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We see things not as they are, but as we are.
I have put on these masks to show you my face.
While writing this, the world is holding its collective breath on the
eve of a new Gulf war, with numerous other global hot spots flaring
calamitously. The Israeli-Palestinian situation is more desperate than
ever. North Korea is flexing its nuclear muscle. As the murderous
polarity between the West and the Rest grows by the day, worldwide
terrorism as a concept — and as a grim reality — embeds itself in our
psyches together with all the other apparently permanent problems of
human existence: mass starvation, poverty, destitution, ethnic
warfare. Southern Africa heaves under HIV, crime and corruption; in
its political insanity, Zimbabwe seems like a country possessed,
destined for disaster. East, West, South, North, the list of global
nightmares is endless, and while any one of these in itself is enough
to confound us to the full, the interconnectedness of our world
problematics taxes us almost beyond bearing.
One may well ask why on earth this needs to be so. Human ingenuity
seems to be boundless. We have walked on the moon and explored the
birth of the universe. We have split the atom, mastered microsurgery,
and unraveled the human genome. Indeed, our scientific and
technological prowess attests to the astounding creativity of the
human mind. Yet our intellectual genius has not been successful in
solving the perennial challenges that lie at the core of our global
cultural crises. Humankind is still as beset as ever by the problems
of existence that continue to exact their toll in human suffering and
the imperilment of our planet. Desperate for lasting remedies to our
global malaise, we continue to believe that if we simply try harder,
reach further, apply ourselves more diligently to doing more of the
same that we have always done in response, this time our exertions
will be able to create sustaining and sustainable solutions. In an
increasingly complex universe, however, we find that even our
redoubled efforts often merely make matters worse, not better; our
best prevailing options grow weaker, not more effective. The solutions
out there do not suffice.
No matter how much we rely only on ever-improving technologies
fostered by truncated, fragmented views of the whole, by top-down,
outside-in solutions only – commendable as individual efforts may be
in themselves – we are doomed to repeated failure. By dissociating
ourselves from our inner worlds, and by denying the subtler dimensions
of interior development in individuals, groups and societies, we
stubbornly persist in exacerbating our global crises of existence.
Elsewhere in this issue the key ideas of Dr. Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics
Integral model are introduced. Following on research by the late Professor
Clare W. Graves of Union College, New York, and corresponding to the
Integral vision of author-philosopher Ken Wilber, Beck’s work describes
eight evolutionary stages of human interior development, each a complex,
adaptive, contextual intelligence sequentially emerging as an internal
coping strategy for dealing with emerging complexities of life conditions.
These are the underlying value codes that shape surface-level thoughts and
actions – worldviews that reflect our evolving senses of self along our
By integrating and aligning these eight developmental levels
simultaneously across four quadrants, we are able to plot out the full
Integral scope of human ecology, both across its outer and inner
dimensions as well as across its individual and collective
With the United States and Western Europe now nearing or at the
pinnacle of the so-called first tier developing systems, we owe our
collective successes, the brilliance of our achievements in every sphere of
human endeavor, to the historic emergence of these developmental waves. Yet
with all successive six first tier worldviews simultaneously present on the
planet for the first time in history, and all relentlessly pitted against
one another, it is clear that as a species we are also trapped by immense
constellations of complexity generating challenges which, as Einstein
pointed out, cannot be solved at the same levels of thinking that have
While by and large we are technologically and economically
“globalized,” our collective human interior development is not and
never can be the same simultaneously, because each one of us
individually has to traverse the Spiral of developmental steps and
stages. As such, the triumphs and tyrannies of First Tier are one.
It tells the story of humankind thus far.
And so we have reached this critical time in history, a time that
may decide the fate of our planet – and of ourselves. As author and
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman noted, “The world is wired
together technologically but not socially, politically, or
culturally.” In short, this global developmental misalignment points
to the deepest underlying problem of which all our global tragedies
are “merely” symptoms.
Certainly there are welcome first signs of the next developmental waves of
thinking now emerging to address these critical global conditions. In the
classic words of Clare W. Graves: “Humankind prepares for a momentous
leap.” Spiral Dynamics Integral theory accordingly describes something of
an emergence surge that appears to be much more than simply a seventh
ratchet in the developmental sequence of complexity – a second tier of
values systems that contains greater conceptual capacity than the sum total
of the first six stages.
This is not to be confused with the avant garde vogue in many New
Age circles claiming with naïve vain-glory that “global consciousness
is emerging.” With more than 70% of the global population now
struggling variously to navigate their human journey through the
so-called pre-Orange developmental levels (not to mention pre-
[humanist] Green), any momentous leap in this context simply refers to
some emerging capacity for Integral thinking – the capacity to design
healthy, integrated habitats within which the entire Spiral of human
development can naturally unfold.
While none of us can yet claim fully emerged second tier capacities in
all aspects of our lives, it may indeed be possible to reach for
Integral solutions cognitively or conceptually. Only by doing so can
we hope to achieve the required sweeping vista up and down the whole
Spiral in order to survey, monitor, align, integrate and synergize
everything simultaneously across the full spectrum of human ecology –
and attempt to bring cohesion and order, and healing, to our
fragmented, fitful world.
What might the traits of this new thinking be? Some tentative
When considering the above, hard questions arise around our current
prevailing governance solutions. What damage do we wreak worldwide in
our well-meaning but misguided insistence on imposing sophisticated
Western models of advanced democracy across the board on developing
countries? What harm do we cause by continuing to play and entrench
our means (have/have- not), race, and gender blame games? By
continuing to dispense surface dressings only to the wounds of the
world? What resources are we wasting, with what detriment to humanity
and the planet, by perpetuating our attempts to engineer individuals,
groups and populations?
There is no “final state” for humanity’s evolving value systems or
senses of self; in time, the Integral worldview itself will have to be
transcended in our never-ending human journey. In these importunate
times, however, we submit that Integral thinking currently offers the
only real and sustainable global solution for meeting the needs of
people at our different stages of human emergence. It is the only
hope we have for dealing with the deeper values codes that lie at the
core of our conflicting cultural patterns. And the only way by which
to achieve new forms of dialogue, decision-making, problem resolution
and policy formulation that can realistically address the enormous
global complexities of the 21st century.
From a global perspective, one of the most crucial leadership
challenges confronting us is not that which currently concerns
politicians and other policy makers, NGOs, professional, business,
religious and community leaders – how to do more of the same, simply
better, and then wish for success – but how to lead from within an
Integral framework towards a true ecology of human dynamics.
Is it not time?
Petra Pieterse currently partners with The Spiral Dynamics Group and The Institute for Values & Culture, where she helps design and direct seminars, training programs, and business consultation. She immigrated to the United States in 1997 from South Africa, where she excelled as award-winning journalist, national magazine editor and book publisher.