Torture & Spirals

The current debate about use of torture in the US is a good opportunity to apply some of the insights from Spiral Dynamics.

Those advocating for the use of torture seem to mostly be at the blue level (conformist, law & order, absolute right/wrong, ethnocentric, conventional), applying it to those at mostly a red level (tribal, heroic, egocentric), and those horrified by the use of torture are mostly on orange (science, individual achievement, early world-centric) and green (egalitarian, more fully world centric) levels.

The red is tribally and power oriented, and – in this case – use force to be seen in the world (aka terrorism).

The blue is ethnocentric (in this case Christians vs. Muslims), law & order oriented (any means is justified to maintain law and order), and see absolutes in terms of good and evil, right and wrong (we are good, you are evil etc.). Any means are justified to maintain law & order, to protect us against them, and for us good people to deal with those evil people.

At the blue level, we see the havoc and suffering the red level can bring, in particular in its disregard for the law and order neccesary to maintain a reasonably functioning society. The remedy is enforcing law & order, sometimes independent of means and cost.

The orange is scientific and human rights oriented, and do not see the goals as justifying the means. Even those who engaging in terrible acts deserve a fair treatment and their human rights to respected. Other’s disrespect for human lives does not justify acting out of a similar disrespect for human lives.

At the orange level, we see the horrors the blue ethnocentricsm can bring, for instance in the use of circumventing international law, indefinete detention, and use of torture against the “others” (in this case muslims) – even if they are mere suspects. The remedy is respecting universal human rights.

So although the orange world – the majority of Western Europe and at least half of the US – views the unhealthy red expressions in horror, they are even more horrified by the unhealthy expressions of blue, because it is a little closer to orange. These are after all supposedly civilized people, in positions of power in the most powerful nation of the world, and they are still acting in such an (amazingly) shortsighted way… doing exactly what they accuse their “enemy” of doing, and only fueling what they are supposedly trying to prevent.

This is obviously an enormous simplification, although it can also help us in relating to what is going on.

To deal with unhealthy red (terrorism) we need healthy blue and orange (law & order combined with respect for human rights). To deal with unhealthy blue (means justifying the goal) we need healthy orange (respect for human rights).

Possibly understanding more of where people are coming from, we can use a language and arguments that resonates with them. And we can also offer more healthy versions of blue to those at red levels to emerge into, and more healthy levels of orange to those at blue levels.

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