Economics, Governance, Transformation

Stages of Development: Cultural, Political and Economic

Quo Vadis, Humanity? Today we face serious questions around rigid
ideologies, national boundaries, proprietary interests, technological
utopias and naive, egalitarian demands. Global debates center on
competing economic models, open political access, mandated equality of
opportunity and results, and a host of other external, top-down
solutions. Arguments grow in emotional intensity around the size and
distribution of budgets. Money becomes the magic elixir that will cure
all ills. New rules and regulations will transform hearts and minds.
Everybody will benefit from the rising tides of prosperity as the
freemarket makes global waves. Everybody will benefit from the largess
of big government, using taxes to fund social work schemes. And, of
course, brilliant technological innovations will bring the Internet
into each and every home, with or without electricity. Right.

Why haven’t such solutions worked in the past? In spite of all the
money spent, expectations raised, programs imposed, good deeds
celebrated and good works performed, why do our problems persist?

External approaches designed to improve the human condition are
faulted unless they also include, as parallel and simultaneous tracks,
the essential steps and stages in interior social development. In
short, economic, political, and technological efforts must correlate
with the levels of complexity of thinking within individuals and
entire cultures. Unless the external efforts match in their
respective operating codes the existing capacities within leadership
cadres and the general population in specific countries, they will
make things worse, not better.

Eight Stages of Social Development: How Cultures Emerge

A social stage is more like an emerging wave than a rigid step. Each
stage is simply a temporary, transitional plateau that forms in
individual and collective minds. Some call them paradigms or levels
of psychological existence. Elsewhere I refer to them as valueMEMES
or bio/psycho/social/spiritual DNA-type scripts that inculcate their
codes throughout a culture and even migrate around the planet. These
are fluid, living systems rather than rigid hierarchical steps. They
form into spirals of complexity and exist within people,organizations,
and entire societies. The terms social stage, cultural wave,
value system, and vMEME code are synonymous.

Cultures as well as countries are formed by the emergence of
value systems (social stages) in response to life conditions. Such
complex adaptive intelligences form the glue that bonds a group
together, defines who they are as a people, and reflects the place on
the planet they inhabit. These cultural waves, much like nested
Russian dolls, have formed over time into unique mixtures and blends
of instructional and survival codes, myths of origin, artistic forms,
life styles, and senses of community. While all are legitimate
expressions of the human experience, they are not equal in their
capacities to deal with complex problems in society.

Yet the detectable social stages within cultures are not given
scripts that lock us into choices against our will. Nor are they
inevitable steps on a predetermined staircase, or structures that
magically appear in our collective psyche. Cultures are not rigid
types with permanent traits; they are core adaptive intelligences that
ebb and flow, progress and regress, with the capacity to lay on new
levels of complexity (value systems) when conditions warrant. There is
no final state, no ultimate destination, no utopian paradise. Each
emerging social stage or cultural wave stage is always only a prelude
to the next which contains a more expansive horizon, a more complex
organizing principle, with newly calibrated priorities, mindsets, and
specific bottom lines. All the previously acquired social stages
remain in the composite value system to determine the unique texture
of a given society, culture, country. In Ken Wilber’s language, each
new social stage transcends but includes all those which have come
before. Societies with the capacity to change swing between
I:Me:Mine and We:Us:Our poles. Tilts in one direction create the
need to self-correct, thus causing a shift toward the opposite pole.
Me decades become Us eras as we constantly spiral up or spiral
down in response to life conditions. Some social stages stress
diversity generators that reward individual initiatives and value
human rights. Other social stages impose conformity regulators and
reward cooperative, collective actions. Societies will zigzag between
these two poles, thus embracing different models at each tilt.

Once a new social stage appears in a culture, it will spread its
instructional codes and life priority messages throughout that
culture’s surface-level expressions: religious, economic and political
arrangements, psychological and anthropological theories, including
views of human nature, our future destiny, globalization, and even of
architectural patterns and sports preferences. We all live in flow
states; we find ourselves pursuing a never-ending quest.

Different societies, cultures and subcultures, as well as entire
nations are always at different levels of psycho-cultural emergence as
displayed within these evolutionary levels of complexity. Yet the
previously awakened levels do not disappear. They stay active within
the value system stacks, impacting the nature of the more complex
systems. Therefore many of the same issues we confront on the West
Bank (Red to Blue), for example, can be found in South Central Los
Angeles. Likewise, one can experience the animistic (Purple)
worldview in New Orleans as well as in, say, Zaire. Matters brought
before the city council in Minneapolis (Orange to Green to Yellow) are
in essence not unlike the debates of governing bodies in the

So-called Third World societies are dealing, for the most part,
with issues within the Beige to Purple to Red to Blue zones, therefore
the higher rates of violence and poverty. Staying alive, finding
safety, and dealing with feudal age conditions matter most. Second
World societies are characterized by authoritarian (Blue) one-party
states – whether from the right or the left; it makes no
difference. So-called First World nations and groupings have achieved
high levels of affluence, with lower birth rates, and more expansive
use of technology. While centered in the strategic freemarket-driven
perspective which focuses on individual liberty – traits of the Stage
5 (Orange) worldview – new value systems (Green, Yellow, and
Turquoise) are emerging in this postmodern age. Yet we have no
language for anything beyond First World, believing that is the final
state, the end of history. Further, there is a serious question as
to whether the billions of people who are now exiting Second and Third
World life styles can anticipate the same level of affluence as they
see on First World television screens.

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade
organization, and most multinational corporations reflect the
Blue-Orange worldview codes of cultural discipline, financial
accountability, and individual responsibility. Attacks are launched
from three directions:

  1. Red zone activists, anarchists, and spoilers who love a good
    fight, and believe the Big (Orange) Money Machines are easy targets
    from which to exact tributes in various forms;
  2. Blue zone ideologies who defend the sacred against the secular, resent
    intrusive technology and destruction of holy orders, and extol the
    purity of the faith, noble cause, and divine calling; and
  3. Green zone humanists and environmentalists who level charges of
    exploitation, greed, and selfishness, noting the eradication of
    indigenous cultures and the poisoning of the environment by Big Mac
    golden arches.

The WTO demonstrations, for example, were so confounding to so many
because they combined these Red, Blue and Green critiques into single
anti-Orange crusades. Capitalism and materialism were the twin
villains; spirituality, sharing, and social equality, along with
sustainability, were the noble virtues. There appeared to be no middle
ground, no zone of rapprochement, no win:win alternative. Herein lies
the global knot: the seemingly irreconcilable conflict between and
among the haves, the have-nots, the have-a-little-but-want-more, and
the have-a-lot-but-are-never-content. There must be a better way.

Stratified Democracy: Managing the Global Mesh

(See Insert: Stratified Democracy)

The bulge of global thinking is in the Purple/Red zones, with a somewhat
smaller peak in Orange. Many are locked in Blue authoritarian flatland and
are just now waking up to Orange good life possibilities. At the same
time, the postmodern mindset is attacking Orange materialism, living more
lightly on the land and searching for meaning on a variety of spiritual
paths. In his book titled The Cultural Creatives, author Paul Ray describes
Heartland (Blue), Modernity (Orange), and Cultural Creatives (Green). We
add Integral (Yellow) as the next developmental stage. The future of the
Third World will be Second World authority before either First World
autonomy or postmodern sensitivity becomes an option. There are different
futures for different folks along the evolutionary trajectory.

Democracy, then, comes in many different variations, hues, and
levels of complexity. Imposing the form that fits a specific Spiral stage
or zone onto other strata is an invitation to cultural disaster. There are
good reasons why humans have created survival clans, ethnic tribes, feudal
empires, ancient nations, corporate states and value communities in our
long bio-psycho-social-spiritual ascent.

The evolutionary spirals are dancing all over the planet. In some
dances each expresses self, oblivious to others. In others, we dance in
concert, in a multitude of interlocking arrangements and movements. This is
the global diversity. New political and economic models are beginning to
appear, based on the assumptions and codes within integral commons and
holistic meshworks. Welcome to the global dance.

[Abridged from the 2001 article Stages of Social Development: The
Cultural Dynamics that Spark Violence, Spread Prosperity, and Shape
Globalization, by Don Edward Beck, Ph.D.]

One cannot merely follow the timetable we have set for our influence on the
world; we must also honour and respect the infinitely more complex
timetable the world has set for itself. That timetable is the sum of the
thousands of independent timetables of an infinite number of natural,
historical and human actions.

Vaclav Havel