Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

Aligning, integrating and applying the behavioural sciences

A Spiral Perspective on Human Development..?

April 2003

Jerry Coursen is both a notable academic in the world of what he calls the ‘hard sciences’ and a leading Gravesian thinker.

In this short humorous article, he uses Spiral Dynamics in broad strokes to recap human social evolution. He emphasises: “It does not begin to reflect the fits-and-starts, the progress-and-regression, the emergences-and-extinctions that characterise the dynamics of the underlying system. In this regard, it is more a fictional summary than a factual synopsis.”

To contact Jerry, please use the Contact page to send me your comments/queries which I will forward for his response. A major interview with Jerry in which he ruminates on his background and key Gravesian concepts can be viewed by clicking here.

What are BEIGE humans like? Evolutionarily, they have been around for a longer time than all of the other colours combined. They were humans but humans without what we’re aware of as ‘consciousness’. But this didn’t keep them from forming groups, hunting and/or foraging together, fighting with each other over food and mates, hassling each other just to be annoying, forming hierarchies within their groups, fighting with other groups, etc. In other words, if you were to watch a group of BEIGE humans, you’d notice that they did not perform any sort of activities that were coordinated by language. But beyond that, they could be mistaken for us on a bad day.

PURPLE, of course, differed in that they’d discovered themselves and each other. They invented, refined, and applied language. First thing they discovered was that things out there were pretty nasty. Their world just wasn’t safe. So they huddled with each other, leaned on each other, worked with each other to survive. When they figured out the ‘strength-in-numbers’ concept, they modified individual behaviour so that sharing for selfish purposes was practiced.

Sometimes, one of them would figure out that he/she could get along just fine without the whole gang. They were just, probably genetically, more gifted at staying alive. They had a better sense of smell or ran faster or were just cleverer than the rest of the folks in the group. They figured out that their survival was linked more to their own abilities than it was to being a part of the group. Consequently, they were often expelled by the group. If they survived, their being expelled just made them worse. Occasionally, they’d stumble into another group, convince it that they were more adept at surviving than the whole of the group and the group’d collectively say, “Show us the way.” So the RED guy’d get to be the boss. PURPLE clans and families mutated into RED-led gangs and tribes.

Along the way, the ones in the back were chattering away. Mostly they were commiserating, but they also, inadvertently, were refining language. When it became too dangerous to speak, they developed signs and signals. And the signs and signals mutated into marks and shapes and stuff started to get written down. When the stuff getting written down answered the question, “Why?” the answers were obtained from the individuals the tribes thought were the wisest. The wisest were often, also, the most powerful.

As writing stuff down continued, the guys writing the stuff down figured out that sometimes the most powerful people couldn’t read or write. So, from time to time, the writers wrote down whatever they wanted to. Occasionally, they placed into the writings the idea that there was something ethereal more powerful than the boss. Then they wrote that whatever this ethereal presence was, it was telling them to take on more authority.

What was most significant out of all this was the observation that by keeping track of what had happened, sometimes one could predict what was coming up. Theory was born. Records were kept and reason emerged.

At first it was all BLUE. Rules were made, followed, enforced. Theory, history and rule-following gave the collection of people involved with those rules a competitive advantage over others. States emerged from kingdoms. Most importantly, money replaced brute force. Economics was born. And he who had the gold ruled.

So next, the trick became figuring out how to work within the context of the rules to gain as much money as possible. At first, this was easy. In a society where everybody’s assumption was that what was important were the rules and following the rules, there was a real advantage to those who figured out that rules were meant to be broken….so long as you didn’t get caught…..or didn’t hurt anybody…..but, particularly, didn’t get caught. ORANGE.

Of course, there were still people in the back writing away trying to discern rules that nobody’d ever heard about. Science proved particularly fertile as an outlet for this activity. And eventually these guys figured out that not everything can be predicted no matter how good the theory nor how comprehensive the history. Everything was just going to keep changing. Really, change was all you could absolutely hang your hat on.

While the scientists were, for the most part, still happy hanging around in the back looking for new tidbits to share with a few of their closest friends, there were others who had felt that the permanency created by making a status quo was illusionary. They had history and anecdotal experience that supported this idea. And when they got a hold of the scientists’ belief that nothing was real but change, they freaked. Money wasn’t a cure-all. It replaced brute-force power but it didn’t trump universal change. They huddled, reconsidered and rediscovered themselves as a unique species. They attempted to reestablish the relationships with each other that PURPLE’d had when it first emerged. But, of course, there was too much language, too many other forms of thought, too many other opinions. They couldn’t become PURPLE. They became GREEN. They focused on trust of and caring for each other. While caring for was within their individual spans of control, trust was not. They cared, but it turned out that their trusting was, almost always, ultimately misplaced.

So, some turned from their group and went inward to themselves. They accepted the validity of everything that’d gone before, but believed that they, in the final analysis, did have a modicum of control. It was control over themselves and the way they spent their lives. They became self-actualising, accountability-accepting, and existential. And, in the development of their understanding, they seemed pretty much useless to anyone else around them. YELLOW.


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