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What does INTEGRATION signify?
an untegrationist manifesto
Q: What’s the significance of the word “integral” ?
Great question. Timely. Let’s have some fun with it.
1. The Inevitable Language Problem
Are we integral ? Am I ?
Is it a good or bad word?
Does it mean anything at all???
No doubt these are very plausible questions to ask the host of The Integral Stage but, if I am to address them sanely — & with verve! — then we require, firstly, a little bit of linguistic nuance and then (if you’re lucky) a little thwart-and-absorption maneuver. My educated guess is that you wouldn’t be here today if you were not already pretty good at the ol’ thwart-and-absorb...
A further guess is that most of you are vaguely aware that the much-ballyhooed Spirit of Integrative Philosophy goes waaaaaaaaay back into implicit human history but starts cropping up explicitly in the work of people like Sri Aurobindo (“integral yoga”) and then finally becomes a kind of brand associated with the expansive transpersonal psychology of Ken Wilber (“integral theory”).
If we are NOT asking people to become Aurobindo-followers, or to adopt Wilberian terminology as the standard across all the so-called limbal web communities, then what is actually at stake in using the concept of “integration?”
integrate. verb - (1) to render whole, to bring together parts, to re-member (2) to fuse, combine, absorb; to overcome opposition by combination rather than reduction or dismissal.
integral. adjective - (1) whole, un-touched, untainted (2) necessary in order to produce wholeness; a key functional component; essential to a task, structure or being.
integrity. noun - (1) soundness, wholeness; the condition of being uncorrupted; morally or functionally intact; not missing any major elements (2) being authentically aligned (3) having all your parts together; heightened coordination.
Obviously, we are standing before a question of language. Such questions inevitably place us, (we ambidexterities of the soul!) at a treacherous crossroad. Two paths are always open before us in such cases:
One leads toward neologisms, rebranding, the jettisoning of clumsy & contaminated terminology, the rejection of misused or outdated words. Let us seek new and other snow, friends, for this once-clean patch has now been thoroughly pissed upon and yellow’d by many dogs and squirrels!
The other path attempts a deeper reinterpretation of existing terminology. Do not give up the battlefield before the battle! Let us infuse our own nuance and subtly into the very marrow of all inherited words! Rather than merely reacting to inadequate definitions made by fools, we shall reserve the right to define all terms ourselves —and to insist they be treated with as much depth, insight, power and health as we are capable of reading into them.
(Today I am in a bit of a conservative mood so I shall attempt the latter but, never doubt, you have my full support if you wish to jettison the overused notion of “integral” and seek some new or exotic alternative.)
To swim in the liminal/meta waters implies that are playing a game outside conventional terminology and categories. We are looking for dynamic, emergent structures of meaning that could be called many different things — even opposite to our favorite terms. If you cannot tolerate transvaluing your highest & lowest words then perhaps you are not yet ready for these waters. Otherwise….
2. The Use & Abuse of Integration for Life
A quick scan of my casual definitions (above) for words like integral, integrate and integrity will reveal quite plainly that two distinct, divergent themes are at work within these seemingly unitary concepts. Twins at the origin. Cain and Abel. Horus and Set. Let us examine this thematic fissure from a couple of different angles in order to sense its gist:
The first theme is adorable. It involves a very sensible privileging of the collaborative condition of heightened functionality. The second is more insidious. It seems to risk a romantic fantasy of uncorrupted original purity.
Etymologically, the root of in-tegrate is “touch” but yet it remains deeply ambiguous whether we should read this as trying to be more in-touch or as secretly trying to remain un-touched.
A lens of static/dynamic could also be applied. We might say that, dynamically, we are part of an evolutionary process that affords us the potential to aim for richer, emergent wholeness in which our instantiation of Being is intensified through the establishment of a gestalt that is more than the sum of its parts. Sounds pretty good! Definitely not the same as an idealized metaphysical condition of stable, pre-existing wholeness in which we have finally overcome all conflict, oppositionality and asymmetry. That — as our Dark Renaissance friends are quick to point out — is suspiciously like the nihilistic-idealism which seeks death because it is unable to encounter Death.
But this is not only a matter for Hegel, Freud and the underground currents of European conceptual anarchy. It is just as much a matter for classic yoga. The famous spiritual consideration of the “ascending” and “descending” currents (of meaningful subtle energy) is in play.
For while there is great value and utility in practices that orient our nervous system toward a polarized aspirational ascent beyond the conventional functions of morality and materiality — this is also a well-known risk involved. I call it “premature ascent” when this practice is hastily forced by our uneasy reluctance to actually inhabit this immanent world of bodies, finitude and struggles. The descending current, with all its sensations of falling, making efforts, undergoing changes and courageously encountering Others will ultimately open into spontaneous ascension experiences. Those experiences have a very different significance than the ones which are arrived at through an anxious attempt to escape the disagreements, plurality, doom and solidity of embodied life in favour of a stable, perfected realm in which everything is already pure, uncontaminated and “fully integrated.”
So the concept of integration does not, itself, tell us whether a person is trying to escape from change or is deeply willing to participate in changes. Anyone who advocates an “integral” approach might be professing either attitude.
Yet, in order to be open to this diversity within the concept, we must already have deeply understood that there is a common human tendency to subconsciously bias our interpretations in favor of smooth, symmetrical homeostasis as the alternative to all antagonisms and juiciness. Unless we stand clear-eyed before this risk, we are not yet in a position to legitimately affirm an ideal of integration.
One final split within the concept — which will have special relevance for people with mixed feelings about the Wilberan integral branding — involves the social consonances of the terminology. Sometimes “integration” has the dehumanizing sound of other technocratic buzzwords like “synergy” and “merger.” Too much globalistic American corporate jingoism. McMindfulnessTM.
Integration as a cheerful, bloodless term for suppressing or absorbing rivals or bringing the entire supply-chain under the control of one legal entity. Integrity as the reason you pay the fine — rather than admitting guilt. Integral as the irreplaceable status of top executives and major shareholders.
This sentiment is hard to reconcile with a subversive, neo-Tantric sensibility that wishes to integrate the full spectrum of energies in the divine-human animal. Such multidimensional organic complexity may be the very thing excluded or trivialized by the dominant political economy of corporate-bureaucratic modernism.
A hidden chasm within integration exists. There is a schism between souls who are attempting to secure a smooth, dominating stasis in which the pathos of distance and the reality of challenge is not felt — and those who are specifically seeking depth and growth through the creative embrace of differential tension AS the very method of integrative evolution.
As a “nondualist,” I appear to perceive a world of syndiffeonesis — the mutual implication of sameness & difference. They cannot be separated. There is always a minimal degree of shared identity necessary for a distinction and always a kind of differential that remains even in the much-praised condition of mystical epiphany. The “unification of opposites” does not ever fully and completely occur. Instead, the assumed incompatibility between sameness & difference is inspected and undermined. This means that opposites, including feelings of irreconcilabilty, are included without being neutralized. The separator is the connector.
Lacking this perspective, there is a definite tendency for mystical, philosophical and developmental experience to become colored with the hue of unconscious nihilism — beginning to operate insidiously as a death-seeking final solution to the supposed problem of diversity, engagement and change.
Fuck that, etc.
3. Enter the Dialectic
You’re pretty hip.
You know better than to use that sophomoric notion of the Hegelian dialectics that describes itself as an evolving “synthesis” achieved by the fusion of “thesis” and “antithesis.” That’s bland and overly symmetrical.
The reality is more like Godel’s famous Incompleteness Theorem. For anything to function consistently as itself, it cannot be one closed system but must implicitly rely on something-else that is not itself. This is revealed when your momentum is interrupted by an apparent Other. Self-sufficiency is called into question. An instability is realized. An interpretative struggle opens. If you can absorb the thwart into your self-definition then you mutate into a new form that can retroactively assert that you were the hidden essence all along.
So it’s not a complete loss.
(That’s a Hegelian joke if anyone’s been paying attention…)
These raunchy, ultra-contingent dialectics stand in opposition to the superificial and degenerate implications of idealistic integration BUT they are also the very essence of healthy integration. To make that more explicit, we would have to (dialectically) fold the division between dialectics & integration into the very meaning of “integration.”
And why not? Let’s negate the Heraclitean negation of Plato by redefining Plato in a way that is inherently Heraclitean — and then claim we are “merely revealing its eternal essence!”
So instead of simply allowing the ‘other’ or ‘you’ to negate the ‘self,’ we are negating that negation by making it into the new implied new definition of ‘I’
And if the “I” needs more of “you” as itself, well — let’s make that explicit too by replacing an “i” with a “u” to propose that integration is implicitly defined by the incorporative presence of the opposite-of-integration as itself (at least temporarily!).
Untegrationists of the world unite! You have nothing to lose….