Paradoxes of Wilber’s Appreciation of the Trump Challenge
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 Feb 2017
Reframing Integral Possibilities for the Future
20 Feb 2017 – Few with a philosophical or psychological inclination have as yet commented extensively on the significance of the election of Donald Trump. The insights of George Lakoff are a valuable exception (Understanding Trump, 23 July 2016), although he holds the view that Trump won by somehow breaking the current rules of the American electoral system (A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, And What the Majority Can Do, 22 November 2016). This is a view shared by many, including Lakoff’s long-term critic, Noam Chomsky. On the contrary, Trump won according to the rules, however questionable these may be, and irrespective of the unprecedented proportion of eligible voters who chose not to vote (Who are the three-quarters of adult Americans who didn’t vote for Trump? The Guardian. 18 January 2017).
Most controversial has been the endorsement by Slavoj Žižek who has argued that Trump’s election will usefully shake the world out of a dangerous degree of complacency (Far-left philosopher Slavoj Žižek explains why he supported Trump over Clinton, Vice News, 30 November 2016; Slavoj Zizek on Trump and Brexit, BBC News, 17 January 2017; Zizek: Electing Trump will ‘shake up’ the system, Al Jazeera, 16 Nov 2016; Andre Damon, The Idiot Speaks: Slavoj Žižek endorses Donald Trump, World Socialist Web Site, 9 November 2016).
At the time of writing a group of “mental health professionals” have decided to express their concern at the behaviour of Donald Trump by addressing a collective letter to The New York Times (Mental Health Professionals Warn About Trump, 13 February 2017; Mental health professionals warn Trump is incapable of being president, The Independent, 13 February 2017):
Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions… Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them… We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.
The group excuse their previous silence on the basis of the self-imposed dictum about evaluating public figures (the Goldwater Rule of the American Psychiatric Association). Unfortunately they make no reference to their ability to determine whether anyone is capable of serving safely as president. This is despite having been duly elected following a testing campaign against opposition of every kind, reminiscent of many a legendary tale.
Is the implication that “mental health professionals” should in future be called upon to provide an assessment of presidential candidates? This possibility follows from current concern expressed by politicians (Growing number of politicians ‘openly questioning Donald Trump’s mental health’, The Independent, 17 February 2017).
Especially significant is the criticism made of the ability of a duly elected leader to “distort reality”. Effectively engendering a reality distortion field, this is increasingly recognized as a characteristic of the most creative forms of leadership (as noted below).
Such criticism is also unfortunate in that the judgment of “mental health professionals” has been recently called into question by their silent complicity in government torture programmes (How America’s psychologists ended up endorsing torture, The Economist, 28 July 2015; David H. Hoffman, et al, Independent Review Relating to APA ethics guidelines, national security interrogations, and torture, 2 July 2015). Such programmes might well be recognized as designed to distort the reality of opponents.
As originator of of Integral Theory, Ken Wilber has now commented, in freely accessible mini-book form, on the electoral surprise (Trump and a Post-Truth World: an evolutionary self-correction, February 2017). This will no doubt engender a variety of responses. One of these is provided by Cynthia Bourgeault instigator of The Contemplative Society (Wilber’s Trump and a Post-Truth World: an overview and critique, February 2017). As modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, and retreat leader, she nuances her own critique from the perspective of the idealist philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Wilber’s argument is that:
The election of Donald Trump is an evolutionary self-correction that has been decades in the making — a backlash against the failure of the leading edge of consciousness (postmodernism and pluralism) to acknowledge the lie underlying the progress they’ve pursued: it’s not equal, it’s not consistent, and it doesn’t make room for everyone. But a new integral force is emerging that can move beyond the narcissism and nihilism of political correctness to offer genuine leadership and move towards a developmental-based wisdom of greater wholeness.
The case made in support of this perspective is valuable in its own right irrespective of limitations which can (and will) be undoubtedly noted. The commentary which follows is one exercise in engaging with the argument as it is necessarily framed by Integral Theory.
The exercise follows from the pre-electoral comment (Engaging Proactively with the Risk of World Misleadership: Trump vs Clinton and the potential of carpe diem in the democratic process? 2016). This concluded ambiguously that: Two wrongs do not make a right. Choosing the worst of the two may however serve to engender the right — from the people. As with tough love, it is a case of voting for the wrong person for the right reason — rather than for the right person for the wrong reason.
Subsequent to the election, the concern was framed otherwise (Radical Disaffection Engendered by Elitist Groupthink? Democratic rehearsal of the final battle between the Forces of Light and Darkness, 2016; Engaging an Opposing Ideology via Martial Arts Philosophy: reframing the challenge of Trump and Jihadism as worthy opponents, 2016; Public Enemy #1 as Supreme Leader? Thinking otherwise about framing the engagement with society’s worst fear, 2017).
The argument here with respect to the perspective of Ken Wilber is framed by earlier consideration with regard to integral futures (Self-reflexive Challenges of Integrative Futures, 2008). This contrasted Wilber’s approach with that of David Lorimer, and the Scientific and Medical Network. The differences were presented as arising from stylistic preferences and biases which are usefully clarified with a range of metaphors. These however highlight the challenge of any more integrative understanding, especially in the light of hidden dynamics of exclusion in a questionable effort to demonstrate that one approach is “better” than another in a complex human endeavour — especially when the future is sensed strategically through other metaphors than “vision” and perspective.
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