Socio-Cultural Evolution 2 – worldviews

The table below was introduced in the first blog in this series socio-cultural evolution 1. It suggests that there are clearly identifiable stages of development of deep cultural value systems.

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courtesy of ICE
Explaining the rich complexity of these conceptions is beyond our scope here. I will make a few points that hopefully start to clarify some of the key ideas:
  1. These worldviews appear in individuals as ‘mind-sets’ that underpin behaviour. When they coalesce in societies as dominant modes of thinking and being they can be identified as forming the basis of that communities organizing principles and norms of law and behaviour (ie: the centre of gravity of the ‘culture’ of that society).
  2. Each worldview provides a framework for meaning, an idea of what ‘the good life’ is and a distinct identity for the individual or community that identifies with that structure.
  3. These worldviews unfold developmentally in both individual lives and the bigger sweep of socio-cultural development. Each structure transcends and includes the previous one. A good way of visualising this for an individual is that our compound individuality consists of a number of ‘sub-selves’ much like a nest of Russian dolls. It is the interaction of this ‘committee’ of selves, each with their own worldview that makes up the richness of our character.russian-dolls
  4. This means we have to be very careful and sensitive when correlating individual stages of life such as infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood with cultural phases of development such as pre-traditional, traditional, modern etc. Although it can be demonstrated that these structures share similar cognitive foundations, they are obviously very different in many ways. (I have lost count of the number of times I have lost people on this when I crassly refer to entire communities as ‘adolescent’!!)
  5. A person or community is never ‘at’ a level. All the levels up to and including the highest stage realised is available as a crucial component in ones compound individuality and the key enduring competencies of any structure can be activated by suitable life conditions. Often the more stressful and threatening the situation, the more the foundational ‘survival’ structures are activated.
  6. It is meaningful however to identify the highest structure that has stably emerged in a society or individual. This will be the structure that is active when we are ‘at our best’ or, conversely, if we fail to act from our most inclusive and wise self we feel we have ‘let ourselves down’.

 

I would like to quote Wilber, to reinforce the inclusiveness of these models:
An Integral Synthesis, to be truly integral, must find a way that all of the major worldviews are basically true (even though partial). It is not that the higher levels are giving more accurate views, and that the lower levels are giving falsity, superstition or primitive nonsense. There must be a sense in which even ‘childish’ magic and Santa Claus myths are true. For those worldviews are simply the way the world looks at that level, or from that wave, and all the waves are crucial ingredients of the Kosmos….
….It will do no good to say “Well we have evolved beyond that stage, and so we now know that Santa Claus is not real,” because if that is true – and all stages are shown to be primitive and false in light of further evolution – then we will have to admit that our own views, right now, are also false. It is not that there is one level of reality, and those other views are all primitive and incorrect versions of that one level. Each of these views is a correct view of a lower yet fundamentally important level of reality, not an incorrect view of the one real level. The notion of development allows us to recognize nested truths, not primitive superstitions.    Wilber, A Theory of Everything

I like this passage as it really emphasises the inclusive aim of the integral project. The next post in this series will try and flesh out some of the contours and characteristics of the major worldviews.

I would also like to highly recommend the system of worldview analysis that is Spiral Dynamics. It is a very elegant system that uses colour codings to identify at least 8 distinct ‘Value Meme’s’. It is one of the most useful models in that the terminology facilitates very precise analysis and diagnosis of the complex multi-dimensional meshing of these systems and how they play out in the real world.

Some links to follow:
SDi home website:         Spiral Dynamics.net
An excellent book review:  Spiral Dynamics book review Esalen
Ken Wilber’s summary of the model:  Ken Wilber on SD