‘A worldview is to humans as water is to fish.’
(Cultural Creatives by Ray & Anderson: page 93)
Human beings are not passive observers of reality and our personal reality, our thought, is not simply imposed upon us. In a very specific way we may consider ourselves – collectively – as co-creators of reality, for through the power of the human mind and our interactions, the world undergoes continued transformation.
The end of the previous post discussed the need for a new world view. More or less the same points are captured on page 341:
If a culture lacks a positive vision of the future, [Fred] Polak showed, its creative power begins to wither and the culture itself stagnates and eventually dies out. Negative images are even more destructive, leading to hopelessness, helpessness, . . . . [and] “endgame” behaviours, with people snatching and grabbing to secure something for themselves before everything falls apart. This behaviour brings about the very collapse they fear. . . . . . . [Cultural Creatives] say that each of us is a living system within a greater living system, connected to each other in more ways than we can fathom. If we focus on that wholeness, we can begin to imagine a culture that can heal the fragmentation and destructiveness of our time.
The book examines the context in which Cultural Creatives emerged and exactly what they represent in detail.
The Moderns, contrary to how it often seems, constitute the largest of three main groupings at 48% of the U.S. population (page 25) and dominate the media. They have great faith in the ‘technological economy’ (ibid.) and ‘accept the commercialised urban-industrialised world as the obvious right way to live’ (page 27).
On the other hand, Traditionals, who according to the authors can be found almost everywhere and have invented Fundamentalism (page 84), constitute a measly 24.5% of the U.S. population. They can persuade themselves often, and the rest of us sometimes, that they are really the top dogs as a result of their noisy and vociferous responses to all they regard as the moral shortcomings of current society.
Alongside, or rather hidden somewhere behind the spotlights wielded by members of those two highly visible groups, stand the Cultural Creatives at 28% of the U.S. population – something like 50 million people in all. Quite a crowd to be so invisible. There’s about the same number in Europe apparently.
The quickest way to get a handle on what Cultural Creatives stand for is to look at the questionnaire on the Cultural Creatives website. It’s not so much a questionnaire as a list of things that distinguish Cultural Creatives from the other two groups.
The authors’ analysis of the various sub-groups their surveys detected within the Moderns as a cultural group is intriguing as is there account of the Traditionals. However, it would expand this post into an even longer series of posts if I were to attempt to do justice to their explanation. I’m afraid I shall just be focusing for now at least on the Cultural Creatives.
The questionnaire on the authors’ website will cover the basic description of their characteristics. As a Bahá’í I can sign up to all of them, I think. They map onto our social teachings almost down to the last coordinate. The key differences are in what they leave out, but more of that later.
What I found most interesting about the Cultural Creatives, after I had got over the shock of how closely what they stand for mirrors my own position, is the authors’ account how they came from apparently nowhere to become such an invisible but influential force in American society. While opinions about them amongst both Moderns and Traditionals are dismissive – for example, they’re put down as ‘New Age’ by Moderns and as ‘political activists’ by the Traditionals – this misses the point. The authors quote Sarah van Gelder (page 93):
‘The New Age sterotype is that it’s all about changing ourselves internally and the world will take care of itself. The political activists’ stereotype is that we ignore our inner selves to save the world. Neither works! . . . The Cultural Creatives are about leaving that dichotomy behind and integrating the evolution of the self and the work on the whole.’
Perhaps I find all this so compelling because I lived through the same splits myself on my particular fairly undramatic variation of the road to Damascus. After I left the religion of my childhood I drifted until I became, for a time, what the international socialists I mixed with called a ‘fellow traveller.’ I explained some of this in a previous post so I won’t rehearse it all again here but disillusion set in fairly quickly because of the violence and lies that seemed an unavoidable ‘side effect’ of the socialist/communist rhetoric in practice.
Then I launched into self-exploration with gusto, dynamiting myself out of the prison of an habitual emotional deep-freeze by means of an encounter weekend followed by several months living in a commune that practised Reichian Therapy after the school of David Boadella. This was not as barmy as it might sound as we didn’t use an orgone box, though someone I knew had made one that I sat in for a whole afternoon with no discernible effects.
We just did the breathing exercises. Two factors caused me to move on.
One was that, although I had blown out the door of my dissociating cell, I had also blasted a hole right through the floor of my psyche and kept falling into the lake of tears that lay underneath without ever finding, in the commune’s approach, a psycho-Babel fish capable of translating the experience into intelligible terms. I was never helped to reach an understanding of why the lake was there or how I could have related to it differently. I just got drenched from time to time, climbed back out dripping and carried on.
The other reason was that I could see that we were so far beyond the pale of mainstream society that I would never be able to have an impact on all the things in our culture and practice that I still wanted to change. In short, there were no ways to heal my mind or my milieu from where I was standing at the time.
I came back into the mainstream, joined a Transactional Analysis/Gestalt Therapy group, studied psychology, practised Buddhist meditation, and threw myself into Dreamwork Ann Faraday style, until, just after I’d qualified as a Clinical Psychologist, the Bahá’í Faith offered me a way of effectively integrating personal growth, social action and spiritual understanding into a sustainable way of life that offered my best hope of systematically influencing our society to heal itself.
The book Cultural Creatives teems with examples of similar trajectories to an amazing diversity of different targets that somehow in the end come to seem members of the same family.
The authors are well aware that the consciousness movement had more than a touch of self-indulgence. May be it still has.
Eat Pray Love, the book and the film, are linked to consciousness raising and have come in for their share of criticism on this basis. A Sunday Times review (there’s no point in giving a link as they charge for the privilege of reading their material on the web nowadays) of Eat Pray Love states:
Liz is the Carrie Bradshaw of spiritual enlightenment – a selfish new-age narcissist who can think only of her own needs and desires. The film is full of gross national caricatures and trite self-helpy wisdom.
An interview with Margarette Driscoll in the same newspaper (19.09.10) shows a different possibility:
The key to it all lay in connecting with something spiritual inside herself, something we seem to have lost in our secular, materialist age. ‘We feel the lack of the spirit but there’s the idea that if you have faith it’s a little foolish, that you must have shut your brain off at some point; but there must be room in our lives for a brain and a soul,’ she says . . . .
We have to decide for ourselves whether the contempt of the reviewer is all part of modernism’s automatic sneer in the face of what it regards as flaky way-out alternatives or whether it’s a well founded reaction to a genuine element of self-indulgence in the film at least.
Ray and Anderson are well aware that not every cultural creative got to where (s)he is by some kind of religious experience. They write (page 103):
Practically everyone we interviewed for this book told us that they had been involved in the new social movements and the consciousness movements that began in the 1960s and continue today.
They are not unsympathetic to the consciousness movement (page 173):
The premise of the consciousness movements was that the achievements attributed uniquely to saints, poets, and great thinkers are in fact our common inheritance.
But are aware (page 174) that the spiritual quest can be hijacked by the ego:
In the long view, the first generation of the consciousness movement was focused on what might be called personal waking up. Its questions were individual. Often painfully honest and intimate, they appeared from the outside to be astoundingly egocentric.
They quote Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (page 189):
‘[S]piritual materialism’ . . . means . . ‘deceiving ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.’
They realise this was out of step with the true purpose of such disciplines as meditation (page 175):
The purpose of inner work, in the East, had never been only for the benefit of the individual. All that effort could not be just for yourself. [It was] for all beings.
On balance though they feel that the consciousness movement played an honourable part in the combination of social forces that has led us to this point, where 50 million people are working quietly for radical cultural change of an essential and benign form.
They look at the other dimensions to this process, including the movements for peace, for women, for freedom and for the well being of the planet, and examine in depth how they have developed and converged over time mainly since the 60s. All I can do here is give some brief extracts to convey the flavour. They describe (page 210):
. . . a growing worldwide political convergence: . . . the cultural arms of these movements have been growing more similar for a good twenty years. It’s the political convergence that is the latecomer. . .
Part of this is facilitated by a shift from a negative approach to a more positive one (ibid.):
The old political movement pattern that was evident in the 1960s was built around opposition and conflict, Some observers still talk about protest movements as if what defines a movement is what it’s against. . . . . Gradually, the basis of collective identity has shifted from protest to a positive agenda and a vision of the future. It took a decade or two for the antiwar movement to redefine itself as a peace movement, and for the women’s movement to outgrow blaming, even hating, men and decide what it was for. One of the pivotal influences in this change was the consciousness movements. Spirituality and psychology brought in new ways of thinking . .
This indicates the constructive role of consciousness movements in spite of the reservations about their possible self-centredness.
There are also social structures in the mainstream that are contributing, such as NGOs (page 214):
. . . each group is learning to work with others and to leverage their efforts. This makes NGOs very successful in getting public attention when there’s an outrage. At long last, the moral conscience of the world is slowly being awakened for people who are not one’s own tribe or nation.
Slowly becoming apparent is a core of common value and purpose within all these diverse trends (page 216):
The evidence of convergence is almost everywhere. . . . .[Ralph H.]Turner believes that the conviction underlying all the new movements is that “a sense of worth, of meaning in life, is a fundamental human right that must be protected by our social institutions.”
What is even more fascinating, if that is possible, is the way that these movements interconnect and overlap and the role that Cultural Creatives have in that (page 218):
Each of the five movements we examined shares from 40-80% of its support (both sympathisers and activists) in common with the others. Wherever the movements share a common population, that population contains proportionately far more Cultural Creatives than you’d expect. Cultural Creatives stand at the intersection of these movements. In effect, they provide the cultural glue that hold the movements together. . . . . .What does all this mean? Are the Cultural Creatives shaping the movements, or are the movements shaping the Cultural Creatives? It’s both.
And there is probably a shared realisation that, for each of them, (page 221):
. . . . the interconnecting concerns shaping [a] movement reach even wider, revealing once again that the problems are simply too massive for any narrow solutions to work.
This has brought us to the point at which we can attempt to look at where all this leaves us now. But that must wait for another post.