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Fifty years ago in ETC.

The mainspring of creativity appears to be the same tendency which we discover so deeply as the curative force in psychotherapy--man's tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities. By this I mean the directional trend which is evident in all organic and human life--the urge to expand, extend, develop, mature--the tendency to express and activate all the capacities of the organism, to the extent that such activation enhances the organism or the self. This tendency may become deeply buried under layer after layer of encrusted psychological defenses; it may be hidden behind elaborate facades which deny its existence; it is my belief however, based on my experience, that it exists in every individual, and awaits only the proper conditions to be released and expressed. It is this tendency which is the primary motivation for creativity as the organism forms new relationships to the environment in its endeavor most fully to be itself.

Let us now attempt to deal directly with this puzzling issue of the social value of a creative act. Presumably few of us are interested in facilitating creativity which is socially destructive. We do not wish, knowingly, to lend our efforts to developing individuals whose creative genius works itself out in new and better ways of robbing, exploiting, torturing, killing, other individuals; or developing forms of political organization or art forms which lead humanity into paths of physical or psychological self-destruction. Yet how is it possible to make the necessary discriminations such that we may encourage a constructive creativity and not a destructive?

The distinction cannot be made by examining the product. The very essence of the creative is its novelty, and hence we have no standard by which to judge it. Indeed history points up the fact that the more original the product, and the more far-reaching its implications, the more likely it is to be judged by contemporaries as evil. The genuinely significant creation, whether an idea, or a work of art, or a scientific discovery, is most likely to be seen at first as erroneous, bad, or foolish. Later it may be seen as obvious, something self-evident to all. Only still later does it receive its final evaluation as a creative contribution. It seems clear that no contemporary mortal can satisfactorily evaluate a creative product at the time that it is formed, and this statement is increasingly true the greater the novelty of the creation.

Nor is it of any help to examine the purposes of the individual participating in the creative process. Many, perhaps most, of the creations and discoveries which have proved to have great social value, have been motivated by purposes having more to do with personal interest than with social value, while on the other hand history records a somewhat sorry outcome for many of those creations (various Utopias, Prohibition, etc.) which had as their avowed purpose the achievement of the social good. No, we must face the fact that the individual creates primarily because it is satisfying to him, because this behavior is felt to be self-actualizing, and we get nowhere by trying to differentiate "good" and "bad" purposes in the creative process.


Faith in reason is not only a faith in our reason, but also--and even more--in that of others. Thus a rationalist, even if he believes himself to be intellectually superior to others, will reject all claims to authority since he is aware that, if his intelligence is superior to that of others (which is hard for him to judge), it is so only in so far as he is capable of learning from criticism as well as from his own and other people's mistakes, and that one can learn in this sense only if one takes others and their arguments seriously. Rationalism is therefore bound up with the idea that the other fellow has a right to be heard, and to defend his arguments.... One does not kill a man when one adopts the attitude of first listening to his arguments.


As I think over the materials in my own particular field of research interest--occupational sociology--I am mindful of the fact that most of the current interest in industrial sociology is with attempts to discover methods of making workers content and productive even though the satisfactions inherent in creative work situations have been removed from the average job. There are literally thousands of plans to make men more "job satisfied" and more "job productive" and virtually all of them are variants on two basic themes: (1) improve the external rewards for work; (2) improve social relations at work. In the last ten years there has not been one significant contribution by way of new thoughts on how to make the work itself more inherently satisfying.

I take it that this implies that the vast majority of those who are concerned with job satisfaction and production--and most of these are management personnel and their paid experts--either never were aware of the concept of "joy at work" or have decided that the exercise of the "instinct for workmanship" is incompatible with the maximization of profits through mass production of standardized goods.

However, the studies of workers at their jobs and the sources of discontent on the job have at least provided us with a check list of the conditions of work under which men feel that their work is dull, routine and dissatisfying. That check list includes the following:

1. When the productive goals are set by others.

2. When operating techniques are standardized.

3. When detailed operations are routinized.

4. When the work product is not seen as meaningful in a larger social context.

5. When the individual sees himself as almost immediately replaceable.

6. When experimentation on the job is specifically discouraged.

7. When the emphasis is upon quantity vs. quality of the end product, even though the antithesis is not necessary.

8. When the differences in individual talents, and the quality of individual talents is made irrelevant by standardization.

9. When problems which arise during the course of production are settled by fiat from above.

10. When the occupation itself is seen by the worker as being socially depreciated by others, especially by his superordinates at work.

There is considerable overlap in these ten points, but by and large they describe the average condition of work for the average worker in our society.

The hypothesis I would offer is that when the contrary of these conditions is institutionalized into the work situation, the worker will have a significant opportunity to experience the satisfaction of the self-consummatory act. In time, this may come to be self-commending, and in time this may come to stand as an ultimate value for the worker for which he is willing to sacrifice other values which he now strongly demands.

In the interim, as a result of the impact of the average work situation, the worker tends to spend his most energetic hours at a job which does not draw his talents out of him; does not exercise his creative potential; does not afford him a sense of power and domination over the product and the machine but rather makes him feel subordinate to both; and provides him with no sense of significant contribution to and membership in the society. To the extent that these conditions prevail, it is my hypothesis that the average worker comes to his home-life and community-life with a net deficit of psychic satisfactions. He, therefore, brings to these extra-occupational life spheres a high demand upon them by way of the kinds of gratifications he seeks and the degrees of intensity with which he seeks them.

These high demands of high intensity tend to result, as I see it, in four types of social pathologies:

a. An excessive quest for certainty, especially in the field of interpersonal relations, taking the form at times of political orthodoxy and xenophobia. I take these to derive from the absence of any reassurance at the job regarding the man's own social worth.

b. An excessive quest for power, manifesting itself in authoritarian attitudes at home, with resultant family pathologies, and in authoritarian attitudes in social relations in general, resulting in political pathologies.

c. An excessive quest for "meaning" resulting in frenetic status striving and in frenetic insistence on self worth, manifested by extreme sensitivity to possible imputations of worthlessness and in extreme and calculated disregard of the welfare of others, lest they indicate that one is acting deferential.

d. An excessive quest for social relationship in the form of "joining," or a pathological rejection of social relations and marked apathy and indifference to community affairs. I take these to be manifestations of the fundamental feeling of alienation from significant social ties which I hypothesize the worker derives from his work situation, especially when he realizes his substitutability and replaceability at virtually a moment's notice.

Put in the above form, these are crudely stated hypotheses, especially since the dynamics of each of these four pathologies are very complex and overlap considerably with each other. But they will provide some operational measure, at least, of the impact of the work situation on the psychology of the average worker, as I see it operating at present.

What this signifies for our thinking about creativity is the fact that the denial of creative involvement at work results in socially significant pathologies with an import far beyond the scope of the job itself. It may well prove to be the case that if we desire our continuing high standard of production it is virtually impossible significantly to alter the work situation of the average man. If this is true, then social planning must take into account the net deficit which the worker is likely to bring to his family and social life and must be able to plan for the evocation, exercise and social use of those unused creative portions of man, the failure to use which tends to generate the pathologies mentioned above. Let us not kid ourselves. The way to the creative life for the average man is difficult in the extreme.


Diseases possess sufficient resemblances to be classed under general names; hence we possess the words peripneunomy, pleurisy, rheumatism, & c. I censure not physicians for constructing the names, nor for deciding that Thomas and Henry are severally afflicted with pleurisy; but their diseases are not as identical in nature as in language.

The identity which language implies is responded to by nature very nearly, or we could possess no medical science; but the most skillful physician is often defeated by the individualities of nature. Physicians have long detected these individualities, and deemed them anomalies of nature. The anomaly is, however, in language, which unites under one name, as identities, what is only partially identical. It is nature's regular production, and boundless richness.

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Title Annotation:Retrospect
Author:Miller, Nora
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2003
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