Can Integral Theory Actually Help the World?

Keith Martin-Smith explores the potential and pitfalls of integral theory in addressing global challenges. He argues that while integral thinking offers valuable tools for understanding complex systems and human development, it often falls short in practice due to misapplication and ego-driven superiority complexes. Keith proposes a more nuanced approach: treating people as unique individuals, communicating integral ideas more skillfully, and focusing on practical applications rather than theoretical grandstanding.

At its best, Integral Theory is a powerful tool and map to help us to better understand ourselves and our world. The AQAL model – all quadrants, lines, levels, states, and types – has helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, better navigate the world with compassion and care, and wisdom and humility.

At its worst, integral Theory can lead to what Keith Martin-Smith calls the “insufferable integralist,” or someone who uses the theory to look down on others they deem “less evolved” then they are. Or to create a cognitive tower from which to look down on the world, disembodied and unable to do much of anything but watch. This can create a cult-like “in-group” that can become obsessed with their own development and use the model as a cudgel on others.

Today we face a polycrisis or metacrisis – existential-level problems in economics, technology, energy production and access, late-stage capitalism, increasing polarity in almost all Western democracies, and the fracturing of truth. For the first time, the existential challenges facing humankind are entirely created and sustain by us. More and more, we all live in our separate worlds, with our own beliefs, cultures, and good and bad guys. And the world burns, people suffer, and we divide against one another at a time we need to be coming together.

Can Integral Theory, applied wisely, do good for the world, and for each of us? How do we hold the model lightly but wisely, and be careful about the traps it can create? Key concepts discussed in this talk will be polarities such as discernment versus judgement, modesty versus surety, compassion versus condemnation.

If you’ve been curious how Integral might help you and the world, but leery of the ways it can seemingly misguide those who know it, this talk may be helpful for you.

1 Like

My intuition as an average person (not a specialist in anything) since reading Wilber’s work in around '93, is that:

  • life throws problems at everyone, and whether we like it or not, we have to engage with problems anyway, and if we could just solve them, they wouldn’t be problems, and that goes for everyone, regardless of what their coordinates are
  • life and evolution are more complex and creative than we can ever understand — we can certainly make ideas and frame problems, but we live in a great mystery
  • an integral world culture cannot be predicted — no idea what that will look like
  • so what has integral done for me? my sense is that I’ve become more open minded, more critical, and more prone to letting go
  • many things still upset me, and maybe I’m less bothered that they upset me (until the next truly intolerable upset comes along…)

One thing I’d add though is that the internet and social media maybe has some potential to be a great mirror to humanity, especially in exposing the lower right quadrant. We live in systems and we have so very little understanding of what those systems are. In many ways the LR is just weird. Integral maybe can help a lot there, depending on the minds who are looking. But maybe I say that because my own personality tends to hang out more in the UL.

1 Like