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Human Nature

September 7, 1974

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Human Nature

September 7, 1974

Human Nature


For a Momentous Leap

By Clare W. Graves



A new psychological theory holds that human beings exist at different “levels of existence.” At any given level, an individual exhibits the behavior and values characteristic of people at that level; a person who is centralized at a lower level cannot even understand people who are at a higher level. In the following article, psychologist Clare Graves outlines his theory and what it suggests regarding man’s future. Through history, says Graves, most people have been confined to the lower levels of existence where they were motivated by needs shared with other animals. Now, Western man appears ready to move up to a higher level of existence, a distinctly human level. When this happens there will likely be a dramatic transformation of human institutions.


For many people the prospect of the future is dimmed by what they see as a moral breakdown of our society at both the public and private level. My research, over more than 20 years as a psychologist interested in human values, indicates that something is indeed happening to human values, but it is not so much a collapse in the fiber of man as a sign of human health and intelligence. My research indicates that man is learning that values and ways of living which were good for him at one period in his development are no longer good because of the changed condition of his existence. He is recognizing that the old values are no longer appropriate, but he has not yet understood the new.


The error which most people make when they think about human values is that they assume the nature of man is fixed and there is a single set of human values by which he should live. Such an assumption does not fit with my research. M data indicate that man’s nature is an open, constantly evolving system, a system which proceeds by quantum jumps from one steady state system to the next through a hierarchy of ordered systems.

Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change. These systems alternate between focus upon the external world, and attempts to change it, and focus upon the inner world, and attempts to come to peace with it, with the means to each and changing in each alternately prognostic system. Thus, man tends, normally, to change his psychology as the conditions of his existence change. Each successive stage, or level of existence, is a state through which people pass on the way to other states of equilibrium. When a person is centralized in one state of existence, he has a total psychology which is particular to that state. His feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning systems, belief systems, conception of mental health, ideas as to what mental illness is and how it should be treated, preferences for and conceptions of management, education, economic and political theory and practice, etc., are all appropriate to that state.


In some cases, a person may not be genetically or constitutionally equipped to change in the normal upward direction when the conditions of his existence change. Instead, he may stabilize and live out his life at any one or a combination of levels in the hierarchy. Again, he may show the behavior of a level in predominantly positive or negative manner, or he may, under certain circumstances, regress to a behavior system lower in the hierarchy. Thus, an adult lives in a potentially open systems of needs, values and aspirations, but he often settles into what appears to be a closed system.


Human existence can be likened to a symphony with six themes, in a symphony, the composer normally begins by stating his Themes in the simplest possible manner.


In human existence, our species begins by stating in the simplest way those themes which will preoccupy us through thousands of variations. At this point in history, the societally effective leading edge of man in the technologically advanced nations is currently finishing the initial statement of the sixth theme of existence and is beginning again with the first theme in an entirely new and more sophisticated variation. That is, man has reached the point of finishing the first and most primitive ladder of existence: the one concerned with the emergence of the individual of the species Homo sapiens and his subsistence on this planet. The first six levels of existence, A-N through F-S, have accordingly been called “Subsistence Levels.” (“A” stands for the neurological system in the brain upon which the psychological system is based; “N” for the set of existential problems that the “A” neurological system is able to cope with. Thus, in the “A-N” state, one calls on the “A” system to solve the “N” problems of existence.) These six subsistence levels comprise the initial statement of man’s themes in its very simplest form.


The six subsistence levels of man’s existence have as their overall goal the establishment of individual survival and dignity. Once having become reasonably secure, both physically and psychologically, in his existence, the individual becomes suddenly free to experience the wonder and interdependence of all life. But he must notice at the same time that the struggle for man’s emergent individuality has imperiled the very survival of that life. Thus, just as early man at the most primitive level of subsistence (A-N), had to use what power he could command to stabilize his individual life functions, so G-T man, the individual who has reached the first level of being must use what knowledge he can command to stabilize the essential functions of interdependent life. Similarly, B-O or tribal man gathered together in communities to insure his individual, physical survival, and our G-T man of the future must form communities of knowledge to insure the survival of all viable life upon this Earth. We see therefore that the six themes constantly repeat, even though man progresses from the simple statement of individual subsistence to the variation of the interdependence of life. This stately succession of themes and movements is the general pattern of the levels of existence.


In this discussion of man’s present and future, the first three subsistence levels must still concern us because many people, from aborigines to newly emergent nations, are still living at these levels of existence.

Here are brief descriptions of the levels as I have come to know them through my research:






Automatic Existence (First Subsistence Level)

Man at the first subsistence level (A-N), the automatic state of physiological existence, seeks only the immediate satisfaction of his basic physiological needs. He has only an imperative need-based concept of time and space and no concept of cause or effect. His awareness excludes self and is limited to the presence of physiologically determined tension when it is present, and the relief of such tension when it takes place. He lives a purely physiological



According to psychologist Graves, man climbs an “existential ladder,” that is, he moves through a series of distinct psychological stages, at present, he says, most Western people are in the stages known as D-Q, E-R, and F-S. But there are signs they are now preparing to move into the higher stages, G-T and H-U

Existence. Man the species, or man the individual, does not have to rise above this level to continue the survival of the species. He can continue the survival of the species through the purely physiological aspect of the process of procreation. He can live what is for him, at the A-N level, a productive lifetime—productive in the sense that his built-in response mechanism are able to reduce the tensions of his imperative physiological needs—and a reproductive lifetime. But this level of existence seldom is seen in the modern world except in pathological cases.

As soon as man, in his food-gathering wanderings, accrues a set of Pavlovian conditioned reflexes, which provide for the satisfaction of his imperative needs, and thus enters his “Garden of Eden,” he slides almost imperceptibly out of this first stage into the second existential state, and established form of human existence, the tribalisitic way of life. 


Tribalistic Existence (Second Subsistence Level)

At the second subsistence level, the B-O autistic state of thinking, man’s need is for stability. He seeks to continue a way of life that he does not understand but strongly defends. This level of man has just struggled forth from striving to exist and now has his first established way of life. This way of life is essentially without awareness, thought, or purpose, for it is based on Pavlovian classical conditioning principles. Therefore, B-O man believes his tribalistic way is inherent in the nature of things, As a result he holds tenaciously to it, and strives desperately to propitiate the word for its continuance.


At this level a seasonal, or naturally based concept of time prevails and space is perceived in an atomistic fashion. Causality is not yet perceived because man perceives the forces at work to be inherent. Here a form of existence based on myth and tradition arises, and being is a mystical phenomenon full of spirits, magic and superstition. Here the task of existence is simply to continue what it seems has enabled “my tribe to be.”

But here, more by chance than by design, some men achieve relative control of their spirit world through their non-explainable, elder-administered, tradition-based way of life—a way of life which continues relatively unchanged until disturbed from within or without. When the established tribal way of lie assures the continuance of the tribe with minimal energy expenditure by solving problems N by neurological means a, it creates the first of the general conditions necessary for movement to a new and different steady state of being. It produces excess energy in the system which puts the system in a state of readiness for a change. But unless another factor, such as dissonance or challenge, comes into the field, the change does not move in the direction of some other sate of being. Instead, it moves toward maximum entropy and its own premise, since it becomes overloaded with its creation of more and more tradition, more and more ritual. If, however, when the state of readiness is achieved, dissonance enters, then this steady state of being is precipitated toward a different kind of change. This dissonance arises usually in youth, or in certain minds which are not troubled by memories of the past and are capable of newer and more lasting insights into the nature of man’s being. Or it can come to the same capable minds when outsiders disturb the tribe’s way of life.


When, at the B-O level, readiness for change occurs, it triggers man’s insight into his existence as an individual being separate and distinct from other beings, and from his tribal compatriots as well, as he struggles, he perceives that others—other men, other animals, and even the spirits in his physical world—fight him back. So his need for survival comes to the fore.


With this change in consciousness, man becomes aware that he is aligned against predatory animals, a threatening physical universe, and other men who fight back for their established way of existence, or against him for the new way of existence hi is striving to develop. Now he is not one-with-all, for he is alone in his struggle for his survival against the “dragonic” forces of the universe. So he sets out in heroic fashion to build a way of being which will foster his individual survival.


Egocentric Existence (Third Subsistence Level)


At the egocentric level (C-P), raw, rugged, self-assertive individualism comes to the fore. This level might be termed “Machiavellian,” for within it is all that the author of The Prince considered the essence of being human. History suggests to us that the few who were able to gain their freedom from survival problems surged almost uncontrollably forward into a new way of being, and also dragged after them the tribal members unable to free themselves of the burden of stagnating tribalistic existence. History also suggests that the few became the authoritarians while the many become those who submitted. The many accepted the “might-is-right” of the few because such acceptance assured their survival. This was so in the past and it is still so today.

This Promethean (C-P) point of view is based on the prerogatives of the “haves” and the duties of the “have-nots.” Ultimately, when this way of life, based historically on the agricultural revolution, is established, life is seen as a continuous process with survival dependent on a controlled relationship. Fealty and loyalty, service and noblesse oblige become cornerstones of this way of life. Assured of their survival, through fief and vassalage, the “haves” base life on the “right” way to behave as their might dictates. A system develops in which each individual acts out in detail, in the interest of his own survival, how life is to be lived, but only a small number ever achieve any modicum of power and the remainder are left to submit.


Both the authoritarian and the submissive develop standards which they fell will insure them against threat, but these are very raw standards. The submissive person chooses to get away with what he can within the life style which is possible for him. The authoritarian chooses to do as he pleases. He spawns, as his raison d’etre, the rights of assertive individualism. These rights become, in time, the absolute rights of kings, the unassailable prerogatives of management, the inalienable rights of those who have achieved positions of power, and even the rights of the lowly hustler to all he can hustle. This is a world of the aggressive expression of man’s lust—openly and unabashedly by the “haves,” more covertly and deviously by the “have not.”

But when this system solidifies into a stable feudal way of life, it creates a new existential problem for both the “have” and the “have not.” For death still faces the “have,” and the “have not” must explain to himself why it is that he must live his miserable existence. Out of this mix eventually develops man’s fourth way of existence, the D-Q way of life.


Now man moves to the lasting security level of need and learns by avoidant learning. As he moves to the D-Q level he develops a way of life based on the conviction that there must be a reason for it all, a reason why the “have” shall possess so much in life yet be faced with death, and a reason why the “have not” is forced to endure a miserable existence. This search leads to the belief that the “have” and “have not” condition is a part of a directed design—a design of the forces guiding man and his destiny. Thus, the saintly way of life, based on one of the world’s great religions or great philosophies, comes to be. Here man creates what he believes is a way for lasting peace in this life or everlasting life, a way which, it seems to him, will remove the pain of both the “have” and the “have not.” Here he seeks salvation


Saintly Existence (Fourth Subsistence Level)


At the saintly level (D-Q), man develops a way of life based on “Thou shalt suffer the pangs of existence in this life to prove theemself-worthy of later life.” This saintly form of existence comes from seeing that living in this word is not made for ultimate pleasure—a perception based on the previous endless struggle with unbridled lusts and a threatening universe. Here man perceives that certain rules are prescribed for each class of men and that these rules describe the proper way each class is to behave. The rules are the price man must pay for his more lasting life, for the peace which he seeks—the price of no ultimate pleasure while living. The measure of his worthiness is how much he has lived by the established rules. But, after security is achieved through these absolutistic rules, the time comes when some men question the price. When this happens, the saintly way of life is doomed to decay, since some men are bound to ask why the cannot have some pleasure in this life. Man then struggles on through another period of transition to another level, now

Slipping, now falling in the quest for his goal. When man casts aside the inhuman aspect of his saintly existence, he is again charged with excess energy because his security problems are solved; but this very solution has created the problems “R”—how to build a life that will offer pleasure here and now, which eventually he meets through the neurological means of system “E.”


Materialistic Existence (Fifth Subsistence Level)


At the Materialistic level (E-R), man strives to conquer the world by learning its secrets, rather than through raw, naked force as he did at the C-P level. He tarries long enough here to develop and utilize the objectivistic, positivistic, operationalistic, scientific method so as to prove the material ends for a satisfactory human existence in the here and now. But once assured of his own material satisfaction he finds he has created problems “S,” a new spiritual void in his being. He finds himself master of the objective physical world but a prime neophyte in the subjectivistic, humanistic world. He has achieved the satisfaction of good life through his relative mastery of the physical universe, but it has been achieved at a price—the price of not being liked by other men for his callous use of knowledge for himself. He has become envied and even respected, but he is not liked. He has achieved his personal status and material existence at the expense of being rejected even by his own children. The solution of material problems, coupled with this perception, calls for his use of neurological sub-system “F,” and begins man’s move to his sixth form of existence.


Personalistic Existence (Sixth Subsistence Level)


At the personalistic level (F-S), man becomes centrally concerned with peace with his inner self and in the relation of his self to the inner self of others. He becomes concerned with belonging, with being accepted, with knowing the inner side of self and other selves so harmony can come to be, so people as individuals can be at peace with themselves and thus with the world. And when he achieves this, he finds he must become concerned with more than self or other selves, because while he was focusing on the inner self to the exclusion of the external world, his outer world has gone to pot. So now he turns outward to life and to the whole, the total universe. As he does so he begins to see the problems of restoring the balance of life which has been torn asunder by his individualistically oriented, self-seeking climb up the first ladder of existence.

As man moves from the sixth or personalistic level—the level of being with self and other men—to the seventh level—the cognitive level of existence—a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed. The gap between the sixth level (the F-S level) and the seventh (the G-T level) is the gap between getting and giving, taking and contributing, destroying and constructing. It is the gap between deficiency or deficit motivation and growth or abundance motivation. It is the gap between similarity to animals and dissimilarity to animals, because only man is possessed of a future orientation.


Applying Graves’s Theory To Management


Graves criticizes management training programs for trying—in all too many instances—to change managers’ beliefs and ways of behaving so as to bring those more in line with the organization’s pre-existing methods and beliefs. For instance, such programs may manage from a hierarchical to a “team management.”

“These programs do not try to fit managerial development to the beliefs and ways of behaving that are those of the managing person,” says Graves. “They attempt, instead, to get the manager to change his beliefs. When organizations foster this kind of incongruence, they cast the manager into a severe value crisis, which often affects his performance adversely.”


A second mistake of management, he says, is that it typically does not manage people the way they want to be managed. For instance, many persons like participation management but others do not, yet management has implicitly assumed that participation affects all persons in more or less the same way. In fact, people with an authoritarian cast of mind or with weak independence needs apparently are unaffected or even negatively affected by an opportunity to participate in decision making.


Graves’s research indicates that a worker with a closed personality normally prefers to be managed by the style congruent with his level of existence. If his personality is still open and growing, he prefers to be managed by a supervisor at the next higher level. For example, a closed personality at the D-Q level prefers a paternalistic form of management, while a worker with an open personality at the same level would like to be managed by E-R methods, which allow more freedom for individual initiative.


Cognitive Existence (First Being Level)


Once we are able to grasp the meaning of passing from the level of “being one with others” to the cognitive level (G-T) of knowing and having to do so that “all can be and can continue to be,” it is possible to see the enormous differences between man and other animals. Here we step over the line which separates those needs that man has in common with other animals and those needs which are distinctly human.

Man, at the threshold of the seventh level, where so many political and cultural dissenters stand today, is at the threshold of being human. He is truly becoming a human being. He is no longer just another of nature’s species. And we, in our times, in our ethical and general behavior, are just approaching this threshold, the line between animalism and humanism.


Experientialistic Existence (Second Being Level)


At the second being level, the experientialistic level (H-U), man will be driven by the winds of knowledge, and human, not godly, faith. The knowledge and competence acquired at the G-T level will bring him to the level of understanding, the H-U level. If ever man leaps to this great beyond, there will be no bowing to suffering, no vassalage, and no peonage. Man will move forth on the crests of his broadened humanness rather than vacillate and swirl in the turbulence of his animalistic needs. His problems, now that he has put the world back together, will be those of bringing stabilization to life once again. He will need to learn how to live so that the balance of nature is not again upset, so that individual man will not again set off on another self-aggrandizing binge. His values will be set not by the accumulated wisdom of the elders, as in the B-O system, but by the accumulated knowledge of the knowers. But here again, as always, this accumulating knowledge will create new problems and precipitate man to continue up just another step of his existential staircase.


Personalistic Values Now Flower in America

Using this framework to approach current American society, we can easily see an efflorescence of personalistic (F-S) values in the popularity of such things as Esalen, yoga, the encounter group, the humanistic psychology movement and participatory decision-making in management. By all these means and many others, personalistic (F-S) man endeavors to achieve self-harmony and harmony with others. These individuals do not, of course, see their striving for harmony with the human element as merely a stage they are going through, but as the ultimate, the permanent goal of all life. This short-range vision, which views the current goal as the ultimate goal of life, is shared by human beings at every level of existence for as long as they remain centralized in that particular level.


Using the Theory of Levels, we see that the so-called “generation gap” of the recent pass was in reality a values gap between the D-Q and the E-R and F-S levels of existence. For example, many of the parents of F-S youth subscribed to E-R values, which emphasize proving one’s worth by amassing material wealth. To individuals operating at this level it was inconceivable that their children might reject competition for cooperation and seek inner self-knowledge rather than power, position and things. Worse yet to the E-R parents 

Was the devotion of these young people to foreigners and minority groups who, according to E-R thinking, deserved their unfortunate condition because they were too weak or too stupid to fight for something better. Thus, the foreigners and minorities were characterized as lazy and irresponsible and the youth who defended them as lily-livered “bleeding hearts.”


In turn F-S youth contributed to the confrontation because their civil disobedience and passive resistance offended their parents more than outright violence ever could have. These young people not only challenged Might (and therefore Right), but offered no new Might and Right to replace that which they mocked. Consequently, they were rightly (to the E-R mentality) called anarchists, and it was widely said that such permissiveness was wrecking the values which made America great. Of course, our hindsight now tells us that America was not, in fact; “wrecked;” and today one can see a great many of the E-R parents who protested against anarchy getting in touch with themselves at Esalen and advocating theories of participative management.


Another outgrowth of the transition of our society from E-R to F-S values was the de-emphasis of technology. Technology was the principal means by which E-R man conquered the world. He did not, like his ancestor C-P man, use force alone, but rather he attempted to understand the natural laws in order to conquer men and nature. Because of the close historical association of technology with E-R values, the emerging F-S consciousness could not help but view technology as a weapon of conquest. Thus, along with rejecting conquest. F-S man rejected technology and in its place set 


Up its exact opposite: Nature. In other words, the exploration of inner man and a return to nature (including all manner of idealized natural foods) replaced the exploitation of nature and other human beings in a quest for material wealth.


The idea of the future suffered a similar fate. American E-R man was always insistent that he had a great future, a “manifest destiny” somehow enhanced by never having lost a war. Therefore, F-S man, in his rebellion, was forced to throw the future into the same garbage heap as technology, erecting in its place “the here and now.”

Picture, if you will, F-S man seated in a yoga position, contemplating his inner self. He has completed the last theme of the subsistence movement of existence. There are no new deficiency motivations to rouse him from his meditations. In fact, he might well go on contemplating his navel to the day of his death, if he only had some suitable arrangement to care for his daily needs. And it is quite possible for a few F-S individuals to live this way. But what happens when the majority of a population begins to arrive at the F-S level of existence? Who is left to care for their daily needs? Who is left to look after the elaborate technology which assures their survival? If we return to F-S man seat in his yoga position, we see that what finally disturbs him is the roof falling in on his head.

This roof can be called the T problems—the ecological crisis, the energy crisis, the population crisis, limits to growth, or any other such thing which is enough of a disturbance to awaken F-S man. Naturally enough, his first reaction will be that evil technology is taking over and that all the good feeling and greenery which made the Earth great is in the process of being wrecked forever. (We remember that attitude from the days when his father, E-R man, had much the same erroneous notion.) F-S man is correct in the sense that his entire way of life, his level of existence, is indeed breaking down: It must break down in order to free energy for the jump into the G-T state, the first level of being. This is where the leading edge of man is today.


Human Progress Can Be Arrested

At this point it might be good to take a closer look at what happens when man changes levels of existence. The process itself is similar to some very basic phenomena in quantum mechanics a brain physiology, suggesting that it may in fact derive from the same laws of hierarchical organization. Basically, man must solve certain hierarchically ordered existential problems which are crucial to him in his existence. The solution of his current problem frees energy in his system and creates in turn new existential problems. (For instance, both the self-centering and other awareness of the F-S state are necessary if the G-T problems of how life can survive are to be posed.) When new problems arise, higher order dynamic neurological systems are biochemically activated to solve them.


 The People that Drive Managers Crazy

Most people in organizations in the western world are in the middle levels of existence (D-Q, E-R, and, increasingly, F-S). Managers are used to dealing with such people. Occasionally, however, a manager must deal with people at either a lower or higher level, or then his customary methods fail, Graves says.

People at the C-P level (Egocentric) are found frequently in very impoverished areas. These people exhibit the least capability to perform in a complex industrial world. When a job is available, they do not apply. If they get a job, they do not show up for work or they soon quit. While they are on the job, their habits are so erratic that little work is actually accomplished. Exasperated managers find such people “unemployable.” Society labels them “hardcore unemployed.”


To a Gravesian, people at the C-P level are employable, but they just be managed in a special way. The Graves theory holds that C-P people are driven primarily by the need to solve immediate survival problems. Applying the theory, a Gravesian manager would arrange the work situation so that the immediate survival needs of the worker are not threatened and would give him work that can be learned almost immediately.

The manager would also change the hiring requirements so that they do not threaten a C-P person. For instance, the Gravesian manager would simplify and speed up the processing of applications so that people know in minutes if they are hired and, if not hired, are taken immediately to some place where they might find jobs. He would make sure that C-P people are not supervised by self-righteous, do good managers.


The hard-core unemployed person lives in a world of immediacy, says Graves. Often he must pay money down for almost everything he gets, and because of his immediate reactions to the crises he faces, he may be an absentee problem. To counteract these problems, a member of the organization might be assigned to administer an emergency fund to help the C-P person through difficult periods.


At the opposite extreme, managers must also deal with another group of people whom they find extremely troublesome—the G-T and H-U people. Ironically, these are among the most competent people. They possess knowledge needed to improve productivity in the organization, but often they are kept from improving productivity by ancient policies, inane practices, outmoded procedures and inappropriate managerial styles.

The G-T and H-U people want autonomy—the freedom to do their jobs the best way they know. When management requires such a person to procure permission to institute change when he sees change is needed, it stifles what he can contribute.


The sacred channels of communication seriously hamper the productivity of G-T people, who want to be able to decide when they know what to do. When he doesn’t know, the G-T is motivated to seek guidance from those who do know. But a G-T employee’s motivation becomes negative when he must waste time going through channels which require him to explain what does not need to be explained to people who do not need to have it explained to them.


The G-T worker reacts negatively when required to ask an administrator’s approval for materials he needs in order to be productive. He reacts positively when he can tell his supervisor what he needs to do a job and when the supervisor considers that it is his job to do as his subordinate says. The G-T employee believes that he—not a superior—should make the decision whenever he is competent to make it—and most G-T workers know that their superiors are not competent to make the decision.


People who operate at the being levels are typically competent regardless of their surroundings. Therefore, their productivity is not a function of lower-level incentives. Threat and coercion do not work with them, because they are not frightened people. Beyond a certain point, pecuniary motives do not affect them. Status and prestige symbols, such as fancy titles, flattery, office size, luxurious carpeting, etc., are not incentives to them. Many of them are not even driven by a need for social approval. What is important to them is that they be autonomous in the exercise of their competence, that they be allowed all possible freedom to do what needs to be done as best they can do it. In other words, they want their managers to let them improve productivity the way they know it can be improved. They do not want to waste their competency doing it management’s way simply because things always have been done that way.


G-T people are becoming more prevalent, says Graves. They must do their own managing of their own work and of their own affairs. Their procedures must be their own, not those that tradition or group decision-making have established. When G-T employees are autonomous and are properly coupled with jobs that utilize their competence, one can expect optimum productivity from them.


An H-U employee does not resist coercion and restrictions in a flamboyant manner as does the G-T type, but he will avoid any relationship in which others try to dominate him. He must therefore be approached through what Graves calls “acceptance management”—management which takes him as he is and supports him in doing what he wants to do. It is useless, says Graves, to get an H-U employee to subordinate his desires to those of the organization. Instead, the organization must be fitted to him. If he cannot get the acceptance he wants, an H-U employee will quietly build a non-organizationally oriented world for himself and retire into it. He will do a passable but not excellent job. If there is no change in management and he cannot go elsewhere, he will surreptitiously work at what is important to him while putting up a front to management.





First Subsistence level (A-N): Man at this level is motivated only by imperative periodic physiological needs. He seeks to stabilize his individual body functions. This level of existence is perfectly adequate to preserve the species, but it is seldom seen today except in rare instances, as in the Tasaday tribe, or in pathological cases.


Second Subsistence Level (B-O): At this level, man seeks social (tribal) stability. He strongly defends a life he does not understand. He believes that his tribal ways are inherent in the nature of things, and resolutely holds to them. He lives by totems and taboos.


Third Subsistence Level (C-P): Raw, self-assertive individualism comes to the fore at this level, and the term “Machiavellian” may be used. This is the level where “might makes right” thinking prevails. There is an aggressive expression of man’s lusts—openly aid unabashedly by the “haves,” more covertly and deviously by the “have not.” Anyone dealing with the C-P type must resort to the threat of sheer naked force to get him to do anything.


Fourth Subsistence Level (D-Q): At this level, man perceives that living in this world does not bring ultimate pleasure, and also sees that rules are prescribed for each class of people. Obedience to these rules is the price that one must pay for a more lasting life. D-Q people generally subscribe to some dogmatic system, typically a religion. These are the people who believe in “living by the Ten Commandments,” obeying the letter of the law, etc. They work best within a rigid set of rules, such as army regulations.


Fifth Subsistence Level (E-R): People at the E-R level want to attain mastery of the world by learning its secrets rather than through brute force (as at the C-P level). They believe that the man who comes out on top in life fully deserves this good fortune, and those who fail are ordained to submit to the chosen few. E-R people tend to be somewhat dogmatic, but they are pragmatic, too, and when they find something that works better they’ll change their beliefs.


Sixth Subsistence Level (F-S): Relating self to other human selves and to his inner self is central to man at the F-S level. Unlike the E-R people, F-S man cares less for material gain or power than he does for being like by other people. He’s ready to go along with whatever everyone else thinks is best. He likes being in groups; the danger is that he gets so wrapped up in group decision-making that little work gets done.


 First Being Level (G-T): The first being level is tremendously different from the earlier subsistence levels, says Graves. Here as man, in his never-ending spiral, turns to focus once again on the external world and his use of power in relation to it, the compulsiveness and anxiousness of the subsistence ways of being are gone. Here man has a basic confidence that he, through a burgeoning intellect freed of the constriction of lower level anxieties, can put the world back together again. If not today, tomorrow. Here he becomes truly a cooperative individual and ceases being a competitive one. Here he truly sees our interdependence with all things of this universe. And here he uses the knowledge garnered through his first-ladder trek in efforts to put his world together again, systemically.


Second Being Level (H-U): People operating in an H-U fashion have been rare in Grave’s studies. Almost all of Grave’s subjects who so behaved have been in their late fifties and beyond. What typifies them is a “peculiar” paradoxical exploration of their inner world. They treat it as new toy with which to play. But even though playing with it, they are fully aware that they will never know what their inner selves are all about. Graves says this idea is best illustrated by a poem of D.H. Lawrence, “Terra Incognita.” (See box on page 81.)

See chart on following pages.


Levels of Existence

Clare Grave’s theory holds that human beings develop through a series of “levels” or behavioral states. At each level, a person learns and acts in a way that is consonant with that particular level. This table provides a schematic outline of Graves’s theory.




(The following list is formatted like below)


Learning System


Motivational System



Habituation. (The individual adapts to his environment by a process of becoming accustomed to certain things, e.g., a baby gets used to his mother’s breast, clothing, face, etc.)





Classical conditioning. (The individual learns through the association of one thing with another, as when he begins to salivate when his mother prepares to feed him.)





Operant conditioning. At this level, people learn best when they are rewarded for learning tasks.





Avoidant learning. People at this level learn best when they are punished for errors. Without some punishment, D-Q individuals may not learn at all.

Absolutistic (thinking in terms of dogmas, rules.)




Expectancy. E-R types learn best when the outcome of their behavior meets their expectations; that is, when they behave in a certain way and get the reward that they expected to get. E-R people learn best through their own efforts, with mild risk and with considerable variety in the learning experience





Observational. F-S people learn by watch other people and observing how they react. Their learning is through vicarious experience. 

Relativistic (things depend on particular situations)





At the G-T and H-U levels, since people are in the second ladder of existence and all basic systems are now open, learning in any form can and does take place. Here it is not new means, but changes in other aspects of the total system, such as the relative dissolution of fear, which accounts for changes in ability to learn

Systemic Existence

Differential Experience


As Seen By Clare Graves

Each level is designated by two letters (e.g., F-S). The first letter stands for the neurological system on which the level is based and the second for the existential problem it is dealing with.


Specific Motivation Means Values

End Values

Nature Of Existence

Problems Of Existence


Periodic physiological needs (e.g., hunger)

No conscious value system; values are purely reactive


Maintaining physiological stability


Aperiodic physiological needs (e.g., warmth)





Achievement of relative safety

Psychological Survival





Living with self-awareness

Order, meaning




Achieving ever-lasting peace of mind


Adequacy, competency




Conquering the physical universe


Love, affiliation




Living with the human element






Restoring viability to a disordered world. (How can we live in a world with so many conflicting value systems and no assurance as to which is right?)






Accepting existential dichotomies (e.g., life is the most precious thing there is, yet my life is unimportant)


A transition to a new level of existence but the start of a new “movement” in the symphony of human history. The future offers us, basically, three possibilities: (1) Most gruesome is the chance that we might fail to stabilize our world and, through successive catastrophes regress as far back as the Ik tribe has. (2) Only slightly less frightening is the vision of fixation in the D-Q/E-R/F-S societal complex. This might resemble George Orwell’s 1984 with its tyranny, manipulative government glossed over by a veneer of humanitarian sounding doublethink and moralistic rationalizations, and it is a very real possibility in the next decade. (3) The last possibility is that we could emerge into the G-T level and proceed toward stabilizing our world so that all life can continue.

If we succeed in the last alternative, we will find ourselves in a very different world from what we know and we will find ourselves thinking in a very different way. For one thing, we will no longer be living in a world of unbridled self-expression and self-indulgence, or in a world of reverence for the individual, but in one whose rule is: Express self, but only so that all life can continue. It may well be a world which, in comparison to this one, is rather restrictive and authoritarian, but this will not be the authority of forcibly taken, God-given or self-serving power; rather it will be the authority of knowledge and necessity. The purpose of G-T man will be to bring the earth back to equilibrium so that life upon it can survive, and this involves learning to act within the limits inherent in the balance of life. We may find such vital human concerns as food and procreation falling under strict regulation, while in other respects society will be free not only from any form of compulsion but also from prejudice and bigotry. Almost certainly it will be a society in which renewable resources play a far greater role than they do today: wood, wind and tide may be used for energy; cotton and wool for clothing, and possibly even bicycles and horses for short trips. Yet while more naturalistic than the world we know today, at the same time the G-T world will be unimaginably more advanced technologically; for unlike F-S man, G-T man will have no fear of technology and will understand its consequences. He will truly know when to use it and when not to use it, rather than being bent on using it whenever possible as E-R man has done.


The psychological keynote of a society organized according to G-T thinking will be freedom from inner compulsiveness and rigidifying anxiety. G-T man, who exists today in ever increasing numbers, does not fear death, nor God, nor his fellow man. Magic and superstition hold no sway over him. He is not mystically minded, though he lives in the most mysterious of “mystic” universes. The G-T individual lives in a world of paradoxes. He knows that his personal life is absolutely unimportant, but because it is part of life there is nothing more important in the world. G-T man enjoys a good meal or good company when it is there, but does not miss it when it is not. He requires little, compare to his E-R ancestor, and gets more pleasure from simple things than F-S man thinks he (F-S man) gets. G-T man knows how to get what is necessary to his existence and does not want to waste time getting what is superfluous. More than E-R man before him, he knows what power is, how to create and use it, but he also knows how limited is its usefulness. That which alone commands his unswerving loyalty, and in whose cause he is ruthless, is the continuance of life on this earth.


The G-T way of life will be so different from any that we have known up to now that its substance is very difficult to transmit. Possibly the following will help: G-T man will explode at what he does not like, but he will not be worked up or angry about it. He will get satisfaction out of doing well but will get no satisfaction from praise for having done so. Praise is anathema to him, He is egoless, but terribly concerned with the rightness of his own existence. He is detached from and unaffected by social realities, but has a very clear sense of their existence. In living his life he constantly takes into account his personal qualities, his social situation, his body, and his power, but they are of no great concern to him. They are not terribly important to him unless they are terribly important to you. He fights for himself but is not defensive. He has no anxiety or irrational doubt but he does feel fear; he seeks to do better, but is not ambitious. He will strive to achieve—but through submission, not domination. He enjoys the best of life, of sex, of friends, and comfort that is provided, but he is not dependent on them.

Because of this different way of thinking, human institutions at the G-T level would become very different from what we have today. For instance, those processes and institutions which today are centralized would likely become decentralized, while those which are decentralized might become centralized. Since G-T man performs only necessary work and then only in the way in which he sees fit, there is bound to be drastic change not only in the structure of work but also in the amount of work done, the location in time and space of the work, and the reasons for which it is carried out. As an industrial psychologist, I have already noted a dramatic rise in the number of G-T individuals occupying positions which make them heirs to corporate power. When their time comes, business will shift toward a G-T outlook.


Our institutions of learning will undergo a similar transformation. Today we endeavor to teach children to be what they are not. That is, we prevent them from reaching higher into the existential hierarchy by preventing them from acting out the levels of existence on which they are actually living. Education in a G-T society would encourage all individuals to express their values as fully as possible, thus freeing the natural growth process from artificial constraints. There would be no poverty and wealth in such a society, but this circumstance would not result from altruism or political conviction, but rather from G-T man’s conviction that equal access to a high-quality life is essential for everyone. Though he recognizes that all men are not equal, inequality in the necessities of life is to him an unnatural travesty on all life. The G-T individual who had more than enough would not take pity on the poor nor would he envy a person who had more, but he would simply be very uncomfortable until both had a necessary amount.

If this thinking seems strange, we must remember that a description of today’s F-S humanity, typified by the Esalen Institute, System Y Management, etc., would have seemed equally perverse and bizarre to those who were E-R men twenty years ago. Those of us who survive long enough to live in a society ordered by the G-T way of thinking—if such Comes about—will find it perfectly natural.


But let us not be misled at this point. This theory says the future can never be completely predicted because it allows only for the prediction of the general and not the particular. I could no more predict specific features than a pre-radium chemist could have predicted, from the atomic table of elements, that radium would be radioactive. According to my studies, it would be exceedingly presumptuous of the human race are this primitive stage of its development, approaching only the first step of the second ladder of existence, to imagine that the future could be predicted in precise detail. I say this because my studies indicate that something unique and unpredictable, something beyond the general form of the next system, has always emerged to characterize each new level.


From the standpoint of values, the future will be a reversal of the present. Technologically, the future will be a quantitative extension, but values and beliefs will represent a reversal, though in a higher order form. We appear to be headed for a higher order reversal of those values and beliefs we have held most dear and in our institutional ways of living. A few things we might expect when man’s life is ordered by G-T thinking are:


  1. Quality—not quantity—will become the measure of worth.

  2. Reduction of use will be valued; growth will be devalued.

  3. Freedom to operate in one’s own self-interest will be replaced by the responsibility to operate in the interest of others.

  4. The measure of educational success will not be quantity of learning but whether the education leads to movement up the existential staircase. Business and other organizations will be judged in the same way.

  5. The boss will be the expediter of subordinates’ desires rather than the director of their activities.

  6. The political systems which let anyone run for office will be replaced by systems that require candidates to meet certain requirements for office.

  7. A leisure ethic will replace the work ethic as the primary means of valuing a person. A man will be revered more of his ability to contribute in his non-earning time than in his earning time.

  8. Work will be increased for the young and reduced for the older, while education is increased for the older and reduced for the younger.

  9. Actions that promote interdependent existence will be valued more than those that promote the sanctity of the individual...