Is it possible for climate change and the corona virus to both be real phenomena and there to be a powerful group of people intent on using these developments to maximise their own influence and wealth? Do climate change and corona denial have to go hand in hand with a radical critique of our current structures of governance and economics? Why do they so often seem to?
These are questions that have been running around my mind for the last couple of months, and often I find the best way to sort them out is to try and write down my current thoughts, so here we go…
There are a couple of things that triggered this exploration for me. One was the new Thrive movie and related discussions, and another was the article on “conspireality” by Joe Martino where he pleads for more critical thinking around both unfounded claims and significant patterns pointed to by so-called conspiracy groups. Dismissing it all as “conspiracy” is an easy way for us to ignore what might actually be some quite confronting realities.
When I listen to Foster Gamble and friends in Thrive, many of their values and perspectives resonate strongly – a world more in balance ecologically, less violence and oppression, a strong sense of the interconnectedness of all life with a very explicit story around consciousness, a critique of centralised power in both government, large corporations and financial institutions. And yet permeating all of this is a questioning of the seriousness of climate change and the corona virus, which I find hard to resonate with. I believe we can have the former without the latter, without diminishing the power of the story in any way.
A Developmental Perspective
First, I think it is useful to tease out a particular dynamic in anti-establishment movements and stories. Integral philosopher Ken Wilber makes a useful distinction between two very different perspectives in groups who may be showing up as anti the conventional society. Wilber bases this distinction on a view related to developmental psychology, where he describes the core development of all individuals and collectives as moving through phases of development from ego-centric to ethno-centric to world-centric to kosmo-centric. With each new phase you identify with more of life – from just yourself, to a defined group, to life on Earth, to expressions of the universe. This is why the general directionality of this evolution is described as having increasing complexity – as at each new stage you include more of reality.
A society tends to have its centre of gravity at one of these levels of development (models such as Spiral Dynamics describe these levels in more granularity, e.g. with eight levels). Wilber describes that centre of gravity as the “conventional”, the norm that is accepted by the majority of a society, often reflected in the democratically elected government, as well as most formal educational programs. It is the level that people are expected to develop to in order to be “well integrated” or “civilised”.
However, as we all know, you never have a society where everyone agrees that the conventional norm is the right way to do things. When we place this dynamic in a developmental perspective, we can see that non-conventional critiques of the norm come primarily from two different places. It can be a critique from people and groups whose values and perspectives are at earlier, less complex phases of development, which Wilber calls “pre-conventional”, or from people and groups whose values and perspectives have developed beyond the conventional level of complexity to what Wilber calls “post-conventional”. It is important to remember that there is no value judgement on less or more complex stages of development. No stage is “better” than another. They are simply coping mechanisms for the life conditions that people are experiencing and need to be respected as such.
These different developmental phases do however express themselves in quite different ways and understanding those dynamics can help us to differentiate out what critique comes from a more or less complex perspective on the conventional norm, informing the interventions we would support. We could postulate that the Western conventional norm in political circles is usually “world-centric”. The general trend, since around the second World War, has focused on international economic co-operation, and a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. That has certainly been the dominant narrative although achieving that has proved very difficult. If the conventional was world-centric, that would mean that a pre-conventional position would be ethno-centric and a post-conventional position would be kosmo-centric. Let’s explore how that dynamic might play out and relate it to what we see going on today.
Expand and Embrace
Much of the discourse from movements such as Thrive does seem to come from a kosmo-centric perspective. They point to universal principles of consciousness, the importance of personal development so we can stay aligned with the “unified field” and promote technologies that are based on holistic principles. They seem to be committed to a scientific approach, putting lots of resources into researching and testing new technologies to weed out ungrounded claims and identify the things that can really be proven to work. The commitment to good science is an indicator that this is a post-conventional perspective as it takes with it the best of the conventional, such as the essence of the scientific method, whilst at the same time adding dimensions to that method to include emerging phenomena related to consciousness that conventional science often dismisses.
So why do messages questioning climate change and corona creep in to pollute this story? An important indicator is the relationship to the scientific norm. With the vast majority of scientists agreeing that climate change and the corona virus really do exist, voices that deny them are likely to be coming from a pre-conventional ethno-centric perspective which tends to value the beliefs and stories of its own in-group rather than a more objective scientific study. The scientists are polarised as an enemy group who have their own agenda designed to undermine “our” group – classic ethno-centric dynamics. The truth in this case is what “we” believe and what our influencers tell us – we find it more comforting to just believe them rather than to do our own fact-checking and analysis of the situation. The most important thing to an ethno-centric perspective is to maintain the identity and sense of belonging to the group, and anything that challenges that identity is polarised as an enemy group. It’s how the world is experienced from that perspective and it is critical that we understand that.
Why do these two perspectives, ethno- and kosmo-centric, pre- and post-conventional, get so mixed up with each other? Simply because they are both anti-conventional. The nature of our current conventional reality is that it is composed of centralised power in governments, multilateral organisations, corporations and financial institutions. Any anti-conventional movement is therefore likely to focus on the decentralisation of power and on the empowerment of the individual. That would often be framed as “freedom” from the centralised system as opposed to “oppression” by it. This is indeed the narrative that we often hear from these movements such as Thrive. Their solution is to take decision-making power back down to the community level and honour the “sovereignty” of the individual. Cut back on the military and police to reduce state violence, minimise taxation that funds centralised powers and allow a “true free market” – meaning with minimal regulations that distort the market – with security managed through private companies.
However, this anti-centralisation position looks quite different from pre- and post-conventional perspectives, and I have so far heard little awareness of this in these movements. A pre-conventional perspective would want the complete dismantling of any power structures that had any level of control over their in-group. They would want full autonomy to behave as they decide. They would feel justified in the use of violence to protect themselves from the violence that they perceive coming from others through the imposition of rules that are not their own. In this case the state is seen as the enemy as it is forcing the group to adopt certain behaviour and threatening it with imprisonment and potential violence should it refuse to comply. The state sees itself as protecting the integrity of the state as a whole and the group sees itself as being oppressed by a stronger power.
A healthy post-conventional kosmo-centric perspective would understand the need for a certain level of world-centric structures to safeguard the collective commons from exploitation by those driven purely by their own ego- or ethno-centric interests. At the same time, it would recognise the validity of ego- and ethno-centric perspectives, knowing that they are foundational stages of development to get to world- and kosmo-centric. They would look to meet the needs of the underlying psycho-emotional codes in pre-conventional communities through content that enables the expression of the ethno-centric identity in a way that causes no harm to others. The design principle for this would reflect the Non-Aggression Principle as espoused by Thrive. If this was done well, then the need for centralised power to protect others from the potentially damaging actions of ethno-centric communities would be less, and so the resources allocated could be lower. However there does need to be a back-up protection plan so that any ethno-centric interests know that there is no space for them to cause harm to others.
A Dangerous Blind Spot
Of course, all of this assumes that those designing these solutions do indeed occupy a kosmo-centric perspective and can truly hold the needs of all life in their minds and hearts. This is one of the risks in the way Thrive and related movements are communicating at the moment. Being anti-conventional, the temptation is to welcome all other groups who are anti-conventional, without making the distinction between post- and pre-conventional. If pre-conventional groups are encouraged and empowered to rebel against the conventional, then the means they are likely to use will probably show no regard for human or other life. Post-conventional groups need to be very clear on their values, what they stand for and what they reject. Any pre-conventional behaviour that causes harm to another needs to be strongly condemned and action taken to remove the offending individual or group from any support channels they may be benefiting from that are offered by the post-conventional. It is naïve to believe that people and groups holding an ethno-centric perspective can just plug into the unified field and be guided to action for the good of the whole by a kosmo-centric worldview that is not where they are at. Again, an ethno-centric perspective is not a good or bad thing. We all experience it in our development. At the same time, putting weapons that have come out of world-centric scientific development into the hands of ethno-centric warlords is just asking for trouble. It will end badly for everyone. We empower people most by meeting them where they are at on their journey and creating habitats and solutions that help them to express themselves positively as the person they are.
So let’s keep our critical faculties sharp, our intuitive knowing alive and our developmental awareness clear as we engage these turbulent times. There are many interests vying for power and influence in the vacuum that the conventional systems are leaving as they fail to deal with the increasing complexity and challenges we are facing. As the old collapses and the new emerges, let’s stay really clear in our hearts and minds so that the transition may flow as gracefully as possible into a post-conventional future that expands our way of being to include all the beauty of life and the cosmos, while embracing everyone wherever they are on this journey so they may fulfil their potential for the good of the whole.