In a recent post I speculated on the future of U.S. (and to a lesser degree Canadian, as we always seem to be in the wake of the giant) cultural development. I said that it was unlikely that American cultural development would go back to the pre-rational, socially conservative values that are currently echoing, sometimes prominently, in certain corners of the U.S. It was unlikely, I said, that society would go back 60 or 100 years to more intolerance or to more theocratical rigidity. It was more likely to remain on its current trajectory towards more tolerance, liberalism and egalitarianism. In Integral terms, it was more likely to progress from Orange to Green than it was to fall back into Amber or Red, even though it is those Amber and Red forces that you find in the Tea Party and in Social Conservatism.
However, this is not a sure thing. There are strong historical cases of cultures backsliding and they seem to have some common characteristics.
When a society takes a step to elevate its developmental stage, in cases where the existing stage is not solidly consolidated in a healthy way, or if there is not yet a large enough critical mass in order to enact the shift, there is a clear danger that the result may be a devolution to a lower stage rather than an evolution to a higher one.
For example, if an Amber culture, based on traditional values and organized around smaller groups such as communities, religions or tribes, is pushed into an Orange stage before it is ready to do so, it may very well end up in Red. A defensive posture in order to defend threatened values may result in backpeddling to a very ego-centric stance. Also, the desire to become more rational or modern may easily become confused with individuality and supremacy of the ego. We see this in the supposedly Orange philosophy of Ayn Rand. One of her books was titled The Virtue of Selfishness. That is a fairly clear indictment, supported by the contents of her novels which celebrated individualism and routinely condemned altruism in all forms. What was seemingly a rush towards Orange rationalism and a more nation-centric world view became weighted down and confused with more ego-centric values.
It is also seen in the Russian Revolution and even in the French Revolution. In the Russian Revolution, Marxism, whether you accept it as a viable political/economic system or not, was an attempt to bring Russia into a more modern, Orange (and perhaps even a Green) stage, from a very dysfunctional Amber, traditional stage. The result was a brief step forward, followed by ten steps back. The country was far from ready for a sudden upward transition, and so their revolution devolved into Stalinist Russia, a very Red (ironically) society based on individual power and force. The French Revolution required several false starts, thwarted first by internal political intrigue and then by the rise of Napoleon. Had France not been so close to other European countries, their fate may easily have been the same as the much more isolated Russia. As it was, there were other political power situations which allowed France to recuperate from its false starts and eventually get to where it was trying to go. This is a lesson in Integral politics which we would do well to remember in light of present day revolutions.
We see the same thing in the revolutions, rebellions and civil wars that are currently in the news. Libya, Egypt, Syria, Ukraine. We see each of these countries trying to rise themselves up to a higher developmental altitude, usually from Amber to Orange, but the process seems to falter, with false starts, setbacks and lots of mistakes. This is all normal, even when the process isn’t hindered by a faulty base stage. But especially if the traditional Amber values are not healthy, as is the case in Syria, the transition is going to be messy. There is a real threat that Red factions, purporting to represent traditional Amber values, will supplant the efforts towards progress. This is because the Amber, traditional, tribal mentality has not been sufficiently accommodated in the “new order”.
The United States is an example of where the same transition was reasonably smooth (although one can’t really say the same for their current transition from Orange to Green). The reason that the American Revolution was as smooth as it seems to have been can probably be attributed to the fact that it had a huge frontier. Those people who wanted to remain at a Red or low Amber stage just moved west. This is a luxury that more developed countries don’t have. Even here, though, if you look beyond the patriotic gloss of their history, you can see that the American Revolution was far from a painless transition and occurred with much discussion and in several waves.
What we’re seeing now in the U.S. political and cultural scene is American Orange transcending to Green, but in danger of falling back to Amber. Orange is the most common level in the U.S., or at least among those with some political or economic power. It is the stage of rationalism, capitalism and nationalism. Green is the more liberal, pluralistic element emerging in American society, which began decades ago with equal racial and gender rights, which now is pushing the rights regarding sexual orientation, which has fuelled the emergence of ObamaCare, and which is seen in the emerging concerns over income inequality. These are all Green values. At the same time there are rumblings from the Red/Amber level, seen in the policies and beliefs of the Tea Party and many vocal social conservatives. It is such a reactionary recoil that it has produced the kind of undemocratic legislation as we’re seeing in Arizona right now. It is the politics of desperation.
Transitions need time to evolve properly. Sometimes, a lot of time. We shouldn’t expect Egypt, for example, to transform into a fully modern state over night. And Libya even less so. Like France, it may take several waves of rebellion before they get it right.
In the U.S., it may be that Green reforms are progressing too quickly for the Red elements in the culture. That’s not to say that I oppose reform, but perhaps the fears of the more traditional element need some consideration. We have to remember that the best transitions occur when former values find at least a partial home within the new values, and when there is a functional bridge connecting the old and new levels. There are many traditional values worth retaining, and which should, perhaps, get more attention. Rubbing Red/Amber noses in Green egalitarianism just doesn’t work. If it’s not done right there is the real possibility of backlash and the social conservatives getting stronger rather than weaker. There’s lots of examples in history to support that possibility.
Of all of the values that are cherished by Red/Amber, the one that plays best into Orange and even Green is the value of individual hard work. A frequent devolution of Amber into Red in the name of Orange is criticism of welfare and assistance to the poor. Red feels slighted by the person who receives assistance while doing nothing to better them self or contribute to society. Orange sees the benefits of assisting in lifting people out of poverty and Green wants to end suffering. How do all of those differing values become reconciled? Orange needs to take hold of the situation and apply responsible reason to it. Red needs to be reassured that the assistance given to such individuals is done in a way that help them escape their plight and become contributing members of society. (Of course there will always be people whose challenges or disabilities will prevent that from happening, but these are the exceptions.) Assistance should be tied to retraining or to some kind of token work that the disadvantaged individual can perform. All of this should happen, not only to appease the Red critics, but also to help people in ways that are in line with Orange and Green values. A person who contributes and betters themself is going to have more self esteem and is much more likely to lift themself out of the disadvantaged situation. I’m not saying that people receiving “entitlements” are going to get lazy. I’m saying that when aid is provided in a calculated way, the journey to better oneself is far easier. By valuing individual hard work and carrying it over in the transition from Amber to Orange to Green, a proven positive characteristic is retained, the higher stages are better for it, and the Red/Amber stages are less likely to feel unvalued and disenfranchised.
A calculated application of values across the stages becomes a bridge that will help in a smoother transcendence.