John Rowan: An Open Letter to Walsbians Everywhere

Last night I had a dream. I had discovered some people who had all the original papers from the beginning of Walsby’s work. And everything was there – all the ideas that Walsby came up with, all the ideas that Walford added, all the ideas about forming a group of people who would research the ideas further, and all the ideas about the various ramifications which might emerge from that. There was just too much – it was too wide and too deep for anyone to do justice to.

But what had happened was that the group had split into a number of individuals, all with the idea that one person could do it all. Walsby was a bad example – he was basically a polymath who was way more brilliant than any of his followers, and he tried to do it all. Walford was another one who tried to do it all by himself, and found it impossible to work with anyone else. Hegel was the great background exemplar, and he too tried to do it all himself, leaving a ragbag of individuals all rushing off in a ll directions, none of them big enough to take on the vast task involved.

And then I saw a great contrast between all this and the work of Ken Wilber. Here was another person who had the capacity to do this kind of work, but who had two great advantages over Walsby. The first was the presence of the Internet. This gave the advantage of easy communication on a worldwide basis, meaning that people of one mind could find each other and cooperate with one another far more easily. The second was the advent of feminism, with its emphasis on not leaving things out and doing justice to the whole question of gender – never mentioned by Walsby or Walford, and hardly at all by Hegel.

And these things led to the formation of the Integral Institute, which could use these new insights and facilities to make a whole which potentially could ultimately be greater than the sum of its parts. This was particularly helped by the Wilber emphasis on the four quadrants – no longer could one do all the work in one quadrant and hope that it would be enough. The Walsby/Walford work did of course cover three out of the four quadrants, but never took much interest in the upper right – though it would have been easy to add this.

I think it is too late to go back and revise Walsby / Walford in the way that would be needed to realise its full promise. I think it would be better to join in with the Wilber effort of the Integral Institute and add our efforts to make that work better. We have some great insights to add: the first is our awareness of the chameleon character of the first level of development, which Walford named as the Expedient. According to the theory of Systematic Ideology, the people at this level are more numerous in the world than the proponents of any other ideology. And they can fit in with any later ideology with no problem, since they have no content to their own ideology except that of conforming to the main stream, whatever that may be. It is this which makes the theory of Systematic Ideology unresearchable, as I discovered in my seven-year effort to write a doctoral thesis, which ultimately had to be abandoned. If any questionnaire or other instrument designed to measure ideologies were applied to members of the Expedient level, they would answer in terms of the dominant ideology, whatever that might be. Marx came up with idea of false consciousness as an answer to this, but of course it is no answer at all, because there is really no way of distinguishing between false consciousness and true consciousness. If someone insists that they are happy, it does so good to tell them that they are really not, or worse still that they should not be.

The second insight we have which the Wilber people do not is the one about critical thought. We are all agreed that when people rise to some level of consciousness – never mind the name – when they see through the rules and roles of conformist society and start thinking for themselves, they become quite critical of conformist society. They start to use words like ‘the they,’ ‘the mass,’ ‘the blobocracy,’ ‘the unthinking,’ and so on. They start to think in terms of reform, progress, the future, ecologica l consciousness, side-effects and all the rest. Walsby said that the more such people arose and became critical of existing society, the more the forces of reaction would arise to oppose any such radical change. And there would always be more conformists than rebels. The forces of stasis would always win over the forces for change. The Wilber people seem to be unaware of this sort of consideration, and to be gung-ho for change. Their optimism may be unrealistic.

Our attempt to join the Integral Institute might therefore introduce something more depressing, something more realistic, something perhaps unwelcome. But to me it is the only game in town, and perhaps it is worth the danger of being rejected. The website is

22 October 2002
link updated 12 August 2012