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Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected]. For an explanation of the color terminology used in Spiral Dynamics, see Don Beck's Stages of Social Development.

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The Memes at War

What is the integral response?

Ray Harris

The lines are being drawn in the sand. The vMemes are at war. What are we to make of this? How have we arrived at this point?

This paper is a tentative and preliminary examination of the issues. It does not pretend to be conclusive. It will use the language of Ken Wilber's spectrum model freely mixed with the concepts of Spiral Dynamics. It will also include my own interpretation of the stages of development, interpretations that do not necessarily belong to Wilber or to SD, but which should be relatively easy to distinguish.

I intend to be blunt in my assessment of the various trends. I am not interested in holding back out of some misplaced Green sensitivity, in fact such sensitivity, as I will argue, has been part of the problem.


Islam has been a problem. It has inherent tendencies and contradictions that have prevented it from embracing modernism and therefore fully evolving in a healthy manner; it is, in fact, beset by a range of pathological conditions.

The Arabia of Mohammed's time was a Purple/Red society of shifting and warring clan alliances. It was also a society that practised polytheism. The site that is now the Ka'ba was a site in which the various clans would place votive statues to invoke various agricultural and fertility deities. Mohammed was a charismatic reformer who brought monotheism and unity to this society. His actions allowed this society to make the transition from Purple/Red to Red/Blue. The Koran and the Hadith gave rise to a unifying Blue legal system, the Sharia.

One of the principle pathologies is its absolutism, a problem it shares with its Abrahamic siblings. Islam holds that Mohammed is the final prophet and that there can be no further revelation. Islam does recognise and acknowledge Judaism and Christianity, but even this recognition is problematic given the absolutist tendencies explicit in those religions. According to Islam both Abraham and Jesus (Isa) are prophets, but Mohammed is accorded primacy as the end of the line, as the end of history. Islam does not recognise the Christian absolutist claim that Jesus was the only Son of God, nor does it recognise the Jewish absolutist claim that God chose them above all other people.

One of the problematic injunctions within Islamic law is the prohibition against craven images (a reaction to the polytheism that preceded it). Unlike any other religion Islam expressly forbids any representation of the person of Mohammed (there have been a few, rare exceptions). This includes the representation of his person in writing (outside official history). Coupled with absolutism this has led to a situation where Islam has not critically examined its own beliefs or critically examined the life of the Prophet. The West developed the discipline of history and began to examine the truth claims of its dominant belief systems. Judaism and Christianity, despite pockets of resistance, were eventually dragged kicking and screaming into such self-examination. Not so with Islam. Both Judaism and Christianity have produced a vital industry of critical research. Islam has not. Any critical research has been very sparse in comparison and has had to contend with hostility from Islam. But even if such an industry were to develop, which I argue it should, it has to contend with the absence of primary and secondary material caused by this injunction.

What we are left with is the Koran, the Hadith and the many interpretations of these texts, all of which assume the infallibility of the revelations and of Mohammed.

But even when we look closely at this material from an integral perspective we are faced with a blunt conclusion. The morality of the Koran is developmentally quite primitive. It is primarily Red/Blue. And the visions of Mohammed are examples of temporary peak experiences that consist primarily of psychic and subtle contents, with the occasional causal moments. Further, the visions seem to be highly coloured by what Mohammed seemed to already believe. He seems to have been prejudiced by a strong belief in a Talmudic, vengeful, monotheistic Yahweh. Some of his visions may indeed have been somewhat psychotic. And people caught in the Purple/Red vMeme can easily mistake manic psychosis for religious insight and fervour.


Fortunately the situation is not entirely grim. There were other influences. As Islam expanded it encountered other belief systems. The most notable of these is Sufism. Sufism predates Islam. Throughout the Middle East there always existed mystic schools of some form or other, from desert visionaries to more organised schools (Jesus, or should I say Joshua ben Yussef, his true name, came under the influence of the mystic John). It can be argued for instance, that Kabala entered Jewish lore as a result of their exile in Babylon. Essentially Sufism is the adaptation of Islam to several mystical traditions, Ismaili Gnosis, Neo-Platonism and so on. The point I want to make here is that Sufism unfortunately, does not arise from within Islam itself, but is the result of the influence of various mystical traditions.

Sufism has allowed a multi-layered interpretation of what is essentially a clear set of injunctions. Some Sufi schools hold that there are seven levels to the Koran. The various types of mystical interpretative methods are too complex to go into here. The essential point is that Sufism has allowed what was a previously closed belief system to find ways to be read in an open manner. With the influence of Sufism Islam was able to develop beyond its Red/Blue absolutist barrier.

This development has not been without its conflicts. Sufism needed the patronage of political power to operate successfully. There have always been fundamentalists who see Sufism as impure. At times Sufism has been suppressed. When Sufism is allowed to flourish Islam has, as is to be expected, undergone normal evolution. When Europe was under the thumb of the closed rule of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic hierarchy the Middle East underwent a renaissance. But all this is well known history.


In many respects the fundamentalists are right in their interpretation. There are very clear passages in the Koran and the Hadith that permit a Muslim to kill an unbeliever. The life of Mohammed is a life of violence. Not only did he lead battles, he also ordered his followers to kill individuals. The idea of Jihad is a Red level moral response. It was bound to cause ideological conflict amongst Muslims who evolved to higher vMeme expression.

The 'moderate' view interprets Jihad to mean an internal 'struggle' with one's own belief. And indeed, a mystical view would include 'struggle' against demonic psychic and subtle energies. Unfortunately, despite this moderate interpretation the Koran explicitly endorses violence. It is not a case, as with Judaism, that there are contradictory injunctions that lend themselves to various interpretations, or in the case of Christianity expedient interpretations of clearly pacifist teachings, no, the Koran and the Hadith are unmistakably clear about the use of violence. This attitude can best be summed up as; it is good to kill unbelievers in defence of Islam and those who do so will be assured a place in paradise.

The next level of debate centers around how one defines Islam and how one defines 'unbeliever'. In Mohammed's time the unbelievers were defined as atheists and pagans (there is the thorny issue of Mohammed ordering the murder of a Jew). However, definitions vary depending on historical circumstances and which branch of Islam one belongs to.

A dispassionate memetic analysis shows that Islam is burdened by a Red/Blue centre of gravity. The Koran is, in essence a pre-modern, pre-rational text. No matter what gloss moderate Muslims place on it, the text speaks for itself. This is the problem. No matter what a moderate council of clerics may say, there has always been a fundamentalist council who have been able to provide unambiguous quotes from the Koran and the Hadith.

The fundamentalist stream in Islam has always been there, pulling Islam back to its Red/Blue centre of gravity. But why, after so many centuries has fundamentalism grown in strength such that it is capable of committing the atrocities it has?


Each vMeme has a set of core needs. Deprivation of such needs inhibits memetic growth. When the core needs are provided the vMeme naturally evolves. These needs can be summarised thus:

  • Beige - basic necessities, food, shelter
  • Purple - identity, tribal or familial
  • Red - control, over the environment and rival groups
  • Blue - security, stability and certainty
  • Orange - individual expression
  • Green - tolerance and accommodation of multiple views

There can be no memetic progress until an individual or social grouping secures these needs. The suppression of these needs leads to memetic devolution. It is really quite simple.

Now, when we look at the history of Islam we can see certain trends.

  1. Inherent contradictions - I've already spent some time exploring this theme. Basically put, the absolutist claims of Islam act against the emergence of Orange.
  2. Many Islamic countries have hostile environments and are barely able to get above subsistence levels. Many Islamic nations still have rural tribal cultures.
  3. European colonialist cultures have been dominant and have historically subjugated Islamic nations, thus further inhibiting their access to the core needs.

When Mohammed succeeded in his conquest he brought Blue stability to Arabia. This stability saw a period of Red/Blue aggressive expansion. The wealth gained by this expansion allowed, despite various dynastic conflicts, an emergence into Blue proper. This then allowed the emergence of individual contributions and Orange innovation and creativity. The Moorish rule of Spain saw a tolerant and creative period that gave rise to such unique thinkers as Ibn Arabi. Arabic culture underwent a renaissance.

This was to end. The Moors were defeated and Europe underwent its own renaissance (influenced by the Arabic renaissance). The conquest of the seas brought great wealth to European nations. A period of ascendency led to the conditions that engendered the enlightenment and the consequent modernist/Orange revolution. Whilst this was happening the Islamic world was steadily loosing its own empires, most notably India to the British and Indonesia to the Dutch, and so on. The Arabic world lost its wealth and declined economically, itself being dominated by European nations, especially the British. Islam was pushed back to its Red/Blue centre. The core needs of Blue and Orange had been denied to them.


Make no mistake, the developed world is essentially locked into the Orange vMeme. It is never a static affair. Most conservative parties speak for the Blue/Orange segment of the population and most 'liberal' parties speak for the Orange/Green segments. The centre of gravity oscillates like a pendulum, but not all that far. The predominant ideology is Orange. Orange is individualism, creativity and innovation, pragmatism vs moralism and selfishness. Orange has its own narcissism, one that gazes at its own youthful expression. Orange exalts in its achievements. It builds monuments to itself and makes an economy out of vanity, out of status objects.

The US, as the empire that arose out of the destruction of WW2, gets to be the exemplar and the Orange bogeyman. Its culture exalts the individual.

But, as one writer recently suggested, Orange is not about 'win-win' (that honour goes to Yellow). It is most definitely about win-lose. The dark side of Orange is that it needs losers in order to draw comparison and to gloat in success. The grand metaphor of Orange is sport. Every week someone's team must win and another's lose. I cannot emphasise this point enough. Orange must create the category 'loser' in order to gloat. There is no point in winning if the basic narcissistic drives of Orange cannot be fulfilled.


Globalisation is simply a trend that has been occurring over history. Developments in transport and telecommunications have destroyed distance. I agree that globalisation will put pressure on Orange to shift to Green (and thence to Second Tier), but we are not there yet. The current beast called globalisation is really the dominance of the Orange vMeme, particularly through the Orange institution par excellence, the free market. (A major debate in the West is the conflict between Blue, Orange and Green economic agendas, with Orange holding the dominant and influential position). The free market exalts the Orange entrepreneur; it values the status symbol trappings of individual wealth. It pragmatically sells and buys the livelihoods of billions of people. When the Asian economic crisis occurred the world's largest Islamic nation, Indonesia, found it's currency devalued by roughly 25%. This was enough to tip hundreds of thousands of Indonesians well below the poverty line. The Orange 'Brand' par excellence, Nike, made money immediately from the devalued wages of its Indonesian workers. In true Orange style Nike did not reimburse this bonus profit, rather it exalted in its win.


Oil is of vital strategic importance to the Orange wealth of the West. Being of course, Orange, the West will pursue this resource in true pragmatic style. It will make geopolitical decisions on the basis of Realpolitik. If assuring stability means supporting Saddam Hussein, then they will. Orange has a blind spot in that it is very dismissive of what it defines as losers. Losers are where they are because it is their own fault. You see, everyone is free to compete and to succeed. If you lose it is because you weren't up to it, not because the game is actually rigged. Orange will not validate people who are not 'players'. Therefore, if the marginalised complain they are ignored. The most pragmatic 'realpolitik' strategy is followed despite moral or ethical objections. Orange will go to bed with Red/Blue dictatorships if it assures a 'win'.

The stratagems of the Orange politics of oil have further suppressed the realisation of the core needs of millions of Muslims. One of the central complaints of radical Muslims is that oil has enriched certain families and clan groups within Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates. The US is seen to meddle with disregard. (I recognise also the importance of the Israel/Arab conflict).


"hot" "cool"

Red and Orange represent neighbouring 'hot' vMemes [see table]. The symbolism of the recent attack on the World Trade Building should not be lost. It was a direct attack on the leading world market, Wall Street. It is the anger of a dispossessed vMeme striking out at its harmonic cousin. Wall Street, New York and the US are all symbols of Orange wealth running rampage over the core needs of billions. There are many others who have tilted at this windmill, this symbol. Radical Islam succeeded because it has the depth of Red will power needed, it has a compliant and powerful ideology to inspire it.


"hot" "cool"

Already we have seen the US respond with the good guy/bad guy morality of Blue, either you are with us or against us. This is to be expected. Nothing more need be said other than to note that the US seems to be successfully battling with this tendency under the backroom influence of Europe, especially Blair, who tend somewhat more to Green.

Green by and large however, will be confused by the recent events. Green does not understand such conflict, a view that threatens their worldview of tolerance. I mentioned above that part of the current problem was due to Green. Basically Green influence in academia and as the higher moral authority of 'political correctness' has itself failed to understand the contradictions within Islam. It has tended, very broadly speaking, to legitimise Red Islam as equal in moral standing. As the conflict continues however, we will begin to see a Green backlash. The negative aspect of this will be a na´ve call for peace. The sophisticated aspect will be a call for a redress of causal inequality. Hopefully the impact of this will force the Orange free market to redress its excesses.


The future is uncertain. This conflict will force many Muslims to choose sides. The consequences are volatile. Several Islamic nations could disrupt into civil conflict. Pakistan grows more unstable every day. Protests are building up momentum in Indonesia, a nation already torn by ethnic and religious conflict. Whatever transpires the aftershocks will be with us for decades to come.

What should be the integral response?

I would tentatively suggest the following:

  1. A detailed integral critique of Islam
  2. An integral outreach to like-minded Muslims leading to formal dialogue
  3. An integral economic analysis that examines the process of core needs and its impact on healthy memetic expression
  4. A critique of Orange 'free market' ideology and a contrast with emergent Green economics (ethical investment, aid as social investment, worker ownership, etc).


Islam will not change under coercion. The current declared war on terrorism may only succeed in partially eliminating El Qaeda and bin Laden. Islam can only progress through two principle means.

  1. Confronting the violence of its tradition and critically examining its history. This can only succeed if it happens within Islam. It is a shame there is not a charismatic figure to challenge bin Laden's authority and to head a moderate revolution.
  2. The West must aid Islamic nations to realise the core needs that will support memetic evolution.

The West itself needs to make the transition from Orange to Green, thence to Yellow win/win. I hope that the shock of these events will act as a catalyst and inspire the necessary self-examination.

I apologise for the abruptness of this piece. It is a complex problem. The conflict has different ramifications in different regions, there is a complex of memetic responses, and sub-harmonic responses. I offer this as just a beginning.

© Ray Harris, September 2001

[email protected]

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