By Donella Meadows
–January 23, 1997–
I don’t know whether to cheer or cringe at the news that the way of life my friends and I have been quietly crafting for decades, always assuming we were far off the mainstream, suddenly has a name and constitutes a trend.
“Cultural creatives” they call us, or worse, “trans-modernists.” According to anthropologist Paul Ray, who seems to have named us, “this group has no established leaders, no professed ideology and no cohesive sense of community. Its members loosely adhere to humanistic/spiritual ideals and life-styles that are eco-friendly.” There are, he says, 50 million of us in the United States and another 50 million in Europe. Our numbers have grown from less than 5 percent of the population a generation ago to nearly 25 percent now.
Well, it’s nice to feel part of a crowd. Hard to get used to, though.
I know I fit into this trendy new category, because the person who brought it to my attention, cultural creative Peter Alexander of New Mexico, sent a list of the characteristic habits of the clan. We cultural creatives, says Alexander:
– Create our own economies based on buying local and buying green. (Check — I’ve been a loyal member of local consumer coops for decades.)
– Get out of global financial markets and corporate-driven consumerism. (Check — most of us never got in.)
– Make contact with the earth, grow our own food, buy from our friends and neighbors, start and support local cottage industries that can provide for basic necessities. (Check — I’m a homesteader who trades lamb for plumbing services and eggs for maple syrup.)
– Work on making our lives less dependent upon systems that are unsustainable and unethical. (Check — the ultimate goal of cultural creativism seems to be to unplug from institutions. Work for yourself. Get off the grid. Build your own house with no pipes or wires going in or out. Get your electricity from the sun, heat with wood, own your water supply, compost your own sewage.)
– Take a much greater part in the education of our children. (Hey, the farthest-out cultural creatives don’t even have children, because of our concern about population growth. We take joy in helping with the education of other people’s children.)
– Give ourselves time every day to commune with nature and to check in with our own souls. (Some of us are too busy weeding and writing and making black-bean chili to live by that one. It’s a great idea, though. One of these days I’ll get around to it.)
– Simplify our needs so we have more to share (or less to earn).
– Get out of the American “disease-care” system by eating and drinking healthy organic foods and using alternative healing technologies. (I’m a study in contrasts here. Pure organic veggies from the garden, except for junk food splurges. Megavitamins and alternative healers, unless I’m really sick.)
– Find each other, share stories, build our communities and our worldwide network. (Story of my life. But do note Ray’s point about “no cohesive sense of community.” In my experience cultural creatives are no better at working together than any other Western individualists. Maybe, because of our distrust of institutions, we’re worse. Contradance bands and coops are about as much organization as we can stand.)
– Read, study and learn. Work on increasing wisdom. (Sounds a bit self-righteous here. Cultural creatives do have a reputation, partially deserved, for thinking they’re above the unenlightened masses who ignorantly despoil the earth. But then, any group distinctive enough to be namable, from the Christian right to the Republicans to the local football fan club, believes in its own superiority.
Alexander’s list contains many more items, but you get the idea. If you don’t see yourself as a cultural creative, you probably know someone you’d put in that category. Avid recyclers. Always trying to think through the large-scale implications of their smallest actions. (Let’s buy only organic cotton! Organic bananas raised by small, grower-owned coops! Magazines printed on recycled paper with soy ink!) Contemptuous of the glittery arenas of politics, advertising, entertainment, multinational business and high finance. Personally content, except for an underlying despair that the world is going down the tubes.
One glaring absence in this description is “politically active.” Ray says we have “no professed ideology.” The self-reliant lifestyle can be consistent with either the left or the right, but the cultural creatives I know are disgusted with all current political choices. They don’t get into power games, don’t give campaign contributions, and often don’t vote, because there isn’t one politician in a thousand who pushes a cultural creative agenda. Subsidies for solar energy and organic farming? High taxes on clearcutting, junk food, and fossil fuels? Forget it.
But you know, now that I’m getting used to being part of a trend, something occurs to me. If there are really fifty million of us, that’s more than the total number of Americans who voted for both parties in the 1996 election. Maybe, in spite of our individualistic instincts, we ought to get organized.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1997