David C. Korten in his book “The Great Turning”, lays out five Orders of Human Consciousness which I have greatly condensed and which are presented below —
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The first experience of consciousness takes place in the womb where we float effortlessly in the warm amniotic fluids. There is no beginning, no ending. There is no “I” and no “not I”. Just to be is sufficient. For the first one to two years we learn to adapt to our physical world and to differentiate the “I” from the “not I”. From this point on, we progress through some or all of the following five stages of increasingly mature consciousness.
First Order: Magical Consciousness
A child of two to six years of age experiences a world influenced by magical beings, both friendly and sinister, such as those that exist in the classical fairy tales. Magical Consciousness is limited in its ability to connect the actions of the self and future consequences and cannot accept responsibility for such actions. Magical Consciousness depends on external figures to make things magically right.
Second Order: Imperial Consciousness
Transition from first order to second usually starts around age six or seven. A child at this age begins to discover that many relationships are predictable and that actions have consequences, and begins to explore its ability to influence the world through its own actions. The Imperial Consciousness is able to acknowledge another person’s point of view for purposes of calculating how to get what one wants but with little concept of loyalty, gratitude, or justice.
Third Order: Socialized Consciousness
Transition beyond the second order normally begins around age eleven or twelve. Coinciding with the onset of teenage rebellion, it brings a growing emotional intelligence and a recognition of the extent to which personal security depends on the mutual loyalty of the members of one’s group in a sometimes hostile world. It also brings an ability to see one’s self through the eyes of another and is capable of empathy.
Socialized Consciousness internalizes a play-by-the-rules, law-and-order mentality where fairness means a society that rewards those who work hard, leaves slackers to suffer their fate and demands retribution for wrongdoers. It adheres to culturally defined moral codes but lacks the ability to subject those codes to critical examination. It is the conciousness of those who have a “Small World” view defined by their immediate reference group and who expect that playing-by-the-rules will give them, their families and their communities a decent life. They do not yet grasp that complex system relationships may prevent whole classes of people from finding jobs or staying on the right side of the law.
Fourth Order: Cultural Concsiousness
Adulthood brings encounters with people whose cultural perspective is different from that of those in one’s own group. The initial reaction to such encounters is often a sense of cultural superiority or even absolutism: “The way of my people is the only right way”. A Cultural Consciousness is rarely achieved before age thirty, and the majority of those who live in modern imperial societies never achieve it, partly because most corporations, political parties, churches, labor unions and even educational institutions actively discourage it.
If, however, the Socialized Consciousness is secure in its identity, it may come to recognize that culture itself is a social construct and that cultural norms and expectations are subject to choice. This represents a profound step in the development of a true moral consciousness based on examined principles , and the beginnings of a capacity for cultural innovation. Those who have achieved a Cultural Consciousness are concerned with equal justice for all people not just for one’s own kind, and they work to repeal or revise unjust laws.
Those who raise significant challenges in an imperial society are likely to be subjected to a loss of standing or outright rejection. However, because they have the capacity to question the dysfunctional cultural premises of Empire, those who have achieved a Cultural Consciousness are essential to the cultural renewal and maturation that the Socialized Consciousness suppresses as threatening to the established social and moral order. They have an “Inclusive World” view that sees the possibility of creating inclusive, life-affirming societies that work for all.
Fifth Order: Spiritual Consciousness
The Spiritual Consciousness, the highest expression of what it means to be human, manifests the awakening to Creation as a complex, multi-dimensional, interconnected, continuously unfolding whole. It involves coming full circle back to the original sense of oneness of the womb experience, but with a richly nuanced appreciation for the complexity and grandeur of the whole of Creation as manifest in each person, animal, plant, and rock. Persons who have attained a Spiritual Consciousness have an evolving “Integral World” view.
Spiritual Consciousness is the consciousness of the elder statesperson, teacher, tribal leader or religious sage that supports an examined morality grounded in the universal principles of justice, love and compassion common to the teachings of the most revered religious prophets. It approaches conflict, contradiction and paradox not as problems to be overcome, but as opportunities for deeper learning. Each encounter with diverse people and situations opens a window to a piece of reality previously hidden from the conscious mind. Eventually, what appeared to be disconnected fragments of experience link together to awaken a profound sense of the spiritual unity of Creation.
The Socialized Consciousness is prone to characterize persons who have achieved a Spiritual Consciousness as lone contemplators disaffiliated from society because they disavow special loyalty to any group or identity. However, the Spiritual Consciousness simply transcends the exclusiveness of conventional group loyalties to embrace an identity that is inclusive of the whole and all its many elements. The sense of duty and loyalty once reserved for members of one’s immediate family, ethnic group, nationality or religion now extends to the whole. To the Spiritual Consciousness, the satisfaction of living in creative service to the whole is its own reward.