How Cultural Creatives are transcending alienation and isolation in an industrial world and bringing forward the practical wisdom of conscious living.
In this interview with social scientist Paul H. Ray, Ph.D., Pathways associate editor Lisa Reagan connects the dots between her insights from 15 years of holistic family wellness advocacy and Ray’s investigation of Cultural Creatives, a growing segment of the Western population transforming mainstream culture. Driven by their holistic values, integrated worldview and ability to synthesize vast amounts of information with an inner vision (insight) of wholeness, Cultural Creatives are, in Ray’s words, an “emerging wisdom culture.”
Ray presented his research findings in 2000 with the book Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, written with his wife, Sherry Anderson, Ph.D. In this interview, Ray shares his updated findings from a 2008 study of Cultural Creatives and a peek into his forthcoming book on the critically needed element Cultural Creatives bring to the current failing industrial culture: practical wisdom.
Ray shares with Pathways readers why it is vital that they connect with one another and recognize they are participating in a consciousness-raising movement whose importance and impact will not be reflected in mainstream media, but is measurable by any social scientist who cares to look (and whose job is not dependent on him not looking).
Lisa: When I became an accidental conscious-living advocate 15 years ago, families in my community regularly met to talk about holistic wellness: Where were the resources, support and information we needed? How were we going to do this for ourselves? How could we make sure we didn’t go to jail or have our children taken from us for our choices?
It was overwhelming in the beginning, because few of us understood that wellness was wholeness, and wholeness—or holistic thinking—was not supported in our fragmented, industrial culture.
At the time, we had to truck in organic and gluten- free foods through co-ops. Homeschoolers and homebirthers were targeted by Social Services and threatened with having their children taken away from them. Chiropractors and naturopaths were marginalized by medical doctors, but sought after by parents, quickly becoming our most reliable sources of information and support.
I remember the overriding feeling when we gathered was confusion and surprise that we would have to work this hard to create wellness and make informed choices for our families. It took years to realize that our meetings in churches, homes and community centers to sort out our mission and to devise strategies to advocate for ourselves and other families defined us as a movement. In fact, your book shows clearly that our efforts to bring what was missing into our culture, and the struggle we endured because our culture did not reflect our values back to us, means that we were not just any movement, but a consciousness-raising movement.
Only in hindsight can I see that it took years of sharing our personal experiences with each other to develop a truer counter-reality to the fragmented factoids fed to us by media. It was probably a decade before there was coherence around what was happening: We were a consciousness-raising movement advocating for holistic family wellness in an industrial country that ranked at the bottom of all developed countries for maternal, infant and child wellness.
It probably would have saved me a lot of trouble and grief if I knew about your book at the time, but I didn’t find it until years later. Today, Pathways Connect sponsors more than 300 gathering groups internationally and serves a growing population of readers who, like my original group, travel through a similar process of orientation while sharing support and resources.
How does your social science research into Cultural Creatives apply to Pathways readers and Pathways Connect Gathering Group members?
Paul: There is a very important distinction here that we need to make, and that is the difference between a movement—say the labor movement or various political movements whose objective is to gain power, change the laws, get a better working wage with benefits—and a second kind of movement, a consciousness movement. Anything that is holistic, having to do with wellness, natural healing, organic food and so on, is a part of the consciousness movement.
If you think about the early women’s movement, it was more about raising the consciousness of women to be aware of what their situation was than about “women gotta break through the glass ceiling.” This is not just any old kind of movement, this is a consciousness movement. And that is the big deal. The inner change, the perception of what is real, turns out to be just as important than anything on the outer plans.
Lisa: When we first came together in these groups, we noticed that we came from very different backgrounds. There were people with varied religious and political values, all in one circle. It was as if that aspect of our lives receded and was not important compared to our concern for our children’s health. How does that kind of diversity fit into the Cultural Creative phenomenon?
Paul: It fits extremely well! Cultural Creatives are known to appreciate people from different backgrounds. In fact, they are known to be xenophiles.
What is going on here is that you have an inner unmet need. People who are more intuitive know this. You get the impression from the news media that intuitives couldn’t be more than 10 percent of the population. But they are about 40 percent of the population. The ones who feel an inner pressure to have a more meaningful life and are good at making syntheses and perceiving larger patterns are typically the people who become the core group of the Cultural Creatives, the natural opinion leaders.
So people who are holistic practitioners are the natural opinion leaders of the Cultural Creatives. You have to think of the Cultural Creative phenomenon as a target of concentric circles. At the center are people who work with each other, give talks and write articles, and they are the core group. They pass on new ideas and new insights to lots of other people. These core people are concerned about their inner development and the outer world.
The next ring outward are the people I call the Green Cultural Creatives. They are becoming aware of the core messages, but it takes about 10 years to do a changeover of your lifestyle. People in this group all complain about how they didn’t get the support they need to make this change over the amount of time that it takes—again, up to 10 years.
They say, “I’m all alone here!” Whereas the people in the core “get it,” but only after many years of working on themselves.
Lisa: What we see in our community-building efforts in Pathways Connect is that these differences, which should be barriers, are more likely to be appreciated as our values override the differences.
Paul: That is a very important insight on your part because often Traditionals and Moderns want everybody around them to squeak just right. They have a check-box approach of “do they agree with me on this item and this item?” But if you have a big enough mind and heart to talk about what is really important, not just politics, it makes an enormous difference to a movement. And this is how you know you are involved in a consciousness movement, of course—the appreciation of differences.
Lisa: You weren’t looking for Cultural Creatives when you found them in a marketing research project. What were you looking for?
Paul: Way back in 1985, I had spent time in Canada doing policy research on energy consumption. We found then that the predictor for household energy consumption was people’s values. Not their demographics, not their politics, not their psychology, but their values— what was most important to them in their lives, and also their worldview. Their decisions were based on what was important to them, how they wanted their children to be, how they wanted their country to be and how they wanted their planet to be. Values and their worldview, or how the world works.
As a social scientist, I was looking for a population of people who might be able to deal with the fact of climate change and cared about the environment on one hand, and on the other hand I was teaching meditation on the side and wanted to know who was interested in that. Did values have anything to do with that?
So, I set up a research company because what I wanted were good predictors. What actually does predict what people do? Because demographics were cheap to get, but they were rotten predictors.
I set out to describe human behavior by collecting lots and lots of data. I found that values are terrific predictors. What was new, what nobody expected, was that this values group belonged to subcultures, a way of valuing things, seeing life and talking about the world. We knew about the Traditionals, who were social conservatives and religious conservatives, and the Moderns, who were very materialistic and live by getting and spending.
And then there was this third group that, when we got started, represented about 20 percent of the population and was clearly slowly growing, and clearly had not been there in the few value surveys that had been tried years earlier. As near as anyone could tell, they had not been there before the 1960s. After a while I started to say, “Well, they are more creative about new ways of life. They are more creative about products they want. And there are cultural differences. So they must be ‘Cultural Creatives."
What was surprising was that we had three competing interpretations of the world, what they wanted their country to be, and different stuff in their houses. So lo and behold, we had a good predictor.
But I am a research scientist and I do statistical modeling, so what I was looking for was: What works? And incidentally, does it have anything to do with the environment or people’s inner lives? The answer was yes, it does. It has a whole lot to do with it, and, incidentally, it is an emerging worldview. Later on we discovered that Cultural Creatives were people who had paid a lot of attention to the new social movements: the women’s movement, the environmental movement, alternative healthcare, organic food, civil rights, native people’s concerns, planetary concerns. Cultural Creatives were three times as likely to be engaged in those social movements as other people, and they often drifted from one movement to another.
We found something really interesting when we did studies of how people used technology. Cultural Creatives read more than other people, and were better informed than other people. Over a number of years, we were beginning to build a picture that showed people who were the best informed, who were trying to put together a better picture of the world around them than they were fed from the media with its fragmented factoids; people who were concerned about developing themselves over their entire lifetime, and not just freezing themselves into one way of life in their twenties. Instead they kept redeveloping and trying new things, experimenting with their own lives.
People who were concerned about alternative healthcare were also the people concerned about organic food. They were also more concerned about spiritual and psychological development over their entire life, we discovered.
Sometimes we did big, long surveys, but many times we had to do in-person interviews with our corporate clients watching, because the corporations couldn’t believe these people actually existed. To the Traditionals and the Moderns, Cultural Creatives shouldn’t be there. The typical businessman would have the attitude of, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” He would want to sit on the other side of the one-way mirror glass and listen to these people talk. So, I let them. One head of a television station exclaimed, “My God, these people are real! I never would have believed it!”
That was a common reaction of builders of new homes, people who were selling cars, and so on—these things that were symbolically loaded, including alternative healthcare and organic food.
Lisa: What were Cultural Creatives saying in those early surveys and focus groups?
Paul: If I hadn’t been trained in market research, I never would have realized what I was looking at were cultural differences. But you couldn’t sit in on the focus groups and not hear that they spoke differently. They would talk about how their inner life was going and how they wanted to be more authentic and the politicians to be more authentic and the businesses they dealt with to be more authentic. So I said, okay, authenticity is a value for these people.
Lisa: In your book, Cultural Creatives, you go back hundreds and even thousands of years to tie together the significance of this emerging population subgroup in the past century. Where have we seen Cultural Creatives historically? And what is happening that Cultural Creatives are appearing in greater numbers now?
Paul: Cultural Creatives have been seen before. There were hermetic people who were spiritual in the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Church often persecuted them. Then there were Emerson and the transcendentalists in New England around the early 1800s. We know that the anti-slavery moment and women’s movement came out of the Quakers 300 years ago. Quakers were there at the beginning of a whole lot of movements, but they didn’t get picked up in large numbers. It was always closeted away and considered dangerous.
Basically, the cultures of Traditionalism and Modernism think of theirs as the only right way to see the world. They are very likely to persecute people who don’t see things their way. The Inquisition is an example; that ran from the 1300s to the 1700s. It was a terrible time for people who were trying out new ideas.
A lot of these new ideas come from perceiving life as whole, something that intuitive people are very good at spotting. Carl Jung’s work is about this. Cultural Creatives tie in their inner knowing with the outer world. They are very concerned about the outer world. But an increase in Cultural Creatives wasn’t possible until the 1950s, when we started moving into an informationsaturated world after World War II.
Having a more educated world and a population that was better at handling large amounts of information was a very important development—and Cultural Creatives are people who just happen to be better at handling large amounts of information. This doesn’t mean that Cultural Creatives are more educated or better at interpreting what they find, it just means that they consume more information.
They read two to three times the amount of magazine and Web articles. They track the news pretty carefully. Because of this, they are discriminating and have a terrific nose for B.S. They are very good at telling the difference between what is real and what is fake, because they have viewed the world through so many different angles.
What I used to say to clients was that if you help Cultural Creatives interpret their world, you are their friend! And that is what you, Lisa Reagan, and Pathways magazine, are doing. You are helping Cultural Creatives interpret their world around them!
Cultural Creatives are very good at synthesizing information; this is a crucial difference between them and Moderns. Moderns take in a lot of information, but they compartmentalize it, they don’t integrate it. Cultural Creatives integrate the information they get. Some of this comes from who they hang out with, and some of it is how their minds work in the first place.
The important aspect of people taking in lots of information and building a big picture is that they not freeze who they are and that they can keep developing over their lifetime. Intuitives long for a deeper sense of how the world works. So as these new social movements come along, we have also had all of these new consciousness movements come along. Cultural Creatives have always been there, egging change along and being changed by who is around them, but they are also changing the way things work. Because when you carry images from, say, the women’s movement to spirituality to civil rights—not necessarily demonstrating on the barricades, but reading everything, giving money, talking to friends in quiet rooms—there is a mutual feedback process between the inner development and the outer concern, building up experiences and friends over time who want more. Who want to have a deeper life and who end up saying, “Oh my God, it’s possible!”
Over and over again in interviews, Cultural Creatives say of their early twenties, “I didn’t think it was possible then. But later on I got to see that a deeper, more satisfying life was possible. A life that was more meaningful than just consumerism or the brass ring of success.” Many people we interviewed said they looked at the brass ring of success and decided they didn’t need that. These are people who are more psychologically sophisticated because they have taken the time and the trouble to become that way.
Lisa: Are men and women represented equally in the Cultural Creative phenomenon?
Paul: No. In fact, in the past they were women to men, two to one. Women have been taking the lead in drawing along the men they were with. So if you have women friends who are saying, “Where are all the men?” they are probably Cultural Creative women. You will know them because they will say, “Did I do something wrong? Am I being too picky?” And the answer is, no dear, you are not being too picky and you haven’t done anything wrong. There are just too few men in your tribe.
One of the things that Cultural Creative women have done with men that they are pulling along, is that they are often pretty good with social intelligence. That is, they are leading in the service to larger purposes: the whole planet, to life, to the future, and acting in socially responsible ways. Too many men in their twenties and thirties are dressed for success and that kind of wears out on them after a while. Some of this is about feeding a family, but some of this is about how men are trained. So there is an amount of unlearning that needs to be done. So typically there is a lag between the women who “get it” in their twenties and men, who “get it” in their thirties and forties.
Cultural Creative women are typically more socially skilled and have more insights earlier in life. The good news is that finally, after 40 years, Cultural Creative men are beginning to catch up with women.
Lisa: How many Cultural Creatives are there today and where do we find them?
Paul: The proportion of Cultural Creatives in any city is usually no less than 5 percent, with Boston and San Francisco being the main hubs, and big cities and college towns having higher percentages. In some cities, Cultural Creatives may feel like they are not heard or that they are repressed, but their numbers are there. And that was a striking phenomenon, that they are spread like peanut butter across the landscape.
The whole picture of Cultural Creatives slowly grew over a 20-year period until we’d surveyed 150,000 people and held 500 focus groups. Today there are 80 million Cultural Creatives in the United States, with 90 million in Europe and 25 million in Japan. Cultural Creatives are roughly about 35 percent of adults in all of the developed countries of the world. In addition to their concern about family and relationships, they are concerned about the environment, social responsibility, personal development and growth, both psychologically and spiritually, over their whole lives. This overlaps women’s concerns about children, health and issues that they have been pulling men into.
The annual growth rate is about 3 percent a year from the 1960s onward. It doesn’t sound like much until you think of it in terms of compound interest. And then it is, whoa! We had 20 percent of the American population in 1986, probably 30 million adults, and now 35 percent and 80 million.
Lisa: Cultural Creatives have been around long enough now to have children. Are we birthing and raising Cultural Creatives? Do children pick up and model the values of their parents?
Paul: Oh yes! We are breeding Cultural Creatives! At this point in time you have quite a number of kids who are saying to their parents, “Well, you only talk about it! I’m gonna do it!”
Lisa : Why doesn’t it seem like there are 80 million of us? How do we become more visible and organized?
Paul: You will not see your face in the media or hear them talk about your concerns because the news media are part of the guardians of the official reality of American culture. They are gatekeepers, and they don’t let ideas through that their advertisers might consider dangerous. It’s just bad for business. Reporters who have written about Cultural Creatives have had their jobs threatened. Cultural Creatives are heavy consumers of the news, but never see their faces reflected.
The business model is in trouble, so anything that threatens profit or the viability of a news network had to be paid close attention to. So that’s one.
The next reason is that if you go to work at a standard corporation, you will have to check your values at the door. This isn’t just true for big corporations; this is true for places like hospitals. You could work beside someone for 20 years who does share your values and not know in these places.
Lisa: So if your livelihood depends upon blending in at a work site, sharing your values could be dangerous?
Paul: Exactly. There are punishments for being deviant from the official culture. There are some cities and cultures where those punishments don’t exist.
I want to make an important point here. Cultural Creatives are not necessarily more virtuous than other people. They are not necessarily the good people of American life, or smarter than other people, or better educated. They are a subculture, so they can be smart, dumb, neurotic, sane, spiritual or true believers.
Lisa: You have written that Cultural Creatives are an “emerging wisdom culture,” and their purpose is to bring forth practical wisdom into our world. How do we do this? Bring forward practical wisdom?
Paul: In 2008 I did a survey of 2,000 people looking to see if a wise-values consensus was emerging. I found 12 different measurements that show an emerging wisevalues consensus in the United States. Cultural Creatives are the opinion leaders on every last one of these issues. What this shows is a major shift in American culture, led by the Cultural Creatives. This is major, as it is based on practical wisdom: perceiving what is necessary for the world, and what is effective to do. People who are engaging and acting from practical wisdom are taking a larger, more whole-systems, perspective on the world—a bigger, wider viewpoint. They are willing to look at the world in a longer timeline. Businessmen are only interested in next year or next quarter. Cultural Creatives often have a generations-long worldview, both looking back in time and looking forward in time.
Taking a 25- to 50-year time horizon and asking, “What is going to happen to me and my children, to my grandchildren?” The longer-term time horizon, the wider planetary concern—taking the big picture into account and then taking personal development into account in order to make a contribution in life. These are qualities that have been marked as practical wisdom from philosophers from Aristotle to Socrates on up to the present.
Lisa: How does this practical wisdom appear to us? How can we recognize it?
Paul: One way of thinking about wisdom is that in between wisdom and folly (or stupidity) is conventionality. The conventional worldview is basically the worldview of the Moderns—getting and spending—and the media, the guardians of how things are without any change.
If you think of culture as a bell curve, most people are in the middle, but there is a leading edge, and it is a wise leading edge. And there is a foolish trailing edge in the culture. Leading from the edge means using many ways of knowing. Cultural Creatives use many ways of knowing that are objective and fact-based, but also ways of knowing that are body- or heart-knowing, and not just from the individual view, but having an intuitive notion of what is going on for the world.
Having all of these kinds of input means you have a better understanding of reality—not just the specialist way, or the fundamentalist way. Because Cultural Creatives are good at synthesizing, they are good at cutting through to the heart of a matter. They are also frequently perceptive, subtle observers.
Practical wisdom is all of this. Having the ability to see the greatest good, and then having a heart that wills the common good. The test is:
Are you committed to a love of the truth?
What is transparent and authentic and trustworthy?
Do you have discriminating judgment about what is good and humane?
Do you have a big repertoire of values, or only one or two things that you spend your time on?
Do you ever use higher levels of consciousness in developing insight?
Do you practice letting things alone and unfold in their own way?
What Social Science Research Shows About Cultural Creatives
By Paul H. Ray, Ph.D.
Cultural Creatives cover a very wide range of social class positions, from working class to the elite. They may be middle class on average, but the range is so wide that it is almost meaningless to describe them in terms of occupation, education or income. The key identifiers are values, worldview and lifestyle, not demographics. People with identical values can be of very different social classes, and people of the same social class can live in totally different cultural worlds.
Over the past few years, in the United States and across Western Europe and Japan, a set of independent surveys by different research teams, has found that Cultural Creatives are 33–37 percent of adults, averaging 35 percent. What goes with that research finding is a parallel realization: This is an emerging planetary culture. The values and worldviews of Cultural Creatives all around the planet are much more similar to each other than they are to other people of their own particular countries. The emerging planetary values and worldviews are converging across nations to create a “trans-modern” culture. That is, it can cut across the rancorous conflicts and divisions among peoples and religions to integrate modern and traditional values with something new that’s still in process, still emerging. It’s a wiser culture, one that supports the people more than elites. It’s a surprising new basis for planetary integration, and for creating a sustainable world.
We are getting a surprising picture of convergence that cuts right across the nationalisms that we grew up with, and which still dominate the news, and international confrontations of today. But this picture is how a leading edge of the people see matters, not how the dominant culture of Modernity pictures them, for those governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations often reflect a dying era. The new picture is based on the robust rhetoric of numbers based on data, not the hollow rhetoric of obsolete political philosophies and self-serving ideologies.
New numbers placed into a better picture help make better rhetoric than we’ve been getting lately. For completely contrary to what the mainstream media says, these numbers establish that most Americans are catching up to the Europeans and Japanese, and losing their myopia at the same time that they face up to bigger issues. A large majority of Americans already “get” the problem of climate catastrophe, even if conservative politicians and business leaders don’t (or refuse to acknowledge it). And they are emotionally ready to take up the issue of a larger planetary perspective. The data doesn’t say they have practical ideas on what to do yet, but rather that it is okay to put such things on the national agenda—and to have a planetary agenda.
It’s also important to notice that our survey also showed that 71 percent of Americans now see themselves as citizens of planet Earth as well as Americans. There is movement in the collective consciousness toward planetary awareness, planetary concerns, and not just globalization of an economic kind, but planetary integration, at precisely the same moment in history when the whole planet is threatened by climate crisis.
Are You a Cultural Creative?
By Paul H. Ray, Ph.D.
As with any burgeoning movement, there are probably more Cultural Creatives out there than we realize…or who even recognize it themselves. If you’re wondering if you’re one, this list of statements can give you an indication.* In the list below, count the number of statements you agree with. If you agree with 10 or more, you’re probably a Cultural Creative. Higher scores increase the likelihood.
You are likely to be a Cultural Creative if you...
…love nature and are deeply concerned about its destruction.
…are strongly aware of the problems of the whole planet (global warming, destruction of rainforests, overpopulation, lack of ecological sustainability, exploitation of people in poorer countries) and want to see more action on them, such as limiting economic growth.
…would pay more taxes or pay more for consumer goods if you could know the money would go to clean up the environment and to stop global warming.
…place a great deal of importance on developing and maintaining your relationships.
…place a lot of value on helping other people and bringing out their unique gifts.
…volunteer for one or more good causes.
…care intensely about both psychological and spiritual development.
…see spirituality or religion as important in your life, but are concerned about the role of the Religious Right in politics.
…want more equality for women at work, and more women leaders in business and politics.
…are concerned about violence and the abuse of women and children around the world.
…want our politics and government spending to put more emphasis on children’s education and well-being, on rebuilding our neighborhoods and communities, and on creating an ecologically sustainable future.
…are unhappy with both the Left and the Right in politics, and want to find a new way that is not in the mushy middle.
…tend to be somewhat optimistic about our future, and distrust the cynical and pessimistic view that the media promulgates.
…want to be involved in creating a new and better way of life in our country.
…are concerned about what the big corporations are doing in the name of making more profits: downsizing, creating environmental problems, and exploiting poorer countries.
…have your finances and spending under control, and are not concerned about overspending.
…dislike all the emphasis in modern culture on success and “making it,” on getting and spending, and on wealth and luxury goods.
…like people and places that are exotic and foreign, and enjoy experiencing and learning about other ways of life.
*Note: This is not a research questionnaire. Rather it is a handy way of showing some research results to people who may not be good at statistics. These statements are drawn from items that reliably correlated with being a Cultural Creative in a number of surveys. A statistical analysis of the research findings provides an idea of how many yeses it takes to give a reliable probability that you are a Cultural Creative: If you agree with 10 items, there’s a 60 percent chance that you are one; agreeing with all 18 items means the odds are over 90 percent.
“Practical wisdom is what ensures the taking of proper means to the proper ends desired by moral virtue."
—Aristotle , Nicomachian Ethics
“Aristotle’s man of practical wisdom, the phronimos, employs his intelligence to discover what is good for the individual and the community, what ‘conduces to the good (eudaimonic) life as a whole.’ But the phronimos goes beyond recognizing the components of a good life; he is disposed to achieve them. That is to say, the exercise of phronesis [practical wisdom] is not solely a theoretical venture. Unlike the other intellectual virtues, practical wisdom has an explicitly moral character. Phronesis is not simply knowledge; it is the capacity for knowledge in action. Practical wisdom is ‘imperative,’ Aristotle states: ‘it gives orders.’ The phronimos practices rather than simply understands the virtuous life, while securing rather than simply identifying its worldly components.”
—Thiele , The Heart of Judgment
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #38.
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