Beginning in Beige


What is consciousness?

Welcome to the journey of Spiral Dynamics! You’re in a great place to begin picking up some of the basics of this beautiful model. If you haven’t already, please read the What is Spiral Dynamics introduction. Let’s begin!

For us to understand any developmental model as it pertains to humans, it would be wise to start at the very beginning. Where did we begin to think in the first place?

While defining human consciousness and it’s origins is undoubtedly out of scope for this article (and definitely above our pay grade) it’s important to briefly address this question before laying the foundations of specific colors.

There are hundreds of theories as to why Sapiens rose from their other Homo cousins. Some argue that humans developed our ability to observe through our binocular vision, and by looking out in the distance, over time, we started to notice patterns. In combination with our social structures that we developed to survive, this may have kick-started the “grey matter upgrade.” Others argue that it arose out of language generated from the collective words that were forming. Bicameralism suggests that commands are being sent in the brain and expressed through auditory experiences (eventually words expressed as thought). Some believe that consciousness may have been triggered by naturally occurring psychedelics, providing a “boot loader” for human thoughts and self-observation.

Whichever the case (and perhaps we’ll never honestly know), it began some time ago. One could imagine the world was very different back then. No cities, or religions, planes, or sliced bread. Just humans and the wild.

The Agent, and the Arena

For us to understand Spiral dynamics and it’s true potential, we must understand the relationship between the subjective experience, and our objective reality (or Life Conditions). This connection is sometimes referred to as the Agent/Arena relationship wherein there is a party acting in some expected fashion for the arena in which they’re involved.

Doctors Photo by Piron Guillaume @gpiron

Take a doctor, for instance, in their arena of a hospital. There are things we expect them to do, ways to behave, and beliefs to hold. One would expect their doctor to value cleanliness and have a high standard of personal hygiene, maintain confidentiality, and always have your best interest at heart. When this agent operates in accordance with the arena they’re situated in, they’re considered “successful”. However, if there is some imbalance (doctors writing subscriptions you don’t need for commissions), we could say they’re out of balance in that relationship.

These two forces, the agent and area, form the double helix from which Spiral grows. As human beings solve the problems of the world (arena), they live in, with more complex issues arise, a different agent/arena relationship. This cycle continues indefinitely, growing more complex and broader in scope as we solve problems.

The Beige problem

Many moons ago, our ancestors were walking the earth as foragers and hunters. Living a nomadic life in the animal kingdom creates its challenges. It is these conditions that produce the seeding ground for Spiral to begin.

The Agent/Arena relationship also applies to the stages in Spiral Dynamics. For our forefathers roaming the savannahs of Africa, they were an agent in a perilous arena. Humans were living in small bands of no more than around 150 people providing two options if you lived back then. Are you with the tribe, or are you on your own? This article is an introduction to Beige, the stage of human development, existential awareness, and perspective that evolved to deal with this harsh, base reality.

A note from one learner to another

Problems in Spiral Dynamics are an incredibly broad and fascinating topic, which, when studied, offer deep insights into human patterns and self-awareness. It is worth explicitly noting that one article is not in the least bit sufficient to explain the complexities of an entire color. These become subjects you will spend an entire lifetime discovering, discussing, and learning.

So as we step through our journey, be mindful to not “simplify a color” into just a behavior, or identify with “higher colors” because they seem “cool”

If we were to take ourselves back to that time of our ancestors, what problems were we likely to have had? Food would probably have been a significant concern, with most of the day spent searching for it, hunting it, or trying to grow it. Shelter from the elements, perhaps in caves or forests. Sex and reproduction would also have taken up much of our awareness and is still a major biological challenge we experience to this day.

The Beige Arena:
A wild, survival-focused, base reality. Predominant concerns are food, water, shelter, sex, and safety.

Suffice to say; life was relatively simple to us looking back on it now. However, I’m sure it was not viewed as simple back then. So what happened between now and then for us to consider that lifestyle basic?

The Beige Perspective

Someone in a Beige existence operates automatically. They are driven by bodily urges and respond to physical base desires. In Beige, we simply survive. Eat or be eaten. Our goal is solely to make it through the night or day.

With so much focus on the core problems, this reality presents very little (if any) consideration is given to more complex concepts. Time, the future, society, or the ‘self’ are not in the awareness of someone in Beige.

Manifestations of Beige today

We can observe Beige in infants. Before we transition into more complex states of awareness, we rely solely on those around us to provide and nurture us. It is only later in life as we grow older and develop more of a sense of self that we’re able to step out into our own being.

Beige is often represented in minorities who have experienced unfortunate illness or significant trauma. If we grow to be senile as we get older, this too could shift us into a Beige reality. We rely on the kindness and compassion (and sometimes the unfortunate guilt) of those around us to be kept alive.

As with any color, we should hold no judgment in our understanding of Spiral towards any perspective or environment. Every individual is struggling with their own existential experience, and to compare them is to miss the point entirely. Beige uncovers it’s unique challenges, as does Purple, Red, and so on (which we will get to in later articles). This perspective does not necessarily mean stupid or lacking for any human, group, or organization, only that they struggle with the life conditions that Beige creates.

For example, if a violent earthquake were to shake the ground beneath your feet suddenly, your city would be thrown into turmoil. Instantly, whoever present would “down-shift” into a Beige perspective to deal with the recent change of environment. It is fair to say that our focus would be on self-preservation and of those around us that we care about and little else. The report that you were working on that was due at lunch ceases to exist in your mind. Such is the adaptive and resilient nature of the human brain. We’re able to shift perspectives to suit the given problem at hand.

Leaving Beige

Tribe Photo by Bradford Zak @2721poipu

It is suffice to say that the grand potential of consciousness is not limited to the perspective of the Beige environment. So how did we go from hunting and gathering to where we are today?

As with any color that deals with external life conditions in a given arena, we can address the existential problems. What does this look like in Beige?

Perhaps some bands of humans discover that, separately, they’re bear food; however, together the bear is their food. The competition between the groups of our ancestors over territory, food, mates, and resources was realized to be harmful to all involved. Replaced with a newer perspective of the possibilities of forming larger tribes, humans began to shift their perspectives to “safety in numbers”.

This transition freed up more cognitive resources for observing other aspects of our surroundings. If merely “surviving” was no longer our only concern, on what then could we focus? One might argue that humans developed their intensive quest for meaning once they no longer needed to think about if they were going to eat that night. “What is this place we all seem to be in?”. “Who are the people that I’m living with, and what are they motivated by?”. These newfound questions bring about more complex emotions (something a Beige does not have a conception of) towards those around us, more significant events, and our environment.

Reflected in magic, rain dances, totems and trinkets, and a strong sense of community, we left behind the lonely limitations of Beige, dancing instead towards the tribal conditions and safety of Purple.