08/29 – Secular, Sacred, Scientific

August 2018 / Book Reviews

Graham Mummery

In the prefaces to the current book,

Graham Mummery

Spiral Dynamics in Action: Humanity’s Master Code (Beck, Larsen, Solonin, Viljoen, Johns 2018), the authors and editors explain that this is a successor to the earlier work Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change (2006). This is very much the case in that it updates some of the discussions because of further work done by those in the Spiral Dynamics community. The authors suggest reading the earlier work before this one is needed to understand what is on show in the current one. There are sound reasons for doing this.

After reading the new book my impression is that someone first coming to Spiral Dynamics, or just wanting an overview, would be well served starting here. Being written by five authors (Beck and Viljoen apparently the most prominent) with two chapters by others, there might have been a problem of continuity in the narrative thread in the book. At times, voices of authors who speak

separately do merge with one another which can make it difficult to know who is talking. But this occasionally disconcerting feature is quickly overcome and did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. This is a beautifully written overview of this “secular, sacred and scientific theory” to slightly paraphrase Dr Don Beck. I might add in some senses Spiral Dynamics might also be seen, like many other so called human sciences, as an art or even a branch of human wisdom. This strikes me as an appropriately integral (with, or without, capital letters) way of looking at things.


When I look at the integral endeavour I am often struck with the number of people doing the same work, even if there are differences in the languages they use. One of the first was Jean Gebser (1905-73), a thinker who remains underappreciated in the English-speaking world. His book Ever Present Origin (1985) was one of the first to suggest a leap in human consciousness to what he described as an “integral structure.” This is paralleled by Erich Neumann’s work in, for example, The Origins and History of Consciousness (1954). Neumann’s mentor Carl Jung also deserves a mention in this light, as do some other Jungians. There are also those in the fields of Humanistic and Transpersonal psychology who have made major contributions also to Integral thinking and on what in some circles is called emergence.

Spiral Dynamics is another portion in this rich tapestry. As is explained in Spiral Dynamics in Action: Humanity’s Master Code (Beck et al 2018), it owes its origins to the researches and work of social and developmental psychologist Clare W Graves. Graves, like Gebser, is perhaps not as well-known as he might be. A contemporary of Abraham Maslow, his work was known to and highly regarded by the great developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (Beck et al 2018 p21). Graves work though is scattered through many journals. His magnum opus The Never-Ending Quest (2005) was only completed after his death. There remains a lot of unpublished research of his. Readers interested in getting closer to his work will find a handy overview in Rainer Krum and Benedict Parstorfer’s Clare W. Graves: His Life and Work (2018) which covers a large amount of detail with stunning brevity and shows how Graves worked and the development of his ideas through his life. A great deal of this appears to come out of his own observations rather than following anyone so far mentioned.

Graves was not as prolific a writer as say Freud, Jung, or Wilber. His presence, therefore, is often felt through the writings of his student and latter-day collaborator, Don Beck, whose book with Christopher Cowan Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change (2006) remains the seminal work and handbook on Spiral Dynamics. Beck himself remains a pivotal figure in the theory and practice. This new book provides an update on the previous work showing how it has been applied with summaries of subsequent developments. It begins appropriately enough with a brief pen-portrait of Graves including with pictures of him with Don Beck who contributes some personal reflections on his mentor.

It was Graves who came up with the concept of memes in the way they are used in Spiral Dynamics. Graves also came up with the metaphor of the spiral to mirror the DNA double helix to illustrate the paths of development, which were later colour-coded by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan (2006). These were the colour codes (or memes) used by Ken Wilber in A Theory of Everything (2001) which is cited in the text. I will follow Beck and Cowan here because they are the codes used in the current book. Those more familiar with Wilber’s recent models can find a helpful table in his Integral Spirituality (Wilber 2006 Figure 2.4) to cross reference.

The first part of Spiral Dynamics in Action concentrates on a brief explanation of Spiral Dynamics and its history. As well as photographs of Graves, Beck and other participants of the work, there are diagrams to accompany the text when discussing theory. My initial reading was on an Amazon Kindle version which has the advantage of reproducing some of these in colour in some of these which does not happen in either my paper edition or on my Kindle White where all illustrations are in monochrome. One of the diagrams I most liked was a flow chart early in the book entitled Global Cultural Landscapes (Beck et al 2018 p xxii). This plots beautifully the developmental progression of the First-Tier “Subsistence” Codes (in order, beige, purple, red, blue, orange, green) to Second Tier “Being” Codes (yellow, turquoise). The Coral code is mentioned, but not fully defined, being deemed “not yet discernible” (Beck et al 2018 p26). The meaning of the coral meme remains a point of contention between some advocates of Spiral Dynamics and some integralists of a Wilber persuasion. Spiral Dynamics leaves this for the future, preferring to work with what we can know at the present, and let the future decide itself on this matter. This reflects the pragmatism, I find a feature of this “sacred, secular and scientific theory” and its proponents who to judge from here are very active in the world.

The actual discussion of theory in the current volume is shorter than in the earlier Beck and Cowan (2006). There is however a good overview of the memes, patterns and the five stages (Beck et al 2018 p 44) of changes and paradigm shifts adding more detail to Graves earlier statement that:

… the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiralling process marked by progressive subordination of older lower-order behaviour systems to newer, higher order systems as man’s existential problems change. (Beck et al 2018)

There is also a discussion of the meaning of the Second-Tier memes: yellow, turquoise and the as-yet undefined coral with evidence of how human consciousness may be on the point of making the leap to second tier – a “momentous” leap to use Graves’ evocative phrase. However, as is pointed out in the book, Graves was also aware that this leap might not take place. There is also the possibility of regression. He did suggest other possibilities including a collapse of civilisation possibly precipitated by environmental changes (Beck et al 2018 p190). A recurrent theme in the book is the need to create solutions to problems that are ecologically friendly, working towards what Beck calls:

… the Power of the Third Win- you win, I win, the planet wins. (Beck et al 2018 p19)

Of course, terms like Second-Tier still run the danger of being ungrounded. Subsistence memes are after all things that come out of dealing with, as well as transcending various survival needs. Spiral Dynamics emphasises that all codes or memes emerge in accordance with life conditions. The aim is not a grand project to create emergence, more to enable people to see what is happening on several levels and deal with the conflicts of memes in communities, society and organisations. This is one of the things that ensures it stays grounded. One of the most compelling things that I find in the Spiral Dynamics community is a willingness of people to get their hands dirty resolving many of the seemingly intractable problems we face today.

This is also reflected in the chapter on ecology. The one time I have been in the same room with Dr Beck was when he gave a talk in London a few years ago. In this he pointed out that one of the traditions he drew upon was transpersonal psychology, making the point that one could not do everything in groups and organisations the same way as in an individual therapy room. The late Jungian writer and therapist, James Hillman (Hillman and Ventura (1993) suggested that the world needed to be brought into therapy, and there needed to be a depth psychology in the world. Hillman talked of this in terms of “soul” and “world-soul” even. This is not the style of terminology used in Humanity’s Master Code. Graves and Beck remain social psychologists working in a scientific manner rather than therapists. The chapter plots ways the codes fit into the natural design approach and offers suggestions at ways organisations can be designed and run using all memes, consistent with meeting human needs while respecting our planetary boundaries. I suspect few of those who like Hillman’s terminology would have problems working with this, not least because Spiral Dynamics aims to work with the languages each person uses.

If the first quarter of the book covers the ideas behind Spiral Dynamics, the rest of the book fulfils the promise of the title showing it in action. Part 2 begins with an overview of Don Beck’s work in South Africa in the time of the dismantling of apartheid. It is written by Rica Viljoen. Over the years Beck made many trips to the country and got to know the likes of FW de Klerk, Desmond Tutu and of course Nelson Mandela to use only the names best known to me.

Beck’s interest in the country dates to the times when he was working with Graves. Viljoen mentions that both Graves and Beck were interested in South Africa from a developmental perspective. The country has several cultures, both African and European. The European part is also divided into people with Dutch/Afrikaans and English origins with different histories. Viljoen presents a profile of value systems present there in the nineteen nineties with codes from Purple and Red with some blue in both cultures. There was also some Green and Yellow which was looking for reconciliation of the peoples rather than the predicted civil war. Beck saw the problems in South Africa as less about racial prejudice and more about conflict of memes. His work there involved talking to tribal chiefs as well as politicians and making negotiators on all sides aware of the impact of their actions on both themselves and others, but also working on positive shared aims. The aim was to provide a Yellow Code solution integrating things from all memes. There are links in the book for readers interested in further details.

Though there is some controversy surrounding the extent to which this contribution was a pivotal influence in the changing of South Africa, given all the other major power dynamics going on at the time, Beck is still regarded as something of a hero there (Beck et al 2018 p62). It comes as reassuring to hear that Spiral Dynamics is being taught in South Africa. This bodes well for its future there, and I would suggest will contribute to the evolution of more integral thinking and policies in that country if it can reach the right people. Even though progress in South Africa has regressed since the heady days when Mandela was released due to a variety of factors – Beck himself has some worries about this – the regression is certainly not irreversible. It is possible that Spiral Dynamics contributed to the initial progress and helped avert a much-predicted civil war. This offers the possibility of the tool being used to move things on.

If Beck’s work in South Africa is the most publicised part of his work, there are several other places where Spiral Dynamics has been applied. After the South Africa chapter comes Elza S Maalouf’s elegantly written and moving description of applying memetics in Israel and Palestine where she worked with Beck in villages and townships to bring communities together in that troubled region. This has been reprised from her book Emerge!: The Rise of Functional Democracy and the Future of the Middle East (2014) which has many valuable insights into an area with problems that can seem intractable. Here she shows how a memetic profile can be used to address real human problems and describes how this was applied with the people there with moving examples. Readers are invited to read her book in full after this. Middle Eastern affairs would never seem the same if these approaches could gain some traction in that turbulent region.

Teddy Hebo Larsen’s chapter on Denmark brings the focus to a country with a very different memetic profile. Denmark, like its other Scandinavian neighbours, ranks high in many ratings for quality of life and the individual freedom of its citizens. Many see it as a kind of benchmark for the rest of the world, in Integral terms possibly one of the countries closer to Second Tier with its high preponderance of Green. This does not mean that it does not have its own problems to solve. Wilber (2001 p 122 ff) raised the possibility of the “mean green meme.” There are plenty of signs of this aspect of Green about (e.g. in much political correctness) but these are the Shadow or unhealthy aspects of it. Healthy Green when applied can bring great benefits for societies as the example of Denmark shows. This makes an interesting contrast to the two previous chapters on countries where one can point to obvious “problems.” Emergence affects all levels and is, as Graves pointed out, a “never ending quest.”

With Spiral Dynamics being applied to political systems, it seems obvious that it could also be applied to economics. The part in this book dedicated to that subject is a chapter from Said Elias Dawlabani’s book Memenomics (2013). As well as being an important book for me in the Spiral Dynamics canon, it is by a long way the most successful attempt to provide an integral perspective on economics. Economics in recent years has become somewhat contracted into an Orange, “only money matters” mindset (Beck et al 2018 p 118. See also Dawlabani 2012 p234). The Orange code, like all others, is of value. Science is one of its features. Its capacity to produce things is spectacular, but equally it can be wasteful and result in the environmental problems we are now experiencing. Dawlabani offers us a thorough analysis of the kinds of corporate structures and values needed to take advantage of the benefits of orange, whilst mitigating its shadow side, using examples such as Apple, Google and Whole Foods Market, with a view to creating more sustainable corporations.

There are three more chapters in the book looking at further applications of Spiral Dynamics in organisations, including engaging staff and technology. In some ways this reflects a strong slant towards business, as does much of the book. I suggested above this is in part because of a focus of working in the world. A criticism of what is here could be that there is not enough “soul”. This may be an area in need of further development, but there is a chapter including a section on the arts which shows such matters are certainly not ignored.

The chapter is, as its author admits a “potpourri of different cases and applications (Beck et al 2018 p 160).” These include subjects like religion, why Millennials are so difficult to deal with, art, and the impact of technology on people and sport. The section on sport touches on Dr Beck’s involvement in the South African rugby team’s World Cup victory in 1995. The sports section is especially well developed, while some of the others do leave me wanting more. If this is a slight drawback, it does at least showcase how Spiral Dynamics is an outward looking, world-serving work-in-progress, with no doubt many other similar stories to be told by those present in Dallas at the May 2018 Spiral Dynamics Summit of the Future, and soon to be featured in the forthcoming special edition of the Integral Leadership review, entitled: “The Momentous Leap”. (http://integralleadershipreview.com/)

In the final chapter the authors draw the wide-ranging threads of the book together with a look to the future, discussing the momentous leap Clare Graves foresaw. Much remains unknown as to what might happen then. As Don Beck (2018 p 215) reminds us this will involve facing some “hard truths” and making “powerful choices.” Spiral Dynamics is one of the “versatile tools” to help us do this, especially in its impulse to go out and do some of the much-needed work that the world needs doing right now. There is much that is informative and inspiring in this book. Much I will be following up also. As Dr Beck reminds us, it is up to each of us to merge this versatile approach into our own wisdom and insights, and to use it well. What we have inside these covers offers a good place to begin and look further.


Beck, Don E & Cowan, Christopher C. (2006 (First edition 1996): Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change. Blackwell: Malden.

Beck, Don Edward; Larsen, Teddy Hebo; Solonin, Sergey; Viljoen, Rica Cornelia; Johns, Thomas G (2018): Spiral Dynamics in Action: Humanity’s Master Code. Wiley. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Dawlabani, Said Elias (2013): Memenomics. New York: Select Books.

Gebser, Jean (English translation 1985, German editions 1949, 1953) The Ever-Present Origin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press

Graves, Clare W (1974): Human nature prepares for a momentous leap, The Futurist, April 72-87

Graves, Clare W (2005) The Never Ending Quest. Santa Barbara: ECLET Publishing

Hillman, James & Ventura, Michael (1993): We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse. San Francisco: Harper Collins.

Krumm, Rainer & Parstorfer, Benedikt (2018): Clare W. Graves: His Life and Work. Bloomington: iUniverse.

Malouf, Elza S (2014): Emerge!: The Rise of Functional Democracy and the Future of the Middle East. New York: Select Books.

Neumann, Erich (1954): The Origins and History of Consciousness. London: Routledge.

Wilber, Ken (2001): A Theory of Everything. Dublin: Gateway.

Wilber, Ken (2006): Integral Spirituality. Boston MA: Integral Books.

About The Author

Graham Mummery is a poet and psychotherapist. For a time he worked in International and Investment Banking for a large bank until 2009. After that he retrained to become a transpersonal psychotherapist at CCPE London. He is currently working at building up his psychotherapeutic practice and pursuing his passion for integral (with and without a capital “I”) matters.

His poems and translations (for French and German) have appeared in literary magazines. His first full collection of his poems, Meeting My Inners (Pindrop Press: UK), appeared in 2015. Some of these have been translated into German and Romanian. He also collaborated in the translation into English of the poetry book Deepening the Mystery (EdituraSemene: Bucharest) by Romanian poet Christiana Maria Purdescu.

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