Why Spiral Dynamics Now?

Bruce Charlton writes:

“Actually, I think this kind of secular, abstract, group-level analysis is now revealed to be intrinsically leftist – feeding into the totalitarian-bureaucratic world view; whatever the intentions may be. I think we absolutely need (here, now) to be grounded in the individual, personal, experienced, intuited – although it’s difficult to break old bad habits, I find.”

Spiral dynamics can be a useful part of one’s intellectual arsenal. Just a tool, and definitely not an all-explaining theory of everything. The pathologies of the Green level are hard to understand without some such perspective.

We need both a vision of shared humanity, and a recognition of the supreme value of the individual Person made in the image of God; sharing this divine inheritance as people. Spiral dynamics, it is true, taps into communal aspects of the human mind. It is certainly not a stand-alone ethic. But, it attempts to recognize that we need every “type” of person and every type lives within us – either realized or as developmental potential. It also has great explanatory power for why people behave in certain ways and points to clusters of ideas and tendencies that cohere into a worldview. Continue reading

Sigrid Undset Crosses Russia

Return to the Future 01

Seeing things plain, not lying to oneself, not subscribing to the delusions of others – these virtues, seemingly so simple, prove in life difficult to achieve and tricky to exercise.  An inevitable imitative pressure assimilates people to one another so that mere opinion, received but never vetted, comes to function as a surrogate reality, in the cave-like error of which people stumble about their errands in a lurching mockery of witting behavior.  The ancients worried about false or second-hand judgment (doxa) or about superstition.  Modern people must grapple with ideology.  The critique of ideology is the single most important exercise that an individual can undertake who wants to stand in truth and by his own lights against the conformist pressure of public opinion, or what dissenters nowadays call political correctness.  But this endeavor is complicated by the fact that contemporary ideology claims, of itself, to be a critique of ideology.  This verbal legerdemain began with Karl Marx, who identified the emergent industrial order as the ideology that he named Capitalism, to which his own Communism was supposed to be the clarifying antidote.  The ability to negotiate such a mental hall-of-mirrors is rarer than it should be.  Those who can do it – or have done it – deserve to be commemorated.

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Clare Graves and Spiral Dynamics

Clare Graves is an American psychologist who started teaching in the 1940s and retired in 1978. His “emergent cyclical theory of human development” 1began by asking people to describe their conception of a successful person, and then ranked them in a developmental hierarchy. Someone’s notion of success reveals what he admires most, and thus his values and ideals.[1]

Don Beck contacted Graves after Graves published an article in The Futurist in 1974 outlining his theory.[2] Graves’ health was declining and Beck wanted to make sure Grave’s ideas were not lost. Beck was later joined by Christopher Cowan with whom he wrote Spiral Dynamics in 1996 twenty-two years later. They introduced color-coding for the levels.[3] The levels cycle between being more individualistic and more conformist.[4] Each level represents a survival advantage over the next and tends to be an improvement. Purple tribal life offers an advantage over Beige “bands” of people wandering the savanna, while Red empires offer more protection still; messing with a city in an Empire risks the wrath of, say, the giant Roman Imperial Army, while Blue law-governed societies are more stable and predictable. At the Blue level, even the King is supposed to be below the law, not above it. Knowing what the rules are, even if the rules are unfair or imperfect, is generally better than an unpredictable free-for-all. Continue reading

The Burden of Proof

The phrase “burden of proof” has to do with who it is who needs to back up his claims with evidence; the one who needs to prove what he is saying. The person who has the burden of proof is the one making a controversial claim. If the claim is noncontroversial, no argument, evidence, reasons, or proof, is necessary to have the claim accepted. Where no proof is necessary, there is no burden of proof. The person questioning what is normally considered a noncontroversial claim then has the burden of proof because he is making the controversial claim that the accepted wisdom is wrong. 1Fluoride is added to almost all toothpaste because it has been accepted as a scientific fact that fluoride is good for teeth. If someone disputes this claim, he has the burden of proof to counter a noncontroversial claim, whereas someone asserting that fluoride is good for teeth has no need to marshal evidence for his assertion. When Copernicus claimed that the earth orbits the sun, the burden of proof was on him, because that was not accepted wisdom at the time. It certainly looked as though the sun orbits the earth. Having the burden of proof in no way suggests that a person is wrong. Who has the burden of proof is just a matter of logic; not of who is right and who is wrong. Continue reading

Skirmishes between the two cultures in an anti-intellectual age

The two cultures are, of course, those identified by C. P. Snow half a century ago:  the humanities and the sciences.  A lament of Snow and others is that the practitioners of these cultures are drifting apart, making an integrated intellectual life impossible.  There are worse things than ignoring each other, though.  Resources are finite, and status is always a zero-sum game, so competition and fighting are to be expected.  Snow himself thought English universities favored the humanities too heavily; proposals for reconciliation are usually to be on one party’s terms or the other’s, with a corresponding adjustment of relative status.

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Cross-post: a question of expertise

This recent post by Professor Cocks relates to something I wrote recently at Throne and Altar.

Contemporary society is unofficially organized by two principles.

  1. Authority, competence, and trustworthiness is established solely through the possession of credentials testifying to a relevant education and training.
  2. Ultimate authority over the entire social order belongs to the media, which adjudicates social status of both individuals and groups and tells people what their opinions on all matters of the day should be.

These two principles are not obviously in harmony.  What training do opinion journalists have to justify their vast power?  What credentialing process qualifies one to be a philosopher king?

The question will probably strike readers, as it would have struck Plato, as grotesque.  Surely the qualification to be a philosopher king, or more generally to have one’s opinions on all subjects taken seriously, is wisdom, something more likely to come from hard experience than from any university degree.  That’s not the point though.  The point is, if you were on board with the program of the modern world, you would respect only credentialed expertise.  You would also read the New York Times religiously and believe whatever you read there.  However, it is quite doubtful that the writers at the Times can boast any expertise that would justify such credulity.

We could easily look up the degrees and academic publication history of the writers at the major journals.  Some would be impressive, although I expect most wouldn’t be.  However, as soon as one poses the question, one realizes that no list of degrees would justify the obeisance these journals receive.

The Times and other big newspapers could claim expertise as journalists.  It’s what some of their employees were trained in, and they have interviewed their subjects and thus have the “expertise of direct witness” to report what they’ve seen and heard.  If they were humble newsmen just reporting what they’ve seen and heard, this would be enough.  But they also endorse political movements and candidates, propose an authoritative interpretation of American history, declare scientific hypotheses off limits, and in many other ways behave as if possessed of a universal competence of judgment.

Amusingly, one of the things they do with this universal competence is ridicule people who defy expert opinion.  Only experts are qualified to have opinions according to the most influential people, who have no relevant expertise on most of the subjects they write on.

Weepies, Smirks and the Ordeal of Classroom Civility

There is a special class of university students who are treated very much like children with a peanut allergy, the substance from which they are shielded being any hint that they and their opinions are not welcome in the university.  They are protected by the doctrine of “inclusion,” and the doctrine of “inclusion” predicates that, absent this doctrine, these students would be reduced to tears by the taunts and mockery of the uncouth oafs that have, time out of mind, monopolized the ivied halls. Continue reading

On the wrongness of “common wisdom” and “received opinion”

When someone knows a great deal about a topic, it is a very common experience to find that the way it is being reported on, and the “common knowledge” on the topic, is wrong. The tendency then is to think, oh well, the reporters messed up on this one thing, but then to go back to trusting that they are reporting reasonably accurately on other topics. We are all limited finite creatures with limited time and we can be extremely well-informed on only a few topics, so none of us will ever know just how many false things are being presented to us. But, it is reasonable and rational to extrapolate from the fact that when you do know a lot about a topic the “common knowledge” is almost always wrong, to the idea that perhaps most of what we are told is incorrect. This includes leaving out things vital for an adequate understanding of events – lying by omission. An extra reason for being skeptical, is that experts on other topics have the same experience. If it were just one person whose special knowledge contradicted “received opinion” it could plausibly be a fluke, but it is not. Continue reading

Violation at Leak’s Store: The Bryan Lynchings of 1874

“The stern underlying principle of the people who commit these barbarities is one that has its root deep in the basic passions of humanity; the determination to put an end to the ravishing of their women by an inferior race, or by any race, no matter what the consequences.” 

Thomas Nelson Page, The Negro: The Southerner’s Problem (1904)

If we use the word ravish nowadays, it will be in the literary sense of seized and transported by delight.  We use the words rapt and rapture in much the same way.  To be rapt is, for us, to be in the grip of a strong interest: to be fascinated or mesmerized.  Apart from premillennial dispensationalists, we use the word rapture as a synonym for bliss.  We are accustomed to hear of a ravishing beauty, of rapt attention, or of rapturous applause, and these pleasant associations make it hard for us to connect these words with the violent act we call rape. Continue reading