Reflections on my time in Nova-Scotia: exploring the connection between music, acadian history, and surfing.

For the past six years, I have lived in Halifax, Nova-Scotia. Initially, I was here to complete my english degree at Dalhousie University, and I graduated in 2012. I continued at Dal, studying music, and graduated again in 2015.

The real accomplishments of my time in Nova-Scotia have involved my passions for music and surfing. It is incredible to think that long before itinerant surfers graced it’s shores, Nova-Scotia was home to generations of fisherman and mariners of various kinds who found work in Halifax harbour or other notable ports, like Port Royal, on the banks of the Annapolis Basin. Still more, to imagine french colonies – the Acadians, living along the Nova-Scotian coast, from the tip of the province in Cape-Breton to the furthest reaches of it’s southern shores.

I never would have imagined that surfing in Nova-Scotia would take me to old acadian settlements and colonies, like Grand-Desert just passed the iconic Lawrencetown beach, or other settlements throughout the province. In this respect, surfing has enabled me to develop an appreciation for the land of my ancestors, the Acadians who inhabited our shores. Further, this peculiar and regular interaction with the coast – surfing – has provided both a sense of place and a feeling for the culture and way of life of my ancestors.

If my music tells a story, it is a story of maternal love between a man and his country- his people, and their collective story. It is a story of love between an individual and the place and the people who birthed him. Here, I must acknowledge the profound generosity of my mother, Jolene Richard, without whom, none of my songs would be written. Indeed, one of my first recording projects is a collection of French songs, written principally by mrs. Richard featuring lyrics by some of New-Brunswick most accomplished poets, not to mention a few original compositions of my own. It is truly wonderful that surfing has brought me closer to the land and language, of my people, in both French and English. It has also given me the gift of phenomenal health, and constantly fosters in me feelings of profound gratitude. I often become aware of just how fortunate I am to live in Nova-Scotia, and in Canada, after a surf.

Lately, I have also been working on an English concept album, about life in the post-modern world, and as Robert Kegan so aptly put it “the mental demands of modern life”. I feel that the progression of images from Mariners and settlers exploring the maritime coasts, to post-post-modern individuals surfing along it’s beautiful shores is most descriptive of what characterizes my album: our very modern pre-occupations with time and how we spend it. And, also with deeper concerns about the human need to have a legacy- to be heard and to tell one’s story. The story of surfing the Nova-Scotian coast is also one of discovery, and in this post-modern age, what many are calling a second-enlightenmet, that theme of discovery is as pertinent to us as it was to those individuals who settled here and to those who were already living here.

Finally, and most pertinently, my forthcoming album deals with the need to lives one’s story and have the courage and humility to pursue it completely. I would also add that it is an affirmation of the beauty and importance of family.

Naturally, there are many more questions buried within this material, for history is always coalescing in the present moment. To contemplate one’s present historical and bio/psycho/social moment, is also inevitably to contemplate one’s personal and collective his(her)stories. Thereby, my musical projects are ultimately a form of self-reflection – public and personal, in both French and English.

This English Concept album, which I have named Evangeline in homage to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is the story of the acadian people. It is also a larger story about humanity. A tale about our struggle with modernity, with the environment and with the psychology of post-modern life. The album begins with the early acadians, and moving through the present moment, arrives at a question about the future. As is commonly said, all children must eventually leave the cradle, and one cannot help but to wonder if mankind will eventually, by choice or obligation, leave the planet and enter the stars?

I am very excited to share both these musical projects, the one predominantly in French, the other in English, as a testament to bilingualism, pluralism and the power of integral philosophy. May peace reign on the earth, and may we lift these linguistic veils of misconception, to discover our profound similarities, and the boundaries that connect us.


Selby Evans

Integral Communication: What is the meaning of the word “Transpartisan”? Understanding the political spectrum from a developmental perspective

What is transpartisanship? Firstly, let us begin with a few recent definitions:

The term “Transpartisanship” has emerged to provide a meaningful alternative to “Bipartisanship,” and “Nonpartisanship.”

Bipartisanship limits the dialogue process to two political viewpoints or entities, striving for compromise solutions. Nonpartisanship, on the other hand, tends to deny the existence of differing viewpoints in exchange for cooperation.

Both the bipartisan and nonpartisan approaches can discount the multiplicity of viewpoints that exist, which often results in incomplete and therefore unsuccessful outcomes. In contrast to these, transpartisanship recognizes the existence and validity of many points of view, and advocates a constructive dialogue aimed at arriving at creative, integrated, and therefore, breakthrough solutions that meet the needs of all present. (Wikipedia entry: “Transpartisan”)


In practice, consciously crafted transpartisan solutions emerge from a new kind of public conversation that moves beyond polarization by applying proven methods of facilitated dialogue, deliberation and conflict resolution. In this way it is possible to achieve the ideal of a democratic republic by integrating the values of a democracy—freedom, equality, and a regard for the common good, with the values of a republic—order, responsibility and security.

These definitions provide insight into a newly emerging political worldview characterized by an acute awareness and frustration with the limitations of partisan politics, and a profound desire for meaningful dialogue resulting in pragmatic solutions to common political and social problems.

In order to provide further insight into the meaning of transpartisanship, it is helpful to position political parties and politics in general within a broad developmental context.

It is important to note that broad orienting generalizations can be helpful in positioning political parties and in order to identify the value groups or worldviews that comprise them. A few definitions will be helpful:

The Webster dictionary defines a worldview as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint” (Webster). Indeed, it is widely understood that such “worldviews” are sets of values or beliefs articulated in language that form “discourse communities”. As such, values, which are a linguistic phenomenon, allow us to interpret the world and make sense of the situations around us. They also allow us to form “discourse communities” with individuals that share the same values.

The insights of developmental psychology demonstrate that many individuals move through a developmental sequence of worldviews or developmental stages. A useful analogy to explain the developmental process in an individual is the metaphor of ladder, climber, view. From each rung in the developmental ladder, the climber – the self, perceives a different view of the world based on the values associated with that given developmental stage. An orienting generalization is helpful regarding developmental stages – though researchers have many different ways of slicing the developmental pie – with different developmental lines and “stage conceptions” – a simple model of development can provide significant insight. In this simplified model – individuals can move through four major worldviews or developmental stages – traditional, modern, post-modern and integral. Before defining these worldview stages, and examining the discourse communities that coalesce around the values articulated therein, a quick disclaimer about the language of development is necessary.

The language of developmental psychology is sometimes criticized as being elitist or judgmental. Some people don’t like talking about developmental “levels” or “stages” because they don’t want to put anyone down. This is an entirely valid concern, and sometimes people do use the language of developmental psychology in an elitist, biased or unfair way to advance their own agenda. However, if one really understands the developmental process: that each stage makes an important contribution which the following stage transcends and includes – then one understands that while higher stages may be more complex, lower stages are more fundamental. That is to say, without the key contributions of traditional consciousness, for example, we would not have the stable societal foundation upon which modernist consciousness takes root. Moreover, without the economic systems created by modernist consciousness, post-modern consciousness would not have a foundation upon which it could articulate it’s complex insights. So we must ensure that we are constantly examining whose interest are really being served by the language of development, though ultimately, the semantic risk is well worth the reward.

Thus, each worldview responds to a set of life conditions: early forms of traditional consciousness emerged from archaic forms of civilization; responding to nomadic and tribal societal structures and establishing sedentary agrarian societies. With these sedentary city-like social structures came the need for a strict black and white moral code – an essential contribution – with the emergence of the written word, the first laws were recorded – largely in the form of religious doctrine. Thus, the value sphere of morality (culture) began it’s gradual differentiation from the value spheres of art (self) and science (nature). Traditional consciousness is a value structure, or worldview that is still very much alive and well today – it is a key developmental milestone or station in life.

Because all individuals are born at square one – everyone moves through the developmental sequence from the beginning and has a right to stop at whatever station in life they are most comfortable at – or able to maintain. Traditional consciousness is defined by identification with a groups transcendent purpose. A great example of this can be found in some segments of the Evangelical movement in the united states, or in other religious worldviews around the world. These are manifestations of traditional consciousness. It is important to note however, that these are orienting generalization, and, research demonstrates that individuals can actually inhabit multiple developmental stages simultaneously. Thus, the house analogy is a good metaphor – there is a ground floor: the individual’s most consistent developmental altitude – the values they maintain roughly 50% of the time, the basement, the lower 25%, and the attic, the higher 25%. Discourse communities (value groups, religious organizations, political parties) function in similar ways – so we must be weary of branding any group as being characterized entirely by a given worldview stage as there can be examples of more complex or more fundamental thinking therein.

Once a stage has made it’s contribution however, it can become pathological. As a new stage – modernity for example, responds to the life conditions established by traditional consciousness, traditional consciousness can resist these changes. For example, by clinging to a strict black and white moral code that contrasts sharply with modern and post-modern desires for increased moral flexibility. A good example of this is the gay marriage issue – a large portion of the “religious” world, characterized by traditional consciousness, opposes the notion of same sex marriage. The identification with a groups transcendent purpose – in most cases, the authority of an interpretation of a religious text or scripture, defines for many people the response to the issue. Marriage is interpreted as being defined by many religious texts as the union of a man and a woman, and as such, people at the traditional stage of consciousness cannot deviate from this definition for fear of being ostracized from their discourse community. Modernist consciousness is sort of caught in the middle, with post-modern consciousness leading the charge for radical equality and pluralism – why can’t same sex couples get married, and be afforded the same legal and social status as heterosexual couples?

It will be useful to outline the key values of modernity and post-modernity prior to assessing their role in the Canadian political landscape.

While traditional consciousness is characterized by identification with a groups transcendent purpose, modernist consciousness values a growing economy and the ascension of the social hierarchies it creates. Loosely construed, the key value of modernist consciousness reflects it’s key contribution – a dynamic economic system which in turn allows willing/able/privileged individuals to climb the socio-economic ladder. Where traditional consciousness is defined by belongingness to a group, modernist consciousness is characterized by a “healthy” self-regard, a focus on the individual and his her place in society. Moreover, another way of conceptualizing modernity is with the rise of the scientific method and an emphasis on reason as opposed to religious doctrine. The American Republican party is an interesting mix of Traditional and Modernist consciousness. A useful generalization concerning one facet of the pathological aspect of modernity is that scientific progress constantly outpaces our ability to deal with the moral consequences of these innovations. Thus, scientific innovation outpaces moral and societal innovation.

In contrast to modernism, post-modernism shifts the focus again with the values of radical inclusion, pluralism, multiculturalism, egalitarianism and environmental stewardship. The emergence of French post-structuralism responds to modernity’s emphasis on science and reason by deconstructing the narratives of scientific progress to demonstrate underlying individual agendas – whose interests are narratives of scientific progress really serving? The liberal arts and associated academia are very much the bastion of post-modernity.They form a natural ally to labor unions and movements in support of social and income equality. One characteristic value of this group is simplistically summarized as “share the wealth” or, “tax the corporate elite and give a break to the middle class”. In fairness, this is also a modernist value – it really is in many ways a shared modern and post-modern value, though one shared by a greater percentage of post-moderns than moderns.

As discussed earlier, each stage responds to a set of life conditions – modernity differentiates the value spheres of art (beauty) morals (goodness) and science (truth) – in the modern world, scientific truth is no longer governed by the moral authority of the church (or religious doctrine/organization). However, in creating and growing a complex economic system, modernity also gives rise to a legacy of environmental degradation and socio-economic inequality – the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Thus, post-modernity attempts to respond to modernity by preserving it’s important contributions (the dignities of modernity) while negating it’s disastrous consequences (socio-economic inequality and environmental degradation). Thereby, the “green” movement emerges, along with labor unions and discourse communities that rally around values of pluralism, egalitarianism, and “looking out for the little guy”. The problem with post-modern ideology is that it often ignores the life conditions necessary for it’s own existence – often, post-modernist consciousness engages in a performative contradiction. For example, in stating that all perspectives are equal, because all perspectives are socially constructed, post-modernism is really stating that the best perspective is the worldview which says that all perspectives are equal. Thus, the statement of radical equality presupposes an inherent inequality. Moreover, and most importantly, post-modernism is often quick with a critique though lagging on pragmatic answers as to how it will fund or pay for the social programs many of it’s proponents envision. Thus, the modern and traditional response to post-modern ideas often are along the lines of “how will we ever afford that” or, “those ideas would bankrupt the country”.

Ultimately, the Canadian political landscape can be understood as a tug of war between three major discourse communities (or worldviews): traditional, modern and post-modern. This problem is compounded by the fact, as previously discussed, that each discourse community can have sub-factions at different developmental altitudes. For example, the Conservative Party of Canada is largely characterized by a complicated mixture of traditional and modernist worldviews, with a few oddball post-modern “fiscal conservatives” thrown in for good measure. The Liberal party, by a mixture of modern and post-modern values, and finally the New Democratic party by a mixture of post-modern and modern worldviews with a whole variety of outliers on every side of the spectrum. Thus, a developmental approach to politics can facilitate an understanding of the various political parties and the worldviews that support them. In so doing, it can begin to untangle this mess of values and raise the possibility of legitimate dialogue between these groups: transpartisanship.

An integral worldview, integral meaning comprehensive, whole and balanced, represents a distinct shift because it can recognize the essential and enduring contribution of each major worldview. While traditional consciousness is at war with modernism and post-modernism, and moderns and post-moderns fight each other, the integral worldview understands that without the enduring contributions of traditional consciousness – a stable societal framework governed by clearly defined rules or laws, there wouldn’t be room for more complex stages. Further, an integral perspective also understands that without the scientific and economic progress made possible by modernity, important conversations about equality, pluralism and environmental stweardship wouldn’t even begin to be feasible. Thus, an integral perspective can begin bridging the gap between the three major political ideologies outlined above, and foster meaningful dialogue. In a future post, I will examine the Canadian political system more closely, and begin to outline some of the concessions necessary on all sides in order to actualize some of the values of post-modernism, namely, increased income equality and environmental stewardship in a responsible, economically reasonable, and prudent way.

Creative Deviation: A Cautionary Tale Concerning the Workplace Pyramid

It is said that men and women work or perform better when they are awarded some form of autonomy in the workplace. Indeed, individuals undoubtedly benefit from some degree of creative agency within the context of the behavioral limitations of the workplace.

Inevitably, “work” or one’s job will involve a certain script, or series of guided performances (actions) that are routinely executed. These may be affective- as in one’s common mood or psycho/social demeanor at work, or behavioral- the actual work “tasks” one repeatedly performs. The extent to which one is allowed to deviate from the pre-established (required as condition of employment) affective or behavioral routine of “work”, is the extent to which one will feel satisfied by one’s “job”.

Thus, two central points of interest emerge from these reflections on the workplace. They are, firstly, that work is not merely a physical routine, it is also a psychological or affective routine. “Work” is the story of one’s psychological or emotional response to the physical or cognitive tasks one is repeatedly required to perform. Unfortunately, but quite naturally, “work” is often the story of one’s frustration with the tasks one must accomplish to sustain a certain financial security. “Work” involves an adopted set of cognitive schemas and, if they are too rigid or algorithmic as opposed to heuristic, these schemas can limit or at worst, inhibit a person’s creativity.

This observation introduces our second point of interest, the notion of creative deviation. Creative deviation involves the learned capacity to deviate from one’s pre-established routine in order to creatively solve a workplace challenge. In the context of the workplace, creative deviation could involve the permission or decision to suddenly step back and re-evaluate one’s task in relation to broader workplace goals and to creatively alter that task. Thereby, if an employee is feeling tremendous frustration about his “routine”, creative deviation would involve the learned capacity to re-invent his relation to the workplace, thereby altering his psycho/social attitude at work. Increased autonomy involves at least two generalized responses, a feeling of excitement and interest, usually coupled with a positive affective response, and/or feelings of anxiety and angst, usually coupled with a fear of inadequacy. Still more, it is not uncommon for initial feelings of angst and inadequacy to eventually give way to feelings of interest and more moderate excitement.

“Workers”, and this involves both employees and individuals who are self-employed, benefit from increased workplace autonomy, characterized by an increasing capacity for creative agency. This is manifest in the degree to which one is able to choose, “invent” or re-invent one’s task. Here is an interesting problem, however, for the individual can only be given “permission” to do so much, and at one point, the emphasis becomes one’s capacity to choose and determine for oneself how to re-imagine one’s psycho/social relationship to the workplace and the tasks or “scripts” it involves. For example, imagine a frustrated custodian who decides to learn how to read basic musical notation during his time off, and consequently begins to whistle or sing while he works. His peers may join him, if his work and talents are of the kind where he can sing and not disturb too greatly the environment where he is working, or, if his singing does present a disturbance, an authority figure might silence him. Again, imagine a similar employee who contributes to the re-imagination of the workplace by incorporating a cutting edge concern for environmental protection into his required tasks. Both can be examples of creative agency, and often the most challenging workplace problem is one’s psychological relationship to the repeated tasks “work” involves. Thus, creative agency limits the obtusely repetitive nature of “work” by allowing or furthering the evolution of that “work” and the task-system it involves.

Thus, the notion of “updating” the workplace and the job or “script” one performs becomes a necessity comparable to updating the software on one’s computer. If the workplace system is expected to operate with maximal efficiency, employees must be able to suggest and implement “updates” to their work tasks as their bio/psycho/social horizons develop, expand or evolve. This “updating” process is at least partially self-directed, and may involve altogether changing one’s job, modifying one’s hours, or ideally, manipulating the fabric of one’s “work” to make it tolerable, enjoyable and at least moderately stimulating, all without losing a reasonable standard of excellence. These are the challenges of the workplace, an integral facet of the life project, a developmental space where so much is at stake.

Reflections on the Idea of Canada

On the occasion of Canada Day, and in celebration of our country, I would like to offer some reflections on the Idea of Canada.

What is the Idea of Canada?

Evidently, the canadian cultural landscape is as broad and diverse as our nations northernly territory, stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic, encompassing vast mountainous regions, great plains, lakes and rivers. Two values, however, best epitomize the ethos of Canada’s diverse cultures, territories and provinces. These are dignity and respect. Pressing into the heart of any Canadian, is a longing for dignity and a need for respect.

Many individuals misunderstand dignity, mistaking it for a particular set of material circumstances, official societal rank or monetary wealth. While dignity does have material correlates, and monetary wealth does provide an individual with the opportunity to cultivate it, dignity cannot be reduced to mere material circumstances. Indeed, the advent of modern conveniences: cars, stoves, Iphones and computers, have provided the modern individual with undeniable advantages. Importantly, however, these material privileges often entail undeniable disasters. The current environmental crisis, for example, is a result of the widespread implementation of modern material convenience with disastrous ecological consequences. Consequences that threaten the rights and freedoms we have struggled to cultivate, and are still cultivating today.

Dignity is not dependent upon the conceptions of convenience acclaimed by modern Western societies. It is a poise, and self-respect, itself the product of a respect for others. Still more, dignity is the product of development, not merely economic development, but psychological development as well. As psychologically healthy individuals grow, they become increasingly capable of genuine dignity and respect. Further, as a culture evolves, it becomes increasingly able to respect other cultures, and appreciate it’s own inter-cultural diversity, thereby, acquiring a certain dignity.

Naturally, dignity and respect are not solely canadian values, rather, they are integral to all human existence. When an individual begins to respect herself, and this is the product of years of psychological development- from birth through adolescence, she begins to have access to a certain dignity. As an individual acquires the cognitive capacity to take and simultaneously hold multiple-perspectives, she begins to be able to appreciate her own uniqueness and that of others. As a genuine self-confidence is cultivated, an appreciation of others, and a respect for their psychological idiosyncrasy emerges.

Thus, the idea of Canada involves the twin principles of dignity and respect. Canada ought to be a place where individuals are provided with opportunities to cultivate dignity, and to celebrate their rights and freedoms. In the quest for dignity, which is the story of human development, we must always inquire as to the cost of our moral and psychological acquisitions. Who is being left out, disrespected or degraded? Ultimately, it is my hope that despite our great diversity, or perhaps because of our great diversity, we Canadians will espouse an increasingly unified ethos of inclusion, founded on dignity and respect. I am proud to be part of a nation where such reflections as these are possible, and now travel to the Halifax waterfront where fireworks will illuminate the masses gathered in celebration there.

Language as Invocation: Meditations on “Authorship” in the Classroom

Often, in the midst of conversation, I ask myself, “what is language doing here?”. In this post my aim is to explore some of the functions of language as they relate to Kegan’s subject/object theory and to draw some conclusions from my sociological observation of value-phobia in the classroom.

In my last post, I reviewed some of the key concepts in Kegan’s theory and advanced the hypothesis that the psychological act of self-construction is a linguistic phenomenon best considered under the auspices of “narrative”. Moreover, I used Ken Wilber’s simplification of the developmental process: Ladder, Climber, View, to articulate one useful way of understanding of psychopathology. Stages of psychological development can be thought of as a ladder, where each new rung transcends but includes the previous rung. Each new rung offers a new worldview: a new set of values and a novel way of making meaning in the world. The difficulty is that at each new developmental fulcrum, or rung in the ladder, the climber can lose a limb. Thus, a part of the self can remain stuck at a more basic way of making meaning in the world while the rest of the self continues to ascend the developmental ladder; dissociated parts of the self are often referred to as an individual’s “shadow”. Finally, having observed that each emergent “order of consciousness” in Kegan’s model gives the individual a greater capacity to author his/her self-image and determine self-performance, I began to consider the psychological demands of authorship and the act of interpretation. It is in this context that I will articulate an understanding of language as invocation/incantation and comment on what I perceive to be a large-scale discomfort with authorship in the classroom.

Recently, in class, student’s were shown a work of modernist art- Plan of War, by Wyndham Lewis and asked to interpret it for the class. I was stunned by the paucity of interpretations. Let us examine the psychological demands of this social situation, and see what conclusions we might draw.

When a student raises a hand and is given permission to speak by the instructor, or acknowledged by a group of peers, this involves a complex interaction between the self-as-object and the self-as-subject. Let us firstly examine the student’s psychological relation to  the work of art. In a previous post (Discomfort with Distinction), I remarked that a student’s interpretation of a work is often partly contingent upon his/her construction of the work in question. Thus, the student will feel “allowed” to perform a speech act wherein the work of art is identified as being “modernist”, “abstract” and so on. The instance of self-performance is justified or legitimized by the student’s “knowledge” of the work, which often involves the recitation of a previously learned “script” regarding the work in question, or art in a particular style. Subtly, however, there is so much more going on.

The recitation of this “script”- the student’s understanding of the work, is in fact a difficult act of self-performance/self-determination, for the student is hyper-sensitively aware of the way in which the recitation of this script, or linguistic act of sharing of knowledge, influences other students perspectives of what and who he or she is. Thus, in the act of offering an interpretation of the work, the student is mediating both his perception of what others think of him, and what others actually think of him. Thereby, in performing the speech act that is “offering an interpretation of the work” the student is acutely aware of constructing himself as an object in the awareness of his peers, and as an object within his own awareness. Further, the student attempts to reconcile previous or more stable conceptions of herself with the self-image she is self-reflexively aware of constructing in the awareness of her peers while performing her interpretation. This is how language is incantational. When the student speaks about “something”- be it a work of art, an article or a popular issue, he is also invoking or incanting a particular image of himself within both his own awareness and the awareness of his peers. She is aware of occupying space within the consciousness of his audience, and capable of reflecting on how she must “look” from their perspective. Quite understandably, the act of publicly sharing one’s opinion can be terrifying. Moreover, many student’s will not offer their opinion, or interpretation of a work of art, despite having a good or at least partially valid answer, because they feel that their whole identity is on the line. This is compounded by their awareness of being “evaluated” by the professor whose aim is perceived as being the determination of both the scope of their understanding and their “participation grade”. Thus some students are uncomfortable navigating the increased sensitivity to others, and to one’s self image, that public declarations of one’s opinion involve.

Some student’s however, are capable of interpreting even very “difficult” works of abstract art. This is because they have consciously or unconsciously learned the ability to relax their fixation with their self image, and learned to let go into the authorial flow. They have become comfortable with themselves as “authors”, and are confident enough to be creative. They are able to trust their own reaction to a work, and infer or extrapolate plausible conclusions about it. This is an invaluable skill for participation not only in the classroom, but as citizens in a democracy.

In my next post, I aim to examine the ways in which this skill can be fostered, and consider the way in which artists can function as exemplars of comfort with one’s own authority. Further, I would like to offer an analysis of psychological hindrances to creativity, with a particular focus on the strange and fascinating scribal act of writing.

Problems of Identity: Narrative as dialectical process of Self-Determination

Perhaps this post will fulfill the promise of my previous post (Discomfort with Distinction).

Robert Kegan is a student of development. He studies Adult Higher Learning, and psychological growth, in conjunction with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Kegan is among the world’s most eminent developmentalists, and his ideas are useful in furthering the dialogue I had begun in my last post regarding what I perceive is a large scale discomfort with development in our society, and in particular, within myself and my peers in the university. This discomfort, or unease, is manifest in our difficulty with making judgements about the value of certain activities or experiences in our lives. Ultimately, I am discussing our discomfort or difficulty with Self-Determination. Why are we so unsure of ourselves, and why do many of us get “stuck”- unable to take our own development seriously and to actualize the life changes we desire? These are some of the “Problems of Identity” I will investigate, with reference to Kegan’s developmental theory, and some of my own thoughts about language, self-actualization, and the role of the artist in society.

Kegan’s theory is developmental, that is to say, it posits that in the process of psychological growth, the individual moves through developmental stages. These stages, often conceptualized in more fluid terms such as “waves” and “streams”, are of increasing complexity. Each developmental stage is a worldview, a way of making meaning of, and in the world, characterized by a complex amalgamation of values. Thereby, each stage in a developmental sequence transcends and includes the previous stage. Stages are best thought of as Holons, a term coined by Arthur Koestler to describe wholes that are simultaneously part of other wholes.

As such, healthy psychological development is Holarchical – each emergent stage is a product of the contributions and differentiations of previous stages. For you visually oriented folks out there, this is an image of holarchical organization:

Visual depiction of Holarchy, courtesy of

You may be familiar with the concept of holarchic psychological development in Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, or in Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. In both these holarchical models, each stage or structure emerges from the complexities of the previous stage/structure, by offering a solution to those complexities and by adding something new. Thus, as you develop, your needs become more complex, but you also are able to accomplish increasingly complicated tasks. For example, eventually- in case your not already there (most of us are still on the way), you might be able to form deeper friendships that result from your carefully, often precariously, developing ability to actualize your unique identity, or share your particular interests in a more nuanced and appropriate way.

Having considered a broad span of individuals, over a long stretch of time, Kegan posits that development is a dialectical process. His stage theory involves the interaction of the psychological self as Subject, and the self as Object. Now, the subjective self cannot be seen and however an individual conceptualizes his/her self, be it as “doctor”. “lawyer”, “mother”, or “child”, these self-perceptions or social fronts (Goffman), are facets of the objective self. Kegan’s theory posits five major developmental stages, where during the process of development or transformation, the subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject of the next major stage (Wilber). Thus, psychological development is, in part, a dialectical interaction between the subjective Self, and objective constructions or perspectives of that Self. The following is a diagram representing Kegan’s five stages, or “orders of mind”:

It is important to note, as Peter W. Pruyn remarks on his blog, that “these developmental stages are not about higher intelligence or IQ, nor are higher orders intrinsically “better”.  What they represent are five levels of qualitatively more complex ways of thinking”. Naturally, we must be weary of generalizations, and any time a theory is normative, we ought to check and see if that theory is verifiably true, and wether or not it is privileging the interests of a select minority group or marginalizing people. Thus far, Kegan’s theory has stood the test of time and provides useful insights on the psychological growth of individuals. As I aim to demonstrate, it’s applications have profound consequences on the way we understand art, the artist, interpretation and the role of narrative in psychological life.

An understanding of healthy psychological development, as contrasted by unhealthy psychological development, will be useful in articulating my reflections on value-phobia in the classroom and in society. Kegan posits that in the process of transformation, which researchers estimate takes approximately five years, the self of one stage becomes the object of the next, more complex stage. Thus, what was “I” becomes “me” or “mine”. For example, I might feel really angry with you, but I recognize that is because you are offering a perspective that challenges my assumptions about the world, thereby I am aware of myself as a psychological construct, and am flexible enough not to react violently. Further, I can recognize that you are operating with your own self-construct, that this is not solely what you are, and that this construct is the product of your environment, your history and your conscious decisions. This is a good example of 4th order reasoning, and with each emergent stage comes a new found independence. There is always however, the possibility of increasingly complex pathologies, or left over baggage from previous stages, for development does not occur uniformly in all areas of the individual’s psyche. Pathological development is when a facet of the self becomes “it” or other, as opposed to “me” or “mine”. Thus. in this case the individual is not able to engage or dialogue with that “object” within his or her consciousness, and can remain fixated on that “object” or a particular view of the world. Ken Wilber employs a useful analogy to discuss development and psychopathology: Ladder, Climber, View. Kegan’s stages can be thought of as a developmental ladder, as the individual develops, each stage or rung in the ladder provides a different view or way of making meaning in the world, a different set of values, a different perspective/construction of the self. At every rung in the ladder, however, the psychological climber can lose a limb, or be damaged, and thereby, a dissociated part of the self remains fixated at a lower rung, or worldview, while the rest of the self continues to ascend the developmental ladder. A key Freudian insight is that dissociated parts of the self surreptitiously guide and shape the individual’s conscious behavior. Dissociated psychic material is often referred to as one’s “shadow”, and two common signs of shadow material are complete infatuation with a psychological object, or utter repulsion from that object. Therefore, we are often attracted or repelled by that which he have repressed. Moreover, one way to conceptualize psychological growth is in the individual’s capacity to recognize, dialogue with, and ultimately re-integrate the “shadow”, or in Kegan’s terms, to make what was subject (unconscious), object (conscious).

The individual constructs psychological identities and self-perceptions by using language. Identity is a linguistic phenomena. The self as “object”, to use Kegan’s terms, exists by virtue of narrative. Think of all the stories you are constantly telling yourself to maintain your particular self-image- “this is who I am”. Admittedly, a portion of one’s self-construction is imaginal, or symbolic. This, however, can also be considered under the auspices of “narrative”, as a complicated symbolic or imaginal dialogue with oneself. It is my contention that in the process of development, or transformation, the individual is increasingly capable of authoring his/her narrative. Thereby, self-construction, initially at least, is a largely latent phenomenon, perhaps even purely instinctual. If all goes well, the individual gradually shifts to a psychological center of gravity where mythic “others” provide most of the narratorial content of one’s self-construction: parents, siblings, and friends, religions or ideologies. Eventually, the individual may be capable of individuation to the extent that his/her identity is, to a greater or lesser degree, self-derived. Of course, this self-actualization still occurs within the context of larger dialogues and narratives- self-actualization is still a linguistically and economically mediated phenomena. Ideally, however, one is increasingly able to choose what stories construct one’s identity, and increasingly able to craft more interesting and inclusive self-determinations. Thereby, narrative is a complex process of self-direction, and self-performance involves a series of increasingly difficult editorial decisions.

Having established this preliminary understanding of human psychological development, we can now examine the ways in which art: literature, painting, film and music, can facilitate the process of transformation.

Art, as I define it, is the practice of giving meaning to the world. Indeed, the imaginal culmination of the developmental process we have examined thus far appears to be the figure of the shaman/artist who journeys into otherness to become a symbol.

Well, that’s all for now. In my next blog post I aim to build on the understanding of developmental psychology I have articulated thus far and examine the concept of “language as invocation” as well as demonstrate how a symbol can be understood as a concrescence of experience. Finally, I aim to complete my sociological observation of value-phobia in the classroom by investigating the psychological demands of the act of interpretation.

Discomfort with Distinction

In this post, I aim to relate a few interesting thoughts about language and reflect on a widespread cultural phenomena I have observed, and feel to be characteristic of our time. My subject is what I term our discomfort with distinction: a pervasive unease with making value judgments- perhaps an inability to do so, characteristic of our historical moment. We are uncomfortable with conferring value, and equally uneasy with the task of interpretation. In my experience as an undergraduate, in the many social contexts I have navigated and particularly, in the classroom, I have noticed that people are largely uncomfortable with their own development. Of course, this has been particularly true of my own experience, as one often is the first and best subject of of one’s sociological and psychological investigations. What I mean to say, is that I have observed in myself and a significant portion of my peers, a difficulty in engaging personal development. Though many among us are students, we remain uncomfortable with exercises of value, and struggle to define and perform ourselves. Thus, we are uncomfortable with distinction, and distinction is development. Allow me to illustrate my point.

Recently, in a class, and in the context of a discussion/lecture on the emergence of modernism, the professor displayed what some would consider a characteristically modernist work of art found in the periodical magazine Blast (see table of contents for a list of illustrations in this style, and particularly Plan of War by Wyndham Lewis). Now, the image is not of tremendous relevance, for the subject of my investigation is the student’s reaction to the image. It was fascinating to observe the uncertainty and utter discomfort in their reactions. More specifically, it was interesting to contemplate what is more appropriately termed a lack of reaction, and a widespread inability or unwillingness to voice an opinion about the work in question. Even when repeatedly interpellated by the professor, students were tremendously hesitant to provide an interpretation of the work. Admittedly, it is a more “difficult” work of art, for it is non-representational, or not directly representational, and requires a greater degree of interpretive skill. None the less, I feel that this awkward instance of silence, of intersubjective uncertainty, provides a an example  of a pervasive unease in our society with formulating and expressing opinions of taste, and with the exercise of judgment. One’s ability to distinguish, or to make distinctions is a vehicle of self-actualization. Distinction is the product of development, the development of one’s ability to actualize, define or describe oneself. In other words, distinction is the product of value, and values allow individuals to define themselves and relate to one another. There is a widespread ignorance of the role of values in our society. This bears directly upon our difficulties with development, and with distinction. Indeed, individual and collective development is best characterized as a “metabolism of values”, and values are the more tangible structuring agents of “Worldviews”. A worldview is the result of a complex amalgamation of values. Values are linguistic phenomena that allow us to perform and distinguish ourselves.

Now, returning to the students and their difficulty with performing value judgments, one must ask a series of questions regarding interpretation. Often, when I listen to an interpretation, or am interpreting a cultural artifact, I wonder “are we only ever describing ourselves”. What I mean here is that though we often feel like we are discussing or interpreting “something else”, be it the work or object in question- some thing other than ourselves, we are, more precisely, describing our relationship to that “object” as we have constructed it in our minds. Thus, we posture as though there were qualities or value inherent in the work, and formulate our interpretations based on our construction of what is permissible to say about this or that work, but in reality, we are constructing both the “object” of our interpretation, and our interpretations of that object. Our interpretations are contingent upon our construction of the work. This is what non-representational art reveals.    The complex function of constructing the work, the primary interpretation in other words, is largely a latent phenomena. That space of self-definition is usually the locus of narratives characterized by a mythic “otherness”: the obscure understanding in the student’s mind that this is a “modernist” work and thus, that one can permissibly say a,b or c. Thus, the act of interpretation is to a certain degree, pending on the individual’s development, a process of deferral to the authority of a self-constructed “Other”. Indeed, this is precisely what we are uncomfortable with, as individuals in the classroom or in society: our own authority. What strikes me about my peers (and I include myself here), is our difficulty in having confidence in our own first-person experience. Indeed, we are so nervous about “being right” or worried about “looking like we know”, that we often bypass the process of placing confidence in our own direct experience and thereby, dismiss our own development in the preference and maintenance of some particular appearance. Interestingly, and quite naturally, we fetishize “authority” because we forbid ourselves from it. Ultimately, we forbid ourselves from ourselves in deferral to some other within our own consciousness. This is the alienated self, a self fixated on some object-self and thereby unable to develop, unable to grow.

I will stop for now, though in my next blog post I intend to examine Robert Keegan’s articulation of the mechanisms of healthy and unhealthy development, as well as consider the role of the artist in society.