Don Dulchinos
51 min readOct 14, 2022

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THE EMERGENCE OF COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE AGE OF COVID

Global Problems and Global Solutions

Based on a Lecture to the Caritas Consciousness Project, April 2020

1. INTRODUCTION

The term “collective consciousness” has been used by religious visionaries and technology utopians alike, but most use it in a metaphorical sense. Developmental psychologist Clare Graves, among others, predicted the emergence of a tangible, collective level of human and societal development (his disciples refer to a Global or Holistic level, the 8th stage of a progression from subsistence cultures to modern civilization and beyond.) Among characteristics of that level, they refer to conceptions of collective consciousness such as the example of Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s emerging noosphere, which Teilhard saw as a logical direction of human biological evolution.

On an individual level, most of us have experienced some form of group consciousness or communion — romantic love, team sports, musical or sporting events, meditative or psychedelic experiences, as just some examples. (Perhaps it is part of our nature as pack animals.)

This article will present a way to detect evidence for, and think about the implications of, collective consciousness as a tangible, if still emergent, phenomenon. Collective consciousness will be seen to have both good and bad effects, as Graves also had predicted — global systems raise global challenges. The article will suggest some ways that phenomenon may inform how to move forward amid the many complex dimensions of our current planetary crisis — global problems elicit global solutions. In this age of COVID-19, this is no longer a dreamy, philosophical, or science fiction exercise. How do we scale humanity as we approach a global population that will reach 10 billion people in the next thirty years?

Many years ago, I was inspired (by Teilhard) to think that collective consciousness was an end state toward which we were evolving, and looked intellectually for evidence that it might be emerging. The advent of the Internet seemed to me like a technological manifestation of the noosphere. It is only in the 21st century that I have felt that emergence personally, both emotionally and, in the age of COVID-19, physically. Now that I think there is actually evidence of this state, I’m also reminded that Graves taught there is no end state, only a never-ending quest.

2. GLOBAL TRIGGERS — NEUROSPHERE RISING

It (reaction to the huge explosion in Tunguska, Siberia in 1908) went on for a month. Those who had taken it for a cosmic sign cringed beneath the sky each nightfall, imagining ever more extravagant disasters. Others, for whom orange did not seem an appropriately apocalyptic shade, sat outdoors on public benches, reading calmly, growing used to the curious pallor. As nights went on and nothing happened and the phenomenon slowly faded to the accustomed deeper violets again, most had difficulty remembering the earlier rise of heart, the sense of overture and possibility, and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucination, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day. [1]

Many have pointed to 9/11 as a moment of collective consciousness. Novelist Thomas Pynchon was referring to it in the above passage, and also noted that such events hold the public consciousness, with people feeling unified in some ways, for only a finite amount of time before the feeling fades.

I have been proposing that the Internet is a manifestation of a global consciousness in a literal not metaphorical sense, in the sense of the wiring for a global brain. When I was finishing my book on the topic, Neurosphere (2005), 9/11 happened. Like a lot of people, I reacted not only in fear but experienced a very strange feeling. I remember standing out on the driveway, looking up in the sky and seeing or hearing no airplanes. After watching the planes crashing and towers burning, we all struggled to name the thing that had just happened. Before George Bush called it terrorist attacks, we called it “the events of 9/11.” (Pynchon referred in Against the Day to “the Event over the stony Tunguska.”)

At the dawn of COVID, many of us felt like we were there again. Here’s a text exchange I had with a friend, just as stay-at-home orders began to take effect.

• On Mar 11, 2020, at 8:21 PM, Don

• <don@xxx.com> wrote:

This is as weird a feeling as I’ve had since 9/11.

• Sent from my iPhone

• On Mar 11, 2020, at 8:32 PM, Steve

• <steve@yyy.com> wrote:

Was just saying that to Amelia!

• Sent from my iPhone

In a recent lecture on the topic [2], I asked my audience:

• How did you feel when you first realized how a pandemic might affect us?

• How do you feel now?

Some answers are shown in Figure 1. Note that several participants used the word transformation.

[1] Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, 2006, p. 805, emphasis added by author.

[2] Presentation to Caritas Consciousness Project, Boulder, Colorado, May 26, 2020. This article grew out of that presentation.

FIGURE 1

There have been events in human history with global effects before — perhaps the Black Death in the 14th century was the first? In the 20th century, two world wars are obvious examples. Perhaps the moon landing and the disintegration of the Soviet Union also held global attention, although global populations were not directly enveloped in the action.

COVID-19 already is the third such event in this new century — 9/11, the 2008 financial crash and the coronavirus pandemic. A fourth event, climate change, does not have quite a precise time stamp, but is the biggest planetary crisis of them all. The crises seem to be coming faster, and my theory is that this is to be expected as an effect of a world population approaching 10 billion. Jon Freeman has pointed out that psychologist Clare Graves predicts, in his emergent cyclical levels of human existence theory, there would come a “second tier” of collective human and societal emergence, and that historically each such move to the next level occurs over a shorter time scale. [1] (More on the Graves model later.)

Everyone is accustomed to images of the exponential growth curves of the COVID-19 coronavirus. It is worth noting that population trends over the last 50 years have pushed us rapidly toward a global population of 10 billion. Those trends are unaffected by even the worst-case COVID death toll projections. Underscoring that inevitability and that acceleration on a personal level, the world population has doubled within my own lifetime.

3. COVID-19 PANDEMIC AS COLLECTIVE HUMAN EXPERIENCE

In the current moment, it may be useful to consider the COVID-19 pandemic in a little more detail, in terms of its collective effects and reactions. Before COVID-19, we all talked about Viral Memes on social media. Meme is actually a mixed metaphor — these viral memes don’t reproduce like an organism, passing on genes to offspring. But they do spread like a virus in the digital world, where any set of bits is as easy to copy and distribute as a biological virus.

To bridge from collective experience to collective consciousness, we need to better define the term, consciousness, and make a distinction between consciousness as metaphor and consciousness as biology. If you look at the scientific literature, you will be hard pressed to find a consensus scientific notion of consciousness, in the sense of a personal consciousness or identity that may be found in patterns or structures in the brain. This point will be discussed below in section 6.

COVID-19 also seems, unlike other global events like world wars, to have elicited a common response among all people in all nations (to varying degrees but still.) Author Kim Stanley Robinson writes:

Now, all of a sudden, we’re acting fast as a civilization. We’re trying, despite many obstacles, to flatten the curve — to avoid mass death.

September 11th was a single day, and everyone felt the shock of it, but our daily habits didn’t shift, except at airports; the President even urged us to keep shopping. This crisis is different. It’s a biological threat, and it’s global. Everyone has to change together to deal with it. That’s really history. [2]

I would add that COVID-19 reminds us of how alike we are, a key prerequisite for finding commonality in order to address global threats and conditions, about which more later in this article. The following observation from author Venkatesh Rao further distinguishes COVID-19 from other global events.

This is what makes COVID-19 so different from other global crises within living memory. The local experience everywhere is that of a consequential and highly personal participation that goes far beyond mere spectatorship.

COVID-19, unlike the Iran hostage crisis, the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis or even SARS, is a story happening to 7.5 billion people almost simultaneously, in their homes (except, of course, for the homeless) …Never before has there been a collective, empirically informed response of the magnitude that COVID-19 has demanded. [3]

After 9/11 we did act globally in the sense that the U.S. kind of invaded the world in a global War on Terror. But a traditional military response to find and conquer an army and its territory (Afghanistan and Iraq) turned out to be counterproductive, leading to the rise of ISIS, creating another ten years of fighting spreading to Syria, north Africa and more, and leading to the rise of more autocratic states.

In the U.S., many of us railed against the ineffective response to COVID-19 by our autocratic leader. It’s apparent today that it’s too late to close borders to prevent COVID-19, despite the worst instincts of nationalist leaders. COVID-19 appears to be a case where autocrats are helpless to blame outsiders, which is their standard strategy (not that they aren’t trying though.) But it is interesting that China, as autocratic as it gets, forged a relatively effective virus response, at least at first. It’s worth pondering this more — perhaps, as author Paul Beatty put it, “Humanity is united by its latent fascism.” [4]

Our so-called global institutions are not actually built for true global life conditions. In 2001–2003, the institution we brought to bear against a small, distributed network of terrorists was a military treaty organization, and when NATO did not hold, it was a “coalition of the willing.” Looking at Iraq (and Syria and Afghanistan) today, these military institutions were clearly not up to a global task. Just as critic Bruno Letour observed of COVID,

For this war, the nation state is poorly prepared, poorly calibrated,
poorly designed, because the fronts are multiple and cross each one of
us. It is in this sense that the “general mobilization” against the
virus does not in any way show that we will be ready for the next one.
It is not only the military who is always left behind in a war.[5]

Many of our other global institutions are designed for commerce, not connections of the mind and heart. A recent COVID-19 analysis in the globalist Foreign Affairs journal is all about political and economic structural impacts.[6] Not a word about culture, mind, spirit. As if “Globalization equals Supply Chains”, period.

Some initial suggested actions to address global problems will be proposed in the last section of this article. They are intended to be a blend of political, economic, and cultural actions that address all the different types of people with their own types of needs.

But as illustrated by phenomena like COVID or global warming, people are part of a larger biosphere. Philosopher of science Donna Haraway’s work helps us think about a more encompassing notion of collective consciousness. Haraway coined the term Cthulucene for our current era, partly because she feels Anthropocene or Capitalocene are terms that put humans at the center of the story. She suggests there are other ways of connecting people and species. I would observe that COVID-19 streams through our collective bodies as if they were a single distributed network of flesh and blood and air, and indeed the virus entered our systems from the systems of another species.

Philosopher Franco Berardi’s provides a helpful introduction to Haraway:

the philosopher who best anticipated the ongoing viral apocalypse is Donna Haraway. In Staying with the Trouble, she suggests that the agent of evolution is no longer Man, the subject of History.

The human is losing its centrality in this chaotic process, and we
should not despair over this, like the nostalgics of modern humanism
do. At the same time, we should not seek comfort in the delusions of a
techno-fix, like the contemporary transhumanist techno-maniacs do.

The year 2020 should be seen as the year when human history
dissolved, not because human beings disappear from planet Earth,
but because planet Earth, tired of their arrogance, launched a
micro-campaign to destroy their Will zur Macht. The Earth is rebelling against the world, and the agents of planet Earth are floods, fires, and most of all critters.

Therefore, the agent of evolution is no longer the conscious,
aggressive, and strong-willed human being, but molecular matter,
micro-flows of uncontrollable critters who invade the space of
production, and the space of discourse, replacing History with
Her-story, the time in which teleological Reason is replaced by
Sensibility and sensuous chaotic becoming.[7]

Haraway may be right, but my thinking for now is the agency has moved from individual humans to a collective entity that will look and act like something more complicated than a single “Great Being,” and so perhaps accounting for the critters as well. [8]

Finally, global crises are linked. COVID-19 arose in part because of already existing global phenomena like climate change and population growth, which have put unprecedented human pressure on the natural world. “Contemporary livelihood and market patterns tend to degrade ecosystems and their services, driving a cycle of degradation in increasingly tightly linked socio-ecological systems. This contributes to reductions in the natural regulating capacities of ecosystem services to limit disease transfer from animals to humans.”[9]

And a third (fourth?) global crisis, the polarizing consequences of social media, throws gasoline on the fires (somewhat literally) of the other global crises. This technology-driven phenomenon will be revisited in section 7 of this article.

4. EVOLUTIONARY FRAMEWORKS FOR COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS

Ideas of collective consciousness have been couched in religious terms for millennia. In the twentieth century, such ideas emerged somewhat metaphorically in the creation of institutional economic or political structures, and also in cultural commentary. While these examples are interesting, I believe that an evolutionary, emergent framework is the most useful as a basis for developing strategies to address emerging global problems.

The global disasters of World War I and World War II both brought forth political responses, the institutions of the League of Nations and the United Nations. These were hybrid efforts, acknowledging that nation-states were not going away anytime soon. There is ample historical commentary why the League of Nations was not acceptable to most of the (Western) world at the time, including much of the United States. The United Nations fared better, even though built in structural weaknesses have limited its effectiveness.

Those weaknesses in turn led to the next world war, better known as the Cold War. The Cold War led to a U.S./Western Europe sphere of influence, a Soviet bloc, and an emerging “non-aligned” movement. Interestingly, the balance of terror over time emerged into a realization that an actual exchange of nuclear weapons would be the ultimate global threat to the planet, and therefore a consensus formed of its unacceptability, in theory and so far at least in practice.

In parallel with the political, economic union has progressed partially through the European Union and World Trade Organization. While the rules of international trade seem to have successfully created increased interconnection between countries and cultures, there is plenty of evidence that the benefits have not accrued between all nations and cultures, nor even between all segments of society in advanced economies.

Along with collective political and economic behavior, interesting cultural imagery emerged in the latter half of the 20th Century — for example, Jung’s Collective Consciousness, McLuhan’s Global Village, Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth, and James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis. These images and metaphors might be viewed as secular takes on a much older tradition of calls for religious unity. The world religions emerging in the so-called Axial Age, perhaps prompted by large international collectives such as the Persian, Greek and Roman empires, thought in terms of the unity of believers with a deity (however named and defined).

Religious leaders preach unity, even while they fight with each other, which often leads them to supply a unifying ideology for nationalists’ territorial aspirations. This trend has been all too apparent in the Balkan Wars of the 1990’s, the so-called Islamic State, and even Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reconstitute the former Soviet Union.

The rise of psychedelic drug experiences in the 1960’s led many in the West to look to Eastern religious or spiritual models to explain and institutionalize their glimpses of unity. The past 50 years have seen institutions (Naropa University, Omega Institute, etc.) adapt and teach Hindu/Buddhist models of unity, sometimes called “non dual” consciousness.

Around 75% of Americans think of themselves as spiritual, but around half still identify with some branch of Christianity, and the Christian New Testament contains numerous references to unity:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
- Acts 4:32

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.Corinthians 1:10

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:28

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
- Ephesians 4:11–13

This tradition shaped the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

TEILHARD DE CHARDIN

The Christian treatment of unity beyond its expression in the Bible was explored by Jesuit theologian (and scientist) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. His was a modern attempt to merge religion and science, rather than oppose them to each other. In particular, as a trained paleontologist, he sought to reconcile Christianity and the new (in the early 20th century) theory of evolution. In harmony with Christian teachings, Teilhard felt “the cosmic Body of Christ…extend[s] throughout the universe and compris[es] all things that attain their fulfillment in Christ [so that] … the Body of Christ is the one single thing that is being made in creation.” [10]

Teilhard’s book The Phenomenon of Man sought to present a synthesis of evolution and Christian belief. (As a loyal Jesuit, he obeyed orders not to publish the book in his lifetime.[11]) Teilhard was reconciling evolution with an expected end point of humanity per the theology of his Jesuit order. He didn’t talk so much about how to get there from here, but a lot about how evolution got to this point, and why it would be expected to continue in the direction of greater convergence and unity.

Teilhard’s collective vision derived from observing the convergence of species, as shown in these illustrations (Figure 2) from The Phenomenon of Man. [12]

[1] Jon Freeman, in Beck-Graves Original Spiral Dynamics, Facebook Group, 2019.

[2] Kim Stanley Robinson, The Coronavirus is Rewriting Our Imaginations, May 1, 2020.

[3] Venkatesh Rao, Pandemic Time: A Distributed Doomsday Clock, NOEMA Journal, June 8, 2020

[4] Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle, 1997.

[5] Bruno Latour, Is This a Dress Rehearsal, March 26, 2020.

[6] How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic, March 20, 2020

[7] Franco Berardi, ”Beyond the Breakdown”, Transversal, March, 2020.

[8] “It is silly to think that the RNA coronavirus, COVID-19, thought to cause a (sometimes acute) flu-like respiratory syndrome was released “in order to” battle the alleged human ecological plague that has raised Earth’s temperature and given it a fever. But that may be its effect, nonetheless…Gaia theory, especially as carefully and scientifically presented by Lynn Margulis, is as profoundly evolutionary as it is anti-anthropocentric. Dorion Sagan interview in

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/gaia-versus-the-anthropocene-a-conversation-with-dorion-sagan/

[9] Everard et al, The role of ecosystems in mitigation and management of Covid-19 and other zoonoses, Environmental Science and Policy, September 2020.

[10] J.A. Lyons (1982). The Cosmic Christ in Origen and Teilhard de Chardin. pp. 154–155.

[11] It is interesting that many Jesuits LOVE Teilhard as being progressive within the strict limits of Jesuit discipline and obedience to the Pope. He was issued a monitum, (or warning) by the Vatican due to “theological errors.” See — https://catholicherald.co.uk/why-sixties-america-embraced-teilhard-de-chardin/ Many Jesuits happily cite the references to Teilhard’s thought by Pope Francis in Laudato Si, as a sign of his posthumous rehabilitation. https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html)

[12] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 1959.

Figure 2

In a nutshell, Teilhard presented an evolution that culminated in what he called a noosphere. Teilhard expected to see “a harmonised collectivity of consciousnesses equivalent to a sort of super-consciousness, earth becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope.” See Figure 3. [1]

[1] Ibid.

Figure 3 — Teilhard’s Progression

Parts of Teilhard’s biological commentary has not necessarily aged well, although one should remember that Darwin’s theory was less than 50 years old when Teilhard started writing. But is interesting in contemporary popular thought to see the idea of convergence of species surface in Yuval Harari’s Sapiens. Harari also makes a big deal of the “small amount of brain change” at the onset of various stages of human development (such as the First Cognitive Revolution), causing massive changes that have crowded out other species.

These changes happened faster than the speed at which evolutionary DNA changes happen. Contemporary biologist David Sloane Wilson and colleagues have explained why evolutionary changes in societal behavior happen on much faster time scales through the science of epigenetics.[1]Epigenetics offers both empirical support for Teilhard’s intuition of evolution toward collective consciousness, and also provides a bridge to understand personal and societal development stages as presented by Clare Graves, and elaborated by “Integral” theorist Ken Wilber. In fact, Wilson recently published an article in the Integral Leadership Review (journal of Gravesian and Wilberian thought) that not only summarizes epigenetics, but offers support for Teilhard’s spiritual belief that collective consciousness will not be a totalitarian state or prison like metaverse, but will be cooperative and selfless, what Wilson calls “prosocial.” [2]

Prosocial draws upon three main bodies of work: multilevel selection (MLS) theory, Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize-winning work on the commons, and Contextual Behavioral Science. MLS theory contributes the general idea of evolution as variation, selection and retention at multiple levels and in multiple streams including genetic, epigenetic, behavioral and cultural evolution…There is now a growing consensus that cooperation is at least as strong a force in evolution as competition, and selection does not just occur at the level of the individual. More cooperative groups are more likely to succeed and spread their practices than less cooperative groups. According to MLS, this creates a selection pressure for altruism provided that the conditions are right… [more succinctly…] “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary.”

With this context, Wilson and his Prosocial Organization seek to develop tools to improve life amidst increasingly global problems.

A…key area is applying the insights of Integral and Prosocial to assist people moving from “me, to we” — to earth-centric perspectives, that expand identities? …This involves more than just ‘we are the world’ and ‘global unity’ proclamations. It must be a lived experience of shifting moment to moment decision making from a perspective of ‘what is in it for me?’ to “what is in it for the larger systems of which I am a part?” This in turn requires healing of the automatic reactivity so many of us operate from so this is a space where science and spirituality must join.

[An additional area] will likely be the application of evolutionary ideas to cultural institutions such as organizations, governments, policy and global agreements. How should we understand those institutions as symbotypes subject to evolutionary processes? How can we take control of the evolution of those institutions to be more supportive of life?

GRAVES

The idea of collective consciousness as an emergent phenomenon also has appeared in the work of psychologist Clare Graves in the development of his Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory, which been further developed under the name of Spiral Dynamics, and also incorporated into Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory.

The development of the human is an unfolding or emergent process marked by the progressive subordination of older behavioral systems to newer, higher order behavioral systems.[3]

Graves identified a series of discrete values systems through which both individuals and social groups progressed over time. See Figure 4. [4] Subsequent work on these theories, following Graves’ own teachings, is focused on helping people see these systems in themselves and others, and then learning strategies to solve problems within organizations or even nation-states. At larger scales, including the planetary, solutions must contain sufficiently complexity to address populations whose primary values are located at different levels, and who move between levels depending on changes in life conditions, both forward and backward. An individual or society at each new level transcends but also include previous levels, albeit integrated in a healthy and stable way.

[1] David Sloane Wilson, This View of Life

[2] Integral and Prosocial, Integral Spirituality and Prosocial Spirituality, Kurt Johnson, David Sloan Wilson, Paul W.B. Atkins, Jeffrey Genung, Integral Leadership Review, Volume 21, Issue 1, December 2021.

[3] Clare W. Graves, Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap, https://www.clarewgraves.com/articles_content/1974_Futurist/1974_Futurist.html

Graves was a colleague of Abraham Maslow, whose “hierarchy of human needs” was one of several development theories of that era. Graves developed a more complex and dynamic view than many of the others, but Ken Wilber pointed out that most theorists studying these developmental stages arrived at roughly similar conclusions. See Wilber, Sex, Ecology and Spirituality, 1995.

[4] Figure 4 diagram by Ben Levi. https://www.bbilan.org/spiral-dynamics-integral/blog-post-title-one-mme5j-9l5sa. Note — Beck and Cowan assigned colors to each level — there is some meaning to the colors selected, but outside the scope of this paper other than that some writers/disciples use the colors as shorthand.

Figure 4

Within this model, the 8th level, sometimes called the Global/Holistic level, has been described as a very recently emerging level, sometimes referred to as part of Tier 2 (the first 6 levels being Tier 1.) Because the 8th level is a recent development, there is not much evidence to point to out in the world, but Graves, Beck and others have cited collective consciousness as representative of the idea, and have cited Teilhard’s noosphere as a specific example of what Turquoise might look like.

In my brief initial exposure to Graves, the one statement that stuck with me was that his research indicated that, over time, the percent of each level represented in his surveys moved higher over time. [1] Don Beck’s characterization reflected his own observation of such a trend, see Figure 5. (Colors correspond to levels as in Figure 4.) [2]

[1] Author’s classroom notes, Organizational Psychology, taught by Clare Graves, Union College, 1976.

[2] Dr. Don Beck, hand-out materials, Spiral Dynamics Origins and Applications, 2005.

Figure 5

This is fundamentally an optimistic view, as “higher” societal stages are distinguished from “lower” by bringing more happiness to more people. Progress through stages should lead to more Beauty, more Good, and more Truth (in the words of integral theorist Ken Wilber who cites Graves and Beck), and more fulfillment of more of the needs of more of the people. [1]

From an epigenetic perspective, it’s interesting that Graves levels alternate between behavior that “expresses self” (selfish) and “sacrifices self” (altruistic), echoing Wilson’s characterization of “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups.” Graves emphasizes that in practice that different strategies for personal and societal success are called for at different stages and when confronted with different life conditions; sometimes selfish, sometimes sacrificial.

In looking for confirmation of Graves’ optimistic views (and Teilhard’s) over the years since my exposure to his thinking, I perceived the Internet phenomenon in the 1980s and 1990’s as the emergence of a second tier, Global Holistic level of thinking, with attendant connotations of unity and utopia. I published a book

[1] Note that there are healthy and unhealthy aspects of each level; higher levels may violently subjugate lower, or lower levels may have healthier communal values, but ultimately societies at each level are faced with changing life conditions that call for skills/perceptions that drive movement toward higher levels. See discussions in Beck and Cowan, Spiral Dynamics.

summarizing my views, quickly forgotten in the wake of the dot.com crash. [1] But I came to realize the book overstated the position.

Last year, I published a mea culpa for what were my clearly premature conclusions, reflective of the now-obvious social media dysfunctions of the technological utopia we were promised. [2] Part of this reflected my immature understanding of Graves, with my understanding since writing the book somewhat improved by taking an immersive training in theory and practice with Don Beck in 2005. This led to a greater understanding of the scope and limits of the Humanistic level thinking. Among my observations:

Among Integral/SD theorists, Elza Maalouf articulated the flaw in my 1980’s-era thinking. “[The Humanistic Level] often confuses its values with those of the [Global Holistic] world-centric meme. Until egalitarians can respect assess and design for each of the first-tier value systems in the world, their efforts are not yet second tier.”

Don Beck himself once wrote, “Just as the critical difference between [Power Politics} and [Strategic Enterprise] is reflected in the discipline within [Truth and Order Level], and the element that differentiates [Truth and Order] from [Humanistic Egalitarian] is in the autonomous self within [strategic Enterprise], [Humanistic Egalitarian] can only transform into Global Holistic through the verticality, practicality, and ‘stuff that works’ qualities within [Integral Ecological]. Beware of the large number of “Green” organizations, think tanks, movements, and alliances who are claiming that they have the codes to untangle the global knot.”

One cautionary point I had to re-learn from re-reading Graves and Beck was not to think there wouldn’t be dysfunctional aspects even at higher levels — any level can have unhealthy manifestations. This is a core teaching of Graves, though the idea is absent from Teilhard’s (and others) more millennial/utopian views.

The other key point I noticed in revisiting Graves writing was that he considered the movement to Tier 2 (Integral and Global) levels of complexity, should be considered not just incremental but momentous. [3] (This point has implications for the fast growing global problems briefly discussed in the final section of this article.)

[1] Donald Peter Dulchinos, Neurosphere, 2005.

[2] Toward a Technology Infrastructure for the Second Tier, June 2019. http://integralleadershipreview.com/16742-06-29-toward-a-technology-infrastructure-for-the-second-tier/

[3] Clare W. Graves, Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap, The Futurist, 1974. http://www.clarewgraves.com/articles_content/1974_Futurist/1974_Futurist.html

THE ACCELERATION OF EMERGENCE

Graves taught that higher levels of organization needed to deal with more complex challenges of life over time, as each new level that is attained brings new life conditions and thus new challenges. Contemporary students of Graves, sometimes called Third Generation Gravesians, include Jon Freeman, who recently wrote an interesting think piece called The Rise of Turquoise. [1] First, he summarizes seismic shifts in the dominant societal levels in the U.S. today

The US bail-out is happening through the gritted teeth of those who are deeply opposed to activity from the state which might resemble what they imagine to be “socialism.” This is a shift in the societal center of gravity — a tipping point in the Orange to Green [Enterprise to Egalitarian levels 5–6 in Figure 4] transition. That has been held back for decades by the fear that too much Green care would be detrimental to our individual prosperity, our economic growth imperatives and our Western lifestyles.

Green [Egalitarian] in turn has been stimulated to raise its sights beyond the perspective where “only people matter”. As it moves to [Integral] it has to re-evaluate its awareness of [Strategic Enterprise] and the intelligent management of the material world — resources, ecologies and economies — in order to address the functional questions of sustainability.

Freeman believes these dynamics are part of the emergence of a larger part of the population into second tier levels, and further observes that the model predicts these stages are emerging societally sooner than previous shifts.

If you know Graves you will have seen his graph/timeline with overlapping curves of stage emergence. [Figure 6] Or you will have seen this diagram showing how each stage begins to show up as the prior stage reaches its peak, knowing that we are not in or near peak Yellow. (Such diagrams are simplifications. They indicate flows but they are not accurate maps of the territory.) In addition, I would remind you that the timescales are not linear.

Each new stage has come after a shorter interval than the one before. If you look at that compression, it is entirely feasible that Turquoise would be showing up now, potentially beginning the inclusion of all that has gone before.

[1] Jon Freeman, The Rise of Turquoise, April 18, 2020. https://medium.com/@jonfreeman/the-rise-of-turquoise-ff9ff10d9fc8 . Figure 6 from What Is Enlightenment magazine, 2002.

Figure 6

Freeman then speculates on the nature of this emergence, views that I feel are directly on point for my discussion in section 2 of this article.

When the whole universe is a product of an emergent consciousness, an auto-poetic or self-generating field of information, we need a word that is beyond the conventional “conscious”. We are short of vocabulary in this new arena for discussion. The word consciousness itself is used in many ways and often without definition — human consciousness, god-consciousness, the act of being conscious, the awareness of our own thoughts — you can come up with more, no doubt.

There is a fresh view of the collective and of one planet, even while we self-isolate and lock down. Thus, what I have presented as a story of spiritual consciousness is not happening in some disconnected realm… It is mediated by physical, chemical and biological events. [1]

Freeman cautions that will be disruptions and new problems characteristic of the new levels — overall they are beneficial to more of humanity, “but also problems of this level cut across all classes, countries; e.g., global warming…It might even be the problems of the Global Level, such as global warming, have preceded the emergence of significant populations with Global Level values and skills.” And Freeman counsels urgency. We had better start learning Global Holistic values and skills quickly.

In this article, I argue that harnessing technology at the right level is one such skill. Another needed skill is a better definition and deeper understanding of the nature of consciousness — what a collective consciousness might look like in literal reality. These two aspects are the subject of the next two sections.

5. TECHNOLOGY AND THE NOOSPHERE

In an earlier paper, I attempted to sketch out what I called a “technology infrastructure for the second tier.”[2] In this section, I will briefly revisit the idea in what is now a broader context of collective consciousness in this paper.

It is worth noting that in addition to evolutionary biology, Teilhard de Chardin was one of the first to discuss technology as an emergent phenomenon, and one having a spiritual dimension. He observed growth of electronic communication in first half of 20th century, as self-evident interconnection of people.

“I am thinking, of course, in the first place of the extraordinary network of radio and television communications which, perhaps anticipating the direct synchronization of brains through the mysterious power of telepathy, already link us all in a sort of “etherized” universal consciousness…”

“Thanks to the prodigious biological event represented by the discovery of electro-magnetic waves, each individual finds himself simultaneously present in every corner of the earth.” [3]

This article thus far has moved back and forth between a metaphorical and literal view of collective consciousness. My belief in a literal interpretation evolved with my early interest and subsequent career in digital technology. There are other literal views — see for example the Global Consciousness Project which posits a quantum physical level connection between the minds of human individuals, following the premise of Bell’s Theorem that non-local connections persist between particles once in contact. (This is beyond the scope of this article, but maybe worth exploring — see resources in footnote. [4])

The burgeoning field of neurotechnology is building physical interfaces to the brain, enabling for example thought control of prosthetic limbs where nerve connections have been severed. This is the beginning of the digitization of thought.

If that trend continues then it follows that thought may be physically networked. If anything, we continue to underestimate the speed of digital transformations. The underpinnings of digital interconnection are a global phenomenon that has happened at an accelerated rate. See Figure 7.

[1] “This is what I have written about in The Science of Possibility and what I am propelling in practice through my “Access to Possibility” work. I mention the last because the detail of how these actions are applied is being presented there and they are beyond the scope of this article.” See more at Freeman’s site: http://spiralfutures.com

[2] Don Dulchinos, Toward a Technology Infrastructure for the Second Tier, Integral Leadership Review, June 2019 http://integralleadershipreview.com/16742-06-29-toward-a-technology-infrastructure-for-the-second-tier/

[3] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 1959.

[4] Global Consciousness Project. I feel it’s problematic to infer sub-atomic quantum effects at the macro level where Newtonian physics still govern, but that’s a much longer discussion. But see Freeman’s The Science of Possibility which makes the case at some length. Also see Hameroff-Penrose, discussed later in this article, on a proposed mechanism for a quantum physical role in consciousness. The state of the art in quantum engineering has become interesting in this context — see a brief summary in my article here.

Figure 7 — Trends in Digital Connections (millions)

Built on these physical interconnections, the more recent advent of social media has proven a disturbing metaphor for collective consciousness, although we only recently have figured that out. But I observed a fascinating example of the kinds of autopoietic emergence discussed in earlier sections, in the news about Facebook’s role in the 2016 election.

At first the reactions to the role of Facebook in the 2016 presidential election were predictably partisan and strident. But I remember that Mark Zuckerberg, after a period of silence, first granted some interviews about what happened, and then appeared before Congress.

The latter appearance was scripted and unsurprising, but Zuckerberg’s affect in the early interviews was different. He appeared genuinely confused and even scared when he became aware of these second order effects that he never anticipated, given the primary importance of his business model of data collection and monetization. This is no longer the “Green” Internet he thought he understood better than anyone, but hints of a next level, a Turquoise. In my interpretation, Zuckerberg was scared by the autopoiesis that had just happened — as global mind slowly wakes up. (And by the way, it should be no surprise to Gravesians that the [Global Holistic] stage would have its internal dystopian aspects, just like [Egalitarian] and [Truth and Order] before it.) [1]

One dystopian aspect worth noting is the advent of global surveillance. This is the Big Brother nightmare, arrived before we noticed. The (now) obvious dangers should not obscure the possibility that this is merely another Tier 2, Global Holistic effect as predicted by Graves, even if manifesting in an unsettling way. (Again, each stage has its own problems, dark side if you will.) And yet we should also note the mirror image of the Internet influencer, who intentionally exposes their entire life to as many people as possible. This is considered a positive thing, or at least lucrative, by many.

The utopian view of technology is now out of fashion, but evangelists of technology used to talk about Virtual Communities, the internet’s ability to bring together decentralized, locally minority interest groups, otherwise unable to reach critical mass. This was at a time when individuals employing computer mediated group communications began to exhibit elements of group mind; it seemed the disembodied nature of the thing maybe enhanced that phenomenon. It was millennial thinking, with Teilhard often cited as the prophet. But before long, the dotcom crash happened, and out its ashes came a social network infrastructure to which most of the interest groups migrated. It was free, but the Faustian bargain was a platform that warped the character and behavior of the individuals themselves, as noted in the Zuckerberg story above.

The discussion thus far is about digitization of our institutions and behavior as mediated by personal computers and smart phones. As long as this is the context, both the positive and negative impacts of global and collective consciousness remain at one remove from the individual. But now technology is breaking down the boundary, the interface or medium as something between us and reality, perceiving, recording and interpreting that reality. What if the interface was seamless?

BRAIN-COMPUTER INTERFACES — INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE NOOSPHERE

The digital revolution has reached all manner of medical devices, leveraging Moore’s law like every other sector. There are now “consumer-priced” (under $1,000) devices that non-invasively detect, record, transmit brain activity. At the same time, higher cost fMRI and other technology are contributing to a growing map of brain activity associated with motor movement, memories and more. These maps are driving breakthroughs, for example in mental control of artificial limbs. (More commercial applications are seeking to allow mental interface to game machines or virtual environments.)

If one then extrapolates from this progress, a complete map of an individual personality might be possible. This begs the old debates (recently more active) about the duality of mind and body, or perhaps more precisely mind and brain.

To briefly follow the argument to its conclusion, might we expect technology development to stitch together a tangible connection between brains/minds? And would “brain” connectivity generate (or improve) connectivity of minds, i.e. a collective consciousness? For my answer, as I wrote in my prior article,

I am proposing that an even deeper integration of Internet technology with individual humans, through more fully developed BCI, will more truly constitute a literal noosphere. This deeper integration may constitute a physical (in the sense of a nervous system) and societal infrastructure for the [Global Holistic] stage of human development.

That said,

integral commentary along these lines seems to move back and forth between metaphor and brain science. Maybe that’s inevitable in trying to characterize a Turquoise stage that is barely beginning to appear. In terms of my research group [which developed a prototype headset that could control a third party device by thought], perhaps the beginnings of electrical interconnection may be enough to say (or all we can say for now) about a tangible global brain. [2]

In the wake of the 2020 elections and aftermath, I’m not as optimistic that this emergence will be predominately beneficial. I do think that technology is inevitably going to stitch us even closer together than social media; but I’m no longer sure we’re going to like it. As Graves and his disciples always warn, there are unhealthy expressions at each level of the spiral, and greater integration doesn’t necessarily bring us closer together in an emotional or spiritual sense. For that matter, some people resist the notion of communion, with their life conditions and state of mind not allowing themselves that level of trust. The last section of this paper will revisit this state of affairs with some guidance on how to encourage everyone to move toward a more harmonized collective.

It is probably good to briefly mention that the hype and warnings about a metaverse are not directly relevant to my point. In my view, the concept of a metaverse as a contained digital space that you enter in order to communicate with others both cheapens the idea (useful for gamers,) and overstates the threat (being trapped like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.)

SENSORS FOR GLOBAL AWARENESS

One other technology trend is worth looking at in terms of instrumenting a collective consciousness. One thing that digital technology has done is create cheap and plentiful sensor networks, giving access to broader awareness of the world around us. Figure 8 shows a sampling of networks that are out there.

[1] http://integralleadershipreview.com/16742-06-29-toward-a-technology-infrastructure-for-the-second-tier/

[2] Don Dulchinos, Toward a Technology Infrastructure for the Second Tier, Integral Leadership Review, June, 2019.

Figure 8

Many of these sensor networks are purpose-built, and available only to private customers. But many have direct relevance to our current and future well-being,

increasing individual awareness of critical near term issues, and perhaps more applicable day-to-day models of high level, slower moving changes with huge impacts, like climate change or pandemics.

COVID response was an example where publishing exponential curves actually simplified complex data to allow awareness of mass data, and encourage individuals to help “flatten the curve.” We don’t seem to have similar readouts to help lay persons see the slow motion effects of climate change, and how it’s linked to CO2 emissions. This may be a matter of time; for example, see co2.earth as a step in the right direction. We are awash in data, but the technology trends represented in the examples in Figure 8 will make it easier for data science to make the climate trends understandable and able to motivate action.

Will data also help us glimpse the outlines of a collective consciousness taking shape? Think about what might happen if a more immediate brain-computer interface gave us day-to-day, hour-to-hour readouts from all these sensors. The tendency of people to selectively ignore data will be partially (but definitely not completely) mitigated by better tools (and in the case of climate change, the fact that greater numbers of people are experiencing catastrophic fires, floods and bomb cyclones in their own back yards.)

Full perception, awareness and understanding of collective consciousness itself, for those of us (essentially all of us) who fall well short of it today, will be a challenge to overcome. Is a neuron aware of a brain? Is an individual aware of a global consciousness? These are even harder questions given that the experts don’t have a good definition of individual consciousness.

6. THE SCIENCE OF CONSCIOUSNESS

As I asked earlier, when we refer to collective consciousness, what do we mean by the constituent term “consciousness”? At the University of Arizona, the “Science of Consciousness” series of conferences and publications has attempted to wrestle with this elusive notion. [1] The term as they use it is not consciousness in the sense of awake or aware, so opposed to unconscious or autonomic processes. Instead their consideration turns on a crucial distinction of the easy problem and the hard problem of consciousness.

• The easy — neural correlates of sensations, memories, etc.

• The hard — what it feels like to experience the color red or other contents of consciousness in the easy sense.

Conference participants over more than 20 years have fallen into camps of reductionism — consciousness is fully accounted for by brain function; and pan-psychism — consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe and all forms of matter and energy (i.e. Teilhard’s interior.)

Pan-psychism advocates tend to get into the realm of ideology rather than science, often contending that it is greater than, and impossible to be measured by, science. That stance drove me publish a paper at this year’s conference, to describe a roadmap by which we could get closer to scientific confirmation of the unity that some of us feel subjectively (and often strongly). [2]

Reductionism doesn’t seem to get at “sense of what it feels like to be me.” Rather most advocates present a catalog of brain activity that corresponds to internal states, but are currently very far from a complete map, and also do not adequately define the outlines of an individual personality. Yet.

Somewhere in between the two theoretical camps is a popular proposal from physicist Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff, M.D., which traces consciousness to quantum level activity in sub-atomic structures of the brain. This is attractive in that human consciousness seems to play a key role quantum mechanics as currently understood. [3]

The framing of the debate of easy vs. hard problems does not include a definition of “personal consciousness”, or what it feels like to be me, but that’s what people really want to know. In this sense, a crucial distinction is warranted between intelligence (or computation) and consciousness.

What is interesting about panpsychism is that it fits an emergent view of human and collective consciousness — as matter becomes more complex, then higher levels of consciousness would be expected to emerge. This principle is sometimes called autopoiesis, and implies consciousness emergent only with sufficient complexity. We are reminded again here of Graves’ emergent/cyclical predictions. As we approach 10 billion minds on the planet, is it reasonable to propose that another level of complexity will give rise to yet another discrete level of consciousness?

If so, then perhaps building a Global Holistic infrastructure may require a deeper understanding of the nature of consciousness, and then proceed to how a collective consciousness might be literally assembled or stitched together. As two viable approaches, I think that either a quantum level interconnection (or entanglement as the GCP crowd would have it), or a technology-mediated nervous system that we build ourselves, could be the answer.

So far, BCI and medical-grade EEG have made great strides, but seem far short of the hard problem. In a poster presented at the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference, I suggested a path whereby consciousness in its deepest and fullest sense might be studied through the advent of cheaper brain-computer interface devices.[4] The paper:

• Summarized representative research around neural signatures of various types of mental states and processes.

• Summarized how advances from Moore’s Law and other technology trends affect EEG technology and how, together with new software tools such as A.I. and machine learning, these advances improve the identification and characterization of mental states and processes.

• Offered some forecasts, based on the effect of Moore’s Law and other developments (e.g. A.I.) in the price/performance of EEG equipment.

• Based on the price/performance forecasts, suggested some possible directions to better identify and measure neural correlates of consciousness, in the hard problem sense of the term, utilizing a more capable toolkit of technologies to bring to bear on the problem.

If one is willing to consider BCI and the Internet to be a characteristic of society organized around a Global Holistic level, then it seems to me that one must describe a path whereby the individuals in society are interconnected not just in social media but in the fullest sense of their consciousnesses, personalities and selves.

That said, what if this is all true, and this is the path we are on?

[1] https://consciousness.arizona.edu/science-consciousness-conference

[2] Don Dulchinos, Moore’s Law and Brain-Computer Interface Technology; Toward a Better Toolkit for Mapping Consciousness, Presented at Science of Consciousness 2020, September 2020.

[3] This is reference to the so-called “observer created universe” that is a consequence of the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment (the equations permit two states of a sub-atomic particle, and it is unknown which is real until an observer measures that state.)

[4] Dulchinos, Moore’s Law and BCI; Toward a Better Toolkit for Mapping Consciousness — Science of Consciousness Sept 14–18, 2020. https://medium.com/neurosphere-technologies/moores-law-and-brain-computer-interface-technology-toward-a-better-toolkit-for-mapping-1b7379871129

7. THE DAY OF TEN BILLION — SCALING HUMANITY

The graphic in Figure 9 popped up in my news feed one day not long ago.

Figure 9

Population studies for some time have predicted this number at about this point in time, and also predicted that we will reach 10 billion in or around 2050. (Then there is expected to be a leveling off.)

This 10 billion number is worth thinking about in that complexity in biology also observes phase shifts; humans differ from animals in neural complexity, with some observers thinking that 10 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex is a meaningful inflection point. The scientific literature does not yet support (nor disprove) the idea. But it’s hard to argue that as we approach the 10 billion population number that global problems are reaching critical mass at this point in history.

This article has attempted to make the case that a collective consciousness is emerging, and maybe less obviously, that the emergence is accelerating as a consequence of the increased human population, and likely which is to be expected given the complexity of intercommunicating human brains.

Graves would Caution that even a higher level, Global Holistic emergence can have both healthy and unhealthy aspects. But complexity would be a hallmark of both aspects; the emergence of wicked problems, as they are called today, and the response of equally complex solutions.

Graves theorized that great disruption is needed to spark the Momentous Leap to the second tier. Life conditions eventually drive individuals and societies to a next, higher level of organization to create solutions. We face multiple global problems — climate, disease, refugee movement — and perhaps we are starting to realize they are all aspects of the same global conditions.

Covid-19 has exposed a paradox: we are so tightly interconnected that a virus can reach each one of us, yet so insular that we cannot conceive of what happens in one place repeating itself in another. As countries close their borders, hoard supplies, and throw blame at each other, the world risks becoming more insular still, further hampering global efforts to limit climate change. The first (latest?) Global Pandemic needs a Global Cure, not in a medical sense but in a cultural sense. [1]

In the technology world where I spent much of my professional career, smart engineers would design solutions to technical problems, but then would ask the business question — does it scale? Yes, you just figured out how to get a few bits of information from point A to point B — but if you want to build a system that moves billions of bits that need to be moved, can you do it in a way that doesn’t increase costs faster than the revenue you’ll get from doing it. Does it scale?

And here we are in a world where we already use too much water, expel too much CO2 into the atmosphere, displace too many of us from our homes. And soon there will be ten billion of us. Does humanity scale?

Negative life conditions like COVID are increasingly global in nature. If that is the case, will Global Holistic solutions and remediations emerge? It should be noted that Graves would say that people at the Integral Ecological level value system are who would guide the work of aligning the Tier 1 levels, which will continue to exist in large numbers, and people distributed across those levels still have skills to do the needful work. And they will do so with really only a vague idea of what a society organized by a healthy Global level will even look like, other than that people at all levels will be even more tightly connected than they are now.

This is the proper humility [2] with which to approach the problem, and from which the following discussion is offered. It proceeds from the hopeful Teilhardian and Gravesian visions of the future. And so, this last section will engage with several global problems (Figure 10,) the kind that arise from the success of population growth (refugees, climate impact) as well as the kind created by a globally interconnected population (pandemics, polarized politics, social media.) And then I will suggest some emerging Global Holistic solutions that perhaps we can choose to align ourselves with in the spirit, if not the literal flesh, of a collective consciousness.

[1] Gordon Litchfield, How the coronavirus took advantage of humanity’s essential weakness, MIT Technology Review, April 15, 2020

[2] One can aspire to be a Global thinker, but should be self-aware. I once took a values assessment from Graves’ student Don Beck, thinking I would score at the highest Integral or Global levels. I came out square in the middle of the Humanistic Egalitarian level, and soon thereafter began to see so many reasons why I was not successfully communicating my environmental or technological prescriptions to the audiences I felt needed them most. I’ve spent my career trying to apply Graves’ lessons and all I can say is I’m doing a little better.

Figure 10

For each issue we face, I’d suggest there are cultural or institutional actions that we must take to accelerate the solutions, for surely, we agree there is urgency here. Doing that work and aligning ourselves correctly likely also suggests that we have personal work to do to reinforce elements of the Integral and Global levels — “be the change you want to be in the world”, “Clean Up, Grow Up, Show Up”, etc.

Part of that work, I feel, is to find ways to reinforce the feeling of unity, which shows up at each “sacrifice self” level of the Graves spiral — Truth and Order, Humanistic Egalitarian, and Global Holistic. Wilber suggests contemplative meditation as one item in the toolkit.

This is a message of emergence. The life conditions demand a different adaptive response. We cannot deal with this shift through separation, and the current tropes of individual survival and planetary divisions will come up against the self-evident reality of being one planet with connectivity in myriad ways at multiple levels. To function from the old perspective is as unreal as believing that you can create a healthy body by removing, or creating barriers around your liver. [1]

My current professional work seeks to facilitate the use of clean (non-CO2 emitting) energy, and so I’ll begin with the global challenge of climate change.

Climate Change

On a Spiral Dynamics email list, I participated in an exchange around environmental degradation. A participant was expressing exhaustion (and I don’t blame him) at the current political moment, and was lamenting that Green values weren’t broadly supported. He gives examples of how other levels don’t get it. I recalled the lessons of Graves and Beck, that Yellow should be able to address all levels of the spiral in language they can hear (lower levels literally can’t see the points made from higher perspectives, and suggested a different strategy for each audience.) Here’s the back and forth between AA and myself.

AA — I have to choose Green thinking over anything that comes before because Green has the capacity to understand that life (eco-systems) on the planet needs to flourish if we want to live. That’s the big life condition that is now evident, and I am so saddened that people don’t get that, including many in the SD community. I am wasting my time and energy.

AA- Red couldn’t care less if insect populations are down 70%. It doesn’t register.

DD — What’s in it for me? Saving agriculture jobs.

AA — Blue thinks Jesus will come save their ass in a decade or so.

DD — God says we are stewards of earth, be more active now.

AA — Orange will get excited about designing little robots to pollinate GMO mono crop expanses.

DD –Mono crop markets are declining. Spend, invest in local food infrastructure/ecosystems.

AA — Green gets that we will all die if there are no more insects. Period

DD — Take all money and time you spend virtue signaling and giving money to large, sclerotic environmental organizations, and instead spend it on local, organic food, slightly higher priced electric vehicles, powered by renewable resources (actually cheaper now), etc. etc. [2]

These are hardly comprehensive responses from me, but hopefully illustrate a practical, Integral approach to populations centered at each level that still has Global goals and aspirations behind it. That last response to Green from me came out of my professional work advocating electric vehicles. Buying an EV is something that any individual can do now — affordable, zero-emissions, and paired with solar power (either rooftop or through community solar or wind farms) resulting in something like an 80% cut in total household emissions. The availability of a solution does not necessarily translate. In recommending EV’s, the amount of push back I got in was substantial — people whose Facebook page publicized their support of the Sierra Club, Natural Resource Defense Council, etc. etc., meanwhile not giving up one of their several gas-guzzling family SUV’s. So, as Graves and Beck would counsel, “stuff that works”. [3]

Here’s a useful observation from what I’d characterize as a “stuff that works” Integral Ecological perspective:

One of the things that I would fault about the Green New Deal vision is that it didn’t really spell out who its allies were going to be in the business community. I think because the Green New Deal project was formulated so strongly from the left — and in the context of a Black Lives Matter moment — it centered itself on a coalition of the marginalized, what they call front-line communities. Which is fine. But it’s also a way of picking a fight with every conceivable interest that’s actually got power. [4]

A final element that might be considered is practical work to communicate to the large segment of the population who don’t feel the immediacy or permanence behind the frequent fire and hurricane calamities. Many levels literally cannot see the cause and effect. That audience might benefit from a climate equivalent of globally recognized COVID exponential charts and calls to flatten the curve. (Granted, there’s a fake news contingent, who discount and don’t even look at the facts — I don’t know that I have a good strategy there.) So, real-time updating of CO2 levels in capsule form would be good — we still lack good user interfaces to display evidence and trends linking floods, hurricanes, and wildfires as the result of CO2 levels. Those are harder events for the public mind to discount, especially as more of us experience them.

Pandemics

Having discussed COVID at length above, I would only add a couple of thoughts here. The first is that all global problems are related.

…with the virus spreading and human logistics disrupted, the virus is able to do what the collective agency of the political elites and structures of governance have so far been totally unable to deliver: CO2 emissions have been cut dramatically and continue to fall — to such an extent that we may, collectively, on a planetary level, still be able to deliver on the promises of CO2 reduction pledged in the Paris Climate Agreement. If I wasn’t so skeptical by default I would almost be led to wonder if this is Gaia responding to the human-induced planetary disequilibrium? [5]

I remember those 1970’s theories of Gaia (James Lovelock) were quite pointed in warning that the planet taking care of herself might also mean killing off large numbers of humans. If you view things with more human agency, like sociologist Bruno Latour, one might see how we don’t yet have an Integral or Global response to pandemics, only Truth/Power ones like President Trump vs. the Center for Disease Control.

For this war, the nation state is poorly prepared, poorly calibrated,
poorly designed, because the fronts are multiple and cross each one of
us. It is in this sense that the “general mobilization” against the
virus does not in any way show that we will be ready for the next one.
It is not only the military who is always left behind in a war. [6]

Part of Latour’s observation has to do with health care systems. The Strategic Enterprise drive over the past 50 years to privatize health care has now been exposed as leaving a majority of our population at risk. But,

Pandemics can also catalyze social change. People, businesses, and institutions have been remarkably quick to adopt or call for practices that they might once have dragged their heels on, including working from home, conference-calling to accommodate people with disabilities, proper sick leave, and flexible child-care arrangements. [7]

Population Movements and Ethnonationalists

It became apparent early on that it was too late to close borders to prevent COVID, despite the worst instincts of some government leaders. Ethno-nationalist immigration opponents generally disregard the varied root causes of what are currently unprecedented population movements. In fact, those same opponents contribute to those movements by finding and expelling the ethnic or religious groups — Rohingya, Kurds, many more. These policies are futile because interrelated climate change is rendering larger land areas uninhabitable (parts of the Middle East and West Asia for example, with limited water supplies and temperatures reaching 120 degrees routinely in places like Karachi, Pakistan.)

We are the danger. It’s the force of routine which hides that but
the corona virus with its unprecedented assault on routine marked
another moment of arrival — when the foundational belief in “back to
business as usual” lost its surety. That now is both a compulsion and
a doubt. The one subject who recognises it well is the refugee because
the refugee is someone who cannot go back. The virus in a way tells
us: We or You are all refugees.
[8]

A collective humanity transcends geographic borders, but we as individuals are located in places with legally-defined borders. Zero-sum politics are woefully simplistic to address such problems. There are numerous Non-Governmental Organizations that theoretically operate cross-border, but NGOs like Refugees International have been channeled into operating refugee camps for the stateless, triage operations with no end in sight after decades.

There are still no effective cross-border mechanisms to stop scapegoating within states, nor to find homes for those who cannot find life support in the damaged lands where they once lived. One might note, hopefully, that after unprecedented immigration to the U.S. in the last 20 years, we are (as I write) at 3.7% unemployment, what economists consider effectively full employment. So these are not only political problems but economic.

Economic Inequality

Cross-border economics are one feature of the trend toward greater economic inequality, even inside what are otherwise wealthier nations. (See Figure 11.) Ethnonationalist leaders found power precisely in rejecting the inadequate global order of the United Nations, World Trade Organization, et al. Those institutions were not as bad as accused by reckless demagogues such as Orban and Johnson and Trump, but they did work in support of a new world order of economic inequality.

[1] Jon Freeman, Beck Graves Original Spiral Dynamics Facebook Group, March 1, 2020.

[2] Spiraldynamicsintegral mail-list, September 22, 2020.

[3] See a long treatment on this topic in my article — July Was the Hottest Year on Record — Now What.

[4] Adam Tooze Interview, A Historian of the Economic Crisis in the World After COVID-19, New York Magazine, August 7, 2020

[5] Eric Kluitenberg, Nettime.org discussion list, March 12, 2020.

[6] Bruno Latour, Is This a Dress Rehearsal, Critical Inquiry, March 26, 2020.

[7] Ed Yong, How the Pandemic Will End, Atlantic Monthly, March 25, 2020.

[8] Siraj Izhar, on Nettime discussion group, April 5, 2020

There has been an ongoing movement since 1980 to reverse the socialist policies of the New Deal. Those politics have led to enormous economic inequality, in parallel with a set of business developments. In an essay by critical theorist Brian Holmes describes the last 40 years as the stitching together of a Global, but not Holistic, economy. [1]

Currency futures and a bewildering range of options, swaps, swaptions, caps, collars, etc., have made it financially possible to shift manufacturing equipment and almost any kind of labor to whatever country might offer the lowest price. And in practice, for the period from 1990 to 2008 and up to today, that has been the “China price”: the lowest number on the planet for any given category of basic manufactured goods.

Of course, the exodus of blue collar jobs out of the U.S. was one effect of that evolution.

[1] Brian Holmes, After Chimerica: Bioregionalism for the City of Ashes, https://www.boundary2.org/2020/07/brian-holmes-after-chimerica-bioregionalism-for-the-city-of-ashes/

Thus, it appears that a device — the double device of containerized transport and financial derivatives — can create and destroy a world. That’s no longer the question. The question is what to do at the end of the world, now that the Chimerican industrial and financial construct which sustained such tremendous wealth creation between 1990 and 2008 is finally breaking down.

Holmes concludes,

What matters in the City of Ashes is discovering how 7.6 billion people, and counting, can learn to live with each other and the rest of the Earth

I believe the COVID-19 emergency has brought about a reckoning with historical criticism of progressive policies, such as the Green New Deal, as “too expensive.” One solution might be to better publicize the fact that public spending often actually works.

…a dirty little secret about very large holders of private capital: In moments of crisis, they’ve got to put that capital somewhere. And where they always end up putting it is government debt because that’s the safest port in a storm…And I think if 2008 had not already demonstrated that government debt is the only game in town at the moment of maximum crisis, 2020 has really driven it home. And so, there is little difficulty in finding financing for government action.

It is worth noting as well that even investments at this scale will not transform things overnight.

Money cannot buy the vaccine that we don’t have, cannot buy the
protective masks that have not been produced, cannot buy the intensive
care departments that have been destroyed by the neoliberal reform
of Europe’s healthcare system. No, money cannot buy what does not
exist. Only knowledge, only intelligent labor can buy what does not
exist. [1]

Or as author William Gibson once tweeted, “People who feel safer with a gun than with guaranteed medical insurance don’t yet have a fully adult concept of risk.” [2]

Polarized Vs. Multilateral Politics

Politics in the U.S. have hardened in many people’s minds as a left vs. right divide. But the problem deserves a more complex analysis.

Latour thinks the classic right-left divide has always been underwritten by a distinction of a very different order. He plots the distinction as a vector between two poles of attraction, the Local and the Global. Between them he places a “modernization front,” which looks forward to the full global development of capitalist industry while gesturing backward toward the straggling localities that have not yet achieved modernization. In this classic Cold War schema, the Local represents the lack of science, progress and development, or worse, it embodies a closed and defensive space of ignorance, regression, and fascism — even though it may be seen by its inhabitants as a refuge, a safe haven, a site of identity and authenticity. [3]

In the Graves model, there is not a left-right spectrum, but a series of Power and Truth levels encountering Enterprise and Egalitarian levels. The error of the Enterprise and Egalitarian levels is to engage in behavior that is perceived as threatening — “Abolish the Police” is not a phrase that resonates with the insecure. The Enterprise and Egalitarian levels should have an understanding of the Power and Truth levels’ needs, and communicate in terms they understand within their own world view.

The disconnect is also there at the global level. As noted earlier, our global institutions are not actually built for true global life conditions. In 2001–2003, the institution we brought to bear in response to 9/11 and the “global war on terror” was military treaty organizations, and when even NATO did not hang together, it was a “coalition of the willing.” Looking at the (still-broken) lands of Iraq and Syria today, it is clear these military institutions and the terms of engagement they were given (at the Power and Truth levels) were clearly not adequate to solve a truly global task.

Even those organizations representing the emergence of Egalitarian values — the World Health Organization, United Nations — while progressive in their values, are often ineffective in communicating them to those functioning at different levels on development. Some, like the World Trade Organization, espouse global views but impose narrow austerity programs to benefit the Enterprise Strategic level, at the expense of the poor who would benefit more from direct investment or just debt forgiveness.

How can we contribute to a better definition and more complex practice of globalism? The model could be a collective consciousness — peer-to-peer, not hierarchical. And institutions need to work hard to understand how their messages are received by those living at a different level, with a different frame of reference.

Such a Global Holistic view of political economy is reflected in comments from Andrew Sheng, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission:

In the medium term, governments must work to strengthen institutions
- including institutional coordination — at home and in vulnerable
countries. If a health system is designed to run at 90% capacity, it
cannot cope with a sudden rise in need…The advanced
economies, with their robust institutions, will also be able to cope,
to varying degrees. But developing countries with fragile institutions
are simply not in a position to handle what is coming.

To prevent those failures from triggering reverse-shock waves -
causing outbreaks in countries that had contained the virus -
countries with the necessary resources and capabilities must help
those that lack them.
I am talking about global cooperation on an
unprecedented scale
.

How to create an integrative, third-order communication-and-coordination system that maintains the open space of critical and existential difference, while overcoming the unwanted consequences that arise from 7 billion technologically empowered and chaotically interacting individuals — plus corporations, governments, armies etc.? What kind of public power would that take? What kind of subject would create and inhabit such a system? Being-in-common for 7 billion people requires some form of legitimate and critical *systemic trust*. [4]

The Personal and The Global

This Scaling Humanity section has been mostly an effort to characterize some tactical approaches that are somewhat informed by a collective view, while still agnostic on the question of whether a truly collective consciousness is taking shape. The tactics I offered presume, at the individual level, the application of the neurological equipment we have today. Some may read these tactics as not complex enough, and I have to confess I agree.

But the emergence of the global Internet and social media, with all their attendant problems, reflect a deepening interconnection of humanity, for better or worse. I think it reasonable to hope that the emergence of the positive evolutionary benefits of a collective consciousness may not need to take many generations. (See the earlier discussion of epigenetics.)

Jon Freeman engages on this point.

I suggest that this will quickly demand an adaptive shift that alters the balance between “I” and “We” and awakens more of the awareness of the interdependent living systems whole. It is a call for more Turquoise (Global Holistic) on the leading edge and less Red (Power) and Orange (Enterprise) throughout.

What does this mean for you? And where will you engage differently with the system as a result?

‪This is a question of how our personal interpretation of the Turquoise thinking system shows up. It depends just how we individually see “consciousness”, its boundaries, and the extent to which the planet may be viewed as a “conscious entity”. If the basic premise is that all consciousness is connected, then how would you even determine whether the impulse comes from the whole or from the constituent parts? [5]

To my earlier point, there are strategies to use existing brain equipment to foster the type of complex, second tier consciousness that global solutions will need, e.g., the “Clean up Grow up Show up” mantra of Ken Wilber’s Integral approach. But there’s a risk and letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I observe in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado a lot of Wilber disciples who it seems can’t get enough of the Cleaning Up part — it seems you can spend your whole life on that inward journey. Hopefully we can agree that the urgency of the global problems will move us to get out there and apply the stuff that works.

In the words of Whole Earth guru Stewart Brand — “We are as gods; we might as well get good at it.”

[1] Franco Berardi, Beyond the Breakdown, transversal texts online journal, March 2020.

[2] Twitter feed, circa 2020.

[3] Brian Holmes summarizing Bruno Latour, Down to Earth, 2018.

[4] Interview with Andrew Sheng, Project Syndicate, March 24, 2020.

[5] Jon Freeman, Beck-Graves Original Spiral Dynamics Facebook Group, March 1, 2020.

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Don Dulchinos

Experienced senior tech exec. Consulting as Neurosphere Technologies on cognitive issues, wellness, and development; and as Smart Home and Away on clean energy.