Victor MacGill Chaos and Complexity
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A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

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My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

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Spiral Dynamics

A talk given by Victor to the Dunedin Spiritualist Church July 2006

Has anybody heard of the psychologist, Abraham Maslow. He developed a well known concept called a Hierarchy of Needs. Briefly it says we all have basic human survival  needs like food, water, and warmth. Only when we have met these physical needs do we move on to the next level of needs; which are safety and protection needs. After that we have social needs of love and belonging. Once we have developed these needs, we move on to esteem needs of recognition and status. Finally, it moves to self actualization needs, which would match our what we would call spiritual needs. We therefore see life as a growing through a progression of levels meeting our from physical needs, through emotional and mental needs and through to spiritual needs.

A colleague of Abraham Maslow was Clare Graves, who developed a theory similar in many ways, but distinctly different in others, that Abraham Maslow recognised in his later years as superior to his own system. So, if Clare Graves’ system was so good, how come Maslow’s theory is very well known and very few people know Clare Graves theory.
 
Right when Clare Graves was ready to present his theory to the world, he was stricken by ill health with strokes and heart attacks, leaving him unable to successfully present his theory to the scientific world. He called his Theory, “Emergent Cyclic Double-Helix Model of Adult Biopsychosocial Systems Development”, but don’t get hung up on the name.

Two of his students, Chris Cown and Don Beck, picked up where he left off, promoting and further developing the theory, eventually giving it the name of Spiral Dynamics. I was fortunate to learn about Spiral Dynamics by attending a weeklong course by Chris Cowan and his partner Natasha Todorovich.

Basically, Spiral Dynamics proposes that as humans we come together to better meet our needs. The environment places certain challenges on us. We develop ways of changing our environment and working together with each other so we meet our needs as effectively as possible. We have to use the bodies we have building on what they are capable of and finding ways to cope with the things we are not capable of. We work to develop ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and we would say spiritually. We have to cope with interactions between ourselves and the environment, ourselves and people in our community, and ourselves and outsiders. It’s a bit like a three way dance where everyone’s moves depends on what everyone else does.

There are many factors that will determine the way a society will choose to organise itself, such as how easy it is to live in the environment, the population, technology, belief systems, threats from the environment or other human groups, resources available etc. Clare Graves found a distinct pattern in the types of societies we form under differing conditions. Interestingly, that patterns he found for how whole societies evolve and change over time, turned out to be the same as the pattern of development of an individual person, You will see what I mean.

The first level of development is the survival level. This is people who can do little more than meet their basic physical needs. Early humans living on the African Savannah or early human cave dwellers lived at this level. If they did speak at all, their language was basic. They could only live in small family bands as they did not have the resources, technology or skills to organise themselves into any bigger groups. They generally wander from place to place to find enough food, so did not have permanent dwelling places.

From the perspective of a single person, we are looking at a baby. They have little or no skills and abilities to meet their own needs or communicate in meaningful way we would expect of an adult. Each level of development has been given a colour to make it easier to remember and avoid the pitfall of thinking higher levels are better or more important. Each level is appropriate to the environment and situation in which it exists. The survival level is given the colour beige. There may well be no human groups still living at a basic survival level.

As family groups get bigger over time, a more sophisticated level of social interactions becomes necessary. Consistently around the world we see the development of tribal groups with many strikingly similar qualities. They will have a chief who can direct the behaviour of tribal members. Actions of members become co-ordinated in a way that could not have happened before. The tribal groups need to clearly distinguish themselves from other tribes. Tribal dress, music, poetry, food, art etc. distinguish them from other people. Genealogy is also important to mark tribal members from strangers. Shamans with magical powers are also characteristic. With language, humans began to ponder the meaning of life and death, where they came from, explaining evil and what happens after death. Myths and legends often including a family of gods are created as explanations and the shaman takes care of the spiritual needs of the tribe. There is a consistent belief in the power of dead ancestors to help in the life of tribal members. Slavery is common. For a single person, this is the childhood; a time of magical beliefs and the development of identity. Family rules and traditions are important. The colour is purple.

As the number of tribes in an area increases, all strictly maintaining their own identity and competing for resources, conflict inevitably arises. Over time one tribal chief will come to dominate other tribal groups either because they willingly submit to the chief or are defeated by them. This chief evolves into an emperor or king or queen. Improved means of producing food and the development of agriculture enable people to live in one place. Towns and cities are founded like the great cities of the Babylonians, The Greeks, the Egyptians and the Romans, The development of writing and money enables the greater level of co-ordination and record keeping. Tribal chiefs become Lords under the king and the king forms a court to assemble the skills needed to maintain the empire. The empire is maintained through violence. This stage is reflected in the rebellion of adolescence and teen years and the colour is red. Pre-european Maori culture was at a transition point between purple and red.

Eventually the conflict inside the empire and the level of anger at the violent repression and some other means is needed to keep the empire together. Since the empire is still made up of dominated tribal units each with their own traditions and gods, an important way of holding the empire together is to have a common set of beliefs for the whole empire. It is not a co-incidence that Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Confucianism all began in empire based societies within a small 500 year band of time. This reduced the level of violence needed and helped maintain a coherent society. In order that the new beliefs do not start developing differently in different parts of the empire written texts appeared to define the true belief so everyone has the same beliefs. This level is describing the social structure not the level of understanding of the founder of those beliefs. Communism is also seen as being at this level. This is the beginning of adulthood in the single life of a person and the colour is blue.

The problem with the blue level is that there is only one truth that everyone must believe. Sooner or later people rebel against this. The State and the Church tend to be one, or closely aligned, so people also rebel against the oppression of the king or emperor.

The first nation to move to the orange level were the French. They overthrew their king and set up a democratic republic although times like the renaissance gave clues as to what was to follow. They were followed by the Americans and then so many other countries. Most countries are today existing at the orange level. There is a swing against the religiousness of the blue level, and we see the importance of science and materialistic commerce. Personal achievement is prized and success is seen as being judged by money owned. The earth is seen as something to be exploited to make money.

Once again people become to feel uncomfortable with the materialistic focus and think, “there’s got to be more to life than this”. The certainty of science is swapped for the recognition that different people have different truths that are true for them. The next level, the green level looks to a return to carting for the earth, accepting people with different views. The green movement and New Age philosophies are a part of this level.

People who have reached the green level tend to react against the levels they have left. They tend to struggle against authorities and those in power at the blue level and the scientists and materialists of the orange level. They can often throw out the baby with the bath water. Followers of New Age ideas can too readily embrace illogical ideas because they “feel right”. Followers of the Green movement can reject modern technology on more ideological grounds than practical reasons  and while on the one hand they want to embrace other cultures and beliefs, they continue to condemn people who do not have similar beliefs to them.

These weaknesses drive people on to the yellow level, which is an integrated level. All previous levels are recognised for their contribution and their weaknesses are understood. A person at the yellow level can adapt to work with people at all levels in a way that enhances the experience for everyone. It is estimated that there are at most 1% of our population living at this level and even those people probably spend most of their time operating from lower levels.

The next level is highly spiritual, where unconditional compassion allows pure sacrifice for other people. It is extremely rare to encounter people operating consistently at this level. In the life of an individual it is a mature spiritually aware person.

Because there are less and less examples of people operating at higher levels it is harder to understand the qualities of that level. When we have become proficient at operating at one level we move to the next, but we must still have an use all earlier levels. It is also important to realise that higher up does not mean better but it does mean more complex and more resources needed to sustain it. Every level has its place.

At each level there is a system of beliefs called a vmeme. The term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins to describe a thought, an idea, an image or a concept that can spread from mind to mind like a gene does in the physical world. A vmeme is a collection of value based memes that all people at a particular level share, so they have a similar world view and behave in similar ways.

Spiral Dynamics provides a theory that allows us to better understand how we have evolved as societies and help us to explain why issues such as the Treaty of Waitangi, is so controversial. A purple tribal moving to red – empire society is interactng with an orange materialistic, scientific society and we can better understand the clash of Islamic blue and the orange western world.

I find Spiral Dynamics offers a very real and powerful view of human life. It is a scientific theory that I find adds to my spiritual understanding of who you and I are and the forces that have made us what we are. It clearly states how important our whole nature is. It says we are made of the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects. To add a spiritual dimension to this fits easily.

Spiral Dynamics provides a framework to accept everyone for what they are without taking away their individuality. It gives us the power to choose our life and future.

Clare Graves did not see our human development as having an ultimate goal as Abraham Maslow did. His triangle had a top. Clare Graves proposed an open ended cycle of development with no pre-determined outcome; there is no end to what we can become. It shows how our physical self is related to our spiritual self. Clare Graves truly sees us as co-creators in our reality.
 
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