Clare Graves, Spiral Dynamics, and the Purple/Blue Hybrid


The pathological version of Green thinking flattens Clare Grave’s hierarchy of moral development because it rejects the notion of superior and inferior. Strangely enough, the tendency has been to reject all of Western civilization as though leaving the caves and the savannah were terrible mistakes, and that we would be better off without such amazing cultural contributions as those of Homer, Plato, and Shakespeare.. This connects to Rousseau’s fantasy that life in “the state of nature” was a paradise. If you read Discourse on Inequality (notice the title) it is clear that “the state of nature” never existed. Rousseau imagines a completely solitary man wandering through the forest, lying down to sleep when he is tired, drinking from the river when thirsty, and helping himself to fruit from trees when he is hungry. There is no notion of parents, or family. Women get pregnant from chance and random encounters in the forest, and no one ever makes the connection between sexual intercourse and pregnancy. Rousseau, in real life, impregnated his housekeeper multiple times and immediately sent the children to orphanages where they died. He commented that he had no interest in his housekeeper as a person and that she served merely to relieve him of sexual frustration. He obviously had no interest in his children either. Arguably, Rousseau’s attitude towards romantic love, sex, and children has become rather popular – with some people seeing children as nothing but a nuisance and a misery to be got rid of through abortion or birth control – and sex as impersonal and unrelated to love.

So, Rousseau sets the model for many at the Green level of development. Rousseau was obviously highly literate, at least, if not moral, and yet he is holding up an illiterate, uncultured, barbarian as the human ideal. And it was a version of primitive man that never existed or could exist. His man in the state of nature would be eaten by wild animals, or be murdered by other humans who formed the idea of ganging up together, and since it is a world without parents, this fictional man would most likely be abandoned at birth and die just like Rousseau’s actual children.

Rousseau’s fantasy is of an animalistic version of man, stuck at the Beige level of animal needs. What is supposed to be occupying this person’s mind is not explained. The truth is that at the Beige level, there is not much of a mind to be occupied. Rousseau admits that it is the Purple level of tribal existence where storytelling, singing, and dancing occur, but he does not approve of it because people will compare their storytelling, singing, and dancing ability to their neighbors and this will make them feel bad about themselves because some will be better than others. Rousseau’s remedy for childish resentment is to go back to Beige. However, banding together in tribes for self-protection, against animals, other humans, and starvation, is a human necessity. A solitary person expelled from the tribe will not last long. So, if human beings are going to survive they will need to suck it up and accept the fact that other people are better than them. The healthy and adult thing to do is to sit back and enjoy your neighbor’s expertise. After all, what is not to like about listening to a really good story teller? If your ego is hurt by other people being good at things, that is very definitely your problem, not theirs. If everybody, for instance, killed everybody who was better at them in some way, then the last person standing would be the stupidest, most enfeebled, least talented person in existence. The funny thing is that he would of course have to be the very best at killing people to achieve this nihilistic feat, and so then he would have to kill himself as also belonging to the “superior.”

2Each level of the developmental hierarchy transcends and includes the lower levels – as we saw with someone stuck on a desert island reactivating the purely survival values of Beige. So, within Green are these lower levels. Pathological Green out of misguided “compassion” for the failures and the not so good – the ones bad at singing, dancing, storytelling, and all the rest – can become very brutal indeed. A mother bear has empathy and compassion for her little cub and she expresses this by having no empathy and compassion at all for anything or anyone she sees as a threat to the safety of her cub. Empathy or sympathy for some can mean no empathy or sympathy at all for others. In taking this attitude and behaving in this way, Green has reactivated the dormant Purple within itself. Purple is tribal and the logic of tribalism is that the tribe sees itself as living in Order. They know where the food is, where the shelter is to be found, and they can call on other tribal members for help. They know the lay of the land in their tribal territory and this offers reassurance and provides orientation. For all human beings, the open sea, by contrast is scary and dangerous. There are no landmarks, no way to find the proper direction without using the sun, if it is visible and on cloudy days it is not, or the stars at night, again, if they can be seen, and a sailor is expert in that kind of navigation. Under the sea lurk monsters of the deep. They cannot be seen coming. They attack without warning and provide motivation to get the heck out of there and back on dry land. The sea, for all but the most expert sailors, is Chaos. In the imagination of Purple, those who dwell in Chaos are demons. If the demons invade Order, they will probably try to kill you and destroy all your property. In a tribal context, this fear is real and the “demons” really are likely to do this. This is why nearly all tribal villages are on hills, with trenches surrounding the palisades. Archeologists often find skeletons in these trenches with arrowheads still lodged in their chests.

Tribalism denotes “us” versus “them.” And “we” are linked by blood ties. The “them” are the demons, who are not really human and they are not seen as deserving any kind of moral concern. To put it in modern terms, the connections are genetic, and thus biological. Tribes are likely to consist of a single race with a shared culture. There is nothing “multicultural” about them; quite the opposite.

Blue is also ethnocentric, like Purple, and differentiates between the saved and the damned, but this time it is not blood ties that3 connects people, but universalist religion or ideology. Purple religion is sacrificial, involving human sacrifices; typically of foreigners, prisoners of war, slaves, and the handicapped. It is not possible to “convert” to sacrificial religion, in the same way you cannot convert to tribal membership. But you can convert to universalist religions; though sometimes at the point of a sword. Christianity started out as a Jewish phenomenon. There was much debate within the early Church as to the proper target of Christian proselytizing. Some people thought it should be restricted to Jews only; to the circumcised. Others, like Saint Paul, wanted to make Christianity available to all people. Judaism is traditionally tribal with a bloodline. Your mother, at least, has to be Jewish in order for you to be Jewish.[1] Christianity, being universalist, accepts converts. When the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD this pretty much put an end to Jewish Christianity. This left a vacuum in the early Church and enormously raised the influence of Peter and Paul who were preaching to the Gentiles (non- Jews). That was how Christianity became universalist. The early Church Fathers were typically sophisticated philosophers and they appreciated people like Plato and Aristotle. Being atypical individuals they would tend to be Orange in orientation, with a highly developed and nuanced theology.

But, many Christians, at one point in time, would be Blue. And Blue is Manichean.[2] It divides the world into the saved and the damned, and being saved is a matter of having the right religious beliefs. In the nineteenth century especially, “ideologies” were invented that sought to replace theistic religion (religion with a God) with a kind of secular religion that promised earthly paradise, such as Marxism, and later, National Socialism, Multiculturalism, or Cosmopolitanism. Marxism has a Purple tribal component – dividing people between the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie. The latter were the “oppressors” and the former were the “oppressed.” “Oppressors” are seen as the enemy of humankind to be murderously eliminated so that the “oppressed” can be happy and free. Marx imagined something like Rousseau’s state of nature where man lived in joyous harmony with nature, with a mixture of minimal effort at “work,” and a lot of fun recreation, like hunting and fishing. Of course, what actually happened with communism was nothing like that at all. So, Marxism is Purple/Blue and Manichean. It is possible to convert to Marxism, but not if you are a member of the enemy class deemed as the reprehensible and nonhuman oppressor. So, there is a funny mixture of Purple and Blue.

What gets called “identity politics” shares this Purple/Blue hybrid status. It is sometimes called “cultural Marxism” because it adopts the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. And it is connected to Green’s ideas about equality.  Deviations from equality are pathologized. Individuals, or groups of people who seem to be doing better, instead of being admired and emulated, are demonized. The reason why someone is doing better, it is imagined, is because he is doing something nefarious to someone else. A rich person must invariably be rich because he stole the money from the poor, and somehow gamed the system. (Gaming the system does sometimes happen of course).

The Purple/Blue hybrid means that the Purple element is biology and “blood ties.” It gets confusing because race is sometimes described as a total fiction and cultural invention – and at other times it is seen as fundamental and defines who you are as a person. The Blue element is the universalistic ideological component to which someone can convert. Those who reject the ideology are the damned, destined to burn in the fires of hell for all eternity. But, this is given a Purple twist because only those of the correct race can be saved by adopting the ideology – so it is biological determinism mixed with ideological conformity. Some people even claim that if the ideology is not adopted by a person of the “right” race, then they are no longer that race. They are, 4instead, a race traitor. And, by refusing to have the “correct” beliefs, they have joined the demons who live in the land of Chaos, and they have forfeited their tribal membership. They are no longer humans worthy of moral concern. And then, there are people who can never be members of the tribe. They simply have the wrong kind of parents. But, they can adopt the Blue ideology. Unfortunately, by adopting Blue ideology, they are not thereby saved. The Purple tribal component prevents that. They can only become an ally of the saved. They cannot be saved themselves. They simply have the wrong genetics. What the allies of the saved can do, is to recognize that they are demons who live in the land of Chaos. They can agree that they are subhuman and unworthy of moral concern. They can agree that nothing good has ever emerged from Chaos, and they can apologize for their culture and their own existence, and they can pave the way for a new future populated by real humans who satisfy the genetic and ideological requirements; one in which the oppressors have been removed, the oppressed freed, and humanity can finally rejoice in celebration.

[1] Some modern forms of Judaism reject this and allow converts.

[2] This is a form of Gnosticism. “Gnosis” means esoteric knowledge. “Esoteric” means obscure and only for the initiated. Those with the secret and special knowledge are saved. Those without the “gnosis,” the secret knowledge, are damned.

2 thoughts on “Clare Graves, Spiral Dynamics, and the Purple/Blue Hybrid

  1. You have characterized Rousseau very neatly. I know that I occasionally feel that hankering for a return to the beige level, but then I look in the mirror and do not see Conan the Barbarian looking back at me. I’m not sure that Communism barred entry to persons of high social class. Engles was bourgeois in all but name, and there seem always to have been plenty of high-class communists. It seems that they can, in effect, pay for indulgences by giving the Communists help, protection and aid. That may be what’s happening in the puzzle that you describe in your closing paragraphs, although it is not clear that wokeness will compensate for whiteness “come the revolution.” It’s not clear the high-class Communists would have been spared if the Revolution really got going. It likewise seems that woke whites must become the scapegoat sooner or later, since secular utopias don’t work without scapegoats to explain their failure to work as advertised.

    • @JMSmith – For Marx, the bourgeoisie were the owners of the means of production, so it’s a bit more particular than just high class. I’m pretty sure that both communists and the woke have the “useful idiot” category. There is very definitely an unalterable biological category going on in the latter’s case, hence the “all whites are racist” trope. It’s not some whites are racist, which would just be true. They are already scapegoated and blamed for all social ills exclusively. That’s precisely what a scapegoat is. How and when you fully immolate the scapegoat is just a question of timing.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.