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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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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

Part 4- Notes toward an Integral
Political Transformative Practice

Ray Harris

The repercussions arising from September the 11th have bought a number of issues into sharper focus. In previous instalments I have examined just a few of those issues. What we are now seeing is a shift in world politics. The co-operation required in policing the movement of people and money around this issue is itself a speeding up of processes already under way, the process of creating a new global order.

This will unsettle the vMemes. The attack on the WTC was a major seismic event. The existence of an immediate, global news coverage ensured that the world was immediately affected. The attack has sent aftershocks reverberating through the psychological, strategic, political and economic streams of the emerging world culture.

This will help stimulate the shift toward Second Tier approaches. It will bring some voices together. It will also push some further apart. We know this because it has happened before. After WW1 the League of Nations, after WW2 the United Nations, after September 11th?

What form might a new politics take?

Here I offer just some suggestions. There are many other voices, some still disconnected, struggling to formulate this new politics. It's still early days.

NOTE: The following discussion will freely mix Spiral Dynamics with my own categories. I hope this does not cause too much confusion.


In Part 2 I introduced a slightly different way to look at the developmental stages. I introduced the concept of a 12 level system and talked about the first 6 as a set of 3 dyads. Now it's germane to introduce the 4th dyad, Master/Neophyte. The first thing to say is that I will largely be discussing the 'Master' archetype. The 'Neophyte' actually marks the transition, in my system, to the transpersonal levels. After one has achieved 'World' Mastery one becomes aware of the transpersonal and begins again as student. Of central importance to my approach is the concept of 'The Return'. In essence this is close to the idea of the bodhisattva, but it has echoes in many cultures. After one has attained spiritual wisdom one returns to the level of Mastery as 'Spiritual' Master. (The myth of Jesus is an interesting mix of these themes). If one fails to make this journey then one can fall from 'World' Mastery. Like King Arthur, the failure to take right action, personified by his son Mordred, returns to unseat the Master/King, the Fisher King rules a devastated land. I will return to this theme later.

Mastery is achieved after the lessons of Civilis have been learnt. I call this stage Master because one has essentially 'mastered' a core group of competencies. The corresponding age level is middle age, an age where we are supposed to have mastered the game of life. In reality, most people are still caught in the first 3 dyads. The First world is still struggling to balance individualism with civil co-responsibility. Authoritarian systems, the Second world, are still struggling to balance 'maternal' needs for security against 'paternal' needs for control and order. The 'Third' world is struggling with life and death issues.

Given that few actually attain individual Mastery, the ideal of Mastery therefore gets projected onto others. We look to 'leaders' to inspire us. Regrettably they so often betray our projection, as they must - simply because it is, after all, a projection.

The principle mechanism of this projection has been the institution of royalty. The king/queen is a common 'symbol' of the Mastery stage. And it seems every culture has a particular personification of the ideal king; King David for the Jews (Jesus being heir to the Davidic line), Ashoka for Buddhism, Arjuna for Hinduism and King Richard the Lion Heart and King Arthur, for England. Each example models the attributes of Mastery, despite the historical realities. They indicate the extent to which the ideal is projected onto individuals.

(I am fully aware of the place of rex/regina in Jung's psychology. This too holds important insights).

In the US, a country that has supposedly overthrown monarchy as a system of government, the ideal is projected onto the President. The ideal seems to have been most projected onto JFK's Presidency, with that administration's reign being labelled 'Camelot'. The recent Presidency of Bill Clinton was a particular betrayal of the ideal, as it seemed the early Clinton was beginning to re-capture the lost magic of JFK.

A successful, 'masterful' leader is able to 'hold' the projection and use it. Here we need to understand that the archetype of Mastery implies mastery of the previous levels. But it also carries with it the inspiration to progress to the next level. The successful leader is able to 'include' the prior vMemes and 'lead' the group/nation toward the next level. It is, admittedly, a tall order. It is however, an implicit expectation imposed on all leaders. Whether they live up to it, or exploit it is another issue. The projection nonetheless, is there.

An Integral Politics will recognise the function of this archetype and be able to teach the required competencies. What would it be like if leaders of all persuasions were able to monitor the health of this archetype.


The 'ideal' of democracy implies a polity of people who have all incorporated the Master archetype.

The reality is a polity of multiple vMemes pursuing their own agendas. The 'ideal' is in constant conflict with the reality. Red groups, be they criminal or political, subvert democracy through violent 'turf' wars. Blue groups subvert democracy by imposing rules and mores in decidedly undemocratic ways, by autocratic decree. Orange subverts democracy by emphasising individual rights over individual responsibility. Green subverts democracy by a feel-good inclusiveness that is indiscriminate.

In the absence of an 'ideal' democracy the vMemes project their need for the Master archetype all over the bloody place. Frankly, it's mess. But hey, it' s what we've been given.

How do we even begin to fix this mess? Well, first let's get the analysis right, and here I am only making a small contribution. There are other parts to the puzzle - this is the beginning of a process - no final answers here.


Sorry, but this is where I have to add another layer of complexity. Each of the 12 levels stages acts harmonically as a sub-level within each stage. Let 's examine, because we are already somewhat familiar with them, the first 3 dyads, Eros/Thanatos, Mater/Pater, Individuus/Civilis. Taking Individuus as a first example the first 3 dyads act as sub-levels of Individuus in this way: the development of any stage first undergoes a struggle for survival. It experiences itself as new and vulnerable. This is an awkward and volatile time which can mark a series of retreats to the previous stage. This is seen in the awkward period of early teenage years where the child is torn by increasing sense of individuality and the need for the parents.

The next sub-level is marked by the need to feel secure in the new stage. In teenagers individualism is mediated by the peer group, the peer group becoming the new substitute parents. Here we see the expression of individualism as a group adherence to fads as expression of, ironically, individualism.

The next sub-level, using our example of teenagers, is noted in late teens where enough confidence is gained to express genuine individuality. The peer group is abandoned and new friendships are formed based on common interests. The Civilis aspect is seen in the group dynamics of these networks.

Lets examine this process in a conservative Church group which expresses overt Mater/Pater (Blue) values. Within the group there will be insecure individuals new to the group (eros/thanatos). There will be the 'followers' (mater/pater) who basically obey the norms of the group. There will be the 'doers' (individuus/civilis) who get actively involved. They initiate ideas and attend meetings as active participants. Then there is the leader, who carries the projected Master archetype (successfully or unsuccessfully).

When we apply this analysis to El Qaida we can clearly see that bin Laden successfully 'holds' the Master archetype. Within the organisation we will be able to identify people at each of the sub-levels.

Without going into the upper levels in too much detail, simply because that will overly complicate the present discussion, let me say that after Mastery is a dyad of confusion/insight, and then a dyad of breakthrough/ transformation. These dyads, as sub-levels mark the stage at which participants begin to sense that there is more, and actively struggle with the insight, then actually undergo a period of transformation - which puts them into the eros/thanatos sub-level of the next stage.

To take our Church group as an example again; the leader may begin to intuit that there is role for the group outside its comfort zone. Some participants may be experiencing the same sense. This may, if successful, lead to a process whereby the sub-levels in the organisation are challenged to change. If it doesn't go well the leader will enter a period of confusion and face either resistance from the 'followers' or challenge from the 'doers'.

Here it is important to acknowledge that Spiral Dynamics suggests something similar in the concept of the five phases, Alpha - Gamma. But I would note that the sub-levels outlined above indicate a definite sense of order, of development. I think it further clarifies the idea of SD phases.


  1. Resonance
    The sub-levels can resonate with associated primary level. The mater/pater sub-level of Individuus can look like Mater/Pater proper. A teenager at this sub-level may, for instance, project the Pater aspect onto an elder child/adult, or a group. Such a projection, because it becomes fixated, may inhibit the healthy transition to the next sub-phase.
    Here it is important to note the various dynamics within any given group as projections and exploitation of projections. Note how a leader may assume a paternal role in order to keep his followers at the 'follower' sub-level.
    To bring this back to the situation of the 'Memes at War', let's return to the discussion of idealism in 'Part 2'. What drives educated young men and women to pursue a fanatical path? Resonance is part of the answer.
    Some of these young adults will be in the eros/thanatos and mater/pater sub-levels of Civilis. They can therefore resonate with an idealistic group at either the Eros/Thanatos stage or Mater/Pater. And remember, to add to the complexity (apologies), the first 3 dyads form the 'matriarchal' matrix, and the next form the 'patriarchal' matrix. Young men in particular, can resonate with a group expressing the patriarchal matrix. In the case of El Qaida, expressing the 'Terrible Father - Heroic' aspects locked into its radical Islamic ideology (as discussed in Part 2).

  2. Appropriation
    Akin to 'resonance' is the action of 'appropriation'. A stage or sub-level can mimic the language of another stage or sub-level. This is something to be very conscious of. As Second Tier develops its own narrative the other vMemes can and will mimic that narrative. This is happening already.
    The test is in the actions of the group, not the language. A group like El Qaida may very well speak to its followers in idealistic Civilis language and speak of a just and harmonious Islamic society. But its actions betray its ideals.
    Mater/Pater (Blue) in the First World often appropriates the language of Individuus (Orange) and Civilis (Green). Notice how Blue often uses the concept of 'freedom' and 'democracy' to institute laws that curtail freedom and democracy.
    Needless to say appropriation is the domain of propaganda conflicts.

  3. Translation
    Each stage intuits the other stages (or spiral/spectrum) but interprets them through the hermeneutics of its own level. For example, the Mastery archetype is variously interpreted/activated as 'sacrificial king', 'terrible king', 'hero king', 'civilised king' and so on.
    It is important to understand, that whilst the lower stages intuit the higher stages, they do not and cannot express the full understanding of that stage until they enter that stage.
    Islam intuits Civilis but because it is locked at a lower stage it has not developed all the institutions of Civilis. What it has developed are institutions that it believes answer the needs of Civilis. This is the cause of much misunderstanding on both sides. Islam believes it is 'civilised' and accuses the West of arrogance. The West, because it has engaged the Civilis stage (although often through Blue, Mater/Pater lenses) does not understand the Islamic claim. Furthermore, Islam sees the contradiction of Blue appropriating Civilis and correctly cries foul, but those in the West in Blue believe, sincerely, that they are operating at Civilis proper.
    An Integral Politics will need to be mindful of sub-levels and of resonance, appropriation and translation.


Wilber, in 'A Theory of Everything' uses the term 'prime directive' and says:

"One of the main conclusions of an all-quadrant, all-level approach is that each meme - each level of consciousness and wave of existence - is, in its healthy form, an absolutely necessary and desirable element of the overall spiral, of the overall spectrum of consciousness".

I agree, but what defines a healthy meme, a healthy stage and sub-level?

We only need to look at the world to see groups and individuals locked in conflict. The majority of these conflicts become unhealthy. They become unhealthy when, to use SD terminology, they become 'arrested' or 'closed'. A healthy vMeme expresses its 'open' aspect. That is, it is able to shift upwards or downwards, as the circumstances require.

An Integral Politics should offer two things:

  1. An accurate analysis of a conflict.
  2. An appropriate set of conflict resolution strategies.

We have looked at some ways to approach an analysis. We need to identify at what stage and sub-levels the conflict is being expressed. We need to be clear about resonance, appropriation and translation.

Furthermore, we need to understand that a conflict (returning to SD terms) between Red/Blue is different to a conflict between Red/Orange, Red/Green, Blue/Orange, Blue/Green and so on. We need to develop a set of resolution strategies for each conflict type. In some instances the use of Blue force may be required to 'arrest' a violent Red outburst, but we then need Orange institutions to modify any arbitrary Blue excess. In some cases Ghandian 'satyagraha' may be the most appropriate tactic. In other cases it may be a propaganda war to correct appropriation and basic disinformation.

But at all times we need to be aware of what actually 'opens' the conflict and allows the natural development of the spiral.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. Unravelling conflict is a game of persistence and patience.

Most of the work of Integral Politics will be helping groups 'unlock' their spiral potential. Helping them to let go of the fear and concerns that prevent them realising this potential. Understanding that all individuals desire an 'open' state but can't always find their way there.

And once the group finds a healthy balance the rest will take care of itself.


Afghanistan needs to have a leader who will hold the Master archetype. The best option seems to be the return of the king. This addresses the need for the appropriate expression of the archetype, in this case Blue.

The world then needs to ensure the king gets support. If they fail to do so Afghanistan will again slip back into factional conflict. The 'core' needs must be met.

The king must both set up institutions of security and of representation.

Clearly the El Qaida group must be 'arrested'. But more importantly, the fears and concerns of radical Islam must be understood and addressed. Labelling them as 'evil' feeds the problem. The fundamentalist approach will naturally fade if the core needs of the subject people are met.

Diplomatic pressure must be placed on the Blue oppressive governments to institute Orange reforms. Islam must adopt Civilis proper, not a translated form.

This can only be accomplished when the US helps lead a permanent coalition through a revitalised UN. The US cannot afford, as sole superpower, to be isolationist. A retreat to Blue in the First World will simply reinforce the tensions.

More aid, less weapons.

See, it's easy! We should be done by the end of the next century.

© Ray Harris, October 2001

[email protected]

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