Human nature prepares for a momentous leapWhat seems to often get forgotten when discussing Gravesian theory or Spiral Dynamics -- its child -- is that each of the core developmental stages has an entering and an exiting stage, and that each stage is the result of ways in which the human organism solves the problems of its existing life conditions.
By Dr. Clare Graves
~ from The Futurist, 1974, pp 72-87.
Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to hewer, higher-order systems as man's existential problems change. These systems alternate between focus upon the external world, and attempts to change it, and focus upon the inner world, and attempts to come to peace with it, with the means to each end changing in each alternatively prognostic system. Thus, man tends, normally, to change his psychology as the conditions of his existence change. Each successive state, or level of existence, is a state through which people pass on the way to other states of equilibrium. When a person is centralized in one state of existence, he has a total psychology which is particular to that state. His feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning systems, belief systems, conception of mental health, ideas as to what mental illness is and how it should be treated, preferences for and conceptions of management, education, economic and political theory and practice, etc., are all appropriate to that state.
In some cases, a person may not be genetically or constitutionally equipped to change in the normal upward direction when the conditions of his existence change. Instead, he may stabilize and live out his life at any one or a combination of levels in the hierarchy. Again, he may show the behavior of a level in a predominantly positive or negative manner, or he may, under certain circumstances, regress to a behavior system lower in the hierarchy. Thus, and adult lives in a potentially open system of needs, values and aspirations, but he often settles into what appears to be a closed system.
Human existence can be likened to a symphony with six themes. In a symphony, the composer normally begins by stating his themes in the simplest possible manner. In human existence, our species begins by stating in the simplest way those themes which will preoccupy us through thousands of variations. At this point in history, the societal effective leading edge of man in the technologically advanced nations is currently finishing the initial statement of the sixth theme of existence and is beginning again with the first theme in an entirely new and more sophisticated variation. That is, man has reached the point of finishing the first and most primitive ladder of existence: the one concerned with the emergence of the individual of the species Homo sapiens and his subsistence on this planet. The first six levels of existence, A-N through F-S, have accordingly been called “Subsistence Levels.” (‘A’ stands for the neurological system in the brain upon which the psychological system is based; ‘N’ for the set of existential problems that the ‘A’ neurological system is able to cope with. Thus, in the ‘A-N’ state, one calls on the ‘A’ system to solve the ‘N’ problems of existence.) These six subsistence levels comprise the initial statement of man's themes in its very simplest form.
The A-N through F-S (the only two identified "second tier" are G-T and H-U) designations are important, but often left out. The first letter depends on the second letter for its existence.
Here is how Graves described, briefly, the first six levels (which most estimates suggest account for 98% or more of humans currently living).
Long after this article was published, Chris Cowan assigned each stage a color to make the stages easier to identify in slides. This became the basis for the Spiral Dynamics colors that both Cowan and Don Beck use, and that Ken Wilber has co-opted in his new Integral Spirituality.
Some Characteristics of Various Levels
Automatic Existence (First Subsistence Level)
Man at the first subsistence level (A-N), the automatic state of physiological existence, seeks only the immediate satisfaction of his basic physiological needs. He has only an imperative need-based concept of time and space and no concept of cause or effect. His awareness excludes self and is limited to the presence of physiologically determined tension when it is present, and the relief of such tension when it takes place. He lives a purely physiological existence. Man the species, or man the individual, does not have to rise above this level to continue the survival of the species. He can continue the survival of the species. He can continue the survival of the species through the purely physiological aspect of the process of procreation. He can live what is for him, at the A-N level, a productive lifetime, productive in the sense that his built-in response mechanisms are able to reduce the tensions of the imperative physiological needs and a reproductive lifetime. But this level of existence seldom is seen in the modern world except in pathological cases.
As soon as man, in his food-gathering wanderings, accrues a set of Pavlovian conditioned reflexes, which provide for the satisfaction of his imperative needs, and thus enters his 'Garden of Eden,' he slides almost imperceptibly out of this first stage into the second existential state, and established form of human existence, the tribalistic way of life.
Tribalistic Existence (Second Subsistence Level)
At the second subsistence level, the B-O autistic state of thinking, man's need is for stability. He seeks to continue a way of life that he does not understand but strongly defends. This level of man has just struggled forth from striving to exist and now has his first established way of life. This way of life is essentially without awareness, thought, or purpose, for it is based on Pavlovian classical conditioning principles. Therefore, B-O man beliefs his tribalistic way is inherent in the nature of things. As a result he holds tenaciously to it, and strives desperately to propitiate the world for its continuance.
At this level a seasonal, or naturally based concept of time prevails and space is perceived in an atomistic fashion. Causality is not yet perceived because man perceives that forces at work to be inherent. Here a form of existence based on myth and tradition arises, and being is a mystical phenomenon full of spirits, magic and superstition. Here the task of existence is simply to continue what it seems has enabled ‘my tribe to be.’
But here, more by chance than by design, some men achieve relative control of their spirit world through their non-explainable, elder-administered, tradition-based way of life a way of life which continues relatively unchanged until disturbed from within or without. When the established tribal way of life assures the continuance of the tribe with minimal energy expenditure by solving problems N by neurological means A, it creates the first of the general conditions necessary for movement to a new and different steady state of being. It produces excess energy in the system which puts the system in a state of readiness for change. But unless another factor, such as dissonance or challenge, comes into the field, the change does not move in the direction of some other state of being. Instead, it moves toward maximum entropy and its own demise, since it becomes overloaded with its accretion of more and more tradition, more and more ritual. If, however, when the state of readiness is achieved, dissonance enters, then this steady state of being is precipitated toward a different kind of change. This dissonance arises usually in youth, or in certain minds which are not troubled by memories of the past and are capable of newer and more lasting insights into the nature of man's being. Or it can come to the same capable minds when outsiders disturb the tribe's way of life.
When, at the B-O level, readiness for change occurs, it triggers man's insight into his existence as an individual being separate and distinct from other beings, and from his tribal compatriots as well. As he struggles, he perceives that others - other men, other animals, and even the spirits in his physical world - fight him back. So his need for survival comes to the fore.
With this change in consciousness, man becomes aware that he is aligned against predatory animals, a threatening physical universe, and other men who fight back for their established way of existence, or against him for the new way of existence he is striving to develop. Now he is not one-with-all, for he is alone in his struggle for his survival against the draconic forces of the universe. So he sets out in heroic fashion to build a way of being which will foster his individual survival.
Egocentric Existence (Third Subsistence Level)
At the egocentric level (C-P), raw, rugged, self-assertive individualism comes to the fore. This level might be termed 'Machiavellian,' for within it is all the author of The Prince considered the essence of being human. History suggests to us that the few who were able to gain their freedom from survival problems surged almost uncontrollably forward into a new way of being, and also dragged after them the tribal members unable to free themselves of the burden of stagnating tribalistic existence. History also suggests that the few became the authoritarians while the many became those who submitted. The many accepted the ‘might-is-right’ of the few because such acceptance assured their survival. This was son in the past and it is still so today.
This Promethean (C-P) point of view is based on the prerogatives of the ‘haves’ and the duties of the ‘have-nots.’ Ultimately, when this way of life, based historically on the agricultural revolution, is established, life is seen as a continuous process with survival dependent on a controlled relationship. Fealty and loyalty, service and noblesse oblige become cornerstones of this way of life. Assured of their survival, through fief and vassalage, the ‘haves’ base life of the ‘right’ way to behave as their might dictates. A system develops in which each individual acts out in detail, in the interest of hi sown survival, how life is to be lived, but online a small number ever achieve any modicum of power and the remainder are left to submit.
Both the authoritarian and the submissive develop standards which they feel will insure them against threat, but these are very raw standards. The submissive person chooses to get away with what he can within the life style which is possible for him. The authoritarian chooses to do as he pleases. He spawns, as his raison d'être, the rights of assertive individualism. These rights become, in time, the absolute rights of kings, the unassailable prerogatives of management, the inalienable rights of those who have achieved positions of power, and even the rights of the lowly hustler to all he can hustle. This is a world of the aggressive expression of man's lusts openly and unabashedly by the 'haves,' and more covertly and deviously by the 'have nots.'
Now man moves to the lasting security level of need and learns by avoidant learning. As he moves to the D-Q level he develops a way of life based on the conviction that there must be a reason for it all, a reason why the ‘have’ shall possess so much in life yet be faced with death, and a reason why the ‘have not’ is forced to endure a miserable existence. This search leads to the belief that the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ condition is a part of a directed design, a design of the forces guiding man and his destiny. Thus, the saintly way of life, based on one of the world's great religions or great philosophies, comes to be. Here man creates what he believes is a way for lasting peace in this life or everlasting life, a way which, it seems to him, will remove the pain of both the ‘have’ and the ‘have not.’ Here he seeks salvation.
Saintly Existence (Fourth Subsistence Level)
At the saintly level (D-Q), man develops a way of life based on 'Thou salt suffer the pangs of existence in this life to prove thyself worthy of later life.' This saintly form of existence comes from seeing that living in this world is not made for ultimate pleasure, a perception based on the previous endless struggle with unbridled lusts and a threatening universe. Here man perceives that certain rules are prescribed for each class of men and that these rules describe the proper way each class is to behave. The rules are the price man must pay for his more lasting life, for the peace which he seeks, the price of no ultimate pleasure while living. The measure of this worthiness is how much he has lived by the established rules. But, after security is achieved through the se absolutistic rules, the time comes when some men question the price. When this happens, the saintly way of life is doomed to decay, since some men are bound to ask why they cannot have some pleasure in this life. Man then struggles on through another period of transition to another level, now slipping, now falling in the quest for his goal. When man casts aside the inhuman aspect of his saintly existence, he is again charged with excess energy because his security problems are solved; but this very solution has created the problems ‘R,’ how to build a life that will offer pleasure here and now, which eventually he meets through the neurological means of system ‘E.’
Materialistic Existence (Fifth Subsistence Level)
At the materialistic level (E-R_, man strives to conquer the world by learning its secrets, rather than through raw, naked force as he did at the C-P level. He tarries long enough here to develop and utilize the objectivistic, positivistic, operationalistic, scientific method so as to provide the material ends for a satisfactory human existence in the here and now. But once assured of his own material satisfaction he finds he has created problems S, a new spiritual void in his being. He finds himself master of the objective physical world but a prime neophyte in the subjectivistic, humanistic world. He has achieved the satisfaction of a good life through his relative mastery of the physical universe, but it has been achieved at a price, the price of not being liked by other men for his callous use of knowledge for himself. He has become envied and even respected, but he is not liked. He has achieved his personal status and material existence at the expense of being rejected even by his use of neurological sub-system ‘F,’ and begins man's move to his sixth form of existence.
Personalistic Existenence (Sixth Subsistence Level)
At the personalistic level (F-S), man becomes centrally concerned with peace with his inner self and in the relation of his self to the inner self of others. He becomes concerned with belonging, with being accepted, with knowing the inner side of self and other selves so harmony can come to be, so people as individuals can be at peace with themselves and thus with the world. And when he achieves this, he finds he must become concerned with more than self or other selves, because while he was focusing on the inner self to the exclusion of the external world, his outer world has gone to pot. Son how he turns outward to life and to the whole, the total universe. As he does so he begins to see the problems of restoring the
balanceof life which has been torn asunder by his individualistically oriented, self-seeking climb up the first ladder of existence.
As man moves from the sixth or personalistic level, the level of being with self and other men, the seventh level, the cognitive level of existence, a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed. The gap between the sixth level (the F-S level) and the seventh (the G-T level) is the gap between getting and giving, taking and contributing, destroying and constructing. It is the gap between deficiency or deficit motivation and growth or abundance motivation. It is the gap between similarity to animals and dissimilarity to animals, because only man is possessed of a future orientation.
The problem with the colors is that people leave out the transitional stages (entering and leaving) for each stage and lose sight of the impact that life conditions have on each stage.
In the Preface to The Never Ending Quest, Graves says,
I say . . . from the data of my studies, that one's conception of psychological maturity is a function of one's conditions for existence; and, I say that so long as humans continue to solve their problems of existence, they will create new problems forever and on, and thus proliferate into new and higher-order forms of psychological being. And, I say that what our definition of psychological maturity is will change with each and every newly emergent form of psychological existence.We are now at one of those times in human history when the dominant systems (human behavior as a result of life conditions) are being stretched to the breaking point. The question facing us is this: will we activate emergent systems to deal with the new challenges, or will we regress to earlier stages in a fear response, trying approaches the worked in previous times but that are no longer appropriate to the current challenges?
How we answer this question will determine whether or not we can respond to asymetrical threats such as those posed by Al Qaeda of Hizbullah. The problem is that no one is asking this question.
We need to understand our adversary in terms of its biopsychosocial response to its current life conditions. Only then can we begin to formulate an approach to solve its problems in a way that does not involve blowing up airplanes, buses, or themselves in the middle of markets or coffee shops.
More on this to come.