What Can Evolution and Spiral Dynamics Tell us About the Coronavirus?


Beyond the Economy-Stupid is the Culture-Stupid

A few days ago, I posted a graph on the Beck-Graves Facebook page from a presentation I usually make to graduate students and business leaders who’ve been trained in Spiral Dynamics. It represents a half-day worth of training in the SD-MEMEnomics methodologies that I’ve developed over the last two decades. Many questions arose from the group, and this post is an attempt to answer those questions and bring clarity to what an end-phase of a MEMEnomic Cycle means through the adoption of the Spiral Dynamics change model  to the MEMEnomics framework. 

First, and foremost, it is important to keep in mind that the graph is about the economic sector (the economic gMEMEs not the culture-wide vMEMEs at every level of the Spiral). g refers to general category memes that make up an entire vMEME. This is what Beck and Cowan called “vMEME Attractors” and, for reasons of consistency, I renamed gMEMEs in my book MEMEnomics.  

Unfortunately, the fate of our country became tied directly to our economy and we can longer separate the two. This became true from the time Clinton adviser James Carville  coined the term “It’s the economy-stupid” in 1992. It pointed to  what really matters in winning elections. Carville’s statement became  the guiding principle for every presidency since. However,  it is important to point out that the Clinton Era was part and parcel of the Only Money Matters Cycle that started with the first Reagan Administration and is now coming to an end. Clinton played a major role in deregulating banks which paved the road for all politicians to believe that a deregulated free market economy knows best which eventually led  to the 2008 financial crisis and its gruesome aftermath. Carville would have been truly memorialized in history if he were to say “It’s the fairness-of-the-economy-stupid.  Regardless of all that,  all the vMEMEs in the graph are economic sector gMEMES and only pertain to the US economy.

The rise in economic-gMEME complexity over time is indicative of  of two factors:

  1. The upward movement on the Spiral makes available more complex tools for every vMEME activated. This includes Red and unhealthy Orange. Example: Al-Qaeda (Red-Ideological Blue) using nuclear weapons or airplanes to advance their ideology, or naked traders (Red with no cash) using Orange research to short markets with positions worth Billions of Dollars).
  2. Rises in GDP, innovation and population make that complexity possible. The 3 are directly correlated, which accounts for the rise in systemic vMEME and gMEME complexity over time.

Here’s some other information pertinent to the graph:

  1. The Yellow line marks the end state of the Third MEMEnomic Cycle which we’re in. It is, unfortunately,  a Gamma Trap. The shaded Blue area labeled as Paradigm Shift points to the kind of changes that need to happen (Ad Hoc Yellow) before we reach New Alpha Fit (stable state).
  2. The bar showing the gMEMEstack is the thin-slicing of the Yellow line and is from another graph.  I couldn’t move the dates to place the bar on the same graph, resulting the discrepancy in the timeline.

Since there seems to be little distinction today between the economy and social justice, it’s fair to say: as the economy goes, so goes politics and the nation. I first called my presentations based on this research: “It’s About the vMEMEs Stupid” in an effort to shift  the conversation to the wider effects of economics on society.

Here are the details of the research behind the graph. In 2010, I hired a research firm that analyzed over 1000 end-of-year reports on the economy from publications such as Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, NYT, Barron’s, Financial Times, Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc..

The time-frame was from the late 1930′ to 2009. It was difficult to find reliable data that meets that criteria pre 1935, so we used different metrics for that part of the research that were derived from historic narratives on the economy. For the post 1935 research period, there were hundreds of Keywords and phrases that we used that were intended to pick up on the different states and stages of every economic gMEME. Keywords like deregulation, new law, white collar crime, recession, union busting, outsourcing, cases prosecuted by the SEC, law suits brought against Fortune 500 companies, creation of new financial instruments (notional value, unhealthy Orange), etc..

We also tracked legal actions brought by the Federal government against the entire economic Spiral and assigned them to every gMEME. And, as an outside measure to gauge the debauchery of the US Dollar, (unhealthy Orange) we kept track of the relationship between GDP growth and the money supply, (the bigger the gap, the weaker was Blue, and the stronger were Red and Unhealthy Orange). This inverse relationship between Blue and Red-Orange emerged from all the other data as well. As indicated in the graph, the lower Blue density was,  the more rampant and out of control were Red and (unhealthy) Orange.

From 2010 to present day, I’ve been tracking the economic gMEMEstack through my own research, and it hasn’t been that hard to do.  I had predicted that with President Obama’s election and his pick of Paul Volcker as chief economic advisor, that there will be a slow resurrection of Blue in economics, (as indicated in the Blue-shaded area). Volcker is a past Fed chairman who has been critical of the way monetary policy has been used since Raegan replaced him with Alan Greenspan. This is a man who understood the fallacy of finance being the tail that wagged the economic dog that violated the basic tenets of modern economics. All of my hopes were dashed when Volcker was promptly replaced by Larry Summers, a neoliberal economist who was Clinton’s Treasury Secretary and the poster child of the financial crisis. No meaningful reforms ever resulted from the 2008 bailout, and the economic gMEMEstack, as it stood in 2008 — addicted to an unlimited money supply, and an unjust economic system — went back to business as usual. This was a very dangerous state that, today has exhausted every possible tool left in the Third MEMEnomic Cycle and moved our country (Spiral-wide, vMEME-wide) into the “Revolt State” against the system.

While we begin to see the rise of the Green gMEME in economics post 2009 on the graph, unfortunately it’s potential has been hijacked by a toxic infrastructure of capital and a first-tier ecosystem that has been numbed by money and became immune to change. (click here to read my 2018 piece full of data that backs this up).

All this serves as a confirmation that there are only two ways to achieve change in large scale systems: Evolutionary Change or Revolutionary Change. Sadly, if you read any of my posts in the last 10 years, you know we have been on the road to the latter not the former. In the Spiral sequence of change,  systems in unstable states tend to be very vulnerable to wildcards that come from outside the system’s own awareness and when they’re least expected. By their nature, wildcards attack the weakest points in a system and cause havoc or in extreme cases, collapse.

With the Coronavirus and the social unrest from the death of George Floyd, we just got seriously shoved into the state where everything is falling apart. The Trump administration in its incompetence and narrow mindedness to destroy whatever was left of the Blue vMEME  and extend the life of a zombie system running on fumes, was the weak point where these two wildcards entered the system and  caused its acceleration towards a Gamma Trap.

Today, everything is falling apart, we’re beginning to see the Culture-wide, Spiral-wide breaking of barriers that will eventually lead to a Delta Surge. So, yes we are heading into a Spiral collapse, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a collapse caused by a toxic Orange system that had become immune to change. It is the lessons learned from this system that will inform the next system. Its ashes, and its DNA  will serve as the antidote that will inform the Blue-shaded areas on what Ad Hoc Yellow has to do to place us on the road to a New Alpha Fit.

This will take no less than a decade in order for it to become more congruent with whatever economic gMEME comes next, which will very likely resemble the emerging Green values culture-wide. There is also a likely chance that while we’re in this crucible of change and chaos, we might sew the seeds of a Yellow system that places the care for humanity and the planet above the pure pursuit of the Orange game of endless wealth and greed.








Let’s not bash the integral community

To my colleagues in the Spiral Dynamics community, please, let’s not be too critical of our friends in the integral community.  WE ARE different members of the same tribe. It is only a difference in philosophical opinion on which quadrants/triads are more important than others. A few days ago, I posted a link to the upcoming online Integral conference with a  comment that was intended as a joke to accentuate our philosophical differences, but apparently it was taken as a criticism by some.

It is the SD community, not the the Integral community that lags behind on moving its own work forward.  Bence Ganti and Dennis Wittrock, the organizers of the European Integral Conference, were very gracious to invite Don, Elza, and me to be keynote speakers at the 2016 Integral European Conference. We were grateful for the opportunity. It was also at that conference that we celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the launch of the original Spiral Dynamics book. A 20th Anniversary event for the book never materialized in the SD community due to many reasons, but primary because of too many diverging egos wanting to claim ownership of the SD legacy.

Our own community’s division has also been our Achilles heel in moving our work forward. But this doesn’t absolve the Integral community from all responsibilities.  At the core of our continued differences remains the fact that the Integral community still has a  marginal understanding of Graves/SD. They approach SD as an opportunity to expand on how Wilber sees it, and are disappointed when they see that our work stands alone as its own whole systems approach and chose not to unlearn the Wilberian version of it. This is what’s at the heart of the division. Wilber pacified our important stuff, accentuate the stuff that makes his stuff look good and intentionally made our stuff an increasingly smaller part of his evolving theory that explains everything while we stood back defesnelessly and allowed it to happen.

There’s no dispute that one of the most successful systems application of Integral theory is reflected in the highly successful work of Frederic Laloux. Other than Wilber’s books, Laloux’s  book Reinventing Organizations is the most successful in integral literature that has penetrated organizational culture at deep levels. But what would you say if I told you that Laloux based his book on Spiral Dynamics, not Integral. The man is a consultant who understood systems not a monk or a therapist. It was due to Don’s insistence that he be named as co-author that Laloux chose to change the colors and approached Wilber to write the Foreword. Wilber, desperate for someone who understood systems, welcomed Laloux with open arms. Strangely, Wilber’s foreword reads a lot like the foreword that Don wrote for my book. Just change colors and add quadrants.

This is an example of the power of how the Spiral with the added elements of the Quadrants  can expand the use of both models into the mainstream, while respecting both as independent frameworks. There has to be more people who fully understand verticality and systems  the way Laloux does in the Integral camp, and more people in the SD camp who can understand the complementary aspects of Integral and reinterpret them through SD, not allow Integral to swallow SD whole.

But, sadly, our division comes from the very top. In my opinion, there is very little inclination within the integral community to understand the systems and Large Scale applications of our work. We also shy away from their fuzzy circling stuff with arms raised to salute something or someone, or nothing or everything, etc… These are differences that need to be tolerated and even respected instead of criticized in order to develop tolerance and respect for both models separately.

While the Integral community is organized, we are everything but. We are a greatly divided community as demonstrated by the wide division and the huge ego flexing at the 2018 Spiral Dynamics Summit. I set up that conference to be a unifying event, and to formulate a legacy plan moving forward. Instead it turned out to be the point of entropy to the SD Constellation in its current form.

In order for SD to become the legacy it deserves, there needs to be a rebirth that sees its long term use by world leaders to solve world problems, and augmented by new academic rigor. It won’t survive just in the world of consulting and training. There has to be a long-term deliberate plan that requires serious commitments  by people who are detached from their egos. I believe there needs to be a return to academic rigor that needs to be housed at a globally respected US institution for higher learning that will become the global clearing house for everything Graves/SD.

This will be a homecoming for the three American academics, Graves, Beck and Cowan, met by American academic exceptionalism not some watered-down version from some obscure places injecting the framework with local colloquialisms and calling it science. Without that, we have little credibility moving forward.



Uncovering the Values of a Regenerative Future