George Walford: Evolution of Spirit

Beyond Politics presents a view of evolution in which the outcome is not merely the final term but the whole system leading to it. Thus the outcome of biological evolution comprises not merely humanity but the whole range of species with their interactions, the outcome of ideological evolution not just any one ideology but the whole range of the major ideologies in all their expressions, varieties and interactions. Put in that way the conception may appear too obvious to be worth stating, yet it is characteristic of advanced thinkers, both in politics and in other fields, to insist upon the final term in a developmental series as the only truly valuable and valid one. In Up from Eden, [1] for example, Ken Wilber, an esoteric thinker highly regarded by some intelligent and sophisticated people, presents spiritual development as an evolutionary process but would have us see only the final term, Spirit or Atman, as really real.

Positing eight levels of development, he tells us only the uppermost is “the ultimate spiritual realization”; “every person’s true Nature is Atman (Spirit, level 7/8).” [2] Lower levels are described in terms of incompleteness, of forgetting, alienation, sin, suffering, isolation, fragmentation [3], exoteric religion is to be “bypassed;” [4] “all levels, in themselves, are ultimately nothing but illusions, there being only Spirit at all times.” [5] This attitude is not without validity or importance but it is highly exclusive, so much so as to prove finally untenable.

Having (to use his terms) attained pure Spirit, Wilber finds it impossible to rest there; his own account shows him driven back to the lower levels. This process he terms “involution” and, following his consistent theme, goes on to denigrate it: “… in involution each level is (1) a successive ‘moving away’ from Godhead, (2) a successive lessening of consciousness (3) a successive forgetting or amnesis, (4) a successive stepping-down of Spirit, (5) a successive increasing of alienation, separation, dismemberment, and fragmentation, (6) a successive objectification, projection, and dualism.” As if that did not sufficiently dispose of the lower levels, he goes on to say that this moving away is only “illusory,” for “the reality of each level is only Spirit.” [6] He tells us “As long as men and women are slaves to their boundaries, they will be caught in battles, for as any military expert will testify, where there is a boundary there is a potential war.” [7] True; but also, as all clear thinkers will find themselves forced to testify, where there are no boundaries there is nothing. These early levels are imperfect without what Wilber terms Spirit, but Spirit is nothing without them. The material Wilber strives to repress persists in returning, the wholeness of the system, which includes its lower levels and its boundaries, asserts itself against his attempt to exclude all but one part of it.

Since this is the crux, let me give one more quotation to establish that his position is indeed exclusive rather than inclusive. “In my opinion, the only possible way to make sense of original sin, or the theological fall, is to perfectly bypass exoteric religion and follow exclusively the insights of esoteric religion; that is, Christian mysticism (gnosticism) Vedanta Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism etc.” [8] The untenable nature of the position Wilber attempts to hold is demonstrated by his own practice. Far from bypassing exoteric religion he devotes a great part of Up from Eden to discussing it, together with other expressions of levels developmentally prior to the one he terms Atman or Spirit. This could hardly be otherwise, for only as a way of overcoming the limitations they bring into prominence does his own approach possess value or even sense.

In thinking about religion, as in thinking about politics, the phase of repudiation and exclusiveness can only be fully realised by going beyond it, since to be fully repudiative, fully exclusive, it has to repudiate, exclude, itself. To do that is to move on to acceptance and inclusiveness, to recognise that the outcome of any evolutionary process is not one level, stage or species but the total system resulting.

[1] Wilber K. 1983 Up from Eden; a transpersonal view of human evolution, London etc: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 300;
[2] Ibid 14;
[3] 300-301;
[4] 209;
[5] 300,footnote;
[6] Diagram facing 302 and preceding explanation;
[7] 334;
[8] 299

Gareth Stedman Jones reminds us that in the 1840s socialism was as much an anti-Christian movement as an anti-capitalist one; it was for this reason that most versions of it did not limit themselves to social criticism but also undertook to supply a cosmology. (TLS 10 Aug). John Bayley notes a “natural alliance” between literary theory, Formalism and the work of Bakhtin and Shklovsky for example, and radicalism. (Ibid).

These connections are best understood by taking the roots of socialism to lie in something not limited to being a view of religion or a cosmology or an attitude towards property relations or a literary theory but capable of being expressed as any one of them. The s.i. conception of an ideology meets this requirement; it is difficult to think of anything else that might do so.

The belief in a special connection between socialism and the working class has become one of the cliches of politics, so taken for granted that we rarely think about it, but it is hard to pin down.

Clearly not all workers are socialists. Nor does the class, as a body, support the socialist movement. Nor are all socialists workers; Friedrich Engels, William Morris, J. F. Hyndman (who introduced Marx’s work to English readers) and Tony Benn all rank as socialists, but not one of them belongs to the working class in any sensible definition of that remarkably elastic term. Doubtless most socialists work for their living, but then so do most conservatives; if this movement were restricted to those who do not the Conservative Party could not get the millions of votes it consistently attracts.

Socialists sometimes claim to be representing the interests of the working class, but there is little indication that these alleged interests mean anything to the bulk of the workers; they are rather the interests of socialists, ascribed by them to the working class Certainly the workers have not appointed the socialists to represent them or their interests.

Where does this special connection lie? Would somebody care to explain?

AN OLD joke has an American Senator reflecting on the sources of his support and deciding that he could afford to be against only two things: sin, and the man-eating shark. In future his options will be reduced, for the great white, notorious man-eater and model for the villain of Jaws, has joined the species in danger of extinction and therefore to be treasured. The Flora and Fauna Preservation Society is about to start agitating for a ban on hunting the creatures. (Sunday Times 19 Aug) (Records kept by the American Navy show about 28 shark attacks worldwide each year, less than 10 of them fatal).

ANDREI Sakharov, Soviet nuclear scientist and later dissident, was convinced that the reason the USSR dropped behind the USA in the technological and economic race was the absence of democratic institutions and intellectual freedom. (Quoted by Ernest Gellner in TLS 17 Aug).

However much the state may want to impose censorship, if it depends on advanced technology it has to keep the sources of information open and maintain scope for the free exercise of intellect.

JEHOVAH the first graffitist? At Belshazzar’s feast he or his agent wrote mene, mene, tekel upharsin on the wall.

Beyond Politics, the book which sets out the theory behind IC, is now available, and special terms are offered to IC subscribers! Turn now to the back page and order your copy of Beyond Politics! (That seems to be fairly close to the proper professional style).

from Ideological Commentary 48, November 1990.