the pre/trans fallacy
Article on spiritual
Presentation by Bernd Meyer
at the "One Taste" Conference, INTEGRA Center
The Pre/Trans Fallacy of Spiritual Choices
Abstract:From an integral point of view there can be identified some factors which in combination can contribute to problematic development in spiritual groups: The pre/trans fallacy, the confusion of individual and social holons, the attainment of different levels in various developmental lines, and the interpretation of spiritual experiences from lower levels of consciousness. Implications for the counseling of ex-cult-members are pointed out.
The teachings of mystical traditions can be used in different ways, depending on the kind of practice and the level of consciousness on which a group is mainly operating.
There is growing interest in spirituality but also much distrust which is enforced by problematic groups. Although these are very few, for the view of the mainstream they are enough to confirm the potential danger of spiritual practice. On the other hand there is so much irrationality in many esoteric ideas that for many people it seems better to keep away from all these things.
So what we need is an understanding of the possibilities of confusion: The pre/trans fallacy in general, the different lines on which consciousness can be on distinct levels, and the confusion of individual and social holons1.
Of course the pre/trans fallacy is not sufficient to explain problematic groups. Prerational thinking or feeling is normally part of problematic evolvement but it does not explain all. The most obvious problem in cult groups is the kind of authority as Ken Wilber is explaining it in “Spiritual Choices”. Also his description of the confusion of individual and social holons refers to that problem of authority, as we will see.
An example: Someone makes an experience of oneness on the subtle level and is used to think from a postconventional level, with the emotional and interpersonal development on a conventional level and the moral development on a preconventional level. This person will perhaps look for a way to deepen the spiritual experience, look for a teacher or listen to an inner voice. Now, if the cultural context says that in order to be spiritual we have to turn back from modernity, and if concepts of social functioning say that individuals can be parts (not only members but like parts of the body) of a social group and if then the inner voice says "You are God" – then this person could think and act as if only himself was God and all other beings were like parts of his body.
Now, the members of a cult group are also seeking for spiritual growth. If they have the same concepts about evolution (that we have to turn back from modernity and rationality) and accept without critics that they will be delivered from evil if they surrender to the guru – then it depends on the leader's sanity how the group evolves.
I was living in a problematic group for six years, and now I am analyzing my experiences. Surely I would not have entered there if I had known the pre/trans fallacy. Actually I had been following the retroromantic attitude referring to spirituality and life in general. For instance, I did not accept psychiatric diagnosis. Unfortunately, this was conditioned also by the fact that until recent times spiritual experiences were too often classified as pathological. But in the new diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association there is included the category of „religious or spiritual problem“ which is not considered pathological. This means that the official psychological and psychiatric opinion is beginning to open for spiritual themes in a more differenciated way, and the probability of false diagnosis is diminishing.
So, in the past, the problem with the pre/trans fallacy was that any kind of spirituality was seen by the mainstream as potentially dangerous. It seems that now the other side of the pre/trans fallacy is gaining more weight - the elevationism which appreciates any irrational idea as spiritual.
Ken Wilber writes in “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” about elevationism:
... if one is sympathetic with higher or mystical states, but one still confuses pre and trans, then one will elevate all prerational states to some sort of transrational glory ( the infantile primary narcissism, for example, is seen as an unconscious slumbering in the mystico unio). Jung and his followers, of course, often take this route, and are forced to read a deeply transpersonal and spiritual status into states that are merely indissociated and undifferentiated and actually lacking any sort of integration at all.
In the English Wilber Forum someone wrote about the story of Buddha meeting a Schizophrenic: The Buddha is trying to explain things to him and ends up with "..so you see, you are the entire universe." at which point the Schizophrenic leaps up excitedly and says "Finally someone who agrees with me. _I_AM_ the entire universe!! That's what I've been trying to tell everyone." The difference is of course that the Buddha believes this is true of everyone while the Schizophrenic believes it is only true of himself.
This is the most extreme example of the difference between spiritual crisis and true transformation. The pre/trans fallacy in its classical form is mixing up both, either by elevating prepersonal indifferentiation to real transformation or by reducing enlightenment to prepersonal levels. This is the big and simple pre/trans fallacy, but how can we refine it regarding the counseling of ex-cult-members?
One important aspect is that there can be differences in the development of various lines. A person or group can be on various levels of consciousness at the same time, e.g. in the cognitive line on a higher level than in the interpersonal and moral line of development.
If the moral line is on a low level, there is of course more probability of a problematic development.
Again the example: A person is thinking on a postrational (say, green) level, but at the same time e.g. on the interpersonal and moral lines she is still on the red level, and she believes that in order to evolve spiritually we have to go back to prepersonal levels. Perhaps she has made a subtle experience of being one with God. Then she could think that she alone is God, and perhaps some people will believe it. They form a little group and try to get rid of rationality by regressing to prepersonal levels, looking there for paradise. They could end up on the purple meme and believe that the leader is God and the group members are her angels or her marionettes.
Here we can see the confusion of social and individual holons which refers to the kind of authority in a group. This is the most obvious aspect of problematic development. If only one person is God, then the others have to be her marionettes or at least they should try to be it.
This distinction refers to the quadrants.
Fred Kofman in his article “Holons, Heaps and Artifacts" writes about the confusion of individual and social holons:
A (whole) social holon, is not a senior "evolution" that transcends and includes the individual holon affiliated in it. A group does not transcend and include its members (it transcends and includes its junior holons, the group's predecessors or primitives). From the right-hand perspective, a group is a "container" of sorts for the individual entities, its parts are its members; from the left-hand perspective, a group is an inter-subjective space of common meanings shared by its members. But the group is not (from any perspective) a progressive step in a holarchy of individuals because individual and social holons are not lower and higher levels in the same hierarchy. They are correlative aspects of any holon at any level of a hierarchy. An individual holon is a member of a social holon, not a constitutive element and not a component.
Being a participating member of a society is different than being a disposable component of a system. Without this idea there is no way to stop the slide to totalitarianism. The group is a holarchical senior of the junior level of intersubjective rules and meanings that govern the behaviors and interactions of its members.
How do ideas and value systems (inner quadrants) influence group structure (outer quadrants)? As in all collective areas, an egocentric level of consciousness will lead to a closed group structure and vice versa.
So we had quadrants, levels and lines. Referring to stages we have to be aware that it is possible to experience stages of higher consciousness, but later they are interpreted from the level on which our centre of gravity lies. This means that not only teachings of mystical traditions but also authentic mystical experiences themselves are interpreted in different ways. So we can say that a false guru is not necessarily a mere con artist who is acting only in a calculating manner. This can be part of his acting, but I think that without any kind of own experience nobody would believe him.
Another important aspect of the theme is that on each level of consciousness there can be a little pre/trans fallacy.
In the first tier, the neighboring levels of the current one is seen as the worst. E.g. seen from the blue meme, the red one is rejected but also the orange one, and both may be confused. Seen from the orange level of consciousness, higher levels are often confused with the blue meme which seems to be the worst. Seen from the green meme, the orange one is refused, and if yellow includes the orange meme again, it can be taken for the orange meme itself.
So sometimes when someone is letting go a world view and growing up to the next higher level, he or she seems – from the point of view of the old level - to go back to the bad world view which lies under the leaved one. If someone grows from blue to orange, he or she is becoming more autonomous, and this can be taken for a sign of the red level.
Then, if a person goes up from the orange level to the green one, he or she is often seeing orange as the most evil force in the world, and from the view of orange he or she could be seen as regressing to a lower level (sometimes this is partially true, see Boomeritis).
If someone makes the quantum leap to the second tier, people from the green level are seeing a traitor who is integrating the evil orange and blue.
I think this “little pre/trans fallacy” on each level is very important to understand the existing different approaches of consulting ex-cult-members.
Ecclesiastical consultants are (not always, but with some probability) on the blue meme, secular consultants act from the orange/rational level, and multicultural experts are on the green meme and normally don't offer consulting but information, not wanting to make any evaluation. In reality of course there are combinations and co-operations of those kinds of view and their representatives.
Now, what are the needs of ex-cult-members? First, they need orientation in order to understand what happened to them and how they can meet their needs of spirituality without getting deceived again. First they need something for the cognitive line, and then, like always, the emotional, interpersonal and moral line can follow. So first they need a good map of consciousness.
They need e.g. to understand that in a closed group there cannot be much compassion because it is operating from a more or less egocentric level of consciousness. My preferred quotation from Ken Wilber is: „Each succeeding stage involves an increase in perspectivism and thus an increase in the capacity for mutual care and compassion.“
Counseling methods should address world views, and they do address world views. Churches have experts of weltanschauung who are open to religious interest, with a christian background. They address the needs of belonging and religion.
There are liberal cult experts who address the need of autonomy and speak up for personal freedom. On the other side they are often sceptical of any kind of spirituality.
And there are multicultural experts who address the need of autonomy as the right to have any religion you want. They stand up for religious freedom and defend religious minorities, and this is very noble and important. What they don't like is to make evaluations, only in extreme cases. They have much information about new religious movements and try to present it from a non-evaluating point of view.
All these approaches are partially right. Why not integrate their useful ideas in an integral approach.
If multicultural experts learn that evaluation is not „bad“ but is necessary to distinguish spiritual crisis vs. true transformation, they could make the quantum leap to the second tier.
The green meme does not like hierarchies. But there is a difference between dominance hierarchies and development hierarchies. When I came with arguments of the pre/trans fallacy, some green meme people did not like it because it seems like an evaluation of high vs. low levels of consciousness. (And partially it is en evaluation.) The green meme doesn't either accept development hierarchies.
The other type of hierarchies is that of power, and the green meme is the one which least should defend a group which uses totalitarian suppression.
As we have seen, on each level of consciousness the previous level is seen as bad. Seen from the green meme, orange (and blue) has to be refused. Growing further to the second tier, one begins to include rationality (and the conventional wold view) again. So the counseling for ex-cult-members should ideally come from a second tier view and address the needs which are prevalent at the moment. This can be the need for security and belonging (blue), regaining orange rationality and independence, and then green tolerance. It is of course very important to encourage them to take up again their spiritual search and find a teacher or technique of their choice, with the help of an integral spiritual map - if they want it.
1 Note: The concepts which I use are explained in www.integralworld.com - regarding the memes (and colors) see there "Spiral Dynamics".
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