Parable of the Sower: 7. Adjust Your Attitude and Your Altitude

When I try to deal with people in the various groups I am a leader of, I realize that I have to adjust my attitude sometimes when I deal with certain people in order to be able to relate to what their feelings are.   But even more importantly, I have to adjust my altitude as well.   What do I mean by “altitude”?   I mean what level on the spiral dynamics developed by Don Beck and Chris Cowan in their 1996 book by the same name, and subsequently adapted by Ken Wilber as part of his Integral Theory model as the stages of development.   These levels of spiral dynamics refer to core value systems which people adapt as they go from stage to stage.

It is similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in that people start at the bottom of the spiral and progress to the next stage only after they have fulfilled the current when they are in.    It is different in that Maslow’s hierarchy refers to psychological needs, but spiral dynamics refers to both psychological and social value systems, covering the subjective and intersubjective (“cultural”) quadrants in the Integral Theory model.

1.  First-tier memes

I’m borrowing these descriptions from the Wikipedia article on Spiral Dynamics, mainly because they show with very specific examples what characteristics people or groups of people show who are at a specific stage.   The stages could have been named 1, 2, 3, etc., but they are labeled with colors in order to make it easier to memorize and distinguish between each other in discussions.   There are six first-tier memes, which are as follows:

a.  Beige

Survival/Sense. The Instinctive vMEME

  • Automatic, autistic, reflexive
  • Centers around satisfaction
  • Driven by deep brain programs, instincts and genetics
  • Little awareness of self as a distinct being (undifferentiated)
  • Lives “off the land” much as other animals
  • Minimal impact on or control over environment

b.  Purple

Kin Spirits. The Clannish vMEME

  • Obey desires of the mystical spirit beings
  • Show allegiance to elders, custom, clan
  • Preserve sacred places, objects, rituals
  • Bond together to endure and find safety
  • Live in an enchanted, magical village
  • Seek harmony with nature’s power

c.  Red
PowerGods. The Egocentric vMEME

  • In a world of haves and have-nots, it’s good to be a have
  • Avoid shame, defend reputation, be respected
  • Gratify impulses and sense immediately
  • Fight remorselessly and without guilt to break constraints
  • Don’t worry about consequences that may not come

d.  Blue
TruthForce. The Purposeful vMEME

    • Find meaning and purpose in living
    • Sacrifice self to the Way for deferred reward
    • Bring order and stability to all things
    • Control impulsivity and respond to guilt
    • Enforce principles of righteous living
    • Divine plan assigns people to their places

e.  Orange

StriveDrive. The Strategic vMEME

  • Strive for autonomy and independence
  • Seek out “the good life” and material abundance
  • Progress through searching out the best solutions
  • Enhance living for many through science and technology
  • Play to win and enjoy competition
  • Learning through tried-and-true experience

f. Green

HumanBond. The Relativistic vMEME

  • Explore the inner beings of self and others
  • Promote a sense of community and unity
  • Share society’s resources among all
  • Liberate humans from greed and dogma
  • Reach decisions through consensus
  • Refresh spirituality and bring harmony

Let’s just take an example:   not all conservatives are created alike.   When I am talking to someone who is a fiscal conservative, I am usually dealing with someone at the Orange level; when I am talking to someone who is a foreign policy conservative, I am usually dealing with someone at the Blue level, and when I am talking to someone who is a social conservative, they are often at the Red level.   So when I am discussing an issue with them, I have to use the language of the level they are at in order to get through to them.   If I am trying to talk to them about the issue of “fracking” for example, someone at the Red level will want to know how it fits in with their traditional, usually religious, values.   Someone at the Blue level will want to know how it fits in with the idea of national security and our country’s place in the world, whereas someone at the Orange level will want to know if it profitable or not.   Someone coming from the Green level who is concerned about how fracking will affect the environment will not get far talking to any of these other three levels just by advancing the value system that includes the environment as opposed to the economy, the country, or one’s religion.

Of course, a society in the aggregate can be at a certain “center of gravity” that can be approximated by one of these memes.   When the United States decided to invade Iraq, which was at the Red level of value development because of Saddam Hussein ruling as a dictator, the naive idea was to bring democracy to the region, which would be the equivalent of bringing it to at least the level of Orange, the level achieved by the United States at its founding, an evolutionary leap above the Blue levels of the nation states of Europe.   However, rather than bringing Iraq up closer to its own level, the United States merely removed a dictator, and allowed the sectarian strife between the Sunnis and Shias, which had been suppressed by Saddam Hussein,  to erupt and now the region is reduced to the Purple level of a conflict between clans.

Whether you are a person or a society, you cannot just magically leap from stage to stage; the evolutionary process requires the structure at each level to be complete before you can go to the next one.

Although the memes appear to have different themes, the reason why it is called a spiral is because each meme has an emphasis on the individual or the group.   For example, the Orange meme is very individualistic whereas the Green meme favors the formation of a group or collective.   Ayn Rand, for example, is a quintessentially Orange-level philosopher, and she sees any expression of a group or collective (what she would call “socialism”) as an anathema.   And this gets me to the feature that all the six memes have in common:   they all agree that the real problem in the world is all of the other memes, and they have a conviction that the world would be simpler if the other memes didn’t exist.    One simple way to describe the first-tier memes is that they are a fear operating system, with fear or even hatred of the other memes as a common thread.

2.  Second-tier memes

The second-tier memes are inhabited by those that understand that they are the culmination of a spiral, meaning that the meme they are in has been achieved only by going through an evolutionary process involving all the previous memes at the first-tier level.   Seen in this new light, the first-tier memes are not to be feared, but to be loved, because they represent  where the person used to be earlier in their evolution.   And in certain situations, those first-tier memes are still valid.   Here are the two second-tier memes, the first one being the individualistic version, and the second one the communal version.

f.  Yellow

FlexFlow. The Systemic vMEME

  • Accept the inevitability of nature’s flows and forms
  • Focus on functionality, competence, flexibility, and spontaneity
  • Find natural mix of conflicting “truths” and “uncertainties”
  • Discovering personal freedom without harm to others or excesses of self-interest
  • Experience fullness of living on an Earth of such diversity in multiple dimensions
  • Demand integrative and open systems

g.  Turquoise
GlobalView. The HolisticvMEME

  • Blending and harmonizing a strong collective of individuals
  • Focus on the good of all living entities as integrated systems
  • Expanded use of human brain/mind tools and competencies
  • Self is part of larger, conscious, spiritual whole that also serves self
  • Global networking seen as routine
  • Acts for minimalist living so less actually is more

I identify myself as being at the Yellow meme, trying to achieve the Turquoise stage by linking up with others who are at the second-tier level.   My conviction is that anybody who is a leader is going to be more effective if they are dealing from the second-tier level because they will relate to anybody else on the spiral, whereas those who deal from the first-tier level will identify those at a different level as a potential enemy, rather than a potential ally.;   And that is how you make the world a better place is by stooping to conquer, to borrow a phrase from the Oliver Goldsmith classic.


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