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.
Read also To Vax or not to Vax.
A fine piece of analysis and constructive critique, Peter- it will help me sharpen my own post-conventional disposition and discernment, and my considered championing of a more kosmo-centric perspective. It captures well the essence of the ‘beyonding’ that I seek to embody, as part of my ‘ever-more-whole-making’. I can see this being helpful to others in my midst, and will be passing it on. Thanks for being of service in this way.
And the empowerment of pre-conventional movements (often confused with post-conventional movements because both look anti- conventional) becomes a more regressive and politically effective force because of their own polarizing social media information bubbles spewing alternative facts. These AFs outrage and radicalize people and convince them that those who think differently are a threat or enemies.
It used to be that most people read and heard the same few news and information sources and mostly agreed on the basic facts, albeit their politics differed but – for the most part – dialogue and agreement was possible. Now, social agreement on basic facts itself is in danger.
Thanks for the wisdom and clarity offered in this post, Peter.
While reading your thoughts I am remembering the importance of paying attention to possible blind spots in all matters of engagement
and the essential practice of discernment and patience.
another nice one Peter
Thankyou for an excellent piece.
I have been using ‘Conspiracy Realsim’ but now I see this other term ‘conspireality’.
I question one point:
your current assumption, that all science is good science.
It is not.
I am grateful for big pharma’s massive ongoing funding of the majority of medical research for the last century for one reason: its Koolade self-serving analysis of current diverse medical symptoms globally is exposing its glaring faults and failings for all the world to see. Even people like you, Peter, are not acknowledging the facts: no virologist has ever actually found a virus in real-life, Mullis invented the rt-PCR Test and explicitly discouraged its use for diagnosis, and government statistics in most or even all countries show near extinction of deaths by flu, but also no exceptional mortality year on year. I could go on for hours with science after science, but I’ll stop here.
‘The emperor has no clothes’.
Finally a link, which strengthens my point here enormously.
It comes from one of the most cited researchers in this area.
Thanks Mo! I don’t think I said “all science” but good extra framing.
This is so tricky Mo given all the different views out there. This for example counters the main point of the article you shared above. https://fullfact.org/health/Covid-isolated-virus/
Dear Peter, with all due respect for the fact that you try to explain in what way(s) we might make sense of some very difficult topics regarding our world, I do think that the model you are using – which I know well – to do so is not really adequate for this task.
Recently I have found that within the integral community several people tried to do this kind of analysis and I am grateful for that. What I think is still missing though is a really in depth analysis based on some of the principles of Integral Methodological Pluralism. One of the most important ones being: non-exclusion – meaning: we can accept the valid truth claims (i.e., the truth claims that pass the validity tests for their own paradigms in their own fields) insofar as they make statements about the existence of their own enacted and disclosed phenomena, but not when they make statements about the existence of phenomena enacted by other paradigms.
Now based on this there are two fundamental issues I’d like to adress, the first one being:
You seem to state that because a vast majority of scientists agree on something we should take their findings serious even though these findings have been challenged by scientists who seem to be just as or – in some respect – more trustworthy when it comes to the quality of their claims (one of the most famous when it comes to the climate-issue for example being phycisist Freeman Dyson (geologist Gregg Braden is another one) who very well has documented and thus explains why governments chose a certain scientific method (model) for climate change research and since then have been discarding all others – which is not very scientific in and of itself. But it begs the question: why?).
Well, in his writings Wilber makes a significant point regarding this:
“I believe it when these scientists tell me that water consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, because these are decent men and women engaged in their social practice with integrity, and as far as I can tell, they have never lied to me before. And anyway, if wanted to, I could spend four or five years learning how to practice the paradigm and find out for myself, but I think I’ll just take their word for it right now.”
In this day and age where the integrity of science – and therefor scientists – is ever more disputed (the corona-situation being another example), we should take these seemingly unimportant words by Wilber (2006) very seriously. (By the way you can do your own ‘light-research’ on the integrity of science just by looking into where a lot of the funding of (important) scientific institutes is coming from and ongoing conversations among scientists about how this (i.e. politics) is more and more influencing the quality of science).
As far as I am able to see right now we ourselves have to be willing to dig far more deeper into issues we normally leave up to scientist. Not because we have to become full on scientific practioners in every kind of field, but just so that we are able to ask questions we otherwise wouldn’t be able to ask. In that way we might be more able to discern whether there is any real scientific integrity to what scientists are finding or not. So in that way the consensus-argument (most of the scientist agree that…) is inadequate (i.e. shallow) and is not a very convincing argument in an analysis like the one you are making here.
Which brings me to my second point: through the work of scientists like Lance Dehaven-Smith (Florida State University), or Stephen Andrews (Indiana University Bloomington) but also that of journalist Chris Hedges and many more I found my way – many years ago – into how I could do my own research into difficult subjects like the validity ‘conspiracy theories’. This is by no means easy, but I am very thankful that I did. It made me realize that I do have to dare to ask questions that do not seem to be frequently asked within ‘aiming-to-be(come)-post-coventional communities’ I am part of.
Questions like: Would it be possible that governments on our side of the world really are not conventional (i.e. world centric) but that they only seem to be? Could it be that this kind of world-centrism fundamentally (still) is about tribal values that are now only being projected on to the world as a whole because cognitively we are able to?
I found that you might have to weigh out these questions in a totally different manner if you for example also seriously look into what experience experts* (is that a word in English?) are stating about tribal/religious groups that government officials seem to be involved in.
If you are then able to deeply listen and be receptive (discerning but not pre-judging) you might find out more about what these kind of groups aim to be in this world and want from this world. Which can open you up to getting a first glimpse into how it could be that a so called world-centric governing system might be hijacked by high profile people who emotionally assert themselves through religious/tribal needs resulting in feudal power structures. And maybe the world at large for those people is a modern day tribalistic playing field, which has nothing to do with an embodied ‘world centric world view’ though. In my view – and based on scientific findings – the corona-situation right now could well be resembling this picture. And in my estimation we need to be willing to shine a light on these possibilities so that – from a so called post-conventional view – we might be able to really do something with our findings.
(* The Dutch Argos-program about ritualistic sexual abuse is a ‘go to’ source for this, or interviews with attorney Adele van de Plas, but there is a lot documented also internationally).
All of my findings throughout the years resulted in feeling more and more humbled… a deepening of knowing that I might not see most of the knots and bolts that seem to be very significant when it comes to being able to analyze in a really profound way. And in that sense to me it is not the research model that is the most important, because whatever the model I will not be able to do justice to ‘truth’ without searching for data some folks in this world may not want to be found. So engaging in serious and rigorous research is what is desperately needed right now in my opinion. This to me also seems to be a practice in embodying the principle of non-exclusion (and maybe, I did not see Thrive II, this is what that community is striving towards also?).
There is – as always – a lot more to say about this, but I will not take up more reading time than strictly necessary. We all have lots to do, which also means that I do not expect you go into all of this. I just wanted to point some of this out.
Thanks again for your ‘sense making effort’ – it made me dive into all of this which is a very wholesome practice in and of itself 😉
Ps. I am a devout member of the tribe called ‘environmentalists’ just not part of the one called ‘alarmists’
Thank you for writing this article, it resonates with me at this moment in time as I have been trying to understand why some people in our communities have moved to conspiracy narratives. I did not know about Wilbur’s model of pre and post-conventional perspectives and I think that your analysis is necessary and a good way to approach what might be happening in society.
In my opinion, those dark forces that we perceive are aspects of ourselves projected outside, and maybe a different way to confront this would be to look inside and confront our inner fears that perceives this worldview. Once we do that we can begin to see that like ourselves our leaders and scientists are like us, flawed individuals trying to do their best in a challenging system, bringing out flawed solutions, but solutions nonetheless. The idea that there are dark forces that control society may manifest from the lack of control that we believe we have in our own lives and the need that we have both individually and collectively to believe in some kind of external order. It is harder to understand that we have the solutions to our personal freedom, no matter our circumstance than to believe that an external malevolent force is controlling us.
This article from Charles Eisenstein is a great perspective on conspiracies. https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-conspiracy-myth/
[…] Many of the related movements will use the word “freedom” in their names and slogans and see a conspiracy against them. On the other side, those who tend towards communion will argue that it is about taking […]
[…] have often used the concepts of pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional but not in the sense that Lawrence Kohlberg originally used them. I have found them useful to […]
Considering the sponsors, Foster and other groups behind Thrive perhaps reflect a Libertarian type of conservative thinking. A form of post conventionalism which might be green altitude with Libertarian type. Besides that I also wonder how healthy pre conventional and conventional forms of understanding interconnectedness can be facilitated in order to implement practical political, technological, economic solutions to avert the impending climate disaster and other complex “ wicked problems” becoming increasingly notable. To them, I might add a confirmation of an intelligent non human ( or differently human) technologically advanced presence.
[…] do not believe that there is a conscious “dark conspiracy” run by a small number of people to try and control the world and subjugate humanity. I […]