Social Problems and the Collective Shadow through Lack of Integration

Like in individual evolution, there are dangers to an unhealthy evolution. Beck and Cowan have put it like this: “Without the immunity of progressive development through the Spiral’s layers, the less elaborated systems are highly vulnerable to the “too much, too soon” illness. False expectations of the “good life just around the corner” are raised prematurely.” (Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics, Blackwell, Malden, 2006Beck/Cowan, p. 128)

Clare Graves who was the inspiration behind Spiral Dynamics has expressed his concern in 1974 in the Futurist: “The Present moment finds our society attempting to negotiate the most difficult, but at the same time the most exciting, transition the human race has faced to date. It is not merely a transition to a new level of existence but the start of a new “movement” in the symphony of human history. The future offers us, basically, three possibilities:

  • Most gruesome is the chance that we might fail to stabilize our world and, through successive catastrophes regress as far back as the l tribe has.
  • Only slightly less frightening is the vision of fixation in the D-Q/E-R/F-S (BLUE-ORANGE-GREEN) societal complex. This might resemble George Orwell’s 1984, with is tyrannical, manipulative government glossed over by a veneer of humanitarian-sounding double-think and moralistic rationalization, and is a very real possibility in the next decades.
  • The last possibility is that we could emerge int the G-T (YELLOW) level and proceed toward stabilizing our world so that all life can continue. If we succeed in the last alternative, we will find ourselves in a very different world from what we know now and we will find ourselves thinking in a very different way. (The Futurist, April 1974)

In my opinion, not much has changed in the years that have passed since 1974. On the contrary, we are generating ever more complexity through our technological evolution and are quickly threatening our supply of resources through a growing world population. In other words: Our world is more complex than ever before and we as individuals and as a society are not complex enough to handle it. The psychologist Robert Kegan reduces it to a simple formula: When we experience the world as “too complex” we are not just experiencing the complexity of the world. We are experiencing a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own at this moment. There are only two logical ways to mend this mismatch—reduce the world’s complexity or increase our own. The first isn’t going to happen.” (Kegan, Robert; Kegan, Robert; Lahey, Lisa Laskow; Lahey, Lisa Laskow. Immunity to Change (Leadership for the Common Good). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle-Version. Pos 347) I couldn’t agree more when he continues: “The challenge to change and improve is often misunderstood as a need to better “deal with” or “cope with” the greater complexity of the world. Coping and dealing involve adding new skills or widening our repertoire of responses. We are the same person we were before we learned to cope; we have simply added some new resources. We have learned, but we have not necessarily developed. Coping and dealing are valuable skills, but they are actually insufficient for meeting today’s change challenges.” (Kegan, Robert; Kegan, Robert; Lahey, Lisa Laskow; Lahey, Lisa Laskow. Immunity to Change (Leadership for the Common Good) . Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle-Version., pos 336) We can’t afford only vertical or horizontal change anymore (I discussed the conditions for and types of change here), we need integral change if we do not want to destroy ourselves one way or the other.

Our collective shadow

We as a society have a shadow, much the same as we do have a shadow as individuals. This collective shadow is the sum of our individual dysfunction. The more we evolve cognitively, the more we know, but non the wiser we are. A true supershadow.

In the following charts I summarized the healthy and unhealthy evolution through the stages as I see them, which may differ from the perspective of members of the Integral Community or disciples of Spiral Dynamics:

If you preferr presentations, you can watch a lecture I have given for the Integral European Conference 2021 here:


Our society is just as prone to regression as we are as individuals. It is commonly assumed that industrialized nations have their center of gravity at Orange, while Blue is still relevant for a big part of the population, while progressive parts of the population have adopted Green values and behaviors – on a good day.

In the year 2020, humanity woke up to a day that turned out not to be that great. Collectively, it could be observed that certain things that we had taken for granted in terms of our level of civilization were not as certain as we wanted to believe. Basic needs like medical support, hygiene and freedom of speech were on the table again.

I will argue that we have not dealt with all the issues in an integral way. We fell right back to more limited perspectives in a way that I and many people I know wouldn’t have thought possible one year before. It is not my purpose to discuss the specifics of our world crisis here at length, nor do I find it relevant to convey the details of my personal opinion in this matter. What I do want to offer are possible solutions that benefit the society as a whole and that enable a society that leaves room for whatever opinion or perspective you may choose as your own.

Collective integral evolution

On a collective level, integration will first have to be comprised of healthy and integrated individuals in their respective stages and also make sure that there is no conflict between the different needs of these stages on a social level.

Ideally, we would manage to create circumstances that allow for OPEN conditions as defined by Beck and Cowan (see here).

This means that every evolutionary stage has its place in society – no one is pushed into premature development without being able to support change in an integral change. At the same time, we need to make sure that people are not kept at their current level of development intentionally (through social or political systems that would like to enforce dominator hierarchies) or unintentionally by lack of support of individuals or communities.

In order to achieve this, we will need not only need social visionaries as “Spiral Wizards”, but those who walked the talk in their personal life first. Knowledge will only be an asset if it is embodied. Concepts like intelligence competition to gain strategic advantages over others and power games will have to make way to wisdom and self-empowerment in the sense of self-regulation.

Therefore, it all starts with the individual. Growing up is one of the few things that can’t be outsourced. By definition, no one can help you becoming autonomous. Autonomy is a personal process, that can only be facilitated but never treated or talked away. What can be treated are the obstacles to evolution. Still, treatments can open the door for you, but it is you who has to go through.

Beck and Cowan have singled out some criteria of 2nd Tier organizations that can also be applied to society (Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics, Blackwell, Malden, 2006Beck/Cowan, p. 128):

  • Each person is free to choose whether to put up with, try to change, or even to walk away, but her or she will take individual responsibility for the consequences
  • Managers (or every person in charge of helping people grow) act as go-fers (not supervisors or overseers) for the worker, getting necessary information and materials to the right place as needed. They may also empower, enable, facilitate, and inspire when required to do so.
  • Contracts are made with employees (or any other subject) such that a very specific “what” should be done, and by “when”. However, there are great degrees of freedom regarding “how” and no pretense that the job can only be done one way.
  • People are focused on an agreed, joint purpose that supersedes the person or group itself, yet serves to make each life healthier and enhances the overall life of the Spiral
  • At first, “less is more” since the most effective use of resources makes possible the pursuit of other equally valuable and simultaneous projects. Then more can be more.
  • Second Tier thinking uses human diversity constructively by neither worshipping it nor advocating sameness, In this view, people have unequal competencies and unequal needs since differentiated intelligences are spread among us all, but not in accordance with economic class, gender, or race-based distinctions.
  • People are naturally productive if the organization is designed and aligned to match individuals with functions they find stimulating. The Spiral Wizard helps diverse mindsets target specific outputs in a functional flow and move around as needed.
  • People, technology, nature, and procedures are interwoven and integrated int the stream of work.
  • Conflict is inevitable in any living system but the Spiral Wizard actively manages it to promote the health of the interactive Spiral, not to favor any isolated faction or personal agenda


Apart from ensuring a steady supply of resources, any kind of society than wants to evolve in a healthy way needs to be informed about all the other basic needs of the individual.

Unsurprisingly, there is not one society so far that manages to support its individuals accordingly. It is true that many people in the industrialized nations do not have to fight for their bare survival anymore (food, shelter etc.). But that doesn’t mean that they know how to live. As Maslow has commented: “Since, in our society, basically satisfied people are the exception, we do not know much about self-actualization, either experimentally or clinically. It remains a challenging problem for research.” (Abraham H. Maslow. A Theory Of Human Motivation (S.19-20). Sanage Publishing House. Kindle-Version.) While we may theoretically have enough resources to switch from survival mode to living mode, we yet have to learn how to put these resources to good use to the benefit of all. Again, we need to look at the obstacles that are keeping us from making good use of our resources. Only when we have changed our social, economic and political structure in order to facilitate healthy 1st Tier development, can we afford to proceed to facilitate topics such as self-actualization. That doesn’t mean that we should discourage ventures into integral thinking in those who are ready for it. But as a society, we have a long way to go until integral thinking can become a collective issue. We need to go back to our roots first, before we venture forward.

None of the information on this website are medical advice. This information is based on my personal experience and opinion and does not always correspond with the official scientific point of view. Therefore, no promises to attain health can be extracted from the contents of this page. Never postpone any medical or psychological treatment because of the contents of this page. Always look for medical or psychological advice if you suffer from any kind of health condition or psychological condition. 

Image source: By Narcís Martí Cabot, Wikipedia 

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