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INITIALLY, I WAS VERY IMPRESSED with Boomeritis: A Novel That Will Set You Free by Ken Wilber (KW), especially KW’s presentation of the Spiral Dynamics® model of psychological and cultural development, his vivisection of deconstructive postmodernism, and his intriguing integral vision.
However, this alleged “heart-breaking work of staggering genius” (page 326) had some troubling aspects, notably the unrelenting lascivious sexuality and the fanciful spirituality, and over time, I became increasingly unsettled about Boomeritis. My tipping point occurred soon after reading Geoffrey Falk’s critique “Norman Einstein (Ken Wilber)” which prompted me to present some of my concerns in an essay “Ken Wilber on Meditation: A Baffling Babbling of Unending Nonsense.”
This new essay presents twenty mistakes in Boomeritis that I found to be distracting, disruptive, and disturbing. I’ve grouped these twenty blunders into three categories: Shoddy Scholarship (consisting of minor blunders), Salacious Sex (consisting of moderate blunders), and Sham Spirituality (consisting of major blunders). A friend has asked me how I can challenge the veracity of fiction, especially a novel that includes deliberately false statements; the second of the seven characteristics of a “perfect postmodern novel” (page 324) permits an author to “[i]nclude real references, make some of them up, mix and match, what the hell” (page 325). Will readers agree that I’ve exposed mistakes and errors in Boomeritis? That’s for each reader to determine.
Blunder 0. There’s Something About Chloe. In the “About the Author Section” opposite page 456, Chloe Walters is identified as KW’s fiancé, which is a man engaged to be married; KW should have described Chloe as his fiancée, a woman engaged to be married. I suspect that many readers are now thinking that this is just a trivial, inconsequential oversight. Well, they’re right, so I’ve numbered this Blunder zero, and it won’t count towards my list of twenty blunders.
Blunder 1. Department of Redundancy Department. KW repeats himself over and over and over and over again; plenty of duplication, reduplication, reiteration, repetition, and replication. I first noticed KW’s habit of redundancy when I read the two Spiral Dynamics® tutorials: one in Chapter 1 then another in Chapter 3. Here are more examples:
Blunder 2. You Deserve a Burn Today. On page 174, Derek Van Cleef lectures:
In 1993, a woman pulled into a McDonald’s, ordered a cup of coffee, got in her car, took the lid off the coffee, placed the open cup in her lap, and stepped on the gas. The coffee spilled and burned her leg. She sued McDonald’s for 2 million dollars in damages, and she won. It was McDonald’s fault for making the coffee too hot.
KW presents an inaccurate, sensational, sound-bite summary of this widely publicized and controversial case. I’ve identified at least one false or misleading statement in each sentence:
If you wish to learn more about this case, see the References section for links to opposing views.
Blunder 3. Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do? On page 174, Derek Van Cleef rants:
... in the Menendez brothers trial, where two brothers, who shot their parents as they lay sleeping, were originally acquitted because they claimed they were “abused” by their father.
The Menendez brothers were never “acquitted.” While their first trials resulted in deadlocked (or hung) juries, their patricidal and matricidal adventures did not go unpunished in their second trials. In 1996, Lyle and Erik were each convicted of two counts of first degree murder, as well as conspiracy to commit murder, and they were then sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Beneath their photo at CourtTV.com is the caption “The Brothers Grim.”
Blunder 4. I Attended Law School at Urban Legends University. On page 178:
Van Cleef began reading clippings from various newspapers. “Consider the legal and cultural climate that inspired the men who were injured while carrying refrigerators on their backs during ‘refrigerator races’ to sue the manufacturer because the appliances carried insufficient warnings of possible injury from such activities.”
My research revealed the following:
After too many hours of research, I’ve concluded that this lawsuit most likely never happened, but even if it were a true story, all that it proves is that anybody can sue anybody over anything.
Blunder 5. A Blurb is a Blurb is a Blurb. On page 244, Lesa Powell preaches:
How badly has boomeritis invaded American universities—your very own university, for example? How mean has the mean green meme become? The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses, by Kors and Silverglate, is a thorough survey of the actual state of affairs. Far from being right-wing ideologues, its authors are liberals in good standing. Instead of quoting case after case—I urge all of you to consult this book for yourselves—I will give a few of the responses from critics, simply to try to convey a sense of the urgency and outrage.
Powell then cites a series of flattering endorsements from Linda Chavez, Alan Dershowitz, Christina Sommers, Nat Hentoff, and Wendy Kaminer in support of The Betrayal of Liberty. These alleged “responses from critics” are actually blurbs taken ver batim from the back cover of the 1998 hardcover edition of The Shadow University. In fact, Dershowitz, Hentoff, and Kaminer were thanked for their assistance by Kors and Silverglate on page X of the Acknowledgements. Let me toss a lifeline to KW on this one: in the revised edition of Boomeritis, change the phrase “responses from critics” to “responses from social critics across the ideological spectrum.”
Blunder 6. When the Deep Blue Falls Over Sleepy Garden Walls. KW gets it wrong twice when recounting an epic event in recent chess history:
Kasparov easily defeated Deep Thought in a two-game match in 1989; it was a heavily upgraded Deep Blue (AKA, Deeper Blue) that defeated Kasparov 3.5 to 2.5 in a six-game rematch in 1997.
Blunder 7. All Quiet on the Fraternity Front. On page 227, young KW’s Dad recalls the horror of his college years when he had a student deferment from military service:
This is what I remember at the beginning, when the war broke out, and they started the draft, started calling up us guys. Started calling the men, just the men, to go fight in the trenches of Vietnam. I would wake up at night, sweating, scared out of my wits, truly frightened to death.
I’ve identified three historical problems with this recollection:
Blunder 8. Who Shoved Me Down the 12 Steps? On page 170, Joan Hazelton says:
Over the next few days, what we will be doing is quite similar to what is called “a confrontation” with an alcohol or drug abuser. Family and loved ones gather to confront the individual with evidence of the dysfunction, and a painful—but ultimately, it is hoped, liberating—awareness results.
“Confrontation” (also used by Margaret Carlton on page 383) is an inappropriate term to use here; the much more common term is “intervention.”
Blunder 9. Literary License Revoked: Rebuke Author and Impound Keyboard! Neither of the two discussions of literature—Lesa Powell’s lecture “Derrida and Deconstruction” on pages 196-201 nor Margaret Carlton’s lecture “Literary Theory” on pages 312-5—mentions one of the most insidious intrusions of deconstructive postmodernism, the politicization of literary criticism.
Margaret Carlson’s lecture begins:
We have seen that many of the profound insights of postmodernism—such as the importance of pluralism, contextualism, and interpretation—were taken to extremes by boomeritis and the mean green meme, with results that ranged from comical to criminal to tragic. Few, however, were more entertaining than literary theory.
Her lecture explores the self-reflexivity and narcissism in postmodern art interpretation, but she fails to discuss how literary criticism has been hijacked by pomomucu (postmodern multicultural) critics who denigrate Western literature and promote an overtly political agenda. This troubling state of affairs is brilliantly exposed in Literature Lost by John Ellis; here is a very brief summary:
Ellis observes that there are now great changes in the way literature is taught; notably, the primary issue in literary texts is the question of race, gender, and class oppression. The politicization of literary criticism is a core element of extreme postmodernism, and I recommend to KW that he research then include this vital “mean green meme” issue in any future revision of Boomeritis.
Blunder 10. The Hanging Judge Gaucho Marx, the Law West of the Kosmos. On page 99, the young KW states:
my dad used to quote Karl Marx all the time: “A capitalist will sell you the rope you are going to hang him with.”
Here are several problems with this Karl Marx quotation:
The fortuitous discovery of They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions revealed that this quotation is:
Blunder 11. The Incredible Shrinking Brain. On page 136, Jonathan declares:
Hey, did you read the Harvard study showing that tofu causes the brain to shrink? The phytoestrogens in it. Soy products measurably lower IQ.
Hey yourself! This one strikes pretty close to home as I’ve been eating low on the food chain for over a decade, and I’ve had more than my share of tofu and soy products, and I can tell you something. I ... ah ... well ... I mean.... What were we discussing? I’ll have to get back to you....
Oh yeah, now I remember. Lots of excitement when the article “Brain Aging and Midlife Tofu Consumption” appeared in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2000, but compare KW’s hip quip with the thoughtful lead editorial and the Discussion at the end of the article.
The Harvard School of Public Health has a balanced summary of research on soy and memory:
A few studies have raised the possibility that eating soy could help prevent the age-related loss of memory or decline in cognitive function. Two recent trials have yielded contradictory results in this area, with one showing a benefit for soy and another showing no benefit. Others go further, and suggest that too much soy could lead to memory problems. Among older women of Japanese ancestry living in Hawaii, those who relied on the traditional soy-based diet were more likely to have cognitive problems than those who switched to a more Western diet.
Soy and memory is a complex issue with competing claims, yet KW presents merely a glib gibe.
Blunder 12. Sir Gresham and the Quest for the Wholly Male. The low point in Boomeritis was KW’s Dad’s degenerate discourse on the origin of modern feminism as “a movement that was actually invented by five males in the basement of Dartmouth in 1965” (pages 307-11). I was angered and saddened at this crass humor that is best left in locker rooms, fraternity houses, and truck stops (with deepest apologies to all the decent athletes, fraternity men, and truck drivers).
Are you familiar with Gresham’s Law, the principle that bad money drives out good money? (To avoid receiving corrections from economists, here’s a more precise statement of Gresham’s Law: bad money drives good money out of circulation if legal tender laws require that they exchange for the same price.) In 1558, Sir Thomas Gresham explained to Queen Elizabeth I that the “bad” coins adulterated with base metals were driving the “good” coins of pure silver out of circulation. An ancient example is the inflation due to the debasement of the pure silver Greek drachma with the silver and copper Roman denarius. More recently, when copper-nickel clad coins were introduced by the U.S. Mint in 1965, pre-1965 coins that were 90% silver promptly disappeared.
Well, KW’s lewd explanation of the rise of modern feminism was a case of bad ideas driving out good ideas. Rather than this libidinous fantasy, KW could have given us a thoughtful, informative analysis concerning the rise of modern feminism in the 1960’s using his All Quadrant model to explore the intentional, behavioral, cultural, and social factors that generated modern feminism. Instead of presenting his readers with good (integral, transpersonal, superconscious, worldcentric) ideas, KW drove these out with bad (instinctual, prepersonal, subconscious, crotchcentric) ideas.
Blunder 13. Satyrman, Satyrman, Does Whatever a Satyr Can. I was battered by the hailstorm of puerile sexual reveries despite KW’s proud claim in an online interview that “[p]robably the central message of the novel actually occurs in the fantasy sequences.”
While KW’s “tantric” sexual fantasies are bolded so they are easy to skip, they are unrelenting; the first four chapters include 29 explicit sexual fantasies in just 150 pages—a rate of one fantasy every five pages. At a reading pace of about two minutes per page, that’s right on schedule since:
It seems that KW’s response to Chloe’s question, “what’s the poor boy to do?” is to share each “X-rated ... huge erotic fantasy” with his readers. What psychological dynamic lurks behind the uninhibited, immature eroticism in Boomeritis? One correspondent has speculated that:
... weaving in the mind-space of the sexual, adolescent youngster and others—his dad—etc., seemed, well, tacky and unnecessary. Maybe that’s part of being hip, but it suggested a shadow Dionysian complex that included a measure of sadism, the adolescent shocking—epater le bourgeoise—shock the middleclass mind ... a very mild form of George Carlin, who mixes his genius sensitivity for words and predicaments with what seems to me to be a potty-mouthed cynicism that I deem unnecessary and saddening. Sort of like a great musician preferring to play piano in a whorehouse.
Some may bitterly protest that this is a fictional KW in Boomeritis and not the real KW, or is it? Here’s an unsettling account of the real KW that appeared in a post at the Integral Naked Forum:
I wrote in a controversial thread a long time back [1/21/2004] about visiting Ken’s house with a group of students and being surprised by his pantomimed masturbation and his laughing but quite frequent requests for blowjobs from the audience. I laughed with everyone else, but at the back of my mind, I realized I was disturbed and disappointed by it, not because I don’t think a guy should enjoy a blowjob!, but because it just seemed so “in your face” and odd and definitely controversial for someone who is seeking to move more into the public light, where so much controversy surrounds “gurus” and spiritual teachers already. But other people I talked to weren’t bothered by it at all, so maybe he just gauged his audience correctly, realized that the conservative schmucks were few and far between, and decided to have fun. (Balder on 11/2/2004)
Well, I’m not going to condemn KW based solely on a hearsay account of just a single episode. As a professor once told me, “Never draw a conclusion about a population from a sample size of one,” and another professor has advised me that he illustrated this very same point with the joke: “All soldiers march in single file. At least the only one I ever saw did!” But if KW’s misconduct is a pattern, then I recommend that his friends promptly conduct an intervention (see Blunder 8).
Blunder 14. Let’s Get Physical, Physical. On page 411, Carla Fuentes pontificates on Integral Transformative Practice:
“So let us start with the physical. This can be very simple—perhaps adopting a healthier diet. Or taking up exercise—we recommend weight lifting because its physiological benefits are far greater than any others; but it can also be swimming, jogging, hatha yoga, and so on. We find clinically that about 50% of the changes that occur in transformation actually occur at this simple physical level, so don’t pooh-pooh it!” she proclaimed with a jaunty laugh.
What an amazing assertion: “about 50% of the changes that occur in transformation actually occur at this simple physical level.” Where’s the evidence? KW, as usual, cites no supporting evidence in the novel or his online endnotes. If these claims were true, wouldn’t vegetarians, professional and amateur athletes, joggers, body builders, etc. be among the most highly evolved humans on Earth? My response to Dr. Fuentes: “Pooh-pooh,” proclaimed with a jaunty laugh.
Blunder 15. Spirit’s Up! Where’s the Wax for My Ouija Board? Joan Hazelton lectures:
These astonishing assertions (“certain types of psychic phenomenon and paranormal powers are indeed a reality” and “genuine psychic capacities—which do seem to possess paranormal powers”) are themselves “purely superstitious.” KW is violating a fundamental principle of logic: the burden of proof is on the person making the assertion, yet he provides absolutely no support. As the late Carl Sagan often explained, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
Surprisingly, KW’s zany claims are not part of the fictional element of the novel; I was dismayed to discover many other instances where KW proclaims his belief in paranormal/psychic powers:
In the above series of non-Boomeritis quotations, KW offers some cautions (“charlatan ‘psychics’ ... a lot of them are prerational and maybe a little bit fraudulent”), but he also presents many explicit expressions of his belief in psychic and paranormal powers; here are the highlights:
... actual psychic events ... I’m sure they exist ... there are such things ... actual ... actual, real events ... real psychic powers ... highly advanced, highly mature powers ... really very authentic ... beyond dispute ... every statistician agrees ... 100% certain.
I could direct KW and my readers to books and websites that debunk this nonsense, but instead, how about the following challenge: KW, please promptly submit a “person who can actually evidence a paranormal power,” i.e., one with “genuine psychic capacities,” to the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), then collect the $1,000,000 prize. The JREF is offering this “prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.” See the References section for a link to information concerning the JREF’s “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge” and an application.
Furthermore, I recommend that KW conduct a dramatic, decisive, front-cover-of-Time-magazine experiment presenting conclusive proof of psychic and paranormal powers using a protocol proposed by Bob Park in Voodoo Science. Instead of testing psychokinetic powers (a power specifically identified in Kosmic Consciousness, CD 4) with a typical pseudo-random device that can produce ever so slight statistical deviations from pure chance, employ an ultramicrobalance that can measure the force of less than a billionth of a ounce. Then instruct the psychokinetic psychic to deflect the microbalance; according to Park, “It’s sensitive, simple, even quantitative, with no need for any dubious statistical analysis.” KW can receive worldwide fame and $1M!
And what’s in it for me for making this lucrative suggestion? Well, I request that KW express his gratitude by giving me a 5% fee (a mere $50K) when he earns the $1M prize. KW, is it a deal?
Blunder 16. Remedial Integral Math 101. On page 396, Charles Morin’s audience “was transfixed, both jolted and stunned” by the following analysis and prediction:
I freely admit that I’m not an acclaimed integral scholar who purports to be developing a new branch of mathematics, but I was “jolted and stunned” by KW’s big goof in basic math. It seems to me that if 10% of the population is at Yellow, and if Yellow is approximately ten times more efficient than Green, then the 10% of the population reaching Yellow would be approximately four times as effective, not merely “at least” as effective, as the 25% of the population at Green.
Blunder 17. Who’s in Charge Here? Boomeritis/Green dominates contemporary culture:
In my view, if 2% of the population is currently at Yellow (pages 31, 153, 154, 318, 395, 396, and 419), and if Yellow “is approximately ten times more efficient than green,” then the 2% at Yellow would already have an impact on contemporary culture comparable to the 25% at Green. Now ask yourself: today, do the 2% at Yellow have anywhere near the impact “in liberal politics, social services, legal policies, health care, and academia” as the 25% at Green? If not, then KW’s mystical claim that “yellow is approximately ten times more efficient than green” (an assertion that KW also made in an online interview posted at his publisher’s website) is very severely mistaken.
Blunder 18. Going Up, Anyone? KW thrice endorses meditation:
For a dismemberment of KW’s claim that meditation accelerates the development of human consciousness, see my essay “Ken Wilber on Meditation” which discusses these nine concerns:
Blunder 19. Unified Field of Unconsciousness. Late in the novel, KW introduces a most remarkable teaching—“a huge Omega Point pulling all others into that final enlightenment”:
What is the “intriguing evidence” that supports these astonishing claims? Well, here it is:
There is a very large body of empirical evidence showing that when 1% of the population of a town, say, begins to meditate, then crime statistics all go down sharply. Murder, rape, theft, they all go down. It’s called “the Maharishi effect,” and even skeptics admit that it’s a real phenomenon. The best explanation is ... that when people touch third tier, it acts as a magnet for others. So you can extrapolate that to its conclusion: it’s as if, once a significant number of individuals awaken to this Omega point, then it will create a type of intense center of gravity that sucks all other states into this cosmic consciousness, that helps pull all people into a spiritual awakening, which is actually awakening to their own true Self. (Jonathan on page 433)
Absolutely false. Total bunk. To paraphrase comedian Dennis Miller, if you want to see this claim stomped like a narc at a biker rally, see Concern 8 in my essay “Ken Wilber on Meditation” which explains how academicians and skeptics have repeatedly discredited “the Maharishi effect.”
But wait! In an interview posted at his publisher’s website, KW confessed that he really doesn’t believe that “the Spiral of development seems to be heading toward some sort of ultimate Omega point, a type of full-blown cosmic consciousness.” Alas, it was a fictional element in the novel—just some sort of fake psi-fi, I guess. While KW makes my case by admitting that the Omega point is bogus, I suspect that very few Boomeritis readers have read that online interview and that most of them will be unaware of the fabricated nature of KW’s facetious spirituality.
Blunder 20. Arise, Ye Geeks and Ye Geezers, Arise! If you’re between the ages of 25 and 55 and hope to develop greater wisdom and compassion, then you’d better skip to the Summary:
KW also makes these claims elsewhere:
The initial quotation in the first section promises that “[w]e have a great deal of research on this,” but no research is cited in the text or in the online “Endnotes to Boomeritis.” I was unable to find any evidence supporting this “geeks and geezers” thesis in the book Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders by Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas.
Geeks and Geezers proposes a new model of leadership that is based on a cross-generational study—interviews with 25 of today’s oldest leaders and 18 of today’s youngest leaders:
The leadership model, as the subtitle indicates, proposes that the historical era, the values of that era, and personal defining moments shape leaders. Geeks and Geezers provides no support for KW’s repeated claim that there is a latency/dormancy period between ages 25 and 55.
Of course, it’s possible that co-author Bennis, a founding member of KW’s Integral Institute, had conversations with KW and agreed that psychological transformation occurs only before age 25 and after age 55. Or maybe KW read only the front cover of Geeks and Geezers in the same manner that he may have read only the back cover of The Betrayal of Liberty (see Blunder 5).
Category I — Shoddy Scholarship (Minor Blunders)
Category II — Salacious Sex (Moderate Blunders)
Category III — Sham Spirituality (Major Blunders)
I ended my Introduction: “Will readers agree that I’ve exposed mistakes and errors in Boomeritis? That’s for each reader to determine.” So, how did I do? Or more importantly, how did KW do?
You can decide by formulating your own answers to the following three key questions:
I have determined that these twenty(-one) blunders demonstrate that KW’s Boomeritis contains, as the subtitle of this essay indicates, “Shoddy Scholarship, Salacious Sex, and Sham Spirituality,” with the most serious blunders occurring in Category III. In my judgment, the most disturbing item was Blunder 15 that exposed KW’s belief in psychic and paranormal powers.
My recommendation to KW is that he direct his publisher to hire a experienced editor to perform an independent, comprehensive revision (“extreme makeover”) of Boomeritis by:
My recommendation to KW’s admirers is that they “transcend and include” KW’s ideas by:
My e-mail address is Deep Trout as one word (with no space) at msn.com.
Please write me if you’ve detected any errors in this essay. Also, tell me about any other blunders in Boomeritis that you’ve identified; maybe I’ll receive 20 new blunders and publish Part 2.
Here are eight spoofs that I incorporated in this essay:
Why these spoofs, the whimsical Blunder subtitles, and the occasional satire in this essay? Well, I was infected by the contagious irony in Boomeritis and inspired by a delightful quotation:
The liberation of the human mind has been best furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe—that the god in the sanctuary was a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. (H. L. Mencken, 1924)
Special thanks to Geoffrey D. Falk for:
Notes to Readers:
This version supercedes Version 1.0 dated November 15, 2005 and features these changes:
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