Our Post Truth World

Ken Wilber’s Trump and a Post-Truth World (Shambala, 2017) is not a political book nor a political statement but an attempt by a world-renowned philosopher to suggest a reason for our current “Post-Truth World” and a possible way to heal and move forward. Wilber has written over 20 books on consciousness, spirit and human development. I have followed his research, work and writings for many years and continue to be inspired and impressed. (All of the quotations are Wilber’s)

As explained by Wilber, and acknowledged by most psychologists, there are three major stages of human development:

  • Traditional – a belief in family values, fundamental religious views, patriotism, patriarchy, and the military with an ethnocentric view of loyalty to one main group.
  • Modern – a belief in rational thought, science, progress, individual rights, freedom, merit, profit, and incentive with a world-centric view of more inclusion and less oppression.
  • Postmodern – a belief in diversity, feminism, civil rights, environmental concerns and a desire to be all-inclusive with an emphasis on feelings.

Most Americans today, according to Wilber, think from the modern stage of development.

The traditional view began around 10,000 BCE. The modern view developed around the 1700s. Postmodernism began in the 1960s. (Obviously there is much history I am simplifying and condensing. Wilber, however, provides significant background in his books should anyone desire.) Many of us can relate to the decade of the 60s and the beginning of postmodernism where “love was the answer” to everything, starting with civil rights, environmental concerns, sustainability in business, feminism, anti-hate crimes, sensitivity to social oppression and a desire to be all inclusive. 

Most of us feel those postmodern goals are worthwhile and coincide with our spirituality. In 1957, 3% of the population was postmodern, increasing to 20% by 1979, and today closer to 25%. Postmodernists were the leading-edge; their views truly changed the world. Most people, however, perhaps over half of the population, did not move forward into this view but remained either with their traditional, ethnocentric beliefs of loyalty to one group or with their modern world-centric view of emphasizing rational thought and individual freedom.

Normally in the stages of development, a new stage would incorporate the older vision and accommodate different thoughts. Too many of the leading edge postmodernists, in Wilber’s opinion, did not do that. A note of caution: Since many of us would describe ourselves as postmodern, having progressed from earlier stages, we must be careful not to get defensive before looking objectively at Wilber’s point. Not all postmodernists are extremists, but evidence supports that many are, helping to create the current divide in society today. Perhaps, also, some of us contributed unknowingly to those views.

‘“There is no truth” unwittingly led by the extreme postmodernists.”

Postmodernists argued that there is no one truth or moral framework and that no view is superior, but then they claimed that their view was superior. A contradiction, obviously. They believed all knowledge was context-based, with no inherent truth or knowledge. This led to nihilism, which meant there was no objective truth or morals.

Postmodernists also believed that everyone had the right to choose their values as long as they did not harm anyone else; there was nothing universal in any value. But this devolved into insisting everyone think, act and feel as they do. The individual had only his or her own self-promoting wants and desires to answer to, leading to narcissism. Nihilism and narcissism, two unhealthy outcomes to what began as valid ideas.

The reality of this view “was a growing inequality – in terms of income, overall worth, property ownership, health care access and life satisfaction issues. The culture was telling us one thing, and the realities of society were consistently failing to deliver — the culture was lying.” A culture that lies to its members simply cannot move forward for long.

The problem now, as we face a country of angry people is what to do about the dysfunctional leading-edge postmodernists who alienated so many and what to do about the right-wing conservatives and others who became vehemently entrenched in their own ethnocentric or modern views.

81% of Trump voters were angry, and the “elite urban postmodernists, not just ethnocentric traditionals or modernists drove Trump into office.”

Today, 50% of the country is angry at the other 50%. I hope readers see, as Wilber intends, how each side helped create this divisive world. Understanding this is the only way we can assume our role in changing the future. 

The United States is not the only country dealing with these issues, as we observe similar discontent around the world. Over 40 cultures exhibit this same polarization. We are not alone in this dilemma.

“The leading edge cannot lead if it despises those whom it is supposed to lead.”

Wilber suggests there is hope and that we can move forward in a healing process. The dysfunctional postmodernists can self-correct and see that in their effort to be inclusive, they hated anything traditional or modern. They forgot to include and honor each previous stage. They forgot that their own views were not privileged to the point of excluding and belittling any conflicting views. 

…compassion is the only judgemental attitude we’re allowed.

Postmodernists can embrace Trump supporters. They “don’t have to agree with traditional or modern individuals but must genuinely reach out in human understanding, compassion and kindness.” We can still hold accountable any actions that violate world-centric well being. We can still censure overt racist, sexual, homophobic and misogynistic behavior. But we must also refrain from judgement. 

Another necessary step to heal and move forward is to recognize the importance of and encourage emotional growth. We tend to see only the external behavior of extremists and forget about any internal development that must accompany each stage. This does not happen automatically with an external shift. Until some inner growth occurs, the chance of functioning at any stage is limited. This is not demeaning anyone, just acknowledging a fact. We often forget to be patient with others when they don’t think or behave as we do. Understanding another’s growth is like accepting that a third grader is not going to think or act like a 6th grader, and we don’t fault the younger child for that. 

The Integral stage is the “most inclusive, most unified and most embracing stage of development and evolution yet to emerge.”

In addition to reaching out with compassion and encouraging the need for internal growth, Wilber poses another solution, one with the greatest potential. He helped  develop, with years of significant research, the next stage in our human development. He calls this higher stage “the Integral stage” that unifies the three previous ones and is a “radically new direction in human evolution altogether, the likes of which humanity has simply never seen.”  While this new stage is still being defined, it represents true inclusiveness and the reality of the developmental aspects of humans, looking at the interior not just the exterior of individuals. 

More evolved individuals can stop the hating and start embracing others.

The new Integral stage is the new leading edge. Only 5% of the population falls into this category. Wilber comments that when 10% reaches the same level as the leading edge, a transformational shift can occur, and he suggests this could happen within a decade or two. He wrote this book in 2017 and enough time has passed to be hopeful. 

The Integral stage is the spiritual shift, I believe, many have been expecting. The role for each of us is to think higher, better thoughts without being critical of others.

An integral society encompasses and welcomes all, with accountability limits for any extremists.

That is the society I want. That is the world Wilber proposes. This is the future we can create.

(A note: Wilber’s book was written right after Trump’s election and does not account for any more current data. I do feel, however, that the main points remain valid.)

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