Meet the Flipsters

Conversations on the Bridge

A Conversation with Dr. Paul Ray
(The complete Flip interview, with only minor edits, not found in the book)

Paul Ray, Ph.D. (, is coauthor with his wife, Sherry Ruth Anderson, Ph.D., of the best-selling book Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World. Paul has surveyed and classified more than 100,000 Americans in the past thirteen years, showing how the subcultures of values permeate all aspects of American life. During the time of the research reported in the book, he was executive vice president of American LIVES, Inc., a market-research and opinion-polling firm specializing in surveys and focus groups based on American lifestyles, interests, values, expectations, and symbols. The research projects that led to the discovery of the “Cultural Creatives” include studies of the effects of values on consumer choices and the preferences of Americans for housing, cars, food, recreation, vacation travel, finances, health, political causes (e.g., environment), media use, and altruism. He also leads studies of innovation by consumers and business.

One of the important perspectives Paul brings to the discussion of today’s issues is “the long view.” As he puts it, “It’s important not to get caught up in too small a window of time. If you take only a year or two, you won’t even see the transformation. If you take only five years, you miss out on where everything came from and why it’s so difficult for people.

“Everything that we are currently going through in the United States is part of the modern era. The modern era really started about fifty years before Columbus discovered the Americas. So modernism has been dissolving local traditions and lifestyles for five hundred years. The purpose of modernism was to release huge amounts of energy and potential for other purposes. It began by dispossessing farmers and making factory workers out of them – forcing them to live in cities and operate by a time clock and lots of other stuff that made them extremely unhappy. Many of the people who immigrated to the United States had been dispossessed by modernization in their own countries. Often what they wanted most was open land and freedom from whoever the oppressor was back there – only to find that they were now getting new mercantile industrial oppressors in the United States.

“The combined use of big armies, industrialization, and nationalism for imperialistic purposes dates back to the time of Napoleon, roughly 1800. But there have always been winners and losers in the process of creating the world we see around us today – a lot more losers than winners. The winners had to justify why they got so wealthy and why their brand of modernism supposedly was good for everybody.”

There has almost always been backlash, as well. But what we call “fundamentalism” is not nearly as back-to-basics as it purports to be. Says Paul, “The mullahs, as we know them today in Islam, are a recent invention. So are all other fundamentalist preachers. The first was Jonathan Edwards, in 1740. And fundamentalism only caught on as a general idea after 1800. It is actually a modernist innovation that tries to conceal the fact that it’s innovating religiously. In every religious tradition where fundamentalism has shown up – Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism – it is considered heresy. Fundamentalists, in the name of restoring “old ways” that never actually existed, drastically oversimplify and reinterpret sacred texts in ways that no theologian, of any traditional or modern time, would accept. They strip away symbolic language and demand that all text be taken as literally true.”

Yet it does seem that there is an imperative to return to a sustainable relationship with the Earth. “The Western world, in particular, has led a massive destruction of the Earth,” agreed Paul. “Some of that destruction has come from high energy use. A lot of it has also come from mining minerals and other resources – oil, coal, metals – and poisoning our planet’s surface with the byproducts. On top of that, we’re inventing 40,000 new chemicals each year, half of which are probably poisonous to the world as well. What we’ve been doing is stripping away pieces of a living system for economic gain. If the destruction weren’t accelerating, you could say there would inevitably be time for transformation. The risky part is that we first have to become conscious of the fact that what we’re doing isn’t working.”

But going back – even if it were possible – is not the answer. “If we want to make things drastically better, we’ve got to invent sustainable practices that haven’t been seen before,” warns Paul. “The extraction, processing and burning of coal and oil are immensely destructive of the natural world. But without that energy, industrialization could not have happened. And it’s not like things would be drastically better if we could roll the clock back one hundred or even five hundred years. Were agrarian societies ultimately good and sustainable? No they were not. They had lousy agricultural practices. Farmers were stripping the land and making it less fertile. Traditional practices were destroying the Earth slowly, while modernism was doing it rapidly and more thoroughly. But it wasn’t like one was more virtuous or sustainable than the other. Until very recently, opposition to modernism was merely a battle over who was going to get what. Ecology didn’t exist before 1920, and it was so contrary to the standard reductionist paradigms of other sciences that it didn’t really get going until the sixties and seventies. There was not even an awareness of sustainability until modern science and photos from space began to show how the Earth is being destroyed.”

We asked Paul how a modern person, accustomed to luxuries and conveniences unparalleled in human history, might become aware of how his or her affluent lifestyle deleteriously affects the welfare of the planet as a whole. “Part of what I’m impressed with as a macro-sociologist is the persistence of the past to affect people through unconsciousness and habit,” Paul comments. “People believe that things should be just as they were when they grew up as a kid. To a lot of people, tradition is nothing more complicated than ‘whatever is comfortable for me.’ The persistence of habit goes with unconsciousness. So the beginning of change is coming to a conscious awareness that our backs are against a wall as a species, that we really have to make fundamental change to assure the survival of ourselves and our children.”

But what can flip people out of their habitual denial and resistance to change? “Just pushing or rebelling against what’s happening is only the first step out of unconsciousness,” Paul observes. “The moment you start turning your attention toward a more embracing, higher kind of consciousness, and asking how we could create what I call a wisdom culture, then you’re taking the next step toward a new level of development.

“Modernism is an evolutionary plateau in the same way that agricultural society was a plateau above hunting and gathering. Modernism is a plateau above agrarian societies in terms of level of complexity, sophistication, cultural knowledge, and so on. But modernism has never faced up to the idea that we can consciously invent a better world together.”

That idea, Paul asserts, is the underlying motivation of the growing segment of society that he and his wife have identified as Cultural Creatives. “These are people – 50 million American adults and 80 million European adults – who take the idea of ecology very seriously, and the support slowing business growth in order to save the planet. They also take very seriously women’s issues and issues of personal growth and relationships. We found that the typical Cultural Creative cares intensely about the issues raised by post-World War II social movements. These movements include those focused on civil rights, the environment, women’s rights, peace, jobs, social justice, gay and lesbian rights, alternative health care, spirituality, personal growth, and now, of course, stopping corporate globalization. All of those concerns are now converging into a strong concern for the whole planet.”

What distinguishes the thinking of a Cultural Creative? “Holistic thinking; that is, thinking in longer time horizons than the next quarter’s profits, the next election cycle, or even one’s own life span. This means that Cultural Creatives are motivated by concern for all the people of the planet and all the living systems of the planet. The idea of living systems is new to modernism because that perspective looks at how nonliving things are put together or taken apart, which is fundamentally a nineteenth-century idea. This idea is obsolete in every part of contemporary science and technology…”

Obsolete concepts are becoming obvious in other disciplines, as well. Paul sites an example from economics and commerce. “There is a growing desire to take power away from Wall Street, the way it was once taken away from kings and nobles. Good managers are starting to ask, ‘How can I stay clear of Wall Street?’ in the way the average Russian used to ask, ‘How can I stay clear of the Communist Party?’ back in the fifties. The shareholder value ideology may be one of the last lashings of that dinosaur’s tail. We’re looking at extraction of value that society can’t afford – value that could be applied to more socially and environmentally responsible purposes.

“One of the things that dogs our culture right now is that we’re living in a time when a lot of institutions are starting to fall apart. The falling apart process has both dangers and opportunities. Modernism falling apart is what will leave enough open space to go to the next level of integration.”

But isn’t a time of falling apart also a time of chaos and anarchy? Paul Ray is optimistic. “Rather than seeing it as a time of great fear and potential tragedy, we can see it as our chance to rise above our old ways and to become our best selves. If you were to take a 10,000-year perspective on humanity, we’ve come to a high point in our drama. Artistically, it’s a cliff-hanger! Will we go to the next level of integration or won’t we? It’s exciting and appealing – the chance to start building and living in the world you want.”



The Flip, by Jared Rosen and David Rippe, illuminates a clear path to a vibrant enlightened world where millions of people already live and thrive. It describes in vivid detail and real examples evidence of an upside down world in decay and a Right Side Up world of authentic beings bright with possibility.
The Flip is an owner’s manual for the twenty-first century full of insights, conversations with recognized experts, thought leaders, and visionaries, and actionable exercises and tips you can use to begin your own personal flip.

To read more about The Flip and additional interviews from other luminaries, experts and bestselling authors, please visit

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