| up a level
from the grave-mysteries dept.
I was introduced to Clare W. Graves' "Theory of the Levels of Existence" by one of his students in 1975. I was only 13 at the time, but it made a deep impression on me, and so we spent many hours going over the details and discussing its implications. But I hadn't thought of it for years, until I remembered to mention it in the article Theories of Aeons. Since then, I've come to realize how deeply it influenced the direction of my thought, so I'd like to describe it in more detail, and examine some of the questions it poses for Thelema.
Graves at one time said of his theory, "Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man's existential problems change." Beyond that, he described a specific sequence of such systems that could be observed within individuals, groups, or whole societies.
I'll attempt to give a brief summary of this sequence. I doubt that I'll be able to do it much justice, so I urge the interested reader to explore the material at the Spiral Dynamics website. (Spiral Dynamics is a book written by two of Graves' senior students, Don Beck and Chris Cowan, expanding on Graves' Theory. I haven't read the book, but I'm not encouraged by their unattractive and hard to read website, their use of colors to depict the levels, their clumsy attempts at marketing, or their introduction of memetics, which only serves to confuse the Theory, it seems to me. Still, if you can wade through the presentation, there's plenty of good information. Or else try "An Explanation of Spiral Dynamics".)
To begin with, Graves describes six levels of subsistence values.
Within these six levels, Graves observed an oscillation between two modalities. The odd-numbered levels involve the self asserting power over its environment. The even-numbered levels involve the self adapting to its environment.
The system doesn't end there, in fact, it doesn't end at all. But Graves did observe that there was a more major transition after level 6 than occurs in any of the earlier transitions. He referred to this as the shift from "subsistence values" to "being values," and thought of level 1 being recapitulated on a higher plane as level 7.
Graves also referred to higher levels, but admitted he had no knowledge of what they would be like.
The point that I wanted to make about Thelema is that it can be seen, from one angle, to be concerned with a shift between value-systems. If we attempt to map it onto Graves' Theory, one thing is clear at least: Thelema involves a transition from self-adapting values to self-asserting ones.
Now, this could be because the transition in question is the one from subsistence values to being values. And indeed, if I were to choose one of Graves' levels to characterize the Thelemic vision, it would be 7, the Cognitive level (with some level 8 features).
But Crowley's description of what we are moving away from matches level 4 very closely. We are leaving the age of self-sacrifice. What's always struck me about that, though, is that most of those living in the West had already left the age of self-sacrifice long ago. But this might not have been so apparent to Crowley, having been raised in a fundamentalist (that is, strict level 4) household.
One can in fact read Thelemic materials as a call to move beyond level 4 (the Aeon of Osiris), not only to level 7, but also to level 5, or even to level 3. The empire-building career of L. Ron Hubbard could be illustrative of the egocentric interpretation of Thelema.
It is a curious thing that the sociocentric level 6 barely enters the picture. (Though there is a bit of it in the wealth-redistribution facets of Crowley's design for the OTO.) But if we emphasize the holistic level 8 elements within Thelema, I think that some of the sociocentric issues can be resolved. I might even suggest that the emergence of the Maatian current within Thelema could be seen as an attempt to shore up the level 8 values within the tradition, and so also to make space for level 6 concerns.
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