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Climate, Culture, and Consciousness: Growing Green

August 17, 2009 11 comments

Hurricanes, tsunamis, drought, global warming, melting icecaps, eradication of biodiversity—to many of us, these harbingers of our planet’s seemingly imminent environmental meltdown are becoming more and more apparent each year, while the need for effective and enforceable sustainability policies on a global scale are becoming more and more urgent. And as is usually the case with human development, we find ourselves locked into the dialectic of good news/bad news, with our own fate as a species quite possibly hanging in the balance.  First, the depressingly bad: the very notion of ecological sustainability requires at least a worldcentric set of values—yet according to research over 70% of the world exists at egocentric or ethnocentric waves of development, rendering “one-person-one-vote” types of democracy miserably incapable when it comes to saving the human race from itself.  How, then, can we possibly develop and implement the policies that we so desperately need?

Despite considerable tension and even aversion in green communities to the subject, we cannot talk about “going green” without making it a discussion about growth through various hierarchies of human development.  Really, the subject of growth should come as second nature to “green” thinkers and communities—after all, a blade of grass must grow to two inches before it can grow to six; a tree must grow from acorn to sapling before it can someday become a mighty oak.  In much the same way, our consciousness, our values, and our cultures must also move through several distinct stages of growth before we can even begin to even see the problem, let alone care enough to do anything about it.

In other words, “going green” really means “growing green,” and represents the crux of almost all the global issues we presently face: it’s not a problem of human imagination, technological innovation, or even political will—it’s a problem of human growth.

A simple way to explain human growth through stages of developmental unfolding is to say that, with each successive stage, we see an increased capacity for complexity, compassion, consciousness, and the number of perspectives one can take. For example, in consciousness development, one goes from the ability to take only a 1st-person perspective, to also being able to take a 2nd-person perspective, to also being able to take a 3rd-person perspective, and so on. Thus, in this example, you can see that the capacity for love increases (from being able to love only me, to being able to love us, to being able to love all of us, to being able to love all sentient beings….). For convenience, the stages of development follow the natural colors of the rainbow, so you’ll often hear us refer to degree of development or degree of consciousness or degree of capacity to love, etc. by a particular color of the rainbow.

“Green” consciousness actually represents one of the most highly evolved stages of consciousness currently available to humanity, and can only be achieved after moving through a succession of previous stages.  While these stages must be held lightly in our minds, understanding that human beings are far too complex to be easily pigeonholed into these sorts of categories, they nonetheless represent very real measurements of personal and cultural growth.

As it turns out, we must first grow through at least four other major levels of development (described in more detail at the bottom of this page.)

Magic (“Magenta”)

Power (“Red”)

Mythic (“Amber”)

Rational (“Orange”)

…before we can make it to:

Pluralistic (“Green”)

…and then onward to:

Integral (“Teal/Turquoise”)

Which is why, when it comes to things like climate change and the “magic number” of 350 PPM of CO2, we say that “truth is not enough.”  Measurements such as these are products of at least “orange” rational consciousness, and can thus only be apprehended by those segments of the human population who have grown to this developmental stage.  Which may not be as many as you think—by recent estimates, nearly 70% of the world is at an “amber” mythic stage or lower (as reflected in a now-infamous statement made by Republican John Shimkus, Representative of Illinois: “The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth, this earth will not be destroyed by a flood.”)

In the U.S., this can be seen in such polls as Gallup’s recent study into beliefs around evolution vs. creationism: a staggering two thirds of the American population believe that the Earth was created by God within the past 10,000 years.  Obviously, polls like this cannot be used as direct correlates of personal or cultural development, especially as we consider the divergence that often occurs between our cognitive understanding and our innermost beliefs about the world.  However, this data does directly apply to our current discussions around climate change and sustainability—after all, how are you going to convince someone to care about the future of the planet if they believe that we are currently living in the biblical End Days, and that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will occur in our lifetime?  How do you expect a Wall Street executive to have long-term concerns about eliminating carbon emissions if all he cares about are short-term profits?  How do you convince a hardened gang member of the virtues of recycling when all he is trying to do is live to see tomorrow?

It’s not about imposing facts upon people and expecting them to respond in an eco-conscious way, just by virtue of facts alone.  Again, truth is not enough—without the capacity to think critically about our problems, the world-centric values to inform our behavior, and a rational world-view to make sense of it all, we are incapable of responding to the urgency of our times.  Without these fruits of human growth and development, facts are little more than an affront to faith, an insult to tradition, or an obstacle to self-gratification.

One thing we absolutely cannot do is try to change people’s minds, or to convince them how important this all really is.  Human beings don’t work like that—it can take many years for an adult to move from one stage of consciousness to the next, and we have very little understanding of what makes people grow in the first place.  And really, the logistics of human development are entirely beside the point—even if we did understand the mechanics of transformation, it would be a violation of basic human dignity to try to coerce someone’s growth, or to “make them more” than what they already are.  People have a right to believe whatever they believe, to station themselves wherever they like in the spectrum of growth and development.

It is important to understand the nature of human development so that we can meet people at their own level, without a hint of contempt or condescension, framing the problems in a way people can actually hear and respond to.  As Ken Wilber says in a recent interview with Ode Magazine, climate change is “the first issue that affects everybody everywhere on the planet. [Former U.S. Vice-President] Al Gore is saying that the entire world needs to change its behavior. But he says so in a language that is perhaps understood by 20 percent of the world population. Gore assumes that people will respond from rational self-interest based on sound science, but that’s the least of the motivations of the majority of the population of the planet.”

“Al Gore has to ‘language’ his message in at least four different value structures to get, say, 80 percent of the world behind him,” Wilber says. “Anything less than that will simply not work.”

In order to take a truly comprehensive approach to climate change, it is important to see how all the major systems of human interaction impact each other—energy policies, economic policies, technological infrastructures, food production, transportation systems, political realities, etc. Our world has become far too interwoven for these matters to be dealt with individually, and devising piecemeal solutions without a sophisticated understanding of how these systems interface with each other (and how our actions ripple through the rest of our human systems) can only exacerbate our problems.

It can not be emphasized enough how crucial it is to take this sort of holistic approach to human systems—and yet, even if the full complexity of these systems are taken into account, even if we were to clearly understand how every single variable of human interaction affects the total equation of sustainable living, it is still not enough. This is why, alongside a developmental view of human consciousness, Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant model is so essential to the climate change discussion. Our techno-economic systems represent only one of four irreducible dimensions of human experience, all of which must be taken into consideration if we are to fulfill our potential as stewards of this little blue-green marble.

The totality of our various systems represents the “Lower-Right” quadrant, or the “exterior of the collective.” The other dimensions are:

– the “Lower-Left” quadrant, or the “interior of the collective”: cultural realities, language, beliefs, world-views, sacred cows and taboos, etc.

– the “Upper-Left” quadrant, or the “interior of the individual”: psychological realities, consciousness, cognition, values, personal beliefs, etc.

– the “Upper-Right” quadrant, or the “exterior of the individual”: observable realities, behaviors, empirical knowledge, etc.

Again, the Four Quadrants help us orient ourselves to a truly comprehensive approach to climate change, contextualizing much of the current debate as an exploration of just one of four crucial dimensions of our interconnected world. By using the Four Quadrants as a guide, we take the full complexity of our 21st century problems into account while developing a roadmap to the next phase of human civilization.

What Are the Four Quadrants?

According to Integral Theory, there are at least 4 primary dimensions or perspectives through which we can experience the world: subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective.

These 4 perspectives, represented graphically, are the upper-left, lower-left, upper-right, and lower-right quadrants.

In the subjective—or upper-left—quadrant, we find the world of our individual, interior experiences: our thoughts, emotions, memories, states of mind, perceptions, and immediate sensations—in other words, our “I” space.

In the intersubjective—or lower-left—quadrant, we find the world of our colletive, interior experiences: our shared values, meanings, language, relationships, and cultural background—in other words, our “we” space.

In the objective—or upper-right—quadrant, we find the world of individual, exterior things: our material body (including brain) and anything that you can see or touch (or observe scientifically) in time and space—in other words, our “it” space.

In the interobjective—or lower-right—quadrant, we find the world of collective, exterior things: systems, networks, technology, government, and the natural environment—in other words, our “its” space.

What’s the point of looking at the world through a 4-quadrant lens?

Simple answer: Anything less is narrow, partial and fragmented! Integral Theory maintains that all 4 quadrants are real—and all are important. So, for example, to the question of what is more real, the brain (with its neural pathways and structures) or the mind (with its thoughts and perceptions), Integral Theory answers: BOTH.

Moreover, we add that the mind and brain are situated in cultural and systemic contexts, which influence both inner experience and brain activity in irreducible ways.

What’s more important in human behavior? The psychology of the mind (upper left), or the cultural conditioning of the individual (lower left)? Integral Theory answers, again: BOTH. What is more critical in social development? The habits, customs, and norms of a culture (lower left), or the products it produces (like gun and steel – lower right). Integral Theory answers: BOTH.

All four quadrants are real, all are important, and all are essential for understanding your world.

While some might like to reduce reality to the mind (upper-left quadrant), and others to the brain (upper-right quadrant), and still others to the influence of cultural context (lower-left quadrant), and yet others to the effect of systems (“it’s the economy, stupid!” i.e., lower-right quadrant), Integral Theory holds that ALL 4 QUADRANTS are indispensable. The more we can consciously include the 4 quadrants in our perspective, the more whole, balanced, healthy, comprehensive, and effective our actions will be.

And it all boils down to just four dimensions. It’s as easy as I, we, it, and its!

An Overview of Stages of Consciousness

Infrared (archaic): Infrared Altitude signifies a degree of development that is in many ways imbedded in nature, body, and the gross realm in general. Infrared Altitude exhibits an archaic worldview, physiological needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), a self-sense that is minimally differentiated from its environment, and is in nearly all ways oriented towards physical survival. Although present in infants, infrared is rarely seen in adults except in cases of famine, natural disasters, or other catastrophic events. Infrared is also used as a kind of catch-all term for all earlier evolutionary stages and drives.

Magenta (egocentric, magic): Magenta Altitude began about 50,000 years ago, and tends to be the home of egocentric drives, a magical worldview, and impulsiveness. It is expressed through magic/animism, kin-spirits, and such. Young children primarily operate with a magenta worldview. Magenta in any line of development is fundamental, or “square one” for any and all new tasks. Magenta emotions and cognition can be seen driving such cultural phenomena as superhero-themed comic books or movies.

Red (ego- to ethnocentric, power): The Red Altitude began about 10,000 years ago, and is the marker of egocentric drives based on power, where “might makes right,” where aggression rules, and where there is a limited capacity to take the role of an “other.” Red impulses are classically seen in grade school and early high school, where bullying, teasing, and the like are the norm. Red motivations can be seen culturally in Ultimate Fighting contests, which have no fixed rules (fixed rules come into being at the next Altitude, Amber), teenage rebellion and the movies that cater to it (The Fast and the Furious), gang dynamics (where the stronger rule the weaker), and the like.

Amber (ethnocentric, mythic): The Amber Altitude began about 5,000 years ago, and indicates a worldview that is traditionalist and mythic in nature—and mythic worldviews are almost always held as absolute (this stage of development is often called absolutistic). Instead of “might makes right,” amber ethics are more oriented to the group, but one that extends only to “my” group. Grade school and high school kids usually exhibit amber motivations to “fit in.” Amber ethics help to control the impulsiveness and narcissism of red. Culturally, amber worldviews can be seen in fundamentalism (my God is right no matter what); extreme patriotism (my country is right no matter what); and ethnocentrism (my people are right no matter what).

Orange (worldcentric, rational): The Orange Altitude began about 500 years ago, during the period known as the European Enlightenment. In an orange worldview, the individual begins to move away from the amber conformity that reifies the views of one’s religion, nation, or tribe. The orange worldview often begins to emerge in late high school, college, or adulthood. Culturally, the orange worldview realizes that “truth is not delivered; it is discovered,” spurring the great advances of science and formal rationality. Orange ethics begin to embrace all people, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, the US Bill of Rights, and many of the laws written to protect individual freedom all flow from an orange worldview.

Green (worldcentric, pluralistic): The Green Altitude began roughly 150 years ago, though it came into its fullest expression during the 1960’s. Green worldviews are marked by pluralism, or the ability to see that there are multiple ways of seeing reality. If orange sees universal truths (“All men are created equal”), green sees multiple universal truths—different universals for different cultures. Green ethics continue, and radically broaden, the movement to embrace all people. A green statement might read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, regardless of race, gender, class….” Green ethics have given birth to the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements, as well as environmentalism.

The green worldview’s multiple perspectives give it room for greater compassion, idealism, and involvement, in its healthy form. Such qualities are seen by organizations such as the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Doctors Without Borders. In its unhealthy form green worldviews can lead to extreme relativism, where all beliefs are seen as relative and equally true, which can in turn lead to the nihilism, narcissism, irony, and meaninglessness exhibited by many of today’s intellectuals, academics, and trend-setters… not to mention another “lost” generation of students.

Teal (worldcentric to “kosmocentric,” integral): The Teal Altitude marks the beginning of an integral worldview, where pluralism and relativism are transcended and included into a more systematic whole. The transition from green to teal is also known as the transition from “1st-tier” values to “2nd-tier” values, the most immediate difference being the fact that each “1st-tier” value thinks it is the only truly correct value, while “2nd-tier” values recognize the importance of all preceding stages of development. Thus, the teal worldview honors the insights of the green worldview, but places it into a larger context that allows for healthy hierarchies, and healthy value distinctions.

Perhaps most important, a teal worldview begins to see the process of development itself, acknowledging that each one of the previous stages (magenta through green) has an important role to play in the human experience. Teal consciousness sees that each of the previous stages reveals an important truth, and pulls them all together and integrates them without trying to change them to “be more like me,” and without resorting to extreme cultural relativism (“all are equal”). Teal worldviews do more than just see all points of view (that’s a green worldview)—it can see and honor them, but also critically evaluate them.

Turquoise (“kosmocentric,” integral): Turquoise is a mature integral view, one that sees not only healthy hierarchy but also the various quadrants of human knowledge, expression, and inquiry (at the minimum: I, we, and it). While teal worldviews tend to be secular, turquoise is the first to begin to integrate Spirit as a living force in the world (manifested through any or all of the 3 Faces of God: “I”—e.g. the “No self” or “witness” of Buddhism; “we/thou”—e.g. the “great other” of Christianity, Judaism, Hindusm, Islam, etc.; or “it”—e.g. the “Web of Life” seen in Taoism, Pantheism, etc.).

More Resources:

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