Don’t Get Me Started: Orders of Consciousness
Shedding light on the inner workings of our nation's leaders.
Readers of last month's CATALYST (see "Peak Oil: Another Inconvenient Truth," by Jean Arnold; "New Revolution: An interview with David Korten," by Zach Abend; "Rocking the Boat: Time For a New National Mantra," by Chip Ward) as well as regular readers and anyone fortunate enough to have heard Dr. David Korten when he was in town last month will know we are headed toward a "perfect storm." The combination of peak oil, global warming and the steady erosion of the dollar are hastening an economic crash like nothing since the aftermath of the black plague during the Dark Ages.
The silver lining in this cloud, as Dr. Korten points out, is that it presents the perfect opportunity to change the institutions and culture that have led us to this place. Effective change depends on an accurate diagnosis of the problem. Korten provides that diagnosis in his three books, "When Corporations Rule the World," "The Post-Corporate World" and his most recent "The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community."
The key to a meaningful diagnosis is an accurate description of the causes and mechanisms of the disease's transmission. Korten puts the problem in psychological, as well as historical, perspective. Drawing from the work of Erickson, Maslow, Piaget and many others, he posits five levels of consciousness. First is the magical consciousness of a two- to six-year-old child who experiences the world as fluid and subject to the whims of magical beings, both benevolent and malevolent.
Second is an imperial consciousness, which develops around the age of six or seven. It involves the discovery of order, regularity and stability which opens possibilities for controlling what once seemed fluid and unpredictable. "The Imperial Conscious-ness is able to acknowledge another person's point of view for purposes of calculating how best to get what one wants, but with little concept of loyalty, gratitude and justice," he writes. Imperial consciousness shares with magical consciousness a perspective that is primarily, if not exclusively, self referential, even narcissistic.
"Adult expressions of the Magical and Imperial orders of consciousness are generally far more complex than their childhood expressions." Korten's elaboration sheds light on the inner workings of our nation's leaders:
Although adults operating from these lower orders of consciousness may be capable of ethical behavior based on empathic understanding, they may posses a highly developed intellect capable of formulating and executing complex political strategies. They are often accomplished liars skilled in crafting moral arguments attuned to the emotional and moral sensibilities of the persons whose loyalties they seek to manipulate. Unable to distinguish self-interest from collective interest, admit error, accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions, or feel guilt or remorse for harms caused, these individuals may be incapable of acknowledging even to themselves that they are engaged in deception. Truth becomes what they want it to be. Believing their own lies, they are able to lie with great sincerity.
The third order is the socialized consciousness, normally developing around 11 or 12. Along with a growing emotional intelligence, it recognizes that personal security depends on the mutual loyalty of one's group in a sometimes hostile world. The socialized consciousness is capable of empathy, unlike the imperial consciousness.
The fourth order of consciousness is a cultural consciousness, achieved when one encounters people with other cultural perspectives and beliefs. In its mature form, it realizes that each culture has its own logic, that different cultural truths lead to different outcomes for individuals and societies, and that cultural norms and expectaions are subject to choice. "Persons who have achieved a Cultural Consciousness have an 'Inclusive World' view that sees the possibility of creating inclusive, life-affirming societies that work for all," according to Korten. Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson call this group the cultural creatives, estimating there are somewhere around 200 million of them around the world.
Korten's fifth order, "the Spiritual Consciousness, the highest expression of what it means to be human, manifests the awakening to Creation as a complex, multi-dimensional, interconnected, continuously unfolding whole." These spiritual creatives find the meaning of life is serving the greater good.
As with most schemas of psychological development, the leadership styles of elected officials reflect-at best-the highest order of consciousness they have achieved. Is it any surprise that George W. Bush looks, acts and talks imperially?
I will explore further Korten's diagnosis and his prescription for our disease in the future. If you can't wait, go out and buy "The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community" today. It's a must-read for cultural and spiritual creatives if we are to change our nation's course.
The following appeared as a sidebar in the print version:
An interesting example of the imperial mind set of the Bush administration occurred last month in Spain, when Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez bemoaned the fact that actions by the United States in its pursuit of terrorists has undermined the "rule of law." Imagine that-the person probably most directly responsible for laying the "il"legal basis for those questionable actions now saying they have hurt our image. Well, that's not exactly what he said.
In a quick backtrack, he blamed the United State's deteriorating image on misunderstanding in Europe about what the U.S. is doing to fight terrorism. "The notion that the United States does not support the rule of law is one I find very disappointing," he said. "Part of the misunderstanding is the fault of the United States in the sense that we need to be out there more, talking about what we are doing and why." In other words, we've done a poor job of explaining why we have to destroy the "rule of law" to preserve the rule of law.
Gonzalez's concern with the "rule of law" is understandable. The exercise of power in an imperium is through the "rule of law." Not laws passed by referendum or reflecting a consensus of the population, but laws written by the corporations who stand to benefit from them, approved by committees stacked with members esssentially elected by the same corporations and passed by slim majorities, only a handful of whom may actually understand the consequences, intended or not, of the law. In other words, laws so counterintuitive, unjust and immoral as to have virtually no support from anyone other than those in blind obiesence to "the rule of law."
It's telling to note that Gonzalez betrayed no concerns about any "misperceptions" about the Bush administration's support for democracy or an equitable economic system. The Bush admistration likes democracy as long as it can be manipulated by the rich and powerful, which is the perception here and abroad. And it likes an equitable economic system as long as "equitable" means the rich get richer and the powerful get more powerful.