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Hope in an
Age of Transition

Collin M. Hinds

What best characterizes too many Republicans here is a noxious predilection for righteousness.

On November 4, 2008 my country decided in favor of change, hope and the smart skinny guy. What I believe this election demonstrated more than anything is that real problems focus people's minds on real solutions. That is why the McCain campaign's message, mostly bull-horned by Sara Palin to the far right, did not resonate well with everyone else from the center right on towards the left.

Being a native and resident of the State of Oklahoma, you can't help but to take notice of, and be very concerned with, "red" political culture. This election left my state with the sole distinction of being the only one in the union whose counties went 100% red for president. As a progressive in Oklahoma, you never assume that anyone is, politically speaking, left of center, or for that matter, merely right of center.

Here are some excerpts of Letters to the Editor printed in the Tulsa World (the daily newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma) over the period of two days (November 14 and 15, 2008), and are representational of the typical letters published there on any given day.

….If Christians would have repented, fasted and prayed diligently the election would not have turned out like it did. A prophet who has prophesied for years what God has revealed to him says that Barack Obama is the most "ungodly" president this country has ever elected. What you see on the outside is not the true Obama inside. He has a spirit of violence directed at anyone who opposes him…. There will be attacks against free speech, against those who believe differently than he does. And the government and laws will be used to silence Christians. As the old saying goes, this nation better get ready as "they ain't seen nothing yet."

One reader submitted this in a letter opposing stem-cell research: "Finding morally acceptable ways to move forward with stem-cell research is the challenge before us." A woman wrote this, entitled, "Don't Feed Hate":

My ten-year-old came home from school and said, "I know you like Barack Obama, but I thought maybe you didn't know what he's going to do if he gets elected. The kids at school said if he's president he'll make everyone tattoo 666 on their heads and he'll kill little babies." …Now, both my children have come home repeating classmates, "It doesn't matter that he won; someone will take him out in a few weeks."

One more had this to say, defending Oklahoma's redness:

One of the reasons I love living in Tulsa is that folks here genuinely seem to judge people by the size of their character and not by how hip and smart they think they are. They are for the most part, independent thinkers who vote their values….

The Letters to the Editor are tame in comparison to the anonymous comments posted online at the bottom of articles there.

What best characterizes too many republicans here, and the ones I witnessed at McCain-Palin rallies on YouTube is a noxious predilection for righteousness; an angry attitude that declares 'my party, right or wrong'--party first, country second. The center right intelligentsia of the Republican Party (high republicans) is starting to recognize that its base (low republicans) is becoming more of a liability than an asset. Everyone from the center right on leftward is increasingly turned off by the low right's visceral way of grappling with complex problems that require more than thinking from the gut, and ardent praying to solve.

What is going on here with the low right? Why does it insist on elevating guns, God and gays as the most pressing issues over the economy, health care, national security and energy? Why does it vote for someone who is, as I have heard it said more than once, "like one of us," and contemptuously disdains anyone who appears educated and smart as elitist and effete (which is synonymous with immoral)? Why does it prize the value of being anti-intellectual? How is it that the low right, completely spellbound by the nightmarish prospect that all those "liberals" want to turn everyone gay, confiscate everyone's guns and outlaw religion, consistently votes against its own economic best interest?

I have been wrestling with these questions since being naively taken aback at the results of the 2004 presidential election. The only satisfactory way to explain it, by my reckoning, is to frame the issue within the context of sociological and psychological evolution. For the likes of Hegel, Jean Gebser, Ken Wilber and a handful of other philosophers, sociologists and psychologist, human evolution is more than a question for the hard sciences alone. Over the course of human history there is a discernable movement from a less complex and sophisticated, to a more complex and sophisticated worldview that is all a function of biological, cultural and psychological influences. As is the case with each living individual, there is an inherent potential for cultures to move from being egocentric to ethnocentric to world centric, or to put it another way, pre-modern to modern to postmodern. Another way to frame it is that there exists, given the right conditions, for individuals and whole societies, a possibility of a maturation process from a tribalistic point of view, through a number of stages, on up to a holistic point of view that honors complexity and the interpenetrating balance of chaos and order.

One such theory, coined "Spiral Dynamics" and based on the research and conceptualization of the late developmentalist, Dr. Clare W. Graves, provides an accessible explanation of mature adult development. The idea is that from birth to death, individuals, given a healthy brain, potentially have access to ever increasingly complex worldviews and value structures. Each structure is like a chaotic attractor, or basin, that owing to its gravitational pull, lures us to make it the seat from which we see and interpret the world around us. Most of us believed in Santa Claus at one time, and it was a perfectly plausible world view to us that their might exist a fat guy keeping tabs on us, who could fly around on a sleigh pulled by magical rein deer, one of which had a glowing nose. In every case, we outgrew the notion, and upon first realization that there could not actually exist a Santa Claus, we wondered to ourselves, how on earth could anyone believe such an absurd thing. What happened? The believing child transitioned from a less complex worldview, where the notion of the existence of magic was perfectly acceptable, to a more complex worldview that does not allow for it, or at least in the form of ol' Saint Nick.

The levels from which people view and interpret their environment are as follows:

  • Automatic/Instinctive: The newborn infant that is driven by biological needs. Fight or flight. Historically speaking, this was the caveman, the smartest animal in the forest.
  • Tribalistic/Animistic: The child who believes in Santa Claus, Disney movies, mystical symbolism, musical inspiration. Historically, tribal man who worshipped ancestors, nature and sacrificed self in favor of the clan.
  • Egocentric/Exploitative: Law of the jungle, impulsive, flashy, self-serving, and driven by a desire for immediate reward, recognition and dominance. Historically this level was the primary one for the great conquering empires of antiquity.
  • Absolutistic/Moralistic: Community of followers of the one true way, avoiding sin to avoid punishment, delaying gratification for reward later, everything in its proper place. Historically, the premodern era, the Middle Ages, the rise of monotheism and the nation/state. Examples: Puritanism, authoritarianism, nationalism, conformity, the low right, two-dimensional preperspectival art.
  • Multiplistic/Rational: Utilizing multiple means to achieve the best result, under the circumstances, for the self, now. Unrestricted by Absolutistic/Moralistic constraints this level seeks the good life by considered and planned out manipulation of the environment. Examples are capitalism, science, materialism, Newtonian Physics, multiparty Democracy, centrist political identification, perspectival three-dimensional art. Historically this level corresponds with the renaissance, the enlightenment, and the modern era, and currently appears to be exhausting itself in the West, though just taking off in the East in countries like China and India that are moving away from an authoritarian culture.
  • Sociocentric/Humanistic: Everyone's individual point of view is to be honored as no better or worse than anyone else's. Sacrifice self for the good of the whole/collective, the search for inner peace and meaning, egalitarianism, shared decision-making. Examples are hippy communes, John Lennon, Social Democracy, leftist political views, universal health care, sensitivity training, conservational stewardship of the environment, Einstein's theory of relativity, academic deconstructionist, cultural creatives, aperspectival multi-dimensional art. Historically, this is postmodernism. This worldview is on the rise in the West, and is firmly established in the Northern European countries and Canada. The first most noticeable incident in the United States was the counter-culture revolution of the sixties.
  • Existential/Systemic: Values competence, knowledge, functional fit, and personal responsibility while seeking big picture solutions to global problems. This level seeks to honor, understand and integrate all of the previous levels. Accepts periodic chaos as an unavoidable fact of life. Recognizes the flows and currents that effect and are affected by circumstances. Examples are quantum physics, systems theory, and integral philosophy. The belief is this level is only beginning to manifest itself in about one to two percent of the world's population.

According to Graves, there are an endless number of new levels that stretch out beyond the Existential/Systemic, always transcending and including the previous levels. He characterized it as "the never ending quest." It is not a given that an individual will ever actualize (come to rest) in any one particular level. Rather, what is likely and possible, is that a person may reach one level as a youngster, and regress to the previous level as one grows older, or vice versa. Put another way, there is no guaranty that one will obtain residence at one particular level or another. The levels are organic systems. The apex of one's development envelops all of the previous systems. People and cultures in lower systems see people and cultures of higher systems as strange, at best, and immoral at worst. In reality, most of us do not act from one single level/system, but will call on subordinate systems in different circumstances. Some people that carry on their daily lives at the Multiplistic/Rational become Absolutistic/Moralistic when confronted with political issues. Certain life conditions will propel us to a higher level, or activate regression to a previously subordinated one. Life conditions are shaped by external and internal change in one's environment that are all biopsychosocial in nature.

Historically, in different places at different times, each successive system has risen to cultural prominence in waves, and the previous one is overtaken by the next emerging one. The United States is mostly composed of a population that is of the Multiplistic/Rational frame of mind. Our founding fathers were beyond all doubt Multiplistic/Rational despite the Absolutistic/Moralistic frame of mind's insistence that the United States was founded upon "Christian principles."

The far/low right is composed of people that interpret and act upon their environment from the Absolutistic/Moralistic system. For them, that is the only right way, and the only way they are truly cognizant of. All other systems and value orientations are aberrations. If another person or group does not look and act Absolutistic/Moralistic, they are a perceived threat that must be checked, tamped down, and if possible, eradicated, and the end justifies the means. Therefore, outright, indefensible lies on the part of their spokespeople is tolerated.

A nuanced intellectual approach to problem solving is not only incomprehensible, but dereliction of principle and morality, i.e., a sin. The Word is to be taken literally, and the Bible means what it says, even when in direct contradiction with logic, reason and easily verifiable facts. From the Absolutistic/Moralistic point of view the world is composed of the struggle between the forces of good and evil, right and wrong, black and white. In choosing sides, there is no tolerance for equivocation, which is what any considered and thought-out point of view appears to be. To change one's position is seen as a weakness, i.e., flip-flopping. The idea that there needs to be two parties that differ on the issues is an abomination. There is a real America and a false America. Anyone who disagrees with them is anti-American. Anti-American is synonymous with "liberal."

Any difference of opinion with the issues that the Absolutistic/Moralistic worldview adheres to is taken as a direct assault. To suggest that some gun control might be necessary to keep assault weapons out of the hands of street gangs is equivalent to an attack on Christianity, freedom, and the sanctity of family values. In short, it is a threat to undo their whole way of life.

All systems, regardless of their relative complexity, can have healthy and unhealthy manners of expression and manifestation. Each system can be experienced efficiently or deficiently, as Jean Gebser puts it. The leaders within the Republican Party have for too long stoked an unhealthy and deficient attitude among their constituents by fear mongering and lying. For Karl Rove, a mastermind at communicating with and manipulating the Absolutistic/Moralistic mindset, it worked well enough to get his boss elected twice. Something different happened this time in 2008.

When Sara Palin was out on the stump everyday, leading up to November 4, accusing President-elect Obama of "palin' around with terrorists" who want to destroy "real" America, and the audience would cry out "Terrorist!" and "Kill Him!," a majority of Americans watched aghast at the unfettered displays of incivility and verbal violence. Fear gone mad was on full display. I wonder how many people were weighing in their minds who to vote for, seriously and maturely considering both candidates, came away feeling like they had been called un-American for doing so, and settled on Obama as a result. The low right showed its teeth this election, and put on full display what an unhealthy, pathological Absolutistic/Moralistic mindset looks like. Preaching hate, fear and division lost its currency with a majority in 2008.

I apologize if thus far I have given the impression that I am condemning the Absolutistic/Moralistic system in its entirety. According to Graves, Don Beck and Chris Cowan, psychologically and sociologically the Absolutistic/ Moralistic emerged to address the deficiencies and unhealthy tendencies of the Egocentric/Exploitative level of existence. The Absolutistic/Moralistic system brought stability and safety that the Egocentric/Exploitative system could not by itself. More complex than the Egocentric/Exploitative, it offered the best mindset to solve the problems that the previous stage had created. The Absolutistic/Moralistic is the space in which altruism is first fostered. It introduces a sense of hope and faith that life is more than a brutal and futile struggle. It gives purpose, and drive to secure a better future, as opposed to living carelessly for the moment. It brings peace to the chaos of unbridled egocentricity. The open and forgiving arms of a healthy Absolutistic/Moralistic culture is the exact remedy required for a maturing Egocentric/Exploitative mindset transitioning up in complexity. That hardened, wild and rogue criminals should find God, be saved and find a higher purpose in life is a good thing. That the Absolutistic/Moralistic should become a rigid and unyielding thought structure that fears and loathes all others is not. It is an essential building block needed to fortify the psyche of every individual that makes up the overall cultural milieu, but it should not be taken for the entire edifice. Perhaps an Obama administration will take a middle path with regard to social hot button issues, fix the economy and generally improve our country's state of affairs at home and abroad, convincing some of the Absolutistic/Moralistic level that their fears were unfounded, thereby injecting some elasticity and openness.

That our country voted for an openly intellectual African-American Democrat is indicative of an encouraging trend. With each successive generation, the United States is gravitating further to the left, and more Sociocentric/Humanistic. Sociocentric/Humanistic is the cultural wave now on the horizon that will draw more to it from the Multiplistic/Rational. Eventually, maybe within a hundred years, the Sociocentric/Humanistic level will become the culturally dominate one, and eventually create problems only the next level up can solve. It is not that I advocate celebrating that a large segment of our culture is becoming more liberal, but rather more complex, sophisticated, multiplistic and relativistic in its thinking in a world that cannot be adequately met with either/or thinking alone.

Presently, there is some soul searching going on within the Republican Party after taking a bludgeoning in the voting booth on November 4. I am amused by those within its ranks proclaiming that they need to do the same thing they have always done, harder and smarter. There is no doubt that they are in trouble. On one side is the low right at the Absolutistic/Moralistic level, that the high right has provoked and baited with the specter of the liberal boogieman, to encourage its most deficient/unhealthy tendencies. On the other side is the Multiplistic/Rational high right, which, in an effort to keep its hands on the wheel of power to promote trickle-down economics at home and hegemony abroad, have convinced the low right to vote in the way that is of no particular benefit to it. Healthy/efficient (compassionate) minds will increasingly turn away from the GOP unless the GOP begins to nurture a healthier/efficient and more open outlook of its own. The idea of more of the same is insane and smacks of denial.

Walking into a convenient store, on the morning of November 5, I noticed a lot of smiling, happy black people, like I have never seen before. You could feel their joy. This country had finally lived up to the promise of its principle document and its founding fathers. I have never been more proud than that morning to call myself an American. I have never been as positively hopeful of the American people and this country's future.

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