Scandal in the House of Integral (So What Else Is New?)

by | May 18, 2006

Ken has often used the example of the highly developed spiritual teacher who acts from a lower level with respect to psycho sexual or moral development to illustrate his premise that development does not proceed uniformly across all lines/streams. Now the Integral world has its own poster boy for to illustrate the point, Rabbi Marc Gafni, who has been formally charged by three members of his (former) community in Israel with some form or other of sexual abuse (reports vary from consensual sex to assault to rape). Gafni has written a letter acknowledging the accusations and apologizing for his choices.
Ken Wilber has weighed in, suggesting that Gafni suffers from an illness and that treatment may restore (?) him to health. Until that time, Wilber wisely holds that Gafni should not teach. For all I know Gafni does have a mental illness leading him to act out sexually. I’d prefer to have that assessment made by someone trained to assess psychosexual health and, furthermore, someone without a personal stake in the outcome. I love that Ken is standing by his friend, eyes open to the damage he has done, heart open to the man. I’m not happy that Ken has arrogated to himself the role of sussing out the most moral response. Frankly, I don’t think the situation is so incredibly complex as to require him to do the heavy lifting. In this situation, I would prefer that he use his prodigious intelligence to provide facts, perspectives, and an invitation to think for ourselves. BTW, Ken is wonderful, but I feel secure in my assessment that he is not a good role model for balanced development, particularly when it comes to leadership, power, or sexuality. And there’s no reason why he should be.
I learned about the Gafni scandal from a post to the Seattle Integral list (search Yahoo Groups if you are interested). Here’s a portion, slightly edited for clarity (and style; so sue me), of my response.

Gafni may be ill and/or he may be acting from a lower developmental strata with respect to sex and, perhaps, power. I think it’s important that we not assume that a highly developed spiritual teacher is acting out the shadow of a high level of development when he is sexually inappropriate with students. Could it simply be that he’s retarded? (I mean that in the most integrally correct way.) I’ve noticed in myself that it is easy to explain my weaknesses, biases, and character flaws as expressions of my ever-advancing development. It’s one of my favorite hobbies. It’s also a developmental dead end.
My visceral response to the initial post about Gafni was distress at what felt like a rapid process of sanitizing. On one hand, kudos to II [Integral Institute] for acting promptly to protect students and to acknowledge problems in its ranks. Yet it bugged me that there were no specific allegations, no links to specific information, no opportunity to hear another side. I guess I like my dramas a little messier. What “disturbed” me (and I am not claiming that this is in any sense right or insightful, it’s just a report of my uncensored response) is the notion that this is “disturbing.”
My dictionary defines disturbing as “interfering with normal arrangement or functioning; causing to feel anxious; interrupting or intruding on …. from Latin disturbare, from dis- ‘utterly’ + turbare ‘disturb’ (from turba ‘tumult’ ).”
Forgive me, but the news of Gafni’s alleged offenses seems pretty normal to me. Since when has an educational, religious, or therapeutic movement or institution been free of sexual scandal? I’m not condoning sexual harassment or misbehavior (though I am curious about how these are defined in the current situation). I’m just not surprised, and I guess I find it disturbing that the integral community would be. And I’m not being fair. Of course it is disturbing to discover or even suspect that one’s peer or friend or teacher has violated a commonly held norm or value, let alone that s/he has harmed another. Still, let’s not be disturbed in the sense of “how could that happen here?” I propose it is more valuable to ask, “How could it not?”
Other questions that come to mind:

“What is it that would blind us to the likelihood that we (i.e., the integral community) are vulnerable to these violations?”

“In what ways do I/might I collude in this blindness?”

“What is it that is disturbed by this? What does that reveal about what I need/my community needs to grow in wholeness and health?”

“What does Marc need to grow in wholeness and health? If this were not a problem, what would that mean?” (I mean, if the fact that this has happened is not a problem but merely a fact with all the natural consequences included, then what? If we regard this as a “normal” expression of our collective development as it IS rather than as we would like it to be, what do we see? Want? Need? Know? Love?”

In all likelihood this rant is entirely the product of my own preoccupation with wishful thinking and denial. I love imagining that the rest of the integral community is free from hand-wringing responses and has already long passed me on the road to looking at these and other questions.
Love and confusion (it fuels the light),

I’m not a psychotherapist and I don’t know Marc Gaffni, so I don’t have an opinion as to his having or not having a mental or emotional illness. I thank him for inviting us to be awake to blind spots in ourselves, those whom we admire, and in the collectives in which we participate.