In Bowling for Columbine, Marilyn Manson observed that america’s economy is driven by fear. Fear promotes consumerism and consumerism drives continued wealth. Advertising targets people’s weaknesses rather than their strength. Often it’s “If you buy this thing–yes, this one, right here!–these good things will follow…” This leads to the impression that non-ownership will mean an absence of those other good things. Yet often the thing is bought and never used to its full potential. Sometimes it’s not used at all or used for an evil purpose. Surely any good outcome is outweighed by this? Not necessarily…
The old saw says that necessity is the mother of invention, which would seem to make the observation about fear no more than an axiom. If only a need can drive an act of creation, then fear may be the only way to bring out the muse. Struggle, strive, build, create; overcome the obstacles. But in life there are no absolutes. Creative work is more truly borne of desire and love. A warmth of being alive and in the moment. A feeling of being outside time which comes with that warmth. An empathic connection and joy in being with fellow humans can be just as motivating as fear and the desire to control.
Lately I realise that as we get old we are inclined to take fewer risks. Risk, nevertheless, is absolutely necessary for growth, I believe. It’s an extrapolation of Piaget’s cognitive disonnance theory–if our perception of the world differs far enough from our internal model of reality then we have disonnance and we must somehow reconcile the mismatch. This is the way learning takes place. Risk is a way of forcing our perception beyond our safe, predictable inner world and to make the self-changing leap between internal and external. Risk also pumps the system with adrenaline and boosts our metabolism into an accelerated state.
What form does the muse take then? Is the muse fear? Or love? Or risk? Or do risk, fear and love encourage the muse to dance and sing, to inspire us? Face the fear, run the risk and feel inspired enough to become confident about embracing the love.
Fear, anger, lust, envy and greed will produce numerous goods and services, clearly. The evidence is all around us. Some of these things will even be good, useful and maybe even beautiful. Keep producing stuff and some of it is bound to be quality. It’s the infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters syndrome–“To be or not to bibbleix ;yayaya.” Not every monkey is the Bard. To paraphrase David Sedaris observed, giving everyone a computer results in a lot of writers but that doesn’t mean any of them are worth reading.
Love, desire and caring may not produce as much as the fear-driven, guilt-driven, control-freak economy but the end result could be a happier, more fulfilled world. Isn’t it better for all us monkeys to be happy instead of sifting around for that fleck of gold in the barnfull of straw? Maybe. But striving is not necessarily a bad thing and don’t forget the learning which comes from risk-taking. Whenever one monkey comes up with a gold fleck, it’s a reason to celebrate. And that desire to celebrate the triumph of quality over quantity while constantly learning is the true wellspring of creative hope. Which makes me happy.