Coded gray.

Friday 4 August 2006

Green-Orange Tao symbol

Pic of the day: Is this really how it is? Not quite, say I.

Orange vs Green vMeme

Once again I visit the theory of Spiral Dynamics, which views the human mode of thinking as variable with a trend toward higher complexity over time. This is to say, humans are not really at all times and all places the same. Certainly we share many traits, especially in the most basic behaviors; but culture grows and adapts (or dies trying) as things get more complex.

There are many different theories or frameworks that attempt to classify the various modes of thinking, but the approach of Spiral Dynamics is particularly intuitive and easy to understand. Perhaps too easy to understand, but we shall return to that in a later entry, I hope.


Jenny Wade, with some moral support from famous American philosopher Ken Wilber, has argued that the Green vMeme is not actually higher than Orange. That instead there are two parallel approaches. Yin and yang, so to speak. The way classic Spiral Dynamics describe the colors, Orange is the masculine, risk-taking, active and individualistic approach, while Green is the feminine, careful, nurturing and consensus-seeking. But now these people claim that the individual and communal approaches are on roughly the same level, and evolve side by side.

I partly agree. There is some support for this by simply observing history. Orange and Green thinking showed up surprisingly close to each other in time. During our lifetime, the both of them have been chipping away at the Blue vMeme, with its focus on unchanging moral values. Roughly we can say that in our western world, Blue is represented by Christianity, Orange by Capitalism and Green by Social Democracy. I probably don't need to tell you that Communism, as it has been practiced in the real world, is far from its Green ideal. It is an atheist variant of the Blue vMeme, rigid and with disrespect for the individual. In contrast, capitalism has achieved a decent compromise with its predecessor. In the USA, for instance, the Blue vMeme of the Christian Right is cooperating in the same Republican Party with the Orange of big business. This seems quite illogical to an outside observer. But in truth, people don't normally jump from one vMeme to another in a kind of quantum leap. They transition gradually, and may never make it all the way in a lifetime. So a lot of Americans are still milling about somewhere between Blue and Orange, and these are called Republicans. Others are milling around between Orange and Green, and these are called Democrats.

It is no big risk to bet that more men than women are Republican, and more women Democrat. Similar gender differences between "right" and "left" are found in most countries. Unless we posit that women are intellectually more evolved than men, this seems to support Wilber's view that the two are parallel paths from the Blue plateau of stability toward the next big leap, the so-called Second Tier of thinking where Wilber and friends have established their "base camp". I have already declared my doubt about the whole concept of "second tier". I don't think there is such an amazing difference between Green and Yellow, and it seems to me that Wilber's friends artificially increase the distance by talking down the Green.

I have a different explanation for the closeness in time and size of the two colors. I believe that individualist vMemes are necessarily fated to be held in check and countered by collective vMemes. Humans have long since passed the line where they could survive on their own. We now need society for our daily bread. Whenever individualism rises enough to cause stress on the social fabric, society responds by collective solutions. In the beginning, an upsurge in the old collective thinking may be enough. But when people grow aware of the problems with the old system, it loses much of its power over them. This is when a new collective vMeme arises, to keep the individual in check. Social democracy, environmentalism and consumer protection all arose to counter the rising power of the unbound capitalism. They did not arise to counter the previous collective vMeme, which was based on religion (or, in some cases, totalitarian ideologies with similar trappings and equally absolute). It is true that the Greens tend to view the old religious systems with deep distrust (and the other way around), but this was not why Green came into being. At least not this time. (More about that another time, possibly.)


I spoke about American politics, but here in Norway the Blue vMeme is almost entirely faded. The Christian Democrats have retained some power until just recently by maneuvering, but it is long, long ago that they lost the ability to dictate their core issues onto the people. Abortion, for instance, has barely been a topic since I was little, two generations ago. A little more than one in four Norwegians believe in God, but only about one in ten among the teens. Religion as a guide for living is fading from the public view. But many people subscribe to "Christian values", and these turn out (in Norway at least) to be such things as neighborly love, taking care of the weak, sharing, accepting people of all races as brothers. Throw in honesty and not being proud of money and status. In short, Green values!

Atheists often argue that these values are not specifically Christian, and in a way this is true. On the other hand, they were indeed the values of the early Christians. More about that another day, I hope. The point here is, as Norway has left the old Blue vMeme behind, unbound capitalism has never had its heyday. Collective solutions sprang up, allied with religion when needed, and mingled with the Orange liberalism. The uneasy balance between them is continuing to this day. The current government is not particularly environment friendly by our standards (though certainly by American standards), but in other ways they are heavily colored by the Green vMeme. (There is some confusion because "green" in political parlance is mostly about environment and peace, which is only a subset of the vMeme.)

I hope you understand my point by now. Green and Orange are not two independent ways to advance upward from the rigid stability of Blue. Orange is necessary to break out, then Green comes as a reaction. Orange provides the energy and the momentum, but Green harnesses it to create a new stability on a more flexible level. They need each other, but Green cannot come to exist without Orange. Orange can exist without Green, but it is a cold and cruel existence.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: Fat and will
Two years ago: Too few DVD burners
Three years ago: Civ3: Too real for fun
Four years ago: Phat enuff again
Five years ago: Alcohol revisited
Six years ago: Porcupining
Seven years ago: Travel journal

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