Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: The Amazing Spiral
We live in an extraordinary time:
all of the world's cultures, past and present, are to some degree available to us,
either in historical records or as living entities. In the history of the planet Earth, this has never happened before.
It seems hard to imagine, but for humanity's entire stay on this planet—for some million years up to the present—a person was born into a culture that knew virtually nothing about any other. You were, for example, born a Chinese,
raised a Chinese, married a Chinese, and followed a Chinese religion—often living in the same hut for your entire life, on a spot of land that your ancestors settled for centuries. From isolated tribes and bands, to small farming villages, to ancient nations, to conquering feudal empires, to international corporate states, to global village: the extraordinary growth toward an integral village that seems humanity's destiny.
So it is that the leading edge of consciousness evolution stands today on the brink of an integral millennium—or at least the possibility of an integral millennium—where the sum total of extant human knowledge, wisdom, and technology is available to all. And sooner or later we will have, of course, a
Theory of Everything to explain it all . . .
as we will see, there are several obstacles to that integral understanding,
even in the most developed populations. Moreover, there is the more typical or average mode of consciousness, which is far from integral anything and is in desperate need of its own tending. Both of those pressing issues—the integral vision as it relates to the most developed and the modestly developed populations—are some of the central topics of this book. Even if we have a
Theory of Everything that charitably embraces all and unduly marginalizes none,
will it really benefit all peoples? And how can we help to ensure that it does?
In short, what is the status of the integral vision in today's world, both in the cultural elite and in the world at large? Let us start with the leading edge,
and the many obstacles to an integral vision in our cultural elite.
Fragmentation at the
the word means to integrate, to bring together, to join, to link, to embrace. Not in the sense of uniformity, and not in the sense of ironing out all the wonderful differences, colors, zigs and zags of a rainbow-hued humanity, but in the sense of unity-in-diversity, shared commonalities along with our wonderful differences. And not just in humanity, but in the Kosmos at large: finding a more comprehensive view—a Theory of Everything (T.O.E.)—that makes legitimate room for art, morals, science, and religion, and doesn't merely attempt to reduce them all to one's favorite slice of the Kosmic pie.
of course, if we succeed in developing a truly holistic or integral view of reality, then we will also develop a new type of critical theory—that is, a theory that is critical of the present state of affairs in light of a more encompassing and desirable state, both in the individual and the culture at large. The integral paradigm will inherently be critical of those approaches that are, by comparison, partial, narrow, shallow, less encompassing, less integrative.
We will be exploring this integral vision, this T.O.E., in the following pages.
But it is definitely not a final view or a fixed view or the only view; just a view that attempts to honor and include as much research as possible from the largest number of disciplines in a coherent fashion (which is one definition of an integral or more comprehensive view of the Kosmos).
Yet the very attempt itself does raise the interesting question: can a truly integral vision exist in today's climate of culture wars, identity politics, a million new and conflicting paradigms, deconstructive postmodernism, nihilism,
pluralistic relativism, and the politics of self? Can a T.O.E. even be recognized, let alone accepted, in such a cultural state? Aren't the cultural elite themselves in as fragmented and rancorous a state as ever? Perhaps, the masses of humanity are bent on tribal warfare and ethnocentric cleansing; but what if the cultural elite itself is likewise so inclined?
We are talking, in other words, about the leading edge of consciousness evolution itself, and whether even the leading edge is truly ready for an integral vision. In the end we will find, I believe, that there is some very good news in all this; but first, a little bit of what I see as the bad news.
The baby boomer generation has, like any generation, its strengths and weaknesses.
Its strengths include an extraordinary vitality, creativity, and idealism, plus a willingness to experiment with new ideas beyond traditional values. Some social observers have seen in the boomers an "awakening generation,"
evidenced by an extraordinary creativity in everything from music to computer technology, political action to lifestyles, ecological sensitivity to civil rights. I believe there is much truth and goodness in those endeavors, to the boomers' considerable credit.
Boomer weaknesses, most critics agree, include an unusual dose of self-absorption and narcissism, so much so that most people, boomers included, simply nod their heads in acknowledgment when the phrase "the Me generation" is mentioned.
it seems that my generation is an extraordinary mixture of greatness and narcissism, and that strange amalgam has infected almost everything we do. We don't seem content to simply have a fine new idea, we must have the new paradigm that will herald one of the greatest transformations in the history of the world. We don't really want to just recycle bottles and paper; we need to see ourselves dramatically saving the planet and saving Gaia and resurrecting the Goddess that previous generations had brutally repressed but we will finally liberate. We aren't able to tend our garden; we must be transfiguring the face of the planet in the most astonishing global awakening history has ever seen. We seem to need to see ourselves as the vanguard of something unprecedented in all of history: the extraordinary wonder of being us.
it can be pretty funny if you think about it, and I truly don't mean any of this in a harsh way. Each generation has its foibles; this appears to be ours,
at least to some degree. But I believe few of my generation escape this narcissistic mood. Many social critics have agreed, and not just in such penetrating works as Lasch's
Culture of Narcissism,
Habits of the Heart,
The Narcissistic American.
Surveying the present state of cultural studies even in American universities, Professor
Frank Lentricchia, writing in
lingua franca: The Review of Academic Life,
"It is impossible, this much is clear, to exaggerate the heroic self-inflation of academic literary and cultural criticism."
ouch. But it's true that if you peruse books on cultural studies, alternative spirituality, the new paradigm, and the great transformation that will occur if the world simply listens to the author and his or her revolutionary ideas,
sooner or later this "heroic self-inflation" starts to get to you.
Curious as to what all the self-inflation might actually mean, I researched and wrote a book about this strange affliction that seems to shadow my generation,
this odd mixture of remarkably high cognitive capacity and wonderfully creative intelligence coupled with an unusual dose of emotional narcissism. Of course,
as I said, all previous generations had their own imperfections aplenty; I am by no means picking on boomers. It is just that "awakening generations" often have a particularly intense downside, simply because they are so intense in general, and for boomers, it appears to be a bit of self-inflation, a love affair
(along the lines of Oscar Levant's quip to Gershwin: "Tell me, George, if you had it to do all over again, would you still fall in love with yourself?")
called the book
It chronicled dozens of areas and disciplines where an important but partial truth was blown all out of proportion by an overestimation of the power and importance of the self.
In a moment I will briefly outline its general conclusions, only because, as I
said, this relates directly to an integral vision and its reception in today's world. The idea is simple enough: the Culture of Narcissism is antithetical to an integral culture (because narcissistic, isolated selves strenuously resist communion). And thus the point remains: is the world ready for integral anything? If not, what is preventing it?