The Individual Revoluton Through Creativity Philosophy
We see the world from a unique angle: the angle of power, an angle determined by the forces of capitalism. The economic and social structure and the whole environment in which we have been brought up is akin to an organised religion formed around the norms of the capitalist system. These norms alienate people from their own selves, separate themselves from their true desires and prevent the realization of the human being in total freedom. What is required is a form of anti-conditioning.
According to Krishna Murti in his text Total Freedom, (1955) our minds are conditioned by the norms of a system - society, culture, religion, modern education. They have been imposed on humans throughout history. But at the same time, our mind is conditioned by our experiences and relationships within the society that has accepted these norms. To explain in another way, we have information, data in our minds, in our conscious and our subconscious, and we act and think according to this data and conditioning and by hence any response is inadequate. We need to eliminate this data because as long as our mind is conditioned revolution remains within the pattern of that conditioning and it will never be a fundamental one. I believe that a revolution in the mind of each individual is essential for the reconstruction of the world, for a total change. Crisis, poverty, warâ€¦we have clear challenges to face as humanity and we need to respond adequately, completely and totally to them. We need to free ourselves from conditionings, we need individual revolution, a process that entails understanding the process of our own thinking, returning to our true selves, that self from which we are so profoundly alienated from. This is the way to reach total freedom.
I believe that a revolution in the mind of each individual is essential for the reconstruction of the world. I will explain through this essay the importance of this individual revolution as a necessary condition for changing the world. I will show how such a process can take place, eliminating conditioning and how it has an intrinsic relationship with the concept of creativity.
"The possibilities in this world, in these times, seems dismal and dull. The pessimist is right. Things can't go on as they are. The optimistic are also right. Another world is possible. The means are at our disposal. Our species being is a builder of worlds" (Karl Marx from "TBS" p.1)
The relationship between revolution and creativity is a fascinating one. Delving into history, I became interested in the Letterist and Situationist Internationals, both artistic movements which emerged from the historical ambiguities of post-war Europe. Following Marx's imperative that philosophers must not only interpret the world but change it, from 1952-1972 the Situationist International was engaged in a cultural and political project aimed at transforming consumer capitalism. Starting from the premise that through advertising, mass media and urbanism, capitalism had alienated people from their true selves, creating false desires and passive consumption, the Situationists sought to destroy the infiltration of capitalism into every aspect of modern life. Inspired by the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre they refused to accept both capitalism's functional division of space and time into hierarchies of work, sleep and leisure and the equally repressive forms of the organized left. They saw the everyday as an eruptive revolutionary force that could explode social, political and disciplinary confines. They developed creative practices searching for new ways to live and to transform the world, breaking out of established boundaries and the limitations of what we feel is possible: a creative practice that allows humans to go beyond reality as determined by capitalism. They were in a constant search for new forms of resistance through creativity. Truly, the Situationists wanted to change the world.
At first, the Situationists were concerned with the individual as a centre and starting point and the use of spontaneous creativity to bring about individual liberation and thence a collective one. As their movement developed, they fell into the trap of concentrating their efforts into an increasingly structured and didactic form of politics and neglected the emotional aspect of liberation which for me is a key part of total revolution. Analyzing the development of their movement and seeing how it ultimately failed, I wish to focus primarily on the early years of the SI where I think they were closer to the concept of individual revolution and a grasp of total enlightenment which vanished as the years as passed.
Like the Situationists, I agree that the system of capitalism is the biggest threat facing humanity. It is a system that moulds reality after its own image. Our society based on mass production and mass consumption affects the individual. The pressures and factors that come from outside, from society and culture, do not allow us to realize ourselves fully as human individuals.
According to Marx, the universal needs that define the human essence are twofold: the first refers to food, shelter and, in general, the requirements of survival; the second refers to autonomy and self-development.
Under capitalism, basic needs have to be solved by means of money and in contact with the forces of the market. People face the ultimatum to agree with capitalist structures if they wish to survive. If you want to meet your basic needs you are forced to sell your time, your energy, your labour and your entire life in return for money. Despite all that is expended, autonomy is highly restricted for the working class, earning a miserable sum for tiring and demanding labour. There is a relationship of subordination between the dominant, ruling strata and the working class, based on the fact that the capitalist class has ownership of the resources of society and, therefore, means of exercising autonomy while denying it to those without property. This relationship of dominance is exercised by the restriction of the individual's autonomous potential.
The relationships of the market are controlled by this ruling class of capitalists who have control also over supply and demand. There is no 'natural' balance of supply and demand. Demand is controlled and indeed created by the capitalist media, which is used to manipulate people's perceptions of their own needs. That is, put simply, capitalists make people think they need things that they don't really need. Their needs are manipulated. It is the capitalist which has the 'need' to sell his product for product no matter what. The tools of mass media communication such as television, advertising, books and so on constantly project examples of individuals more important, more attractive, more heroic than the rest of us. We grow up in schools with a graded system that permits only a handful to excel. After school, we are sent into a market that enriches a few of us while exploiting or discarding the rest.
This economic system based on mass production and mass consumption reinforces the character of competitiveness between people. You are what you have, success in your life depends on the quantity of money you earn, you are better depending on how many expensive things you can buy to be at the top of the class. We internalise the values of this system by judging our self worth, our value, in relation to others, whom we hope we are 'better than.'
The mass media leads us to feel sentimental and nostalgic about 'our' achievements:
"We are stuck buying mass-produced movies and compact discs made by corporate mercenaries, sitting faceless and immobilized at arena rock performances and sport events, struggling with other people inventions and programs and theories that make less sense to us than sorcery did to our ancestors, shamefacedly accepting the judgments of priest and agony columnists and radio talk show hosts, berating ourselves for not living up to the standards set by college entrance exams and glamour magazines, listening to parents and counselors and psychiatrists and managers tell us we are the ones with problems, buying our whole lives from the same specialists and entrepreneurs we sell them to and gnashing our teeth in smothered fury as they cut down the last trees and heroes with the cash and authority we give them" (ER p45)
Everything around us exhorts you to 'pursue your desires' but what are these real desires? Who decides what they are? When everything around us is designed for commerce and consumption it is difficult to think of different ways to spend times. Modern man spends his time attending business meetings, talking on his mobile phone and fidgeting with the remote control. His desires become an answer to an imposed reality rather than attempting the opposite. Our desires are constructed: "if we are a product of our environment, then our freedom is a question of how much control we have over that environment" (ER p.41). Modern woman grows up surrounded by diet advertisements and posters of anorexic models. A mountain of beauty products and expensive aesthetic operations are offered to satisfy fake desires provoked by the media. It is impossible to think she is free to feel however she wants about her body. We must make our freedom by transforming the reality which fashions us. How are we to do this? We have relegated ourselves to the passivity of accepting what comes from outside without questioning it. We must transform ourselves first if we want to transform the world.
Marx affirms that alienation occurs when social systems force people into modes of behaviour which are unnatural and harmful. Alienation produces boredom, stress, misery, low productivity, deviance, rebellion. The unique thing that sets the human being apart animals is not language or memory but creativity, and hence if it is human nature. When social systems contradict human alienation they cause alienation, the separation from your true nature. A factory worker does not design the product; he does the same task again, again and again. He has no control over the product, he does not make decisions, he just follows a system. Free creation is not encouraged, it is suppressed and what's worse is co-opted by those in power to make profit, corrupt and further increase their stranglehold over the worker. I will raise these issues again later.
In a world where free creative action is restricted we end up looking for ways to compensate ourselves, "we seek status in wealth, power, strength, beauty, reputation, anything to soften the blows of wasted days. We compensate by seeking another kind of status, too: feelings of superiority, status in our own heads." (ER, p.148)
We are constantly overwhelmed with fears of failing and an unhealthy wish to 'succeed'. We are in a constant fight amongst ourselves. We live in an oppressive world but we are all guilty, at least of complicity. We should defend ourselves but for practical reasons, not for revenge or superiority.
The economic conditions in which we live determine all social arrangements, human relationships, thoughts and values. A revolution only focussed on the redistribution of wealth and power will be short lived and irrelevant without a fundamental change in our human relationships. "Revolution is not a single transformation but a way of living." (ER p.148)
Our authoritarian civilisation spreads the idea that the only access to absolute truth is through 'objectivity', the truth imposed by those in power. This authoritarian power discards the results of our individual experiences interacting with one another, the actions, beliefs and behaviours arising from our own conscience. Our subjectivity is discarded and when we accept the idea of objectivity as the only absolute truth we go another step further in separation from our true self. At the same time the ones who believe in objectivity as absolute truth feel compelled to persuade others of their truths. This idea is the consequence of power struggles that take place in the market, "a market characterized by competition between capitalists who strive to preserve and increase their power over others" (ER p.153)
I will use the book The Fear of Freedom by Erich Fromm to explain the meaning of freedom for modern man. This book is an analysis of the psychological process of the individual in the context of the culture which moulds him. I will focus on the chapter "Freedom and Democracy" where Fromm gives his own perspective on freedom and spontaneity. But the entire work contributes to an understanding of how a fear of freedom is installed in the subconscious of people by totalitarian forces.
I will also look at the techniques for a liberating pedagogy developed by the revolutionary Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in his influential work Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Based on his real experiences amongst impoverished and illiterate peasants, Freire's central aim was how to develop a philosophy and practice of liberation with man at its centre which is able to overcome the fear of freedom and not replicate the oppressive traits of the society in which men currently live and must develop their ideas and praxis. As he states, the "central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be the 'hosts' of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy." (p.25)
Related to this the Situationist Raoul Vaneigem in his is chapter "Masters without slaves", in his book The Revolution of the Everyday, just as Freire points out that "initially the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors" (p.22), I see in this text a powerful idea about how everyone is a slave, even the most hated masters. This relates with Freire's idea that the "fear of freedom is also to be found in the oppressors, though, obviously, in a different form" (p.23). If you are aware of your conditionings, about your slave consciousness provoked by the social environment, culture and other factors, if you arrive to the collective consciousness in which you see yourself reflected in others and vice versa, you arrive to an understanding that entails forgiveness, an understanding of see yourself in others, a forgiveness that is essential for a total change in the history of society.
I understand from this that everybody, even those who believe they are masters, are in fact slaves, their inner essence determined by the conditions of an oppressive society, unable to free their inner child, their spontaneity, subjectivity and creativity, all of which is abandoned when we accept the reality of consumer capitalism as a natural state of affairs.
The demand for a new revolutionary approach to art and society which led to the formation of the SI in 1957 was the result of a complex interconnection of social, political and cultural developments which arose on the ruins of war-ravaged Europe. The extension of industrial production and technology, combined with the stimulus provided by the need to rebuild a shattered continent under the leadership of a supreme United States, led to the development of a period of economic growth on a scale never before seen. The post-war social compact integrated the working classes into the new utopia of consumer capitalism, aided by new techniques in mass marketing advertising. At the same time the breaking up of the surrealist movement resulted in the flourishing of many avant-garde artistic movements, such as Isidoure IsouÂ´s Letterist group. And political developments such as the Algerian war of liberation and the crushing of workers councils in Hungary by Soviet tanks in 1956 led to the creation of a `new leftÂ´ across the world as many militants and intellectuals began to break with traditional Communist parties.
The classic analysis of this, by one of the founders and leading figures of the SI, was that of Guy Debord. For Debord, the development of consumer capitalism had reached such a degree that "alongside alienated productionâ€¦alienated consumption becomes a duty of the masses". He developed the concept of "the spectacle", the "moment when the commodity has attained the occupation of social life. Not only is the relation of the commodity visible but it is all one seesâ€¦" (p29 The society of the Spectacle ) The spectacle was a "permanent opium war which aims to make people identify goods with commodities and satisfaction with survival" (p30). The early creative responses of the Situationists to this state of affairs is what we shall examine.
The Situationists affirmed that creation was the highest form of human activity. They undertook a major effort in looking for techniques that helped to eliminate the conditionings imposed by culture, society and tradition. They relied on playful tactics and arrived at the idea of derive and the creation of situations as a tool to break with the way time is structured under capitalism. This was an idea that entailed a radical subjectivity and spontaneity and hence individual creativity.
The kind of structured time imposed by capitalism which the Situationists were trying to break is explained in one of the most influential works for them, The Critique of Everyday life, written by the leading Marxist philosopher Henry Lefebvre in 1947. Lefebvre explains how capital moulds the modern city. Capitalism divides space and time into hierarchies of work, sleep and leisure. Leisure time is free from work but tends with steady increase to be used for consumption. We spend our time working to be paid and afford to spend this money in our free time consuming factory-made products. For Lefebvre, the everyday was an eruptive and revolutionary force that could explode these social, political and disciplinary confines.
The Situationists believed in the playful tactics of derive and creation of situations as tools to break the reality imposed by capitalism through an everyday practice of these 'techniques'. They believed that these "games of a new type" were the central means of achieving revolutionary action in a culture that had to "aim to enlarge life, not merely express or explain it" and go beyond the level of production "to encompass the passions, compensations and habits which that exploitation had engendered" as Debord wrote in his `Report on the construction of Situations, 1957Â´.
These practices were an attempt to navigate the city on one's own terms, according to unconscious desires, overcoming the compartmentalisation of human activity by wandering about in the space of the city according to their own sense of time. As Guy Debord wrote: "In a derive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and their leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drowned by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there". (Guy Debord, `Theory of DeriveÂ´, November 1956 accessed at Situationist International Online www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/theory.html)
It is a technique by which the individual can approach oneself and become conscious of the power of individual creativity through one's relationship with the city, with the world. The aim is to experience the city not as a rational one but as a playful one, not the city of work but the city of adventure. Not the city that conquers nature but the city that opens towards the flux of the universe. (Chtcheglov, Unitary urbanism?).
The Situationists used derive as a method of inventing a new kind of knowledge, a new Â´subcultural knowledgeÂ´ that comes from the experience of free interaction with our surroundings. A free action takes place only through the subjectivity of questioning everything that is taken for granted and using our spontaneity and imagination to create experiences beyond the limits, to give new meanings to our environments because, as we noted before, "if we are the product of our environment then our freedom is a question of how much control we have over it" (ER p.41). If we awake the individual creativity in our thoughts through subjectivity we can change our way of experimenting. It involves a playful-constructive behaviour that we all had at some point in our lives, the child's essence.
The term derive is a singular one, its Latin root "derivare" means to divert a flow, to draw off a stream. Its English descendants include the word "derive" and also "river". Its whole meaning is aquatic, conjuring up flows, eddies, channels, currents and also drifting, sailing or tacking against the wind. It gives you the idea of a "space and time of liquid movement, sometimes predictable and sometimes turbulent" (The Beach Beneath the Street, p.22) The word suggests an attitude to life of letting yourself flow in an extemporisation of experiences by the improvisation of life.
The mere act of derive is a therapy that helps you to live and experience moments out of the established boundaries, a way of being more conscious of yourself as a individual. Another perception of reality will be revealed, the one that we don't see but exists. The power of emotions, the whirlwind that we feel when we experience freedom. The positivity of a subjective thought that remakes us. It is a positive approach to the everyday that reinforces the development of your autonomy and allows everything flow.
'The Situationist Manifesto' of May 1960 expanded on this conception of a new society, where "the liberation of the game, its creative autonomy, supersedes the ancient division between imposed work and passive leisure". This idea of approaching life as a game, with subjectivity and spontaneity at its heart, played a key role in their thought. "The game we are about to play is the game of creativity (Vaneigen, The revolution of the everyday life, 1967, chapter 19.)
What takes place when all the problems of survival have been solved is Play. There is no external demand that restrains it: "it takes place in a condition of freedom, that is to say, it is the condition of freedom" (ER p.58) Self-determination becomes possible when we play because the individual interacts with the forces around her instead of reacting to them, as she acts a new context is created (a context for her actions) instead of passively being shaped by the situation. "You can see play in the collages of teenagers' walls, in the eccentric furniture of squatting buildings, in the break between skirmishes when the insurgents dance, in the movements of lovers' bodies together." (ER p.58)
We can find abundant resources of Play in the activities that capitalism provides for our entertainment during leisure time and for our survival needs. But are those free play? Can we consider true play when an individual does it at anothers' expense as in the case of the successful executive? Nowadays many things are called 'play' when the reality of this is ambiguous. "Is it 'play' when a worker goes golfing with his boss? How about when a group of men play football together according to a strict set of rules, with a struggle for dominance as an ever-present subtext? How about when a young man comes home from work so exhausted that he doesn't have enough energy to do anything but 'play' videogames?" (ER p.58) All these things do not allow spontaneous play. To find it we should look to children because they have the true gift of spontaneity, its essence. They know all about spontaneous play until they start to accept the rules that come from outside as if they were their own. Approaching everything we do in our everyday life as a game rather than a responsibility or a struggle we can get the feeling of extemporization that give us the experience of freedom, the experience of our lost innocence that one day we abandoned.
If we encourage ourselves to look around in a different way we will find that there exists a rich field of possibilities to bring play into our everyday life. The action of play is contagious, as an individual plays more and more, others around him are encouraged to do the same.
"There seems to be no agent more effective than another person in bringing a world for oneself alive, or by a glance, a gesture or remark shrivelling up the reality in which one is lodged" (Ervin Goffman, Encounters: Two studies in the Sociology of Interaction, Indianapolis, 1961, p41)
Related to these ideas, I have recently come across the work of the radical Glasgow-born psychoanalyst R D Laing and his book The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, which is providing further interesting connections and paths of research. Laing's primary concern is to overcome the abject alienation of man in modern society and the modes by which society forces the individual to adapt to such profoundly alienating conditions, while condemning as "mad" certain responses to this state of affairs. For Laing, "as adults we have forgotten most of our childhood not only in content but its flavourâ€¦we barely remember our dreams and make little sense of them when we do" (p.22). He speaks about Fantasy as a mode of experience and a particular way of relating to the world, the mode that children use. It is our first experience of the world and the furthest that experience goes under normal circumstances, under repression. These are ideas which can be related to those of the Situationists and others who are determined to approach the everyday beyond the limits imposed by a restrictive society.
Dr Ihaleakalá Hew Len is another interesting thinker, the pioneer in bringing back a Hawaiian ancestral method to clean yourself of conditionings. He speaks about a divinity that is our inner child and talks about the need to achieve reconciliation with him. He says that conditionings lead us to the path of suffering, particularly conditionings in the unconsciousness that have been inserted in our minds through lived experiences in the form of memories. These old memories condition every aspect of our life. The process of eliminating them brings a state of blankness where inspiration comes through and freedom can arise. I consider this inspiration as the individual creativity that the Situationists where attempting to liberate. Free individual creativity that can create a new culture.
I see their idea of radical subjectivity as a form of anti-conditioning, as an attitude to life that allows everybody to remake themselves via the everyday. In order to illustrate this idea I will use as a principal source the second part of Vagengeim's The Revolution of the Everyday. Vagengeim opens up a new perspective, a perspective that I think can truly help us to look at things differently and give a new meaning to everything that surrounds us. It presents an opportunity to eliminate our external conditionings through creativity in our thoughts, a creative resistance choosing oneself as a starting point and centre, "a resistance to seeing things through the eyes of community, ideology, the family or other people". As Kierkegaard stated, subjectivity is the only truth, and this entails creativity in your thoughts to questions the norms externally imposed.
If we look for instance at Vagengeim's chapter on "Creativity, Spontaneity and Poetry", paths are opened to expand the ideas I have been presenting: "Every individual is constantly building an ideal world within themselves even as their external emotions bend to the requirements of soulless routine." He states that everybody is an artist; everybody has the potential to be creative, but it has been buried under the roots of capitalism. "The old specialization of art has come to an end, there are no more artists because everyone is an artists. The work of art of the future will be the construction of a passionate life." (Chapter 20)
Authentic freedom is inseparably bound up with individual creativity. But the problem is that the mechanisms of domination are cutting authentic freedom from its root, attacking individual creativity through the co-optation of it. The system is endowing people with the consciousness of an artist to deploy their creativity in the service of power and success. At the same time, production-based capitalism provokes the alienation of creativity through forced labour. In this broken world whose common denominator through history is hierarchal power, only one kind of freedom is tolerated: freedom of choice, "freedom to change the numerator, to prefer on master to another." Here arises a curious contradiction because this kind of freedom has lost its attraction and exacerbates the thirst for total freedom.
The reaction of revolutionary movements "must be awoken by the scandal of free and total creativity." For Vagengeim the passion to creative "must be wrenched from the service of production, consumption, organization and returned to its true purpose through spontaneity."
Vagengeim defines spontaneity as "the highest possible self consciousness which is still inseparable from the self and from the world." Spontaneity is the possible manifestation of reversal of perspective. It is the true mode of being of individual creativity because it is unthreatened by the mechanisms of co-option; it is not yet alienated or conditioned. This is why spontaneity is an immediate experience, the "lived experience where everyone comes closest to himself." The sole authority is the own lived experience.
A consciousness of necessity of security which has been inserted into our brain is what alienates us. If we translate the concept of spontaneity to daily life we obtain an improvisation of the everyday that brings a consciousness of the present, a sort of extemporization where the consciousness of necessity and security disappears letting your true self operate. This brings a potentially rich pleasure that goes towards a directed pleasure in other people.
But spontaneity "is a conquest, not a giving." Who possesses it are those who through sustained resistance to power have become endowed with the consciousness of their own value as individuals. In a revolutionary moment this means the majority. Paths of spontaneity are hard to find but we can achieve it through radical subjectivity, a subjectivity that is strengthened by the perception of this subjective will in others. This is a way of getting out of oneself and radiating out not so much towards others but rather the part of oneself that is to be found in others.
Conditions, data, old information, the "concepts and abstractions which rule us have to be returned to their source, the lived experience, not to validate them but on the contrary to correct them, to restore them to that sphere where they derive and which they should never have left." According to by Krishna Murti that to reach the discovery of self knowledge, of "who I am", it must be done through the relationships of our everyday existence (lived experience). He states that relationships are a mirror without any distortion. For Murti, it is necessary to understand yourself to experience a total revolution that brings a creative release, a creativity that is explosive and abundant and opens the possibility of creating a new culture.
From these conceptions of spontaneity, subjectivity and freedom I can perceive an explanation of how the individual being is related to the collective and how the individual revolution can give birth to the collective one.
Article name: The Individual Revoluton Through Creativity Philosophy essay, research paper, dissertation