By Joe Perez
Recently statements from Ken Wilber and the Special Committee of the Board of Directors for the Center for World Spirituality (CWS) have appeared online regarding Marc Gafni. They have made up their minds. They have chosen to continue to work with Marc Gafni in his vision for evolving a world-centric spirituality based on Integral principles. They appear to have seen through the misinformation and distortions which have appeared in the blogosphere since September.
In his new statement, Ken Wilber says that Marc is a very gifted spiritual teacher who has the capacity to be a “good spiritual leader” of the CWS. He affirms that Marc is serious about doing his inner work, despite not being dysfunctional. In a 2008 statement with Sally Kempton, Wilber wrote:
Marc, more than almost anyone we know, lives from a profound sense of being responsible to love. In practice, that means that when he loves someone—and he has the gift for genuinely loving many people– he is willing to offer whatever he has. This willingness to love and give himself—sometime against his own best interests—is one of Marc’s remarkable qualities. One aspect of this gift for loving is that people who spend time with him will often experience a natural opening of the heart, which gets played out in their own relationships and work life. Marc’s open heartedness is unusual, and has often been misunderstood, just as his spontaneous, playful and experimental nature has been misunderstood…
I also have high regard for Marc’s spiritual gifts, brilliant and original teachings, and have experienced his opening to Eros which expresses itself in unusual warmth and open heartedness. I applaud the decision by Wilber and the Board of CWS and am glad to be holding a similar vision of a spirituality that advocates careful ethical discernment and which calls us to listen to many different voices and become informed with many different perspectives before exercising judgment. While not everyone will make the same decision, I’d like to share a few of the observations that have led me to support Marc Gafni’s leadership role in the Integral spiritual world.
As you may know, I’ve been tracking these complexities since late September, when I first started to pay attention to Bill Harryman’s Integral Options Café blog. Although I’d never spoken to Marc up to that period of time, I have since then met him personally, spoken to several persons with close knowledge of the events, and familiarized myself with many of the relevant aspects of the story. (A list of my past posts on the topic can be found at the end of this post.)
After having spent dozens of hours in conversation, interviews, and reading relevant archival material, I can find no basis for rejecting Marc Gafni’s teachings and indicting his ethics in any way that he has not already publicly acknowledged, as when he says that he is sorry that the privacy he asked of the two women he dated was psychologically painful to one of them (the one who was not a student).
While I’m not done with my research into the entire history of the controversy, I feel it’s important in the interim to let my readers know about my findings so far. I’m coming to the conclusion that this may all be much ado about nothing. Where there is smoke, there is not always fire. Sometimes there is smoke that is intentionally and maliciously planted there and sometimes there is only the illusion of smoke.
Unfortunately several persons closest to the controversy are not willing to go “on the record” at this time with the sort of details which would help the public form an educated opinion. This puts me in the difficult position of passing along anonymously sourced claims which are subject to possible errors or withholding the story and simply passing along my judgments without explaining their basis. I hope that a more complete story can be told in the future; meanwhile, here are a few general remarks that could help to bring more light into our discussion.
Basically, Marc and his partner (to whom he was not married and had supported in having a child) had stepped out, by mutual agreement, from a monogamous domestic relationship. He then dated two women at the same time. Both women knew he was not monogamous before dating him and both knew of each other for most of the two or so months they went out. The parties all agreed mutually to hold the relationships private for a while, and eventually one woman came to feel the deception required by the privacy was too much for her to handle, especially their joint decision not to inform Tami Simon, CEO of Sounds True, with whom she was closely associated in professional contexts. She did not intend to stop seeing Marc, but decided that the best course of action was to inform Tami that she was dating Marc.
Subsequently, Tami and the second woman had a series of conversations the results of which, from what I can tell, resulted in the woman who was dating Marc at the time coming to believe that she had been “emotionally damaged” (according to Simon’s public statement). Tami is in a position of power over this second woman. Tami has declined to answer the question as to whether she had any role in influencing the woman to feel “emotionally damaged.” About six weeks later, Tami issued a negative statement to a blog known to regularly traffic in malicious attacks on spiritual teachers. This blog post had substantial ripple effects through the blogosphere, setting off hundreds of comments on blogs many of which brought out savage character attacks by anonymous commenters from outside the Integral community.
In my opinion, Marc’s judgment was problematic in a few practical respects but he did not deserve Tami Simon’s moralizing rebuke. Simon refused to comment as to whether there is an ethics policy for Sounds True authors or if she held Marc to a special higher standard to which other authors are not held accountable. In rebuking Marc publicly, she appears to have been motivated by factors outside of public view, which when taken into account cast doubt on her characterization of Marc.
Tami did not tell people that she was in close contact with a third woman, one who has been centrally involved in false statements about Marc, and who has been actively and even obsessively working against him for many years. Tami also did not share that this person represented a group that had been pressuring Tami to withdraw the chapter on false complaints in Mariana Caplan’s book, which at the time had just been published by Sounds True. Tami also did not share that she put the second woman —- her friend, who had just told her she was dating Marc —- in touch with this purveyor of vitriolic attacks on Marc. This person’s intense agenda of vilification, which she downloaded to Tami and the second woman, could not have been without substantial influence. These are just a few of the related facts that she chose not to share in her public statement. I don’t think she intended to deceive anyone, but her words have nevertheless done truth a disservice.
Tami Simon, as I have noted, declined my repeated requests to interview with her. Effectively, she did a “hit and run” piece on one of the most gifted scholars, organizational leaders, and spiritual teachers in the Integral / Evolutionary Spirituality world. She offered no factual evidence to back up her specific charges against Marc and her central moral claim — that Marc’s private relationship with his student was wrong — is steeped in some sort of unacknowledged Oppression Theory-based ideology which is inadequate to explain the complexities of this particular situation. She also believes that Marc should have violated his commitment to privacy and shared the relationship with her (Tami). Marc has denied making the promise to her that she alleged he did, and she has refused to back up her assertion. Marc says that he promised Tami not to create a scandal; it is arguable that Tami and not Marc turned a private matter into a public spectacle. None of this however by itself warrants the kind of actions that Tami took in response which were obviously motivated by much more then these issues.
Since she used first-person language (i.e., “I statements”) to express her criticisms of Marc Gafni, she can probably make a case for evading responsibility for technically defaming him, but the question of moral culpability remains open. My expectation and hope is that the claims in her blog-delivered attack will be questioned by readers with careful discernment or that she will come forward with facts that will show her behavior in a more comprehensive light.
Marc’s public statements — which Simon probably knew about (and if she didn’t, as his publisher she ought to have known) — made it clear that he has articulated a sophisticated approach to teacher / student relationships in post-conventional contexts. From what I have been able to ascertain, Marc behaved in accordance with his public teachings. Simon did not speak to the student of Marc’s to learn her point of view nor did she make an effort to get Marc’s point of view or clarify highly disputed claims prior to making her public assault on his character.
Instead, she probably based her statement against Marc primarily on conversations she had with another who has a documented history of making grotesquely false accusations and reprehensible legal complaints against him. It is quite likely, from what I have been able to learn, that Simon did not even review the very extensive and compelling documentary evidence vindicating Marc of the baseless charges against him by the woman with whom she was in close communication in the days prior to her statement.
Simon listened to women providing a very selective and distorted picture of events but didn’t get Marc’s point of view, an apparent neglect of her responsibility to get the facts right before throwing stones. Why she would lapse in her diligence I cannot be certain, and perhaps she will address a few unanswered questions in the future.
My best guess is that she bought into the poisonous “hermeneutic of hate” spread as gospel by the anti-Gafni cohort. Perhaps she also reacted out of anger and a self-protective fear that Sounds True would be attacked as “guilty by association” if some chose to turn their guns on her next as an “ennabler.”. Was she mad that he dated the specific woman he did because of her relationship with that woman? Was she afraid of possible harm to her professional reputation, and therefore she went public with an unusual critical statement? It seems possible.
Notably Marc during this whole story, who is arguably the injured party, has refused as far as I can tell, to attack any of the parties. If you know Gafni at all, you know that he is genuinely committed to repair and healing. Marc has offered to do a facilitated public or private dialogue with the parties to this issue but there have been no takers.
If Tami Simon were the only person to ever criticize Marc Gafni for his behavior in his love life, her statement would have been greeted with a much different reaction. Unfortunately, she selected as the target for her statement a particularly vulnerable man: a spiritual teacher with a long history of public post-conventional teaching and a small group of highly vocal attackers who have pursued an Internet vendetta against him for years under the disguise of “protecting” vulnerable people.
The whole affair is the most complex that I’ve ever read about … and I’m not even nearly done researching the archive of documents on the case, or speaking with all the most important players. Some of the most helpful backdrop of the story is told by Mariana Caplan in “An Unexpected Twist: False Complaints Against Teachers” and a detailed article “Trial by Internet: an archetypal spiritual drama” in Catalyst Magazine. The picture that emerges is that of a spiritual teacher — Marc Gafni — who has been repeatedly demonized by a vocal group of people despite a paucity of evidence and the testimony of many smart, sane people who insist that he is nothing of the sort.
It isn’t necessary to think that the women who have come out against Marc over the years are all delusional or mentally unstable, although at least one prominent attacker has a bizarre history of unstable statements (claiming on Oprah in the 1980s to have been the victim of a Jewish satanic cult which forced her to murder babies and refuses to recant her story). This is weird stuff. Nor is it necessary to claim that there’s a “vast first-tier conspiracy” against Marc (to adapt a term once used by Hillary Clinton), though evidence is overwhelming that the online vendetta against him is perpetuated largely by a handful of folks who are all connected to each other although they do not disclose that fact and who are apparently obsessed with ruining his reputation by spreading a mix of truth, distortions, and lies by posting anonymously or under multiple pseudonyms on comment boxes (sometimes purporting to speak as the moral conscience of the “entire Jewish community” as they do so). Very strange, indeed.
What’s most important, as I see it, is that when you look at the evidence with an open mind with careful attention to separate facts from interpretations of fact, you find that a picture emerges of Marc Gafni dramatically at odds with what you read in the seediest corners of the Internet. Instead of viewing Marc’s evolution through stages of consciousness — from ethnocentric to worldcentric, for example — and instead of viewing his evolving teachings on Eros and spirituality in a life affirming manner, they choose to make Marc out to be a monster.
It is significant that almost all of the group was directly involved in supporting what Mariana Caplan termed “the false complaints” against Marc almost six years ago. It may well be that after being culpable of making or supporting the promulgation of false complaints — truly wrong acts from any ethical perspective — the only choice that remains to them is to try to ruin Marc Gafni. To feel good about themselves, they must continue to view Gafni perjoratively. Therefore, they conclude, anyone today who believes Gafni must be delusional and duped, seduced by his charm and charisma. Accordingly, they feel justified in ignoring everything they say which challenges their own beliefs.
Marc’s detractors post with missives reeking of self-righteousness and an unwillingness to own any shadow or responsibility for unethical, demonstrably distorted or false communications. They do not acknowledge when they have passed along falsehoods or correct the record. They usually hide behind anonymity. They inaccurately paint Marc’s defenders as holding to a “situational ethics.” They have to a person, so far as I can tell, all refused to engage Marc in direct dialogue aimed at healing.
Marc has never claimed to be perfect or to have always lived up to his high ethical ideals, and he’s accepted his share of responsibility for the complexities as best he sees it. But for the small group of vigilante crusaders fueling the fires in the blogosphere, this isn’t enough. They will not rest until Marc apologizes for “incidents” that did not in fact occur, except in the minds of “victims” steeped in an Oppression Theory ideology and a poisonous hermeneutic which does not permit them to accept any responsibility for their role in the messiness of their relationships with Marc or their role in bearing false witness.
I have compassion for anyone who claims suffering, but I can’t accept their ideological distortions which divide people into victims and perpetrators and which has constructed a bizarre, demonizing narrative around Marc Gafni that is not reality-based. I am also reminded of Mariana Caplan’s point that much malice hides behind the fig leaf of “I was hurt.” Claims of victimization are not always to be assumed valid, especially when they don’t pass the smell test. Sometimes people exaggerate the hurt in relationships in order to inflict undeserved damage on the other side.
Of course, from a perfectly ordinary point of view, there are genuine victims and perpetrators of terrible acts of exploitation. No credible evidence exists that I have seen that over the past 30 or so years Marc Gafni has been involved in any terrible acts of exploiting others; however, some of his intimate, consensual, adult relationships have involved hurt feelings by persons who later blamed him for causing their own emotional pain.
When he was very young, Marc was accused of incidents by two young women, whose version of events he denied vehemently; a lie detector test by a highly regarded expert later backed Marc’s version of events. In any case, no complaints were ever brought against him. Both of these stories were spread and encouraged by an Orthodox rabbi who disliked Gafni, and whom Gafni had been in a personal conflict. This man has continued to encourage and support various attacks on him for some thirty years. This same rabbi was a key supporter of the disreputable advocate mentioned above (the one who appeared on Oprah claiming to have murdered babies as part of a satanic cult). It was this same person who sowed the ground, for over twenty years, for the hermemenutic of hatred that others later picked up on.
Gafni has a strong presence with a penetrating and challenging transmission. It is understandable that he would elicit negative reaction from some percentage of his audiences over the years, especially as he may have outgrown theologically the level of consciousness of the communities in which he resided. Gafni can catalyze people’s confrontation with their own shadow. He calls people out in a deep way. At the same time, most people who hear Gafni find him compelling and profound. I sense his love and goodness and know many others do as well. But given the existence of the negative prism of Internet attack, any negative response to Gafni can potentially be filtered through the demonizing prism, and then linked together on the web by those invested in keeping the demonization alive.
Furthermore, in my experience Gafni’s most vocal detractors generally engage in a sort of group-think which perpetuates a myth that only those people who dislike Marc Gafni know the real man and everyone who likes him needs to be constantly reminded that he is disreputable. The fact that others think the same way they do seems evidence enough to persist in their beliefs even after they are presented with counter-factual evidence. In this way, they remind me of birthers who deny that Barack Obama was born in America or the Clinton Derangement Syndrome sufferers who believe Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster. Many millions of people hold these false beliefs sincerely and the mere prevalence of an idea does not make it better.
I hope Marc’s attackers will look within and not simply lash out with projections of malice and patronizing attacks on more reality-based thinkers as “Gafni’s puppets” as they have sometimes done. I hope they will own that they have situated their beliefs about him in the dubious context of an intellectual rubric of Oppression Theory, especially a sort of victim-feminism which disempowers women and ignores the voices of the many women who have found in Marc an ethical, gifted, and brilliant teacher and friend. We will see.
I’m glad that the Tami Simon/Bill Harryman-manufactured hoopla is now coming to a close. The statements by Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, Warren Farrell, and the Special Committee of the Board of the Center for World Spirituality sound true to me, and I am proud to be part of a spiritual movement in which many leaders are capable of looking at even the most complex ethical quagmires with a multi-perspectival, all quadrant, all levels lens. The world desperately needs more integral, evolutionary visions … and we cannot afford to be distracted with faux scandals perpetuated largely by First-Tier ideologies in action and Integralists who haven’t exercised very careful discernment and owned their own shadows.
Marc is facing these complexities with courage and determination to emerge stronger and more conscious than ever before as evidenced in his statement of closure. Now I look forward to moving on to the important business of helping to co-create the framework and foundation for a cosmo-centric spirituality which is capable of bringing about breakthroughs in healing the world and feeding souls hungry for a more radically expansive love and life more whole, passionate, and ethical.