“Stage theory… Is BS?” — pt. 4

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


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

Stadial theory/Eugenics—systematizing superiority

The Cladist approach we peeked at last week applies to our argument in two important ways. 

  1. If there are no sharp edges in natural taxonomies as Darwin insisted and emphasized, then that raises serious questions about trying to identify “stages.” 
  2. Analogous to a Cladist framing, in practical terms there is no separation between a stadial model and the audience, so the standard defense fails, — it becomes incoherent to say: “The model is fine, it’s just those who interpret it poorly that create the issues” — let’s unpack.

Separation ofModel || Audience’ fades



So, I feel the incoherence I mention above may be a function of a blind-spot in some who are passionately zealous about models like Spiral Dynamics, or Integral. The conversation I’ve heard regarding Bateson’s provocation leads me to believe that many SD and Integral leaders (and devotees) do not appear to realize how extremely countercultural the claim that “higher doesn’t signify better” really is!

Granted, one may emphatically state that: “In this model, ‘higher’ doesn’t signify ‘superior’!” However, candidly, while Graves/SD voices often do state this, I don’t hear many, if any, Integral voices concerned about the superiority aspect. Rather, it’s more like that’s a point of pride — clearly, the Periwinkle [LY]-envy’ dynamic won’t be dismissed by fiat. Disclaimers/caveats/nuances lack currency when American audiences are nearly 100% certain that higher means superior

It’s the American way to see that higher is better! It’s ubiquitous, totally baked-in, and ‘close to the bone!’



The American cultural zeitgeist may be mired in narcissism and nihilism, yet it still holds a bedrock-belief that higher is better; e.g., from “movin’ on up” (into a prized penthouse apartment) to acquiring our goods from the ‘top shelf.’

In America, from an early age, we are constantly being trained to know that higher is superior. Every ‘grade level’ in school that one is able to complete opens ever more possibilities regarding what life might offer.

No, in America (and the West in general), higher IS better. Perhaps SD || Integral zeal prevents this being universally known or sufficiently appreciated. In any event, it points to the need for a conversation with SD || Integral folks.



Meritocracy: not well born

Admittedly, perhaps a somewhat distant cousin, still, meritocracy is akin to eugenics. Is that close enough to the bone for you? Before you start throwing things at me, recall that I’m the same person who wrote (here):  

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?

Two things are frequently true at the same time. We probably don’t want to completely toss the idea of merit (instrumental value). Still, the way we stratify and dehumanize life with it simply must be taken to task.

Instrumental value is very contextual and yet we systematize it and make the very notion of merit into a social commodity that coldly stratifies humans and life possibilities — DJT expresses a two-stage schema: winners and losers. Who needs an institutionalized caste system when money equals merit? It’s then, i.e., when cash = merit, that the disconnect from context is fully realized and humanness retreats.



Bateson has receipts

In the (Jeremy Johnson’s videocast) ‘Mutations’ conversation in which Nora Bateson, Maimunah Mosli, and Jon Freeman engaged, Bateson offers a rather troubling example of the deep, ubiquitous penetration of stadial theory in Western society.

Bateson really leads by identifying the issue within her own discipline of ecology. Even ecological rhetoric is shot-through with eugenics. Bateson recalls Garrett Hardin’s infamous classic: “Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor.’ Please watch this two-minute passage [queued to the select clip (01:02:57—then, you stop at 01:05:06)]:  



“This is a eugenics question.”

“If you tell a group of kids they have to answer the lifeboat question… you get all sorts of … they start to answer it. …”


Sadly, from public education to healthcare to top-tier VIP-status to border/immigration policy, stadial theory and eugenics still saturate our twenty-first century context.


Modernity essentially *elevated* the instrumental value and ghosted the intrinsic value of humans and made our instrumentality dominant/determinative.

Modernity and human instrumental value clearly have both beneficial and dehumanizing features. Stadial theory and eugenics are darkly dehumanizing. When money equals merit, the culture that results becomes dehumanizing.

We’re presently witnessing what happens after that’s been the case for a while: 600,000+ homeless, and rising, for instance. 


Next week: “Stage theory… Is BS?” — pt. 5 … Come and see. 

[this post approx. 850 words (3 min. read)]

Your thoughts? 

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



6 thoughts on ““Stage theory… Is BS?” — pt. 4

  1. Whew! A perplexing subject for sure. Personally, I find the SD model helps me be more understanding of those predominately operating in different sections of the model. And, blaming the model is akin to the lifeboat argument – isn’t it a bogus question from the start? Just like Bateson says, “it is a bogus question and we will figure it out. I am not leaving you behind.”

    Looking at your “loopy” model got me thinking about the model and some of Bateson’s other points. Like she said, we interact with each person differently and trying to put a placeholder on the individual is incorrect. That makes sense. SD says that each stage below is included in the stage above. What isn’t said and back to Bateson’s point about how we interact differently with each person, is that we can also say that every stage above is included below. SD does say that people are operating from multiple stages at any one time but there is usually one stage that predominates.

    So, your SD model turned on its’ side and with the loops tries to show the inclusiveness that no matter what stage you are predominately at, depending on the experience you can manifest anywhere in the model. All those even operating at Beige still have the capacity depending on the circumstance to operate at Turquoise and vice versa. That makes sense. The issue with the loopy sideways model is it does lose meaning for me. Coming from SD, I understand it. Without understanding SD already, the sideways/loopy model would make no sense to me.

    The other piece that I don’t see talked about in this discussions on the model, is about the goal. SD was developed to promote greater understanding of what is happening to us as individuals and as a culture. Also, it provides a framework to understand the inherent conflicts between various cultures and individuals because of the priorities people and cultures have depending on the stage. For instance, those operating at Beige are going to likely be Patriarchal with a might-is-right perspective and all they care about is keeping them and their tribe alive. Whereas, those at Green are taking a different perspective and are more concerned about keeping the planet alive then the tribe they came from. Using SD and being able to see the likely conflicts between those two realities is very helpful for me to understand how to talk with each one and gain understanding.

    So, if SD does provide better understanding of the diversity in our world, isn’t that a good thing? Throwing that out doesn’t seem to add to my ability to understand and make sense of the world around me. Just as a reminder, here is the definition of SD from the Wiki and is how I view the theory. “Spiral Dynamics describes how value systems and worldviews emerge from the interaction of “life conditions” and the mind’s capacities.[9] The emphasis on life conditions as essential to the progression through value systems is unusual among similar theories, and leads to the view that no level is inherently positive or negative, but rather is a response to the local environment.”

    Personally, I am back to fundamental questions. What is the goal? How does SD further or retard attainment of the goal?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hey now, shastatour, thanks for writing!

      > What is the goal?

      Yes, well, that question is always at the ready. 😉

      > So, if SD does provide better understanding of the diversity in our world, isn’t that a good thing? Throwing that out doesn’t seem to add to my ability to understand and make sense of the world around me.

      Yes, ‘better understanding’ is a good thing in my book. I’m certainly not talking about throwing that out. Rather, I’m working to preserve the value I’ve found in Graves’ insights. Sans ‘stages.’

      The more I live with this idea that feedback loops are carrying the water, so to speak, and not some mechanistic juxtaposition like ‘steps,’ the more I see that stages, levels, or any kind of ranking are superfluous to the ‘good’ that may be accomplished with Graves’ insights.

      Imho, the relational dynamics are the relevant information. Steps seem more like a crude, clumsy mechanism to drive movement when compared to the supple subtlety of Loopy dynamics. I mean, if there are required steps, what in the heck is “Green bypassing” anyway?

      ‘Stage’ thinking is simply an imposition on continuums that has both plus and minus potentialities. These potentialities may be, and have been, exploited for good and ill. I’m surmising that the amount of good that ‘stages’ contributes to understanding is not worth the ill. I feel like Graves’ other insights hold up without the stadial aspect, I’m thinking it’s unnecessary and there are other ways to communicate the insights about the dynamics.

      I’m still thinking this through, though, thanks again for your thoughtful response!

      pyong hwa,


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