Modes of Progression

René Girard developed a theory called mimetic desire. I would like to address part of this theory here and set it in a bigger arena.

People are masters of imitation. As much as we often have the desire to be self-governed and independent, we learn most by imitating others. That is part of mimetic desire.

Everyone will agree with this when it comes to the basic functions such as walking and talking, but of course it goes much further. Our convictions are shaped by our environment, as is our behavior.

So many of our abilities are mimetic in nature, imitation of role models.

In addition, we apply learned strategies to new problems. That way an individual learns a new trick, a new skill: by adapting and evolving the familiar. With higher abstraction ability, this happens on increasingly abstract levels and increases in speed and power.

Once a skill has been developed, it can spread mimetically. Here we see the link to the almost identically written expression meme: on the Internet we speak of a meme when something goes viral. In Spiral Dynamics, we call worldviews memes, because within a meme, the same values are mimetically passed on and learned.

Since we have integrated much of what we have learned mimetically in previous memes, our children learn the earlier mimetic values from us, as well as from their peers.

Hardly anyone will develop further than to the meme of their surroundings, because mimetic learning stops, or slows down, because there are hardly any role models left that we can imitate.

Only under the pressure of the environment do we learn new values, views, abilities, which then spread slowly, but soon exponentially. Or better, as an S-curve, because at some point the spread slows down again because of the resistance of the old memes or the saturation of the market.

Hegel saw another way to learn new skills and views: the dialectical leap. When two or more memes meet, hypothesis and antithesis meet and trigger a tension. This brings about the possibility of synthesis. A synthesis can be a solution at a higher level of complexity and abstraction, but also a simple combination of previous solutions. So we come to new approaches or realize that thinking both-and is better than either-or.

So how does a person grow through the value memes of Spiral Dynamics? As long as his environment lives in a later value meme than himself, through mimetic learning. In addition, the pressure of the environment is needed in the form of new challenges or dialectical jumps due to the clash of different values.

So how can I grow? By consciously choosing my environment. I can deliberately surround myself with people who have a more complex worldview than me and imitate their way of thinking. And I surround myself with people who have a different worldview than me and try to develop common solutions from the tension that arises. Thirdly, I face the new demands that my environment places on me and thus develop new approaches through abstraction and adaptation.

We are in an interesting place in history. Three value memes with a similar share in the population currently dominate the West: blue, orange and green, or tradition, modernity, and post-modernity as their implementations. An absolutely ingenious prerequisite for dialectical learning, especially for the realization that we need both-and thinking. This realization is at the core of yellow. A coincidence? I don’t think so.

Your thoughts?

By Ralph Rickenbach

Accompanyist | Pastor in Exile | Iconoclast — I am a Gallup certified CliftonStrengths coach and a Spiral Dynamics practitioner.