Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Monday, August 1, 2011

Integral Ecology Chapter 9

Okay, here we go, it's me at the decks, in our summer of Integration, and I'm here to talk about Chapter 9 of Michael Zimmerman's (et al.) Integral Ecology, which is entitled, “Ecological Harmony and Environmental Crisis in a Post-Natural World.” This follows Nick Hedlund's report.

Now I'm going to be able to give this chapter a much fairer shake if I can just get some of my own decks cleared. So here's my first post, and it's not pretty.

The best I can come up with at present is that the authors' argument is right for all the wrong reasons. It's as if they've tried to make a gourmet meal using ingredients they bought at McDonalds. I shall try to calm down and present this fairly, but first you and I have to go through this:

My inner Adorno has a stomach churning, visceral reaction to all the reassuring graphs and charts. All the conclusions have been established in advance of anything like an argument. The chart on page 279 is exemplary. Overlapping ovals—of course they must overlap! Wouldn't want to deprive anything of overlapping!—hang over a diagram. Above them are the words “Gross,” “Subtle,” “Causal,” “Nondual.”

This is the “Nature Mysticism Lattice.” Now there are three words in that title I find problematic. But let's stick with “Lattice” for now. Who the heck decided that “Nondual” experiences overlap with “Causal” ones but not with “Subtle” ones? Prove it. Show me the evidence. Interview some “mystics” and report the findings. Read the esoteric texts of every spiritual tradition on Earth, assuming you can prove what counts as esoteric and what counts as spiritual and what counts as tradition.

What is the “Suchness” bubble? Well, we are told that it corresponds with “Always Already,” “union of emptiness and form,” “Spaciousness, Flow and Openess.” Why the last three terms are capitalized is beyond me. What the authors mean by “union of emptiness and form” must be some kind of Mahayana Buddhism, unless the term means nothing at all, which I very much suspect it does. Why does Mahayana Buddhism get to dictate the terms of Suchness? What happened to the Aborigines a paragraph before?

Always Already is a term of Heidegger's that Derrida uses to great effect. Yet the authors of Integral Ecology dismiss phenomenology, from the exploration of which this term arises, in a single sentence two pages prior. Heaven forbid that we do anything as primitive as phenomenology! The same goes for “naive realism”—but what is it? We intellectuals “know” we shouldn't be naive. What if a great sage such as Tilopa were to say, “Yes, suchness exists, I can see it right now.” Wouldn't that be dismissed as naive realism? It's realism: suchness exists. And I can see it directly: naivety. 

Ah, I get it. What Tilopa is experiencing is Flow. You know, flow. It's much better than stasis. We're sophisticated moderns. We go to the gym. We get in the zone. We watch the CNN ticker. See how it flows.

These diagrams are huge unsubtle trumpet blasts from the totally administered world. Beam me up Scotty!


Duff said...

Best critique of anything "integral (tm)" I've read. :)

cameron.keys said...

Don't let the shortcomings of Zimmerman et al lead you to think that all things "integral" are useless. The core epistemology of Mr. Wilber is still vibrant and useful, namely "integral methodological pluralism". The situation is one in which a few academics are trying their hand with the graphical interfaces that Wilber has developed for the majority of the population that is convinced by vision-logic and developmental models. If you think of Zimmerman et al's profusion of graphs and labels in terms of Dan Sperber's "argumentative rationality" theory, for example, what you'll find is that Zimmerman et al are under the impression that they can convince people of something through diagrams, flow charts, and developmental models of environmental thought.

The trouble with that view is that a large swath of Zimmerman's target audience in academia does not actually operate from a predominantly "vision-logic" and "formal-operational" point of view! Not only that, but much of the audience that DOES operate predominantly through those entrepots will be inclined to antagonism if they feel preached to by Zimmerman and co! I mean, the whole issue with argumentative rationality is rooted in levels of trust between interlocutors. If someone fires a barrage of diagrams with neat developmental proofs at one moment, then in the next suggests that their approach is comprehensive, anyone else who pretends to hold a view that calls that system into question is forced to recoil.

It's a real mess. Ken Wilber himself has always been loathe to engage academia for this reason, that the diagrams and developmental jargon is doomed to endless antagonism simply by virtue of arguing via diagrams and developmental jargon. Zimmerman and company are always-already doomed to obscurity. It doesn't help that they ignore this predetermined situation. Instead they proceed apace, introducing us to a methodology that presumes its own comprehensive conclusions.