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integral psychology as tool for understanding

Philosopher Ken Wilber has been a major contributor to the field of "integral psychology," sometimes referred to as "humanist and transpersonal psychology." This school of thought emphasizes the notion that all human beings pass through identifiable stages that "integrate" or "build on" previous stages, and that these "stages" are in turn identifiable in the development of consciousness as a whole and the development of human history as a whole.
I thought this would be an interesting subject to draw attention to, as the theories of humanist and transpersonal (or "integral," in Ken Wilber's terminology) psychology help to make sense of and explain a lot of things in the world.

Perhaps the most concise exposition of this subject that I have seen is the one developed by Dr. Suzanne Cook-Greuter, a psychologist who studied under noted Harvard University professor William Torbert.

Cook-Greuter developed her theory for use in leadership seminars for business organizations. She described what she called "action logics," and she identified nine of them. These are stages of personal development that all of us pass through, with each stage building on and encompassing the previous ones. Sometimes we find cases of "arrested development," where someone never successfully completes one stage or another. Cook-Greuter's scheme is parallel and complementary to Ken Wilber's theory of "spiral dynamics."

Cook Greuter's scheme was developed by administering tests to a random sample of several thousand adults in both the US and Britain, and doing statistical analyses of frequency of word occurrence. The stages, or "action logics," which are identifiable patterns of thought and behavior, are each given descriptive names. These are:

1) Impulsive
2) Opportunist
3) Diplomat
4) Expert
5) Achiever
6) Individualist
7) Strategist
8) Magician
9) Ironist

Action logic 5 is referred to as "conventional," as it is seen conventionally as normative for a fully adult, professional person in our society. The action logics before and after it are referred to as "preconventional" and "postconventional" respectively.

The first action logic, "impulsive," is associated with very young children. In this mode, people are little aware of distinctions between self and other, and as suggested by the name, they are often impulsive in their behavior.

In the second action logic, an awareness of other starts to arise, and with it a sense of self. However, it is a very limited sense of self in which any opposition to the desires of the self is labelled as "bad," anything congruent with the desires of self, "good," and little capacity for introspection or real empathy exists. The opportunist immediately labels anything that impedes the self's getting its way as "bad." Thus, the Opportunist is largely amoral.

In the third action logic, the Diplomat, an awareness of the needs of others starts to arise, and the need to ingratiate oneself with others becomes paramount as a way of achieving harmony, being well liked, and satisfying one's own needs in turn. For the Diplomat, being well liked is more important than any abstract principles.

In the fourth action logic, the need for independence arises. The Expert is one who has a powerful drive to assert their independence and competence, and often to be a "maverick," to prove himself or herself, and to reject the constraints of either oppressive authority or the docility and obsequiousness of the Diplomat. Most teenagers at one point or another exhibit this action logic strongly.

In the fifth action logic, an individual has achieved a strong sense of self-identity, without the fragility and defensiveness of the "expert," and is capable of and desires to work and cooperate successfully with others to achieve shared objectives. The Achiever is equivalent to the "homo economicus" of conventional economics, the person working in enlightened self interest to further his or her own career, while also being useful to the organizations they work with, and thereby, ideally, society as a whole.

The Individualist, in the sixth action logic, while accepting the need to work with others in society, is sceptical of organizations and insists on the need to critically evaluate one's participation in them, and doesn't take for granted that working for the good of any organization, however socially respectable it may be, is necessarily beneficial to society as a whole. The Individualist is introspective, and deeply concerned about higher goals beyond mere worldly success (as defined for example in our society almost exclusively by economic performance). This action logic is characteristic of many earnest "activists."

The Strategist, while retaining the loftier horizon of the Individualist, has learned to move beyond standoffishness and scepticism about working with others, and actively tries to facilitate the success of others. The Strategist becomes a mentor for others, and sees the successful development of others as paramount to society.

The Magician, like the Strategist and Individualist, recognizes a bigger picture of "success" than the conventional one. But unlike the Strategist, the Magician becomes focused on perfecting their inner development, and can sometimes appear to others as "detached." The Magician is less obsessive than the Strategist about achieving tangible goals "in the world," and sometimes this "detachment" is mistaken by others for "coldness."

The Ironist, the highest stage identified by Cook-Greuter, is a person who has achieved a high degree of inner peace and poise. The Ironist is rarely flustered or perturbed by difficulties, and tends to radiate a calmness, warmth and compassion for others that is always noticed by all around them.
This inner calm has a great power to it, and frequently things seem to magically "fall into place" around the ironist, because the inner calm and radiance of the ironist leads to spontaneous good feelings and cooperation in others.

Notice that there is a sort of dialectic quality in these stages. Each one is almost a reaction or "overcorrection" for the preceding one.

While each of these "action logics" are useful and necessary to the complete development of any person, they can become pathological when someone fails to completely integrate any single one of them. There can be instances where a person enters the conventional stage while still carrying baggage from the preconventional stages. The recent biography of George W. Bush by Kevin Phillips, for example, strongly suggests, without using Cook-Greuter's particular terminology, that Bush has never completely integrated and moved beyond the Opportunist action logic. And Phillips also offers many clues in Bush's upbringing and family background that help to suggest why this might be.

Here is Suzanne Cook-Greuter's paper on "A Detailed Description of the Development of Nine Action Logics,"  http://portland.indymedia.org/media/media/2004/03/283022.pdf

homepage: homepage: http://portland.indymedia.org/media/media/2004/03/283022.pdf

Caution 16.Mar.2004 02:55


Please do not take this to mean I dispute Cook-Greuter.

"Cook-Greuter developed her theory for use in leadership seminars for business organizations."

The two most serious criticisms of 'leadership seminars' are, that their presentations tend to rely heavily on showmanship and sophistry, and that they are designed to develop followers. Remember, too, that 'business organizations' are a whole other world from us, with different objectives, different motivations, and different ways of thinking.

Without looking, I can say for certain that her theories are grounded in solid research and they produce reliable results. I can also say that her presentation certainly includes nonsense designed to appeal to the prejudices of her patrons. Finally, their idea of 'good' often looks remarkable ambiguous or 'evil' to us -- for example, the 'magician' who figured out how to dispose safely toxic waste and produce cheaper lawn-fertilizer by mixing the two.

If she is popular, she is popular with those who pay her fees, who are neither the employees who are sent to her seminars nor you and me.

The trick is not to reject Cook-Greuter for the company she keeps. The trick is to examine carefully what we borrow from her, and reject the parts that are broken. Be especially careful with the parts which seem especially wonderful.