Over this past week, I was tested four separate times for Covid. The first test, an at-home test, occurred because I was feeling ill and work at a school; the second test occurred because the first test’s results would not return for nearly a week, and the school’s principal wanted me to resume teaching. Finally, even after both tests had revealed I did not, in fact, have Covid, I twice went to a health clinic to treat my symptoms–and both times, I was again tested for Covid. Even declaring to the clinic’s attendants that I had already received multiple negative tests did nothing to avoid a new one, and I was told that all patients were tested.
To me, this sequence of events reveals the degree to which Coronavirus has dominated our consciousness, to the point that all other illness takes secondary prominence. Significantly, the reason I wound up taking four tests, rather than two, is that after my initial tests had cleared me to return to school, it was my impulse to do so; it was only in the middle of the night following this decision that it occurred to me I was genuinely sick, and that regardless of whether the cause was Covid, I should not resume teaching. In other words, Covid had created a binary designation in my consciousness whereby so long as I did not have Covid, I was okay to return to school.
There are many aspects about Coronavirus that I think have been–or at least, could be–good for humanity, ushering in an age of greater collective care and the dissolution of the small self. At the same time, there are ways in which I think the illness has trapped us at lower levels of thinking and behaving, or at least that the intermixing of the illness with technology has borne this effect. As a result of this dynamic, I fear we risk being trapped forever in these lower levels, failing to make the evolution of consciousness that I think nature and this epoch desire from us.
To clarify a bit what I mean, I want to talk about spiral dynamics, a system of human cultural evolution inspired by the work of Clare Graves. In spiral dynamics, stages of thought, behavior, and feeling are described by colors, which rise up a spiral as cultures develop. The reason these stages are referred to as a spiral rather than a line is that, as one proceeds up the spiral, themes repeat; for instance, stage orange bears some of the residue of stage red (two stages prior), while stage green bears some of the residue of stage blue (again, two stages prior). As one proceeds up the spiral, there are also multiple tiers of perspective, the first of which coincides with lack of self-awareness, the second of which signals the birth of that same quality. In other words, individuals and cultures within the lower register of spiral dynamics are unaware of multiperspectivalism, and believe that they are “right,” while individuals and cultures of a higher register see all perspective as conditional. For this reason, the latter group naturally seeks to help others and themselves progress up the spiral.
Within the framework of spiral dynamics, there is much about the Covid program that is stage orange, the stage resonant with science, materialism, technology, and individualism. For instance, the rushing out of a vaccine to counter the virus, and the praising of this same vaccine, both read as highly “orange;” science is seen as the way to transcend the problem, with the result that human ingenuity is declaimed and reified. Similarly, the pattern of tracking where the virus currently resides, as well as the level of “antibodies” alive in any given bodily system at any given time–these, too, are highly orange behaviors, behaviors that proceed with a technological apparatus in order to map out reality. Through these cultural memes, stage orange’s fundamental desire for mastery and control is expressed.
As indicated earlier, there is also much about Covid that signals a higher spiral dynamics stage, green–or at least offers this promise. One stage up from orange, stage green embodies the values of cooperation, collective awareness, and care, and most largely emerged in consciousness through the hippy and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. In our modern world, this stage can be seen under the guises of the Democratic party, Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements, and pushes to social and economic justice around the world. In the venue of Covid, stage green emerges through the awareness that what we do with our bodies, affects others around us, and for this reason that we should adopt measures like mask-wearing, vaccination, hand-sanitizing, etc. In spiral dynamics stage green, the stage orange individual gains awareness of how their actions influence others around them, and this leads to measures of compassion and care.
However, it is important to note that stage green, like all other stages in spiral dynamics, has a shadow side. In stage green, there is little allowance for those whose values do not align with the ethos of care, and this is where behaviors arise like making fun of or calling out anti-vaxxers and -maskers. At the extreme, stage green can even celebrate the death or pain of those who do not jive with the movement, which can be clearly seen in meme culture at this moment. Finally, as a residue of stage orange’s forcefulness and control, stage green is indifferent to the means by which one arrives at stage green behaviors, which is why stage green individuals tend to glorify mask and vaccine mandates: to a stage green individual, it does not matter if someone is forced to go against their religion or personal intuition in order to get a vaccination, as at least the person has complied.
As alluded to earlier, there are other, higher stages of spiral dynamics in which these tensions would be resolved. For instance, in spiral dynamics stage yellow, the stage immediately following green, systems thinking is employed: in this stage, one seeks to solve problems at the root, rather than win out against or shame those who stand in opposition. From a stage yellow perspective, not only vaccination, but also collective health would enter the picture in the forms of diet, exercise, media intake, spiritual needs, and more, and the stage yellow individual would not view it as inconsequential whether people want to accede to these measures. From a stage yellow perspective, it creates greater problems in the long run if people are forced to do something against their will, so the stage yellow individual would be deeply interested in meeting any resistance at the root, trying to facilitate people’s journey up the spiral to the point of valuing collective over individual health. In a stage yellow world, there does not need to be a tension between freedom and care because people can–and will–freely choose to care.
I say all this because I fear that the Covid program’s current implementation is keeping us trapped at a stage orange consciousness, which I think has occurred because so many people lived in that consciousness to begin with. In stage orange, there is the fantasy of not just integrating the virus into our lives, but eliminating it altogether, a fantasy which entails not only the masks and vaccinations but also perpetual lockdowns. All viruses mutate and all other pandemics have eventuated in herd immunity, and a sensible conclusion to this one would repeat these patterns. Similarly, the shaming of and laughter about those who resist these methods recalls stage orange, even red–earlier memes in which brute force was necessary to master opposition.
As I look over the state of affairs, I am sometimes reminded of the parable of Atlantis, a civilization that I believe expired itself due to stage orange thinking. In late Atlantis, it became common to experiment on one another, to vivisect flesh in an attempt to understand the mysteries at core of the body; proceeding in these ways, some sort of technology was ultimately unleashed which led to the perishing of the civilization, a runaway train. In our own world, I believe this runaway train may not so much be a destructive technology, as it is the set of technologies created to head off destruction, technologies which act as a vice grip on life itself. At the extreme of mask-wearing, Zoom meeting attendance, and social distancing, life loses meaning and humanity contemplates suicide.
Countering this paradigm with one which represents a higher stage of spiral dynamics, it is possible to soften our gaze, thereby admitting truths which are so obvious as to preclude scientific measurement. For instance, we know that sunlight, food, human touch, and myriad other enlivening behaviors are good for us; rather than stemming from the amalgamation of data, these truths are evident in the ways the behaviors make us feel. Similarly, we know that health is not only physical, but emotional, spiritual, and for these reasons, cultural; it intersects with politics by accounting for how we relate to both one another and our planet. As we interrogate health in a holistic way, we realize that it is something which far outpaces antibodies, vaccines, masks, or even germs; true health encompasses our entire way of being, inviting us to question not just how we behave, but who we are and why.
Taking this long view, an event like Covid acts as a mirror through which to perceive ourselves and our purpose, reframing our entire society in the process. As we look to the years ahead, I hope that the event can be mantled in this way, swinging us up the spiral to the unforeseen heights where dichotomies resolve; if not, then I fear that we shall be cast into the depths of the ocean, sinking into paranoia and drowning in self-analysis.
1 thought on “Trapped at stage orange: spiral dynamics and the fate of Atlantis”
I share your hopes for learning from this global event… but your fears echo loudly in me as humankind (if only “kind” were the dominant mindset of our species) has not shown a great capacity to learn from mistakes and grow… 🙏