[We are also facing] a breathtakingly dangerous tipping point for our civilisation and our planet. Our need to discover a way through is the most urgent, most central question of our time.
(Cultural Creatives: Page 236)
In the consciousness movement, the people who can persevere for ten, twenty, and thirty years are the ones who can have a dramatic impact on the culture – because that is the true time horizon of effective action.
(Op. cit.: page 203)
I realise that my current sequences of posts are very much focused on the individual life and its traumas, only incidentally bringing in the context of our lives as a consideration. To redress that imbalance I am republishing a sequence on The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson.
Recently I reviewed a book I hadn’t even been looking for before I bought it. It was Where on Earth is Heaven? Towards the end Stedall mentions a couple of books that ignited my interest. The first of these I’ve now finished reading: The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson. I did a post in November as a taster, promising to follow it up if the book as a whole proved as good as its beginning. It did and here’s the follow up.
It’s a fascinating analysis, based on detailed surveys, of how the balance of American culture, and by implication Europe’s as well probably, has shifted since the 60s. There will be much to say about that later.
When I decided to do a full review of the book I thought I’d do just one post and that would be enough. The more I thought about it, the more impossible that seemed. I felt that its compelling fascination would be conveyed better if I took my time. Of course, that could well be the wrong decision and terminal boredom could have set in for everyone else long before I get to the last post on the subject. It’ll be more of a last post in a different sense in that case.
To convey why the book resonated so much with me it made sense to start, not at the beginning of the book, but nearer to the end. It’s towards the end that the authors convey a sense of the exact nature of the cultural change we are all experiencing but from the point of view of the Cultural Creatives.
A Tipping Point
This group, who constitute 25% of the population of America (i.e. about 50 million people), feel we are in a period of transition. The authors call it the Between.
The Between is the time between worldviews, values and ways of life; a time between stories. The transition period, [John] Naisbitt concluded, “is a great and yeasty time, filled with opportunity.” But it is so, he added, only on two critical conditions: if we can “make uncertainty our friend,” and “if we can only get a clear sense, a clear conception, a clear vision of the road ahead.”
Ray and Anderson (page 236) are cautious and see this period as a ‘dangerous tipping point.’ They describe the position of Cultural Creatives (page 40) as seeing ‘an antique system that is noisily, chaotically shaking itself to pieces.’
This is not all negative (page 33):
. . . this era is at least as much about cultural innovation as it is about decline and decay of established forms.
This, for Bahá’ís, has echoes of what our Teachings repeatedly emphasise. For example:
“Soon,” Bahá’u’lláh Himself has prophesied, “will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.” And again: “By Myself! The day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead.”
And the similarities don’t end there. They contend (page 244):
The creative response to today’s Between is going to be one that bridges differences. . . . . .
He feels that in our increasingly interdependent world, we have “the most promising opportunity in 10,000 years to create a co-culture of co-existence, cooperation, and constructive conflict.”
This issue of interdependence is key for Bahá’ís as well:
“The well-being of mankind,” [Bahá’u’lláh] declares, “its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”
(Shoghi Effendi: The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh – page 203)
Ray and Anderson, thinking along the same lines and quoting Mary Ford, write (page 21) :
You have to have a definition of self that’s bigger than [society’s] definitions, that’s grounded in how connected we all are to each other.
The how of course is easier said than done, and we’ll be looking at that in more detail later. They describe at least one of the obstacles very clearly (page 222):
Moderns and Traditionals don’t see themselves as members of an interconnected planetary community, and don’t see their problems as interconnected either.
(We’ll be coming back to Traditionals in the next post.) Whereas Cultural Creatives, and Bahá’ís of course as well, do see themselves very much this way, Cultural Creatives (page 94)
. . . want to see the big, inclusive picture, and they want to work with the whole system, with all the players. They regard themselves as synthesisers and healers, not just on the personal level but on the planetary level too.
The authors spell out what they feel the fragmentation of the dominant worldview of Modernism means for us all (pages 226-227):
As individuals, we know that we are part of a living system and that what we do to part of that system affects all of us sooner or later. But as a society we don’t know this.
I’m not sure how true the first part is for all individuals but it’s certainly true that our society as a whole has not grasped this holistic view yet. They place much of the blame for this on the fragmented perspective of modernism (page 92), which they see as the dominant worldview in the States, both in terms of the percentage of the population who strongly subscribe to it (48%) and in terms of control of the media:
Cultural Creatives are sick of the fragmentation of Modernism.
Even more damningly they write (page 294):
Modernism lives with a hole where wisdom ought to be.
Cultural Creatives strive for a more integrated perspective. They think of themselves ‘as an interwoven piece of nature’ (page 9). In ways reminiscent of Iain McGilchrist’s descriptions (see review on this blog), they have a right-brain feel about them (page 11):
. . . . they want the big picture, and they are powerfully attuned to the importance of whole systems. They are good at synthesing from very disparate, fragmented pieces of information.
The writers quote Parker Palmer approvingly (page 20) when he states:
. . . . that movements begin when people refuse to live divided lives.
But they acknowledge it is hard to see how this can be applied to building a new society (page 64):
. . . we are in the midst of a transition. Mapmakers must be content with seeing the new territory from afar – which means their map will have serious limits.
But we cannot simply leave it there (page 234):
. . . because all of us now are ‘people of the parenthesis,’ as Jean Houston calls us, we must break free of our restricted worldview and make our way into new territory.
And those are the ideas that are developed throughout the book as a whole. Consideration of them must wait till next time.
Bahá’ís share this perspective and these aspirations while recognising that Bahá’ís alone can never bring about such changes:
To say that the process of building a new civilisation is a conscious one does not imply that the outcome depends exclusively on the believers’ initiatives. . . . emphasis on the contributions Bahá’ís are to make to the civilisation-building process is not intended to diminish the significance of efforts being exerted by others.
It is hugely encouraging to feel that there are up to 50 million people in America alone working towards broadly the same ends, manifesting the spirit of the age
working through mankind as a whole, tearing down barriers to world unity and forging humankind into a unified body in the fires of suffering and experience.
Even at this stage then it should be clear why I was excited to find this book. Whether I have made it as exciting for you as yet remains to be seen.