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Diane Musho Hamilton - The Shadow of Evolution
October 08, 2008 14:35

Integral Zen. Part 3. The Shadow of Evolution
Diane Musho Hamilton and Ken Wilber

Written by Corey W. deVos

Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei and Ken Wilber discuss the potential dark side of evolutionary spirituality—most notably the threat of “spiritual fascism”—as well as the dangerous collapse of hierarchical thinking and the rampant anti-intellectualism that can be found in today’s modern and postmodern spiritual practices.

Perhaps the most significant contribution the Integral approach brings to Zen is the emphasis upon plugging the tradition into an evolutionary context.  While some recent studies (such as those conducted by UCL professor Steve Jones) seem to suggest that human evolution is slowing down on a biological level, the evolution of our interiors—our psychological, cultural, and spiritual evolution—seems to be accelerating.  It is doubtful that the human species will sprout wings, extra limbs, or new lobes in our brains, as the vanguard of evolution has shifted away from merely molding physical and biological matter and is now largely taking place within the invisible worlds of consciousness and culture. 

Human progress over the past 20,000 years has been less a product of genetic advancement, and more a product of the ever-deepening unfolding of subjective perspectives, values, and worldviews, allowing for qualitative leaps of care, compassion, and cognition.  By simply accounting for the cultural and psychological development of spiritual practitioners, teachers, and communities, we can see how spiritual experience is interpreted very differently at each step in the spectrum of human evolution, allowing us to take a more comprehensive view of the human condition—which in turn gives us a much deeper understanding of our spiritual condition.

Unfortunately, evolutionary spirituality is not at all immune from the corruption of greed, ambition, and power.  After all, it isn't hard to recall the insidious merging of religious esotericism and scientific evolution in the early half of the 20th century as Nazis exterminated an entire population of people.  Supported by the corrosive belief that evolution had produced a superior race of "chosen people," Nazis believed it was their duty to establish their irrefutable dominion over a far less-evolved world.  It was industrial-grade genocide, all in the name of Darwin. 

It seems, in fact, that many recent attempts toward fascism have shared some sort of evolutionary justification at their core.  It is all too easy to construct a fraudulent evolutionary schematic which conveniently places you, your people, or your beliefs at the very top of the developmental ladder, allowing just about any atrocity to be committed without even a conscientious yawn.  Add to this mix even the smallest dose of spiritual zealotry, and violence becomes increasingly probable.

So what then is the difference between Hitler's view of evolution, and Ken Wilber's view of evolution?  After all, the Integral approach highlights an evolutionary sequence, ranging in human beings from magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, to integral stages of psychological and cultural development.  Some have criticized Ken for doing exactly what we are criticizing in this essay—postulating a model of evolution that conveniently promotes Integral to the very top of the ladder.  At first glance, it might seem that the door is wide open for Integral theory to be hijacked by the "2nd-tier" equivalent of Hitler, who would presumably go on to enforce a rigid social hierarchy or caste system of developmental psychology—from Spiral Dynamics, to Spiral Dynamite, to the Spiral Dynasty, in one totalitarian swoop.

Perhaps the most significant safeguard against exactly this sort of Darwinian dictatorship is the observation that increasing degrees of human consciousness call forth increasing waves of care, compassion, and cognition—which means that the more evolved we are, the more concerned we are about exactly these sorts of problems.  In other words, empathy is intrinsically woven into the fabric of evolutionary unfolding, and the radius of our compassion expands with each and every step up the spiral staircase of human potential. 

As such, true Integral embodiment precludes the higher rungs of the ladder from colonizing the lower rungs, or eliminate them altogether—efforts which tend to characterize traditional, modern, and pluralistic worldviews, but become progressively difficult to justify as our thoughts and values become more integrated.  Higher altitudes have an appreciation—a deep reverence, even—for the entire sequence of human development.  Integral individuals and communities tend to cast a cautious eye upon social hierarchies that reify these autocratic impulses, while simultaneously understanding where in the human condition these sorts of impulses originate in the first place.  It distinguishes between "dominator hierarchies" and "growth hierarchies," and everyone has the opportunity to evolve as far up the ladder of evolution as they want, fueled by the inexhaustible potential at the center of every heart, and limited only by social consequence, self deception, and the circumference of human imagination.

Emptiness, meanwhile, remains forever untouched by the entire debacle of form, smiling equally upon every ripple gliding across its absent sheen.

We hope you enjoy this fascinating discussion.

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