Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Considering Cultural Trends I

Originally posted on January 2, 2011

Reading Jeremy Rifkin’s excellent and recommended recently published book, The Empathic Civilization, makes an erudite and extensive case for the emergence of a more complex type of consciousness. Recommended! But what occurred to me is that not only is he right, but that also history has been moving towards the emergence of other cultural and psycho-social trends:

First, I think we might characterize our civilization as creative, and becoming more so. For the most part, the culture has still been living in a world that is oriented to the sustaining of the beliefs of authorities, but the rate of acceleration of change has made this increasingly obsolete and the ethos of much wider range of creativity is becoming more mainline.

In the past, creativity was something reserved for the elite, for artists, inventors, musical composers, the rare “genius,” but now creativity is quickly being recognized as the heritage of everyone. There’s a corresponding need in business and technology to promote innovation. Societies for exploring creativity and the number of books that include this word are proliferating. Describing this trend could also a thick book. Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Brain is another resource in this direction.

Another trend is the emergence of introspection, questioning and revising one’s own beliefs as a kind of not just self-therapy, but also keeping up-to-date as a manager or other person adapting to a changing world. While hardly mainline, the process of what I call “psychological-ization” is gradually penetrating the culture. In a sense, the capacity to look at one’s own thinking—“meta-cognition,”—is a basis for creativity.

It’s also subversive: Creativity and introspective psychology begins to critique not just personal assumptions, but also cultural assumptions. Dynamic psychology in this sense calls into question values and “common sense” norms that in light of changing circumstances or raising consciousness must be reevaluated.  This kind of psychology reflects the best of what the Freudian revolution has offered.

One more element related to empathy, psychology, and creativity needs to be noted: Playfulness was also devalued because it was seen as the opposite of seriousness and work. This was somewhat true during the industrial revolution, when humans were asked to function as machines. In an era when people are seeking more innovation and creativity, what’s needed is mental flexibility and the capacity to think outside the box. Playfulness becomes a mode of work that is exploratory and yet generates the circumstances in which experimentation and failure is protected.

That’s what a laboratory does, if you think about it: It allows you to experiment, improvise, fool around, play with your possibilities. There’s  bit of discipline, method, and safety added, so that when—not if, but when!—you make mistakes, you can catch them and analyze them. Based on a hypothesis of what went wrong or right, you may be able to better refine your creative explorations.

We’ll talk about other trends in the next few days, and I’m open to suggestions.

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