Architects of a Silent Revolution : The Cultural Creatives

Conquest, Command, Control vs Collective Survival

Two lines define Gordon Gekko, the ruthless speculator and main character of Wall Street, directed by Oliver Stone in 1987: ‘Greed is good,’ and ‘I create nothing. I own.’ Leonardo Di Caprio, in the role of another famous film character – however really existed – Jordan Belfort, says in The Wolf of Wall Street: “I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich.” Claims of this kind are good indicators of some of the ultra-liberal values that dominated Western society in the 20th century: infinite economic growth, possession of material objects and personal success – often regardless of negative consequences on society and environment.

However, such a worldview has been called into question by an increasing number of people in the so-called developed countries, as new values like world peace, environmental sustainability, social justice, and personal growth have emerged over the last few decades. In the words of Marc Luyckx Ghisi, Belgian thinker and author enlightening book Knowledge Society: ‘A single cry is heard: Save the Earth! The new horizon of meaning is represented by our collective survival.’

Aiming to measure to what extent these new values were shared in American society, sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry R. Anderson were the first to carry out extensive research that started in 1986, the results of which were surprising even for the authors.

Michael Douglas Is Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.

Michael Douglas Is Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.

80 Million People Are Changing the World: Who Are the Cultural Creatives

In 2000, one in four American citizens – around 50 million people – of different ages, degrees of education and income, were reported to refuse the culture of ‘making money no matter what’, preferring to shift to ethical consumption and the purchase of cultural rather than material products. In 2008, further research conducted by Ray highlighted that the number had increased to 35%, i.e. 80 million.

Not only does this share of the American population distance itself from the dominant culture, but it also works towards creating a society based on new values, hence the definition Cultural Creatives, which also inspired the title of Ray and Anderson’s book, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World.

The study identified three different categories. Traditionalists, nostalgic for a past of small cities, rural life and strong churches, dropped from 50% to 25% of Americans from 1950 to 2000.  Modernists, whose worldview is in line with Gekko’s claims, still total 40% of the population, but the percentage is shrinking when compared to the steadily increasing Cultural Creatives who, as Ray claims, have been growing by around 3% every year.

Encouraged by such data, other scholars carried out similar studies in France and Japan between 2007 and 2009. In Italy, sociologist Enrico Cheli from the University of Siena, together with Dr Nitamo Montecucco, published a book, I Creativi Culturali, based on interviews conducted in 2005 and 2006 with 1,728 people aged between 18 and 60. The results showed that when presented with topics like peace, the environment, social justice, constructive relationships, unconventional medicine, organic foods, personal and/or spiritual growth and civil rights, 35% of the people interviewed were categorized as Cultural Creatives, as they rated at least two thirds of such points as their reference values. Furthermore, 60% of the people interviewed agreed on at least one third, whilst only 5% were sensitive to less than one third, again indicating a marked shift towards a new worldview.

Though showing some differences – Cultural Creatives are on average slightly younger in the USA than in Italy – all of the studies agree on many aspects. First of all, the percentage of Cultural Creatives amounts to 30-38% of the American, Italian, French and Japanese populations. In addition, the number of women supporting the new values is higher than that of men, as it ranges from 54% to 57% in all of the countries examined.

Cultural Creatives around the world also share another common element. They do not belong to any official club, organization or party. On the contrary, because many of them are active in different fields, whether it be peace, education, environmental issues, etc. they do not often realize that they are actually part of one single cultural movement. This may sometimes lead them to a feeling of isolation which undermines their optimism. This sense of frustration, as Cheli explains, is also fuelled by the traditional media and the powers that be, which tend to stick to Modernist values and silence the achievements of Cultural Creatives.

We Are the Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For

Nonetheless, the influence of the new worldview has keenly been felt in the economy – where Cultural Creatives have supported businesses working in education, alternative medicine, renewable energy sources or organic foods – and American politics – where they played a decisive role in Obama’s first election.

Talking about politics, Cultural Creatives generally show a more pro-active concept of global and local citzenship and political participation. Though recognising political leaders, they understand that they must keep a close eye on whether they are consistent with what they have promised during their campaign. As stated in an interview by writer Hazel Henderson, a pioneer of various environmental movements founded in the US in the 1960s: ‘We do have to take off those rose-coloured spectacles that told us that President Obama was going to be able to handle things. As I’ve been telling my friends for a long time, we are the leaders that we’ve been waiting for.’

In conclusion, even before the studies on Cultural Creatives, a social and economic paradigm shift had already been analyzed by management educator Peter Drucker in his book, Post-Capitalist Society, published in 1993: ‘Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. […] Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself – its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. […] We are currently living through just such a transformation. It is creating the post-capitalist society.’ Feeling like they are citizens not just of one nation, but of ‘one planet’, Cultural Creatives are actively working towards creating the new world envisaged by Drucker in his masterpiece.

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