Hierachy 1: healthy and natural or unhealthy and oppressive?

Consider your reaction to the following statements:

X is better than Y

X deeper than Y

X is more mature than Y

X is higher than Y

X is more evolved than Y

X is more valuable than Y

These are all statements that imply some kind of ranking or hierarchy of value between X and Y. They suggest that X in some sense holds a more senior position in that hierarchy than Y.

In my experience these type of statements make a great many modern educated people deeply uneasy especially when applied to human affairs. The suspicion is that they represent an attempt to legitimize the oppression, marginalisation or exploitation of X on Y. This reaction is very healthy as there are a great many rankings and hierarchies that have been used to justify the domination and subjugation of one group over another.

However if we reject all such ranking systems we are left with no way to build an integrated whole in any field and are left simply with a heap of isolated fragments of knowledge .

There is a way of understanding hierarchy that dismantles this danger. All the statements at the start of this Blog are legitimate if and only if: X is more inclusive than Y.  Let me explain:

consider the following hierarchy:

level 1: A

level 2: A+B

level 3: A+B+C

level 4: A+B+C+D

We can say that, for example, level 3 is ‘higher’ than level 2 because it contains all the elements of level 2  (A and B) and adds something new (C). We could say that level 3 transcends and includes level 2, or that level 3 is more inclusive than level 2. A couple of examples may bring this to life:

letters, words, paragraphs, chapters, books

particles, atoms, molecules, cells, organisms

individual, family, tribe, nation, humanity

These three hierarchies follow the pattern outlined above. Each more senior level includes all the junior levels and adds something new. These types of hierarchies are known as natural hierarchies (or more technically holarchies).

Any value ranking system that does not have this pattern of transcend and include is illegitimate and is simply a cover for some form of oppression or exploitation.

This is a fundamental rule and throughout this Blog any valuing, promotion or encouragement towards one viewpoint or perspective over another should be tested against this principle.

The next post will continue this theme.

What is the ‘Integral Approach?’


‘Integral’, as used in this Blog refers to the vision, or map, of reality developed by American philosopher Ken Wilber over many years and many books.

Ken Wilber starts from the premise that ‘everybody is  right’:

‘In this Theory of Everything, I have one major rule: Everybody is right. More specifically; everybody – including me – has some important piece of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honoured, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace, a genuine theory of everything…..

To Freudians I say have you looked at Buddhism? to Buddhists I say, Have you studied Freud? To liberals I say, Have you thought about how important some conservative ideas are? To conservatives I say, Can you perhaps include a more liberal perspective? And so on and so on…..’ 

Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything

The challenge becomes then: How and in what way can all these important truths about the world be put together in a conceptual framework that demonstrates how they all fit together. If we can do this we can start to untangle and resolve some of the intractable disputes, conflicts and disagreements that so plague our current intellectual discourse.

The core concept that is used to start to build such a comprehensive map is that of natural hierarchy. It is the misunderstanding of this idea that, in my experience, is the main barrier to building acceptance and understanding of the integral approach. The next post will lay out the precise way that the notion of hierarchy is to be understood.