Creativity defines human beings collectively and individually. It encompases everything from cooking recipes and personal grooming (glitter art, body art, etc.), to every scientific and artistic endeavor conceivable. From medicine and astronomy to poetry and art, creative affairs, are humanity’s mirror, and creativity is a reflection of societal values. In the absence of creativity, society merely subsists like hunter- gatherers before the Neolithic Revolution 10,000 years ago. With the advent of significant creative endeavors during the new Stone Age when tool making coincided with farming and animal husbandry in different parts of the earth, the condition of humans changed significantly.
In the early 21st century, the mainstream or institutional definition of creativity is limited to cash-value results rooted in a culture of materialism and atomism for the purpose of self aggrandizement instead of the collective good that is only an implied derivative goal. The social, political, and business elite, together with a large segment of educators and media simply assume that the cash-value definition of creativity is the only formula for success and “happiness”. Studies conducted in the last four decades prove that materialism is not a catalyst to happiness. By contrast, people engaged in creative affairs are much happier than the rest of those pursuing accumulation of wealth. Needless to say, opinion polls show that people in poverty are not happy, nor can they be as creative as those who have life’s necessities.
Throughout civilization the poor could not make creative contributions because of their struggle to survive and institutional barriers. With few exceptions, the rich have always devoted their lives to self pampering and idleness, leaving the middle groups as the core of society’s creative nucleus. From the European Renaissance in the 14th century until the Enlightenment in the 18th century, the core of the creative contributions from art to math and physics came from individuals in the middle class. This trend continued with the expansion of the middle class and its access to higher education after the American and French Revolutions.
Taking into account individual talent – creative potential - creativity is class based as a social phenomenon and a reflection of the individual’s relationship with the larger community. However, it is hardly the exclusive domain of the middle class, as some have contended. Considering that music, dance, art, etc. coming from the lower classes in all societies, and subsequently commercialized and becoming mainstream, the lower classes definitely make a contribution to mainstream culture. Nevertheless, I would agree with Montesquieu that the “commercial spirit” dictates taste and the arts, and would argue that the dominant culture and value system determined what counts as creativity.
The contemporary value system aside, creativity is of the essence for the human race to make progress but also to live a life where the individual’s creative potential is actualized. Besides the necessity of perpetuating the species, people apply creativity to understand and appreciate their environment and the cosmos, to manipulate their world and to transcend it through various endeavors. The restlessness of the human mind and its desire to find creative expression can be detected from the earliest nomads carving objects in caves, thus discovering a way to express themselves and communicate with posterity through pictography.
The very limited definition of creativity is confined to geniuses as in the case of Homer, Avicenna (or ibn Sina, 10th century Persian philosopher and physician),Su Song (11th century Chinese pharmacologist), Mozart, Darwin, Einstein, and a few thousand select others throughout history. A definition a bit broadened beyond the few geniuses in history, but still narrow encompasses original or prototype ideas expressed in anything from poetry and art to the invention of a machine to solving a problem whether in mathematics or in politics. Clearly, there is nothing creative about routine repetition of tasks, ideas or other works expressed through any means. The robotic long hours of work that Kafka describes as mind-numbing are hardly creative, while his writings constitute creative expression. On the other hand, is creativity limited to the conventional definition of what is useful and entertaining, to what is transformed from idea into some form of a tangible reality?
More significant, is creativity really limited to the rational part of the brain, or is the irrational or emotional/passionate side more at work? In Critique of Judgment I. Kant argues that there is a link between human creativity and nature. As with Plato, Kant and other philosophers recognize that the source of all creativity is the human mind, and the object merely the product of the idea. Is an idea never actualized creative, or must it be transformed into a product/service and preferably useful or entertaining so that it can earn the title of creative?
An artist may claim that she has no choice but to paint because there is a powerful innate tendency demanding to find expression and communicate with the world. This does not mean however that the object on canvas is communicating anything of broader aesthetic or social significance edifying to the community. After all, mental patients paint and engage in all kinds of creative endeavors as part of their therapy (expressive or creative arts therapy), but this does not mean that the object of their creation necessarily has significance beyond their therapy. However, that the process of creativity contributes to psychotherapy is in itself significant.
If virtue rests in self-actualization as many humanists claim, realizing one’s potential, as Aristotle argued then all humans are potentially creative and ought to be according to the classical Greek philosopher so that they may be happy. However, as we will see in this essay, there are such people we commonly call “evil genius” because they devote their creative efforts not for the good of humanity or for their personal goals without impacting others in any way, but in order to cause harm to others. Such harm through creative efforts can come through a fraudulent business/investment scheme, building a new weapon of mass destruction, etc. Therefore, virtue may rest in self actualization as Aristotle argued, but with the caveat that only as long as the means and goal is not intended to harm humanity, and preferably to benefit it.
Does the narrow definition found in dictionaries and encyclopedias reflect the varieties of creativity? Is creativity limited to unique and useful inventions such as the internet, aspirin, etc., or can it include simple arts and crafts peasants created out of necessity to survive and improve their lives? Can an individual living in a culture that does not stress creativity, like that of the Dark Ages in Europe be creative, or does the culture have to be immersed in a creative ethos as fifth century Athens, 15th century Italy, 18th century France to inspire the individual? Creativity is only bound by the existence of the species itself, otherwise there are no limits. This is indeed the magic of the human potential to create that some scholars like Walter Otto equate with the divinity in human beings.
Is the aesthetic aspect of human nature the one responsible for creativity, or do practical considerations like the will to survive compel humans to become creative out of necessity? Other than the need for aesthetic expression and novel ways to survive, there are other reasons people find to be creative. No doubt, the human mind needs stimulation for variety in life, and a need to solve problems and communicate ideas and images.
What is creativity, but the ability to unleash a new synthesis from existing models? This does not mean just mere invention of something, anything from a new machine to a new style of music, or wardrobe, but also altering an existing paradigm by viewing it from a perspective never before seen. Activating both sides (hemispheres) of the brain activates creativity brought on by the environment, DNA, and/or by tragedy or other unusual circumstances.
The Dionysian Cult and Creativity
The son of Zeus, father of deities in Mount Olympus, and Semele who was a mortal, the deity of nature Dionysus traveled the world teaching humans about wine associated with carnal pleasures. Mistaken for an animal, he was slain by his mother, but became the symbol of wine, sex, celebration of the aesthetic, and creativity arising from festivals carried out in his name.
The ancient Thracians created Dionysus and introduced him (8th century B.C.) to the people inhabiting Greece, some of the southern Balkan areas, and Asia Minor. An expression of the irrational proclivities in humans and of chaos in the world, Dionysus won worshippers who celebrated in festivals with music, dancing, tearing animals to pieces and eating them, drinking wine and drugs, and engaging in carnal pleasures of all sorts with the goal of liberating the mind of its burdens and of the routine mediocrities and allowing it to travel into the creative imagination. The Dionysian cult was introduced to Rome known as Liber (the free one) from the Greeks, and together with the equally celebrated Orphic cult (mystery religion), had a profound influence on literature, poetry, theater, and philosophy.
Celebrating human creativity and the contributions pre-Socratics made to Western Civilization, F. Nietzsche declared Dionysus the deity of creativity. Theater, poetry, literature, music, and dance allowed the human spirit to roam free (something Romans also believed) and experience a higher state of consciousness through the celebration of the eccentric rather than the norm. The intense love for life, experiencing all senses without inhibitions unleashed whatever creative potential the individual had to offer. Besides celebrating love of life, the cult of the mad deity Dionysus was also the god of chaos and destruction from where renewal sprang, given that the view of life was not linear as in the case of Christians, but cyclical like the four seasons. One of the most significant contributions was in the domain of tragedy, the goat’s song. In F. Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, Or: Hellenism and Pessimism we see a detailed philosophical analysis that tragedy was a means to make sense of life and go past pessimism through the cultivation of the creative that recognized life’s absurdity but transcended it.
The creative contributions of the Dionysian cult emanate from the realization that life lived in the “golden mean” represents dullness and simply existing until death, an ideal of the post-Socratic thinkers. Interestingly, Plato did not favor Dionysian cult, despite his claim that Socrates was a Dionysian, a point with which Nietzsche strongly disagreed. Life can be lived in the extremes by testing the limits of human nature and thus manifesting one’s creative endeavors by freeing the aesthetic rather than repressing it.
The Athenian government under the benevolent ruler Peisistratos in the 6th century B.C. tried to give the city-state a creative environment by promoting cultural activities including religious festivals, arts and letters. Celebrating the god of the irrational and human passion, but at the same time of Apollo who represented religious law, order, harmony, and beauty, the ancient Greeks recognized the complex tendencies in human nature needing expression in the transcendence religion provides as an expression of divinity that is a part of this life and not afterlife. Seeking to shake people from the mundane, the uncreative existence where absurdity reigns in pettiness and misery, Dionysus awakened them to the realities of both chaos and carnal bliss.
Ambiguity in human existence not present in the theology of monotheistic religions accounts for the unleashing of creativity. It must be stressed however, that there was in ancient Greece, as in all societies throughout history a very important link between creativity and life of leisure enjoyed by those with a certain level of material comfort. In other words, a poor peasant working the fields in Attica away from the Parthenon and Agora, no matter what talent nature endowed could not possibly cultivate it because of lack of opportunity. Most scholars today would agree that regardless of what the Dionysian cult offered, in the absence of leisure in a society, there cannot possibly be much cultural development. (see Culture, Leisure, and Creativity: Anthropological and Comparative Perspectives Garry Chick In Creativity and Leisure: An Intercultural and Cross-disciplinary Journal (CLICJ) Volume 1 Number 2 (2012)
Although Athens was by far the most liberal of all city-states, this does not mean that it was less religious (by the contemporary sense of the term) than any other, as evidenced by the incredible temples and statues dedicated to the gods. Not just the Athenians, but all pagans at the time believed that all creative endeavors are possible because of man’s ability to experience transcendence. The world cannot possibly exist in the absence of its divine character and creativity rests therein.
In Dionysus: Myth and Cult Walter Otto explains that the testimony of the creative phenomenon which is its own witness has only one meaning, namely, “that the human mind cannot become creative by itself, even under the most favorable circumstances, but that it needs to be touched and inspired by a wonderful Otherness; that the efficacy of the Otherness forms the most important part of the creative process, no matter how gifted men are thought to be.” The architect of a temple in ancient Greece was as much a part of the transcendent experience as part of his inspiration as the poet writing about the beauty of Athena’s temple. The same holds true of architects throughout the centuries, as Michael Benedikt shows in Divinity, Creativity and Complexity. Whether architecture, music, sculpture, dance, poetry or any other creative endeavor, it is a reflection of the divinity humans experience within the context of a cultural environment and in reaction as a reflection of a given environment.
Unlike Athens, Sparta, for example, was a closed society that feared non-Spartans and did not encourage creative endeavors that were the result of cultural diffusion. An open and multi-dimensional society, Athens benefited from the contributions of non-Athenians (metics) who made creative contributions in many domains, bringing to the Golden Age their influences from all around the Eastern Mediterranean world. More than any other ancient society, Athens especially in the fifth century recognized that the catalyst to its cultural achievements rested with cultural diffusion and not isolation that Sparta pursued. Athenian emphasis on cultural diffusion was the legacy left to the Romans, but it would not reemerge until the Renaissance when northern Italians and later northwest Europeans realized the benefits of contact with other cultures.
It is true that creativity may appear to come out of the blue, especially when one child plays Mozart pieces flawlessly at the age of twelve and another of the same age enters college on a math scholarship. Setting aside the very small category of such prodigies, the creative endeavors of the rest of the population take many months, and actually years of hard work to achieve the desired goal. However, in both the small percentage of prodigies and the larger creative group, nothing can take place if there is no government and institutional reception to creativity.
Dominant Culture and Creativity
From classical Persian and Athenian to classical Chinese and Indian civilizations have thrived, only to eventually decline and collapse in eras of 'dark ages'. This is not because people became less intelligent, but because governments followed policies that accounted for the decline and fall of civilizations, thus sinking the entire population into darkness - regression after periods of immense accomplishments.
Because the concept of creativity has changed throughout history with every society, we need to quickly see some highlights of definitions and the role of the state in the process which remains a constant. Plato correctly argues that there is a difference between imitating, and making (creating). Although Greeks placed great value in poetry, they also appreciated sculptors, writers of tragedy and comedy, architects, musicians, and even weapons. A lame deity of metal works and weapons maker, Hephaestus is deemed as one of the most creative gods. This is an indication thatAthenian culture did not demean artisans, and the lame deity is ample proof that physical imperfections are not an impediment to creativity in an open society like Athens.
On the other hand, Athenians did not value the creative contributions of artisans as much as Egyptians, but much more so than any other city-state. One feature of the arts common among most ancient societies from the Eastern Mediterranean to East Asia, rules were to be followed, and there was a clear separation between arts (creative innovation) and crafts (imitation of the original), a concern that remained true even among Christians in the Byzantium and the Barbarian West. It is not until the Renaissance that the concept of freedom if linked to creativity and experimentation begins largely owing to cultural influences from the Arabs, Byzantium (Greeks), and from the Orient.
All species, including little ants, are endowed with a modicum of creativity as part of a built-in survival code, and no doubt the genius of Amadeus Mozart, Leonardo Da Vinci Newton, etc. cannot be questioned. However, the family environment and the broader environment in society are essential to the cultivation of creativity. The idea that the environment shapes the human mind and behavior is as old as the 17th century, crystallizing by the Age of Reason when thinkers believed very strongly that the environment providing opportunities, support and cooperation shapes the individual, thus institutional change can bring about change in the individual.
This thinking discovered by the West during the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment was evident in China as far back as the fifth century B.C. when Confucius emphasized a culture of creativity in a collectivist setting. Developing a culture of creativity in the Orient also entailed a much higher level of failure tolerance than many Western societies would permit, owing largely to the emphasis on individualism and ego rooted in success. One reason for China’s rich history of creative endeavors from which the rest of the world benefited is the cultural emphasis and value system rooted in creativity in a collectivist environment.
Are institutional pressures a motivator or a hindrance in creative endeavors? As a historian who takes the 'long view', I believe that in times of societal crises, like the Black Death, the French Revolution followed by the Napoleonic Wars, WWI, Bolshevik Revolution, Great Depression, WWII, Third World de-colonization movements, all tragedies in many respects unleashed enormous creative energies manifested in art, literature, music and other areas. It is no accident that one of the most creative eras in human history was the Renaissance that coincided with the Black Death.
The Crusades that brought Europeans closer to Arab and Byzantine civilizations, eventually to China after the voyages of Marco Polo that open the Orient’s creative gates to northern Italy and from there to the rest of Europe. The contact with Oriental and Middle Eastern civilizations are the end of European isolation and the beginning of cultural, scientific, commercial, intellectual, and industrial revolutions that propelled Europe to a hegemonic global role. Behind all of this were waves of creativity from different civilizations that inspired Europeans.
The culture of an epoch profoundly influences individuals toward creative endeavors or toward nihilism, pessimism and mere survival. Despite the vast availability of technology today, it cannot be argued that people are more intelligent because of it. In some respects technology actually inhibits creativity, as the individual is not forced to think and create for her/him self, allowing the machine to carry out the process. Machines facilitate in the process of creativity, but it also creates a distance between the creator and the object to be created. This does not mean that creativity necessarily hinders creativity, but for the general user they are a substitute for the human brain.
Government and Creativity
Governments support and usually reward inventions and celebrate their achievements if they serve a political, ideological, economic, military or socio-cultural goal within the institutional framework. The institutional route through which government promotes creativity is education, research and development for scientific and cultural programs, and other social venues, religious and secular. Because government is the instrument of the dominant socioeconomic class, efforts toward creative endeavors are geared to further the interests of that class. Even the open-minded Athenians would never do anything to promote any group below the middle classes of the fifth century (slaves, peasants and workers), any more than European Kings in the 18th century would propose policy to promote culture among slaves in the colonies, peasants, and workers. At the very least, the best governments can do is not to hinder the creative efforts of those in society not belonging to the elites.
However, there have been cases of governments punishing creative people, in some cases by death. Roman Emperors punished inventors of labor saving devices because the empire had so many surplus slaves posing a potential threat to social and economic stability as far as the nobility was concerned. In Barbarian Europe where lords and bishops enjoyed powers over the community, there was no emphasis on creativity, and we have few examples of such owing to the culture of otherworldliness that mainly kept the nobility and upper clergy liberally enjoying the fruits of this world. Some could draw parallels with modern day inventions that would reduce air pollution, if it were not for both government and business pressures against such devices known for decades but not utilized because they would cut into corporate profits.
Presumably, education is the catalyst to creativity and a benevolent government is supposed to support education with the goal of helping all people actualize their potential for the welfare of society. But does formal education contribute or hinder creativity? It all depends, but for the most part creativity is only an incidental symptom of formal education and not the ultimate goal. I believe that not allowing school to get in the way of one's education (a quote attributed to Mark TWAIN but in reality offered by novelist Grant Allen) may be useful to all who believe that formal education teaches creativity, instead of institutional conformity intended to prepare the pupil for the marketplace.
Christendom in Medieval Europe prevented it from making much progress in comparison with the Eastern Christian world of Byzantium, the Arabs that flourished during the years that Europeans had sunk into darkness, as well as the Chinese, Indians, and Persians. Church and state, feudal lord and bishop wanted a docile, obedient population that never questioned the social order and his/her place in society, but merely lived for eternal bliss in the afterlife.
Even if one wanted to express creative endeavors within the dominant culture, the ideological, religious dogmatic conditions placed severe limitations because the world view was one based on the good and evil dichotomy, and creativity dealing with anything of this world, anything from medical science to astronomy ran counter to church authority’s views. Unlike the pagans who had a multidimensional view of human nature, good, evil, and a great deal more, Medieval Christians were held back by the simple dogmatic concept of absolutes rooted in the division of the world into good and evil, and that defined as the lords spiritual and lords temporal dictated. If the dominant culture has convinced the individual that God meant for him/her to be an obedient serf, blacksmith, tavern owner or undertaker, and to obey the church because the rewards for my docile life will be Paradise after death, then why bother with creativity in this life?
Creativity and “Cash-value culture”Modern free market society values anything that yields a profits, anything that makes money, no matter what anyone say about a family-owned bookstore with a backroom for green tea and bran muffins. US government and private researchers backed by businesses in the 1990s and the early 2000s propagated the concept of the “creative class” that would be the engine of the post-industrial revolution “new economy” of cell phones, video games and computers. This narrowly defined cash-value “creative class” refers to corporate executives, computer engineers and programmers, social media, video game wizards, and other high tech types linked to the “new economy”. The “creative class” was a dream because the meltdown of the high tech bubble and the deep recession that followed in 2008 proved that the cash-value definition of “creativity” had no legs on which to stand.
While I do not want to suggest that contemporary cash-value culture is anything like that of Medieval Europe, there is something seriously disturbing with the values of a society when Madonna, Oprah, and Jerry Seinfeld are deemed among the top creative people of the century, individuals whose contributions to creativity are limited to pop music, talk-TV for soccer moms, and one-liners in standup comedy. “Trendy creativity” ought to apply to music and kitchen cabinets; meritorious within their boundaries, but anything broader must be questioned.
Regardless of whether ”cash-value” of creativity pertains to popular entertainment, the high tech sector, a new business model of an investment firm in Tokyo, or an English novel about warlocks and wizards made into motion pictures and t-shirts, the goal is never the edification of the human spirit and the broader good of society as a whole, nor is it the creative process as a manifestation of the human mind. One dimension of creativity as healing arts may not be Euclid’s geometry or Einstein’s theory of relativity, but it does offer hope for those engaged in the process, and therein is its justification.
If the goal is profit as the single determining criterion for creativity it does not mean that the process and product lacks in creative merit. On the contrary, the goal of pharmaceutical companies is to discover new drugs to cure diseases so they can make lots of money, and often they succeed, thus benefiting society, at a price of course. The problem rests when the goal of cash and creativity are on a collision course, and when the cash-value goal marginalizes everything that does not have the potential for top dollar.
The phenomenon we encounter in the private sector is also evident in colleges and universities where curriculum reflects the cash-value system instead of creativity-oriented goal. For example, the arts and humanities rank very low in value in every respect, while business ranks the highest. This is not only reflected in how college administration treats business vs. the arts, but in grants and the pay scales of MBA faculty earning up to six times more than someone teaching philosophy or poetry, fields marginalized by what the dominant cash-value culture deems “creative” .
Two years before the US economy began to go into the deepest recession since the 1930s, there was an international conference in Rio de Janeiro (November 2006) with the theme of “culture and creativity economy and its contribution to sustainable development”. At this conference in Brazil, the emphasis was on marketing what they labeled as “the new creativity-based economic sector, barely defined as yet, includes handicrafts, artistic output of all kinds, and new technologies such as computer software. Culture, therefore, plays a key role in its expansion.”The essential point here was that all emphasis was on how to market creativity and culture and convert it into a cash-value commodity no different than crude oil.
Even the concept of cultural diffusion that scholars use to explain how societies develop and evolve, why they have peaks and valleys in their creative domain, has been coopted by business/academia and economists to see how they can make more money. If cultural diffusion is how a multinational corporation can take the traditional wearing apparel styles from across the globe, or how a giant music corporation is able to coopt the dance and music from inner city slums, then the commercial value of cultural diffusion is the only thing that matters and not creativity at its source.
One could argue that there is not much difference between the contemporary multinational corporation bringing goods and services across the globe and homogenizing culture, on the one hand, and the famous Silk Road that was a catalyst to cultural diffusion and creativity, on the other. For 2000 years the Silk Road transferred not just goods, but ides from one continent to the other, benefiting those on the receiving end. Why can we not look upon globalization today as the new Silk Road crossing the globe and spreading creativity?
Let us distinguish, as I tried to indicate before, between commercial creativity, which does indeed fall into the domain of "shallow and abyss of nothingness", and cultural creativity where relativism enters into the picture. For example, a cultural anthropologist would have the scientific training to appreciate arts and crafts of a tribe in central Asia, and not fall into the trap of dismissing it as superficial because the criteria is based on a "Western model of creativity" I want to caution readers here to be very careful about the dangers of looking at creativity in historical and anthropological terms free of a Western-centered prism, something that a critic from the non-Western World would argue is prejudiced if not guilty of cultural imperialism.
Creativity and DestructionFrom the early empires of Mesopotamia until the early 21st century, human beings have demonstrated the ability to invent everything from cures to diseases to inspiring music. At the same time, however, humans have also demonstrated the capacity for creating ways to destroy on a massive scale, even holding the potential to destroy earth several times over with thermonuclear weapons. Destruction does not have to come in the form of weapons but in social injustice.
Besides the cut and cry cases of creativity applied toward destruction, there are more ambiguous cases of creative projects where the process was itself destructive. This was certainly with the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China where people died for their construction that we rightly consider creative and grand. The same holds true for any large scale creative projects from ancient to modern times. Because the goal was the creative project and fatalities were only the consequences, even if the designers knew of the calculated risks, one can argue that there is no moral responsibility. On the other hand, torture devices as well as medications tested on humans knowing they would suffer or die does raise very unambiguous moral issues. If society values the creative project so much that it is willing to accept sacrifices in the process, then that is a reflection of society.
Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller were colleagues working on the Manhattan Project. Both very creative in their field, the former was the “father of the atomic bomb” and the latter the “father of the hydrogen bomb”. The value system and ethics of the individual would determine if the creative genius of these two people contributed to the edification of mankind, or simply added to its fear and terror of living with the prospect of thermonuclear war someday.
The genius of both in theoretical, nuclear, and molecular physics is widely recognized and undisputed by any criteria. Both men changed the world in the mid-20th century with their creative contributions. Only Oppenheimer paused to reflect on the nature of his creative contribution to the world. Quoting from the Hindu scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita, he said: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." The nuclear physicist was able to separate himself from his creative project and reevaluate what exactly was the contribution to humanity by the atom bomb.
By contrast, Teller believed in techno fixes to political and military problems, without taking into account the human cost, as though society were populated by robots. Teller remained unapologetic and became one of the arch defenders of the military industrial complex, the arms race, and military solutions to political problems. Betraying his colleague Oppenheimer during security hearings that were in essence a witch hunt against anyone questioning the wisdom of nuclear weapons and the race just unleashed was the least of Teller’s contributions to the early Cold War and the escalating arms race that Oppenheimer opposed. After the Red scare of 1954, the ostracized Oppenheimer devoted his time to lecturing and writing, while Teller became an even bigger influence in government, so much so that Kubrick’s motion picture Dr. Strangelove was inspired by Teller’s mad and destructive genius. The madness of Teller’s destructive genius found political support among warmonger politicians in Washington of both political parties, and in the 1980s Teller made a return to the scene.
Unrepentant about the use of thermonucclear weapons, Teller strongly believed that all of society’s problems merited technological solutions. This obsession extended to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that was extremely costly, destabilizing in the arms race, and reckless as far as the US rivals as well as allies were concerned. However, the neoconservative militarist culture of the 1980s regarded Teller as a genius whose creativity strengthened Pax Americana, though at a huge cost. The teller phenomenon reveals the obsession of people with human will manipulating the natural world through science and technology to secure a given result as part of social engineering. This is clearly a case of creativity but with the ultimate goal of harming rather than benefiting humanity, destroying rather than building.
The pursuit of wealth and power because of love for them can be strong motives for creativity, but if the end result is counter to the best interest of the people, then creativity is destructive. Ironically, the state that must protect its citizens from such destructive creativity is often the driving force behind it, as in the Edward Teller case. The convergence of Teller’s domination values and those of the state made Teller’s creative projects (hydrogen bomb) meritorious. However, the domain of business presents even greater dangers on a daily basis than Teller’s hydrogen bomb and SDI program. The question of scientific creativity and morality rooted in human welfare rather than destruction are inseparable. Contrary to the popular and political myth that science is neutral, nothing could be farther from the truth. While a groups of scientists may be very creative with biological warfare research, the ethics of their endeavors must always be above their enthusiasm for their creativity. The same ethical principles that pertain to science also hold true for business and economics.
The nature of economic/financial destruction is far more common in people’s lives than war. Economic and social inequality account for a daily dose of destruction on billions of people around the world and the very few people responsible for the plight of the many are deemed creative because they amass wealth. There are of course the creative geniuses bent on making money on the misery of the many through illegal means. For example, New York prosecutors recently charged an MIT Dean and his son of using a complex and innovative math model to scam defrauding investors of $500 million. This example is nothing in comparison to the hundreds of billions amassed by banks and corporations through legal means and the legally approved method of appropriation – stealing legally from the many to benefit the few.
Government policies, as well as businesses have the capacity to destroy the lives of people and have proved capable for as long as civilization has existed, something often carried out with as much human creative as can possibly imagine. When governments including bankrupt Greece paid millions to Goldman Sachs to covert, on paper of course, debt into surplus that can be considered creative accounting for the benefit of very few that eventually ruined a country. The nature of creativity extends to numerous products under hedge fund management that provide huge profits for very few but ruin national economies, as was the case in Argentina, among other debtor nations.
In conducting research for this article, I was not surprised that commercial media articles define and analyze creativity within the very narrow range of the socioeconomic and political structure, and always following a current trend, such as social media and the accompanying technology of the early 21st century, for example. l was a bit more surprised that even college courses offer courses on creativity but they do not differ in their theme from the mainstream definition, although they do a much better job at analyzing creativity from a sociological/anthropological perspective and they do take into account what psychologists and philosophers have to say. It is evident that society defines the norm and the entire institutional structure follows blindly, which is exactly what creativity is not.
In May 2012, the Council of the European Union drafted a proposal intended to foster creative and innovative youth amid very high unemployment across Europe. The problem the EU tried to solve was youth unemployment amid the global financial and economic crisis, relying on what it called “creative and innovative” market-oriented solution that would integrate young people into the mainstream. In short, this institutional definition of creativity is exactly what prevails, and it is what high school and colleges respond to because grants follow the established trends. There are several problems here. First and most significant, can creativity and innovation assume a top-down dictated for a cash-value goal? Second, is creativity possible when there are prescribed perimeters? 3. Can the institutional structure solve the problem it created in the first place, given the priorities and goals of the institution?
Can humans in contemporary civilized society make any discoveries outside the institutional confines that both reward and limit creativity, mostly geared for the consuption and benefit of elites in any case? Is it not true that most people identify discovery with a 'cash-value' mindset and not independently from it? If there is an incentive to discover a new video game, a new cancer drug, a 'creative' way of trading securities to maximize profits, etc., people will be operating within that framework. On the other hand, creativity is as infinite as the universe, but if they are overcome with fear of "absolute freedom", as Jean-Paul Sartre has argued, they will not realize their creative potential.
Jean-Paul Sartre may have been right in part that one motive of artistic creation is the creator’s need to feel as a subject and not an object, essential transcending time and space through the creation communicated with the world. The relationship between the creator and the world is what matters. Human beings enjoying freedom of choice entails that the individual engages in self-creation, thus in this manner chooses or not to be creative. This is a rejection of the determinist view and despite the Existentialist philosopher’s leftist commitment, the view is very much in line with mainstream bourgeois thought that Sartre represented in his philosophy.
A product of a bourgeois society highly structured with ideological foundations in the rationalism of the Enlightenment and Christianity that Sartre rejected, Sartre was a witness to the horrors of the Second World War and the destructive creativity it unleashed against humanity. Sartre like the rest of us lived in a highly structured society and not before civilization, not in the state of nature in collectivist communal or nomadic settings. In the early 21st century, we are confronting a world where destruction matters more than harmonious coexistence, amassing wealth beyond any capacity to spend it matters far more than social justice; power and greed at the core of the value system that penetrates the creative imagination of the youth.
Can there be hope for humankind to reach all of its potential when its freedom, thus its creative potential is hampered by institutional confines geared toward atomism and materialism at the expense of the rest of humanity? In the existing world of our timews that are better than those of Sartre in the 1930s and 1940s, the best we can hope is for a benevolent political regime and institutional structure that has the fewest obstacles to creativity, with the greatest rewards for those whose contributions yield the most benefits (intellectual, material, aesthetic, medical, etc.) to as many human beings as possible.