Home > Lessons for the Modern Man, Men's Movements > Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 3: Integral Spirituality or Muscular Spirituality?

Comments on “Numen, Old Men” – Part 3: Integral Spirituality or Muscular Spirituality?

I have long been enamored with models of human behavior, development, personality, origins, …on and on. From simple typology models, such as Myers-Briggs, to more complex models, including the Enneagram, from spiritual esoteric developments such as the Kabbalah to Jungian archetypal explorations, and on to Ken Wilber and the Integral Model of “a brief history of everything” I’ve studied them and applied them to my own development, understanding, and yes, even (maybe especially) enjoyment.  Most models, of course, are found wanting in one or more respects. They are models, after all, and not the real thing. They can’t be expected to operate perfectly in the real world. This is just like creating climate models and then expecting accurate weather reporting – it just doesn’t happen!

Ken Wilber has created an elegant and complex model of the world, especially of people and their history in the world. I have enjoyed poking into it, with a relatively non-critical eye, to understand it, but not to test it in all it’s “grandeur.” Chapter 5 of Joseph Gelfer’s book: Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy is titled: Integral Spirituality or Muscular Spirituality? and in it he takes a critical look at Wilber’s Integral Model and its perspectives on spirituality and masculinity. And, just as all models have them, Dr. Gelfer finds some serious issues with Wilber’s.

I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter and believe it to be the best argued so far in the book. It is both informative and entertaining at the same time; I laughed out loud at points, often at the expense of Mr. Wilber. For example Dr. Gelfer observes that Wilber runs afoul of his own “pre/trans fallacy” insight. The pre/trans fallacy leads to a confusion of pre-rational and transrational spiritual explorations by elevating “archaic and magical reasoning to the heady heights of Wilberian transrationalism, and scientific rationalists can reduce Wilberian transrationalism to the primeval swamp of archaic and magical pre-rationalism.” Then “Wilber’s whole application of masculine and feminine ‘types’ falls foul of the pre/trans fallacy….Wilber’s simplistic approach to gender, even if we give him credit for removing masculine and feminine one step away from actual men and women (which he does on occasion) is clearly pre-rational.”!

Yes, you could say there are times when Wilber argues out of both sides of his mouth!

There are also some parts of the chapter which elicited a “groan” from me as I read about the extent to which Wilber and some of his followers of the Integral approach have perpetuated the notion that women (the feminine) are some how inferior to men (the masculine)! As an example: “even in the noosphere [the sphere of evolved thought which transcends and includes the biosphere] Wilber says women should not expect complete parity, ‘given the unavoidable aspects of childbearing, a parity in the public/private domain would be around 60-40 male/female'” – yeah, he quotes Wilber here! And Dr. Gelfer then rightly quips: “Dashed are the hopes of many who thought that in the noosphere would be realized more flexible workplace policies.”!

In my mind the main argument here is that Wilber has not dealt very well with masculine/feminine issues and has not modeled the incredible complexity of these notions at all deeply. To rely on two dimensional characterizations of male and female as polar opposite manifestations of humanity is naive. And as elegant and useful as some of Mr. Wilber’s thought is, he fails to probe this area of masculine spirituality much below the surface of the trite characterizations of masculinity/femininity by the evangelical men’s movement.

Tomorrow we take a break from Dr. Gelfer for a comment on this week’s Mystic Message from The Divine Feminine.

  1. April 20, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Phew: I come away unscathed!

    I got lucky with thus chapter. When I wrote it, it seemed like a minor add-on which spoke more to the fact that I happened to have gone through a phase of reading Wilber than the book’s argument as a whole. However, it turns out that since writing, the Integral influence on the current men’s movement is stronger than I originally imagined. I’ve made a few blog posts about this over the last year:

    Again, thanks for the comments.

    • April 20, 2010 at 11:03 pm

      I have read some of your posts on your blog, Joseph…well worth the time! It’s good to keep probing and pushing on this issue until something “new and revolutionary” truly does come of it! Looking at Wilber, and his sense of masculine spirituality through your eyes reveals more of the same old stuff, rewarmed in the “integral oven.”

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