How Might the USA Behave Differently?

It is obvious from the earlier piece that I wrote, The USA -- A Rogue State?, that a primary concern of mine is: What’s going on with our country that allows it to consistently behave in such immoral, anti-social ways with the rest of the world? How do we justify our atrocious voting record in the UN? Recall Wendell Berry’s comment: “It is a mistake - as events since Sept. 11 have shown - to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues.”

          We heard on Radio Canada International, in a program summing up the year 2002, that there was only one vote in the US House of Representatives against the ‘war on terrorism’ i.e. bombing Afghanistan, a female representative from California. And she spoke eloquently and succinctly against the war because it was immoral and would bring us down to the level of the terrorist and because it would not in any way reduce but rather would increase the likelihood of further attacks. What I find so distressing is that every other representative of the 438, and all 100 senators heard or later read what she said and were insufficiently moved to see the obvious wisdom of her words. In effect the vote was 537 to 1 in favor of attacking Afghanistan. And so we bombed and killed thousands of innocent Afghans and now here we are poised to do the same in Iraq. And while doing that we unabashedly are claiming the moral high ground. From that perspective it would appear that our U.S. system is no ways near the necessary paradigm shift to avert our current migration toward arrogant world dominance through the use of force. Undoubtedly there are many voices of protest out there, but they seem to be unheard at this point.

          A few days ago I saw in the Miami Herald International polls from many countries indicating enormous animosity toward the U.S. throughout the world - including our allies in Europe and elsewhere. And we continue to smugly pass it off as envy. We need to subject ourselves to membership in the world community! Our behavior in the world and in the UN belies and negates our stated values as a democratic peace-loving nation. Our current stance is inherently hypocritical. Hypocrites are those who apply to others the standards that they refuse to accept for themselves. In order for us, the USA, to rise to an absolutely minimal moral level we have to agree, in fact insist, that if some act is right for us then it’s right for others, and if it’s wrong when others do it then it’s wrong when we do it. And here we have Bush advocating “preemptive strikes” which is in direct violation of all the rules of war which have been established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and by the international order laid down in 1945 and overseen by the UN. It is also in direct violation of our stated values as a peace-loving nation.

          There is a great disparity today between our knowledge of facts, on the one hand, and our knowledge of value on the other which has produced serious worldwide problems. As theologian Henry N. Wieman said: “In the form of natural science we have an ever increasing power to transform the physical world in any way desired. But we have no proportionate and parallel system of values to direct the use of this power.” " Or Einstein after the first nuclear explosion: “Everything has changed except how humans think.” Or General Omar Bradley in 1948: “Our knowledge of science has clearly outstripped our capacity to control it .... Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.", or Abraham Maslow: "The ultimate disease of our time is valuelessness; . . . this state is more crucially dangerous then ever before in history; . . . something can be done about it by man's own rational efforts." (italics mine). Looking at all this one can only conclude that as a nation we are currently experiencing an excruciatingly acute crisis of values.

          If we look back over our history as a species, it is clear that we’ve always been better than any other species at killing each other off. And with the advent of the European colonization efforts conducted throughout, Africa, Asia and the Americas we really honed and sharpened our homicidal/genocidal skills. And as bad as that was, what with the holocaust and genocidal slaughter in Cambodia, East Timor, Vietnam , Rwanda , Sierra Leone, Somalia, Bosnia, Indonesia, to name just a handful of the more atrocious ones, I’m sure that the number of the human beings slaughtered in the 20th century is far larger than the collective total of all killed in previous millennia since our arrival on the planet. What’s going on in this picture? What’s going on with our species? Are we fatally flawed as a species? Is it the species the life force created in order to self destruct? Did the life force create its own suicide club? And, we could add some other human contributions of the 20th century to the mix: global warming, ozone depletion, exponential population expansion, aquifer depletion, toxic waste; it’s really quite a list.

          I’m going to have a bit of a go at formulating an explanation of what I think is going on with our species, and why, and what needs to happen should we develop any aspirations beyond self extinction. And then, (recruiting as much audacity as I can muster) make some recommendation of basic axiomatic values by which we could live and conduct ourselves personally, nationally and internationally and thereby begin to get ourselves out of the mess we’re in. And no, I’m not out to start a religion.

          From the perspective of the evolution of the life force it does appear that we are the first species which is primarily meaning informed rather than instinct informed. That is to say that we must rely on our neocortex to take our sensory input and construct meaning from it (make sense of it - figure out it means, what’s going on) and use that meaning to inform our behavior - to decide what to do and do it. Thus the capacity to self-reflect, to project far into the future and therefore intentionally modify the future, and thus the advent of rational thinking and therefore logic, mathematics and all the other systems we’ve created which allow us to analyze cause and effect and thereby modify and control the world. Thus the agrarian reform, the age of enlightenment and the scientific method to which we owe so much. Thus the industrial revolution and nuclear war heads and weapons of mass destruction and quadruple bypasses and inexpensive flights across the country and around the world and multinational corporations, consumerism, television and advertising. Thus language and literature and art and theology and philosophy. We seem to be the first species with the concept development capacity to create and develop such concepts as ethics, morality, share and share alike, the greatest good for the greatest number, love thy neighbor as thyself, and innumerable similar concepts. With all that, how did we ever manage to get ourselves on a track that everyone agrees is patently non-sustainable? Right now the odds are not good that your grandchildren will be around long enough to have grandchildren of their own.

          In evolutionary terms meaning-informed behavior rather than instinct-informed behavior is still a very new experiment for the life force. It isn’t a well polished highly functional device like eyesight or digestive tracks or reproduction or photosynthesis. It’s analogous to first learning how to use a clutch when driving a car; we find ourselves jumping all over the road with this newfangled meaning-driven clutch no matter how carefully we try to release it. Meaning is so important that when life loses meaning, suicide commonly ensues. When life loses meaning we first go into depression and then when life becomes sufficiently meaningless, we leave it. The catch-22 seems to be that our meaning-driven capacity can’t function at all without incorporating value judgments into all decision making equations. One of the primary existential issue of our species is that at every moment we are confronted with choice and the choices we make are influenced by our values and beliefs. And, since we must incorporate values and beliefs as a basic ingredients of meaning-driven behavior, we are forever running into conflicting values where one value says behave one way and another value says behave in precisely the opposite way. And thus we’re constantly confronted with conflicting moral values. Do the ends justify the means? Maybe not, but it gets me what I want so I’ll do it anyway. It seems that for our species life is an ongoing series of crises of values upon which we must act. It appears that the root of our current problem as a species is that our phenomenal advances in technology have taken place without correlative moral and ethical advances.

          Furthermore, we homo sapiens seem to be the brains of the life force, the conscious awareness part with the capacity to self reflect, the potentially rational part of the life force. We’ve evolved to the point where, like it or not, we have become active participants in the evolutionary process, not just passive recipients. As such we have become the stewards of the life force, the part of it that’s responsible for getting it right, for helping to facilitate it’s continued evolution. Our capacity to function responsibly in this role is still undeveloped because it is still in its infancy. It is through our active participation that we’ve gotten ourselves onto a non-sustainable track which, if continued, may well exterminate not just our species, but all, or much of, life on this planet. To repeat what Abraham Maslow said: " The ultimate disease of our time is valuelessness . . . this state is more crucially dangerous than ever before in history . . . something can be done about it by man's own rational efforts."

          We’ve developed some stuff the life force can’t handle: nuclear fission, nuclear waste, global warming, ozone depletion, fossil fuel energy, massive over population, etc. Meanwhile we’ve employed theological beliefs and righteousness to justify engaging in ongoing mass slaughter of our own species. And because we’ve gotten ourselves into an economically greed-driven stance as our default setting, we consistently pursue our desires even at the expense of blatantly obvious ecological and human needs. We surely need to recognize that we are our own best resource for the salvation of the life force. And right now it looks like it is our move! What needs to happen, what do we need to do to bring about the necessary transformation in human values and beliefs to lead us to a sustainable path for life on the planet? Where do we look to find and buy into a model, a theory, a conceptual framework, that affirms life and affirms the life force rather than extinguishes it?

          While there is clearly no magic answer or one size fits all model guaranteed to fix things, there are some conceptual models that are helpful in understanding where we might go and how we might get there to get ourselves out of this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. For me, four such models can be nicely combined to provide something of a road map, a chart by which to navigate the life experience in a way that supports the life force rather than ravages it. The four models are Ken Wilber’s four quadrant model, Don Beck and Chris Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics, Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and Frank Forrest’s Valuelogic model. The first three of these models are theories of how humans develop over their lifetime. The fourth is a model which provides us with a rational systematic way thinking which enables us to determine right from wrong, good from bad when confronted with an ethical dilemma or a values conflict. I’ll briefly summarize each of them and address how I see integrating them as useful in providing us with a sense of direction out of the mess we’re in.

          A. Wilber’s Four Quadrant model addresses the individual and collective aspects of humanity.

  1. The upper right quadrant contains the individual exterior behavioral objective world. The fact that we’re made up of atoms, molecules, cells, organs, neural systems and a brain.
  2. The upper left quadrant contains the individual interior intentional world, the development of consciousness as we mature. The mind, sensations, perception, impulse, concepts, aesthetic taste, and states of consciousness.
  3. The lower right quadrant contains exterior-collective, the social world. Groups, families, tribes, villages, nations - foraging to horticultural to agrarian to industrial to informational.
  4. The lower left quadrant contains interior-collective, the cultural. Our collective world views, cultural perspectives, values, and morals,

          So the right quadrants contain what is scientifically accurate or true, and the left quadrants contain what is beautiful and what is good. Or the right quadrants are addressed by scientific reductionism and the left quadrants are addressed by aesthetics, values and spirituality.

          One essential point of Wilber’s model is that all four quadrants must be acknowledged and dealt with in order to facilitate healthy human development. The absence of attention to any quadrant will invariably lead to some kind of pathological behavior in the individual or the community or the nation at large. (Witness such institutions as slavery or apartheid as examples of that.) A second essential point in Wilber’s model is that there are natural hierarchies in the world which must be acknowledged. For example atoms exist, molecules are greater than and contain atoms, cells are greater than and contain molecules, organs are greater than and contain cells, individuals are greater than and contain organs, and communities are greater than and contain individuals. Each succeeding level does not replace the previous level, rather it integrates it as an fundamental part of itself without which it could not exist.

          B. Beck and Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics model addresses the levels of interior human development (the development of consciousness) as unfolding waves which evolve in an upward spiral. They employ the concept of MEMEs. A MEME is a level of consciousness which can express itself at once as a psychological structure, value system, mode of adaptation, world view and governmental form. [See also Pat's Essay on this subject.] Beck and Cown use names and colors to express nine different self/world views. These nine levels are:

First tier memes. The essence of first tier memes is that each of them only see their own world view as correct and proper. They discount all the others and think everyone should be just like them. So that, for example, for all of the green meme’s appearance of tolerance and acceptance and mutual respect, green memers totally reject orange/blue or red world view and try to convert them to green. Meanwhile orange sees green as touchy-feely wimps, and blue thinks that they need to be saved. First tier thinking is always horizontal, not vertical.

  1. Beige: Archaic-Instinctual. The level of basic survival, food, water, warmth, sex, and safety. 0.1% of adult population, 0% of power.
  2. Purple: Magical-Animistic. Ethnic tribes, magical spirits, gangs, corporate tribes, athletic teams, etc. 10% of population, 1% of power.
  3. Red: Power Gods. Emergence of self as distinct from tribe; powerful, impulsive, egocentric, heroic. The “terrible twos,” rebellious youth, frontier mentalities, soldiers of fortune, wild rock stars. 20% of population, 5% of the power.
  4. Blue: Conformist Rule. Life has meaning, direction, and purpose, with outcomes determined by an all-powerful Other. Rigid social hierarchies; paternalistic; one right way and only one right way to think about everything. Law and order, impulsivity controlled through guilt; fundamentalist belief; obedience to rule of Order. Often religious. Puritan America, Confucianist China, Islamic fundamentalism, moral majority, patriotism. 40% of population, 30% of power.
  5. Orange: Scientific Achievement. Escapes from ‘herd mentality’ of blue, seeks truth and meaning in individualistic terms - experimental, objective, mechanistic, operational, scientific in the typical sense. The world is a rational and well oiled machine with natural laws that can be learned, mastered and manipulated for one’s own purposes. Highly achievement oriented toward materialistic gains. The laws of science rule politics, the economy, and human events. Marketplace alliances; manipulate earth’s resources for one’s strategic gains. The Enlightenment, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Wall Street , colonialism, the Cold War, fashion industry, materialism, liberal self-interest. 30% of population, 50% of power.
  6. Green: The Sensitive Self. Communitarian, human bonding, ecological sensitivity, networking. The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness; feelings and caring supersede cold rationality; cherishing the earth, Gaia, life. Against all hierarchy; establishes lateral bonding and linking. Emphasis on dialogue, relationships. Subjective nonlinear thinking; shows a greater degree of affective warmth, sensitivity and caring, for earth and all its inhabitants. Humanistic psychology, liberation theology, Greenpeace, ecofeminism, human rights issues. 10% of the population, 15% of the power.
  7. Yellow: Integrative. Life is a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies, systems, and forms. Flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority. Differences and pluralities can be integrated into interdependent, natural flows. Knowledge and competency should supersede rank, power, status, or group.
  8. Turquoise: Holistic. Universal holistic system, unites feeling with knowledge; multiple levels interwoven into one conscious system. Universal order, but in a living conscious fashion, not based on external rules (blue) or group bonds (green).
  9. Coral: Beck and Cowan posit a coral level but have not yet be able to define it. It may well be the realm of saints and mystics. Likely an infinitesimally small 0.001 % of the population. Their power likely lies in subtle energy, the impact of which we don’t yet know how to measure.

Yellow, Turquoise, and Coral are Second Tier memes. The essence of second tier memes is a quantum leap where a huge chasm of depth of meaning is crossed. Thinking is now vertical as well as horizontal. One can, for the first time, vividly grasp the entire spectrum of interior development and thus see that each meme, is crucially important for the health of the overall spiral. At second tier all six of the first tier memes are fully appreciated and the need for their existence is evident and accepted. 1% of the population, 5% of the power.

An essential issue with the spiral dynamics model is the clear recognition that the entire spectrum of interior development is crucially important for the health of the overall spiral. All memes must be fully appreciated and the need for their existence fully accepted. So the issue is not to attack the ‘lower’ memes, but to support their needs in a positive way at their present level thereby eliminating their need to defend themselves and their world view. This will allow them to develop in a healthy way at their own pace and move up the spiral when ready.

          C. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. This model posits that humans have a hierarchy of needs which must be met in order for an individual to self actualize. Each need precedes and is the foundation for the next higher level need. They are physiological - hunger, thirst, bodily comfort; psychological - safety, security, out of danger; belongingness - love, affiliation with others; esteem - competence to achieve, gain approval; and self actualization. Each need must be fulfilled before the next level need can be addressed and met. When all needs up the hierarchy are adequately met people naturally blossom into fulfilling their potential. So that it is the meeting of these needs which provides individuals with the necessary foundation or grounding to move up the spiral into second tier vertical thinking where consideration for others at all levels has become an integral part of their decision making.

          D. Frank Forrest’s Valuelogic model. Axiology is the field of philosophy that applies a formal mathematical frame of reference to the valuation process. The foundations of Axiology were developed by Dr. Robert S. Hartman (1910 - 1973). Just as mathematics is a logic of number or quantity, axiology is a logic of value or quality, and just as the natural sciences like physics or chemistry are applications of mathematics in the realm of facts, so Valuelogic is an application of formal axiology in the realm of ethics.

Valuelogic does not prescribe what values or decisions are or are not ethical. Instead, it identifies the fundamental phenomenon of ethics and then employs a system of logic (a mathematics), that has the same structure as that phenomenon. It therefore provides a rational thought process which enables us to prioritize conflicting values and thereby resolve problems and dilemmas ethically. It is a tool for culling logically sound, emotion free value judgments from a confused and tangled web of complex variables thereby enabling one to make sound ethical decisions. It measurably improves the clarity of ones Value Vision. Value Vision is the extent one’s of sensitivity to the different degrees of goodness of things and actions. Valuelogic employs a Value Vision Profile (VVP) to measures one’s value vision. We might say that it measures the degree to which one is ethically color blind. In extensive testing conducted by Dr. Forrest, when pre and post VVP have been given to Valuelogic classes, highly significant increases in clarity of value vision have been recorded. This was found to be true in ROTC students, and equally true in U.S. Army senior Flag officers thus verifying that Valuelogic does in fact teach people a rational, ethical thinking process and thereby enhances their capacity for making sound value judgments.

At this point 50% of the world's population is struggling desperately to meet physiological and psychological needs and are primarily living in hunger, fear and desperation without even a minimal degree of security in their lives. Meanwhile we, the richest country in the history of the world harboring 60% of the world’s wealth, manage to budget $393,000,000,000 for defense (we must ask defense from whom?) while largely ignoring those desperate needs and consistently voting against and opposing UN resolutions which would help to address them. If, instead, in our interactions with others, both locally and internationally, we first addressed people’s basic survival needs we would contribute to their beginning to be able to move up the spiral. Such behavior on our part would undoubtedly increase, not decrease, our national security and elicit the cooperation of many other nations throughout the world. While this sounds like an over simplification, I believe it is accurate. Whenever feasible, help people to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life. Do it both at home and abroad and, for example, as described in Lester Brown's Eco Economy, the world will become a better place to live. We periodically need to remind ourselves that people are good for each other when they let themselves be.

          So how do these four models fit together to suggest behaviors we individually, and as a nation could adopt that might facilitate our continued evolution toward the point where we are acting as responsible stewards of the life force instead of as it’s nemesis? Wilber says that we must nurture conscious development internally in our psychic life at both the individual and community levels as well as externally in our behavioral life at both levels. We must nurture morality and aesthetics as well as the physical, material world. Beck and Cowan describe a consciousness development spiral that helps us understand that every level of the spiral must be experienced and honored as we grow to maturity both individually and socially. They also help us understand healthy and unhealthy aspects of each level, so that we might learn how to nurture the healthy aspects. Maslow identifies the basic needs that must be met in order to ascend the spiral, and Forrest provides a tool by which to resolve values conflicts and make sound ethical responsible decisions in our dealings with each other. If through our educational system, in our businesses, and in the political realm, we as individuals and together as a nation could internalize an understanding of these models as explaining our humanity, it might radically modify our dealings with Israel and the PLO, with Iraq, with North Korea, with Central and South America and here at home. If, for example, instead of fighting the drug war, we responded to the needs of those using drugs, we would radically reduce the desire for drugs. If, instead of bombing Afghanistan or Iraq we worked exclusively through the UN to address terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, we would address those concerns without breaking international law and without bombing innocent people because their leaders were acting irresponsibly.

          Together, the above four models suggest some basic axioms--which if adhered to will ensure that the desperately needed consciousness development throughout the world population will occur. Without such development, our species and life as we know it on this planet, may well cease to exist.

          These axioms could be introduced as resolutions in the UN thereby increasing the likelihood that they would be adhered to by more and more nations throughout the world. Examples might include:

          With these axioms driving our interactions with others whether it be in parenting, education, the business world or international politics, we can become responsible stewards of the life force and make positive contributions to our own continued evolution. We would each be consistently modeling the behavior that we seek in others. Such interactions would be dependent on our consistently making sound ethical decisions in all of our dealings with others so that we can responsibly decide what to do when we find the behavior of others unacceptable to us.

          Valuelogic provides a rational thought process which enables us to prioritize conflicting values and thereby resolve such problems and dilemmas ethically. In my next writing, How To Think Ethically On Purpose, I’ll explicate Valuelogic and suggest some ways it might be used to positively influence our direction as a nation and as a species.

Editors Note: Material about Value Logic is now online as part of the Curriculum for our 2005 Global Change Seminar.


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Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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January 24, 2003
by Bill Dillon