An introduction to the alternative perspective of Tomas Ljungberg – part 2

The Matrix

– Wake up, Neo.

In order to illustrate the basic principles of Ljungberg’s theory that was introduced in part 1, I’d like to use some mainstream popular cultural references. Let’s start with the famous and technologically groundbreaking The Matrix from 1999. We all know the plot, humans have been enslaved by the machines and are being kept in giant fields where they are harvested for energy and fed nerve impulses so that they experience that they live a normal life. The typical analysis of the problem that the characters in the Matrix are faced with, how we can know for sure whether we experience real life or a simulation, comes from a philosophical or spiritual point of view. But when we look at it from Ljungberg’s alternative perspective we can give another interpretation of this movie, one that is based on a psychological point of view. Let’s first recall one of the movie’s famous key dialogues between Neo and Morpheus:

Morpheus: Do you believe in fate, Neo?

Neo: No.

Morpheus: Why not?

Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.

Morpheus: I know *exactly* what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Neo: The Matrix.

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?

Neo: Yes.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

This description of the Matrix fits well with Ljungberg’s theory. “A prison for your mind” corresponds to ego and the conditioned thinking that we are socialized into (practically born into bondage). We can’t see it or examine it since it is what we use in order to see and to examine. The simulation, the Matrix itself, can be seen as our modern society and culture that we are embedded in (“matrix” is synonymous with womb). The “splinter in your mind” corresponds to the impulses from id, perhaps bodily impulses from the real body of Neo.

The point is, according to Ljungberg’s perspective, right now we are Neo. We are being enslaved by technology. Not machines, not internet (it’s ok, keep reading), but technology which includes the thinking required to run a civilization and to relate to each other and ourselves in a civilized manner. And taking the red pill means acknowledging the truth that we have been thrown out of the Garden of Eden, instead of taking the blue pill and staying in ignorant bliss. The question is if we really have a free will to make this choice, as it is presented and as Neo wants to believe… This is something that the Oracle later brings into questioning.

Anyway, of course Neo chooses the red pill and is reborn. This rebirth can symbolize the annihilation of the capitulation or submission role. He wakes up, in a psychological sense, not a spiritual. After this Neo needs to rebuild and train his real body and senses that he have never used before.

Ken Wilber and Cornel West commented the Matrix trilogy and this interpretation did not come up, not surprisingly. However, in the second and third movie Wilber makes the interpretation that the Matrix symbolizes the mind, Zion (the underground city were the free humans live) symbolizes the body and the machines symbolizes spirit. Thus, the first movie is about freeing oneself from the technological mind in order to return to the body. The second and third (IMO much crappier) movies is about integrating body, mind and spirit, at least according to Wilber. The Wachowski brothers were wise enough to never give their own intention and interpretation, but my guess is that they weren’t that pleased with how the sequels turned out. Because in their next movie they returned to the theme from the first movie, but now from another angle.

V for Vendetta

In 2006 the Wachowski brothers returned and made V for Vendetta, where they are even more explicit on how we can be subdued and be made to capitulate, on a societal level as well as on an individual. But when Matrix is about how we cognitively are subdued and enslaved, V is more about the affective aspect and about fear.

The scene is a future England where a fascist party has taken the political power by using the people’s fear of outer enemies and fear of each other. Dissidents, homosexuals and others that don’t fit into the frame of normality are being imprisoned, culture is being censored and people are being monitored. It is not hard to find relevance in this scenario in our post-9/11 surveillance society. The freedom fighter called V has an agenda of fighting the system and also to have his own vendetta. His means is to wake the people with this classic speech:

V: There is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there.

V: If you’re looking for the guilty, you need only to look into a mirror.

The rhetoric as well as the mask of V has become popular symbols in e.g. the Occupy movement and of Anonymous. It is a symbol that itself is used in the end of the movie when the entire population marches against the army, all wearing the same mask, hat and cape. If we are not afraid of each other, we can challenge the oppressors who are dependent on our support, or at least on our silent consent. But how can we become free from our fear? The short answer is, you need to die.

Natalie Portman’s character Evey meets V and is introduced to his world. But she is still paralyzed by fear that she will meet the same destiny as her family, abducted by the regime never to be seen again. According to Ljungberg, one thing that keeps us in this state of capitulation and submission is the hope we cling on to, the hope that if we only play our part as good citizens and obedient servants to the oppressor there awaits salvation at the end of the road, the hope that stayed in Pandora’s jar. Besides, we are totally dependent on the system for our survival. So in order to be free from the capitulation or submissive role, hope for the future needs to die and we have to be prepared to die with it.

It is only by means of a long process of torture and of reminding of that last inch that is the truly beautiful and true in life that she is able to let go of her fear, and that is when she is ready to give up her life and calmly accepts her fate.

Valerie: Our integrity sells for so little, but it’s all we really have.

Evey is now in her mind and soul free from the system and reborn as she walks out:

God is in the rain.


Finally, a brief look at another blockbuster, James Cameron’s Avatar from 2009. Here the plot is quite obvious and not very original (compare with A man called Horse, Dances with wolves, The last of the Mohicans, Pocahontas etc, or why not the history of practically every modern civilization): a modern industrialized army try to subdue an indigenous tribe, here the Na’vi on the planet Pandora. By means of an avatar, Jake Sully gets to infiltrate the Na’vi where he learns their customs and ways and is more and more infused in it as he starts to identify with them instead of with his original military “tribe”. When there is a military confrontation between humans and the Na’vi, Jake has to choose sides. The movie ends with Jake completing his transformation to leave the (modern) human tribe to be a full member of the Na’vi, even in his physical appearance of the avatar body.

The world of the Na’vi is a great illustration of the hunter gatherer’s connectedness to nature and all living things, they are physically connecting with the animals and with the nature goddess Eywa with their hair. The movie with its stunning and hypnotic visuals resulted in many cases of depression among viewers, a sort of Avatar blues. That could be interpreted as a longing for an ideal phantasy world of dragonriding, tribe community and great landscapes as an escape from the boring real life, or it could be seen as a painful reminder of that splinter in the mind…

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An introduction to the alternative perspective of Tomas Ljungberg – part 1

A few months ago I wrote a blog-post that compared and contrasted integral theory according to Ken Wilber (i.e. AQAL) with an energy perspective of the development of our civilization, called The limitations of the evolutionary meaning-making. The main argument and point I made was that an integral view on the human development was limited and that it at least should be broadened. It should be noted that this argument was made against my interpretation of Ken Wilber’s view on human development rather than seeing integral as a tradition. Nevertheless, I believe that it can be taken as quite representative as I haven’t encountered more than a few other analyses from that perspective. There is, however, a trend of developing the integral discourse with cross-fertilization with theories of e.g. Roy Bhaskar and Edgar Morin. The alternative perspective that is introduced here could be seen as a move further in this direction, although I think it may even challenge some of the core assumptions of the integral and adult development view on psychological and cultural development.

When dealing with adult development theories, as well as integral theory according to Ken Wilber, human development is typically viewed as something normal and often even desirable. The relation and interaction between the individual and the collective or cultural aspect of the development is mainly seen as something constructive, the culture gives the individual support, at least up to the developmental level of the culture’s center of gravity. After that the individual can exert a pull on the culture and possibly contribute to develop and transform it to the next stage. In a previous post I introduced the two perspectives of conflict and integration or functionalist and I would argue that the integral view can be characterized as an integration or functionalist view of the psychological development. The individual and the culture are working together, so to speak.

A conflict perspective on the psyche

But what would a theory or meta-theory of the psyche look like that takes a conflict perspective as a starting point? One where the individual in essence is in conflict with culture, with the modern society and with him- or herself.

One example of such theory is Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Freud’s classic model of the human psyche was composed of three parts: id, ego and super-ego. Id represented the primordial instinctive drives such as sexual drives and aggression, super-ego represented the internalization of the cultural rules and norms that are supposed to keep us civilized and under control, and ego could be seen as the mediating instance that try to find a balance between the primitive drives and desires of the id, the condemnation of the super-ego and coping with the actual situation in the real world. In this conflict between the different parts of the psyche the ego, which is what we identify with, employs a number of defense mechanisms (that we don’t need to describe in detail here).

The suggestion that the civilized society and culture could be a burden and exert a pressure on the individual was at the time very challenging and criticized, and still is. Since then psychoanalysis has developed into more elaborate forms and the critique against civilization has been downplayed, with some exceptions. One such exception of departing from a conflict perspective on psychological development was when the Swedish MD and pharmacologist Tomas Ljungberg wrote his book Människan, kulturen och evolutionen – Ett alternativt perspektiv (1991), or in English Humanity, culture and evolution – An alternative perspective. The book hasn’t yet been translated into any other language, so here follows a brief introduction to Ljungberg’s alternative perspective.

Ljungberg, who has a trans-disciplinary background with studies in e.g. ethology, evolutionary biology, psychiatry and anthropology, asked a similar question that e.g. Clare Graves and Ken Wilber did: How come there are so many psychological schools and theories that seems to contradict each other? Answering this question is like laying a puzzle in order to find a bigger picture, which made Graves construct his developmental model today known as Spiral dynamics and Wilber develop his view on the human development. The move through these stages of development is often viewed as something normal and even desirable.

But the puzzle can be laid in more than one way and Ljungberg’s approach was more problematizing and focused on our background as hunter gatherers, and even further back – as animals. According to evolutionary biology the behavior and psychology of animals has developed in a slow and gradual process in relation to their environment. The human development can be described as a biological evolution until a certain point in time where it is more meaningful to talk about a second evolutionary system, the cultural evolution where the information is transmitted by learning and traditions, by memes or vMemes as Graves would call it. Any evolution that has taken place, from the Neolithic revolution about 10 000 years ago until now, can be regarded as predominantly a cultural one. Since we in biological terms of still can be regarded as hunter gatherers and thus are born as hunter gatherers, before we start socializing our children, it is of interest to examine what the psychology of this stage in our history looks like.

The psyche of the hunter gatherer

From ethological and anthropological studies Ljungberg describes the primordial psychological functioning. The hunter gatherer’s psyche is basically dealing with and integrating information from two sources or realms of reality, from the outer realm that is captured and transmitted by sensory data and the from the inner realm that is transmitted by affects, instincts and emotional states or dream-like symbolic awareness. This means that they are thinking and reacting partly to what they experience in the outer world and partly to what they feel from their inside, and they aim to integrate this into a coherent whole, which Ljungberg refers to as functioning according to the primordial order. This attunement with the inner and existential realm is reflected with and supported by the primordial myths, the ritual life and social functioning of the hunter-gatherer.

The myths and rituals have evolved as a consequence of the life conditions the past millions of years since the human being started to live in close bands of 25-50 individuals and hunting and gathering on the plains (men did most of the hunting and women most of the gathering). According to the myths the best way of functioning was in this attunement, which meant that the individual follows the inner impulses and images that is presented to him or her, rather than acting on some rational choice of free will. The myths also reflected a close relation to the underlying and invisible forces of nature and to a dreamlike primal past when man and animal were equal and could communicate as equals. One of the most important tasks of the shaman was to gain knowledge from this mythic past by means of inner journeys and transmit this to the tribe. By means of these rituals and ceremonies the connection and continuity with this primal past was being upheld.

In comparison with the slow biological evolution the significantly more rapid cultural evolution can be said to have started off with the Neolithic revolution, which was probably or at least partly initiated by a climate change with food-shortages that caused a pressure on the hunter gatherer lifestyle. The domesticating of first crops and then animals lead to some psychological dilemmas of the previous hunter gatherers and caused a change in the behavior and the myths in order to adapt to this new and more successful strategy. This was later improved with the technological development of the plow, wheel, irrigation, written language, but also of weapon and war technology which made it possible to build up armies in order to conquer and subdue the neighboring people or remaining hunter gatherer societies. The change in technology, behavior and life conditions resulted in a corresponding change on the cultural plane as well as on the psychological.

The cultural transformation

The myths of the cultures goes through the transformation as well. At first they gradually change to better fit the farming procedures, a contemporary example are the Hopi Indians in North America. But when the mining and manufacturing of weapons and technology was developed, the myths transformed as the female gods was defeated and replaced by conquering male gods. This shift to a new and more violent time was marked by classic myths such as humans being thrown out of the garden of Eden (the paradisiac life in attunement with nature in the hunter gatherer society) after having eaten from the apple of knowledge (being corrupted by technology). Or the myth about Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to the humanity (technology again), which was punished by Pandora being sent down to earth to open her box or jar of evil. Some myths stated that there was a taboo against digging after metal from beneath the earth’s surface, but for those who broke this taboo there was a clear technological advantage.

(Wilber would disagree here and claim that we weren’t thrown out but developed Up from Eden, but I will return to that later.)

The psychological transformation

When it comes to the transformation in the psychological dimension, which is the central aspect of the analysis, Ljungberg describes an entity or mechanism referred to as the buffer memory. The buffer memory is where affects are being stored that are not appropriate or functional for the individual to have at the present situation. They are being down-prioritized and stored or repressed until there is time to process them, at which they are released and made available for conscious processing. There are several examples and observations of this from ethological studies, where an animal is engaged in a certain activity, e.g. tracking, and is forced into a new action, e.g. responding to a threat, with the corresponding affective complex, during which the original affective complex is buffered. After the threat is averted the affections from the first activity, the tracking, can be retrieved and the animal can act on this and revert to this behavior. It’s important to note that this process is not a conscious one in the sense that the individual by means of his or her free will can choose to engage in.

Examples from the human world are grief that the individual can’t find time to feel until after all practical details are taken care of, or the affects such as fear that are associated with a terminal illness that the patient is in denial of. The buffer memory could also be described as the place where we hide all shadow material that for some reason isn’t allowed to see the light of day. When it is convenient the person can assimilate or integrate the buffered memory, or shadow material, into the personality.

Less pleasant examples of the functioning of the buffer memory are more severe traumas such as war, torture or hostage situations where it can be rational to hide the natural reactions of wanting to flee or fighting back and instead allowing oneself to be subdued or even joining and affiliating with the oppressor, which is commonly referred to as the Stockholm syndrome. The life situation is so traumatic and unbearable that the person in order to cope creates a new persona or role that is on the same side as the oppressor, who is idealized in the eyes of the oppressed. This newly assumed role is denoted the capitulation or submission role.

Thus, a typical choice that a hunter gatherer was faced with at the confrontation with the technologically more advanced attacker was to either remain the integrity and connection with the primordial order and go under, or to capitulate and join the oppressor. And assuming a capitulation role means that the connection to the inner existential realm and the primordial affections is being cut off. The logic of the mind is from now on solely an external logic where one’s actions is governed by the external gains or by a culturally approved and internalized logic. From this perspective culturally transmitted strategies replaces biologically natural ones, even when the latter is more preferable.

If we compare this new functioning with Freud’s psychoanalytic theory there is a consistency in that the capitulation role could correspond to ego, the connection to the inner world and the stream of affections corresponds to id, and the idealized image of the oppressor, as well as an idealized image of oneself if one can live up to the demands of the oppressor, corresponds to super-ego.

It should be mentioned that Ljungberg in his comprehensive analysis in great detail demonstrates that the alternative perspective that he presents is consistent with psychoanalytic theories in its original form as well as the further developments of object relation theory. It is also shown that it is consistent with the more recently developed cognitive psychotherapy and social learning theory, and so forth. This alternative perspective certainly presents a conflict view on the psychological development of the modern human being that gives more emphasis on ethology and anthropology and shows that the human development and evolution the past 10 000 years should be considered as neither natural nor desirable. From this perspective we are today equipped with a psychological functioning that is a consequence of us living in a world and society that we are not originally fit for and that is fundamentally unnatural and conflictual to us, although we have lots of advances in the psychiatric and medical sciences that can compensate for this.

But one could ask what relevance events thousands of years ago have on our psychological functioning of today. And if this should be of relevance, what consequences can we see today of us having lost at least most of the contact with our inner realm and with our affections and instincts. This brings us to another area where Ljungberg have been active – how we treat and raise our children. Anthropological studies shows that hunter gatherer mothers carry and breastfeed their babies until the age of 3-4 years. During the first year there is almost a constant bodily contact between the baby and the mother (or other caregiver). Not many modern societies (post hunter gatherer societies) allow the mother this time alone, although things seem to move in that direction during the recent decades. In Sweden, that has a pretty generous maternity leave of over a year, there was a trend of attachment parenting that started in the 90s and Ljungberg wrote a script called What is natural for my child with instructions on how to raise and take care of a baby according to the same principles that is practiced in indigenous cultures. Before that it was common that babies were separated from their mothers from birth, breastfed according to a schedule of 4-hour intervals and placed in their own rooms from start, although there are large cultural variations.

Ljungberg argues from ethological studies that the consequence of not giving the babies enough contact and correct attention from start will cause a survival anxiety and thus traumatize them. In the long process of growing up, rather than seeing the world as a fundamentally hostile and loveless place, since the parents are unable to respond to the baby’s needs in an ethologically correct manner, it is easier for the baby to see itself as someone who can strive for the love of the idealized parents, and thus the capitulation role is transmitted to the next generation. As a parent it is very easy, and has so been for last thousands of years, to see nurture and upbringing of a child as a process of civilizing and socializing it according to the predominant view of the culture. The ego, in this sense, is the mask we as children create in order to respond to and to please a society that we desperately try to find acceptance in.

Throughout history one can say that the greatest threat to the ego has been the impulses from id, and people that has responded to these inner impulses have accordingly been considered a threat to society, not only by means of allowing the aggressive or sexual impulses to be manifested but also anything from mysticism such as the early Christian martyrs, the women who was burned at the stake as witches. All these have been persecuted by the regime.

Thus, according to Ljungberg’s alternative theory, being normal in any civilized society means that you successfully have assumed a capitulation or submission role, an ego. Or in the classic words of Jiddu Krishnamurti:

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

It may sound dark and depressing to encounter a view on humanity, society and oneself that is in its foundation conflictual and even dysfunctional. However, it is important to remember that the capitulation or submission role can be cancelled or annihilated according to the theory, descriptions and observations of the functioning of the buffer memory. Not by means of integrating the shadow of the id with the ego but rather by allowing the identification to be in tuned with the inner primordial impulses, which in itself a challenge in this modern society.

After this long (but still very limited) introduction, I will explore how Ljungberg’s theory can be illustrated in popular culture and give some examples of what light it can shed on some light (or darkness?) on some cultural phenomena. Then I plan to discuss and contrast Ljungberg’s theory with the integral theory according to Wilber.

Stay tuned!

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How to train your dragon

A couple of years ago I wrote an analysis of the Lion king from a perspective of masculinity. This is a typical Disney movie where young Simba, son of the lion king Mufasa, ends up defeating his uncle and his father’s murderer Scar and fulfilling his destiny of becoming the king, and thus the circle of life continues. Nothing challenging here, as we seldom see in the streamlined Disney movies. No hyena, snake or, heavens forbid, lioness becoming the ruler of the land. No, there is a natural order that should not be questioned.

If we want something animated for the younger audience that aims outside the conventions Dreamworks does a much better job with titles such as:

Shrek – parodies of traditional tales and mocking Hollywood’s beauty ideals,

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron – an untamable horse teams up with an equally untamable boy,

Madagascar – some animals from a New York zoo escaping into the wild jungle (it even contains a parody of the Lion king),

Monsters vs Aliens – where the outsiders, the monsters which includes a giant woman, team up to battle aliens.

But here I’d like to focus on the more recent How to train your dragon (2010) that features Hiccup, who just as Simba happens to be the son of the reigning leader, in this case the chief Viking Stoik. But there ends the similarities, Hiccup happens to be a real disappointment to his father, he is weak, hapless and far, far from doing what really defines being a true Viking – to kill a dragon. 

From a gender perspective Hiccup seems to be struggling with fulfilling the traditional male gender role, as it is typically described and here illustrated by his father Stoick and by his friends who all try hard to be fearless badass Vikings. And his father very explicitly expresses his discontent with Hiccup who is not even allowed to go out and help during the dragon attacks.

Despite Hiccup’s debility he sneaks out to kill a dragon using his ingenuity instead of muscles. He wants to prove himself a worthy Viking and he want to impress on Astrid, who he has a crush on. Against all odds Hiccup manages to shoot down and capture a dragon in the forest, a Night Fury which is the deadliest type of them all. But when he is about to slay it he changes his mind and instead releases it. It looks as if his courage fails him, at least that is what he tells himself. Or is it for some other reason? Nevertheless, he seems to have lost his opportunity of becoming a man, at least according to the descriptions of masculinity above.

But if this macho and alpha-male ideal would be the only characteristic and possible way to define a man throughout history we would still be Vikings. Somehow we left the Viking-age, became devoted Christian traditionalists, after that rational scientific modernists and even postmodernists before feminism started to analyzing and question the gender roles and masculinity. But as Hiccup is about to demonstrate, the male gender role can be far more diverse than the macho image of chief Stoick.

The release of the Night Fury could be the result of a lack of courage, but might as well be a sign of intuition or compassion. And from that Hiccup slowly builds a relation with Toothless, as he names the dragon. But this relation is of course just as forbidden as the romance between Romeo and Juliet.

“Everything we learned about dragons is wrong!”

Simba had his friends, the lioness Nala, and his mentor Rafiki, to help him getting back on the right track, but Hiccup has no one except for Toothless and the track is leading towards challenging the core of the Viking culture, that dragons are the enemy and should be killed no matter what.

Hiccup, who seemed to lack courage, proves to have many qualities that helps him in his development. He is very responsive to Toothless’ signals, which is fundamental when gaining the trust and working with animals, he is resourceful and inventive, he understands the point of learning by reading, and he is really courageous as it will show. He gradually builds up a relation with the Night Fury on equal terms without trying to dominate the dragon. It shows that they are equally dependent on each other and with a harness and extra half tail Hiccup attempts to fly Toothless, which is of course as stupid and dangerous as it sounds.

It is sometimes said that nature experiments mostly with men. Men have a larger genetic variation, at least in terms of variation in IQ, men are more risk taking, more competitive and so forth. That’s an important reason to why you find most brilliant minds and idiot savants as well as most fools and idiots among men, the richest and the poorest, most leaders and most criminals, most celebrated and most outcasts. From a functional perspective the gender roles arose as a consequence of the rationality in keeping women safe and sacrificing men. When it comes to reproduction and ensuring the survival of the culture, vaginas are invaluable and penises expendable, although that principle now has played out its role.

This is us men. We might sometimes appear as stubborn, but we can be just as devoted, passionate or even obsessed if we get a really good idea into our heads. We take risks and sometimes crash and burn to earn our Darwin awards. But when we happen to succeed we can transform cultures and we can change the world. And besides, it’s in the intersection between maximum challenge, skill and devotion you find flow.

An example that resembles Hiccup’s adventures, and that can be placed at about the same time in history but thousands of kilometers south, is the deed of Abbas Ibn Firnas (810-887 A.D.), Muslim inventor, poet, musician, scientist and engineer from Córdoba in today’s Spain. When the Vikings were busy plundering and exploring the North, the scientific leading edge were to be found within the Islamic part of the world. Abbas Ibn Firnas made it to the books as the first aviator when he cast himself from an eminence, flew a considerable distance with wings made of bamboo and silk and landed heavily on his back which caused a severe injury (as Toothless, he lacked a functioning tail). But just imagine the inspirational level of the crowd when watching this polymath dare his life trying to fly with his own construction. This is how you do real engineering!

Back to Hiccup. Despite all odds a romance builds up between Hiccup and Astrid, but what does she see in him and what can he offer this fierce and brutal Viking girl? If bare skill, genius or devotion would suffice to attract a woman every gamer and nerd would easily get laid. No, Hiccup captures Astrid’s heart by showing her the true meaning of freedom and beauty, by showing her heaven and letting her touch the sky (after she have apologized to Toothless for being rude).

But there still remains several challenges for Hiccup and Toothless in order for him to gain the acceptance of his father and the tribe, and to permanently change the relationship between Vikings and dragons. It will take a mutual enemy and threat for them to team up and Hiccup will have to kill his first dragon.

As this is a movie, a tale, we can project any meaning onto it as we wish. We could also see this as a story of man’s relation to nature. Nature as something that is to be conquered and controlled, as something that we can have a relation with and work with, or as something that we are…?! The question is if we need a mutual enemy (aliens?) in order to team up or if we can find our way by ourselves.

Besides what has already been mentioned, there are several aspects that I think makes this a great movie. For instance the music by John Powel and the portraying of Toothless and the interplay with Hiccup (I’m a former dog trainer and I had a black German shepherd that somewhat resembled Toothless). So if you have or know any kids you should definitely rent it and see it together. And if you don’t have any, rent it anyway and take The Expendables II at the same time so there is no doubt that you are a real man!

With Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Dolph, Jet Li and Chuck Norris, you can always learn something about masculinity. The macho kick-ass part as well as the part of being expendable…

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Complexity vs Meaning-making

I’d like to offer a short illustration of the distinction between complexity and meaning-making according to the Model of hierarchical complexity and Robert Kegan’s subject-object theory, respectively. MHC is a content-free ordinal scale or theoretical construct by which we can evaluate the order of hierarchical complexity of a certain amount of information, which could be a text, a mathematical formula or a behavior, regardless of domain or content. MHC is based on three axioms that describe how an element of a certain order of hierarchical complexity is constructed by the non-arbitrary and successful coordination of two or more elements from a previous order. It is grounded in information theory and is typically used as a behavioristic theory where the stage of a person, or organism, is evaluated by means of that person being able to complete a task at a corresponding order of hierarchical complexity at a certain domain. Psychological or emotional reactions may come as consequences of taking on a task but is implicit to the theory, although it is used for mapping stages in the domain of attachment as well.

The subject-object theory, on the other hand, includes a subject, a frame of reference or meaning-making that the person is embedded in, and an object that the person has and can relate to. According to Kegan, the meaning-making is not only about information but is also about identification (subject) and has explicit affective and behavioral components. What we have as a subject will determine how we perceive and organize reality, how we identify and how we behave. As the subject at one order of consciousness becomes object of the subject at the next order, our meaning-making becomes increasingly complex. It can be described as a frame of reference, a holistic entity that captures our psychology and meaning-making, in contrast to MHC’s view on complexity as being something that varies depending on e.g. domain and support.

In order to further illustrate the difference between the two theories, of course in a very simplified way, I’d like to use a scene from the movie Good Will Hunting from 1997.

The youtube-clip is from an analysis of the movie from a perspective of masculinity, one that I recommend! There it represents a man speaking to a boy, but here I’m letting it illustrate the difference between a mature and experienced man (Robin Williams’ character Sean) and a complex thinker (Matt Damon’s Will).

And here is my, of course simplified, description of the difference between the theories and what they aim to capture, complexity and meaning-making:

Complexity is about organizing information, about which answers you can find and which tasks and problems you are able to solve.

Meaning-making is about organizing life experiences, about which questions you ask and which tasks and problems you find relevant to solve.

If you want to be a complex thinker, then read, listen, learn, think, evaluate, calculate, discuss and write. My suggestion is modern physics, philosophy, mathematics, why not history or any topic that you find interesting.

If you want to construct meaning in a complex way, then live, love, reflect, grieve someone you loved, face death yourself, dive into pain, joy, fear, conflicts, beauty, take on challenges, succeed and fail, lose and reinvent yourself, rebel against your parents and seeing your children rebel against you.

(It may appear as showing a disregard for MHC, but one should be aware that the subject-object theory is far more speculative, whereas MHC is more modest in its claims, better theoretically grounded and empirically supported. Only slightly more boring. 😉 )

And now for my main point. In the field of adult development we entertain ourselves with evaluating the stage or order of meaning-making or complexity, because it’s useful, because it’s cool and because we can (well, mostly because it’s useful). Some would argue that more complex ways of thinking or meaning-making is better than less complex ways. In this discussion I think it’s useful to think of it the following way:

The complexities of our thoughts and of our meaning-making are mainly consequences of the information we take in and of our lives’ experiences. They serve us by organizing reality in an appropriate way. Sometimes they are not complex enough for us trying to handle the tasks or life challenges we face, and then we sometimes see transformations taking place, something that could be supported as Sean does with Will’s. And sometimes this transformation leads to a higher stage of complexity or meaning-making. But we should always keep in mind that there is an appropriate way of organizing information and experiences, and it is not always and necessarily better to make it more complex.

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En funktionell syn på pengar och ekonomi

Vad är pengar? Vad är skuld?
Här är en analys, eller rättare sagt skiss, ur ett funktionellt perspektiv på pengar och det ekonomiska systemet (en deluppgift i kursen Hållbar omställning, något editerad – 5 sidor):
En funktionell syn på det ekonomiska systemet

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Conflict and integration

In Joseph Tainter’s description of complex societies (Tainter, 1988) he refers to a common dichotomy or distinction between two perspectives or schools of describing the development of our societies that I find very useful in many current debates. These perspectives are referred to as the conflict perspective and the integration or functionalist perspective and the distinction may be as old as the description of civil society itself.

“In essence, conflict theory asserts that the state emerged out of the needs and desires of individuals and subgroups of a society. The state, in this view, is based on divided interests, on domination and exploitation, on coercion, and is primarily a stage for power struggels. […] The state serves, thus, to maintain the privileged position of a ruling class that is largely based on the exploitation and economic degradation of the masses.”

Examples of proponents of the conflict school according to Tainter are Marx, Engels, and more contemporary examples are found in postmodern approaches such as post-colonial and feminism/gender studies. The conflict or struggle can today be seen in analysis of the relation between men vs women, upper class vs working class, ethnic Westerners vs immigrants, urban vs rural, politicians/state vs citizens/individuals.

In contrast we have the integrationist view:

“Integrationist or functional theories suggest that complexity, stratification, and the state arose, not out of the ambitions of individuals or subgroups, but out of the needs of society.” The major elements of this approach are: a) shared, rather than divided, social interests; b) common advantages instead of dominance and exploitation; c) consensus, not coercion; and d) societies as integrated systems rather than as stages for power struggles.”

From this perspective society and the development of all its aspects is mainly seen as a consequence of the outer conditions such as food production, competition and warfare with other societies, or as a way for achieving an optimal development as a whole. Proponents of the integrationist view are, according to Tainter, Spencer, Sumner, Durkheim, Moret, Davy, and Service. Please note that I’m not a sociologist so I can’t really verify Tainter’s examples here in detail. Nevertheless I would argue that “my field” of adult development psychology and also integral theory according to Ken Wilber lean towards the integrationist side. This since society and the culture provide support for the individual’s development in contrast to e.g. Freudian view where the individual is in conflict with the cultural demands.

Either schools or perspectives have strong and weak points and, needless to say, neither of them should be elevated to represent the true nature of a society. But instead of elaborating those, let’s give an example from the gender equality debate.

According to the conflict school (mainstream feminism and gender studies) we live in a patriarchy where gender roles were created in order for the male gender role to oppress the female. The main focus is on questions about power and inequality between the genders. From this perspective women traditionally have been kept at home so that men can dominate the public sphere and gaining all the politic and economic power.

The view on the creation of gender roles from the integrationist school gives at hand that they are fundamentally a result of the nature of reproduction, food production and war waging. Women are kept at home for the main reason that men are stronger and more expendable. It is for a society, as a whole, functional to sacrifice men and keep women safe, a view that is argued by e.g. Warren Farrell in the USA and Pelle Billing in Sweden where my experience is derived.

The dichotomy of the conflict and integrationist perspectives refers to views on society as a whole, but a reason I find it useful is that it can be applied to social interactions at various levels, such as analysis of economy and debt, organizations, families, relations, psychology etc. It can be useful to reveal blind spots, for example the case of gender studies in Swedish academia. As I said, I’m not a sociologist, so please correct me if I’m wrong.


Tainter, J. A. (1988) The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge university press, GB.

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Ontological and epistemological complexity

What do we mean by complexity? How does complex differ from complicated? And what do we mean by simplicity? How do these concepts relate?

The notion of complexity appears in many subject areas, such as psychology and adult development, pedagogy, sociology, anthropology, economy, physics and biology. In order to bring some order I believe that a first distinction needs to be made, that between ontological complexity and epistemological complexity, and I’m not the first to do so. We could also refer to them as real and conceptual complexity, respectively.

Ontological complexity deals with the complexity of real things, real systems, real processes and organisms, such as the complexity of a tree, a colony of ants, an eco-system, an organization or a society. Here we find the classical complexity theories that emerged in the 50s and that is growing in popularity. Although there is no universal measure of how complex something is, the hallmark of high complexity is a high degree of differentiation and integration, i.e. many different parts and functions that work together to create a functioning whole.

A human body which is built up by atoms, molecules, proteins, cells, organs, etc., can be said to be very complex. And today’s society is often described as very complex since we have a great amount of different roles and functions that are coordinated in large organizations and entities. The various goods we ship across the world are very complex and requires the involvement of many parts and parties to be constructed. Today’s financial systems is also usually described as extremely complex in a negative sense in that it is impossible to overview and easy for crises to spread across the intimately interconnected and integrated world, as demonstrated in this TED talk. A computer manufacturer tried to track all components to ensure that all parts were produced in an ethical and sustainable manner, but they had to give up because there were so very many parties involved.

Epistemological complexity, in contrast, deals with the complexity in our thinking, i.e. the complexity in our ability to reason and the complexity of the problems we can solve. This is typically what we study in adult development and here we have a measure in the Model of hierarchical complexity, MHC, where we can say that a certain amount of information or a certain behavior can be evaluated at a certain stage of hierarchical complexity. Or the understanding that underlies a design principle. It is important to recognize that a certain level of epistemological complexity builds on and includes all previous levels of complexity.

Typically, I would say that the epistemological complexity is a pale shadow of the ontological, our understanding of the world is usually an insufficient and limited representation if it. Often, the most complex thing we can do is biomimetics, i.e. trying to mimic nature’s own complexity. But an important point here is to keep them apart. For instance, when we discuss the design of a city, a house or any artifact, we should distinguish between the two perspectives, the planned design and the actual design. Although there have been findings of fractal patterns in traditional sub-Saharan cities, it does not necessarily imply that those cultures understood the notion of fractals in a mathematical sense.

It is also important to recognize the similarities between the ontological and the epistemological complexities. The notion of differentiation and integration is commonly used to describe the process of increased complexity. Another key term is emergence, which means that that properties of the complex system as a whole can’t be explained by means of the parts or the interactions that build up the system. A number of ants can together perform complex tasks and create a complex colony without the individual ants to have the cognitive capacity for understanding what they are doing. The properties of a molecule can’t be predicted or explained by means of the properties of the atoms that go into it. Similarly, in MHC a foundational axiom is that a higher level or stage has to coordinate two or more parts or elements from a previous level in a non-arbitrary way so that a new and qualitatively different element is produced.

In ontological complexity, the distinction between complex and complicated is often emphasized. Complex refers to the characteristics that are explained in the above, while complicated is often associated with characteristics such as linearity and that can be reduced to its parts. A typical description is the following:

“… the main difference between complicated and complex systems is that with the former, one can usually predict outcomes by knowing the starting conditions. in a complex system, the same starting conditions can produce different outcomes, depending on interactions of the elements in the system.”

Complex problems are typically described as ill-structured or wicked, e.g. raising a child, when complicated systems are described as well-structured and solvable, although not easily, e.g. build a functioning car.

I would argue that complex in this sense corresponds to vertical complexity according to MHC in the epistemological case, and the complicated corresponds to horizontal complexity according to MHC. Horizontal complexity or development is usually described as “more of the same” or a quantitative increase in complexity, whereas vertical complexity or development means a qualitative shift or increase in complexity.

And finally for the simplistic part, for the epistemological simplicity I would like to offer an illustrating episode from the life of young Gauss. Perhaps one could find a correspondence for the ontological simplicity.

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Complexity and simplicity

Complexity and simplicity is a cliche that is sometimes referred to. But what does it mean and how can a higher complexity sometimes make life simpler? Let’s take a classic example from the history of mathematics.

Carl Friedrich Gauss was one of the giants within mathematics, amongst other things known for the normal distribution curve or the bell curve, got as a 10-year-old schoolboy the task of summing all the numbers from 1 to 100, i.e. to calculate 1+2+3+4+5+ … +96+97+98+99+100. After just a few minutes Gauss could give the correct answer: 5050.

But how did he do? Was he extremely fast at calculating?

No, he discovered a symmetry and used the trick of dividing the list of numbers into two parts of equal length, 1-50 and 51-100. He turned the latter part, and summed them element by element: 1+100, 2+99, 3+98, etc..

When you add the first and last elements, second and penultimate and so forth, you end up with the same result, 101. Since all the numbers are to be added and since both lists are 50 elements long, the result is given by 101 * 50 = 5050.

Have you seen this trick once, it’s possible to derive an expression for the sum S of all the integers from 1 to n, which is called an arithmetic sum, which gives

S = n (n +1) / 2

The question we now could ask ourselves is the following: Did Gauss make the problem simpler or more complex? Simplicity or complexity? Or both?

What was the complexity of the problem that Gauss got according to MHC? He was supposed to add a lot of numbers, 1+2+3+ etc.. The task of adding two numbers is order 7 primary. And to do that many times is still order 7 primary, though with a much higher degree of horizontal complexity. Gauss’ problem had thus a high horizontal but low vertical complexity. In principle very easy to carry out, but very time consuming.

But Gauss transformed the problem into one that is more vertically complex, to be specific, order 10 formal (according to a discussion we had on yahoo tech group adult development)! And to generalize the result to the formula with n instead of 100 is yet another order, 11 systematic.

The conclusion here is that Gauss instead of solving a problem with high horizontal complexity, he transformed it into a problem with high vertical complexity. He makes the problem simpler in that it requires fewer operations, simplicity, yet more difficult because it requires a deeper mathematical understanding, complexity!

This is a typical example of how a new order of complexity can emerge, by having a large horizontal complexity of the previous order. This is typically how you plan the mathematics teaching, consciously or unconsciously. The student is made to solve a lot of similar problems until they think something like “Now it’s the same routine again, there seems to be a pattern here!? What if this can be systematized? That would make it easier!

Often there is a reluctance and resistance to systematize and go up to the next level or order, but when the horizontal load on the working memory gets too big, it appears like the price to take the leap to the next level is worth paying. The following complex level coordinates and organizes the previous so that it becomes easier to manage. This may apply to individuals but perhaps also for entire communities.

  • To domesticate the soil is more complex than hunting and gathering.
  • To come up with a written language is more complex than to pass on information orally.
  • To computerize administrative operations is more complex than do the work with paper and pencil.
  • For companies to use social media is more complex than using the one-way communication.

In all cases, new problems are created that are vertically more complex but are still worthwhile because it saves a lot of time and work, at least in the long term. How many have cursed over the new computer application that is not compatible with the current OS? How many have not been annoyed over negative comments on the company’s Facebook page? Or cursed crop failure? Yet we seem to be willing to pay that price. We have otherwise been required to keep up with the competition.

Life has become more complex but simpler.

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Ultimate concern

– What do you want? What do you really want? she asked me.

We had talked for hours, for months, about life, structures, wisdom, patterns in nature showing up in our mind, about noetic insights, about doubting everything and finally doubt itself, about life, death and everything in between, and about what is of ultimate concern. One third of what she said I could follow, one third I felt it might understand within some time and the last third I realized I would never grasp. But now it seemed that her patience with me had run out.

I interpreted the question as regarding what was of ultimate concern for me. We all have holy principles that we refuse to give up. In our lives we typically embrace values or ideals such as love, relations, goodness, glory, beauty, seeking enlightenment, wealth or happiness. But sometimes these values or ideals come in conflict with each other, and that’s when we have to choose.

– I want the truth, no matter what.

But as soon as we choose we pay a price. It’s called ‘ignorant bliss’ because knowledge and wisdom cannot be combined with happiness. That’s why I’m a researcher and that’s probably also what I should be.

– You will hate yourself, you will lose all hope for mankind and for the future.

She was right, of course. Everything I held dear, all fairy tales, all meaning, all I could stand on, cling on to, was wiped out. How mistaken I was, thinking transformation always lead to something good. First there was a terrifying silence, a vast darkness, disappointment and a loneliness. I died, but not for the first time. Then I found myself no longer being afraid. After a while my eyes started to get used to the darkness and to my own shadows. I could talk to them, listen to them, understand them, forgive them and make peace with at least some of them. Then I started to be able to sense and see the shadows of others.

It is often said that we should embrace our own divinity and let the light shine through us. Some do this very well and they become the radiant leaders, ideals and objects of other’s admiration. Not necessarily and not always, but often the brightest stars cast the darkest shadows. And shining brighter won’t make them go away. These shadows, if any, frighten me.

The dark night of the soul is often regarded as a pit stop on the path to spirit. And sometimes the soul is sacrificed in order to find spirit. For me, being in contact with the soul is more important than with spirit and divinity. For me they are each other’s opposite, or at least, they are found in opposite directions. In order to find the soul one has to go back to where one came from. We had it once and we lost it, but we don’t remember how and where. And even if we do find it, we will still bear the scars.

I’m not a good man and I’m certainly not divine. I have no such ambition. But one thing I can assure you. I love you dearly from the bottom of my soul. To the bottom of your.


I once betrayed my soul at the altar of the greater good
Although the distinction was hardly noticeable
an abyss in my heart, torn and astray

But not this time
One foot in the light and one in the shadow
not solid, but holding my ground

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The limitations of the evolutionary meaning-making

or Peak oil and why integralists tend to overlook it

A week or two ago I recorded a podcast with two Norwegians, one was the host James Alexander Arfinsen who has been doing a lot of podcast interviews with people involved with issues of sustainability and integral perspectives on social and personal development and transformation. The other one was Anders Asphaug who has written a few extensive articles in Norwegian on the topic of Peak oil and permaculture, and the topic of the podcast was Integral perspectives on Peak oil.

And actually, James and I made an earlier attempt to cover the extensive topic, or rather the crossing of two huge bodies of knowledge or discourses. However, I wasn’t comfortable with the result, perhaps since I felt that I couldn’t embody and bridge the gap between them by myself. But with this new attempt with Anders that could act more as an expert in Peak oil while I could focus a bit more on the integral part that I feel more comfortable in, although it is still very limited. And I think it worked great, we talked for three hours which after editing resulting in two hour-long episodes. The podcasts are in Scandinavian (Norwegian/Swedish) so I thought I’d just give a brief overview of my main points in English.

When James and I did a research of what had been written on the topic of Peak oil in integral contexts we found two references, one was by another Norwegian, Svein Horn, who had made a presentation on the topic of integral perspectives on Peak oil already in 2009. Apparently he wrote a follow-up article that was submitted to Journal of integral theory and practice, but it seems not to have been accepted for publication. It seems to have ended up as a book chapter. The other reference is an article on Integral world, Twilight in the integral world, an alternative forum for integral thought and critique that is outside the core of the integral movement, written by Tomislav Markus. Markus criticizes the leading integral theorists such as Sean Esbjörg-Hargens for how little they say about the ecological crisis and at for not at all recognizing the issue of Peak oil.

So, why is it so? Why don’t the leading edge thinkers of the world, at least as I think that should be the ambition for integralists to strive for, acknowledge the issue or problem that I and many more think is one of the most challenging and acute of our world to address? The question is complex and should of course be open for discussion and a multitude of perspectives, but I’d like to start with three possible reasons that I see from my horizon. I elaborate these reasons in the end of the final part of the podcast, after providing some constructive thoughts on how to apply the integral framework and principles as tools for understanding and addressing the issue at hand.

Firstly, as an engineer my observation is that the integral movement typically consists of non-engineers. They are typically people with backgrounds in psychology, cultural studies, i.e. the humanities and the social sciences, perspectives that emphasize the left quadrants of the AQAL model. But Peak oil is not foremost about perspectives, it’s about physical resources and processes, how much oil that is actually in the ground, how quick we can get it out and with which amount of energy input. As an engineer or physicist I focus typically on the physical and material world that can be described by laws and mathematics and that, although complex and uncertain, have definite and final answers. In integral contexts there is a larger emphasis on meta-theory and perspectives rather than descriptions on reality itself. When there is a conflict in the issue of Peak oil it is typically between physicists and economists (another area that is not exactly packed with integral people).

Secondly, most commonly integralists rely on the quadrants for identifying important issues or aspects of them. But in which quadrant do we find Peak oil? The quadrants come from Ken Wilber’s approach of describing evolution as something that isn’t a purely psychological affair (UL), and neither a purely cultural (LL), not a physiological or behavioral (UR), nor only an affair of evolving societal structures (LR). According to Wilber evolution is better described by taking all these perspective into account and seeing it as an interplay between these four aspects or quadrants, a process of tetra-evolution. If would perhaps feel most natural to place Peak oil in the lower right quadrant since it’s about the outside and surrounding physical world and not about individual entities or individuals. On the other hand, the lower right is where we typically put the human economic, political and social structures.

The quadrants are very useful in proposing aspects of transition, we need to transform our cultures, our psychology, our economic system and our consumption patterns, and this is also one of my conclusion in the podcast. But in my view we may easily overlook the resource basis and issues such as Peak oil since it appears to fall outside the quadrants. It might be placed in one of the zones of the integral methodological pluralism, but that more complex version of the quadrants hasn’t really had any impact in these issues.

Finally, and here is the most important reason in my view, when I learned about Peak oil I started to follow up the references that the proponents of Peak oil relied on, theorists and presenters such as Nicole Foss and Chris Martensson, and reading the books they read. These books, typically about a coming collapse of our complex societies and how and if we can avoid it, are written by authors such as Jared Diamond and Joseph Tainter who gives a different view on the history of humanity from hunter-gatherers to the current global society than that we are familiar with from reading Wilber. First I tried to assimilate these new thoughts and theories into the AQAL framework that is commonly applied in integral contexts (that I have described in Swedish in a number of posts), but without success. It seemed to me that these two perspectives, although they aim to describe the same history, gave two quite opposite views on our development and e.g. the role of complexity in our society.

Wilber, on one hand, emphasizes human development as something that is inherently driven by humanity itself, the tetra-evolution of psychological, cultural, behavioral/physiological and structural. The integral view of humanity is a story of progress and of transformation from rudimentary to complex forms of thinking and being, therefore sometimes called the evolutionary meaning-making. Throughout history humanity has evolved from archaic to magic, to mythic, to rational and industrial, to postmodern in the age of global information and perhaps further into the post-postmodern integral age. The main cause or driver of this evolution is sometimes referred to as the evolutionary impulse. When a crisis is viewed from this grand perspective, or rather this narrative or meaning-making since it in turn consists of many perspectives, we tend to interpret it as a transformation towards a higher stage of wider embrace or of higher complexity. “There is no coming to consciousness without pain” as Jung said, and if we see pain it’s easy to from this perspective draw the conclusion that we see a development or coming to consciousness.

In contrast, the peak perspective with its collapse-theorists’ background, Diamond is a geographer and Tainter is an anthropologist and historian (both very multi-disciplinary), focus on the environment and its resources as main drivers of human development, and human activities as a consequence of this. In Diamonds book Guns, germs and steel, he argues for the availability of natural resources, crops and animal to domesticate and climate zones as advantages in favor of the Eurasian continent as main reasons to why Europeans colonized the rest of the world instead of the opposite. Tainter’s notion of The collapse of complex societies rests on a historical view on previous civilizations that actually have collapsed due to a depletion in natural resources that are needed to sustain the society and that complexity in the form of administration and societal functions that are not associated to survival and food production. A common but inappropriate response to the crises that occur, according to Tainter, is to further increase complexity which will give an ever decreasing result or return on investment.

Although they sometimes look at the same data or phenomenon, these two grand perspectives on human development, as well as on the future, are often in contrast to each other, or they are at least to me. For example, although there is a shared view on what complexity is, a high degree of differentiation in social roles, functions or parts that is integrated into a functioning organism, organization, structure or goods, it is interpreted as either a measure of progress and desirable outcome or something that by necessity costs energy and is a burden to the society.

A more concrete example is the view of the Arab spring a couple of years ago, where people in northern Africa revolted toward their leaders. An integral interpretation is that this crisis is a developmental one, where the people hungers for democracy and revolts towards the dictatorship that stands in the way of this cultural progress. An interpretation from the peak perspective, on the other hand, emphasizes high oil and food prices at that time as the igniting spark as well as the long term challenge. For example, in Egypt decreasing oil production gives decreasing incomes which means that the government can’t afford to subsidize gasoline and food to the people, which will revolt, not primarily from hunger of democracy but from hunger of food. Oppressing a people is much easier if you manage to feed them.

Or the case of the industrial revolution where Wilber emphasizes the innovations, the techno-economic, psychological and cultural transformation, while the Peak proponents would emphasize the discoveries of coal and further down the industrialized road today’s total dependency on oil for our civilizations to function. Fossil fuels are not inventions, they are gifts from past times that where given to us. All we had to do was to dig a few meters then, and now a few thousand meters. It’s easy to see that one of these grand perspectives gives a significantly brighter view on humanity, on life on earth and on the future.

A simplified way of illustrating these two narratives is by means of two graphs or functions (yes, my background is in mathematics). The integral or evolutionary meaning-making is represented by an exponential function that starts slowly, picks up speed and then explodes into what seems to be an omega point. This is typically what we see when we plot any measure of human development or complexity as a function of time.

The peak narrative is here symbolized by a Gauss-function or bell-shaped curve that typically serves as illustration for global (as well as local) oil production. The curve starts the same way as the exponential function, but flattens out, reaches a peak and then decreases. It has a birth, a growth, a flourishing golden age with a peak and then a decline followed by death, like the rise and fall of the Roman empire. In this discourse the exponential curve is typically seen as a naive view of an ever growing economy on a finite planet, cells multiplying in a bottle, and of a sign of hubris or illusion of own immortality.

These two grand perspectives or narratives can in many cases be referred to as examples of meaning-making, which refers to the fact that people often build their worldviews, identities and act from these perspectives, this according to adult development theorists such as Susanne Cook-Greuter and Robert Kegan. Therefore, questioning them as overarching frameworks or narratives can be hard.

I am not disregarding any of them, nor do I claim that one is more complex than the other. I do really want to honor both perspectives. What I am saying is that I think that they are both partially right(!) but they are both limited. The integral meaning-making does not acknowledge how dependent we are on fossil fuels for our development, on the biosphere and the half-meter fertile soil for our survival and the fact that our current way of life and our current development is not sustainable. The peak meaning-making often fails to acknowledge the fact that we have stages of development in a psychological sense as well and that we are at different stages, states and so forth. This means that we are cognitively and emotionally better equipped to handle the complexity of the current crisis today and can learn from previous disasters. On the other hand, we have never before faced such a complex and global crisis.

To all who call themselves integralists, I’m truly sorry for questioning the foundations of this meaning-making. I sincerely believe that everyone should be allowed to be at whatever stage they are and that higher is not better per se. But when it comes to the future of our planet I would really want to see the integral movement and its leading thinkers to play a more active and more relevant role and not only to represent a safe haven of meditation and personal healing and growth, although that has a value that cannot be underestimated.

To me there is integral and there is integral. Integral in the first sense is believing in a certain story and identifying with a certain framework and community, only reading the good news, seeing the signs of progress that can be assimilated into the current framework or meaning-making and resting in what seems to be the best of worlds. The world needs this kind of people.

Integral in the second sense is killing your dearest darlings, acknowledging the limitations of the evolutionary meaning-making, letting go of all maps and authorities only to start from scratch again, being a constant beginner’s mind, engaging in fundamentally new perspectives, even those who cannot be reconciled with the integral framework, and embracing uncertainty and even death head on.

This second version of integral is the approach that I have found being most useful when trying to bridge the integral and adult development perspectives with the sustainability, collapse and peak perspectives. I may be wrong in my analysis, it may be a non-completed synthesis, it may be limited too and not very appealing, but this is where I’m at. And if this resonates with you as well, feel free to join in!

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