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Conservatives and the Creative Impulse: Part II

by Christopher Chantrill
February 15, 2005 at 12:02 pm


IN PART one of this essay we examined the deep philosophical difference between the bared breast and the broken bra strap, and how they symbolized two kinds of creativity: the impulsive creativity that has long been championed by the left and the ruled-based creativity that has been practiced but not particularly championed or even understood by conservatives.

Then we posed the question: how might conservatives champion rule-based creativity over the destructive “No More Rules!” creativity of our friends on the left. We needed a new psychology to provide context for a conservative creativity-of-the-rules that could meet and beat the left’s vision of creativity as a victory over repression. But where could such a miracle be found?

Fortunately for us, some American psychologists have already developed such a psychology. It is a stage theory that extends Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but in a way that powerfully supports the conservative view of humanity and society. Developed by Clare Graves in the 1960s and 1970s it was published and popularized by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan in Spiral Dynamics in 1995. (Link here for more details.)

Spiral Dynamics views human consciousness through the metaphor of an eight-turn colored spiral, an expression of faith that “the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower order behavior systems to newer, higher order systems as man’s existential problems change.” It starts with instinctive beige and then proceeds step by step to tribal purple, power-obsessed impulsive red, rule-following purposeful blue, adventurous creative orange, and caring and sharing communitarian green. Then comes the jump to integral yellow, holistic turquoise, and more.

This all reads like the usual psychobabble, but the question is does it work? Here’s how it could tell the story of the American Dream, tracing the journey from helpless immigrant at Ellis Island to wise compassionate conservative.

America’s immigrants, “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” arrive in the city barely able to function in the new land. Many of them are impulsive red, knowing only power and powerlessness. Powerless victims, the impulsive reds spiral downwards until they find salvation in the life of rules, learning to live as purposeful blue in the world of the enthusiastic Christian and the respectable middle class. But the children of the middle class want a little adventure. Finding that life in safe suburban Scarsdale a hell they yearn to bend the rules a little and treat life as an adventure. They become creative orange, playing the business game or the arts game to win the glittering prizes. In their turn the children of inventive entrepreneurs reject the hero’s journey of creativity. They choose instead the inner journey of spirituality and long to cooperate and share rather than create and compete. They become communitarian greens. Beyond green, of course is integral yellow where the compassionate conservative, shall we say, comprehends all the levels below and understands, with writer Ken Wilber, that each stage “transcends and includes” the ones before it. Above this ridge, of course, new peaks will rise.

We can use the system to analyze our political parties. The Democratic Party is clearly a coalition of caring communitarian greens and helpless red victims organized to hate blue bigots and orange corporate exploiters, while the Republican Party is a coalition of blue believers and orange business entrepreneurs organized to extol rules and enterprise, committed to lifting reds out of victimhood and restrain the self-congratulation of elite green altruists.

In the academy, we have a spiral tangle. We have people who speak lovingly of green cultural diversity, orange creatives competing for the glittering prizes, professors insisting on the sanctity of the blue rules of academic freedom and tenure, and a red power obsession with the idea that rules are a mask for power.

Spiral Dynamics has an important message for people that believe that rules are a mask for power. It insists that each level builds upon the previous levels, so you cannot build creativity unless you build it upon the rules. But if you cut out a level, then you regress to the level just below. If you insist upon “No More Rules,” or “bourgeois rules are a mask for power” you will regress to the world of pure power and you will have no rules, no creativity and no community. And that, of course, is exactly what conservatives have insisted all along.

For over a century, conservatives have desperately needed a system that could replace the Lockean, Humean world that Kant demolished but could also ace the Fichtean, Freudian impulsive ego. With the psychology of Clare Graves and his followers we can now address our opponents in the culture war with confidence. If we want it, we can have a psychology of creativity that fits the facts and they don’t.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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