Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Is Wilber Corrupting Spiral Dynamics?

Ken Wilber is without a doubt one of the most important thinkers on the planet. On top of that, he has done a lot to bring attention to Beck & Cowan's Spiral Dynamics model, one of the most comprehensive models available for understanding human beings.

However, I have been growing increasingly frustrated with the way Wilber has been using Spiral terminology in ways inappropriate to the model. The biggest issue so far had been his use of "second tier" and "third tier." In Wilber's scheme, which is presented in Boomeritis, second tier is reduced to the Yellow and Turquoise vMemes. Wilber then proposes a third tier that would begin with Coral (the next identified emergent vMeme).

In Clare Graves's original model, the second tier would have been a recapitulation of the first tier, but at a higher level. This means that the second tier would have six vMemes just like the first tier, with each one being a higher-order version of its first-tier version. (Example: Yellow is the second-tier, higher-order version of Beige, and Turquoise is the second-tier, higher-order version of Purple.)

The real problem with Wilber's version is that he has a much wider audience than either Beck or Cowan, so his version gets all the attention. This is further exasperated by Andrew Cohen's adoption of the Wilber scheme in What Is Enlightenment?

The newest frustration comes from Wilber's new Integral Spirituality project (there used to be a PDF by Wilber explaining his new system, but it has been taken down in the last couple of days). In this new approach, he has attached colors to the developmental levels -- much like Spiral Dynamics -- but the colors move upward parallel with the chakras (also, the visible light spectrum). Parts of Wilber's color system match the Spiral, but most have been changed, which is bound to create a huge amount of confusion.

Wilber clearly has seen the popularity and ease-of-use of color coding, but his new system loses some of the subtlety of SD, especially the warm color/cool color alternation, which maps the shift from self/outer focus to group/inner focus and back again.

I like Wilber's new system, and I see the value in what he is doing, but I dislike the impact this will have on Spiral Dynamics. It feels like a betrayal. But then, Wilber has always viewed SD as a simple values line system, not as a whole and complete system.

I'd love to hear any thoughts SD or SDi followers have on this topic.
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