A Multi-Part Diatribe against Creativity and Bad Journalism
Preface. Press “J” to skip.
I’m going to go ahead and warn you that this just might be the most rambling, nonsensical thing you’ve ever read and I apologize because it may very well take up your entire dashboard and the mere act of having to scroll through it to skip it will be so dreadfully annoying that you’ll want me dead for interfering with your dashboard feed that you have spent many, many late nights crafting into your own personal art and/or cat collection.
If you weren’t already aware of this option, I highly recommend hitting “j” on your keyboard. If you’re reading this on your smartphone… I’m sorry. Also Danny, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry; I said I would send this to you to ask you to look over and review it first, but it’s 3 in the morning and I’ve been hit by a desire to get this out and off my mind. (4 am edit: Hopefully as it is 4:18 am now as I click “post,” no one will even see it and no one will be bothered.)
I. Why I decided to write this at 3 in the morning.
Well, that’s actually kind of a lie. I wrote a lot of this a while ago. By hand, mind you, because I was so bored at work and so mad at this article I came across online. Those of you on facebook and other delightful forms of communal thought-puking may have seen an article recently being shared from Fast Company called, “10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People,” particularly if you have a lot of “creative” friends. Hell, maybe you shared it yourself (damn you). Maybe none of you have even seen or heard of this article, in which case I’m duly wasting your time. If you haven’t looked it up yet, don’t look it up. It’s not worth your time. You won’t have any idea what I’m talking about, but that’s fine, because I recommend you stop listening anyway. If you are aware of it, I’m too much of a pacifist (read: spineless coward) to offend said “creative friends,” so I am taking to tumblr to rant about why this article is utter horse shit and why people need to stop calling themselves and/or other people “creative.”
II. This part is about bad journalism. If that doesn’t interest you, just stop reading now.
This Faisal Hoque, the writer, fancies himself a creative person. And he apparently spends a lot of this creativity thinking about himself; what to define himself, this creative person he finds so interesting (Seriously, he just straight up says he frequently thinks about himself in his article while simultaneously plugging another article he wrote on self-improvement). To learn more about himself, he began reading the works of a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He brings up these ten points Csikszentmihalyi makes to discover ten apparently “paradoxical” characteristics of creative people.
This is plain old bad journalism and it is exactly this kind of bad journalism that is killing good journalism. First, this oversimplified list-based crap you see everywhere nowadays, on Buzzfeed, Huffpo, Vice, it’s all shit (except you, Cracked, I will always love you), but that’s a wholly separate bone I’ll have to pick another time. On top of that those traits he points out aren’t traits at all. They’re universal statements. In fact, that type of “paradoxical analysis” is a technique used by fortune-tellers to make them seem prescient, called a “rainbow ruse.”
For example, the idea that someone is both “introverted and extroverted” is inherent to the human condition. It’s undeniable. We have complex emotional constructs and will, in varying situations, find ourselves running from very outgoing to reserved and contemplative all the time. It has nothing to do with what kind of person one is. It would be like predicting, “You will lead a happy life, albeit with difficulties along the way.” Yes. I will. Everyone will, except perhaps a minority who will “lead a difficult life, albeit with happiness along the way” (Sorry, Danny, stole your genius inverted line).
The really fucked part about all this is that it isn’t just bad journalism. It’s bad psychology. Since Hoque cited Csikszentmihalyi, that means a noted, published psychologist with a job at a university and everything basically is resorting to parlor tricks to publish his papers. I haven’t read Csikszentmihalyi’s original essay, so I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping Hoque misquoted the guy, or I’ll lose faith in the whole field of psychology and start wondering if Doctors (the ones who know how to cut you open) were right in calling it bullshit.
III. Creativity, geniuses, and why we are so fucking insecure.
The notion of “creative” is a complete farce. It is used by certain people to label themselves as somehow more significant contributors to the development of society and culture than their “less creative” peers. By doing so, they feed to the entirely incorrect notion that fields of human exploration and innovation are seeded and grown by a select, predetermined few.
This isn’t the reality. Every innovation and creative endeavor exists only as a result of all that came before it and with it. There is no novelty—only iteration and evolution.
This means that Innovation and creation are mass efforts. Progress and cultural growth are wholly dependent on the collective contributions of humanity, and each and every member of our species is capable of being a part of it. Yes, there are individuals who are in positions of greater influence than others, but this has nothing to do with their capacity for creativity. It isn’t some divinely inspired, light-bulb idea of an especially “creative” individual. Everyone can do that. It is sheer labor that seethes through gritted teeth. It is a dedication to rigor and craft in every step of the way. And most of all, it is luck.
But we love the genius story—the breakthrough. It always seems so effortless. Accessible. But in our obsession for the genius creative, we have come to reward ideas before products; the clever before the passionate. At the level of the individual psyche, we are being made to believe that only a predetermined few, the geniuses, are capable of innovation. We have made ourselves a generation that reeks of insecurity. Too many times I have heard people say they decided to give up on a job or major because they weren’t creative or smart enough. That depresses me beyond belief—so much missed opportunity to live as we should. We have given up before the fight has even begun because we failed a criterion that doesn’t exist.
The odd thing is, maybe this makes Hoque correct. The points he makes are universal to the human condition because creativity is universal to the human condition. Everything you do, everything you say, everything you choose has an impact on your environment and is therefore an act of creation. There is no one who holds a greater ability to create, and therefore, no one who can undermine another’s right to do so. It is a universal right, and it is simply up to you to exercise it. So please, stop labeling people as creative or not creative; smart or not smart. Especially yourself.
Thanks for reading. And sorry, if you really did.
Sources and Related Readings: “The Ecstasy of Influence: Plagiarism” by Jonathan Lethem, “Real Psychics: Criminal Profiling and the F.B.I.” by Malcolm Gladwell, “10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People,” by Faisal Hoque. (Yeah, I’m that serious about this.)
Have the thought that Earth is the only place you'll probably ever live on crossed your mind? Although there are many places on the Earth i have yet to explore or experience, it sometimes seems surreal when i realized that it is inevitable for me and billions of others to live and die here. oh my god. This is just a 2 a.m self aware sort of question.
Your question brings to mind Carl Sagan’s words from “A Pale Blue Dot.” Also, Malcolm Gladwell has in one of his books an old Yiddish quote, “To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.”
Yes, we will almost all invariably live and die on Earth, our little blue dot, our dollop of horseradish hurtling through the cosmos at an unimaginable speed. It’s supposed to be humbling, but to me it’s really quite saddening, because it highlights the unfortunate and frustrating truth that there are certain things that you will come to know about but will never be able to experience or understand no matter what you do. They are simply beyond your potentials and possibilities. Human interstellar travel is but one such thing.
What keeps me from being completely depressed about this is the fact that the earth is still pretty damn incredible, and even just the fraction of this incredible planet that I will be able to experience in one lifetime is also quite spectacular.