Progress is desirable change. Change is desirable when it contributes to improving the quality
of the habitat, and the conditions of life on the planet. Progress occurs along three closely related vectors: individual human development;
technological development; and
Each of these vectors has been the focus of scholarly study, but
the relationship between them remains muddy. Analytical frameworks for thinking about the individual and the
collective at the same time are tenuous. I find Ken Wilbur’s quadrant model helpful.  His quadrants
contain developmental stages of individuals and collectives, both
internally and externally. Like
the hall tree, it’s an ingenious device for hanging your ideas up and
sorting them out.
Individual interior development encompasses the four
stages of Piaget’s childhood development, plus additional adult
stages. As noted by Piaget, not
everyone progresses through all four stages, much less reaches more
advanced levels. This is the
quadrant of cognitive and emotional development.
Individual exterior development is the domain of behavior.
It includes physical development, including the evolution of the
Collective interior development is the realm of culture,
of shared values, of worldviews, of religions and ideologies.
Collective exterior development involves human behavior in
systems: political systems, economic systems, social systems.
It is behavior that can be studied and quantified, empirically
examined. This domain also
includes concrete and material forms of human interaction, including
tools and technologies, architectural styles, and modes of production.
It is the world of organization, management, and government.
makes this quadrant theory so powerful, for me, is Wilber’s
observation that evolution (development) along each of the four vectors
is intimately related to and indeed dependent upon the evolution of the
others, although it cannot be reduced to the others. I had independently concluded that individual development and
management systems were linked, but Wilber’s framework allows one to
add worldview and technology to the mix without, one hopes, becoming
corollary to Wilber’s view is that when progress along one vector is
out of sync with the state of the other vectors, problems occur. A number of examples come to mind to illustrate this idea:
development out of sync with individual development: Consider the
fate of American Samoa, or St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. American
administration, based upon systems evolved on the mainland, has been an embarrassment. Our
governing systems have produced dysfunctional societies in both cases
because the people governed were not at the stage of human development
where they could take advantage of the freedoms, opportunities, and
support systems offered to them. The result has been high unemployment,
dependence upon food stamps, and disruption of traditional values
without their replacement by a coherent modern worldview. Certainly,
some members of both populations thrive, but the modal, or average,
individual doesn’t find our systems conducive to their own development
development out of sync with organizational and human development: In
Indonesia, a technocratic minister, later president, B. J. Habibie,
founded with state funds an aircraft industry and a modern shipbuilding industry. His
idea was that Indonesians could leap-frog into modernity, by-passing the
more usual path of utilizing the comparative advantage of low cost labor. He
reasoned that Indonesians, if well trained, are just as capable as
anyone else, and his own history of success in the German aircraft
industry demonstrated the validity of this view.
problem is that he created a privileged, well paid, and advanced segment
of Indonesian society that rested on the backs of the rest of the nation. The
only customers for his planes and boats were other state-owned
institutions, primarily the military, and they would gladly have shopped
elsewhere for their equipment. The costs of these ventures into national pride rivaled those of
the corruption in which the President’s family participated.
development out of sync with organizational and technological development: Hindu
and Buddhist mystics have, perhaps, carried individual human development
to the furthest extent we know about. At least so says Ken Wilber, and
I’ll take his word for it, because it is well beyond me. They have
done so, however, by consciously separating themselves from organization
and technology. They have made a panzer attack on human development
without trying to take the rest of us, with our organizations and
technology, along. This is a case where human development is out of step
with organizational and technological development without creating
problems – it just ignores them.
Now, we’ll wade out of the deeper waters of Wilber’s
philosophical theories, and my attempts to relate them to the world I know. I'm
comfortable with concrete examples from experience than with abstract
theories, but Wilber has helped clarify, for me, how the lessons of
experience relate to one another. He has an engaging writing style, and I found
Brief History of Everything  and Sex,
Ecology, and Spirituality  to be enjoyable as well as enlightening.
I mentioned that extensive scholarship was focused on all three
of the critical dimensions of development: individual, organizational
and technological. Of these, the field of individual human development has contributed least
to development strategy. We international development professionals tend to think a lot about
economic development, political development, and social development
without reflecting much about what happens to the average, or modal,
individual in the course of development. Oh, yes, we think about education, but, typically, in an
instrumental context. The creation of a more productive work force pays economic returns, but the
evolution of human beings to higher levels of consciousness may be
thought of as creating problems for the status quo. We are concerned with literacy and training, but not with the
progression of individuals up Piaget’s ladder to greater maturity.
We are typically concerned with what has come to be called human resource
development; the labor part of the basic economic factors of production:
land, labor, and capital.
I think there are two main reasons for this. One is that only recently has human development psychology
extended into post-adolescent development. Michael Commons and associates published Adult
Development: A Descriptive Approach to Post-formal Thought 
in1989 in an attempt to unify with a common language the diverse efforts
of psychologists to examine models of cognitive, social and perceptual
development that extend beyond the adolescent years where Piaget left off. The
early stages, the magical, mythical, concrete operational
and formal operational, were for a long time thought to contain the full
deck. A person was thought
to level off in adolescence at the highest stage he or she would
achieve. Now, other
stages are being examined, and advances throughout the lifetime are
recognized as possible, although not inevitable.
The field of adult development has yet to reach out to other
social sciences. This may
be due to the need to consolidate the new field, and the difficulty of
bridging the gap between the individual focus of adult psychology and
the collective focus of other social sciences. For whatever reason, the absence of psychological stage reasoning
in conventional analyses of social problems has serious consequences, in
my view (see "SRAD").
In “Human Development
Stages in Spirituality, Management and Education,” I review
attempts by scholars from these fields to incorporate Piagetian stages
into their work. In “Progress
and Global Politics,” I critique Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations  from a human development perspective. These
papers deal mostly with the intersection of human
development with organizational development in two senses: organizations
at the micro level (management) and at the macro level (governance). In both cases, as human and technological development proceed,
there is or should be a flattening of the management and governmental hierarchy. Democracy
autonomy are collective and individual ideals, but they must be achieved
rather than bestowed.
not sure any of these attempts by non-psychologists to incorporate human
development thinking into other fields is wholly successful, but I feel
certain that it is the right direction to go from here. I firmly believe that human development psychology is the missing
element in most development strategies, and from the analyses of social
problems, domestic and foreign. For example, it is difficult to understand individual Americans who would
bomb the Oklahoma Federal Building, or murder abortion clinic workers in
the name of a “just” cause, in other than human development terms. Those
perpetrating such acts are functioning at the concrete
operations level, and are frustrated by the feeling that their own
society is moving away from them. Not all who believe abortions are wrong are at the concrete ops level, of
course, but those who commit violence in the name of their religion in a
country such as ours must be at that concrete, literal, dogmatic level
people growing up in the cultural wastelands of the inner city slums are
likely to find it difficult to progress past the concrete level. They are intolerant of other racial or ethnic groups and often
prone to violence as a function of a lack of empathy with others. Building
prisons to house people who are unable to cope with the
demands of modern society is one way to curtail violence, but one
wonders if some way can’t be found to enhance the developmental
quality of their home and neighborhood environments before they opt out
of mainstream society.
a third example: it was not very long ago, in historical terms, that the
average rural American was culturally deprived, and scored significantly
lower than urban Americans on cognitive and other tests, such as those
administered to draftees in World Wars I and II.
Radio and television, combined with more schooling and advancing
technology, has closed that developmental gap.
I don’t wish to get mired in domestic issues where my experience does
not extend. I want to focus
upon developing countries, and the strategies they adopt in order to make
progress. The last point, that rural Americans have caught up
with their citified cousins, is significant in this context. The possibility, and desirability, of a broad cultural shift
in which the average person is able to achieve the formal operations
level of personal development offers hope and a goal for the development
The relationship between technology and human development is
particularly intriguing. Wilber thinks that since the Enlightenment, scientists and technologists have
so dominated our thinking that we have lost touch with interior human
and cultural values. The result is what he calls the great “flatland” of modern
society. I agree with him on this, but he and others go on to attack
technology as symbolic of the distorted or warped nature of modern
The problem with this view is that technology is an indispensable
element of any sensible strategy for dealing with the species crisis of
overpopulation and habitat deterioration. Modern technology has its down sides, but it also offers our only
hope for getting out of the crisis. Often overlooked is the fact that the technology we use daily
forms a large part of our adult environment. It can be stultifying, but it can also be stimulating,
empowering, and challenging. Used wisely, technology facilitates and makes possible the emergence of
higher levels of consciousness for the average individual. It also facilitates the emergence of higher levels of
organization and governance. By creating the environment in which we spend most of our waking hours,
technology can be a powerful developmental force in our lives.
Let me pause here to give several examples of how technology can
foster human development.
In the 1930’s the British colonial government of the
Sudan invested in a huge irrigation scheme between the Blue and the
White Nile called the Gezeira. Its primary purpose was to produce cotton
for export in order to reduce the foreign exchange costs of maintaining
the British presence. Local semi-nomads were recruited to work the scheme. They
were given tenancies and settled in villages well supplied with services
including schools and clinics. They were required to perform
agricultural tasks in accordance with the demands of irrigation
was very successful, and remains today a significant source of income
for the Sudan and for the tenant farmers who settled there. What struck
me most forcefully when I visited the scheme in the 1970s, however, was
the fact that the tenant population, after just two generations,
supplied over half the student body of the University College, Khartoum,
then one of the best institutions of higher education in all of Africa.
technology of irrigated agriculture, combined with education and health
care, enabled a large group of semi-nomads to become effectively a
cultural elite in one of the world’s most disadvantaged countries.
In the early 1970s, when we lived in Beirut, my wife
Penelope and a friend began silk-screen printing on fabric. They needed
help in sewing the fabrics into garments so they could be marketed at
the craft shop of the American Women’s Club that they had helped to
A group of
young Muslim women organized by the local YMCA (I know there are
contradictions here, but it was the Middle East) were interested in
earning some money and improving their skills so they undertook to sew
the garments. Penelope has very high standards, and she would not accept
poorly sewn work. At first she rejected over half the garments sewn by
the women. The pieces had to be ripped out and sewn again. After a year,
however, the rejection rate declined to near zero and the productivity
of the women increased substantially. These changes went well beyond the
mere income effect, at least in her view.
That was to
be expected, but what was more surprising was the transformation that
occurred in the women themselves. The person who ran the program at the
YMCA observed that the sewers spontaneously changed their personal
standards as their skills increased. They slimmed down, they washed
their hair more often, they dressed better, and they even spent some of
their own time and money to decorate the rooms they used at the Y.
transformation was observed by Pen’s friend Dale, who designed
tapestries and had them woven by two sisters in the Bekaa Valley. Again,
at first much of the work had to be unraveled, but as skill levels
increased the weavers became more attentive to hygiene and appearances.
This was a
dimension of development that I, and other development professionals
seldom encountered: the human development and transformation that occurs
in individuals when they improve their skills and begin to take pride in
their work, their appearance, and themselves.
Singapore, since independence, has had one of the highest
economic growth rates of any country in the world. Its people have also
become some of the world’s best educated, outscoring US students and
those of Europe on standardized international tests. The government’s
policy towards multinational corporations played a major role in the
country’s achievements. Multinationals were first invited to take
advantage of Singapore’s industrious population and low wages. Then,
as employment expanded, the minimum wage was raised, and companies were
encouraged or required to train their workers at all levels. By
ratcheting up the minimum wage and training the workers, Singapore
accelerated the introduction of more and more advanced technologies by
the companies, and upgraded the quality of the work force in a
remarkably short time.
investment in education and training has been impressive. Many critics
fault the government’s paternalism or authoritarian nature, and lament
the apparent decline in ethnic traditions among its Chinese, Indian and
Malay people, but the state has achieved an unmatched rate of development. At
the same time, the city is cleaner and less polluted than any city of
comparable size that I have ever seen. And, despite being the first
country in Asia to endorse family planning, the fertility rate has
dropped so rapidly that the government has actually become pro-natalist.
In terms of the long-term species crisis, Singapore has made enviable
Singapore’s case, its multi-ethnic population and colonial history
prompted the selection of English as its national language. The issue of
whether modernization equates with Americanization, or the loss of
cultural values, arises in virtually every developing country. In fact,
the existence of a strong indigenous culture can be a boon for the
modernization process in most cases. Japan, for example, is thoroughly
modern but it should not be thought of as Americanized. Japanese
management practices have been very different from those of America,
especially in personnel practices. The traditional pattern of human
relations was adapted to the requirements of modern technology and
allowed the Japanese to design efficient modern systems consistent with
their traditions. Chinese and Koreans have brought their traditional
industriousness and discipline to the modernization process with
impressive results. In Indonesia, the extreme deference expected of
subordinates has hampered development recently, although through much of
the Suharto era, the culture was conducive to rapid progress. In this
case the deferential culture, like the irrigation scheme in the Sudan,
provided a discipline that enabled production increases using relatively
low levels of technology. The weakness of African tribal cultures
relative to the requirements of modern technology has proven difficult
to overcome, and so has the deferential nature of Javanese culture. (See
and Economic Planning in Eastern Africa: A Ford Foundation Program
Before attempting to summarize my core ideas, I want to deal
briefly with an issue likely to trouble the reader, as it at first
troubled me. The notion of
levels or stages of human development in individuals seems contrary to
our egalitarian beliefs. When used with respect to groups or societies, stage theories can smack of
racism or eugenics. It may
seem to imply innate superiority of one culture or people over another.
In fact, the evolutionary developmental approach outlined here is
not only consistent with egalitarian thinking, it is the fundamental
building block for it. If our outcomes are determined by genes and the environment, and genes are
assumed to be of equal quality among ethnic and racial groups, then
perceived differences in outcomes must be due to environmental factors. This
is lucky, because those are the factors we can change if we
understand them and are determined to improve. Only if we believe that it is possible for each and all of us to
become improved individuals in improved societies will we be able to
identify the sources of existing inequalities and to work to alleviate
them. And alleviate them we must, not just for charitable
motives, but because we need to do so if our species is to find an
acceptable way out of the impending habitat crisis. In short, we must seek progress at home and abroad to save our
planet from ourselves.
To summarize the core ideas, and to link them to background
We are in a long-term species crisis stemming largely from
the transition period between high fertility/high mortality level of
civilization to the low fertility/low mortality level.
We can’t go back to an earlier, simpler age because our
increasing numbers require higher and higher levels of technology to
satisfy our needs and wants.
Although change is inevitable, some change is more
desirable than others. We have been slow to recognize the distinction.
We retain some basic beliefs from an earlier age, e.g. that more is
better, whether it be people or goods.
Desirable change occurs along three dimensions which are
Individual development, leading to higher productivity,
greater responsibility and resourcefulness, and lower fertility;
Technological development, to meet higher productivity
requirements while at the same time creating a learning environment
conducive to maturation and an information environment conducive to
Organizational development, leading to decreasing
hierarchy, flatter organizations, higher productivity and democratic
By understanding the nature of desirable change we can devise
development strategies that are more effective, more rapid, and less
environmentally destructive than those we now follow.
Wilber, K., Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The spirit of evolution. 1995, Boston:
Wilber, K., A Brief History of Everything. 1995, Boston: Shambhala. 339.
Commons, M., F. Richards, and C. Armon, Beyond
Formal Operations: Late Adolescent and Adult Cognitive Development.
1984, New York: Praeger. 460.
Huntington, S.P., The Clash
of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. 1996, New York: