The Four Fields of Development (and why communism killed 100 million people)

Of all the ideas presented in my book The Listening Society, this is the most important one: The average effective value meme of a population is the single most important factor determining whether it is possible for a society to progress to a new stage of development or not. If you don’t get it, then you haven’t understood The Listening Society or its sequel Nordic Ideology.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

If you’ve read The Listening Society, you may recall six such value memes, each of which builds upon the former, being a “later” or even “higher” stage of development:

  • Animistic
  • Faustian
  • Postfaustian (or traditional)
  • Modern
  • Postmodern
  • Metamodern

It is hard to overstate how crucial it is to raise the average effective value meme. The most brilliantly designed constitution and all the best democratic institutions in the world are null and void if the majority of the population subscribe to a Viking warrior ethos; e.g. gravitating tow­ards the faustian value meme. Likewise a listening society cannot fully materialize as long as the vast majority remains firmly imbedded within a modern, rationalistic worldview. It simply isn’t.

Your effective value meme affects whether you, for instance, consider the environmental degradation of the planet a primary concern, or believe foreign religions are the greatest threat to your existence. It affects whe­ther you believe transnational solutions should be imple­mented to add­ress the dire issues of our time, such as migration, global poverty, and finance, or consider increasing the military bu­dgets of your own nation the best way to manage international relations. It affects the extent of your care and consideration towards others; the number of people and other sentient beings you include in your circle of solidarity. While people sub­scribing to higher value memes tend to be more concerned with the well-being of all humans, in all countries, no matter their back­ground, people at lower value memes tend to have a much smaller circle of solidarity, usually those within their own country, often only of a certain kind, and rarely non-human animals unless they’re considered pets. And learning from the communist experiment, solidarity cannot be enforced from the top; it cannot be taught, and you certainly cannot force anyone to be solidaric. True solidarity can only emerge spon­taneously and voluntarily from people’s hearts and minds.

Our values are derived from our level of psychological development and play a critical role in the way societies evolve. It sets the limits for how far society can progress, and it determines how well our societies function at the current technological level.

Please note, however, that the effective value meme is not considered an overall stage of cognition that people are functioning in accordance with. With effective value meme I simply mean the values of a particular stage of societal development, such as modern or postmodern, that a per­son appears to gravitate towards the strongest. This is not estimated by the complexity or depth of a person’s thought, but simply by determining whatever values they express sincere devotion towards.

This means, for example, that if a person considers gender equality, environmen­talism, and animal rights more important than economic growth, freedom of choice, and private property, then they can be said to be gravitating firmly towards the postmodern value meme—disregarding whether they display any noteworthy existential depth beyond the ordi­nary, and disre­garding whether they’re capable of deconstructing texts or conducting discourse analyses competently. This way of determining a person’s value meme is more precise, less arbitrary, and not as open for speculation as other models (for instance Spiral Dynamics). If a person expresses faith in a certain set of values, and if it can be confirmed with minimum doubt that these are truthfully what the person believes in, then those are the values she gravitates towards.

Every society has a kind of demo­graphic where diff­erent percentages of the populations can be said to man­ifest and em­body different “value memes”, each being more or less pro­gressive and corres­ponding to different kinds of economic and societal environments. This changes over time, usually moving towards higher value memes as society gets more complex.

The different value memes can be seen as kinds of political-psych­o­log­ical sta­ges of development. Larger and more complex societies require high­er value memes in the population in order to function and be sust­ain­able. The value memes aren’t really an exact measure of how a person is and how she thinks, but there are certainly clear differences between people of different value memes.

For instance, today’s Swedish population (generally believing in demo­cracy, human rights, secular science, fair debate, gender equality and self-expr­e­ssion) have a “higher” average value meme than today’s Afghani popula­tion (man­­ifesting more tradition­alist values, particularistic religion, purity and sin, and em­pha­sizing sur­vival over self-expression).

When a traditional society modernize and people get wealthier, happier and more educated, the majority of the population will usu­ally advances to higher value memes in a manner of a few gener­ations. So there is a connection between prolonged periods of pol­itical sta­bility and inclu­sive econ­omic growth, and higher average value memes within a pop­ulation.

As I said, higher value memes generally correspond to the functioning and needs of larger and more complex societies. For instance, being a fun­da­mentalist Christian nationalist who thinks a woman’s chastity is more imp­or­tant than her education hardly helps in creating a sustainable order in today’s hypercomplex, interconnected, increasingly post-indus­trial glo­bal soc­iety. The “traditionalist” value meme and its moral intuit­ions are sim­ply not com­patible with the actual systems of today’s emer­ging global society.

The dynamic here is fairly simple and intuitive in a way. If a society is doing well and the games of everyday life become milder, fairer and more forgiving, people have the luxury to think in more universalistic, far-sight­ed, nuanced and complex terms. If people get the opportunity to spend years educating themselves and freely following their interests, they also explore more complex ideas and values. They can “afford” it, so to speak, and this generally spurs psychological and cultural development.

If things go poorly, people tend to retreat to being less trust­ing, men­tally hinging upon simpler and smaller worlds and simpler and smaller circles of solidarity—naturally emphasizing short- or medium-term surv­ival and avoiding personal risks. As we discussed earlier, the development of society always brings with it new challenges and back­lashes, new nasty pro­blems. Hence, the negative sides of societal development towards grea­ter prosper­ity and complexity periodically cause pre­ss­ures that decr­ease the aver­age value meme in a population—as has been apparent with recent pop­ulist, anti-immigration uprisings in the West.

It’s the people with the higher value memes who will tend, on average, to create and sustain institutions and practices that su­pport (make poss­ible, make sus­t­ainable) larger and more complex societies. This doesn’t mean they’re “bett­er people”; just compare the spoiled and narcissistic brats in Swe­den’s sch­ools to the cute and kind, hardworking and grateful pupils of a girl school in rural Sudan. The late-modern Swedish kids are horrible, as any honest teacher in its liberal an unruly school system will readily attest. Can they put down their iPhones already? But still, the Swedish kids certainly do manifest higher average value memes.

The point is that there is a collective difference that has to do with value memes. It might work fine to have no formal laws and to believe in ancestral magic if you’re a tribe of 150 people. Being a global world-syst­em of seven plus billion in rapid econ­omic and technological transition and a host of ecological crises that may hit home in the coming decades and centuries—not so much. Rain dances, invoking spirits and perfor­ming passage rituals will only take us that far.

The Four Fields of Societal Development

If we zoom out a bit, we can see that the average effective value meme in turn is only one out of sev­eral factors that can be used to describe how “developed” a society is.

The effective value meme descr­ibes how a person or a population sees the world and intuits their own place in it, their moral codes, and so forth. This is, you could say, “psych­ological development”. But just as the value memes consist of four aspects, so does the dev­elopment of society itself consist of four different, but intim­ately related, fields of development. The four fields are:

  1. Psychology (including, but not only, value meme)
  2. Behavioral development
  3. The system; systemic development
  4. Culture; cultural development

Hence, the value memes, the political psy­chology of a pop­ul­ation, con­stitute only one out of four fields of develop­ment. So let’s describe and briefly discuss the other three fields.

The sec­ond field of development has to do with people’s actual beha­viors, which have to do at least as much with the situations they are in, the interactions they par­take in, which behav­ioral cues are elicited, what behaviors are rewar­ded, and so forth. The effective value memes of people need to be distinguished from their behav­iors, as human behaviors are always affected by the situations they take part in. These concrete, obser­vable behaviors can also be developed; they can be brou­ght into new and more productive relations that together form more com­plex and res­il­ient patt­erns.

But it doesn’t stop there. These overall patterns of behaviors can in turn be seen as part of a larger societal system: the flows of the market, the tech­nological chains of production and distribution, the bureaucracy, transportations and communications; even the system of governance, edu­cational system, media, judi­cial and healthcare systems—all of which reside within what­ever frames the eco­systems and the biosphere allow. And these systems can in turn be developed: You can go from fossil fuel to renewables, from constitutional monarchy to parliamentary represent­ation, from sub­sistence farming to industrial capitalism, and so forth. So that’s the third field of development.

Depending on how you see it, you can either view the systems as emer­gent patterns in the results in the concrete behaviors of many real, existing peo­ple—or you can see the many actions of individual people as deter­min­ed and guided by the overarching systems, which are larger than the behav­iors of any one person. Yet a cleverer way to view it is that behavior, psy­chology and systems continuously interact, or, more preci­sely, that they co-emerge; that they emerge together and determine one another.

And then there is the fourth field of development: culture. Here you have things such as norms, values, traditions, languages, art, philo­sophies, religious practices, gender roles, habits and customs of every­day life, sha­red imagined worlds, shared ethnic boundaries, cultural refer­ences, taken-for-granted facts, expectations—whole cons­tructed universes of sto­ries about the universe and our place in it.

The development of culture is the dev­el­­opment of our symbolized per­spective on reality.

Consider the differ­ence between contemporary France and its medieval predecessor. Would you say that culture has developed? Do people have more words, more nuanced pers­pectives, more univers­al­istic values? I think we can safely make that case.

I have thus mentioned four fields of development:


Figure: The four fields of development. The top two quadrants describe micro processes, the two lower ones macro processes. The left-hand quadrants describe “inner”, subjective development, the right-hand ones “outer”, objective development.


As you can see, there is one micro-macro axis (in this version it’s up and down, referring to things you study at the level of small, everyday inter­actions and singular people, vs. things you study on a massive scale: struct­ures, statistics, averages, and so forth) and one interior-exterior axis (left-right; referring to things that must be known and inter­preted, or that can be seen and described more “from the outside”). The two micro quad­rants (psychology and behavior) study single people and their every­day inter­actions, the two macro ones (culture and systems) study soc­iety as a whole. The two interior quadrants study that which is felt and exper­ienced (psych­ology and culture), the two exterior ones study “objec­tive” realities (behav­iors and systems).

Please note that this model actually has much more to it—I am merely giving you the very simple version.

You have early premonitions of this model already in the great Ame­rican sociol­ogist Talcott Parsons’ mid-20th century theory about “struc­tural function­alism”, but it was not quite there yet. Since that time, a num­ber of major thinkers have more or less independently come up with the exact model above: Jeffrey Alex­ander’s sociology (one of the top names in Amer­ican sociology, which still insists that macro phen­omena determine micro phenomena more than vice versa), Georg Ritzer’s meta­theory (the num­ber one walking encyclopedia of social science in the world, who thinks all four fields interact on equal grounds), Søren Brier’s cyber­semiotics (Den­mark’s coolest nerd star, who I once crashed a party to get to talk to, who found a more philosophically grounded model, by using an entirely diff­erent method), and Ken Wilber’s four quadrants (which is the one theory that is most clear on both the developmental aspects of all four fields, and their fractal relation­ship to one another). All four thinkers came up with more or less the same theory in­dep­endently of each other within a period of fifteen years following 1980. Wilber’s theory is the youngest, but also by far the most elegant one.

And then there’s a whole host of other, related, theorists who say other, but closely related, things: Jürgen Habermas, the late Roy Bhaskar, Ed­gar Morin, Fritjof Capra, and the Gulbenkian Commission… None of these people present this exact model, but they are all in the same holi­stic ball­park, saying roughly the same thing—and they all emphasize different parts of the story and work with different topics, of course.

And then there is another kind of thinkers who don’t necessarily like to divide things up into four distinct fields (because it can feel a little too mechanical and simplified, too much of Kant or even Descartes linger­ing), but who still say some­thing similar; i.e. that the different kinds of social phenomena emerge together and are entang­led in one another. Here you’ll find people like the physicist-philo­sopher Karen Barad, the poli­tical scientist Alexander Wendt, the political psych­­ologist Shawn Ros­­­­­en­berg, the philosophers Bard and Söderqvist—and many others, depen­ding on how far you are willing to stretch the argument. You can find versions of this model in psychology, psych­iatry, and even med­icine.

Basically I am saying, in some version or another, that this holistic vis­ion of reality and society has taken a strong hold during the last few deca­des—the simp­lified one I presented above is not necessarily the best one; it all depends on what analytical uses you are looking for.

Taking stock of a few general implications of such a model, we can say that:

  1. Both interior, subjective experiences and exterior, material real­ities are honored and seen as parts of reality. So if you ignore one field or try to reduce it to the others, you “flatten” your view of reality. Hence it is a “holistic” view, as opposed to a reductionist view.
  2. Many forms of thinking reduce all of reality to one of these four fields. Marxism and much of the scientism mainstream think that “only” the material realm is really real, spiritual idealism thinks that only psychological (“phenomenological”) reality is real, extreme postmodernism thinks that only culture and discourses are real, and so forth.
  3. The different fields of development are actually interdependent upon one anoth­er.
  4. You can view the different fields either as different aspects of real­ity (diff­erent areas of concern or subjects to study) or as differ­ent injun­ctions into or perspectives upon reality: as the home bases of diff­erent sciences and other forms of inquiry.

But let’s not talk more about theory in general; let’s get on with the point: These four fields of development—psychological, behavioral, sys­t­emic and cultural—interact with one another. Indeed, they define one another—they make each other possible, they set mutual limits, they cause hard crashes and burns in one another. They emerge together: psych­­o­logy, be­hav­ior, culture and system. They are in a perpetual devel­op­men­tal dance. They co-emerge. That’s the point.

By the way, by far the majority of professors in sociology, history, psy­cho­logy, economics, cognitive science, philosophy and the natural scien­ces still do not understand this model. And hence they spend meaningless life­times of work trying to resolve questions that have already been resol­ved. With mechanical, relentless tenacity they systematically keep igno­ring one or more of the four fields of development. They discuss, as if there was some great mystery here. They go on, and on, with long and purportedly intell­ectual discu­ssions. “What could it be? Does culture drive the econ­omy or the other way around?” And so forth. And so on.

At any rate, if you have actually understood this model and you are able to see its implications, you are now—in the department of general under­standing of society and reality—far ahead of most intellectual and scien­tific author­ities. Just like a fourteen years old modern kid is far ahead of the greatest medieval intellectuals, not because she is smarter, but sim­ply bec­ause the medieval intell­ectuals were inves­ted in (what are today) out­dated symbolic code systems, in outdated ideas. Congratulations.

Metamodern philosophy eats modern philosophy alive and spits on its grave, just like modern philosophy did to all earlier worldviews. But that’s not what this book is about, except the appendix. So let’s get on with it.

Marxian Blindness

Okay, so let’s try and see if we can solve the greatest murder mystery of all time: Why did communism kill a hundred million people? What was the murder weapon? It was the developmental imbalances between the four fields of development. Let me explain, dear Watson.

When Marx wrote, already before he became a full-fledged communist (the “Young Marx”), he displayed a number of traits that can safely be classified under what I have called the Postmodern value meme. (Note that I use the term “postmodern” rather differently from main­stream aca­d­e­m­ics—I use it as a developmental stage. Mainstream academia thinks of post­mod­ernism as rather being a strain of thought in the philo­sophy of the 1970s and onwards.) There was something about Marx, his way of thinking, of sensing the world, of grasping society, that might loosely be termed pro­gressive: ex­pressing values that correspond to a later stage of societal devel­opment than the one most prevalent in 19th century Europe.

As I discuss in The 6 Hidden Patterns of History, you can see this either as the culmination of a former kind of thinking (modernism) or an early form of the new kind of thinking (post­modern values). It’s either the pinnacle of modernism or an early form of postmodernism, depending on your perspective.

How is Marx “postmodern” in this sense? Marx’s vision is spiritual in a secular sense (humanity seeking self-att­ai­n­­­ment by knowing herself and becoming a consciously creative agent of the universe); it is egalitarian, dialectical (not one explan­a­tion or path holds the truth and reality isn’t seen as static and defined), relatively feminist (with a little help from his lifelong friend Frie­drich Engels), and its circle of solidarity includes all humans.

With some racist blind spots here and there typical of the period, Marx and Engels at least strived to include all people in an increasingly rational social ord­er—where such irrational things as “fetish­ism” (wanting money for money’s sake, or stuff for stuff’s sake) and “reification” (thinking that there was some­thing inherently real in arbi­t­rary human constructs such as God, money or our current political ideo­logy) would no longer determine our lives and govern our societies.

Most of all, you could say that Marx in some rudimentary sense was “postmodern” because he wanted to create a society that was not pre-modern, but still built upon something else than capitalism, a system in which everyday life and activities revolve about something other than monetary exchanges, where we are not “steered” by money in our organ­ization of, and participation in, everyday life.

And since capitalism and modernity are inherently inter­twined, the striving for a post-capitalist society is inherently post­­modern: it is that which, by definition, comes after modernity.[i]

The “real socialism” that followed during the 20th century was a kind of “state capitalism”, hence never achieving the non-capitalist ideal—in pra­c­tice, everyday life still revolved around money, materialism and consum­ption. But still, Marx’s values rather accurately reflect—or herald—an early form of what I call the Postmodern value meme; this certainly in­clud­es the vis­ion of a society that is free from alienation and excessive ine­quality.

In Marx’s time, there was really no research on developmental psychol­ogy—and certainly nothing that would resemble a four-dimensional poli­tical developmental psychology like the one presented in The Listening Society with the theory of effe­ctive value memes. Sure, you had some early glimmers of such developmental thinking, all crafted by Romantic thinkers: Rouss­eau’s stage theory of children; Schiller, Herder and others played with adult sta­ges of psycho­logical and develop­ment (recycled later, and more fam­ously, by Kierke­gaard).[ii] But none of this amounts to a political-psych­ological research program that can track and describe the overall develop­ment of larger demographics and socie­ties.

Today the situation is very different; we fin­ally have good and ample research to support the idea of people being at different developmental sta­ges—even if the scientific program is still, to our day, rudimentary. But we have something that Marx didn’t: a science of developmental psych­ology. This changes everything.

Let’s bring this puppy home. What am I getting at? Well, look at what Marx wrote about. He wrote about how he thought the economic system develops, and how that in turn affects other parts of society and people’s psyches.[iii] Marx wrote about economic theory, about the economic system above all. He believed that he was working for a society that would come after cap­ital­ism, one that would be non-capitalist: what he termed “com­m­un­ist”. Notwithstand­ing the limitations of his analysis of the econo­mic sys­tem (there were some, even if he correctly predicted a number of devel­op­ments), he failed to understand that a post-capitalist society would req­u­ire a corresponding post-capitalist psychological development of the pop­ulation in order to function, or even to emerge in the first place—as well as a corresponding behavioral and cult­ural develop­ment.

Hence, Marx was blind to three out of four fields of devel­opment. And so was the communist movement that followed. They had their eyes gouged out by materialist reductionism.

That’s the Marxian Blindness. Don’t let it infect you.

The Psychological Prerequisites of Socialism

What, then, would a political psych­ology of a genuinely func­tional “soc­ialist” popul­ation look like? Here’s a rough estimation; they would need to be:

  • extremely egalitarian, unimpressed by wealth and power;
  • extremely peaceful, non-violent; prone to resolve issues by dialogue and com­pro­mises;
  • extremely tolerant of differences and accepting of weaknesses in others;
  • capable of taking in and harboring a multiplicity of perspectives, and viewing the perspectives as enriching one another, being non-judgmen­tal towards others with differing views;
  • capable of autonomous critical thinking that goes beyond following the current norms, being able to recognize and bust autocratic, totalitarian tendencies and see through populist “simple solutions”;
  • prepared to change their own opinions if good arguments are presented;
  • focused on non-material and secular-spiritual issues in life, rather than mater­ial wealth and comfort, working for other rewards than money;
  • prepared to view themselves and their own interests in rela­tion to a larger system, preferably one in which all humans in the world are inclu­ded;
  • skilled at being inclusive in dialogues, with a battery of good techniques for democratically dividing speaking time, listening to one another and generally being sensitive interlocutors;
  • generally emotionally fulfilled and mature, hence difficult to manipulate, seduce, provoke or bribe, and generally less prone to emotional over­reactions;
  • in an emotional position where one is not driven by either economic fears, nor fear of military threats, ideally not even personal/emotional fears;
  • capable of understanding, acknowledging and actively counteracting pri­v­­ileges and stigmas of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disabilities, class back­ground and even personality types.
  • identifying with other things than nationalities, religions, ethnicities and your own status in society;
  • emph­asize long-term stability and ecological sustainability of the society they live in.

So that’s the kind of people who would need to be around for a socialist system to work at all. Lots and lots of them. Depending on other factors, you might need up to half of the adult population to fit this description.

As much as all this sounds like, I am not describing some “super-per­fect impossible goodie-two-shoes”. These people do exist in reasonable num­bers around the world today. You can check off all of the above boxes for a lot of people, without them being impossibly perfect. They are the highly functional, well-to-do, highly educated liberals—at least as these people often turn out after a more self-indulging period in their 20s. In other words: people at the Postmodern value meme.

In the most adv­anced coun­tries in the world today, like the Nordic ones, you have about a quarter of the adult population at this value meme. In a country like the US, the share is lower, unless you zoom in on New York or Calif­o­rnia.

Marx himself was at this Postmodern value meme. Not so strange really: He was privileged, self-made, intelligent, sensitive, successful, a lead­er; his wife a noble, his father-in-law a mentor and supporter, his pro­fessor a world-class philosopher, even by world-historical standards (Hegel), his best friend the son of a factory owner and also at genius level of intellect. Not that Marx lived a very easy life, but his was a privileged life that could spur his personal dev­elop­ment into a higher value meme. He was ahead of his time. How many people like this were around in his days? The percentage is almost zero, even in London, at the heart of the modern world.

If you grow up like Oliver Twist, the Post­modern value meme is just not go­ing to happen. It’s just not. You are going to be angry that they beat you as a kid, concerned with getting food, be easily seduced by promises, care little about foreign cult­ures, have little demo­cratic fiber and skills, be prone to want quick reliefs for your aching body and soul, be very anxious to get much richer by any means possible, not have the opportunity to educate yourself. That’s how I would function under such circumstances, and you probably would too.

So Marx wanted to create socialism in a place and time where there were, frankly speaking, no “soc­ial­ists”. Heck, most socialists aren’t even socialists. Think about it; significant demographics at the Postmodern value meme have only showed up in the most privileged and stable coun­tries, and only after a hundred years or more of capitalist indust­rialism and social reforms. By far the most peo­ple of the 19th and 20th cent­uries were at the Modern or earlier value memes.[iv]

In terms of psychological development, there were almost no true “soci­alists” around. Should it then sur­prise us that all the “real” socialist count­ries that showed up—Russia, China, and so on—in which popula­tions were gene­rally well below the Modern value meme, ended up repro­d­ucing crude and autocratic syst­ems?

And how many people at the Postmodern value meme would it take to run a “socialist” (genuinely postmodern and post-capitalist) society? Even the almost 25% of Sweden is not nearly enough. It’s not just that you need a majority, or at least a strong minority, to get your policies through in a demo­cratic manner (so that you can shape the institutions in a corres­pon­ding manner)—you also need an army of highly functional postmoder­nists to man all the key functions in such a society. You need teach­ers, politicians, community organizers, bosses, judges, police officers, ad­min­istrators who all genuinely embody the Postmodern val­ue meme.

They need to be everywhere: much like people at the Modern value meme are needed to man all the positions in today’s modern societies.

Too Dumb for Complex Societies?

A significant limitation to all this may be, to be fully functional at the Postmodern value meme, that you also need to be a relatively complex think­er—one who uses the postmodern values in an encompassing, nuan­ced, context-sensitive, syst­emic way. And as we discussed in The Listening Society, the cognitive stage of a person’s thinking may have substantial genetic or here­ditary causes (much like IQ, really). Only about 20% of a normal adult pop­ulation seems to develop to a stage of sufficiently complex think­ing, one that truly matches the postmodern ideas (this cognitive stage is called “sta­ge 12 Systematic”, according to The Model of Hierarchical Complexity).

This means that the Post­modern value meme, once it becomes domi­nant in a society’s culture, is often used in “flattened” and simplified ways that can become oppressive, or at least quite annoying, for most people, rather than genuinely inclusive and dem­ocratic.

In the Nordic countries today, you have a lot of people using flattened and simplified versions of the Postmodern values, and the result is often suffocating and alienating to many. For instance, you get excessive “poli­tical corr­ectness” and simplified versions of cultural feminism as people apply simple, linear, “flattened” versions of the pur­por­tedly sen­si­tive and inclusive norms, or when they apply these “sens­itive norms” as ways of pro­mot­ing their own moral worth at the ex­pense of others. This, quite under­stand­ably, leads to resentful populist counter-reactions.

Just to underscore this, let’s take a look at how intelligence (here meas­ured rather crudely as IQ) relates to political ideology and value mem­es. In Book One we talked about “cog­nitive stage” instead of IQ, but this is the best we’ve got research-wise. Apparently, childhood IQ scores predict fut­ure voting behaviors. Here are figures from the United King­dom, about 6000 people, in 2001.[v]


UK Party Voter IQ Average Comment
Green 108.3 Clearly based on postmodern values and environmentalism.
Liberal Democrats 108.2 The social-liberal party, “third player” in UK’s largely bipartisan system.
Conservative 103.7 The large center-right party, mostly modernist values.


103.0 The large center-left party, mostly modernist values.
UK Indep­en­dence (UKIP) 101.1 Eurosceptic, right wing populist, modernist/ traditionalist values.
British National 98.4 Nationalist, postfaustian/traditionalist values with some faustian (fascist, etc.) undercurrents.


If you look at the difference between the leaders of the IQ-league and the ones with lowest IQ, you clearly see that the scores map per­fectly onto the value memes. The parties that embody the later, or “higher”, value mem­­es seem to attract the more cognitively endowed parts of the popul­ation and the lowest value memes the less intellectually gifted. The pro­gressive parties have an IQ score five points above the mainstream, which in turn averages five points above the regressive parties.

Where­as there may be many different mechanisms at play in this strat­ification[vi] process, we can glean the tendency that higher value mem­es re­qu­ire more cognitively advanced people; except that they do not gather around the attractor point of socialism, but around Green Social Liberal­ism, which has turned out to be the real attractor or late modern society—hence the concen­tration of smarts around the Greens and the (social-) liberals.

Obviously, IQ does not in itself “cause” political progressiveness (in which case Hong Kong and Japan would be full of green social liberals, these being higher IQ populations) but it does, without doubt, inter­act with it in some way. The point here is simply to show that more prog­ressive views may have higher cognitive prerequ­is­ites and that a lot of peo­ple fall short on this measure.

In The Listening Society, we saw that over 60% of a normal adult population seems to reach the cognitive stages necessary for successfully under­stand­ing and operating the norms of a “modern” society. When it comes to post­mod­ern society, we are down to about 20%. For metamodern society—which is the main attractor ahead, as we shall see—we’re down to about 2%, at least in purely cognitive terms (how complex your thinking is).

What we’re looking at is a disparaging challenge to our very biology: We are creating a society which we are biologically unequipped to grasp and thrive in. Up until now, people have been smart enough for society. These days we are, as it were, running out of cognitive fuel. We’re not suffi­ciently cognitively complex to productively relate to the society that we our­selves have created—or rather, the society that has emerged, self-organ­ized, as the complex result of our ongoing inter­actions.

Luckily, there is a lot that can be done about this matter. One part of it has to do with “transhumanism” (changing humanity via gen­etics and technology) but that topic falls outside the scope of this book and is dis­cussed at length by authors like Oxford philosopher David Pearce. And of course, transhumanist development comes with considerable risks, which should best be discussed else­where.

Another part, which is more relevant to the metamodern political acti­vist, has to do with creat­ing a society that realistically manages all the diff­erent value memes and people at different levels of complexity and per­sonal develop­ment—as well as working to support the long-term advan­cement into higher value memes.

As you can see, a “socialist” society is completely implausible to crea­te in any genuine or sustainable manner unless you also have perhaps over 40% of the population genuinely at the Postmodern value meme, which may be achievable only if we manage to surmount some developmental lim­it­ations in the population at large.

Murder She Wrote

I’d like to present three more reasons why socialism never worked and no postmodern, or post-capitalistic, society ever materialized.

Reason One: “Pomos” creep others out. People at the Postmodern value meme are likely to alienate, creep out or otherwise pro­voke people of the earlier val­ue memes. Their world, their society and their morality often seem abst­ract, exagg­erated and suffocating to mod­erns and traditio­nalists, just look at how they often rage against “political correctness”, “social justice warriors” and identity politics.

One of the main differences between pomos (postmodernists) and the “memos” (metamod­er­nists) is that the latter include the perspect­ives of the earlier value memes and empathize with them (since the memos have a developmental, hier­arch­ical perspective which the pom­os don’t). The pomos just think there is something wrong with mod­erns and traditiona­lists, and that they need to “open up”, stop being so dogmatic and greedy, or that the spell of “bourgeois ideology” must be broken and so forth.

And indeed, this was what Marx and Engels wrote about when they used terms such as “ideology” and “false consciousness”; workers were not socialists because they were, in effect, brainwashed by their oppressors. Similar schemata show up again and again in post­modern thought: there is a structure or ideology that fools peo­ple into being non-socialists, non-vegans (“carnists”), non-environ­men­talists, non-feminists, mindless con­sumers, and so forth. With Rouss­eau, the pomos all believe some version of the idea that their own way of thinking is default, logical and bene­volent and that other people have been fooled and that something is pre­venting the underlying goodness in them to surface. This idea about de­masking and criticizing ideology is married to an underlying assump­tion of Rousseau’s “noble savage” (that modern hu­mans essentially are corrup­ted by society and deep down actually subscribe to all these nice-guy post­modern values), and it comes in so many forms: critical cultural studies, feminist epistemology, discourse analysis, narrative analysis and so forth.

There may be considerable explanatory value in many of these research fields, but they tend to entirely miss the point about developmental psych­ology. Pomos are unaware of the developmental stages and hence assume that all humans are inherently postmodern unless some external force prevents them from being so, and hence they try to shake people and wake them up: “What’s wrong with you!? Why aren’t you acting in your own obvious interest!?” This, of course, only rarely works, and it antagon­izes and pro­vokes folks who are modern and traditionalist. It puts psycho­logical dem­ands upon people that cannot be met by their factually existing minds.

That’s what metamodernists don’t do. They respect people’s stage of develop­men­t and have solidarity with the natural occurrence of their per­spectives and developmental journeys. This is to become all the more im­portant in the years to come as the pomos are going to make up a growing proportion of the population.

In order for a maj­ority pomo society to be genuine­ly “social­ist” (here just meaning inclusive, fair), and not creep the hell out of over half of the pop­ulation, it would still need to be led by a min­ority of memos who subtly but effectively snatch many of the key posit­ions in society.

For pomo-land to exist and function at all, you need to have a signi­ficant number of memos to man the steering wheels.

None of this was included any­where in Marxist thought or in any of its heirs. Lenin had the notion of an avant-garde, an idea which he had inhe­r­ited from other Rus­sian radi­cals, but he did not describe the developme­ntal psychology of such an elite. And he thought he could simply repro­gram people to be socialists by means of a combination of education, prop­aganda and viol­ence.

Reason Two: Socialist values require postindustrial abundance. But the problems with socialism don’t end there. Where do the pomo popula­tions of the world start showing up in significant numbers? Again, only in highly developed post-industrial countries. As long as life in gen­eral still revolves around indust­rial production, and most people still must endure hours every day in boring factories and partake in other menial, soul-corr­osive work, there’s just no way that people are going to become postmod­ern post-materialists. Why would they? If you get rich, it means you can stop wasting your life doing some­thing extremely boring. So you’ll want to get rich. And if your work is that unrewarding and uncrea­tive, of course you’re going to be in it for the money, to want compensa­tion for your trou­bles. You won’t become post-materialist.

Hence, the precondition for significant parts of the populations to dis­play the necessary psychologies is that you need to have a genuinely post­indu­s­trial society. But—and this is a big but—you also need the syst­em to function on a massive scale, preferably on a global scale. Just some islands of relative progressive values cannot create a truly postmodern society. This is because they still function within a larger modern, industrial cap­italist world­-system, which means that you need to make serious con­cess­ions to that same system.

Looking at some central parts of the current economic world-system, you have post-industrial islands which trade machine-made goods and abst­r­act services to others, but the world-system as a whole is still largely indus­trial. Hence, we can hardly expect the Postmodern value meme to take over on a global scale anytime soon, which would be necessary for any­thing like “social­ism” to function. I’ll get back to this part of the matter in my upcoming book Out­competing Capitalism.

Phew. And we’re still not done.

Reason Three: There simply aren’t enough pomos around to uphold the Postmodern value meme through­out society. For people to func­tion within a post­modern society, you would need to have a culture that cor­responds to this value meme. You also need the “cultural code” of post­modern society. You would need to have what we called “symbol-stage E Post­modern” readily available for people to “down­load” and then use in their everyday lives—i.e. people must gain access to the postmodern ideas and learn how they function early on in life. And this generally requires at least some higher edu­ca­tion within the hum­anities and/or critical social science.

But other than that, you must have an army of artists, writers, poets, come­di­ans, professors and others who recreate and transmit this cultural code—being critical, inclusive, multiperspectival, and all the rest of it—who make these ideas and symbols active and alive within society.

And even if you manage to institute a system of production that is non-capitalist, you must have some clever way of self-organizing people’s eff­orts, time and attention in an efficient manner that works on a trans­nat­ional scale—something other than the capitalist markets. You need a very efficient information processing system to uphold such an eco­n­omy—one that is more receptive to instant feedback processes, than is mod­ern capital­ism, rather than less. How else will you successfully coor­dinate the every­day work and activities of millions and millions of inter­connected people on the world market? This our Marxist friends never offer­ed us.[vii]

Alright. Now, dear Watson, can you see the murder weapon? Imagine you try to create a postmodern economic system, like “socialism”, except:

  • there are almost no genuine socialists (in a political-psychological sense of a corresponding effective value meme),
  • it is not sufficiently economically and technologically developed,
  • people are all stuck in games and incentives for non-socialist mot­ives (making money, gaining power, etc.), and
  • there is no postmodern culture that would support an inclu­sive multi­plicity of per­spectives.

What would happen? The society would simply fail to materialize the way you imagined. You would only be able to create it by force, never by spontaneous self-organization. And once you use force, people resist, and they get opp­ressed or killed. And once you have instituted the system by force, none of it behaves as you would expect, because in its very DNA, it is non-soc­ia­list. Hence, you get shortages, corruption and collapses. And you must respond with a reign of terror just to keep things in place, at least some­what. And lots of peo­ple die.

Mystery solved. Murder she wrote.

A Diagnosis of Our Time

All of this brings us to an understanding of what is fundamentally wrong with the world of today. It’s quite simple really. It’s, again, a developmen­tal im­bal­ance. Can you guess what it is?

It’s the obvious fact that we have an economic and technological world-system that has developed far ahead of the three other fields. We live in an incr­ea­s­ingly global, transnational, digitized, postindustrial world -syst­em, with an increasing number of “disruptive technologies”, i.e. inve­n­tions that redefine people’s lives dramatically. But we lack a correspond­ing glob­al, transnational, digitized, post­industrial system of gov­er­nance. So the system goes haywire and crea­tes large pockets of econ­omic, social and cultural losers around the world: the working and middle lower class­es in affluent societies, the ex­ploited poor in poorly governed and failed states, the animals suffering under industrial farming, the dis­enfranchised urb­an immigrant populations in ghettos and banlieues, clim­ate change refugees and other desperate migrants, the tri­bal and trad­ition­alist religi­ous popul­ations who suffer from confusion and alienation, the fish and other aquatic animals, the biosphere itself.

But this issue would be self-regulating if the populations, economic agents and leaders of the world were up to pace with the recent develop­ments. The issue is that we are not. That’s the issue. That’s what’s wrong with the world.

We lack a cultural sphere and understanding of our time, an over­arch­ing narrative that matches this new economic and technological order of the world. We, as a global humanity, lack the corresponding value meme. And we display behaviors that are unsustainable and downright destruc­tive, given the current systemic circumstances. In other words, we have fallen behind in cultural, psychological and behavioral develop­ment. As noted in Book One, we live in a “retarded world”; we have developed to slowly—mentally, culturally and emotionally.

Immense quantities of human and animal suffering are at stake here; if we fail to actively and deliberately generate the conditions that foster pers­onal growth, new behaviors and new cultural understandings, we cannot expect the coming age to be a fruitful transition to a postmodern or meta­modern soc­iety. We can expect confused and limited overreactions that worsen the maladies of people and animals around the world.

Today, the world-system, for all its wonder and power, is not functi­oning in a socially, economically or ecologically sustainable manner. We, the global community, have in some sense become as the Soviet Union—a global bronze colossus on feet of clay.

Thus, we must orchestrate an extensive moral, emotional and cultural devel­opment. I am not saying, as some idealistic observers think, that we should “follow our hearts” and “return to our moral intuitions and shared values”. The point is that our moral intuitions and shared values betray us; they can and must evolve.

To master this situation, to navigate the ongoing global “multi-dimen­sional crisis-revol­ution”, we must look to the subtlest and most intimate details of what it means to be a developing human being in an evolving soc­iety.

It is an ironic twist of fate that, in order to solve the hard and large pro­blems of the world-system, we must learn to look in­w­ards—into our emo­tional lives and into the nature of our intimate relation­ships with our­selves, one another and our place in the universe.

And we must do so, not as an individual matter of personal seeking, but as an inherently pol­itical issue that involves all members of society.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Of course, there were postmodern ideas and values that had yet to emer­ge in Marx’s days. For instance, Marx was ostensibly anthro­po­cen­tric, which means he did not sufficiently include animals or the biosphere in the cir­cle of solid­arity. The “young Marx” touched upon an environ­mentalist understanding, in his discussion about “metabolic rift”, but this was not central to his ensuing works. And he didn’t really venture into animal rights, as discussed in Gary Francione’s 2000 book Intro­duction to Animal Rights. For the appropriate passage in Marx, where he tries to defend human supremacy, you may consult The Philosophic and Economic Manu­scripts of 1844; in Robert Tucker’s Marx-Engel Reader, you can find it on page 75.

Marx’s (admittedly anthropocentric) environment­alism in the 2000 book by John Bellamy Foster, titled Marx’s Ecology. This book challenges the popular read­ing of Marx as being tied to an industrial-materialist thinking, as in Jean Baud­rillard’s 1973 book The Mirror of Production.

[ii]. Andersen, L. R. & Björkman, T., 2017. The Nordic Secret. A European Story of Beauty and Freedom. Falun, Sweden: Fri Tanke Förlag.

[iii]. To be sure, Marx allowed for some back-and-forth interactions bet­ween these diff­­erent fields, but he did not explicitly formulate the four fields of develop­ment, nor did he lucidly develop upon their interactions. Rather, we were left with many vague loose threads.

You probably know how the story goes from there; Stalinist “diamat” (dialectical materialism) insi­sted that you primarily need to change the economic system, and all else will follow; the Italian radical Antonio Gramsci felt that culture and cultural “hegemony” (the dominant, taken-for-granted culture) explain why peo­ple don’t become socialists; “human­ist Marxists” focused on peo­ple’s psychologies and per­sonalities (Erich Fromm) or on social-psycho­log­ical aspects like alienation (Joach­im Israel) or blamed the TV (Theodor Ador­no) or even the book clubs (Jürgen Haber­mas—even if he, of course, later updated the view of society to something much resembling the four fields I present here); and a few crazy people like Jean-Paul Sartre focused on agency, upon revolutionary action itself. And then you had some few geniuses, like the early Soviet thinker like Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1927), who, in his foreseeing attempt at a “syst­ems science”, intuited a shift of perspective towards a more holistic one that includes all four fields.

None of these thinkers quite did it. None of them hit a homerun. The worst of all these was of course the Stalinist diamat. Here you have the idea that the material conditions (the means of production and who owns them, and by what structure they are governed) in the last instance determine all that “softish woo-woo”, like culture, behavior and psychology (even if Stalin, like Marx conceded that ideas and theories also affect society). In this view, it is hardly surprising that these people believed—including Leon Tro­tsky—that if you can change these “hard” or “mat­erial” condi­tions, all else can and will follow. You will have a fair, free and non-exploit­ative soc­iety, if you only make everything publicly owned: at any price! So that’s why these people are prepared to purge and kill others and dis­respect any trad­itions and cultures and social structures. They believe that all of these “super­struct­ures” are made of clay, whereas economic con­ditions, the “base struct­ures”, are made of steel.

But the exclusive emphasis on concrete behavior might be even more murdero­us. Sartre’s ideas, reworked into an anti-col­on­ialist theory by the angry young Haitian Frantz Fanon—and with clear parallels in Mao Tse-Tung—held that stru­gg­­le, the concrete action of stru­ggle itself, is most real, and that a just society flows from it. This led to some of the most mindless “revolutionary” activities and mass killings, not­a­bly in China’s Cultural Revolution and Cam­bodia in the late 1970s.

Cambodia, under the Khmer Rouges, was arguably the most brutal site of the 20th century, looking at per capita kills: some 20% of the population dead in four years (contested figure, though). Pol Pot, the nick­named Cambodian dictator, spent his student years in Paris forming a separate Cambodian com­munist party there. He wasn’t very smart, but he read, I believe, Mao, Sartre, Fanon, Stalin and Marx. May­be—as some historians have argued—the US carpet bomb­ings in Cam­bodia (which took part during the Viet­nam War) played a part in the rise of this brutal power, the Khmer Rouges. But so did, in­disputably, poor Marxist and pseudo-Marxist theories about society.

What unites the spectacular failures of these theories? It is the fact that they don’t see that society consists of (at least) these four different fields of develop­ment—psychology, behavior, culture and system—and that you cannot spur development in the three other fields by forcibly driving the dev­elopment in only one field, but not the others.

[iv]. Friedrich Engels sought to describe the workers in the urban factories as pot­ential socialists—he noted, in his ethnographic work, that they see­med to abandon their religious beliefs once they had moved away from their villages. There were also some significant workers’ movements and short per­iods of impressive solidarity and self-organization. But was he descri­bing people at the Post­modern value meme? No. The impressive displays of solidarity and self-organization only show up when there is a clear common enemy (such as during a period of major strikes). The only time self-organizing syndicalist (anarchist) socialism has functioned on a somewhat larger scale was during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, where there was a very clear common enemy: the grim rise of the fascists.

See: Engels, F. 1845/1969. Condition of the Working Class in England. Moscow: Institute of Marxism-Leninism.

[v]. Dearya, I. J, Battya, G. D., Galec, C. R. 2008. Childhood intelligence predicts voter turnout, voting preferences, and political involvement in adulthood: The 1970 Brit­ish Cohort Study. Intelligence. Vol 36, Issue 6.

[vi]. “Stratification” means that society is divided into strata, such as classes or other grouping.

[vii]. It’s true; there have been some attempts made. One Scottish computer scientist, Paul Cockshott, has teamed up with an eco­nomist, Allin Cottrell, and tried to work out what a com­puter-driven communist system might look like for the European Union. Computer algorithms would coordinate the economy. But this is not a very convin­cing move unless they can show us the institutional analysis of how we get from here to there (i.e. unless they show us the societal attractors and how they work). And it’s highly quest­ionable if these two writers got the algorithms right; indeed, if it is possible to do so. That’s a lot of trust to put in faulty single human minds.