Response to Ken Wilber's Response to "The Missing Links" of Spiral Dynamics and Ken Wilber, a posting by Bill Moyer on the Post-Conventional Politics (Post-Con Pol) discussion list, reproduced on The World of Ken Wilber website

by Chris Cowan, co-author, Spiral Dynamics

[Wilber's comments appear in black. Cowan's comments are in blue.]


On the mean memes in general

Red To Blue To Orange To Green To Yellow....

Ken Wilber

A few quick comments about what some critics see as my over-focusing on the mean green meme, my failure to appreciate the healthy green meme, and my lack of attention to the mean orange meme:

First of all, each and every level/stage has healthy and unhealthy manifestations, judged against the scale of the degree of integration that can be structurally achieved at that level. There are relatively healthy and unhealthy red, blue, orange, green, yellow, etc. Thus, in addition to healthy manifestations, there are the mean red meme, the mean blue meme, the mean orange meme, etc.

["Mean" is a judgment that ought be put in Korzybskian quotes. More often than not, from what we've seen of Wilber's stuff related to SD, the mean green meme [sic] is portrayed through a mish-mash of temperament variables and the dynamics of mixed entering or exiting stages on the Graves model. The vibrancy of change, rejection of previous levels because of their failure to address the newly-appearing existential problems, and the "delta surge" of confidence that the new way will restore balance all contribute to this. In addition, these transitions will play out in different ways depending on the degree of Openness or Arrestedness in the system. "Mean" is simply a lousy and lazy choice of words to convey the sense of turbulence and anxiety that produces the behaviors the defenders of the terminology find so objectionable and seek to attack.]

I have not ignored the damage caused by the unhealthy versions of orange (the mean orange meme, or MOM). in fact, the most widespread result of the MOM is nothing other than the modern flatland, which is the "disease" that i have written the most about. just because i didn't use the phrase "mean orange meme" should not be enough to detract from that obvious fact.

[Again, despite my ongoing irritation that the "integral" faction seems incapable of differentiating meme from vMeme, i.e., idea packet from a Gravesian level of psychological existence, I disagree that Orange (ER) produces Flatland. That was a two-dimensional, absolutistic universe, more akin to the DQ perspective of good vs. evil. Because ER (Orange) is multiplistic - many ways, but one best - Flatland is not an appropriate metaphor. Wide-spread influence is not the same thing. Today's world has far more variability and less rigidity than that implies. In fact, the inherent belief in changeability and even one's obligation to effect change on self and others is far more important than the foibles of materialism or abundance schemes. Agreed that people centralized around ER (Orange) have put the planet in a fine mess, and continue to exacerbate the problems rather than resolve them. It's that which will activate more FS (Green) and, eventually, A'N' (Yellow). Again, though, "mean" is an opinion statement that implies deliberate ill-intent - evil-doing. That's not necessarily the case for ER (Orange), or the others. While many things are done "in mine own interest" at ER (Orange) there is also an effort to create, ultimately, a greater good and to leave a legacy of notable works, sometimes compulsively so, and often with an eternal reward hope lurking in the background.]

As i have tried to document, the modern flatland (MOM) arose in the wake of two major evolutionary developments, one "good" and one "bad."

the good news was the Weberian differentiation of the value spheres of art, morals, and science on a widespread, cultural scale (i.e., the differentiation of the Big Three or the four quadrants).

the bad news was that, for various complex reasons i analyzed in SES and BH,

that important differentiation of the value spheres went too far

into dissociation of the value spheres,

which eventually resulted in the Habermasian "colonization of art and morals by science"

--that is, the domination of the interior realms of I and We by a scientific materialism of Its: by any other name, the mean orange meme.

[Perhaps, instead, an imbalance with complementary other thinking? Or Closedness in the ER (Orange) to the exclusion of other ways of thinking - a question of appropriateness and congruence rather than "meanness." Consider the exit from DQ (Blue), DQ/er, as external authority is gently rejected, then the entering into ER (Orange), dq/ER, where the surge of autonomy-seeking leads to an overt and deliberate assault on the previous authority in order for the power of one's own right-thinking mind to gain control.]

The MOM is the global disaster of modernity (as the MGM is the disaster of postmodernity and the MBM was the disaster of medieval premodernity, etc.).

[It's vital that the "integral" crowd learns about Entering, Nodal, and Exiting states rather than concentrate on color-based tyopology. This view of "mean" is often merely the exiting phase. And where did the "include" of all the "Transcend and Include" bit go? Is it being claimed that previous systems, like old soldiers, just fade away? That they are not incorporated into the present state, though in a modified form? This is a fundamental point: more complex systems resolve previous problems in new, more elaborated ways. It takes less energy and attention to do so. Thus, a different set of concerns appears as the surface priority. The old capacities do not vanish; instead, they become part of a repertoire (assuming a degree of Openness) of behavioral options.

As to "disaster," it, like "mean" suggests a marvelous ease at passing judgment, not necessarily an evil trait, but a telling one. Like terrorists and freedom fighters, disasters and moments of liberation are in the eyes of the beholders. The transitional stages are absolutely necessary to set up the conditions for the awakening of the next way of being. While they may well appear "disastrous" for those being negatively impacted at the time, it would be quite impossible to look back on them from the present had they not transpired, as they did. It is the surge of existential problems - problems that the present thinking may not even recognize, much less resolve - that liberates the energy for the emergent process. The pundits would do well to put some more energy into learning the basics of the theory and not so much into characterizing the traits, i.e., the 8 categories and the over-simplistic color code I accept blame for creating and spreading.]

i have written extensively on this MOM pathology, which actually underlies all of the other pathologies being criticized (from global capitalism to exploitation). as i have tried to make very clear, flatland (MOM) is the single greatest pathology on the planet right now, and has been for three centuries; the other mean memes are still present, and equally insidious in their own fun ways, but by sheer dint of its power and reach, the MOM gets the prize for nastiest of the nasty memes.

[Then why, pray tell, not present a more balanced view in the writings? Why this compulsive harping on MGM? Why all the distorted, biased, and self-serving junk in the Boomeritis pages? These self-defenses come a little late. The anti-FS (Green) damage has been done and the theory has been contaminated. Shameful, though not terminal, unless Wilber sticks to this high-and-mighty path and others continue to enable rather than challenge the claims.]

As for the healthy and unhealthy green memes, i always start any discussion of the MGM by pointing out the HGM's many accomplishments to
date: the civil rights movement, feminism, environmental protection and ecological sensitivity, health care reform, political awareness of marginalization in all forms, etc.

[To attribute any of these to a single vMeme is naive and misleading. For example, might not one also argue that "the civil rights movement" had strong elements of DQ (Blue) in it with a strong religious/ethical base, elements of ER (Orange) with economic and political empowerment to participate in a competitive decision-making system, as well as some FS (Green), CP (Red), and even BO (Purple)? A few years ago I was quite comfortable with this sort of glib labeling. Not any more. SD is not a typology, and even the vaunted "transcend and include" suggests more than a single color present in most complex things.]

But i have focused on the damage that the MGM has caused, mostly because that is where the action is in the cultural elite. the MGM is the driving force of boomeritis, and it has dominated academia, liberal politics, and the humanities for three decades. its damage is staggering, and only made worse by the smug self-satisfaction of these particular Inquisitors.

['Here he goes again,' to borrow from Ronald Reagan. Single-cause thinking? Geez. This sort of statement completely misses that many of the very things being targeted are phenomena of the transitional, mixed energies - exiting ER (Orange), entering FS (Green), not the nodal, centralized FS (Green) state. In addition to failing to recognize the contributions of competitive ER (Orange), doctrinaire DQ (Blue), and even ego-driven CP (Red) elements to the creation of "Inquisitors," the smug self-satisfaction in this fallacious perspective is precisely what makes it so annoying. Who knows, one might even find that some of the contrarian voices actually are speaking from closer to the A'N' (Yellow) and looking at what this sort of rhetoric does to the overall process of human emergence and the spiral. And where are the other psychological dimensions that make people jerks or charmers in all this MGM stuff? Can they not differentiate the actor from the play? The ongoing confusion of temperament variables which might connect or not, and even intelligence dynamics (thus, the self-righteous "Second Tier" elitism among some of the crowd) with a Gravesian system has injected senseless noise rather than adding clarity and refining the theory. There are so many questions and avenues for research, setting up false claims or pretending answers which are not there is a real disservice.]

Of course it is necessary to tease apart the healthy versions of orange from the unhealthy versions, and the healthy versions of green from the unhealthy.

but so far, most of the work i have seen in this area still has a strong green bias

therefore, i feel it is necessary to continue to criticize these tendencies, while still encouraging more responsible approaches to this important topic, approaches that are truly all-quadrants, all-levels, all-lines, all-states, all-types.

[A clearer view of what FS (Green) actually is and isn't, as opposed to the transitional phases, mixtures, harmonics like DQ (Blue) spouting Green rhetoric or ER (Orange) wrapped in a Green marketing cloak, might save some energy here. Also, the self-appointed Inquisitors who determine what is healthy and unhealthy for the whole are an interesting breed, themselves. Who ordains these self-righteous critics? It's easy to say, "For the good of the spiral" or "Allows all the systems to express themselves fully" or "Creates a supportive and positive climate for all to be what they are and to become what they can without doing harm to others." It's tougher to follow through on an all-and perspective which, in fact, rings of the inclusiveness which itself begins so strongly with the awakening of FS (Green). Graves constantly warned about "finding simplicity which is not there." The MGM accusation is simplistic in the extreme.]

One of my biggest problems is that, alas, i haven't the time to address all these issues adequately. some critics infer that if i haven't emphasized a particular quadrant or level, it is because i am actively devaluing it, whereas all it usually means is that i haven't had time to address it.

this is particulary true for healthy green, for unhealthy yellow (yes, there is definitely a MYM), and for economic-political factors in the social system or lower-right quadrant. i have a lot to say on those items, hopefully some of it useful, and i look forward to being able to share these thoughts soon.

Bush's "axis of evil" is, of course, a blue meme statement. as such, it infuriates green. but there is another sort of "good news, bad news" about bush's approach.

[Is it just Blue (DQ), or is it also an ER (Orange) manipulative ploy of which he might or might not even be aware? Ask not what the statement is, but why the statement is made thus. Again, finding simplicity which isn't there in categorizing "a blue meme statement" without asking why it, like the "Crusade" remark, was made.]

on the one had, blue always has a much better understanding of red and of how to handle red. blue is right next to red, has just come out of red, and understands the drastic measures that are required to handle red war loads and brutal terrorists.

[People and systems centralized in DQ (Blue) do have thier ways to deal with CP (Red). It's where they just came from, and it's familiar territory. Whether it's a "better" understanding, or merely closer, is debatable. If the objective is to play within the givens and implement first-order change, then DQ (Blue) thinking is congruent. More power to it. If the objective is more complex and seeks larger, systemic second- or third-order changes over a long time, then it's inadequate. That's why Orange, Green, Yellow, and a tinge of Turquoise have turned on over the past centuries - to have better solutions than DQ (Blue) could offer when it was state-of-the-art.

Again, where's all this vaunted "transcend and INCLUDE" business gone? Only show up when it's convenient or handy? The higher levels have the capacities of the previous systems, just framed in a new way. It's possible to do necessary things but not to be locked into the thinking to which it comes most "naturally," thus to recognize the difference between actions and the thinking that drives them. That is why a heavily DQ-oriented war on "evildoers" is inadequate to deal with terrorism for other than the shortest term. First, most terrorist movements have a large DQ loading; they're not primarily CP at all. They are also reflecting a good vs. evil worldview, often theologically rooted, not acting in service of an individual ego. Second, failure to addresses causes will, indeed, lead to generations of near-perpetual war. Is that elaborated thinking, or a polarized, dichotomous view? "Drastic measures," if justified, must be thought through in more complex and systemic ways than DQ (Blue) is capable of.]

green is generally helpless and hapless in the face of red: all of green's tools and values are clueless in the face of joyous brutality and intentional aggression. talking, sharing, caring, and dialoging do not impress red. it takes a blue meme to smash red in the face and not blink.

[This speaks more to a partial understanding of FS and the theory than anything. Previous systems are incorporated. "Helpless and hapless" and the list of "tools" fly in the face of all the conflict and MGM charges leveled against Green, examples above. And the statement that it takes "a blue meme" [sic] suggests that assertive action is exclusive to DQ? Consider that someone in a CP-DQ transition is a likely candidate to smash without blinking, but that's not the only one. ER will do it by remote control and not take many casualties in the process. FS will participate in coalitions to preserve the integrity of the community. Someone else centralized at DQ (Blue) might well prefer to die while turning the other cheek since, in their belief system, that could well be the "right" thing to do. Separate the values from the valuing systems. The contradiction of lambasting "Mean Green" on one hand and the depiction of it as a virtual patsy on the other is not easily explained, unless one fails to grasp that vMemes and the contents they attract are not the same thing, a rudimentary point in the SD point of view.]

On the other hand, blue is still blue. as such, its own imperialism is much worse than that of orange or green

(because increasing development brings a lessening of narcissism and
absolutism: blue is worse than orange, which is worse than green, which is worse than yellow...).

[Nonsense. How does he define "worse?" People dominated or resources impacted? Narcissism would peak around ER, not DQ. Rigidity peaks at DQ, falls at ER, and surges again at FS. Dogmatism is high at DQ and falls. "Absolutism" is the term Dr. Graves attached to the thinking of the DQ, 4th Level; it's also present at the ER (Orange). Temperament factors are very complicated. Read Bill Lee's papers or his transcription of Dr. Graves' Washington School of Psychiatry presentation for much more elaboration on these and other factors. The statement also fails to recognize the relative increase in power/impact as more complex thinking comes online. Much work still needs to be done here.]

bush is attempting to put blue structures in place on a global scale, whereas they are effective, in today's world, only on a local basis (send in a blue army to crush red barbarians, etc.)

worse for bush and america, many world leaders, especially european, have a good measure of healthy green, and thus it will be impossible to build an international consensus around blue values.

bush will therefore do so unilaterally, which will be disastrous, separating america from the rest of the liberal democracies, which are frankly alarmed and embarassed at all that "axis of evil" crap.

[On this I sort of agree, though I'm not at all convinced that Bush's personal rhetoric and the intent of his handlers are the same. It's imperative to view Bush as a mix - some west Texas CP, a lot of newly reformed true-believer DQ, and a big dose of ER entrepreneurial pragmatism. A big anchor is progress and development, because that's the right thing to do. Most world leaders are more complex thinkers, and they don't have a Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Rice cabal or a daddy in the arms bidness.]

My own opinion is that the only way any of these problems will change is if a significant number of world leaders themselves begin to light up yellow cognition (as a prerequisite for yellow morals).

[I'd be really happy to see some authentic Green thinking layered over the Orange-speak. I'd look for stacking more Yellow in their advisors, not the pols, themselves. Someone at A'N' wouldn't likely get to the top, and probably wouldn't like it if they did.]

most of the world leaders who can do so are now at green, more or less, and therefore most of their problems center around their own attempts to differentiate healthy and unhealthy green.

[As well as sorting through the huge corporate globalist Orange pressures embodied in IMF/WB, and the anchor-like energy from Blue -ism's to which weight is being added by present actions.]

that is, most of their problems directly stem from their own MGM, which is exactly why i continue to focus on that pathology.

[Which is precisely why the proponents of MGM are wrong-headed in this. They should be working on exploring the ER-FS transition and balancing the energies, not going after a contrived, simplistic phantom. Writer's freedom to express or not, it's sloppy and self-serving to paint this theory with one's own prejudices, or even worse, deliberate ignorance. State SD as it is, then add personal views and opinions and attribute them accordingly.]

All of the other mean memes can only be fixed if world leaders themselves recognize and address those issues, and that will only happen if they jettison the MGM in their own thinking and thus stand open to second-tier solutions.

[I'm no fan of Tier-ism, although I coined the terminology, and would suggest that fleshing out the thinking in many levels - particularly those just ahead of the existence problems the leader is confronting as the critical issues - is far more important than a Sermon on the Yellow. Existence problems and ways of thinking interact. Raise the issues, explore the problems, facilitate the next thinking. Don't try to force the process with contrived jargon or grandiose promises of solutions that can't be implemented. For many in the ER to FS transition, more FS is next. Truly "integral" people would never have got onto the MGM bandwagon. Now, it's time to get off the "mean" language and facilitate a constructive version of it. Just because some folks who share prejudices give a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" of recognition, that's no proof of quality, any more than criticism by those who don't confirms the prejudices or the critics' non-integral, First-Tier nature. Clarify instead of cloud, folks. For heaven's sake, try being integral instead of talking about it.]

this is not to say that the other problems aren't important (for they are!), only that i am focusing on what i believe is the crux of the difficulty at this time.

[Focus on it in a constructive, "integral," and contributive way, then. Help by refining and elaborating on it instead of bastardizing SD theory or using it like a throw-away stick to bash adversaries and then discard. Wake up to how counter-productive to whole-Spiral thinking glib cracks like the "MGM" tag can be, and how easily they can be weaponized by smug twits who want to assail people whose ideas are disagreeable to them.

I realize there are political, personal, and business agendas at work beneath the surface of all of this. But much of what I've read on the web and about Wilber's Boomeritis piece is borderline awful, and there's no excuse for some of the blunders other than egos, ignorance, and arrogance. From such extremely bright people, there's really no justification for it. Start walking your talk, Wilberoids.]