Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ken Wilber’s All Quadrant All Levels, Spiral Dynamics and Objectivism

As you'd expect by the title and nature of this blog I am influenced by Ayn Rand. However Ken Wilber has also influenced my thinking. If you're not familiar with Wilber the best way I can describe his thinking is systematic Buddhism. I'm sure Rand and her more ardent fans would dismiss Wilber as he is a self-described mystic and therefore is automatically not worth considering. I obviously disagree. Even if you don't accept his fundamental spiritual philosophy I believe we can benefit from the cornerstone of Wilber's thinking: his All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) model.

The AQAL model does not tell us what to think but instead offers a template for interpreting the world. It's difficult to put the diagram into this blog so I'll try to describe it. Imagine a box broken into quadrants. The upper left quadrant represents our individual internal world, the world inside our consciousness. Corresponding to this upper left quadrant is the upper right: our external behavior, what people see that results from our thinking and feeling. The lower left quadrant represents our collective interior world of cultural aspects: the world of social mores, politics, and etc. The lower right quadrant covers our social world, how we relate to one another (friendships, family, work, etc.) (Note: Wilber and his colleagues probably would take issue with how I've described the quadrants. This is my take on the AQAL model.) The one word description of each quadrant, starting with the upper left, is intentional, behavioral, cultural and social.

Wilber proposes that each quadrant adheres to its own version of truth. For the interior individual truth is being truthful (or objective?): for the exterior individual, truth: for cultural, justness; and for social, functional fitness.

Wilber contends that most philosophies and ideologies latch onto one of these quadrants then claim their truth applies to everything. Hence, Marxism, which explains everything in terms of means of production and class warfare, expands a lower right quadrant conclusion to apply to the other three. Or, behaviorism which looks at consciousness from the outside ultimately says that the internal world of consciousness can be reduced merely to external behavior.

Wilber contends that each "ism" identifies a kernel of truth but makes the fatal mistake of saying their kernel is the whole cob! As Wilber likes to say no one is so brilliant that they're 100% wrong. Wilber calls his overall approach "integral" because the AQAL model integrates the four basic dimensions of human experience. Anyone in Wilber's camp are identified as Integral Thinkers.

Not being a static model AQAL incorporates the idea of evolution as well so that people and cultures can develop through these quadrants in an ascending spiral. In fact, Wilber eventually incorporated another model called Spiral Dynamics which uses colors to designate different stages of development in our consciousness. I figure some Objectivists blanch at this New Age sounding jargon but I believe both the AQAL and Spiral Dynamics (SD) models have some validity and explanatory power. I encourage anyone interested in exploring these ideas to check out these web sites.






If I may digress here is what I mean by explanatory power of SD. But first a little background. The SD model uses colors to describe each stage of evolutionary development. I want to focus on three of the most recent stages: Blue, Orange and Green. Or. as Stephen McIntosh another Integral author calls them, traditional, modern and postmodern. By traditional (or Blue) we refer to those who value law and order, the market as a governing and disciplining device, belief in God-given rights, religion providing moral order, etc. Blue represents the traditional Republican or conservative.

Orange applies to the Enlightenment mentality: individualism, achievement-oriented, free market as an expression of individuality, reason and science, order is inherent within nature, not imposed by God. Obviously, many libertarians and Objectivists fall into Orange.

Green describes the modern liberal with their belief in egalitarianism, anti-hierarchy, freedom of expression and a concern with the have-nots.

As you can see Blue and Green are more collective oriented while Orange favors the individual. I think it also becomes clear why there is a constant tension in the alliance of traditional Blue conservatives and the modern Orange libertarians and Objectivists. What little common ground they share is constantly threatened by their fundamentally different worldviews. They share a common antipathy for the modern liberal.

You might balk at the idea that in the SD model Green liberals are deemed as more evolved in this scheme. I share this reservation to a degree but ultimately agree for reasons I won't cover now. Wilber too doesn't say that the Green stage is the be-all and end-all. In fact he refers to this level as the "mean Green meme" and wrote a novel titled "Boomeritis" (referring to the excesses of the Green stage) because, despite their kumbaya message, the Greens judge people in other levels just as harshly as conservatives and Objectivists, deny any validity of the earlier stages (thereby undercutting the foundation upon which their stage depends -- which postmodernism carried to the extreme) and suppress debate through political correctness. Worse, they prevent further development beyond Green to what Wilber calls the "second tier" of thinking that incorporates the healthiest parts of the previous levels while jettisoning the unhealthy. Just like every other stage, Green believes they are the most advanced stage of consciousness.

In any case there is a LOT more to AQAL and SD than I can cover or do justice to here. I encourage anyone interested in checking out Wilber's books and the related web sites. I feel I have benefited from their ideas and believe you would too.