Albert Einstein once said that ‘every child is born a genius’. Educationalists ask: ‘What if every child could be made an Einstein?’ The key to unlocking our full human potential lies in our creative drive. As a writer and critic of science fiction, I am fascinated by the prospect of a world where our full human potential has been realised, and I believe that a ‘creator culture’ is the necessary next step on the path to achieving that vision. We are already well on the way; it might arrive much sooner than many of us expect. Moreover, some of our most pressing societal concerns — from economic decline to environmental collapse — exist because we are resisting the natural evolution of a more creative society.
What might a creator culture look like?
Firstly, it is not a utopia. It is much like the developed world today, with governments, businesses, financial systems, political parties, cities, nations and many other elements of modern, post-industrial life. But it is a society where human creativity has been made the first priority.
The arts and sciences are at the heart of a creator culture, but so are many other kinds of human creativity. Entrepreneurialism, community work, industry; there are many paths. The economic system will have been rebalanced to distribute wealth more fairly to all, permitting the 10-15 hour working week that John Maynard Keynes predicted nearly a century ago. While some people will still be richer than others, wealth will no longer be hoarded by a tiny minority. Poverty as we know it will no longer exist. A more equal society will allow everyone the time and freedom to follow their creative passions, without the paralysing question of whether they produce wealth.
The rise of automation in the workplace will have continued, and the physical work that remains will be distributed more fairly across society. Otherwise, employment in a creator culture will consist almost entirely of knowledge work. The rise of the knowledge worker was among the most remarkable developments of the 20th century, ushering in an era in the developed world that would already seem semi-utopian to the people of the 19th century. For software engineers, graphic designers, data analysts, writers, doctors, lawyers and a huge range of other kinds of worker, the key asset is knowledge rather than any capacity for physical labour. That will be the norm in a creator culture.
Most workers will be freelancers, and to earn a living wage, they will have to work an average of two days a week. Nevertheless, many people will work tirelessly on projects and jobs that relate to their creative interests. Networks will subsume hierarchical organisational structures. As has already happened with open-source software development, many business models will be challenged by networks of knowledge workers providing better products and services at better prices.
In the whole of that universe, humans are the only beings we know with the power of creation
Technology is foundational to a creator culture. The focus of the networked, knowledge-based workforce will be the invention and application of new technologies. The automation of most routine work tasks will provide the base of production that allows such a culture to flourish in the first place. But instead of allowing the wealth created by automation to accumulate in the hands of a few, it must be distributed to the many. We need the right technologies, implemented for the benefit of society; progress can’t be driven by purely commercial imperatives. And to turn the disruptive effects of technology into positive social change we need to think far beyond the currently limited scope of our education system.
Education is the lubricant that allows a creator culture to function. Basic education will often continue into one’s late 20s and early 30s. Most people will return to education many times between spells of employment. There will no longer be an artificial divide between the sciences, humanities and arts: all contribute holistically to a full education. The utilitarian demand for education that only leads to specific jobs will be as frowned upon in a creator culture as behavioural conditioning and corporal punishment are in our own society. The singular aim of education will be human development. Every person should be freed to achieve their full creative potential.
For many people, a creator culture will appear far from utopian. It will demand exceptional levels of independence and self-reliance from its citizens. Creativity, moreover, is always uncertain, always accompanied by the risk of failure. A creator culture will require universal lifelong education, the explicit redistribution of wealth and the deconstruction of many existing hierarchies and authority structures. These will be difficult ideas for political conservatives to accept. But it also will also demand that the structures of government, education and social care that exist to support the bottom of society are continually reformed, and that they ultimately make themselves redundant, as the poverty they serve is eliminated. That, in practice, may be equally difficult for the political left to embrace.
Such a society would also change the shape of certain environmental issues. The climb out of poverty inevitably places demands on the natural resources of our planet. Yet consumerism is built on ever-increasing demand for goods, which fuels economic growth. A creator culture would lead to a plateau in demand and a levelling of growth. The energy we invest in buying consumer goods would instead go towards our creative activities. And though it is very unlikely that our demand for resources will do anything but increase over time, a creator culture might also help us to reach beyond the limits of our own planet.
That’s because, though it isn’t a utopia itself, a creator culture might eventually let us bring about the utopian visions of science fiction. Imagine our planet populated by billions of humans, educated to the standard of the greatest scientists and given the freedom to cultivate their full measure of creativity. At our disposal is any technology we can conceive and create. Within our reach is a universe of unlimited resources. In the whole of that universe, humans are the only beings we know with the power of creation. And there are only a few billion of us — a large number on a small planet perhaps, a vanishingly small one in an infinite cosmos. We’re going to need the wondrous creativity of every single human being to knock this universe in to shape. I wonder, what will we create?