Book Club Discussion | Trump and a Post-Truth World

Each month, the Shambhala employees gather to discuss a new book as part of our Shambhala Publications Book Club. After each meeting, we will be sharing the notes from our discussion with you to spark your own thoughts and conversations.

Our September pick was Trump and a Post-Truth World by Ken Wilber.

Book Description

The world is in turmoil. As populist waves roil the Brexit-bound UK, along with Europe, Turkey, Russia, Asia—and most visibly, the US with the election of Donald Trump—nationalist and extremist political forces threaten the progress made over many decades. How did we get here? And how, with so much antagonism, cynicism, and discord, can we mend the ruptures in our societies?

In this provocative work, philosopher Ken Wilber explains why there is cause for hope. He lays much of the blame on a failure at the progressive, leading-edge of society. This leading-edge is characterized by the desire to be as just and inclusive as possible. This is all evolutionarily healthy; what is unhealthy is a creeping postmodernism that is elitist, “politically correct,” and that looks down on “deplorables.” Combine this with the techno-economic demise of many traditional ways of making a living, and you get an explosive mixture. As Wilber says, for some Trump voters: “Everywhere you are told that you are fully equal and deserve immediate and complete empowerment, yet everywhere are denied the means to actually achieve it. You suffocate, you suffer, and you get very, very mad.”

Questions for Discussion

  • In practical terms, how do we introduce growth hierarchies? How do we teach interior growth in our society and schools?
  • To what extent does green, which is pro-education, already do this? To what extent does it not?
  • In terms of the 60% of those at the ethnocentric level—how do we take the steps Wilber says are necessary for green to heal and lead—include the “deplorables” in the dialogue, see the world for their point of view, make room from them in their world?
  • “Boomeritis might die only when the Boomers die. But seeing the Millennials adopt many [Boomer ideas and values], sometimes in even more extreme forms, it doesn’t look like death is anywhere near strong enough to get rid of a really bad thing.” Discuss.
  • Wilber is hopeful for the future. Activating amber and orange, Trump is evidence of an evolutionary self-correction to green’s brokenness, prompting analysis and repair. Do you share Wilber’s optimism?

Chapter Notes

Chapter One: Self-Correction at the Leading-Edge

  • The leading-edge of cultural evolution today, the “growing tip,” is “green.”
  • “Aperspectival madness”: no truth pushed to extremes. Claim that truth has universal validity (“apersectival”) leads to massive contradictions and incoherence (“madness”).
  • “Performative contradiction”: green claims there is no single truth, except for the truth of that claim. Green is doing what they say cannot and should not be done.
  • Culture steps back (evolutionarily) to a sturdier stage of development: egocentric, ethnocentric, etc.

Notable Quote:
“When the leading-edge has no idea where it’s going, then naturally it doesn’t know where to go. When no direction is true (because there is no truth), then no direction can be favored, and thus no direction is taken.”

Chapter Two: That Ever-Expanding Stairway

  • Egocentric (red): tribal warfare, selfish; magic – some individuals have supernatural powers (preoperational cognition)
  • Ethnocentric (amber): chosen people; us versus them – traditional; mythic – gods have supernatural powers – mythic-literal religions (concrete operational)
    • 60 percent of Americans today
  • Worldcentric (orange): global – more inclusive – modernity – science – reason – materialism; individual freedom (end of slavery)
  • Postmodern (green): pluralistic, relativistic, diverse, multi-cultural, etc.
    • 20–25 percent of population
  • Integral (turquoise): radically new stage, tier 2 versus all other stages, which were tier 1. Integrated – systemic – “transcends and includes” all other levels
    • 5 percent of the population

Chapter Three: The Birth of a Post-Truth Culture

  • Narcissism: what I want to be true, is true, in a post-truth culture.
  • Culture promotes self-esteem, without anchoring accomplishments.
  • “Legitimation crisis”: clash between interior realities (morals, consciousness, values, beliefs) and exterior realities (techno-economic systems and environments).
  • Internet disorganizes the world’s information, creating chaos, as a result of aperspectival madness.

Notable Quote:
“In a sea of no-truth nihilism, narcissism is all that’s left—what else could Boomers promote?”

Chapter Four: No Truth and No Jobs: “Ressentiment”

  • Ressentiment
    • “Mean-green-meme": mean-spirited attitude that goes with “egalitarian” beliefs, because there are always “greater” and “lesser” realities; not everything can be merely equal.
    • Non-elite, non-1% are told they are fully equal and deserve empowerment, yet are denied everywhere the means to actually achieve this.
    • Meanwhile, greens attempt to undo oppression to the point of extremes.
  • Stages of Development and Political Parties
    • Trump’s rhetoric activated:
      • Orange worldcentrism (achievement, merit, development, profit)
      • Amber ethnocentrism (racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia)
      • Red egocentrism (self-serving, self-promoting, narcissism)

Notable Quote:
“Extreme political correctness is simply aperspectival madness gone emotionally beserk.”

Chapter Five: The Reverberating Anti-Green Field

  • Understanding Trump’s appeal/victory is essential to responding to it effectively.
  • To merely resist and protest is to remain in the green rut that evolution’s self-correction seeks to surpass.
  • Green’s choices: double down on present hatred, revulsion, and open ridicule of amber; or understand, include, and compassionately embrace.

Chapter Six: The Primary Cause—and Cure—of Oppression

  • Green attributes society’s lack of green values as due to the presence of oppression—malicious dominator hierarchies.
  • Real reason for lack of green values: absence of a higher development
  • Carol Gilligan describes the four stages of all human development: selfish (Wilber’s red, egocentric), care to one’s group (Wilber’s amber ethnocentric), universal care to all groups (orange and green worldcentric), and integrated (tourquoise Integral).
    • All individuals and groups go through these stages.
  • Thus, the “basket of deplorables” are uncomfortable with worldcentric values “not because they fully see and loathe them, but because they do not (and cannot) see them in the first place.”
  • Green shouldn’t view all individuals in an egalitarian fashion, because the ethnocentric and lower levels do not favor green goals of equality for all: they don’t want everyone treated fairly to be treated the same.

Chapter Seven: Where Do We Go from Here?

  • Green must self-heal and self-correct.
  • Address problems with the three major tenets of postmodernism: contextualism (no universal truths), constructivism (all truth is not given, it is constructed), and aperspectivism (there are no ahistorical, pregiven, priviledged perspectives anywhere).

Chapter Eight: Dominator Hierarchies and Growth Hierarchies

  • Green denies all hierarchies as oppressive, failing to distinguish dominator hierarchies from growth hierarchies.
  • Green is rightly concerned about dominator hierarchies, but the only people who engage in them are those who are at the very lowest levels of growth hierarchies—the selfish (egocentric) and special group-care (ethnocentric) levels.
  • Green’s rejection of all hierarchies destroys not just the problem (dominator hierarchies) but the cure (growth hierarchies).

 Notable Quotes:

“Introducing growth hierarchies—in literally all areas where real growth and development is occurring (which is most of them)—would allow green to take up some actual conception of what direction means: not only a horizontal increase in aptitudes for all, but a vertical increase in attitude for all.”

“That interior growth in consciousness and culture is the actual path to our cherished goals of a real diversity and true inclusivity.”

“[Green is] ignorant of the interiors of those whom they are trying to evolve, because green is ignorant of their developmental interiors as well.”

Chapter Nine: The Lessons Green Must Learn

  • The path forward involves:
    • Green must understand and include amber and orange. Reverse its hostility to every previous stage of development.
    • “Aperspectival madness” must be rethought and rejected in its many forms.
  • Ease “hyper-sensitive” green regulations that are killing orange business (small business) to help employee “victims.”
  • Include orange free speech—don’t merely transcend and trash it.
  • View amber “deplorables” not as actively making decisions out of free choice, but as coming from a developmental level stage one doesn’t choose, but grows out of.
  • More compassion.
  • Address “boomeritis."
  • Acknowledge distinction between dominator hierarchies and growth hierarchies.

Chapter Ten: Another Way Forward: Truly Integral

  • Introducing healthy green is a good step forward. Better would be to introduce a turquoise integral-stage leading-edge.
    • Turquoise doesn’t necessarily agree with the previous levels, but it fully accepts and embraces them (minus their limitations).
  • An integral/turquoise leading-edge would exert a strong pressure on green to heal its broken ways.
  • When 10% of the population reaches turquoise, we will hit a tipping point at which integral values will seep into general culture—perhaps within a decade or two.
  • We need to move from a culture of no-truth to a DDC: a deliberately developmental culture.
  • We need to: Show Up, Grow Up, Wake Up, and Clean Up (page 143).

Book Recommendations

  • A Brief History of Everything | Ken Wilber
  • The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions—More Inclusive, More Comprehensive, More Complete | Ken Wilber
  • Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening | Marco Morelli, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard, and Ken Wilber

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