Innovation, Creation, and Change

by Antonio Dias

Sick as we are, finding further bad news of our diagnosis and prognosis at every turn; we look to innovation, creation, and change for some way to turn back the clock, or at least carve out some detour from the horrors we see in our path. This is understandable. Predictable. But is it good or right that we take our hunger for a way out on face value and accept every nostrum flung our way that has some claim to make a difference? Does any of it matter? Is it a question, like so many others, of attitude?

Bumping up against the imponderables of action without striving, this latest grappling with that which would rather be left alone, requires a constant shifting of perspective and changes of angle of attack. In sailing, this is called hunting, not accepting that we know what’s best to do at a given moment but instead making minor preemptive “corrections” to discover if a different approach might actually be more aligned with the actual conditions than we can be consciously aware of, aware enough to have analyzed a change and to be able to carry it out and then see that it is an actual improvement. Hunting acknowledges that it’s hard enough to tell if we are trending towards or away from congruency with our conditions without having to put all the myriad factors through a series of linear analyses. We hunt with the tiller, we hunt with the sheet. If we find a better “slant” we take that as a new baseline and continue to hunt certain of one thing, whatever optimization we’ve made, things will continue to change beyond our capacity to analyze them.

How does this compare with our general hunger for innovation, for change? Mostly in attitude. We are conditioned to accept the lie that is progress – it’s too cozy and a libel against real myths to use that term for it! – as a fact, and then to wish our way forward by fulfilling its precepts. Progress is an unfolding of improvement through time as we climb a ladder of perfection. Mistakes, reversals, horrors, and tragedies; all entered into in its name are just spice to make our passage more worthy of the great goals in our sights.

Guess what, I don’t buy it!

But what does that mean?

It’s not as easy as that, for any of us. We are inculcated with this trajectory of expectation. It is so deeply embedded in our patterns of thought, our habits, and dreams.

Yesterday I brought up the way being afloat changes our expectations, at least it can if we are open to its call. This aspect of sailing, hunting, is part of that “sea-change.” The greatest lesson of all this is that in “everyday” life on land our illusions are too well masked. Evolution, whether it be of habits and ways of seeing, or of organisms, and even great phyla of life, requires a feedback from an action’s foray into the unknown with a push-back of the world as-it-is. If the feedback is too well masked or too fast for us to respond adequately, the result is an instability of response to conditions that ultimately leads so far away from as-it-is at that time to allow for only one option, extinction. That should be familiar in its symptoms, we’re surrounded with examples, and not just of cute exotic animals that make us go “Awe!” when we see their young in glossy photographs attached to some appeal. All of our organs of power have backed themselves into corners as fatal as a lack of sea ice is to any penguin, walrus or polar bear.

Innovation in attitudes has been deadly in the long run. Presumably we began our run with an attitude that fit in with those of other forms of life. We have innovated our way out of that finely tuned acceptance and pragmatism that still surrounds us if we care to look. Our ability to imagine, and then become enthralled by the virtuosity and sheer volume of our fantasies, has led to our abandonment of what it takes to maintain that listening, questioning approach to life. The fantasy of solid ground stands in for the whole complex. Upon its flimsy insubstantiality we have built all of our subsequent conditioning. Standing on a froth and assuming it to be a steady foundation may have been our first human mistake.

In the title, I’ve buried creation in this short list of our appetites for escape. Is it just another delusion?

I hope not. I also feel there is reason to accept that it isn’t. Let’s get back to attitudes. There is an attitude that sees creation as an attribute of innovation and then subsumes it into Jacob’s Ladder. Innovation is a cornucopia of newly minted creations, the manna dropping from the heaven of our abilities, the reward for our striving, and a sign of our good fortune as we bask in the bosom of Providence. Any question how I come down on that one?

There is another attitude towards creation. That it is a flow from out of which being emanates. That we are surrounded by creation – despite the smokescreen of the term creationist applied to those most likely to miss any sign of its existence. This attitude accepts that we can work to embody being in such a way that creation, creativity, may express itself through us. There is no quid pro quo. No bargain with paternal deity, no Jacob’s Ladder of Progress to repay us. It simply offers us a chance to partake of being.

Attention, as the “savvy” marketers have discovered, is our only fundamental unit of value. We value what we attend, whether we do so with care or squander our attention on whatever bauble of spectacle is on offer by those seeking to buy us wholesale and sell us retail.

IF we allocate our attention on the basis of this other attitude towards creation and the conditions of creativity, it may be possible to navigate the bombardment of innovations and change assaulting us on every side. It can be a touchstone and a compass with which we can test our relationship to the world as-it-is, as that world continues to shift beneath our feet. Hunting for the best fit without preconception, hoping to raise our level of awareness and even understanding while maintaining a respect for the complexity of what we face that we will never comprehend, we can save our attention for those moments of creation that happen to us and through us and have enough attention left over to sense whether we are flowing or being dragged back.

A sailboat race has a beginning and an end. It is circumscribed in the way of any ritual, so as to provide a privileged moment of learning, renewal, and a joy in the totality it represents. Too bad this amazing possibility has been loaded with the crap-trappings of a different kind of privilege, a different attitude towards ritual, so as to be a mere interlude on a path to ever greater delusion.  A “reward” for those who believe themselves the recipients of Providence’s just desserts.

As with so much that might still hold value to us as culture collapses taking fuck-all-else with it, maybe it’s possible to wrest this lesson from its husks as well.