Elza Maalouf on Integral Design in the Midst of Chaos, Bloodshed & Revolution: #ITC2015 Keynote

Elza Maalouf's keynote this morning left everyone with some deep considerations of conflicts in the Middle East. Elza introduced herself as a former "closet Wilberite" who had attended integral leadership seminars. She was invited by Don Beck, "when the time was right", to work on conflicts in the Middle East. 

Using Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics as a theoretical framework, Elza described "patterns that emerged" centering around the LR (Lower Right, that's AQAL) quadrant. These were "functional problems" around life conditions, family, tribes, lineage, and contextual circumstances of the region. 

By the same token, however, "local problems require local solutions". So, her use of I.T. and Spiral Dynamics, in collaboration with Don Beck, emphasized what she calls "Indigenous Design". They reinterpreted conflict through Social Judgment Theory and the values of the spectrum (here I'm guessing she is referring to Spiral Dynamics).

"From the blueprint of integral design", Elza was able to discern the natural and "indigenous ecosystems" of the people she was working with. Inability to discern this, she suggests, is why many Western solutions in the Middle East have failed.


Elza gives us a brief overview – a memetic history – of Islam, taking us through the "Age of Ignorance" or "Jahiliyyah" (pre-Islam, heavy Purple and Red) to the Islamic Renaissance ("religious" Blue). By the 11th century, Islamic civilization had made innovations in science, cosmology, mathematics, physics and even psychology (and sociology, considering Ibn Khaldun). Islam had, in other words, reached Orange and even Green (pluralism) in places like Andalusia while Western civilization was in its Middle Ages.

But things started to change in the 11th century. Al Ghazali published an important work, "The Incoherence of the Philosophers" (Elza suggests another translation: "The Insignificance of the Philosophers"), criticizing the openness of early Islamic philosophy. This, Elza tells us, "brought back patriarchal dominance to the religion". The rise of the Ottoman Empire brought with it the decline of science and philosophical thinking, and the rise of "egocentric Red and religious Blue."

With the arrival of colonialism by British and French powers, however, came new problems. The West "drew some borders and called them nations... they wanted us to forget centuries of tribal warfare".

The rise of Arab nationalism and its subsequent collapse (with the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser) and the rise of dictators leads us to our contemporary memetic period. Problems in the Middle East and North Africa were blamed on Israel, and the United States.

"The Arab Spring has become an Arab Winter," Elza says, "and Iraq has turned into the Islamic State". The situation is one where the predominant meme is an egocentric Red with a Blue that is "yet to be known", struggling to define itself. 

Moving to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, Elza showed us this helpful diagram. "The Anatomy of a Conflict" displays a spectrum mapped with Spiral Dynamics. 

"There are two sides to each conflict, and on each side there are six positions". This part was an important one. We are encouraged to consider that there is an intra-conflict as well as an inter-conflict between both sides. 

Very often, and especially in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the top three levels are silenced, and we can only hear the most polarized levels shouting at each other. Elza described how building spaces where the top three levels are protected is extremely important for making any kind of progress towards peaceful resolution. The use of this model could go a long way for "pacifying polarization".

In order to do this, however, we have to "look at conflict through memetic maps, not geographic maps".

We then began to hear about The Hearts and Minds Strategy, again reiterating the important points of the lecture: "building an indigenous ecosystem, by its people and for its people."

This is done through a a Natural Design System.

It is imperative to find out who you can work with (see image above). These are "indigenous telling experts", or "natives of the territory who speak its language, know the culture and subcultures in it". In this way, the work respects "local culture while designing for local emergence". 

Working with Palestinians, Elza describes how nearly 700 people attended a conference at the Shepherd Hotel. "None of them spoke about the Israeli occupation," she says, "they spoke about building their nation for Palestinians, and the promise of the future".

Concluding, Elza reminds us that right now we are not dealing with "corporations or nations", and the next phase for the region isn't going to be "Integral 7th Level Yellow", it will be the emergence from Red to Blue. She suggests that this has been the hardest transition in human history. 

She speaks briefly of everyone she has worked with through her emergence work. "I love them with all my heart".

Thank you Elza.

Immediate Reflections:

There was a lot of unfamiliar territory here for me, so I am simply hoping I've done Elza's work and keynote presentation justice. What stands out for me, in the hours after her presentation, is the immense passion and care she has for her work. Significant is the careful delineation in using I.T. and Spiral Dynamics as a "blueprint" for "indigenous" memetic and cultural values. This is extremely important, lest we end up using S.D. and I.T. as another ideational form of Western colonization. 

I'd also like to point out how brilliant the "Memetic History" section of her presentation was. I would be glad attend a whole lecture on this subject. It may be appropriate here to note that Islamic Civilization is noted for the first social scientist, Ibn Khaldun, who developed a "meta theory" of civilizational life cycles (see the Muqaddimah).

You can pick up Elza's book, Emerge!, from Amazon.

Keynote Visualization by Mathias Weitbrecht