Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Spiral Dynamics at First Glance: The Twisted Linear from the Circular Perspective of Indigeny

My first awareness of spiral dynamics came out of conversations with two respected colleagues/friends who are both on powerful spiritual and social paths of growth and work. Initially, there were perceptions that spiral dynamics was a helpful tool to navigate at least some of the challenges that our modern world faced us with. As the core of this work became exposed, there were certain ideas explicit and implicit in these conversations that were troubling with respect to indigeny and energetics. Interestingly enough, both colleagues stated a disdain for how indigeny rebuffed modern technology and scientific advancement, fallacious in one instance and apologetic and short-sighted in another, suggesting that modernity is without fundamental flaws and that acceptance of such and its outcomes must be assumed. Upon closer observation of the writings of the creators of spiral dynamics, it became quite clear that there were many more short-comings than grounded progressive ideas. The main SD website (http://www.spiraldynamics.org/aboutsd_overview.htm) does state that “this is not a hierarchy of wisdom or decency or even intelligences, much less happiness and worth”, suggesting a universal nature of it’s way of seeing the world through “ways of thinking about human nature”, already defining universality by a narrowing filter of intellectual cognition born out of the modern euro-center. Indigeny incorporates, truly wholistically, the core human facets of intellect, spirit and emotion as indivisible, though understandable as separate entities. Indigeny does not base its growth on disintegrating one from the other. Energetics requires that they be unified. Spiral dynamics, according to the website, states that, “it reflects a variety of worldviews and conceptions of what life is about, but it doesn’t suggest any one as the ideal”. It seems to elude the writers that this actually does represent a particularity of European, modernized ideology that thinking in and of itself is primary for human development, with all due respect to the important writings and work of John Trudell (Trudell focuses much on the practice of clear, independent thinking, but most always assumes its presence in the larger wholistic indigenous context of human experience). The focus on the cognitive and psychological is in itself a limiting and damaging factor, particularly when connected to their application of the cultural/personal developmental levels or memes in a vertically defined spiral. Spiral dynamics is a twisted linear system of thought-bias, literally and figuratively and presents particular problems when looked at through the perspective of indigeny and energetics.

Spiral dynamics presents itself as being largely ethno(euro)-centric in nature as it speaks presumptively about the value of cognition (as opposed to emotional and spiritual value) and the importance of the psychological understanding of human thought and behavior. SD seems overly dependent on the eurocentrically defined modernistic concept of thought and the brain as the highest form of human development.

In addition, there are impressions of SD as short-sighted, narrow-minded and degrading to the indigenous genius that had driven the human relationship to the world for most all of human history and its highest levels of communal and ethical thought and practice. At another level, spiral dynamics presents itself as bordering on being racist (due, in part, to its relegation of indigenous ideas to lower thought form categories, seemingly straight out of colonial/christian ideology) and, at the very least, patronizing. It is, by design, highly derivative, but insensitively so since it does so without the courtesy of acknowledging the indigenous so-called memetic presence throughout the spiral’s upward contortion. Though the website states that any society might hold numerous elements of the spiral at any given point, the hierarchy of the spiral devalues, also by design, elements (particularly in the purple “indigenous” meme) that must be held in some state of equality with other levels if any society is truly to be understood and projected into the future as viable and/or desirable. If the spirally-defined hierarchical effluent is an unconscious outcome, it is even worse for those seeking clarity through its rose-colored (and turquoise-colored and purple and green and beige-colored) glass.

The ever-expanding spiral is reminiscent of the capitalist idea of unlimited growth, a blight upon the discursive and practical history of humankind and key to the blinded arrogant nature of capitalist globalization. It could be easily surmised that spiral dynamics is even a doomed hypothetical exercise simply because there is no practical resolution to the growth dynamic. Indigeny places a high value on the circular, the cyclical, not the twisted linear idea that is the core of SD. It is this cyclical, circular understanding that enabled indigeny to sustain life for so long through it’s understandings of the close relationships of life and death (ancestral continuum), energetic and material reciprocity, shared abundance and communalism. Linear thinking allows cultures (seemingly those that glorify the elements of the upper tier memes) to extract enviro-benefits (natural resources) without thinking of or caring about the consequences of such beyond the consolidation and proliferation of monetary profit. It is this way of thinking that allows workers to be patently used as means to the end instead of circularly understanding the need to truly provide security and abundance out of their labor. Linear thinking allowed christian domination of indigenous peoples worldwide without looking back at the presumptive core tenets of love, compassion and “doing unto others...” enough to notice that their own claims for religious, if not spiritual, ascendancy were impossible, negated by their own destructive cultural and political actions and inactions in the face of imperialism and colonialism. One need only look at the linear process set in motion by the christian-inspired political and economic schemes of the criminal Cristobal Colon amongst so many others.

With reference to indigeny and energetics, spiral dynamics belittles and devalues the sweeping, expansive nature of the indigenous dynamic. Modern society is already dangerously biased against the “primitive” and “superstitious world” of spirit beings, “ancestor worship” and nature-love, afraid of the transformative nature of the embrace, again, of the intensely spiritual life, one that calls one to attention in all spheres of human endeavor, a truly and deeply cultural integration of ones ethics that leaves you no real choice, but to walk on your correct path. SD also defines emotions as being of the lower order. Emotions are at the center of healthy and sane indigenous life, expressed beautifully in the eagle and the condor prophecy that comes out of indigenous south America, stating that the world will not be in harmony unless the intellectual focus of the North (read “west” or capitalist/industrial) learns to fly in unity with the heart focus of the South (read indigenous, wholistic, integrative). In the light of this, it seems as further insult and even more pointed separatist, disintegrative discourse that spiral dynamics relegates indigeny to one of the lowest, earliest memes (even though some of it’s core concepts are in the turquoise meme), seemingly clucking it’s all-knowing tongue at this lesser expression of human ability. This statement of Clare W. Graves is not only deeply implicit in the (downward) spirally bombastic text, but is explicit in statements such as the following:

“...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 newer, higher order systems as man’s existential problems change.” (http://www.spiraldynamics.net/about-spiral-dynamics-integral.html)

This statement is glaringly self-serving, pompous, short-sighted and intellectually immature as it relegates the historically and temporally voluminous experience of human development and endeavor to an old, “lower order behavior system”. This hierarchical myopia comes screaming out of the deleterious philosophies and praxis of European capitalist-imperialist hegemony, even from the more genteel rantings, but injurious behaviors of the christian cartel. The cultural disdain of indigeny is astounding and is made worse by the statements of some of spiral dynamics’ adherents that take issue with how indigeny rejects modern technology. Even those ungrounded reactions are short-sighted and uninformed. Indigeny has never patently rejected modern (read electronic/digital/materially productive) technologies. On the contrary, indigeny has made good and productive use of the computer platform (Zapatista, Tibetan use of internet, Hawaii-based indigenous people’s server initiative, Sami youtube videos,...), the modern media (Four Directions Media, Mayan and other indigenous radio programming initiatives/ culturalsurvival.org,...) and even the burgeoning area of indigenous-concept t-shirts increasingly showing up on the internet, in retail stores and at powwows.

Spiral dynamics, as formulated and expressed, is unacceptable as a functional, sensible, expansive, integrative way of seeing the world. At another level, and I might add that according to spiral dynamics this is a lower order behavior to look at the universe of life as integrated as unified as this was developed and given foundation in what is called the purple meme (stage 2 of human development!), this reductive anti-system splits away from indigeny some of the elements that indigenous people have held sacred for thousands of years and have brought bravely into this modern construct of cultural dog-eat-dogism. For example, the orange meme (3 steps up the ladder of consciousness according to spiral dynamics’ developers) claims that the “brain/mind coping capacities” and now able to “test options; maneuver” (http://api.ning.com/files/ U3wc*eXIx*aWcb6vs3K5FZ*89qHLby-6lFhVfnyRY2QXjYTViRxgS9* cGCeqgOhdy4LXJXztS8-DtiI4k9-UrUYtyY3OxfSF/Spiral_Dynamics.jpg) in some way heretofore unseen or unexpressed in early historical memes (though they claim fluidity of these memes, they are all marked by historical time periods). If indigeny has been anything, it has been able to test and put into perspective a mind-boggling host of material, social and spiritual options and maneuvered itself through time and space in harmonious and challenged/challenging ways for millennia. To simplify and disempower the indigenous idea and praxis by lowering it and its wholistic (emotional, intellectual, spiritual) nature to a lesser and lower order “behavior” is defining the very ignorance inherent in spiral dynamics’ position. That some of their “higher order” elements are actually elements held in high regard and practice by indigeny, particularly in the so-called turquoise meme, shows the uninformed character of this work.

Spiral dynamics also falls short, and this is a major and glaring flaw, in not validating indigeny as the container/remediator for two of modern society’s greatest ills and current challenges. First, it is increasingly a common awareness that many modern scientists, chemists, biologists and medical doctors and desperately seeking the aid and knowledge of indigenous people (IK) who have always been aware of working with plants and other beings of nature for healing purposes. It is modern life and culture that has created the increase in cancer, diseases of excess and imbalance and other environmental and physiological pathologies beyond its own ability to bring them under control. It is these very same professionals who lament how important it is to document this knowledge before all the rain forests are gone at the hands of the very ideology that sent them scurrying into the bush in the first place. Second, it is now becoming clear, based on United Nations reports and other sources, that understanding and best practice with regard to human-accelerated global warming/climate change is to be found in the culture of indigeny and energetics. Somehow, indigenous people and their spiritual traditions, rife with “ritual ways”, “tribal”, “animistic” practices and “tradition” around nature, society and cultural production are somehow able to help modern folk with their most pressing psycho-social-spiritual challenge that they’ve ever created by their own hubris. The indigenous concepts of informed intimacy1, born out of the historic, spiritually-based and familial relationship with land and nature, the primacy and sacredness/inviolability2 of nature and parity3, respecting the diversity of form and function in nature (and, therefore, humanity) as a truly integrative ideological and practical process all express the foundational and powerful way that indigeny and energetics provide modern culture with a (if not the) way through the moral and behavioral impasse that modernity finds itself so deeply mired in at this key time in history.

Spiral dynamics is truly a newly developing “hypothesis”, a toddling concept in its first (..., second or third) awkward stage of defining itself, steeped in its own biased cultural grandiosity. It may yet, though, prove to be useful in some intellectual, theoretical way. It remains to be seen if it can fulfill the social mandate for change, congruence and dynamism that SD’s progenitors state is possible. Problematic in this projection is that the developers of this system seem tied to what they call “higher levels” of existence, understood by this writer to mean modern, scientific and technological means of thought and production as opposed to the wholistic ways of being and doing given long life in the conventional, indigenous world. Spiral dynamics is clearly apologetic of the modernistic shortcomings that the last 150 years of industrialism and capitalist intellectualism has wrought. That their website claims that SD is NOT “a religion, nor a doctrine, nor a dogma rooted in matters of faith” (http://www.spiraldynamics.org/aboutsd_ overview.htm) is probably a great thing since most mainstream intellectual/ideological works make fallacious assumptions that “faith” and “religion” (usually a christian bias) are necessary for human sustenance without incorporating the more core values of spiritual engagement and circularity grounded and developed in the indigenous milieu of energetics. We are better off not having the christian bias become explicit in the statements of spiral dynamics, though it is still implicit, as it would further narrow the possibilities for universality of application, an assumed goal of this work.

Even though it’s creators state that we shouldn’t get too bogged down in some of the more superficial engagements of the symbolism, it would be sophomoric to suggest that these symbols don’t have meaning in and of and possibly despite themselves. What they have done IS set up a system of symbolic representations that they say help others to manage relationships. That they dismiss off-hand the negative potentialities of this symbolic system, especially since they claim to be containers, not content, is again short-sighted and speaks more to the particularity of their own cultural filters than to any real and grounded engagement in the experience and needs of humanity. All of our experiences are connected to the universal, but not all of the ways by which we have experienced and processed human life and work are worthy of further propagation. Accepting matter-of-factly the presence of capitalism does not mean we should continue its programs and processes into a projected future.

If you have to have had taken their courses to understand the deeper intricacies of this system, then they were woefully mistaken in providing misleading and confusing symbolic materials that they knew would be misunderstood. In fact they claim it has happened in numerous ways, hence their “Caveats” page on the main site.

The “Caveats” page claims the following with regard to SD:
“programs depict complexes of flowing systems within people as life conditions in their worlds and internal neurobiological systems interact—our approach never puts people into pigeonholes or boxes”

It might be correct that these memes actually represent fluid models of “biopsychosocial” systemic application, but the symbolic representation of their twisted linear structure, though they make claim that it is so much more than the memetic categories which make up the spiralized dynamism (which, again, is the very name of the process), does not speak to fluidity at all. Possibly the fluidity exists in the historicity of the memes’ development, but even that suffers from a lack of accuracy, unless even the years/periods attached to the memes are actually so fluid as to make them devoid of temporal characteristics at all. And then, what is one of these memes, if not a pigeonhole or box. It seems the progenitors of SD want it both ways, categories/containers AND fluidity/non-judgement. What they may actually have is non-clear. They go on to say, “Much attention goes to the superficial categories rather than the engine that drives human nature”. That may not have been the case if it weren’t based upon, however superficially and theoretically and hypothetically, memetic containers or, if you will, boxes.

“The models are elegant and sometimes others represent them as wrapped in details that contribute little of substance and only add confusion.”


It took only a three minute segment of the Link TV Global Spirit program, “Earth Wisdom for a World in Crisis” to define the ideological framework of indigeny and point to why SD falls far short of being able to, first, bring clarity to our understanding of indigeny and, second, to provide a cogent way to apply important indigenous concepts in a dominant industrialized, capitalist world and worldview faced by so many problems of its own making. Chief Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation, relating a story about having been asked, “what’s your bottom line?”, simply, though after much reflection, stated, “There is no bottom line”. In the worldview or “cosmovision” of indigeny and energetics, there is no economically-defined hierarchical level at which all accounts and assets organize themselves into some profit-loss statement. Chief Lyons said, “We live in the cycle”. This cyclical (circular) nature of the indigenous understanding and practice was underscored by Thomas Alarcon, advocate for the Aymara tribe in Peru, who stated, “Everything turns. Everything revolves. It cycles.”

Spiral dynamics represents the modern, “western” inability to allow or actively bring resolution to fundamental problems. If its creators/developers had been able to conceive the temporal element in a circular formation, they might be able to enact more fluidity in their own understandings of human dynamics and the value of the purple meme and other “lower order” concepts. It is exactly this idea of unlimited growth, symbolized by this upward-spiraling “open-ended” theory, like a plant that grows and then divorces itself from its roots, that is the crippling mindset that fights its own need to resolve itself, to see itself from a different point of view and then act as though it has actually learned something or experienced a substantial level of enlightenment. No matter what the deeper levels of SD are, they are indelibly linked to the devolutionary energetic of their own dominant symbolism. With regard to indigeny, it remains to be seen if spiral dynamics has the scope and ability to treat indigenous concepts and culture with respect or any level of clarity. If it can not do even this, it becomes even more doubtful that it can then hold the rest of the human experience in correct perspective, enough to support and enact real change and resolution in the world as opposed to prettified reform of failing social and political processes.

Indigeny can use all the allies that it can get. It seems unlikely that spiral dynamics is one of them.

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