Sunday, August 23, 2009


II. The Twentieth Century

Orange’s Test of Fire
So now the struggle of the new, Orange, rational/egoic wave of stage of consciousness to break clean of the premodern wave entered a new phase. The American Revolution marked the beginning of the tangible ascendancy of Orange; the full-blown emergence of the modern world, expressed in the Lower Right as the Industrial Age, began to move the center of gravity of human consciousness higher. Its gift of the liberation of science from the prejudices of the feudal dogmas produced the increasingly profound breakthroughs that led to Einstein and the seeds of the next memetic transcendence—Green vision/logic.

But first it would have to undergo a test of fire from the challenge of socialism.

Orange-inspired revolutions—encouraged by the Americans’ victory in their war for independence—and Amber counter-revolutions would shake Europe until the final collapse of the Amber Soviet Empire in 1991. Starting with France in 1789, the commitment to individual freedoms and rational/scientific thought struggled mightily to establish itself, like it did in America, in an explicitly Orange political economy. England, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries over the course of the nineteenth century became constitutional monarchical republics based increasingly on industrial capitalism. France was convulsed with numerous revolutions before the Third Republic, established in 1870, ended the threat of feudal monarchy and put it on the road to becoming a modern republic. (The tensions between its agricultural and industrial sectors would be a source of political ambiguity down to the present moment.)

Revolutions in Germany led to the creation of the German Empire in the same year. Bismarck’s triumph permitted its leadership to transition to an industrial economy, but its governance, controlled by the Hohenzollerns and their allies in the Prussian Junker aristocracy, remained stubbornly Amber. The influence of these landowners would conspire to facilitate the emergence of Hitler’s Nazi Party, eventually bringing Germany down into the barbarism of the Third Reich before finally giving way to a genuinely modern republic in 1948.

Most of central and southern Europe had to wait until after World War II to transition to modern republican political economies, while eastern Europe had to endure another four decades of communist rule—and even now much of the area is still struggling to develop an enduring liberal polity.

World Wars I and II were yet more rounds in the memetic conflict. The Central Powers in the first case and the Axis Powers in the second were premodern imperial alliances seeking to repress and destroy modern industrial nation states. The Allies’ complete devastation of the fascist regimes in 1945 finally ended the political power of old-line Amber aristocratic empires in Europe.

But Amber was not yet done with its revolt against Orange. And in the twentieth century an unanticipated variant displaced the aristocrats as leaders of the revolt.

The rise of socialism in the middle of the nineteenth century helped complicate a continent-wide Orange transformation in Europe. Although there were many forward-looking aspects to it, socialism as a political movement was essentially a reaction to the convulsions that the development of industrial economies created in European society. The democracies eventually incorporated policies to ameliorate some of the damage caused by this transformation, while most of it disappeared as the enormous amounts of new wealth became increasingly available to the average citizen, resulting in the emergence of a robust middle class.

Vladimir Lenin and his Red “dictatorship of the proletariat” kidnapped socialism when the Bolsheviks succeeded in establishing the Soviet Union in the early 1920s. With no exception, every communist regime imposed on victim nations in the wake of the Russian Revolution was essentially a latter-day Amber imperial construct. In some cases, like the Soviet Union and much of Eastern Europe, the dictatorships sought to finance the crash development of an industrial economy through forced collectivization that crushed the peasantry and its perennial agricultural order. But in spite of the industrial base it created, the communist autarchy was resolutely tribal in nature. None of the features of industrial democracy such as an independent labor movement was allowed. Organized official terror was universally applied to crush individualism and promote the state interest in its place.

So while the old-line European aristocracies like the Austrian Empire were giving way to new democratic-based industrial polities, the cause of the premodern was taken up by the communists. It took another seventy years before this version of it gave up the fight.

The Global Struggle

The Five Hundred Years’ War was played out mostly in the European arena until the twentieth century. Amber reigned supreme and serene throughout most of the world while the tempest was raging in the West. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, imperial Islam, ruled over by the Ottomans from the Sublime Porte in Istanbul, was maintaining its long history of ignoring the barbarians on its northwestern border—except when seeking to sack Vienna. Muslim Persia was firmly in the control of the Qajars. In China, the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty continued its centuries’ long domination. The Japanese, having closed their country to contact with the outside world, lived contentedly under the Tokugawa Shogunate. In India, the Mughals held sway. The tribal lands of Africa, Australia, and Oceania continued their ancient premodern ways as well.

But as the European invention of capitalism and its surpluses grew, so too did its global reach. Europeans had gradually displaced most of the native tribal cultures of the Americas, while establishing footholds in Africa and Asia. By exporting their modern ways, they inevitably opened new frontiers in the memetic wars. Each empire in its turned rebelled against the European intrusions, and most suffered the fate of the first imperial resistance offered by the Aztecs and the Incas in the Americas—political if not memetic defeat. A few, like the Japanese, elected to embrace the strange new world, but most resisted.

The European penetration of the rest of the world set the stage for the bloodiest century in human history. From the Boer War in 1899 through NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign against the Serbs in Kosovo, humans slaughtered one another in unprecedented numbers as the premodern continued its resistance to the emergence of the modern.

After the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945, the Soviet empire took up the Amber cause in the Cold War. For the second half of the century, the West and the Communists engaged a prolonged and terrifying struggle fraught with the danger that it could get out of hand and unleash global nuclear destruction. Localized clashes—sometimes involving the great powers, sometimes their clients, sometimes both—broke out sporadically in Asia, Africa, and even the Americas. These wars continued the memetic bloodshed until finally, exhausted by its inability to generate the resources to keep up the battle, the Soviet empire collapsed.

Finally, since the moment Martin Luther’s rebellion signaled the mass arising of the modern Orange, rational/egoic, industrial/republican stage of consciousness, Europe was unified under its memetic hegemony. Pockets of resistance remained, mostly in the Balkans, but outside of the countries like Belarus and the Ukraine that regained their independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the premodern Amber mythic/membership, agricultural/imperial stage had been transcended.

And so it seemed for a brief moment that at least in Europe the end of the five centuries of rebellion against the modern wave of consciousness signaled the moment when the premodern world finally made its peace with the modern.

Instead it cleared the way for the smoldering Islamic revolt against modernity to find new strength.

The Postconventional Complication

But Kosmic evolution is restless and does not wait for our meaning-making to keep up with it. The four centuries of the bimemetic polarity was about to be jolted and reconfigured.

Thus even while the Amber-Orange battle was raging, an entirely new meme began to find expression among significant numbers of humans starting noticeably in the 1960s. The postconventional wave, which Wilber labels “Green,” rejected conventional modernity’s emphasis on individualism, empiricism, and reason. It found in Orange a carelessness toward and disregard for the macrocosm that engendered violent oppression against those unable to “keep up” with the advances of modernity.

Since it appeared in perceptible numbers among college-age youth, its expression is attributed by many to the demographics of the postwar baby boom.

In truth, the record numbers of college students produced by this boom merely and happily coincided with a number of factors that set the stage for a new wave of consciousness.

We can perhaps trace the contours of this postmodern, postrational outlook back to the work of the nineteenth century German philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel, whose Phenomenology of Mind laid out both the contours of a philosophical understanding of Reason and of its transcendence. The work of his followers in the German Critical School and the reaction to it by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and their existentialist successors would help birth postmodernist philosophy.

These writers were working primarily in the Left Hand Quadrants; for the Right Hand consequences of this emerging wave we can look to the leaps in the natural sciences that were made in the nineteenth century. The inquiries of German mathematicians Karl Gauss and Bernhard Riemann, along with their Hungarian colleague János Bolyai, led to the discoveries of non-Euclidean geometries, which set the stage for the revolutionary insights of Albert Einstein.

At the same time, the breakthroughs in the study of electromagnetism by Michael Faraday and James Clark Maxwell were also straining the linearity of Newtonian physics. In the middle of the century, the evolutionary theories of Alfred Russel Wallace, Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, and others, while further undermining the Amber worldview of a fixed and rigid universe, were also dethroning humans from the pedestal of the Creation.

All of these inquiries, along with those in related fields of chemistry, biology, and even anthropology, were flung into an unprecedented new intellectual orbit by the thirty years between Einstein’s 1905 publication of his paper on the special theory of relativity and his 1935 presentation of the Einstein-Podolosky-Rosen (EPR) Paradox. Einstein and his colleagues in quantum physics, from Max Planck to Erwin Schrödinger, discovered and codified an understanding of the basic structures of the physical universe that not only overthrew Newtonian mechanics but also suggested a world so strange and discontinuous from all previous intellectual formulations as to seem dropped onto the planet from some invisible extraterrestrial source.

The implications for the Right Hand quadrants were momentous. The basis for an entirely new economy, the Information Age, was being created. Within twelve years of the enunciation of the EPR Paradox, William Shockley and his colleagues at Bell Labs had invented the transistor. This singular device opened the gates for the high-speed exchange of information that is the core of the new technology.

The American and Russian space programs, followed by their military institutions, were the first to make heavy usage of computers. During the 1960s, NASA and its counterpart in the Soviet Union refined both the hardware and software that swiftly made the intricate calculations necessary to send humans to the moon and bring them back safely.

Spurred by these developments, the contours of the emerging new economy began to become visible in the 1970s. While in the old Amber/Orange world the communist victory in Indochina, the OPEC oil embargo, the impeachment of Richard Nixon, the overthrow of the Shah in the Iranian revolution, and the disaster at the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island were all happening, the computer age was establishing itself firmly in the American and European economies. Intel introduced its first microprocessor in 1971. Apple released its first personal computer in 1977, and over the course of the decade Unix and DOS were introduced. Videotapes and players were made available to the mass market, while computer game pioneer Atari placed game modules in arcades across America. Corning Glass pioneered fiber optics, and microwave ovens became available to consumers in the advanced sector. The digital platform of the computer led to a revolution in audio and video recording. In short order it produced CD players, MP3 files, DVDs, and the universal availability of downloadable digital files on the Internet.

It was in the 1980s that the first iteration of the Internet was created, and by the early 1990s the pioneering work of Tim Berners-Lee led to the establishment of the World Wide Web, the usage of which skyrocketed after the 1993 release of hypertext markup language (HTML).

It may be a coincidence that the acceleration of the general application of high technology occurred as the Soviet Union fell upon the ash heap of history; time will tell. But when the global political economic structure pinned in place by the Cold War disappeared, it unleashed a wave of economic expansion fueled by the gains in productivity made possible by the inventions of the global high-tech sector. This increase of the velocity of creativity was emblemized by Moore’s Law, the observation that “the complexity of an integrated circuit, with respect to minimum component cost, will double in about 18 months.”
A major feature of the emerging Information Age is the collapse of distances in our mental space. Since the advent of the commercial jet airliner in the 1950s, people have been able to move between widely dispersed locations on the globe in a day’s time or less. The Internet has made communication instantaneous between those exact same two spots. We have moved from regional networks of national political economies to an increasingly integrated global economy.

The Green Vision/Logic Stage of Consciousness
Orange advanced consciousness by focusing the self-sense in humans out from the generalized tribe or clan and into the specific individual. This movement featured an expansion of “interior space” such that a person could now reflect and experience a self-concept complete enough in itself so as to permit him to survive and thrive apart from the tribe. In this interior space where measurement of the new perspective gained cogency, rational thinking arose and solidified. That is to say, in this new self-reflective cognitive capacity we humans could develop and act upon a concept of ourselves as autonomous individuals. Reason is, among other things, the insight that reality is subject to objective metrics that apply universally, regardless of the tribe to which we might belong. The expansive application of reason to human experience resulted in a societal shift that, over the course of the past five hundred years, elevated individual liberty to the status of an enduring ideal around which entire societies have now organized themselves.

The results of this new self-sense were, as we have been reviewing, revolutionary. And, as is the case with all the stages of consciousness, it is still a limited view. Once we have experienced all that this stage has to offer, we are ready to move on to the next adventure.

The limits of the Orange, rational/egoic meme are precisely that it confines the self-sense to the life span of the human body, whose mortality renders dependence on reason a spiritual dead end. As humanity applied the scientific method championed by such scholars as Roger Bacon, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton, we inevitably came up against roadblocks that science could neither account for nor get past. Finally, when in 1927 the physicist Werner Heisenberg enunciated his famous indeterminacy principle, we could actually state in the language of pure reason—mathematics—the limits of rational inquiry.

The inadequacy of reason was explored in other arenas as well. In art, Pablo Picasso and his fellow Cubists, along with René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and the Surrealists explored in painting the realm beyond rational perspectives. In music, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Igor Stravinsky, and others overthrew Bach’s well-tempered musical technique with the twelve-tone system. In literature, D. H. Lawrence in England, Emile Zola and Gustave Flaubert in France, and John dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser in the U. S. pioneered realism, which critiqued the blind adherence to rational science and the industrial economy.

For about a century these expressions of frustration with the Orange memetic world chafed against its boundaries. In the meantime, as we have seen, science itself dethroned the supremacy of reason and, by introducing relativity into scientific inquiry and perspective, opened the way for postmodernism.

From the point of view of daily human existence, adherence to reason tended to bleed the heart dry. Since science could not measure love, nobility, honor, commitment, or intention, they did not exist. Conventional culture treated these as novelties or playthings, and people grew more restless and some even experienced a deep alienation from their own social connections.

This restlessness ultimately gave birth to Green.

If we can see Orange as the self-sense transcending tribal identity and settling into the individual, we can see Green as the mature version of this individuation. In this realm we come to see that others also experience an individualized self-sense, and that reason fails to provide adequate justification for privileging any one over anyone else. Thus we become sensitive to what is common among all humans, and are willing to examine in this commonality ways of promoting equal opportunities for every individual to fully experience his or her potential.

And so Wilber’s description of Green’s qualities and assumptions, from A Theory of Everything, demonstrates how Green opens up Orange’s constrictions:

The Sensitive Self. Communitarian, human bonding, ecological sensitivity, networking. The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness; feelings and caring supersede cold rationality; cherishing of the earth, Gaia, life. Against hierarchy; establishes lateral bonding and linking. Permeable self, relational self, group intermeshing. Emphasis on dialogue, relationships. Basis of value communities (i.e., freely chosen affiliations based on shared sentiments). Reaches decisions through reconciliation and consensus (downside: interminable
"processing" and incapacity to reach decisions). Refresh spirituality, bring harmony, enrich human potential. Strongly egalitarian, anti-hierarchy, pluralistic values, social construction of reality, diversity, multiculturalism, relativistic value systems; this worldview is often called
pluralistic relativism. Subjective, nonlinear thinking; shows a greater degree of affective warmth, sensitivity, and caring, for earth and all its inhabitants.

Where seen: Deep ecology, postmodernism, Netherlands idealism, Rogerian counseling, Canadian health care, humanistic psychology, liberation theology, cooperative inquiry, World Council of Churches, Greenpeace, animal rights, ecofeminism, post-colonialism, Foucault/Derrida, politically correct, diversity movements, human rights issues,
What is important is to recognize that Green arose first as an interior sense, a Left-Hand event, which both interacted with and produced Right-Hand dimensions. As Wilber describes it,

As the green meme started to emerge on a more widespread scale, it began to displace the orange meme at the leading edge of the academic elite, and thus the modernism of orange universalism gave way to the postmodernism of green pluralism. Where the former was marked by static universal systems governing all cultures, the latter was marked by relativism, multiculturalism, diversity studies, and incommensurabilities of every imaginable variety. This was, in many ways, the first move from formalism to postformalism, and the result was a much-needed turn away from abstract grand theories, big pictures, metanarratives, and universal formalism, toward a detailed attention to particulars, to cultural nuances and important differences, with an emphasis on marginalized sectors and heterogeneity.
In its marvel at the multiplicity of perspectives available to human beings, Green asserted that “facts” are context-dependent. How one understands something depends entirely upon the situation within which one attempts the understanding. This assumes that perspectives are morally neutral, and that the advance is the recognition that multiple perspectives not only exist, but that none is privileged over the others.[1]

Green Political Blossoming

This insight led to the “liberation movements” as well as the anti-war campaigns of the late 1960s, and out of these experiences men and women began to move into the governments of the advanced sector and agitate for policies reflective of the emerging Green sensibility. Especially in Europe, this meme reinvigorated leftist politics by challenging the old Left’s conventional statist assumptions.

A similar dynamic ensued in the United States, where Green got its first political victory when George McGovern’s insurgent campaign seized the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination for the old-line labor and urban machine power brokers. Although the country was not sufficiently evolved to embrace an explicitly postmodern approach—Richard Nixon easily defeated McGovern—the “cultural creatives,” as Paul Ray and Sherrie Anderson have labeled those in whom Green consciousness is awakening, discovered an institutional political home.

The Democratic Party, with a few exceptions, found itself transformed in the aftermath of the McGovern nomination. It embraced the postconventional political approach that sought to elevate those who had been marginalized by promoting multiculturalist, anti-elitist policies. It absorbed the women’s movement; it championed the African American struggle for racial equality; it made room for gay liberation. It changed its historic embrace of anti-communism by challenging Ronald Reagan’s confrontation of Soviet military policies.

But only with the disappearance of the communist threat were Americans willing to elect a Green president. Bill Clinton, the first Baby Boomer chief executive, came to office in 1993 with a minority of the popular vote. He sought to “triangulate” his positions, which in effect meant playing Amber, Orange, and Green against one another. His major domestic achievement, welfare reform, was in fact an Amber/Orange revision of a Green experiment in eradicating poverty.

His Vice President, Al Gore, was more explicitly Green in his programmatic outlook. In particular, his environmental policies drew from the willingness of Green to look at the world from the perspective that it serves as the home of the entire human species, and the source of all our material goods. As such we must cultivate its resources with care, ensuring equal access to its riches for everyone with the understanding of the relative finiteness of much of its bounty.

He actually won a razor-thin majority of the popular votes for president in 2000, aced out in the Electoral College only by George Bush’s 437-vote plurality in Florida. Bush, a more conventional politician with a mixture of Amber and Orange outlooks, managed in 2004 to push his popular vote margin to 3% over another Green-outlook opponent, John Kerry. Clearly Americans are fully engaged in this new memetic emergence.

Western Europeans, in the meantime, have gone further than the Americans. Their robust socialist parties provided an institutional base for Green consciousness to grow from. The socialist left in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Holland, Spain, and the Scandinavian countries have all eschewed conventional platforms in favor of postindustrial, postmodern approaches. The European Union experiment is essentially a Green foray into an egalitarian, multiculturalist political economic formation. Impelled by a near-zero birth rate, European elites have embraced the postindustrial nature of their societies.

In the rest of the world, Green-wave political movements have arisen only in other sectors of the Anglosphere, notably Canada and Australia. In almost no other country do we see Green emerging among large sectors of the population, much less finding expression in politics. Since this vision/logic meme arises out of Orange, Green will start appearing only in those societies that have already experienced an Orange center of gravity.

The current condition of our political world is based upon this new trimemetic geometry. Next we will examine the dynamics of this unprecedented situation (Three Blind Memes, Part III: "The First Tier Food Fight").
[1] For Ken’s thorough analysis of Green, see not only the appropriate sections of A Brief History of Everything, Integral Psychology, and Boomeritis, but also the draft of his forthcoming Karma and Kosmic Creativity posted on his Shambhala web page.

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