websites, through another cult-studies professional, regarding his wish to meet
personally with Wilber and “reality-test” him. He also said:
We are going to cover your book [i.e.,
STG] in our next ... ezine. I and others
will also carefully read the Wilbur [sic] work. After I have had some tome [sic] to
read more of your work I would like to talk by phone on how we might
feature some [of] it on [our] home page.
We have 10,000 subscribers....
And that was the last I heard from him.
Because, of course, when he/they actually read my Wilber-debunking work, he will have seen that I do not
at all buy into the self-exonerating fiction—accepted gospel though it may be in the cult-studies
field—that people who have wasted the best years of their lives in destructive groups were merely
“brainwashed, innocent victims” of sophisticated, deliberate systems of mind control.
(It will not have helped that the famous ex-Scientologist who made that
offer—Lawrence Wollersheim, of
FACTNet—is now the Co-Executive Director of the
 group. The latter is in turn “largely inspired by
Ken Wilber’s integral philosophy and Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics”
It is well-known that members of closed, destructive groups tend to be idealistic persons. Well then, what
do idealists do, if not elevate their heroes to positions of near-perfection? Rather than simply lamenting that
so many well-meaning persons get involved with such “chosen” groups, why not recognize that the same idealism,
and its oft-associated projection and narcissism (in the hope of changing/saving the world through one’s
membership in a special group of like-minded people), is a big part of what creates the problem in the first place?
That, though, would require taking responsibility for one’s own actions and gullibility rather than blaming
So, no surprise that even these well-known and highly respected
anti-Scientologists, who are courageous enough when it comes to standing up to and exposing that organization,
would rather ignore one of the few in-depth resources which thoroughly exposes kw for
the grossly manipulative spiritual leader that he is, rather than face the most unflattering reasons
for their own participation in our world’s allegedly destructive groups. Much easier to cry about how
they were manipulated to the point where they couldn’t think for themselves (!) than to admit their
own deep desire to be told pleasant salvational lies by “perfect” authority-figures.
They assert more or less out of thin air that, without having been subjected to one or another form of
“mind control,” supposedly no one would ever
believe that one or another alternative spiritual leader is what he claims to be ... and
follow that up by vouching for
“safe, traditional” religions which invariably not only began as full-blown destructive
cults, but which have teachings which are every bit as nonsensical as the best of
L. Ron Hubbard’s spiritual fiction.
They will even absolve the inner circle surrounding the guru/pandit from any responsibility for their
actions in abusing others, as those high members, too, were allegedly under the same “mind control”;
thus leaving only the guru-figure, among thousands or millions of “innocent victims,”
to be painted with any blame for the utterly predictably, social psychology-based
nature of the community. How oddly convenient, in that it further absolves these experts for
their own abuses of peons while holding inner-circle positions in their respective groups.
And those are the same people who make the rules about what you are allowed to think and theorize in
cult studies, and still be accepted as a knowledgeable professional there: If you want to be a member in good
standing of that biased and heavily religious/spiritual group, and not be guilty of blaming the victim,
you had better not question the most sensitive aspects of their
accepted wisdom too deeply, regardless of how obviously
one-sided and even outright wrong it may be.
Cult members, more often than not, are simply “religion
addicts” who would believe absolutely anything that got them into a “saved” group (where any overt
attempts at mind control, though those most certainly do exist, are almost overkill):
Addiction is not a disease but rather a habitual response and a source of gratification and security that
can be understood only in the context of social relationships and experiences.... Addiction is characterized
by the repeated use of substances or behaviors despite clear evidence of morbidity secondary to such use....
Addiction is often applied to compulsive behaviors other than drug use, such as overeating or gambling....
In all cases, the term addiction describes a chronic pattern of behavior that continues and is perceived to
be hard or impossible to quit at any time....
Addiction is often characterized by an ongoing effort to use
more (drug or behavior), tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the stimulus. Many drugs and
behaviors that provide either pleasure or relief from pain pose a risk of addiction or dependency....
Instead of an actual physiological dependence on a drug, such as heroin, psychological addiction usually
develops out of habits that relieve symptoms of loneliness or anxiety. As the drug [or behavior] is indulged,
it becomes associated with the release of pleasure-inducing endorphins, and a cycle is started that is similar
to physiological addiction. This cycle is often very difficult to break
Members of established religions and of smaller guru/pandit-led groups clearly suffer from an excessive need
for social sanction for their beliefs, a tendency to elevate people they admire to “infallible hero” status,
a strong desire for acceptance from their then-great
heroes, and a deep need to belong to a “saved” in-group. The psychological comfort (and yes, endorphins) which one’s
meeting of each of those needs confers is common to both groups, in equal measure.
Conversely, whether you are one of Jehovah’s “Chosen People” or one of Sun Myung Moon’s comparable selected few
obviously makes no difference in terms of the psychological dynamics involved in that feeling of “specialness.”
Likewise, you may
be safe in an ashram from the demonic maya outside; safe in the Catholic Church from the influence of Satan
“out there,” at least so long as you confess your every mortal sin (including masturbation) on a regular
basis; safe in Jonestown from the planted “snipers” in the surrounding jungle; or safe in a “second-tier” institution
from the “attacks” of the purported 98% of the world which is “first tier”—and which supposedly cannot,
even in principle, understand you, until its (“Mean Green Meme”) members evolve to your own high perspective.
In all of those cases, you will have the same need for a “safe sanctuary,” even if the intensity of fear
you feel at those mostly-imagined “persecutions”—and the corresponding degree of “protective” closure
of the community from outside influences and questioning—may differ.
The organization may be led by a living guru/pandit or by a deceased one; that difference matters little
in either of those (specialness and felt safety) regards.
Cult leaders, if they deign to formulate theories as to what a cult is, will invariably
set up those criteria so that their own group isn’t at risk of being categorized as a cult—being either
blind to their own abusive manipulations, or deliberately overlooking or suppressing those. In exactly the
same way, the leaders in cult studies cannot bring themselves to admit that the same weaknesses which made
them susceptible to becoming psychologically “trapped” in one or another recognized cult are also what
brought them back to the “safe” religions of their respective childhoods (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church, with its
“safe and normal” history of Inquisitions, murderous Crusades, and witch-hunts).
Cult-studies professionals further typically emphasize how persons will
get involved with destructive groups at low and vulnerable points in their lives, neglecting to note how the
need for meaning in life can be felt just as strongly when one is “on top of the world,” and yet still finds
that there is something missing.
Regardless, when such persons “escape” from one or another closed, destructive community, to be free to believe whatever
they want, and then choose to believe that they are still one of the Chosen People, or that Jesus and Mary are
everything they’re claimed to be in salvational terms, they have just exchanged one set of fairy tales for
another. Such people are psychologically “addicted” to religion every bit as much as are
others who flit from guru to guru to pandit.
If religion (even in its “alternative” forms) is indeed the opiate of the masses, it comes complete with its
own existential, social and biological (re: endorphins) withdrawal symptoms, to keep you
hooked—all of which is basically implied
even just by Voltaire’s statement that if God (and “perfect gurus”) didn’t exist, we would (and do) create
them. “Even if my present guru turns out to have feet of clay, the next one will be the real thing”; even if
all the religions I’ve been a member of are false, there is a true one out there somewhere, etc.
And, since the guru nearly always frames himself as being the source of all the good feelings one initially
had in his presence, and as being the divinely ordained channel for all bliss-experiences and enlightenment, there
is powerful incentive to keep going back for more, even if getting your hits from a different “dealer.”
(And if you don’t think that meditation, like drugs, can function as a form of escapism, think again.)
Perhaps one in a thousand guru-figures uses his/her power wisely and non-abusively. Ken Wilber, for all of his
glaring flaws as both a pretend-scholar and a desperately insecure human being who will brook no criticism
of his ideas without attempting to discredit the “enemy” as being too spiritually unevolved to understand his Great Notions,
has never been the worst among those “leading” figures. Rather, he is simply the one who makes the most
quantitative statements. And thus, he is also the one who can be the most easily shown to be consistently
wrong and/or dishonest, via simple research which any intelligent undergraduate should be able to do.
Nevertheless, it is easy to underestimate the degree of psychological abuse which goes on in even “neutral” or “moderate”
groups such as the Integral Institute, where you “can leave any time you want” without the threat of
physical violence being used against you for doing so. If you think, then, that the “freedom to disengage”
makes such depression- and suicide-inducing “spiritual prisons” safe, or in any way easy to leave, you
really need to put much more thought into the subject.
You can start with pondering how even Wilber
(1991) himself, at the low point of his second marriage,
went out gun-shopping, intending to end his life rather than just walk away from that sorrow:
I will walk into Andy’s Sporting Goods, on Park Street in South Lake Tahoe, to buy a gun meant to
vaporize this entire state of affairs. Because, as they always say, I can simply stand it no longer.