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The Great Divide: Prospects for an Integral Culture

All the ingredients are in place for a new "integral" culture, according to researcher Paul Ray. Some 44 million in the US alone are people Paul Ray has identified as "Cultural Creatives," through his public opinion research. This article is adapted from his report to the Fetzer Institute and the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and from an article on the report that appeared in the Noetic Sciences Review.

Looking at the decline in incomes for North Americans, or at the perilous state of the environment around the planet, many of us quite reasonably feel that this time in our history is one of unparalleled danger. It is not hard to see how a series of disasters superimposed on each other could lead to a decline in civilization.

But let's consider an alternative point of view that runs against everything we read in the daily papers. The alternative is this: The opportunities before us are just as real as the dangers. Our future is not an inevitable slide into poverty and despair, nor can we celebrate our inevitable progress into a golden future.

At the threshold of a "Great Divide" in history such as this, the worst upset may be to know that the world diverges sharply from everything you have known, and has been, into the unknown. Changes from one kind of civilization to another do not happen often in history: the invention of agriculture, the rise and fall of conquest states and empires, the coming of industrialism and urbanism. An earlier generation may have been justified in discounting any further such radical changes. We cannot.

In the next two decades our world will either be dramatically better or dramatically worse. The one thing that cannot happen is "more of the same." Most trends of the past are simply not sustainable. The era of obvious steps to progress is gone, and we face the Great Divide. It really could go either way: Our future is not foreordained.

We are at a tipping point in civilization. This means we have to be ready to choose a good path. The quality of our "image of the future," and the quality of our creative efforts based on it, will determine which way our future develops over the next generation or two. All that is certain is that the stakes have been raised.

Three Worldviews

On a centuries-long time scale, we have seen the rise of modern cultural forms; and also the decline of the Modernist paradigm. The central thesis of my research is that we are seeing the emergence of a new cultural form, Integral Culture – a new, constructive synthesis of Modernism and its antithesis, Traditionalism – a synthesis which moves beyond both while not rejecting either. A defining characteristic of Integral Culture is that in synthesizing these other two value systems it simultaneously legitimizes the Western world's deepest, common past and aims toward a transformative future.

Compared to the rest of society, the bearers of Integral Culture have values that are more idealistic and spiritual, have more concern for relationships and psychological development, are more environmentally concerned, and are more open to creating a positive future. According to my research, this group comprises about 24 percent of the adults in the US, or about 44 million people. If indeed an Integral Culture is emerging, we are experiencing a very unusual time in history – for change in the dominant cultural pattern happens only once or twice a millennium.

My research shows that today there are three different worldviews, whereas just a generation ago social researchers could find only two: Traditional and Modern. Because of the perceptual lag that is common in our public discourse, we still talk publicly as if there were only these two.

The dominant imagery of each current worldview in this survey was formed in a fairly recent historical period in the US. However, each of these three worldviews reflects a much older stream of meanings and cultural concerns.

• The roots of today's Traditional stream can be traced to Medieval Europe, through traditional Catholics and Protestants reacting to the rise of secular Modernism after the Enlightenment, up to the anti-democratic Right that persists today. In more recent times in the US, Traditionalism can be traced also to rural and nativist (racist, anti-foreign) movements from which 19th century fundamentalism arose in reaction to Modernism in its North American form. Today's Heartlanders – those who carry forth the Traditionalists views – believe in a mythical image of a return to small town, religious America, corresponding to the period 1890 to 1930.

• The beginning of Modernism dates from around 500 years ago in Europe at the end of the Renaissance, and continued to spread beyond Europe to its colonies throughout the period. While Modernism may in part be seen as an overthrow of authoritarian political and religious controls, it has important roots in the urban merchant classes and in other creators of the modern economy, in the rise of the modern state and armies, and in the rise of scientists, technologists, and intellectuals.

• The roots of today's Transmodernism appear to be in part in the esoteric spiritual movements that grew out of the Renaissance and continue today in the rise of new religions, and also in the transcendental movement of the early to mid-19th century. They are also found worldwide in the writings of various intellectuals of the mid-20th century, in the New Age movement, in the humanistic psychology and transpersonal psychology movements, in the ecology movement, and in the women's movement, which all date from the 1960s on. This worldview is "leading edge and subject to change," and incorporates the personal into the social and political:

The members of this new subculture – whom I call Cultural Creatives – offer hope that we are seeing the emergence of an "Integral Culture" as a successor to Modernism.

What the Survey Shows

Today, bearers of Traditionalism, the Heartlanders, are 29 percent of the population, or 56 million adults. Bearers of Modernism are 47 percent of the population, or 88 million adults. And Cultural Creatives comprise 24 percent of the adult population, or 44 million.

The Modernists represent the current cultural mainstream: their current malaise about "what this modern world has come to" is what the media emphasize, since that is where the media themselves are centered. At 47 percent of the population, they represent 88 million adults, with more men than women. With this many people, they include a wide range of incomes from lower-middle class to rich. They include not only conventional factory and office workers, but the technological creatives of American culture, such as engineers and doctors, as well as business people. Among them are various subgroups, some with a strong leanings toward spiritual and personal growth concerns, others – such as the Alienated Modernists – feel disheartened by modern culture as their own prospects for the future slide.

The Heartlanders are a subculture of traditional and conservative values and beliefs. Heartlanders are 29.6 percent of the adult population, or 55.6 million persons. On average, their incomes and educations tend to be lower, and they tend to be older, than the other two subcultures.

We have seen in focus groups that they have difficulty in handling complexity and the modern world, combined with a reactivity against change. The ones who die are not being replaced by nearly as many younger Heartlanders, so it is a population in slow decline over time. The intense recruitment and publicity by the religious right may well represent a sunset phenomenon, a desperate attempt to recoup past losses.

This subculture gains a sense of strength and coherence in the face of a modern world it doesn't like or understand by rejecting the "other" and using the political mobilization of traditionalism and xenophobia. It is a culture of memory: more of them remember a vanished America, and more adhere to remembered cultural forms.

A New Subculture

Cultural Creatives (CCs) are called that because they are coming up with most new ideas in US culture, operating on the leading edge of cultural change. They tend to be middle to upper-middle class. A few more CCs are on the West Coast than elsewhere, but they are in all regions of the country. The overall male-female ratio is 40:60, or 50 percent more women than men.

CCs have two wings: Core Cultural Creatives and Green Cultural Creatives. Core CCs (10.6 percent, or 20 million) have both person-centered and green values: seriously concerned with psychology, spiritual life, self-actualization, self-expression; like the foreign and exotic (are xenophiles); enjoy mastering new ideas; are socially concerned; advocate women's issues; and are strong advocates of ecological sustainability. They tend to be leading-edge thinkers and creators. They tend to be upper-middle class, and their male-female ratio is 33:67, twice as many women as men.

Green CCs (13 percent, or 24 million) have values centered on the environment and social concerns from a secular view, with average interest in spirituality, psychology, or person-centered values. They appear to take their cues from the Core CCs and tend to be middle class.

The CCs subculture represents the appearance of new values and worldviews that were rare before World War II and were scarcely noticeable even a generation ago. Faced with those other two cultural forms, the CCs' response is also a withdrawal of belief in the old forms. But unlike the alienated Moderns, the CCs are well on their way to creating something new.

The CCs are synthesizing a new set of concepts for viewing the world: an ecological and spiritual worldview; a whole new literature of social concerns; a new problematique for the planet in place of the old set of problems that Modernism set out to solve; a new set of psychological development techniques; a return in spiritual practices and understandings to the perennial psychology and philosophy; and an elevation of the feminine to a new place in recent human history. In short, it is a good beginning for a new cultural era.

Like all cultures, an emerging new culture (whether Integral Culture or some other major social force) is a response to the problems of the day. All cultures exist to solve the problems that people perceive. Modernism did solve some of the problems it confronted, but it is no longer an appropriate response to the nature and complexity of the problematique facing today's society. Much of the old problematique persists, and, in fact, many of the "solutions" of Modernism have contributed to the new problematique.

Cultural Creatives are a very large pool of people – 44 million – bigger than any comparable group seen at the birth of any previous societal renaissance. The empirical data of my survey shows that the appearance of the Cultural Creatives since the 1970s heralds what may well be the birth of the new and distinctive social force that I am calling Integral Culture. But, to emphasize a point made earlier, the realization of Integral Culture is by no means foreordained.

An Image of the Future

Our greatest error could be to take seriously the pessimistic temper of our times, and to give in to the fear and cynicism that pervade the media.

There is an alternative point of view. As sociologist Fred Polak showed in his study of 1,500 years of European history, The Image of the Future, if a whole culture holds a very pessimistic image of the future, that image will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The actual predictions about decline don't have to be right or to come true: The pathological behaviors released may be quite sufficient to bring about decline. It's a disease of belief. And the contrary is also true. When a culture holds positive images of the future, they may not be right, but investment in new opportunities and willingness to build a good society are sufficient to make a decent way of life, if not the best of all worlds.

Both Heartlanders and Cultural Creatives criticize Modernists for their cynicism and lack of altruism. It is worth remembering that altruism is a good support for group solidarity, and that cynicism and alienation usually reflects group breakdowns. CCs have the most altruism (58 percent) and least cynical and alienated values (19 percent); 35 percent are optimistic – despite being terribly worried about the condition of the planet – as compared to 24 percent of each of the other two subcultures. Heartlanders follow (altruism at 55 percent and cynical/alienated at 29 percent), with Modernists quite cynical and alienated (48 percent), and weak on altruism (32 percent).

This supports my argument that Modernists are losing confidence in their world view. If forming a positive image of the future is up to them, we could be in trouble. If it is up to the Cultural Creatives, something will be invented, for it takes optimism and idealism to be willing to invent an image of a positive future in dark times.

Another way of looking at the Cultural Creatives is to ask if they want to be activists in bringing about a new way of life. Some 40 percent are positive on the activism scale, compared to 28 percent of Heartlanders and 25 percent of Modernists. This suggests that a social movement of over 15 million persons could be formed given the right appeal and means of mobilization.

The political data suggests that this would better be seen as a non-political movement. There is among the CCs no mutual recognition, no sense of community, nor solidarity. The CCs have acted rather like an audience: all facing in the same direction, rather than toward one another. In focus groups over the years, I found that many Cultural Creatives believe that few people share their values. They believe that they are pretty much alone in the world and have yet to become conscious of themselves as a subculture. They have been reading the same things and going through parallel life experiences, and coming to similar conclusions about what is most important in life. But their stance has been rather like an audience – spectators to the planetary drama who are leaning back in their seats, not fully engaged in creating, nor in acting in the drama.

Now CCs need to turn and face one another, to recognize who they are, to lean forward in mutual engagement and excitement. Having done that, hope and a sense of new possibility will arise, and they can be energized to take up the torch and build community, not only as a community of values and belief, but as a large and potentially powerful movement that comes at the most opportune historical moment.

The potential for an Integral Culture is very real. The requisite population base (of Cultural Creatives) is in place; global communications and transportation systems are in place and developing rapidly; advances in the "new sciences" of quantum physics, holistic biology, and complexity theory are already dismantling the old Modernist paradigm; in addition, a host of new developments in humanistic and transpersonal psychology, eco-sciences, and feminism, as well as a burgeoning psycho-spiritual consciousness revolution, are all contributing to a Transmodern culture and a new kind of world. The transformation is happening right in front of our eyes, right now in the last decade of the 20th century. In short, all the ingredients required to make a truly Integral Culture are already with us.

This study is based on a survey mailed to a representative national sample of the US population by National Family Opinion in late 1994, using their panel of people who had agreed to be available. Roughly 1,500 respondents were sampled. Another 600 questionnaires were sent to a pre-screened national sample of Cultural Creatives. Email Signup
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