I am a skeptic, always questioning: Is that True? How did you come to believe that? Should I believe it? Are there other perspectives? What are we assuming? Can I believe myself?
(Tom Murray, Integral Perspectives Blog)
Over the past few years I’ve had many discussions, some in person and some on FaceBook, which revolve around the nature of skepticism. Many are on the topic of alternative medical practices and reliable information about such things as acupuncture and vaccinations. During those conversations I’ve noticed that there are different kinds of Skeptics, each thinking that their personal view is the true skepticism. Skeptics often range between everything from doubting all things to doubting anything that doesn’t adhere to the status quo.
In the following post my intention is to offer an in depth analysis and treatment of the concept of skepticism from an Integral Theory perspective. I think this is important because I feel it is the best way to promote an understanding of how different people relate to skepticism in different ways. As I said in my previous post about the colours of the spectrum, most concepts and ideas benefit from this kind of treatment. Referring back to that article, the graphic at the bottom is very helpful in understanding the basics of Integral Theory, particularly the relevant part outlining the stages of development. It is these stages on which I will focus in this post, although other aspects of Integral Theory such as 4Q would also shed important light on the topic.
Each stage of development in Spiral Dynamic or Integral Theory has its own way of interpreting the idea of skepticism. Within each stage, I would like to distinguish three sub stages for reasons that I hope will become clear as we progress. The major stages on which I wish to focus are Red/Amber (lumped together for simplicity), Orange and Green, -with a brief treatment of Teal. Red/Amber can be regarded as pre-rational stages which have a mainly ego- and small group-centered world view. Orange is the rational stage of modernism. Green is the trans-rational, pluralistic stage that is often described as post-modernism. Further descriptions of these stages can be found on the previously mentioned graphic or can be explored on the Internet. (It is important to note that sometimes there is an inconsistency in the way colours are used in Integral Theory. Blue is sometimes substituted for Amber. Yellow for Teal. It can be confusing. The AQAL graphic helps sort out the inconsistencies.)
It must be remembered that, as a model, these observations and theories are not trying to describe a formal or concrete structure, but rather, as is the case with most models, are describing the probability of a particular characteristic being exhibited at a particular stage. As Ken Wilber points out:
“Thus, if we say that a person is “at the red wave,” and the red wave’s general features include egocentrism, preconventional morality, and strong power drives (among others), that does not mean that there is some sort of concretely existing structure, pattern, or adaptive intelligence called “the red structure” (or the red meme or the red module, etc.) such that this person is somehow operating within it and bound by it (or that is somehow “in” the person). All it means is that the person that we identify as operating at or from red is acting in a space where the probably of finding those types of responses is very high (i.e., responses that are egocentric, preconventional, power-laden, etc.). The fewer of those responses you find, the less the person is “at red”—the less they are operating in the space of probabilities of that particular Kosmic habit.” (See more at: http://integrallife.com/integral-post/integral-age-leading-edge?page=0,2#sthash.V60qu5p4.dpuf)
The sub stages that I would like to introduce are those of Assimilating, Entrenched and Transcending. The Assimilating state is where one is just entering the new stage, struggling to assimilate new ideas and perspectives and having to either reconcile or reject the perspectives of the previous state. Whether it becomes reconciliation or rejection, and the degree to which it is each of these strategies, is an important distinction and will be dealt with later. The Entrenched state is one where the cognitive perspectives and world view of the stage are firmly established. The Transcending state is where one begins to question the assumptions of the current state and to expand one’s world view. As such, there is some overlap between the Transcending state of one stage and the Assimilating state of the next. Obviously this is an ideal model that will be influenced by personal fixations and shadows, along with the fact that while there are many lines of development, this discussion is primarily focused on the cognitive line.
RED / BLUE
Assimilation: The Red Stage is marked with a predominantly egocentric and self indulgent mind set and life style. The limitations inherent in this, especially if it is self destructive in nature, will often lead to a sense of self doubt. Always looking out for self and being self indulgent doesn’t always yield good results. It can lead to alienation or loneliness, and pure hedonism can often lead a sense of superficiality or even self destruction. And so the move from Red to Blue is often witness to a shift from skepticism about helping others to skepticism about self always coming first. If there is a whole scale rejection of ego-centric values rather than a healthy assimilation, this can lead to a condemnation of all pleasure, of sexual activity for pleasure, even of dancing. This can be seen to more or less degrees in various socially conservative religious groups. Similarly, self sacrifice replaces self indulgence, leading to things like charity or missionary work.
Entrenched: Red, being a very mythic oriented world view, has a strong connection with religious values (-the alternative often being military values). Once entrenched in this mind set, the world view which brings comfort is at odds with the one immediately above it, because it is threatening. In this case, reason is at odds with group-centric religious or mythic values. Faith is threatened by science. Charity is threatened by pragmatism. Skepticism is directed primarily at the higher level values, while still condemning those from the stage below.
When the Age Of Reason dawned, one can easily see how religion was continually threatened by new scientific ideas and discoveries. There were two kinds of skeptics then. The Blue Skeptics doubted and questioned the new ideas, judging them on the basis of the status quo or the predominant values of the time. These new discoveries literally did not make sense to them because they violated the order of things as they saw it. Order in the world came from God and Church. The other type of skeptic was obviously the scientists who chose to question or doubt the status quo. These were the Orange Skeptics, of which we will speak later.
Transcendent: This is the prerequisite state for emergence into the next stage/level. Here, rather than skepticism only being directed outward, it also reaches inward. One becomes skeptical of the world view and values corresponding to the immediate level. In this case, if Red/Blue has a religious foundation (as is typically but not exclusive) one might become skeptical if one sees the hypocrisy of religious leaders, or suffer a personal tragedy causing doubt about “God’s Will” or prayer. As one develops a sense of reason and logic, it may eventually supersede the blind faith which enables belief in Creationism.
Another possible manifestation of the Red/Blue world view is a military mind set, where the “brotherhood” of the military life has its own code of values. With transcendent skepticism one begins to doubt and question elements of that code and world view. Blind obedience and inflexible orders, coupled with goals that often are designed to dehumanize soldiers (because humans have trouble shooting to kill) may stir a skepticism, which of course is something that the entire military atmosphere is geared to discourage.
In each of these cases transcendence to the Orange/Rational stage is likely, but can come about one of two ways. Either one can completely reject and disassociate from all the elements of the previous world view, or one can accommodate and absorb chosen elements, subsuming them into the new stage of development. In the religious case, such accommodation would take the form of a more reason oriented relationship to the Bible or God, as can be seen in more moderate and progressive religious movements. Faith and religious beliefs are seen as less literal and more symbolic or metaphorical. When totally rejected, though, there develops a sense of resentment (sometimes quite justified) and a crusade style condemnation of religion which is almost as fervent as the original Red/Blue beliefs.
This establishes a basic pattern that can be seen replayed in development through the higher stages.
Assimilation: When one jumps to a more rational stage, one is prone to deep criticism and skepticism about the values left behind, especially, as mentioned above, where there has been little or no integration of the values left behind. Skepticism is directed at the traditional values, sometimes with the fervor and passion that adolescents have in rejecting the values of their parents. Hence I often call these adolescent rationalists, or fundamentalist rationalists. They are prone to the same fundamental, black or white arguments as were their Red/Blue predecessors. I’ve seen it many times on discussion forums, -a joyful glee in attacking religious fundamentalists, not so much with the aim of persuading, but rather of mocking. In those that have achieved some degree of integration the directed skepticism is less visceral, but usually there is some need to protect the newly achieved perspective of reason. These are people who may spontaneously start arguments about religion or politics, always ready to spotlight the problems of the lower stage.
This is not to say that debate and argument are not often valuable. Sometimes it is necessary to invest in argument in order to achieve an important outcome. In politics, one should always work towards outcomes guided by the highest possible stage. Also, in a case where one can see the possibility of personal evolution and persuasion, it may also be desirable to prudently offer argument.
Entrenched: Here there is a bit of a paradox for Skeptics. Once entrenched in a stage there develops a degree of loyalty to it. Reason, logic, scientific method all become the foundation of the world view. (Just as religious or military values did in the previous stage.) Anything that doesn’t strictly adhere to these principles becomes the object of skepticism, which includes both Red/Blue and Green values. Capitalism, competition, evolution, materialism all become leading value systems, revered and protected. The most extreme case is the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who has been adopted by the American Tea Party, but there are less organized and less extreme versions of the same thing. Liberal/Progressive/Post Modern ideas, more associated with the Green Level, are often condemned. (As they also are from Red/Blue, but for different reasons.)
Aiming skepticism at Red/Blue, traditional values has become tired, or is regarded as immature, so skepticism is aimed at alternatives to the status quo and at innovation. You see this clearly in scientific communities, where innovative theories have to go through hell to achieve recognition, not because of strict standards in science, but because of an emotional inertia linked to a fear of a destabilizing innovative progress. Of course, not all innovations are worthy of acceptance, but it is often the case that an extremely prejudiced world view is as common a problem in Orange as it is in Red/Blue. This goes double in situations where empiricism or scientific method proves to be limited and paradigm shifts are necessary. I suspect that Quantum Physics would be having a much tougher time if it hadn’t produced the atomic bomb. (It was much maligned at the dawn of the 20th Century.) There are many stories of researchers who were attacked and crippled by their peers when they proposed an unpopular theory that went against the status quo, much like how Galileo was attacked by the Church. Everything from alternative medical models to political policies get thrown out, the baby with the bath water, in a knee-jerk response. The status quo gets defended in situations where a true skeptic should be asking incisive questions and doubting the dominant paradigm. Even if the status quo holds up against scrutiny, it is better to be too skeptical than too complacent.
That’s where the paradox exists for me. I’ve always looked at Skepticism as being critical of the status quo. It should be a test for the seemingly obvious in light of potential alternatives. It should also take into consideration standards and criteria outside of the accepted world view, because that world view is as limited for Orange as it was for Red/Blue. Every level likes to think of itself as the pinnacle, but it is not more the be-all and end-all than was the previous stage. Skepticism should not be about reinforcing the obvious, but about testing it against the alternatives and questioning its assumptions. It should be constantly demanding that the status quo test and prove itself.
The current scare regarding the safety of vaccinations is probably not valid, but given the questionable integrity of the pharmaceutical industry, their vested interest in as much medication as possible, and the demonstrated complacency of regulatory bodies, questions demand clear, unambiguous answers. In situations where companies are slow or reluctant to provide such answers, skeptic should be spotlighting issues and yelling at the tops of their lungs. But at the Entrenched stage there is often a need to be safely cradled in the rational/modernist world view.
Transcendent: At a certain point, some Objective and subjective facets of world view begin to clash. Capitalism as a sound economic theory and philosophy begins to show cracks. Factors such as social and environmental ethics begin to assert themselves. The foundational premises of Economics are seen as incomplete. Rigid scientific models begin to break down because they only deal with the materialistic end of things. For example, neurological psychology has to accept the realm of consciousness, and so Behaviourism has to yield to wider reaching Cognitive Therapies.
The inward direction of Skepticism tends to put cracks in the rigid loyalty to scientific method, empiricism and materialism. The nature of reality extends beyond the empirically objective.
Skepticism is now directed at the Orange standards and criteria, understanding that they are not necessarily “wrong”, but rather are limited in scope, just as Newtonian Physics and Cartesian space are shown as limited by a Quantum reality. Here, the status quo becomes something not to justify but to continuously and rigorously challenge. To a Skeptic at this level, too many questions and too much doubt is better than not enough. Everything is equally suspect, both the alternative and the status quo.
Once again, transcendence can mistakenly involve a rejection of all Science or can include an integration, accommodation and inclusion of the Orange worldview. But at this stage that doubt is just beginning to manifest itself.
Assimilation: Early stages of Green Skepticism tend to see Orange as a tyranny of science and logic and risks heading into absolute relativism if there is a lack of integration of reason and science. These may become the New Age Cosmic Muffins, mistaking Red/Blue pre-rational thinking with Green post or trans-rational thinking. This is the pre/trans fallacy. Another possible consequence of lack of integration is be seduced by absolute relativism.
Because Green values a multi-disciplinary, pluralistic world view, and because logic has come into question, there is a danger that relativism will rule. Such relativists believe that there is no right and wrong, and that one argument is not superior to any other. They believe that any sort of judgement is unjustified since different cultures will have different ethical values. This is Green with reason being totally unhinged. Absolute relativists are skeptical of everything, but don’t accept rational arguments to prove or refute anything. This is a particularly unproductive form of Skepticism.
Ironically, there is some confusion between Green and Red, with members sometimes thinking that they belong to the other. This was the problem with the Hippie movement, where there were many legitimate Green people who ended up doing a lot of good in areas of human rights, but who also sucked in a lot of Red/Blue people who were attracted to the hedonism and opposed to the order of the dominant culture.
Those who integrate Orange into Green become liberal innovators, maintaining an element of reason as they encompass the alternatives. Its skepticism is aimed towards such things as stark capitalism, traditional medicine, competition and materialism in general.
Entrenched: Pluralism is one of the primary guiding values of this level, and anything that does not subscribe to pluralism, tolerance and multi-denominational values is viewed with skepticism. There is an interesting relationship between tolerance and skepticism here. Green is eager to accept or at least consider alternatives whether it be in religion or medicine or economics. What it won’t tolerate is intolerance. And so skepticism is often directed at Orange (or other) fixed standards, rules or inflexible values that might limit pluralistic acceptance. There is a healthy skepticism of the status quo here, recognizing that established values, even when seemingly supported by reason and logic, may still be only a part of the story. An example is traditional economics, where the theories are very mathematical and logical, and yet only represent part of the reality of experience. Green economists recognize that long term environmental factors have to be included in any economic analysis. Green religious beliefs hold that spirituality can be achieved through a multitude of paths. Green morality holds that there are intrinsic and universal values based on human welfare and the welfare of the environment in general, but that they may find different interpretations and applications dependent on the culture.
Transcendent: At this point the focus of skepticism again is focused inward. The doubt and questioning activity is directed at the self. It becomes a matter of establishing one’s own world view and belief system, and questioning why you hold it to be valid. If a multiplicity of values can be correct and tolerance demands wide acceptance, then what kind of standards should form your value system? Even absolute relativism becomes impractical after a while and Nihilism becomes depressing.
Introspection, dealing with the subjective nature of perception and belief, becomes the most important thing as we come to realize the truth of the Taoist saying, “We don’t see the world as it is. We see it as we are.” While absolute relativism and subjectivism are impractical, there is a central kernel of truth to them which plays havoc with our sense of skepticism. That havoc is what pushed existentialist philosophers like Camus, Sartre and Kierkegaard into a philosophical despair. All things were subject to skepticism, and yet nothing was, as there was a “benign indifference of the universe.”
It is not a good place to end this journey. So, enter Integral Theory which resolves relativism through a hierarchy of memes and resolves subjectivism by establishing four epistemological quadrants of perspective, and resolves Nihilism by establishing a core purpose of evolutionary development. Skepticism still exists, but is informed by a matrix of nesting perspectives. This does not limit skepticism, but rather provides it with a tool kit that can let it function more effectively. Part of that tool kit is the understanding that “the map is not the landscape”. Therefore a modular system of reality can give skepticism much more scope.
This is the gateway to Yellow (or Teal, depending on which version you’re looking at), and is referred to as a “Second Tier Development Stage” because it has the new ability to see the big picture. By seeing that big picture it can understand that different situations require the analysis of and application of different world views and values. It also understands the scope and sequence of this development which will allow it to effectively promote evolutionary development when the opportunity arises.
A Red perspective, for example, may be required in order to understand a specific situation (such as a poor family surviving Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans) and certain accommodations should be based on that understanding. The importance of their religious faith in sustaining them through a disaster should not be under rated, whether you have the same religious convictions or not.
At the same time, when political decisions are made on a larger scale, it is most beneficial to society when governance is conducted from the highest stage possible. That is a controversial statement and would require an entire essay on its own to properly support. As you can see from the above examples involving skepticism, it is easy for each stage to lose its way. Misplaced liberalism can do as much damage as rigid conservatism. Cosmic Muffin Spiritualism can be as absurd as Creationism. But with the broader picture in view, perhaps a healthier perspective can be achieved.
The Entrenched state of every stage suffers from the delusion that they are the apex of the developmental pyramid. Strongly religious Blues and rationalistic Oranges are equally likely to think that they are in the absolute right, each supported by a set of values that some will defend to the death. Both are likely to crusade, as are the Greens. It is the same way with the development of human children. The 5 year old and the 15 year old are both convinced (in their own way) that their way is the right way, and if only the rest of the world could see it, everyone would agree with them. Blue can do no wrong because God is on their side. Orange believes in the absolute of scientific method and logic. Green believes that dialogue, consensus and human rights trump all.
In Second Tier Yellow, with the recognition of a developmental process, all that hopefully disappears. Even Yellow has to admit, though, that there are likely developmental stages beyond itself to which one can aspire.