FAQs > Integral


Ramblings on Spiral Dynamics and its relationship with the "integral" business.


Integral and SD

SD and the Ken Wilber crowd 

SD, Integral, and business


Changes and correlations


Caveats for the integrals and integralism

SD and spirituality

Spread of SD

Graves's approach was integral before integral was trendy

"Integral" is the hot new word for many people. For some, it is a declaration that things need to connect, and that recognizing complex systemic linkages is vital to solving human problems. For others it becomes an intellectual approach, often a hyper-intellectualized one, for reconceptualizing things they don't yet understand but need to frame without attaching emotions. For others, the word describes a path to enlightenment and a break from the givens that seem to put human nature at an impasse. By exploring what they term an "integral" way they feel they are coming to find the peace of mind for which they have been searching, often a substitute for religions that no longer serve to answer questions. For many of these, it has become an article of faith and hub around which to build a self-concept ("I must be Second Tier or else!") and a quasi-cult of obedient true believers out to save the world - on their terms. And still others see it as a little more than a useful descriptive adjective suggesting openness to interactions, consequences, and synergies among many kinds of knowing and learning, and not a proprietary brand or exclusive association at all. 

Uses of the word vary so much that it is nearly impossible to know what any user means by the term without asking for their definition; many of the faithful cannot provide one. For others, it's simply a favorable descriptor. And the word is often capriciously attached to the Spiral Dynamics trademark when is strategically opportune to do so. In fact, much of the so-called Integral movement takes large chunks of SD (especially the color scheme) and uses them as the core elements of its "new" psychology, a borrowed lingua franca used to describe what an ambiguous adjective cannot. 

Although we avoid the branding and connotations, nobody denies that SD can be used as an integrative model; that's why Dr. Graves spoke for a "bio- psycho- social systems" perspective forty years ago when he tried to bridge disciplines and theories. It's hard to get much more integral than that. How can anyone object to efforts to find connections and synergies among fields and knowledge sets, or to showing how seemingly separate things actually impact on each other profoundly, and on the overall living system? 

That hunt for links has been in process since the alchemists and the Enlightenment, of course. (It begins in earnest with Graves's fifth level where the search is for the best of many possibilities and learning comes from a combination of experimentation with tried-and-true experience.) Searches for ultimate unity and theories of everything abound because Homo sapiens is a meaning-making creature. Today, a web search will yield literally millions of 'integral' this's and that's. 

The interest in interconnectedness is surging today everywhere from consciousness studies and pop psychology to efforts to find new political and governance models. The down-side is that a perfectly fine term is being over-used and diluted as it's applied without clarity or finesse to everything from neo-Buddhist-chic spiritual movements to multi-grain 'integral' sandwich breads! To these folks, anyone throughout history who has ever done anything good or significant is suddenly ordained "integral" - without regard to how they think, the context in which they functioned, the life conditions, cognitive complexity, or very much else that matters in a Gravesian analysis. When the integral urge goes overboard, its rush to unity produces over-simplification and nonsense by forcing a grand synthesis before complex interrelationships are even recognized, a whole before the parts are understood. That's problematic, because both forests and trees matter. 

We are in no way opposed to integralness, only to the worship of it as a panacea since both accurate differentiation and wise integration are important, not one or the other. And we object to the term's commercialization as a proprietary product by folks who lay claim to creating an idea that pre-dates their discovery of it by generations. Integral is not a new discovery, only an approach that finds greater resonance than compartmentalization and rigid categories in these times.

"Integral" is a meme. It has spread like a virus; memes do that when there are hungry minds are willing and ready to host them. (It resonates especially well in both the DQ-ER and ER-FS transitions. In the first it fits an awakening of self without need for external authority; in the second the move from excessive reliance on an internal self to recognition of community and the external.) As a result, today there is a broad and eclectic population slice of people who want to be "integral" beings. Some have had enough of obedience and submission, others of differentiation and isolation. They are searching for connections, for things to come together, for themselves to come together. Many are weary of fragmentation and feelings of being disconnected and misunderstood, loners in a confounding world. This meme helps them to explain their predicaments, to provide a gathering space, and hope for something better ahead.

For some people, it's become a singular purpose and a raison d'etre - to be an integral and participate in a well-promoted fashion trend promising a new order in a chaotic age, a brave new integral world, to be a participant in mega-change. (The SD/Graves theory helps disclose the secret of the success of this meme with the awakening of more human problems that demand solutions which stretch across the artificial bounds of disciplines, cultures, and narrow interests. The swing of emphasis between express-self to sacrifice-self also factors in, along with a drive from individual success to individualism in context of something bigger than self or the need to free self from constraining -ism's.) 

Thus, the adjective, integral, has been turned into a complimentary adjective as well as a commercial tag - "if it's integral, it's got to be 'the good'" - and a valuing position - "if it's good for integral, it's good for the country." At the same time "integral" has become a kind of trademark and a generic term for a wish-list of attitudes and beliefs, and a modifier for a wide range of product offerings. For many, it's the key to enlightenment and personalized self-conscious, directed evolution toward their ultima thule, often a variation of salvation or chance of immortality outside conventional religions. 

Others take it further; 'integral' is the name of a faith-like movement and quasi cult, complete with gurus and patriarchs, not just an idea, with all the in-group and out-group characteristics and ethical challenges that produces. Such start-ups often fall prey to the foibles of their founders as their prejudices and pathologies become embedded into the unquestioned central dogma. For still others, integralism is a sensible goal of bridging artificial gaps between bodies of knowledge and paths to insight so they can intersect and synergize, a laudable enough end. But even then, without comprehension of the opposite bank, a would-be bridge is just an extended pier that carries forth the givens; it seems that many true believers leading the "movement" are uninterested in seeing much beyond their own viewpoint. Thus, much that is most integral and integrative does not wear the label.

Integral and SD
Why is the integral buzz so resonant for some of the people who also interested in Spiral Dynamics? And why was much of SD fused into the integral movement? SD, especially when understood in conjunction with the underlying Gravesian theory, is an integrative model - 'everything connects to everything else.' Those who are drawn to it tend to be curious about behavior and the human condition, and to have eclectic views of what makes us tick. For them, human knowledge is best handled as a field, not in pockets or compartments, absolute rights or wrongs. Neither scientism nor religiosity holds all answers. They recognize an overlap of theology with natural science which goes back to Newton's efforts to bring earth and heaven together. In other words, knowing is being, and being is to join the field of living things. 

The need to integrate knowledge for a better grasp of human behavior was a goal voiced by Abraham Maslow and others. Graves shared the view, and this cross-disciplinary approach didn't set him in good stead with some of his more parochial colleagues who set psychology apart from other disciplines, and who found singular approaches to psychology sufficient. Graves found value in many approaches, and applicability in most. He relied on General Systems Theory as a foundational element to help draw them together. Newer work in systems, chaos theory, and complexity add a great deal to his point of view and elaborate some of the principles he set forth. 

The foundation beneath SD is based, as we continue to say, on the integration of biology, psychology, sociology, and systems theory. Its integral nature is not in dispute; nor does that come as a surprise to those who know the theory well and aren't involved in competitive positioning. Long before the integral marketing machine took off, we referred to the GT or A'N' (7th) system as integrative, as well as systemic and existential. Breaking the boundaries between academic fields and ways of knowing makes sense, so long as it doesn't dilute and cross-contaminate in ways that obscure and cloud more than they reveal and distinguish. In some respects, though, the rush to integral has taken wind from the sails of further Gravesian research and distracted some people who could have contributed to furthering the work because the devout see challenges as tests of their faith and fight to defend their truths mercilessly against heresy and divisive critics. That we find deeply regrettable, and we await the inevitable sea change when the tide turns.

SD and the Ken Wilber crowd
Many approaches complement the Gravesian point of view quite well; it's a theory, not of articles of faith. Our position is that there is a treasure trove of information and research yet to be done within the Gravesian legacy and point of view, and that the work of Ken Wilber, leader of the integral pack, and others can be better understood within it rather than the reverse. Others believe the reverse; that's fine. When Wilber first encountered SD a few years ago, he seemed enamored of the bit of it he grasped and wrote extensively about the fragments, applying bits of the theory with varying success and accuracy. But like many things absorbed into the Wilberian world, SD became distorted to his vision and some bizarre things were attributed to it, things never part of the original work or its intentions. He seems never to have understood the work well, and now his tone has changed to being adversarial and dismissive while promoting is own renditions through his ever-expanding consciousness conglomerate they call the Integral Institute. (More on that below for those who might be interested.

While we respect some of Wilber's philosophizing, running down intellectualized rabbit trails distracts from building the work that actually interests us. Since our experience adjacent to his world has been rather negative, we prefer to disengage from things Wilberian and leave him and his acolytes to do their own thing. Because of our disinclination to join the Second Tier club (and to be skeptical about the whole tier notion), we are often accused of being divisive and troublesome by followers of the Wilber and Beckian 'integral' camps. We have been targeted through disinformation, revisionist history, dirty tricks, legal threats, and worse - role models of enlightenment play hard ball. Nonetheless, we will continue to comment if we strongly disagree with interpretations of this material, or if things we believe to be gross misapplications come to our attention, whatever their origins. But we don't bother following the punditry on a regular basis, or arguing the merits of metaphors like Potter-esque spiral wizardry or yellow submersibles and brick roads. People have a right to their inspirations and gurus, and whatever form of religiosity meets their needs so long as they don't harm others in the process. 

Perhaps it's a weakness (many would call it by the integrals' favorite pejorative, "mean green meme"), but we've lost respect for some of the key players, even while living in our own very imperfect glass house. Instead of bickering ad nauseum into what's virtuous and what's not, we choose to put energy into learning more about what the Emergent Cyclical theory suggests and teaching that to our students so they can carry it on in their own work and build from a sound base rather than rumors and tertiary reports thereof. This stuff isn't as easy as it looks, though it's not as mystical as some would make it out, either. We invite anyone interested in it to complement their knowledge wherever they can - with Wilber, Beck, and anyone else - and then attach all sorts of new knowledge in the neurosciences, anthropology, sociology, and psychology once a solid grounding in the elegant Gravesian framework exists. The art lies is maintaining clear, critical thinking to separate fantasies from facts and in not blindly following any sweet-sounding piper. Without some essential grounding, the sea of balderdash and wild claims attributed to SD only continues to deepen.

SD, Integral, and business
Spiral Dynamics is a model of human development and change. It is also an business since direct applications of theory to practice support the scholarship and things like this website and others. For many years, it spoke with a fairly unified voice. Now, and partially due to Mr. Wilber's involvement, there are many - a cacophony of self-proclaimed experts and authorities spouting versions of truth. Again, do a web search and look at the number of hits. What was once a relatively well-controlled trademark has been diluted to the point of meaninglessness. It's a mess because, like "integral," Spiral Dynamics has come to mean so much it reliably means nothing.

Within the Spiral Dynamics world, we continue to focus on elaborating Spiral Dynamics (SD) and furthering the Gravesian point of view, while another branch promotes Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi). Here, the word 'Integral' implies the incorporation of more of the Wilberian slant - AQAL (all quadrants, all levels, ne 4Q8L then inflated). It is a matter of branding and emphasis, as well as a difference in worldviews. (We did not in 2000 and do not today think George W. Bush is in any way illustrative of Yellow, 2nd Tier thinking, for example.) While fine work is done under an integral banner bringing disciplines together (such as the California Institute of Integral Studies, founded way back in 1968), the word 'Integral' in context of Spiral Dynamics denotes a recent spin-off version of SD (SDi) which departs from the original and foundational work on which we concentrate; thus, it's a commercial differentiation for competing seminars and training that has arisen since the co-authors of Spiral Dynamics, Chris Cowan and Don Beck, went separate ways in 1999. In addition to Wilber, the SDi branch relies on aspirations of enlightenment and new age philosophy with close associations to cult leader Andrew Cohen and his group which publishes What is Enlightenment? magazine, as well as others in what has come to be called the " integral movement." For reasons explained above, it has done quite well because it fits many people's needs. How much that will ultimately add or detract from understanding the nuance of SD and extending work like Dr. Graves's, however, remains an open question. 

The branch of SD operating this website (NVC Consulting - Cowan and Todorovic) concentrates primarily on expanding and continuing Dr. Clare Graves's point of view and legacy of rich questions which are foundational to Spiral Dynamics while incorporating new information and research to augment it. We have no connection with Wilber or Cohen and remain in legal disputes with Beck who now operates his business as The Spiral Dynamics Group, Inc. In our view, there's a lot to be done without spinning off into yet another direction and vast energy has been wasted in acrimonious nonsense. As we say above, we are not anti-integral; we're just not that interested in it as an article of faith and haven't found 'the beef.' Our experience with 'integral' business practices have left an unpleasant taste, for sure, so we tend to avoid the term because it leaves a sour note. Perhaps that's our weakness, and it's also fact.

There are now a number of people offering SDi trainings (SD-integral), some even claiming to offer 'certification'; we suggest that students be very careful of imitations and those flying the Spiral Dynamics flag who may not be qualified to do so. Readers should be aware that SDI and SDII (SD with one and two in cap Roman numerals) have designated the introductory and intermediate Spiral Dynamics certification seminars since their inception. There appears to be a deliberate effort afoot to confuse that with the SDi (for "integral") programs conducted by other organizations and spin-off groups; there is a difference. So caveat emptor. If you are uncertain, contact us with your questions. We are now using SD1 and 2, as well, to help clarify which is which, though confusion still occurs and students are advised to know what they're getting into so they find training which fits their needs and how they like to learn. This is not an easy theory, and we make no claims of offering simple or easy courses, though we do try to make them thorough, as well as fun and exciting. 

Some of the other differences between the SD and SDi 'camps' go back years, are deeply personal, noxious, and rather juvenile and pathetic; some are due to differences about rights, IP and trademark management, and appropriate business practices; and some of the conflict also arises from unresolved differences in theoretical/political viewpoints and how the theory is most ecologically applied and ethically spread. At this point, the schism is profound and unlikely to be resolved. In fact, our predictions of a worst-case outcome are coming to pass and the acrimony has reached the courts without any good faith efforts at resolution of differences; we are deeply saddened that this low-road choice has been taken by people who sell the model to others yet seem so unwilling to apply its lessons to themselves, or to seek facts rather than rely on innuendo. When observing the dance of life, watch the feet and not the words. 

It is important to differentiate the theory of Dr. Graves and the SD derivative from the personalities of their proponents and exploiters, and we ask that objective viewers keep the theory and model separate from the personas attracted to them and their behavior. Whether it's our personality quirks, our former partner's, or anyone else's, the model and the theory are better than the mere mortals who work on them. Despite the hypocrisies and problems, those interested in the work will benefit from learning all they can from both "camps" since there is information and expertise to be had on multiple fronts. That said, the feedback we receive convinces us that our training provides a superior grounding in the foundational theoretical work to the extent that we can no longer accept SDi programs as fulfilling the prerequisites for our advanced courses, something we used to do before our ex-partner released control of that branch to others and began permitting third-party certification and online courses without adhering to agreed quality controls or standards. The situation is unfortunate, and we deeply regret any problems it causes.

With the spread of SD name, we have become concerned by the absence of standards and controls to ensure competence, quality, and ethical limits among those using the Spiral Dynamics trademark (often improperly and illegally). Obeisance to gurus or abundant self-confidence does not qualification make; even good intentions do not necessarily equate with depth of knowledge. Sadly, we find much of what we hear about how some others use it deeply troubling, even appalling. Whereas our efforts five years ago used to center on broadening recognition of this model, now too much of our energy goes to damage control as a result of charlatans and exploiters who lack rudimentary expertise. (Some basic guidelines and knowledge fundamentals are forthcoming here.) On the positive side, many people expressing interest in things "integral" are thoughtful scholars who recognize the strengths and weaknesses, overlaps and discontinuities, without zealotry and fanatical obedience or guru-worship, or the need to prove their egos with hyperbole or grandiose claims. Integral and integrity need not and should not be at odds; perhaps the integral movement will sort itself out one day. Some members actually are the more complex and open-systems thinkers than their colleagues and teachers imagine themselves to be, and prove very sincere about drawing energies together and making connections. We applaud their interest and engagement, and regret deeply that their efforts are polluted by aggressive charlatans and unscrupulous practices from a few. Telling the difference is now the big challenge. 

So, we caution readers that something which purports to be "Spiral Dynamics" or based in "Spiral Dynamics" might not have much relationship to authentic Gravesian theory or to Spiral Dynamics as it was built from it. For example, when someone says of something SD-related, "Well, according to Wilber..." we tend to gasp since it's often a sign that there's a lot of remedial work and de-programming ahead. These days, that's even become the case with "Don Beck says...", unfortunately, since our views seem to have diverged considerably in some respects. Debates about improvement versus contamination can be endless, of course. And subtle differences can impact understanding significantly. Our advice is that serious students read through the 1996 Spiral Dynamics book while looking for and ignoring the the dated and naive examples, as well as some of the original Clare Graves papers on the website we maintain for public reading, and the major Graves writings. They will do well to keep open minds about any claims or promises they might hear, especially from secondary and tertiary "authorities." Just as in purchasing a dog, check the well-being, the temperament, and the pedigree to be sure that the version of Spiral Dynamics you're getting is from a decent line and not churned out of a profiteering puppy mill that churns out models irresponsibly.

Changes and correlations
Although much has been discovered since Dr. Graves's day, very little contradicts most of his hypotheses, and much has been published which illuminates and expands this remarkably insightful theory. Psychology has changed very little in some respects, and many of the revolutionary ideas proposed by Graves and his peers are yet to be explored and put to the test. Much of the work in developmentalism reinforces the approach with little to refute anything about it except in terms of the neurosciences which evolve faster than computer chips. Thus, there is much work to be done and many useful things to be made of EC theory and its application in SD as new discoveries in a number of fields expand our understanding of human nature and the mind. 

For example, the collision between fourth and fifth level thinking in today's geopolitics is something Graves anticipated, and which the theory explains quite well. As talk of terrorism and fundamentalisms going head-to-head preoccupies many of us, the SD model lays out some reasons for it and paths to solutions. At the same time, the resurgence of interest in something beyond competitive individualism - a return to community and sense of spirit - is also predicted by the theory and explicable in Gravesian terms. Indeed, much of the integral enthusiasm is attributable to two transitions at work today - one group of people leaving authoritarian absolutism to try and discover an independent self and another finishing with independence and looking for the comfort of transcending interdependence, instead. 

The 'integral' wing of SD seems to emphasize the fusion of a core element of Ken Wilber's work, a four quadrant model - internal/external, individual/social - with the emergent levels of SD, yielding a four-quadrant, eight-level approach. OK; that's fine. Wilber also incorporated the levels to explain degrees of differentiation and levels within the quadrants. Two-by-two matrixes work well enough in business school, too, though force-fitting spiraling Gravesian systems over them is sometimes quite a stretch. 

For those enamored of such quadrant models, the Graves term "biopsychosocial systems" theory can easily be converted into one. Add some diagonal scales with interesting interval markers, and you're there. Wilber (below) has developed and refined a quadrant model which has remarkable similarities to a Gravesian view, though he divides at cultural and social and Graves, instead, included the behavior of systems as a central element since he took culture to be a product of psychological and sociological elements, a difference which could be debated endlessly to little consequence. 

(biological elements) 
 (psychological elements)
(sociological and cultural aspects) 
 (systems theory in human nature)

While Mr. Wilber periodically expands, rewrites, or recants his opinions ('Wilber 6' or ' Wilber as of Last Thursday,' take your pick), the quadrants seem to be a central tenet of his perspective. In our view, most of this is implicit in the 'emergent, cyclical, double-helix model of adult biopsychosocial systems development;' Wilber and his acolytes offer a simplification and compilation of some aspects and useful elaborations of others, but they leave out some of the real meat of the Gravesian theory and confuse others as they conflate beliefs and value systems. Graves is more than intervals and typology. The essence of his point of view is the quest for the engine that drives human emergence - why we are and what leads us to change to be something different. The types and categories are merely artifacts of that process. This is a point the Wilberians never seem to have grasped.

Caveats for the integrals and integralism
Despite suggestions otherwise - and we are often utterly amazed at the false reports of our opinions and views from some people in this crowd who never seek our views directly or even ask for clarifications - nobody denies that Dr. Graves's emergent-cyclical biopsychosocial systems theory describes many ways to be integrative since that suggests inclusive and connective. What we do suggest, however, is that the so-called integral movement has a long way to go before it legitimizes itself, and that it risks self-destruction through hubris and arrogance. 

From our perspective way outside of the integral club but based on our years of experiences with members of that august fellowship, the term 'integral' is at risk of becoming discredited, even as it becomes popularized. (See Paul Ray and Sherry Andersen's Cultural Creatives for some better explanations of the forces at work in what's become the 'integral movement' and even an 'integral lifestyle,' as well as the urge to conscious evolution - the notion that we can, though our thoughts and subsequent actions, impact the evolutionary process and guide who we might become.) Sad to admit, when we hear "integral" attached to anything, we have now become very cautious; ongoing threats, aggressive online attacks, deceptions, creepy competitiveness, and even lawsuits do tend to make one skeptical of high-and-mighty talk of enlightened transcendence. If we are a meaningful sample, the scruples and ethics of the integral crowd need some attention before a few bad apples rot the sauce.

One of the traps we all can fall into is 'do as I say, not as I do.' It is easy to confuse the ability to cognitively describe a process and to write about it well with being that which is described or behaving in the idealized ways being offered up. For many people, being integral is a delusional dream state - it is their aspiration and fantasy. Walking the talk is somewhat more difficult. When a movement becomes too wrapped up in one personality, it is subject to that personality's foibles, for better and worse. For true believers and guru hunters, integral becomes a rallying cry and an article of faith. There are stars and favorites in the integral world, including Harvard education professor Robert Kegan ( whose viewpoint is quite Gravesian and well worth reviewing), and, of course, Wilber, himself. Because of the growing popularity of 'integral' anything, joining that bandwagon is potentially good for business; we are frequently told what a mistake it is not to go along with it. We chose not to, and our experience, despite some difficulties, continues to support the wisdom of that decision.

Alas, 'integral' (the brand) is not always integrative any more than it is original. Some proponents exist as a virtual cult of true believers and want to create a 'movement' toward their particular vision of a better world, just as others have done with their ideologies in years past. Call us cynics, but we don't have much faith in such grandiosity after experiencing the underlying tactics for several years; it's too much like the sure-footed neocon right wing going after the ambiguity-loving lefty liberals. Merely use the prefix 'integr-' and they take it to be self-referential to themselves and reverential toward their leaders - "say integral and you're talking about us!" It behooves those leaders and their close advisors to behave in ways that model integrity and the kind of thinking they advocate, as well. Hypocrisy is not becoming to anyone.

Many of the integral crowd took to SD like puppies to a bone because it was exactly the kind of tasty morsel they'd been hungry for; no fault in that. But then they tossed the theory around like a chew toy and dropped the name without a clue what it is actually about; but the cursory taste they got offered them a useful typology, a trajectory with some content, and a bit of substance which 'integral' philosophy lacks without assimilating content from elsewhere. Relatively few have bothered to figure out the material in any depth, and many, including Wilber, have remained satisfied with shallow views of convenience rather than exploring fully from many angles; to be blunt, a highly non-integral approach has prevailed. 

Yet the SD color code has been called the "lingua franca" of the integral movement which had not built a differential language of its own. If borrowing is the best they can come up with, we'd be the first to say a scheme of eight colors is a pretty weak language for complex phenomena. They're using the decoration as critical terminology; but no doubt pastels are in the offing to remedy that as these 'indigo' kids come of age and invent a new-and-improved lingo and a revised state-of-the-art color scheme which can transcend and include, as well as confuse, the one which they confiscated. How about some original research instead of assimilation and rewrites?      

Even the altitude-loving inflationary consciousness - higher, ever higher, upward toward godliness - is not unusual in human nature. Since Turquoise (B'O', Level 8) was the 'upper' end of Dr. Graves's theorizing (though he had scant data in support and assuming you model it vertically), it should come as no surprise that some of these folks deem themselves to be at least of that level, maybe beyond it, and most definitely beings of 'the second tier,' meaning they have achieved no less than seventh level (Yellow) status, but probably eighth (Turquoise) or beyond. They are thus well qualified to look down upon lesser mortals with a degree of condescending scorn mixed with hope and plans for their eventual upliftment. We need to break from the 'or' logic trap and recognize that ideas and people are not either first or second tier, but interconnected systems and complexes. It's just not as simple as committed tierists would like.

Since we remain unconvinced of the validity of the tier notion at all, seeing it used to separate self-appointed elites onto their own Olympus is amusing at best, especially with clay feet in full view. Aloofness and emotional binders mixed with intellectualized pretension are not markers of elevation. Neither are hypocrisy and hubris attractive traits, so the god-like ought avoid those before mounting high horses. In some instances, 'the Second Tier' meme has become a core identity element and believers are so highly ego-involved in their Turquoiseness that the very idea that they might not be thinking in the exalted way is traumatic; anyone who injects dissonance about either the magnificence of Turquoise or its frequent synonym, Integral, is anathema. 

We remain skeptical of cults, elitist and cliquish clubs, guru-worship, and well-funded marketing hype without substance. Our experience causes us to be sorely disappointed at the tactics and ethics of many of the leading voices in the integral community, and vigilant of those who would fall under their spells like saffron-robed, shaved-headed sheep. We certainly hope the integral movement can get itself together as it works through these early stages of its formation and away from authoritarianism, guru-worship, and quasi-cultishness. The constructs are sound but become sadly distorted when turned into surrogates for systematic theology or dogmas whereby to judge the worth of others in a mirror.

SD and spirituality
It's quite true that Graves paid relatively little attention to the realm of mysticism and spirituality, religion or religiosity, because he viewed the expression of those aspects of human nature as sub-components of our psychology, not driving forces in themselves. While he had some ideas about what might be, neither his life experience nor his data lent itself to deep explorations in this domain. 

For those who believe this is a serious void and find more traditional religions inadequate, the human need for religiosity is amply filled by the likes of Wilber and the other New Age, neo-spiritual, and consciousness-seeking movements such as Cohen's which are easily dovetailed with SD. Indeed, some of the long-established "integral" schools take the closing of gaps between the physical and metaphysical as central teaching with the aim of showing that these domains are not mutually exclusive or even contradictory, but complimentary ways of exploring being. If one takes the view that mind and consciousness are more than electrochemical activity, then understanding origins and extra-organic energy matter. The surge of spirit-in-business and the post-TM fascination with meditation and other mind-modifying practices help break the scientism/humanism/cosmic consciousness barriers and bring the inner and outer closer together. But the substantive answers about what spirit and soul are or are not do not lie within the Graves/SD perspective, and trying to conflate this approach and spirituality creates a real mess which diminishes both. Ask how the person approaches the questioning process, not what answers they might find. SD is not a new religion nor a cult, only a theoretical point of view about human nature and how it changes, and why spirituality interests us or not.

If one doesn't recognize that within the Gravesian levels are many ways of conceiving the esoteric, spiritual, and metaphysical, then it easy to confuse the Spiral with a pathway to heaven: higher on the spiral, closer to God. Within this point of view there are spiritualities throughout the systems, each with a different form and purpose - different ways of thinking about, and each with elaboration, wisdom, and insights in its own right. The verticality trap is a common blunder in integral land, and one which the neo-Buddhist philosophy promulgated by Wilber and others seems to facilitate. For those in search of personalized salvation and energy-eternity without the burden of hellfire and heaven (the more FS rather than DQ rendition), there is plenty to hope for and believe within the Church of the Spiral, or the Integral Circle. But thinking 'up' the spiral equals up in spiritual understanding is erroneous; it merely means a different way of contemplating contemplation.

Graves was interested in how people thought about religion/spirituality, but not particularly in their beliefs except as data points. His focus was more on understanding the containers for ideas than the specifics of their contents because it's the changes of the the frame which shift our sense of how the mature adult functions. Recognizing that the future is simply to the next stage, not to some idealized end state which is so often defined as perfection or god-like existence by people struggling with their own mortality and growth, the stage shifts are the essence of analysis.  

The practical side of the work focuses how to achieve systems which congruently match people with their worlds, their capacities with their situations; it actually offers very few prescriptions for what to change, though many descriptions and suggestions on how to approach it if and when it is appropriate. The SD model does not define optimum outcomes because they will differ among situations and contexts, though the viewpoint always looks to movement up the levels of existence overall, in the long run of time because the increasing complexity of existential problems and the expansion of human experience demand it. While some argue that this, of necessity, implies spirit and out-of-the-body doings, others will propose that the mind/brain/body complex that is us creates our sense of the mystical as a coping strategy, too. Either way, there are better ways to delve into matters esoteric than the Graves/SD approach.

Spread of SD
Today, in part thanks to the integral sub-species that seems to proliferate like intellectual hydrilla, the number of bizarre SD references on the web is simply astounding. Because of the uncontrolled spread and negligence in protecting it, the term "spiral dynamics" has come to mean almost anything, despite its legally trademarked status. It can be argued that's good for marketing - 'so long as they spell the name right', all publicity is beneficial; but it can also be argued that the brand dilution, trademark dilution, and content dilution now being attached can destroy any credibility Spiral Dynamics might have had, thereby making SD meaningless and ultimately discredited as pop-psych, neo-spiritual mumbo-jumbo - a cheap, simplistic, color-coded typology for sorting friends from foes and fans from critics - all wrapped in quasi-theology and a mix of neocon and neolib political views pretending to represent something forward-looking but dwelling in the past. We get emails asking if SD is a religion or a cult, and find resistance now and then in organizations because of some gibberish people have read on the Internet.  

A faux-integral cure-all is as delusional as any other panacea, and when adjectives become nouns and the search for integration becomes a members-only club for integrals, distinctions are lost. Our hunch has always been that SD would be assimilated, hyped, bastardized, and then discarded in the rush to the next new-and-improved consciousness and in service of egos, even though those doing so lack comprehension of what the Graves perspective is or objectivity about the consequences of their actions. 

It's now time to repair, pick up the good that the integral experience has added, and start again. Too much of our work these days is to undo the damage done to Spiral Dynamics by the integral movement, unravel misunderstandings, repair misconceptions with actual theoretical points instead of wild conjecture, and constantly remind people that this isn't a stairway to heaven; it's a model about human nature. 

So, what's new? It is our position that Dr. Graves's approach was quite integral before "integral" became fashionable and a highly marketed, even cultish, term; and that there are many contemporary theorists whose works complement his, including Ken Wilber's philosophy. The challenge is for a next generation - or a current generation capable of a mind change - to begin exploring and applying the work with openness, curiosity, honesty, and integrity. 

Graves's approach was integral before integral was trendy
Much of the 'new' is actually rediscovery and re-labeling of what's been done before. Thus, it has been our opinion that the addition of "integral" to the Gravesian point of view is redundant except for promotional reasons, and to distinguish brands and commercial offerings. It is also our suspicion that the need to "integrate" and seek connections is another cyclic phenomenon like others that characterize the different levels in the theory (temperament variables, etc.), and that the integrate-differentiate-integrate-differentiate dynamic warrants further study as a curious theoretical chunk of emergent human systems. [For a discussion of "premature integral," click here.] Two comments by Graves from the late 1970's are pertinent: 

"[The E-C theory] sketches a theoretical trellis upon which, it is hoped, the confusing behavior, the contradictory information and the conflicting explanations of adult human behavior can grow with time, into an integrated network. It considers the adult behavioral system of the past, the systems of the present and projects that new systems will appear infinitely in the future...In other realms, academics preached the sermon of integration of all knowledge yet continued to devise curricula which fractionated all learning and failed to achieve the educational goals they so righteously proclaimed."

"At each stage of human existence the adult man is off on his quest of his holy grail, the way of life by which he believes men should live. At his first level he is on a quest for automatic physiological satisfaction. At the second level he seeks a safe mode for living, and this is followed, in turn, by a search for heroic status, for the power and the glory, then by a search for everlasting peace, a search for material fulfillment in the here and now, a search for personal fulfillment here and now, a search for integrated living and a search for spiritual peace in a world he knows can never be known. And, when he finds, at the eighth level, that he will never find that peace, he will be off on his ninth level quest... The lower [level] does not disappear, it is integrated into and subordinated to the higher." 

Dr. Graves's 'trellis' was intended to be an integrative work in progress on which many ideas could grow and flourish. We strongly support both testing it and adding to its richness with new perspectives based on some solid research (with some data, rather than opinions and guesswork), and much prefer that to philosophizing and punditry. We do view Clare Graves as the primary theorist, and choose to focus on SD through his original point of view rather than others' second hand reinterpretations or projections of what might be because there is so much yet untapped there for study and debate. 

We've been charged with failure to "get with the program" and mount the "integral" bandwagon, even with being out of date (along with Graves) and obstructionist to "the movement." But just because we don't use the word "integral" as a trademark or in advertising (we have developed a distaste for it), that doesn't at all mean we don't believe in what it suggests and the non-cultish aspects of the movement, nor that we would for one moment accept that Graves/SD has not been integral far longer than those who only now are making the discovery like it's something new. What we do accept is that there are now enough minds asking the questions that his answers which were out of their time in his day now fit. Excellent, we say. 

Is there such a thing as "the Mean Green meme?"

Only in the minds of those who need and profit from one. The whole "mean" terminology is a relatively new creation within one Spiral Dynamics faction, not part of the core work. While there are mean people centralized around Green just like everywhere else, FS (Green) is no "meaner" than any other part of human nature and far milder than most, although people with strong Green do react strongly to dishonesty and those who are arrogant, pompous, or hurtful to others. There is a huge abreaction to doing harm to others, although since emotions and relationships matter so much, FS often uses feelings and disaffiliation as its weapons.

Much of the conversation we have seen about "MGM" actually involves confusion of ER and even DQ with FS, and especially a failure to recognize the characteristics of the transitional states around them— dq/ER, ER, ER/fs and er/FS. Just as the emphasis on exaggerated first tier/second tier differences fails to recognize how close FS and GT (A'N') actually are and builds, instead, a gap of convenience, this usage reflects a poor and, in our opinion, very destructive and harmful use of this model. It has, however, become a core business in some quarters.

The idea of a fusion of FS with CP is not plausible from a Gravesian perspective, though it's quite possible to have a person centralized around FS acting like a total jerk, and even aggressively. What's being missed is that aggressive behavior can come from many levels for different reasons, certainly not just from Red (CP), and that hostility, if that's what the users of the term are talking about, comes from many sources.

We have strongly opposed this bastardization of the theory since first reading about it and voiced strong objections to little avail with the “true believers” and those who make a business out of hyping an imaginary "MGM." Our position that the "mean Green" construct is prejudicial nonsense, based far more on personal biases and unpleasant experiences than sound Spiral Dynamics theory, remains unchanged. Uncompromising fanaticism comes in many guises; closed minds exist at many levels. That's not an exclusive product of the 6th level of human existence any more than eco-consciousness, leftist politics or disgust at doing harm to others and supporting aggression fall only there. These are memes, not vMEMEs. 

Furthermore, we view this painting of FS with a negative brush—denials and rationalizations aside—as extremely destructive to the overall process of emergent human systems. This mischaracterization and name-calling puts barriers in the way of people ready to exit ER who are misled into believing that FS is a bad thing rather than a necessary developmental step, and it provides ammunition for those who want to demonize opponents with a glib label or who can't fathom thinking that is two steps ahead.

It is important not to confuse the label of FS (Green) with "Green" politics or "Green" environmentalism. It appears that many people are not differentiating the vMEME system from the memes that are sometimes, but not always, attracted to it—a further reason that insistence on muddling up those two terms is not at all helpful. People in left-of-center political movements or who are active in opposition to global corporatism may or may not be operating at the FS level. Some are more in DQ authoritarianism and absolutistic oppositional stages, and others in a transformative and competitive ER trying to promote their version of something better.

The perception of 'meanness'—and some members of lefty groups can be vicious, as can the extremists of the right—is a judgment as much in the mind of the beholder as in the actor. To grossly stereotype based on the Gravesian model is to misunderstand the intent of the theory. It has now devolved to a general and misguided bashing of "Green" in some circles, and the argument that it's a great problem rather than a necessary part of the whole. We find this inaccurate, objectionable and detrimental to both the theory and the future of people who need to go through that transition as part of their whole-Spiral evolution. MGM is predicated on a bizarre and superficial take on the theory, and has now taken on a life as a "meme" in itself. 

We believe that use of the "mean Green meme" language not only distorts the theory, but that those have promoted it fail to differentiate what people do from why they do it, something basic to the Spiral Dynamics point of view. This toss-off pejorative causes observers to miss the real dynamics in situation—where CP, DQ, ER or even A'N' might be involved at the deeper level, though the surface might look "Green." In addition, this negative construct (and others like it) will ultimately slow down necessary transitions and create roadblocks to transformation rather than serve to facilitate the emergence of a healthy Spiral. What is often depicted as "mean Green" is a hodgepodge description drawn from several systems, including naughty bits of CP, DQ and even ER, then framed as "MGM" with a bunch of unpleasant temperament factors unrelated to Gravesian levels, behaviors and attitudes—even fanaticism and anti-fanatic fanaticism—tossed in. Recognize that the entering and exiting phases of all these systems are high-energy times, and those transitional mixed energies are being miscategorized with the put-down term, "mean.”

Can people thinking in the FS way be obnoxious and closed-minded, even extremist? Of course. But so can people centralized at many levels; there's plenty to pick on throughout the Spiral. These are factors of temperament, style and attitude; everything about personality cannot be hung on a Gravesian level. All systems have expressions that are ecological, and other forms that are not. We sense that many people are now in the ER to FS transition, and we repeat that concentrated attacks on FS by those still struggling with it, even if intended to enlighten “lesser mortals,” are misguided and counterproductive. FS is an integral part of A'N' as it introduces situationalism, relativism, contextualism and sociocentrism. People actually operationalizing at the Yellow level, rather than talking about it, would quickly recognize this.

Furthermore, the FS to A'N' gap appears to be far narrower than many, including Dr. Graves, believed. As an integral part of A'N', it must emerge fully rather than be squashed, demeaned or confused by people trying to be cute or clever, or who actually project what is within FS with what they suppose A'N' (Yellow) and B'O' (Turquoise) to be. (Most of what we hear proclaimed as "Turquoise" is actually more like an extrapolation of FS, and sometimes even DQ with lots of "existential jargon," to borrow a Graves term.) While writers and revivalists are free to use whatever words they want, we do not and try not refer to "mean Green" except in these paragraphs offering refutation, or to "the MGM" except as regards a movie studio with Leo the Lion as its mascot.  

For more about our opinion of the "mean green meme" meme, click here for a .pdf.

What do you think about writer Ken Wilber's representation of SD and Graves?

Overall, SD and integral philosophy are quite compatible, and we view integral honcho Ken Wilber as one of many contributive philosophers, compilers, and idea promoters. That said, we do not consider him an essential or authoritative part of Spiral Dynamics, nor as qualified as most of our students to speak about Gravesian theory. In a recent piece on "What is Integral Spirituality?" Ken has written quite a lot about SD - as he sees it. Unfortunately, he seems to be still caught up in the same trap as many NLP practitioners and insists on Graves as a values model (i.e., content - what one values) with emphasis on the eight levels and an over-emphasized color code. By superimposing SD on his 2x2 matrix model, he continues to miss the essence of this point of view. The question so central to Gravesian studies - the how and why one values - continues to elude him. He does a fine job of criticizing his own misconceptions, but little that reaches the actual model. 

No doubt Wilber will soon dismiss SD altogether - i.e., his own glib and ill-informed rendition of it - as being flawed and too simplistic. We couldn't agree more, on those terms. What will be sad is that he will likely frame the model as an over-engineered typology that misses the big picture which his work, in his opinion, encompasses far better. (It's not a competition, folks.) There will be charges that SD is not what we have never claimed it is - a stairway to enlightenment or sure path to heightened spiritual planes; that was others' marketing, not ours, and we've been troubled with it since day one. 

To our deep regret and disappointment, it seems that Wilber still has not found the essence of either the biopsychosocial systems theory or its application, remaining at a superficial level and criticizing both for failure to be panaceas. As he moves through his sequence of recreations of himself, Wilber will surely slough off SD - his rendition of it as he understands it, that is - and transcend to pick up something else. Too bad he doesn't seem willing to recognize change in others: SD1996 isn't the same as SD2006, either. And what a shame that the essential Graves point of view has been largely omitted from such a popular niche writer's works and its artifacts instead recast and spread about as something lightweight and hollow, a mess for others to try and clean up. 

Despite some suggestions otherwise, SD is not a spiritual practice. It's not a stairway to godliness; it's a process of emergent psychologies of the mature adult human being in operation - an approach to finding answers, not THE answer to anything. Godliness is a different dimension. Dr. Graves probably couldn't have meditated himself out of a paper bag and was not especially interested in the esoteric consciousness studies that fascinated many of his humanistic and transpersonal-oriented peers. His curiosity was more as to why they were so fascinated, and whom transpersonal approaches might help and why. Rooted in his theory, SD is not a systematic theology. It is not a category scheme or quadrant model. There are more than enough of those already, though we would propose that the means and motives of most can be better understood with the addition of a Graves-like window.  

Using meditation as an example, the question is not 'to meditate or not to meditate?' The more Gravesian question is: why might someone choose to meditate, how would they think about the practice, why might such practice impact them, and what changes might it effect in their being? Or not? How does meditative practice impact people at various levels of psychological existence? What other forms of spiritual practice fit people centralized differently? Just like Gravesian management, the study is of congruence and facilitating transitions when and if they are appropriate, not setting a target destination and pushing people that way. 

Let us be clear that we do greatly appreciate the fact that many fine, intelligent, and well-informed people have first met SD and emergent, cyclical theory through philosopher/pundit Wilber's writings, and we welcome their interest. (We've also come across a few fanatics and cultish true believers who take Ken's writings as inerrant gospel to be defended at all costs, the organizing principle of their lives; plus a few equally devoted to undoing him as if he were a diabolical figure rather than just a writer/philosopher with the right to speak his piece.) We extend our sincere thanks for the publicity he has given to Dr. Graves's work and the name recognition of SD in the market segment he reaches. We have personally enjoyed his musings since the 1970's, some of which were brilliant and insightful. As a philosophical assimilator/compiler, Ken is hard to beat, and he has done some important original work making connections and promoting connectedness. Thus, the more disappointment in his treatment of this work.

Although we're listed as critics of the thin-skinned Mr. Wilber by himself and on one prominent website dedicated to his work, our criticism only extends to his rendition of SD and Graves, and with considerable irritation with the way he has chosen to do it; beyond that, we really couldn't care less and leave it to others to speak up for work that matters to them, or to dig into the phase-shifting opinions of Ken for themselves. We really haven't doubted his overall positive intentions, nor the good intentions of most of his followers who seek a better world. We suspect he has not been particularly well served by those close to him in this matter, and have come to be more skeptical about the whole thing. 

We do remain convinced that if he had chosen to learn more about this point of view in a less narrow-minded way, Wilber wouldn't be in a position of needing to 'transcend and discard' a deficient and twisted version of SD, one of his own construction thanks, apparently, to poor teaching. Either way, though, we do believe strongly enough in the core Gravesian notions that having them more known and accessible - so long as they aren't messed up too badly in the adaptation - is better than keeping the theory shut away or demanding absolute purity; this, too, is a work in progress, not a fixated body of doctrinal truth. 

It should be clear by now that we have no direct connection with Mr. Wilber or his front organization, the Integral Institute. We do not necessarily support nor have we been consulted about what he has chosen to write of Spiral Dynamics and Dr. Graves's theory in context of his so-called "integral" work. Offers to be of assistance were declined with the comment that he was quite satisfied with his sources which included Don Beck and Jenny Wade(?). Some of what he has written of SD is OK and some is definitely not, in our opinion, wobbling between a somewhat puny representation of the theory to simply awful distortions echoing neoconservative nonsense. Thus, we again need to say that we do not count Ken Wilber among the authorities on this model, though his interest in exploiting it is obvious and many of his more devout followers will surely take offense at such a blasphemous statement in the belief that Wilber created Spiral Dynamics rather than assimilated bits of it. 

Too much of Mr. Wilber's writing about SD distorts the model to inject his political and social opinions, something we find incredibly wasteful and tiresome because a writer of his skills could have done it so much better had he wanted to. Documents like the "Boomeritis" excerpts on his website and the book, Boomeritis, twist the theory and contain cheesy over-simplifications and biases, perhaps gleaned from his choice of sources or his own life experiences, which reflect neither the nuances nor the intent of this theory very well. He can hold whatever opinions he wants to; we only become disturbed when they are then erroneously attached to Spiral Dynamics and Graves. 

In that book (Boomeritis, which rings loud and clear of marketing and promotion for his organization), there is frequent confusion of values (content) with Value Systems (containers). He also seems to have trouble differentiating the levels of psychological existence from personality traits - always a difficult task - and grossly misunderstands and overplays the "tier" notion; shuts down the open-ended aspect in favor of a target end state (like the Utopianism trap); crams in his spiritual views as if they were inherent in SD or the Gravesian theory; and frequently confuses the eight hypothetical nodal states with the transitional conditions, as well as with each other. Simply put, he doesn't seem to understand what's Orange (E-R), Green (F-S), Yellow (G-T or A'N'), and Turquoise (HU or B'-O') very well, so readers are cautioned to rely on his SD theory representations with great care, popular as it might be. Finally, Wilber and his followers tend to claim any and all good ideas as "Integral" or Second Tier, and attribute the bad to their fabrication, "mean Green," a misconstruing of Red as the seat of violence and aggressiveness, or merely to the First Tier - quite a combination. We find much of it seriously misleading, as well as offensive. 

Frankly, it appears that Wilber and his group have tried to force SD into their model of the world and political views, and in the process they pollute and constrain it. We do wish he could have learned to differentiate between memes and vMemes (i.e., behavioral traits and ideas from the reasoning and the existential states behind them) when citing SD and stopped confusing readers with sloppy and confusing terminology. (See FAQ comments on "Mean Green Meme," a construction which pulls bits of DQ, ER, FS, and transitional elements into a grand demonic put-down.) 

Much of the material demonstrates a very limited grasp of the underlying theory; and although he's not always wrong in his use of SD, Ken has been wrong on technicalities far more often than there's any excuse for. He either failed to do his homework or only got superficial (or misleading) instruction in the theory. Thus, the supposed SD foundation on which Wilber and his followers build so many arguments is fundamentally, fatally flawed; and those who parrot it without going back to Graves start off with some erroneous assumptions and waste time that could be spent on developing and applying the theory well rather than rehashing mistakes, rediscovering the knowns, or reduction to lame stereotypes and chronological traps.  

While he might have had our former partner's collaboration in much of this, Ken Wilber has not sought nor accepted ours, nor has he had our permission to lift large pieces of text from the 1996 Spiral Dynamics book, or to use the trademarked name as he has to turn it into a knock-off generic - once called 'the lingua franca of the integral movement.' Readers of the SD book should note that some of the materials he has copied essentially verbatim would not even be included were the SD book being properly redone today, especially some rather poor and over-simplistic examples for the levels described as "Where Found" because a great deal more has been learned about the theory since the writing in 1994-5 which is not reflected in that volume. Sadly, those errors remain uncorrected in the forthcoming paperback version for contractual reasons. While much of the theory in the book stands up fine, there are also some serious problems with some of the examples which are naive, simplistic, and inaccurate. Having spent two years working on The Never Ending Quest and digging deeply into both Graves's writings and those of his sources, we find some glaring errors in previous renditions of Spiral Dynamics which we are trying to address. 

Some have argued that complaints like these are just sour grapes and whining because we were cut out of the loop while integral took off; we suggest otherwise. (See note below for Mr. Wilber's opinion.) It's both questioning the tactics of such a unilateral assimilation and recognizing that Wilber's approach introduces great confusion to novice and experienced readers, alike. That impacts our work negatively because, in so many places, the impressive-sounding junk and authoritative false claims must be undone and untaught if the integrity of the SD model is to be protected and students helped to understand Graves accurately so as to carry it forward and test it from a sound footing. 

Many people doing a web search have come to see SD as quasi-spiritual mumbo-jumbo rather than a useful theory of human behavior that can apply to many realms of life from personal growth to business and politic, including religion. Many others get stuck with a color-coded eight-step typological staircase most useful for assaulting critics instead of the overlapping moving sidewalks and fields the theory suggests, and thus reject the model as categorical junk. There's no excuse for it, really, any more than for attaching SD to New Age cults and charlatany. For Wilber and his publisher, "integral" does not include checking with both co-authors/owners of intellectual property before playing so fast and loose with it, or bothering to consult with the person who originally wrote a great many of the passages he quotes to see if they stand up a decade later. In our view, it's a sloppy and lazy imitation of scholarship. 

Obviously, from this discussion, we are troubled and angered by the wholly non-'integral' approach to incorporating Spiral Dynamics materials into the Wilberian, integral oeuvre (see above), and believe it reflects poorly on Ken Wilber and even worse on his associates who have enabled the approach. Our abiding concern has been that SD would be absorbed Borg-like, distorted, misunderstood, and then tossed aside as a passing gimmick to be replaced by something new like a once-favored toy in a child's toy box that is loved briefly then broken, instructions unread, and relegated to neglect and abuse through no fault of its own. The child moves on to pick up some shiny new interest-du-jour to repeat the cycle.

Given Mr. Wilber's remarkable intellectual abilities, whatever his temperament, and some of the decent stuff his movement is catalyzing, his overviews of SD/Graves theory could, and should, have been far more constructive. We wish we could heartily recommend his summations as sound introductions to SD; alas, we cannot. Now that he and his crew are hitting the seminar trail with his version of things, we can only await reports. Perhaps they will discover what they've missed by not studying Graves more carefully and work to undo some damage like responsible scholars. Or perhaps, like a swarm of over-intellectualized polysyllabic locusts, they will simply devour and then move on without looking back, leaving the stalks of useful ideas stripped bare to recover if they can. We shall see. 

[Note: Mr. Wilber went on the offensive against us in an ill-informed diatribe posted to his blog on June 8, 2006. While we believe the statements of theoretical position appearing in this FAQ more than adequately explain the serious problems with his rendition of SD/Graves for the competent student, readers will find an allegorical response to his rant cast around the Old West imagery he chose for his hit piece by clicking here. Happy trails. For a more substantive discussion using his rant as an instructive case study for the benefit of serious students of SD and Graves, click here.] 

Further reading on this topic:

Other topics including audio clips of Clare Graves and link to the "mean green" research:

Rebuttals and reactions to Wilber's approach and the "integral" movement:

Problems with Spiral Dynamics are addressed in our newsletters (see October 2003 and March 2005)


Do you have any connection with Andrew Cohen's organization or their What is Enlightenment magazine?

None whatsoever, though our former partner apparently does. They, along with the Wilber "Integral" crowd, now buy paid links on Google trying to attach themselves to Spiral Dynamics in various ways, a ploy we find troubling. We have neither agreed to nor been a party to their moves, and find much of what WIE has presented regarding SD disturbing and worse. Powerful marketing does not equate with good information. From our perspective, we do not see SD as a spiritual path in itself, as a typology to be used to sort people's worth, nor as a route to transcendence, though it can be enlightening now and then. 

What the theory does is help to explain why some people would be attracted to such explorations and to gurus and cults while others are not, and how they would tend to organize and behave in their pursuits. The theory elaborates the needs that produce movements, the forms they are likely to assume, and the problems and benefits true belief can produce. 

SD/Graves also lays out how different approaches to the spiritual / mystical fit people centralized at various levels, and why we think about the metaphysical in various ways. In the interests of disclosure, we once tried to place a small paid ad in What is Enlightenment? Magazine announcing our books, but were refused on the grounds that it might jeopardize their relationship with our ex-partner. Thus our further objections to their exploitation of paid search engine banner links using the Spiral Dynamics trademark.

Note: Anyone confounded by or interested in the often-contradictory behavior of assorted wizards and gurus might consider looking at Geoffrey D. Falk's blog and book, Stripping the Gurus, for a counter-point to some of the well-spun propaganda in the marketplace of ideas. Self-confessed narcissist Sam Vaknin's work in Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Re-visited, also sheds a great deal of light. While Vaknin makes no false claims of being a psychologist or even a mental health professional, his observations are quite useful. Finally, Tim Field's work on bullying adds insights on a sometimes-related phenomenon. Finally, we continue to strongly recommend a review of Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis as a tool for understanding some of the interpersonal and intra-organizational aspects of the SD world.

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