Spiral Dynamics is a tool for the analysis of the stages of societal evolution. The key concept is that human societies evolve through stages of development ranging from primitive subsistence to spiritually progressive systems. This, in itself, is not so remarkable an idea, but Spiral Dynamics offers us a very clear picture of what societal developmental stages, or memes, look like.
Each meme has an associated color and set of characteristics. Don Beck, it’s principal inventor draws on Ken Wilber’s theory of holographic – integral development. The key concept here is that development occurs in stages with each successive stage and expansion and inclusion of the previous stage. The characteristics of the previous stage or meme remain present in latent, form within the new expansion. By contrast, a hierarchical concept of development relies on each successive stage replacing and leaving behind previous stages.
In contemporary society, we are still largely wedded to hierarchical notions of development. This affects both our views of society as well as how we envisage our own personal social and emotional development at the individual level. This helps explain why we are so surprised to find elements of social and personal development, long since relegated to the past reemerging to ambush us.
Racism is a good example. Since the Civil Rights Movement, we have come to believe that American Society has made huge strides in eradicating the scourge of racism. Consequently, we are deeply shocked to discover that it is alive and still violently, kicking hard.
The Spiral Dynamic analysis helps to show how the characteristics of earlier memes of societal evolution continue to be retained within successive stages that appear to have moved beyond the limits of the previous stages. In fact, the transition to the next stage occurs when the social momentum breaks free of its hitherto constraints. This is not driven by the conscious choice of society members, but by the necessity of meeting new and different challenges.
In 21st America, the legacy of a slave-owning society continues within our national DNA even though we are no longer a slave-owning society. The very notion of owning another human being is incomprehensible and repugnant to us because our society has evolved beyond the key characteristics and values of a society, which at an earlier meme of development was dependent upon slavery as its primary economic mode of production. Yet, the patterns of discrimination and oppression that characterize the distinctions between owned and owner classes remain, latent within our collective unconsious. They continue underground, out of sight as it were, becoming located in subgroups within the larger society that still cling to the values and world views that originate in a slave-owning society.
Discrimination and attitudes based on race are complex. Some of it is an expression of an ethnic fear of those who are different. However, in contemporary America, we are finding that the most intractable racial tensions continue to complicate relations between a majority and the descendants of the formerly, enslaved section of the population. Slavery has gone, yet the systemic hostility remains. Only now, it is enacted through public policing and the criminal justice system. We are awakening to this sorry truth once again, that, that which we thought we had left behind- a hierarchical view of development – continues to remain uncomfortably present even though it remains in tension with the larger direction of our society’s development.
In the face of new challenges, as societies are pressured into more evolved social structures designed to better meet those challenges, the previous meme values continue to exercise a destabilizing effect through sub-groups who for whatever reason remain in tension with the necessity for new directions.
I remarked last week that we seem riveted by the unfolding stories that come to us in the lectionary readings from the 1st and 2nd books of Samuel. The book – one book later divided into two – of the prophet Samuel belongs to a genre of literature in the Old Testament known as the historical books, which comprise a major category in the Old Testament, 12 books in all. In Samuel 1 and 2 we see Israelite society hovering around, and finally achieving the transition from a confederation of tribes to that of a nation – from purple/red to blue memes in Spiral Dynamic terms.
Samuel himself, represents the passing of religious authority from priest to prophet giving Samuel an authority not seen since the days of Moses. Yet, politically, Samuel is the last of the Judges, those who since Joshua have loosely presided over the tribal confederation. The people confront Samuel with the demand that he gives them a king like the other nations. The demands of expansion and meeting new challenges require a new and more centrally organized form of government to enable the Israelite tribes to be more effective in war, against neighbors already organized as nations, led by kings.
Saul is the first king, but things don’t go well under Saul and in punishment for his disobedience in not slaughtering the whole of the Amalekite people, as God seems to have required, God withdraws his mandate from Saul. God instructs Samuel to anoint the shepherd boy David in place of Saul. Saul does not abdicate immediately and some years pass with Saul, insecurely holding onto power while David is the secretly anointed one to replace him. During these years of tension, when Saul tries a number of times to kill David, Saul’s son and heir, Jonathan, gives undying fealty to David, recognizing him as the anointed king in waiting.
David goes on the succeed Saul and becomes the king who unifies the Israelites into a formidable kingdom that becomes a major center of power along the corridor that buffers the great empires of Egypt from Assyria.
In the reading for fifth Sunday of Pentecost, David learns of Saul and Jonathan’s deaths. Jonathan is killed in battle against the Philistines and Saul is mortally wounded. The messenger who brings the news to David claims to be the one – incidentally an Amalekite – who at Saul’s pleading has dispatched Saul to prevent him being captured alive by the Philistines. David’s response to the news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan is to compose one of the great love eulogies of all time in the form of a psalm of praise and devotion. David’s psalm is an ode to the love between men. Although he seems to equally praise and mourn both Saul his adversary, and Jonathan his friend, it’s Jonathan for whom he mourns.
It is clear from the numerous attempts of commentators over the centuries to deny any homosexual inference in the love that David openly declares for Jonathan, that to be Shakespearean about it: me thinks they protest too much! The anxiety has been how to interpret this love poem as merely fraternal and not also, connubial.David makes it clear that his and Jonathan’s love is connubial, not in the technical sense of being married, but in the natural sense of the feelings between them -they clearly are an emotionally bonded couple and there is something of carnal passion being given voice to here, alongside that of covenanted friendship.
Contemporary liberal commentators no longer deny outrightly at least, the possibility of a homosexual relationship between David and Jonathan. But most continue to take refuge in the suggestion that to say so is an inappropriate reading of contemporary relationality into David’s eulogy to the love of his friend. In contrast, Bruce Gerig is indicative of a growing body of commentators who no longer seek to deny the homosexual nature of the love between David and Jonathan.
I take the view that the love between David and Jonathan is homosexual in nature. However, in asserting so I am not reading a modern construction of gayness back in time. That would be an inappropriate anachronism. David and Jonathan were not gay in the sense that I am gay.
Gayness is a contemporary construction of homosexuality that understands this to be a normal and natural position on the continuum of sexual object choice. The love between David and Jonathan is the sexually charged love common in intensely patriarchal-warrior cultures, evidenced in such cultures as diverse as those of Classical Greece and Samurai Japan. Deep blue water separates traditional tribal- warrior cultures, with a discrete tolerance for men having sex with men as an aspect of essential male bonding, and our contemporary construction of gayness. Each belongs to a particular stage or meme of societal evolution and should not become confused.
This week the Supreme Court of the United States recognized something of the distinction I am drawing. I doubt the decision extending same gendered marriage across the Union was informed by a reading of Spiral Dynamics. However, their decision is an implicit endorsement of the notion that societies evolve in an attempt to meet new challenges posed by changing ideas.
In essence, this noninterventionist court has in the course of a couple of days delivered two interventionist decisions as a recognition that the spirit of the law is as important as its letter, and that the face value of words of legislation cannot be used to confound the manifest intention of the legislators. In the separate rulings of on the Affordable Care Act and same gendered marriage, the court has upheld the presumption of equality for all before the law. In the case of the AFCA, the presumption can be inferred not in the letter of the law, but in the clear intention of the legislation as manifest in the Act as a whole. Their ruling on same gendered marriage enunciates a different approach. We know that the Founders did not have black men, or women, or homosexual persons in mind when they enshrined that:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
We know that they could not have conceived of a same gendered marriage or of a natural homosexual state. Yet, the spirit of the statement is clear and cannot be limited by the meme – the stage of societal and cultural evolution of 18th century America.
The integrity of both the Bible and the US Constitution lies in their capacity to remain true within the ever-changing context of a society evolving in the face of new challenges and changing circumstances. Like the Bible, the Constitution (at least until it is replaced by another) exists to guide the nation through the ever changing tides of time. It cannot guide the nation to meet new challenges if its interpretation is enshrined within the understandings of a previous age.
Like Israel in the time of Samuel and David, America faces new and unheralded challenges posed by a revolution in social attitudes in the arena of sexual identity. The privilege of states rights in the area of defining marriage cannot remain an obstacle, to the equal treatment of all across the Union.
Our history reveals that God speaks most clearly to us through the separation of church and state. The gospel of inclusion, freedom from discrimination, and equality of all before the law, often so seldom heard in the church is now ringing loud and clear throughout the land.
Thanks for sharing your intelligent and biblical – historical frame of reference. Wonder what is next in spiral dynamics?
Thanks Nan, I guess what’s next will depend on the dictates of the Spirit. Let us know if you are coming this way on your perambulations.