Well, who asked you?

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


Who asked you Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash
Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash || CC0

“Well, who asked you?” 

Who, me?

“Yeah, you!”


Actually, maybe even more like: “Oh hell no, who asked him!?!”

I’m just kidding, sort of.

Some things seem pretty consistent. Bringing contrary news and challenging questions to communities of people who are focused in some way on meaning is often perilous. Please understand, I care about all people (albeit some more than others). Now, sometimes that means proffering challenges to people I care about a great deal.  I feel compassion for people who feel threatened by questions and challenges to their sense of meaning and/or meaning-making. So, to be explicit, it is never my conscious intention to threaten anyone. 

I’m just an impassioned volunteer on this [*my hands are up*] writing out of ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ However, as we will see, the concerns I have are not original to me. Hopefully my take on these, apparently, shared concerns will be a bit different.

If you just got here, then none of that makes any sense. Last week (Polemic: kw integral error?) I introduced a possible unintended-consequence complication for Ken Wilber [kw], and the integral theory that he fashioned. I’m wondering if Wilberian integral [Wi] may be an unwitting, unintended piece of Trump’s brain trust. I also wonder if, by extension, this has any implications for SDi that raise related concerns?

I’ll say upfront that I’m writing far more in favor of Graves SD than I am writing against kw and Wi. Positive partisanship. While I don’t hide that I have issues with kw‘s system, I really have no pre-existing agenda to lobby for, or against, SDi staying SDi. That said, I’m just raising the questions. Decisions regarding the doctrine and positioning of SDi are far above my pay grade. (“….volunteer”)


line - Photo by George Evans on Unsplash
Photo by George Evans on Unsplash || CC0

A rather important line

In general terms, I’ve been exploring a line that runs through, well, all information, really. Namely, the line defining the exoteric/esoteric divide. Because of an intrinsic proclivity to be misunderstood, esoteric information is considered to be unsuitable for open transmission or general publication.

I note that it’s even occurred to me that formal-operational rationality and the Enlightenment paradigm are, in many ways, on the esoteric side of that line. The American political scene right now is my exhibit-A on the reality of that. Polarization and tribalism, aggravated by Trump, have mostly kicked facts and reason to the curb. We have a president who has (either intentionally or by circumstance // either consciously or not-consciously) leveraged/capitalized on, or, gratuitously benefited from, a brain trust that is esoteric in nature and (consciously or not-consciously) enables the administration, with its gaslighting and political disinformation efforts, to exploit our post-truth culture.

Asymmetry problem

Ironically—note: post-truth culture = exiting-Orange [ER]/entering-Green [FS]; e.g., naïve-Green extreme-postmodernist—, it’s the “post-truth” culture that Wilber’s integral narrative was supposed to overcome. Perhaps that’s why kw seems to trigger on late-ER/naïve-FS. Is kw‘s “Mean Green Meme” [MGM] a tell? 

Now we’re seeing that Wi is far too esoteric (i.e., confusing minority view, ‘weak’) to compete with Trump’s (i.e., power-dominant, ‘strong’) “fire-hosing” (see video below). Trump’s overt fire-hosing ploy is akin to actually saying out loud (although on an exponentially greater order of magnitude, making it a new kind) the stuff that politicians used to try to just exploit silently and by indirect means. Trump has taken an old default of most all politicians (they lie), added his grandiose ego and reality-show sensibilities, and transformed lying into his most powerful political technology.

“Houston, we have a problem!”


Political technolgies meme 600


One reason esoteric information merits careful distribution is the danger that it will be perilously misunderstood by those unable to fully contextualize the material. Perilous to who? Well, both individuals and society, so pretty much potentially perilous to everyone. We are presently learning the hard way that an even larger danger is that cynical interests can leverage the inherent potential for misunderstanding and use it for gaslighting, or other nefarious political technology purposes. This insightful media from Vox is very helpful in contextualizing my concern. —Sending thanks out to my new friend from Poland, Walter Wilkans, for making me aware of this!— Please watch this short video: 



“The ultimate goal of fire hosing isn’t to pass off lies as truth. It’s to rob concepts, like facts and reality, of their power.”

Whoa! That’s HUGE! Hugely scary, too.


One trouble is 21st century truth is often complex, nuanced, requires the pre-frontal cortex, and frequently in some way esoteric, while Trump’s *political technology* trades in simple limbic emotion and works exoterically.


Granted, it’s complicated and the fruit of several factors. In my humble view, the present conditions in the U.S. are chiefly the fruit of the cynical leveraging and exploitation (as political technology) of misguided, errant philosophical memes (extreme-postmodernist memes, like “there is no truth”) embedded in society. My question relates to the possible unwitting and unintentional (yet ultimate) aiding and abetting Wi, and by extension, SDi, may offer as a factor of Trump’s political technologies and the fire-hosing project described in the video.


believe in truth


Co-author of Spiral Dynamics, (the late) Christopher Cowan, clearly saw the potential for misuse of memes, and expressed the concern in this response he wrote to kw‘s relentless assault on what kw has, again, called the “Mean Green Meme” [MGM]. Cowan wrote this back in 2005:

Wake up to how counter-productive to whole-Spiral thinking glib cracks like the “MGM” tag can be, and how easily they can be weaponized by smug twits who want to assail people whose ideas are disagreeable to them. [my emphasis]

Cowan’s concern is the oversimplifying that kw does in his analysis of these dynamics. I would argue that kw‘s rapidly moving, go-it-alone methodology naturally tends to oversimplify things. Further, even more harmful, I’ve argued in the blog previously that kw‘s MGM concept is a conflation of extreme-postmodernism with SD‘s Green [FS] values-code [FS “vMEME”]. So, kw conflates (content) “memes” with “vMEMEs” (code). Apparently along with Chris Cowan, I have repeatedly lamented that this conflation results in reduction of the FS values-code to a rather unhelpful meme.

The “how easily they can be weaponized by smug twits” misuse-dimension that Cowan’s concern identifies regarding Wilber and Wi oversimplifications is one thing I’d like to build on here. I feel the dynamic that Cowan identifies here has now come to pass only in larger, exponentially larger existential ways.


Kipling fast travel meme


Again, I feel kw‘s “integral“system reflects the fact that his genius is seen in his covering of lots and lots and lots of ground. So, who has time to slow down to work on consensus with each discipline when one is gathering as many disciplines under one umbrella as possible? Kw‘s model is a great organizer, and, I may have said before that I think of his AQAL scheme as a great hat rack. It makes a fine mnemonic. However, I wonder if Wi may be an unfriendly amendment to Graves’ SD. Please let me explain why I wonder that.

A mixed bag

On the one hand, it’s seemingly a good thing that Wi, and by extension SD, is being considered here as enough of a “thing” to be considered a “think-tank” by anyone of “importance.” On the other hand, the possibility that the understandings the Spiral Dynamics and Wi communities have gained may be leveraged and exploited for use as political technology is troubling at best. 

The pragmatic argument has been made by many that without kw, and Wi, Graves SD would have never enjoyed the wider audience it has gained through the association with Wi. That begs a question, though. If expansion actually means expanding confusion, is a review in order?


Many of you reading right now know that this is a rehash of a question that has long been decided. It was decided in the early ‘oughts [2000s] that SD would combine forces in collaboration with Wi and become SDi. Why revisit this?

To be or not to be

From my perspective, this ‘rehash’ (review) is not a question of whether Graves’ SD is better than Wi, or not. From a Graves’ SD perspective it’s, rather, a question of whether SD is better in combination with Wi as SDi, or separate from it as simply ‘SD’ or ‘Graves SD.’ It’s a question of having sufficient congruence and compatibility, or not.

I’ve been writing my intuitive response to a very troubling realization that Wi is incapable of clearly articulating a coherent, exoteric message on White supremacy and racism in the USA. I’m interpreting that as a very significant problem, enough of a problem to inspire me to write these posts. My concern was raised by a recent Integral Life video-cast. In the episode on an integral approach to racism, the aforementioned ‘oversimplification’ shows up as the esoteric statement “those who say systemic racism doesn’t exist are right.” Now (theoretically, of course), that is custom-made for a Trump advisor to leverage and exploit in their work with the president.

Why is any of this a problem for SD?

The axiom, ‘everyone is partially right,’ isn’t a SD anthem, so this is a problem for Wi, correct? Well it could be as simple as a question of whether or not there is guilt by association with regard to the highly ill-advised, esoteric approach Wi takes to the racism and social justice issue. However, it could also be a question of looking to see if SD‘s on-boarding of Wi violates core Gravesian values and creates an internal inconsistency. Perhaps Trump and Covid-19 have created life conditions that make asking these questions a matter of basic house-keeping. As I’ve said, I don’t have a preferred outcome, I’m just inspired to attempt asking some relevant questions.

Is it about the nature of the thing?

What “thing?”


Regardless how one eventually comes down on this question, it is, at least in part, a matter of sufficient congruence and compatibility, or not. 

I feel as though Chris Cowan alludes to what I see as a potential internal conflict that arises in the combination of the two narratives.

In response to kw‘s opening gambit regarding what kw calls the Mean Green Meme [MGM], and how kw thinks of “mean” in the SD context, Cowan writes:

“Mean” is a judgement that ought be put in Korzybskian quotes.


Again, though, “mean” is an opinion statement that implies deliberate ill-intent – evil-doing.

Recall, kw‘s use of the term “mean” in the SD context is his figure of speech for unhealthy expressions of a vMEME. The idea of “unhealthy” with regard to assessing the spiral is, for some, just a one-step remove of an elemental problem we’ll take up in next week’s installment on a mystical möbius. Cowan names it when he writes:

Also, the self-appointed Inquisitors who determine what is healthy and unhealthy for the whole are an interesting breed, themselves. Who ordains these self-righteous critics? It’s easy to say, “For the good of the spiral” or “Allows all the systems to express themselves fully” or “Creates a supportive and positive climate for all to be what they are and to become what they can without doing harm to others.” It’s tougher to follow through on an all-and perspective which, in fact, rings of the inclusiveness which itself begins so strongly with the awakening of FS (Green). [my emphasis]

pancakes - Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash
Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash || CC0

Pancake problem?

On my reading, to its credit, Graves SD model does not make “judgments.” Making judgments is simply not part of the Graves SD design focus and configuration of the model. SD has no capacity for moralizing. 

I feel that to Wilberian integralists, SDi may simply reflect Graves SD model with kw‘s esoteric (e.g., gnostic, hyper-rational) take on spiritual ascendancy (inappropriately?) stacked on top of it like a pancake. Apparently kw‘s (spiritually-broadened or heightened) understanding allows for SDi to be a judgmental tool to make moral judgments?

Then, too, if the only designed-in guard against esoteric complications with Graves SD is a pay wall (training requirements that have been monetized), well, in the internet age of democratized information-transmission, “Houston, we have a problem[?].”

These are some of the questions that I feel need to be raised with regard to to the relationship between SD and Wi in the political technology era of Donald J. Trump.

Next week: Spiral Dynamics is amoral

[post approx. 2,150 words (9 min. read)]

Your thoughts?

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

Note: I know, trying to introduce 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).


Who asked you Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “Well, who asked you?

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