The Integral Right

In his response to “This Hitler Nonsense…”  (a re-post from Regie’s Blog) Otis Schmidt asked a very good question:

As a follower of integral theory for the last 15 years or so I’m genuinely intrigued by your arguments. You claim “Now it is the ‘right’ that has the answers to today’s problems… This is a new right (YELLOW). They have the most compelling voice…”. How so exactly? It is certainly fair to say they are riding/guiding the pendulum currently but it would be useful if you could expand on that statement so we can see your reasoning more clearly?

Much of the answer to this question can be found in a post I wrote in September 2015 called “Thoughts on a Truly Integral Economic and Political Framework and Overcoming Bias: a response to Joe Corbett, Edward Berge, Keith McCaughin and others.”But I will expand on that post a bit and logically tie it to some of my later posts where I make claims that parts of the new so-called “alt-right” movement demonstrate the characteristics of the Integral (YELLOW) vMeme.

Defining the “Left” and the “Right” – Agentic/Communal bias

People, no matter their location on the journey up the spiral of consciousness development,  are driven by a very basic desire; to maximize happiness. That which increases happiness is good, and that which increases suffering is bad. Thus people seek out the causes of suffering in the world and try to eliminate them. The problem is not one of intention, for all people (healthy people) are generally motivated by the same basic imperative.  The problem is entirely one of worldview and the lens through which we see suffering in the world.

Thus, if we ask what is it that really separates the so called “left” from the “right” or what we might call “liberal” and “conservative” (although I find those terms very misleading), we find that it stems from two fundamentally different ways of looking at the causes of human suffering. Those on the left tend to see the causes of human suffering as External  to the individual and as largely outside of an individuals control. Whereas those on the right tend to see the causes of human suffering as Internal to the individual and almost entirely within an individual’s control. As Ken Wilber said:

In the last chapter of Up from Eden (“Republicans, Democrats, and Mystics”), I made the observation that, when it comes to the cause of human suffering, liberals tend to believe in objective causation, whereas conservatives tend to believe in subjective causation. That is, if an individual is suffering, the typical liberal tends to blame objective social institutions (if you are poor it is because you are oppressed by society), whereas the typical conservative tends to blame subjective factors (if you are poor it is because you are lazy). Thus, the liberal recommends objective social interventions: redistribute the wealth, change social institutions so that they produce fairer outcomes, evenly slice the economic pie, aim for equality among all. The typical conservative recommends that we instill family values, demand that individuals assume more responsibility for themselves, tighten up slack moral standards (often by embracing traditional religious values), encourage a work ethic, reward achievement, and so on.

In other words, the typical liberal believes mostly in Right-Hand causation, the typical conservative believes mostly in Left-Hand causation. (Don’t let the terminology of the quadrants confuse you—the political Left believes in Right-Hand causation, the political Right believes in Left-Hand causation; had I been thinking of political theory when I arbitrarily arranged the quadrants, I would probably have aligned them to match).

This duality in how we see the causes of suffering is the basis of what I call the agentic/communal bias. The right, which tends toward agency, sees the causes of suffering as largely internal, that suffering can be best alleviated through the power of individual action. That the best way to achieve one’s own happiness is by working on ones own self (i.e. self knowledge, self improvement etc.) regardless of what obstacles may be in ones way, and in so doing, one contributes to the overall health of society as a whole. Thus the “Ideal Man (or Woman)”from an agentic point of view is the one who overcomes all odds, and blazes a path to their own happiness.

Meanwhile the left, which tends toward communion, sees the causes of suffering as largely external, that suffering can be best alleviated through the power of communal action. The suffering of the greatest number can be eliminated by simply spreading material and social benefits equally among all. Thus the “Ideal Man (or Woman)” from a communal point of view is the one who selflessly gives to the community all that is within his ability, while taking only that which he needs for comfort and happiness.

We all have some level of bias toward agency or communion, to varying levels of extremity, and that bias has a huge impact on the way in which we experience our journey up the Spiral. In the 1st Tier levels we are literally incapable of seeing our bias for what it really is. At 1st Tier your current world view is truth, and all else is falsehood, dangerous, threatening, even evil. Even pluralistic GREEN, who believes that all worldviews are equally valid, simultaneously believes that all people (especially within their own society) who do not share their belief are wrong, hateful, oppressors. It’s that very doublethink that causes the cognitive dissonance in GREEN necessary to motivate one to make the momentous leap to 2nd Tier (YELLOW).

It is at YELLOW that we are at last capable of looking at our agentic/communal bias objectively. By freely embracing and accepting our own natural agentic/communal bias we can start to rise above it and take an a-perspectival view.   We can see the “other” clearly for the first time, and accept their otherness as a necessary part of a greater human whole. We need both agency and communion to exist in harmony in order to have a healthy 2nd Tier society.

r/K Theory and epigenetic survival strategies

There is, I believe, a biological (It) component to our agentic/communal bias, and I think it explains in part why our biases seem to be so unwavering, why it seems almost impossible to sway the other side, and why in many if not most cases our biases strongly flavor how we as individuals experience each stage or wave of the Spiral. This biological component is an epigenetic trait that humans have developed as a survival strategy over the course of our evolution. I will quote at length here from my 2015 post (linked above):

Each individual (I) has a bias toward either Interior or Exterior, which translates to a social/cultural (We) bias for agentic or communal, and a political/economic (It’s) bias for Agora or Commune, and I believe there is compelling evidence for a biological duality (It) that influences the formation of our “I” and “We” and “It’s” biases from very early in our individual development (perhaps beginning as early as the womb) and that once hardwired, that bias travels with us throughout our journey along the spiral. This explains why some individuals experience a strongly agentic/interior journey while others experience a strongly communal/exterior journey.

There is a theory in evolutionary biology known as r/K Selection Theory. The theory originally came about as a way to explain different reproduction strategies among organisms. According to the theory, r-selected species thrive in unstable/unpredictable environments where the ability to reproduce and repopulate quickly is crucial. Environments with little direct competition for the same resources (abundance) also favor r-selected species. K-selected species thrive in stable/predictable environments where the ability to compete for limited resources is of higher importance. Environments that are at carrying capacity with heavy competition for resources (scarcity) favor K-selected species. Mice, rabbits, and honeybees are r-selected, while elephants, whales, and bears are K-selected species.

It is also important to note that, much like any other duality, r/K selection is a continuous spectrum rather than a strict dichotomy. Sea turtles for example are long lived creatures (a typical K trait) but their reproductive strategy is r-selected. In addition to r/K selection cropping up in evolutionary biology, it is increasingly being applied in behavioral epigenetics as well, and this is where the r/K duality becomes really interesting.

In “From Quantity to Quality of Life: r-K Selection in Human Development,” [9] Francis Heylighen and Jan L. Bernheim describe how environmental and social pressures can influence our genes. “The choice between an r and a K strategy does not need to be wholly fixed in the genes (nature). It can also be (epigenetically) shaped by early experience (nurture). Indeed, since the environment changes in carrying capacity and degree of risk or unpredictability over the generations, it is useful for an organism to be able to adapt its strategy to the current situation. This may apply in particular to humans, who excell in adaptability.”

The research implies that humans can adapt to their natural, social, and economic environment on an epigenetic level, and that this survival strategy has an observable impact on human behavior, on psychology, and even on brain structure. The environmental factors that determine r/K selection are those that induce stress hormones in a pregnant mother, or a developing child. “According to the well-known theory of Bowlby [1969], a primary cause of childhood stress is insecure attachment to the mother. This occurs when the child cannot rely on the mother for support when it needs it and/or is not allowed by the mother to explore the world on its own and thus develop autonomy. While such motherly neglect or overconcern is stressful in itself, it moreover is likely to indicate a dangerous external environment, which is either too demanding on the mother to have energy left to care for her child, or so risky that she cannot allow her child autonomy… Less immediate causes of childhood stress may include sexual, physical or emotional abuse, malnutrition, diseases, living in true poverty, in a ghetto or war-zone. (Heylighen/Bernheim)” [9]

High stress environments, such as those induced by war, poverty, social upheaval, issues of abuse and so on in the early development of a child trigger an epigenetic response that directly affects the brain. This response is triggered as a survival mechanism, to prepare the child for a life in an environment that favors an r-selected strategy. Similarly, Low stress environments, such as those induced by a secure, peaceful environment, relative affluence, social stability, and a positive supportive relationship with parents and family will trigger a response that will prepare the child for a life in an environment that favors a K-selected strategy.

The precise causes of r/K selection are extremely varied, but appear to encompass any environmental factors that affect the release of stress hormones in a developing fetus or child. The release of these hormones in turn effect brain development, resulting in structural differences in the brain between those who later exhibit agentic/interior bias and those that exhibit communal/exterior bias.

In a famous study at University College London [5], subjects with reported agentic/interior bias and those with communal/exterior bias were discovered to have slightly differing brain structures. The subjects with agentic/interior bias had larger amygdalea, while those with communal/exterior bias had larger anterior cingulate cortex. The amygdalea is associated with processing memory and emotions. The ACC on the other hand is associated with monitoring uncertainty and conflicting information, which would serve an individual well in an environment which favors r-selection.

By understanding the “It” correlate to the communal/exterior – agentic/interior duality a full AQAL social holarchy emerges. Furthermore, we need to look at this holarchy three dimensionally. Understanding that we are epigenetically wired from very early in our development to be somewhere along the r/K spectrum (keep in mind this is a spectrum not an either/or) and carry that with us throughout our journey along the spiral of consciousness unfolding, we will carry our correlating agentic/communal bias with us on that journey and it will determine how we experience each stage/wave. In other words, not only will an individual experience each stage/wave through the lens of their bias, they will also tend to stay within a stage/wave which confirms their bias for longer. Green, a stage/wave that favors a communal bias, as a reaction to agentic Orange, will be naturally comfortable to an r-selected individual, while being naturally uncomfortable for a K-selected individual. This barrier will either cause the K-selected individual to spend less time in Green before moving to Yellow, or to avoid Green entirely and stay firmly rooted in Orange. Conversely the r-selected individual, being comfortable with Green, will be uncomfortable with Yellow, and will either spend less time in Yellow before moving to Turquoise, or will avoid Yellow and stay rooted in Green.

I think that these internal battles can explain why, as Wilbur observed, people move up and down the spiral, not in a steady path forward but back and forth, in an uneven and unsteady progression, often making temporary breakthroughs, only to then revert back to an earlier stage/wave, to later attempt to move forward (transcend/include) again.

I want to clarify that I think it is entirely possible for an individual to be hardwired from early development for K-selection and through their own journey through young adulthood, re-wire themselves for r-selection, and vice versa. We know that brain development continues into the the late 20’s to mid 30’s and there is evidence that it never really stops, but continues slowly throughout our lifespans. Therefore I do not see r/K selection as unchangeable, but I would think it would require lots of effort and environmental/social stimuli to radically change.

Spiral Dynamics’ warm and cool stages and our individual journeys through them

In the Beck/Wilbur model of Spiral Dynamics (I prefer that color model to Wilbur’s later one), the Spiral alternates between warm and cool colors, and this indeed has meaning; the cool colors represent stages that are more communally (we) oriented (violet, blue, green, turquoise), while the warm colors represent stages that are more agentically (me) oriented (beige, red, orange, yellow). The stages oscillate from communal to agentic up the Spiral. On the aggregate, societies centered in warmer stages will tend to be agentically oriented, while those centered in cooler stages will tend to be communally oriented.

Individuals also progress through the stages, however their “oscillation” I believe is much less severe. In fact for those who have a high degree of agentic or communal bias, the stages only really oscillate from very agentic to less agentic and back again (or vise versa on the communal side). Thus you might hear someone admit “I don’t remember going through ORANGE” or “I don’t remember going through GREEN” and it may just be that their experience of those levels was not stereotypical, rather they experienced a far more communal ORANGE or a far more agentic GREEN.

I also think we tend to linger in stages that match our agnetic or communal biases longer. For the communally baised, the warm stages are uncomfortable, and they are more likely to either be quicker to transcend to the next cool stage, or regress to a lower cool stage. The same in reverse is true of the agentically biased. The agentically biased also tend to access the warm stages more often than the cool ones, and similarly for the communally biased, who tend to access the cool stages more than the warm ones. I created a diagram to show this in my 2015 post linked above.


All of this answers the question of why the “left” and “right” seem to be so irrevocably and irreconcilably different.

Why the “Left” have become the new conservatives, and the “Right” are the new progressives

For the last 150 years (really since the days of Carl Marx and others reacting against pathological ORANGE) the “left” have been the champions of the GREEN vMeme. Their agenda was the “progressive” one, rejecting the Established ORANGE order, they fought long and hard until in the 1960’s and 1970’s when GREEN achieved cultural ascendancy over ORANGE, having eclipsed ORANGE’s influence in academia, the media and popular culture. The dominance of GREEN in those spheres would go essentially unchallenged until the 1990’s.

Now it is GREEN that is the established order, and it is YELLOW that is reacting against it. GREEN has continued to fight the “progressive” fight that it won decades ago, continuing to find more demons to slay in the tiniest of offenses. In doing so it has become a caricature of itself, infested with pathological Memes most of which can be lumped together under the umbrella of the “Social Justice Warrior” phenomenon that pervades academia and the media, and to which our establishment politics have kowtowed until today.

What I see more and more are people who have very clearly come out of GREEN and are transcending it. They don’t know our Spiral Dynamics jargon. They don’t need to. But they are clearly transcending into YELLOW as I described in my post, “Meet the Real Alt-Right.” If you listen to them (get past your communal bias if you lean that way and really listen) you can clearly see that they have integrated GREEN values and transcended them. And they are on the “right”because YELLOW is a warm stage and it will tend toward the “right” politically — toward agency.

Below I give you two perfect examples of this phenomenon of rejection (of pathology), transcendence and inclusion/embrace:

This is why I say that it is now the “right” that has the most compelling voice. It is the right (at YELLOW) that is taking on the mantle of “progressive” in this new Integral Age.

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3 Responses to The Integral Right

  1. Jason Gosnell says:

    Wow…Very good analysis. I happen to agree with it. But…One problem as I think you mentioned once before….Most integrals have a pretty strong green, communal tendency as I do. This take will freak them out!! However, I tend to agree. It explains a guy like Stefan Molyneux pretty well…A right winger who seems to think more yellow…Maybe even Cernovich who greens take as a kind of barbarian it seems. Integrals will experience them as too testostic or divisive or hard edged…But…They don’t appear to regect healthy green or blue even. So…Hard to explain unless they are getting into yellow.


    • brodoland says:

      Hi Jason. Yes I think what we’ve actually seen is that the leading Integral edge is heavily communally biased, and in all likely-hood they either have passed right trough YELLOW and centered themselves in TURQUOISE which is a communal stage, or they’ve failed to integrate YELLOW and have slipped back into GREEN. The clue I think is to what degree they can recognize their own bias and stand above it objectively without feeling threatened by the “other.”

      Wilbur, for example, despite his human flaws is very obviously an advanced consciousness whom I believe is communally biased, but he’s so good at staying in an a-perspectival frame of mind that he can easily “be” agentic when the need arises and see the world clearly from that viewpoint as well. I think this is what has made him such a compelling thinker.

      The thing that frustrates me when dealing with the Integral Establishment is how many I encounter that seem incapable of that kind of non-dual thinking, and instead become emotionally attached to their biases.


      • Jason Gosnell says:

        Due to the severity of the reaction to Trump, I suspect it is green. I could be wrong, but…

        I think turquoise would actually “see” what is happening and account for it with less reactivity.

        Also, not to toot your horn, but the fact is none of the integral thinkers seemed to anticipate what was happening withe the Hillary v. Trump phenomenon. You happened to get it right.

        Even after the election, they seemed to be in shock! I was getting it AS it occurred…And baffled at times too.

        As such, I think it was green as a kind of hidden attachment if you will.

        Turquoise would unlikely be that aghast or confused by this turn of events…It seems to me anyway.

        Wilbur and Beck are in another zone. Beck is I think slightly better at certain skills. Maybe more agentic even.

        They both expressed concern that integral thinkers had mistaken the beginning holism of green for the more complete holism of turquoise.

        I am not being critical, but I want to be honest that I was surprised at the amount t of freaking out by so-called integral thinkers.

        No offense meant to anyone…

        Also, we are seeing the same movement in Europe…A more communal green. As such, alt right is not a kind of weird abberation, but a Western movement reacting to the MGM or maxed out green in general… It’s not exactly a regression, but a beginning stage of yellow…I suspect . It seems so anyway.



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