Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Response to "The Missing Links" of Spiral Dynamics and Ken Wilber, a posting by Bill Moyer on the Post-Conventional Politics (Post-Con Pol) discussion list.


On the mean memes
in general

Red to blue to orange to green to yellow....

Ken Wilber

One of my biggest problems is that, alas, I haven't the time to address all these issues adequately.

A few quick comments about what some critics see as my over-focusing on the mean green meme, my failure to appreciate the healthy green meme, and my lack of attention to the mean orange meme:

First of all, each and every level/stage has healthy and unhealthy manifestations, judged against the scale of the degree of integration that can be structurally achieved at that level. There are relatively healthy and unhealthy red, blue, orange, green, yellow, etc. Thus, in addition to healthy manifestations, there are the mean red meme, the mean blue meme, the mean orange meme, etc.

I have not ignored the damage caused by the unhealthy versions of orange (the mean orange meme, or MOM). In fact, the most widespread result of the MOM is nothing other than the modern flatland, which is the "disease" that I have written the most about. Just because I didn't use the phrase "mean orange meme" should not be enough to detract from that obvious fact.

As I have tried to document, the modern flatland (MOM) arose in the wake of two major evolutionary developments, one "good" and one "bad." The good news was the Weberian differentiation of the value spheres of art, morals, and science on a widespread, cultural scale (i.e., the differentiation of the Big Three or the four quadrants). The bad news was that, for various complex reasons I analyzed in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and A Brief History of Everything, that important differentiation of the value spheres went too far into dissociation of the value spheres, which eventually resulted in the Habermasian "colonization of art and morals by science"--that is, the domination of the interior realms of I and We by a scientific materialism of Its: by any other name, the mean orange meme.

The MOM is the global disaster of modernity (as the MGM is the disaster of postmodernity and the MBM was the disaster of medieval premodernity, etc.). I have written extensively on this MOM pathology, which actually underlies all of the other pathologies being criticized (from global captialism to exploitation). As I have tried to make very clear, flatland (MOM) is the single greatest pathology on the planet right now, and has been for three centuries; the other mean memes are still present, and equally insidious in their own fun ways, but by sheer dint of its power and reach, the MOM gets the prize for nastiest of the nasty memes.

As for the healthy and unhealthy green memes, I always start any discussion of the MGM by pointing out the HGM's many accomplishments to date: the civil rights movement, feminism, environmental protection and ecological sensitivity, health care reform, political awareness of marginalization in all forms, etc.

But I have focused on the damage that the MGM has caused, mostly because that is where the action is in the cultural elite. The MGM is the driving force of boomeritis, and it has dominated academia, liberal politics, and the humanities for three decades. Its damage is staggering, and only made worse by the smug self-satisfaction of these particular Inquisitors.

Of course it is necessary to tease apart the healthy versions of orange from the unhealthy versions, and the healthy versions of green from the unhealthy. But so far, most of the work I have seen in this area still has a strong green bias. therefore, I feel it is necessary to continue to criticize these tendencies, while still encouraging more responsible approaches to this important topic, approaches that are truly all-quadrants, all-levels, all-lines, all-states, all-types.

One of my biggest problems is that, alas, I haven't the time to address all these issues adequately. Some critics infer that if I haven't emphasized a particular quadrant or level, it is because I am actively devaluing it, whereas all it usually means is that I haven't had time to address it. This is particulary true for healthy green, for unhealthy yellow (yes, there is definitely a MYM), and for economic-political factors in the social system or lower-right quadrant. I have a lot to say on those items, hopefully some of it useful, and I look forward to being able to share these thoughts soon.

Bush's "axis of evil" is, of course, a blue meme statement. As such, it infuriates green. But there is another sort of "good news, bad news" about Bush's approach. On the one had, blue always has a much better understanding of red and of how to handle red. Blue is right next to red, has just come out of red, and understands the drastic measures that are required to handle red war loads and brutal terrorists. Green is generally helpless and hapless in the face of red: all of green's tools and values are clueless in the face of joyous brutality and intentional aggression. Talking, sharing, caring, and dialoging do not impress red. It takes a blue meme to smash red in the face and not blink.

On the other hand, blue is still blue. As such, its own imperialism is much worse than that of orange or green (because increasing development brings a lessening of narcissism and absolutism: blue is worse than orange, which is worse than green, which is worse than yellow...). Bush is attempting to put blue structures in place on a global scale, whereas they are effective, in today's world, only on a local basis (send in a blue army to crush red barbarians, etc.) -- worse for bush and america, many world leaders, especially european, have a good measure of healthy green, and thus it will be impossible to build an international consensus around blue values. Bush will therefore do so unilaterally, which will be disastrous, separating America from the rest of the liberal democracies, which are frankly alarmed and embarassed at all that "axis of evil" crap.

My own opinion is that the only way any of these problems will change is if a significant number of world leaders themselves begin to light up yellow cognition (as a prerequisite for yellow morals). Most of the world leaders who can do so are now at green, more or less, and therefore most of their problems center around their own attempts to differentiate healthy and unhealthy green. That is, most of their problems directly stem from their own MGM, which is exactly why I continue to focus on that pathology.

All of the other mean memes can only be fixed if world leaders themselves recognize and address those issues, and that will only happen if they jettison the MGM in their own thinking and thus stand open to second-tier solutions. This is not to say that the other problems aren't important (for they are!), only that I am focusing on what I believe is the crux of the difficulty at this time.

14 February 2002

For an explanation of the color terminology used in this article, click here.

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