The active supporters of local community values, who are not yet a single movement, have a much less confrontational strategy than the early environmental NGOs like Greenpeace and Earth First! For example, groups like the Global Ecovillage Network, Global Action Plan, the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka, and the Voluntary Simplicity movement in the United States, whose members are quietly building an alternative culture through personal action rather than protest. Apparently they have a surprising number of “closet” supporters on the sidelines, as an interesting study by American sociologist Paul H. Ray suggests. 2
Ray’s study, carried out in the United States in 1996, indicates that something very significant is underway below the radar screens of the media. His method was to measure changes in social values and how they change over time. He identifies three major groups, which he calls “Heartlanders” (29%), “Moderns” (47%) and “Cultural Creatives” (24%). He describes them roughly as follows.
The Heartlanders are conservative, the religious right, provincial, characterized by rather rigid, dogmatic belief systems. They tend to reflect traditional small town values and attend the local church, and prefer TV to reading.
The Moderns are the dominant group – materialistic, egoistic, orientated towards consumption and success and the newest technologies. Their world view is rational “Newtonian”.
The Cultural Creatives tend to value community, the environment, human values, are global in outlook, read extensively, watch less TV, are anti-authoritarian and reflect a “new consciousness” that is evolving. Sixty percent are women.
The most interesting aspect of Ray’s study is that the latter group, which represents to a great degree what I have called “local community values”, is the fastest growing group. It was hardly measurable in the mid 1970’s, when it was less than 4%. Ray points out that we are observing here an almost explosive shift compared to known historical value shifts, which tend to happen rather slowly. The process to date, says Ray, has been unconscious, and may well accelerate when it becomes conscious.
A second interesting aspect of the phenomenon is that the Cultural Creatives have not yet found each other. The tend to feel isolated, and as yet have no common periodical, political representation, or common identity. This is due mostly to the fact that the media and the political process is controlled and dominated by the Moderns. However, that is now beginning to change with the Internet, where the Cultural Creatives are finding one another. I strongly suspect that the phenomenon Ray has observed is also present in Europe and elsewhere. I would guess that the percentage of Cultural Creatives in Denmark is even higher than in the USA.
In relation to Ray’s terminology, it is clear that ecovillagers are part of the Cultural Creatives, comprising one of the front lines on this historical shift in values which is still in its early days. A confrontation with the Moderns, who are clearly supportive of commercial globalization, is inevitable sooner or later, in what may well be the major political conflict of the early 21st century — a conflict of value systems as the consequences of globalization become clearer.