Comments on Western Civilization and U.S. culture in particular.
We actually hear this word used less and less, and its meaning is increasingly narrow: something little kids do with crayons, and limited to copying animated movie, video game and comic book characters. Adults are creative if they buy a scrapbook kit to document their daily routine in old-fashioned style; try recipes that contain exotic ingredients (which are standard fare in other areas of the globe) or amass a wardrobe of designer fakes. That covers women; I don’t know what men do to express themselves. Buy another gun perhaps?
Adults are today enticed by the word innovation: “Be an innovator,” commercials say. But the “story” that is used to demonstrate innovation too often is centered on selling cupcakes with blue icing and sprinkles, via the internet, to people all over the globe – one day delivery, which adds to the continued burning of fossil fuels, global warming and the amount trash that must be disposed of – and fulfills the wish of one or two people to become rich. (Sorry – to pursue their passion for serving humanity through innovative marketing of cupcakes.)
Innovation (in the U.S.) is directed toward new ways to part people and their money. Often this has been done by offering useful products, but contemporary innovation is likely to focus on rebranding the same old manufactured food product as “Green” “Organic” or “Natural” on revised packaging and advertising New Look! What an asinine label, as if new packaging actually improves the product; it is most commonly employed to disguise a downgrade in product quality. Or adding “profit gimmicks” (apps) to what were once gadgets (cell phones) that are meant to improve communication. American capitalism runs on one concept: You can always fool the American consumer.
Okay – this is all status quo and Americans have been cheating people (Native Americans in particular) since Jamestown and Plymouth Colony. (Actually, these were English people.) Prior to that, the Age of Exploration was fueled by greed and only incidentally by scientific curiosity in the service of greed. The imagination I’m talking about is not concerned with “dreams” “fantasies” or Vaudeville entertainment rebranded as “deep human insight” –
The imagination that I long to see is the ability for a person or group to “see” reality. In this case, archaic humans. The human being inside the skull; not the brain size, face shape, dentition or scattered stone flakes, but how they perceived their world. Not our world; theirs. Not as we would see their world if they were an imitation of us, which is what we certainly search for among the bones. Narcissism prevails: Where are we, Evolutionary Messiahs, in this jumble of refuse on ancient cave floors? Surely there are signs of our coming? After all, we are better, smarter, healthier and more important to the universe than any of these misshapen troglodytes and mumblers, none of whom are really fit to be our ancestors. Surely accounting systems, bureaucracies, military expenditures and weapons are more important than whatever came before.
What is required to imagine reality? Intellectual Empathy – not for our in-group, who are people just like us in birth and class and wealth and appearance and beliefs, but the ability to shed our self-centered orientation; to imagine living contexts and the human being shaped by that context. It’s empathy without a suitcase, instructions or travel plans. Intellectual imagination = empathy that is deeper and more sustainable than “Empathy Bear feels your Pain.”