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"Boomeritis"

In reading Ken Wilber's new novel Boomeritis, I came across the following paragraph:

"'Life is for experiencing each moment,' says green. 'We can all come to understand who we are and how wondrous it is to be human if we will only accept that everyone is equal and important. Hierarchies are oppressive and marginalizing. All must share in the joy of togetherness and fulfillment. Each spirit is connected to all others in our community; every soul travels together. We are interdependent beings in search of love and involvement. The community grows by synergizing life forces; artificial divisions take away from everyone. Groups of people working together are the best way to advance knowledge. Bad attitudes and negative beliefs dissolve once we look inside each person and uncover the richness within. Peace and love are truly for all beings, including all the inhabitants of this earth, our ecological brothers and sisters.'"

The paragraph is a quote from one of the characters in the book, who was summarizing what a certain group of people believe. It was part of a description of the "green" level of consciousness, that which seemed to bloom in the Baby Boomer generation, in reaction to the previous rational-scientific ("orange") level, which had dominated our culture for centuries (plus, it needs to be said, in reaction to the Vietnam War and its military draft, which were perceived as the direct offspring of the technological mind, and an immediate threat to the youth of 1968).

Chronologically, I'm not a Boomer, but in 1968 I bought the whole kit and kaboodle (just short of walking out of my life and joining a commune). I grieved after the fading of The Dream—the dream expressed in the paragraph quoted above. It's interesting that my son is at just the tail end of the Boomer generation, but he doesn't buy any of it--he's more like the Generation X folks, full of rebellion against the "age of the flower children." First thing he did out of high school was join the armed forces.

As much as "The Greening of America" was needed just then, according to Wilber, the Age of Aquarius wasn't the Last Word. The green level of consciousness is one of "pluralistic relativism," an awareness that not all truth can be objectively determined. Meaning and values are often found to depend upon context. "Boomeritis" is Wilber’s label for a consciousness that is stuck in its own narcissism—the belief that, "If all things are relative, then my viewpoint is as good as anybody's." But if that’s true, then logically so is the statement itself just as relative and lacking a firmer perspective.

I've experienced that dilemma in my own thinking. Clinging to the idea that "peace, freedom and happiness" were available to us if only we would stop and think, I participated in a lot of New Age activities and movements. I was enchanted by the freedom promised in "community building" groups such as TORI: "We have no rules here. Each of us must decide for themselves what is the best way to be." But of course there were rules. The few people who attended without the expected "pluralistic relativism" mindset were given to understand that there were limits to their freedom. Reading the paragraph in Wilber just now, I was struck by how it seemed to describe how I thought of TORI. And his criticism of that point of view made me squirm. It wasn't fun to realize that my dream was a mixture of progressive and regressive tendencies.

Glancing through the book initially, I admit to feeling as though Wilber should have stuck with his usual non-fiction style of writing. It's not Vladimir Nabokov, by any stretch. But I like the way his mind works, and Boomeritis is Wilber at his clearest, when he's telling us "how it is." Half-way through the book, he's made only one glancing reference so far to Transpersonal Psychology, his principal environment. It's obvious that he's trying to reach a different audience in this book, even though it's still published by Shambhala Press, which has published many of his earlier ones. (The Marriage of Sense and Soul, published in 1998, was also intended for a more general audience, and he chose Random House to publish that.) Boomeritis is a novel, but it’s not a book to try to read on the subway going to work every morning. It's hard work, as Wilber usually is. Like Robert Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the story is just a vehicle for the development of his ideas. Unlike Persig, who sort of came up with his system all by himself, Wilber synthesizes from a vast collection of original sources. I understand he is gifted with a photographic memory, which is the only way any one person could possibly read all those other books in one lifetime. (The endnotes alone in his Sex, Ecology, Spirituality run 272 pages!)

My decades of interest in the workings of community weren’t wasted. Just as Wilber points out that there are levels of consciousness in each one of us, there are levels of group consciousness, as well. The community building efforts of people like Jack Gibb and Scott Peck emphasized only one level, and it fits primarily the "green" personal level. There are different kinds of community, and most are just as important to our cultural evolution—my favorite example being classical music. There’s no way that Beethoven’s Ninth could be performed in an "everybody’s interpretation is equally valid" atmosphere. Put a hundred people on a stage, and somebody has to be clearly and emphatically in charge. Even though that sublime music did arise from an earlier "Mythic" phase of human development, it still has value in today’s culture.

The green level recognized and legitimized individual points of view, and that's the gold nugget in Jack Gibb's dream (as well as all the proponents of Humanistic Psychology). It also allowed for those who, as I am in many groups, more listeners than active participants. Even though I have spent the last twenty years exploring the idea of community, I spend much of my time alone and liking it. "Green" is a state of mind, an idealistic view of reality.

According to Ken Wilber, it’s one level in a continuous "spectrum of consciousness" through which we evolve. The next level up is one of integration, of seeing the connections among all the forms—of life and of less complex matter—in the universe. Each level builds on—indeed, is dependent upon—the levels before it. Just as the three-year-old struggles to parse a sentence in order to find its meaning, and the twelve-year-old often finds love mystifying, we greens have great difficulty understanding how it all fits together.

Even when we sense that it must.

To read a more thorough review of Boomeritis, click here.

 

Donald Skiff, October 17, 2002

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