An integral analysis of the alternative perspective of Tomas Ljungberg – and vice versa

After this introduction (part 1) and illustration (part 2) of Tomas Ljungberg’s theory the stage is set for a comparison between the integral view on the human development according to Wilber’s AQAL theory and the view that is presented by Ljungberg. Some similarities and differences between the perspectives will be discussed and then I will let both theories, or frameworks, to be assimilated into each other, after which I will investigate if there is any possible synthesis that can be made.

There are indeed some similarities between the two theories in that they both make the connection between individual and cultural development from the dawn of human being up till now, and from birth and throughout life. Both takes a view at external events such as the behavior of the individual and the religious and political power of the collective structures, and both also view the internal aspects of development, the cultural as well as the psychological. And these inner dimensions is where both can be said to have their focus. In AQAL terms, both takes all quadrants into account.

If we look at the cultural development they are very similarly described according to Ljungberg and to e.g. Spiral dynamics: from hunter gatherer cultures (aiming to stay in connection with previous more animalistic stage) to conqueror empires, on to traditional Christian societies, and finally arriving at (and criticizing) the rational scientific culture. Ljungberg’s theory focuses more on the shift from the purple to the read level according to Spiral dynamics and an explanation of how shadows emerges, which could be seen as useful complement to the typical integral perspective.

It seems that Ljungberg has focused more on psychological and biological factors and aspects of the development. Wilber’s main focus has been on the spiritual and philosophical dimensions, although he gives a good deal of attention to Freud, Jung and the topic on disowned personalities, the shadows that we incur on our way up through the stages of development. It should be noted that there is an imbalance between the two authors in terms of volume and worldwide impact, Ljungberg has only written one book in Swedish, only shortly introduced here, and Wilber hardly needs any introduction in this context. Besides, the integral community is so much more than Wilber. But on the other hand is Ljungberg far from the only academic to have a conflict perspective on cultural development and personal development.

When it comes to differences between the theories, the most central is the view on human development, which according to most integral proponents is generally considered as natural and desirable, whereas Ljungberg from his perspective sees it as inherently problematic, at least as it has played out during the cultural phase of the evolution from the Neolithic revolution up till now.

Accordingly, the relation between the individual and the culture according to both theories is characterized as either based on a functional or integration perspective (AQAL), or a conflict perspective (Ljungberg). A functional view places the coevolution between culture and individual in the first seat (or tetra-evolution with all quadrants to be more exact), and the conflict view places the conflict between individual and collective as the more fundamental characteristic of the development.

Although Ljungberg has a strong focus and emphasis on the psychology of the individual I would argue that he could be seen as being more concerned with the cultural aspect as he sees the ego as something we construct mainly as a reaction to our social surrounding. Wilber, on the other hand, views ego more in an individual psychological sense as something that develops according to adult development theories such as Jane Loevinger’s or Robert Kegan’s, and also in a spiritual sense as the finite being that we identify with instead of being enlightened. (We should not forget that this is a simplified description since ego itself is a complex concept.)

So far it seems as if the two theories share a lot of features and are compatible in many aspects, and that the differences there are could make them complement each other in order to achieve an even more integral and all-encompassing view or perspective of human development. However, this way of comparing and integrating them could be said to be in line with a functional or integration approach. Thus, in order to further emphasize the conflict between the theories I would here like to allow both of them to criticize each other’s theories and views by having both assimilate the other theory in each other. That is, I’m taking one perspective as a frame of reference and assimilate the other theory into and criticizes it from this, starting off with Wilber.

A Wilberian critique on Ljungberg’s theory

Wilber’s main reaction and critique towards Ljungberg would probably be that he himself had been in that position and departed from it early in his intellectual career. A common view by many postmodern anthropologists was the one Ljungberg describes, that of humanity being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Spiritual development from that view concerns getting back into paradise. According to this view, as Wilber puts it, evolution seems to be going towards greater complexity in all universe except for humans, where we seem to have regressed from the primordial being, one key historic fact in this question is the cruelties of the Holocaust.

But after reading Jean Piaget Wilber left this view and wrote the book Up from Eden, emphasizing that the way forward is the way up. The primordial and archaic way of being was not an enlightened condition, but rather an undifferentiated. And this is also the case of the baby that is not enlightened but fused with the objective world, something that Piaget and also later Robert Kegan points out. Therefore, viewing spirituality as a way of getting back into the Garden of Eden, Wilber would refer to as a pre-trans fallacy. God didn’t throw us out, he awaits us at the top of the developmental and evolutionary ladder. Or rather, the evolution from the archaic and primordial ways of being continues throughout the modern history as a spirit-in-action.

Neither the primordial human being nor the baby were enlightened, but rather cognitively unable to differentiate themselves from their surroundings and from their embeddendness of nature and bodily instincts. Thus, in Wilber’s view, we first need to differentiate ourselves from our surroundings and our instincts before we can integrate it, or ourselves in it. Kegan would refer to this as an objectification, to move the surroundings from subject we are embedded in to object of our awareness.

Evolution proceeds in this process of differentiation and integration, towards an increase in complexity, compassion, embrace – and goodness. But things can and do go seriously wrong in this process. A differentiation can turn into a dissociation when we fail to integrate that which we were previously embedded in, e.g. when we dissociate body from mind or culture from nature. Another possible pathology is when a higher structure is hijacked by lower impulses, e.g. when rationality is hijacked by tribalism, which occurred in Auschwitz. (When Wilber later has differentiated development into different lines he considers it to be a combination of high stage of cognition and low stage of moral development.)

In order to handle such developmental pathologies, to re-owning the parts that are dissociated as we move up the stages of the evolutionary process, a key feature in the integral theory and, more importantly, practice that is the shadow work. The aim of such practices, one example of such being the 3-2-1 process, is to reintegrate the disowned self, the 3rd person it, into the ego, 1st person I. Or in Freud’s words, “Where id was, there ego shall be.

Thus, from an integral perspective, Ljungberg’s theory itself could be seen as a green and “flatlandish” theory, at least since Ljungberg hasn’t incorporated any adult development models to his perspective and since there is no description of the advances of postmodernity, which really has paved way for people such as Ljungberg himself to express their innermost feeling without being burned at the stakes, even if these should question the civilization and modern human being itself.

From this perspective Ljungberg’s theory appears to describe a postmodern logic and failing to acknowledge a developmental or evolutionary perspective. From an adult development perspective the argumentation could seem to correspond to the individualist stage according to ego development theory. The view on individual as in conflict with society and taking sides with the individual is a typical stage 4/5 logic according to Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, which is the first post-conventional stage. A stage 5 logic would mean taking a before-society perspective and balancing or integrating the conflict between the individual and the collective. Thus, the alternative perspective of Ljungberg should be seen as something that already in theory has been, or in practicality at least could be, integrated to the integral view of human development.

Finally a comment from the more constructive side, assuming that the description of our embeddedness in and conflict with our culture is accurate, the removal or cancelling of the capitulation or submission role, the ego, should get easier at the higher stages of development where identity and meaning-making gets more loose and fluid. In Integral Spirituality Wilber further differentiated between stage and state according to the Wilber-Combs lattice and acknowledged the cultural embeddedness as something that already has been included from the postmodern critics into the AQAL framework (in the lower left quadrant). Thus, moving through the stages is something that should be beneficial from both perspectives.

A Ljungbergian view on integral theory

After having Ljungberg’s alternative perspective assimilated into an integral framework it’s time to perform the reverse move, assimilating Wilber’s integral view into the characteristics of Ljungberg’s theory. For simplicity, the components of Ljungberg’s framework are here illustrated by means of Freud’s psychoanalytical theory with an id, ego and super-ego.

First of all it’s of greatest importance to specify which integral view that is being considered, integral should, as already mentioned, be treated as a tradition rather than Wilber’s view or AQAL. The view that will be considered here is that which is briefly described in the previous section and which is my view is a representative way of making meaning in the integral and evolutionary community, I refer to this as the evolutionary meaning-making (that is further discussed in a previous post: The limitations of the evolutionary meaning-making).

For starters, we still have the impulses and affects that are derived from our primordial being, as described in previous posts. In addition, we have all dissociated parts of ourselves that we have lost contact with on our way up through the stages of development. All these elements or shadow material taken as a whole is consistent with the description of id.

Further, although there is a lively discussion and problematizing of the notion of “growth to goodness” or “higher is better”, there is a common assumption within the integral community that this is the case, explicit or implicit. And typically there is an ideal me, an enlightened me or omega point, that awaits at the highest stages, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. At least according to descriptions of Wilber, Aurobindo, Cook-Greuter etc. There is also, at least in some cases, idealized authoritarian characters that one submits to, be it spirit in 2nd person, some evolutionary guru, Wilber himself or even the community itself. This idealized oppressor together with the idealized image of oneself, if one can live up to the demands of the oppressor, corresponds to super-ego.

Finally, there is the notion of “integralists” or “evolutionaries”, what persons that identify with the integral community and identify with the evolutionary process calls themselves. The integralist or evolutionary tries to balance the demands of the superego that you keep evolving with the shadow material, all the impulses from all the lower levels, including the ones from the primordial being, and with the demands of the outer world. Henceforth, this corresponds to ego. Thus, being an integralist or an evolutionary is the new, only more complex, mask we put on in order to fit into the community of the leading edge and most evolved and most civilized human beings.

And regarding shadow-work according to the 3-2-1 process, or any other view of what shadow-work is about, let’s review Wilber quoting Freud (Integral spirituality, p 123):

“Isn’t that beautiful? “Where it was, there I shall become.” I must find the alienated parts of myself – the its – and re-own them into I. It’s hard to find a better summary, even to this day, of what psychotherapeutic shadow work is all about.”

From Ljungberg’s perspective, I is only a mask. I is the well-adjusted ego in the Matrix, the Thomas Anderson. Instead it’s the primordial part of the shadow, the original id that is the true identity, Neo. Thus, integral (and any) shadow work means taking the blue pill and waking up better adjusted, capitulated and subdued to the evolutionary meaning-making.

From this conflict perspective, where the conflict is between the individual and the (integral) culture, all inventions, such as models, ways of thinking (AQAL or Integral Operating System(!) as it referred to) and practices (everything in the ILP kit that you can fill every minute of your life with), can be seen as ways of conditioning or mentally trapping the individual. It is said that the map does not equal the territory, but a map is good and useful if you want to break out of the prison. From Ljungberg’s perspective, however, the exit out of the Matrix that he describes is not on this map.

And to the constructive comments, if Ljungberg’s description is accurate, does it get easier to annihilate the capitulation or submission role at the higher stage? Not necessarily, I would say. Identity typically gets more fluid at the higher stages of ego development, but the amount of shadow material also piles up the higher you get. And with the increase in complexity of the mask and the cognitive functions, the psychological defense mechanisms, call it immunity to change, gets more complex, elaborate and subtle. I can only imagine the extent of all projections and strategies to avoid confrontation with this mother of all shadows, including shooting the messenger.

When it comes to cultural embeddedness that Wilber talks about, I would say that this is more than just questioning the culture. It’s questioning the entire civilization (at least the Western) and it’s questioning meaning-making. And the individualist or Kohlberg stage 4/5 estimation of the logic presented could possibly represent a sort of pre-trans fallacy, since this could be understood and interpreted as a description of construct-aware action-logic, where a central insight is how we all tend to construct meaning and objectifying this.

But what about spirituality? Well, Ljungberg doesn’t really go into that area. It is a psychological perspective and does not claim to be more than that. But at least according to the Wilber-Combs lattice, spiritual states are not stacked upon stages, there is access to states at all stages of development, so that a hunter gatherer should accordingly have access to all states, gross, subtle, causal etc. The interesting thing, as far as I’m concerned, is if we can differentiate a psychological awakening (annihilation of capitulation or submission role) from a spiritual state experience. And further, it is in this analysis not excluded that the highest stages of e.g. ego development (unitive according to Cook-Greuter) do exist.

Concluding remarks

First of all, I am aware that the presented analysis can be seen as quite provocative, although it’s not my intention (see me as a friendly jester). And it is by necessity based on simplifications and a perspective that most readers know little of. Therefore, I don’t expect the majority to buy this new and alternative perspective as well as my analysis. But if I could make one point or pose one question in relation to this, it would be the following:

Is there room for a conflict perspective within the integral culture?

This is a question that I find is relevant in integral communities, courses and settings that contains some sort of creation of a shared we-space and identity. And not to speak of communities involving teachers or gurus! One example of such introduction of conflict perspective in another context is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or die in the area of positive psychology. I would argue that adding a conflict perspective to a context that otherwise is mainly functional or integration can be enriching, although it adds to the complexity to holding this paradox and embracing uncertainty and doubt. Both in a culture or community, as well as in oneself.

Is there room for a conflict perspective within you?

It may appear easy to play with the perspectives, to try to find similarities and differences between them, assimilating them in each other and aim for some sort of synthesis. But I think this would be the easy way out. It would be an integrationist or functional approach, just as integral theory is, while the conflict approach would resist any reconciliation to an even larger monolithic block of knowledge or meaning-making.

If we allow ourselves to question and to play with all these perspective, we might find that the evolutionary meaning-making, that one first was identified with (and thus embedded in), could become the object of one’s awareness, in terms of Kegan’s subject-object theory. Further, Ljungberg’s theory places the focus on the conflict or faultline between the hunter gatherer and the modern human being and it sympathizes with hunter gatherer. In order to make that shift in preference could be seen as an objectification of the anthropocentrism and widening the extent of care to more primitive or at least non-western cultures, or even further to animals (or the animalistic sides of ourselves). That would mean that, paradoxically enough, allowing ourselves to question the most holy, the evolutionary or integral view, could be a possible or even necessary move to the next stage of vertical development. But would this really be better and more desirable per se?

I would claim that the question or problem of the nature or functioning of our psyche, and how it should work, that takes into account the history of our species and even more is an ill-defined one. We should not expect any final and certain theory that can capture all aspects, so any result or conclusion that we build our identity on should be held lightly. Or in Susanne Cook-Greuter’s wording from her recent ITC conference paper:

“Ego developmental theory is distinct from other theories precisely because it pays more attention to how tightly or lightly a theory is held than what ideas it espouses.”

Although I would argue that the Reflective judgment model by King & Kitchener does precisely this as well. Nevertheless, if one embraces this view of meaning-making, that it represents a way of addressing the ill-defined issue of identity and functioning of the psyche, the doubt and uncertainty is destined to be permanent. Maybe that’s a good thing…

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