Originality has never been much of a virtue in politics. Protecting the long-term interests of the state, its officials and its citizens requires stasis. Politics institutionalizes the status quo, preserves the standing order. Regimes that fail to do so form the detritus of history.
The novel and untested is a threat in politics; the radically different might provide the solution to inequity, but it could just as easily exacerbate it. States have a primal instinct for survival; uncertainty is an implicit threat to this and originality is to be treated with distrust in the best case and to be hostilely suppressed in the worst.
Constraining the federal government’s purview to a limited number of specifically enumerated powers rectifies this bias against originality. Politics and its myriad dangers are insulated from broader society. The state can pursue its own ends with the ruthless efficiency which is required of an eye to dominance in the long-term. But it does not have the strength to do injury to ingenuity—the lifeblood of the productive powers of man—in those creative projects he undertakes for his own benefit, whether to feed his body or his soul.
Politics is the affairs of the state apparatus. It ought to be a dull and mechanical affair, dominated by concern with the most efficient method of distributing resources only to those areas where they are most urgently needed. But politics is an imperfect machine, for its engine is man, who feels and thinks independently. And therein lies the danger. When man’s passions are coupled with politics, a new iteration of the state is born. It has not just instincts but cognition as well. Now it thinks and reacts and makes judgments. Judgment presumes discrimination. Given the state’s position of dominance in society, this discriminatory power is devastating for the citizenry. No longer can man be left alone with his creative visions. The uncertainty of originality remains a threat to state stability, as it always has been, but a cognizant state which defines and pursues its own epistemology is threatened by competing ideas.
The dearth of originality in modern life extends from the political to the cultural. This is especially amazing where politics is concerned as there is virtually no issue which is beyond the concern of the federal government. Yet, public discourse is like a worn record stuck on repeat. In time to the biennial electoral cycle, the same tired issues of welfare, regulatory reform and jobs are debated, in the same hackneyed language of politicians calling on the ethos of their party’s most famed members, who in their day had exactly the same debates. Nothing is ever settled; there is no incentive to do so, for while politics stifles the originality that stands as a threat to its existence, the state is not a producer and has no imagination. Its discretionary judgment is reactive, not proactive. Problem solving requires ingenuity; it is in the state’s interest to perpetuate the most prominent and pressing inequities for it cannot grasp the nuances of subtler injustices.
Having expanded its stifling provenance beyond the bounds of politics, the rest of society stagnates. Political discourse is an obligatory and routine masque; this becomes true of culture as well. Creativity is not unbounded. Originality becomes relative, a matter of reinterpreting the known and safe. Old tropes and messages are recycled in the same manner as political messages.
The result is the emergence of a hierarchy of creativity. Society, working in concert with the state, implicitly endorses appropriate forms of expression. Since culture must evolve but politics is rooted in stasis, the genesis of popular entertainment is really a devolution between an increasingly narrowed choice of old and familiar—and therefore not a threat to the state’s survival—modes of creative expression. This constant winnowing creates a hierarchy amongst creators which is monistic. The dominant creative modalities can coexist with less prominent artistic forms, but there can be no serious cross-collaboration because the popular carries the blessing of the state while the alternative carries a stigma.
It is no mistake that culture is becoming increasingly fragmented and imitative at the same time all the most authoritative of pundits are obsessed with the problem of a fractured and partisan polity. The former issue drives the latter. Culture is not the primary problem. A cognitive state which wield unbound latitudinous powers is the root cause of the deficit of creativity.
Also published on Medium.