The Dissonance of Amber, Orange, and Green
In Wilber’s adaptation of Clare Graves’ Spiral Dynamics system, we recognize that all the waves of consciousness from birth up through the consolidation of a mature personalized ego share the conviction that each is the “correct” way of seeing and interpreting reality. This part of the spectrum of consciousness Graves and Wilber identify as “the First Tier.”
We can characterize the levels of consciousness throughout the First Tier as collapsing “down” from a generalized, unbounded sense of the self at conception into a very specific, individualized conventional adult human. Once this identity of the self narrows into the severely bounded, totally separate and distinct person, it really has nowhere else to go but back “up.”
“Up” on Wilber’s map is the transcendence of the individualized ego into the relative freedom of the Second and Third Tiers. This “momentous leap” represents the action for which all conscious beings yearn—the freedom from the tyranny of the egoic self and absorption into the dimensionless One. In the transpersonal realms we begin to identify with wider and deeper dimensions of the Kosmos; our consciousness is on a more profound journey yet, opening itself to itself with greater and greater breadth and depth. Ultimately, as Wilber and his peers speaking from the Third Tier note, all polarity disappears and only the radiant One Taste of authentic universal omnipresent reality remains.
Until the illusion of separation dissolves, we struggle with what occurs to us as the limiting structures of consciousness. At this time in Kosmic unfolding this means that almost all adults on the planet are living from one of three different First Tier memes, a configuration unprecedented in Kosmic history.
In the first two parts of this essay, we looked at how, for the five hundred years beginning roughly in the sixteenth century, the Orange rational/egoic wave struggled like a butterfly to emerge and distinguish itself from the cocoon of its Amber, mythic/membership chrysalis stage. Although the issue has been settled by and large in the advanced sector, the battle continues today in the rest of the world.
But with yet another wrinkle: it is now complicated by this new memetic dynamic—that of the Green vision/logic “sensitive self” seeking to transcend Orange and establish itself as a distinct level of consciousness. And this complication is further impacted by the fact that as a “Kosmic habit” Green is very young and therefore manifests within such a wide range of probabilities that its effect, while clear and pronounced, is still diluted and unfocused—just as Orange was until the beginning of the twentieth century.
And just as it happened with the emergence of Orange out of Amber, as Green is struggling to establish itself as a discrete level of consciousness, Orange finds itself as unsettled about it as Amber was about Orange!
But the geometry of their dissonance is different. Orange marked a significant shift by giving rise to the rational and individualized realms. It differentiated the quadrants, which the premodern mind simply could not see. Orange created a literary world out of a predominately oral culture, and in so doing enabled the dignity of the individual to emerge out of the tribal system.
To Amber, this development was simultaneously a lure and a threat. Since the evolutionary momentum is towards the Nondual state of consciousness, all holons are drawn toward transcendence of every stage of development. This pull comes, as it were, from the future; that is, it is not discernible in the level one occupies. So while we are drawn—just as teenagers desperately want to be adults—we are also fearful, for the new territory is alien and therefore full of surprises, not all of which promise to be pleasant—just as teenagers fear the risks and responsibilities of adulthood.
We see this acted out today in the ambivalence that much of the world holds towards the United States. On the one hand, it represents freedom, opportunity, and wealth; on the other, license, amorality, and soullessness. It attracts even as it repels.
And this dichotomy has been true since the rise of the Tudors and their Orange compatriots in sixteenth century northern Europe. The modern world has both frightened and seduced the premodern. And because Amber can only filter this through its mythic/membership, rule/role mindset, it reacts prerationally, and thus the intermemetic war between Amber and Orange has been a bloody and violent one.
But the struggle between Orange and Green plays out of a rational mindset. Since both are identified with the individual rational/egoic world, their disagreement rages more in the mental than the physical realms. Theirs is, in a certain way, a civil war, a fight between two dimensions of reason—even though the prevailing Boomeritis variant of Green denies the rational foundation of its structure. And like civil wars everywhere, the antagonism is envenomed by the conviction of betrayal on both sides.
We can see this in the political lines drawn in the advanced sector since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. In the Left Hand quadrants, we see the erosion of trust and civility in political dialogue and the increasing suspicion and bitterness that each faction feels towards its opposite. In the Right Hand quadrants, we see, among other things, the increasing gap between the systems of production and the systems of governance, not to mention the wars and economic dislocations.
But this civil war is underway on a field where the premodern war against the modern is also still raging—and Orange and Green both fail to see in the other an ally in this Kosmic dynamic. Neither Osama bin Laden nor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad care whether George W. Bush or Al Gore is president of the United States; they would both as easily obliterate the one as the other. Any manifestation of the post-Amber world is a trick of the Great Satan to be eliminated in the name of Allah.
But Green does not see it that way, because it is caught by its rational appreciation of the potential dignity of all human beings, even those dominated by the prerational—including those out to kill them! Orange groks Amber's resistance; Green is perplexed by it. It has not yet worked out a political platform that addresses Amber’s stubborn refusal to appreciate the finer points of negotiation. Green is enraptured by the nonviolence campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., seeing in them an ideal template for right political action. It forgets that Gandhi and King were dealing with people and institutions dominated by Orange, not Amber. Green thrills to the 1989 picture of the brave student standing before a tank in Tiananmen Square, overlooking the hundreds or even thousands killed by the brutal repression of the demonstrators by the Amber Chinese communist regime.
Green does not see its inheritance from Orange because it is still a First Tier meme. And each First Tier meme, because it is still limited to self-identification with only human beings, is forced to presume that it is the only valid way of being.
It is this interplay among the three that Ken Wilber has characterized as a “First Tier food fight”:
As it is now, when any paradigm oversteps its authority and begins to make pronouncements about other phenomena brought forth by other paradigms, the only principle guiding the pronouncements tends to be, "I'm right, you're wrong." My paradigm is the best, only, real, and/or authentic mode of inquiry, and the phenomena of your paradigm can all be reduced to the phenomena brought forth by my paradigm. If you are a die-hard physical scientist, you imagine that the phenomena brought forth by other paradigms (such as hermeneutics, meditation, systems theory, or postmodernism) can all be reduced to a "consilience" of laws governing fundamental physical particles; and if you are postmodernist, you return the favor and claim that all physical particles are nothing but social constructions, a reality revealed only by your own deconstructive paradigm. Thus proceeds the first-tier food fight.And even this myopia, this blindness of First Tier memes, is an expression of the One manifesting in time and space. It is the dance of the Divine, celebrating like Shiva the ever changing interplay of creation and destruction, of birth and death, of the new and the old, unfolding, expanding, regenerating, shifting perspectives, ever outward from the first singularity of the Big Bang—if not from before! Only in the folds of dimensionality, in the density of Form, do we “think” of it as a fragmented, limited, death-sentenced realm, stuck in Plato’s cave mesmerized by the shadows on the screens of our consciousness. Ah, there is so much more!
What Then Can We Expect?
What can we expect of the world of the three blind memes?
The short answer is, who knows?
But, being humans with our meaning-making impulse, this will not do. Living as we do in the fullness of the individualized egoic realms, standing on the brink of finally transcending the First Tier, we can look back at where we’ve come from and, utilizing the tools created in the past century, devise yet another hypothesis about the map and where we are on it.
If, in the Lower Right, Amber was characterized by imperial agricultural societies with a pyramidal social structure, and Orange by industrial nation states with a large middle class, what political economic structures does Green seek?
The unfolding Information Age economy gives us some clues. First, there is a significant tendency toward decentralization. Computer technology and the Internet give us a capacity for exchanging data in a nanosecond anywhere around the world. Multinational communications and transportation corporations are no longer irreplaceable elements of the global economy. This coheres with Green’s insight into the limited value of rational hierarchies and its determination to level life’s playing field.
Further, the exchange of wealth is transforming. Up until this epoch, wealth exchange occurred either through barter or monetization. That is, we swapped goods or services that we mutually agreed to be of equal value, or we created a medium of exchange (money) to act as the value carrier and used it for selling and purchasing. Since all wealth is, in essence, the product of human imagination, the closer we can get to direct application of human creativity in developing and exchanging goods and services the less we will need to depend upon monetization with its attendant flaws.
We are very early in this process, but as long ago as 1994 the economist Peter Drucker foresaw the possibilities of a world where everyone controls his/her own means of the production of wealth, i.e., where everyone is a “knowledge worker.” The ability, through digitalization, to directly apply our knowledge to the physical world and create wealth thereby is an unprecedented situation, one that neither Orange nor Green truly knows what to do with.
But Green is creating a world of networks to supersede the political economy of nation states. In the Information Age, according to Drucker in his brilliant book Post-Capitalist Society, a networked "society of organizations" will become the primary structure of social interaction.
Society, community, family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability and to prevent, or at least to slow down, change. But the organization of the post-capitalist society of organizations is a destabilizer. Because its function is to put knowledge to work—on tools, processes, and products; on work; on knowledge itself—it must be organized for constant change. It must be organized for innovation; and innovation, as the Austro-American economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) said, is “creative destruction.” It must be organized for systematic abandonment of the established, the customary, the familiar, the comfortable—whether products, services, and processes, human and social relationships, skills, or organizations themselves. It is the very nature of knowledge that it changes fast and that today’s certainties will be tomorrow’s absurdities.The world that Green is producing is even more amazing than Drucker foresaw. The unfolding nanotechnological world promises transformation in all quadrants that is beyond the comprehension of most of us. As Ray Kurzweil details expansively in The Singularity Is Near and other writings, we are on the brink of a technological breakthrough that will permit in essence the conscious and deliberate development of a new version of humanity to carry on the work of the Prime Directive. From what Orange (and even Green) would presume to be from a work of science fiction, Kurzweil observes:
In the 2020s, we'll see nanobots, blood-cell-sized devices that can go inside the body and brain to perform therapeutic functions. But what happens when we have billions of nanobots inside the capillaries of our brains, non-invasively, widely distributed, expanding human intelligence, or providing full-immersion virtual reality?His answer:
Once nonbiological intelligence gets a foothold in the human brain (this has already started with computerized neural implants), the machine intelligence in our brains will grow exponentially (as it has been doing all along), at least doubling in power each year. In contrast, biological intelligence is effectively of fixed capacity. Thus the nonbiological portion of our intelligence willKurzweil argues that the advance of consciousness is occurring on a long exponential trajectory that began with the Big Bang and is finally accelerating measurably within a single human life span. We can see evidence of this in the ever shorter duration that each new meme has lasted before its successor has arisen. Millennia passed once the hominids differentiated themselves from their cousins of the family Hominidae some million years ago before the preconventional Amber wave emerged sometime around 11,000 BCE. Amber then dominated until Orange arose only five hundred years ago, and now Green's appearance has limited Orange’s ride as the new kid on the block to a mere half millennium. If Kurzweil is right, we can expect to see increasing and significant numbers of people manifesting Second Tier consciousness within a generation!
To us in our current stage of consciousness, the possibilities lurking in the near future are both exhilarating and terrifying.
But how does this play out in a world where billions have yet to arrive at Orange, who live in that schizophrenic state of love/hate for the modern world? How does this play out when at the same time internecine warfare rages between the Orange and Green expressions of the rational/egoic waves?
Let us look at our world today. Green is struggling to emerge and replace Orange in the advanced sector. Given the intensity of the civil war between them, it is perhaps not surprising that Green has yet to prevail. Still, in two generations it has secured a solid foothold. Orange is struggling to emerge and replace Amber is two critical areas of the world, China and India, as well as in lesser economic powerhouses like Russia, South Africa, Brazil, and the nations of Eastern Europe. We see Amber tribal states like Iran and Pakistan, where Orange has only a tentative presence, seeking the benefit of its technology by developing nuclear power with its potential for conversion to weaponry.
This is complicated by the irony of Amber states dominating the oil fields of the globe, where the fuel of the Orange political economy is found. So many of these fields lie in the fiefdoms of Araby, whose ancestors once flirted with the emergence of Orange centuries before it finally materialized in Europe. But the immense wealth and power of the Abbasids was blunted by the Mongol conquests of the thirteenth century, and the Ottomans and Safavids who eventually succeeded them in control of the Middle East were content to remain Amber agricultural empires—and fall increasingly behind the Orange modern world in wealth and civilization. As Bernard Lewis has pointed out in his book What Went Wrong?,
For many centuries, the world of Islam was in the forefront of human civilization and achievement. In the Muslims’ own perception, Islam itself was indeed coterminous with civilization, and beyond its borders there were only barbarians and infidels. . . . It was the foremost economic power in the world, [and] had achieved the highest level so far in human history in the arts and sciences of civilization. . . . [M]edieval Europe was a pupil and in a sense a dependent of the Islamic world, relying on Arabic versions even for many otherwise unknown Greek works.In spite of its dependence on Muslim oil resources, the advanced sector’s economy is full-blown into the transition into the Information Age, and it is transforming the world’s economy with it. The contributions of India and China are, ironically, the result of their commitment to industrialization and to of their embrace of the modern. They are building computers to specifications developed in the West, not from native invention. They seek to emulate the United States of the 1950s, not of today—not just yet, anyway.
And then, suddenly, the relationship changed. Even before the Renaissance, Europeans were beginning to make significant progress in the civilized arts. With the advent of the New Learning, they advanced by leaps and bounds, leaving the scientific and technological and eventually the cultural heritage of the Islamic world far behind them.
. . . It was bad enough for Muslims to feel weak and poor after centuries of being rich and strong, to lose the leadership they had come to regard as their right, and to be reduced to the role of followers of the West. The twentieth century, particularly the second half, brought further humiliations—the awareness that they were no longer even the first among the followers, but were falling ever further back in the lengthening line of eager and more successful Westernizers, notably in East Asia.
It appears that the major thrust underway in the world is the continued push of Orange to bring modernity to the entire human race—even while the postmodern world is racing ahead of it. By its control of economic wealth Orange is the center of global memetic gravity, but evolution is dynamic and so it is always churning the world. How the Amber Muslim world reacts to the emerging industrial nation states to their north and east—with the Iraq experiment right on their center—will impact Orange's momentum.
Oh, and by the way, the trimemetic dynamic is not simply playing out in the macrocosm, but in each individual human at the same time. This is because, as Wilber has tirelessly pointed out, we humans (both individually and collectively) comprise a dozen or more lines or capacities of development, including the cognitive, the kinesthetic, the emotional, the moral, and so on, each of which evolves more or less independently of one another. It appears that the cognitive generally leads the rest, so that we may develop advanced knowledge while still operating from a less advanced moral stage—Adolf Hitler being “Exhibit A.”
As we observe the dynamic of this unprecedented trimemetic world, we may be tempted to simply ignore the implications and agree to live our individualized lives as if the maelstrom were not accelerating. It may be possible to fill out the current expected American lifespan of 77.9 years without experiencing significant challenge to our relative equanimity, but I doubt it. The crosscurrents are simply too immense to evade. The forces within the quadrants are building up a colossal head of steam and, as always, are beyond the means of control by anybody,
So the only choices for those relative few who are aware of the situation (including you who are reading this) are resistance and surrender. Resistance being futile, surrender is the only practical alternative—surrender to the truth that it is all the manifestation of Spirit unfolding, and that it is right and perfect just as it is.
 Many analysts have noted the trajectory of the self sense as a “descent” of spirit into the very dense form of human being, from which the “ascent” or return springs. Sri Aurobindo himself posited this arc in his suggestion of the descent of the “superconscient” into the world of form and dimension. See Arthur Young’s The Reflexive Universe and A. S. Dalal’s A Greater Psychology: An Introduction to the Psychological Thought of Sri Aurobindo.
 See Wilber's Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality for an in-depth exploration of these structures.
 Although many analysts use religion to explain the rifts in the world today, it is actually the meme within which religion is understood by its practitioners that matters. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism are all comprehended differently on the various levels of consciousness. Fundamentalism is characteristic of Amber, skepticism of Orange, and universalism of Green.