A New Politics | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A New Politics

<b>How Cultural Creatives Are Changing the Map</b>

"A third party? I'd just be happy with a second party!" Agree with that statement? If so, there's a chance you've considered yourself a "centrist," an "independent," a "free thinker"—or you just think politics is for suckers. Perhaps you identify with a third-party cause or candidate—maybe you find yourself stuck in the middle, unsure of whether any political party or movement speaks to the issues that are important to you. Or maybe you don't vote at all.

1. Take that last scenario first. Perhaps you're thinking something like this—when they're going to offer up candidates like Al Gore and George W. Bush or Haley Barbour and Ronnie Musgrove, you figure you'll sit this one out, as there's not enough difference them to make voting worthwhile.
For your trouble, the political establishment calls you a sorry citizen.

2. Maybe you do pull levers and press touch screens, but you're a "swing" voter—you voted for either Gore or Bush because you saw one of them as the lesser of two evils. Perhaps your plans for the 2003 elections in Mississippi run along those same lines—you're going to vote for the candidate you think will do the least damage.

The press and parties will call you "soccer moms" or "NASCAR dads" and will snicker behind your back because you're not engaged in politics.

3. Third case—you're taking it upon yourself to vote for the Green Party candidate, because you really do think that Enron and Wal-Mart are horking everything up and you'd like your kids to have some non-bottled air to breathe come the middle of this century. Or you're voting for the independent, Reform or Libertarian candidate so that you can get some "socially liberal" and "fiscally conservative" notions supported in this race.

The insiders will tell you that you're throwing your vote away.

Does any of this sound like you? Well, take comfort—you're not alone. It may not just be the political parties that are broken in this country—a fact that large swaths of people won't dispute—but that even the language that we use to describe politics is too simplistic and limiting for us to make strides toward a new type of politics.

Over the past 25 years, mainstream third-party, independent and "maverick" candidates have garnered a lot of ink from this country's media, from John Anderson's 1980 presidential bid to Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, Jesse Ventura, John McCain and, more recently, today's headline-grabbers like Howard Dean and Arnold Schwarzenegger. What the popularity of these and other candidacies tells us is that there's a fundamental supply-and-demand problem in politics today—people aren't getting supplied the candidates and ideas that they demand.

Of course, that's because all of these sorry, disengaged citizens in the "muddled middle" of America's political spectrum don't know what they want, right? After all, if they did, they'd be on the Left or the Right. Wouldn't they?

Culture Shift
"Left vs. right has been declining for, easily, 20 years," said Dr. Paul H. Ray, author of "The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World." "And yet the media and the politicians act as if that's all there is. In reality, a good half the population doesn't think in those terms anymore. And so an awful lot of what's being called swing voters or the mushy middle is often thought of as inconsistent and uninterested and has no position—and that's wrong."

Ray, who wrote the book with his wife, Dr. Sherry Ruth Anderson, posits that some 27 percent of Americans—about 50 million—fall into a new sociological category that they call the Cultural Creatives. This category stands in contrast to the Moderns, who comprise 48 percent of the population, and Traditionals, who comprise about 25 percent. The Cultural Creatives have a different worldview from the other two groups, although they have no sense of being a coherent movement—many, in fact, believe they hold views and values that few others around them share. This is partly because most of popular media are dominated by images of the Modernist world, and when there is contrast, that contrast is usually a look at Traditionals.

Who are in these groups? To put it simply, Moderns are basically engaged in today's popular image of America—they believe that the worldview one sees on television today is a reasonable representation of the actual world. Note that Moderns are both conservatives and liberals, ranging from neo-conservatives to labor leaders. Party doesn't matter, just perspective. Moderns, in some sense, buy into the notion that many things in life are easily understood as machines—politics, corporations, nations and people. Modernism, according to the authors, is the world that's reflected in Time magazine, People magazine, the Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated, where the worldview is set and little is questioned about it.

While Modernism has brought a great deal to the table—rugged individualism, social equality and all the trappings of industrial life, including sewers, roads, electricity, medicine, and so on—it may have its limitations, argue Ray and Anderson. In particular, Modernism seems focused on materialism and self-interest as motivating principles. Many of today's Moderns, from both the "Left" and the "Right," believe strongly that obtaining goods and services are at the heart of their right to a "pursuit of happiness" and that market economics makes so much sense that even your self-worth is driven by how the "market" reacts to you—if you're rewarded by the "job market" with compensation that enables you to purchase more goods and services, you're a better person.

Traditionals are a reaction to Moderns, since the Moderns were actually there first. That sounds odd, but to Ray and Anderson, while the Modern movement is over 500 years old—a result of the Renaissance—the Traditional movement is a counterculture response. Its roots were during the American Revolution in the Great Awakening, but the movement didn't begin in earnest until after Reconstruction and has been driven in large part by the race and religion politics of the 20th-century South.

Over history, Traditionals have been defectors from Modernism, according to the theory, combining Protestant personal-salvation movements and economic protests against big business, bankers, railroads, industrialism and other Modern ideals, including feminism, social equality and urban expansion. Traditionals are a reaction to Modernism—a belief that those things that are rural, smaller, fundamental, patriarchal and simpler are better. Traditionals react to Modernism—that's why you'll so often hear what's "wrong with Hollywood" or "wrong with Jackson" or "wrong with New York" coming from most stalwart proponents of Traditionalism. In other words, Traditionals still view the world much in the same way as the Moderns do. They just don't like it as much.

So who are the Cultural Creatives? Painted with the same wide brush as the other two classifications, Cultural Creatives are, now, a full-fledged, but newer, counterculture group—one that quietly rejects a great deal of the Modern and Traditional worldview altogether. They come from whence comes all change in today's America—the late 1960s. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, America was split pretty evenly between Moderns (advertising executive Darren Stephens on "Bewitched") and Traditionals (Sheriff Andy Taylor on "Mayberry RFD"). Starting in the late 1960s, another worldview began to slowly emerge—what Ray and Anderson call the Cultural Creatives. (As an aside, if you're a Traditional, at this point you're probably already a bit miffed that I won't just refer to them as "The Rays" or "Mr. and Mrs. Ray.")

So Cultural Creatives (CCs) emerged from the 1960s, which makes them … hippies, right? Not quite. Most Cultural Creatives are very average dressers, they cut their hair, and just as many of them go to work and church at the regularly appointed times. They aren't all Baby Boomers and a great many of them were born in the 1970s and 1980s. Many are the children of Moderns, much in the same way that many of today's Moderns are the children of yesterday's Traditionals. According to the book, you've got a 45 percent chance of being a CC.

But what brings CCs together? "Right at the top of the list is what's going to happen to our children and grandchildren in the future," said Dr. Ray. "This (concern) shows up in a dozen ways. Sixty percent of all Americans are very worried that their children or grandchildren are going to live in a worse world."

Ray and Anderson note that Cultural Creatives tend to be concerned about the environment, health care and "authenticity." In one sense Cultural Creatives embrace a worldview that the other two groups would consider feminine and, say the authors, 60 percent of today's Cultural Creatives are indeed women. As a counterculture, The Cultural Creatives reject two particular facets of Modernism—materialism and the utter secularism of everyday life. In that sense, their values can seem somewhat Traditional—as a Cultural Creative, there's nothing wrong with being less concerned with "getting ahead" and more concerned with your personal spiritual growth, whether within a traditional religious framework or outside of one.

Broken Politics
Another deep feeling tends to bind many Culture Creatives together—a strong sense that politics isn't working. In fact, the free-market Libertarians will be happy to hear that it's a supply-and-demand issue—the political marketplace is still figuring out that there's a demand for a new style of politics. At the heart of the issue is the fact that our most often used political language—the rhetoric of "Left" and "Right"—is utterly inadequate, if not completely useless for describing the real world.
In "The New Political Compass," an article by Ray that builds on his statistical analysis done for "The Cultural Creatives," he notes that in order to stick with the left-and-right paradigm, you've got to assume there's a huge bell curve with a "mushy middle" made up of people who can't make up their minds or who don't care about politics at all. According to Ray, statistically this is a specification error, which means the theory needs to be improved, because those folks who aren't on the left and right do have shared ideas and values. A lot of them are Cultural Creatives.

Perhaps the most significant thing about the compass as a political theory is the fact that it broadens political discussion considerably, enabling individuals to find a few more words—and another dimension—to describe where they stand on the issues. Consider, for example, someone who thinks of him or herself as both liberal and religious. (I seem to come across such people often in Jackson.) What does that mean in a Left-Right paradigm? Is a Religious Leftist to the left of a secular or agnostic Leftist or to the Right? What about a religious socialist? A fiscally conservative feminist? An anti-globalization evangelical?

Instead of dividing all political thought into a spectrum that stretches from Left to Right, the Political Compass adds at least two new directions, the "north" and the "south" (they have nothing to do with a certain series of 19th-century skirmishes). And it places all political thought into a 360-degree representation that, according to Dr. Ray, does a much better job of describing how Americans feel about politics today. Here's a quick look at the quadrants (see the figure on page 21 to get an idea as well):

• Liberals. In the "east" is what Ray calls the Liberal Left, or "Modernist New Deal Liberals." These people tend to subscribe to the Modern worldview—get ahead, keep up with the Jones, machine-like metaphors—while seeing "management" and the Traditionals as their main enemy. Most significant for Cultural Creatives is the fact that the Liberal Left tends to turn them off because the Left is so focused on fighting—for rights, for social programs, for spending. This is also the smallest group, at 12 percent of total population.

• Cultural Conservatives. In the "west" are the Cultural Conservatives, which Ray also calls the "Southern Politics Paradigm." These are often Traditionals, but not exclusively—what tends to tie them together is a strong religion or cultural conservatism.

• Business Conservatives. Not always thought of as a distinct class, the Business Conservatives are in the "south" on the compass. Business Conservatives are only a slightly larger slice of the population than Liberals (14 percent), but they have enormous influence and have, for the most part, control over both political parties. In the Republican Party, Business Conservatives can ally with social conservatives on many issues, but they find a lot to disagree on—Business Conservatives can welcome international organizations that open markets, for instance, while Cultural Conservatives tend to prefer a local or national worldview. Business Conservatives also tend to be true Moderns, with little concern for some of the values that Cultural Conservatives would take up arms for.

• New Progressives. The unlabelled group in the "north" on the compass is what Dr. Ray calls "New Progressives." It's is the "north" primarily because the worldview of Cultural Creatives tends to be most at odds with the folks in the "south" con the compass—Business Conservatives—not Traditionals, the religious or leftists. And they don't represent the "center" any more than Business Conservatives represent the "center"—instead, they have ideas that draw heavily from Liberals and Cultural Conservatives, but eschew much of what the South (on the compass) has to say.

Not only does this add two groups to our discussion of politics in this country, but it gives more nuance to a variety of positions. Are you generally interested in progressive concerns, but religious? Check out the north-east quadrant. Are you a liberal-minded business conservative? You're in the south-west. George W. Bush? You'll see him staking out a position firmly in the south-east of the political compass.

Rise of New Progressives
Who are the New Progressives? We can start with what they aren't—they aren't a political party. In fact, according to Ray, they're 39 percent Democrat, 28 percent Republican, and 27 percent are Independents. The majority of them label themselves "centrist" or "moderate," with only 18 percent saying they're "liberal" and 32 percent saying they're "conservative." Like Cultural Creatives (which make up a majority of New Progressives, and most of the core group that leads the movement, but not all of them), New Progressives aren't particularly aware they represent such an important cross-section.

New Progressives are a group of people with certain ideas in common. According to Ray's research, 93 percent of them want national health insurance, 81 percent are anti-big business and between 80-90 percent of them are for ecological sustainability, depending on the study quoted. Other numbers are lower but still significant—63 percent support feminism, 51 percent are against social conservatism, and 49 percent say they don't identify with the left or the right.

If anything galvanizes New Progressives, you can see it in the New Political Compass illustration—they're anti-Business Conservatism. Indeed, the entire point of the New Political Compass can be summed up as this—the New Progressives represent a cross-section of Americans who can consider themselves liberal, centrist or conservative on social issues. They may be agnostic or religious, for or against abortion or gay issues, but they're arrayed against the money that drives a great deal of politics today, and they're becoming less and less interested in the "deals with the devil"—corporate control—that conventional political wisdom says are required to get elected.

Taking care of children, the environment and helping others are primary virtues in their worldview, while among the greatest evils are greed, shortsightedness and unsustainable business practices. It's there where they tend to split with Moderns and side with Traditionals—that and a desire for more daily spirituality and a simpler lifestyle—making for odder bedfellows than people are used to thinking about in today's political conversations.

"Now, here's a big important idea," Ray told me in our interview, "most people who are in the Political North are in a long process of changing their lives to bring more things into alignment. The focus is on children, their inner life and the future of the planet." He said that "issue by issue they don't look consistent" because they're moving toward this subgroup more and more.

But they represent a huge group of people—voters—who don't have anyone talking directly to them. Ray calls this a "market failure" because the supply of "goods" in politics is aimed largely at satisfying Business Conservatives, who put nearly 80 percent of the money into national politics. But with so many voters—even if they don't finance politics—underserved, isn't it likely that politics will change?

The Next Move
In at least a superficial way, some of the core items on the New Progressive agenda are similar to those of the Progressive Era of the early 20th Century, including Theodore Roosevelt's concern for ecology and the Wisconsin Progressives who encouraged Gov. "Fighting Bob" La Follette's focus on workplace reforms and improvements for women.

But there are differences, too. In the early 1900s, there was a strong progressive movement, complete with political parties and charismatic national candidates. We aren't there yet—Ray believes only one national candidate, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, represents New Progressivism ideals, although so far his polling in Democratic primaries for the 2004 presidency has been relatively low. Asked about Howard Dean as a potential New Progressive, Ray demurred, saying Dean is accused of being much closer to Business Conservatism in his governorship and may or may not have changed his spots for his national run.

Without a charismatic leader, the New Progressives on the national scene are apt to find themselves aligned with different interests on different issues. They can align with the traditional Left on many issues, including health care, anti-globalization and sustainable ecology. They can also align with social conservatives on issues such as small-business and mainstream populism, and they tolerate more talk of spirituality than will the traditional Left, as long as it's inclusive. (And there's a trump card, too—peace. If a perpetual War on Terror continues to galvanize conservatives, it will wedge between them and New Progressives on other issues.)

According to Ray, New Progressives do vote, although they often don't have a candidate they want to vote for. New Progressives may be the "lost constituency" of the Liberal Left; as with the two conservative quadrants, they could work together if leadership on the Left can get its act together and appeal to New Progressives as something other than wishy-washy centrists. In other cases, Republicans can get their votes if they take a maverick stance against the status quo and focus on environment and child-rearing issues. There's evidence that New Progressives would tolerate a more socially conservative agenda if it meant improving health care and the environment and taking on corporate corruption in politics and life (think McCain).

The strongest reaction you'll get from New Progressives is the idea that "we need to get the big money out of politics." In that sense, they'll eschew both the Left and the Right, both the corporate conservatives and big-labor liberals. In order to get the reforms on the table that New Progressives want—health care, environment, education and small-business economics—they've got to, first, reform the system. So, their first critical leader—if they ever find one—will be a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt, willing to buck the power center of his own party to make changes in the way people perceive their democracy.

Until that happens, though, the savvy politicians will realize that they should do the exact opposite of what Al Gore did in 2000 when he walked away from his "liberal" stances on the environment and health care in favor of finding "centrist" stances that didn't resonate with the public. In truth, the "center" of American politics is a small core of apathetic, uninterested citizens. The voters aren't in the center—they're in the south, east, west and, increasingly, in the north on the Political Compass. The politicians who recognize this change and start doing something about it may coast to victory on the votes of New Progressives—call them "wellness moms" and "eco-dads"—everywhere.

Are You a Cultural Creative?
According to the book "The Cultural Creatives," millions of people are somewhere on a scale toward a worldview they call "cultural creativity." Answer these questions to see if you're leaning that way yourself. (Adapted from the book 'The Cultural Creatives.")

1. Are you concerned about the destruction of nature or global changes?
2. Would you pay more for consumer goods that are earth-friendly or made using ecologically sustainable processes?
3. Are you concerned that people in foreign countries are exploited for the goods that we use?
4. Is it important to you to help others in your community and to see others develop their unique gifts?
5. Would you rather have more friends than watch more "Friends"?
6. Do you volunteer for one or more good causes?
7. Do you think there should be more spirituality or religion in everyday life, but not if the Religious Right ran things?
8. Are you a supporter of women's equality in business and politics?
9. Do women's and children's issues both at home and around the world concern you?
10. Would you say that many big corporations put "profits before people"?
11. Are you fed up with the "get ahead" emphasis on material success and "keeping up with the Jones" lifestyles you see on TV and in magazines?
12. Do you feel like both the Left and the Right in today's politics have it wrong?
13. Do you keep to a decent budget and avoid overspending on cars and clothes?
14. Do you go out of your way, or spend a little more, to shop locally and avoid chain stores?
15. Do you have a sneaking suspicion that only you and the wackos who run this magazine agree on most of the questions?

Todd Stauffer is the publisher of the JFP.

Previous Comments


Interesting story. If you answered affirmatively on questions 1-14, a vote for Sherman Lee Dillon for Governor would be a wise move. Check out www.dillon4gov.com .

Landon W. Huey

Speaking of Sherman Lee Dillon, I should point out that he spent the most time filling out the JFP voter questionnaire before the primary (Barbour and Musgrove have not returned theirs; it's hard to answer it in sound bites; we hope their answers are still forthcoming; our 41,000 readers want to know). Dillon's answers are posted in their entirety on our politics blog at: http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/politics/candidate_detail.php?id=1387_0_15_0_C


Ladd, Following various links to the JFP story, something that Dillon said about schools caught my eye - namely that richer (and practically always whiter) districts score better because of they can afford prepratory materials. So, being in a statistical mood tonight, I decided to look up the Dept of Edu's figures concerning ACT scores around the state, which I assume can be a rough predictor of state test scores. Source: http://www.mde.k12.ms.us/ACAD/osa/ACTRPTD.pdf I went through every score in the state, and I found the best scores are found where you'd expect - the NE and the suburban areas - the "least black" areas of the state in other words. HOWEVER, I found something very interesting next door to Ladd's old stomping grounds - Newton County, near Meridian, despite its fairly strong poverty, is among the most solid school districts in the state (Ladd'll have the final word on that I suppose, since she's from right next door). Anyway, for 1999-2000 (old, i know, but still...), the Newton Co. School District's ACT scores, according to the linked site were as follows: Core Score: 22.7 Composite Score: 20.5 For Union Public, Core Score: 23.1 Comp. Score: 20.5 (I assume this is town, not county, of Union) Now for some Newton Co. Census Stats, which reveal it to fairly approximate Miss as a whole, albeit somewhat LOWER than the general Miss figures. Med H-Hold Inc: Newton, $28,735; Miss. $31,606 Indiv's in Poverty: Newton, 19.9%; Miss, 19.9% Median Family Inc: Newton $34,606; Miss. N/A Fam's In Poverty: Newton, 16.4%; Miss. N/A I presume two things: (1) in both cases the family poverty and income stats will be better than the "individuals" ones, (2) Newton's family figures will still be, at best, only marginal better than the state average. What accounts for their high test scores? You certainly can't attribute it to a dearth of Blacks because Newton Co. is 30.4% Black. Obviously you can't attribute it to income because (as far as I can tell, at least) Newton is still somewhat worse off income and poverty-wise than the state average. In fact, it does even better than many NE districts that made my "A-list" (both core and comp. scores higher than 20.0). School funding IS VITAL, no question about it. But before we spend a lot of money on schools, we have to have the right program first, otherwise much of the $$$ will go to waste. It seems (at least by the numbers) we need to look at what Newton Co. did (and hopefully still doing) right before we devote huge amounts of funding to elementary and secondary education. Clearly Newton is beating the odds for a county in the "wrong" part of the state, and I surmise Miss schools can learn a thing or two from Newton Co. and Union Public schools.


what I meant by THE "wrong" part of the state was "not in the suburbs or the northeast"(i.e. the rest of the state). No slur intended, but clearly schools outside the two areas I mentioned almost always do worse than the NE/Suburban block of schools.


It's important to note that although NE MS may be the least black part of the state, it's also the part of the state where the majority of black residents live above the poverty line. Double-check my states on that. And I can say with fair accuracy that when I was in grade/high school in Aberdeen (Monroe county), the public school system was easily 65% black. I'm told that it's now even "blacker." Most black students in that school system--and neighboring ones--go on to college. I have no idea why that is. Philip?


Philip, I'd like to not thank you for inspiring me to start researching why NE MS seems to perform better than other parts of the state. I have articles to write or my rent won't get paid! :-) BUT...here's a link to some stats on the Aberdeen school system. They're very interesting. Seems they spend a little bit more per student than the state average. And about 70% of students qualify for free lunch, so they're not as well off as I thought. (But a fair number of wealthier black folks send their kids to parochial/Catholic schools in Tupelo and Columbus. And wealthier white students go to Oak Hill in West Point.) http://www.ahs.aberdeen.k12.ms.us/About/District/2001DistrictReportCard.pdf I should add that my mother sued this school district about a decade or so ago to stop them from tracking students (I did my senior anthropology thesis on this school system. It was incredible!). That made a huge difference in the curricula of the various schools within the system. I only have anecdotal evidence for this, but I think a greater percentage of both white and black students go to college now than did when I was in school there. More anecdotal evidence: I happen to have relatives in Newton (black ones) and they're all engineers, lawyers. They're doin' something right in the schools there, too. What do these two school districts do differently than others in the state? Philip?


Why NE Miss is better? I would give serious though to the culture of the area's inhabitants. About 2 months ago, I read an article in "Foreign Affairs" about the regional difference within the US when it comes to supporting the use of military force overseas.[1] In that article, I ran across a concept called "The Doctrine of Effective First Settlement". This states that the first group of people to settle in a region, or the ones who settle after "cleansing out" the previous group, determine the long-term culture of the area. Immigration by later groups appears to have little or no long term effect on the area's cultural attitudes because immigrant culture tends to fade after the third generation or so. In Miss's case, I suppose you could say that the Gulf Coast is more loose, if not actually liberal, than the rest of the state because, like S. La., it was settled by French Catholics. West of I-55 was the part of the Old South Plantation Belt, and so is the I-20/Hwy 80 corridor extending from Savannah, GA into NE Texas. NE Miss (I think, but am not sure) was not really part of the Old South plantation belt - it has more in common with TN and S. Appalachia than it does with Natchez and Vicksburg. Is the last statement true? Anyway, the Doctrine seems compelling, and so you would do well to look into the area's cultural attitudes as a root source of valuing education (when you have the time, of course :P). I wouldn't call my claim "God's Own Truth", but I'd argue about it over a beer or on this board. [1] The article is "Civil War By Other Means", by Michael Lind; found in the Sept/Oct 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs


Re the culture of NE MS being more like TN or Appalachia than the rest of MS, I'd say that's true. Don't know if other NE folks would agree but seems that way to me. Even the vernacular architecture and folk art is more like that of Appalachia. And to throw another theory into the loop, architecture tells you as much as or more about cultural power than anything. And re the "doctrine of effective first settlement," NE MS was inhabited largely by the Choctaw/Chickasaw, who were then wiped out (nearly) by the Spanish. Obviously, NE MS doesn't speak Spanish but you may be onto something.



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