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Socio-cultural value systems
Developmental psychologist Clare W. Graves (1914-1986) first used the term ‘value system’ in his Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory. Practitioners of Graves' model have defined value systems as a hierarchically-ordered, always open set of morals, ethics, standards, preferences, belief systems and world views that come together through self-organizing principles to define an individual, a group or a culture. Graves’ theory of human development posits that the psychology of the mature human being transitions from a current level of cultural existence based on current life conditions to a more complex level in response to (to cope with) changes in existential reality. Graves used a double-helix model to illustrate a two-letter coding system that demonstrated the relationship between the Problems of Existence (1st letter, starting at A) and Coping Tools (2nd letter, starting at N). This model can also be interpreted to demonstrate the dual nature of the spiral of human emergence and change states between communal/collective value systems (sacrifice self) and individualistic (express self) value systems.
Through decades of experimentation and research, Graves classified a total of eight levels of increasingly complex human sociocultural systems. He proposed that a value system consists of a hierarchically ordered, always-open-to-change set of identifiable ethics, morals, preferences, priorities, world views and purposes by which groups and cultures structure their societies, and how individuals integrate within them. Each of these levels of existence has its own distinct values that are particular to it, developed as a response to solving the problems of the previous system. Alternating systems exemplify either communal values (such as community, healthcare, social welfare, social security, unions, justice and educational systems) or values that gravitate toward the individual (self-expression, merit, innovation, achievement, exploration, choice). Each system may express a healthy or unhealthy manifestation of its values, as defined by Graves.
Don Beck and Christopher Cowan developed the theory further and presented a structured model of adaptive intelligence and sociocultural evolution in Spiral Dynamics: mastering values, leadership and change (1996, 1999, 2005). The authors, who studied with Graves, integrated Richard Dawkins' theory of memetics. Dawkins proposed an evolutionary model of cultural information transfer in which ideas (memes) such as habits, beliefs, and patterns of behavior proliferate, in a way similar to biological genes, through humans as they connect with one another socially. This explains the systemic spread of values in society.
The Spiral Dynamics model demonstrates how value systems morph and spread as social DNA in Graves’ specific evolutionary sequence. The first six value systems (the First Tier group) were color coded by Beck and Cowan (to facilitate training) as follows:
- Level 1: Survival Instinct: Beige system (individualistic), origin 100,000 BCE
- Level 2: Tribal/Kinship: Purple system (communal), origin 50,000 BCE
- Level 3: Heroic/Empire: Red system (individualistic), origin 7,000 BCE
- Level 4: Absolutist/Purposeful: Blue system (communal), origin 3,000 BCE
- Level 5: Scientific/Strategic Enterprise: Orange system (individualistic), origin 1000-600 CE
- Level 6: Egalitarian/Communitarian: Green system (communal), origin 1850 CE
Graves grouped the First Tier systems by nature of their narrow perspective: each aligns with a specific world view that rejects the prior systems and seeks to preserve its own status quo. The differences between communal/collective and individualistic value systems, and the inability of First Tier systems to recognize the strengths or pathologies of other world views, helps to explain social conflict in the world today.
In addition, a world view exists in flux. Values may be
- in transition between healthy and unhealthy states;
- in a change state between systems (exiting one, entering another); or
- may regress, become trapped, regain equilibrium, or grow following conflict.
Thus, an individual or culture may express the values of the system being exited as well as the values of the emerging system; may have temporarily regressed to deal with conflict; or may be arrested or transitioning within a specific world view in an unhealthy or healthy state.
According to Graves, the move to Second Tier thinking requires a giant "leap" in perspective. At Second Tier, society recognizes a responsibility for facilitating the health of each value system on First Tier so that it can be self-actualized and healthy at its own level. The goal is not expediting emergence but the result is, when healthy, each First Tier system will naturally progress toward Second Tier. No step in human social evolution can be skipped, according to Graves. Of late, we have begun to see what the Second Tier systems will look like as Second Tier thinking emerges:
- Level 7: Integrative/Systemic: Yellow system (individualistic), emerging now
- Level 8: Holistic: Turquoise system (communal), conceptualized but not yet existing – this system cannot emerge until the life conditions in Yellow are realized. This system will emerge in response to the problems arising within the Yellow system.
Published works have integrated the adaptive socio-cultural evolution model for over 30 years, including:
- Dudley Lynch (1940-) produced, according to his website, “Several books on the pioneering ‘general systems’ psychological developmental model of the late Clare W. Graves, psychology's most original interdisciplinary explorer of how the mind grows”, including Strategy of the Dolphin: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World (with Paul L. Kordis, 1989, William Morrow & Company), The Mother of All Minds: Leaping Free of an Outdated Human Nature (2003, Brain Technologies Press) and LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Right, Smart Thing Come Hell or High Water (Brain Technologies Press, 2012).
- Integral theorist Ken Wilber (1949-) re-introduced Spiral Dynamics concepts in his book A Theory of Everything (2000, Shambhala) where he attempts to bridge business, politics, science, spirituality and developmental theories, showing how they inter-relate through his model of manifest existence.
- Said E. Dawlabani introduced a value systems approach to macroeconomics in his book  which includes a forward by Don Edward Beck. MEMEnomics reframes economics (past, present and future) through a functional cyclical-emergent model, including proscriptive advice through the lens of human socio-cultural value systems. Based on his years of work with Beck, Dawlabani added a ‘spectrum of meaning’ concept which further defines values expressed in common ideas and terms through the prism of the eight known value system levels. He also added a clarification to the vMEME Attractor concept introduced in Beck and Cowan's Spiral Dynamics. While Beck & Cowan referred to larger modes through which cultures express their values, such as religion, fashion, philosophy, etc.. as "vMEME-attractors", Dawlabani re-branded these specialized meta-memes as General category Memes, or GMEMEs for short, which gave continuity to the concept of memes as measurable values for large scale applications such as the economics GMEME.
Corporate value systems
Fred Wenstøp and Arild Myrmel have proposed a structure for corporate value systems that consists of three value categories. These are considered complementary and juxtaposed on the same level if illustrated graphically, for instance on an organization’s web page. The first value category is Core Values, which prescribe the attitude and character of an organization. These values are often found in sections regarding code of conduct on an organization's web page. The philosophical antecedent of these values is virtue ethics, which is often attributed to Aristotle. The second value category is Protected Values, which are protected through rules, standards, and certifications. They are often concerned with areas such as health, environment, and safety. The third value category, Created Values, comprises the values that stakeholders, including the shareholders, expect in return for their contributions to the firm. These values are subject to trade-off by decision-makers or bargaining processes. This process is explained further in stakeholder theory.
As a member of a society, group, or community, an individual can simultaneously hold both a personal and a communal value system. In this case, the two value systems (one personal and one communal) are externally consistent provided they are no contradictions or situational exceptions between them.
A value system is in its own right internally consistent when
- its values do not contradict each other and
- its exceptions are or could be
- abstract enough to be used in all situations and
- consistently applied.
Conversely, a value system by itself is internally inconsistent if:
- its values contradict each other and
- its exceptions are
- highly situational and
- inconsistently applied.
One of the conditions required for consistency in any logical (i.e. value-conserving) system of statements is their transitivity. (See: Intransitivity#Occurrences in preferences.) Without it, it might eventually happen that A is of greater value than B, yet B is of greater value than A—which is a case of mutual contradiction in certain statements that determine values of A and B in the system. Value system consistency can be a value in and of itself.
Abstract exceptions serve to reinforce the ranking of values. Their definitions are generalized enough to be relevant to any and all situations. Situational exceptions, on the other hand, are ad hoc and pertain only to specific situations. The presence of a type of exception determines one of two more kinds of value systems:
- An idealized value system is a listing of values that lacks exceptions. It is, therefore, absolute and can be codified as a strict set of proscriptions on behavior. Those who hold to their idealized value system and claim no exceptions (other than the default) are called absolutists.
- A realized value system contains exceptions to resolve contradictions between values in practical circumstances. This type is what people tend to use in daily life.
The difference between these two types of systems can be seen when people state that they hold one value system yet in practice deviate from it, thus holding a different value system. For example, a religion lists an absolute set of values while the practice of that religion may include exceptions.
Implicit exceptions bring about a third type of value system, called a formal value system. Whether idealized or realized, this type contains an implicit exception associated with each value, and these exceptions are such that no value violates a higher-priority value. For instance, a person might feel that lying is wrong, and yet consider lying to save someone's life as morally acceptable, with the reason being that the person holds preserving a life as a higher-priority than avoiding lying. Perhaps too simplistic in practice, such a hierarchical structure may warrant explicit exceptions.
It might be that, despite sharing a set of common values, different parties do not rank those values equally; such as hockey is better than baseball, or ice cream is better than fruit. Also, two parties might disagree as to whether certain actions are right or wrong, both in theory and in practice, and find themselves in an ideological or physical conflict. Ethonomics, the discipline of rigorously examining and comparing value systems, enables us to understand politics and motivations more fully in order to resolve conflicts.
An example conflict would be a value system based on individualism pitted against a value system based on collectivism. A rational value system organized to resolve the conflict between two such value systems might take the form below. Note that added exceptions can often become recursive and convoluted.
- Individuals may act freely unless their actions harm others or interfere with others' freedom or with functions of society that individuals need, provided those functions do not themselves interfere with these prescribed individual rights and were agreed to by a majority of the individuals.
- A society (or more specifically the system of order that enables the workings of a society) exists for the purpose of benefiting the lives of the individuals who are members of that society. The functions of a society in providing such benefits would be those agreed to by the majority of individuals in the society.
- A society may require contributions from its members in order for them to benefit from the services provided by the society. The failure of individuals to make such required contributions could be considered a reason to deny those benefits to them, although a society could elect to consider hardship situations in determining how much should be contributed.
- A society may not restrict behavior of individuals who are members of the society, except when those restrictions are necessary to allow society to perform those functions designated to it by the majority of individuals in the society or when the behavior being restricted violates the aforementioned values. This means that a society may abrogate the rights of any of its members who fail to uphold the aforementioned values.
- Actor analysis
- Applied ethics
- Intrinsic value (ethics)
- Moral code
- Moral values
- Value judgment
- Value pluralism
- Spiral Dynamics
- "The Psychosocial DNA of Capitalism". Huffington Post. 2013.
- MEMEnomics; the Next-Generation Economic System (2013, SelectBooks)
- Beck, Don (2003). Spiral Dynamics, Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. p. 31. ISBN 155786-940-5.
- Dawlabani, Said (2013). MEMEnomics, The Next-Generation Economic System. New York, NY: SelectBooks, Inc. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-59079-996-3.
- Wenstøp, F. and A. Myrmel (2006). "Structuring organizational value statements " Management Research News 29(11): 673 - 683.