We Can Double Human Creativity

Yes, I’m completely serious about this, and double is a conservative estimate. But before I get to the numbers, I’d like you to consider the role of creativity in human life.

The vast majority of creative acts – inventions, musical compositions, great art, new business ideas and so on – are unknown to us. And each of the ones we do know stand upon multiple unknowns. Consider a great musical composition, like Mozart’s overture from The Mariage of Figaro: It incorporates a dozen discoveries of harmony and counterpoint from a dozen forgotten musicians, stylistic influences like “French overtures,” and even the memories of great performances he had heard as a boy. Minus any of those things and Figaro isn’t the Figaro we know.

And so, the vast majority of creative advances are simply invisible to us. Even in areas of life that are small enough to be fairly knowable, we still can’t keep up. I had a career in electrical contracting, and I can name all sorts of ways that the industry became more efficient, even during my time. But I don’t know the names of most of the innovators: not even from the years when I had an almost ideal vantage point from which to observe it.

So, if we could double the level of human creativity, we’d easily double the rate of improvement across the board. Construction, farming, nursing, trucking and everything else would improve far faster than it has been.

A Story

Talking about creativity as a concept isn’t the same as seeing it in real life. It’s for good reason that we tend not to believe reports as much as we do observations. And so I’ll recount some direct observations to help convince you that massive increases in creativity are indeed possible.

Back in the 1970s, I hung out with a group of people (200 or so) who, for a variety of reasons, came to believe that musical creativity was possible to them… to every one of them.

Because they believed that they could, nearly every person in this group wrote a few passable songs, and a significant portion of them (minimally 15 percent) wrote twenty good songs; many of them excellent songs.

Compare that with the general population.

Talent, as John Taylor Gatto used to say, “is as common as dirt.” And it truly is. Every healthy human has far more innate talent (however we might define that) than they know, or might want to know.

What Restrains Creativity

One great suppressor of creativity is the expectations of others. What others expect of us… what they quietly demand of us… chokes our creativity. As Arthur Schopenhauer noted, “We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.” And that three-fourths definitely includes our creative parts.

The other great suppressor is fear of punishment. All of us live inside dominance hierarchies… rulership units (of many types and sizes) that routinely punish non-compliance. (And whose edicts are so voluminous as to be unknowable.) These structures can survive only by restraining human action, and so they do a lot of it. No government can survive without making people obey its commands; their fundamental operating statement, after all, is, Do as we say or we’ll hurt you.

And so, the more hierarchy we have, the less we operate as individuals, and the less creativity – an emanation of the purest individuality – we exhibit. Inside hierarchy, we are less ourselves. We become, in the proper meaning of the term, self-less, and thus creative-less.

Hannah Arendt noted this in The Origins of Totalitarianism:

The disturbing factor in the success of totalitarianism is the true selflessness of its adherents.

When we are truly selfless, as within a tyranny, we lose our capacity for individual judgment. We dare not see and judge for ourselves, we dare not stand on our own beliefs, we dare not differ from the crowd. We descend from creative beings to crowd beings: less conscious, less alive and definitely less creative.

(There’s also an excellent system design argument to be made here, but we haven’t space for it.)

Truly Double?

So, by dropping hierarchy, we could massively increase our creativity. Getting rid of hierarchy, however – and as much as I believe that would be a magnificent thing – doesn’t prove my point. My title, after all, implies that we can double creativity in the near future, not in some magical future. And so let’s address that.

In Western populations, certainly in the United States, hierarchy has a hard time getting traction in roughly one third of the populace. This 1/3 – 2/3 split isn’t terribly scientific, but it pops up so frequently that I can’t dismiss it. The most recent large example of it was the Covid shot, which was thrust on the populace with massive hierarchical power. And yet, roughly one third of the populace refused it. This refusal wasn’t based upon medical facts alone (though there was a good deal of that); underlying it was an innate distrust of hierarchy.

And so, if a dissociation with hierarchy reached just another third of the populace – with each non-believer bringing along just one other person – human creativity would double. (It would actually more than double, but that’s a fine point that I won’t belabor.)

And yes, this is possible. People have lived without hierarchy in many places and at many times. During the two big “dark ages,” some 99 percent of the populace lived without hierarchy for centuries. And from those times came some of the most important human advances.

To close, I’ll leave you with two short passages, the first from Albert Einstein and the second from Mark Twain. Please consider them:

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.

Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered – either by themselves or by others.


Paul Rosenberg