Great Divide: Prospects for an Integral Cultureby Paul Ray
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 lets 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.
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 worlds 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
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 todays 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. Todays
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
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 todays 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
womens 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 doesnt 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 womens 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
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 todays
society. Much of the old problematique persists, and, in fact,
many of the "solutions" of Modernism have contributed to the
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 dont
have to be right or to come true: The pathological behaviors
released may be quite sufficient to bring about decline. Its
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
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.