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In and Out of Madness
On postmodernism, aperspectival madness and resurrecting the ego
Years ago, at the suggestion of a mentor, I picked up Ken Wilbur’s A Brief History of Everything.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, it was described to me only as a ‘post-Jungian’ model of philosophy.
I won’t dive into the totality of wisdom to be garnered from that book here, but rather talk around one concept that has stuck with me perhaps more than any other in the book: Aperspectival Madness.
A primer on postmodernism
Postmodernists are "skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races”. It’s furthermore a common view of postmodernists to view truth as relative, ie- that it should always be reviewed and appended with the caveat ‘as it pertains to.’
I’m starting with the philosophical condition of postmodernism because it is this framework that spurred Wilbur to coin the concept of aperspectival madness. In his words:
I summarized this postmodern disaster with the term “aperspectival madness” because the belief that there is no truth—that no perspective has universal validity (the “aperspectival” part)—when pushed to extremes, as postmodernism was about to do, resulted in massive self-contradictions and ultimate incoherency (the “madness” part).
— Ken Wilber, Trump and a Post-Truth World
Here’s a graphic I liked that further illustrates the transition to madness as a result of viewing the world through the lens of postmodernism:
Macro matches micro
I’m abbreviating too ‘AM’ from this section on to save you from reading ‘Aperspectical Madness’ 6 more times.
AM is what happens when the individual embodies a similar model of thinking as is described with postmodernism. However, Wilbur doesn’t actually view AM as a result of postmodernism at the macro scale, rather it’s the other way around. Postmodernism at the macro level is the product of more and more individuals becoming infected with AM through their psychological development and failing to transcend to the next stage. In other words, our group psychology has been built from the bottom up.
In Wilbur’s framework of integral theory, AM arrises in an individual when they have begun to move past the ‘Formal-Reflexive’ stage and into the ‘Vision-Logic’, where:
Vision-Logic adds up all the different perspectives, and therefore it doesn’t automatically privilege any one perspective over the others—it is aperspectival.
… And you can get lost in this new aperspectival awareness of vision-logic, because all perspectives start to become relative and interdependent; there is nothing absolutely foundational; no final place to rest your head and say, I’ve got it!
— Ken Wilbur, A Brief History of Everything
Life after death
Ego death is an idea in psychoanalysis and mythology that may be briefly characterized by the loss of subjective self. I’m bringing up this term because I think it’s name paints a clear metaphor for how I can wrap this up with a path out of AM.
This detachment from egocentrism as we begin to explore the infinite landscape of perspectives around us is largely what leaves afflicted folks amidst AM. An inadvertent byproduct of this exploration is that it leads to the devaluation of our own perspectives.
So how does one escape the madness?
Your ego has to come back from the dead.
Last week, I talked about fear as a trigger. AM is similar in that it offers no value as a resting state. Once it arrives as a product of psychological development, it is meant to signal a need for transcendence. The key thing to understand to work towards completing that process is that while truth may be relative, not all truths are equal. It takes courage, integrity and a heathy ego to determine independently what is a good truth amidst others.
“We need our egos to navigate the world, to regulate our instincts, to exercise our executive function, and to mediate the conflicting demands of self and other.”
A healthy ego that has undergone resurrection is better situated in the self than an un-resurrected ego to help us navigate the world. Even though it is sometimes wrong, our egos help us to weigh our internal value mechanisms with the external and determine a better path forward—and in the case of Aperspectival Madness a path out.
In hindsight, I suspect that I was pushed towards this book as a product of my own phase of AM. In saying that, I also don’t think I’m 100% through the weeds. This outlet is one way I’m exercising ego to amplify the things I see value in, and formulate independent ideas around subjects I feel are important.
Next week, I’ll be publishing my monthly book summary on a little number called Shadow Dance by David Richo.
Always forward, never backward.