“Stage theory… Is BS?” — pt. 8

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


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

Life imitates art

I’m thinking about an experiential theme, a phenomenon depicted in a 1977 science fiction film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Do you recall when Richard Dryfuss’s character was obsessively driven to create a physical representation of the image he was seeing in his mind? Remember, his wife was none too pleased that he had shoveled a big pile of dirt into their house? Later in the film we realize that others from all over the country have been seeing the same image in their minds and feeling driven to near compulsion by it, as well. All these previously (seemingly) unconnected people were seeing the same thing, not really knowing what they were seeing, but all feeling powerfully compelled by the experience. 
In a non-literal, rhyming kind of way, I can definitely relate.
When Nora Bateson dropped her “Stage theory… Is colonial BS” provocation into the social media context, I realized that what I’d been working on for a few years fit into a much larger, specific theme that I hadn’t clearly seen or appreciated previously. Bateson’s critique of stadial theory is a very sharp scalpel that cuts across several key areas that have shaped “American consciousness.”

Stadial ubiquity

As it turns out, stadial theory is found lurking about in many, if not most, of our legacy social constructs—”K thru 12,” for instance. Another example from earlier, we saw that while we probably don’t want to toss the baby out with the bathwater, even well-intended stadial theory-inspired structures like *meritocracy* have dire unintended consequences for human life (see —part 4 – under subhead: “Meritocracy: not well born”).
The artifacts of stadial theory are far more ubiquitous than I had ever imagined. The underpinning concept of stadial theory is very well populated with control mechanisms and superiority justification methodologies and, thus, may be both helpful and problematic — it may advance both instrumentality and colonialism.  

Racial justice… a journey, not an event

The intervention of Franz Boas and his band of renegade anthropologists definitely helped stem the Western tide of human hierarchies and modern efforts to legitimize them. While they laid the basis for its later expression, in their time, Boas and Co. didn’t have a full appreciation of the social construction of race.
Critical theory and critiques that attend it basically follow after the Boasian revolution, and so we find some problems and shortfalls intrinsic to Boasian proto anti-racism — advocating ‘color blindness’ was a misguided by-product of Boasian anthropology, for instance. So, Boas’s legacy of liberal* anti-racism rightly had its critics. We’ll take up the post-Boasian period a bit more closely next time, in part 9.
*liberal = Enlightenment modernism, individualism 
Black Studies (and, later, Critical Race Theory [CRT]) were responses to the lack of movement in racial justice. Despite the Boasian interventions and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, racial injustice continued. The identification and recognition of the cultural fallacy of racial caste, and even legal proscription, were not enough to reverse the cumulative effects of nearly 400 years of White supremacist ideology. And yet, as we’ll see next week, some argue that Boasian anthropology framed anti-racism in such a way that it helped further institutionalize and perpetuate White supremacist ideology. 

Mechanistically minded?

Why are we so prone to using mechanistic illustrations? I know that I like to do so, and I have a recent example. 
In this mini-series I’ve been looking at how it might work if I dropped the stadial aspect of Graves’ thinking from my approach — see the new non-stadial graphics below. I’ve suggested that stages (levels, altitudes, layers) are an unnecessary (and unhelpful) way of thinking about Graves’ insights regarding system composition and dynamics. Further, I’ve suggested that loops constitute a far suppler, more sensitive, and subtler form of dynamic self-ordering for Gravesian values systems.
I thought of an illustration for how loops could more efficiently sequence dynamic self-ordering. Instead of a stage-threshold trigger, loops could form a continuous, real-time control system analogous to a nerve circuit. Readiness factors could be accounted for and administered in a way similar to electro-chemical reactions across synapses. However, no sooner had I begun thinking about this illustration, I realized that, ironically, even that example is mechanistic…. far more supple perhaps, but still mechanistic. I mean, the ‘fatigue’ aspect of nerve cells alone adds significant nuance to the ‘mechanism’ over ‘stages.’ 


  • While always passionate, of late I haven’t really had a conscious direction for my blog beyond trying to gain some understanding. I was recently surprised to find that a differently themed agenda largely encompasses my local personal project.

  • Boasian interventions were proto anti-racism and weren’t the last word (more on this next week).
  • I wonder if we conceive of social and psychological complexity in mechanistic terms as a product of the influence of our modernist context? Even loops are, minimally, mechanistic-like. 


Next week: “‘Stage theory… Is BS?’ — pt. 9.” Come and see. 

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

Your thoughts? 

What did you hear me say?


New non-stadial graphics:


3 thoughts on ““Stage theory… Is BS?” — pt. 8

  1. There is much about stadial and stage theory that remains unresolved for me because of how it permeates my thinking and education. After reading more of Boas, your posts, and seeing the negative aspects of Stage Theory manifesting almost daily on the Facebook Integral group page, the idea promulgated by Nora Bateson has progressed from “what the heck” to “this is starting to make sense”, and now to “what will a world without this thinking be like?”.

    Almost all the discussions I read containing Stage Theory devolve into some type of judgement and the throwing around of negative projections. And, when I try to recreate those discussions in my head to eliminate the negative consequences of expressing Stage and Stadial Theory, I realize it is very difficult. So, I ask why is it so difficult and the answer is starting to be obvious that operating inside or from a Stage Theory context creates constant trip points for the person.

    Now, when following daily news events, cultural discussions and academic conversations in almost any field, I am finding that when I eliminate Stage or Stadial Theory it is much easier to distill a conversation to its really important aspects. Stadial and Stage Theory really don’t add to the conversation – it seems more that they muddy the thinking . This is what I am going to continue doing because for me these daily interactions with ideas being tossed around by different people that incorporate the ST’s is where my thinking about them starts to clarify.

    The Stage Theory is BS idea and the ramifications across reality as I know and understand it are so vast that it would be silly to say that while I can accept it on one level, that I’ve really accepted it on all levels. A complete new paradigm is there, but, seems so elusive. So, I keep wrestling this and maybe will come to a draw one day. That is probably the most I can hope for.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Salzman takes up this subject here……. https://www.dailyevolver.com/2021/10/the-great-stage-theory-debate/ My first reaction is Salzman only gave this a superficial review so maybe he is setting the stage for a deeper discussion later. The only real interesting part was his multiple examples of different stage theories from various religions and schools of thought. The point seemed to be that because both Eastern and Western religions and spiritual thinkers have created stadial models then it must be OK to do this.

    I could sympathize with his struggle to understand why a foundation of integral thinking – stage theory, needs to be tossed out or reimagined. The easy answer, which he gravitates towards and I did in the beginning of wrapping my head around this, of labeling Bateson as a wonderful example of extreme Green and deconstructionist isn’t persuasive for me now. Who knows? I might come back to that if something else doesn’t percolate. Maybe I’m going through my Mean Green stage right now – haha.

    Liked by 1 person

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