This post uses a key framework: Chapman’s version of Robert Kegan’s theories of emotional, cognitive and social development, it is summarised here.
This post is in dialogue with, and an expansion on, Chapman’s recent post about moving through stages 3, 4 and 5 in modern society (and the lack of support for it) here.
This post will not make sense unless you have read the other two posts first. They are somewhat lengthy, but I will be returning to these ideas as a basis for my blog posts for a long time, so it’s worth settling in.
Reaching Stage 5
As previously discussed, it might be harder than it used to be to reach stage 4 in current society. Humanities students may have it pretty bad (and presumably the other 60% of the population with no higher education at all). STEM students have the best chance of achieving stage 4.
Employment is the other stage 4 structure which might support stage 3 people. But as Kegan has pointed out, up to one third of the adult American population are stage 3 people living uncomfortably inside a stage 4 society, including stage 4 employment, without acheiving stage 4 themselves through their working environment.
So Chapman focusses on creating new structures to support stage 4 STEM educated people to progress to stage 5 with less difficulty. He is correct to identify this group as potentially the lowest hanging fruit.
In this post I will talk about my own experiences of (I think) reaching stage 4 and 4.5 not quite through STEM education, rather through a mixture of politics and STEM-type things. The purpose is to potentially identify next-lowest hanging fruit and possible cultural change that will support more stage 4 development that is not through STEM.
I’m currently reading one of Robert Kegan’s books – one of the source materials for the stages theory I am talking about – and I feel struck by the possibility of my own uneven evolution through the stages.
Uneven in the sense of mastering some childhood stages above – averagely quickly but then possibly remaining stuck in a stage long after the average age of transition is expected during childhood, teens and 20s, then perhaps being in the next stage for a very short time before finally entering my current one.
Uneven also in the sense of perhaps being in one stage regarding abstract reasoning that is much further along than the stage I’m in regarding emotionally relating with other people.
As with any framework, Kegan’s stages are illuminating for many situations but not applicable in all. No doubt there are also huge pitfalls with attempting to analyse oneself with these things, however with these caveats we will move forward anyway! For now this post will focus on abstract reasoning ability.
Up to school leaving age I think it is remarkable that I mixed together technical subjects with humanities subjects in equal measure. I enjoyed the scientific method and computing as well as my earlier love of English, literature, history and languages. The pressure to take courses between the age of 16-18 that “obviously” go together was pretty strong, to thus futher specialise during higher education. For exmaple, taking Maths and Physics at age 18 to go on to do Engineering at university. This happens less in the States, where a ‘major’ subject is also supported by other learning at college.
In this context I was being wilfully strange by taking humanities and STEM subjects together.
I waited a few years before attending college during which time I wrote poetry and worked in bookshops. At college, I made a strange sideways choice to study Fine Art, a surprise to everone, not least myself. I was pretty shit at art so steeped myself in philosophy/theory instead and yes, was indeed taught about postmodernism. It was an elective module that I duly elected. In my own personal case I cannot agree that my tutors did not understand postmodern thought properly and I feel I was left to make my own investigations into its territory in the sense that I wouldn’t get a bad grade if I didn’t internalise postmodern principles.
We focussed on postmodern (and crucially, post-structrualist) thought exclusively within arty, theory, air fairy domains and so I was free to consign it to ‘only relevant to philsophy’ in my brain.
None the less I learned the important idea from Baudrillard that rationalists condense down into the phrase ‘the map is not the territory’. I also got a strong sense that post-structuralist thought was critiquing the idea that human behaviour could be discovered if the rules for the scaffolding could only be worked out.
I liken this to taking a rubbing from a gravestone. The old and time-worn words on an ancient stone are not easily legible, but if one takes a piece of paper and a wax crayon and makes a rubbing of the stone, the crayon will highlight in much greater relief the contrast between the smooth stone and the indented words.
In the same way, persons of the sciences as they are applied to people hoped to simply interrogate humans enough so as to divine the underlying structure which would explain all human behaviour.
(I’ve mentioned in another post how terrifying it would be if such knowledge was put in the hands of people in positions of power over others).
The post-structuralists pointed out the absurdity of looking for structures (or even just one structure) that explains all human behaviour when it is almost definitely not there.
This idea seems a bit obvious to a postmodern teenager, but being forced to discover what modernism was or what structuralism was gave me great insight into the evolution I had been born into.
It could still be true that I had this training in the absence of systemic training however my personal scientific mindset was already present and the disciplines of film photography as well as painting methods had to be fully mastered before receiving anything close to praise from tutors.
Also during university years I discovered feminism. This political line of thought said: there is a system called patriarchy and while it is not so obvious any more it is still fucking you over. Understanding that system and understanding it’s critique was another subject of my university years.
Feminism and other social justice goals became my stage 4 system for a few years. It was the personal system within which I made meaning. It was a framework that shaped my beliefs, projects and political opinions. I think I retained some hesitancy over absolutism or fanaticism though, due to my earlier brushes with postmodernism, as well as exposure to extremely sophisticated feminist thought.
For relationships, I have said before that polyamory probably provided that bridge to stage 4 in emotional terms.
So far, we have seen that all of this development was from a humanities input, and informed by a much earlier interest (age 15) in computing and science.
In 2011 I was experiencing a resurgence of anxiety and panic attacks. I felt that something was missing from life and my part time library work and part time activism were not stimulating enough. It was also the year a series of riots broke out, the first in my home town of Bristol. Globally, the Occupy Movement began and I was involved with my local chapter. I was excited by the newness of the movement and the potential for change but dismayed by reports of sexism and homophobia in the camps, as well as knowing that Occupy was about questions, not answers.
My solution to this anxiety was radical upheaval. I made myself homeless and went on and odyssey of knowledge.
It was in these years that my politics was challenged by a rationalist. They asked me to articulate the other persons point of view on a political issue. I managed it, but it was an unfamiliar exercise. Throughout the subsequent protest I was morose. The idea that the people I was protesting against might actually have a point was a very difficult one.
I subsequently dived into LessWrong, probability theory, Slatestarcodex and the rest but ultimately I feel it was emotional reactions to a political system that began the process of stage 4 to 5 transition.
I think I must admit that my process was deeply informed by scientific and rational principles, plus I’m extremely self reflective but I think my 3-4-5 transition was largely in arts and humanities areas.
My thoughts on this story are perhaps less specialisation between arts and humanities should be encouraged. Cross-specialisation is needed.
I also think STEM minded people have a tendency to dismiss emotional frameworks as unscientific or not useful because they don’t understand them very well, so STEM background people need humanities training just as much as the other way around.
You might want to check out my cross pollination zine for ideas about how rationalism and feminism could learn from each other.
I will talk about the emotional difficulties of tr asitioning from stage 4 to 5 in much greater detail in a subsequent post.