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Angus Douglas
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Marxism versus Spiral Dynamics Integral

16 November 2015, 15:13

Marxism versus Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi)

Marx believed his theory transcended ideology: “Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.” Marx was a wonderful writer. He researched like hell, and had a compelling style that not only described the world, but called men to action. And act they did.

Is there another theory that could, like Marxism, overturn current paradigms and change the way we see the world? Adult Stage Development theory doesn’t have the same romantic appeal as Marxism; adherents will not be found dying for the cause. But it may just become as influential in the 21st century as Marxism was in the 20th century. Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) is one of many adult stage development theories, and it’s as good as any. It combines the thinking of Ken Wilber, Clare Graves and Don Beck. It has particular relevance to South Africa; in the ‘80s Don Beck tested the theory by applying it to conflict resolution in this country.

Marx put work at the centre of his theory: “When communist artisans associate with one another… the brotherhood of man is no mere phrase with them, but a fact of life, and the nobility of man shines upon us from their work-hardened bodies.” Marx glorified hands-on work, as opposed to the type he specialised in.  As an airy thinker myself, I understand Marx’s frustration with his chosen profession. No wonder he projected such dignity onto those who never had to wield a pen in anger. For Marx the capitalist system, with workers at the bottom of the pile, has it exactly wrong. He saw those atop the economic food-chain as mere manipulators of capital; adding no real value, keeping noble workers oppressed with clever bourgeois ideology. He foresaw a communist state that would restore the natural order, workers taking control of the heights of the economy, ushering in an earthly paradise of equality and brotherhood.

Things didn’t quite work out like that. Marx or no Marx, you can’t do away with the managerial / professional class. In spite of the herculean efforts of Lenin, Mao, Castro and the rest, the bourgeois and their values have won out. Workers of the world have been united not in their fight against capitalism, but in their desire to become middle class. The left has been as effective in slowing the relentless march of consumerism as King Canute in ordering back the waves.

Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi), and other adult development approaches, can explain all the anomalies that Marxism can’t – and much more besides. We needn’t carry on insisting the sun revolves around the earth. SDi will do for 21st century political pundits what Copernicus did for medieval scientists.

Adult stage development theory is premised on the fact that it’s not only children who go through stages of development. Adults develop or ‘evolve’ in order to adapt to a changing environment. There are various terms to describe this: ‘cultural evolution’, ‘evolution of personality’ (Jan Smuts’ term); ‘evolution of consciousness’.

Consciousness is where it’s at. What makes us different to rocks, trees, or chimpanzees is our consciousness, or rather the greater potential of our consciousness. Our brains are consciousness machines – the most complex, capable, consciousness machines on the planet. If there is any meaning to life, it is that consciousness be allowed its full enfoldment through us. Common sense tells us that a ‘good’ person is someone whose self- pre-occupation does not stop them from caring for others. The very good care about everyone: Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa. The evolved consciousness we so admire in our saints takes a certain intelligence - the ability to connect to, and feel a oneness with, the inner worlds of others.  

Ultimate intelligence is when all identity falls away and we rest in the very essence of what we are, i.e. consciousness. No more object, no more subject. What’s this got to do with SDi you may ask? SDi is a theory that puts consciousness at the centre. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ actions are defined by whether they help expand consciousness, or cause it to contract. Why is racism wrong? According to SDi it’s wrong because it constricts our circle of care and concern. It’s a contraction of consciousness, a rather serious one, to care only for those who share your racial features. Expanded consciousness finds commonality, it seeks understanding and oneness. The most expansive expression of consciousness is Love – and that’s why it’s so freeing. Jesus did not say “Love thy neighbor, but only if he’s the same race as you.” Liberalism, in the way it encourages acceptance of the other, is the ideological manifestation of expanded consciousness.

SDi provides a map of how individuals and societies progress along the developmental path towards what Ken Wilber calls “Kosmic Consciousness”, whereby personal concerns – be they physical, psychological or emotional – recede to the point of irrelevance. This is the reward of the expanded state – no more suffering; we are open and free.  According to SDi this ‘second tier’ person is not interested in self-aggrandizement, does not fear the slings and arrows directed at the ego, and is not particularly worried about dying. Their locus of concern is for the world; they care about awakening all beings to the radiant glow of consciousness. They feel compassion for those stuck in pain, suffering, greed, anger and other contractions and distortions of the spirit.

Unfortunately these people are rare. Almost all of us are in ‘first tier’, and we’re focused on subsisting – fulfilling physical and egoic needs – as we have been since the start of the human journey.

Marx’s vision of utopia may yet come true, but it won’t happen by the sword. It’ll happen when enough people realise the very truth of their situation, and stop bowing to the god of ego, the god of order, the god of status and acclaim. It’ll happen when a critical mass of people devote themselves to the Truth behind the flickering of the furthest star, the tingling of the smallest sensation, the punchline to the great cosmic joke – Consciousness.

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