Spiral Dynamics

It seems a human embryo should go through every stage of evolution. It is called the theory of recapitulation. In Ernst Haeckel’s (1834-1919) words; “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”

In modern biology, this theory has been more refined; however, the main idea is still critical and applicable to many other disciplinary areas such as developmental psychologies.

We could generalize this idea like this:

The macro-scale evolution could recapitulate itself even on the micro-scale.

It is not only in a human embryo but also in our human consciousness. For example, when human consciousness develops from pre-personal to personal to trans-personal. It seems the same line could represent itself on the macro-scale from pre-rational to rational to trans-rational; from pre-modern to modern to postmodern.

When we were children, our mind was superstitious. We easily believed fairytales and fantasies. We were afraid of the darkness. That was the state of pre-personal. In the state of personal, our mind becomes rational. We are no longer afraid of the darkness. We rely on scientific rationalism. Even some of us become an atheist in this stage.

In the state of trans-personal, however, at the moment when we are aware of our limitations, facing a matter of life and death existentially. Our mind could be no longer rational. Some of us would become spiritual.

In pre-personal, we believed in God naively. In personal, we denied God natively. And eventually, in trans-personal, we would realize we were naive either way. In the macro-scale, these three stages could be from premodern to modern to post-modern and beyond.

There are various frameworks based on this recapitulation theory. Among them, one of the well-known models could be Spiral Dynamics, one of the approaches in the field of developmental psychologies, proposed by Clare W. Graves (1914-1986), further applied by Don Beck and Cris Cowan. It is also one of the key frameworks for Ken Wilber’s Integral approaches.

Image from an interview with Don Beck

The unique characteristics of Spiral Dynamics could be firstly each stage is color-coded, called value meme or simply meme, secondly, it is described as a double-helix spiral upward movement. Such value memes start from Beige to Purple to Red to Blue to Orange to Green to Yellow to Turquoise, and for some, even to Coral to Teal, and more.

Memes from Beige to Green are in the first tier. And each could move from one to another in such a way that the next could overcome, include, transcend the current meme.

The second tier would start from Yellow, which is supposed to embrace all previous first-tier memes. Further possible value memes would emerge in the continuous upholding double-helix spiral movment.

How do we define each meme?

Beige represents the instinctive self. Like a newborn baby, our self-consciousness is primitive controlled by immediate desires. In Purple, we get aware of others, especially family members and tribal kinships. We know how to help one another in this tribal mindset. And yet, our worldview is still magical and superstitious. Purple is called the magical self. And the next meme is Red.

Red represents the impulsive and egocentric self. Out of our tribal communities, one mighty warrior could stand out. This leader is supposed to control and dominate all others, like the kings seeking supreme power. Will to power could be their ultimate value. Such constant struggles, however, would be costly and unsustainable. Thus, Blue emerges.

In Blue, we could rely on the supreme God, Laws, and Systems. Our world is no longer such form that one dominates all others, but institutionalized. The powerful, magical, warriors would be replaced with the systems and rules that control the organizations. It represents the self of rules and roles. In Blue, we are the followers of what we believe as something or someone spremer and absolute.

While such systems and laws become objective, so-called scientific rationalism could emerge, which is Orange. In this meme, we are no longer the obedient followers, but the egocentric self who controls the world. It is, however, neitehr by the violent Red warrior, nor by the Blue supremacy, but by the Orange rational self.

This Orange rational self is not as brutal as the Red warrior self, but still rests on the value of the survival of the fittest. It is the achiever self. In it, we pursue our material success, fortune, and prosperity.

How can we mitigate such cruel, materialistic competitions? Then, Green emerges.

Green is the last stage of the first tier, which is against any competitions and conflicts but focuses on harmony, equality, sustainability, and relativism. It’s called the sensitive self. Diversity and inclusion could also rest on this level.

The downside of Green, however, would be relativism, narcissism, and nihilism. Embracing everything and everyone, we could no longer see what should be right and wrong, but anything goes. And we would fall in our narcissism that we accept everyone and everything; but the truth is that we love only ourselves who can do so.

If anything, we would believe that such relativism alone is right. In other words, nothing is right except for us, except the fact that only we know nothing is right. Ken Wilber called it mean Green meme. It could be one of the reasons why some liberal movements tend to be aggressive and judgmental against other memes in the first tier.

And only if and when we face such dilemma of Green; moreover, the limitation of the whole first tier conflicts, we could see a glimpse to leap up to the second tier, which would start from Yellow.

If Beige is the beginning of the first tier, Yellow is that of the second tier. Yellow is the Beige that shines. We would be like a baby (instinctive self) who shines. It reminds us of the final infant stage (sacred “Yes”) of Nietzsche’s three metamorphoses, even the following Bible verse:

And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3

As a double-helix spiral movement, furthermore, the first tier has both egocentric and eco-centric lines. Branching out from Purple, the former is the line from Red to Orange and the latter is the line from Blue to Green.

In the same way, the second tier would recapitulate a similar double-helix spiral movement, which would go up from Turquoise to Coral to Teal, and more.

It is, however, never easy to imagine and articulate such possible memes in the second tier. Some say, Yellow would be integral; Turquoise would be holistic. How about Coral and Teal? What about other upcoming value memes? Perhaps, we should not necessarily articulate them. These would be already in the realm of Emptiness.

Image by WikiImages; by Arek Socha

7 thoughts on “Spiral Dynamics

    1. Thank you for your comments! Right, I think Ken Wilber also worked with Don Beck for his Integral theory. 😊 I’ve added Ken Wilber in the entry.


    1. Thank you for your comments! I agree with you. Spiral Dynamics should be known more. It is one of the best theories to understand and articulate the reality that we live – why we are instinctive, superstitious, ego-centric, fundamental, materialistic, or ecological, and yet always self-righteous, in micro and macro, in our lives and human history.


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