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Human beings will be happier - not when they cure cancer or get to Mars or eliminate racial prejudice or flush Lake Erie but when they find ways to inhabit primitive communities again. That's my utopia.
~Kurt Vonnegut
Friday, September 16, 2005

What if?

In The Death of Imagination and Debate, Ted Mitchell asks, "What is it within us that causes this right/left dichotomy? Let us consider only the social aspects for the moment and leave out economics."

We clearly differ in our comfort level with uncertainty. For example, in medicine, pretty much everything is a grey area. In engineering, things tend to be more black and white.

But the comfort level for uncertainty is only one part of the issue and does not explain the degree of social polarization. One level deeper leads us to the topic of imagination. The reason that people "see" in black and white or grey has to do primarily with how much imagination we exercise in problem solving. Perhaps the key is one more refinement beyond imagination, that part of it which applies to people, which you could call empathy.

On the right, we have far too little imagination and empathy for someone in different circumstances than one's own. Those on the social left interpret this as selfish and evil, but it is quite possibly the unconscious result of simply not being able to do the requisite mental and emotional gymnastics - not being able to walk a mile in another's shoes.

On the left, exercising too much imagination can result in losing sight of reality in a paralysing picture of "what-ifs". The social right gets frustrated by perceived indecision and lack of focus for the issue at hand.

I found it interesting that he first broke the social aspects into different occupations. I was thinking yesterday of my tendency to picture what-if's. I like to play with ideas and to be able make any type of progress, one has to accept risks, and uncertainty. I suppose I never quite saw engineering as a rigid black and white field but after reading what he's written I can see it. Engineering culture tends to be top-down and is often focused around rigid manufacturing rules and policies. Could that be why we are lacking in innovation?

In Our best route to prosperity and social harmony , Jay Walljasper examines Richard Florida's (The Flight of the Creative Class) ideas. Florida's recommendations are below:

* Tap the creative abilities of everyone
Florida counsels that people in every sector of the economy should be offered chances to use their creativity in their jobs, and that savvy leaders will understand their next million-dollar idea may come from the clean-up crew rather than the marketing department. Upgrades in working conditions and pay, however, will be necessary in most organizations to bring out the staff’s creativity.

* Invest in creative infrastructure
Creativity doesn’t just sprout from barren ground. It depends on regular fertilization in the form of generous spending on basic research, technological innovation, higher education, arts and culture.

* Educate for the creative age
Too many schools today are training students for yesterday’s jobs. Stimulating creativity in a broad range of subjects needs to be at the core of every kid’s education.

* Nurture creative cities
The Internet, it was predicted, would be the death knell of cities. With everyone online, we would no longer need to congregate in these crowded relics of the industrial age. But cities are actually more important than ever as incubators of creativity because they offer opportunities for spontaneous face-to-face contact and older districts where warehouses and offices can be rented for cheap. Florida suggests the next wave of the creative revolution might sweep into many older cities that have been bypassed so far.

* Create open and secure societies
Places that welcome new and different people also welcome new and innovative ideas. Florida points to Canada’s concept of a mosaic society, where immigrants keep their own identity while actively participating in the nation’s economy and culture, as a promising model for the future.

It all makes perfect sense to me, but to someone accustomed to working in a rigid manufacturing environment who has no input, whose ideas would never be listened to, and is someone probably quite innovative in their own lifeskills simply by necessity, Florida's scenario may seem like the impossible dream. I guess it could be perceived as delegating responsibility and development to the people who are actually doing the job. What a disincentive to do a job well, eh? Almost like providing education to those who can't afford it, or like sharing the wealth through higher taxes for corporations, we just don't do that here. Bad business.

People may say that we lack feeling, that we give no response, but what they are really saying is that we do not get emotionally involved, which is what they want us to become.

We always have, if we are aware of it, the option of standing back and going into the silent emptiness of our true nature. If we don’t take this option, then we get swallowed up by the world and all the meaningless activity, and thus miss the plot entirely.

We are also in danger of becoming prisoners in the Great American Lockdown
what happens when trucking companies go belly up from gas prices, when truckers can no longer afford fuel, and when their axles break because interstates are in dis-repair as a result of the prices or shortages of the petroleum needed to build roads? What happens when the housing bubble bursts, when massive unemployment engulfs the nation, and when hundreds of thousands or millions of people must walk away from their mortgaged homes? Add to this, the likely crashing of the U.S. dollar and the certainty of more natural disasters. Anarchy may not even approach the description of such a scenario. Enter FEMA’s mandate and machinery, thanks to Blackwater, to maintain order.

What if? What if....all we need to do is to refuse to recognize their power over us -- no, to recognize that they have no power over us.?

The day I recognised that my parents had no power over me, was the day I began to imagine 'what-if's, it was the day I accepted that uncertainty had one up on rigidity. I was no longer in Lockdown. I echo, let the avalanche come!
There is no superpower, the power is the people, imagination, not complicity is where freedom lives.
posted by Cyndy | link | | |


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