Reviewed 2/28/2003

The Cultural Creatives, by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson

THE CULTURAL CREATIVES: How 50 Million People are Changing the World
Paul H. Ray
Sherry Ruth Anderson
New York: Harmony Books, 2000




ISBN 0-609-60467-8 370pp. HC/GSI $25.00

This book is remarkable in two ways. First is its depth of research: thirteen years of surveys and focus groups, interviews and reading documented an emerging social transformation that the authors1 have named the Cultural Creatives. Second is the fact that the book is no dry, academic tome. The language is informal, conversational, often leavened with vernacular and in a few places with profanity. The text is divided into chapters logical in scope and appropriate in length, broken at intervals with diagrams, graphs, bulleted lists, quotations or sidebars, and printed with wide margins. Personal anecdotes, dialog, and pop-culture references pepper it. The result is a very readable narrative. Its plentiful facts and figures go down like the proverbial medicine taken with a spoonful of sugar.

So who are these "Cultural Creatives"? They are Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, Inc., the largest commercial carpet firm in the world. Someone sent him a copy of Paul Harker's The Ecology of Commerce. "Reading that book," he said, "was like someone threw a spear through my heart." In short, Ray got religion. Over five years, he invested $25 million in reducing waste from his company's operations — and saved $122 million. He hopes to make his company fully sustainable in 20 years. Another example is Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute, which developed the fuel-efficient Hypercar and gave the plans away. Still another is Peninsula Village, turning the lives of teen drug abusers around in Tennessee.

There is no easy way to define a Cultural Creative; but they are known for total committment to an idealistic inner vision. Many, but by no means all, come from the '60s counterculture (itself an eclectic mixture of beliefs and lifestyles). Perhaps the best way to describe Cultural Creatives is to say what they are not. They are not Traditionals or Moderns. Again, I'll resort to stereotypes and risk oversimplifying. Traditionals are rural, God-fearing folk who honor military service, family values, and the right to own guns. Moderns are urban professionals who honor Ivy League colleges, Wall Street, and the right to drive a Beemer. Calling the three respective groups Hippies, Rednecks, and Yuppies goes beyond simplicity to absurdity; but it is a useful jumping-off point for discussion.

The authors, by listing the core beliefs to which each adheres and by naming prominent members of each, do an incomparably better job of defining these three groups than I have here. They avoid stereotypes and, though they describe the relationship of the groups as culture war, they do not fall into the trap of demonizing their opponents. But, lest you think they are soft-pedaling anything, there is this:

  Page 67: "To get a sense of how visceral this conflict can be, and how trapped our vision is in our own cultural boxes, conjure up for a moment some public figure you love to hate—Rush Limbaugh, Ariana Huffington, Ross Perot, Bill Clinton, Howard Stern, Camille Paglia, Richard Gere, Sam Donaldson, or some other sabbath gasbag— and you can just feel the culture wars working on you."

Their intent in writing this book was to create a road map and guidebook for Cultural Creatives to be. To that end, they draw on personal anecdotes of success, on myth and legend, as well as on statistics and financial figures. The result is a determinedly hopeful work that forms an organic whole and deserves to be read as such. Due to time pressures, I did not read it in its entirety; but I did get into Chapter 10. Thus, I submit that my review should be counted as valid. This is a very worthwhile book.

1 The husband-and-wife team, a sociologist and a psychologist respectively, comment that they had a good time writing this book together, a fact which surprised them — as well as their friends, who kept asking, "Are you divorced yet? Have you stopped speaking to each other?"
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