World View and A**holes

Some years ago, I took a series of courses in Boulder called Higher Alignment, put together by a man named Larry Byram. It’s a fascinating course, and a lot of the insights I gained in the course form some of the bedrock under my relationship with Marta, my wife.

I want to talk about just one of these concepts, which Larry calls World View. Larry likes sevens — nearly all of his categories have seven distinct types or stages, and world view is no exception. Unlike most of his categories, world view is a progression — that is, it isn’t a “type,” like the Myers-Briggs INTP or ESFJ “personality type.” Each person can potentially pass through all seven World View stages in the course of a lifetime. While the age for any transition is highly variable, the progression itself is not; that is, it would be rare for anyone to skip a stage entirely, or to run through them in a different order, for reasons that will become obvious. However, it’s very possible for a person to become stuck at any stage and stop progressing, which results in certain consequences.

Let’s run through these briefly.

Stage one is Survival. Most people pass through this stage by the age of two or three. Survival stage does not really recognize people as “people,” but instead sees them as functions: food source, diaper changer, tear-wiper, bedtime-story-teller.

A person who remains stuck in Survival into adulthood typically ends up living on the street, begging for sustenance from people who aren’t really people at all, in their view, but vending machines or dangerous beasts. Remaining stuck in Survival could be viewed as a failure to thrive.

Stage two is Safety/Security. Most people pass out of this stage by age five to twelve. People are now viewed in terms of safe/not-safe, us/them, good/bad. A typical image of this is the four-year-old hiding behind Mommy’s skirts.

A person who remains stuck in Safety/Security into adulthood tends to view the world in black-and-white terms, as good guys and bad guys, with simple right/wrong solutions. They respect authority absolutely, and view relationships hierarchically. Life is about avoiding threats, or overcoming them with force.

Stage three is Outer Success. Most people pass out of this stage in the late teens or early adulthood. People are now viewed as an audience. A typical image of this is the boastful sixteen-year-old “faking it” or “showing off.”

A person who remains stuck in Outer Success can be easily recognized in the obnoxiously shallow “successful” person, who measures worth by the speed of his car, the size of her house, the bustline of his trophy wife, the size of her wedding ring. These are, of course, stereotypes, but this is a stage obsessed with stereotypes: distinguishing between the “cool” and the “not cool” is at the very heart of Outer Success.

Stage four is Relationship. Quite a few people never leave this stage, but when they do, it’s generally in the mid to late forties. People are now viewed as individuals, and as potential romantic partners. A typical image of this is a young parent in a child-rearing family, or young metrosexuals hooking up; but it also applies to any kind of one-on-one relationship, such as child-parent, or close adult friendships.

A person who remains stuck in Relationship, if they have stumbled into a really supportive and stable couplehood, can live out a happy life — at least until the relationship ends, either because the other person dies, or decides to move on. At that point, a person stuck in the Relationship stage may simply crumble, or they may be driven to find another partner, often younger, perpetually trying to recapture that sense of young love. Or they may become bitter, and simultaneously desperate and reluctant to trust.

Stage five is Inner Success. Most people who make it to this stage never leave it; if they do, it may be in their sixties or seventies. This is the point at which “I” become clearly visible to myself: “people” includes oneself. A typical response to this stage is what my wife says about her fiftieth birthday, when she told herself, “I have arrived.”

This is the point Carl Jung referred to as “shadow integration,” recognizing and accepting all the things in yourself that you pushed away in order to “grow up.” These can be dark things, like a temper or childhood abuse memories, but they can also be bright things, like an artistic talent or an interest in mathematics — the shadow is anything suppressed for the sake of whatever was expected of you as an adult.

Inner Success brings a kind of balanced self-sufficiency, without the driving need for that Magic Someone in your life. Many people who reach this point give up on “relationships” entirely and buy a dog. If they do later engage with another person, it’s generally not based on needs being met, but on full lives being shared. The term “self-actualized” is sometimes used for this stage. Because most people who make it this far stop here, it’s not really appropriate to talk about getting “stuck.”

Stage six is Personality Integration. Not a lot of people move into this stage, and even fewer leave it. This is the point at which community becomes visible as an extension of oneself. People in this stage can be clearly seen as community elders and supporters, whether the “community” is an extended family, a church, a club, or an entire city.

Note that this is very different from community leaders who are in the game because it makes them feel safe, or because it is a mark of success and opportunity, or because it’s expected of them. These are instead the people who are willing to give to the community, because as they see it, giving to the community is giving to themselves. When you see this in anyone under sixty — and it happens — it is something extraordinary.

This is the point at which contrasexual integration is generally necessary, because if you are man, you need to be able to see the women in your community as reflections of yourself, and vice versa for the woman. Every man has an “inner woman” — every woman has an “inner man” — every other kind of sexual being has an “inner other.” To see others in the community as oneself requires that you transcend that sexual model, as well as any other fixed roles that exist mixed-up within the community, such as class, race, or religion: hence, the term Personality Integration.

Again, getting “stuck” in this stage is a misnomer, since most people who get here at all, stay here.

Stage seven is World Service. Very few people move into this stage, and usually have extraordinary character, or are shaped by extraordinary events. This is the point at which one’s community becomes the entire world, and the world is a reflection of oneself. It is the point where “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” becomes “do unto others as if they were you, because they are.” We generally recognize people who work consistently in this stage as saints of one sort or another.

It’s worth looking at some of the transitions that mark the passage from one stage to another, because they tend to be more abrupt and identifiable than the stages themselves.

Moving from Survival to Safety/Security generally coincides with a child learning abstract boundaries: don’t touch, don’t put that in your mouth, don’t go outside at night, don’t talk to strangers. A child in the Survival stage doesn’t understand boundaries — a child in Safety/Security does, and while they’ll test the boundaries to make sure they are still there, they do this because it is terrifying to be on the wrong side of the boundary.

Moving from Safety/Security to Outer Success is marked by the beginnings of conscious risk-taking behavior outside the safe boundaries, as well as the onset of “peer pressure.” A child in Safety/Security looks to his parents for approval — a child in Outer Success looks to her audience of peers.

The move from Outer Success to Relationship is marked by the discovery of romance and deep friendship. I particularly remember watching a bunch of young folks in the airport, flying to Cancun for a wedding, all in their early 20’s. It was very easy to spot the one young woman in Relationship stage: she was very “into” her man, touching him, listening to him, wanting to be noticed by him. He, however, was still in Outer Success, sitting with his back to her, talking loudly and showing off for the audience of his peers, all of whom were just as busy trying to look good in front of everyone else.

The move from Relationship to Inner Success is pretty much the essence of the so-called mid-life crisis. From the outside, it looks terrible. And sometimes, irrecoverable blunders are made, and mid-life crisis is terrible. But more often, it is a time of true blooming, freedom, and expansion of the spirit, which is why it can be so devastating to Relationship stability. A common response of the person who is still in Relationship stage while their partner is transitioning to Inner Success is, “I don’t know you any more.” That’s an accurate perception.

The transition from Inner Success to Personality Integration is not something I’ve experienced (yet), but it’s marked by the appearance of passion for community service or social responsibility that is more than just joining a homeowner’s board or the PTA. We’ve all seen this: these are the people who pull a community together, because they see the community as something worth pulling together.

Now, the reason all this came up — apart from discussing it at Dragonfest in the context of many of our group feeling a growing internal push into Personality Integration — was a posting on Facebook that took me to Andrew W. K.’s blog, and the article “My Dad Is A Right-Wing Asshole.”

I liked Andrew’s answer, though it was too long (as if I have any right to complain about that, ever). But just scolding someone and telling them to “humanize” the assholes in their life is not actually very helpful. I find that I usually have to understand the assholes, first.

This is where this concept of World View comes in very handy, because it’s very easy to see that many, if not most assholes are just people who have gotten themselves wedged — they’re stuck in a World View that isn’t at all charming at their age. It’s especially painful when it’s your parents who are stuck, and you — as the child — outgrow them.

In this case, the young man is clearly well into the Relationship stage, since the core of his complaint is that he doesn’t have a satisfying relationship with his father, and wants one. If the young man were still in Outer Success, he’d be complaining that his father was “clipping his wings” or “oppressing” him. If he were still in Safety/Security, he wouldn’t be complaining at all.

The father, by contrast, is most likely stuck in Safety/Security, which is the case for most “right-wing assholes.”

What the young man is asking Andrew is, “How can I have a relationship with my father?” The answer is, unfortunately, “You can’t.”

What the young man views as a “relationship” is probably something his father can’t even imagine. For the father, there’s an established hierarchy: there is the father, and there is the son. Good sons listen to fathers, and follow their example — sons who don’t, are bad sons (and this represents failed fatherhood). Fathers, in turn, listen to their (insert recognized authority figure here, e.g. “minister” or “Rush Limbaugh”), and so it goes up through the chain of command to God. There is Right, and there is Wrong, and all of it is handed down through the hierarchy.

That’s how parents set boundaries for young children, to keep them safe. “Don’t touch the electric socket.” Or, “Don’t eat of the tree of knowledge.”

The father may have never considered taking a substantial risk of any sort in his life; if he did, the results were likely terrible and he retreated into a safe space with safe boundaries and never came back out. Both are common histories for people stuck in the Safety/Security stage past the age of twelve.

So the “growing up” that the son needs to do — and it is painful — is to accept his Dad’s efforts as the best he can manage, and hope that, someday, his Dad will become unstuck. There’s a lot of natural psychological pressure inside his Dad to do just that, but if the risk of becoming unstuck threatens his sense of security, he’ll fight to remain stuck.

One of the best things his son can do to help his father, is to be a “good son” in his father’s eyes. This will mean not sharing a lot of things that I’m sure he’d like to share. It will mean keeping his mouth shut when he wants to speak, and keeping his temper when he’d like to let it fly. It will mean having a “stunted” or even “fake” relationship with his father, though this should never, ever extend to any kind of deception: the absolute worst thing he can offer his father is betrayal. It will be a difficult road to walk.

But if his father can see him as a good son, he will be able to stop worrying about having failed as a father. That will give him a path to move into Outer Success — “Look at my fine son!” he can say to his audience of peers.

That may give him a path through Outer Success into Relationship. From there, the son’s father will be able to see his son, not as a potential threat to his adequacy as a father, nor even as a “success” to be paraded before the church or Rotary Club, but as a real human being. At that point, perhaps the son can have the relationship he so desperately wants.


Nowhere is it written that a son is entitled to a good relationship with his father.

A word has to be said about the son’s sense that his father’s assholishness is destroying the world. I think Andrew is right about this. The boy’s father is not destroying the world. We are all destroying the world, at least to the extent that it is actually being destroyed.

However, I’m going to guess that Andrew is wrong in saying that the father “thinks for himself.” That is as unlikely as it is irrelevant. Most likely, the father receives all of his thinking from On High, probably through the Fox Entertainment Channel and his religious community. While that sounds contemptible to anyone who has transitioned to Outer Success or beyond — that is, to most people over the age of twelve — it is the natural order of things in the world of Safety/Security and those who are stuck there.

The son’s anger might be better channeled, not against his father, but against the more predatory assholes who manipulate men like his father for personal gain, and give him authority figures who set the bar for decency so low.

That is an entirely different post.

This entry was posted in General.

10 comments on “World View and A**holes

  1. Ted Anton Carlson says:

    Very interesting article. thanks for sharing it. I do have a small contribution to entertain regarding your final thoughts.


  2. Ted Anton Carlson says:

    Very interesting and insightful article. Thanks for sharing it. If I may lend a small contribution to entertain regarding your final thoughts. We could say that stepping into suggestions about what to be angry about, or how to channel anger, may prove to be too far downstream. Anger itself is just a flag for an emotion… AKA a reaction.

    Underlying beliefs and their ensuing thought process that leads to anger is solely based on choice. Choosing a relationship that works, a job that’s great, a wife that you can’t wait to come home to; for example, are all functions of choice and the perceptions/interpretations that we adopt via our thoughts and beliefs. And we are the sole proprietors of thought individually.

    The son from the article and his father are possibly operating on the premise of making one another wrong while standing in their equally stubborn self-rightousness. Reducing the conversation to people as human beings, rather than human points of viewings, human doings, human having’s, etc., may grant a rewarding shift in the lives we lead.


    • Ted, I took the liberty of deleting the duplicate of this comment you posted as ‘guest’. Thank you for responding.

      Yes, doing the “Dear Abby” thing was probably not the best approach. I have no idea what the young man should do: it depends on a lot of things I don’t and can’t know.

      The “channeling anger” was my own thing: I’M angry with the manipulators, and should not be sly by passing it off as advice to some other angry person. My apologies.

      I agree, we are responsible for our own emotional life, and that there is a lot of choice involved. There’s also a lot of chemistry involved that we don’t have much control over, but there is a lot we can do.

      I also fully agree that it’s always best to approach the person first, and the ideas last, whenever possible.

      What I didn’t like about Andrew’s response, and the implications of what you’ve mentioned above, is that the son is asking, “How can I have a relationship with my father?” and both of these responses say, “Well, it’s your fault you don’t have one.” Andrew implies the boy is demonizing his father, and you imply that he’s being stubbornly self-righteous. Both are probably true, and it’s certainly not making things any easier.

      But there’s also the implication that as soon as the son stops being a jerk, the whole problem will go away. I rather doubt that. The point I wanted to make is that the son may not be able to do anything at all to have a reciprocal relationship with his father, because his father may not be capable of having one with him — and this incapacity is just part of the normal range of what it means to be human.

      And that leads to the issue of respect, which probably merits its own post. I’ll have to think about that….


  3. tonguetiedfred says:

    You read Andrew’s article but it’s pretty obvious that you didn’t comprehend it very well. Anyone with conservative right wing views is consigned in your oh so neat category of “Safety/Security”, if they aren’t the “predatory assholes who manipulate men like his father for personal gain, and give him authority figures who set the bar for decency so low.” As if that doesn’t describe just as many political figures and opinion makers on the left as it does on the right.

    Deciding that everyone (or as close to everyone as to make it the ones who don’t immaterial) who has views on the right is reacting to failures and has retreated to a safe place or that they only believe what they do because it has been handed down by God via their ministers, Rush Limbaugh or some other authority figure is as as one dimensional as the attitude the son was displaying toward his father that Andrew so brilliantly demolished.

    The son who sees his father as a one dimensional character is the more mature one, the one in the “Relationship” stage? If I were to make a snap judgement on the basis of the brief letter, I’d say that son has concluded that he knows all the answers to all the questions and that anyone with contrary opinions doesn’t qualify as worthy of respect or deserving of a right to speak their views. Much closer to the boastful teenager of the “Outer Success” stage. One image you might have included in that stage is the freshman student, home from college on Christmas break, announcing to the family that they are all a bunch of capitalist pigs who owe everything they have to their exploitation of the poor and downtrodden. (Of course that doesn’t stop the student from continuing college on mom and dad’s money but what’s a little hypocrisy when you are learning how evil Amerika really is and becoming so worldly and enlightened…)

    You say that “For the father, there’s an established hierarchy” that the son is violating, assuming without any knowledge, how the son is presenting his opinions, whether there is any give and take, without knowing who brings up the political questions and how it is done. You assume the son is the voice of sweet, sweet reason and the father is the hidebound reactionary not giving any consideration that the son might very well be dogmatically accusing his father of hatred and bigotry and cruelty with no evidence beyond his dad’s views, denying a lifetime’s of experiences of being raised by his dad simply because of a difference in viewpoints.

    It could very well be that the father is the immature unthinking right winger that you posit him as being. It could also be just as true that the son is an arrogant, judgmental prig…


    • @tonguetiedfred:disqus , thank you for your response.

      You bring up good points, which I would mostly chalk up to me not expressing myself clearly.

      Let me start by repeating that I liked Andrew’s response, for the most part. I wrote this to offer an alternate view, not the correct one. I completely agree with your final paragraph: either extreme could be true, or more likely some blend of complications in between. I don’t know. Andrew does not know.

      Andrew has expressed one fairly conventional interpretation, that the son is demonizing his father. I’ve expressed an alternate interpretation, in which the son has a legitimate insight. My intent was to flesh out that possible insight with a few things I’ve learned.

      There’s a conflation in your response, of progression through these stages with maturity, which is perhaps because of how I expressed this. That conflation is not accurate. A fifty-year-old man in Safety/Security is obviously much more mature than a twelve-year-old who has just shifted into Outer Success. Getting stuck in a world view does not inhibit maturity: rather, it inhibits one’s way of viewing and responding to the world.

      Let’s also draw a big line between “conservative” and “right-wing assholes.” I just checked my post, and I did not use the word “conservative” anywhere. I am, in fact, growing more conservative as I age, certainly in the Burkean sense. Oddly enough, “politically conservative” in our generation most correctly describes Classical Liberals, since most people alive today in the US grew up under a form of Democratic National Socialism, and it’s a system that — for whatever reasons — has worked really well for the last seventy-five years. Most real conservatives want to conserve what’s been working. That’s very different from the political “right-wing,” which is (in the best case) intent on destroying all forms of Socialism regardless of consequence, which in turn is quite a bit different from “right-wing assholes.”

      I can only guess what was meant by the son in the letter, but based on my own experience, we would be talking about someone racially bigoted, homophobic, religious in an exclusive sense (typically, though not necessarily, Evangelical or Catholic), profoundly misinformed about a wide range of subjects due to media agitprop that passes itself off as “conservative,” and — here is the kicker — incapable of participating in a reasonable discussion about political, religious, scientific, or various other topics.

      That whole cluster of traits is pretty well-covered by someone in late life stuck in Safety/Security. Hierarchical relationships. Right/Wrong. Good/Evil. Black/White. Us/Them. Loyalty/Betrayal. With Me/Against Me. Difficulty embracing multiple right answers, shades of gray, loose (as opposed to tight) identification with ideas and beliefs.

      Maybe that isn’t what the son meant by “right-wing asshole.” But that’s how I took it.


      • tonguetiedfred says:

        Thank you for your response. I did indeed conflate conservative with right wing and it was not fair to do that in the context of your post, though I would defend my remarks in that is how most conservatives are viewed and demonized in the popular culture. I do agree that most conservatives today, at least in the United States more closely match up to classical liberals; labels can be most confusing, especially when they are used as shorthand and twisted beyond all recognition.

        I would disagree with you most strenuously about which side of the political divide is least capable of “participating in a reasonable discussion about political, religious, scientific, or various other topics.” When I see conservative speakers regularly shouted out, threatened, dis-invited and shunned by those bastions of liberal orthodoxy known as modern universities and hear conservative views twisted beyond recognition with no opportunity for rebuttal or clarification I tend to view claims of open mindedness and reasonable discussion with quite the jaundiced eye.

        I also still think that Andrew’s interpretation of the son’s views far more likely than yours. Are there indeed that many people out there who would fall into the category the son ascribes to his dad; a monster who will destroy us all? Yes there are those that don’t care and those who don’t examine issues closely but those are mostly the apolitical more than the politically active and ascribing a person’s political views as the full measure of them as a person (as the son does) is incredibly limiting…


        • We’re in the midst of a huge media-based propaganda war in the US, so it’s no wonder that definitions are confused.

          I wasn’t referring to political sides being incapable of participating in reasonable discussion. I was referring to individuals, specifically adults stuck in Safety/Security, who tend to identify themselves and their moral principles with their theories and beliefs.

          I’m pretty sure the “my father is a monster who is destroying the world” refers to support for the so-called “conservative” agenda, which is actually a radical agenda.

          The “conservative” party used to be the party of the landowners, with roots in Medieval European feudal society; its “conservation” had to do with conserving the privileges of the feudal land ownership system, which depended on conserving the productive capacity of the land from generation to generation: so it tended to allow only small, incremental changes with plenty of time to see the consequences, since that is how land conservation works. It was also the party of wealth, because agriculture was wealth.

          The modern “conservative” agenda has its roots in the post-Renaissance mercantile economy in Europe, which is fast-changing, based on speculation, and often revolutionary: war-profiteering is, after all, great business. It supports things like Milton Friedman’s neoliberal Chicago School of economics, which Naomi Klein has called “Disaster Capitalism;” tar sands exploitation, fracking, mountaintop removal, national forest privatization and exploitation; labor outsourcing, deregulation, financialization of the economy — that is, massive-scale short-term exploitation of everything it can get its hands on, then skip town before the consequences play out. It’s still about wealth, because business is wealth.

          Other than wealth, there is nothing remotely conservative about the modern “conservative” agenda. Hence, the propaganda war.

          The son thinks his father is helping to destroy the world because he votes for Republicans, who are openly aligned with this exploitative “conservative” agenda. That’s how I’m reading this, anyway.

          But we’re all complicit in this system of global pillage, across the entire political spectrum. The modern “conservative” agenda is simply more naked in expressing our collective greed. Everyone else just buys into it quietly while shedding a few sentimental tears for “mother earth.”


        • tonguetiedfred says:

          Firstly political sides are made up of masses of individuals who are either in the aggregate capable of making arguments or not. My observations are that the mass aggregate of individuals on the liberal side of things are far more emotional and far less reasonable than the mass aggregate of those on the conservative side of things. In many ways because the dominant political and cultural atmosphere is tilted against the conservative viewpoint that makes sense. When your worldview is continually challenged you have to think your way through your beliefs. When you never have to defend your views it makes for some profound intellectual laziness.

          Yes conservatives as broadly defined want to conserve different things depending on what society they are located in. Obviously a conservative Communist and a conservative Capitalist will have completely differing views on what is worth conserving.

          I fully agree with you that “The son thinks his father is helping to destroy the world because he
          votes for Republicans, who are openly aligned with this exploitative
          “conservative” agenda.” I just happen to think that the son has a rather simplistic view of the world… (I will also make the side note that the Venn diagram of Conservatives and Republicans have a great deal of overlap but there are many areas where the Conservative view and the Republican policy are diametrically opposed.)

          Giving something a label such as “Disaster Capitalism” serves only to demonize an agenda without having to actually respond to it with intelligent arguments. I would stack the arguments of Milton Friedman up against the arguments of Naomi Klein any day of the week.

          Yes, there are a number of forces in society today that are focused on wealth generation and nothing but wealth generation but the vast majority are more unthinking apolitical than political. About the only time such people consider politics it is in seeking to use the government as a tool to advance their own business at the expense of their rivals. Crony capitalism is neither left nor right, neither conservative nor liberal and is very short sighted.

          There is also the case that the vast majority of companies that give to political causes are giving to parties and organizations that are from the left or liberal. Much of that giving is for political cover of course, if you give donations to Greenpeace then Greenpeace is far less likely to picket your company, but there is quite a bit of ideological support there as well.

          However I feel like I am moving away from your arguments. Conservatives do support fracking, privatization, exploitation of natural resources and deregulation for certain. However to say that is the sum total of the conservative agenda and to avoid the legitimate arguments in favor of all the above and say that it is only short term greed that is driving that agenda again only creates a one (or maybe two) dimensional strawman to fight against.

          Nor is there any shame in advancing the argument that greed or rather a desire for an improvement of your lot in life is not a good thing. I’ll stay away from Gordon Gecko but will rather quote Adam Smith, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”


        • We are getting a bit off-topic.

          You seem (here) to put a lot of effort into defending the modern “conservative” point of view.

          You might want to read some of my early posts, where I discuss a broad range of political issues with my friend Julian, who is a professor of Constitutional Law in Denver, and a Libertarian who gives out copies of Atlas Shrugged to trick-or-treaters (I am not kidding).


        • tonguetiedfred says:

          I agree there is some drift. Though I don’t think it as far off track as you might feel it is.

          The basic gist Andrew’s letter was that he wanted to tell the son (and by extension his readers) that he needed to view his father as a living breathing person with motivations beyond the level of a cartoon villain.

          Stealing from his letter I love this part “The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world.”

          When phrases like “Disaster Capitalism” and “media agitprop that passes itself off as “conservative,” are used, it appears very similar to me to the mode of thinking of conservatives as cartoon villains cackling to themselves about how they will destroy the world and get away with it while their brainwashed minions dutifully cheer their own demise.

          You spoke of those stuck in Safety/Security who have difficulty embracing multiple right answers and shades of gray. I am constantly shaking my head at those who dismiss anyone who has a viewpoint other than their own as evil, stupid, ignorant, racist, or what have you, anything that means that their arguments don’t have to be addressed. And some of that has indeed bled over…


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