Ken Wilber part 2: Worldview-Values

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The second bit that I picked up from Ken Wilber (see Part 1 below for the first) is an insightful analysis of what might be called worldview-values. He calls them waves or memes, and he assigns colors to them for shorthand. Here is his description of the succession of colors on the first level:

"beige: instinctual; purple: magical-animistic, tribal; red: egocentric, power, feudalistic; blue: mythic-membership, conformist, fundamentalist, ethnocentric, traditional; orange: excellence, achievement, progress, modern; green: postmodern, multicultural, sensitive, pluralistic."

Then he describes two colors on the second level: "yellow: systemic, flexible, flowing; turquoise: cosmic unity, integrative, nested hierarchies of interrelationships, one-in-many holism."

Once blue was conservative, and orange was liberal. In the Enlightenment, John Locke and others led the way in moving toward ideas of equality for everyone, etc. The conservatives of the time resisted. Orange has basically won the day in enough ways that neo-conservatives are a mix of blue and orange. A few holdovers (e.g. perhaps Pat Buchanan and other paleo-conservatives) are closer to a pure blue. On the popular level, many who vote Republican really are pure blue, usually indicated by their total opposition to anything Democrates might say simply because it's coming from a Democrat. (Sometimes this is even red. Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads might sometimes be in this category.)

Liberals are now orange-green. Academic postmodernism is what Wilber calls pathological green or flatlander green. It seeks inclusiveness in a way that blue won't tolerate in its pure form (and even orange has trouble with this when it comes to people who don't embrace orange values). Yet it goes too far. It sees no distinctions between better and worse values, which Wilber says is like shooting your parents before you existed. Green comes about only because people see inclusiveness and acceptance as better values than the colors that preceded it. Then once it's accepted, pathological green excludes all values that aren't green.

Wilber's main criticism of liberals (in addition to what I said in the post below) is that they flatten all distinctions, ignore the essential value of blue for society in moving reds to higher levels (e.g. the nihilism of younger GenXers leading to such tragedies as Columbine, the gang culture in inner cities). More extreme greens don't even see the value of orange in moving blues to higher levels (e.g. those intolerant to the extreme of killing people for being gay, Al Qaeda brand red-blue terrorism). Any anti-Bush rhetoric you'll find nowadays is typical of the sort of thing he says is flatland green.

His main criticism of conservatives is that they need to be able to move more toward orange-green. Neo-conservatives have absorbed many orange values already, embracing equal opportunity, seeing the value of accepting immigrants into the United States, etc., which paleo-conservatives feel threatened by. What they don't as often do (as evidenced by the argument against affirmative action based on calling it reverse discrimination) is see other values systems as worth understanding, even alternative blue or orange ones. It's one thing to decry terrorism or the Soviet brand of communism as bad. It's quite another to deny that anything behind such regimes reflects good values. For what it's worth, the current administration does have some of these green elements, and Wilber acknowledges it. Bush clearly wanted to reach out to Latinos during the election. He picked a cabinet that better reflects the ethnic diversity of the United States than any previous president had, including the very green Bill Clinton. Finally, he has insisted, at the protest of many blues, that Islam is a peaceful religion. These are all green traits, and people who know him believe he genuinely has these values.

There seems to me to be something just plain right about this way of looking at things, and these criticisms of liberal and conservative tendencies seem right. I think conservatives under Bush's leadership are doing far better at doing what he says needs to be done than liberals are. This is exactly the kind of evaluation that I think needs to be done. That the country is so divided right now (and vitriolically attacking each other) shows that most of the thinking is being done at the first level, acting out these values without actually reflecting on them and without reflecting on the importance of the other values. I don't know if I would endorse what Wilber goes on to say from here, but this sort of work is incredibly helpful in thinking about the current scene. Unfortunately, it's ridiculously torturous to try to read Wilber, so I'm hoping someone who cares enough about this stuff is willing to popularize it.

4 Comments

Thanks for breaking the colors down. I'm slogging (slowly trudging) through A Brief History of Everything and I'm always glad to find someone else who has read the work. Thanks for this little snippet, it has been very helpful.

I haven't actually read that book (or any of his books, for that matter). I've spent several hours looking through Wilber's website, and I've had numerous, detailed conversations with a friend who has read a lot of Wilber.

Thanks for the blog...this is very helpful in the comparison of the colors. I am looking for a discussion of the difference between the "healthy" green and the "sick" green...I agree with what you said
" That the country is so divided right now (and vitriolically attacking each other) shows that most of the thinking is being done at the first level, acting out these values without actually reflecting on them and without reflecting on the importance of the other values..."
I'm so glad to read others are embracing Wilbur's work.

I think "embracing" is a little strong. I find some value in these categorizations, and I think his analysis is in some places very insightful. In other places I strongly disagree with him.

Back when I was spending some time thinking in Wilber's terms, I did write two posts applying these concepts to specific areas, Eco-Imperialists and Feminist Gender Roles. Both of those posts discuss the how I think the sick green works itself out in those particular cases. In the latter case, I suspect Wilber would not endorse my view, but I haven't read him on that. In the former he'd probably agree with me.

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