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Sprial Dynamics in Homeless World Sacramento

The table that follows and the remainder of this blogpost describes Spiral Dynamics, a system that charts the mindsets/worldviews/memes/waves of thinking of various organizations or individuals in Homeless World Sac.

Understanding this progression in thinking gives one an insight as to how HWS fits together; how it suffers, inflicting pain on itself, and how homeless people get entrapped. In future writing, I expect to refer back to the charts that are presented here.

The basics are this:  There are six memes that make up the first tier of memes, going from Beige [base survival] to Green [The Sensitive Self].  It has been learned from hundreds or thousands of studies, using systems  recognizing the memes/categories in slightly different ways, that a person's [or culture's] worldviews "progress" in this general line.  Note, though, that that is not to say that a "higher" meme is better, somehow, that a lower one, or "more true" in any way.  Nonetheless, it is generally thought that pushing through Green into the "second tier" is a major personal and positive breakthrough that few have achieved (as yet!).

The words used in the tables and text that follows comes from Ken Wilber's writing in 1999, with the exception of text in blue, that I have added.

1. Beige: Archaic-Instinctual.
The level of basic survival; food, water, warmth, sex, and safety have priority. Uses habits and instincts just to survive. Distinct self is barely awakened or sustained. Forms into survival bands to perpetuate life.
Where seen: senile elderly, late-stage Alzheimer's victims, mentally ill street people, starving masses, shell-shocked. 0.1 percent of the adult population, 0 percent power.
2. Purple: Magical-Animistic.
Thinking is animistic1; magical spirits, good and bad, swarm the earth leaving blessings, curses, and spells which determine events. Forms into ethnic tribes. The spirits exist in ancestors and bond the tribe. Kinship and lineage establish political links. Sounds "holistic" but is actually atomistic: "there is a name for each bend in the river but no name for the river."
Where seen: belief in voodoo-like curses, blood oaths, ancient grudges, good luck charms, family rituals, magical ethnic beliefs and superstitions; strong in third world settings, gangs, athletic teams, and corporate "tribes." Also, the Bannon Street Irregulars; Prison yard or jailhouse ethos; 10 percent of the population, 1 percent of the power.
3. Red: Power Gods.
Emergence of a self distinct from the tribe; powerful, impulsive, egocentric, heroic. Mythic spirits, dragons, beasts, and powerful people. Feudal lords protect underlings in exchange for obedience and labor. The basis of feudal empires - power and glory. The world is a jungle full of threats and predators. Conquers, outfoxes, and dominates; enjoys self to the fullest without regret or remorse.
Where seen: frontier mentalities, feudal kingdoms, epic heroes, James Bond villains, soldiers of fortune, wild rock stars, Atilla the Hun, Lord of the Flies. Homeless people who have addictions and ascribe to fundamentalist Christian values but cannot commit to them. 20 percent of the population, 5 percent of the power.
4. Blue: Conformist Rule.
Life has meaning, direction, and purpose, with outcomes determined by an all-powerful Other or Order. This righteous Order enforces a code of conduct based on absolutist and unvarying principles of "right" and "wrong." Violating the code or rules has severe, perhaps everlasting repercussions. Following the code yields rewards for the faithful. Basis of ancient nations. Rigid social hierarchies; paternalistic; one right way and only one right way to think about everything. Law and order; impulsivity controlled through guilt; concrete-literal and fundamentalist belief; obedience to the rule of order. Often "religious" [in the mythic-membership sense; Graves and Beck refer to it as the "saintly/absolutistic" level], but can be secular or atheistic order or mission.
Where seen: Puritan America, Confucian China, Dickensian England, Singapore discipline, codes of chivalry and honor, charitable good deeds, religious fundamentalism (e.g., Christian and Islamic), Boy and Girl Scouts, "moral majority," patriotism. Men succeeding in the Union Gospel Mission Rehab Program. The Union Gospel Mission, generally. 40 percent of the population, 30 percent of the power.
5. Orange: Scientific Achievement.
At this wave, the self "escapes" from the "herd mentality" of blue, and seeks truth and meaning in individualistic terms - hypothetico-deductive2, experimental, objective, mechanistic, operation - "scientific" in the typical sense. The world is a rational and well-oiled machine with natural laws that can be learned, mastered, and manipulated for one's own purposes. Highly achievement-oriented, especially (in America) toward materialistic gains. The laws of science rule politics, the economy, and human events. The world is a chessboard on which games are played as winners gain preeminence and perks over losers. Marketplace alliances; manipulate earth's resources for one's strategic gains. Basis of corporate states.
Where seen: the Enlightenment, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Wall Street, emerging middle classes around the world, cosmetics industry, trophy hunting, colonialism, the Cold War, fashion industry, materialism, liberal self-interest. "Failed" Christians who have rejoined The World. Politics as played by the mayor, city council and county supervisors. 30 percent of the population, 50 percent of the power.
6. Green: The Sensitive Self.
Communitarian3, human bonding, ecological sensitivity, networking. The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness; feelings and caring supersede cold rationality; cherishing of the earth, Gaia, life. Against hierarchy; establishes lateral bonding and linking. Permeable self, relational self, group intermeshing. Emphasis on dialogue, relationships. Basis of collective communities (i.e., freely chosen affiliations based on shared sentiments). Reaches decisions through reconciliation and consensus (downside: interminable "processing" and incapacity to reach decisions). Refresh spirituality, bring harmony, enrich human potential. Strongly egalitarian, anti-hierarchy, pluralistic values, social construction of reality, diversity, multiculturalism, relativistic value systems; this worldview is often called pluralistic relativism. Subjective, nonlinear thinking; shows a greater degree of affective warmth, sensitivity, and caring for earth and all its inhabitants.
Where seen: deep ecology, postmodernism, Netherlands idealism, Rogerian counseling, Canadian health care, humanistic psychology, liberation theology, World Council of Churches, Greenpeace, animal rights, ecofeminism, postcolonialism, Foucault/Derrida, political correctness, diversity movements, human rights issues, ecopsychology. Loaves & Fishes; Michael Moore; Tom Armstrong. 10 percent of the population, 15 percent of the power.

With the completion of the green level or meme, human consciousness is poised for a quantum jump into "second-tier thinking." Clare Graves refers to this as a "momentous leap," where "a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed." In essence, with second-tier consciousness, one can think both vertically and horizontally, using both hierarchies and heterarchies; one can, for the first time, vividly grasp the entire spectrum of interior development, and thus see that each level, each meme, each wave is crucially important for the health of the overall spiral. As I would word it, since each wave is to "transcend and include," each wave is a fundamental ingredient of all subsequent waves, and thus each is to be cherished and embraced. Moreover, each wave can itself be activated or reactivated as life circumstances warrant. In emergency situations, we can activate red power drives; in response to chaos, we might need to activate blue order; in looking for a new job, we might need orange achievement drives; in marriage and with friends, close green bonding.

But what none of those memes can do, on their own, is fully appreciate the existence of the other memes. Each of those first-tier memes thinks that its worldview is the correct or best perspective. It reacts negatively if challenged; it lashes out, using its own tools, whenever it is threatened. Blue order is very uncomfortable with both red impulsiveness and orange individualism. Orange individualism thinks blue order is for suckers and green egalitarianism is weak and woo-woo. Green egalitarianism cannot easily abide excellence and value rankings, big pictures, or anything that appears authoritarian, and thus green reacts strongly to blue, orange, and anything post-green.

All of that begins to change with second-tier thinking. Because second-tier consciousness is fully aware of the interior stages of development - even if it cannot articulate them in a technical fashion - it steps back and grasps the big picture, and thus second-tier thinking appreciates the necessary role that all of the various memes play. Using what we would recognize as mature vision-logic, second-tier awareness thinks in terms of the overall spiral of existence, and not merely in the terms of any one level.

Where the green meme uses early or beginning vision-logic in order to grasp the numerous different systems and pluralistic contexts that exist in different cultures (which is why it is indeed the sensitive self, i.e., sensitive to the marginalization of others), second-tier thinking goes one step further. It looks for the rich contexts that link these pluralistic systems, and thus it takes these separate systems and begins to embrace, include, and integrate them into holistic spirals and holarchies. Second-tier thinking is instrumental in moving from pluralistic relativism to universal integralism. The extensive research of Graves, Beck, and Cowan indicates that there are two major waves to this second-tier consciousness:

7. Yellow: Integrative.
Life is a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies [holarchies], systems, and forms. Flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority. Differences and pluralities can be integrated into interdependent, natural flows. Egalitarianism is complemented with natural degrees of excellence where appropriate. Knowledge and competency should supersede rank, power, status, or group. The prevailing world order is the result of the existence of different levels of reality (memes) and the inevitable patterns of movement up and down the dynamic spiral. Good governance facilitates the emergence of entities through the levels of increasing complexity (nested hierarchy).
8. Turquoise: Holistic.
Universal holistic system, holons/waves of integrative energies; unites feeling with knowledge [centaur]; multiple levels interwoven into one conscious system. Universal order, but in a living, conscious fashion, not based on external rules (blue) or group bonds (green). A "grand unification" is possible, in theory and in actuality. Sometimes involves the emergence of a new spirituality as a meshwork of all existence. Turquoise thinking uses the entire spiral; sees multiple levels of interaction; detects harmonics, the mystical forces, and the pervasive flow-states that permeate any organization.

The Jump to Second-Tier Consciousness

Second-tier thinking has to emerge in the face of much resistance from first-tier thinking. In fact, a version of the postmodern green meme, with its pluralism and relativism, has actively fought the emergence of more integrative and holarchical thinking. And yet without second-tier thinking, humanity is destined to remain the victim of a global "auto-immune disease," where various memes turn on each other in an attempt to establish supremacy.

This is why developmental studies in general indicate that many philosophical debates are not really a matter of the better objective argument, but of the subjective level of those debating. No amount of orange scientific evidence will convince blue mythic believers; no amount of green bonding will impress orange aggressiveness; no amount of turquoise holarchy will dislodge green hostility - unless the individual is ready to develop forward through the dynamic, unfolding spiral of consciousness. This is why "cross-level" debates are rarely resolved, and all parties usually feel unheard and unappreciated.

First-tier memes generally resist the emergence of second-tier memes. Scientific materialism (orange) is aggressively reductionistic toward second-tier constructs, attempting to reduce all interior stages to objectivistic neuronal fireworks. Mythic fundamentalism (blue) is often outraged at what it sees as attempts to unseat its given Order. Egocentrism (red) ignores second-tier altogether. Magic (purple) puts a hex on it. Green accuses second-tier consciousness of being authoritarian, rigidly hierarchical, patriarchal, marginalizing, oppressive, racist, and sexist.

Green has been in charge of cultural studies for the past three decades. On the one hand, the pluralistic relativism of green has nobly enlarged the canon of cultural studies to include many previously marginalized peoples, ideas, and narratives. It has acted with sensitivity and care in attempting to redress social imbalances and avoid exclusionary practices. It has been responsible for basic initiatives in civil rights and environmental protection. It has developed strong and often convincing critiques of the philosophies, metaphysics, and social practices of the conventional religious (blue) and scientific (orange) memes, with their often exclusionary, patriarchal, sexist, and colonialistic agendas.

On the other hand, as effective as these critiques of pre-green stages have been, green has attempted to turn its guns on all post-green stages as well, with the most unfortunate results. The green meme, effectively challenging the absolutisms of blue and orange, then mistook all universals and all holarchies as being of the same order, and this often locked it into first-tier thinking.

And this is where boomeritis enters the picture.


Because pluralistic relativism1 moves beyond the rigid universalisms of formal rationality into richly textured and individualistic contexts, one of its defining characteristics is its strong subjectivism. This means that its sanctions for truth and goodness are established most basically by individual preferences (as long as the individual is not harming others). What is true for you is not necessarily true for me; what is right is simply what individuals or cultures happen to agree on at any given moment; there are no universal claims for knowledge or truth; each person is free to find his or her own values, which are not binding on anybody else. "You do your thing, I do mine" is a popular summary of this stance.

This is why the self at this stage is indeed the "sensitive self." Precisely because it is aware of the many different contexts and numerous different types of truth, it bends over backwards in an attempt to let each truth have its own say, without marginalizing or belittling any particular truth. This noble intent, of course, has its downside. Meetings that are run on green principles tend to follow a similar course: everybody is allowed to express his or her feelings, which often takes hours; there is an almost interminable processing of opinions, often reaching no decision or course of action, since a specific course of action would likely exclude somebody. The meeting is considered a success, not if a conclusion is reached, but if everybody has a chance to share their feelings. Since no view is inherently better than another, no real course of action can be recommended, other than sharing all views. If any statements are made with certainty, it is how oppressive and nasty all the alternative conceptions are. (This is why one of pluralism's main activities is not advancing its own constructive conceptions, but criticizing and deconstructing everybody else's.)

In academia, this pluralistic relativism is the dominant stance. As Colin McGuinn summarizes it, "According to this conception, human reason is inherently local, culture-relative, rooted in the variable facts of human nature and history, a matter of divergent 'practices' and 'forms of life' and 'frames of reference' and 'conceptual schemes.' There are no norms of reasoning that transcend what is accepted by a society or an epoch, no objective justifications for belief that everyone must respect on pain of cognitive malfunction. To be valid is to be taken to be valid, and different people can have legitimately different patterns of taking. In the end, the only justifications for belief have the form 'justified for me'." As Clare Graves himself put it, "This system sees the world relativistically. Thinking shows an almost radical, almost compulsive emphasis on seeing everything from a relativistic, subjective frame of reference."

Because pluralistic relativism has such an intensely subjectivistic stance, it is especially prey to emotional narcissism, and that is the crux of the matter: pluralism becomes a supermagnet for endless varieties of egocentric self-display. Pluralism becomes an unwitting home for the culture of narcissism.

Put differently, pluralistic relativism becomes a prime target of the pre/post fallacy (the confusing of preconventional realities with postconventional realities, simply because both are nonconventional). In green's noble attempt to move beyond conventional rules (many of which are indeed unfair and marginalizing), and in its genuine desire to deconstruct a rigid rationality (much of which can be repressive and stultifying) - in short, in green's admirable attempt to go postconventional - it has often inadvertently embraced anything nonconventional, and this includes much that is frankly preconventional, regressive, and narcissistic. There is a troubling contradiction in all this. It's not just that the claims of the cultural pluralists are said to be universally true (the so-called "performative contradiction," which means they are making claims that they insist cannot be made); the problem is actually much deeper than that.

Pluralism, multiculturalism, and egalitarianism, in their best forms, all stem from a very high developmental stance, a postconventional stance (early vision-logic, postformal cognition, green meme, etc.), and from that postconventional stance of worldcentric fairness and care, the green meme attempts to treat all previous memes with equal care and compassion, a truly noble intent. But because it embraces an intense egalitarianism, it fails to see that its own stance - which is the first stance that is even capable of egalitarianism - is itself a fairly rare, elite stance (somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the population). Worse, the green meme then actively denies the hierarchical stages that produced the green meme in the first place. Pluralistic egalitarianism is the product, as we have seen, of at least six major stages of hierarchical development, a hierarchy that it then turns around and aggressively denies in the name of egalitarianism!

Under the noble guise of liberal egalitarianism - and under the sanction of the intense subjectivistic stance of this pluralistic and relativistic wave - every previous wave of existence, no matter how shallow, egocentric, or narcissistic, is given encouragement to "be itself," even when "be itself" might include the most barbaric of stances. (If "pluralism" is really true, then we must invite the Nazis and the KKK to the multicultural banquet, since no stance is supposed to be better or worse than another, and so all must be treated in an egalitarian fashion - at which point the horrifying self-contradictions of pluralism come screaming to the fore.)

Thus, the very high developmental stance of pluralism - the product of at least six major stages of hierarchical transformation - turns around and denies all hierarchies, denies the very path that produced its own noble stance, and thus it ceases to demand hierarchical transformation from anybody else; consequently it extends an egalitarian embrace to every stance, no matter how shallow or narcissistic. The more egalitarianism is implemented, the more it destroys the very capacity for egalitarianism; the more it invites, indeed encourages, the culture of narcissism. And the culture of narcissism is the antithesis of the integral culture. (Narcissism, at its core, is a demand that "Nobody tells me what to do!" Narcissism will therefore not acknowledge anything universal because that places various demands and duties on narcissism that it will strenuously try to deconstruct: "Nobody tells me what to do." This egocentric absorption can easily be propped up and supported with the tenets of pluralistic relativism.)

In short, the very high cognitive development of postformal pluralism becomes a supermagnet for the very low state of emotional narcissism. Which brings us to boomeritis.

Boomeritis is that strange mixture of very high, postconventional cognitive capacity (early vision-logic, the green meme, postformal pluralistic relativism) combined with preconventional emotional narcissism, with the result that the sensitive self, trying to help, excitedly exaggerates its own significance. It will possess the new paradigm, which heralds the greatest transformation in the history of the world; it will completely revolutionize spirituality as we know it; it will save the planet and save Gaia and save the Goddess; it will....

Well, and off we go on to some of the negative aspects of the last three decades of boomer cultural studies. The importance of dialogue is a prime example. An extraordinary number of brilliant philosophers have, ever since Socrates, pointed out the importance of dialogue in reaching truth and understanding. Nor is the notion lacking in modernity; in fact, it has often gained prominence: Heidegger's notions of intersubjectivity; Martin Buber's I-thou spirituality; the structuralists' and poststructuralists' absolute obsession with discourse and discursive formations; Habermas' central claim that dialogue free of domination and distortion is the means and the method of truth disclosure; my own system, where all subjective events occur only in the clearing created by intersubjectivity. The list of premodern, modern, and postmodern philosophers stressing the importance of dialogue is truly staggering.

Yet to hear the boomeritis version, which has appeared in literally thousands of publications, it seems that nobody has really understood the importance of dialogue until just now, whereupon there follows a treatise about how important it is to listen to others, which usually runs something like this: people who, like me, engage in caring dialogue, which is free of domination and attack, have found a new way to meet each other, not on the pattern of discourse as a war to be won, but as a show of how caring and loving we really are, and you can see how caring and loving we really are by comparing us to all those people who do not follow our example (whereupon there usually ensues a list of the uncaring culprit's wicked ways, which happens to have the advantage, not really intended, of making the lecturer's moral superiority blindingly obvious to the entire world).

I have a file in my office that contains references to over 200 essays, books, and articles on the importance of caring dialogue, most of which tear into their opponents with a ferocity that is startling or a condescension that is measurable. At the same time, most of their opponents have also written articles on the importance of caring dialogue, cooperative inquiry, and sharing instead of fighting. Since everybody seems to be talking about the importance of talking, I have been trying to figure out just who it is who isn't talking, because I would like to meet that person.

In most of these calls for dialogue, there is a calculated claim of moral superiority in the very stance of condemning in others precisely what the speaker is doing himself. This pattern (claiming to be free of those features that one uses in the claim) seems to be at the heart of boomeritis - from universally damning universals to hierarchically damning hierarchies - and it is pandemic because it appears to be the central psychological mechanism that allows emotional narcissism to mask its preconventional face in postconventional pieties. If one were truly engaged in caring dialogue, one would simply do it; one would not constantly pause to point out how wonderful it is.

Pluralistic Relativism and Boomeritis

Pluralistic relativism infected with emotional narcissism is the single greatest barrier to the emergence of universal integralism. In other words, since, in normal development, pluralistic relativism eventually gives way to second-tier consciousness (and universal integralism), why has my generation become so stuck in pluralistic relativism, extreme egalitarianism, and anti-hierarchy flatlandism? One of the central reasons is that the intense subjectivism of pluralistic relativism was a prime magnet and refuge for the narcissism that, for whatever reasons, many social critics have found prevalent in the "Me" generation. I call that combination of pluralistic relativism and emotional narcissism "boomeritis" - one of the primary roadblocks to universal integralism and second-tier consciousness.

What is particularly frustrating about boomeritis is that it interferes with the possibilities inherent in the green memes. It is from the large fund of green memes that the second tier emerges. It is from the pluralistic perspectives freed by green that integrative and holistic networks are built. All of my writing has been, in a sense, an invitation to those greens who find it appropriate to move on, not by abandoning green, but by enriching it.

My point - and the only reason I am "picking on" boomers - is that this generation seems to be the first to significantly evolve to the green wave in large numbers, and thus this is the first generation that has a real chance to significantly move forward into a mature vision-logic, second-tier consciousness - and to use that consciousness to organize social institutions in a truly integral fashion. But it has not yet done so to full effect, because it has not yet gone postgreen to any significant degree (as we saw, less than 2 percent are postgreen). But it still might do so; and since it is only from green that it can do so, the boomers are still poised for a possible leap into the hyperspace of second-tier consciousness. And that is not a boomeritis grandiose claim; it is backed by substantial evidence, particularly from social and psychological developmental studies.

Thus, as much as I have been chiding green for some of its downsides, we should never forget that it is from green that second tier emerges, and that the many accomplishments of green are the necessary prerequisites for second-tier consciousness: green differentiates numerous systems and sets them free from universal formalism and rigid conformist rule (i.e., by differentiating many systems, and seeing that each has its own context, history, and perspective, green prepares the way for these systems to be reintegrated at a higher, second-tier wave); it places each culture and each individual in its own context, free from domination and exploitation; it introduces a genuine sensitivity to the entire spiral, caring for the earth and all its inhabitants with a sincere passion, treating all sentient beings with respect and care; and thus it pluralistically frees much energy for the next transformation. Since green is the conclusion of first-tier thinking, it prepares the leap to second-tier.

But in order to move into second-tier constructions, the fixation on pluralistic relativism and the green meme in general needs to be relaxed. Its accomplishments will be fully included and carried forward. But its attachment to its own stance needs to be eased, and it is precisely boomeritis (or a narcissistic attachment to the intense subjectivism of the relativistic stance) that makes such a letting go quite difficult. My hope is that by highlighting our fixation on the green meme, we can begin more easily to transcend and include its wonderful accomplishments in an even more generous embrace.
1 animistic = the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls
2 hypothetico-deductive = scientific method in which hypotheses suggested by the facts of observation are proposed and consequences deduced from them so as to test the hypotheses and evaluate theconsequences
3 communitarian = A member or supporter of a small cooperative or a collectivist community.
1 pluralistic relativism = the sinister doctrine that no view is true, or that all views are equally true


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