jjensenii: South Park avatar (Default)
I've been reading The Never Ending Quest by Clare W. Graves. This is the definitive exposition of the Emergent-Cyclical levels of existence theory as Graves himself understood it. I'm a little over halfway through the book, into the detailed section on the ER stage.

The book has already changed my understanding of the theory in subtle but significant ways. In the past, I've made all the normal mistakes about the system, including:
  • regarding it as a personality type system (it can sort of be used that way when one stage dominates, but a person can have multiple competing stages active at any given time)
  • thinking of the stages in terms of simplistic stereotypes (they're actually broad tendencies of thought)
  • thinking that the stages correlate to levels of intelligence (they don't, although they can seem to since each stage has greater behavioral freedom than the one below it)
  • thinking that higher is better (it can be, if it addresses the salient life problems, but it can also be much worse if it frustrates other life problems)
  • thinking I must be at GT/A'N' (Yellow in the Spiral Dynamics version) or HU/B'O' (Turqoise) because I understand the overall system
I've also made some of my own mistakes, such as describing the central fear of CP as powerless — it's actually shame. This book is helping me overcome my various mistakes.

In regards to the last error in the list above, I suspect that anyone can grasp the system up to the stage they themselves are at, with some vague intuitions about the stages above themselves ("vague intuitions" are about the best that can be gotten about HU even by the people who did the research). From about ER, I suspect one has enough raw data internally to have a decent appreciation of the idea (although it will have a strong slant toward the "higher is better" error; a person dominated by ER can probably see that AN, BO, CP, and DQ all have a point, but they have a need to see their own perspective as superior).

I've been planning for a while now on writing on the E-C system with special application to select topics, but that will have to wait until I've finished this book. It shouldn't be too much longer for my first pass through, but I want to make sure I understand the topic, and I'll have to read some of the sections through multiple times.
jjensenii: South Park avatar (Default)
It's been too long since I posted anything here, so here's a taste of the sort of things I've been thinking about.

Psychologist Clare W. Graves outlined a personality theory involving eight "levels of existence" that he believed individuals progress through as circumstances permit. Those familiar with Spiral Dynamics or the work of Ken Wilber have encountered popularizations (and simplifications) of Graves' work.

Those who share my distrust of the narrative of Progress™ will be understandably suspicious the concept of levels of the personality (not to mention anything connected with Ken Wilber). I myself rejected it for some time after I finally gave up on that mythology. However, after reading Clare W. Graves: The Levels of Human Existance, a transcription of some of Graves' lectures edited by William R. Lee (available at the SD Store, linked), I've come to believe Graves' research is valid and that he was on to something important. More on that in a later post.

Briefly, Graves outlines eight levels labeled A-N to H-U. The first letter denotes the psychological attitudes and basic worldview of a person at that level, while the latter denotes the neurological subsystem associated with that level. My understanding is that these could theoretically be one step out of sync, but this seems to be of little significance; Spiral Dynamics and Wilber ignore it, and label each normal pair with a color.

The first two levels are more speculative, and were inferred from a combination of anthropological reports of hunter-gatherer societies and research into children's cognitive and moral development. The A-N level is the level of more-or-less automatic survival. B-O is a level associated with establishing and maintaining security through rigid adherence to tradition.

The more interesting levels are what we might call the "civilizational" levels, which account for nearly all members of developed civilizations. These are C-P, D-Q, E-R, and F-S. Some convenient stereotypes for these levels (as well as a mnemonic) are the Biker, the Believer, the Banker, and the Barista.

The C-P level was described as based on the ethic of "express self impulsively," and its stereotype is that of the Biker, the rough-and-tumble misfit who lives at the edge of the law. Warlords, gang members, and drug addicts are among the negative stereotypes.

Graves described the D-Q level's prerogative as "deny self for future reward." These are the Believers, who sacrifice for their family, for their country, for their gods. They look for a reward in the future, even after death. Police officers, patriotic soldiers (as opposed to C-P mercenaries), and religious fanatics are some of the stereotypes for this level.

The E-R level's motive is "express self cautiously." Like those at C-P, they are out for number one; unlike those at C-P, they mean to be smart about it. Go too far, and it just blows back in your face (not to say this never happens to people of this temperament). I've nicknamed this one the Banker, because the stereotypical business executives is a great example of this mindset.

Finally, the F-S level's motive is "deny self for approval now." People at this level are motivated by a need for approval from their peers. I've called this one the "Barista" to preserve the alliteration. You know the type: majored in liberal arts, goes to yoga classes, highly fashion conscious. (Again, this is a stereotype, meant to paint a picture of an extreme case. I'm not talking about real people. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Above these are still more complex levels, G-T and H-U, and possibly more. Those at G-T seek to, in Graves' words, "express self, but not at the expense of others," and those at H-U are motivated by a desire to "adapt self to existential realities." (I have some ideas on what that might mean, but that will have to wait for another time.) Graves noted that in his lifetime the dominant level of Western civilization had changed from E-R to F-S. Graves conjectured that modern Western society was on the verge of a leap to G-T.

For what it's worth, I think he was wrong. I think F-S is for all practical purposes the highest level that a society as a whole can reach. Again, more on this another time.

Anyway, I want to paint some pictures of these four types with superheroes from the various eras of DC Comics. I should mention that there are some very mild spoilers to follow if you haven't been reading comics in a couple of decades. Seriously, they're barely spoilers at all. Still, I'll place the rest of this post under a cut just in case.

Read more... )
jjensenii: South Park avatar (Default)
The question of why professed environmentalists rarely act upon their beliefs by changing their lifestyles has had a central place in last week's post on Ecosophia. One of the answers put forward is peer pressure: as Helix put it in the comments:
How to make one’s way in a world that one will be out of step with if one gets serious about living in a manner more harmonious with the Earth? When your peers are out of harmony any you aren’t, then you’re out of harmony with your peers. We’re an intensely social species and our infrastructure and physical environment have been shaped by humans operating under the beliefs you have so eloquently pointed out. This does create some vexatious issues for people trying to live in a more sustainable manner.
JMG replied:
Helix, of course peer pressure and social status are among the things that have to be bucked in order to make change. People pursuing social change buck them all the time, To return to my favorite example, peer pressure and social status didn’t keep same-sex couples from pursuing the right to marry. They were willing to make the required sacrifices; why aren’t people who claim to love the planet?
I think a partial answer to this question can be found in the research of Clare W. Graves.

Graves is perhaps best known through the work of Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, who together wrote the book Spiral Dynamics, originally published in 1996, and that of Ken Wilber, who adopted a modified version of the SD system. The SD system is based on Graves' work on the "levels of existence," a theory of personality that is based on a hierarchy of values that emerge as old values prove dissatisfying.

The SD system as presented by Beck and Cowan fits very neatly with the myth of progress. In fact, it's practically soaked in it, despite some effort by the authors to avoid portraying "higher" stages as "better." So for the last few years I found myself reflexively dismissing it on that basis, though thinking there is probably something to it.

What prompted a re-assessment was my recent reading of Graves: Levels of Human Existence, a transcription of a 1970 lecture series by Clare W. Graves. (You can get the book at the Spiral Dynamics Store.) In it, Graves sets out how he came up with the system. I won't go into detail here because I intend to do a more detailed treatment in a later post. For now I'll just mention that I found it utterly compelling. I had found the pearl of wisdom that I'd been looking for.

Back to the question at hand: how does this help answer why environmentalists have such a hard time acting on their convictions? The (again, partial) answer is that environmentalism has taken root among those for whom acceptance by their peers is nearly everything. This is what Graves calls the F-S level, and what the SD system calls the "Green vMeme" (the color, by the way, is a coincidence). According to Graves, those whose values are centered at the F-S level have a core value of "sacrifice now for acceptance now."

By contrast, anti-environmentalists are often operating at the E-R ("express self in a calculating fashion") or D-Q ("sacrifice now for reward later") levels. While it can happen, care for the environment has a much harder time finding root in the E-R level, since people at that stage are generally chiefly concerned about getting a share of success and pleasure in the present, with only a modest interest in the consequences in the future (though far more than those at C-P, "express self impulsively at all costs," have).

Those at the D-Q level would be the ideal place for environmental care to take root, since they tend to be hardworking and willing to make the necessary sacrifices. The problem is that that level of being is monopolized by conservative interpretations of Christianity that tend to downplay the significance of the Earth. This isn't universal, but it is very common among those at this level, and it makes environmentalism an almost lost cause among them.

That leaves the F-S level as the bastion of environmentalism. I've already mentioned the problem with F-S: they care too much with what their peers think. Social status is almost as important to them as it is to the E-R crowd, except the point isn't to be on top, but just to keep up with everyone else. So if you're at F-S, you may at first denigrate the latest technological goo-gahs, but if all your friends start getting Apple Watches, you're going to have a hard time resisting the urge to get one yourself. (As someone with a strong F-S component myself, I know this feeling first-hand; thankfully, I talked myself out of the Apple Watch.)

That leaves the question: why is environmentalism so different from the cause of same-sex marriage in this regard? Certainly, the F-S crowd were champions of same-sex marriage. But so were the E-R crowd. The E-R crowd by and large looked around and said, "Why not?" The message, "If you don't like gay marriage, don't get one," resonated with their practicality and anti-authoritarianism, and the opportunity for gay men and lesbians to express themselves and be happier doing so resonated with their individuality. The fact that the whole thing really upset the authoritarian D-Q crowd was the icing on the cake.

So that, I think, is a partial answer to the question of why the two causes have turned out so differently. Another part is, of course, what JMG has mentioned in the original post: anthropolatry, an inflated estimation of the importance of human beings. That estimation probably aided the campaign for same-sex marriage by emphasizing the value of all human beings, but it is inhibiting the cause of re-adapting ourselves to Nature.

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jjensenii: South Park avatar (Default)
James Jensen

September 2017

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