Today I’d like to share something I learned from Integral Theory: the Pre/Trans Fallacy. Not only is it interesting in its own right, but it may also help us better understand our fearless leader — or, at least, why he was elected.
Note: if you’re unfamiliar with Spiral Dynamics, you will probably want to read this first. I’ll be referencing those concepts in a few minutes.
The Pre/Trans Fallacy
Let’s imagine three basic stages of development:
- Pre-rational → Rational → Trans-rational
- Pre-conventional → Conventional → Trans-conventional
- Pre-personal → Personal → Trans-personal
- etc. (almost any word can go in the middle)
The Pre/Trans Fallacy is simply this: when the Pre-[x] and Trans-[x] stages get confused, just because they are non-[x].
So, pre-rational gets confused with trans-rational, pre-conventional gets confused with trans-conventional, and so on.
(Are you excited yet? Didn’t think so…)
The fallacy generally takes two forms: the elevation of “pre” to “trans”… and the reduction of “trans” to “pre.”
Yeah, I know. It sounds kind of like trigonometry or something. It will get more clear in a second. Let’s look at some examples and then we’ll tie it in to Trump.
Reduction of trans-rational to pre-rational
Let’s say a fairly scientific-minded rational person named Rick (Rational Rick!) meets two people:
- a preschool child who insists the world is made of rainbows and unicorns
- a scholarly Buddhist guru who teaches non-dual awareness and enlightenment and says he has achieved oneness with the universe
If Rick falls victim to the Pre/Trans Fallacy, he judges the pre-rational child and the trans-rational Buddhist guru’s worldviews to both be equally invalid, simply because they are both non-rational.
Rick may accuse the guru, “why must you insist on believing in this childish enlightenment nonsense,” disregarding the fact that the guru has in fact transcended and included rationality in his journey of consciousness, while the child is simply pre-rational. He has reduced the guru’s sophisticated worldview to a childish fantasy.
Here’s another one. What if Rick is a friendly atheist with a skeptical (or cynical) understanding of religion as being a man-made “painkiller of the masses,” and he meets these two people:
- a fundamentalist Christian who reads the story of the Garden of Eden literally and spends his career digging in the Middle East looking for evidence of Eden
- a progressive Christian science nerd who was raised fundamentalist, lost his faith, became an atheist, but came back to God after having a mystical experience he (and his neurologist) couldn’t explain, and now sees the infinite value in religion as a beautiful addition to the human cognitive experience
Rick would be a bit off-base to dismiss both of these church-goers as “just a bunch of guys who blindly believe in fairy tales,” would he not?
Now let’s look at the fallacy occurring in the opposite direction.
Elevation of pre-modern to post-modern
Think back to the movie Avatar.
The Na’vi people are purple — not only their skin color, but their level of consciousness as well. Spiral Dynamics purple is tribal, animistic, magical… all characteristics of the Na’vi.
The colonizers (Americans) who are invading the planet Pandora, from a Spiral Dynamics perspective, are at an orange level of consciousness… a modern, imperialistic, opportunistic type of capitalist society.
Jake Sully, the main character, is narrating his experience working with the Na’vi “savages”:
Everyday it’s reading the trails, the tracks at the water-hole, tiniest scents and sounds. She’s always going on about the flow of energy, the spirits of animals. I really hope this treehugger crap isn’t on the final.
Calling the Na’vi “treehuggers” is another instance of the Pre/Trans Fallacy.
The green level of Spiral Dynamics is the post-modern worldview — all societies are equal, do no harm to the biosphere, promote peace and harmony, etc. Green folks are ashamed of their orange predecessors, who rape, exploit, and pollute the environment with their factories and fossil fuels… and as a reaction, they combat climate change, hug trees, etc.
Purple people are not treehuggers. They see trees as magical. The world is magical. The unseen spirits run the universe. So they sacrifice and do raindances and shake rainsticks and chant and sway and cast spells.
Green people have transcended and included modernism. They are post-modern (or trans-modern). Purple people are pre-modern. Calling purple people “treehuggers” is elevating a “pre” stage to be equal with “trans.”
Avatar is a very interesting movie from the perspective of Integral Theory. There is a very strong “orange is bad, purple is good” type of vibe throughout the whole movie. The colonizers are the enemy. The Na’vi are the heroes. This implies from a “meta” perspective that the filmmakers themselves (James Cameron and company) are operating from a Spiral Dynamics green perspective — recall that later stages always loathe the previous stages. Green looks upon orange with disgust. Cameron apparently does the same.
On the other hand, Cameron takes some green characteristics and puts them into the Na’vi. For example, matriarchy. The “mother” figure is strong in the Na’vi people, but from human history at least, we know that earlier societies were extremely patriarchal, and feminism and female leadership did not come online until much later. This is a more abstract example of the Pre/Trans Fallacy — projecting later ideals onto an earlier worldview.
Let’s get out of the weeds — we have to talk about Trump. (Note: the above Avatar commentary all came from Ken Wilber, and I find it brilliant!)
This week I saw a screwy news article regarding one of Trump’s cabinet meetings in the Oval Office. Here’s an excerpt:
First, he reviewed the various alleged successes of his first 143 days and made this remarkable claim: “Never has there been a president….with few exceptions…who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than I have.”
Once Trump finished touting his administration’s accomplishments, he turned to several of his newly-minted Cabinet secretaries like Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Each of those Cabinet secretaries lavished praise on Trump, which he accepted without comment but with a broad smile.
At first, I thought Trump was just going to have the new members of the Cabinet spend a few minutes praising him. NOPE! It soon became clear that Trump planned to have every Cabinet member speak. And when I say “speak” what I really mean is “praise Trump for his accomplishments, his foresight, his just being awesome.”
So, Trump has re-invented the cabinet meeting to be an exercise in stroking his ego and reaffirming his megalomania. So what? We knew Trump was a powermonger (Spiral Dynamics red) before we elected him, right?
I remember talking to several Trump-supporting friends before the election, and they’d say things like this:
- Trump’s not afraid to tell it like it is
- It’s refreshing to see someone speak his mind and take charge
- Trump’s run businesses, so he must be capable of leadership
- He’s not a corrupt career politician like the rest of them
- He wants to bring the power back to the people
Every group/tribe/system has a center of gravity from a consciousness perspective. Integral Theory seems to suggest that a conservative Republican is usually operating at a Spiral Dynamics blue stage of consciousness. At blue, they value traditions, hierarchy, authority, rules, absolute truths, structures, routines, and self-control. Let’s call this stage “conventional.”
The way Trump was sold by his supporters seemed to imply that people (before the election, anyway) valued Trump for bucking the system. They were saying “we like Trump because he’s unconventional.”
You see where I’m going with this.
“We’re sick of all these systems and norms… we want someone who thinks for themselves!”
But… Trump isn’t bucking the system. He’s never been in the system.
“Were sick of conventional… we want post-conventional!”
But… Trump isn’t post-conventional. He’s pre-conventional.
“We’re sick of blue… we want orange!”
But… Trump isn’t orange. He’s red. He hasn’t transcended and included blue. He hasn’t even been there yet.
I’m guessing it’s clear how this is another instance of the Pre/Trans Fallacy.
Let’s be fair. I’ve never met the guy. I could be completely misreading him. Maybe he’s not a red egomaniac; maybe he’s not in it just for himself. Maybe he’s just nervous. Maybe he really wants what’s best for America, and he just is trying to do what he always has done, throwing his weight around, stretching the truth, crafting the deal, and he’s hoping it works in politics too. I hope for the best for him, and I don’t want him to ruin our country any more than you do.
I am, however, interested in the truth. I’d like to understand why things happen (as best I can). Someone once said “the truth will set you free.” I believe that understanding Trump, sympathizing with Trump, identifying with Trump… will set me free. By “free” I mean, free from being angry, or feeling cheated, or feeling… anything. The same way that when a bee stings you, you don’t get angry at it. It’s just a bee. That’s what bees do.
A friend in middle school said, “dirt isn’t dirty… it’s just dirt.”
Become one with the dirt. Become one with Trump. Sure, he acts red. That’s because he is red. There’s a little bit of red in all of us. We may have transcended and included red, and many other stages after that… but we need appreciate our dormant vMEMEs, and honor the development of everyone else.
(Note: I’m painfully aware that my white, middle-class, male, cisgender privilege makes this all quite easy for me to say, because Trump’s policies about walls, travel bans, and who-knows-whats-next haven’t directly affected me. I’m not suggesting we give him a pass on anything. I’m merely suggesting we cultivate our own awareness.)
In the first tier of Spiral Dynamics, each color/stage/vMEME is vehemently opposed to the others. They look forward in fear and backward with disgust.
In the second tier, the goal is integration, knowledge, understanding. No one color is worse than another. They’re just “previous” and “next” and all have something unique to offer. We should look for what color people are and encourage them to explore their color fully, so they can be the healthiest version of their color.
Maybe it’s better if we stop treating everyone as if they were in the stage we think they should be in. Maybe we should meet them where they actually are.
Maybe we should adjust our own awareness and properly set our expectations. Examine our ways of seeing things before we criticize the way others see things. Take the log out of our own eyes before we try to remove the twig from others.
This type of thing is expensive from a brain perspective. Our neural pathways are like deep grooves in a dirt road, worn from constant use. It’s much easier to keep driving in the grooves than to try to forge a new path. It’s easier to judge, get pissed off, throw up our hands, pursue news stories that feed our confirmation bias, and… well, give up. But I challenge you: don’t give up. Keep growing.
Thanks for reading. -Jamie