The Rise of the Cultural Creatives

Here's some very good news: the social group I call "bohemians" constitutes a much more significant segment of the population than we had imagined, enough to elect a president: 24% of all Americans, or 44 million people.

I am reading a synopsis of a 1996 study of American society by Paul H. Ray, Ph.D., executive vice president of American LIVES, a San Francisco-based market research firm "specializing in the lifestyles, interests, values, expectations, and symbols of Amercians". Dr. Ray's book on the Cultural Creatives (his name for us) will be published by Random House in September. I can hardly wait. The article I have in hand was published in American Demographics, February 1997.

Dr. Ray's list of characteristics of our group coincides with my list of defining three aspects (compassion before profit, creativity before conformity, fascination with the relationship between the physical and non-physical). Ray's study sites much higher than the national average percentages of Cultural Creatives in the following values:

Wants to rebuild neighborhoods/communities
Likes foreign places and the exotic
Sees nature as sacred
General green values
Ecological sustainability
Voluntary simplicity
Relationships important
Success is not a high priority
Pro-feminism in work
Not concerned about job
Religious mysteries exist
Not financial materialism
Want to be activist
Not financial problems
Spiritual psychology
Not cynical on politics
Optimism about future
Want creative time

He writes, "The distinctive values of Cultural Creatives separate them from the rest of American society. They tend to reject hedonism, materialism, and cynicism. For this reason, many are disdainful of modern media, consumer, and business culture. They also reject world views based on scarcity or fear, as well as the non-ecological orientation of ultra-conservatives and intolerance of the Religious Right.

"The positive values of the Creatives suggest an outline for the 'Trans-Modern' world view, or what is emerging beyond Modernism. They are: Ecological sustainability, globalism, women's issues, altruism, self-actualization, spirituality, social conscience, and optimism."

And he says: "Despite their numbers, Cultural Creatives tend to believe that few people share their values. This is partly because their views are rarely represented in the mainstream media, which is mostly owned and operated according to the Modern world view. Yet little of what they read gives them any evidence of their huge numbers. It's a paradox, but Creatives are likely to be information junkies. They follow the news all the time and read a great deal, although they watch a lot less TV than the average American."

Dr. Ray's study found three major world views in American society: Traditionalism, Modernism, and the Cultural Creatives, who constitute 29%, 47% and 24% of the population respectively. What amazes him is that typically a world view grows at a rate of 5% of the population per generation. Cultural Creatives have grown to nearly 25% of the population in only two generations. Traditionalism in American culture dates from 1870 on Dr. Ray's graph. He refers to this group as Heartlanders, and lists their predominant values as the religious right, traditional relationships, conservative and conventional religious beliefs, and anti-feminism. Modernism, born in the 1920's, tends toward financial materialism and considers success a high priority, avoids the religious right (yet is prone to orthodox religion and beliefs), avoids self-actualization, altruism, and idealism, values technological rationality, and tends toward cynicism in politics and hedonism or conspicuous consumption.

Because it was a marketing study, it examined how to sell things to us. The answers are predictable, and heart-warming: "Creatives invented the term 'authenticity' as consumers understand it. They lead the rebellion against things that are fake, imitation, or poorly made. They eschew high fashion in favor of high integrity." Ray discovered that typically Creatives "abhor status display homes that show off to the street. Instead, they prefer they homes to be hidden from the street by fences, trees, and shrubbery...with a lot of privacy inside and out...Interior decoration for Creatives is typically eclectic, with a lot of original art on the walls and crafts pieces around the house. Many think that a home is not complete without walls of books. The same house that is invisible from the street should, on the inside, say a lot about its occupants. Cultural Creatives do not go in for a single decorator style that runs through the whole house, and they do not use interior decorators....Core Cultural Creatives are the proto-typical consumers of the experience industry, which sells intense, enlightening, enlivening experiences rather than things. Creatives buy psychotherapy, weekend workshops, spiritual gatherings, and personal growth experiences in all forms. Providers of these services have to be Cultural Creatives, too, or they fail the 'authenticity' test...Creatives define the leading edge of exotic vacation where tourists don't that involve rebuilding a Mayan village...a Zen-Vipassana-Sufi-Yoga retreat...Creatives are the core market for psychotherapy, alternative health care, and natural foods. What ties these together is the belief that body, mind, and spirit should be unified...This is a stark contrast to the Modernist pattern of treating the body like a machine that you feed, exercise and otherwise ignore until it breaks down..."

He concludes, "The appearance fo the Cultural Creatives in America is a very hopeful thing for our society, for it offers a chance to create a more positive new culture."

You can order Dr. Ray's book on the study, The Integral Culture Survey: A Study of the Emergence of Transformational Values in America, from The Institute of Noetic Sciences, 475 Gate Five Road, Suite 300, Sausalito, CA 94965. At the end of September, 2000, the study will be released as a Crown Book titled Who Are The Cultural Creatives, co-authored by Dr. Ray and Sherry Anderson.