In their 1996 book, Spiral Dynamics, social scientists Don Beck and Christopher Cowan identified eight stages of cultural evolution in the human race, ranging from caveman to global thinker. Each stage upon this evolutionary stairway brings a better life than the one before and, eventually, its own reason for people to want to migrate to the next stage.
The authors called these stages “memes” and labeled each one with a meaningful color.
Beige is the color of the savanna grasslands in the cradle of civilization. Beige is the foundation meme. It relates to individual, basic survival, with a focus directed towards just staying alive. With this meme comes constant uncertainty. Eventually the search for food becomes more difficult, prompting people to step into the next meme, or mode of reality.
Purple, the decorative color of royalty. Clans form under the purple meme for mutual protection. Tribal and family bonding is all-powerful, along with superstition-filled attempts to understand the powers of nature which threaten to overpower the clan. Magical rituals are invented to protect the clan by appealing to the spirits of nature.
When the rituals eventually become stifling, the more powerful individuals in the clan branch out into the next meme.
Red, the color of hot emotions, even rage. Beginning some 10,000 years ago, this meme sees powerful individuals compete in an intense survival of the fittest. They seek to master the environment, dominate other people and break away of individual constraints. They sense many gods, which are worshipped as models of power.
Eventually, chaos and anarchy reign supreme. Then the culture is ready for a higher authority to take charge and control the chaos. Dictators take power by the sword, and usually, a short time later, dying the same way. When an enlightened form of dictatorship finally takes control, the doorway to the next meme is opened.
Blue, as in “true blue” conservative. First seen some 5,000 years ago, this meme brings order out of chaos and establishes rules of morality, which are used in a righteous fashion to stop anarchy. By obeying authority and sacrificing the self to a greater cause for a deferred reward, people find a purpose in life within the constraints of this meme. A judicial system is set up which protects people from red-motivated predators. Allegiance is declared to the one supreme ruler and to the one supreme God.
When this absolute order eventually becomes oppressive and repressive, individuals grow weary of waiting for the dispensation of rewards from the hierarchy. Finally, they break free to seek their own rewards under the next meme.
Orange, the color of radiant energy and productivity. This meme has been explored for several centuries, especially since the Renaissance. Under this meme, people strive to succeed and also to keep in style with the current fashions and technical toys. People are willing to fight to beat the competition and achieve independence.
Eventually, when material progress fails to bring happiness, orange meme people become lonely. They seek after community and a sense of caring within the next meme.
Green, like green politics and ecology. Many advances in democracy over the last 150 years had their philosophical foundations in green thinking. Along with the green meme comes community, caring and a sharing of society’s resources among all. This liberates humans from greed and dogma, and, ideally, refreshes a sense of spirituality. Cooperative ventures rise across the land and in the workplace. Unconditional love can flourish as people learn to accept others as they are, and to see the value of service to others.
Consensus-seeking is a very time-intensive occupation. Also, the productive members of this culture struggle to earn the money to pay for the system. As an ever-growing mass of people qualifies for entitlements which had been promised during more idealistic times, the system can come to be stressed under the pressure of its own weight.
From here, people move to the next meme seeking a form of individual empowerment which incorporates all that has been learned from the first six memes.
The Second Tier of Six Memes
Memes come in sets of six, so meme number seven is actually the first one in the second tier of six memes. With this second tier of memes comes freedom from all of the fears of the prior memes, and, finally, the freedom for human cognition to focus upon its possibilities in the world.
As the first meme in the second tier, meme number seven resonates to the first (beige, survival) meme in tier number one. However, it expresses itself at a higher level, one which incorporates all of the lessons of memes one through six. In meme number seven, people act from an inner-directed core.
Yellow is an enlightened color, reminiscent of natural, clean solar power. Active since the late 1940s, the yellow meme causes people to start to think in terms of whole systems, seeing big-picture views of reality. Under this meme they discover a self-accountable style of personal freedom, one without excessive self-interest or harm to others. Yellow is a powerful meme in promoting the exploration of the greater possibilities of life. It creates networks of information and people which easily adapt to changing needs.
Yellow thinkers are concerned with the endangered world environment and want to restore viability and ecological order. Their purpose of living includes being independent within reason, knowledgeable as much as possible, and caring for others within practical limits. They are accountable to themselves as responsible individuals, yet embrace their community of associates. Rather than striving to have things or to achieve things, they value their personal development along a pathway that is natural to them,
Yellow meme people can interact with people of the first six memes and speak their psychological language. Yellow respects others’ world views and unique habits, customs and cultures, even though they don’t necessarily agree with them.
Yellow brings a high sense of self-esteem based upon information as much as emotion. This enlightened self-acceptance acknowledges and accepts their own shortcomings and faults as mere stages along the way to acquiring more skills.
Turquoise, the color of oceans globe-spanning oceans viewed from space. A child of the 1960s, this is a meme with a global view, even larger than the whole-system view of yellow. Turquoise opens up spiritual awareness, a willingness to be reflective, and an awareness of intuition and a trust in the insights which intuition provides.
Turquoise meme people learn through simply being as well as through doing. Their work must be meaningful to their holistic, unified body-mind-spirit view of life. Spiritual bonds form under this meme, transcending old barriers and bringing diverse people together for common purposes.
Turquoise has a global village outlook, and seeks out projects and solutions that will work well for the whole planet. Its power to integrate can resolve paradoxes, such as being fair to all school students while helping the brightest to shine and the most challenged to grow. It has a faith that everything somehow connects to everything else.
Turquoise discovers a new version of spirituality – one stands in awe of the vast, cosmic order.
And now for the new mystery meme…
The authors of Spiral Dynamics have identified, as of the 1990s, meme number nine. They call this the Coral meme, but they did not yet have an analysis of for what it might stand.
However, if second tier memes are reminiscent of their first tier cousins, then meme number nine will be like meme number three, only in a higher degree of manifestation. Meme number three was red, the meme of adventure, exploration and mastery of the environment. As the second tier memes have a spiritual component, this means that coral will be an adventure into the abilities of the spiritually-directed mind.
The new, coral meme will explore the spiritual use of the power of the mind to transform reality in the world. Its major demand will be for spiritual and creative freedom on a global basis.
This far-ranging and inspired meme has the power, quite simply, to entirely transform the world as we know it.
In my 2005 book, The Shift: The Revolution in Human Consciousness, I correlated the twelve memes with the twelve faces of the human chakra system. This allows the nature of the mystery meme – and the other three, as-yet undiscovered memes – to be predicted based upon the functions of the higher chakras.