Monday, December 17, 2007

Spiral Dynamics

In "Spiral Dynamics," Don Beck and Christopher Cowen expand on an idea developed by the psychologist Claire Graves that humans go through psychosocial stages of complexity, and that this happens both historically and personally. They say that people go through two tiers of complexity, and that the first tier has 6 stages, while the second has only two so far. The first stage of the first tier sounds a lot like how chimpanzees act, so I typically see the first tier as having 5 stages. The first stage if that of tribalism. The second stage gives you the kind of society and people you see in The Iliad and the Odyssey. The third stage gives you the kind of society and people found in Medieval Europe, though it includes thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Aquinas. The fourth stage gives us the kind of society and people you find in the Enlightenment, including the foundation of America, the Founding Fathers, Voltaire, Adam Smith, etc. This is a fundamentally libertarian level. The fifth stage is that of egalitarianist postmodernism (if we think of postmodernism as post-Modern Era), including people like Rousseau, Marx (two early founders), Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida, Foucault, etc. That ends the first tier. They describe the second tier as being at an exponential level of complexity above the first tier thinkers. The first stage of the second tier includes Nietzsche as a founding thinker, and probably includes people like E. O. Wilson, Steven Pinker, Cosmides and Tooby. We get a return to libertarian thought -- really, a sort of neolibertarianism. The next stage includes people like Frederick Turner, J. T. Fraser, Claire Graves, Don Beck, Christopher Cowen (how else could they have recognized a stage they weren't in?), and, I would venture to guess, you. These people also tend toward a kind of neolibertarianism. The second tier thinkers are the ones who developed complexity science, systems, science, emergence, fractal geometry, etc. You will also notice that the stages advance in complexity while going back and forth between individualism and communitarianism, with stages 1, 3, and 5 in the first tier, and the second stage of the second tier being communitarianist. Stages 2 and 4 and the first level of the second tier are individualistic. At the same time, each level contains the levels below it, though the first tier people tend to be exclusionary toward other levels, while the second tier people are deeply inclusionary and seek to create a healthy relationship among all the levels -- in themselves, others, and in society. The levels are open-ended, meaning that though there have been two levels in the second tier, there will be more as society becomes more complex. The idea of spiral dynamics is one I find to be very persuasive, not the least of which being because it fits so well with the emergentist metaphysics I already embrace, particularly as developed by J. T. Fraser.

I said all that to say this: there seem to be a few levels in which a libertarian ethic takes over -- during the 4th stage of the first tier, and then quite strongly in the second tier overall (though I have no doubt that there are still people in the second tier, especially when we get to the second tier, that are a little closer to the Left than others at that level, I do also think that they are less likely to lean Left rather than libertarian precisely because second tier thinkers are more likely to see the world in its full complexity, and come to the conclusion that controlling it is all but impossible, though it can be influences in interesting and unpredictable ways through bottom-up procedures like individual action and scholarship). So it seems that a certain kind of libertarianism comes about precisely when thinking becomes complex enough. Early libertarianism comes about after moralistic, authority-controlled ages like the Medieval period, and before postmodern egalitarianist thinking. But then, with the exponential leap in complexity of thinking, we get a kind of neolibertarianism, developed from more fully understanding how complex the world is, to such an extent that it creates humility. The postmodernists are at the top level of complexity of the first tier, and they unconsciously know it. They see themselves as being the most complex thinkers of all people (and they are -- among first tier people), which breeds a kind of arrogance in them. This makes them fundamentally atheists (notwithstanding politically-driven claims to the contrary among postmodernist politicians), since they cannot imagine any one or any thing being greater than they are. Being greater, they naturally assume they should be in charge and that they know what is best for everyone. They see people in the second tier as being 3rd and 4th stage, first tier thinkers, since they cannot properly recognize those whose thinking is more complex than theirs.

You will notice too that I said that people develop through these stages. In the U.S. (a fairly complex society), we see people going through each of these stages. Young children are of course at the chimpanzee and then first stage. At pubescence, they enter the second stage (gang members and many artists stay at this stage). By late teens, most people are in the third stage. Those who enter college and remain at this stage tend to become engineering or religion (their own) majors. Early college, people are in the fourth stage. Probably most science majors and business and economics majors exit college at this stage. The social sciences and the humanities especially tend to get people to stage 5, and graduate them at that stage. And then there are the handful who emerge on the other side, who for whatever set of reasons reach a level of much higher complexity, and see the world in its complexity and understand the importance of each of the levels within the human mind and within society. My suspicion is that it occurs primarily in those of us who are full-scale information junkies.
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