the myth of a creative class

We grab a seat in the balcony, because even at UnConventionAl, the twentieth century un-conference, innovation doesn't include progress in race relations.  It's a trend of noticed with some of the techno-utopians who don't want to be bothered with the sticky human issues of social justice.  After all, the machinery will eventually take care of those issues in our Global Village.

"We need to cultivate a culture of collaboration to compose a creative class."  All alliteration aside, the message is one I've heard repeatedly.  I could use the same alliteration if I wanted, "From farms and factories to a philosophy of frenetic futurism."

He pulls out a box and says, "We need to think outside the box."  I find it odd that he's using cliches as he talks about innovation.  True innovation isn't thinking outside the box.  It's re-purposing the box.

"It starts with a pencil and moves to mimeographs and type-writers, photographs and Vitascopes, phonographs and telegraphs.  Simple minds and simple tools are fine when you are growing corn . . ." the crowd chuckles. "But you need an innovative mind to think through the mixing and mashing of multimedia tools. Complex tools demand creativity."

*     *     *

My mind races back to corn fields.  There is more molecular complexity in an ear of corn than in an entire Vitascope.  We lie to ourselves when we think that knowing machinery means we have a deeper, more conceptual understanding of life. It's true that we were simple people if simplicity is measured only in tools.  We had fewer tools.  We had less access to the world at the palm of our hands.  But we weren't illiterate hicks. We were a Creative Class.

So, I'm listening to the chatter of the speaker, but I move back to the corn field.  I'm eight, barefoot and staring at a worm.  My father is arguing moral philosophy with a neighbor.  Dad says that Aristotle had it right - that the goal is a middle ground, a place of temperance between two extremes.  The neighbor says the goal is a Hegelian synthesis.  Neither men have access to a photograph or a telegraph or a pen pal network.  Yet, they are creative thinkers, tackling existential questions from multiple perspectives.

As their dialog transitions into farming, it becomes a more practical layer of creativity.  They are discussing water use in a time of drought. They discuss sustainability in light of soil erosion and fertilizer.  It isn't the tools that lead to the creativity.  Instead, they become creative because of limited resources and simple tools.

Farming required more than mere "grunt work" as the speaker describes.  (Really, "grunt work?" Were we merely cavemen wandering a sea of corn?) The skill set involved predicting the unpredictable, developing new tools at low costs.  Collaboration?  We had a community co-op that helped us survive.  Creativity?  My dad could use bailing wire and wood to develop tools that would rival anything Edison is producing.


  1. I learned working on a poor dairy farm to never throw anything away.
    Now on my "poor" farm I too have a pile of baling twine and scrap lumber sitting in a pile waiting to be turned into something I haven't even figured out yet. a "poor" person with a solid work ethic more creative than someone who can afford the right tools and materials for the job?
    Thinking of two buildings on my property that I built without the proper supplies...I had to be real creative in the process. If I had the $ to go to the lumber yard and purchase 2x4s and plywood there would have been no thinking involved in the planning or building...hmmm...

  2. We've been gardening and slowly moving toward an edible back yard. It's been a creative and yet humbling experience.