All posts by Said E. Dawlabani

President & CEO of The MEMEnomics Group

Clare W. Graves Revisited

Clare W. Graves Revisited: Beyond Value Systems: Biocultural Co-evolution and the Double Helix Nature of Existence

Published in Integral Leadership Review December 2020

Those who are familiar with Clare W. Graves’ work, know him as the academic behind a more popular conception known as Spiral Dynamics. The theory and the book with the same name were introduced to the world by Don E. Beck, PhD and Christopher C. Cowan in 1996.  While their model preserves much of Graves’ lifelong work on values and change, it’s subsequent interpretations over the decades has watered down the science behind the original conception and silenced its philosophical and anthropological leanings in order to contain it within a narrow field of academic discipline.

In the late 1970s in what is considered one of his last academic lectures, Graves gave a summation of his lifelong work in the area of human development. At the invitation of Don Beck, who was a tenured professor at North Texas State University at the time, Graves disclosed his still-evolving model of adult human development. It was done away from the scrutiny of the media and the relentless assault of the traditional publish-or-perish ivory towers of academia. In a recording of that lecture that took place on April 17, 1978, which was published partially in his book The Never Ending Quest, (Graves, 2005) he expressed his regrets about what had been published under his name up until that point and called it misleading and outlined the following three reasons for his conclusion:

  1. What has been published from his work on values was a derivative of a much larger framework.
  2. That errors were made in his earlier conceptions as they were still in their developmental phase.
  3. That editors for the publications that requested his work, did not faithfully publish it in the way it was submitted.[1]

At that lecture, Graves proclaimed his readiness to disclose his full model which by then had evolved and renamed The Emergent, Cyclical, Phenomenological, Existential, Double-Helix Levels of Existence Conception of Adult Human Behavior[2]. Graves himself laughed at the lengthy name even when it was known in earlier publications just as the Emergent, Cyclical, Levels of Existence Theory, or ECLET for short. In many of his recorded appearances at academic conferences, after stating the name of his model, Graves paused halfway through it for dramatic effect. At the end, he would wait for the audience’s laughter to dissipate then say “I’m sorry I have to call it that because it is all that.”

In defending his latest theoretical conception, Graves offered his views on competing developmental models he studied throughout his career. From the psychoanalysts, the behavioralists and humanists to the hierarchical model of his friend and colleague Abraham Maslow. In that lecture and the corresponding transcription in The Never Ending Quest (NEQ), Graves, for the first time, compares his work to two additional academics who helped him differentiate his model, but did not come from the field of developmental psychology in the classical sense. The first was John Stambaugh, a professor of early Christianity and Greco-Roman religions. Graves summarized Stambaugh’s views on the arc of human history as pessimistic due to their non-evolutionary, cyclical nature that ebbs and flows but always ends up where it started from; in dependency and bondage.[3]  The second academic that Graves compared his work to was philosopher Radoslav Tsanoff. Graves associated his lifelong findings with a summary statement from Tsanoff’s earlier work. Here’s the quote that captured his intuitive and philosophical side which has since been pacified in much of what has been published about his work:

“The Twilight in which we seem to be moving today is the twilight not before night, but before dawn: that we are reaching the end of the dark ages of materialism, that the modern mind without surrendering the tools by which it has achieved its mastery of material nature, will now more fully vindicate its own self-recognition and achieve self-mastery and a more human life individual and social.”[4]

 Graves, who believed in the sciences, often sought solace in the humanities when academics were critical of the developmental nature of his work and when new data rendered some of his old findings incomplete. While his research subjects helped him develop the hieratical nature of human development, he theorized that societies and their institutions will eventually become organized in accordance with the predominant psychosocial systems of their citizens.[5] That assertion required the departure from developmental models that rely strictly on sterile science and the embrace of the humanities.

Graves extracted Tsanoff’s saying from a 1942 book by him entitled The Moral Ideals of Our Civilization, which according to a review by Paul Stanley of the Princeton Theological Seminary is “a complete history of ethics that explores the moral ideals of humanity from Greco-Roman times all the way to contemporary issues on pragmatism and values theory”[6]  Tsanoff was a prolific author and professor emeritus of philosophy at Rice University. In a biographical sketch from that institution, one can tell how Graves might have drawn inspiration from Tsanoff’s lifelong work and his historic views on the evolution of Western civilization, its culture and academic institutions. In one prominent sketch, Tsanoff contrasts the church’s role in medieval universities with modern non-religious institutions of higher education that were explicitly ordered under the sciences and the humanities where the study of facts provided undogmatic knowledge of the world around us and of ourselves.[7] To Graves, this was a confirmation that societies organize around the psychosocial system he identified in his research. More specific to Tsanoff’s observation, it represented the parallels between an adult’s transition from the dogmatic, 4th level of biopsychosocial systems development designated as DQ-Blue in figure 1 below which thought in absolutistic terms, to the 5th level system designated ER-Orange that thought in scientific, multiplistic and pragmatic terms.                                                                 Figure 1

Much of Graves’ lifelong research is chronicled in his book The Never Ending Quest, which was edited and published posthumously by Christopher Cowan and Natasha Todorovic in 2005. Graves was a scientist and a polymath and in much of his later work, he disclosed his leaning towards other diverse disciplines as a way to capture the limitation of most developmental models. His theory remains, as the title of his book suggests, a continuously evolving set of works that always asked the general existential question: “What is adult human development all about?” In justifying its last comparison to Tsanoff’s, Graves vindicated his conclusion with the following statement:

“The answer from my data is quite clear. Tsanoff’s hope is much closer to the facts of human development than all the others are. His hope, according to my data is not a futile hope. It is an overwhelming probability… I say this because the data from my studies has forced me to this conclusion.”[8]

 Tsanoff and the field of philosophy represent one academic area among a handful of others outside the field of developmental psychology from which Graves drew inspiration in order to augment his views. In addition to his philosophical leanings into ethics and values, Graves’ last addition of phenomenology to the title of his theory is worthy of further inquiry.  Phenomenology is primarily concerned with the systematic study of the structures of experience and consciousness. According to some critics the discipline lacks a thematic focus since it’s a style of thought that is open, ever-renewing and continuously produces different results that defy an undeviating definition.[9] In examining Graves’ research, his writings and transcripts of his lectures, there seems to be little evidence indicating his specific embrace of this field of study, especially the subjective observation of consciousness. In conversations with Beck on this matter, he had told me that Graves’ only connection to the field of phenomenology was in his observation of evolutionary patterns, i.e., experience in his research that repeated in other observable fields. In drawing phenomenological comparisons, Graves pointed to human development being an ever-renewing and evolving occurrence similar to experiences observed in the natural world. According to Beck, Graves was searching for one word to describe the open-ended patterns that capture the never-ending nature of psychosocial development he observed over the years and found phenomenology to be the most befitting.

The Double Helix Revolution

The one area that is commonly overlooked in Graves’ work is the double helix conception of the model, which keeps it on the cutting edge of evolutionary thinking. For the community of ECLET and Spiral Dynamics practitioners the understanding of this aspect of the model is at the heart of providing solutions to the challenges that face individuals, organizations and entire societies. It is the field of genetics which is grounded in scientific research that Graves drew most phenomenological comparison to in order to augment his model. At the height of his career the world was abuzz with the discovery by scientists Francis Crick and James Watson of the double helix structure of DNA and the nucleotides that form the basic building blocks of life that determine the genetic code of a living cell, and therefore all living organisms and possibly our entire biosphere. Graves wasn’t the only researcher who saw the double helix nature of the evolutionary process as a phenomenological pattern. This scientific breakthrough gave impetus to many areas of study in both the sciences and the humanities that sought to compare coupling patterns in genetics to those observed in culture and human interactions. For the first time in over a century, research into the double-helix nature of most evolutionary processes began to render Darwin’s view on evolution and natural selection only partially true. The new science formed a foundation from which evolutionary biologists, sociologists and anthropologists began to put forth new theories on how culture shapes biology and how biology in turn shapes culture in a dynamic interaction.

Biocultural Anthropology and Dual Inheritance Theory

One of the most prominent non-genetic double helix conceptions to gain popularity in the twentieth century was the Dual Inheritance Theory (DIT), which was developed in the late 1960s through the early 1980s. This was the timeframe during which Graves developed much of his model.  DIT is a derivative of a far wider and older area of study called biocultural anthropology, which is primarily defined by the scientific exploration of the relationships between human biology and culture. Instead of looking for the underlying biological roots of human behavior, biocultural anthropology attempts to understand how culture affects our biological capacities and limitations.[10]  According to critics, the field failed to gain much academic traction due to the imposition of the wider field of anthropology and its subspecialties on the biological and cultural subfields without adding value, and in some cases being destructive to the advancement of each subfield.

Things began to change after World War II as the world turned its attention to understanding the role culture plays in shaping human biology, which eventually lead to the development of Dual Inheritance Theory. DIT explains how human behavior is a product of two different and interacting evolutionary processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution. The theory puts forth the idea that genes and culture continually interact in a feedback loop, and that changes in genes can lead to changes in culture which can then influence genetic selection, and vice versa.[11]  The model further recognizes that genetic evolution has endowed the human species with a parallel evolutionary process of cultural evolution, which supports Graves’ underpinnings for his model being an interactive bio-psycho-social model. A 2007 paper by anthropologists Joseph Henrich and Richard McElreath further augments Graves’ claims by outlining DIT’s three main characteristics that emerged from their research:

  1. Cultural adaptations arise from genetically evolved psychological adaptations for acquiring ideas, beliefs, values, practices, and mental models from other individuals by observation and inference.
  2. Our cultural learning mechanisms give rise to a robust second system of inheritance (cultural evolution) that operates by different transmission rules than genetic inheritance.
  3. The second system of inheritance created by cultural evolution can alter both the social and physical environments faced by evolving genes, leading to a process termed culture-gene coevolution.[12]

One of the most popular areas of study today that brought forth DIT into the mainstream is the area of memetics. The term was originally coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins introduced the term meme as a unit of human cultural evolution similar to gene suggesting that such “selfish” replication may also model human culture. It is from Dawkins’ work that Beck & Cowan refined Graves’ eight known levels of existence into value memes and made use of Dawkins’ assertions to further classify the eight levels into meta-memes giving Spiral Dynamics the global popularity it enjoys. In 2017, on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Dawkins’ book, a British Royal Society poll chose it as the most influential science book of all time.[13]  Today, research using co-evolutionary processes such as epigenetics and social psychology continue to verify the coevolutionary nature of human development and the bio-psycho-social conception that Graves began to uncover over five decades ago

Building Blocks and the DNA Sequencing of Cells and Cultures

While the study of DNA is not the focus of this piece, it is essential to point out the similarities between the basic structure of life at the microscopic-genetic level and the basic structure of the human evolutionary process at the meso and macro levels as seen by Graves. Essential to the evolutionary mechanisms of his framework are the details inherent in the double helix properties of his research, which he frequently referred to as the underlying neurostructural, biochemical, life problem.

Figure 2

The Two Helical Structures

 Here are the essential comparisons between Graves’ model and the Watson-Crick model: Just as a DNA strand is made up of two helical RNA strands that bond certain nucleotides to each other, so does Graves’ double helix conception. Think of how important the proper coupling of the A-T and the G-C in DNA sequencing is to overall health. It is in that natural chemical coupling that the more important base pair is formed. It is also in the sequence in which it appears on the DNA Ladder (labeled as the two backbones in Figure 2) that determines healthy cells, and healthy life forms. The A-T G-C coupling is called the base pair rule. A mispairing of these nucleotides is often responsible for disease and mutation. In Graves’ model the two helices or backbones have different names, but serve the same purpose in their coming together to form the essential base pairs and the sequences that define the overall psychosocial health of a person, an organization or a culture. Just like mispairing in real DNA and improper sequencing along the ladder points to possible problems in the health of a living organism, Graves’ tells us that when the same happens in his model, it results in misalignment that is responsible for much of the problems we see in the psychosocial health of individuals, organizations and cultures.

Graves labeled the different bases (as in single nucleotides  A, T, G, and C) on the first strand with the first half of the Alphabet. The bases on the second strand were labeled with the second half of the Alphabet (Figure 3). The first strand in Graves’ double helix model is called Existential Problems, which represents the different challenges arising from the multitude of habitats in which we reside. Beck & Cowan called it Life Conditions, or LCs for short. They range from situational, social, political and environmental concerns and whatever else lies in the milieu that needs to be solved. One must not confuse Existential Problems with difficulties, troubles and other negative connotations. Instead, one should think of them as life equations, in the form of mathematical problems that need to be solved. If the world is thus, then appropriate behavior is so. These problems can be positive, negative, or neutral; what they represent are new factors and combinatorials in the equation of living. In this sense, problems are growth-producing; they are not necessarily negative.[14]

Figure 3

The second strand appears as we set out to solve our Existential Problems. That’s when we activate what Graves called the Neuropsychological Systems within us. Beck & Cowan called it the Complex Adaptive Intelligence, AI, for short. It is in the coming together of the two strands that follow the base pair rule that we solve most of our problems and attain higher levels of psychosocial health. Graves’ use of neuropsychological systems could be further broken down to neurobiology and psychology. The simplest way to understand Graves’ conceptualization today is to think of neurobiology as the operating system in a computer, (hardware/brain) which contains a hierarchically-ordered set of circuit boards representing all the known stages of development which remain dormant until triggered by the quest to solve the corresponding Existential Problems that lie in the milieu. Each circuit board on the hierarchy, is the motherboard for all the lower circuit boards below it. Sometimes, due to neurological diseases that are either environmental or hereditary, the operating system/neurobiology itself may not have the circuitry that allows an individual to emerge to higher levels of psychosocial health in the hierarchy.

The psychology in this example represents the different programs (software/mind) that become activated by the circuits in response to environmental stimuli. These hieratically ordered programs, once activated spend an undetermined amount of time solving problems that are proprietary to that particular circuit design or level of existence. As life presents us with more complex problems, and the mind exhausts the existing circuitry and runs out of tools to solve problems of higher order, it recalibrates to the next level in the hierarchy integrating all the previously activated circuit boards/programs or psychosocial levels attained. This is the normal coevolutionary process along the spiral and the proper coupling of LCs to AIs is at the heart of healthy emergence. Base pair coupling results in what Beck & Cowan call the “brightening” or the healthy expression of that specific stage of development and its sequential order on the spiral. It is also in the failure of that coupling that many psychosocial problems arise, what Beck & Cowan referred to as the “dulling”, or “dimming”, which is also referred to as the unhealthy expression of a certain level that could affect the entire sequence in the developmental chain.

Graves often referred to the neurobiology as “the lottery of the brain,” that an individual has little control over. It is a determining factor on how far up the hierarchy an individual can move. But the movement to higher levels even in a person with a heathy brain can still be limited by psychological and social factors whether they’re imposed externally or adopted voluntarily. In the hardware-software, neurobiology-mind example, think of a person or a culture that has the full wiring to activate all of Graves’ eight levels, but finds happiness and balance at a certain level that is wired for a certain circuitry and there is no environmental pressure for him/her to recalibrate at a higher level. People and cultures under these circumstances live entire lives in such fashion. Think of a religious person who thinks in the fourth level way, dogmatic and absolutistic who still leads a somewhat normal life. Or a more common cultural example, think of a person with healthy neurobiology living in a repressive culture or in a dictatorship where the environment remains in a repressed form of the BO-Purple and CP-Red stages that prevent him or her from ascending to higher levels on the hierarchy.

According to Graves, it is in our fuller knowledge, and in the depth and the breadth of the understanding of our Existential Problems, or LCs that a broader spectrum of our dormant Neuropsychological Systems, or AI is awakened. As that particular level of psychological development evolves it becomes more resilient through trial and error as it interacts with LCs and imbeds itself in our collective knowledge and our institutions which form the psychosocial foundation for that specific level of development and in theory, all the levels that came before it at the personal, organizational and cultural levels. This is the complexity that lies within all evolutionary systems that are made more complex when viewed from the co-evolutionary nature of the double helix. It is a psychosocial petri dish that is a continuous hot mess of ideas with viruses, diseases, genes, memes, and meta-memes that are constantly doing battle that defy linearity. In most cases only the fittest of these, mutations, ideas and values survive, and movement to higher levels of existence is not always guaranteed.

The Sequential Order and the Base Pair Rule

It is in the all-important A-T, G-C base paring and their respective sequence on the DNA ladder that genetic material is processed and biological health is defined. Except the DNA of Graves’ psychosocial development has a total of eight known couplings along the two strands of the ladder that determine healthy levels of development (see Fig. 3). They are as follows: A-N, B-O, C-P, D-Q, E-R, F-S, G-T and H-U.  Under ideal circumstances, the leading-edge AI of a certain person, regardless of how high it is strand, must be able to tap into the appropriate lower bases that are no more than one to one-half stage above where LCs are in order to provide effective solutions. Anything coming from a higher AI base constitutes a mismatch, or violation of this base pair rule that results in less favorable psychosocial outcomes. According to Graves’ model, most of our problems today are a product of AI-LC mismatches. An effective leader or powerbroker in the world today is someone who on his or her developmental journey includes a healthy version of their previous stages of development and uses them as a source for real solutions. As a general rule development must be sequential and people and cultures cannot skip a developmental stage. Those that do, will develop incomplete or unhealthy views of the skipped stages resulting in less than optimum overall psychosocial health.

A simple real-world example of the double helix mismatch will be a Vice President of a Fortune 500 company attempting to perform data entry tasks. Unless he/she had previously developed and retained those skills and can tap into them, the pairing of AI to LC will be less than optimum. The retainment of previous stages of development is a Gravesian concept called the healthy subordination of lower systems, and what Beck calls transcendence and inclusion. This is the healthy expression of all the activated systems along the Spiral. When we don’t observe the base pair rule and absent the inclusion of lower systems, problems will continue to exist along the entire double helix. As an example, if solutions to a problem are being offered exclusively from the R or S bases on the AI strand to solve B or C problems on the LC strand, they will fall short of providing healthy long-term results. If a person has included his or her previous stages of development, his/her own B-O and C-P stages will brighten to more fully understand the problems and offer lasting solutions.

Individuals who subordinate the healthy version of several earlier stages and can tap into them as needed are called Integral Design Architects. In the real world, less than 5% of leaders have this spectrum of awareness. However, effective leadership can still come from those who have outgrown a specific stage of development and have remained within close proximity to it. They are the ones who are most equipped to help those who are fully emersed in it. Beck and Cowan call them Spiral Wizards, who through trial and error, know which tools work and which don’t. More importantly they know where, when, why and how the dysfunction in the current system occurred and, since they are seeking entry into the next stage of development, they know which tools are the right fit and need to be developed by the next system and which to use from previous systems in order for the healthy evolution along the spiral to continue.

Think of a reformed gang member who turns his attention to help others leave the gang life behind. He or she is what is called a Red Wizard who has exited the C-P Red system and is at the entry stages of the DQ Blue system. Unlike the traditional law enforcement in the Blue system such as the police and the courts, the gang member entering Blue has the Red experience fresh in his/her mind and knows what motivates gang members and how to diffuse and redirect that motivation through a healthy expression of the CP-Red system. He/she also knows the language that speaks effectively to them without appearing as a threat from the traditional law enforcement community. The importance of Spiral Wizardry at systems transition stages is often overlooked, but remains a crucial element in sequential change and overall healthy design in organizations and culture.

Figure 4

The problem of high intelligence. If the position on the AI strand in the model is several bases higher than where the LCposition is, (out of sequence due to overqualification) it serves only as an inspiration for future generations and remains in the philosophical and theoretical realms that inform a small segment of society and maybe a few academics and think tanks. Many scientists, philosophers and poets past and present are examples of individuals who possess high intelligence on the AI strand. Most of their teachings however, remain on the margins of the petri dish of co-evolution waiting for the LC position to rise and meet the base pair rule. In many cases the teachings either fail to reflect in wider evolutionary change, or emerge in mutated forms due to the evolutionary battles that are still taking place in the lower systems that meet the base pair rule. A good example of a healthy mutation in this scenario comes from the Sufi poet Rumi who exhibited U levels of intelligence in the thirteenth century. However, the base pair that defined the culture at the time was BO-Purple. The net effect of his teachings on society during his time were a small enlightened tribe contained within Konya, Turkey and other small communities to which he traveled. Today, Rumi’s wisdom has grown to influence many around the world who are seeking the spiritual enlightenment that comes with the quest towards the U base on the AIstrand as the gap between his teachings and the world’s stages of development keep getting narrower. Still, there is no society today that is organized in a H-U fashion nor would there be any time soon.

The Age of Enlightenment also ushered is a new set of problems for cultures in the lower systems on Graves’ double helix. The era produced influential thinkers who possessed high AI in modern sociology, economics, politics and the sciences from the R and the S bases on the AI strand respectively. The best real-life examples of this phenomenon from history is the ideology of Capitalism that comes from the R base on the AI strand with Western content. When used in cultures that are a mix of B-O Purple, C-P Red and doctrinaire D-Q Blue such as the Middle East & China, the misalignment creates pathologies that affect the normal evolutionary trajectory of people organizations and cultures. While the Middle East today has some of the world’s wealthiest people in it, it’s widest measure of productive output, places it in the bottom fifth of the world’s poorest regions.[15] Our research at the Center for Human Emergence Middle East revealed this to be primarily due to the absence of a regionwide culture organized under the modern D-Q Blue system that is responsible for creating modern institutions vested in equality, human rights and the rule of law. More importantly, the region lacks ER-Orange capacities for science and research and development, the core ingredients that ensure a future of innovation and a diverse economy beyond the age of oil.

Similarly, pathologies due to double helix misalignment are very prevalent in places like China. The country which is home to 1.4 Billion people became the world’s second largest economy in a short period of time however it remains home to the worst violations of human rights, from mass executions and repression of free speech to incarcerations and religious persecution.[16] A recent assessment of Chinese culture by a Spiral Dynamics colleague revealed that its primary presence is in the B-O Purple and C-P Red systems, and while it engages in trade, commerce and development, which are the hallmark of a the ER-Orange system, its core motivation is CP- Red in a culture that remains predominantly in BO-Purple, with an incompatible or false DQ-Blue ideology based in communism.

Socialism is equally responsible for repression and bloodshed due to double helix misalignment in some parts of the world. The philosophy comes from the F base of Western AI, and some of its end goals align with the Marxist-Leninist ideology that seeks the social ownership of the means of production and a world that is free of religious dogma, has no borders and no class hierarchy.[17] When those ideals are applied in countries that have remained primarily in BO-Purple and CP-Red, the outcome is chaos, conflict and civil war. This double helix misalignment is a major factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union. It remains a driving force today in South America where the ideology was spread by the followers of Che Guevara several decades ago in order to free the region from its colonial past. What the South American revolutionaries underestimated is their countries’ own capacities to develop resilient DQ institutions beyond the church and a diverse ER-Orange system that together pave the way towards a culture organized under the FS-Green system.

The downfall of the Soviet Union and the descend of many South American countries into dictatorships is what we call Spiral collapse due to severe misalignment that can set back a region for decades if not centuries. As stated earlier, under Graves’ model a person or a culture cannot skip a developmental stage. The ones that do will have that stage become part of a repressed shadow individually or collectively and likely to reappear as fate once Spiral realignment is done properly. Today, the leader of the Marxist-style Sandinista Revolution, Daniel Ortega is the president of Nicaragua who had to learn the lesson of Spiral misalignment the hard way. After a successful revolution and seeing his country go through decades of poverty bloodshed and social unrest, he has turned to the very institutions he and his revolutionaries fought against to save his country. After more than a decade in office he reluctantly re-embraced the return of the Catholic church and the reinstitution of pro-business policies. The former being entry stages into the DQ-Blue system, the latter the entry stages into the ER Orange system.

A Future Full of Double Helix Misalignments

 Today we face two of the biggest existential problems that will determine the fate of humanity and the future of our planet. They both need solutions that come from the T and the U bases on the AI strand. Both bases remain greatly dormant as the world’s leading edge psychosocial capacities are spent on solving problem somewhere between our exit stages of ER-Orange and the maturity stages of the FS Green system (See figure 4). The biggest challenge we face is how do we expedite the evolutionary process to free up the AI strand when we live in world where less than 7% of people on the planet think from the T base and less then 1 % from the U base. The first challenge that requires T intelligence is the worldwide disruption being caused by the digital age. The second, requiring U intelligence is the issue of climate change. These challenges are easier understood when they are defined from a double helix misalignment perspective.

  1. The Global Digital Dilemma. The digital age was envisioned primarily from the S base on the AI strand on the double helix. I argue in my book MEMEnomics that its initial purpose, according to the engineers who pioneered the world wide web protocols was to democratize information and resources.[18] This was a noble goal that was intended to disrupt the ER Orange system and the corrosive toll it had taken on society and economic equality. As an unintended consequence, what it has done, is it removed the physical barriers needed for hierarchical stage development. As the digital age becomes an increasingly indispensable part of our lives, we continue to ignore the fact that the physical world moves at a considerably slower pace than the digital world. While Graves argues that our brain has remained somewhat the same throughout human history, according to Moore’s Law the disruption and the removal of physical barriers coming from the digital age, moves at warp speed that doubles every 18-24 months and restructures everything in its path. Since we cannot slow down technology, the challenge going forward is how do we accelerate psychosocial capacities on the AI strand in individuals, institutions and societies and make them adaptable to the continuous change that comes from this exogenous phenomenon that is disrupting the totality of life at every level of development.

 By removing the physical structures that defined each developmental stage the digital revolution has allowed human groupings and entire societies to bypass the necessary stages of development without necessarily having the prerequisite psychosocial capacities to move up the hierarchy. While this democratization can be seen as a positive improvement in many ways, the absence of structures that existed in the physical world can have a drastic negative effect on our developmental process. The nature of technology today has very few mechanisms that prevent unhealthy activities along the entire hierarchy. It disproportionally empowers the unhealthy expression of the lower systems like CP-Red, ideological and theocratic DQ-Blue and the unhealthy expression of ER-Orange, while falsely giving those in the FS stage a sense of humanitarian harmony. It enables all the unhealthy expressions to use the existing technological infrastructure to further destabilize the world. It is too early to tell if engineers who think from the T base on the AI strand can recreate, in the digital world, the structures that can pacify and deflect the unhealthy expressions that have run amuck due to the digital disruption and make digital intelligence subordinate to human wisdom.

  1. Climate Change. In July 2019, at a gathering of global leaders and change agents looking to define the next economic and financial system, I made my first public case for why we need to expedite our psychosocial capacities and evolve our institutions to meet the daunting challenge of climate change.[19] If we are to view human history from the T and U bases on the AI strand, we come face to face with the damage we have caused our planet and the challenges we must overcome in addressing them. In our misguided economic activities that sought the ER-Orange lifestyle of endless consumption to the exclusion of everything else, we have triggered the last known base on the LCs strand of the double helix, the H problems of existence. To effectively resolve issues of climate change, we need global cooperation and calls for the awakening of the highest base on the AI strand, the U base that informs world leaders and institutions that are capable of designing a sustainable world organized under the values of the HU stage of development.

Figure 5

The graph in figure 4 above demonstrates in no uncertain terms what Graves calls the gap and the chasm we face in taking on the challenges of the future. What he called the momentous leap into the G-T and H-U levels of development will be our greatest challenge that expands our psychosocial capacities in exponential ways which are needed to effectively address a future full of existential issues.

Conclusion

 In characterizing his life-long work as a never-ending quest, Graves cast forth an open-ended model defined by our resilient abilities to solve our existential problems. The co-evolutionary, double helix nature of existence is one the best examples of the use of phenomenology that keeps his model current and helps us understand the complexity of what human nature is all about. It asks the continuously evolving existential questions that come from different realms and areas of studies. It taps into many fields in the sciences and the humanities to give us a whole systems perspective on the challenges we face.

Today, fields of studies that are built on the double helix conception and coevolutionary theories are no longer limited to bio-cultural evolution and the structure of DNA. Two of these models that are on the cutting edge of research come to mind. The first is from the field of epigenetics which shows yet another double helix coevolutionary phenomenon that proves how environmental factors affect the evolution of cells at the molecular level. The second model addresses the biggest existential problem we face today, climate change and it points to an entirely different coevolutionary process. It’s Gaia Theory, one of the largest coevolutionary models that proposes how our biosphere evolves and adapts. The framework goes beyond biocultural coevolution and suggests that all life forms on our planet interact with their inorganic surroundings in a synergistic, self-regulating way to form one of the largest complex systems we will ever be tasked to understand.

If Graves were alive today, he would continue to augment his model with current content that defines the increasing complexity on the LC strand and to classify the widening psychosocial space on the AI strand, depicting the coevolutionary nature of existence. The Gravesian simplicity the lies beyond today’s complexity is this: Our problems are triggering the dormant neuropsychological systems that Graves identified decades ago. His own awareness from the T and U bases on the AI strand shine through in his writings and his lectures. It enabled him to sound the alarm back in the 1970s on the ecological degradation we were inflicting on our planet. Still, as his own research shows, he remained the eternal optimist who believed that the twilight in which we are moving today is the twilight not before darkness, but before dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Clare W. Graves, “Levels of Complexity by Clare W. Graves,” April 17th 1978, track 1, The Spiral Dynamics Group, Inc. 1978, compact disc.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Clare W. Graves, The Never Ending Quest, eds. Christopher Cowan and Natasha Todorovic (Santa Barbara, CA: ECLET Publishing, 2005), 53.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Clare W. Graves, “Up the Existential Ladder,” video interview conducted by Don E. Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt3Uk1f3y_U&t=301s Retrieved November 5, 2020.

[6] SAGE journals Online. Theology Today, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/004057364600200416     Retrieved November 5, 2020.

[7] The Cornerstone, The Newsletter of the Rice Historical Society Online.  http://ricehistoricalsociety.org/images/cornerstones/RiceCornerstoneSummer2006.pdf   Retrieved November 5, 2020.

[8] Graves. Levels of Complexity.

[9] Farina, Gabriella (2014) Some reflections on the phenomenological method. Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences, 7(2):50-62.http://www.crossingdialogues.com/Ms-A14-07.htm Retrieved November 5, 2020.

[10] “Principles of Biocultural Anthropology”. spot.colorado.edu. Archived from the original on 2018-07-02. Retrieved 2016-10-13.

[11] Goodman, Alan H.; Thomas L. Leatherman, eds. (1998). Building A New Biocultural Synthesis.  University of Michigan Press.

[12] McElreath, R.; Henrich, J. (2007). “Dual inheritance theory: the evolution of human cultural capacities and cultural evolution” (PDF). In R. Dunbar and L. Barrett (ed.). Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Retrieved November 26, 2020.

[13]  Armistead, Claire. (2017, July 20). The Guardian. Retrieved November 28, 2020.  https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/jul/20/dawkins-sees-off-darwin-in-vote-for-most-influential-science-book

[14] Christopher Cowan and Natasha Todorovic, “Frequently Asked Questions.” Spiral Dynamics Online. Retrieved October 23, 2020; http://www.spiral-dynamics.com/faq_overall.htm#02

[15] The World Bank, Current GDP Middle East and North Africa, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=ZQ Retrieved November 30, 2020.

[16] Amnesty International, China 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/china/report-china/ Retrieved November 30, 2020.

[17] Socialism, Wikipedia,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism  Retrieved November 30,2020.

[18] Said E. Dawlabani, Memenomics: The Next Generation Economic System (New York: Select Books 2013), 158-164.

[19] Dawlabani, Said “Economic Systems and the Emerging Values of Humanity.” YouTube video, 33:36. April 9, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MBqclbdZvk&t=279s

 

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The Biden Presidency, the Disruption in the GOP’s Master Plan

Published in Medium November 15, 2020

While the world celebrates Joe Biden’s election as the 46th US President, little attention is being paid to the fact that president Trump received more than 74 million votes in this historic year of voter turnout. After 4 years of mayhem and mismanagement of the executive office, sentiment among democrats was running high that their fellow republicans had become concerned citizens after Trump proved to be an unfit, immoral and dangerous executive who has undermined the virtues of the office granted him under our constitutional democracy. The moral outrage ran high among Democrat party officials and with Trump’s utter mismanagement of the Coronavirus, a democratic sweep of both the White House and the Congress was a likely possibility. Just as we had done 4 years earlier, we relied on the pollsters who used the same methods and metrics and sat back with high expectations that the GOP will be weakened to the point that it will finally disappear giving birth to a new dawn in politics.

Well, the pollsters and the Democrats were wrong again. While Biden has convincingly won the presidency, the GOP remains a formidable political force the Democrats have to content with for decades to come.  The question that must be on the minds of so many around the world and especially our allies is this: How could 74 million Americans vote for a president with proven tendencies towards authoritarian populism and the unyielding intent to subvert liberal democratic values? The answer to that question lies beyond the personality of the man himself who has to be the worst puppet the Republicans could have possibly put on the presidential stage. Trump is a symptom of a political party that has been moving towards radicalization and extremes for decades. The difference between him and other GOP politicians is that Trump doesn’t have the temperament to hide behind the veil of political subversion which the GOP has mastered over the years. Like a fool in a game of poker who lacks the disposition needed to bluff, he shows his bad hand then goes into a rage at the table lying and insulting those who don’t see him holding winning cards. This is the same hand that the GOP has held for years as they stealthily moved further and further away from the political center. Their winning streak has been in their bluff not in the merits of a clean win needed to keep a thriving democracy moving forward.

In a recent landmark study on political polarization conducted by the non-partisan and highly respected Brookings Institute, researchers sought to map out the division between our two political parties over time and to identify the main turning points that led to where we are today. Their findings show that the political center that existed a few decades ago no longer exists. It has been weakened primarily by the GOP. The study concluded that while the Democrats have moved slightly to the left of the political spectrum, the Republicans have moved so far to the right of it, they became deeply uncompromising and antagonistic to the other side. Without having the deep resources and research capabilities that the Brooking Institute has, my own research into the long wave socioeconomic value systems of this country led me to the same conclusion seven years earlier with much of the same findings on the crucial turning points of the GOP as those in the Brookings report. My findings are detailed in parts of my 2013 book MEMEnomics; The Next Generation Economic System. What follows here is an updated summary that includes the added polarization caused by Donald Trump’s presidency and the further movement of the GOP to the most dangerous and extreme position on the right of a modern-day political spectrum.

 

My work in the field of macroeconomics and social change is done through a unique evolutionary prism on values. This is the cultural change model known as Spiral Dynamics which I have covered in detail in many of my earlier posts on Medium. Many of the political as well as the economic models in our history and from around the world can be reframed through the culturewide evolutionary lens of the framework. It is important to remember that the higher stages in the model include the best and healthiest values of the lower stages. Those who use the model to influence cultural and political change, like its original author Don Beck always start by asking the question: Where do certain models of political and economic leadership fall on the Spiral? In 2000, Don Beck introduced a model that addresses the very nature of political leadership around the world called Stratified Democracy.[1] It sought to place the different political systems around the world on to the eight known levels of psychosocial systems that define the model.

His research at the time pointed to the US being a Multiparty Democracy that allowed for other voices in the political arena to rise based on their merit. Although the political system in the US has traditionally favored the two-party system, Beck’s observation then was that as long as the political center was strong and remained in an open state, the process itself will reflect the federalist nature of our democracy and lead to further inclusion and diversity of views on both sides of political spectrum. This reality was not to hold as the US began to visibly move away from the political center after the election of George W. Bush coupled with the deceptive wars that followed the events of 9/11 and the permanent damage caused by the 2008 financial crisis.  In later years in my conversations with Beck about his initial findings, he acknowledged that while his original conception had remained as an effective general guide to governance, the political landscape in the US has changed considerably since the research was conducted.  Beck argued that while the federalist form remains at the heart of the republic, the two political parties have moved away from the all-important political center where effective governance resides.

This adjustment to the model is reflected in the work of Beck’s partner Elza Maalouf at the Center for Human Emergence Middle East in her 2014 book Emerge! Beck was content advisor for the book and in it, Maalouf further differentiates the Stratified Democracy Model into a Functional Democracy model.[2] Based on the direction the American political system had taken in 1 ½ decades since the original research was done, Maalouf and Beck concluded that due to external factors influencing the system that a sub-stage on the political evolutionary ladder was born. It lies somewhere between level 4, Authoritarian Democracy and level 5 Multiparty Democracy. It is a hybrid stage that is unique to the US and borrows from both levels of values. While many don’t associate US democracy with authoritarianism, the behind the scenes movement away from the political center by the Republicans, has forced both parties into rigid states of existence using tactics from lower systems in order to survive or to counter the void left in the absence of a strong center. A closer examination of the table below which is extracted from Maalouf’s work shows the possible movement of political values either up or down from the stages depicted in Beck’s original model. From the table one can see where the values of a leader like Trump come from. His presidency identifies more with the exploitive expression of the values of the 4thsystem and a clear embrace of the values of the 3rd system. These are the values that closely define dictatorships and third world autocracies more than they do liberal democracies.

Politics Under the Spell Economics

 The strong center that existed when Beck conducted his original research was a time when major shifts in the US socioeconomic landscape were beginning to take place. During the Clinton years, our democracy identified more with the political values of the fifth level which included much of the healthy and evolved values of the fourth level. Clinton was riding on the coattails of a new era of deregulation ushered in by the first Reagan Administration through policies known as Raeganomics. The Raegan revolution was greatly influenced by a new economic ideology from the Chicago School of Economics called Monetarism which took the country by storm and created a new paradigm that defined the entire political landscape that kept both parties close to the center. These were prosperous times that witnessed a shift in thinking from big brother knows best to corporations know best and it colored the views of both the right and the left. Deregulation, lower taxes and trickle-down economics became the buzz words that got a lowly politician from either side elected to office. While the democrats marveled at Clinton’s bipartisan deal making in this new era, conservatives joined hands with business leaders behind the scenes to complete what Raegan started: handing over the powers of government to the private sector. It was this unopposed push to the right that helped put in place structures and ideologies that defined the trajectory of the GOP for several decades that ended up giving us Donald Trump.

Here’s the arc of that trajectory: Monetarism was a catalyst that moved the US away from industrial capitalism to the seductive arms of financial capitalism. Whatever increased the bottom line of a corporation was a good thing that kept both political sides happy. Unions were weakened, jobs were outsourced and factories were closed and as long as that improved the corporate bottom line and gave us cheap products, the political center held. The Democrats didn’t bother looking at the long-term effects this was having on the working class and the future of their party. Behind the scenes however, the right moved unabated in its continued efforts to hand government over to the private sector. The Chicago School of Economics gave way to its younger and more bigoted sibling the Virginia School of Economics. The ideological father of the Virginia School was a southern racist by the name James M. Buchanan who never acknowledged the defeat of the south in the civil war.[3] Buchanan sought modern revenge the only way he knew how: by moving the goalpost for prosperity further away from minorities and the working class and handing it to the business sector lead predominantly by rich white conservative men. His ideology sought to make government a wholly-owned subsidiary of the private sector, which found resonance with many libertarians and staunch conservatives like the Koch brothers. It gave legitimacy to corporate lobbying and acknowledged the rights of corporations in shaping politics. First came the Citizens United movement that granted corporations the same rights as people and allowed for super-sized Political Action Committees (PACs) to influence political outcomes. Then came the birth of the Tea Party, which the GOP exploited as the patriotic, down-to-earth face of the right that sought to limit the role of government and lower taxes. While this behind the scenes push to the right continued unabated, the hapless Democrats did very little to examine the role of money and corporate influence in shaping the hearts and the minds of the American voter.

The fallacy of a political system influenced by major corporations began to show cracks with the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. Suddenly the private sector that sought to render government obsolete, was begging that same government to bail it out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. One would think that this would have been the perfect time to pull the rug out from under this grotesque expression of political capitalism, but that was only wishful thinking. Instead of the financial crisis being the inflection point that wrestled democracy from the grip of finance, the hapless democrats who controlled both the House and the Senate, voted for the bailout. The shift to corporations know best was complete. It had become the only guide that steered both political parties. So much so, that there were no influential institutions or politicians left that would have argued convincingly against a government bailout. After the major banks were rescued, the political ideologies of the right moved to a toxic extreme position on the political spectrum with pockets full of money and gave the reins to the Obama administration to do the cleanup work the GOP was incapable of doing. This is a zombie state of the long-wave cycle I call Only Money Matters, which gave life to a bankrupted ideology and prevented the birth of a new political and economic dawn.[4] As the GOP regained the majority in the Senate the face of corporations know best became that of the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who summarized the extreme positions of both the GOP and the much greater forces behind it by declaring himself the Grim Reaper of the Democrat agenda. What was not being said by McConnell is that he was appointed by special interest groups as the general in the final battle over government by the people.

While Obama and the Democrats fixed parts of the economy and introduced many needed programs, it’s important to note that this was all being done in a much smaller timeframe of eight years that fell within the confines of a bigger system steered by the far bigger forces behind the corporations know best values and the Reagan revolution. Obama and the Democrats did manage to put some cracks in that system which by then was running on automatic through a complex architecture that made money and corporate interest inextricable parts of the political system. By the time the Obama years came to an end, the economy was in a much better place, but structural reforms that address deeper issues such as income inequality and the regulation of capital markets remained greatly unchallenged. However, for the guardians of the bigger system like the Koch brothers, the small cracks Obama and the Democrats put in it became their sole focus as they and the GOP moved from the insufficient positions of radicals and extremists and fell in line with McConnell’s kill-everything-democrat position. For political scientists this is a crucial stage in the life of a political system; It spells the end of a two-party system. On the right-left political spectrum, there are only two directions a system can move when one party reaches this extreme position, or what the Brookings Institute calls uncompromising and antagonistic. The obvious direction is for it to move back towards the center in search of balance that serves the whole country and provides for party preservation. The other is for it to completely fall off the right-left political spectrum resulting in one party rule.  This was the direction in which Donald Trump tipped the scales that began America’s descent into mayhem and lawlessness.

The platform to kill-everything-democrat and hand the full power of our institutions to special interest was now within reach. The McConnell-Trump duo controlled the Senate and the executive branch and, as luck would have it, vacancies on the Supreme Court allowed Trump to appoint conservative justices who are more inclined to favor rulings informed by the corporations know best values. Moreover, with the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic, the stage was set for the Supreme Court to roll back more than fifty years of progress on women’s right and other civil liberties.  This was the trifecta that corporations and special interest groups have been working on for four decades. The gaslighting of half of America was complete. Lower taxes and a healthy stock market are the only things that matter in life. Pay no attention to the mentally unstable man in the White House who has gutted America’s institutions and subverted its democratic virtues. Pay no attention to the fact that the economy has consistently fared better under a Democrat. Morality? What morality? So, what if the president is the biggest depraved and immoral bully in the history of this country? Just look at my 401K and ignore the facts -all facts. It’s only money that matters dummy.  This narrowing of the minds on the right and their commitment to identify with a party even after it fell so dangerously to the bottom is at the heart of what’s wrong with the GOP and its constituencies. In a recent survey, conducted by Gallup, with the Coronavirus raging out of control, 80% of voters who believed that the economy is the primary issue in the election, voted for Trump.[5] These were the values that steered the GOP leadership and half of America that set the stage for a second Trump term.

To complete the job of rendering our institutions powerless, a ruthless insider like Trump was needed and, he was delivering at warp speed in his first term. What chance did a fragile ideal like democracy have in the face of superior motivation like money and greed? Then fate intervened. As if the universe had a special place in its heart for American democracy. It sent us the Coronavirus that shed light on the depravity of the GOP and exposed its grotesque and toxic underbelly. Those who bought into Trump’s narrative that the virus was a hoax, found themselves getting infected and dying. Suddenly science and facts were making their way back into the calculus and life, at least for some, became more important than money. The retirees who voted for Trump in 2016 to preserve their retirement savings were now looking for the candidate who will save their lives and found it in Joe Biden.

The taking back of the White House by the Democrats has given democracy a temporary reprieve from special interest and their relentless march to hand over the power of the people to corporations. The GOP’s state of mind today is that of disbelief and denial for being stopped from reaching that goal as they refuse to acknowledge Biden’s win more than 10 days after the election. Denial of reality is at the top of the GOP leadership, from Newt Gingrich who is the poster child of the modern-day Republican revolution and Mitch McConnell the Grim Reaper, to the House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy and the chair of the Judiciary Senate Committee Lindsay Graham. They are scrambling to put in place contingency plans to stop Biden in his tracks, but they will eventually move to the next stage in the grieving process – anger. That is their stop whenever they lost the White House. That is also the stage from which they project their anger and divisiveness on their constituents that keeps their radical and extreme positions in place.

The reversal of the damage done to our democracy under the values of corporations know best will not be an easy task, especially if the GOP holds on to the two senate seats in Georgia. This makes the January runoff in that state the most consequential election in decades. Thanks to the grassroots work that Democrat Stacey Abrams did that turned Georgia blue. Her advocacy to address voter repression also influenced voter turnout in as many as twenty other states. In spite of all that, her work remains a drop in the ocean when looking at the big picture and what needs to be done in order to pry democracy out of the grip of the GOP and special interest.

Should the democrats win the two additional seats in the senate needed for majority, the task ahead will only become easier by just a few degrees. In addition to addressing the threat of the Coronavirus, a Biden administration needs to reverse or isolation from the global community and rejoin the Paris climate accords. These are the two existential threats that lie in our global commons. But make no mistake, the threat to democracy at home will not abate as long as special interest and the party that does their bidding remain unchallenged. Just like Mitch McConnell became the grim reaper of the democratic agenda, the democrats need to become the grim reapers of the corporate agenda. We need to maintain a non-ending vigilance to keep money out of politics. Democrats must work on structural reforms that deal with campaign financing, reversing the Citizens United decision and other important issues such as term limits. Getting money out of politics will be a first step on the long road that brings us back to a democracy that is a true reflection of rule by the people. Without that hard work being done, the gruesome architecture in place will automatically favor the GOP, and will continue giving us many more Trumps. It won’t relent until democracy is tipped off the edge into the hands of oligarchs and special interest who will continue the gaslighting of half of America and try to convince the rest of us that this is democracy.

 

Notes

[1] Tonkin, A. (2005, June 29). Different Values Different Democracies. Retrieved October 14, 2020 from  http://www.humanemergencemiddleeast.org/different-values-different-democracy-alan-tonkin.php

 

[2] Maalouf, E. S. (2015, Vol.1), Functional Democracy; A New Paradigm on Geopolitics in the Middle East. Spanda Journal, Volume 1, (2015) 55-64.

 

[3] Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains, A Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America (New York: Penguin Books, 2018), p 35.

 

[4] Dawlabani, S. (2019 April 17). On the Edge of Disaster; The Tail that Killed the Dog. Retrieved October 20, 2020 from  http://www.memenomics.com/2019/04/17/on-the-edge-of-disaster-the-tail-that-killed-the-dog

 

[5] Brenan, M. (2022, October 5). Economy Tops Voters’ List of Key Election Issues.  Retrieved November 11, 2020 from https://news.gallup.com/poll/321617/economy-tops-voters-list-key-election-issues.aspx

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

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