Let’s look at another crucial stage in the Spiral Dynamics model: stage Blue. This is the fourth stage in the model, coming after the Red stage.
The Spiral Dynamics theory calls this “Truth Force” and “Purposeful”. It falls into the self-sacrifice family (along with stages Purple, Green and Turquoise). In fact, it’s the stage that most strongly sacrifices individuality.
Clare Graves observed this level in the 60s in his research subjects and described it as “sacrifice self now to earn later at behest of proper authority.” If that sounds abstract and old fashioned, don’t worry – I’ll unpack it for you in a moment.
In the nineties, the number of people with a majority Blue psychology totalled 40% of the world population. In fact, Ken Wilber puts this percentage at 60% in one of his works. Whichever way you look at it, this is a very dominant stage.
These percentages shine a light on many of the world’s problems – many of them are a creation of the Blue worldview and psychology. But we shouldn’t forget that Blue also marks a pivotal transformation for the individual and humanity at large.
When Does Blue Emerge?
As with all Spiral Dynamics stages, one of the keys to grasping Blue is to look at how it came online historically.
The appearance of this system coincided with the appearance of the first states. In the most general sense, these created relative order and stability from anarchy and allowed thousands and millions of people to cooperate for the first time.
And for successful large-scale cooperation, people had to be assigned rigid roles, strict social norms had to be enforced, and punishment for violating these roles and norms had to be brutal. Ethical systems like The Ten Commandments and The Code of Hammurabi are two excellent examples of Blue social systems.
That’s how cohesion was created in the earliest human societies of a considerable size. It’s a sad fact. As modern Westerners we might cringe and scoff at this form of organisation, but it’s still very active in the world today. And it’s a vital stage in the large-scale bootstrapping process.
While the Blue worldview does create highly rigid societies, it also gets everybody singing the same song, worshipping the same God and following the same rules.
Nowadays this system is highly active in the developing world, Islamic and Hindu countries, the southern states of the US and fundamentalist religion. Look for conditions of deprivation and insecurity and you’re sure to find it: these are the exact conditions that Blue tries to change.
For individuals in advanced societies, this system often appears in childhood as we transcend our egocentrism and appreciate that other people have their own perspective on the world, including on ourselves. With this recognition we want to be a good boy or girl, live up to the expectations of our society and fit in. So we develop a strong sense of right and wrong, good and bad, and fair and unfair.
Let’s look more closely at the worldview of Blue.
Spiral Dynamics Blue: Worldview
Perhaps the aspect of Blue that Spiral Dynamics most focuses on is its ethnocentrism. Understanding ethnocentrism – and its causes and effects – helps us grasp human history and many of the longstanding problems in the world.
So what does ethnocentrism mean? And how is Blue an ethnocentric stage?
Well, at Blue, can now take the perspective of others, and we now realise we’re part of a group of humans – be it a country, a religious group, or any others that provides us with an identity. Remember I said we can all “sing the same song?”.
So this is an enormous expansion, but while we now identify with others, we don’t identify with all humans. That is, we cannot yet take the perspective of people who don’t belong to our particular culture or group. This is ethnocentrism in a nutshell.
Our identity is defined by our identification with this group. So we simply absorb its truths and values, other truths and values are wrong, nonsensical, maybe even evil. It’s our way or the highway: “my nation, right or wrong”, “my religion, no matter what.” My friends and fellow saints are part of the Chosen group; all others are sinners and infidels.
And don’t think this is just academic fluff – this stage has been wired into the human psyche for thousands of years. Take a look at fundamentalists, patriots, racists and nationalists. Most importantly, look at yourself. This was your dominant worldview at one point in your life (or still is). Its basic structures remain active in you, and it’s a very good thing they do.
So our group’s values, norms and truths take on divine status here. People are often assigned rigid rules too – the Indian caste system is an excellent example of a Blue system. We must live by these rules and truths – if we don’t, our identity with that group falls apart. No questioning of these norms is allowed.
This truth system need not be religious in nature, but it often is. Regardless, the Higher Authority or Higher Power has laid down a grand design with truths, rules and structures and its our duty to live by them. We’re subject to eternal judgement – life is a test of our loyalty to this Higher Authority.
It’s clear to see how this system created so much structure and order in the world, but its limitations are obvious too.
Now let’s look inside the mind of the Blue stage.
Spiral Dynamics Blue: Psychology
A feature of Blue’s psychology the Spiral Dynamics theory underlines is its rigidity. Blue submits to authority and its chosen group, and will do all it can to defend its favourite truths, rules and maxims. We only change our mind when the authority changes its mind.
This is a highly dogmatic level – in fact, Clare Graves identified it as the most dogmatic level of all the Spiral Dynamics stages. It files everything into right and wrong with absolute certainty and with no shades of grey permitted. We see this Blue dogmatism everywhere – from Muslims to feminazis.
On the flipside, this rigidity and dogmatism provides us with certainty and direction, as long as we’re happy to continually deny the limitations of our belief structure and push away any opposing evidence. In fact, these limitations are hidden from Blue, and the pushing-away mechanism is wired into this psyche.
Concrete-operational thinking is now available. To simplify the picture a little, we’re now able to understand general patterns governing objects and people: rules. And this thinking permits the second-person perspective that I’ve mentioned.
But remember that this is an expansion of the mind. Blue includes the ability to take the perspective of others. Instead of being able to take only egocentric perspectives, we can now step into other’s shoes.
We can have “mutual relations” – we develop roles and relationships, such as sibling, child, parent, student, Christian or British, and learn how to play them. These usually come with a host of expectations, taboos and norms, which at this stage we’re keen to uphold. Our identity is consumed by these roles – this stage is often called the rule-role mind.
Our personal worth often comes from how well others perceive us. We feel a duty to live by the rules and be what others need us to be. We want to be on the side of good – the side of those who uphold tradition and truth – not evil.
Guilt is also at its peak here. We’re constantly worried about complying and being a “good person” – whatever that means for us –and stepping out of line is the mother of all evils. Our own interests away from these roles and obligations take a back seat.
There’s often moralism here, leading to a lack of empathy: “You didn’t play by the rules, so you get what’s coming to you.” Judgements are bound to the concrete laws and rules of our chosen group.
Spiral Dynamics Blue: Values
So what are the typical values of Blue?
Many of Blue’s core values have a traditional, conserve-the-status-quo feel to them.
One of these is law and order. Laws, rules and dictates almost define our personality here. As a good boy or girl, a faithful Muslim or an upright citizen, we revel in keeping to the rules. Doing so builds discipline and moral fibre; violating them is an abomination against the eternal order.
Deeply intertwined with this law-and-order orientation is Blue’s moral system. Our morals are governed by our group’s laws and maxims. If it’s lawful, it’s moral. If it’s unlawful, it’s immoral. This has a wonderful civilising effect, but the limitations of this moralistic attitude are clear.
Patriotism comes from Blue. “My nation, through thick and thin”, “America is the greatest country in the world.” This helps us gain a sense of belonging and stability. Our country can even take on sacred importance for us.
This is why xenophobia, homophobia and sexism are Blue phenomena. We identify so strongly with our group that other groups look silly, evil or wrong.
If we leave aside Blue’s tendency for ethnocentrism, the love for our “our people” is a beautiful contribution of this stage. We resonate with national heroes, special days, the nation’s history and national symbols like the flag.
Another crucial Blue value is authority. We bow down to it, we look to it for guidance and we defend it. We don’t question this authority – it’s our duty to shut up and obey.
Spiral Dynamics Blue: Behaviour
Let’s look at what Blue looks like in groups. These characteristics are plain to see in Blue-dominated societies and organisations.
Look out for codes of conduct with absolutistic rules and norms. These are the heart and soul of Blue countries and collectives.
These codes often impose a pyramid, top-down structure, where the lines between ranks are rigid and sharply defined. Each person in the hierarchy is expected to sacrifice themselves for the greater good and the transcendent cause that binds the members together.
These hierarchies are often controlling and authoritarian with strict discipline and standards, regimentation, oaths and ceremonies. Power is in the position – those from the upper echelons sport their status with badges, fancy titles and demands for respect. Those with no power are supposed to keep to their place and be thankful for the membership.
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