The Cultural Creatives:
We Are Everywhere
The "InnerView" with Paul Ray
By Peter Moore
"Cultural Creatives are at the overlap of all the consciousness movements and the social movements of our society."
Whats the connection between meditation, ecological
sustainability, social justice, self actualization, and the protesters
at the WTO Convention in Seattle? What were the 60s all
about and whats the socio-cultural link to now?
Paul Rays book The Cultural Creatives is
a sort of unified field theory that explores and explains these
linkages. The book, which has received a lot of attention since
its publication at the end of last year, is the culmination of
14 years of sociological research about the emergence of a new
culture, not just in America, but worldwide. It is an effort that
combines the best of social sciences and hope for the future.
I interviewed Paul Ray in March of this year.
Peter Moore, Editor
Peter Moore: For the benefit of those who haven’t read the book, how would you characterize "Cultural Creatives"?
Ray: The Cultural Creatives are over 50 million Americans who
care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships,
peace and social justice, but also about authenticity, self-actualization,
spirituality and self-expression. So surprisingly, they are both
inner directed and socially concerned. In fact theyre the
activists, the contributors to good causes, much more than most
PM: Why do you say "surprisingly"?
Theres a conventional media stereotype that anybody who
is doing the work on their inner life is caught up in narcissism
and ignoring the social problems of society. In fact, the data
shows just exactly the opposite. The more people care about their
inner life, the more theyre concerned about the condition
of the planet and human rights. There is a very strong positive
correlation between doing the inner work and caring about ecological
sustainability and social justice.
Im wondering if there might be another kind of a correlation
too. Back in the 70s I spent some months in a Tibetan monastary
in Nepal. In the course of the educational process they really
pushed what they called the Boddhisatva vowswork on your
inner life and work for the benefit of all others. From the spiritual
perspective of that ancient wisdom culture, they were teaching
something very similar to what youre describing here, inner
work and then outer work too. Do you see any correlation with
Buddhism coming to the West and influencing us in these ways?
The influence goes both ways. Traditionally, Buddhism helps cultivate
a deeper inner life to correspond to whatever cultural conditions
it finds itself in. And historically, Buddhism has been conditioned
in the traditional societies of the East to stay clear of politics.
I think we have to say that the West is not the same as the East.
Westerners, as they have learned various wisdom traditions, are
in the process of changing them. So as Buddhism comes into the
United States, its being changed in fundamental ways by
its becoming embedded in American culture. Consequently, Buddhism
in the United States, in my opinion, is going through a fundamental
transformation around gender relationships, issues of equality,
and an engaged approach to the conditions of the planet. If I
look at the work of wonderful activists like Joanna Macy and Thich
Nat Han, what I see is a real commitment to making Buddhism very
much a part of the engaged social activism of our time. In a way,
that really, really deepens it. And I think thats highly
So whether it is influencing Cultural Creatives in our society,
or being influenced by cultural creativity, its certainly
Its a spiral of mutual transformation. In fact, youd
have to say thats precisely the way the Cultural Creatives
appeared and have evolved. Weve had a gigantic social learning
process in the United States over the last 40 years. That social
learning process has brought people into a deeper connection with
whats real, and social movements have been born as a result.
These social movements have led to vast numbers of people re-interpreting
how they see the world. In the process people have been led from
one movement into successive movements, into a deeper confrontation.
Creatives are a product of all the new social and consciousness
movements, from the 60s right up to the WTO demonstrations
in Seattle. At the same time, they have been creating the movements
as well. Cultural Creatives are both the key activists of the
various movements and the big constituencies within them. Cultural
Creatives typically care about, are engaged in, read everything,
send money, participate in the big constituencies of a half a
dozen social movements. The rest of the country tend to have no
interest in the various movements, or care about, in a very specialized
way, only one or two.
Creatives are at the overlap of all the consciousness movements
and the social movements of our society. Theyre the people
who have learned the most, applied it the most, and fed back more
influence into those movements. What we see is a gigantic convergence
of all the different concerns: consciousness and alternative healthcare
and spirituality. And psychology. And womens movement. And
environmental movement. And civil rights. And social justice.
And gay lib. And, and, and, and, and . . .
Do you think that Cultural Creatives are a function of the relatively
affluent post-war period in the U.S. and Western Europe?
I would put it differently. First, I see cultural creativity growing
less out of having more income and more out of having more education
in the world. Thats an important distinction. Worldwide,
people have vastly more information and vastly more ability to
think about new topics. Its not just in the U.S., or Western
Europe, its around the world. In addition, we have a worldwide
communication net. It really is becoming one world for the very
people are becoming aware of the problems that the planet is having.
Everywhere, people are becoming aware that social injustice is
not to be tolerated. Just as in the 19th century we got rid of
slavery, and slavery not only became immoral but illegal in practically
every country in the worldto the point that were shocked
to know that slavery is still going on in Sudan today. Well, in
a similar way, war is becoming immoral and illegal today. Were
watching the peace movements success over the last 50 to
100 years. It was really started by the Quakers 300 years ago,
but after the Quakers, a lot of the rest of us finally picked
up on it. And the peace movement is succeeding, its making
war less and less legitimate.
the social movements are making violence against women and children
a worldwide concern. Womens issues are social justice issues.
A fundamental mind change is happening everywhere in the world.
We are raising our moral standards as we raise our collective
awareness. This is happening around the planet really, where the
big problems areand were saying what was once acceptable
is no longer acceptable.
of this runs exactly contrary to the propaganda of the religious
right, which claims were steeped in a sewer of immorality.
Quite the contrary, weve added 20 or 30 new additional kinds
of morality in the last 40 years. And this is not just true in
the U.S. or Western Europe, its being pumped out by the
mass media and by the Internet everywhere around the planet.
big part of cultural creativity then is a response to better information
about the whole world, and to much more clearly defined problems.
Since World War II, a lot of scientific exploration has been showing
whats true around the planet and giving us a more accurate
picture of the peoples of our world. And communications technologies
have actually allowed us to view these truths and peoples on TV
and correspond with them now over the Internet. That better communication
and better education are a big part of it.
I think there is a psychological factor which is that we live
in a less damaged time. The reality is that Western Europeans,
who have not experienced a major war for two generations now,
and Americans, who have not had a war in their homeland for more
than a century, are much more intolerant of violence and subjugation
and exploitation than, say, people in areas of Africa, Latin America,
and parts of Asia which have perpetual violence erupting. Its
important to note that healthier, more educated people also have
higher standards and put up with less garbage.
I assume youre not speaking about class or race, but about
human potential realized?
Thats right. Its a crucial piece of people being willing
to get up on their hind legs and join in civil society, protest,
demonstrate, demand new legislation and so on.
current best example of that is the Philippines. They have tossed
out authoritarian governments twice now and citizen non-violent
power is being demonstrated in the clearest of ways there.
example of the Philippines is very instructive. One of the things
we learn from it is that a social movement in one area of the
world, say the non-violent resistance of Gandhi in India, can
spread to other social movements elsewhere in the world. It doesnt
take that long. Such examples show how, collectively, were
being re-educated by the movements and that then feeds back into
new movements for change throughout civil society.
finally coming to a realization that this is another Golden Age
of civil society. Not the bourgeois society of small shopkeepers
200 years ago, but a real resurgence of voluntary organizations
and social movements and spiritual concerns and educational concerns
that together go a new chapter beyond Tocquevilles description
of civil society of 1830 in the United States. And its everywhere
in the world now.
What was Toquevilles take on our civil society?
Tocqueville described the U.S. as unique in having such an active
civil society. There was nothing like it in the Europe of 1830
when Tocqueville wrote. Tocquevilles Democracy in
America pointed out that there were really three parts of
American society. The business/economic world, the political world,
and then the world of all these associations. Tocqueville said,
Every time Americans see a problem, they create a new association.
Thats true (laughter).
And were good at it, lets face it. But everybody else
in the world has learned how to do that too at this point. If
you look at the Solidarity Movement in Poland, or the Velvet Revolution
in Czechoslovakia, what you see is, even in the presence of vicious
police state totalitarianism, you had people forming up civil
society organizations and forcing a new society to come into existence.
The same thing is true today in Argentina and Chile. Civil society
is coming back. All of that is part of the cultural creativity
of our time.
You view all of this as a worldwide fruition of an enhanced morality.
I really do! The U.S. may be the forcing function that puts the
information out there in terms of better mass communications and
Internet communications, but were not even taking the lead
on this. Theres more Cultural Creatives, proportionately
and absolutely, in Europe than there are here. Theres probably
80 to 90 million Cultural Creatives in Europe, around 30 to 35%
of every Western European country. In addition, preliminary indications
are that, in a number of Asian countries, theyre making
their own version of cultural creativity.
Whats happening in Asia?
Since the book was published, Ive spoken with any number
of people from Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, India, and the Philippines
who tell me that maybe a third of their population is doing something
really fascinating and unique. Theyre reaching way back,
to old myths and symbols from prior to western contact, for a
profound spiritual base. At the same time theyre taking
up the planetary concerns, the social justice and womens
concerns that they are hearing from the West, and theyre
putting those together in a new synthesis. They think of our Cultural
Creatives as a little bit shallow historically, but nevertheless,
they are in complete sympathy and resonance with what they see
with Cultural Creatives in the U.S. and Western Europe. A woman
from Japan said to me that westerners dont perceive it,
for the most part. She said, When your generals and your
businessmen and politicians come over, we dont talk about
this aspect of Japanese society because were concerned that
this is very close to our hearts and we dont want you to
pour scorn on it. And of course, shes right. The kind
of people who are Moderns, who belong to the world
of getting and spending and materialism, wouldnt understand,
and dont understand, and dont want it to be true.
And they would belittle it.
Exactly. So its important to know that the modern corporate
media is giving a very distorted picture of cultural creativity
everywhere, and so are the big institutions of society. This is
a fundamental change that is going on just beneath the surface
of events in American life, ready to break through in a new level
of awareness and concern. We think that, though the Cultural Creatives
have been growing at maybe a half of a percent a year for the
last 40 years, that it will grow much faster as people become
aware of how many there are out there. Cultural Creatives could
easily be half of the American population in five to ten years.
Do you see a silver lining in that dark cloud around media and
political stonewalling? Is it possible that, without the attempts
to co-opt it by the media or corporations or politicians, cultural
creativity has evolved in a more organic way? Has that been a
You might be right there. It seems to me that it is true that
cultural creativity, in some ways, has been left alone by the
politicians and the big corporations. But theres two aspects
of it that are problematic. One, we describe in the book in great
detail how alone Cultural Creatives feel because they never see
their own face in the media. The ugly truth is that the media
serve as the gate-keepers of the official modernist culture of
society, and tries to keep out and belittle anything that doesnt
fit their view of reality. Thats a real problem. Its
also the case that the whole process of cultural creativity has
grown more slowly because people are not aware of all the social
inventions taking place. Everybody is shocked to find out how
much is being created all across this country, Western Europe,
the Philippinesall these really marvelous social inventionsand
none of it is news. The news media choose not to cover it at all.
Its just not exciting to them, it doesnt have any
controversy, it doesnt have any political implications that
they can point to. Its not good for business and advertising.
Consequently, they are actually misrepresenting whats going
on all around us all the time.
We found, during our research and book tour, that theres
a massive amount of wonderful social inventions being dreamed
up and manifested, but most people are never aware of this. That
means that theres a lot of people who could create new possibilities,
but because there appears to be no interest or market for it,
theyre stuffing things into desk drawers and leaving some
of their favorite manuscripts unpublished. If Cultural Creatives
knew that there were so many other Cultural Creatives around,
they would pull that thing out of the desk drawer and get that
manuscript into publication. They would start new businesses appealing
to Cultural Creatives, or theyd start new political parties
that represent more effectively their values. But they dont
know. This corporate media blackout of information, not only about
the people but what theyre creating, has been slowing down
the process and making more pessimism in our society than is warranted.
actually have a lot of opportunities to invite a better future.
Its not true that were just condemned to a future
of ecological decline and more and more conflict. One of the reasons
we wrote the book, in fact, was to let people know how many possibilities
there are and how much company theyve got in doing this.
You began your research on American lifestyles in 1986 and Im
sure it was easy to identify the two large groupings of American
culture, the Traditionals and the Moderns.
When did you realize you were looking at a whole new group, the
By 1992 I realized that I was looking at an actual subculture
with its own distinct way of life just as real as say the
population of Quebec in the middle of Canada, just as distinctive
in that kind of sense. But BIG, the size of the population, not
of Quebec, but of France. Its big numbers. And everything
about them in their lifestyle was different. Their worldview was
different, they talked differently in focus groups, their values
were different. Well, if youve got choice of language, worldview,
whats in their houses, values and behaviors all different,
you do, by God, really have a subculture. The one thing that was
missing was that they didnt recognize themselves.
would have a focus group and say to the people, Youre
all here in the room because you share the following values.
And somebody would pipe up and say Hey, wait a minute, I
know its just me and a couple of my friends. How did you
get so many others with similar values in the same room together?
You know, theres 50 million of them out there but theyve
got this gigantic collective illusion that theyre all individually
Well I share that. Since I was a teenager protesting the Viet
Nam war, I have felt marginalized in my own society. I do not
resonate with the values that scream at me from most media, entertainment,
corporations or mainstream politics. Alternatives Magazine was
started to express a different voice in society, to see who else
is out there and network with them. Our advertisers are as much
the news as the editorial content, because these are people who
are starting small businesses based on their own creative social
inventions, as you call it. They are being the change they want
to see in the world, through their economic practices, their social
activism, their associations, and all that.
Like other Cultural Creatives, you and your advertisers and writers
are putting together your own big picture, your own synthesis.
Thats the cognitive style of Cultural Creatives and its
an important part of the story.
is a culturally approved cognitive style for the Moderns
too, which is a kind of tunnel vision. Theirs is, Dont
distract me, Im dressed for success, Im focused tightly
on my goals, Im looking after me and mine, and devil take
the hindmost. That tunnel vision stance is a dominant specialists
way of looking at things. The weakness of course is that it leads
to ignorance of things outside your specialty. And for the Traditionals,
the dominant stance is one of fending off; Dont let
that bad stuff next to me and mine. I want simple black and white
the Cultural Creatives also have an approved cognitive style,
and it is a way you can know that theyre a subculture. Their
cognitive style is, Im piecing together my own big
picture. I dont like what Im seeing around me, I dont
resonate with the fragmented factoids of the corporate media,
I really have a large number of values concerns that are being
sneered at in the media. And that stance is one that is
not so much embattled as alone. From that aloneness you put together
your own view. It has a very definite pattern to it.
Even if you feel alone, you still have to make a living. What
about the intersection of these differing cognitive styles at
work and in business?
All of us are children of modernism. We all learned how to do
things in the This is how business is done modernist
way. But the problem is, frequently, how business is done
is not the way we want to do it. Its part of our unconscious,
unexamined repertoire of stuff. For example, you bring in an expert
or consultant who says, you want to reach a lot of people,
heres what you have to do. But frequently, that way
of doing things is poisoning the well. You know it because it
goes against your values, even if it is expedient.
a lot that has to be done at every level of society to re-think
what we do in big organizations, or small ones for that matter.
We need to re-examine every last piece of everyday practiceabout
business, about politics, about voluntary organizations, social
movement organizations, whateverand say Does this
really satisfy our hearts? Is this really right relationship,
as well as right livelihood? Thats where Im
Me too. What I am seeing is that more Cultural Creatives are going
into business and employing their own values and principles in
the practice of it. And they are competing well in the marketplace.
That is having the effect of normalizing ideas that were once
considered radical or New Age, or coming from the Left.
I think its important to grasp that Left versus
Right as categories really belong to the 500 year
old age of modernism. The reality is that the Cultural Creatives
are not left or right. Theyre out in front.
Ray, Ph.D. is executive vice president of American LIVES,
Inc., a market research and opinion polling firm doing research
on the lifestyles and values of Americans. He has published numerous
articles on values and social change. He wrote and published The
Cultural Creatives with his wife, Sherry Anderson, Ph.D. Their
website is www.culturalcreatives.org.
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