Theory of spiral dynamics is behind the Wizard of Oz


by Danielle Phillips

“Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road,” the munchkins urge Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz movie as she begins her journey to see the Wizard.

However, Liam Quirk, adjunct professor of English, says Dorothy’s journey wasn’t simply a case of following directions. According to him, Dorothy was transcending and evolving through spiral dynamics, a powerful model and predictive theory of human development and cultural evolution.

His lecture, “The Universe as Conscious Mirror: An Introduction to Integral Philosophy via Ken Wilber, Spiral Dynamics and The Wizard of Oz,” was held Nov. 7, in the Fireside Lounge of the Bart Luedeke Center. Quirk delved into the ideas of spiral dynamics and Wilber’s theory of integrating one’s interior world with the exterior, as well as the singular and collective worlds.

According to Quirk, in order to obtain a state of oneness, one must break it down. It is easy to see how, in her dream, Dorothy separates her exterior world in Kansas from her interior world in Oz, he said. The dream is so real that Oz appears as an authentic interior world. “What’s interesting is that people from her exterior world show up in vibrant color in her interior world,” Quirk said. “It creates a mirror effect between her exterior and interior.”

The theory of spiral dynamics also provides a structure to the evolution of culture and the stages of human life. It references a spiral that has different colors to represent these two things. Spiral dynamics is represented by eight colored memes, or value systems. These can relate as much to individuals as they can to entire cultures.

Dorothy’s story began in black and white as an orphan living at her aunt’s home in Kansas. In the world of spiral dynamics, she was essentially starting in the beige spiral, representing the basic physiological needs, such as food, warmth and safety. From there, she is suddenly whisked into the air and lands over the rainbow in Oz, where everything is colorful, magical and mystical. This represents her transcendence to what is known as the purple meme.

While in Oz, Dorothy also encounters the red meme, which deals with life and death. While immersed in the red meme, Dorothy unwittingly kills both the wicked witch of the East and eventually, the wicked witch of the West.

The blue meme, with authoritarian ideals and ultimate truths, surfaces through her dealings with the wizard.

The orange meme deals with the marketplace, strategy and becoming self-reliant. The process continues up through the six memes of the first tier in spiral dynamics.

“In each meme of spiral dynamics, you evolve into a new form, but you also bring with you the things you have already learned,” Quirk said. “In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is transcending aspects of herself, and her evolution speaks to all of us.”

Spiral dynamics is derived from the belief that people can learn to use their minds differently. Through it, one can see oneself in the world in a different way than he or she currently does.

“Each of us is going through a spiraling process,” Quirk said.

Everyone is on a different meme as an individual and as a collective society, but “you should be able to recognize yourself in those on a lower meme,” he added.

When Dorothy has peace in her inner self, she is more able to appreciate those around her and embrace their ideas and actions, even those that differ from hers, he said. She is able to have group and community goals now. She develops greater appreciation for her conservative aunt and uncle (the blue meme); her Scarecrow friend, a natural leader and go-getter (the orange meme); and the reluctant but impulsive characteristics of the Lion (the red meme).

Following her harrowing experiences in Oz, she has even come to embrace spiritual aspirations (the turquoise meme), with the realization that there is indeed “no place like home.”

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