Spiral Dynamics

In a conversation about Spiral Dynamics yesterday, I was reminded of one possible reason for the (often significant) differences between the outlook of mainstream folks in the US vs. those in Western Europe.

For us to move up the levels, the inner and outer situation needs to be conducive/supportive for such a shift to occur. Externally, our basic needs must be met. Internally, we need to realize the shortcomings of our current ways of relating to the world.

Mainstream US seem to be on level 4 and 5. Level 5 indicates a focus on materialistic, consumerism, image, success and growth, and corresponds to the “moderns” in the Cultural Creative terminology. Mainstream Democrats are on this level. Level 4 is a focus on meaning, discipline, traditions, morality and rules, and corresponds to the “traditionalists” in the Cultural Creatives terminology. Many Republicans operate from this level.

In Western Europe, most people are on level 5 and 6. There are many who share the focus on consumerism etc. that characterizes level 5. And there are many on level 6, with their focus on egalitarianism, feelings, authenticity, sharing, community and care for the Earth and future generations – the “cultural creatives”.

Why is Western Europe as a whole about one level “ahead” of the US? There are obviously many reasons, and one may be the difference in a sense of security.

In the US, a significant number of people are a few paychecks, and one or two major diseases, away from being bankrupt and homeless. There is a sense of raw survival of the fittest, even among those with currently good income, which brings focus to individual survival. There is a sense of narrow self-interest and exclusiveness.

In Western Europe, there is a sense of basic security from living in a society where the basic needs are met collectively. We have universal healthcare, free education (including at the highest levels), longer vacations, and various social safety nets. This frees up energy so we can go beyond our own narrow self-interests to include others, the Earth and future generations. There is a stronger sense of generosity and inclusiveness.

This also helps us see why those on level 6 often take a different approach in the two cultures. Those in Western Europe have the direct support of a larger segment of the population, and many more are sympathetic to their views, even among those on level 5. They live in an environment with others on the same level, and one level away. This means they can more easily take a partnership and non-adversarial approach. In the US, those on level 6 are furter removed from the larger culture, especially mainstream media which is strongly level 5 and 4 with little or no ackowledgement of level 6. There is a stronger sense of alienation, which can lead to despair, hopelessness, going into a victim role, and an adversarial approach (as exemplified here in Eugene). It is more of a constipated expression of level 6 partly related to the larger distance to mainstream culture.

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