Of BEIGE and Bankruptcy – What’s the first level about?
Beige (A-N) is the first of Graves’s levels, the base of the dynamic Spiral. He had no data on it; instead, he created his version of level one from the literature of child development, medicine and anthropology. This is the way of thinking that begins to separate human beings from other animals. It is a way of conceptualizing–of surviving in the natural world–that allowed humans to gain a foothold on earth and thrive. In a setting of natural abundance and climatic suitability, this reactive, autistic, instinctual, refloxological way of being is sufficient. If there should be naturalistic scarcity or climate change, a point comes where Beige fails to resolve the most basic physiological needs adequately. Then there is death or the emergence of more complex thinking – e.g. the awakening of Purple (B-O) with all the capacities it add for coping with new conditions.
We hear of people categorizing all forms of survival as “Beige” – whether it’s the individual relying on instincts to seek food, water, and shelter so as to stay alive until tomorrow, a person without access to more elaborated coping strategies; or in reference to a company seeking to maintain profits so as not to collapse into bankruptcy. Beige has become a catch-all for desperation and struggle.
Many users fail to ask the follow-on questions of what ‘to survive’ means, why it matters, and how it is accomplished. For fragile mortal beings, survival is always an issue. Confusion arises when one uses ‘Beige’ as a loose metaphor or else misses the nesting aspects of the model – that earlier problems and solutions are subsumed as we move through the levels. They do not go away, but they are instead addressed as sub-sets of a more elaborated, complex world. Survival is an aspect of all the levels; we “survive” and think about what that means in different ways, depending on Spiral levels.
When the problems of an earlier level are present but attenuated, they can usually be resolved from other, higher levels; otherwise, regression makes sense. Thus, thinking D-Q washes over C-P and addresses C problems with a form of survival, but with a Q-oriented neurology that introduces new elements and considerations. E-R does so with the R system, and A’-N’ with its N’ neurology. All of the systems have means for addressing many A-level problems, usually with neurology expanded beyond the basic N. And the importance of the physiological problems does not diminish, it is merely overlaid with other apparent priorities. The need for food, water, warmth, and sex remain, just cloaked in progressively fancier wrappers.
The question, then, is how much of one’s energy and attention is devoted to particular problems. How strong is their pull at a moment in the person/group’s awareness? It’s that awareness (both conscious and unconscious) of existential problems which selects the neuronal system of best fit. That operating neuronal system provides the filters through which awareness passes, so that one perceives in a way tuned for that system. Thus, the importance of the double-helix interplay and learning/experience interact with neuronal systems and the wetware of our minds.
For someone functioning in the E-R zone, for example, the A problems seem minor, their solutions nearly a given. Of course the person will get hungry and thirsty, and those survivalistic needs are resolved with proportionately little energy expenditure, at least directly. The person “works” and allocates a part of the result to wining and dining. It is almost a given; the ‘problem’ is deciding what and how much to eat and drink, where and when, not if. If jobless and without income, one tries to figure out how to get a job, obtain food stamps, or what to sell to generate revenue for food; that’s still not A-N. A failing business does not regress to Beige. Corporate “survival” is failure to resolve much higher-level problems than A-level ones. To say a company is regressing to Beige is to fail to understand the essence of Gravesian developmental theory and to co-opt the color code into metaphorical nonsense.
We must take our executives into serious physical illness or subject them to great traumatic stress before looking at even the chance of a slide back toward first-level reactive existence. Frustration and economic failure do not equal Beige. Take the person centralized in E-R and put them in a disaster situation, a sinking ferry boat, perhaps, and they might reframe the situation to A-level survival and shift into a corresponding N neurology, behavior shocking others who might have maintained Q or R or S approach.
Subject the person to a civil war, bomb their home, and force them to seek a refugee camp; even then, the chance of seeing a regression to Beige is slight except for children. Will A-level problems for all become more urgent? Yes. But will N-level neurology take over? Not much chance. Thus, while relief efforts address A-level physiological needs, the psychological relief must be at higher levels so recovery is expedited and regression for the most vulnerable avoided.
For someone centralized at A-N, the process of meeting biological requirements takes up much of the day’s energy; survival is not a given, and choice is virtually non-existent. The only option is instinct. Thus we say that ‘Beige’ is rare in today’s world except as a phase of early child development or the result of brain damage that peels more complex thinking away.
However, many instructors continue to erroneously cite “street people” as examples of A-N living. Only the seriously mentally ill or intoxicated even come close. Talk with a sample of homeless folks and you’ll quickly recognize a huge range of cognitive complexity, usually far beyond N-level neurology. While the A problems are more immediate for the urban homeless than for the lawyers, bankers, and shoppers walking around them, relatively few street dwellers are functioning at the first level of human existence. Those who are close to it frequently are seriously mentally ill or drug damaged. Look for the reasons why someone is living on the street; very, very rarely is it due to a lack of brain power or closedness at A-N.
To say that N neurology is basic is not to say that it is deficient. It was all we had for the early ages of mankind on earth. When the A problems are overwhelming, it is the appropriate and congruent means for coping. It brings unique intelligences and competencies to the fore matched to an A world. We sometimes hear comments about companies moving into Beige. This is simply nonsense because the over-simplistic metaphor misses the complexity of the existential problems, as well as the elaborated capacities for conceptualizing them. Is the corporate thinking reflexological and automatic, rooted in immediate satisfaction of basic physiological needs and instinctive, or functioning in a strategic and calculated manner to sustain profitability and market niche? Or are there issues of competitive advantage, fiscal management, resource allocation, regulatory environments, workforce capabilities and executive competencies? If the answer is yes, then you can see the fallacy in the Beige blunder.