An introduction to Spiral Dynamics


One of the most important realizations on the path of growth is that there are actually stages of development that you can grow through. If a man is unable to recognize that, then he may well end up shifting from strategy to strategy in life, from skill to skill, without actually growing at all. The realization that “there are other people who are more evolved than me” is of utmost importance for a man who is aiming for full maturity. It could very well be the most important thing of all. It is the prerequisite for mentoring and initiation, and in a culture that doesn’t give that, the individual must seek it himself.

This model was developed by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan based on the work of psychology professor Clare Graves and was popularized by Ken Wilber (whose perspective lead to the evolution of SDi – Spiral Dynamics integral). I’m no Spiral Dynamics expert, so please do further research on your own, and let this serve as merely a primer.

Quickly about consciousness tiers before we begin: First tier consciousness is a type of consciousness in which a person thinks that he and those who think like him are sole keepers of truth. They cannot see the truths of the other levels of development, even if they themselves previously held it (grew through it). When people of different first tier levels of development meet, they often end up arguing, without being able to really understand what the other person is saying at all. Spending time on such discussion is pointless.

In second tier, however, the person can see all levels of development that came before it, and embrace the value and truths inherent in all levels of development (this is not the same as postmodernism). Second tier individuals see the trajectory along which consciousness develops and are better equipped guiding others along this path themselves. We can see further down in this text that the more developed a person is, the more powerful he is. The numbers are from Ken Wilber’s A Theory of Everything, and are probably somewhat outdated. It is reasonable to think that the world has seen a shift towards higher levels of development since then.

And now, for the observable levels of development presented in the Spiral Dynamics model.

First tier consciousness

Beige (archaic-instinctual, identity not yet fully formed)

The beige level of consciousness is the first and least sophisticated level available to human beings. It features a barely developed sense of I, meaning it has little sense of being separate. Beige consciousness is basically only concerned with the most basic needs, food, water, sex, security etc.

Key word: Survival
Seen in: Infants, senile elderly, the starving etc.
Cultural impact: 0.1 percent of the population, 0 percent power

Purple (magic-animistic, identity not yet fully formed)

The purple level developed when human tribes first met. This traumatic experience required them to reorient themselves in the world and form new forms of civilization. Purple believes in magic; spirits of nature or the ancestors fly around casting spells and curses. Purple can develop irrational relationships to inanimate objects based on the idea that all objects, alive or otherwise, posess a soul. Can appear to some (myself included) to be a higher level of consciousness than it actually is.

Key word: Magic
Seen in: Voodoo curses, good luck charms, third world tribes etc
Cultural impact: 10 percent of the population, 1 percent of the power

Red (egocentric, individual)

At this stage, a separate sense of self distinct from the tribe develops. With this new-formed identity comes the wish to perpetuate its power and as a consequence red consciousness generally uses violence and aggressive means to barge ahead in life. The world is a dangerous place and to perpetuate the power of identity, all enemies must be destroyed.

Key words: Power and respect
Seen in: Terrible twos, feudal kingdoms, James Bond villains, Nazi Germany (part red, part blue), wild rock stars, Lord of the Flies etc.
Cultural impact: 20 percent of the population, 5 percent of the power

Blue (mythic, group)

This consciousness level leaves behind the chaotic narcissism of red in favour of law and order. Blue features very defined values, black and white, true and false, good and evil, saint and sinner. Violating the agreed upon code of conduct has very serious consequences, going to hell, being executed, imprisoned, exiled etc. There is only one way to think about things and the social structure is very hierarchical. Dogmatic religion and submission to a supernatural being, everything is predestined, sacrifice now to obtain later.

Key words: Purpose, justice
Seen in: Conservative politics, Republican party (part blue, part orange), patriotism, boy and girl scouts, fundamentalism, codes of chivalry and honor, ethnocentricity
Cultural impact: 40 percent of the population, 30 percent of the power

Orange (rational, individual)

At this stage of consciousness, the individual starts questioning the idea that everything is predestined. Perhaps there is no God in the sky that has everything all figured out. Man then starts taking responsibility for his own life and starts seeking his own answers and ways ahead in life. This level of consciousness is meritocratic – your worth is not based on who you are, but what you can do, and thus worldcentric (a black man is worth just as much as a white man if he has the same skills). Science rules the day and the mystery of existence is all but gone, the world is a well oiled machine that is there to be used, even at the cost of the planet.

Key words: Skill
Seen in: Capitalism, fashion industry, the Western Enlightenment (Renaissance), fame and superstardom
Cultural impact: 30 percent of the population, 50 percent of the power

Green (postmodern, group)

With the emergence of green in the 1960s, came a sensitizing to the plight of the human race. Blue and orange have been destroying the planet through creating saints and sinners, winners and losers, and green seeks to deconstruct these value structures to better humanity. At this stage, emotions become more important than logic, decisions are reached through reconciliation and consensus. Take care of the planet, be a good person and don’t be so greedy. Green fails to see the stages of consciousness it traversed to get to its current state and is extremely bad at making decisions, because it’s incapable of deeming one thing better or worse than another. Everything is an egalitarian mush from which little truth and action can be extracted. Green is often incapable of making the changes it idolizes.

Key words: Deconsctruct blue and orange, preserve the planet and be nice
Where seen: Liberal politics, Democratic Party (part green, part orange), political correctness, Greenpeace, animal rights, human rights issues, free health care, United Nations
Cultural impact: 10 percent of the population, 15 percent of the power

Second tier consciousness

Yellow (integrative, individual)

This is the first stage of 2nd tier consciousness. 2nd tier is described by its awareness of the existence of different levels of consciousness. It sees that all levels have a place in the world and that the purpose of 2nd tier consciousness is to use whatever tools are available to traverse the ladder of evolution to help people at whatever stages they’re at. Hierarchies are reintroduced: Knowledge and competency should supersede power, status and group sensitivity. Flexibility, spontaneity and functionality have the highest priority. A belief in intuition.

Key words: Evolution through flexibility
Where seen: Rarely, mainly in individuals, but to some extent in the growing number of integral businesses
Cultural impact: 1 percent of the population, 5 percent of the power

Turquoise (holistic, group)

Consciousness that unites feeling with knowledge. Believes in universal order, but not based on external rules (blue) or group bonds (green). Often involves emergence of cosmocentric spirituality. Global consciousness – it’s possible to make money while taking good care of the planet and workers. In fact, it’s not only possible, through the turquoise perspective, it is seen as the BEST way to make money. Uses the entire spiral, can access any stage at will and can read between the lines. The insight of turquoise into human nature is so vast that it can be perceived as being psychic, even though that is not necessarily the case.

Key words: Global consciousness
Where seen: In rare individuals who have integrated spirituality with the rational world of science and matter
Cultural impact: 0.1 percent of the population, 1 percent of the power

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