Peak Oil at IEC in Budapest

Next week the first Integral European Conference takes place in Budapest, where I will make two presentations: one about Adult development and one about Peak Oil: Here is the abstract. This post will focus on the second and introduce the crossing of an energy perspective with an Integral or AQAL perspective. I have been engaging in Integral theory for almost ten years (here is an introduction in Swedish), I was introduced to the issue of Peak Oil almost five years ago and now seems to be the time to aim for a synthesis between them.

I have written a few earlier blog posts on Peak Oil and its relation to Integral theory and worldviews: Here is an introduction to Peak oil, here I give some Adult development perspectives on Peak oil and here I reflect on the difficulties on integrating Peak oil (or Collapse) perspectives into Integral theory.

The conference paper and work is the fruit of a joint effort together with Svein Horn from Norway, who was first on the integral scene to give perspectives on Peak Oil in an own book chapter in 2009. Although we wish that we’d have a lot more time and energy (!) to put into the work, we think that can give a significant contribution to introducing energy perspectives in integral contexts and into integral theory.

The preliminary outline of the presentation, which will follow the outline of the paper, is as follows:

First Peak oil will be introduced. This is outlined in the recent blog post. This can be seen as the engineering and scientific part of the presentation. Next we move to the historical part where we review the human history from an energy perspective and its importance and necessity for human evolution. This is a perspective that up till now has been omitted in Integral theory and AQAL according to theorists, such as Ken Wilber and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens.

But why is it so? Why hasn’t the Peak oil issue gained more attention in integral contexts and by Integral theorists? First it can be said that they are not alone. The energy perspective is often overlooked by economists, historians and anthropologists (although they seldom claim to be integral and all-embracing), although the issue seems to gain in attention now that we are facing problems and disturbances in our energy supply.

Here we turn to the more philosophical or meta-theoretical part of our work. When we try to assimilate an energy perspective to the AQAL theory and the quadrants we face two problems. The first is that it simply doesn’t seem to fit into any quadrant. Intuitively, it would perhaps fit into the lower right structural quadrant, but that is not how Wilber describes tetra-evolution in this quote from Excerpt A:

“With regard to the LR social system and its techno-economic base, what generally happens is that a technological innovation begins in the mind of some creative individual (UL)–James Watt and the steam engine, for example. This novel idea is communicated to others through the inventor’s verbal and cognitive behavior (UR), until a small group of individuals eventually understands the idea (LL). If the idea is compelling enough, it is eventually translated into concrete forms (e.g. the building of actual steam engines), which now become part of the socio-economic base (LR).”

Thus, the lower right quadrant according to Wilber’s description of evolution and human development is the structural or techno-socio-economic aspect of that which is developing. Tetra-evolution in this sense is the interplay between the four quadrants’ development. And of course, we could see the different systems for extracting energy as significant for a certain stage of development. But not energy itself. Energy comes from the sun (except for nuclear and geothermal), we don’t produce it – we harvest it from our surrounding environment.

It is interesting that Wilber uses the industrial revolution as an example without addressing the influence of energy and that industrialization would not have taken place hadn’t we found coal and then oil and gas to burn in large scale. We conclude that the quadrants given by the AQAL theory do indeed include many useful perspectives, but also limit our view on evolution so that we can overlook important aspects such as our energy dependence.

When we discuss the consequences of peak oil with an integral lens, and an “energy addendum” so to speak, we come into the issue of possible decoupling. Decoupling between energy and the lower right quadrant and between the lower right and the other quadrants.

And we also go one step further and investigate the view on the future according to the integral and the energy perspective. What is the direction of the universe according to these two perspectives? And here we find some conflicting conclusions, to say the least.

But that can be left as a cliff-hanger and reason for joining our presentation, session and discussion. See you there!

Oil platform Holly

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A short introduction to Peak Oil

We need to transition the community away from fossil fuels!

This is a message we hear often today, too often according to some. But still, it seems to progress slowly. Climate negotiations stalled in Copenhagen and since then not much has happened on the scene of world politics. People generally seem not interested enough to assert pressure on their leaders or for that matter themselves reduce their transportation and other energy consumption. And now we also have an economic crisis to take care of. We first need to get back on track with our economic growth before we can consider reducing carbon dioxide emissions, it is typically stated. And global warming is, after all, something that happens to someone else, somewhere else and some other time…

But if we again ask us why we should transition, there is another answer. Instead of focusing on the waste product of fossil fuels, the CO2 emissions that are causing global warming, there is a very good reason to look at the resource side, how much fossil fuels is left to extract and consume. And that is exactly what Professor Kjell Aleklett has done with his research team at the Division of Global Energy Systems at Uppsala University in Sweden, the last decade or so. In 2012 he released his book Peeking at Peak Oil that summarizes the results of their research and of his own experiences of the issue.

It is a somewhat different physics book to read, with historical views, anecdotes, own reflections, comments on and sometimes criticism of other experts and politicians, meetings with intelligence services(!) and some economics. But it is primarily a physics book, which is a very important point to make and the reason why you should listen more to Aleklett in the future. Energy and oil extraction, more often referred to as “production”, primarily regards physics and geology. But today it is mainly economists who “decides” the extent of future oil extraction and consumption. But no economic model contains any scenario where oil extraction will decline, after what is referred to as Peak Oil, the time of maximum global oil extraction.

But how can Aleklett and his colleagues be so certain that oil extraction will decrease in the future? The most straightforward way to estimate this is to study how much oil is found throughout history, where one finds that the largest discoveries were made in the 60’s and that it is increasingly difficult to find new sources of oil, despite investment and new technology. New oil reserves are usually found in places that are hard to access and that require hazardous deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic when the ice melted. The easily accessible oil, the so called low hanging fruit, have already to a large extent been extracted and consumed.

By making inventories of the size of the world’s oil reserves, calculate how fast these can be exploited, make realistic estimates of future discoveries and account for other unconventional fossil energy sources, such as Canadian tar sands or natural gas from fracking, and renewable energy sources, such as biofuels, Aleklett concludes that we have major problems and not much preparedness.

So when does Peak Oil occur? You can’t really tell what the maximum extraction is until you have past the peak, but it seems that we may already have done so. Since 2005, the global extraction of oil remained at a constant level. During this plateau phase, the domestic consumption of the exporting countries increased, which means that the nations that must import oil has had to make do with a steadily declining export market. In addition, the importers China, India and Southeast Asian countries increased their consumption, a trend that is expected to continue (see the diagram below where the global oil extraction optimistically is assumed to be constant).

What then can be expected in the wake of Peak Oil? One could as well ask what consequences it already has had. Oil accounts for over 90% of the fuel to the transport sector which will be affected in the first place, which is evident at the gas pump when you fill up your car and for the airlines companies that are struggling. But it also has a significant impact on the world economy. Oil demand during the 00s has steadily increased while the extraction has not been able to follow the increase as the leading economic analysts have predicted. If supply can’t follow the demand, the price will go up and on 11 July 2008, the oil price peaked at 147 US $/barrel, which most likely was the trigger for the global economic mayhem and crisis, starting with the US subprime crisis:

”In the United States before the financial crisis in 2008 it was noted that it was these poorer, fringe-dwelling households that were the first to be affected by high oil prices. The more than doubling of the oil price from 2005 to 2008 took a huge toll on the budgets of these households. One way for them to cope was to abandon their mortgage payments and give their house keys back to the banks. Thus, Peak Oil and the financial crisis were intimately linked.”

The relationship between oil consumption and economic growth is complex, but the two do correlate to each other. And that is of course not consistent with the constant economic growth that is a prerequisite for the current economic system to stay healthy. Some would argue that oil extraction can always be increased through economic instruments such as increased investment and technological innovation, should the economy so require. Aleklett, on the other hand, regards the economy as something that has to adapt to the physical reality. Economy does after all mean “householding”.

Peak Oil also has some major political implications. EU (as a whole), and the US leads the consumption league and both have major economic problems, which implies a global shift in power that now also starts to have social consequences. Also consider that the two, by far, largest oil exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia, one can understand why Western politicians prefer not to offend them unnecessarily, such as calling them dictators or the like. Not even Obama complained when Saudi Arabia went into neighboring Bahrain to crack down on democracy activists. And this spring we have seen Russia using the “gas-weapon” as a means of gaining political influence on its neighboring countries, such as Ukraine, as well as on the EU. So it really is an inconvenient truth that Aleklett delivers.

But is it really a truth? Because it is far from all who agree, for example most economists, analysts in the oil business and political advisers. But unlike others Aleklett’s group have produced a solid body of research in the form of a large number of peer-reviewed articles and doctoral dissertations. Neither are they funded by any oil company or allow themselves to be influenced by political interests. Above all, they base their estimates on calculations that they present openly instead of making guesses that the world’s energy policies until now have been based on. So if you disagree with the conclusions or if you believe that the alternative energy source X will solve everything and save the day, the obvious counter-question should be: “How many millions of barrels of oil per day do you anticipate that X can replace and how quickly can X be developed?” A useful overview of alternative energy sources is given in Richard Heinberg’s short booklet “Searching for a miracle”, that is available online.

After this very limited and at most incomplete summary, it can be concluded that we must adapt to a future with less energy and we must do it quickly. Not because we should, but because we have to. Our inability to transition primarily affects ourselves and in a very near future. It is difficult to say how soon, but a lot has happened to the economy in just the last five to six years after the beginning of the economic crisis. Here a 5 to 10 year horizon is typically discussed, rather than the 50 to 100-year perspective of the climate change issue.

A final reflection from Aleklett on the future:

“…but what the world needs most is a global leader who understands systems thinking.”

I would put it this way : The world needs many leaders who can step out of the conventional “business as usual” thinking, that are at least meta-systematic thinkers and that can take perspectives on physics, economics, politics, security, etc. and their interrelatedness.

Here follows some psychological perspectives on Peak oil, and in particular an adult developmental perspective.

Illustrations from the book are by Olle Qvennerstedt and one from

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Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 5

In this final part I would like to offer some conclusions, evaluations and perspectives on the course we gave. You can read about preparation of the course and how it was carried out more explicitly in the previous parts:

Part 1 – The preparation process
Part 2 – Introduction and energy
Part 3 – Food production, material flow and the big history of values
Part 4 – Solutions, principles of sustainability and who we are in relation to nature

Firstly, the core principle and aim of our teaching can be summarized in one sentence as follows:

Introducing knowledge, overview and perspectives on our global and grand challenges and balancing this with tools, insights and embodiment on what it means to grow as human beings and to engage with these challenges we face.

The ambitions of the course have certainly been greater than what has been possible to achieve in 48 hours. The ambitions have been about bridging gaps:

  • bridging the personal/local scale and the global,
  • bridging the concrete issues and the complex perspectives,
  • bridging abilities and tools with challenges and their solutions (or way of dealing with them),
  • bridging seriousness of the future outlooks, the playfulness of the present and fascination of past achievements,
  • bridging integral and sustainability

The last point has been one of my strongest motivations. I am quite familiar with integral theory, especially with the vertical or developmental perspective that you find in the adult development field that I perform and publish own research in. But my engagement in issues of sustainability, e.g. energy perspectives such as Peak oil, has only been for the recent four years. I still feel like a beginner in this field (and I really am!) and despite all complexity scaffolds, such as MHC and AQAL, and abilities for perspective-taking the learning process has been very hard for many reasons.

One is that a broad view on sustainability has not been easily assimilated into any integral framework, at least according to my understanding (although it has been pointed out that there are not one integral theory but several, e.g. Morin and Bhaskar). Even if you have the ability to take several perspectives and is a complex (e.g. metasystematic) thinker, you still need to dig into the concrete issues with all their details. My sidekick Stina, with her several decades of experience of environmental and sustainability issues, made sure that I was aware of this. It takes decades to build up true expertise and abilities in these types of issues, even if you are a complex thinker in other domains.

One example to my difficulties to assimilate sustainability issues into to the integral framework is the following: When you learn about sustainability you sooner or later realize that we are not sustainable. It is not only one perspective or way of looking and engaging in the world that is unsustainable, it is our entire modern civilization and our societies. Evolving to the next stage in complexity or meaning-making, whatever that might be, does not necessarily solve any issue.

Engaging in issues. Photograph: Stina Deurell

The most central or core question that integral aims to answer is typically “How do we grow/develop/evolve?” and a core question in sustainability is “How can we keep on doing whatever we do sustainably?” From this very simplified (and anthropocentric) way of looking at it one can realize that if we’re not developing sustainably, we can’t develop more than temporarily. Therefore, I find it easier to see integral as something that should be assimilated into sustainability, or at least in this context.

Despite my difficulties I certainly believe that integral models and theories can offer important tools, insights and perspectives that we absolutely should make use of. And those I have tried to introduce and employ in my course. A common question in integral settings is how to introduce abstract and challenging models such as the quadrants and levels such as those given by Spiral dynamics. Here I’d like to propose some lessons and guidelines I have discovered during the process:

  • Most importantly, the main focus of the integral models and the way they were introduced, were as tools for solving or addressing problems. The models themselves were not the goal of the teaching or holy in anyway – they are means to achieving something that is more important – addressing the problems of sustainability we work with.
  • Therefore, I try to introduce them at the right time, when they can be successfully applied and even better as support and confirmation when students are “already there” or to illustrate what they may be missing.
  • The integral models are typically complex meta-models, so they need to be built up piece by piece. The more the students are involved in this process the better and the easier for them to make it their own. This was the strategy behind creating the Big history timeline.

When it comes to important and useful principles I think that Wilber’s concept of transcend-and-include is central, and in our course we gave more emphasis to the latter. We have transcended nature and now we need to re-integrate and include it as well. We need to move from the anthropocentric view of integral to the view that emphasizes that we are still nature. Although integral typically give more emphasis to the transcendence it still contains the inclusion. And this shift, we could also see it as the shift from Eros to Agape, is something that perhaps is a trend in the integral discourse nowadays.

For me personally, the demanding process that led to the course and carrying it out felt like a journey with a happy ending. On a whole I’m very pleased with how it turned out and I think that we have a concept that works as it is or can and should be further developed. But on the other hand, when it comes to sustainability, so much is going in the completely wrong direction.

Course evaluation
Here are some voices from the course evaluation we did, where we asked what they thought was good, what was missing or needed improvement and what they take with them.

“I can’t really say that I missed something during this workshop – lectors were really nice, the topic was interesting and the way of learning new information was really well-made and well-prepared.”

“Also it is a pity that so few students attended this workshop because we need more you people to know about is! THANK YOU REALLY MUCH!!!”

“…sharing ideas, inspiration, discussion, global view, connection atmosphere, space for everyone to discuss…”

“I found very interesting and inspiring the cross [the quadrants]”

“I was surprised how enjoyable this course was. I understood almost everything, I gained lot of new info and it raised lot of questions as well.”

“I don’t have any suggestions for improvement. We had enough space for discussions and own opinions which I normally miss in those courses. It was dynamic and interesting.

The most important things I take with me

Using of energy (I didn’t know we use so much oil)

What is Earth Stewardship and Anthropocentrism -> how they relate

And with other topics about which we spoke I already heard before but I got some new ideas.


“The things that could be improved was to have more time to dig into the issues.”

On the question if the students would recommend the course or the teacher(s) to other students all students answered “definitely yes” on a scale ranging from Not at all, rather not, partly yes and definitely yes. This was also the case for questions regarding if the teachers could transmit the essence of the subject to the students, if the teacher used the latest research and knowledge within the field, if the students were treated with respect. The only negative opinions that were expressed was that some wanted to have more time to engage in the problems that we had introduced.

The overall rating of the course from a scale ranging from 1 to 10 (1 – a waste of time; 10 – a life changing experience) two students gave the highest score 10 and the mean value was 8.75.

As a final comment I just want to say that Stina and I had a wonderful time with the students who really contributed and engaged with us, and with the environment and culture in lovely Olomouc. We certainly hope to return some day and meet again!

Exploring Olomouc. Photograph: Stina Deurell


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Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 4

Day 3

Session 7-8 – Own work and presentations. The last day started a bit slow, the students weren’t really sure on what we expected of them. The task was formulated as follows:

“In a short oral presentation of max 5 min, take one problem or big issue of importance and formulate some own principles for sustainability.

Try to formulate principle/s that can address what you can do on a personal/individual level and on a societal level.

What need to be changed in order to address the problem?

We will offer feedback and support and evaluate!”

We had to discuss further what we meant by a principle, but it got clearer during the discussion at the presentations. Typically, what was presented were either stated in negative terms as being against something: “we need to stop…”, “we have to decrease…”, or as solutions to various problems: “if we build…” or “we can invent…” In all cases we pushed them to formulate sustainability principles, not as specific so that they can’t be generalized and not as general so that they became too vague. For example, hyperloops is a proposed solution to transportation problem but the sustainability principle is that transportation systems needs to run on renewable energy, in this case solar panels. The system itself also needs to be sustainably produced, i.e. with circular material flows.

At the presentation we also found the opportunity to introduce another useful tool in the four perspectives or quadrants of the AQAL model. One student had in her presentation already touched upon all perspectives and from that we could introduce the quadrants so they could become a support and confirmation of what she already had found out by herself. If we want to transform a culture it is often necessary to address all quadrants. Therefore, one possible trap with proposed technological solutions is that relying on them doesn’t address what can and should be done on a personal level, e.g. decrease own energy consumption.

At lunch time Stina and I joined with three of the students that showed us a small guerrilla gardening project in the very center of Olomouc! After eating we talked about the results and how to make the final discussion and closing of the course. From a biospheric perspective Stina pointed out that most of the issues, discussions and principles had taken place from an anthropocentric perspective and that this needed to be addressed.

Guerrilla gardening in Olomouc. Photograph: Stina Deurell

Session 9 – Conclusions and closing. The final session started with me writing the course title (accidentally in wrong order):

Earth stewardship or anthropocentrism:

Human-nature relations

First I asked the students what anthropocentrism means?

– Well, when we place ourselves at the center of the world, as the most important thing.

Ok. And about human-nature relation? Why should we care about nature?

– Because if we don’t, we won’t survive! We need to take care of the nature since we are dependent on it!

This is of course correct, some technological solutions that we hear of today, such as artificial and 3D-printed meat or colonization of other planets, can be seen as ways of denying how totally dependent we are on nature to produce its ecosystem services, its half-meter thick layer of fertile soil, the pollinating bees and so forth. We should really acknowledge this fact.

But when we think of it again, isn’t this a purely anthropocentric view? Doesn’t this imply that nature is there for us, for our purpose? What if nature has a value of and in itself and should be respected as such?! In this case we can really have a relation with nature, a respectful one. We don’t talk about animal rights because they will be of better use to us if we treat them better. We do it because we respect them. However, the biologist had a further objection:

– But isn’t this division between human and nature false? We are nature too!

Indeed! From this conclusion we went back to the timeline and traced another theme in our history from stardust to life, to plant, to animal, to conscious human being with a technological, psychological and cultural evolution. The further we have traveled on our journey, the wider the gap seems to have been from us being part of nature to something that is separate. On one hand we seem to again and again have transcended our boundaries and limitations, but we also seem to have lost ourselves and were we came from in the process. In a psychological sense we have transcended nature but not included it.

The way forward that Stina and I argued for, and tried to embody throughout the course, was to emphasize both aspects of the development, the awesomeness of the process that led us here and beyond and the abilities and tools we have cultivated that can aid us, as well as the essentiality to reconnect to our past and the nature in us.

Finally when asked about the meaning of the word “stewardship”, I think that the proposed answer “to serve” best captured the way forward and concluded the course. Nature is not here for us or belong to us, rather, from this perspective we are here to serve nature and take care of that which we at the same time are. Yet one further shift, an even less anthropocentric, is to see nature as taking care of and embracing us, something that Stina explores in her project Wider Embraces (see in below).

A theme from our part was how to balance these perspectives or paradoxes. We needed to get the students understand the urgency and seriousness of the problems we’re facing, but yet give them tools, capacities and empowerment so that they can be effective change agents in an uncertain future.

Stina is enjoying a delicious cheescake after the course was done, and we were pretty done too! Photograph: Kristian Stålne (with Stina’s camera)

We took farewell and parted after a course evaluation and some final reflections. After this last session we went to a café and Stina could have a raspberry cheesecake that was as well-deserved as it was delicious! In the final part I will offer some evaluations and reflections on the process as well as on the outcome of the course.

References and further reading

Can we rely on technological development? TED-talk on the subject matter:

Introduction to the quadrants (and the rest of the AQAL-model):

Charles Eisenstein reasons about how we have differentiated from nature and as Stina and I argues that we should aim for and reintegration or inclusion of nature. This book is also a lot about economy:

Stina Deurell has a project called Wider Embraces that emphasizes the shift from us being there and taking care of nature to us being embraced by nature and the biosphere:

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Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 3

Day 2
Session 3 – Further issues. We started by having a short discussion on the questions we left them with. Most recognize the energy they use in heating, lighting and transportation, but we also came to the conclusion that pretty much all stuff we use need energy to function.

After this we discussed the questions and controversies of climate change, what projections there are of the future and who should cut their emissions first. When we asked them for their view, some doubts and uncertainties were raised on whether human activities really are the cause on the global warming and how certain the future projections are and how reliable the IPCC is. How can I know for sure?

This is a delicate problem in the teaching situation. On one hand it’s tempting to use the authority as a teacher and say “Yes, we are beyond reasonable doubt causing the global warming and we are on a dangerous path. Period!” But on the other hand, I want to encourage them to find out and think for themselves and not to blindly trust authorities just because they are authorities. Obviously, this strategy doesn’t work for convincing everyone in society. And if we are to educate the future change agents of this planet they need to be able to make their own judgments, at least when it’s possible to do so.

I acknowledged their uncertainty by referring to my own understanding of the topic and my own previous doubts when I tried to build my own view and opinion in the matter. We continued to discuss handling uncertainty in information as well as in future projections and value of questioning, but also we emphasized that referring to uncertainty can also be a way of escaping from our own responsibility of doing something about it. I also mentioned that there is a general consensus among the world leaders as well as active climate scientists (see Oreskes in below) that we are the main cause of the global warming and that it’s a real threat. In a discussion on how to find reliable sources of information I listed IPCC and other UN organs as sources I personally considered trustworthy.

Another conclusion from this discussion is how much easier it is to have the energy and Peak oil perspective as a starter instead of the Climate change. Not to say that we should only focus on one and forget the other, even with the remaining fossil fuels we can still heat up this planet a lot beyond the politically agreed target of 2 degrees.

­We then separated into two groups where we analyzed and discussed the two big cluster topics of food production and material flow (stuff we buy and use) respectively. Stina and I participated in and supported one discussion each, she did the food production and I did the material. When the students divided the gender pattern became very clear to everyone’s amusement, and we teachers followed it as well! So for a short moment we could raise a gender perspective, which is really a national sport here in Sweden.

Here it was obvious that we could never go into detail and depth but to keep on a very general and principal level with questions such as: How much food and stuff do we really need in contrast to what we want? Can we produce food sustainably for 9-10 billion people? What are the difference between organic (ecologic) farming and conventional? How do we distribute fairly and stop wasting food? Are there sustainable principles for material flow (see e.g. Cradle 2 Cradle)? Are we running out of anything? What are the interconnections between food, energy and material?

Although we allowed this discussion to expand into the next session we would really like to continue for several more days, as some of the wrote in the course evaluation:

“…more time! For every topic, for whole course, so we could go deeper…”

“…but I still think that such a complicated issue requires more time.”

This was, however, expected and the main purpose of the course was not to solve any problems or view them into detail but rather to get an overview of what problems existed, the status of them and how they relate to each other so they can dig into them deeper on later occasions or on their own:

“What I’m taking with me? A huge packet of topics to think about, new ideas, a lot of information and great references to find out more.”

Session 4 – Economy. The second half of this section we spent on economy, about how different actor’s own economic interests often is an obstacle in sustainable initiatives since the fossil fuels are just free energy sources laying beneath our feet waiting for anyone to extract and how their real costs are being externalized to other countries and generations, how the current economic system that is based on the assumption of infinite growth, the intimate relation to the energy consumption and how it recent decade has been more or less driven solely by debt. This discussion was perhaps not as much of a pressing matter to the students as the Czech Republic has comparably solid and sound economy and is not part of the Euro project. The discussion on economy could perhaps be placed adjacent with the energy session due to the intimate relation between them, but it can also be used as a natural transition to the human side.

Session 5 – Making history. After lunch we made history – Big history! The students received the lunch assignment of each making a top-5 list of important moments in history (of universe, not just human history). We wrote them on Post-it notes with titles and approximate year and placed them chronologically to create a timeline on the wall. Approaching present time I couldn’t fit all the notes before the end of the wall space so I bent the timeline to create an unintended but nevertheless symbolic hockey-stick shaped curve:

Issues at the middle and the Big history timeline at the bottom and continuing up at the right end. Photograph: Stina Deurell

Through this shared process we could follow the trajectory from Big bang to present time with all thresholds and major historic shifts. For each shift we discussed what where the main drivers, the consequences, and the traces from it we can see today. Some themes were followed, such as increase in complexity of life, how energy were being used by humans, major technological revolutions, behavior patterns and increase in complexity of consciousness in what perspectives we took on ourselves and nature and how that shifted throughout history.

The most amusing detail and culture-clash in the process was when we discussed how the technological enterprises of space-travel shifted our view on ourselves when the astronauts turned their camera towards the earth. One student wrote “Gagarin 1978” which was totally unexpected to us Swedes that were thinking about the American Apollo project.

Session 6 – Spiral dynamics. From this exploration it was a short step to turn to an introduction of seven stages of Spiral dynamics which is a model that describes how values and worldviews has evolved in cultures throughout history. It is also a useful model to describe values of today and had a discussion on how to communicate and frame messages towards different vMemes or values.

Before we ended this intense day we gave them the assignment of deciding on an own issue to investigate further the next day and give a 5-min presentation of.

Relaxing after day 2. Photograph: Stina Deurell

Some references and further reading

Naomi Oreskes is often cited about consensus on climate change among climate researchers:

Cradle 2 cradle design principle. and

Story of stuff gives a simple and useful overview on material flow:

The population will probably stabilize at 9-10 according to projection, given a business as usual scenario. See e.g. Hans Rosling:

The relation between energy and economy is explained by Chris Martenson’s Crash course. Here is a shorter version:

There is something called Ecological Economics. Introduction:

Big history is a topic that grows in popularity. Here is a MOOC (Massive open online course):

Spiral dynamics is introduced e.g. here:

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Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 2

Day 1
Stina and I arrived in Olomouc at noon, checked in at our hotel and met with the assistant from STL that introduced us to the lecturing room. I was being told that twelve students had signed up for the course, but only seven showed up which was less than I’ve anticipated and hoped for. On the other hand, the fewer participants, the easier it is to manage a group process and give everyone room for sharing, discussing and personal feedback.

The course as a whole was scheduled into nine 90-minute lectures, or sessions, and in below I will describe what we did and what happened at the respective session.

Session 1 – Introduction. After people got settled in we did a presentation round of me and Stina, and of the participants with their background, reasons for following the course and what they were expecting. Then we started the first exercise, which was the brainstorming about Issues – what issues around sustainability can we come up with? I only had a small whiteboard so we used Post-It notes that I put up on the wall. I sorted out, summarized and divided them into four clusters: Energy, food, material (stuff), human (needs and interaction).

Photograph: Stina Deurell

It’s important to yet again emphasize that this was a course more about the overview and interrelations between the issues than it was about going into details on the specific issues. It was about keeping it as simple as possible without making it trivial and about understanding the world around us rather than building expertise. Further, my focus as a teacher in this context is not just to give them information that they are supposed to memorize or learn, but rather to as much as possible build from what they already know and help them to organize that knowledge so they can decide what to do or what to learn next.

From the clusters of Post-it notes I could describe the outline of the course or workshop: First we focus on the present problems with energy/climate, food production, material flow (stuff) and economy. Then we turn to the human side, with some history, values, worldviews and perspectives. Finally we focus on some specific problems, solutions and principles, and on who we are.

Session 2 – Energy. Starting with energy was a very deliberate choice and although there was mainly lecturing I tried to engage the students as much as possible by having them list energy sources, fundamental differences between fossil fuels and renewables, and guess how much we use of each and for what (building, transport, industry). Few reflect on these questions. Here are some key facts:

– 80-85% of total global energy production comes from fossil fuels, 1/3 of the total is from oil that dominates the transport sector.

– Each person consumes about 40 kWh per day as a global mean (double if you live in EU and double again for US). 40 kWh per day is about 20 times more energy than what we can produce by ourselves with hard physical labor for 10 hours per day which we demonstrated with some basic calculations.

– Energy today is very cheap: One liter of gasoline that can produce 2-4 kWh of mechanical work (about 10 hours of hard physical labor) costs about € 1.5. (Half the price in the US)

– We have probably passed global Peak oil, the global export market for conventional oil peaked in 2005 and we have for the last 30 years extracted more oil than we have found new resources. The low hanging fruit has been picked and we now look for oil under the Arctic ice and chase it by hazardous deepwater drilling. The oil prices have increased and this is likely a main driver behind the current economic crisis.

– We are developing new and more sustainable ways of producing (extracting) energy, but the increase in coal, which we have been burning since the dawn of industrialization, has in absolute numbers increased more than renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Thus, so far alternative energy sources have not been alternative or complementary but rather just added to the ever-increasing contribution of fossil fuels.

Diagram from Swedish blog Cornucopia on global energy consumption (losses included) showing from the bottom and up: wood, coal, oil, fossil (or natural) gas, water power, nuclear and other renewables (wind, sun, geothermal, biofuels, wave, etc).

These are some facts that are quite easy to introduce and just as hard to deny. Not only do we have serious problems, nothing indicates that we are moving in a sustainable direction and we seem to lack all sorts of political leadership around these issues. We are not on a sustainable path! There are alternatives and possibilities in the future, but scaling them up to meet and replace the vast volumes of the fossil fuels we are burning today seems unlikely, or at least have been so far.

I finished the day by giving them the tasks of reflecting on how they use energy in their everyday life but also to think on what would happen if we were to solve the energy problem, if that would solve all of our problems.

After this first day we wondered if we were going to see any students for the second day. Luckily, they all showed up. Here is one of the reflections from the course evaluation:

“…As for the things that I’m bringing out of this course: a completely different view on global problems on a human-nature comparation level AND I have to say that we’re in a SERIOUSLY DEEP SHIT and if we don’t do something ‘bout it we’re gonna have really big problems. And I say WE – my generation.”

Some references and further reading:
Richard Heinberg: Searching for a miracle. The concept that captures the discussion on low hanging fruit is called EROEI, Energy return on energy invested. Available for download at:

The growing gap between extracted oil and  found:

The discussion on energy usage is sometimes referred to as how many energy slaves that are working for us. This gives different results depending on the way you calculated it and the assumptions you make, e.g. on energy loss and efficiency in the human work output:

and here is an illustrating demonstration of the principle of energy slaves where 80 cyclists are powering a family house in UK:

Here is a chart on The global energy system, 2010 is from Kjell Aleklett’s blog and where he criticizes the IEA’s World energy outlook:

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Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 1

A week ago my friend Stina Deurell and I boarded a night train from Copenhagen heading for Olomouc in Czech Republic to give a three-day course or workshop with the title Human-nature relations: Anthropocentrism or Earth Stewardship?

But for me the journey was longer than that and started four years earlier when I got interested in the economic crisis and when I had my Peak moment of discovering the energy dimension and where our civilized societies seems to be heading. I followed the discussions, started discussing myself online, wrote some blog posts about it and gave an introduction for closed group of friends and fellow change-makers. I joined a distance course in sustainable transition, started networking and participated in two podcast interviews about Peak oil.

But to really teach it was still something I’d like to do, partly since I felt it was a step in the right direction for me and partly since I’m deeply worried about the future and the challenges we are facing today. I was, however, offered an opportunity by the School for Transformative Leadership (STL), a EU funded pilot project based at the Palacký University in Olomouc that encouraged trans-disciplinary, personalized and transformative ways of educating our future leaders. The offer came since I one year earlier had met with the main organizer Gaudenz Assenza at a workshop in transformative learning in Trondheim, who was recruiting teachers in various wide topic areas. I noticed that they lacked people giving courses in sustainability or relating topic so I proposed to give a crash course that introduced and covered pretty much all aspects of sustainability. I argued that if someone else would give a course in an adjacent topic I could narrow my scope down.

In the design of my course outline I pretty quickly came up with three major sections that I named Issues, Perspectives and finally Being and ethics. The issues part intended to cover what is generally referred to as current matters of sustainability that are typically studied by natural scientists, such as climate, energy and ecology. Perspectives was more about the part on humanity, where we come from, how we think, value and perceive the issues and how to communicate them. Being and ethics was more about the future, what we should do and how we should relate to nature. The first part was my main worry and concern, the second part I felt pretty secure in since it is one of my research areas and the final part I wasn’t sure about, but I had some ideas. On the other hand, no one has an expertise in sustainability. You really can’t specialize in such a vast topic. And this course was not about building expertise but rather to gain overview, in my opinion we have enough experts.

But even if the main outline was set, I still found it to be a very demanding process to prepare for the workshop. When it came to the issues section, I felt how disturbingly much I don’t know, although I think Gunnar Rundgren’s book offer great support and overview. But even if I had felt comfortable with it, some huge questions remained: How do you introduce such vast, broad and complex topics? How do you engage the students and make the huge and often abstract issues relevant to them? And if you succeed, what if the new insights become too heavy burden to the students? Further, do I as a teacher, representing an older generation, have a right to ask the younger students to transform their way of thinking and to engage in problems and that I to a greater extent am a part of than they are? And further uncertainties of practical nature, such as possible cultural or language barriers.

As a part of the process I invited some of my friends with interest in sustainability to an evening of exploring the issues section one week before the course. We did a brain-storming exercise around the issues and mapped everything from energy, food-production, water, biodiversity, poverty, etc on the whiteboard, which I found very useful. But then I tried to draw a big picture of flow and relations between everything, which turned out to be quite messy and the process slowed down and I seemed to get stuck. After a coffee break and some further futile actions someone started to ask about status on specific questions and issues and when we could limit and focus our attention the flow returned.

Until that point (or rather, a couple of days before) I was not that comfortable to write about or invite anyone into the process, but here I asked my friend Stina if she’d like to accompany me to Olomouc. She accepted and the two of us turned out to be a very successful team. She knows me very well and could support me in my process, ask clarifying or critical questions when needed and assist me and contribute to the actual teaching. Stina is an artist, photographer and web-designer with several decades of experience of working with environmental issues and could contribute with a solid biospheric perspective and voice on the issues. We complement each other to a great deal, but we also share many interests, such as broad and integral perspectives on the past and the future of our planet.

Stina was the one that suggested that we should take the night train instead, even though it was more expensive and cost a lot of extra time. But on the other hand, it is a more pleasant way of traveling, I could work with the planning process on the way and we could get the feel of moving a long way through Europe and the changing environment. When you fly, you go to the airport, which I always find a surreal isolated universe of its own, and a couple of hours later you arrive at your destination without really having the chance to emotionally grasp the vast distance traveled. Besides, teaching about energy and climate is kind of easier when you set an example.

On the night train. Photograph: Stina Deurell

And with that, we were on our way! We arrived in Prague at lunchtime and could get an afternoon glimpse of this beautiful city before we the next morning continued to Olomouc in the eastern part of the Republic.

To be continued!

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Some post-conventional thoughts on Snowden and the NSA surveillance affair

The hot topic of this summer has of course been Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing about the state of global surveillance by the NSA and its partners. It is now clear that there is no such thing as privacy online and that we can count on every Google search, every email, every purchase, every link we click, every Facebook status update and like and so forth, basically everything we do on the internet, as well as phone calls, being monitored and stored for all future. I could complain about paranoid Americans, but we Swedes are one of the closest allies and collaborators in this matter, so that would be kind of a hypocrisy.

Nevertheless, this whole affair has concerned me a great deal. However, it is not the question of possible and apparent abuse of the surveillance of the people, even where there is no legal ground, that bothers me most, although it certainly does. Nor the excuses of it being necessary in order to prevent terrorist attacks, I’m not being that naïve that I believe that the intelligence service should be perfectly transparent. Any state needs to defend itself to threats and it needs to stay informed about these threats.

One thing that do bother me a great deal is the shift in power between the government and the people that comes as a result from this. There will and always should be a conflict or power balance between the government and the people in a functioning democracy. But ultimately, democracy means “rule of the people” where the people elects a government and this government answers to the people, not the other way around. This is nicely elaborated in this must-read WSJ article.

Even though you may have nothing to hide and even though you think that you are not breaking any laws, the fact that the government knows so much about you, in many cases even more than you know about yourself (oh, the infinite possibilities of data-mining), and that you know so little about the people that govern and monitor you and how they govern and monitor you, is what makes this such an unhealthy development away from our democratic ideal. The leak by Snowden gives a small contribution to leveling this asymmetry, although the self-censorship will remain. I am far from comfortable in reading, liking and sharing Guardian-articles on Facebook as well as writing this, of course. This could be slightly too uncomfortable for a presumptive employer, although I try hard to be a good and useful citizen and employee and work with issues of sustainability where our governments have done such a poor job on so many levels for so long.

While I mention sustainability, add to this issue a future with even further growing debts, depletion of finite resources (e.g. the oil export market peaked in 2005), growing economic inequalities and possible conflicts within as well as between nations. Given this possible, and I would say even probable scenario, do you think that in the future the governments’ desire for controlling their citizens will increase or decrease? If it will increase we have in the social networks and the internet as a whole implemented the perfect tools for the government to control the people. Or perhaps, hopefully, we will move in a more post-heroic direction in terms of leadership, where the government sees the people as mainly a resource rather than a threat, Big society rather than Big brother. Perhaps it is up to us citizens to first show that we are worthy of such responsibility, or to just claim it.

Another of my main concerns about this, since no one else have brought it up, is about the nature of post-conventionality. The term is associated with Lawrence Kohlberg’s higher stages of moral development. It was inspired from his experiences from WWII where conventional people followed orders and committed massive acts of cruelty in contrast to post-conventional people who would refuse to follow orders and instead act from higher moral principles. Post-conventionality starts with stage transition 4/5 (corresponding to the individualist stage according to Loevinger’s ego development theory, EDT) and it starts with questioning conventions, questioning the own culture and ethnocentricity and henceforth questioning the state. If a typical stage 4/5 can be seen as an antithesis to the conventional stage 4 where you typically are embedded in the system, the stage 5 (or autonomous in terms of EDT) view on society, to balance the conflict between the individual and the collective, could be seen as the synthesis.

Thus, when you reject your cultural conditioning and ethnocentricity (or at least some of it), if you try to search for yourself and for a way of defining yourself beyond conventions and other’s opinions, and if you’d choose to express yourself openly in e.g. online discussion forums, wouldn’t there be a risk that the government would see you as a threat? After all, isn’t the government’s views of what is rational and right in life pretty much what defines conventions and conventionality?! Therefore, I’m not foremost afraid of misuse and irrational use of the surveillance apparatus, I’m more afraid of it being used in a most rational way, as a weapon against those who do not conform. After all, post-conventional is non-conventional. Or in terms of Big mind, it seems that this state of surveillance is like the voice of the Controller, that is getting too much influence and dominance, is being fueled by the voice of Fear. And the more it controls, the more it finds to fear.

From this I see as a very important feature in the cultural aspect of a sustainable society in holding a space or bridge for people that allows them to move into post-conventionality. To allow for the new generations of post-conventional or even integral thinkers to emerge as the older generations eventually die out. Or simply put, to help people to grow, to flourish, to think, to question, to act and to be in the most complex and reflective ways they can or chose. This I see mainly as an integral task, could there be anyone else?!

However, in this discussion I experience a lack of integral voices, although I have noticed a few exceptions, one being Gary Stamper. In my view, leading integral thinkers are too rarely seen challenging or questioning the power and authorities. Although Wilber had some restrained critique against the Bush administration, he enjoys being endorsed by Bill Clinton. And the foremost advocate of integral activism, Terry Patten, is in turn endorsing Barack Obama. So why this silence or shadow? And how do we break it?

After a few of my analyses of what makes integral not that integral as it claims to be, I have some candidates to why I think so few step up:

  • Lack of collapse or resource perspective – one limitation within the integral view that I elaborated in a previous post was the focus on the evolutionary or developmental aspects of culture and society. The only way is up and that movement is driven by an evolutionary impulse. Should there be a crisis, we can solve it by evolving to the next stage of development. Besides, there are cosmic habits to take care of previous lower stage problems, right?!
  • Lack of conflict perspective – it is in the very core and nature of integral theory to integrate and to be constructive instead of emphasizing the conflict aspects. The relation between individual and culture or state is basically seen from a functional or integration perspective, which I have described and problematized here. We would never be where we were without development support, therefore we should be grateful to our culture, our institutions and the way they function, right?!
  • First tier business – it is also in the nature of integral to climb down from the barricades and instead take meta-perspectives of conflicts. The “everyone is partially right”-stance and the exclusive “I am second tier”-view doesn’t exactly invite to getting the hands dirty on the battle field. It’s easy to feel too important to exposing oneself as a critic and instead trying to stay under the radar. Perhaps this is a wise strategy, although not all leading edge thinkers such as Noam Chomsky would agree.

My response to this and my view is that regardless of which metaphysical or post-metaphysical assumptions or meaning-making one happens to be embraced by, whatever perspectives one happens to prefer, whatever life experiences one happens to have as a basis for this, and regardless of the amount of gratitude that one happens to feel for society, it may be that there are a lot of things that we have taken for granted and that we in the future will have to fight hard for sustaining. And sometimes I think it’s just a matter of decency not to keep quiet and passive. I would argue that we don’t have the moral right to so easily give up the democracy that previous generations have fought so hard for. We are betraying the democratic ideals by not speaking up in issues such as this one.

In my view, post-conventionality doesn’t mean complying with a new set of more complex conventions. It means to never stop questioning and taking critical perspectives, and it means always being solely responsible for your own stance and actions.

And regarding Edward Snowden, I see little interest in trying to evaluate his stage of development, be it moral, hierarchical complexity, ego development or whatever. We sometimes discuss leadership stage of development, e.g. according to Joiner and Josephs, but sometimes leadership is just doing the best with whatever means available to you in the situation that you happen to be in. I find Snowden’s self-sacrificing action utterly courageous, as well as for those reporting about it and those standing up for fundamental democratic principles.

The question is not if we should, the question is how we engage in this as skillfully as possible?

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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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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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