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

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

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

Agency and the Criminal Justice System

Agency for me, but not for thee

An agent is the locus of decision-making. If determinism is true, and there is no free will, then no person is “deciding” anything. Agency would be an illusion.  Some people, in an effort to be kind, forgiving, and understanding will point to environmental conditions or brain science to explain or excuse poor behavior. Sam Harris and the comedian Whitney Cummings do this, according to their own testimony. Cummings, if she encounters someone behaving badly and engaging in road rage, for instance, will tell herself a little story having to do with brain science.  “Oh, their amygdala is being 1hyperactivated and certain hormones are flooding the person’s bloodstream.” So, she “forgives” the person, or at least adopts a pseudo-understanding attitude to the person by completely dehumanizing them. The moral implications are diabolical. The strongest prohibitions against harm that exist are those against people. This is why many science-inspired perspectives of people are problematic. There simply is no humanity, and certainly no ascription of humanity, without agency. If someone does not believe in agency, then he does not believe in people. Sam Harris and countless others will continually alternate between calling human beings “apes” or “machines.” Harris tends toward the machine metaphor. Machines are rule-following devices and are deterministic. This attitude, which applies to himself also, leads Harris to the most ridiculous contradictions, where he “chooses” which perspective he will adopt, agential or non-agential, depending on context, in violation of his own philosophy. Continue reading



There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come Continue reading

The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

The perfect is the enemy of the good means that aiming at perfection can mean not doing the good that can be done. It is a mixture of the spoiled brat who wants to get things all his way, utopian idealism, and megalomania. It is human, but unreasonable, to think that if the number of people it is possible to help is limited then the entire exercise is pointless. For instance, someone could decide not to volunteer to be a foster parent to emotionally damaged and neglected children because there is a never-ending stream of such children in need of help. A professor might have a reading that he is convinced has Dorea definitively positive impact on his students, the students might universally agree, but since he teaches just a few dozen students each semester he influences a negligible percentage of all students. A policeman might arrest dastardly criminals, but must face the fact that criminality will continue more or less unabated, the justice system is imperfect, and the public often ungrateful. However, it is strange and perverse to want to abandon the good that you could do because perfect goodness and a final solution to all such problems is not achievable. People must resign themselves to taking splinters out of fingers and feet as they arise rather than eliminating splinters once and for all. Continue reading

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good

The line from Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” is quite a challenge to faith. How easy it is to believe will depend on circumstance; a victim of the Holocaust, someone dying from cancer, a brilliant man being made to teach nothing but English composition. It is tempting to quibble that it is not God saying it was very good – just the Biblical writer – but probably the proper response is “if You say so!”

1Eric Voegelin writes that the role of philosophy is to save us from evil; to develop pairs of concepts that cast light on good and evil and that “philosophy springs from the love of being; it is man’s loving endeavor to perceive the order of being and to attune himself to it.”[1] Voegelin adopts the classical Greek cosmocentric fixation on being. A Logos permeates existence and we should align ourselves with that Logos. If, however, God is not a being, but beyond being, then to concentrate on being is to ignore God and transcendence, the very thing Voegelin opposes and attributes to modern Gnosticism. To simply love “being” seems to include loving all the horrors inherent in being. Continue reading

Quantum Mechanics Again

Philosophy is concerned with the most important questions and the most important questions are debatable. Science restricts itself to questions that can be settled through experiment and empirical evidence, while ideally regarding scientific results as tentative and open to revision upon new evidence


Some theists imagine that quantum mechanics can lend support to spiritual realities. They point to the Copenhagen interpretation, which incidentally has no fixed meaning. But one meaning is an agreement to shut up and calculate. The equations of quantum mechanics work therefore there is no necessity to figure out what the implications for physical reality are concerning these equations. Continue reading

Why Don’t Nihilists Remain Silent? For mickvet

Shakespeare’s Macbeth speaks the following lines:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

1Ironically, these lines, as despairing as they are, are also beautiful, and beauty has immense value. Shakespeare was no nihilist. His famous tragedies, Macbeth and Hamlet, reveal the futility and ugliness of revenge; not the pointlessness of all human life. Macbeth’s speech, as one of the most memorable and quotable in the play, is taken out of context by that very fact, as though it summed up the author’s worldview, which it does not. Continue reading