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Radical Resonance: Integrity in an "information rich" world.
Part 2: A Social Sciences perspective.

January 22, 2022 | By Maretha Prinsloo


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Given fundamental changes on every front in society, a reformulation is required of what ethical conduct, and therefore integrity, entails. Important to keep in mind in this regard is that personal autonomy and independent functioning are crucial for the well-being of the individual, but such functioning always takes place within socio-cultural and physical milieus.

An important first step towards greater insight in this regard is to identify a suitable theoretical framework which maps out various levels of consciousness. This will provide a kaleidoscope of ethical realities from which a deeper reality can be constructed to guide the operationalization of integrity in terms of practical and actionable outcomes. These insights can then be tailored according to organization, industry, and societal specifics.

Models of consciousness

Theorists from a variety of disciplines and persuasions have formulated models of consciousness – mostly in terms of developmental stages. These models all inherently reflect the ideas of holonic organisation and therefore, altitude or levels. The remarkable similarities and intuitive appeal of these models are noteworthy. The models of moral development by Kohlberg; ego-state development by Loevinger, intellectual development by Piaget and Perry, socio-cultural evolution by Gebser, and awareness by May and Wilber, to mention but a few, are theoretically and structurally analogous and are all elegantly integrated by Graves’s Spiral Dynamics (SD) model in terms of which the concept of Integrity can be contextualised.

The Spiral Dynamics (SD) model

Here the focus will be on the concept of integrity, which has intuitive appeal within society at large and the corporate world in particular. Integrity is generally associated with moral- ethical behaviour and is seen as a gateway to trust, alignment of motives and collaboration. No wonder then that organizational culture surveys globally indicate integrity as a key value.

Clare Grave’s universally applicable Spiral Dynamics (SD), or bio-psycho-social model describing the emergence of consciousness, seems ideal for this purpose. It consolidates the organizing principles underlying a host of developmental models from various spiritual traditions as well as consciousness, sociological and psychological theories alike.

The holonic SD model maps the full spectrum of consciousness development. It is represented as a soft hierarchy, or holonic structure, in which successive levels of awareness integrate and transcend previous levels. Various factors, including that of life conditions, largely determine the appropriateness of a particular value orientation, worldview, perceptual and decision-making framework, or cultural meme of both individuals and groups. Development or progression to higher levels takes place in a structured manner in that consecutive levels cannot be skipped. Regression to lower levels remain possible, though.

At the lower levels of awareness, the emphasis is either on the group or on self- preservation. Due to an external locus of control, the dominant motivating emotion at lower levels is that of fear: fight or flight. Those who transcend the lower levels of awareness move into modes of greater self-empowerment and social awareness. The locus of control moves inward, and the driving motives become those of relating, control, and understanding. This is followed by integrative consciousness in which emotional factors become less prevalent and are synthesised with intellectual and spiritual awareness. Graves pointed out that the spiral of consciousness development is ever evolving according to recurrent themes at higher levels of awareness. It can be speculated that future possibilities in consciousness development may include the emergence of spiritual, collective, or transcendent resonance to enable quantum impacts.

A detailed discussion of the SD and other models, as well as alternative approaches to consciousness theory (all of which underlie the concept of integrity but extend beyond present purposes) can be obtained from two online articles: Understanding Human Consciousness: Theory and Application and Consciousness Models in Action: Comparisons.

Criteria for Integrity

But how does the SD model inform our understanding of integrity? It does this by mapping the various themes or faces of integrity which emerge from the interaction between human mind-capacities and existential conditions. The high-altitude, all-encompassing worldviews of the SD model, or the so-called integral “Yellow”, “Turquoise” and the currently emerging “Coral” levels of awareness, are thus most suitable to guide our understanding of what Integrity ideally entails. In dynamic, information rich environments, integrity involves a humanistic, integrative awareness; learning orientation; objectivity; and big-picture, systems thinking. The possibly greater transcendent life-conditions of a future world may require increased transpersonal awareness, resonance, purpose, spiritual-alignment, and empowerment.

Ken Wilber captures the crux of the matter with his comment that the entire spectrum of consciousness development is characterized by an increasing reduction in egocentricity. He could perhaps have added an additional criterion of consciousness development namely the ever-increasing degree of resonance with, and thus integration of, self, others, and the environment.

The inclusive or integral SD levels not only accommodate timeless and universal principles of ethical behaviour underlying both eastern and western thought, but also echo more recent contributions of philosophers such as Wilber on Integral theory, Nassim Taleb on the anti-fragility of systems, as well as certain voices from Information Ethics (IE) and Quantum Physics domains, which brings us to a scientific perspective of the dynamics of integrity.