The Cultures of Affluence

The Income Explosion, mentioned in 'The Transformation, will cause most populations to collectively ascend Maslow's pyramid.  Rather than the ambient cultures reflecting an emphasis on the issues of physiological and safety needs, they will focus on matters of esteem, self-actualization, self-expression, self-improvement, transcendence, aesthetics and social justice.  In fact this is already emerging among much of the upper middle class and intellectual elites.

However, if one considers the general public discourse, the prominence of physiological and safety needs becomes obvious.  The news is full of stories about people losing their house, not having enough to eat, being unemployed or beset by environments of violence and crime.  Our political discourse is about income disparities, taxation and the dangers of terrorism.  How different will the world be if these are no longer the primary concerns, but rather the concerns revolve around people achieving their potential?

The very texture of the cultural landscape will change in fundamental ways. There will be changing spending patterns, different educational and organizational goals, different interpretations of the meaning of community.  Simply put, customers will behave differently; employees will behave differently; neighbors will behave differently; voters will behave differently; leaders of business and government will behave differently.  The emergence of the new Information Age Cultures of Affluence will leave almost nothing untouched.

By way of a cultural calculus, America appears to have a multiplicity of multidimensional clusters of morality, values, beliefs and customs.  At present, they all express themselves through the lower Maslow Levels.  As the population is safe, fed, clothed and sheltered, they all will need to undergo an Information Age reformation if they are to remain relevant.

The dialogue of the culture wars have emphasized a bipolar struggle, the 'Right vs Left', 'Liberal vs Conservative' dichotomy reinforced in America by the Democratic and Republican parties.  This is, however, an oversimplification.  The 'Right' is clearly segmented into at least three distinct groups.  They are the Christian Conservatives, the more Secular Economic Conservatives of the Tea Party and the Libertarian, Jeffersonian and Aynrandian viewpoint.

The 'Left' is even more fragmented.  There are Intellectual Progressives that are common in Academia and the higher socio-economic strata of the Northeast U.S., the Christian Liberals, the Libertine Hedonists that dominate Hollywood and the lower classes of highly urbanized populations, the Ecotopics and the Classical Marxist Collectivists.

While they do represent two spheres of common objectives, they do not constitute a coherent culture.  When the cultures assert their sovereign rights, the various cultures of the Right and Left will realize that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' will not sustain them over the long term. 

As these cultures undergo reformation, simultaneously, distinctive, quintessentially Information Age cultures, such as Polymathica will emerge.  While these cultures are nascent now, the mechanisms of the Information Age will cause them to emerge, almost simultaneously.

As the Income Explosion drives us up Maslow's hierarchy, the Internet will simultaneously accelerate a fragmentation of cultures.  Most members of Western civilization are building "cultural cocoons".  Triggered by the emergence of Internet television, this will culminate in the emergence of Boutique Homepages.  They will be portals to culturally relevant news, entertainment, social media, search engines, etc. It is true that some people will engage in cultural eclecticism and exploration.  However, the vast majority of people will surround themselves with these cocoons of culturally and ideologically comfortable people, news and entertainment. 

We see that populations are becoming more culturally distinct, cohesive and isolated.  The degree of tolerance and mutual respect between these nascent cultures is decreasing and will continue to decrease.  The level of rancor, invective and intolerance with one another becomes greater every year as demonstrated in this Pew Research report.  In this sense, we can think of nations, especially those of Western civilization, as hurtling toward a kind of cultural and political divorce.  Through the concept of a cultural calculus we can observe this fragmentation of old cultural descriptions and the coalescence of new ones. 

While the future is not completely clear on the matter, it is likely that Information Age cultures will still aggregate around the current major groupings of EuroAmerica, Oriental, Indic and Islamic populations.  There may be about twenty-five EuroAmerican cultures whose population will approximate a pareto distribution.  They will be more or less distinct from another twenty-five or so Oriental cultures, twenty-five Islamic Cultures, etc..

Given the above assumptions, the size of the EuroAmerican Cultures will be as follows:

  1.   340.0 million
  2.   272.0
  3.   217.6
  4.   174.1
  5.   139.3
  6.   111.4
  7.    89.1
  8.    71.3
  9.    57.0
  10.    45.6
  11.    36.5
  12.    29.2
  13.    23.4
  14.    18.7
  15.    15.0
  16.    12.0
  17.      9.6
  18.      7.7
  19.      6.1
  20.     4.9
  21.     3.9
  22.     3.1
  23.     2.5
  24.     2.0
  25.     1.6
It is quite possible that this distribution will exhibit a 'fat tail' with somewhat larger populations among the smaller cultures of affluence.  Polymathica will likely occupy a position between 10 and 15 with a midpoint estimate of about 25 million.  

While some Information Age cultures will undoubtedly evolve directly from existing EuroAmerican subcultures, because of the forces of the Information Age and the migration up Maslow's hierarchy, despite a clear Western heritage, they will not closely resemble current cultural perspectives.  Many, perhaps most, cultures will be entirely new Information age  interpretations of the Western cultural heritage.

As the values emphasis of culture evolve, the definition of affluence will evolve as well. Rather than being a term that describes only purchasing power, reflecting the growing emphasis on actualization and esteem, it will embrace career, educational, social and lifestyle aspects. There will emerge the concept of 'a finely crafted life' structured specifically to actualize one's unique expression of human potential.

So we have two revolutionary forces interacting in the near future.  First, increasing material affluence will be pushing populations up Maslow's pyramid and, thus, changing cultures in fundamental ways.  Second, near term technological advances will be creating culturally distinctive cocoons that will result in a final and absolute decoupling of culture and geography.  In concert, they will drive civilization rapidly toward an alien landscape - the global Information Age civilization of intertwined cultures.

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