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Explaining the current developments in the Middle-East

Mark Edwards

Why is there an outpouring of energy for democracy and freedom in the Middle East, in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen? Trying to explain this is difficult and there are obviously many factors at play into what has led up to the public demonstrations against undemocratic and tyrannical governments throughout this region. An integral meta-studies approach is useful in providing an analysis of these explanations because it flexibly employs multiple lenses and is conscious of the limits on the range of theoretical lenses it can use to develop explanations of complex social events.

Spiral Dynamics and AQAL-informed thinkers will probably move straight to the developmental levels for their analysis of the events occurring in the Middle East. AQAL-inspired explanations might propose that it is those more advanced individuals from the educated sector of these communities who are leading the demonstrations. Their needs, desires, levels of awareness and core purposes enable them to harness the pent-up frustrations and aspirations of the great mass of people. Theorists who rely on developmental levels, degrees of education, or stages of complexity to explain dramatic change often employed a lens that sees elite individuals or very skilled groups in the population planning, managing and leading revolutionary change through strategic processes of communicating to and even manipulating the less educated or less cultured desires of the majority. It is almost invariably the case that the use of developmental stages lens will come up with analyses and explanations that are based on issues of leadership or the strategic intentions of elite minorities. This is why Wilber always explains successful revolutions in terms of the actions of developmentally advanced individuals and groups. This is why he also advocates interventions to transform society at the level of leadership and the education of influential elites.

Using a mediation lens, however, helps us to come up with very different possible explanations. These not only complement developmental explanations but recontextualize them into completely different forms of explanation. It is was not only highly developed individuals who have led this uprising but the ordinary aspirations of common and simple people inspired by such mediating means as television, mosque services, word-of-mouth, internet and mobile communications and conversation with neighbours, friends and family.

Let me explain this mediational lens in this way. Within each person there is a full range of developmental potentials and capacities. Some lie dormant and latent within the individual while others are expressed in words and behaviour. What is dormant and what is expressed changes moment by moment depending, at least in part, on such factors as situational context, social modelling and ethical climate. To put this more simply and to generalize, when we are with good people we do good things and when we are with bad people we do bad things. When we are immersed in a mediating environment of violence and oppression we become violent and depressed. When we are surrounded by good people and wonderful opportunities then we can express our lives through those means. Mediating agents within social and technological environments can inspire and resonate with our highest and most aspiring needs and desires and when those agents tap into people's personal and interpersonal needs for freedom and self-expression and democratic expression they get out on the streets and they march against the tanks.

It's all about the mediational environment rather than the developmental centre of gravity. Elites and charismatic leaders come into the picture only as part of this mediating sea that constitutes a social environment. Democratic transformation is not led top-down by saintly leaders of the third tier. It emerges through the leadership of individuals from across all developmental profiles and capacities. Each of us plays a role in the emergence of democratic possibilities because each person has these potentials and can resonate with the dreams of freedom that are communicated to us through the mediational links that surround us and through which we move moment by moment.

The ordinary "first tier" people of Egypt and the Middle East are the real leaders of this change, it is not only or even primarily the educated and thoughtful members of the upper middle classes. The millions of Egyptian citizens who hunger for something more generous from their political leaders and systems are listening to something singing away deep in their hearts and they want to start singing that song with others in their community. How this will turn out in the long run is not the issue here. What is the issue in question is this: If we propose explanations that rely on developmental levels as their central analytical tools we will never understand how ordinary people can do extraordinary things.


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