I started the call this week by responding to a couple listeners who think I’ve gone a little soft on modernity (Orange altitude). The first, David O’Conner from Australia, critiqued me by saying, “you believe a little too much in the evolutionary goodness of Orange without sufficiently taking into account what is not so good about Orange.”

Good point. So let me self-correct a bit.

Every stage of development comes online bearing a dignity and a disaster. For instance, on the upside Red brings on the juice of individual power; on the downside it gives rise to plunder and patriarchy. Amber civilizes us, but into a conformity that ultimately becomes stultifying. Each stage experiences radical new powers that are used for both good and ill.

The powers that emerge in Orange are jaw-dropping in all four quadrants: in the exterior quadrants, science and technology turn dirt into Chevys, create “the indoors” and triple life-spans. Orange becomes world-centric and modern people are able to mobilize resources from all corners of the planet. Money flows, as well as communication and travel.

In the interior quadrants, humanity abandons millennia of dogma and superstition in favor of observation and reason.  We wake up to our own individual sovereignty and ascribe equality of status to every citizen under the rule of law (not men). Astonishing!

But the interiors and the exteriors do not always come online at the same time. People with modern exteriors often harbor pre-modern interiors that are quite provincial and even ethnocentric. This is a dangerous stage of the game: modern technology in the hands of a pre-modern mentality (think of a 12 year old with a chainsaw), and it is the source of much of the downside of Orange, particularly in its early stages:

  • On the war front, we are able to fight at exponentially higher levels of lethality. Although genocide is old hat to us humans, modernity introduces the ability to industrialize it with gas chambers and atomic bombs.
  • Modern economies do away with the age-old hunt for calories, but deliver this gift by means of industrial mono-farms that create disease and obesity, and meat factories where living beings are treated as units of production.
  • Modernity does away with state-sanctioned slavery, but creates corporate fiefdoms in developing countries with little regard to the culture it is uprooting. Indeed modernity creates a new philosophy to support its new power: social darwinism, an application of the law of “survival of the fittest” to human affairs in which the exploitation (they see it as the “civilization” or “modernization”) of weaker people and cultures is justified as the march of progress.

Currently, one of the most threatening downsides of our modernizing world is its global environmental impact. People have always exploited their environments to the degree that they were able. But you can only do so much damage with a digging stick or a team of horses. Bring on technology and you suddenly have hundreds and thousands of horsepower at your disposal stripping down forests, dragging mile-long fishing nets, pumping rivers dry and belching poison into the air.

Modernists are able to see and rectify environmental degradation in their local environments, but they don’t see or have the will to rectify it on the global scale … until they do. Feeling into the larger global commons defines movement into the next stage: post-modernity (Green altitude). At this stage of consciousness we see that although any environmental violation may be local the larger effect is global: ocean acidification and climate change as examples.  Because Green sees the finiteness of the planet system its orienting principle becomes sustainability, not growth (which is Orange’s orienting principle) and post-modernism sets out to right the wrongs of modernity.

And the culture wars ensue in all their gory glory.

One of the leading warriors against pernicious modernity is Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She was recommended to me by listener Scott Bogart of Alberta, Canada as a tonic against over-valorizing modernity.

Klein’s thesis is that capitalism grows by finding (or creating) social disaster then rebuilding things in an image more to their liking. In her introduction she writes, “I am writing a book about shock. About how countries are shocked—by wars, terror attacks, coups d’état and natural disasters. And then how they are shocked again—by corporations and politicians who exploit the fear and disorientation of this first shock to push through economic shock therapy. And then how people who dare to resist these shock politics are, if necessary, shocked for a third time—by police, soldiers and prison interrogators.”

So far so good, and indeed all of this has happened in different proportions throughout the world as modernity has come online. But while I don’t disagree with most of her facts, I want to point out a couple things I think she misses:

The modern world that is created by “disaster capitalism” is usually better than the one that was washed away.

I’ll address Klein’s signature Shock Doctrine example, the one she starts with and uses to lay out her case against disaster capitalism. It is the story of the New Orleans school system after Hurricane Katrina ten years ago. The public schools were in ruins and thus education privateers, led by economist Milton Friedman, saw it as a chance to come in and install charter schools, a public/private hybrid. She writes:

Milton Friedman, grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism and the man credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hypermobile global economy. Ninety-three years old and in failing health, “Uncle Miltie,” as he was known to his followers, nonetheless found the strength to write an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal three months after the levees broke. “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins,” Friedman observed, “as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the education system.

Friedman’s radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans’ existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state. It was crucial, Friedman wrote, that this fundamental change not be a stopgap but rather “a permanent reform.

And that’s what happened.

She goes on, apparently unaware of the positive case she is making for the privateers:

In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.

Nobody ever said capitalism wasn’t efficient!

Klein wrote her account of the New Orleans school overhaul shortly after it begun.  Seven years later we have more understanding of how New Orleans is handling the shock. Last week the fair-minded Christian Science Monitor published a major article on the New Orleans school system. They report that indeed nine in ten students today attend charter schools in New Orleans, the highest percentage in the country:

Gone is a traditional central district office that assigns students to schools, hires and promotes teachers in negotiation with a union, and controls everything from budgets to textbooks. Instead, families here choose among charter schools citywide that – in exchange for their autonomy – have to meet certain benchmarks in order to have their charters renewed.

The results?

Test scores and graduation rates have climbed steadily. And while there are fewer public school students than before the storm – 43,000, down from 65,000 – the demographics are similar: 90 percent African-American (compared with 94 percent pre-Katrina) and 82 percent low-income (up from 77 percent).

A surge of extra resources has helped: In 2010-11, for instance, per-pupil spending in New Orleans was about $13,000, compared with just under $11,000 statewide.

So it’s pretty promising so far, and the article goes on to point out how other communities, especially urban districts with chronically under-performing schools, are using New Orleans as an example to emulate. Obama’s education department is supporting the movement with large, high-profile grants in several test cities. I wonder how many New Orleaners, including the most disadvantaged, would choose to go back to the pre-Katrina system that existed before their exploitation by Milton Friedman and his ilk.

Which brings me to another aspect of “disaster capitalism” that is surprising and certainly missed by Naomi Klein: in most cases, the majority of people affected by it support it.  

Let’s take another key example Klein uses to illuminate The Shock Doctrine, the rise of the oligarchs in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Klein tells of how these feudal strong men exploited the chaos of the disintegration of the state to build vast business empires and fortunes. This is undoubtedly true, and the alpha oligarch is Vladimir Putin himself, who has wealth estimated at 40 billion dollars stashed around the world.

So how do the Russians feel about that?  An American president would love to be so popular with his people. Putin’s approval ratings hover around 65 – 70% (Obama is at 42%). 69% back his incursion into Ukraine. Economic optimism in Russia is over 50%; in America it’s currently at 29%.

How does this happen? Ken Wilber’s AQAL altitudes of development help us understand.  Most Russians, although well educated and cultured, are still largely traditional (Amber altitudes) in their view of state power. They are used to autocrats running things; that’s how it always is in Amber. They are willing to tolerate leaders skimming some cream off the top as long as the economy is growing. In Russia it is, and under Putin economic growth has been reasonably strong and steady. People at these altitudes will also tolerate some diminishment of personal freedom as long as the streets are safe, and in today’s Russia they are. So Putin has the peoples’ support, and as Moscow integralist Victor Shiryaev pointed out in my interview with him a couple weeks ago, many Russians refer to the pre-Putin 1990’s, under the regime of Boris Yeltsin, as “the dark age.”

In the West, particularly the US, we have our own strata of population with Amber interiors, the social conservatives and nationalistic hawks, and they too love tough-guy leaders. A circumspect and nuanced leader like Obama actually leaves them feeling insecure and is the source of much of their reflexive antipathy towards him.

Now of course, from a more developed Green perspective — where Naomi Klein is living — it is the authoritarian leader who becomes scary and repulsive. Welcome to evolutionary progress!

It is this evolution that will bring on the end of Putinism, if not Putin himself, over the long run. We just don’t know how long the run is. Evolution, while beautiful, is not pretty and we have to remember that we too have had our history with crony capitalism and we’re not done yet.  Evolving Russia will find its way too.

All in all, what limits the value of The Shock Doctrine to me is that it is a Green critique of Orange. In Klein’s view disaster capitalists are the bad guys who exploit the innocent victims who just want to get back to their old way of life. I see it differently: that disasters are always an opportunity for radically better structures to be built, and this is true for life at any scale. At a macro scale, for instance, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs also made room for great arising of mammals. When our house burns down we strive to build a better one. At the personal level, a divorce or job loss may be a catalyst for a much better life.

The struggle between Orange and Green is a fruitful one, and we Integral practitioners want to appreciate both views of the world, as we find them in other people and as we find them struggling in our own minds. In so doing we have a better chance of bringing the gifts of each worldview to the project of building a better world.


I ended the call with a look at a major Pew study this week that seeks to reveal the soul of American Millennials, our youngest adult generation, ages 18 – 33. The upshot of the research? It turns out the youngsters are less supportive of institutions like religions, political parties, even marriage and career — and more tuned into their own networks of people and organizations, networks which are much larger than those of previous generations.

They are more multicultural and less patriotic than any generation in history. These changes represent welcome evolutionary movement into world-centrism, which is less dangerous and more fertile than nation-centrism.

One striking irony: Millennials are at the same time the first generation to be economically less well off than the previous generation at the same age … and the most optimistic!

So human race, welcome to your future!

As an evolutionary I am hooked on studying what is emergent, and am so happy to encounter this new generation, both through the Pew study and directly through my friendships with the the Millennials I know. A couple smart millennial listeners spoke up on the call, and I will be interviewing more as the world turns.

Which bring me to one final quality of the Millennials that impresses me: they are actually willing to talk with the old folks. That’s more than I can say for us don’t-trust-anyone-over-thirty boomers at their age.

Ah well, we’re all just right on schedule!