Political achievability?


troll Image by Wolfgang Eckert
Image by Wolfgang Eckert || CC0

The earliest known attestation of ‘internet trolling’ is 1992, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, or so says Wikipedia. Without really knowing what it was called at the time, the first memorable instance of trolling that I recall seeing came eight years later.

In February, Pope Francis called Christians to a particular fast, e.g., to give up trolling for Lent. So, no nuance to trolling? Trolling has no redeeming value? I’m generally with this Pope regarding most things (including the appropriateness of this fast), but let’s consider trolling a bit.

Bohemian coffee shop?

It was a presidential election year in 2000, I imagine that was part of the genesis for the conversation I have in mind. The context was an eGroups turned Yahoo Groups message board, and if I remember correctly it was the group named ‘Spiral Dynamics.’ This group was organized around the idea of having discussion about the research and work of Dr. Clare Graves. The excellent work in human development done by Graves, e.g., “The Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory” (ECLET), was picked up and further applied by Chris Cowan and Don Beck. Together, they wrote the 1996 Blackwell (Business) imprint book: Spiral Dynamics [SD]. The SD Yahoo Group was an evolutionary human development think tank of sorts where Beck, Cowan, other adept SD thinkers/practitioners (as well as other human developmental model thinkers), and many other thoughtful folks would all hold court and issue forth on topics of the day. It was magnificent and felt a bit like what I imagine hanging out at a Bohemian coffee shop nearly proximate to a premier graduate school might be like.

A thought experiment

A common misconception that seemed to have nine lives in the SD Yahoo Group’s discussions was the idea that an effective use of SD tools was found by employing them to drag people up the spiral.

While I can’t unequivocally say it was deliberate trolling, on one occasion it was proposed that a system of weighted/graduated voting power be established for elections. The higher the center-of-gravity (COG) stage of SD development that a person operates through, the greater weight placed on their vote.

So, recall the first six SDvalues attractors’ (aka vMEMEs):


SD Worldview Color Key


So, as I recall the conversation-starter that was posted to the SD Yahoo Group’s email bulletin board went something like:

Developmentally Weighted Voting

  • People operating chiefly through Red COG‘s, well, their vote would count as a quarter of a vote.
  • People operating through Blue COG‘s, their vote would count as half a vote.
  • Orange COG, well, three quarters of a vote for them, and
  • Green COG voter’s votes would count as a whole vote.
  • And, (of course, with “2nd Tier” being very highly prized), for Yellow COG voters, (you guessed it) their votes are doubled and each count as two votes.
  • And so forth…


It would be impossible for me to relate all the intersecting passions and debates that constituted the context for the Spiral Dynamics Yahoo Group at any given time even if I recalled them all. Suffice it to say, thinking back to that 2000 time frame, I realize there were threads of debate that likely represented what amounted to intentional trolling by some. The weighted-voting post was designed, I suspect, to troll the extreme-postmodern stream of Green [FS]. 




Constructive trolling?

Perhaps my memory of the graded-voting discussion is a romanticized one, but I’d like to think of the original post as constructive trolling. A post designed to trigger/expose values cloaked in shadows, e.g., conflicted values creating blind spots. For instance, as SD essentially describes evolution and human development in stage-like (hierarchical) terms, this creates a tremendous bind for anyone caught in the anti-hierarchy dogmatism of extreme-postmodernism— often bound as an unhealthy shadow of a Green [FS] COG.


shadows of Green


Quantifying ‘stages’

My last four posts have outlined my early reflections on the 2020 presidential election. In order to make a case for the size of a particular voting cohort, I appropriated the research-based adult human development work of Robert Kegan. Last week I included this graphic as I feel it represents a loosely held mash-up of Graves and Kegan:


Kegan 600


I have this very faint sense that Kegan’s quantification of his developmental stages may have been one of the concurrent intersecting debates in the group, and possibly another factor in the genesis of the weighted voting post. It’s reasonable to imagine Kegan’s quantification of stages is what makes him so appealing as a conversation partner. However, I feel Kegan’s research presents progressives with a problem that is very easy for many of us to unconsciously deny/repress.

Say it isn’t so!

Kegan’s quantification confronts progressives with where we live. We live in a context in which the ER/FS/A’N’ progressives (~40% of the people), those who are intrinsically open to change, are relentlessly confronted with the perennial resistance of Blue inter-personal traditionalists (~60% of the people) who are intrinsically not really open to change. I feel Kegan’s quantification of developmental stages may help explain whypragmatism,’ specifically, ‘political achievability’ seems to be such a strong shadow to Green [FS]. A chief value attractor of Green is justice. This often makes the frustration very intense [outrage] when FS encounters what is frequently just natural human resistance to change.  As Green, we might think of it as trying to push a rope. So, confronted with the 40/60 change default, trying to haul people up the spiral in order to improve and even-up the odds is (perhaps understandably) seen as the solution. A (naïve) solution that results in a futile effort that actually only serves to expose the shadowse.g., myth of progress and political achievability as (Stage 4) leading-edge blind spots. 


shadows of Green


Perennial difficulty with change

So, is effecting social/organizational/political change difficult? Yes. If one accepts the idea of anything like a default 40/60 dynamic, it’s almost hard to imagine how any change ever happens. Clearly, change is always a matter of coalition. Lasting change is possible only as the result of built coalitions. It’s almost as though the constitutional framers understood the 40/60 nature of human beings and change. Or, do we now see a 40/60 change dynamic pattern as default because we live in a 40/60 constitutional framework [even a 33/67, two thirds bar and state ratification, for changing our Constitution]? In the causal question, the chicken/egg problem is highly significant. However, chicken/egg debate aside, it would seem that while U.S. Constitutional structures do not seek to make change impossible, they do make it very difficult to do sweeping change.


I don’t know if there is any solid consensus on how Robert Kegan’s model correlates with Clare Graves and the SD model. Perhaps this post will stimulate some clarifying conversation on how different research-based models of adult human development correlate with each other.

[this post approx. 1,200 words (5 mins)I confess that after allowing myself 8 minutes last week it’s tough getting my post back in the 3-4 minute box. I’ll try again next week.]

Your thoughts?

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

Note: Introducing a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).


SD Worldview Color Key

troll Image by Wolfgang Eckert


One thought on “Political achievability?

  1. Kegan & Graves correlate pretty well from Purple (kegan has no beige) to Orange (self-authored). After that Kegan and all the other harvard models diverge from Graves.
    Graves actually measured the left-side right-differences (individual vs communitarian). Kegan didn’t look for that trend. Tolbert and cook-greuter look for and find a different structure above Blue. Kegan said once you were looking above Orange/self-authored it was hard to analyze well because few researchers were consistently above that level.

    Liked by 1 person

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