The Spiral Dynamics of “A Christmas Carol”

[T]he wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.

marley's ghostIn Stave One of “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens makes this observation in reference to him not knowing why the phrase “dead as a door-nail” aptly describes the extent to which Jacob Marley is actually dead. From a Spiral Dynamics viewpoint, this observation expresses a very Stage Blue sentiment. That is, it not only expresses reverence for the wisdom of ancestors but it also connects reverence for this wisdom to the Country’s well being. Of course, the term country could easily be replaced with tribe, race, religion or culture. In Stage Blue, these identities are of primary importance as is the belief that one’s identity is supreme and the beliefs and values of the identity are true. This naturally implies that other identities are inferior and the beliefs of other identities are false.

Of course, Charles Dickens lived in 19th century England during the industrial revolution. This was a time when the country in which he lived was transitioning from Spiral Dynamics Stage Blue to Stage Orange. You might say that it had one foot firmly in each stage. Religion at the time still had great influence over the culture, the white race was supreme in England and increasingly so around the world. At the same time Stage Orange capitalism, scientism and liberalism were taking on a larger role. The Stage Green doubt of white supremacy had not yet formed in the European consciousness or in the consciousness of Europe’s daughters (North America, South Africa, Australia etc.). But Stage Green does play a role in the story.

Indeed, the Stage Green sentiments of compassion for one’s fellow man are certainly strong themes in the story. In Stave One, the ghost of Jacob Marley rejects capitalism’s negative effects on the poor and disenfranchised by exclaiming:

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

In Stave Three, the most outwardly judgmental of the three spirits who visit Scrooge after Marley’s ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Present, chastises Scrooge for thinking that the religious authorities correctly represented divine Truth in all aspects:

“There are some upon this earth of yours … who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived.”

The “us” to which the spirit refers are spirits and the divine in general. Later, the same spirit chastises Scrooge’s political beliefs as to the government social policies of his day:

“Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

GCPHere we see a rejection of Stage Blue religion and Stage Orange capitalism. However, it is probably safe to assume that the “common welfare” to which the Marley’s ghost refers applied more strictly to his own country and not so much to mankind as a whole. In the same respect, the Ghost of Christmas Present’s criticism (in Dickens’ mind) probably assumed the supremacy of white Europeans and the truth of Christianity. Whereas, to our more modern sentiments (generally speaking) which have been more heavily influenced by Stage Green would interpret the ghosts’ references to have a more universal application. In this respect we can see the still strong influence of Stage Blue in the telling of the story.

When we speak of applying the principles of Spiral Dynamics to cultures we are necessarily speaking in general terms. The culture from which Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” was one transitioning from Blue to Orange with some influence of Green. By contrast, our culture at present can be described largely as transitioning from from Orange to Green with a waning influence of Blue. Within this larger dynamic, each individual can be described as embodying different stages in different amounts. Moreover, there are pockets of people who are influenced by various stages to greater and lesser degrees. For example, modern day San Francisco is more heavily Stage Green than is say Houston, Texas generally speaking.

A recent blog post on the (very Stage Blue) Orthosphere entitled “The Modern Cosmopolitan Cult Tends to the Cult of Moloch” is a very clear example of a Stage Blue mindset describing the Stage Orange and Green culture in which we live. The post argues that modern Stage Green notions of toleration effectively cannot tolerate Stage Blue notions of intolerance. From the Stage Blue perspective there is no higher stage than Stage Blue. Stage Orange and Green are errors. In fact, the entire Spiral Dynamics model is an error and salvation lies in a return to Stage Blue. Obviously, a Stage Blue person would not employ this terminology to describe this idea.

According to the Spiral Dynamics model, however, it is impossible to revert back to a prior stage except in extremely traumatic circumstances and this reversion tends to be temporary in nature. No, each stage is a necessary precursor to the stage that follows. Each stage solves the problems of the previous stage and creates problems that must, in turn, be solved by the next stage. From this perspective, we can see that the story of “A Christmas Carol” describes Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transition from Stage Orange to Stage Green. From a larger perspective, “A Christmas Carol” is an interesting time capsule within the larger Spiral Dynamic.

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “The Spiral Dynamics of “A Christmas Carol”

  1. thordaddy

    In a “spiral dynamic” is the potential for “revolution” such that an erroneous stage conceived in error and failing to elevate from its beginning reverts back to its exact same starting position in the Spiral Dynamic. So contrary to conventional wisdom, r/evolutionaries seek a reversion to a particular spacetime. Paradoxically, conservatives are r/evolutionaries. Yet, r/evolutionaries are “progressives.” Which [means] “progressives” are conservatives. The malfunction is explicit. Denial of objective (S)upremacy invalidates a “spiral dynamic.”

    • As stated in the OP each stage in the Spiral Dynamics model solves the problems created by the previous stage and creates new problems for the next stage to solve. This is a natural process baked into the system. You might say that it was Divinely preordained.

      • thordaddy

        Yes… But you are describing a “spiral dynamic” that DOES NOT include “revolution.” Our reality, in the least, admits “r/evolutionaries.” Which is to suggest that the dull mass admit to r/evolutionary facts within the “spiral dynamic” during whatever stage. At some point, a certain stage is bound to revert back to a particular spacetime. This being a r/evolutionary stage in the “spiral dynamic.” Are these “r/evolutionaries” conservative, “progressive” or both?

      • The dynamic applies to individuals and cultures independent of their political philosophies. Any revolution that happens within the spiral will work to move a culture from one stage to the next. Typically, cultures do not revert to previous stages. Can you think of an example where this has happened?

      • thordaddy

        Are there “revolutions” within the Spiral Dynamic? Yes or no?

      • Please define what you mean by “revolution” and provide an example of that happening in history.

      • For example, would the American, French or Russian revolutions fit whatever definition you have created for revolution? If so, I believe there is nothing in the Spiral Dynamics model that contradicts any of these examples.

      • thordaddy

        Well, one can simply conceive a “revolution” as a circle and in contrast to a spiral. The main characteristic of this “revolution” is that its “beginning” and its “end” are at the exact same position in contrast to a spiral whose “beginning” and “end” are in different positions. In short, there are no true revolutions where a singular spiral exists.

        What we have, rhetorically, are “progressives” who call themselves “revolutionaries” when they are little more than an extreme type of (c)onservative. And it is in this milieu that a dull mass will experience proto-revolution, ie., the sense of going in circles decades in diameter.

        A spiral dynamic necessitates objective (S)upremacy and does not accommodate “revolutions.”

      • I can see the type of revolution you describe happening on the small scale in specific places. But that’s really a person or group stagnating in a stage. On the larger scale the Spiral progresses through the stage. I don’t see any of this poking a hole in the model.

  2. Scoot

    I tried reading your article about spiral dynamics. Im not sure i understand. Is spiral dynamics designed as a way of interpreting the world, or is it meant to be predictive? What is the benefit of using the spiral dynamics methodology / what is the disadvantage to not using it?

    • @Scoot – See: http://spiraldynamicsintegral.nl/en/about-sdi/

      “Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) is a theoretical and pragmatic model for understanding the dynamic forces at work in human development and change processes. Knowledge about SDi is extremely valuable for both understanding the versatile needs (values and motives) of individuals, teams, organizations and society and for aligning them in the most optimal and effective way. The model has many applications.”

      Very basically (and I am not an expert) the theory is predictive but it is also a means of understanding why cultures develop as they do and the necessary steps they must go through in the transition.

      The website I linked to is a good source to get your feet wet. There are also many YouTube videos on the subject. If you want to take a deeper dive, there is a book “Spiral Dynamics, Mastering Values, Leadership and Change” by Don Beck who helped to create the model.

      • Scoot

        Thank you! I will look into this some more. I’m still curious about the last half of my question; which I guess I can rephrase thus: Why do you subscribe to the Spiral Dynamics model? What about it appealed to you?

      • I was first introduced to Spiral Dynamics in a podcast called actualized.org. I don’t watch the YouTube version of the podcast generally but the first episode he (Leo the host) did on the subject can be found here:

        I’m always interested in “grand theories of everything” and that’s what this is. But it also seems to map reality pretty well. So I’ve been investigating it for a while. Applying the structure to A Christmas Carol and the topics discussed on the Orthosphere is one way of pursuing this investigation and testing it.

      • Scoot

        Winston,
        So I’ll admit that the Spiral Dynamics methodology does not conform to my biases, so i’m having a hard time with it. Especially when the ultimate ‘ideal’ of the idea is ‘global order’–it contextualized the whole thing as re-mapping Classical Liberalism and maybe even contemporary leftism as a dynamo, with something going backwards to explain the past and going forwards to explain what they want the future to be. At risk of violating a variety of Godwins Law, Karl Marx has a similar theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_materialism) and this seems like a restatement of that.

        Please know that I am not writing this off without giving it a fair shake, but this is a model you seem to like and i’m expressing criticisms based on my perspective, such as it is.

        I think the true test comes from whether a model is predictive. Which is generally why I don’t like to subscribe to historical models; because 9 times out of 10 they are designed by conforming a limited understanding of history to fit a desired end, which makes them semi- tautological. “History happens this way because it happens this way”. If there is a model that could be predictive, I think there would be a lot of value in that. Otherwise, Spiral Dynamics seems to be saying “We believe in Classical Liberalism, and here is a succinct statement of our view of history and where we want to go in the future”. Nothing particularly predictive about it.

        Anyway, how does that strike you? Would you agree there is (at most) a strong resemblance to Historical Materialism or (at least) a passing similarity to a Liberal worldview?

      • I think the model is predictive. On the cultural level we see this clearly when first world nations intervene in third world nations. Or when the US tried to create a western democracy in Iraq. Cultures have to pass through each stage in order. Skipping stages tends to create dysfunction.

      • Scoot

        Well, here’s the thing though: We live in a Liberal country, so as a collective it is going to exhibit liberal behaviors. There’s no particular reason why it *has* to go through those stages. Again, this gets to my criticism that it is tautological. History happened this way therefore history HAS to happen that way. Really spiral dynamics is a way of explaining the way things are now, through a specific lens. Skipping stages just means periods of non-classical liberal-endorsed governance or behavior.

      • The reason why cultures go through these stages in the order described by the model is because each stage solves the problems of the previous stage and creates new ones to be solved by the next.

      • Scoot

        But it’s not an exhaustive list of problems. Just whatever got them to the ‘global order’ thing? And that’s where it breaks down. The problems identified were specifically chosen to conform to the model.

        I appreciate your discussion about this. I’m not really trying to convince you of everything, I guess I just don’t see the utility of using the spiral dynamics model when I feel it is deterministic.

      • The problems start out with survival and move into safety and security then personal autonomy once security is achieved. These problems don’t seem arbitrarily selected to me.

        What are you referring to when you say “the global order thing”?

      • Scoot

        Is not turquoise ‘Global Order’?

        Those are not the only problems and are certainly not the only way of contextualizing the long march of history. It seems to me I could create a competing model using economic parameters (for example) and come out with something different.

      • I don’t believe turquoise is global order in the sense of a one world government.

      • It’s understandable that a person who identifies with a stage blue mindset would not agree with a model that places stage blue on a continuum with other more advanced stages.

      • Scoot

        Do you see how thats not a valid criticism of my perspective? I am trying to argue that Spiral Dynamics is not an effective lense through which to view the world. Your defense is to rely on that worldview even more.

        In syllogism, your argument is:
        I believe the world is this way.
        People who disagree with me are described by my world view.
        Therefore my worldview is correct.
        Do you see how that relies on itself?

        I have presented counterarguments to your system. You cant use that system to dismiss me. Im not trying to be hostile to you. But if you dont want to provide reasoning behind your support for a system, id much rather you simply say so than use your system as evidence for itself.

      • Your last post described stage turquoise as utopian. I did not read that as an argument against Spiral Dynamics.

        There’s a lot more to the model than what is briefly presented on that website. I don’t get the sense that you understand it all that well.

      • Scoot

        I was and have been seeking to understand at the feet of one who holds the system up as worthwhile. I see now i will not find that here. I do appreciate your willingness to participate in this exchange. Thank you.

      • Your main argument held that the model was not predictive. I explained how it was predictive.

      • If you are interested in an actual understanding of the model feel free to check out the link. Or not.

  3. Pingback: Blue Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing | Winston Scrooge

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