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.

A proper ethic is Personalist and Christian. Spiral dynamics could be understood as attempting to spread Christian charity – peace, love, and understanding – to be precise – to see what might be good, but also bad, about people as types. It is not identitarian, so it has that going for it. The levels described are both phylogenetic, applying to the group, representing various levels of cultural and social attainment, and ontogenetic, applying to the individual who recapitulates these levels within himself.

Each level has implications for how the gods are seen. It certainly does not explain away religion or theology in the manner of evolutionary psychology. And best of all, it seems accurate in that regard. So, I suppose it is secular. But it is not secularist.

Best of all, each level is intuitively obvious in some way. Red – might makes right – or at least, honor and strength, warrior ethic. Blue – fundamentalist – my way or the highway. You get into heaven by following a rigid set of rules. Orange – scientific rationalism. Green – obsessed with equality and emerging particularly in the 1960s, and Yellow is the person who has moved through Green and come out the other side, older and wiser. Not having any structures, having torn them down, Green is in a constant state of crisis and requires scapegoating to generate coherence, while imagining themselves to be the height of love and compassion. The mother bear who rips your guts out out of “compassion” for her cubs.

Ken Wilber’s analysis of Green is particularly relevant for this moment in history. Why would anyone be moronic enough not to distinguish between high and low culture, to think that every culture is as good as the next, or that all problems are solved once we are all “equal?” From a Girardian point of view, equality turns people into rivals. Without hierarchies – adults/children, teacher/student, boss/employee, humans/animals – the social world turns to chaos. That is terminal. But, if this phase is brief enough, can we survive it? Wilber offers a reason for both optimism and pessimism. Optimistically, Green is the last level that thinks it is the highest point of human cultural evolution and that it alone is right. So, if we can get over the hump to Yellow, then the danger is averted, since Yellow recognizes that each level transcends and includes the next and that there is no “highest level” developmentally, though there are higher levels. Pessimistically, by denying that legitimate hierarchies exist, and claiming that all are oppressive, the Green level person remains committed to rejecting development. All standards are rejected, such as SATs, returning us to some kind primordial ooze of leveling. I remember, having had this leveling tendency articulated and named, listening to someone and thinking “Everything this person is saying is just finding synonyms for leveling.” Leveling x, leveling y, leveling z, they say – like when John Malkovich enters the John Malkovich portal, in Being John Malkovich, and everything is just him.

The disaster of Green, when it is pathologized as it surely has, is that like “chutes and ladders,” Green pathology returns us to tribalism and magic. It is clearly not rational, and many of them are claiming that rationality itself is oppressive. That is why the protesters and rioters make no coherent demands and offer no negotiation. All structure is anathema to them. They propose no alternative except to get rid of things, or to try things like drug rehabilitation, social housing, subsidized jobs, and more welfare – all of which have been tried on criminals and failed.

Like all the lower levels, Green hates anything that is not itself and regards itself as the end of history. The fact that the rest of us exist seems to be unbearable to them.

The trouble with being “grounded in the individual, personal, experienced, intuited” is that that is not the level of discourse. And that is definitely a problem with discursive thinking. Berdyaev has lots to say on that topic. But, in order to say anything about the here and now, recourse to generalities is necessary because of the nature of speech, which is communal. If we simply restrict ourselves to personal anecdote and stop referring to say “protestors” but this person who is protesting, and that person who is protesting, then all general statements are forbidden. And to say “All general statements should be forbidden” is itself a general statement.

11 thoughts on “Why Spiral Dynamics Now?

  1. I suspect that many of us have entered the hunker down phase in dealing with the Green madness, and that this may be part of what Bruce is saying. It is too late to avert or reverse the egalitarian madness, but we non-egalitarians are now too busy protecting our own sanity, livelihood, and in some cases physical safety, for us to think about hastening the onset of a Yellow utopia. As I read your post, I thought that someone should write a post called, “The Scapegoat’s Guide to Scapegoating, or How to Survive When the Mob Sets its Sights on You.”

    I suppose one way is to “go grey” or try not to stand out. I just learned this phrase “go grey” from a survivalist website. In our case, it would seem to require that we become scapegoats in sheep’s clothing. The truth is, most traditionalists are already doing this to one extent or another. But blending in with the crowd leads to assimilation unless one has strong psychic defenses and social supports. I like to think the Orthosphere is one such support, for its writers and readers, but our formal institutions have failed us, leaving us with nothing but our personal resources. Thus we are hunkering down with our unpopular worldview “grounded in the individual, personal, experienced, intuited.”

  2. JMSmith: That all makes sense to me. You are voicing an idea that Ken Wilber also noted; if someone wants to deviate from group think, it certainly helps to have a micro-community offering moral support. Some people connected with the Orthosphere have voiced their indomitable ability to go it entirely alone; but I’m not one of them.

    • There may be rare individuals who can go it alone, but even they will be subject to fits of anger and depression. That is their psyche suffocating for want to the vital oxygen we call social validation. The fact you and I hold the opinions we do shows that we can get by with less social validation than some people, but this does not mean we can go entirely without. Social validation essentially tells us that the whole world does not hate me and I’m not going nuts. Take it away, and that’s exactly what a normal human feels. The whole world does hate me and I have gone nuts. Next thing you know, you are ranting on skid row.

      Of course you will be on skid row not only because you have gone crazy with a persecution mania, but also because you have been persecuted and are now unemployed. Your micro-community will not be powerful enough to protect you, but they can give you pointers when the scapegoaters set their sights on you. We can teach each other how to be faithful to our convictions without painting the word scapegoat on our foreheads.

  3. As someone who once danced in integral circles, it was alarming how much people threw the spiral colors around to label people or groups. It was it’s own form of tribalism and dominator hierarchy. If you said anything remotely good about the U.S., you were a blue meme traditionalist (which was three memes down from being “integral”).

    • Hi, Ted: That’s disappointing. I learned a lot from Wilber, but the four quadrant model is inadequate and he insisted everyone use it. At some point he seems to have lost his way and became the kind of cult leader that he had argued against. He wrote an insane smackdown of Trump that violated nearly all his own principles. A big part of his theory was teaching us NOT to despise Blue and how that was a cardinal mistake of Green – so those people were being intensely hypocritical. If used as directed, the hierarchy can be handy, in my opinion, but, like anything else it can be misapplied.

      I haven’t read him for years, but his ability to point out the contradictions in views like moral relativism and cultural relativism were really excellent.

  4. Well this is more than my glib remark deserved. I don’t really expect to be agreed with on this, or much else; but it is an example of the general phenomenon that quite a lot of people have made a decent diagnosis of what ails us (eg even Theodore Roszac back in the late sixties) – but the problem arises when discussing what we should do from here. I’ve come round to the conclusion that this is so radically individual and intuitive as to be almost inconceivable – because otherwise we are simply trying to reverse the progressive ‘(‘Ahrimanic’) bureaucracy, using bureaucratic forms of thinking.

    • Any solution to a problem will require intuition and reaching into the unknown. Spiral Dynamics offers no method for getting there. It seems helpful, however, to diagnose the problems with Green, and offer some vision of what going beyond Green might look like. Yellow does exist, so its not ineffable. The glib answer is to try to get Green to keep developing – but they are radically opposed to taking another step.

      • @Richard

        Also related is what I wrote today on my non-blog (as it has become!) – in which I say that destroying an evil system (ie. The System itself) is only going to be a good thing if the *motivations* for destruction are good – but when evil destroys something evil this is actually a strengthening of evil (Gandalf says this wrt Sauron and Saruman).

        I think there is an awful lot of misplaced glee about a supposed increase in left versus left infighting, as if they were going to reduce each other to nothing and the tiny minority of good people could step in and reclaim the ruins.

        On the contrary, I regard it as a demonic snare to assert that good can come from only-evil, from the competition of evil (just as this same argument is an evil snare when applied to the economy as free markets, or to biology in the evolution of complexity); on the contrary, the truth is that good can only come from good: God must have something to work with.

        Or, to be clearer, Good and evil are defined by the taking of sides – either of Good/ God or evil/ Satan. In a world where everybody is now compelled to take sides (neutrality is not possible nor tolerated by the evil side) – now (almost) everybody is on Satan’s side. Naturally the observable fights will be over which type of evil to prioritise (which strand of the negative leftist agenda), i.e. which evil coalition of isms will dominate and enslave the others…

        But if nobody (or hardly anybody) is on the side of God and of God’s continuing creation, then there will be no societal force for good. We know this from our own personal experience with groups, and I’m sure it will be just the same on larger societal scales.

        IRL (unlike mathematics) two negatives do NOT make a positive.

      • Hi, Bruce: Yes. I have some Schadenfreude about mayors getting it in the neck, but I don’t expect anything good to come out of it, except a possible return to sanity – but given how corrupted our educational systems and news media are, I’m not sure how that is supposed to work. I note that when the Bolsheviks came to power they were half expecting to get a bullet in the brain any second, and couldn’t quite believe it when they didn’t. A tiny minority of nutcases is perfectly capable of taking over a huge society, especially when the majority are cowered into obedience due to reputational destruction. I note that the Czar caused by a power vacuum by abdicating paving the way for the Bolsheviks. Let’s hope there is no power vacuum!

  5. Pingback: Why Spiral Dynamics Now? | Reaction Times

  6. @ Richard @ Bruce – Great comments on this post. I do believe this belief that something good can emerge from something evil is indeed a ‘demonic snare.’ I thought about this at the beginning of the virus measures. One side was touting about all the societal improvements and environmental sustainability measures that can emerge from the crisis, while the supposed ‘other’ side was gleefully taunting the ever increasing incoherence of the measures.

    I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of some good emerging from this evil, but I feel whatever good might emerge would be strictly restricted to the personal level (individuals consciously choosing the side of Good ). Nevertheless, barring an improbable and unlikely mass spiritual awakening, any development of good at the personal level within individuals would still not make the overall situation ‘good’.


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