Integral and Me: A Brief (Partial, but True) History of My Years as a Meta-Revolutionary – by Marco V Morelli

Originally published on Metapsychosis.com.


On the one year anniversary of the Fourth International Integral Theory Conference, I reflect on what “integral” means to me now—and what I think lies beyond integral, meta and otherwise.…

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Love this article. Thanks!

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Very touching Marco. I look forward to connecting.

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Thank you for this Marco. I’m reading this at a time when my own Integral enthusiasm is as war-torn, and foggy as ever. Your well-articulated ideas have helped me gain more clarity about so much of the challenges I’ve been experiencing for so long. I have more discernment around what I’m truly longing for in my contributions and organizational efforts. I look forward to paying attention to your other efforts here with AToE. Thanks again.

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Excellent article, in depth and personal. Very helpful. I am better able to
get a handle on my own crack up with Integral after reading this piece.
Very interested in what happens next!

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Beautiful, Marco! - moving, insightful, and clarifying.

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Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Robert. Appreciate you letting me know.

And @bonnittaroy, @johnnydavis54, @raphae1—thanks for the kind words!

@ZacharyFeder – yes, let’s do it. I’ll message you.

Great read, Marco. Thanks for sharing your personal journey, in which I can see some pieces of my own bromance and break-up with capital-I Integral.

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Hey Marco. Great read! Very appreciative of your thoughtful account of the journey so far.

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Hey, Marco. It’s a long read but I appreciated hearing from you in this way. Still re-reading Gebser so not much activity from me. Cheers! Di

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Di, Thank you. After a few months of focusing on other things (after finishing our read), I’ve been thinking about Gebser again lately; he’s come up in a couple discussions, and I suppose in some ways he sort of lurks behind this piece I wrote, though I didn’t mention him by name.

It’s good that you’re taking your time with the re-read! We still have those Gebser threads open, btw, even though the discussion has died down. If something occurs to you that you want to share, feel free. I’ll read it.

@WHarryman – is it weird to break up with an intellectual framework? I admit it feels that way. I wonder if some people feel they want the intellectual framework without the people; and others the people without the intellectual framework. It would have to be both/and and neither/nor, for me. Maybe this all just my way of saying, “We can’t be together, but can we still be friends?”

@twinton — thank you brother! I appreciate seeing your face here.

For a while after the ITC I talked with different members of my ‘Integral
tribe’ (some of whom were there and some of whom were not) about what was
going on with whatever it was the word Integral signified–in terms of the
community aspect of it all anyway. Then I set that conversation aside.
Maybe it’s time to pick that conversation back up again. A lot has
transpired in the scene since then, not all of it encouraging.

I liked your characterisation of where we are at now as Integral 1.5. I’m
curious about it too. Is it partly generational? Integral 1.0 felt very
boomerish to me, with all the commercial packaging and hype. Is where we
are at now a feature of the more slackerish, hacktivist, netcrafting vibe
of us Xers? If this is even partially true, what does that point to for an
Integral 2.0, or what does it say about whether we even need one?

In any event, I’m keen on exploring the direction we are taking with A
Theory of Everything. Your post, Marco, reinforced that the community, such
as it is (and I think parts of it are as rich and as beautiful as any I
have encountered, more so perhaps) owes much to the social gravity of
Wilberian ideas, and to the man himself. I’ve mused on this sometimes
awkward fact in various forums, as some of you may know.

Many of my closest friends in the community have advocated for leaving
Integral behind and moving on with something else. I can’t quite do that. I
can feel it in my bones and I can’t sense how that can change. So, I’m
leaning into the idea that there is something worth considering in the idea
of Integral 2.0, even if it isn’t a prominent thing.

Tim Winton
+61 427 937 904

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Thank you for the article. It comfirms and validates my intuitions, my suspicions and my sitting on the fence behaviour regarding I-I, the website design, the invasive marketing approach, and various other aspects that turned me off getting more deeply involved with “the integral movement”. It also explains to some extent why despite my best intentions I still experience Integral Life Practice - the book and the course - as somewhat anemic and simply not touching or moving me in what I’d call my central concern in life, to support and empower people in their own conscious evolution. I too am very sensitive when it comes to proselityzing or inflicting a world view on people - or people trying to inflict their world view on me, usually full of unconscious and self-righteous shadow projections. In fact, I’m sickend by reactive activism in any form or shape. Instead I have been experimenting with holding and providing what I call evolutionary space that attracts people rather than preaches or “impacts” them. That’s why I have replaced terms like “breakthrough” with “seepthrough” to describe a less pushy and reactive, impatience-driven approach to evolution, which, in my view, includes translation and transformation. As I am convinced that it is the listening that provides the space for talking and all talking without the appropriate listening is futile at best and subtle-level rape at worst, I practice - and still fail - to create the space in my being that evokes the listening in others, that allows for me to speak in ways that touch, move and make a difference in people’s lives, creating a co-evolutionary dance. So far I have not felt that in the people actively promoting the AQAL-integral world view there has been any listening for this kind of approach, to allow the AQAL-integral world view to permeate into the social fabric, transforming individuals and society through nurturing evolutionary longing rather than revolutionary zeal, patience rather than impatience, inner non-pushy individual transformation rather than pushy outer collective transformation. Your article seems to point to the possibility of this kind of approach getting an appropriate listening.

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This is a strong piece from the “Boulder” side of the Integral equation. That said - and I am not saying there is any conscious intention here on your part - it is also characteristically late to the party in the terms of what a lot of us saw early and had been doing really for about 7-8 years before the 2015 ITC rolled around. And what many of us (let’s say it’s the Bay Area crew) saw already during the inception of II. I can say this with authority since I originally conceived and co-founded the event.

The problematic nature of II and Ken’s difficulty with leadership of it - as opposed to his preternatural gifts as a thinker and a writer - were very plain by 2002 when I interned there (probably just predating your arrival). I was warned by multiple people on the inside before I got there to expect that little would actually get done, projects would be requested and stalled and then die, Ken would be difficult to work for, and so on. In other words, those close to Ken had called it and been aware of it for a while in no uncertain terms - meaning people saw it all by 2001. It was every bit my experience as well. There was no way II was going to fly because leadership skills and philosophical brilliance are different capacities altogether. Lots of big names had defected almost immediately from II (if you ever saw the original II meeting transcripts you’d know - Ken didn’t know how to nuture the talent).

The idea for the first conference was therefore cooked up while I walked down a street in Palo Alto in 2005-2006 or so after a few years of reflection on knowing Boulder II would go nowhere. Sean then came on board with a similar/related vision he had been cooking; to create the self-critical and self-generative open space Integral lacked. It came together fast and relatively easily.

This now seems to be lost amidst the glow of 2015, but in 2008 we already had 500 people from something like 25+ countries in attendance. People loved the events. They also loved 2010 and 2013. 2015 was a tick upward in some way - I think the art stuff and the debates helped; these were not my ideas, but done by others - but it was not a breakthrough in any fundamental sense. It had already happened.

Beyond correcting the history for self-serving purposes, there is a point to my edge around this: People - including the people who later realized or still cannot deviate from the idea that Integral is myopic - are themselves often deeply myopically focused on Ken and the small group of young men who live/lived in Boulder. It’s been a weird uroboric dance of addict-meets-enabler (yes-man-meets-critic) to watch. Meanwhile others of us knew much more quickly what Ken had done - really, and what he admitted to actually - was to put together a group of ideas which were mostly not his ideas. He had become the mouthpiece for something a lot more global and oddly more important than his particular vision. And, we knew you had to apply it to make it count too; we understood (and understand) the intellectual critique. It was already in the books. You can’t just say it, you have to do it.

Hence, the first conference was “Integral Theory in Action.” Meaning what do you do with it? We invited every critic we could. The second we emphasized “Enacting an Integral Future.” Same gist and pro-critical view. The third we brought in two other European “integralists” with commensurate-to-Wilber visions to try and open the space that much more. Still critique and application focused.

As for politics, that has been a gripe/call/lament/critique from the beginning, really since 2003 when Wilber (sort of, not really actually. supposedly/purportedly) endorsed the Iraq War. The problem few appreciate - because I think it would complicate their moral high ground to admit it - is that a political vision that arrives from a philosophical theory is probably the “V” stage of development as opposed to the “A” stage or even the “L” stage. I always want to say to people: You fucking do it, cowboy (or cowgirl as it may be). Meaning it’s hard. Meaning it would take time to evolve. Meaning it still hasn’t really evolved. We’re still working on Enlightenment ideas and getting those right 200 years after the fact. Integral is 20 years old. Show me the platform that calls itself Integral that doesn’t just rehash at this point something that has come before. There are maybe now some hints, but no fully applicable vision.

Anyway, this was enough of a rant for now. Consider this an alternative history. This was more the Bay Area Integral Kids story. Now something of a lost history.

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@Mark_Forman: You mean you saw all this coming and didn’t warn us Boulder kids?! Or you warned us and we didn’t listen, in our (I hope forgivable) zeal to be the cool kids on the block??

Either way, I appreciate you sharing your pov here. I fully concede, there is a pre- and counter- and alternative history to my little slice of the story, a history which I was—I wouldn’t say oblivious to, because we were all interacting and aware of each other at some level—but which seemed to be not where the action was, in my particular myopia.

Then after 2006 I tried to tune it all out (though could never fully get the song out my head), so didn’t really have an appreciation for what the pre-2015 conferences were about. I started catching up a little last summer.

My only slight challenge to your account would be to the notion that “Integral is 20 years old.” This belies its own kind of myopia, if we expand to palette of “Integral” historically to include Gebser, Aurobindo, de Chardin, etc.

But even then (for my own purposes at least) I don’t find it useful to privilege the particular intellectual/spiritual lineage around the specific use of the word “Integral” philosophically, unless it can be adapted to mean something more wide open, to include artists, writers, musicians, activists, and other unnamed figures who never used the word at all, yet fundamentally contribute something invaluable to the spirit.

When Mark Fabionar, in the invocation for the last conference, had us all calling out names to honor our integral lineages, the shout-outs started of course with Wilber, Gebser, Allan Watts, and the like; but then one of the poets shouted out “Nina Simone!” And then others shouted out other names who you wouldn’t expect to be referenced in a conference on Integral Theory.

I’m definitely interested in learning more about Roy Bhaskar and other meta-theorists. At a theory level, a thinker has to hang with the level of discourse. But at a cultural level, I think “integral” could mean something much more open. I don’t think developmental tests are as helpful in the cultural sphere.


Rainer, thanks for reading, and for your reflections. I always knew there were people out there with your sensitivity, who were getting turned off by our messaging. Unfortunately, you would sometimes be dismissed as “green,” which might have been true in some cases (but if so, so what?) but which also excluded a beautiful balancing and grounding sensibility. I particularly appreciate the way you phrase it here:


Tim…

Why not? I mean, if we hold it lightly. If it’s one descriptor for that thing you feel in your bones (which I think I also feel) among other possible ways of describing or evoking it…

But I think we’d have to clarify whether we’re talking “2.0” at the level of a theory or application, or as a cultural or social reality.

As per Mark’s point above, as a world we’re still working on Enlightenment-era ideas, so we might still barely be at stage 0.1 in the process of creating an Integral culture — 0.2 maybe, in limited contexts?

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Oh, we warned and did better than warned; we invited the Boulder crowd and a number came to each one. Robb, Clint, etc. We said it all explictly and in opening ceremonies and keynotes. We took every opportunity. Somehow it didn’t penetrate or at least penetrate into the public discourse.

Your one small critique is instructive in this regard. We were really the first people to talk about and host presentations about an “integral tradition.” We had Ronald Benekdictor (look him up) in 2010 I think. I personally talked about Pitirim Sorokin - hat tip to Sean who brought the idea - at the opening of the 2010 conference. He is one of the first integral thinkers, head of Harvard Sociology in the 1930s or so. Sean also gave his keynote in 2010 on how AQAL does not equal integral. IOW, Ken’s Integral is an instance (maybe the best articulated, but just one instance) of integral. This was driven home again in 2013 with keynotes by two other “integral” thinkers.

In that sense, what I wrote actually has a convention behind to it. Capital “I” integral is Ken’s AQAL. Lowercase “integral” would refer to the tradition or the stage of complexity. Been writing that way for years. Obviously that is a little Ken-centric, but it’s a strategic move since it allows for that distinction, which is a useful one.

With that as a backdrop, what I said about Integral lacking a developed politics was also deliberate. What people are complaining about politically is only 20 years old. Aurobindo was a political activist. So if people were really thinking of the the tradition - or complaining about that - they would know he played a large role in Indian independence and maybe give us all a little credit retrospectively. :wink: No luck there.

In the end, the lesson is actually a lot more depressing than people weren’t listening: rather, what I have taken away as an object lesson is the fact that history is written quite a bit more by the victors and the aggrieved who have defined themselves against the victors than it is by sober-minded persons looking at all sides. Or at least short-term history is written by those persons.

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Thank you Marco for this extraordinarily complete autobiographical confession. Even though I have zero exposure or awareness of anything Integral, I appreciate the opportunity this document provided me to eavesdrop on a slice of your personal evolution. Quite intimate, which is always appreciated here.

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@Mark_Forman: I for one appreciate the history you’re telling, and I’m sorry I couldn’t include it more explicitly in my own story. But now that you’re pointing it out, I’m seeing more clearly what you guys have been up to and applaud you for it.

Only thing I’m not clear on: who are the victors?

There seem to be numerous aggrieved in various ways. (I would count myself among them less so now than before.) There are unsung heroes, untold histories. Doesn’t this get back to your point that it’s hard and…

?

Game’s not over yet, right?

I guess I would say that victors are in this case are those who went so deeply into the AQAL hype that it was destined to set the project up for failure. Too good to be true.

I happen to think AQAL is great, and it’s a breakthrough, but a modest breakthrough given the nature of many of the wicked problems and life complexity we face. Even if we say it’s the “next stage,” there was a lot of misapplication of stage theory, in that stages give you something new but are still mostly composed of the old (in a new balance). So big changes are small changes. But I would say the “earth shattering” meme got to to be the victorious meme (it has the “victorious” energy). I place some responsibility on Ken and some on his team (broadly defined) for this, of course.

On the other hand, the aggrieved are a motley crue and I sometimes find them even more frustrating because at least Ken et al. was optimistic (and I prefer optimists to cynics). The aggrieved include folks who simply dislike Wilber’s personality (which he of course occasionally earned as rep), or his taste in spiritual teachers (which was mixed at best), to those who thought he was/is a walking version of the cis-gendered white supremicist heteronormative capitalist patriarchy, to those who got fixated on this or that relatively minor mistake he made.

Moderates who didn’t buy either of these extremes were - and now are especially - largely shut out of the discourse for reasons I’ve suggested. I appreciate that I think you’ve reached a moderate place, but in all honestly I’ve got a lot of resentment on the issue - though not to you specifically, since I don’t know you - since I feel like the immoderation on both sides has fucked up a good and important thing.

It’s additionally sad because the moderate version is the one that is capable of doing the most work. When most folks are introduced to moderate Integral, they quite like it. They can see the applications. That’s what’s most left to salvage and rehabilitate.

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Wow. This is a brilliant piece of autobiographical writing and cultural history both. Thank you for this, Marco. I am late to the party, it seems, but wanted to comment.

Briefly (hard to know where to begin here…), the history of the integral movement, the hubris and intellectual arrogance and (maybe) unconscious motives and multiple errors etc, very well documented by Mark Manson and now Marco… this is fascinating to me (i read the entire article twice and most of the comments)… but not exactly “important”. What’s important to me, is where we go from here. It does appear to me, that there are some powerful conversations happening at ITC and at Metaintegral. I celebrate that, truly.

In my world, the most important thing that is currently emerging out of all this is the Authentic Relating and Circling movement. I wrote that history here:


this includes a brief history of the 3rd iteration of the boulder integral center (2011 to 2018 - Decker Cunov and @Robert_MacNaughton, whom i see commented above, and who incidentally has a fascinating podcast on his time there, i will link it i find it) – to some degree the 3rd generation of boulder integral “abandoned” (or at least down-graded) the focus on integral theory in order to teach circling. Which they did very successfully for 7 years, before shutting down in 2018.

What I am personally looking for is a more engaged style of integral theory, along the lines of Marco’s writing. One that owns more shadow and is more relational, more vulnerable. I am guessing that I am not alone in this. From my perspective, Circling and Authentic Relating are currently our best bets, for the revival and rebuilding of the great (and failed) promise of Integral theory

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