Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

June 2012 / Book Reviews

Righteous MindHaidt, Jonathan, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. (New York: Pantheon), 2012.

Bruce Gibb

Bruce Gibb

Bruce L. Gibb

The Righteous Mind is clear, accessible, and interesting. Haidt breaks the “third wall” and relates his own personal journey of developing awareness and understanding. This journey is an engaging way to do the expected academic “literature review.” I also prefer it to the approach used by David Brooks in The Social Animal who threads scientific findings onto the life stories of fictitious characters. Haidt knows how to engage the “elephant”[1] in the reader by use of metaphor, story, and analogy; he certainly was successful with me. He states the goal he hoped to achieve with his book as follows: “My goal is to change the way a diverse group of readers—liberal and conservative, secular and religious—think about morality, politics, religion, and each other.” He wants to change their thinking, i.e. their culture.

While I discuss Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi)[2] related themes in the book, I do not summarize all of its contents. I presume that the reader is familiar with Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi). If not, Appendices A and B provide the uninitiated a brief summary of the eight stages of cultural evolution and some of the relevant dynamics. I want to demonstrate how SDi is a useful frame for understanding Haidt’s results. I propose to illustrate how the book deepens our understanding of SDi and to raise some of the questions it provokes for those of us in the SDi community. His personal “journey” is in itself a revealing example of SDi development at the individual scale.[3]

This is a book about morality, one aspect of culture. Haidt focuses on individuals or social systems that are centered on subcultures at “conservative,” which I refer to in the SDi conceptualization as Traditional Stage 4, and “liberal,” which I identify as Communitarian Stage 6.

But, I situate these two subcultures in a more inclusive theory, the meta-framework of Integral Systems Stage 7, which Beck and Cowan label “Flex-Flow.” Metaphorically, it is as though I am looking from the 7th floor of an eight-story building. In contrast, Haidt’s view is from one of three one-story buildings spread across a flat cultural landscape. Regarding nomenclature, for simplicity I use numbered stages and names for phase shifts in cultural evolution rather than letters, colors, or levels.[4] Haidt calls morality at these stages “moral matrices.” The numbers and names I will be using are: Stage 1 Survival; Stage 2 Tribal; Stage 3 Warrior; Stage 4 Traditional; Stage 5 Modern; Stage 6 Communitarian; Stage 7 Integral-Systems; and Stage 8 Global-View.

Mine is not an empirical but a theoretical challenge to Haidt’s two-factor—conservative and liberal—theory. Regarding theories, Haidt writes:

In psychology, theories are cheap. Anyone can invent one. Progress happens when theories are tested, supported, and corrected by empirical evidence, especially when a theory proves to be useful—for example, if it helps people to understand why half of the people in their country seem to live in a different moral universe.

However, the questions one asks and the results one obtains are rooted in the theoretical framework one employs. If one expands the theory to include a broader range of phenomena, it too can be “tested, supported, and corrected by empirical evidence.” Hopefully, the SDi theory will be used to generate hypotheses that can be researched and, I believe, would affirm and include Haidt’s more limited theoretical model and his research results.

Where Does Morality Come From?

Haidt’s first question is: Where does morality come from? He asserts that moral domains vary by culture. As I mentioned at the outset, morality is only one of the components of culture. It also includes beliefs, knowledge, values, morals, language, and styles that we acquire from kith with kin ,all of which vary by culture. His statements that “[morality] is unusually narrow in Western, educated and individualistic cultures. Sociocentric cultures broaden the moral domain to encompass and regulate more aspects of life,” begin to delineate the differentiating characteristics of a Modern Stage 5, culture from collective cultures that preceded it. Also, societies at earlier stages—which he labels “sociocentric”—are less differentiated[5] than later ones like Modern[6] Stage 5 and as such more aspects of life are encompassed and regulated.

He debunks the idea that morality comes solely from reasoning and/or social learning.

If morality doesn’t come primarily from reasoning, then that leaves some combination of innateness and social learning as the most likely candidates. In the rest of this book I’ll try to explain how morality can be innate (as a set of evolved intuitions) and learned (as children learn to apply those intuitions within a particular culture). We’re born to be righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about.

The SDi framework of eight stages of cultural evolution provides the content for “what we should be righteous about.”

Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second.

Haidt asks in his chapter, “The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail,” about the relationship among the processes of reason and emotion in morality. He refers to three thinkers who have addressed the question:

Plato believed that reason could and should be the master; Jefferson believed that the two processes were equal partners (head and heart) ruling a divided empire; Hume believed that reason was (and was only fit to be) the servant of the passions. In this chapter I tried to show that Hume was right.

His illustrating metaphor is: “The mind is divided into parts, like a rider (controlled processes) on an elephant (automatic processes). The rider evolved to serve the elephant.” Beck’s “six-deep analysis” of behavior[7] in the SDi framework considers both the rider and the elephant, but in much more detail.

Beck’s analysis includes: (1) a person’s actual behaviors and rational motives—the rider; (2) the systems, structures, and processes of the social system in which the person is acting—which provide the limits for both the rider and the elephant; (3) the philosophy, beliefs, and assumptions of the specific sub-culture of the social system—the religion, philosophy, or world-view of the rider; (4) the combination and strength of the eight universal cultural codes or epigenetic rules[8]—in the elephant—which underlie these philosophies; (5) the person’s core DNA—in the elephant; and (6) the broader set of life conditions—economic, social, physical, cultural context in which the person is situated.

Haidt’s injunction and warning follows: “Therefore, if you want to change someone’s mind about a moral or political issue, talk to the elephant first. If you ask people to believe something that violates their intuitions, they will devote their efforts to finding an escape hatch – a reason to doubt your argument or conclusion. They will almost always succeed.” The SDi equivalent advice is that in an influence attempt to match the person’s stage of development and engage the person with their concepts, values, and language.

The elephant’s characteristics include: being intuitive; using automatic processes; they rule but are not dumb or despotic; groupish; they are our “inner lawyer, rather than an inner judge or scientist…obsessively concerned about what others think of us, although much of the concern is unconscious and invisible to us.” The elephant’s “intuitions can be shaped by reasoning in the form of an emotionally compelling movie, or news story.” I would add that an experience can also shape or change the elephant, in particular a “significant emotional event.”[9] A fascinating study would be to understand how one socializes or enculturates a wild elephant. Obviously, one starts when it is very young.

Summarizing the relationship of the rider to the elephant, Haidt asserts, “The first principle of moral psychology is Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

I agree.

There’s More to Morality than Harm and Fairness.

His “second principle of moral psychology is: There’s more to morality than harm and fairness. To quote, “In support of this claim I described research showing that people who grow up in Western, educated, industrial, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) societies are statistical outliers on many psychological measures, including measures of moral psychology.” WEIRD societies – or better-named WIRED[10] societies – are at Stage 5 Modern culture. But this principle reveals the main target of Haidt’s concern, Stage 6 Communitarian liberals, whose dominant values are doing no harm and being fair. He considers those with this morality to have a “mono-moralist” position – the belief that one’s own moral position is the only legitimate one.

He argues against mono-moralism. “Moral pluralism is true descriptively,” he states. “As a simple matter of anthropological fact, the moral domain varies across cultures.” I couldn’t agree more. But his attention is on only two moral matrices, those at Stage 4, Traditional, Modern Stage 5 (which he practices but ignores); and the subsequent Communitarian Stage 6. He is missing or subsuming the other six moral syndromes.

He goes on to elaborate, “The moral domain is unusually narrow in WEIRD cultures, where it is largely limited to the ethic of autonomy (i.e. moral concerns about individuals harming, oppressing, or cheating other individuals). It is broader – including the ethics of community and divinity – in most other societies, and within religious and conservative moral matrices within WEIRD societies.” I will explore in more depth the individualistic and collective dimensions of this quote using SDi concepts.

As defined by SDi, the stages of cultural evolution oscillate over time between those that are individualistic and those that are collective – all the odd numbered stages are individualistic and all the even numbered stages are collective. Haidt conflates the individualistic ones into Communitarian Stage 6, and the collective into Tribal or Traditional, Stages 2 and 4. The same conflation is done by Karl Popper (open and closed), Robin Fox (modern and tribal), David Deutsch (dynamic and static) and Dumont and Hofstede (individualism and collectivism). As Haidt implies, all these authors place a higher value on the individualistic pole, a characteristic of modernism.

Clare Graves[11] named the ends of this dimension “express self” for the individualistic pole and “sacrifice self” for the collective pole. His data also correlated with psychological measures of internal and external control. In the SDi conceptualization, there is a dynamic oscillation back and forth between these poles. The shift from one to another signals the development of a different cultural matrix, a different stage of cultural evolution. Barry Johnson in his book, Managing Polarities, describes this oscillation dynamic of polarities, but within one development stage. In my view, instead of swinging pendulum-like from one pole and back to the original pole, the culture can shift stages to a new expression of the opposite pole, tracing a “progressive polarity,” if you will, from odd to even to odd to even and so on.

Moral Matrices Bind and Blind.

Now on to Haidt’s blindness maxim:

Moral matrices bind people together and blind them to the coherence, or even existence, of other matrices. This makes it very difficult for people to consider the possibility that there might really be more than one form of moral truth, or more than one valid framework for judging people or running a society.

This maxim applies to Haidt and to us all. Before his India trip he was a believer in two moral matrices: Modern Stage 5, competitive, scientific, pragmatic, atheistic (to which he was blind); and the moral matrix of a liberal at Communitarian Stage 6, which he held in common with his academic colleagues. But, his immersion in an Indian family shattered his mono-moralism and expanded his moral horizon to include the collective cultural matrices of Traditional Stage 4, including traditional caste and class, and Tribal Stage 2, both of which he conflates into one moral matrix, the collective or “sociocentric.”

Most surprising is that fact that Haidt is blind to the moral matrix in which he is totally immersed, Modern Stage 5, which is individualistic: it values science and pragmatism, it counts empirical-material phenomena as the only reality, it is competitive, etc.[12] His world view and the way he thinks are all Modern. His scientific research methods and standards are as well.

He also appears to be blind to the earlier individualistic stages of cultural evolution such as the Survival Stage 1 and the Warrior Stage 3. Since he found participation in a culture to be a way to understand and appreciate it, living with a family forced from its home in Darfur or even living in a homeless shelter in the United States would be a cultural growth experience that would help him recognize the conditions that create and manifest in a Survival Stage 1 culture. He would likewise benefit from living with a warlord family in Afghanistan to become aware of a culture where warlords are fighting to consolidate tribes and control territory by force (power).

Another related “blindness” dynamic helps us understand how liberal Communitarians at Stage 6 “put down” conservatives at Traditional Stage 4. At each of the first six stages of cultural evolution, the moral matrix on which one is centered depreciates its prior stage of development. Thus, the members of Tribal Stage 2 depreciate the clans of Survival Stage 1; the warlords of Warrior Stage 3 use force to consolidate the Tribes of Stage 2. The leaders of Traditional Stage 4 societies seek to control the mayhem and violence of Warrior Stage 3 (and convert the “savages” of Tribal Stage 2). Modern Stage 5 societies want to replace revealed with scientific evidence-based truth and shed the confining rules of Traditional Stage 4, fundamentalisms. Liberal Communitarians at Stage 6 condemn the economic “Social Darwinism” and its inequalities of Modern Stage 5, and seek to replace it with an equitable, inclusive, socially responsible community committed to the welfare of all.

In contrast, at Stage 7 Integral-Systems the repressive dynamic changes because those centered in this moral matrix recognize the value of the healthy expressions of all prior stages. They recognize a third dimension in social evolution, or “verticality.” They acknowledge that each stage is like the footings, foundation, and floors of the eight-story building, all being essential and in which a weakness in any one can compromise the floors above it – the leaning tower of Pisa being a famous example. Those centered in Stage 7 see the evolutionary sequence through which cultures pass and how each stage depends on its prior stages.

Haidt himself admits to having the moral-monism of a liberal, Communitarian Stage 6 moral matrix, which he held in common with his academic colleagues. But he seems to be completely blind to his acceptance of the scientific Modern Stage 5 matrix, which is individualistic; it values science and pragmatism; it counts empirical-material phenomena as the only reality; it is competitive, etc. His experience in India shattered this dogmatism because his elephant experienced in his host Indian family the collective even-numbered Tribal Stage 2 and Traditional Stage 4 matrices.

This shift suggests that Haidt may be moving into the subsequent stage of cultural evolution: Integral-Systems thinking of Stage 7. He is becoming aware of the moral matrices and benefits of those stages that precede the Modern and Communitarian. But until he sheds the typical rejection of hierarchy of Stage 6, he will not be able to see or accept verticality in cultural evolution as it shifts from stage to stage, from simple to complex, from integrated to highly differentiated, from here-and-now to all past and future.

It appears that rather than my image of an eight-story building with an unfinished ninth floor, his view of the world is of a single-story building—the modern, science-based, enlightenment informed building—of which he is unaware. From this building he observes, compares and contrasts the two other buildings; one the conservative and other the liberal.

The Taste Buds of Morality.

Haidt uses the analogy that morality is like a person’s taste buds and complains that some of us only use “one receptor” (again, the moral-monism). He then tries to identify the taste receptors of the righteous mind. His search identifies “five good candidates for being taste receptors: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.” He later adds a sixth, liberty. These receptors are all innate, which he defines as “organized in advance of experience.” They exist in the baby elephant and correspond to the DNA level in Beck’s six-deep analysis.

Below I present a few aspects of each of the eight stages of cultural evolution and I allocate Haidt’s six moral foundations among them. I combine some of them under one stage, while others have stages of their own. I propose additional moral foundations that are worthy candidates to be tested. I also reorder them in the sequence of their cultural evolution.

Stage 1. Survival.

This is the survival and reproductive instinct shared by all living organisms. In humans it takes the form of having basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, and a mate with whom to reproduce. In The Fair Society, Peter Corning defines a basic need as follows:

The term basic need is used in a strict biological-adaptive sense as a requisite for the continued functioning of an organism in a given environmental context; that is, denying this need would significantly reduce the organism’s ability to carry on productive activities, reduce the probability of its continued survival and successful reproduction, or both. So defined, basic needs are not unique to humans; the term applies to all living things. Moreover, ‘need’ connotes a requisite where significant ‘harm’ (that word again) will occur if it is lacking or absent. Moreover, the nature of this harm is specified in strictly biological rather than moral terms that is, in terms of the ‘normal functioning’ and “productive activities” required to be able to meet our ongoing survival needs. [Emphasis in the original.]

He goes on to list fourteen primary need domains (p. 96):

thermoregulation, waste elimination, nutrition, water, mobility, sleep, respiration, physical safety, physical health, mental health, communications (information), social relationships, reproduction, and nurturance of offspring.

In acquiring and distributing the resources to fill these basic needs, Haidt advances two moral foundations:

The Care/harm foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; it makes us despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.

The Fairness/cheating foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited. It makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good (or bad) partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism. It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters.

I would expand the fairness/cheating foundation to include the concept of contribution. It seems obvious that in the evolutionary process, those individuals were selected and had a greater opportunity to reproduce who contributed most to the survival of the group. Within the clan, reciprocal altruism governed the distribution of goods once a member or group of members had contributed them.

Stage 2. Tribal.

This collective foundation is related to our long mammalian history as creatures that were born and grew up in families or kin-groups such as clans and tribes. We were never raised alone; individualism is a modern myth. The intuitive moral foundation is the need for social support and carries with it the ability to bond. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance. It underlies self-sacrifice for higher scale – what Haidt refers to as “multi-level” – social systems (at the team and organizational scales) and the virtues of patriotism (at the societal scale). Identity with and commitment to this foundation is needed to overcome the instinct for survival and repulsion to killing of Survival Stage 1. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.” In contrast, Haidt considers it to be based on coalition formation:

The Loyalty/betrayal foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions. It makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player. It makes us trust and reward such people, and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.

I see its foundation as primary kin-group identity, not coalitions among groups. This foundation also includes the beginnings of religion in the animism of tribal groups – the assignment of agency to rocks, trees, animals, and “natural” phenomena such as the weather.

Stage 3. Warrior.

This individualistic foundation is based on the intuitive requirement to protect and defend one’s self and one’s kin. It also generates the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who try to dominate them and restrict their liberty. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down an oppressor.[13] Haidt describes it as follows:

Liberty/oppression foundation, which makes people notice and resent any sign of attempted domination. It triggers an urge to band together to resist or overthrow bullies and tyrants. This foundation supports the egalitarianism and antiauthoritarianism of the left, as well as the don’t-tread-on-me and give-me-liberty antigovernment anger of libertarians and some conservatives.

This intuitive impulse can be seen in the “terrible-twos” individuation stage of children as they recognize their separateness from their parents and “play-act” independence. The childhood “warrior” phase is practice for being able to physically defend him/herself. It actually surfaces in modern societies during adolescence as teenagers strive to wrest control of their lives from their parents and make their own decisions. This intuition remains strong in people who are hyper-vigilant about their independence; some are arrested in their development at this stage and never move beyond it. I would predict that it is especially strong among libertarians.

The warrior culture of Stage 3 glorifies physical force and the use of weapons to acquire and maintain power. This stage involves a relevant political dynamic at various scales of social systems. For example, in response to a coercive threat at the individual scale, the recipient can either accept the challenge and actively respond in defense or become passive. In conditions such that a person feels that they have no defense, passivity may be the best strategy. Also, in some warrior stage 3 societies, the dominant power then has to take on the responsibility for the passive dominated group: “OK I’ll do as you demand but you will have to take care of me.”

Religion in its original or classical form was used to extend leaders’ power at a distance from the leaders through magic, spells, and hexes. Historically, polytheism and myths of wars among the gods were frequent during this stage of cultural evolution.

The language of war—enemies, allies, conventional, guerrilla—pertains, such as in “the war on terrorism.” The next stage, Traditional, uses the language of law and order, legal and illegal, and good and evil. Those with the latter perspective speak of the war on terrorism as a problem of crime on a global scale and call for the mobilization of the police forces of all nations to control it.

These intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation that evolved in larger scale social systems to control it.

Stage 4. Truth-Order – Traditional.

This collective stage came into being because of the chaos that resulted from uncontrolled Stage 3 Warrior culture. As chiefdoms evolved into kingdoms and empires, they created means of social control beyond the raw use of power. The limitations of the power of kings, as in the Magna Carta, the gradual development of rule of law, the shifting of the individual vengeance to the state holding a monopoly on the use of violence, and the enforcement of laws occurred during the transition from Warrior Stage 3 and Traditional Stage 4 at the scale of societies.

At this stage of development, individuals learn to control their impulses, think about the impact of their actions beyond the here and now, search for and find meaningful causes and ideologies, and find their place in the hierarchies of this and the after-world. At this stage they are able to transcend self-interest and become simply a part of a whole, be it an ideology, a cause, a religion, or a society.  Haidt refers to this as the “hive switch.”

Two of Haidt’s moral foundations can be subsumed in this Stage, Authority/subversion and Sanctity/degradation.

Authority/subversion. This Stage was shaped during our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. In its incipient stage among human tribes, authority was granted to those with the most experience and highest level of skill. As the social systems grew in size, authority was legitimated by the need for coordination among specialized groups. “It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for tradition.” Caste and class positions are seen as natural and inevitable results of genetic inheritance. In the evolutionary sequence, it is intended to control the impulsiveness and hedonism of the prior stage of development. Haidt introduces it as follows:

The Authority/subversion foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies. It makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly, given their position.

Sanctity/degradation. This stage is collective and based on the religious impulse from the original animism of tribes and the sacred places of the ancestors to the current consideration of the global soul and the earth as a sacred entity. They have a set of moral principles, sacred values, sanctified objects and locations, and holy scriptures, which are absolute and will not be compromised.

However, I disagree that disgust is the original moral foundation of religion. Just as religions have appropriated tribal rituals and rites of passage, they have been also been successful in transferring the feelings of disgust and contamination to increase the compliance to their injunctions and their power. In some religious contexts – especially in those religions that believe in the “fall” and sinfulness of man – these feeling of disgust and contamination have morphed into notions of striving to live as Haidt writes [in an] “elevated, less carnal, more noble, less sinful way. They underlie the widespread idea that the body is a temple that can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).”

Here is Haidt’s summary:

The Sanctity/degradation foundation evolved initially in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore ‘s dilemma, and then to the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites. It includes the behavioral immune system, which can make us wary of a diverse array of symbolic objects and threats. It makes it possible for people to invest objects with irrational and extreme values – both positive and negative – which are important for binding groups together.

At this stage of evolution, religion has become monotheistic; it is a means of uniting various tribes under one banner, a religious one. The classic example is Mohammed and his followers consolidating and uniting warring tribes and warlords under Allah and Islam.

Stage 5. Modern.

The evolutionary root of this moral matrix is curiosity and learning, which are characteristics of mammals, primates, and humans. It is manifest in being pragmatic and experimental. This individualistic stage is one that Haidt is blind to, because he is so immersed in it. This is his center of gravity. If he were aware of it, he might title it: materialist /achievement/success.

In contemporary modern societies, this morality is manifest by using the scientific method and being truthful in reporting findings. For some, these methods and ethics have become sacralized. It incorporates the idea that one must play by the rules in business and science. It requires secular order, respect for property, and the rule of law. Those in this stage value initiative, productivity, achievement, and not being a “loser.” They are willing to invest their resources in taking risks to become materially successful, to have all the good things life can offer. They sacralize winning in the competitions of life and material achievement for the society as a whole “to make the world a better place.”

Stage 6. Human-Bond – Communitarian.

This collective foundation transfers the feelings of belonging to institutions beyond kin, beyond tribal groups or members of one’s religion to the whole society and particularly the face-to-face community. This stage also taps into Haidt’s caring and fairness moral matrices.

The Care/harm foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; it makes us despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.

The Fairness/cheating foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited. It makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good (or bad) partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism. It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters.

The Communtarians – like the conservatives – also value loyalty, but at the scale of the society as a whole and the people in it. As Peter Singer conceptualizes it in his book, The Expanding Circle, one’s circle of identity continuously expands from concern for self (survival) to the tribe (tribal) to the ethnic nation (warrior) to the society and religion (traditional) to the enterprise (modern) to the multicultural community (communitarian) to all members of the global society (global view) and all species.

Those at Stage 6 have a commitment to social responsibility. They value diversity and inclusion of everyone and abhor the belief that some people are more important or valuable than others. Morality for them means acceptance of all people; the immoral are those who are sexist, racist, elitist, classist, or beliefist, because these beliefs and behaviors are based on the idea that people are superior to or better than others on the relevant characteristic or belief. They reject hierarchy and class- and caste-based distinctions.

They reject the idea of progress, the belief that as societies evolve they become better because this contradicts their commitment to relativism and egalitarianism. In addition to the core belief in community, the “co-“ words are most meaningful to them: cooperation, coordination, coexistence, collaboration, cohousing, etc. They sacralize human beings and human rights. From a religious perspective, they find sanctity in a different place than those at Traditional stage 4. They often confess that “they are not religious but spiritual.”

There are two additional Stages or moral foundations that Haidt does not recognize.

Stage 7. Flex-Flow – Integral Systems.

This individualistic intuitive foundation rests on the reverence and valuation of the accumulated wisdom of the elders who have experienced everything in their world and see how everything fits together, both in the physical world and in the world of the spirits. They have experienced the development of their own lives and those of their children and grandchildren. This is the wisdom of the medicine man, the shaman who controls access to the spirits that can cause and heal disease and death. They enlist the healing spirits of the plants.

Contemporary manifestation of this Stage are those mature individuals who understand the flow of cultural evolution, who recognize and can interact effectively with those who are at all the prior stages of development, who can understand and integrate the complexity of social, physical, and biological knowledge, and who have an infinite time horizon that stretches from before the big bang into the unknown future. They add this time dimension to structures to delineate system dynamics. Since they see the whole system of stages, they are good at locating the “blood clots” – impediments to the flow of cultural evolution – and resolving them. They understand and use verticality.

Stage 8. Global-View – The Global Village

This collective foundation is based on the awe and reverence of the whole world and the societies and species of which it is comprised. This is the veritable and virtual “global village.” Its development is evidenced by the existence to date of almost 300 international organizations, television that is able to provide images to and from all societies, the Internet and its ability to provide access to and information from all societies, and the outpouring of empathy-based disaster relief from individuals from all societies. These put in doubt Haidt’s belief that humans, as a species, will not be able to transcend our national identities.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the manifesto for Stage 8 and with those who are centered in this stage, it has the status of sacred.

Liberal and Conservative Moral Matricies

Haidt then applies his moral foundations theory to liberal and conservative political orientations.

I showed how the two ends of the political spectrum rely upon each foundation in different ways, or to different degrees. It appears that the left relies primarily on the Care and Fairness foundations, whereas the right uses all five…Does left-wing morality activate just one or two taste receptors, whereas right-wing morality engages a broader palate, including loyalty, authority, and sanctity? And if so, does that give conservative politicians a broader variety of ways to connect with voters?

In SDi theory, the stages or moral matrices develop in part in response to the unhealthy manifestations of each prior stage of cultural evolution. Liberal, Communitarian Stage 6 developed in part due to the destructive aspects of unhealthy Modern Stage 5 culture, i.e. severe inequities in income, stockholder domination of corporations (the bottom line), financial institutions functioning for the benefit of individuals and corporations without concern for impact on or the welfare of the whole society, the influence of special interests in politics, the Social Darwinism and dismissal of the poor and unhealthy, the extreme Ayn Randian individualism promoted by and embraced by some in modern culture, etc.

The evolutionary perspective, verticality, allows one to understand the liberal perspective and also recognize that this perspective requires a strong foundation – cultures are cumulative – of healthy prior stages. The unhealthy aspects of the modern culture are due in part to the weakness of Traditional Stage 4 in those who make decisions, which Haidt acknowledges in his statements:

I showed how this moral matrix leads liberals to make two points that are (in my opinion) profoundly important for the health of a society: (1) governments can and should restrain corporate superorganisms [Stage 5, Modern], and (2) some big problems really can be solved by regulation [Stage 4, Traditional].

So the liberals he is describing are preoccupied with these dysfunctions of the prior modern stage. The conservatives are concerned with the issues that need their version (and that of the researchers) of law and order, family values, authority, patriotism, and sanctity.

Democrats’ political intuitions rest predominantly on the Stage 6 Communitarian moral matrix and the desire to help or rescue those who have, due to life conditions, gone passive at Warrior Stage 3. When life conditions are such that people feel that they are powerless (see Coming Apart by Charles Murray for a description of the effects of life conditions on poor whites in the United States), they go passive.

Democrats and Republicans share one moral matrix, Modern Stage 5. But Democrats with an unhealthy appreciation of the benefits they derive from modernism tend to deprecate this stage, because they think it supports corporate greed, inequality, and exploitation.

Republicans are guided in their political intuitions by the traditional moral matrix of Stage 4. The more fundamentalist of those who have a strong Stage 4 morality see modern Stage 5 as materialistic, scientific undermining of sacred scripture, and corrupting of faith and morals.

It is interesting to note that in the 2012 Republican primary competition, interviewees in the Southern states that have the highest levels of family disintegration, teenage pregnancies, and domestic abuse, were interviewed by NPR about what the phrase “restore America” meant to them. They explained that it meant a “return to family values” of Traditional Stage 4. While in the North East, a region suffering from high levels of unemployment, the phrase meant “restoring opportunity,” the “American Dream”, the salient value of Modern Stage 5. This demonstrates how life conditions call these intuitive moral matrices into play in politics.

Morality Binds and Blinds.

The chapter “Why Are We So Groupish?” and the one which follows, the “Hive Switch” are excellent consolidated presentations of the individual vs. group selection argument in evolutionary theory and well worth reading. But groupishness and the hive switch characterize just the even numbered stages 2, 4, 6 and 8. The individualistic stages 1, 3, 5 and 7 are also relevant. Based on the evidence, he concludes that human evolution is the result of both individual and group selection. This fits nicely into the SDi oscillating dynamic presented earlier.

Beck postulates that each of us stands on two stages, one foot on an individualistic stage and the other foot on a collective one.[14] As we walk through the stages, we shift our weight from one even numbered stage or one odd numbered stage to the next. When life conditions require us to change, we take another step forward or backward. This metaphor supports the idea that our evolutionary path has been both individualistic and “groupish.” With excessive individualism, we move to the opposite collective pole and vice-versa until we reach a balance that is personally comfortable and consistent with the life conditions of the larger social system in which we are embedded. Using the elephant-rider metaphor to conceptualize the two feet, one foot represents the elephant (the earlier stage) and the other foot is the rider (the current stage). The elephant is hidden in the shadowy unconscious; the rider bathes in the light of consciousness.

The chapter “Religion as a Team Sport” is strong evidence that Haidt’s elephant is embedded in a Modern Stage 5 culture. He removes the supernatural elements of a Traditional Stage 4, the transcendental aspect of religion, and uses a secular frame to identify the benefits which religion confers on social systems.

If you think about religion as a set of beliefs about supernatural agents, you’re bound to misunderstand it. You’ll see those beliefs as foolish delusions, perhaps even as parasites that exploit our brains for their own benefit. But if you take a Durkheimian approach to religion (focusing on belonging) and a Darwinian approach to morality (involving multilevel selection), you get a very different picture. You see that religious practices have been binding our ancestors into groups for tens of thousands of years. That binding usually involves some blinding – once any person, book, or principle is declared sacred, then devotees can no longer question it or think clearly about it.

Others whose center of gravity is in Stage 5 or later, also recognize the social benefits of religion that are lost when it is rejected. Some recent works with this theme are Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton, The Joy of Secularism by George Levine, In the Absence of God by Sam Keen, and Modes of Faith: Secular Surrogates for Lost Religious Belief by Theodore Ziolkowski.

In the chapter “Can’t We all Disagree More Constructively?” Haidt attempts to explain the causes of disagreement between liberals and conservatives. He invokes DNA, the deepest core of Beck’s “six-deep” analysis.  However, this is a horizontal distinction that is to say it exists at all stages of cultural evolution and not characteristic of a single stage.

People whose genes gave them brains that get a special pleasure from novelty, variety, and diversity, while simultaneously being less sensitive to signs of threat, are predisposed (but not predestined) to become liberals. They tend to develop certain “characteristic adaptations” and “life narratives” that make them resonate – unconsciously and intuitively – with the grand narratives told by political movements on the left (such as the liberal progress narrative). People whose genes give them brains with the opposite settings are predisposed, for the same reasons, to resonate with the grand narratives of the right (such as the Reagan narrative).

Once people join a political team, they get ensnared in its moral matrix. They see confirmation of their grand narrative everywhere, and it’s difficult – perhaps impossible – to convince them that they are wrong if you argue with them from outside of their matrix. I suggested that liberals might have even more difficulty understanding conservatives than the other way around, because liberals often have difficulty understanding how the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations have anything to do with morality. In particular, liberals often have difficulty seeing moral capital, which I defined as the resources that sustain a moral community.

As I indicated previously, once in a moral matrix, one tends to disparage one’s prior Stages of development. This contributes to the blindness of liberals. SDi makes another claim that it is difficult for a person to understand the Stages that follow from one’s current Stage.[15] This would suggest that conservatives really do not understand the liberals but only see the dangerous deviations from their own moral matrix. Even a “one-eyed” person at Stage 7, is king among the blind-men of prior stages because he sees and values them all in their healthy form. This affirmation of all levels allows for the mobilization of all types of capital: human (Stages 1), tribal (Stage 2), power/force (Stage 3), moral/spiritual (Stage 4), financial/intellectual (Stage 5), social/community (Stage 6), cultural (Stage 7), and global (Stage 8).

Libertarians present a special case in the political spectrum and Haidt has difficulty locating them in his two-factor theory. From the SDi perspective, their dominant moral matrix is the Warrior Stage 3 moral matrix, which values power and independence at all scales of social systems. They tend to ignore and take for granted the benefits derived from all the other stages and the abuses that have been perpetrated by both unhealthy individualistic and collective stages.

Finally, Haidt writes about the increasing Manichaeism of American political life: the division of people into good and evil, the Traditional Stage 4 belief in the irreconcilable war between God and the Devil.

Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.

The Assimilation-Contrast Effect (ACE) elaborated by Beck [16]blends the evolutionary Stages with political positions people take on specific issues. Briefly, on a deeply controversial issue like abortion or civil rights, there are six positions on each side of the issue.

Going from the most radical to the least on each side of the issue, these positions are: flamethrowers who are willing to kill for the issue (kill the abortion doctors). They are in a holy war at Warrior Stage 2. Next less-radical are the zealots, those who will sacrifice themselves for the cause but not kill others. This position on the scale is occupied by individuals with Warrior Stage 3, and Traditional Stage 4. Following are the ideologues, the true believers, those for whom the issue is one of sacred truth – the believers are good, the other side is evil. These ideologies craft history to support their “truth.” These are the fundamentalists of Traditional Stage 4. Next come the moderates who are not entirely closed in their thinking and have a mixture of Traditional Stage 4 and Modern Stage 5 and are open to hear the facts and the values in play. Those in fully Modern Stage 5, follow; they are the pragmatists who ask what we want to achieve and how; according to what we know works, can we achieve it. Finally, there are the conciliators who are willing to compromise and bargain to resolve the issue to preserve the community by espousing the moral matrix of Communitarian Stage 6.

Assimilation Contrast Effect

“Assimilation” in the name refers to the assumption that everyone on the same side of the issue believes the same and is at the same Stage of development. Paradoxically, the “Contrast” term recognizes the dynamic in which those who are the most radical assume that those who are less radical are on the other side of the issue. Consequently, fear of the actions of the flamethrowers, zealots, and ideologues frequently shuts down the voices of the moderates, pragmatists, and conciliators. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report documents many instances of the most radical positions.

The current political climate gives a vivid example. Obama naively attempted to work with both political parties to address the problems of the nation. He initially functioned as a conciliator and pragmatist with the Republicans in Congress, but they, as ideologues, refused to play. The flamethrowers and zealots played out their roles in the society at large and portrayed the ideologues on their side as being on the other side.

Haidt (in his interview with Bill Moyers) attributes the cause of the rancor in Congress to the regression from the moderate position to the ideological position; those who believe that those who differ with me on an issue are evil (good and evil are Stage 4 ideological terms). Before the current polarization, conflict between legislators used to be resolved from moderate and pragmatist positions because they enjoyed a Stage 2 Tribal bonded relationship. With legislators no longer living and socializing with each other in Washington, they have little opportunity to develop these social relationships to understand each other. The result is the regression to ideological accusation and refusal to compromise “with evil.”


A selection from Haidt’s summary is worthy of inclusion:

In Part I, I presented the first principle of moral psychology: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second… If you bring one thing home from this part of the trip, may I suggest that it be the image of yourself – and everyone else around you – as being a small rider on a very large elephant.

The second part of our tour explored the second principle of moral psychology: There’s more to morality than harm and fairness… If you take home one souvenir from this part of the tour, may I suggest that it be a suspicion of moral monists. Beware of anyone who insists that there is one true morality for all people, times, and places – particularly if that morality is founded upon a single moral foundation.

In the third part of our tour I presented the principle that morality binds and blinds… If you bring one thing home from this last part of the trip, may I suggest that it be the image of a small bump on the back of our heads – the hive switch, just under the skin, waiting to be turned on… We may spend most of our waking hours advancing our own interests, but we all have the capacity to transcend self-interest and become simply a part of a whole. It’s not just a capacity; it’s the portal to many of life’s most cherished experiences.

This book explained why people are divided by politics and religion. The answer is not, as Manichaeans would have it, because some people are good and others are evil (Traditional Stage 4 language). Instead, the explanation is that our minds were designed for groupish righteousness. We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning. This makes it difficult – but not impossible – to connect with those who live in other matrices, which are often built on different configurations of the available moral foundations.

So the next time you find yourself seated beside someone from another matrix, give it a try. Don’t just jump right in. Don’t bring up morality until you’ve found a few points of commonality or in some other way established a bit of trust. And when you do bring up issues of morality, try to start with some praise, or with a sincere expression of interest.

We’re all stuck here for a while, so let’s try to work it out.

Haidt, leaves us on an hopeful note. I believe that he has made a significant contribution to our understanding of culture for three[17] of the eight stages of cultural evolution, two explicitly (Traditional and Communitarian) and one by his thought processes and behavior (Modern). He had the good sense to pick the most important and salient stages for us in the United States in 2012 when the cultural conflicts in the political sector are blocking our ability to respond proactively to our life conditions. He also provides a research methodology that may be useful in exploring the other six stages of cultural evolution.

In Haidt’s personal story, he starts his journey straddling both Modern (to which he is blind) and the Communitarian culture of much of academia. By stepping back from this culture to experience and value Traditional and Tribal cultures in India, he could then step forward from Communitarian to Integral-systems, toward a more inclusive moral matrix.

Haidt’s recommendations are few: don’t be a moral monist and meet people where they are. In SDi terms, as a politically engaged person, understand what upsets people and why and deal with them from there. Match your conflicting party’s dominant stage of cultural development and speak in their language.

In addition to this advice, the SDi recommendation for changing the political conflict is to change the life conditions of those parties to the conflicts so that they can emerge to the point that they understand and value all the healthy expressions of each stage of development – a long-term project.

Policy makers who understand the SDi perspective will understand their own progression through and accumulation of these steps. By viewing the conflicts from the perspective of the whole (from the 7th or 8th floor) as expressions of different moral matrices, they can distinguish those policies which are healthy for each level and those which are unhealthy and decide what is best for the whole social system.

Leaders can benefit from the understanding that in their organizations there are people and functions that are centered on one of the stages of cultural development.  Learning how to lead and manage each is a worthy endeavor.

In severe political conflicts, use the Assimilation Contrast Effect framework to bring together the middle positions, comprised of the moderates, pragmatists, and reconcilers, from both sides of the issue and provide them the resources to solve the problems. Ignore and expect pushback from ideologues, zealots, and flamethrowers on both sides of the issue.

Finally, I will use a geometric framework to capture the differences in the type of thinking which the SDi framework invites us to explore. The moral monism that Haidt refers to can be represented by a dot on a plane.  By experiencing another moral matrix, he then became aware of two moral matrices.  He had became a moral dualist, symbolized on our plane as two points connected by a line.  Experiencing other moral matrices would make him an even more pluralistic moralist, and this cultural awareness could be represented by triangles, rectangles, octagons, etc., but all on the same plane.  Now by adding a third dimension, verticality, a three-dimensional figure rises above the single plane and by doing so transcends the flatlander perspective. By adding a fourth dimension, time, this figure now is capable of containing the development and historical evolution and accumulation of morality over time.

As you can see from this essay, SDi aspires to provide the conceptual framework that permits the understanding of the moral matrices and their host cultures, the evolution of these cultures, and how they are expressed and manifest at all sectors and scales of social systems.  In particular, Haidt and I share an interest in our understanding of the political culture in United States in 2012.  His book is a significant contribution to this understanding, but also invites my challenge for him to broaden his view by thinking deeply about the evolution of cultures through a four-dimensional lens.

 Appendix A. Stages of Cultural Evolution

Ten Key Words or Concepts for Each Stage of Cultural Evolution

Stage 1 Survival (other names: Survival-Sense, subsistence culture, primal, original, hunter-gatherers, nomadic)

  1. Bands, clans
  2. Hunters, gatherers, herders, foragers
  3. Instinctual behavior, lust
  4. Intuition, sensing
  5. Leadership based on ability to provide
  6. Learn by doing
  7. Subsistence economy, hoarding food
  8. Survival, physical health
  9. Know physical environment intimately
  10. Gender specialization between men and women (1st level)

Stage 2 Tribal (Kin-Spirits, tribal-identity, settled, primitive, pre-modern, ethnic)

  1. Honoring ancestors and spirits
  2. Animistic, totems, sacred land (not owned)
  3. Tribal circle, settlements
  4. Direct leadership
  5. Identity “our people”
  6. Kinship (and surrogate) bonds
  7. Reciprocal obligation
  8. Rites of passage
  9. Rituals for living
  10. Task specialization (2nd level)

Stage 3 Warrior (Power-Gods, Power-Force, Power-Independence, Warrior culture, heroic culture, egocentric)

  1. Conflict, coercion
  2. Creative, artistic, energized
  3. Egocentric, individuation
  4. Force, weapons, arena
  5. Impulsive, spontaneous, free, fun, here and now
  6. Independent, counter-dependent, narcissistic
  7. Magical power
  8. Power, powerful, powerless, heroes, heroines
  9. Royalty (kings, dukes, lords), chiefdoms, warlords, landlords, mafia, gangs
  10. Territorial (control and defend the territory)

Stage 4 Traditional (Truth-Force, Truth-Order, one-party state, absolutistic, monopolistic, saintly, religion-centric, theocracy)

  1. Absolutistic, ideological, theocratic
  2. Authority, hierarchy, structure
  3. Discipline, self-control, craftsmanship
  4. Differentiated but monopolistic institutions
  5. Obedience, law and order, tradition
  6. Polarized, dichotomized thinking
  7. Purpose, meaning, significance
  8. Revealed scripture, one True Way,
  9. Saintly, righteous, be good, care for own
  10. Superior-Inferior classification (class and other “isms”)

Stage 5 Modern (Strive-Drive, industrial, enlightenment, scientific, entrepreneurial)

  1. Achievement, success, results, outcomes
  2. Church-state separation
  3. Competition, winning
  4. Continuous improvement
  5. Entrepreneurial, creativity, originality
  6. Materialistic, real world
  7. Measurement, data driven
  8. Meritocracy, social mobility
  9. Pragmatic, practical, scientific, objective, think for self
  10. Prediction, planning, strategic

Stage 6 Communitarian (Human-Bond, post-modern, cultural creatives, sociocentric, collectivist)

  1. Acceptance, tolerance, non-judgmental, diversity, inclusion, multicultural
  2. Civil rights, people focus, relationships, socio-centric, social consciousness
  3. Community, cooperation, collaboration, coordination, coexistence, consensus
  4. Democratic, participation, teamwork
  5. Egalitarian, equality, equity, social justice, fairness
  6. Environmentalism, state-commerce separation
  7. Peaceful, anti-war
  8. Relativism, everyone’s truth is truth, social construction of truth
  9. Social acceptance and approval
  10. Spirituality

Stage 7 Integrated Systems (Flex-Flow, Integral, complex, post post-modern, ecocentric)

  1. Commitment to all species, ecocentric
  2. Integrated knowledge, wisdom
  3. Integrated social systems
  4. Cross-system flows
  5. Long-term time horizon
  6. Multi-cultural competence
  7. Self-development, self-motivated
  8. Sustainability
  9. Systems competence
  10. Visionary

Stage 8 Whole-View (Global Society, global village, internationalist)

  1. Build global institutions
  2. Cross-cultural living
  3. Cultural awareness and sensitivity
  4. Global governance
  5. Global identity (global village), global consciousness
  6. Global perspective
  7. Human rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
  8. Multi-societal
  9. Political abilities
  10. Solve global problems

Appendix B. Dynamics of SDi

1. The “moral matricies” or codes in individuals and social systems can be described as an integration of an individual’s biological, psychological, and social aspects. At present, each person has eight or more potential cultural codes (vMemes, like genes) that can be awakened by life conditions and can be used when conditions of regression or progression occur. Others will surface when the need arises.

2. These life conditions include historical economic, political, social, physical, religious, etc. aspects of social systems that impinge on the target individuals and social systems arrayed at ever increasing scales from the individual to global society.

3. Verticality: eight stages, levels, cultures (vMemes), in social evolution can each be located using three dimensions including scope (Singer, The Expanding Circle), complexity (specialization and differentiation), and time perspective (here and now to all past and all future).

4. Cultures are cumulative like dictionaries, and in general operate consistent with the laws of evolution—what is retained is useful and adaptive.

5. People use their cultures (what people think and value) to create artifacts and institutions—educational, political, artistic, architectural, social, economic, etc. –consistent with them.

6. Understanding and researching cultures requires specifying the scale of the target social system.

7. Lower levels or earlier stages trump higher levels or later stages unless identity and commitment are made to a higher level or later stage.

8. In the evolution of social systems, they oscillate between individualistic and collective poles consistent with progressive polarity theory (Barry Johnson, Polarity Management, 1996).

9. For the first six stages, those at peak in each stage differentiate themselves by degrading the prior stage, they differentiate themselves by “putting them down.”

10. Stages 7 and 8 accept all prior stages as beneficial in their healthy form (they are good for people at that stage and allow people to emerge to later stages) and seek to break blockages to individual emergence.

11. Individually, people stand on and straddle two stages (Beck), one individualistic and one collective except for stages 2 to 3 and 3 to 4. These generate internal conflict and the person must make a choice: i.e. in the tribe or self-oriented independence, not both; or self-oriented independence or self-sacrificing for the group, not both.

12. People can be arrested at a stage or blocked from emerging.

13. The concept of cultural evolution as bio-psycho-social systems applies to

individual life cycle development, and the evolution of social systems (organizational development, societal development, and the development of global society).

14. Political position or orientation emerges from the stage of development and takes one of six positions on a radical to conciliatory spectrum.

15. People and social systems can regress as life conditions require and progress to the next stage if the opportunity and need to do so arises in the life conditions.

Appendix C. Concepts of Morality for Stages of Cultural Development

“Morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible. It is about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.” (Haidt)

Stage 1. Beige, Survival-Sense, Subsistence. Morality is doing what you have to do to survive, to obtain food, water, shelter, and to reproduce. Your first responsibility is to live, take care of yourself, and reproduce. It is immoral to allow yourself or your relatives to die. Political morality at this stage means assuring that all people have what they need to survive.

Stage 2. Purple, Kin-Spirits, Tribal. Morality is being true to one’s kin, the members of one’s extended family, supporting their survival and growth and defending them against “others” who might want to weaken or destroy them. It involves respecting elders, the ancestors and the sacred territories where their spirits reside. Anything one does which is detrimental to the family is immoral. Political morality at this stage advocates for benefits for the health of families in society.

Stage 3. Red, Power-Force, Warrior. Morality is each person doing what engages and energizes him, doing what he wants to do, to be free to enjoy one’s self, and express him or herself in the here and now. Others who assert and defend themselves can claim the same rights. It is immoral to suppress or deny the individual the right to exert their individuality as long as their behavior does not interfere with the rights of others to express themselves. Morality is one way that those in power use to control others. Political morality is assuring that individuals are free to be and become what they want to be and become and that others can do so as well; and that an individual’s rights to life and property are protected.

Stage 4. Blue, Truth-Order, Traditional. Morality is obedience to the commandments of a higher cause or power, accepting and acting according to one’s mission in the divine plan and working to the development the sacred community. Morality consists of the absolutely clear guidelines about what is good and evil. These apply to everyone, whatever their circumstances. Any action is immoral that is contrary to these commandments, the divine plan, and the religious community. In the political realm, morality is conformity to the rule of law.

Stage 5. Orange, Strive-Drive, Modern. Acting morally is basing action on pragmatic and scientific reality, being successful individually, striving for excellence, and winning within the rules of the game. Everyone is individually responsible for one’s condition. Since there can never be absolutely clear guidelines about what is good or bad, what is good depends upon the circumstances at the time and the effects of the behavior as measured scientifically. It is immoral to act to distort scientific or pragmatic truth or violating the rules of whatever “game” in which one is engaged.

Stage 6. Green, Human-Bond, Communitarian. Morality is doing what is good for one’s diverse, inclusive and caring community, and being socially responsible. It is about working for justice, fairness, reciprocity, and equality in our social, political, and economic institutions. We should accept people who choose to live according to their own moral standards, even if they are very different from our own as long as others are not harmed. The “isms” which are based on the belief that some are superior and some are inferior, such as sexism, racism, elitism, beliefism, etc. are immoral. Also, immoral is narcissistic, self-oriented behavior that hurts others. Political morality is guaranteeing the civil rights of all citizens and providing them equal opportunity to thrive.

Stage 7. Yellow, Flex-Flow, Integrated-Systems. Everything is moral for an individual or a social system except those actions over time that damage or destroy a healthy higher-scale social system of which it is a member, a healthy parallel social system with which it is in partnership, or a healthy subsystem of which it is comprised. What is right and wrong depends on what is good for all systems involved – or A thing is moral if it helps healthy individuals and collectives to grow sustainably in trust, authenticity, responsibility, and service. It is immoral if it does otherwise. Political morality includes permission of people at each stage of development to thrive at that level without inhibiting others rights and opportunity to do so as well. It also provides the conditions for individuals to move uninhibited from one stage to another as required by their life conditions or personal aspirations.

Stage 8. Turquoise, Whole-View. Moral behavior promotes the health of all living systems at all stages of cultural evolution and facilitates the healthy transitions from one stage to another. It is focused on sustaining and preserving the societies in the world and enabling them to develop in healthy ways and on preserving and sustaining our global commons, the planet. Moral behavior is behavior that enhances the survival of all species on the planet. As William McDonough states in his design criterion: “to love the children of all species for all time.” Anything that leads to the opposite is immoral. Political morality acknowledges the right of every society to exist with requisite sovereignty and act in their self-interest as long as these acts are in the interests of the global community.


[1] He uses the metaphor for a person as having both a rider and an elephant. The rider is one’s rational mind and elephant represents one’s intuitive instincts.

[2]Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi). The SDi conceptualization comes from Don E. Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, (Malden, MA: Blackwell) 2006 (paperback edition). Appendixes A and B provide a brief summary of the eight stages of cultural evolution and some of the relevant dynamics for the uninitiated.

[3] Scale refers to the size of a social system. Scale ranges from individual to dyad to group (family, team), to organization (team of teams) to complex organization (organization of organizations) to community to society to global society.

[4] I do not use the term “levels” to avoid disturbing the elephant of those whose center of gravity is at Communitarian Stage 6, that Haidt designates as “liberals.”

[5] See Dynamic No. 3 in Appendix B.

[6] See Dynamic No. 3 in Appendix B.

[7] Presented by Dr. Beck at a Spiral Dynamics Integral Foundations Course in Denton, Texas.

[8] Edward O. Wilson in The Social Conquest of Earth uses this term to identify the results of the co-evolution of genetic and cultural factors.

[9] A term popularized among business trainers by Morris Massey in his film, “You are What you Were When.”

[10] WIRED because much of his research is based on Internet users who are usually centered at the Modern Stage 5 subculture in any society.

[11] Graves was the original researcher who identified the 8 stages of cultural evolution. See Christopher C. Cowan and Natasha Todorovic (editors), The Never Ending Quest: Clare W. Graves Explores Human Nature, (Santa Barbara: ECLET Publishing), 2005.

[12] See the list of 10 words or concepts for each stage of cultural evolution in Appendix A.

[13] See Christopher Boehm’s book Moral Origins for a comprehensive treatment of this dynamic.

[14] Spiral Dynamics page 116.

[15] Spiral Dynamics page 126.

[16] The concept was introduced by Muzafer Sherif and Carl Hoveland, in their book, Social Judgment. Beck, a student of Sherif’s, used the concept to classify the positions taken by politicians leading up to the Civil War in the United States.  He has elaborated but not published to date the concept by adding the stages of cultural evolution.

[17] These three stages are similar to the three Paul Ray and Sherri Anderson found in their research of a representative sample of US citizens and published in The Cultural Creatives. The size of these three subcultures by percentage are: twenty-four percent of were at or below Traditional Stage 4; fifty percent were centered on Modern Stage 5; and twenty-six percent were at or beyond Communitarian Stage 5 whom they label the “cultural creatives.”

 About the Author

Bruce L. Gibb, PhD, an organizational psychologist, has been in private practice since 1973. His expertise is in developing the human aspects of organizations. He specializes in the design and the creation of socio-technical systems or the conversion of classical organizations to socio-technical systems. Building adaptive organization cultures is one of his competencies. He is co-creator of a whole systems change methodology now commonly used in organizational development. He has worked with international organizations as well as in a dozen countries outside of the United States in agricultural, industrial, energy, financial, governmental, health, military and educational sectors. Since 2001 he has been studying and applying SDi concepts of cultural evolution in his practice.

After obtaining a Master in Public Affairs degree from Princeton University, he was the training support officer in Peru for the Institute of Public Administration of New York. Dr. Gibb then served the Ford Foundation as a program officer in New York and as assistant representative in Chile. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in organizational psychology.