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Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: For an explanation of the color terminology used in Spiral Dynamics, see Don Beck's Stages of Social Development.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four |

The v-Memes at War

Part 2 - Blue Returns

Ray Harris

The concern of Second Tier is the health of the entire spiral. When such a catastrophe strikes the shockwaves reverberate through the entire spectrum. Aftershocks await; but in this case they are likely to manifest years later. If the spectrum is relatively robust then the memetic shake-up will rebalance itself. If it not then the aftershocks will trigger other eruptions. No-one can doubt that these events were themselves triggered by other eruptions, by the general ill health of the global Spiral.

Because Second Tier is still very small in global numbers there is little it can do. Its influence is not yet strong enough. What Second Tier can do however, is to seek to clearly understand the forces at work. By building a strong analysis and promoting sound strategies, Second Tier can position itself. Such an analysis must address the needs and concerns of all vMemes. Each vMeme has built within it the desire to evolve. If an approach is seen to offer a way forward each vMeme will consider it. Whether one finds it easy to accept or not, the actions of the 'terrorists' were a cry for transformation.


Why were the terrorists such apparently well educated men in their twenties? We have by now all seen footage of fathers in Egypt and Lebanon refusing to concede that their sons were capable of such deeds. In calling them terrorists and fanatics (all valid from one perspective), we perhaps deny that they were also idealists. For many decades now a revolution has been bubbling up in Islam. It is based on Islamic idealism. This idealism holds that the world will only attain true peace and equity under Islamic law. One of the strengths of Islam is its call to universal brotherhood. During the turbulent period of the 60's and 70's in the US many Black Americans turned to Islam. Why? The reasons are twofold:

  1. Islam was held to be non-racist. The notions of Islamic fraternity declare that all Muslims are equal before Allah. Many Christian Churches in the US could be seen to support racism.
  2. The coded Red/Blue vMeme in Islam attracted militant activists who tired of the pacifist policies of the Black leadership.

These same reasons drive the idealism of the terrorists. As one terrorist already in prison remarked, "You (Christians) say, turn the other cheek. If you strike my cheek I'll punch you in the face." Many in the Islamic world, after years of conflict in the Middle East, see no hope for diplomacy. The West is seen to be duplicitous and corrupt. It's so-called advocacy of freedom and equality is seen to be hollow by the many Muslims struggling in Third World conditions.

To this we must add the aftershocks of Marxist ideologies and communist revolutions. The pattern is very similar. Educated, idealistic youths taking up a revolutionary cause like the Red Army in Italy.

Let me make this clear. Marxism and Neo-Marxism, as a 'theoretical' force has been a major influence in shifting many people to Green and to Second Tier. The Marxist theoretical ideal involves an evolutionary shift from Blue/Orange 'capitalism' to Green 'socialism' to Second Tier 'communism'. Let me stress that I am talking strictly about theoretical communism as opposed to the pejorative term 'Communism' as applied to totalitarian state Socialism.

What went wrong with the ideal?

The problem lay in the means used to realise the ideal. By using violence the idealists immediately pulled their Green idealism down to Red vMeme. What the Marxist theoreticians did not understand was the Spiral and the Prime Directive. By using terrorism and violence to overthrow Blue/Orange governments (however corrupt) they reduced the theatre of operations to Red, and even Purple, conflict. The ideal was immediately corrupted and the emerging 'Socialist' governments inherited a Red/Blue social landscape. Red/Blue governments are inherently totalitarian and repressive. They remained that way because of the Cold War. Remember that one of the core needs of Red is the ability to control one's environment and that Blue needs stability. The fear of attack kept the Socialist nations, who were dealing with the memetic aftershocks of revolutions, at Red/Blue. The Western nations, who were not burdened by an ideology that had retreated to Red/Blue, were able to progress to Blue/Orange, although the Cold War also affected the Spiral in those nations.

In the safety of Blue/Orange many Western intellectuals, mainly European (US propaganda has successfully made Marxism almost synonymous with the Red vMeme and the enemy of Orange US, Europe was largely freed of the Blue McCarthyesque excesses), embraced Neo-Marxism and its close companion, Post-Modernism. Here we enter the Green vMeme proper and specifically what Ken Wilber calls the 'Mean Green Meme'. The error of the 'MGM' intellectuals was to excuse any ideology and place it on a pseudo equal footing. (I say pseudo because in reality Green is accorded 'first amongst equals' status). This Green apologetics gave legitimacy to a wide variety of causes and rebellions, many of them bubbling up from Purple/Red ethnic and tribal groups that had been repressed.

The essential thing to understand is that a people stuck at Purple/Red or Red/Blue will attach themselves to any ideology that 'carries' Red coded into its values. In many cases such people have adopted Marxism, which somehow gets perverted to suit the particularities of the cause. In other cases they have adopted Islamic idealism. The future 'hotspots' are in Asia, where today militant Islam battles Christian and ethnic enclaves in Indonesia, and kidnaps tourists in the Philippines (all regrettably linked to the El Qaida network - who are reported to be shifting their base to this region).

But why are the perpetrators/leaders so often well educated and children of the middle-class?

Here I need to introduce some new concepts and new readings of SD. These are informed by my own 'vision' of the same territory. Without going into too much detail (and making this too long by far) let me summarise my reading of the Spiral.

I divide the entire Spiral into 12 levels made up of 6 dyads that correlate reasonably directly with both SD and Wilber's 'Spectrum' - but which reveals slightly different meanings and contexts. This discussion involves the first 3 dyads.

  • First comes 'Eros-Thanatos'. This is the equivalent to Beige. It is the struggle of birth and death, of the infant and of society. In societal terms this is the struggle of the tribe against the environment and the accompanying animistic mythologies.
  • The next dyad is 'Mater-Pater'. Here the infant first becomes aware of the mother, then the father. In societal terms this is the shift to larger tribal alliances and then the shift to city-states. The accompanying mythology shifts from matriarchal themes to patriarchal themes. This is covered by a shift from Purple to Red to Blue. Here I want to make an important distinction between the symbol of the 'Terrible Father' and the 'Just Father', a shift from Red to Blue. Note that the Semitic religions have carried the myth of the 'Terrible Father' as God, be He Jehovah or Allah.
  • The next dyad is 'Individuus-Civilis' Orange to Green. Here the child becomes an adolescent and a young adult. The societal forms are the shift from absolutist regimes to the notion of 'individual' rights and 'individual' expression. The myth is that of the Hero. However, the individual also has responsibilities, s/he must exist in the context of a mutual collective of individuals. The myth here is of Athena, of Marianne, of 'Justice'. And here I want to make a note about the archetypal significance of New York. Yes, the WTC represents Orange 'individualism' but the Statue of Liberty (Marianne) watches over New York and America.

The first 3 of the 6 levels, Eros, Thanatos and Mater act harmonically to create the matriarchal matrix. Here I need only note the mythologies around birth/death, fertility/sacrifice and the Great Mother. The next 3 levels, Pater, Individuus and Civilis form another harmonic matrix, the patriarchal matrix with its themes of the Terrible Father, the Hero and the civilising effect of the feminine. Again let me make a brief reference to the trinities of Jehovah, Jesus (the Son) and the many configurations of Mary (as Magdalene, the Virgin) and Allah, Mohammed and Fatima.

Young men resonate with the Hero. In the thrall of the Terrible Father and under the influence of Heroic idealism, they can undertake suicidal idealistic missions. It is not surprising that young men, on the cusp of Orange (educated, middle-class) fall under the spell of the Terrible Father - Red. This is particularly poignant in Islam because of the lack of the 'animus' archetype of 'Civilis'. I also note that Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc, embody the Terrible Father and attract their minions of Heroes to the cause. In the absence of a healthy 'Civilis' component violent fraternities are formed. Returning to the theme as introduced above; Islam conveys a fraternal ideal where all brothers are equal.

Where is the Islamic Mary, the Islamic Marianne? What happened to Fatima? A Second Tier analysis would note the absence of a balancing 'Civilis' archetype. It would note that this prevents the Red/Blue fraternity from evolving, effectively locking it into violent fraternal outbursts - the only way such fraternities know how to effect change.


As I mentioned in Part 1 each vMeme has a set of core needs. Whenever one of those core needs is threatened any individual or society will express the related Vmeme. When security is threatened people retreat to Blue. This is actually quite normal. It only becomes a problem to the health of the whole Spiral if the Blue reaction becomes the new centre of gravity and starts to repress the other vMemes. The strong Blue component of the US reacted with Blue repression as a result of the insecurity created after WW2, creating the repressive backlash of McCarthyism. Fortunately, so far, US policy seems to be avoiding the pitfalls of the 'Cold' war. However, Blue overkill seems to be affecting the migration policies of many countries. Here I'll use my own country as an example, Australia, which was already in the throws of a Blue resurgence.

The recent attacks have inflamed an already volatile refugee debate. Australia received worldwide attention and some condemnation for its handling of the Tampa crisis. I assume that nearly all of you will be familiar with 'reported' crisis. What many may not understand is that the Tampa crisis is the latest event in a series of events. Preceding the crisis were a number of riots and breakouts in detention centres across Australia. One notable report showed vision of the refugees from one centre, after having escaped custody, holding a noisy demonstration in the streets of the local town. These reports sent a shiver through the dormant Blue memes in many Australians. Many of the rebellious refuges had come from areas of Red conflict, they were still in Red mode and as such were aggressive. This offended Orange sensibilities and scared Blue.

The current government of Australia is conservative (Blue/Orange) and is led by a particularly Blue Prime Minister (who plays on the 'Just Father' image). As the result of the riots and breakouts the government decided on a get-tough policy on illegal refugees. Here it is important to note that Australia, per head of population, is second only to Canada in the number of registered refugees it accepts. Australia is a target for illegal refugees because it has taken a liberal Orange/Green interpretation (the legal elite of Australia has a strong Orange/Green thread) of the UNHCR guidelines. Afghans in particular, had an 80% success rate in Australia as compared to a 15% success rate with UNHCR agencies in Indonesia. It is hardly surprising that they were keen to take the risks to get here.

Our Blue PM resonated with the Blue fear caused by an apparent threat to our 'sense' of security. I say 'sense' because the real threat is minimal (although it must be noted that the government was rightly concerned that criminal elements were using the refugee smugglers to escape arrest). He saw a perfect opportunity to exploit the Blue rising wave. His government was facing a strong likelihood of defeat. The electorate was beginning to become concerned about the government's neglect of Orange/Green issues such as funding for health, education and welfare. The Tampa crisis saw the polls reverse as Australians bought into the Blue scare.

This has now been made worse by the terrorist threat. The unfounded fear that terrorists will come across in the illegal refugee boats has spread like wildfire. The opposition (Orange/Green) has thrown its lot in with the Blue wave and backed legislation that undoes some of the Orange/Green interpretation of the UNHCR guidelines. They have even gone to extraordinary lengths of expunging some Australian territories, such as Christmas Island, from the definition of Australian soil.

I mentioned above that Australia is second only to Canada. That may now change. Canada borders the US. There is now mounting pressure for Canada to revoke its liberal immigration policy. As the US turns ever more Blue it will pressure other nations to turn Blue.

As I said above such a reaction is to be expected. The thing to watch is how deep the reaction goes. The Blue backlash will almost certainly ensure the re-election of Australia's conservative government, perhaps with an increased majority. This will further inspire their Blue agenda. What of Bush and the Republicans?

A healthy Blue is vital!

The Blue reaction will set back the development of the higher memes. Already Australia was showing increased signs of social distress caused by a neglect of Green. But this has been caused, in part, by Orange/Green's neglect of Blue. As has been painfully apparent, the developed nations, Orange in particular, has been under threat from Red for some time. Green tends to avoid looking at the issue - it confounds their sense of harmony. Orange is often too busy doing Orange to notice. But Blue is vital to the health of these, and higher memes. They cannot afford to ignore the health of vMemes below them.

This is the central message of Spiral Dynamics. The health of the entire Spiral is paramount. We have seen the damage a sick Red vMeme can do. We can now sense the damage a Blue reaction might do.

© Ray Harris, October 2001

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