John G Bell


Spring '03 - Hill

Book Response: “The Cultural Creatives” (2nd half) by Ray and Anderson

A. Important things about ...

  1. the power and limitation of dialogue

Dialogue is one of many opportunities to balance needs in a group, and meet the needs of the individuals in a group. It may never be possible to include everyone in a process of dialogue, but it may be possible to create pockets, enclaves of dialogue within larger systems. These enclaves and pockets might be able to influence the larger system, influence the formation of other enclaves or may only be relevant to the satisfaction achieved by the specific members of the dialogue and those they directly influence. An enclave has to be willing and able to develop or it will crumble under the pressure to conform.

  1. American or world society

Social cycles undulate throughout history, this culture is no different. The amplitude and violence of these swings is directly related to the strength with which cultural traditions are defended. The need to let go of cultural forms is not about always finding better forms, but more about finding new forms to test that might turn out to be relevant. The need to let go of the status quo in the search for new forms has to be matched by a commitment to align those new modes to the greater good or else these changes become self-indulgent and destructive to the larger system.

  1. these specific groups

There's a simpleness to the models of conflict between Traditionalists, Moderns and Cultural Creatives. The model of the past, present and future seems so natural. There's a function for each of these models that is more perennial than I think this book lets on. The answer, I think, is not so much in creating a balance of power, but in creating an ecology that meets the needs of all the models. I wonder about how the cultural shifts are framed and how that framing creates the tension between the models. Truly thinking outside the box would not pit these models against each other, but rather see them as parts of a system that could be leveraged to the greater good. The examination of the interplay, especially the dismissiveness toward the Traditionalists, suggests that this book doesn't do justice to this idea of a system which functions because these models exist together.

  1. myself

I've not quite accepted that I can lever change by doing the things that I feel drawn to do. I feel like the things that I am drawn to do are not effective and are strongly resisted. I've always struggled to find the “right” way to communicate that would bypass this resistance, but this book suggests that there is no right way to propose change to people that are set up by systems of belief and culture to resist those changes. Further, there's no way to know whether a suggested change will work for anyone, including myself, ahead of time.

B. Talking points

  1. For the passengers in steerage ...

p240 “For passengers in stterage, their were no lifeboats. In the end, it it didn't make much difference.”

As in the Ehrenreich book, the ability and opportunity to dissent is a function of privilege as long as the working class is provided with a known that's good enough. By good enough, I mean that it's good enough to keep them from jumping ship into the unknown. There's also a strange lack of willingness to dissent in the working class. There's some sense of solidarity that's extended to the status quo, like in the video El Dorado where the timber workers swore by the Timber corporations and fully identified with the work as their identity.

My father was born in Canada. My grandfather was born in Scotland. My great-grandfather was born in the States., while his father, my great-great grandfather was born in Scotland. My family on my father's side has a history of moving around. For them it was more a function of staying with jobs, as the town they were from in Scotland was a mining town and I'm pretty sure that the move to the States was to follow job opportunities as the mining in Scotland was not providing enough jobs.

On my mother's side of the family, there's almost a steady flow of new immigrants to the States, one each generation.

There was an article the struck a chord with me I read recently by an author who's family had left various countries during the world wars and upheavals of the last century. His question to himself was whether he'd know when it was time to leave. He wondered if he would have as much, what appeared to him to be, foresight to leave at the right moment.

I've been thinking about leaving the country, but I realize that the ability to leave is highly based on privilege. I'm likely to be welcomed in another country due to my skills with computers and my ability to leave financially, to get up and go with sufficient money, is a function of accumulated privilege. If I jumped ship, then I'm leaving those people behind that are stuck in steerage in this country, leaving them behind locked gates that confine them below deck on what I think might become a sinking ship.

The metaphor in this book of the imaginal discs that form inside the caterpillar that eventually increase in number, and cling together, to the point of overwhelming the immune system, makes me wonder if jumping ship wouldn't be a kind of short-circuiting of this process. If I leave, do I sacrifice more than I save in the opportunity to help overwhelm the social and political and structural immune systems that are resisting the kinds of changes that this book suggests are happening?

  1. To be or not to be or to maybe

p246 “The difference between such eras depended on what people considered to be real.” “great alterations of materialism and religious ideologies”

p248 “each culture is reluctant to change . It acts self-protectively to keep its long-established structures and patterns intact.” “... the system self-corrects as long as it can.”

The cyclical pattern is between times of great materialism, such as the 80s and 90s or the time of the Mediterranean empires, with times of heightened religiousness, like the spiritual awakening of the 60s or the puritanical wave of the 1700s or the middle ages. If this is so then there's a chance for another shift, which is what that Traditionalists seem to be asking for in return away from the materialism of multinational capitalism, but there's also the question of what might emerge from this cycle that creates a new awareness balancing both materialism and spirituality.

In some ways, I see this as a question of models of satisfaction. In the mediation training, models of satisfaction were based on meeting needs such as psychological, procedural and substantive. These were met by satisfaction with emotional needs, procedural fairness and resolution of substantive issues. In the Safari model, I see that each of four directions represents a need for satisfaction such as needs for individual recognition, contact and connection with community, a sense of order, advocacy and a connection to creative nature, inquiry.

In the idea of the cycles between “materialism and religious ideologies” I think that I see echoes of the two brains, the needs for individuality and community. However, there's also a subtle link to a cycle of inquiry and advocacy on the cultural, societal level in the life span of cultural movements. The dominant cultural form advocates itself and suppresses inquiry. A new cultural tradition would start from an inquiry into the dominant form and evolve into self-advocacy, eventually losing a sense of inquiry which becomes the “position call” for the next tradition of inquiry to rise from within.

So, there's a form of satisfaction that needs to be met within both individual accomplishment and connection to community, but there's also a cycle between, or an evolving system of inquiry and advocacy. The pendulum swings wildly when there's a lack of any of these elements. A healthy, and robust society would encompass all four strategies and if there's a lack of any, then the development of a counterculture is essential for continued growth. These four levels of satisfaction can be met internally by a society, or they will be met by the emergence of a counter-culture.

The things that makes for cataclysmic upheavals in society is “the fending off that keeps you stuck and kills your soul.” [p279] When a society fights against change, that's a function of not having a method for change to happen without upheavals. The symptom of upheaval and conflict is a function of the inability on a societal level to make individuals and the community feel safe in the face of change. Pure advocacy is a function of fear. However, pure inquiry is a chaotic thing. The pendulum swinging from one to the other has an amplitude that is equal to the level of conflict necessary to meet both the need for advocacy and inquiry on personal and connected levels.

C. Outrageous statement or claim.

p297 “We're the first generation to have lost the certainty that there will be a future.”

Not only is this completely false, but it's a dangerous form of self-flattery.

There are numerous examples of whole societies that were in mortal fear for the future. Look at any of the societal upheavals of the past, and you'll see whole sectors of the social fabric clutching to the last banner of the past because they fear there is no future. Examples include, but are certainly not limited to the constant apocalyptic visions of the dark and middle ages, especially around the devastation of the plagues. Further, there's non-European examples in the Central American fixation on the end of time and the yearly fear that the sun would not rise without proper sacrifice.

To think that this currently cultural upheaval is somehow more relevant than any previous one is a form of self-flattery. The previous thought the same about themselves, I'm sure. This self-flattery might be a function of confidence building, but it's also the seed to self-destruction later. As a cultural shift gains momentum, this self-flattery turns to hubris This hubris is the weakness that forces the future to dismantle the past in order to move forward.

A robust culture would include the ability to satisfy the need for advocacy and the need for inquiry without having to violently suppress the other. A robust culture would include recognition of the individual and encourage, facilitate connections between people. Individuals would be recognized, but not at the expense of solidarity and community. Communities would be built, but not at the expense of diversity.

To think that any cultural shift is somehow more important than any other is the kind of arrogance that prevents progressive groups from cooperating, and it's the kind of attitude that creates monolithic and oppressive futures if not kept in check.