Interview with PAUL RAY:
How 50 Million People Are Changing U.S. Business, Society, and Politics

By Alexander M. Dake

 
Paul H. Ray, market research guru coined the term Cultural Creatives in the book The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, which he co-authored with his wife Sherry Ruth Anderson. Cultural Creatives are part of a renaissance in American culture reflecting the desire to live more economically, environmentally, and spiritually sustainable. According to Ray, they are the ones coming up with most new ideas in American culture, operating on the leading edge of cultural change. They tend to be middle to upper-middle class. There are a few more Cultural Creatives on the West Coast than elsewhere, but they can be found in all regions of the country. The overall male-female ratio is 40:60. They are the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S. and number approximately 50 million Americans (about 26 percent of the adult population).

Ray distinguishes Cultural Creatives from two other groups: the Traditionals, who represent a nostalgic image of return to small town, religious America, and number 48 million adults (about 24.5 percent of the adult population); and the Modernists, who represent a belief in the modern economy, urbanism, and industrialism -- in short, our current society. They number 80 million adults (about 47 percent of the adult population).

Ray, who was educated at Yale and the University of Michigan, is Executive Vice President of American LIVES, a market research firm doing research on the lifestyles and values of Americans. He is currently expanding on his earlier research, by focusing on trends in the political landscape (see The New Political Compass).  Alexander Dake interviewed Ray about the current state of the quiet revolution of the Cultural Creatives and whether this can be translated into changes in U.S. politics.

AD: How did you “discover” the Cultural Creatives?

PR: When in 1986 I co-founded American LIVES, I was less interested in traditional market research and more in how America was changing. One of the first things we discovered in our research was that a clear cultural change was happening: not just change in one area of people’s lives, but in many areas. From environmental issues to consumption patterns, from media preferences to the purchase of food products. We also discovered that the people who were changing were a definite subculture and part of a longer-term pattern. Although most Cultural Creatives in our surveys thought they were alone or part of a very small group, it turned out that they represented a sizable and fast-growing portion of the American population, now reaching over 50 million.

AD: How do you explain this impression of Cultural Creatives that they are not part of a larger group?

PR: Cultures are generally self-maintaining, and the Cultural Creatives differ from the official culture of the U.S.: i.e., the modern culture, which is a culture of getting and spending, a culture of materialism, a culture of big government, big corporations, and big media. That official culture is adhered to by just under half of Americans. The other half of Americans doesn’t believe in it at all. Mainstream media usually describe Cultural Creatives as isolated individuals often labeled as tree huggers, protesters, New Agers, etc. When Cultural Creatives follow the news media, they see they are hardly mentioned, and therefore come to the false conclusion that they are only part of a very small group. Another reason why Cultural Creatives believe they are alone is that when you go to the workplace, you are supposed to check your values at the door. Cultural Creatives in the average workplace don’t express themselves as such. A third reason is that in the process of becoming a Cultural Creative, one frequently had to shed old friendships, old marriages, old careers, because their views were changing in ways others weren’t. This is a very individualized process, the benefit of which is that it really lets you change. The cost is that you believe you are unique and the only one going through this process.

AD: You indicate that there are 50 million Cultural Creatives in the U.S. and 80 million in Europe. What are the reasons for their rise?

PR: In part this is because our planet is in deep trouble. There is a daily drumbeat that we are moving into a crisis period for humanity. People who are good at synthesis, like most Cultural Creatives, see that if we continue our way of life we will be in deep trouble. At the same time there are personal changes happening at a psychological and spiritual level. Today, for the first time in human history, people who are interested in an inner life have access to every esoteric tradition in the world. Access to information about personal growth is enormous. Access to information about what is going on around the planet is never ending. In short, better information, large crises at the social level, and miniature crises at the individual level all contribute to more and more people being exposed to the opportunity to deal with personal change.

AD: Why are there so many women among Cultural Creatives?

PR: Women as both wage earners and homemakers feel the contradictions more in our society. They feel more subtle, institutional discrimination. If a society inherits dysfunctional institutions then it is often the people with intelligence, skills, and an alternative perspective who are going to come up with better answers, rather than the people who have inherited positions that were already favored. In these cases, it is women who will play an increasingly important role. Besides this, approximately 80 percent of the people in the Western world are concerned that their children will inherit a worse world than the one in which they grew up. People tend to do for their children what they wouldn’t do for themselves. Women, especially, will push for change and for a better world because of their children.

AD: You are currently researching how the political system is affected by cultural changes. What attracts you to this political research?

PR: I have been an activist all my life. I was involved in the environmental and peace movements in the 60s. I have always been interested in many different issues, from the impact to new technologies to how the economy works, from government politics to civil society. I am now connecting the dots between citizen activism, political activity, and change in business, as they are all part of one big picture. What I actually care most about is social change. Social change, however, is only possible through system change.

AD: What do you mean with systems change?

PR: If you are taking a system perspective of what is going on, one should ask what is our need as a whole system. As a planet, can we continue with 10 percent of the population having 80 percent of the resources? As a planet, can we survive if eco-systems all around the world are being destroyed? Looking at this big picture means changing the usual way of looking at the world and changing politics as usual. If all your time as a politician is spent on what bill is coming up or what political power struggle is being played out, you miss what it is all for. What I am trying throughout my life is to keep looking at that big picture.

AD: Can you describe the main points of your recent paper The New Political Compass?

PR: I explain that is not uncommon for political parties to go out of business. The fact that both the Democratic and Republican parties have lasted as long as they have in the U.S. is quite rare. Given the underlying structure of the electorate, it is very likely that either one or both parties will fundamentally change or break up. I describe a new way to picture political constituencies as a political compass with four directions instead of our outdated left-right description.

 

 

The New Political Compass

   

In Front on Big Issues, Saving the Planet, Women’s Concerns
Cultural Creatives + New Progressives (Wisdom Culture Paradigm)
45% of voters (36% of population)

       
Standing Pat on the Left,
Modernist New Deal Liberals

Conventional Left Politics
(Big Government Paradigm)
15% of voters (12% of population)

New Political Compass

Longing for the Old Ways: Cultural Conservatives
Radical & Religious Right
(Southern Politics Paradigm)
21% of voters (19%of population)
       

Profits Over Planet & People:
Business Conservatives, Establishment Right

Economic Growth/Globalization
(Big Business Paradigm)
19% of voters (14% of population)

 

(Data: from The New Political Compass, © Paul H. Ray, 2002)

 

In the west of the compass, we see the political left, which is 12 percent of the U.S. population and 15 percent of likely voters. Directly opposed to them on their positions and values are the Cultural Conservatives (east on the compass). They count for 19 percent of the population and 21 percent of the voters. Those two left-right groups only count for 31 percent of the population, which means that almost 70 percent of the population is not included in this outdated description.

AD: What about this 70 percent?

PR: It turned out that two other groups could be distinguished: the Business Conservatives, representing big business and pro-globalization forces. They are in the south of the political compass and represent 19 percent of the voters and 14 percent of the population. More importantly, they represent 80 percent of the money, which is spent in politics. In the north, opposite the Business Conservatives in every sense of the word, are the New Progressives. They represent almost 45 percent of the voters and 36 percent of the population. New Progressives include Cultural Creatives and they are people who are shifting from the left to something new, without knowing exactly what that will be. It is clear that current politics do not supply what people want.

AD: What do people want?

PR: Well, the voters of the political north want politicians to take care of the issues that might destroy their children’s future: environment, education, health, women’s rights, etc. These issues might not be news to Western European voters, but they were to the political campaign organizations of Gore and Bush in 2000. None of those issues played a major role in that campaign. The real political struggle is not between left and right, but between people power vs. money power. Right now the U.S. Congress shows every sign of having been bought by those Big Business Conservatives and so is this presidency. The U.S. looks actually more like a plutocracy rather than a democracy. It is run by, for, and with big money.

AD: In The New Political Compass you describe a disconnect among the U.S. politicians of the last 40 years, of whom very few were involved or even aware of the various social movements and trends going on in the U.S. How is that possible?

PR: Many politicians are involved in a tough political conflict game. The rules of the game do not reward solving the big long-term issues. The structure of a conflict game rewards those who come up with small short-term incremental solutions, which are well inside the box of where compromise lies. The current political game is about finding common ground for deal making and splitting the difference. We currently have a political institution that in its ordinary operations is incompetent to tackle -- let alone solve -- the big issues.

AD: Considering the current electoral system, how do you see any fundamental changes materializing?

PR: Changes are possible. But a lot of political turmoil needs to be created by citizen movements. For example, all the social movements who are at the core of the political north need to work as one big movement of change. They could turn that into a new political party. They would need to find politicians who have defected from the old system as well as brand new politicians. In Europe you see social movements transforming easier into new parties, like the various green parties. But even in the European parliamentary systems there is resistance to taking up the big serious issues.

AD: So, a parliamentary system doesn’t seem to be the solution either?

PR: The current parliamentary system will not be sufficiently better than the American system to solve the issues. It still is part of modernism, and the problem of modernism and the structure of politics is that it assumes stability in the outer world that isn’t there. It assumes that things can go on as usual. A fundamental shift within a parliamentary system will still be necessary.

AD: When do you expect these political changes to happen?

PR: I like to look at it from the perspective of a geologist who needs to make an earthquake prediction. I do not expect it will happen in the next five years. There is probably a 50 percent chance that it will happen within 10 years. But I believe that within 20 years there is an 80 percent chance of a major political realignment. It is important to note that increased strain in the U.S. or the planet as a whole will influence this timeline. Certain experts have forecasted that there is a likelihood of 400 disasters to occur within the next 20 years, from major water shortages to a nuclear war in the Middle East, from an oil crisis to terrorists using biochemical warfare. If these disasters actually take place, that will greatly increase the push for change in the political systems.

AD: You usually seem to be an optimist, but these scenarios are not very optimistic.

PR: It depends on what timeframe you are using. I like to refer to Laszlo’s Generational Evolution Theory. Initially stable systems will experience increasingly stronger up-and-down fluctuations, until the whole system falls in a hole. Will the system then go into a dead spiral or will it rebound to a new higher level? Just like with personal crises, the old identity needs to be stripped away before moving to the next stage. In our political system that means that the old-line politicians need to be thrown out of office and that many old institutions need to fall apart. I am not very optimistic that in the short run we will be able to handle the crises very well. Still, crises are part of the process of stripping away the elements of our dysfunctional modernist culture. In the long run, I am optimistic that humanity will find its way to the higher level of a wisdom culture.

Relevant Books:
The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson

The Systems View of the World: A Holistic Vision for Our Time by Erwin Laszlo

The Emerging Democratic Majority by John J. Judis and Ruy Texeira

Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Philips

Relevant Websites:
Cultural Creatives
The New Political Compass (click on New Political Compass)
Understanding the LOHAS Customer

© 2002, Alexander M. Dake can be reached at alex@paraview.com

 

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