“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

— Carl Jung

There never was a Garden of Eden. When archeologist, Steven A. LeBlanc, visited sites all around the world, regardless of time or place, there was always evidence of warfare. He excavated sites in the eastern United States, the Middle East, Peru, and two areas of the American Southwest. Dig after dig he says, “each of these projects yielded evidence of warfare—once I bothered to look for it. Since the beginning of time, humans have been unable to live in ecological balance. No matter where we happen to live on Earth, we eventually outstrip the environment.” 

This was counter to the sanitized historical narrative that claimed humans at one point lived in ecological and peaceful balance. Living in harmony with each other and nature was the exception, and warfare was in fact the common norm. He decided that he wasn’t seeing things that didn’t exist; instead his colleagues were ignoring things that did.

As he writes in his book Constant Battles, Why We Fight, “Much of the modern world continues to live more like the tribes and chiefdoms of the past than contemporary city dwellers. And much of the warfare today is more like past-tribe-and chiefdom-level warfare than the high-tech wars of the modern era. Many modern civil wars are actually old tribal wars that never ceased and have just been resurrected in a nation-state context.”

This brings us to our modern day culture wars. The above image is a map of the Online Culture Wars by Disnnovation.Org

From Disnovation.Org

The map Online Culture Wars is an overlay of hundreds of politicized memes, along with influential political figures and symbols. It is designed as a discussion starter, intended to visualize and contextualize the ongoing online culture wars, and some of the main political references, actors, and influencers. From Twitter to Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Gab, or 4chan, one of the by-products of online culture wars is the over-politicization of seemingly mundane topics, products, practices, and cultural elements. In recent years, online cultures have been subjected to a growing polarization, politicization, and radicalization, influenced by numerous actors, and magnified by the very features of ubiquitous social networks. This cartography offers a representation of online ideological and political frictions, integrated into the visual system of a Political Compass meme.

While this map deserves careful study, I’m going to explain why our Culture Wars look the way that they do. Like Steven A. Leblanc, I want to take you to an excavation site that lies beneath the map of the Online Culture Wars. And in the spirit of Carl Jung, explain why the hidden forces of our Culture Wars is our modern mandala (albeit, a very ugly one), which turns like a raging tempest beneath the ocean of our collective consciousness.

Every country has a different culture war. In the United States we are divided on issues like abortion, guns, privacy, drug use, homosexuality, and censorship. While in Canada for instance, they might be more divided on the rights of indigenous peoples, climate policy, language, and pipelines. In Asia and the Middle East, the minefield is concentrated much more in historical narratives, religion, gender, class, and global economics.

It’s quite disorienting to keep track of our culture wars. Especially when and how it manifests online. Culture Wars are defined as a cultural conflict between social groups for moral dominance. Ultimately it’s an infinite war between social groups that determine what is right and wrong in the world. The problem with moral decision making frameworks is that it tends to be binary, reducing everything to good or evil.

Allow me to offer a new way of looking at humanity. In 2018, a little known essay by Duncan A Sabien called How the ‘Magic: The Gathering’ Color Wheel Explains Humanity with the subtext, Move over Myers Brigs, made the rounds on the internet. It’s one of those essays you can’t stop thinking about, and you begin to see everywhere. I’m going to be heavily referencing this essay to explain our Online Culture Wars.

The premise is this. The Magic the Gathering color system does a better job of explaining personalities, organizations, goals, and means than the other popular, but wrong archetypal systems like Enneagrams, MBTI, chakras, or integral theory colors.

By Duncan A Sabien:

Below are the five colors of Magic: white, blue, black, red, and green.


Each color has a central goal, and a default strategy.

White seeks peace, and it tries to achieve that peace through the imposition of order. White believes that the solution to all suffering and unhappiness is coordination and cooperation and rules and restraint. The archetypal white organization would be a church, the United Nations, and a white dystopia would be a fascist regime such as the one in George Orwell’s 1984, or a stagnant society like the one in Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

Central examples of white characters from pop culture include Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, Ozymandias from Watchmen, Superman, McGonagall from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and Marge from The Simpsons. In the actual game of Magic, white cards are angels and knights and clerics and loyal steeds, healing spells and protective auras and laws that bind all parties equally, and anthems that strengthen all of your allies at once.

Victory for a white agent feels like brightness, purity, exaltation — a clean breeze sweeping across a high plain under a bright sun. Defeat feels like watching the corrosion creep forward, the great monuments crumble, or the enemy pouring over the gates, knowing that the goodness of the world is unraveling.


Other words associated with white: authority, compassion, community, contribution, fairness, happiness, honesty, justice, kindness, leadership, peace, religion, responsibility, security, service, trustworthiness, altruism, cleanliness, commitment, consistency, duty, conviction, courtesy, dedication, discipline, endurance, gratitude, honor, integrity, patience, poise, respect, teamwork, tradition, unity, valor, honor, formality, generosity, protectiveness, asceticism, authoritarianism, morality, fanaticism, intolerance

– — Openness


A white agent, when presented with a decision or quandary, asks what is the right course of action to take, where “right” depends on their moral or cultural framework.


Blue seeks perfection, and it tries to achieve that perfection through the pursuit of knowledge. Blue believes that things could be almost arbitrarily good if we could all just figure out the truth, and then apply that understanding to its fullest extent. The archetypal blue organization would be a university or a research lab, and a blue dystopia would be one in which efficiency were pursued without morals or limits, or in which intelligence were the sole axis of a meritocracy. Google and Silicon Valley are blue. 


Merlin is a classic blue character, as are Spock from Star Trek and Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. Lisa from The Simpsons is blue, and Ravenclaw House from Harry Potter exists to serve blue students. Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres in HPMOR is more than one color, but his projects with Hermione and Draco are strongly blue-leaning. In MTG, blue cards are wizards and faeries and monsters of the deep, counterspells and illusory tricks, magic that accumulates knowledge and incremental advantage and undercuts, rather than directly opposing (brains over brawn and mind over matter).


Victory for a blue agent feels like clarity, revelation, actualization, conclusion — a final puzzle piece clicking into place, or the last note of a perfect symphonic performance. Defeat feels like everything is slippery, foggy, intractable (and will be evermore), like there’s no path forward and nothing to be done, like all of the potential is wasted and all of the confusion is permanent.


Other words associated with blue: challenge, competence, creativity, curiosity, knowledge, optimism, accuracy, adaptability, awareness, brilliance, cleverness, concentration, development, efficiency, foresight, imagination, insight, logic, quality, rigor, trickery, strategy, service, truth, vision, wonder, perception, nuance, aspiration, focus, invention, patience, wordplay, rationality, subtlety, scholarship, absent-mindedness, cerebral, deception, enigmatic, skepticism, aloofness


A blue agent, when presented with a decision or quandary, asks what course of action makes the most sense, where “sense” is determined by careful thought and the application of knowledge and expertise.


Black seeks satisfaction, and it tries to achieve that satisfaction through ruthlessness. Black wants power and agency so that it can act upon its preferences at any time, reshaping the world around it into whatever it wants. It recognizes no limits upon this pursuit except those which emerge from its own desires and self-interest. It is capable of cooperation and alliance, but only consequentially, as in game theory; at its core, black is amoral, not immoral, since it doesn’t think morality is even really a Thing. The archetypal black organization would be a hedge fund or a startup, and a black dystopia would be a totalitarian dictatorship. Wall Street and BlackRock are markers of black. 


In the first Star Wars film, Han Solo was a sympathetic black character, whereas in Game of Thrones Cersei Lannister is a black villain. Every major character in Seinfeld is black except Kramer, and both Bart Simpson and Slytherin House embrace and embody black ideals. Blaise Zabini and Sirius Black are black characters in HPMOR. In the game of Magic, black cards are vampires and necromancers, demons and horrors, kill spells and resurrection spells and sacrificial spells that trade life and creatures for power and pain.


Victory for a black agent feels hefty, exultant, and satisfying, like a bag of gold coins or a heavy hammer — it’s the feeling you have when you know that the game is won, even if you haven’t yet crossed the finish line. Defeat, on the other hand, feels like aging or imprisonment — like scrabbling against an unscalable wall behind which your dreams are turning to ash and trickling away, leaving you with nothing.


Other words associated with black: achievement, autonomy, determination, fame, influence, pleasure, popularity, reputation, success, status, wealth, ambition, control, dignity, excellence, improvement, innovation, liberty, mastery, performance, power, self-reliant, talented, undaunted, decisive, relentless, industrious, persuasive, realistic, suave, competitive, political, proud, solitary, uninhibited, amoral, arrogant, calculating, egocentric, hedonistic, malicious, opportunistic


A black agent, when presented with a decision or quandary, asks what course of action will leave me best off, where “best off” includes having power, influence, safety, and wealth, as well as having moved closer to one’s goals.


Green seeks harmony, and it tries to achieve that harmony through acceptance. Green is the color of nature, wisdom, stoicism, taoism, and destiny; it believes that most of the suffering and misfortune in the world comes from attempts to cast off one’s natural mantle, step outside of one’s natural role, or fix things which aren’t broken — it’s the color of Chesterton’s Fence. It seeks to embrace what is — the archetypal green organization would be a hippie commune, or the pop culture interpretation of a Native American tribe (such as in Disney’s Pocahontas), while a green dystopia would be something like the society in Divergent or a tribe with absolutely rigid traditions and an unchanging and unchangeable relationship to its environment. 


Green characters are slightly harder to find in the role of the protagonist, but often crop up around the edges of a story. If green had a martial art, it would be aikido — a sort of bending, accepting formlessness backed by subtle power. Both Yoda from Star Wars and Guinan from Star Trek are green, as is Tom Bombadil from Lord of the Rings. Buffy (the vampire slayer) has other colors but moves toward green as she embraces her destiny and, on the more feral side, Wolverine from X-Men often acts from green. The centaur society in HPMOR is green, in that they had sworn not to set themselves against destiny, even if it meant the end of all things. Our last Simpson, Maggie, is green as well, but that’s got more to do with her age than her fundamental character. In the game, green cards are druids and sages, mighty monsters and howling wolves, auras that restore the natural order and regenerate the wounded, and bursts of magic that produce enormous, feral strength or quell entire battles.


Victory for a green agent feels peaceful, fertile, and balanced — a tired general retiring to his farm, a mother nursing her baby, a valley lush with growth now that the rains have come and the pestilence has passed. It’s solemn, but without sadness; joyful, but without ego. Defeat, on the other hand, feels like having no ground beneath your feet, like being cut off from your tribe and family, like watching fair and fragile goodness being crushed underfoot and having everything you thought was true called into question.


Other words associated with green: growth, harmony, respect, spirituality, stability, acceptance, calm, centered, cautious, common sense, contentment, experienced, humility, intuition, maturity, meaning, moderation, restraint, reverence, serenity, sharing, significance, simplicity, strength, vigor, agreeable, contemplative, hearty, barbaric, virile, well-adapted, conservative, traditional, eldritch, ancient

– — Openness


A green agent, when presented with a decision or quandary, asks how are these things usually done? What is the established wisdom?


A world without white is a world of unreliability, with no scaffolds or handrails, no rules or recourse, no sense of fairness and no moral compass. White is the hard and durable skeleton of society, and without it, much of the cooperation and coordination that we rely and depend upon vanishes — even things like driving on a particular side of the road.


A world without blue is a world without curiosity, without investigation, without the nitpicking desire to get every cog into just the right place. More than any other color, blue represents what makes humanity different from other animals, other species — without it, we sink back into the present and lose our bridge to the future.


A world without black is a horror show of codependency, with all the inefficiencies of communist Russia and all of the insipid conformity of the town in Footloose or the society in Equilibrium or the people in the parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s a place where the sovereignty and nobility of the individual vanishes beneath the weight of the collective — it looks good at first, but without black, you lose the will to empire, the thirst for recognition, the desire to get ahead, the deep and personal wants that define and shape a person’s whole destiny. What’s left is pleasant, but there’s no soul at the core of it — nothing that burns with the hunger for something more.


A world without red lacks a different sort of fire — it’s a world that has wanting, but no passion…only a base and selfish grasping, with no real spark behind it. It’s a world where the rules never change, where the assumptions are never questioned, a world without teenage love and modern art and violent protests and spur-of-the-moment adventures. Without red, everything moves in slow motion and everything has its temperature turned down — like an entire society that’s been sedated.


A world without green, on the other hand, is a world unmoored from reality and disconnected from its own history. It’s a world full of bold schemes that fail to pan out, disasters that take generations to build momentum but are noticed too late. It’s a world where everything is out of place — where nothing truly even has a place — a constant parade of divorces and suicides and famines and extinctions, where things like global warming and eugenics and welfare programs with misaligned incentives happen all the time. It’s a world where the qualities that people derive from Zen Buddhism, or from the contemplation of a sunset, or from a hike in the mountains, or from the embrace of a grandmother, or from the sermon of an ancestor, are all entirely absent. It’s a place where you eat and eat and eat, but you never feel truly full.


In addition to being defined by goals and methods, the five colors also disagree with one another in meaningful ways. There are five central conflicts between colors on opposite sides of the wheel, which help to define them in contrast with one another.


White and black disagree about the relationship between the individual and the group. White prioritizes the group over the individual, and black does the opposite. The phrase “all for one and one for all” is white, whereas the spirit of individual sovereignty expressed in Ayn Rand’s philosophy is black. From white’s perspective, black is selfish and evil; from black’s perspective, white is naive and coercive.


Black and green disagree about the relationship between the individual and the surrounding environment. Green is the color of evolution and thriving, and believes in balance and evolved order, wanting to preserve the existing status quo. Black, on the other hand, sees only unclaimed resources waiting to be exploited. From green’s perspective, black is short-sighted and unbalanced; from black’s perspective, green is stagnant and irresolute. A black agent might try to create a strip mine; a green agent is more likely to build an animal sanctuary.


Green and blue disagree on questions of determinism and free will. Green believes that there is a niche for everyone, and that genetics and environment determine personality and potential. Blue believes in “tabula rasa,” and holds to the claim that anyone can become anything, given the proper nurturing, education, and opportunity. From green’s perspective, blue is hubristic and unwilling to hear the wisdom of the ages; from blue’s perspective, green is complacent and stuck in its ways.


(You may be noticing echoes of criticisms, such as blue and black each harboring similar dissatisfactions with green. This is a feature, not a bug; blue and black are allies and part of that alliance is a shared frustration with their common enemy. More on this below.)


Blue and red disagree about strategy. Blue believes that the best results will be achieved if you think carefully and let reason and logic carry the day, while red believes that it’s too easy to waste time and talk yourself in circles, and that you should instead follow your heart and listen to your gut. Blue sees red as impulsive and rash; red sees blue as repressed and unfeeling and unwilling to act.


Red and white disagree on questions of structure and commitment. Red is episodic, suspicious of rules and order because they constrain one’s ability to grow and change and freely choose. White is more diachronic, interested in finding the small compromises and sacrifices that will allow people to build trust and cooperate reliably. Where red sees cages, white sees scaffolds, and vice versa.


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