Ken Wilber part 1: An Interestingly Balanced Approach to Political Attitudes

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I've been reading some Ken Wilber online, because a colleague of mine is really into him, and I wanted to see what he's all about. The guy's really odd in some ways (stuff that looks new agey but is really more like neo-Platonism), but he has some really provoking thoughts on political theory. It's hard to get much out of his stuff without spending a lot of time and doing a lot of backtracking to find the background to understand his terms, but I found some interesting thoughts on what's generally wrong with conservatism and liberalism, and as far as I can tell he's right.

Liberals tend to think the causes of social problems are external to those who experience those problems. For instance, they tend to blame problems in black communities on oppressive policies and attitudes of white people. Conservatives tend to do the reverse, blaming the problems within a group on their own internal state. The example here is the way some people blame problems in black communities on the lack of a desire to succeed.

What Wilber wants to say is that both kinds of problems do exist, and each side tends to ignore one in emphasizing the other. I think he's dead right. Where he seems to me to go wrong at times is in his analysis of particular people and particular views. He's probably a good big picture person, and he's probably just not as good at noticing the details, which of course I'm much better at than I am seeing the forest.

A good example of someone who seems to me to be getting at both kinds of causes is John McWhorter, to go back to the example of problems within black communities. McWhorter sees three bad tendencies within the black community (his own community, for those who will seek to accuse him of not knowing because he's never experienced it). These are victimology (the emphasis on being made a victim merely for the enjoyment of putting the "oppressor" down and not for offering a positive solution to a problem), anti-intellectualism (not being opposed to intellectuals but just not seeing the value of anything unless it's a "black" issue), and separatism (seeking to separate black culture from the rest of society). These tendencies are ingrained in black youth from a very early age, and the world is then interpreted through this grid, which affects every reaction. That's the external aspect.

So there's this internal problem, which he doesn't blame most people for having since it's not under their control, and it's caused by these external factors. His analysis ends up angering the die-hard conservatives who want to see problems as caused from within an individual person's own choices or motivation, but he also ends up offending the liberal notion that black problems must be caused by white racism. McWhorter seems to have a far more balanced view than is typical, and it was interesting to see someone provide a theoretical framework for what he's doing.

There was one other aspect Wilber was doing that fascinated me, but I'll go to bed now and record my thoughts on it later.

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