Values as Complex Adaptive Systems – An Analysis of the Swedish Response to the Migration Crisis from a Value Systems Perspective

[The following text presents an analysis of the Swedish response and debate around the refugee crisis from a value systems perspective. It was presented at the conference for Migration and the welfare states in October 2016. ]


The Swedish response to the refugee crisis is analysed from a value system perspective, using the Spiral Dynamics model. The analysis gives an overview of the conflict between the traditional, modern, and postmodern values. Due to the crisis and changes in life conditions, traditional and nationalistic values and perspectives have challenged the dominating postmodern values. Two defining aspects were the sheer volume and its economic consequences that made Sweden substantially reduce its intake, and the sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, along with similar incidents in Sweden. The first aspect entailed a conflict between a postmodern emphasis on global human rights and tolerance, and traditional stability and national interest, as well as a modern emphasis on economic aspects and a preserved welfare state. The second aspect led to two expressions of the postmodern value system coming into conflict with each other, namely gender equality and multiculturalism. It is discussed whether the conflict leads to a regression of values or progress towards post-postmodern values.


”Instead, the entire house behind the façade is torn down, bit by bit. The façade remains until the decisive moment. At a given signal the old façade falls. Behind it there is already a new one. It seems to always have been there. In one stroke, everything changed. Politicians, journalists, everyone, follows.

Now this is the corridor that applies. ”

(Hakelius, 2015)
[The author’s translation]

The description came from Swedish columnist Johan Hakelius as he tries to capture the dramatic shifts in the discourse and debate around the migration and refugee crisis in October 2015. What was previously viewed by many as racist and intolerant became governmental immigration policy in an instant. The “corridor” refers to the space of acceptable opinions that you need to keep within if you don’t want to have a diagnosis of your mental health, a Swedish version of an Overton window. The term was coined by political scientist Henrik Oscarsson (2013), professor and director of the SOM-institute at Gothenburg University, which studies public political opinion. In relation to the issues of immigration and the refugee crisis, the opinion corridor can be seen as the space within which you express tolerance, acceptance and a general positive attitude towards migrants, a generous immigration policy and multiculturalism. However, as Hakelius illustrates, the opinion corridor and the discussion around values seem to has shifted significantly recent year, most notably with the refugee crisis and the sudden change in immigration policy. Further, incidents such as the sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, and assaults at Swedish youth festivals have triggered discussions on the topic of Swedish values, what they are, what they should be and if they exist at all. The political debate around immigration is often likened with a minefield (Häger, 2015) – polarised and hard to navigate with a high social price for missteps and for presenting facts and opinions that do not fit within a narrative of tolerance. Häger (2016) describes how this polarisation has been reflected in journalism and a tendency of not reporting on issues that may promote intolerance towards immigration. Such development is sometimes argued to represent a regression towards the 30th style fascism. Regardless of position in the debate, there seems to be notion on progress and regress in terms of values, although the interpretations vary. But what does progress mean in terms of values? And how should the issue itself, on immigration and the refugee crisis, be addressed?

Challenges around the refugee crisis, immigration and integration issues can be characterised as wicked problems, also referred to as complex societal issues (see e.g. Jordan, Andersson & Rignér, 2013; Jordan & Andersson, 2010) or ill-structured problems (King & Kitchener, 1994). This means that the problems can be understood in more or less complex ways, they don’t have definite and final solutions but rather more or less complex and fruitful ways of being dealt with, and they demand the cooperation of many different actors and coordination of different perspectives in order to be properly addressed. The research field of adult development gives that competences that are useful in this context, such as complex thinking and reasoning (Commons, 2008), social perspective-taking (Selman, 1980; Kohlberg, 1981; Armon, 1984), develops throughout the adult life. They can also be supported by means of scaffolds and group processes (Ross, 2006), cognitive tools (Commons & Goodheart, 2008) and theoretical frameworks for perspective-taking (Wilber, 1996). In order to address the problems properly, a more complex understanding of the different perspectives need to be acknowledged, rather than stating that a certain perspective and associated values is either inherently good or problematic. Thus, we need to better understand what different values and perspectives there are, how they evolved, how they are changing and why, and to develop cognitive tools and scaffolds for supporting such understanding.

The shift in immigration policy in 2015 triggered a discussion on whether there exists a Swedish culture with a certain set of values. However, such discussion is far from new. Swedish mentality and traits, and how they have developed historically along with the socio-techno-economic development, have been discussed by scholars such as Daun (1994), Berggren and Trägårdh (2006) and Lundgren (2013, 2016). Swedish values can also be understood by means of comparisons and by contrasting with the values of other cultures. There are several approaches to analyse cultural values, most notably the World Values Survey (Inglehart, 2007) where cultures are evaluated according to dimensions such as survival vs self-expression values and traditional vs secular-rational values in different waves since the 60s up till present time. Another popular cultural measurement is the Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory (Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov, 2005) which evaluates values according to dimensions such as power distance, individuality and masculinity. These approaches view the cultures on an aggregated level and only acknowledge the differences of values between different cultures and not within it. Two approaches that can be used for capturing such differences are Schwartz Theory of Basic Human Values (Schwartz & Boehnke, 2004), which defines ten different value systems across cultures, and the GAL-TAN dimension (Hooghe, Marks & Wilson, 2002), the latter have been applied to describing and explaining the increasing polarisation in Swedish public opinion (Bergström, Johansson, Oscarsson & Oskarson, 2014). Psychological perspectives on political differences and polarization in USA have been investigated by e.g. Haidt (2013) who traces differing views on political issues such as immigration to different basic moral intuitions, an analysis that has gained some interest in Sweden, although it remains to be empirically validated in these cultural and political settings.

Such discussions and attempts to describe differences in values within and between cultures, particularly in Sweden, have also been problematised for several reasons. Firstly, that such characteristics exist at all are contradicted by the studies that emphasise differences and conflicts within the culture, which is a central aspect of the problem and of the present analysis. Secondly, it can be argued that it would be problematic to try to define such set of values since they might be considered to exclude people with other values. As previously stated, a complex challenge requires a diversity in perspectives and values. Thirdly, it can be problematic to define a static set of values since they are constantly changing due to external influence in terms of other cultural memes or changing circumstances. There is not a set of correct values that have been acquired but rather the result of a long developmental process without any fixed goal. A process that is likely to continue, particularly if the current values shows to be inadequate. It can thus be questioned whether the Swedish culture can be regarded as an entity with distinct and well-defined boundaries. Rather, the culture is in constant interplay with other cultures in terms of ideas, memes, people, technological breakthroughs and so forth, moving across the borders. Fourthly, what is often described as desired Swedish values are often values that can be found in any western democratic society. Fifthly, it can be argued that it is difficult to describe a culture in which one is part of, or in Robert Kegan’s (1994) terms, embedded in. The point of describing the own culture is to become aware of the unspoken assumptions and invisible norms that are taken for granted. So how can one describe that which is invisible and taken for granted?

Despite these objections and difficulties, it is here argued that some description and mapping of the values is called for, for several reasons. As previously stated, these complex challenges require that different perspectives and values are properly understood and represented as accurately as possible. Also, if people from other culture are to be properly integrated in or only to understand and be able to relate to the Swedish culture, it is not helpful to them to deny that such exists. The challenge that is presented to us can also be seen as an opportunity to discover who we as a culture. Concluding, there are different approaches to describing cultural values that are based on different assumptions and with different results. These different approaches along with respective difficulties should be considered in any attempt of describing the Swedish values and how they are developing. A key question is that regarding development in terms of progress or regress and a map should be able to capture this movement or at least offer a language for it. If the Swedish culture and its values can be regarded as a large system consisting of several different values that we may take for granted, such mapping could offer a scaffold or support for stepping out of the embeddedness in the system and to be able to see it from different perspectives.


The aim of the study is to analyse the Swedish values from a value systems perspective with focus around the recent development around the refugee crisis. The analysis takes as a frame and general perspective a view where values, value systems and the value systems landscape as a whole are seen as complex adaptive systems, which will be further elaborated in below. More specifically, the analysis aims to introduce a value systems perspective where today’s situation is seen as a consequence of the historic development and can explain whether the recent shift in values can be regarded as progression or regression in terms of cultural development. The analysis also aims at introducing a scaffold for social perspective-taking that can be useful for understanding the value system landscape, the conflicts that have arisen and how to address these conflicts in a constructive way.

Guiding Assumptions of the Analysis

The analysis will span several broad aspects of the problem that can be regarded as a complex issue. Sometimes the acronym VUCA is used to describe problems and situations that are characterised by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. This calls for a number of simplifications and assumptions that will guide the analysis.

First, a systems theory approach will be taken. The Swedish response to the refugee crisis is at least to some extent affected by our cultural values. For instance, the high degree of tolerant attitudes towards immigrants has likely motivated a generous immigration policy. But the causality is not unidirectional, external events such as the refugee crisis has also triggered a shift in the value landscape, as described above. This motivates a systems theory approach where the Swedish values and value system landscape as a whole is regarded as a complex adaptive system (Cabrera, 2006) that is in a constant interplay with the surrounding world. They are seen as systems, since they consist of clusters of opinions and preferences in many issues; they are complex, since they cannot be fully understood or controlled; and they are adaptive, since they change when the outer circumstances and life conditions change.

In order to address the main question on how the values are changing in terms of progression or regression a developmental approach will be employed. Further, the sudden shift as well the historical development of values can be seen in terms of cultural transformations. The adult development field offers several such stage theories of the individual level. One of these adult development models is also commonly used for describing cultural development. Thus, the cultural values and public discourse is seen mainly as a consequence of the values and perspective of the individuals’ on an aggregated level. This application and connection between the individual and cultural level is further discussed in below along with the co-development with the techno-economic development (Wilber, 1996). As will be demonstrated, this connection and co-development makes the historical development highly relevant in understanding the current value landscape.

The approach takes into consideration the results of the mentioned models for values and political opinions along with their limitations and the difficulties associated with the problem. The cultural development will be described in general terms applicable to any western culture, and will be complemented with a feature that is seen as unique for the Swedish culture. In general, the approach to this highly complex problem will be guided by Occham’s razor, by choosing the simplest available model and the fewest and most plausible assumptions that offers the highest explanatory power and usefulness as a scaffold for social perspective-taking.

Oscarsson’s notion of the opinion corridor is sometimes discussed and problematized whether it exists at all. In this article it will be treated as existent and the analysis will not aim at proving that is the case, but rather at explaining why it exists, how and why it has shifted. Further, it is also assumed that last autumns shift in immigration policy was in correspondence with a shift in values, although it is difficult to demonstrate.

A key assumption and attitude towards the different values are common to all described models for describing values and attitudes is that the different positions or perspectives that are described are treated as valid ones and seen from a constructive light. The different perspectives are not seen as mutually excluding but rather as valuable in describing the complex problem. A model that fits these requirements is the “the emergent, cyclical, double-helix theory of adult biopsychosocial systems development”, more commonly referred to as Spiral Dynamics.

Theory and Key Concepts

The analysis will employ the model called “the emergent, cyclical, double-helix theory of adult biopsychosocial systems development” that was developed by Clare W. Graves (2005). The model is sometimes included among the adult development theories and has an indirect support from theories such as Loevinger’s ego development theory (Loevinger, 1976) and Kegan’s subject-object theory (Kegan, 1982). Graves collected essays of students on their views on the functioning of a mature human being, that were ordered developmentally. Graves was inspired by new ideas about general systems theory (Graves, 2005), which showed in the double-helix view of the psychological functional of the individual, group or culture were seen as a consequence of the environment and life conditions. This systems theoretical connection and description of the value system as a complex adaptive system is later articulated by Hamilton (Christensen, 2015). Graves described the levels or value systems in themselves as closed systems and human psychological functioning as open systems that adapted and moved through the different levels.

A broader ambition of the model was to describe the development of psychological functioning on the individual as well as on the cultural level. Further, it aimed for a synthesis between different psychological schools, represented by Maslow, Skinner and Rogers, and can thus be characterised as a psychological metathetory or framework for organising different views on the psychological functioning of the human being. Recent years, the model has been further developed by Beck and Cowan (2006) and has primarily been employed in describing value systems on the cultural level and to some degree on the organisational. It also shows similarities with frameworks for social or organisational development, such as Scharmer and Kaufer’s (2013) framework for socio-economic development, and framework for organisational structural development according to Laloux (2014).


A key concept in Spiral Dynamics introduced by Beck and Cowan is the vMeme, which refers to the value system. The concept of vMeme, paraphrased from Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, denotes an amount of information, an idea, an -ism, a value or the like, that is spread through the population like a virus. Thus, a vMeme is a coherent set or cluster of basic beliefs, opinions and values that are related to each other and based on one or more core assumptions. They describe what people consider to be healthy, rational and desirable in various situations. If a person, for example, shows a high tolerance for different cultures also advocating gender equality, one can expect that s/he also advocates human rights. Another person who advocates conformism and obedience can be expected to value tradition and security. Value systems are not just collections of opinions, but also perspectives on the world. One can say that it is not only a way of seeing the world, but also a way of not seeing the world. Similarly, Graves identified 8 different value systems in a developmental order, although three value systems, the traditional, modern and postmodern, suffices in order to accurately enough capture the debate around the refugee crisis. Further, the development of values and value systems is a very slow process and these perspectives have evolved throughout history. Thus, the current value landscape is considered to be a consequence of a developmental process of the culture. A further assumption is that the value systems and their historical as well as individual developments, oscillates between two polarities, those of individualistic and collectivistic. It is, however, not a pendulum motion going back and forth without any progression, but rather a spiral movement, that for each turn also moves upwards – hence the name of the model. Each new level or stage builds on the previous one, but is also a reaction against it and tries to solve the problems that the previous fails to address or creates.

Value Systems from Pre-traditional to Postmodern
The different levels can be described in terms of themes and logics based on certain assumptions that were derived from Graves’ material of essays on what is rational for a mature human being. The values and perspectives are simplified idealisations and needless to say, a typical person’s preferences and outlook are in general more complex than this. It should be noted that the descriptions reflect representative individuals’ values, perspectives and assumptions that are dominating at certain eras, and should not be seen as full descriptions on entire eras or scientific paradigms. For instance, few people with predominately postmodern values have really read Foucault, Derrida, Butler and other postmodern thinkers and build their arguments and worldview from those. The core assumptions at all levels are in general implicit and unexamined to the individual (Kegan, 1994). Here follows a brief description of a few value systems, a more thorough description follows in the historical review.

The traditional value system and perspectiveis characterised by conformism, collectivism and a traditional view on faith, knowledge, national identity and gender roles. These values can be traced back to the birth of the national states and the monotheistic religions. They can be seen to have emerged as a response to the significantly more violent and self-affirming pre-traditional value system. The traditional perspective is based on an assumption that stability, order and honouring tradition and formal authorities are most desirable for a society.

The modern value system emerged historically with the scientific and industrial revolutions, and emphasises rationality, scientific objectivity, technological progress and economic growth. Individualism and rationality are seen as ideals as well as questioning the conformism of the previous traditional values. This is the predominant value system in most western democracies. If the traditional values emphasise stability of the system, this one advocates system growth.

The postmodern values emerged in the public sphere with movements such as post-colonialism, feminism, the environmental and peace movements. In the personal level human bonds, tolerance and connections, and creativity are ranked higher than the cold rationality of the previous value system. System critique is at the core of the postmodern values, which is articulated in a critical stance towards norms, traditions, power structure and any attempt to exert power or to uphold stability.

Life Conditions

According to the model the value systems are fundamentally a consequence of how the individual (or culture) perceives the world around them. Thus, a value system can be seen as an agent’s response to its life conditions, which comprise of:

• Locations and physical environments, for example in the inner city of Stockholm, in the suburbs, or in rural areas,

• Problems and challenges faced, such as working conditions or safety in the neighbourhood,

• Social circumstances as governed by social status, gender, education and family situation.

These life conditions should not be seen as objective truths, but rather, we experience them from different perspectives. We do not see the world as it is, but we see it largely as we want to see it and from the perspectives that are associated with our respective value systems. The notion of life conditions is therefore central to the model and one of the main points of the analysis is the following: if life conditions change, we can expect that the value systems landscape on a cultural aggregate level will change accordingly. For instance, after the 9/11-attacks 2001 the value system landscape in the USA shifted towards more traditional, emphasising security and patriotism on the expense on postmodern values such as tolerance for other cultures (Sjölander & Stålne, 2012). This is in accordance with the adaptive aspects of the complex value systems.


In collaboration with Ken Wilber, Beck elaborated on the model and referred to it as Spiral Dynamics Integral and thus further relating the value systems to the development of a psychological as well as a structural level. For instance, by linking the different value systems with different forms of structural complexity in terms of governance, organisational logics and techno-economic development, as well as in terms of meaning-making or mindset, i.e. frames of reference and ways that individuals take perspective on the world. The model has not received some interest outside of academia due to its applicability as will be demonstrated. An example of the application in the structural dimension is the evolution of economic ideologies and systems (Dawlabani, 2013). Other applications are as a framework for organisational development (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005), for cultural clashes in post-apartheid South Africa (Beck & Lindscott, 2011) and on the development and conflicts of the Middle East (Maalouf, 2014). It is also fairly easy to relate to the development of scientific paradigms and the history of ideas, megatrends, and technological breakthroughs. However, in order for the model to be more accepted in academic settings, further empirical support is called for (Stein & Heikkinen, 2009) along with establishing closer relations with other approaches for value systems as described in above. A rough sketch of such comparison will be presented in the following to illustrate the model’s relevance.

The GAL-TAN dimension: In the analysis of the most recent Swedish parliamentary elections a new perspective was introduced to the public. Besides the classic right-left scale previously mentioned a second vertical scale was advocated, GAL-TAN, with the former indicating Green, Alternative, Libertarian and the latter Traditionalist, Authoritarian, Nationalistic. The parties that were successful in the election positioned themselves at different extremes of the dimension or scale, mainly the Feminist party and the Sweden democrats. The analysis gives that parties and persons with a general positive attitude towards immigration positive tend to have libertarian values (GAL) and immigration critical parties correspond to authoritarian values (TAN). A brief comparison with Spiral Dynamics shows that GAL should correspond to the postmodern values, although the libertarian values also could be associated with the modern values. The TAN seems to correspond quite clearly with traditional and nationalistic values. This would be a reasonable conclusion, although it would need further empirical support.

Shalom Schwartz value systems: Another commonly used model to describe value systems was developed by Shalom Schwartz (Schwartz & Boehnke, 2004) and popularised in contexts around the environmental and transition town movement as Common Cause (Holmes, Blackmore & Hawkins, 2011). Schwartz’ model can be characterised as an inductive one, meaning that it is primarily based on empirical data. The values and value systems emerged as the respondents’ preferred values were grouped into different clusters. The Spiral Dynamics model, however, can be viewed more as a deductive model with levels and their descriptions formulated early on in the research process from evaluated essays and subsequently empirical data are assimilated into the existing model. A drawback with inductive methods is that they do not disclose any underlying mechanism or logic, they only describe the groupings and distribution at different times. Hence, a deductive framework should be more favourable as scaffolds for social perspective-taking. However, both approaches should not be seen as mutually exclusive, rather they can complement each other, and can be shown to be consistent with each other. Correspondingly, Loevinger’s ego development theory and Kegan’s subject-object theory can be seen as mutually complementary to each other in a similar way as Schwartz’ and Spiral Dynamics. An analysis by Strack (2011) demonstrated that they are based on the same structure, and Schwartz himself suggested a continuing work where the value systems are arranged according to a development dimension.

World Values Survey: The most influential measurement of cultural values is the World Values Survey (WVS) (Inglehart, 2007). WVS has since the 80s studied the values of socio-cultural, moral, religious, and political issues among a representative sample of the populations of many different cultures in five year intervals, resulting in different cultural value maps. These maps are usually used to illustrate how values differ between different cultures. The data is openly available and can also be used to study how values are distributed within cultures, and can also be analysed from a development perspective. Such an analysis was carried out by Sjölander, where the value systems of the dates 1996 and 2006 in both the USA and Sweden were compared (Sjölander & Stålne, 2012).

Summary of the Spiral Dynamics Model and some Critical Remarks

Spiral Dynamics can thus be characterised as a deductive framework for how values develop throughout history. Here focus will be on describing three of the currently most dominating value system and their corresponding perspectives. The model provides a rough overview of the value system landscape of a typical industrialised Western country from a developmental perspective. These simplifying assumptions are beneficial to the models applicability and its popularity, although they should be made as explicit as possible. A further assumption is that all cultures move through the same stages. Hence, there is a need to complement an analysis of a certain culture with a discussion of cultural uniqueness. Even if the stages are accurately captured, every journey is unique.

One obvious criticism that can be directed towards the model is its normative elements. A model or theory being normative means that it not only describes how the world or a part of it is constituted, but it also prescribes how it should work. Normativity can be more or less explicit and can in this case imply that certain value systems are more desirable than others without demonstrating why. One way to avoid this normativity is thus to clarify the underlying argumentation or by referring to the empirical data. Another way is to be transparent with the assumptions and axioms on which the model is based. Here the model of hierarchical complexity (Commons, 2008) can be seen as a good example.

In contrast to, for instance, Schwartz’ model and WVS, the Spiral Dynamics model describes value systems as being more or less developed. It is not explicitly normative in that higher levels are better or more desirable; Graves himself emphasised the adaptive alignment between values and life conditions as central, although he considered progress of a culture to be beneficial in the long run. Nor is it deterministic, progress is not predestined to happen. Temporary setbacks, more permanent regressions or collapses are always possible (Stålne & Horn, 2014). Further, such an assumption is the advocacy that the spiral should be balanced and therefore “healthy” (Beck & Cowan, 2006). This means that a culture needs a representation of all value systems up to the highest existing level. From this assumption follows, firstly, that cultures cannot skip a step, but need to pass all levels. And further, that value systems that are further down the spiral will never disappear or should be fought per se. This idea can possibly find support in view of the value system landscape as a complex adaptive system. Values and value systems do allow themselves to be fully described or controlled. Thus, the model can function as a taxonomy for cultural values and as a societal version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1962) in terms of values. However, it should be added to the discussion that although value systems can be regarded as more or less developed on a cultural level, they can be held and argued for by means of more or less complex and mature ways.

In the discussion of these normative aspects it should be noted that one of the main points of the model is the part that is all but normative. The different value systems and their corresponding perspectives can also be seen as different kinds of rationalities. Rationality, or action-logic, mean frames of reference; an understanding of what are desirable behaviours, goals and values. Assuming that there would be a single set of correct, rational and good values, where other values are irrational and based on fear or malice, would have been normative, if anything! Although the model rests on several assumptions, it is very broad in its claims and demands further research in order to be more fully recognised in the scientific community it is interesting due to its usefulness as a heuristic and scaffold for social perspective-taking and for supporting a big picture view on values and perspectives and how they have evolved.

A main assumption of the model is that all cultures pass through the same developmental stages or levels. However, the model does not give any characteristics of individual cultures. Therefore, the uniqueness of, in this case, the Swedish culture, will also be explored in this analysis. In the following section, the Swedish culture and history will be discussed from a Spiral Dynamics perspective, in which the different value systems will be introduced.

An Overview of the Swedish Value System Landscape with a Historic Context

Here follows an introductory description of the dominating value systems or perspectives, and how they emerged in the Swedish culture, starting at the Viking Age and its dominating pre-traditional values. The historical description is very general, resting on Daun (1994), Berggren and Trägårdh (2006), Lundgren (2013, 2016), and Berggren and Greiff (2000), serves as an overview on Swedish history seen from the perspective of the Spiral Dynamics model and will be connected with current phenomena and perspectives. The perspective serves to illustrate how the historic development is relevant and present today. The value systems were colour coded by Beck for pedagogic reasons, which will be described in the following.

The pre-traditional (red) values emerged in the Viking Age in A.D. 800-1100 as a consequence of, among other things, a revolutionary development in a marine technology that opened the way to the oceans with the conquest of new lands and plundering of places which lacked proper defence and countermeasures for several hundred years. The Swedish voyages eastward were likely driven mainly by trade with inhabitants along the Baltic and Russian coasts, and further down the rivers toward the Orient and Constantinople or present day Istanbul. At the end of the Viking Age the Swedes consisted of a number of loosely connected and practically autonomous regions with their own provincial laws. They worshiped and sacrificed to the Norse pagan gods of Odin, Thor and Frey. Vikings can be considered a clan culture where blood ties and honor were very important for the identity. Retaliation and vendettas were common elements according to the Icelandic sagas. According to pagan religious beliefs, the bravest and best warriors were brought to Valhalla after their death to fight in glorious battles at the end of the world, in Ragnarök. This warrior mindset, lacking fear of death, was very effective in combat.

According to a Spiral Dynamics perspective, the prevailing cultural, political and structural organisation was well consistent with the pre-traditional value system. The Viking Age was put to an end on the battlefield, the rest of Europe got better at defending themselves. In the late 900s Christianity was introduced by Danish king Harald Bluetooth who was baptised and later became a leader in the Christian political sphere. This guaranteed him protection from other military adversaries within the Christian realm.

The pre-traditional value system appears today to a very small extent and has so far little influence on the debate. They can be seen as a form of extremely individualistic self-assertion, where the outside world and social context are seen as fundamentally threatening. Purpose and meaning of life is given by acquiring power at the expense of others. The means to achieve this are threats, force and violence. This simple rationality or action logic is: the strongest will win! It is a mindset well suited in contexts of more or less organised crime.

The traditional (blue) values emerged in the shift from the Viking to the Middle Ages when the Swedish state emerged, roughly in the 1100s. This new Sweden became in essence a feudal society, with a strict hierarchy with the king at the top, with static roles and with a ruling elite that exerted top-down power. Although the feudalism was not that pronounced, since the farmers had political power to a large extent, compared with those on the continent. During this time the church developed as an increasingly important player on the scene, although in comparison with other European states it had a relatively less prominent position, mainly because the power came to be divided with the nobility, bourgeois and farmers.

Martin Luther’s Reformation movement in Germany spread to Sweden, meaning that the sermons were conducted in Swedish, the Bible was printed in Swedish, and literacy of the general population became a concern for the church. Sweden began to function better as a country administrating a functioning judicial system, also making use of raw materials such as iron and copper as subsequent trade took off. Another important aspect of the functioning of the internal politics was the political development towards a proto democracy with parliamentarianism. The establishment of the “Ståndsriksdag”, a parliament consisting of four separate “houses”: nobility, clergy, burghers and farmers, had a factual impact in the 1600s. This ancient tradition is commonly cited as unique in international comparison. Here, the farmers had a real political influence. Historians and ethnologists usually point to this order to explain both our inclination to negotiate and reach a consensus in various discussions, and also our trust in the state and an understanding that the societal system is ultimately beneficial (Österberg, 1989). This tradition, according to many, is manifested in today’s political and organisational culture. Sweden is described as a culture of cooperation and consensus, and according to WVS we rank among the highest in the world in terms of trust in social institutions, and among the lowest in corruption (Lundgren, 2013). This culture of consensus is in this analysis regarded as the unique Swedish trait that is added to the picture.

In the Middle Ages Sweden operated according to a traditional logic, in terms of Spiral Dynamics. It relied on a conformist and authoritarian logic of a hierarchical, feudal social structure, in which you were born into your place in the hierarchy. Agriculture accounted for the dominant share of production and employment. The traditional logic is associated with order, justice and stability.

Today the traditional value system and perspective is characterised by conformism, collectivism, and a traditional view of e.g. faith and knowledge, national identity and traditional gender roles. In the political landscape, the traditional values are associated with the former working-class movement, and can today be seen in the policy of for instance the Sweden Democrats. Institutions that operate on a traditional logic are those who are connected to the core task of the state, guaranteeing external and internal stability and security, such as the military and the police forces.

The modern (orange) values are associated with the transition into modernity and capitalism that emerged in Sweden around the 1750s. Already hundred years before, philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and also scientists such as Isaac Newton, who formulated classical mechanics in the 1600s, paved the way for modern science. The Enlightenment and later along the extraction of fossil fuels, brought about the Industrial Revolution. The French revolution with the development of democratic ideals of human equality and the right to vote, even though women’s suffrage would take yet another hundred years, was a strong force in this European transition. Enlightenment ideals can be seen as the triumph of reason over the traditional collective authority, science liberation and victory over the church and religion, and the liberation of the individual from the law of social order that we today in Sweden call Jante, meaning roughly that you shall not think you are the least bit better at anything than your fellow citizens. From a financial market perspective, man later came to be regarded as a rational being whose highest purpose should be to maximize self-interest, homo oeconomicus.

The Enlightenment and modernity also meant a redefinition of the individual, on the cultural, as well as on the psychological level. The modern Swedish society was constructed according to a principle that is referred to as “state individualism” (Berggren & Trägårdh, 2006), which is characterised by an accented individualism, mostly a breaking loose from family ties, sponsored and supported by a strong welfare state that guarantees economic security, e.g. if you lose your income or get divorced. Thus, the Swedish modern individualisation project can be said to be an emancipation from the family and the collective that would instead be replaced by the state. Public schools were introduced in 1842, which contributed to Sweden in 1850 having the highest literacy and the highest number of university students per capita in Europe. This is an obvious example of how the state supports the citizens’ education and personal development, although the school also had as its mission to foster the pupils into good and law abiding citizens.

In the late 1800s industrialisation took off with large successful engineering companies, such as LM Ericsson, Asea, Alfa Laval, SKF, Electrolux and steel companies such as Sandvik and LKAB. With this followed a rapid urbanisation and a new working class quickly grew to 30 percent of the population. In 1880, 85 percent of the population were still farmers, which decreased to 50 percent at the onset of World War I. Sweden kept out of the war but was still one of the poorest countries, and many chose to emigrate to America. This wave of emigration, peaked in the second half of the 1800s due to population growth, combined with a crop failure. The emigration was encouraged as many positive reports in the form of letters and newspaper articles came from the United States.

Finally, it should be noted that the strong industrial development in Sweden during the mid 1900s, largely was due to a strong Swedish tradition of engineering and the ability to collaborate within and between companies. But it also had its cause in Sweden keeping out of  World War II which could thus produce and export while the rest of Europe was being rebuilt. This created a demand for labour, which was a strong incentive for women to enter the labour market. Further, immigrants from southern Europeans could be put to work, primarily in the engineering industry. From being one of Europe’s poorest countries, from where people emigrated, Sweden quickly became one of the world’s richest, to where people immigrated from all over the world.

Today modern values are most evident in the business sector where companies and individuals compete on a market logic. Economic liberalism and capitalism developed as a consequence of the deregulation of banks and trading on the free market, as opposed to a state-controlled planned economy. Continuous economic growth and a positive future outlook are at the core of the modern value system. Technological and scientific advances are key and define a culture’s success from this perspective. The scientific ideals are seen in the positivism of natural sciences, with the scientific hypothetical-deductive method at its base.

The postmodern (green) values emerged roughly half a century ago with political movements such as post-colonialism, feminism, and the peace and environmental movements. One of the three big postmodern political movements that has had a strong impact in Sweden is the environmental movement with sustainability as central concern. This can be seen as a reaction to modernism’s logic and belief in technological and scientific advances, the view of nature as an inexhaustible resource, a reaction which was triggered by advances in systems theory applied in Limits to Growth simulations from 1972 (Meadows, Meadows, Randers & Behrens, 1972). Climate change and its consequences have subsequently emerged as an increasingly influential and defining issue for the civilisation. Since the early 70s environmentalism and sustainability perspectives went from being a marginal alternative movements to having a widespread acceptance in the population as a whole, but particularly in the media and the political establishment. Climate change and sustainability issues are obvious examples of how new values are emerging as a consequence of changed living conditions.

In the transition to modernity it was primarily man’s emancipation that was of central concern, but with time the awareness of women’s situation was gradually increasing. Feminism is usually described in three waves: the first involved a quest for equal rights and suffrage in the early 1900s, the second, in the post-war period, focused on upgrading the status of the woman with gender equality and with a voice against discrimination, and a third wave that can be regarded as postmodern feminism, which instead focused on how gender is constructed by means of cultural beliefs that are inherited as we raise our children differently depending on their sex. The strong impact of the feminist movement in Sweden is reflected in Hofstede’s cultural studies, where we rank as the world’s most feminine culture (Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov, 2005).

If environmentalism and feminism can be seen as two major political postmodern movements, then post-colonialism together with anti-racism is the third. In different value studies Sweden is described as one of the world’s most tolerant towards other cultural expressions and towards immigrants (Inglehart, 2007), which is typical for countries with a high emphasis on self-expression values but is likely to have several specific reasons. We have an own history of emigration, mainly to America in the 1800s and we only need to go back a few generations to find starvation and poverty in our own country. We also have many positive experiences of immigrants having enriched the country, for example German and French immigrants in the 17-18th centuries  and in the form of post-war labour immigration by Finns, Turks and other central Europeans. In addition, it should be emphasised that tolerance towards other cultures tends to increase with the level of cultural development. Postmodern values are often associated with tolerance and care for all people, regardless of ethnicity and sexual orientation. It is significantly more difficult to be homosexual, for example, in a culture dominated by traditional values.

On the political arena multiculturalism has been the dominating ideology, which means the view that foreign cultural expressions are seen as enriching and worth preserving instead of immigrants having to abandon their previous cultural expressions and identities and fully assimilate into the Swedish culture. Immigration policy has long been Europe’s most generous relative to population size, but has strong support from politicians and foremost in the established media in which the postmodern values have the strongest foothold. Politicians and the mainstream media have aimed at being in the frontline of cultural development advocating tolerance, feminism and anti-racism. A logical assumption would be that the state and the elite are more progressive, at least given this view of how development unfolds. This has apparently been a recipe for success during the last 1000 years. However, the debate about the refugee crisis has gradually become increasingly polarised from the time the Sweden Democrats entered parliament in 2010, although the polarisation process and fragmentation has been ongoing for decades (Bergström, Johansson, Oscarsson & Oskarson, 2014).

According to the view on development according to Spiral Dynamics, a certain value system and perspective doesn’t necessary replace the earlier. Even though it addresses some problems that the earlier one fails at, they rather build on each other so that one value system emerges on top of the previous. From this follows on that in the current debate, the postmodern value system should not be expected to be the only one present. The modern and traditional value systems are in increasing extent active as well. Thus, the traditional, modern and postmodern perspectives are all active in the cultural values landscape and represented in different positions and opinions in the public debate.

Conclusions from the Historical Review

The review of the Swedish historical development through the value systems recognises some unique cultural features in international comparison, such as the ideal of consensus and the high trust in the state. They have been beneficial factors for our cultural success and strengths when our sparsely populated country has competed on an international market and developed through the value systems. But from a systems theory perspective, what were formerly the strengths and success factors for Sweden has increasingly turned into weaknesses. This is seen in the postmodern values, which dominate among established politicians and the media, which is evident from e.g. surveys of political sympathies and values of journalists (Asp, 2012). The postmodern values have become the new norm. All are expected to be feminists and anti-racists, which has created a polarisation of the debate since not all agree. Thus, it has previously not been generally accepted to discuss limitations in volumes, economic aspects, security concerns, and national identity, in relation to refugee issues. Arguably, this may have contributed to the growth of the immigration-critical Sweden Democrats party. The opinion corridor can from the developmental perspective be understood as the combination of the ideal of consensus and high trust in the government and the establishment, along with the strong influence of the postmodern values which are presented as the democratic, just and tolerant values to have. However, as stated in the introduction, the values are shifting and some reasons for this beyond the particular issue of immigration politics will be discussed in the following.

Recent Development and Changes in Life Conditions

Now the stage is set for a closer analysis of the debate and response to the refugee crisis from these perspectives and how these have challenged the postmodern values and perspectives. However, value systems are adaptive and changes when the life conditions and the development in the surrounding environment change, and the refugee crisis is far from the only aspect that influences values. If we want to understand the rise of traditional values in Sweden as well as in other Western countries, other events and aspects of the development should be considered. Here follows a brief description on some key events and trends that is likely to have influenced our values and worldviews.

At the time of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine took place and shortly thereafter Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. Separatists in Eastern Ukraine started an uprising which was supported by Russia, first in the form of military equipment, then with “volunteer” troops, while all official involvement was denied. This is a new type of warfare than previously conventional war, usually referred to as “hybrid warfare” which includes irregular troops, disinformation, psychological operations, aggressive military exercises over (and under) the Baltic sea, cyber-attacks and a generally threatening rhetoric, with the intent to destabilise the opponent without direct military measures. This development has triggered a broad discussion and concern around security issues, military spending and a possible joining in NATO. The increased concern over security issues can be seen as part of a rise of traditional logic and perspectives, and henceforth in traditional values. Another reason for an increase in traditional logic is the emergence of ISIS with terror attacks in France and Belgium, and committed cruelties in Iraq and Syria. From a traditional perspective, such phenomena should not be answered with more tolerance but by emphasising more security and order.

Despite these advances of the traditional logic, the postmodern perspectives were the dominating narrative, in particular around the increasing flow of migrants. In the summer of 2014, just before the national election, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt held a famous speech where he urged the Swedes to “open their hearts” to the refugees. The fact that the Migration Agency asked for increased funding and discussions on the economic perspectives in connection with the refugee crisis brought the focus to economic aspects and made it clear for many that the refugee crisis was not necessarily an economic opportunity to Sweden, but could rather be a cost. With this, references to volumes or costs started to be considered as valid objections to the generous refugee reception, although the reference to human rights and having a moral responsibility to help those who are fleeing across the Mediterranean trumped all other arguments in the political response. A very powerful, and for the debate defining, image became the drowned three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who was washed up on the Turkish shore in the summer 2015. The picture made the debate even more emotionally charged, and the polarisation between the postmodern and the other values increased. The stronger the polarisation, the more difficult it is to take the other side’s perspective. However, the other two value systems and perspectives became increasingly vocal in the debate. These objections are described in the following section.

Critique on the postmodern view on the refugee crisis

Firstly, there are objections from a traditional perspective that primarily emphasises law, order and security. This is seen in relation to the lack of integration and with suburb areas populated with high fraction of immigrants that are seen as living outside society and no-go zones where the police are unable to maintain order and security – a breeding ground for radicalisation and hundreds of people traveling from Sweden to Syria to fight with ISIS. In connection with those issues the work situation of the police force with a heavy workload, a reorganisation and increasing number of policemen leaving the force are discussed to a greater extent. A large part of police resources have been allocated to handling the influx of refugees, of which a large share have disappeared and gone underground before being registered as asylum seekers. ‘Control’ is a key word and of central concern according to the traditional vocabulary.

Then, from a nationalistic perspective, the multicultural society is seen as a threat towards the integrity of the Swedish culture – a line of reasoning held by the Sweden Democrats. The objections have not had any great impact among the mainstream media or the other parliamentary parties. In the debate on immigration a common perception has been that the traditional values and perspective have been equivalent to those of the Sweden Democrats. But rather, I argue, the Sweden Democrats have been allowed to usurp the traditional values, where other parties have abandoned them and instead indulged in modern and postmodern values.

Objections from a modern perspective have mainly focused on practical and on economic aspects. Famous professor of public health Hans Rosling argued that our prime measure should be to donate money to the UNHCR, to which Sweden has considerably reduced its aid in order to fund the substantial increase in costs for the refugees managing to reach our border. Rosling argued how much more cost effective it is to help those in situ than those who come here. Rosling then highlighted a conflict between refugee costs and the cost to help those who are unable to leave the refugee camps, for example by not having the money to pay the smugglers. Another criticism has come from Tino Sanandaji, Swedish economist with Kurdish background. He has time and again exposed how the mainstream media gives overly optimistic numbers on costs, education levels and long duration to get immigrants into employment. We are ranked as the lowest in Europe to integrate immigrants into the labour market, mainly because the job marked consists of so few low-wage jobs. Sanandaji has argued that the welfare state cannot be sustained should the large influx of refugees continue. Another argument has come from the professor of history, Lars Trägårdh. He has described the debate about the refugee crisis as a conflict between two different perspectives, one based on human rights (postmodern) and one based on a social contract that can be likened to an insurance company (the modern). We work and pay taxes, and we expect to utilise the welfare when we get ill, have children or retire. If the social welfare erodes and with that the trust in the state to be able to keep its part of the contract, then our work and willingness to pay tax will decrease and the system cannot be sustained. But Trägårdh also linked the argument to a traditional logic of the social contract also being based on a common vision and identity based on a national belonging. These are lines of reasoning that also have shown themselves in established media. Leading critics of the postmodern values have also been the bourgeois editorials, and their perspectives on the issues of immigration and integration that have challenged the culture of consensus and the opinion corridor. Four examples are: Anna Dahlberg, Ivar Arpi, PM Nilsson and Alice Teodorescu. Still, the postmodern values were dominating among the politicians of the Social Democrats and the the Swedish Green Party, that are in office.

However, the new security situation in the area around the Baltic Sea, the internal security and the maintenance of law and order, the Euro crisis, Brexit and the EU’s major internal tensions, have made the traditional and nationalist values become increasingly prominent in Sweden, as well as on the EU level. The factor that had the greatest impact over the past year is probably the rapidly increasing influx of refugees during autumn of 2015.

ID controls on the Öresund bridge

In April 2015, Prime Minister Löfven answered a direct question regarding the volume of the refugee flows: “No, there is no limit. We will keep receiving according to the conventions we are bound to” (Sydsvenskan, 2015). But in October, the government and parties from the political opposition (not including the Sweden Democrats and the Left party) made an agreement on how to handle and reduce the large refugee flow. There was in fact a limit, and the volumes had reached unsustainable proportions. And here we are now at the time described in the introduction. The previously unthinkable had suddenly become the new reality. And the dominating part of media that has campaigned towards tolerance and human rights, and upholding the opinion corridor, quickly adapted to this new order. This shift captured in the introducing quote by Hakelius can be seen as an aspect of the value system landscape as a complex adaptive system.

In November ID controls were introduced at the Öresund Bridge, which had the immediate effect of a substantial reduction in refugee flow. The police could not maintain order and register those who came, costs soared, and the Migration Agency struggled to administer and arrange short term accommodation for all that arrived. The ID controls can be seen as a defeat to the postmodern values and perspectives. One can say that the postmodern values and ideals not only came into conflict with the other value systems, but also with the reality and the practical aspects. It can be expressed as idealism being defeated by realism and reality constraints, at least for now. But new conflicts awaited the postmodern perspective. In particular mainstream journalism.

The sexual abuses in Cologne

The introduction of ID controls created a change in the political reality, the media followed accordingly. But one event, or actually several, that triggered a critical discussion on media’s role were happening in Cologne on New Year’s eve, when over 600 women were subjected to sexual abuse. It would take a few days before it was reported in media, as most of the perpetrators were from North Africa, and many of them asylum seekers (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2016). When the media reported on the Cologne incident it was revealed that similar events had taken place in Stockholm, albeit on a smaller scale at the We Are Stockholm Festival. The most prominent Swedish morning paper DN had refrained from reporting from this despite having been tipped off, which was reviled by alternative media (Frick, 2016). This triggered an intense discussion of to what extent media had not reported correctly on the crimes, or withholding information that could have a negative effect on the general opinion on immigrants.

One factor to bring to the fore here is that this issue is not convenient to address from a postmodern perspective which has as conflict and power perspective as core tenets. The Cologne- and We are Stockholm-abuses illustrate how the two groups, women and immigrants, both of which are assumed to be subordinated and oppressed according to the logics of the two postmodern ideologies, feminism and multiculturalism/anti-racism, come in conflict with each other. Thus, it can be said that two aspects of postmodern values come in conflict with each other. The more apparent the complex nature of a problem is, the harder it is to maintain a polarised view with a good and evil side. When issues such as this one emerges, the postmodern values have proved to be inadequate, at least to be able to claim to be “the only true and good values”.

On a cultural level, we seem to have reached the point where the prevailing postmodern perspective and values have failed to properly address the very important, if not defining, situations described above. The political refugee agreement and ID controls have shifted the opinion corridor and the postmodern values have come into conflict with what was possible to implement in terms of the refugee crisis. And further, the abuses in Cologne and the We Are Stockholm-festival illustrated how the postmodern values and perspectives come in conflict with themselves and the established media’s postmodern bias in reporting. Therefore, we must conclude that the postmodern values have failed to offer a coherent story of the complex and rapidly changing VUCA world and how to act in it, and cannot be seen as the only real and desirable ones.  But on the other hand, neither can they be seen as completely incorrect or irrelevant. But where will we go from here? Does this shift mark a regression and slow collapse of the previously so developed values, back to fascism of the 1930th or are there other possibilities?


In the article, last autumns shift in immigration policy and values was described and analysed using Spiral Dynamics as a tool or heuristic, which introduces the three value systems, traditional, modern and postmodern values and their respective perspective on the refugee crisis. The model was introduced and compared with other similar models on values and attitudes, and then applied for reviewing Swedish history from where the current values and perspectives can be deduced. The historical review showed that the culture can be characterised by an ideal of consensus and as being dominated by postmodern values. However, these have shown inadequate in addressing the recent years’ development in terms of refugee crisis and the worsening security situation. Before the implication of this is discussed, some methodological considerations will be addressed.

Methodological considerations

The Spiral Dynamics model is in this analysis characterised as a heuristic rather than an established scientific model, mostly due to its broad claims and weak empirical support. Therefore, an effort has been made in discussing the model’s assumptions and the possible relation with other more established scientific theories, which should be regarded as work in progress. The developmental aspect of the Spiral Dynamics model should be commented further. This is supported from other adult development theories on the individual aspect, most notably from the ego development perspective (Loevinger, 1976).

The Spiral Dynamics model can offer descriptions of different perspectives which makes it useful as a scaffold for social perspective-taking. However, some of these descriptions were formulated decades ago and need to be updated, most notably the description of the postmodern values and perspectives (Stålne, 2016). It should be noted that the three perspectives are described as being equally complex from a cognitive and individual perspective. This means that all perspective can be applied, defended and argued for in more or less complex ways. From this perspective, preferred value is not a good indicator of ability for complex thinking or personal development. On the cultural level, Graves’ view was that values primarily do and should adapt to the circumstances or life conditions. In the long run, however, societies should benefit from developing according to the description of the model. Thus, beyond being a heuristic for perspective-taking, the Spiral Dynamics model can offer a taxonomy for cultural progression as well as regression. This brings us back to the question if last autumns shift in policy and values should be regarded as a regression.

A systems theory perspective

The shift in values may from a systems theory perspective be characterised as a transformation, but in which direction? And how can we understand the value system landscape as a complex system? According to dialectical thinkers such as Basseches (1984) and Laske (2008), and systems theorists such as Scharmer (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013), Meadows (2008) and Senge (1990), a complex system can be described in terms of different characteristics such as stability, process, diversity, resilience, antifragility, transformations and collapse (Tainter, 1988). Around the time of the shift in values was preceded by a discussion around collapse of the asylum system, of law and order, and of the welfare state as a whole, which is worth investigating further but beyond the scope of this article to address. However, the perspective can be applied on the Swedish culture as a system with different properties, such as stability.

The stability aspect can manifest when an external event influences the system and the system responds by resisting and pushing back (Senge, 1990). Correspondingly, any attempt to attack and defeat the traditional values have so far only contributed to them fighting back and even growing stronger since these perspective have been best at responding to some of the events previously described. The transformational aspect can be seen when the system departs from its original equilibrium and finds a new one – or collapses. When it comes to ecosystems or the climate system, it is said that the climate is stable up to a certain point, referred to as a threshold or ‘tipping point’. In the value systems landscape, such a threshold was passed last autumn. However, the new equilibrium should prove to not be that stable. The process aspect is reflected in the view that the cultural values are in continual motion. The Swedish value system landscape is a living system in constant interaction and adaption with its surrounding. The resilience can be seen as the systems’ ability to adapt and recover from chocks or disturbances. In relation to this, the opinion corridor can be seen as a low degree of diversity which entails fragility and a low resilience that could lead to a regression in terms of values, which might seem as a likely development. However, there are other possible interpretations of the situation which will be discussed in the closing section.


A key conclusion from the analysis seems to be that the recent shift in values is a regression from more developed values, ideals and perspective to less developed so. Although it will be difficult to tell for certain at this point, there is another possibility provided by the Spiral Dynamics model and related theories from the research fields of adult development and systems theory. In the discussion this possible transformation will be introduced and the conditions and actions necessary to achieve this.

As previously mentioned, the Spiral Dynamics model outlines eight different levels, of which the postmodern values represent the sixth in order. The alternative path is that last autumn’s shift in the value landscape could eventually mark a shift from a postmodern to the integral (yellow) value system? These are also denoted integral (Wilber, 1996), flex-flow (Beck & Cowan, 2006), metamodern, Society 4.0 (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013), Teal (Laloux, 2014), post-postmodern and reconstructive postmodernism (Griffin, 2002; Kegan, 1994). This new value system can be understood as a synthesis of all previous value systems and their corresponding perspectives. The term integral, coined by Jean Gebser (1991), indicates that it will integrate and bring together the previous value systems in a synthesis instead of seeing them as different truths of which only one can be right and the others are wrong. Rather, they are seen as important perspectives which all have different features and fulfil essential purposes. A central principle of the integral value system, or rather ‘metasystem’, is the emphasis on the developmental dimension, where instead of economic development the development of the psychological, cultural and social aspects are of central concern, to which the economy is means.

Often it is assumed that development takes place by one paradigm replacing the previous, with the agricultural society having been replaced by the industrial society, which then has turned into the information society. This is however not an accurate description, we still live in an agricultural society, even though agriculture represents only two percent of the population and two percent of GDP in Sweden. We also still live in an industrial society, rather than all working in the postmodern knowledge sector. Similarly, from an integral perspective it can be said that a value system of a culture does not replace the previous one, but rather, they build upon each other. Although the different value systems critique each other from their respective perspectives, and although they have largely arisen as a reaction towards the limitations of the previous value systems, all value systems, from this perspective, need to perform their respective functions. For instance, a functioning market economy requires stability in terms of law and order, such as property rights and trade agreements being respected. High levels of corruption and crime make it difficult to do business. The integral value system requires postmodern as well as modern values with its  technological and scientific progress, and a certain amount of traditional order and security. Thus, the introduced notion of Spiral Dynamics as a heuristic for perspective-taking as a necessary skill for dealing with complex issues also functions as a scaffold for a transformation of this new set of cultural values. The article and analysis has been performed from this perspective.

Returning to the initial question of the discussion, it has been stated that the Spiral Dynamics model could be seen as a taxonomy for socio-cultural development, and not as being deterministic in any way. Thus, there is no guarantee that the shift in values described above will result in a progress toward more complex values. It is always difficult to differentiate signs of collapse with signs of transformation, since both entail some sort of breakdown in current structures, logic and identity. To grow and transform is to some extent to die. So, is this crisis a sign of collapse or transformation and progress?

The answer is, to some extent, probably both. We will see some parts struggling and maybe even collapsing while others finding opportunities and thriving. Typically, there are some groups that will benefit, learn and develop from this new situation and order, while others will suffer economically, socially and psychologically. So the question should rather be: how can we contribute to a development where as many areas and sectors as possible can thrive and develop in a healthy direction?

Competences and challenges for change-makers

This is of course an extremely complex question, but I’d like to address a few aspects in terms of competences that are needed for change-makers, as well as for the culture as a whole. This is taken with the Swedish context in regard, but could to some extent possibly apply to other cultures in similar situations.

First, the debate around the immigration and refugee crisis has been very infected and the tone and debate climate have suffered accordingly. The debate and the crisis has, so far, been costly in economic terms as well as in terms of cultural capital, trust and cohesion. There is tremendous amount to be learnt from this experience, for instance about who we are as a culture, where we came from and where we might be heading, and what defines a culture. Thus, the first concern should be to rebuild the public debate climate which now seems to be locked in polarisation. Different public arenas must give room for a multitude of voices, not only those who adhere to a certain set of “right” values.

A more specific aspect or skill that is needed in the public debate is the ability to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy values. So far, the postmodern values have been declared to be the correct values and the traditional, and later the modern, as problematic per se. It needs to be acknowledged that there are healthy aspects of nationalistic values and perspectives, such as upholding the law and defending the country, as well as having a healthy and balanced cultural integrity and identity, whatever they might be. Further, there are of course healthy aspects of modern values, emphasising the importance of having a functioning industry and welfare state in the future as well, and also being able to direct the economic help where it can be most useful to most people. Also, unhealthy aspects of all value systems need to be addressed, even postmodern. The most obvious one being the conviction that the other ones are wrong.

It has been argued that the Swedish attitude towards immigrants and refugees has been characterised by having a big heart, however, the mind also needs to be included. The refugee crisis is part of larger mega-trends where security issues, climate change, food security, financial crisis and the rise of right wing nationalists can be seen as being interlinked. Complex thinking is an essential skill in order to see the connections and see the world transforming, and to be able to have an own impact on it. Complex thinking is also needed in order to assess different arguments. An experience from the Swedish debate is that arguments based on the “right” values have been more influential than those from the “wrong” side. The more complex arguments and thoughts should be allowed more space, regardless of who’s side they’re on.

The recent decade’s cultural development in Sweden has been characterised as a fragmentation in terms of media intake, use of social networks (or lack of), and of opinions, most notably in the issues around immigration. In a culture with a 1000-year history of emphasising consensus, we need to accept disagreement and even conflict as the new normal condition. This could mean to some degree letting go of our consensus ideal.

Finally, actual suggestions on how to address the actual issue of the refugee crisis is beyond the scope of the current analysis. The remaining conclusion in this matter is that all perspectives need to be considered and all have important functions and parts to play in addressing the crisis and related complex issues. And possibly lead to something new.


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