Sunday, August 13, 2006

Obstacles to a Creative City: Zero-Sum Dementia

Klean Up!Before I begin let me write that what I describe here may not really exist. This post may be a delusion about a delusion. I could be extrapolating from my own defective psychology to the city as a whole. Yet I still think the delusion exists.

The obstacle I want to write about here is zero-sum game mass dementia -- the social belief that there's only so much to go around and therefore, my loss is your gain, and vice versa. The zero-sum principle is valid only in a closed, static economy. But doesn't "closed, static economy" describe Memphis? No, it never has. But by believing in the zero-sum game, we're always in danger of creating a stagnant environment where the belief gains even more traction.

In fact:
  • the greatest achievements of any Memphian do not make the works of other Memphians less valuable. Nor on the other hand, do our fellow citizens' failings make any of our work better. It's hard not to feel envy when a peer is recognized, fairly or unfairly, for their work. Nor is it hard to feel smug when a peer suffers a setback. But none of that matters to our own work. Our work is good or bad or somewhere in between no matter what our peers are or are not achieving. Worrying about others takes us away from our own work and its improvement.
  • the tiniest sliver of creativity, by the slightest of Memphian, voluntarily creating something for their own or others' enjoyment, no matter how bad, good or brilliant the work, expands the possibilities for all of us. Denigrating a bad creative effort as unworthy of existence is destructive for everyone, and a prop to the dementia. I would argue that a city full of bad playwrights is to be cherished and valued more than a city that has one brilliant playwright and no others, good or bad.
  • We should change, ignore, or go around, institutions that promote the dementia. Blogs, RSS, wikis, and other social technologies give us this power if we want it. They help us change changeable institutions through debate and transparency. And they make it easier than ever before to create more perfect unions, leaving the terminally corrupt institutions behind.
  • We should work to cure the dementia in ourselves. We could work to cure it in others, but I think removing it from ourselves is hard enough.
If we create, there won't be a sum, only more.


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