Spiral Dynamics continued – Blue, orange and green

Blue is devout, rule-following, self-sacrificing, all about the greater good, but then newly individualist Orange comes in, breaks away from the “herd” of Blue, puts on some heels and dances the night away!

From Spiral Dynamics – The eight stage spiral of development

According to 2002 figures, 35 – 40% of the world’s population was at Blue. Remember, we include facets of each stage as we progress to the next. i.e. we all still have a little bit of everything we’ve experienced so far, like our own personal colour chart or private rainbow.

Religion and spirituality seems to be an integral part of the human experience but it manifests differently in each stage. Blues are often devout in their beliefs. While many ‘lose their religion’ in the shift to Orange it’s not a universal feature, but the filter through which we view our beliefs will shift if the belief doesn’t drop altogether.

Most of us love sitting around a camp fire, lighting candles, going into nature. Perhaps these are the Beige echoes of our earliest ancestors. Devotees meditating in a cave their whole life is a Purple expression as are our love for crystals and ritual. Extremists committing acts of terrorism or self-immolation would be considered Red and I’d include protesters at Family Planning clinics here, too. Red also manifests as jealousy and road rage, Missionaries are Blue, as are the everyday people who like to attend organised religious services or observe rituals set out in holy texts. Blue also manifests in the tribe-like love fans have for their favourite teams, but the money side of sport is pure orange as are the megachurches and wealthy tv-evangelists.

The Industrial Revolution ushered in the Achievist stage (Orange in Spiral Dynamics (SD) or Modern stage in Integral Theory (IT) underpinned by Materialism, the belief that only the observable exists and everything (including facts about the human mind and will and the course of human history) are causally dependent upon physical processes, or even reducible to them. (Britannica) What it boils down to is if you can show me, I’ll believe you. If it’s un-quantifiable I don’t want to know! Materialism is often conflated with consumerism, or what we call the Shiny-Thing-Syndrome, but the first definitely gave rise to the second.

Social media is an Orange phenomenon as are malls and McMansions (those big houses out in the suburbs with columns and fountains. Think of the house in Gone Girl), Those 2002 figures put 30% of the world’s population at Orange and I think now half of those are Instagram Influencers and Digital Nomads. The theme of Orange is Act in your own self-interest by playing the game to win. Orange shows up as a desire to Live Our Best Life, attend Tony Robbins seminars, get a degree/new car/cosmetic surgery/likes on social media.

The art of Orange is everything from Warhol’s Soup Cans right back to the 16th Century styles of non-religious art common to The Netherlands. Oil paintings of ships, stately homes, elegant ladies and gentlemen, and still-lives featuring opulent fruits and wine were commissioned to display the (often new) wealth of the owners. Orange still exists in the art world in the motivations of many rock-star artists (Hirst, Hockney) and collectors who are willing to ‘snap up Van Gogh’s for the price of a hospital wing’ to quote Del Amitri.

Aelbert Cuyp, Dutch, 1620 – 1691, The Maas at Dordrecht, c. 1650, oil on canvas. NGA.

While his VP is pure Blue, the current president of the USA has predominantly Orange attributes, and that’s not just his spray tan. Orange is skyscrapers, advertising, reality TV, production lines, yes, but then during the Orange era humanity has abolished slavery, promoted mass education for children rather than sending them down coal-mines and the Vote for women. Many developing countries are experiencing Orange en masse for the first time in history as western materialism reaches their shores. To be fair, we’re doing it for cheap holidays, labour and resources to fuel the Orange lifestyle, they’re doing it for the health care, decent housing and clean water and those things are only necessary due to the destruction of the environment by Orange. sigh…

The irony is that first-world jobs are being lost to developing countries leading to new areas of poverty in first world countries. What happens if someone has reached into stage Orange and seen all those lovely possibilities and freedoms and is unable to access them due to poverty? Disaster is just around the corner. The GFC was caused by greed and abuses of those freedoms leaving lots of people to scratch their heads and ask ‘what now?’ In the last few years we’ve seen rioting and looting in major capital cities due to inequality.

So…what now?

I’m back to those figures – They estimate that Less than 10% are at Beige – subsistence farmers, slum tenants, refugees, less than 10% are at Purple – think of the Balinese with their ancient rituals and animistic culture and apparently still around 20% at Red – New Guinean, Amazonian, Indonesian tribes but also organised crime and drug cartels, gangs, those calling for walls to divide us. This is worldwide and these numbers will shift as people in these stages are more susceptible to displacement, food insecurity and ill health. Consider the millions of Nigerian citizens who have been pushed back into Beige (from all of the above stages) as their food supply disappeared in the first weeks of Covid-19 lock down. 25 million people face starvation in Nigeria this year. The turbulent times we find ourselves in have caused upheaval in the upper stages as well as the lower. We were very fortunate here in Australia but even developed countries like the USA experienced huge disruption in their food supply chain this year.

I think the GFC was just a practice run. We are facing a new crisis in the form of a post-Covid world economy, and Orange needs to up its game. The shift from Blue to Orange is often a by-product of our modern consumerist culture (getting a job, saving for our first car, deciding church might not be for us…) but the shift from Orange to Green is a little more complex. And the heart and collective agenda of Green is needed now more than ever.

Those 2002 figures had Green at less than 10% but that has surely shifted, I would suggest more than doubled. Green values have started showing up all over the place with Me Too, Black Lives Matter and the vast number of people dropping animal products from their diets.

Integral Theory calls this stage Post-Modern. With Green we shift back into the Collective, quite literally, as much of the information surrounding environmentalism, plant-based lifestyles, BLM, LGBTQI rights, etc has been spread through the internet. The theme is Seek Peace within the inner self and explore, with others, the caring dimensions of community. There has definitely been some new caring within the community as people wake up to the damage humans are doing to the environment and each other but we could do with a lot more inner self work. This inner work is the key not just to ‘growing up’ as Ken Wilber calls it, but to our very survival as a species.

In Green, we are prepared to stand up for the rights of people we don’t even know. We put rainbow flags on our cars or social media accounts to say we are allies or members of that community. We are prepared to write letters, to donate to causes, to recycle, to plant trees, to turn up on a Sunday morning to clean the beach. We eat clean, we re-use our bags. We are prepared to be the only one in our family who isn’t racist or homophobic. We are prepared to protest.

The Black Lives Matter protests were very different from the anti-lock down or anti-mask protests in that the BLM protesters, many of whom were not Black or People of Colour, are demanding a systemic change while the anti-lock down and mask protesters were against what they saw as an infringement on their personal freedoms, a very Orange thing to do. The fact that many of those protesting lock down early on wore masks is not lost on me.

How do we get to Green? Social media has played a huge part in this. The dissemination of information has helped people leave cults and controlling religions like The Church of the Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Before the invention of the internet people in closed communities had little opportunity to access material counter to their beliefs. I watched an interview a few years ago with singer/songwriter Tal Bachman, a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He went on a two-year mission to Argentina, but after two years of research into that church’s origins, Bachman concluded that the church’s founder Joseph Smith had invented his stories, and severed his ties to that church.

Being curious and open to learning new things is the key to our continuing evolution as a species.

I think marriage equality shifted a lot of Australians to the beginnings of green, Years ago, a very Blue Prime Minister John Howard fiddled with the marriage act changing it from joining ‘two people’ to ‘a man and a woman‘ which required a multi-million dollar, divisive plebiscite to remedy. I think of the shift to Green as a heart-centred breakthrough. You can’t be reasoned out of something you weren’t reasoned into, you have to have a seismic world-view shift. The now-pro-choice former Republican voter whose wife needed a life-saving curette that was illegal even though the baby had died. The families who have opened their hearts and welcomed the partners of their children regardless of orientation. The millions who saw the videos of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery being murdered and said Enough! I became a vegetarian when my cat died. I was so sad that he suffered and died scared and alone and then realised that millions of animals do that every year so humans can eat them. Sometimes we need to be shocked out of our cosy Orange life.

We need to break open.


Leonard Cohen ~ Anthem

I’ll leave this here for now and the next post will discuss the shift from Green to Yellow and beyond.

Further reading – https://www.thenextevolution.com/spiral-dynamics/