By Joe Perez
Speaking in the Netherlands recently, Dr. Don Beck makes the case for a complex, adaptive intelligences approach to sustainability issues. In his presentation, “Sustainable Cultures, Sustainable Planet: A Values System Perspective on Constructive Dialogue and Cooperative Action”, there is a plea to understand the codes and dynamics that shape cultures and drive change.
Although he may not be breaking new ground for listeners with intimate knowledge of the Spiral Dynamics model of human development, he clearly sets forth a key narrative in understanding culture, writing:
Cultures, as well as countries, are formed by the emergence of value systems (social stages) in response to life conditions. Such complex adaptive intelligences form the glue that bonds a group together, defines who they are as a people, and reflects the place on the planet they inhabit. These cultural waves, much like the Russian dolls (a doll embedded within a doll embedded within a doll), have formed, over time, into unique mixtures and blends of instructional and survival codes, myths of origin, artistic forms, life styles, and senses of community. While they are all legitimate expressions of the human experience, they are not “equal” in their capacities to deal with complex problems in society.
Yet, the detectable social stages within cultures are not Calvinistic scripts that lock us into choices against our will. Nor are they inevitable steps on a predetermined staircase, or magically appearing like crop circle structures in our collective psyche. Cultures should not be seen as rigid types, having permanent traits. Instead, they are core adaptive intelligences that ebb and flow, progress and regress, with the capacity to lay on new levels of complexity (value systems) when conditions warrant. Much like an onion, they form layers on layers on layers. There is no final state, no ultimate destination, and no utopian paradise. Each stage is but a prelude to the next, then the next, then the next.
Each emerging social stage or cultural wave contains a more expansive horizon, a more complex organizing principle, with newly calibrated priorities, mindsets, and specific bottom-lines. All of the previously acquired social stages remain in the composite value system to determine the unique texture of a given culture, country, or society. In author/ philosopher Ken Wilber’s language, each new social stage transcends but includes” all of those which have come before. Societies with the capacity to change, swing between I:Me:Mine and We:Us:Our poles. Tilts in one direction create the need to self-correct, thus causing a shift toward the opposite pole. “Me” decades become “Us” epochs as we constantly spiral up, or spiral down in response to life conditions. Some social stages stress diversity generators that reward individual initiatives and value human rights. Other social stages impose conformity regulators and reward cooperative, collective actions. Societies will zigzag between these two poles, thus embracing different models at each tilt.
Once a new social stage appears in a culture, it will spread its instructional codes and life-priority messages throughout that culture’s surface-level expressions: religion, economic and political arrangements, psychological and anthro-pological theories, and views of human nature, our future destiny, globalization, and even architectural patterns and sports preferences. We all live in flow states; there is always new wine, always old wineskins. We, indeed, find ourselves pursuing a never-ending quest.
Here’s the key idea. Different societies, cultures and subcultures, as well as entire nations are at different levels of psycho-cultural emergence, as displayed within these evolutionary levels of complexity. Yet, and here is a critical concept, the previously awakened levels do not disappear. Rather, they stay active within the value system stacks, thus impacting the nature of the more complex systems. So, many of the same issues we confront on the West Bank (red to blue) can be found in South Central Los Angeles. One can experience the animistic (purple) worldview on Bourbon Street as well as in Zaire. Matters brought before city council in Minneapolis (orange to green to yellow) are not unlike the debates in front of governing bodies in the Netherlands.
Read the full article in Integral Leadership Review.