Coded gray.

Saturday 26 August 2006

Screenshot anime Kamisama Kazoku

Pic of the day: Red is the color of intimidation, but anger is found on any level, for different reasons.

Red -- the hated vMeme

Once again I will write a little a lot about Spiral Dynamics, because it is a simple and useful tool for the mind. It may not be mathematically exact, but it is easy to "get" and easy to remember. And not least, it makes other things easy to think about, which were not. This time, I want to look at the most troublesome vMeme of them all, Red.

Red Is the color of Ego, of rebellion and domination, of prestige and honor. In individual development, it is the rebellious teenager. Some claim toddlers fit in here, but despite the obvious similarities, I don't think we should credit toddlers with the kind of ego we talk about here. Toddlers are on the survival level, unreflected and not yet socialized. Well-behaved children fit neatly into the Purple vMeme, accepting traditions without too much reflection. The child certainly has an ego, but it is not all about the ego. And then all Red breaks loose.


Much as we hate the wild unbridled egoism, there was a time in history where it was sorely needed. From prehistoric times, the tribe had been the unit of human life. Some tribes were larger and some were smaller, some were more advanced and some backwards. But the basic identity was that of the tribe, and the individual ego was poorly developed at the outset, and held back if it tried to advance. You must not believe that you are better than us! Only the chieftain can be special. The chieftain is the first example of healthy Red vMeme. In times of crisis, the tribe would look to someone, perhaps anyone, who dared lead them. Brains, strength and courage were needed, because courage without brains and strength led to a quick death.

The benefits of being a chieftain were commensurate with the risks and the hard work. Power to command others, and not least extra sex. It was definitely a male thing, and still for the most part is. As the level of knowledge and reflection in the tribe increased, other smart and strong men coveted this position, while the ruling family would try to preserve their grip on the power. Some level of social unrest is unavoidable when the Red vMeme emerges. And with increasing ambition, the chieftains wanted to rule more than one tribe. They wanted to become kings, and then emperors. There is no limit to such ambition less than the world itself, but practical reasons made even a large empire hard to create and harder to maintain.

Due to the rise of the Red vMeme, the status quo of tribal society was broken, and kingdoms and empires came to be. They were forged in blood and tears, but through them the various parts of the lands came into close contact, the tribal bonds were broken and ideas exchanged. Without this, civilization as we know it could not have come to be, could not have flourished and grown.

But the horror of bloodshed screams out against the very instincts of a healthy human. It is not something we like to do, much less have done to us. It soon became obvious that Red had to be controlled. The insatiable Ego could not be allowed to run rampant forever. Soon, the answer became clear: Blue, the color of Law. Blue is also the color of the great religions. While the Red rulers had tried to make themselves into gods, the Blue faith lifted up eternal gods so far above human achievement that there was no hope of comparing oneself to them. All one could do was serve them.

But above all, Blue is the Law. The Law is divine, given by the gods. Perhaps it is actually mostly codified traditions from the tribal times, but it is a distilled essence of such traditions, the best ideas of the tribes that became the empire. Most importantly, the Law is holy. Even the King or Emperor is not above the Law, and if he breaks it freely, his honor is diminished and people start thinking of ways to depose him. Thus came the age of Red to an end, though it never died out. To this day, many people live their entire adult life in the Red vMeme. Most of them are criminals, poor and disreputed. But there are still places where the strongman can come to rule, though they are getting scarce.


Red wields a corrupting influence on the higher levels. The Blue preacher, for instance, is glorifying the almighty, unchanging God and exhorting everyone to follow His Laws. Obedience is the way to salvation... but disobedience is the way to salivating. The strict and noble preacher feeds his ego quietly, and people start to notice how he is richer than his fellow believers, how he lives in a big mansion and drives an expensive car while his flock count many poor and hardworking men and women. Usually he can get away with this; but there is another effect of the Red ego: The services of adoring girls (and sometimes boys) who feel the need to belong to someone rather than just something. In the long run, it is very hard for the Red to resist the call of the flesh, and sooner or later the bomb springs. By then things are usually way out of hand, and either total humiliation or total denial are the alternatives.

At the next level up, Orange, it is Reason rather than Law which is seen as the greatest good. Gods should ideally be retired clockmakers or at least not mess with business. But even at this level, one remote from its old enemy, Red has the power to drag a man down. (It is usually a man, still.) The robber barons of capitalism are not Orange, but Red. They are chieftains and warlords dressed in the language of Orange, of money and reason. But by their fruits you will know them, for they heap up riches way beyond reason, and their greed and lust are so primitive that rational people turn away in disgust when they are exposed.

Red seems to lose much of its power when we come to Green. It is hard to get a postmodernist, multicultural person to use his ideology as an excuse to kill, get fat or gather a harem. Green is more prone to falling back into Blue, where they become faith-based and absolute: My postmodernism is better than yours! You are not a true multiculturalist! I am more tolerant than you! If Green has a problem with Red, it is that the Green will understand Red too well, and excuse any violent action caused by the ego running amok. "Yeah, crime is bad, but capitalist society is bad too, so it doesn't really make a difference whether you're officially a criminal or just going with the system."


In our personal lives as well, Red is more useful than it seems. Admittedly teenage rebellion is not strictly necessary. It is largely a cultural phenomenon, more common in America than Europe, and far less common in Asian cultures of similar development. In Japan, teenagers often withdraw to their room for months or years, while an American teenager may leave the house instead. But in any case, it is a time where identity is built. Perhaps "identity" is a better word than ego here, since any smart ape may experience some degree of ego. When the toddler wants chocolate NOW, it is clearly the ego speaking, but it is hard to say that this is an example of identity. But for a teenager, identity is essential. And especially, an identity different from their parents.

We could argue that the same force drives the teenager to buy an outrageously expensive jacket that drove Alexander to conquer most of the known world: The drive to be someone, to be noticed. This is the core of the Red vMeme: To be special, to stand out. It need not result in rebellion, much less violence. It can cause someone to excel at school instead, and later in his career. (It is still usually a he, although women are more likely to join the less physical violence is needed.)

You may argue now that if someone is into school work rather than intimidation, he must be Orange rather than Red. But it is not quite that easy. These are "value memes" or worldviews. The Orange person or society lives by reason, likes to think logically, trusts facts and solid thinking over faith, impulse or tradition. Red trusts only its own strength. When Red operates in the intellectual, it is always to come out on top, to impress or to strengthen the self-image. It is not out of a genuine interest to learn how the world works. The world is there to be conquered, even though most of us don't do it literally.

Another matter is that when the Red phase is passed, the knowledge you acquired in order to boast and brag may turn out useful in many ways. But so also does the knowledge you acquired because you were told to (Purple) or because it was the right thing to do (Blue).

I don't think we should go too far, however, in equating the stages in a human life and the stages in cultural development. With puberty there are actual physical changes in the brain, which there are not in a whole society, obviously, or even parts of society. When the black labor class in South Africa, for instance, is predominantly Red, it is doubtful that they all have the brains of a 16 year old. It is more likely that their culture is in a stage of transition from the tribal culture they used to have, to a more reflected lifestyle in the future. We might not even have noticed this transition if it wasn't for the violence in some part of the subculture.

In fact, this is how it is with Red. We usually don't notice it unless it creates trouble, because it is mostly a transition between two fairly stable states, relying on those around you and relying on the larger society and the "right" way of life. I suspect that this is still where most people spend most of their life.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: The camel's back
Two years ago: "Jaws of Darkness"
Three years ago: Fight, kiss or evade?
Four years ago: Reflections on Venus envy
Five years ago: G.U.T. of magic, part 2
Six years ago: When the food looked good
Seven years ago: Lunch philosophy

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