The Master Code: Spiral Dynamics Integral

Don Beck

Lincoln and Polarization

Don E. Beck

Lincoln movie poster

Lincoln Movie Poster

No more shall the war-cry sever;
Or the winding river turn red;
We shall bury our anger;
As we cover the graves of our dead.
Love and tears for the Blue;
Tears and love for the Gray.

Don E. Beck

Don E. Beck

It will always be difficult for me to separate the man from the myth, the gladiator from the visionary, and the playful jokester from the serious liberator. As is often the case, Lincoln becomes what we want and need him to be as he sits silently in his memorial chair with his eyes fixed on the union he died to preserve. He knew it could not survive half slave and half free.
The professional and public literature abounds in Lincoln lore, so it would not be useful to simply report that back in this column, or cover the same territory that has delighted and frustrated scholars, movie makers, and storytellers for more than 150 years. He would have been amused at all the fuss that others have made over him. The legendary Lincoln Penny would have pleased him without question.

But this is to be about leadership, from whatever perspective “Integral” adds to common sense. My focus has always been on the years 1860-61 as I sought to understand why twenty-five million intelligent Americans could not settle the condition of four million uneducated Africans without tearing at one another’s throats. This is the question I raised at the beginning of my PhD dissertation at the University of Oklahoma in 1966.

The current movie on Lincoln completes the bookends as it deals with the 1864-65 attempts to bring an end to all of the violence and brutality through the passing of the 13th amendment. As all of us know, alas, getting rid of what we don’t want (slavery) is NOT the same thing as getting what we DO want (freedom and equality for all).

I saw this masterpiece film for the first time over Thanksgiving but it simply failed to stir my passions and awaken my soul. That all changed when I returned on New Year’s Eve to a crowded movie theatre in Denton. I had to sit in the first row and look up to follow the action on the screen. I could not believe the differences I experienced this time. The surrounding sound from well-balanced speakers changed my heartbeat into a new cadence. The splendors of the set designs and period costumes delighted my visual senses. I found myself being drawn back to the middle 1860s. I could even smell the flowing smoke from the Cuban cigars to remind me that these were manly men engaged in a life and death struggle. Their real and deeply felt emotional responses were forged all over their rough-hewn and sculptured faces. No make-up here for TV cameras. No competing for the latest style points or fashion displays. I was simply overwhelmed with the authenticity, drama, and power in the human spirit expressing itself at the highest registers on critical issues that mattered most.

All of this was intensified for me because of the harmonics between our two ages. The Senate chamber and People’s House were the scenes for both eras, all being replicated on my TV set at home as similar real-time, gut-wrenching conflicts and political and economic warfare over taxes, spending, and dangerous cliffs, with participating dark suits and red ties. The 1865 version had brass spittoons to fill while the 2012 game-players were kicking cans well into the future. I didn’t know whether to cry or struggle through a sense of awe as I left the theater and gave my wife, Pat, a huge hug. I didn’t have to say a word to her. She knew something profound had happened to me.


In 1859 the most powerful solar storm on record hit the planet Earth. Experts said that a repeat of what is called the Carrington Event would devastate the modern world. Today there are fears of what is called an EMP (an Electromagnetic Pulse) which could even be human-made in a high-altitude nuclear explosion, as a form of terrorism or the acts of powerful lone wolves. It would mess things up big-time. Maybe the powerful EMP in 1859 helped shape the 1860 presidential election and eventually the American Civil war.

Farfetched, you say? Maybe so. But when one tries to explain how such bloody, destructive and irrational events are triggered, one can find all kinds of bizarre causes. Something unique had to happen in 1861 to create such ghastly violence and brutality. Here, sons killed fathers. Brothers bayoneted brothers. Cousins raped cousins. Innocents, especially in the infamous Sherman’s March through Georgia, starved to death. The same God was worshipped; the same religious songs were sung on Sundays; a common colonial history was taught. And the same language was spoken. To her dying day, my staunch Southern Baptist grandmother who came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon from Maynard, Arkansas, would speak of those evil “blue bellies,” meaning Union soldiers, and refused to talk with me about “The War for Southern Independence.”

The War for Southern Independence

These questions stirred in me for years. So, I must have been hit by a personal EMP in 1965 as I sat in class one early morning in the Pharmacy Building on the University of Oklahoma campus. We were usually met with the odor of formaldehyde that had collected in the shut-up building overnight.

I was learning from Professor Muzafer Sherif, who was one of the founders of the Social Psychology discipline and probably the world’s leading authority on how polarization fosters extremism in human cultures. He explained how rather normal and peace-loving people could find themselves locked into such a behavior that demonized “others” with viscous stereotypes.  I had studied the Douglas vs. Lincoln senatorial debates from 1858 and had a long history of dealing with racial divides. (See the chapter on Spiral Dynamics in Carter Phipps’ new book, Evolutionaries).

I drew a primitive model that overlaid the Sherif psychological template called The Assimilation-Contrast Effect onto the 1860-61 situations in search of answers. Then my heart, curiosity, ambition, and hubris took over. I had these questions: Could the war have been prevented? If so, at what stage in the deepening of the conflict would interventions make a difference? What were the core belief systems and strains of ideologies that predicted the end result?  What leadership patterns and personalities would improve the chances of defusing the emotions and, through Integral Design Engineering, turn the tide from war-making to peaceful pursuits?

As Americans Split into Two Camps

I first identified eight different positions on slavery and unionism beginning in 1850. I then tracked the polarizing dynamics that crystallized into two basic positions over the decade. Of course, there was a long history that created, sustained, and increased the divides as Americans split into two camps. Then I   aligned the eight positions and leading political figures that supported them along the Spectrum of Differences to search for evidence regarding how they saw each other, who became enemies (contrast), and who became friends (assimilation). One could actually see the political and cultural “tears” as they rent the society apart. (Remember all of this was done before the onset of the computer and data processing.)

Assimilation Contrast Effect

Abraham Lincoln as well as other political leaders of his day were faced with a powerful centrifugal force that was ripping the cultural fabric of the young Republic apart. Neither reconciliation nor even compromise was a viable option. A vital center disappeared as extremism surfaced on both ends of the political spectrum. Either both parties would leave the field or find ways to co-exist, or one party would redefine its codes and “give in,” or the more powerful side would destroy the other. (Even Lincoln considered a major realization effort to remove Africans to Africa.) It didn’t happen overnight and it is too complex a dynamic to explain here. Yet, one can get a sense of the deep-level DNA-type codes that produced the split, because they still exist in modified form in 2013.

I detailed the slippery slope that produced such a fractured society during the 1850s decade. By the winter of 1861, when Congress met for the first time in Washington, the delegates simply stared at one another as they exchanged highly emotional bromides, laced with threats and acrimony. No doubt the spittoons filled up quickly as if they were simply spitting at each other. While the Mason-Dixon line is often used to separate the polar positions, they were far from being exclusive geographic. Generally, the “North” was anti-slave, either calling for total abolition or at least its containment in the South. The South saw slavery as a “positive good” that should be allowed to expand into the Territories. The city of New York was “Southern” in its view because of the lucrative cotton trade that required a constant supply of the product and Eli Whitney-type inventions. No wonder there were riots in the city requiring the president to set aside the rights of habeas corpus.

Here were the core issues. Were slaves fully human and should they be free as any other American? Or were they simply chattel property that could be sold as captives? Imagine debates between Christian and Muslim theologians as to which religion has the truth. Was the union a compact that was only a temporary, non-binding agreement, making succession a possibility? Was the Constitution the product of a signed contract that could not be nullified by individual states? Do you now hear echoes of that same basic disagreement between federalists and states’ rights advocates?

Thus, there was no middle ground on which to construct a national synthesis. Every issue fell back to arguments as to the definition of a Negro slave. These arguments could go on forever in search of philosophical or local truths. They were not rhetorical processes that thrive on expedience in search of practical proposals. Neither side could agree on the following dictum:  “Since we agree on A-B-C, we want to join to do X-Y-Z, because these are in our common interest.” Sound familiar? You note the absence of these views, today, on both the Fox network and MSNBC.

Without unwritten but assumed core beliefs, there were no givens. No third parties could negotiate or impose solutions in behalf of the greater good. Peacemakers or those deviating from either group were seen as heretics or infidels as they “sold out” to the enemy or had suspicious motives. Even the media of the day fell prey to these distortions, just to sell papers or sound bites.

Above and often elsewhere I have mentioned the major contributions of Sherif and his group at the Institute for Group Relations at the University of Oklahoma. He was one of the first to define the role of attitudinal intensity or “ego-involvement” as it threatens the future of the American experiment and creates terrorism around the world. He devised a research method testing this dimension and used it extensively for decades. We will also soon report on the use of our Method of Ordered Alternatives study from the recent presidential election. Ben Levi and Kevin Kells took the lead in the process. The idea behind the method is to defuse the growing US vs. THEM polarity, use superordinate goals to overarch entire populations, and unblock the movement of humans through steps, values codes and waves of emergence. This was happening before any of us knew Ken Wilber or used the “Integral” language. My own study was an early attempt in 1966 to infuse integral views into a complex human movement. Back when I was only 28 and, no doubt, naïve, I already saw the huge potentials.

To repeat, compromise requires that processes are rhetorical by definition. So, this would mean that reconciliation or compromise can only work if there are common beliefs so that all of the parties can say: “Since we agree that … therefore we should …” If reconciliation, or compromise, or the good offices of neutral intermediate voices are not available, the only option is for one side to remove the other though force.  Only one of the dialectical truths can dominate; and only one side can occupy the behavioral space.

This is the reason I have often suggested that Integral leaders, speaking as such rather than inserting their individual choices, do not take a position on the traditional vs. progressive stances. There are reasons why the Integral movement appeared and it is far past time for it to walk its talk. The North “won” the Civil war; the South “won” the Reconstruction. And I had hoped the Integral Movement would offer fresh strategies to diminish the racial and ethnic stereotypes that plague us all; I believe this was one of the reasons the Integral Movement arose. It was not designed to be partisan-like on anything but principle and the needs of the human population to keep life alive.

The Challenge

What if, using the wisdom and intelligences from both Spectrums of Differences and Spirals of Emergence, we could offer an alternative to dangerous polarization in our society? Would anybody be interested? What will need to be done?

First, we need to develop sophisticated Vital Signs Monitors to detect early a number of patterns and trends that are the manifestations of extremism in the making. I cautioned during the presidential campaign about our inability to do so. I was astonished at the acrimony and intolerance that were daily expressions on Facebook and elsewhere on the part of people who should have known better. There was guilt enough to go around. One produces its counter-balance in a foil/counter-foil manner.

Second, large-scale, full-court press systems and solutions need to be employed in place of short-term cosmetic efforts. The work that Elza Maalouf does, both in Palestine and in Arab-speaking countries, demonstrates the power within this approach. The growing attacks on “religion” itself are counterproductive, as the attacks disrupt an essential bonding element when being expressed in religion’s positive ranges. If somebody had a bad experience with “religion,” keep it to yourself and search for other ways to build a moral code and directional compass in, for example, youth development.

Third, while “the many gifts of Green” should be evident, as Wilber said, it is not the final system in human emergence. When President Obama mentioned the need for ladders into the middle class, I instantly thought about the 7th Code – systemic emergence using the vast skills of the “unique Self” and other such applications. Playing race cards is always wrong and devious. Someday, Turquoise will appear, but only as a response to Problems H.

Major solutions need to activate the full Spiral of systems and we will need responsible individuals and groups to monitor and deal with major clashes. I use the term “meme-clots” for a reason. They can exist up and down the Spiral. This is the Momentous Leap that Professor Clare Graves described: not a shift to the limited oxygen of a high altitude, but to a kaleidoscopic lens that looks at issues through the memetic codes and addresses them in a skillful manner. Try to stay as non-political as possible. Create Meshwork Solutions that engage the tools from Ichak Adizes around the Coalescing of Authority, Power and Influence in complementary decision-making teams.  Copy Dr. Marilyn Hamilton’s model of carving out specific applications. Her focus on cities is like the way to eat an elephant – one bite, one city at a time. Said Dawlabani is exploring new territory by describing the evolution of economics that demonstrates clearly the importance of the basic memetic codes. Bjarni Jónnson in Iceland and Roberto Bonilla in Mexico have been innovative in taking on entire countries in helping them define their critical underlying values codes. Colonel Fred Krawchuck, US Army Special Forces (retired), was bold and creative in applying the Master Code to facilitate the surge in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Many others are engaged in similar projects around the world. Mike Jay has been one of the most creative in our tradition, and his new book on F-L-O-W should be examined. Christopher Cooke has, over many years, created an online PeopleSCAN facility to establish the research basis for the Master Code. Others are making similar contributions.

Lincoln and Polarization

Initially The Great Emancipator was caught in a wind shear between radical views from both the Abolitionists and Radicals in the North and the Fire-eaters and “Hot Spurs” in the South. The first saw him as a sell-out to the Slave Power; the second was convinced he was at least a Black Republican who wanted to abolish slavery in the South.

Here you see how the Contrast phenomenon works. As Sherif noted, a person’s own position on the spectrum and level of ego-involvement in that position will shape how he sees all of the other positions on that same spectrum. Just like many on the left defined George W. Bush as Fascist, from the extreme right Bill Clinton was seen as Marxist.

Unfortunately Lincoln chose to remain silent in the time between his election on November 6, 1860 and his inauguration in March of 1861. This made it easy for Southern politicians in the various states to convince their populations that if Lincoln became president, he would immediately send down the Union troops to abolish slavery. I would have warned him about the Assimilation/Contrast effect.

Lincoln was under constant criticism and ridicule from the media, and from lower-level politicians as well. I believe his views shifted, certainly to a firm resolve to protect the Union even at the cost of a war, and to a more avid support of bringing freedom to slaves. Both a romantic cultural movement along with strong evangelical sentiments with Biblical oppositions to slavery started to shift the general view in the country. By the time that technological and financial factors in Union military capacities were beginning to dominate the confederacy, it was clearly time for Lincoln to assert himself. The military victory at Antietam was critical in making it possible for the Declaration, because it was good evidence that the North was going to win the war. Lincoln had the military success that he needed as a tipping point. The battle was one of the bloodiest in the war and there was no longer any sense of the slaughter.

The current Lincoln movie begins at this point. The Union military victory was basically guaranteed. Lincoln turned his attention to what would happen following the surrender of the confederacy. The decision to force the approval of the 13th amendment, by whatever means possible, was part of his strategy. One saw the extent of the corruptness and buying of votes. He sensed that if the slaves were freed but not declared as US citizens, the problems would intensity by Southern revenge and aggressive attempts to protect their property and influence. Google the history of the KKK if you would like to see what actually happened. He even turned down a visit from Southern peace-making commissions for fear it would simply prolong the war without those guarantees. His brilliant opening of the Second Inaugural would follow naturally. The man showed considerable skill in handling the various entities in the North, even his own “Team of Rivals,” and was unusually effective in dealing with the “generals.”

 A Final Note

What if we could go back to 1865, after the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, and the end of fighting, just to advise the leadership in both the North and the South – but with our knowledge of what has happened from that date up until 2013? We could be visitors from their future. And, of course, we would use our knowledge of the Gravesian concept of Spiral Dynamics to show how to close the major gaps between the haves and have-nots. Much of this is contained in our book (with Graham Linscott) The Crucible: Forging South Africa’s Future.

What would we say to them?

How could we get them to listen to us?

I hope to write about this at a later stage.

About the Author

Dr. Don E. Beck, The Spiral Dynamics Group, is co-author of The Crucible and Spiral Dynamics. He may be contacted at the Global Center for Human Emergence
940-383-1209 (office)
940-382-4597 (fax)




  1. Patrick Goonan on February 10, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Great work Don as usual. This is a very creative and insightful analysis.

  2. Barbara Brown on February 24, 2013 at 7:09 am

    As usual, thoughtful and applicable to today’s critical issues. We need to make explicit teaching of the assimilation-contrast effect a part of all integral programs. It’s a psychosocial fact that creates no end of grief in our personal lives and our culture.

    Don mentioned Mike Jay. I would like to encourage you all to take a look at Mike’s latest work @F-L-O-w. I recommend registering on the site and browsing some of the materials. We all understand the issues our civilization faces around natural Limits to Growth. Mike suggests that trying to force people up the Spiral is another area where the law of diminishing returns shows up as quickly as in expending ever-increasing-energy to pump a few more drops of oil from a dying reservoir. He has developed a series of practical steps that individuals and small groups can use to counter the “more, more, more” mentality that enthralls most of the world.

    In our current culture wars, we find almost everyone has been assimilated (resistance is futile?). In ACE terms, the Contrast doesn’t appear to be between run-away, meaningless growth and stable, sustainable communities. Rather, we’re arguing about where the growth should be pushed: should we have more rich Wall Street bankers or more welfare? should we have more “helpful” regulations stifling creativity or more unfettered “free-market” choices among junk we don’t need? Should we put more public funds into elections or allow more unchecked private election financing?

    Looking at the fires raging around these non-sense dichotomies, I begin to think that we integralists, who should know better, are often guilty of feeding the flames instead of calmly building firebreaks which will allow people to safely step out of all the noise and rancor and have the space to examine all the common ground. I have actually changed my language on social issues. Instead of pushing a point, I ask questions like “are the Conservatives wrong when they complain we have lost family values and we don’t do a good enough job of protecting our kids from toxic media influences?” I don’t think that most liberals would disagree with the Baptists and Islamic fundamentalist that exposing children to non-stop meaningless sex and violence in increasingly more commercialized media is a good thing. So if we agree we’d rather let our kids watch Sesame Street, then the ACE shouting about “controlling” what’s on TV morphs to a constructive discussion around the many ways to encourage healthy children’s programming and how to help all parents get better access to the healthy. We might stop demanding more money for public television and simply start redirecting attention to the good things that are already out there working.