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[Psychedelic Thinking and the Dawn of Homo Cyber — continued]

Where psychedelic thinking fits in our culture

     Whenever I think of American culture, a line from an old Talking Heads song comes to mind, “And you may tell yourself, my god, what have I done?” How did we Americans get this way? We have the highest standard of living in the world, yet we also create more pollution, per capita, than any other nation. Are the two inexorably linked, or is there another reason for this state of affairs? I submit that the source of this dilemma is not some immutable law of nature but our culture. I once heard Terence McKenna say, “Culture is the ultimate cult.” How true that is, for it is our culture that teaches us what to believe, what to question, what to long for, and what to avoid. Our culture is the filter through which we view the world. Like individuals and nations, cultures have moments of success and moments of failure. During the Sixties, our culture was in obvious crisis. For the first time in modern history, large numbers of our citizens discovered the potential of psychedelic thinking, but when they attempted to integrate that thinking into mainstream culture, violent clashes occurred. The culture simply was not resilient enough to absorb this new way of thinking. The failure of the Sixties, if there in fact was a failure, was the failure of our culture to absorb a new worldview.

     Whatever your view of the Sixties, empirical evidence now makes it clear that American culture did, in fact, see a significant new subculture begin to emerge by the end of that period. In their groundbreaking book, The Cultural Creatives, Sherry Ruth Anderson and Paul H. Ray track the evolution of American culture from the end of World War II to the present.(2) Their findings are striking.

     In the years immediately following World War II there were two major subcultures to be found in this country, “traditionals” and “moderns.” Basically, traditionals long for a way of life that can only be found in utopian fantasies of pre-industrial times. Traditionals see the world as black and white. They prefer absolutes in their philosophy and religion. In contrast, moderns reject the “one size fits all” point of view. Moderns include shades of gray in their worldview and for the most part are accepting of things just about the way they are. Moderns are first and foremost materialists. By the end of the 1960s, however, a measurable third subculture began to emerge. This is the group Ray and Anderson call the “cultural creatives.” Neither traditional nor modern, the cultural creatives bring a global perspective to the moderns’ shades of gray.

     One of the most important findings of Ray and Anderson’s work is that the number of cultural creatives in the United States has been growing at an astonishing rate. By the end of the 1960s, about four percent of the adult U.S. population fell into the cultural creative category. By the end of the last century the ranks of cultural creatives had grown to 26% of the adult population of the United States. This means there are now 50 million adults in this country who share a global, ecological, humanitarian worldview, and who are willing to keep an open mind and hear all the facts before accepting or rejecting someone else’s point of view.

     It is important for you to understand that cultural creatives are very different from groups you may think of as Greens, or New Agers, or whatever other label comes to mind. Cultural creatives come in many political and religious forms. They can be liberal or conservative. Some practice a religion while others follow an independent spiritual path. In short, cultural creatives can be found in all walks of life. It would be a big mistake to prejudge someone’s cultural position simply from the position that person holds in society, for becoming a cultural creative is a lifelong process. In fact, the majority of people who now fall into the category of “cultural creative” most likely evolved their way there from a previously modern worldview. Over time, these formerly modern members of our culture began to look beyond their own well-being and they began to question their personal worldview.

     As Ray and Anderson point out:

      Most of us change our worldview only once in our lifetime, if we do at all, because it changes virtually everything in our consciousness. When you make this shift, you change your sense of who you are and who you are related to, what you are willing to see and how you interpret it, your priorities for action and for the way you want to live. Regardless of whether you leave your home, change your job, or switch your career path, if your worldview changes, it changes everything.(3)

     Cultural creatives are people who have found the modern way of life incomplete and unsustainable. The paths they took to arrive at this point of view are many and varied, but most often have been guided by what Ken Wilbur calls “the spiral of development” in his new book, The Theory of Everything.(4) According to Wilbur’s theory, our egos evolve through a spiraling series of developmental stages. Beginning with instinctual, we move through tribal, feudal, mythic, and scientific selves before arriving at the sensitive self, where the human spirit is freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness. Finally come the integrative and holistic stages of the spiral.

     It is in stages five and six, the scientific and sensitive selves, where we find the majority of cultural creatives today. And an interesting lot they are. Fragmented, often feeling isolated, this minority of 50 million adult Americans share deep-seated beliefs in the importance of sustainable living above and beyond mere ecological soundness. The core of this group, consisting of approximately 24 million people, also share a deep interest in personal development and in expanding their awareness of life. Without an articulated agenda or conscious knowledge of the impact of their subculture, these people are gradually changing American culture through the little decisions they make about their own lives and how they interact with the world around them. It may also interest you to know that many of what Anderson and Ray call the “core” cultural creatives have used psychedelics at some point in their lives.

     Just what kind of culture might these interesting people be creating?


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