Are You a Culture Worker?

From religion to the arts, we have more influence on culture than we think. We can use that power to expand or to limit our possibilities as a species.
Woman singing photo by Greg PC

Photo by Greg PC.

This is part thirty-two of a series of blogs based on excerpts adapted from the 2nd edition of Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth. I wrote Agenda to spur a national conversation on economic policy issues and options that are otherwise largely ignored. This blog series is intended to contribute to that conversation. —DK

Media, education, religion, and the arts all have defining roles in crafting and propagating the cultural stories by which we humans understand our natures and the possibilities open to us. If you are a member of any one of these professions, think of yourself as a modern culture worker. For better or worse, you are engaged in crafting and propagating the cultural stories that serve either to legitimate the devastation the old economy causes or shine a light on the possibilities of the new economy.

Wall Street has aggressively recruited members of each of these professions to its service. Its recruits, often unwittingly, craft and propagate the stories that hold modern societies in the thrall of corporate empire. The monetary rewards can be quite attractive, but they come at the price of the personal integrity we expect of the practitioners of these influential crafts. 

Here are some of the problems—and possibilities—when it comes to telling a new story.


The consolidation of advertising-dependent mass print and broadcast media under the control of for-profit corporate conglomerates is ideally suited to serving Wall Street interests. The corporate media have reduced news reporting to inane, politically slanted commentary limited to the market fundamentalist economic frame.

Fortunately, the communications revolution that is linking the world in a seamless web of communication and information opens unprecedented opportunities for service-oriented nonprofit media organizations like YES! Magazine (of which I am co-founder). Even relatively small organizations now have the potential to reach and influence mass audiences. Community newspapers and radio stations, independent media centers, blogs, and podcasts all offer alternatives to the corporate voice.


We need an educational system that produces the creative, critical minds needed to lead the process of social and economic transformation.

As Wall Street has helped rewrite the tax laws to absolve corporations of their civic responsibility to pay their fair share of taxes, cash-strapped public schools and universities have turned to corporations for sponsorships, curriculum materials, and research grants. This has given corporations undue influence over the underlying academic culture to the detriment of the critical intellectual inquiry and teaching we so badly need. For-profit corporations should be required to pay their fair share of taxes in support of the educational institutions on which they depend for their workers and customers. Their ideology should be kept out of the classroom.

We need an educational system that produces the creative, critical minds needed to lead the process of social and economic transformation. This requires taking down walls that separate students from communities and nature. It requires interdisciplinary approaches to learning that engage teachers and their students in active exploration. It requires shedding courses (for example, market fundamentalist economics) that propagate flawed ideology as science, in favor of courses that advance the authentic pursuit of truth and provide the intellectual tools needed by responsible citizen leaders.


The New Economy must be built on the foundation of a moral awakening. Fortunately, there are signs of faith institutions rising to the occasion to reclaim their prophetic moral and spiritual mission. Sermons and adult education programs can raise the moral issues relating to human responsibility for one another and the living Earth and explore the implications for societal transformation. Faith institutions can reach out to bridge destructive religious divides and grow the relations of mutual caring foundational to an inclusive Earth Community.

As with educational transformation, the transformation of our faith institutions begins one church, synagogue, temple, and mosque at a time. It is a process with the potential to build quickly toward critical mass as more faith institutions rediscover their prophetic mission to teach love for all beings as the path to salvation in the here and now.

The Arts

The true artist is a truth teller who has the ability see reality untainted by cultural filters.

Among the four professions named, artists are the most likely to self-identify as culture workers. Artists can use their craft to befuddle our minds, justify evil, and entice us into self-destructive behavior, as demonstrated by the many talented artists in the employ of corporations and politicians seeking power through the propagation of fear, greed, and violence. The pay is good, the goals are clear, and there is a lot of money to buy media.

The true artist, however, is a truth teller who has the ability see reality untainted by cultural filters. Artists can shake us out of the cultural trance that leads us to consume harmful products, play the mark in Wall Street con games, and support corrupt politicians. Talented artists can help us see beauty, meaning, and possibility where it may otherwise escape our attention. They can take us on an imaginary journey to a future no one has yet visited to experience possibilities we may not have imagined. Our movement needs the contribution of millions of artists devoted to liberating human consciousness.

My friend and colleague Bill Cleveland collects and shares stories of the many independent artists who are engaging whole communities in processes of discovering their inner beauty and creative potential through artistic experience. These processes strengthen the community’s sense of itself and enhance the readiness of its members to engage together in community building and the creation of vibrant local living economies. It is a work to which all four of the culture worker professions have much to contribute.

[Next: How You Can Get Started Building a New Economy]

David Korten () is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, the Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine and co-chair of the. This New Economy 2.0 is co-sponsored by and based on excerpts adapted from Agenda for a New Economy, 2nd edition.


  • David Korten: The biggest shifts of our time have been sparked by ordinary people rejecting the cultural stories that dominated them.

  • David Korten: Wall Street’s days are numbered. Ours need not be.

Agenda for a New Economy 2nd ed. book cover thumb 50