Visual correction

visual correction
Creative Commons || CC0

Nerd disclaimer… 

This post is inordinately focused on Gravesian thought and it very likely falls in the Spiral Dynamics [SD]-nerd category. Read beyond this point at the risk of being deemed a wizard in training [WIT]. It’s likely good to keep in mind, though, I’m probably only about half way on the wizard trail myself [HALFWIT].



Last week: barber polemic

My “Know thyself” piece last week sparked some conversation that stimulated me to go back to the source material. I was pleasantly surprised to find that what I thought was going to be a controversial, contrarian, possibly polemic assertion is actually classic Gravesian orthodoxy. I’ll come back to quote/cite Graves in a bit.



Process and Reality

In the early-nineties I read A.N. Whitehead’s books. His work lead me to a fresh way of understanding G-d — and so indirectly back to Jesus as by then I’d become a lapsed Christian. So, I have always had a soft spot for Process thought. Is that why I have a strong sense that Clare Graves’ thinking was seriously influenced by Whitehead? I had no way to know, so I asked the Graves-SDi facebook community if any Graves scholars could affirm or deny. No one knew for sure, although it was observed that it could easily be so because Whitehead was so huge. Very true. Philosophically/theologically, the twentieth century in the West was essentially a rather lofty conversation between Tillich (Being) and Whitehead (Becoming). Whitehead’s process thinking overcomes many dualities and was indeed huge in much of academia in the late 50s, 1960s, and early 70s. Graves’ theory elegantly integrates becoming and being in both/and developmental union. 


double helix
visualization of Gravesian human development

I object!

The elegance of Graves’ theory is that, as Whitehead’s Process, it fully integrates both transcendence and immanence. It deserves to be visualized well. However, a linear double helix mistakenly over-emphasizes transcendence. A barber pole seems a non-starter as an image for human existence/development on two counts. Arguably, the barber pole might be seen as the quintessential visualization of a closed system. And, isn’t a barber pole just a snippet of an extended, linear process, an illusionist’s way of bringing brevity, and novelty to sameness?


barber-pole 1


A closed system is categorically unacceptable from a Process standpoint. The barber pole gives the initial appearance of violating the central principle put forward by Whitehead, namely the creative advance into novelty. A barber pole seems to comport better with Qohelet’s early assertion, “…there is nothing new under the sun,” than with Isaiah’s insistence that G-d declares, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”


young Clare Graves

What did Graves say?

So, my quarrel with Graves’ model turns out to be the selection of one word in the article I’m quoting, and strictly a matter of what I feel is an errant visualization. Drawn from his 1974 paper for The Futurist, “Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap,” Graves writes:

At this point in history, the societal effective leading edge of man in the technologically advanced nations is currently finishing the initial statement of the sixth theme of existence and is beginning again with the first theme in an entirely new and more sophisticated variation.

Makes it seem as if Graves was thinking of a barber pole himself. For reasons we’ve only learned the hard way, to avoid spiritual narcissism it may be more helpful to visualize the “momentous leap” as a möbius leap. Graves’ “…the initial statement…” of a values system is precise. Rather than privilege the visualization of ascension on a never-ending, linear double helix, we imagine a symbol of endless movement, the möbius-like movement of a barber pole.


mobius meme final edit


I have no qualms in seeing a möbius leap into re-alignment and tuning as a vital creative advance into novelty. At such time as individuals and societies have all six themes fully aligned and tuned to Spirit (Love) we can talk some more about what image might best depict that. 

New site cover

new cover 4-26-19 ver 3

Trying out a new page cover [same image, new page/blog title and tag line]. If the new blog title feels like it may stick for a bit, then I’ll declare.

Next week: Red [CP] and narcissism

I confess, I’m a life-long, recovering narcissist. If the top two characteristics society is imprinting on its population right now are narcissism and nihilism, then many ‘wounded healers’ will be required for the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Next week: “material/spiritual narcissism.”

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: This blog has outlined Spiral Dynamics, a complex developmental anthropology. I  used a serial-approach, introduction (June 30), first in series (July 1).


SD Worldview Color Key

mobius meme final edit

6 thoughts on “Visual correction

  1. Whitehead has been a dilemma for me. I’ve been a huge fan of his process approach as it has been described by others and incorporated in their works. I usually like to go to original works but “Process and Reality” was a stumbling stone for me in my understanding of Whitehead. I tended to agree with his conclusions but had difficulty with the steps of how he got there.


    1. David,

      Thanks for writing!

      Well, yeah, i cant speak for all, but i feel for most of us mere mortals it’s a matter of picking up little bursts of brilliance and insight here and there as able from that remarkable book (and mind).

      The P&R material was drawn from some lectures Whitehead delivered. In an introduction to a response to Process and Reality, Michael Weber remarked: “To start with, the Gifford Lectures were themselves a bit of a debacle: the initial audience of 600 quickly dropped to half a dozen, equally mystified by the matter and the style of the lectures.”

      It was basically discontinuous with that which had gone before naturally making it a bit hard to follow. So, with 600 quickly down to 6, i reckon we don’t need to feel too badly about finding the material difficult.

      I confess, my overall thinking about Process is an amalgam of Whitehead’s source material, my teacher’s influences, and, as you say, the many folks who’ve talked about or applied the work in their own.

      Charles Hartshorne, in particular, was early in applying Process to Christian theology. Good stuff, although i was not particularly taken with it. It did open the door to thinking very differently about G-d (in a Christian theology context) for me at the right time. Theological thinkers like John Cobb, Marjorie Suchocki, David Ray Griffin, and many others centered around Claremont have added richly to my bibliography.



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