Can we rank people?

a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.


spiral staircase sized

Can we?

No, of course not! No human being is ‘higher’ than another. We cannot hierarchically rank people! Every person has equal dignity reflected in their intrinsic value, that of simply being human. However, there are conflations/reductions at play in any present consideration of human value.

So, how does equal intrinsic value square with all the talk on this blog site concerning values systems that sounds like it may try to hierarchically rank people?

Great question!

First, one reduction that occurs in consideration of the Gravesian values system is conflating the person with the various constellations of values operating in the person. These values sets are in systemic (non-stadial) relationship. They are variously activated and regulated by feedback loops in any particular individual (or society) in relation to Life Conditions.

So, multiple values constellations? One might quite naturally think: “Well, I’ll take the best one!”

It’s very easy to take a wrong turn here because our culture is saturated with naïve Orange [ER] ambition values (e.g., stadial theory and eugenics). If we take this naïve Orange (‘only money matters,’ prosperity gospel) perspective as the proper take on human values, then we vector our view on human worth through our ambition values and our estimation of human worth is seen through an elitist (privileged) lens. Seinfeld plays with this a bit in this 30 second clip:




Naïve Orange [ER] ambition values conflate instrumental value with intrinsic value and assigns worth hierarchically based on its estimation of merit (privilege, often judged on the basis of education or material/financial achievements). This is one shadow mechanism the wealthy use to justify greed. A naïve Orange estimation of human worth is elitist. The expression, ‘the higher the fewer’ is true in a way, but partial—a distorted view of human value that most often equates money and wealth with human worth. Poverty is then seen as evidentiary proof of a personal deficiency or disqualification. This plainly expresses an Orange values constellation shadow. Conversely, healthy Orange [ER] values understand that everyone has equal dignity and value based on the intrinsic value accorded all persons simply by virtue of being human—often based on the Blue virtue of being created in the image of a Creator.

Instrumental worth is very contextual




It is important to remember our instrumental value is frequently non-transferable. We may be a very highly regarded surgeon and our elite status respected and rewarded with wealth and fame. That contextually-dependent reality would likely be irrelevant and of no utility if the person were somehow thrust into a deserted-island, Naked and Afraid scenario, or a Rwandan Mad Max context. Orange [ER] values rightly give way to Beige [AN] values as proximate life retreats to survival conditions.

Worth noting, too, by not conflating instrumental and intrinsic worth, we not only preserve and protect human dignity, we also preserve and protect the value of instrumental worth. Seinfeld lightly but rightly points to the naïve expression of merit values. But instrumentality is also a very necessary aspect of present day, first-world life conditions and successfully navigating them. When you need brain surgery, I doubt you’ll be asking strangers in the hotel lobby if anyone is ‘feeling it’ and up for doing your surgery—I mean, surely there’s a YouTube tutorial video on it for someone to go by?




So, of course, we can’t rank people. However we can differentiate the thoughts, values, and behaviors that people express. People aren’t reducible to a color designation, Spiral Dynamics’ color designations (created from Clare Graves’ research) refer directly to values sets that people express and express as amalgams or admixtures.

What could make a particular constellation of values (that corresponds to distinct algorithms) “higher?” If we say, “On the basis of utility,” then in relation to what? Wolfhart Pannenberg wondered how humans are doing in relation to history, and how we can know. He argued we can only know in relation to history’s end point, only when we finally know how the story comes out. Same problem for our values gradation question. So, on what authority do we ground any kind of claim on an ascendency of human values? We do so on perennial authority that is a function, or outworking of our (Blue) relationship with our Creator.



 τέλειος (teleios)

téleios (an adjective, derived from 5056 /télos, “consummated goal”) – mature (consummated) from going through the necessary stages to reach the endgoal, i.e. developed into a consummating completion by fulfilling the necessary process (spiritual journey).

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest who had also trained in the sciences as a paleontologist and geologist. As a theologian he considered evolution to be directional with a particular aim [teleios], namely: Unity—note, on a Process view we are eternally co-creating that unity/disunity. We see the unity intrinsic to the majesty of the cosmos, and we see the disunity that humans create. Our aim has been revealed and is self-evident: to find alignment and harmony with the unity of the cosmos.

With (the always/already) cosmic unity as the evolutionary endpoint we can easily integrate an axiom. Advancing towards that evolutionary realization in terms of any constellation of values—and its corresponding algorithm generator (think Operating System [OS]) — always means more compassion, and greater inclusion over in relation to other constellations.


transcend and include sized


Transcend and include is the philosophical principle grounded in the increasing complexity found in the scientific evidence of biological evolution. Increasing love, compassion, and inclusion (i.e., deepening saturation of humanness) is the theological principle grounded in the contemplative evidence of spiritual attunement.

Love transforms us to deeper expressions of compassion and inclusivity and our values become saturated with humanness. So, as Teilhard imagines, humanity is on an evolutionary journey with G-d that ultimately leads to unity (Col 3.11)—always/already to G-d, emerging for us.


So, it’s all good then?

Ultimately, yes, of course. However, in the near term we still have a few things to talk about—recall, co-creation. Like how Love gets lost in translation sometimes.

In an earlier installment of this series, “Empathy Window Opens,” I wrote:

Jesus’ message challenged with Love the ethnocentric nationalism of the Jewish people that he taught. (again, cf. Paul’s teachings – especially Galatians 3.28 and Colossians 3.11; and, too, Acts 1.8, 22.21; and many others)

Arguably, if anyone ever had Love going on it was Jesus. Obviously, inclusive Love (Gal. 3.28; Col 3.11) was, and remains, very threatening to those who would prefer to retain exclusive privilege of some kind, and at any cost.




Operating Systems

So, what are these cloudy constellations of emergent human values that Clare Graves saw in his research? A brief description of values constellations in Gravesian terms:

  • Beige ~ (human) life, instinctual, reptilian brain, fight/flight // Beige [AN] Survival
  • Purple ~ family/clan/tribe, magical thinking, reciprocity, customs, ancestor power, elders, shaman, ritual, circle-conferencing—the chieftain declares the consensus // Purple [BO] Human Bond
  • Red ~ exploitive, ego centered, control, tyrannical, instinctual, self-referential, self-preserving, emotional values // Red [CP]Power
  • Blue ~ mythic membership, sacred text, faith, sacrifice, honor, duty, ethnocentric, nativist, authoritarian,  hierarchical, rule of law, pre-modern, ‘pre-formal operational reasoning’ values  // Blue [DQ] Order 
  • Orange ~ world-aware, nation-state, ‘formal operational reasoning,’ democratic, rational, individualistic, innovative, modern and post-modern values // Orange [ER]Ambition
  • Green ~ egalitarian. inclusive, personal justice, global, world centered, pluralistic, eco-friendly, multi-cultural, gender equality, LGBT+ and minority rights, social justice values  // Green [FS]Sensitivity


So, in the next edition we will pick-up on and hopefully advance our discussion of the relationships the constellations share with each other. Next week, “Like a rainbow,” publishing August 19. Please continue the conversation this week, and stay tuned.


Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say? —Agree or not, let’s hear from you!


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7 thoughts on “Can we rank people?

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