Spiral Dynamics Theory and the 2016 Presidential Election

The election of Donald Trump has caused a lot of intense emotions. You might be elated that your side has finally won and those sensitive liberals are finally getting their due. The left’s proliferation of safe spaces, micro-aggressions, at least 50 new gender pronouns, etc. is viewed to be excessive from the perspective of the right. If you’re on the left you also might be fearing for your safety, believing that the election of Trump is going to be the dawn of the Fourth Reich. This is just a small glimpse of the vast array of emotions on both the left and the right that the media feeds.

One way to understand this is through the lens of integral theory. Ken Wilber, who created integral theory, is a synthesizer of many eclectic and dispersed theories, and one of his favorite topics to synthesize is adult development, which includes the theory of Spiral Dynamics. This is a great tool for understanding consciousness, both in the individual and in society at large.

Each rung of the spiral or “meme” represents a different phase of consciousness. Now we are in the green or postmodern consciousness meme, which is at the leading edge of culture. As we move from one meme to the next, the process of consciousness development is a thesis, antithesis then synthesis, which is driven by internal and external tension.

The thesis of any meme is what it stands for. For example, the orange or the modern meme stands for individual freedom personified in the clich of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. After time, the thesis gives way to the antithesis, or the extremes/pathologies of the meme. In our current climate green’s thesis is everyone is equal, but the antithesis is showing that equality in some cases has led to some being more equal than others, see white males being responsible for all of society’s ills. The postmodern edge gives way to some of its extremes like the aforementioned safe spaces, micro-aggressions, and political correctness. One of my colleagues has mentioned working at another very PC university, and while working there, every time she opened her mouth she would first have to think about what she was going to say and often censor her words. Many who voted for Trump speak in similar ways, often chiding the PC culture, and citing their frustration with always feeling censored.

It is through the process of synthesizing the antithesis and the thesis that the new meme emerges. This synthesis becomes the emerging thesis of the next meme. It is the correction process of culture, of development. As society addresses fundamental tensions within itself, these new emergent stages of consciousness become more available for individual people to inhabit.

After the green postmodern stage is integral consciousness. This new stage has an extremely important feature which is that it is not just a meme jump, but a tier jump. This jump is moving from an ethnocentric identification into a world-centric identification. Ethnocentric memes inhabit the world of, “I am right, and you are wrong.” World-centric thinking is the world of, “I am right, but partial, and so are you.” This is a huge shift that has the potential to truly change the world in some drastic ways. One of the things it changes is this paradigm of all of us are right, but partial. There is deep wisdom in this paradigm. We live in a world where intelligence is on an exponential rocket with all of us integrating more and more with our very smart technology. However, our intelligence and technology alone lacks wisdom. It is my hope and belief that this understanding new emergent jump into world-centric consciousness will be an embodiment of wisdom.

I am not trying to espouse a Pollyannaish disposition or to gloss over the problems inherent in growth, which can be quite painful, however through the lens of Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics, we can gain a deeper understanding. This election is going to be painful, this jump into the next meme and tier will be painful. The clich, evolution is beautiful, but it’s not pretty is very apt in this current situation. But it is exactly these types of seemingly existential situations that lead to this evolutionary process we are surfing on.

My strategy to get through the next four years: Breathe. And it is my intention to allow my breath to guide me into deeper wisdom.

Written by Jared Anderson, VALOR Center Coordinator and Consciousness and Transformative Studies Alumni.