“Stage theory… Is BS?” — pt. 3

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

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Bateson’s “Stage theory… Is colonial BS” critique hits target


Stadial theory/Eugenics—systematizing superiority

It’s easy to come to agreement on the problem with that. However, one prominent leader from the Graves/Spiral Dynamics community said: “The superiority problem is not a feature of the model. It is a feature of the mindsets with which people interpret the model.” I couldn’t agree more with the latter part of that. Perception is the pressing problem here. Sadly, some don’t see it as a significant problem. In this essay, and the next, we’ll see how it IS a problem, a big problem.

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Hopeful opening ‘loopy’ vs ‘stage’ dynamics.

Nora Bateson recently repeated a rather old concern regarding stadial theory, i.e, it’s colonialist and immoral. She created a stir in many communities who have some kind of relationship with stadial theory, e.g., the Spiral Dynamics and Integral communities; and she’s opened a space that is full of possibility.

This clamor created an opening for, and included part of, what I’ve been looking at these past few years: specifically, White supremacist ideology [Wsi] and its artifacts, both historical and extant.

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If no one had ever suggested, or even thought of, intersectionality before hand, I would have quickly discovered that I needed to approach the topic of Wsi in America intersectionally. There’s a convergence of several streams, one of which is stadial theory.

Eugenics is the evil spawn of stadial theory. These two things are morally wrong because, in the most basic terms, they simply serve to systematize superiority; well, what is asserted to be superior by those who employ stadial theory. 

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Why fish don’t exist

Lulu Miller wrote a book by that name (see @Amazon). Here, Miller is interviewed by Brooke Gladstone for On the Media in a segment entitled:A Dark Obsession With Ordering the World.” —It originally aired on October 30th, 2020, the program, Chaos Reigns.

The brief intro to the program:

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The tale it tells forms an amazing context/frame for what I discern as a powerful piece of Bateson’s argument. The story of David Starr Jordan (January 19, 1851 – September 19, 1931) forms a cautionary tale for us. “Jordan’s drive to organize the world gave him a mission — and also led him to a dark worldview that helped give birth to the eugenics movement in the United States.” (here)

In Miller’s and Gladstone’s words:

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From the publisher’s review on the Amazon site:

David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist, a man possessed with bringing order to the natural world. In time, he would be credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. But the more of the hidden blueprint of life he uncovered, the harder the universe seemed to try to thwart him. His specimen collections were demolished by lightning, by fire, and eventually by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake—which sent more than a thousand discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor. In an instant, his life’s work was shattered.

Miller describes:

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Louis Agassiz

Another figure enters the book early on and proves influential; a taxonomist named Louis Agassiz (May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873), who gives purpose to Starr’s passion. The story of Agassiz clearly highlights the intersectionality of stadial theory/eugenics discourse. Listen to this short clip; the problem is immediately obvious:

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Did you hear it?

“The path to further ascension.” 

Oops.

 

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So, “Cladist?”

This clip grounds my two-week argument:

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So, as Darwin stressed, the edges just aren’t there. We impose the edges to make things “fit” our paradigm. When the “things” we’re trying to make fit are people, it’s very frequently not good. Miller laments the consequential upshot of that:

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Stages impose an increasingly ghettoized take on reality. Next week we’ll pick up my claim from right here.

Additional resource

In the meantime, Bonnitta Roy offers a similar/different way of critiquing stage theories:

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tl;dr

A fish shaped skeleton key?

Lulu Miller reads from the epilog of her book about loosening her grip on our apparent human proclivity to categorize and rank everything.

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The hard boundaries (and stages) we choose to perceive short-change our own reality and may well colonize our neighbor’s reality. Again this week, we do well to contemplate our perceived sense of own borders and “I” boundaries.

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New non-stadial graphic:

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Next week: “Stage theory… Is BS?” — pt. 4 … I’ll, hopefully, conclude the present argument, i.e, ‘loopy’ vs ‘stage’ dynamics. It gets more challenging. Come and see. 

[this post approx. 775 words (3 min. read) + audio + video]

Your thoughts? 

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

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5 thoughts on ““Stage theory… Is BS?” — pt. 3

  1. I have been trying to follow this most recent series and have had a very difficult time. It was not until today I realized what has bothered me from the very beginning. This is flat land thinking. If you destroy hierarchies then welcome to Flatland.

    While I agree that Spiral Dynamics can be used to justify something bad as you mention above….. “It is a feature of the mindsets with which people interpret the model.”, I don’t understand where you are going with the statement “Sadly, some don’t see it as a significant problem. In this essay, and the next, we’ll see how it IS a problem, a big problem.”.

    How is what you are saying any different from the thinking that got us to Flatland decades ago? I am trying to understand where you are going, but, my brain/thinking is so averse to Flatland thinking, it is like an inoculation preventing the immune system from getting sick. This whole discussion feels like a rabbit hole and I can’t go down there. I have been to Flatland and it is not a place I want to live for even a second.

    I am sorry if I’ve missed some key element of your thinking. Previous posts have been extremely helpful in my evolution with the White Fragility discussion a great example of opening me up to a brand new and wonderful way of perceiving the reality around me.

    Like

    1. hey now, shastatour,

      Thanks for writing!

      “Flatland” is a righteous critique of scientific materialism. However, applying it to what’s going on in Bateson’s critique of stadial theory is a category error, imho.

      So, in reply I’ll reiterate/restate a crucially important piece of the first essay in this “Stage theory… Is BS?” mini-series. It’s a quote from Charles King, author of “Gods of the Upper Air.” In the [linked] interview, King was asked about cultural relativism. He replied:

      “KING: Yeah. Well, cultural relativism never meant that you couldn’t make judgments about things, and it certainly never meant an extreme moral relativism. Boas and his students took brave stands against racism. They took brave stands against eugenics, so he felt throughout his life that his worldview was perfectly compatible with saying some things are simply wrong in a moral sense. But I think his science, in a way, made his morality deeper because he didn’t have to tie his sense of what was right in the world to the superiority of his own culture and civilization.”

      pyong hwa,
      michael

      Like

      1. Thank you for the explanation though most of it goes over my head. 🙂 I don’t understand lots starting with the definition of Flatland you used onwards to the relevance of the Charles King quote. That is fine!

        This discussion is beyond my current understanding, background knowledge, vocabulary, and ability to parse certain nuances in thought. I’ll leave the door ajar for further info to penetrate this dense brain. Maybe hearing the idea somewhere else will make more sense down the road.

        Thank you for your patience.

        Like

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