Political and Social Creativity

Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

One of the biggest problems facing humanity is a general lack of imagination. People may object to this statement, but we are a very conservative species. People act like all of our problems are merely variations on a theme and they only consider a handful of solutions to deal with all of them. It doesn’t have to be this way. At least some people are creative. What would it take to make it more widespread?

Before getting into it, I want to mention what I don’t mean. I don’t mean innovation circles or any of that corporate/Silicon Valley crap. That’s fake creativity. The corporate world maybe the only place where conservative groupthink is worse than it is in government. So, none of that. We’re looking for genuine creativity here. I’m also not talking about artistic creativity. That kind of creativity is great, but we’re not a few murals or poems away from fixing anything.

What I do mean for political and social creativity is new ways of doing things, new ways of organizing, new goals, and new ways of measuring success. Don’t you think it’s a bit suspicious that the ancient Greeks came up with every possible form of government? How about the fact that Max Weber said everything that needs to be said about bureaucracy? And isn’t it weird that Adam Smith and Karl Marx are perfectly compatible with 21st century economies? We rely too much on the classics. We need to start looking forward.

This is where almost anyone else would start writing about incentivizing creativity. I’m not going to do that. Partly because I’m suspicious of words like incentivize, but mostly because there is already plenty of incentive for creativity. If someone could come up with a novel, truly creative, approach to cancer treatments or fixing climate change that worked, they would make billions. The problem isn’t lack of incentive.

I think the problem is what I call Flowers-Are-Red Syndrome. For those who don’t know, “Flowers Are Red” is a devastatingly sad song by Harry Chapin. It tells the story of a boy who starts school full of enthusiasm, joy, and creativity but has those things crushed out of him by his teacher who insists, “Flowers are red, young man, and green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”

Now I’m not blaming teachers. Virtually no teachers are as bad as the one in the song and it’s a lot bigger than teachers. Society, as a whole, imposes the lesson from birth that, “There’s a time for everything, young man, and a way it should be done.” “Everything” in that statement includes creativity. Everyone is taught, virtually from birth, that there is a way to be creative and a how to be creative. Instead of letting kids be creative and grow into creative adults, we try to teach them the right way to be creative. That’s why there are only a handful of fields where creativity is appreciated and why virtually all the creative types congregate there.

The only way I see to get real, genuine creativity in the political and social realms is to just let kids be creative in their own natural way. We should encourage it without trying to shape it. That way, everyone will grow up to be creative. Every politician, every bureaucrat. I know it’s a pipe dream, but it’s the only way I can think of. “There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in the flower,” and we should encourage everyone to see every one.

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