Wednesday, February 01, 2006


[This essay was written last year. I could not find it a home, so I am posting it here in several parts and cross-posting it at Raven's View.]

Toward an Integral Politics, Part One


Following the 2004 election cycle, the media focused its analysis of the outcome on the perceived religious and moral divide between Democrats and Republicans. Exit polls indicated that large numbers of evangelical Christians showed up at the polls to support candidates and ballot measures representing their moral stance. Democrats were judged to be out of touch with the moral tone of American voters, while Republicans repeatedly appealed to the conservative Christian wing of their party and to Catholics traditionally aligned with the Democrats.

Many conservatives reduced the complexities of that election to a battle between God-fearing Christians and godless secularists. In their minds, evangelical Christians won a battle for the right to set an agenda of "social reform" that would reintroduce God into the mainstream of American culture. The Christian right, especially its evangelical branch, now seeks to overturn more than one hundred years of efforts to separate Christian ideology from the legal and political life of America. Two of the highest ranking Republicans (Senator Bill Frist and Representative Tom Delay) have aligned themselves with groups that claim Democrats are waging a war on "people of faith" by blocking confirmation of ultra-conservative judges. Those judges who do not support the evangelical Christian cause are labeled "activist" and targeted for removal from the judiciary. Politicians who do not support the evangelical cause are targeted for ouster in the next election cycle. In a similar vein, liberals see conservative judges who wish to overturn decisions they feel violate originalist interpretations of the Constitution as activist and seek to block their confirmation to the bench.

However, poll after poll refutes the notion that American culture is split between those who believe in God and those who do not. According to a May 2004 Gallup poll, 90 percent of Americans believe in God, while only four percent say they do not believe. Clearly, the division is not between those who believe and those who do not. We should instead examine the differences in how believers define the idea of "God." The God of a Southern Baptist may bear little similarity to the God of a particle physicist, which may bear little resemblance to the God of a politically progressive environmentalist.

In a nation of 296 million people who have origins in many different countries and religious traditions, and who experience an enormous variation in life conditions, it should be expected that worldviews will vary greatly. Psychologist Clare Graves spent more than thirty years studying how people in this country, and many others, view their world. He analyzed the ways in which humans create shared values that instill meaning in a world that can seem threatening and chaotic. People seek to create order and stability through a shared understanding of their world, he surmised.

Two of Graves's closest associates, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, assembled his research into a system they named Spiral Dynamics® and then published a book by the same name (Blackwell Publishing, 1996). Spiral Dynamics is one of the most comprehensive explanations ever articulated for how people understand their world. The authors, who were instrumental in helping South Africa resolve racial issues as apartheid came to an end, have been consulted by many world leaders and organizations, including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Vincente Fox, Nelson Mandela, and the World Bank (What Is Enlightenment?, Fall/Winter 2002, pg. 105-26).

The Spiral of Human Values

To explain each of the eight known worldviews identified in Graves's research, Beck and Cowan use the idea of the meme ( first introduced by Richard Dawkins in his seminal book, The Selfish Gene. A meme is a unit of cultural information that "contains behavioral information passed from one generation to the next, social artifacts, and value-laden symbols that glue together social systems" (Spiral Dynamics, 31). Memes tend to replicate themselves through cultural norms such as dress codes, language idioms, religious expressions, social movements, and political beliefs. Memes also have built-in virus protection to prevent other memes from corrupting their individual values. For example, the fear of going to hell is very effective virus protection built into the Christian meme (a surefire way to prevent its believers from wandering off into other belief systems.

Spiral Dynamics takes the basic idea of the meme and elevates it to the level of meta-meme, or Meme (the single capital is used here to denote meta-memes, rather than the all-caps MEME used in the book). A Meme is an organizing principle that pulls together a collection of similar memes into one coherent worldview. Graves identified eight major Memes in human cultures around the world, ranging from the basic survival Meme to the integrative global village Meme. Beck and Cowan, in order to not privilege one worldview over another, gave each of the Memes a color designation. The labels assigned to the various Memes alternate between warm colors (Memes focused on individual growth and achievement) and cool colors (Memes focused on group development and values) as human systems progress along the Spiral.

The following is an abbreviated explanation of the known Memes and their corresponding worldviews (based on Cowan).

First Tier:
BEIGE--survival; satisfaction of biological needs; reproduction
PURPLE--safety/security; protection from harm; family bonds
RED--power/action; assertion of self to dominate others; control
BLUE--stability/order; obedience to earn later reward; meaning
ORANGE--opportunity/success; competition to achieve results; influence
GREEN--harmony/love; joining together for mutual growth; awareness

Second Tier:
YELLOW--independence/self-worth; integration of living systems; knowing
TURQUOISE--global community/life force; survival of Earth; consciousness

The Spiral of Memes applies both to individuals and to cultures. As a human being develops, s/he will move through each of these Memes until reaching the age of 20 to 25 years. At this point, without effort or intervention, growth tends to cease and does not start up again until middle age. Whole cultures also move through these Memes, having to pass through and integrate each Meme before moving to the next. This hierarchal growth pattern for cultures is what dooms efforts at imposing democracy (a Blue/Orange system) on tribal cultures (often deeply Red), as for example in Iraq.

As one thinks about the Spiral, it's important to remember that each Meme represents a way of understanding the world. Each person or culture will exhibit a unique combination of two or more Memes based on specific life conditions and innate capabilities. For the sake of simplicity, it's possible to talk about a Blue person or a Green person, but no one person will ever be so simple that s/he can be identified with a single color designation.

For example, in the spiritual stream of development, a person (let's call him Bob) may make sense of his world through a Blue lens, attending church each week and seeking to obey the teachings of the Bible. Bob may have chosen a career on Wall Street and may spend each day trying to turn influence into cash through an Orange lens. Likewise, Bob may value an egalitarian partnership with his wife, living the relationship stream through a Green lens. Finally, Bob may have anger control issues in the emotional developmental stream that reflect a Red lens.

Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology recognizes as many as 24 developmental streams that manifest in different ways through each worldview of the Spiral. One of these may be identified as the "God-stream," for lack of a better term. At each point on the Spiral, the idea of God looks very different due to the influence of life conditions, social values, and other factors. These differing views of God, as will be seen in part three, are the source of much of the political and social conflict now so common in the American discourse. Part two will examine how each of the Memes understands the idea of God.

Got to Part Two.


JMP said...

Looking forward to reading the whole series. The title's a good one. I did a quick patent search and was unable to find that anyone has, in fact, patented God. SO LET'S GET ON IT, QUICK! With the U.S. Patent Office these days, I'd say we have pretty good odds.

~C4Chaos said...

cool essay. yep. it's not only about the definition of God, but which level of God do you believe in. and as the spirals have thought us, we need all those definitions, not just one definition to rule them all :)

meanwhile, outside of America, the problem is worse.

doug said...

'Who owns God?' The flip question is equally viable. 'Who or what does God own?' God is a 'name it and claim it' God according to Scriptutre. 'Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.' (Isaiah 40:26) 'He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.' (Psalm 147:4). How true, 'The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.' (Psalm 19:1) But in light of this it goes without saying that God has ownership rights on our world and us that he has created. 'Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.' (Psalm 50:10-12) But the greatest wonder of all is the wonder of God's love for us who are the work of his hands. 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.' (John 3:16) 'Eternal life' awesome to contemplate. That gives us not only the time to count the stars but also to visit them :-)