‘Malevolent creativity’: The concept is destructive

Malevolent creativity is apparently the study of creativity, where creativity is used for malevolent purposes. The phrasing has BIG problems. Here’s why.

I first saw the phrase malevolent creativity on LinkedIn. When I saw it, I experienced a physical effect, as if having been punched in the gut. ‘What on earth do these people mean?’ I wondered. ‘How can creativity be malevolent?’ It was in the spirit of these wonderings that I made a comment on the post, to the effect that creativity cannot possibly be malevolent. That the creatures using creativity to achieve malevolent ends are problem. That this phrasing creates certain expectations in the minds of those who hear it, as does all language.

What I learned is that there is a relatively new branch of academia, focusing on creativity, that focuses on malevolent uses of creativity. Instead of calling a spade a spade, however, someone (or a group of someones) decided that it’s creativity that is malevolent instead.

Do you feel the looming, dark shadows rising out of the horizon at this idea, as I do? Do you hear the warnings in the wind, the whispers of demons, and the threat to your viable life as a creator, as I do?

If you don’t, you ought to.

Creativity cannot be malevolent

In the beginning there was linguistics, and linguistics defines rules that tell us about actors and non-actors. Creativity it is not an actor. It is the state of being creative. That state cannot exist without someone — an actor — experiencing that state. The term creativity was first used to describe a state of ‘being imaginative’ in the 1800s. It’s recent usage, in other words.

The critical point here, in case you missed it, is that it is about the state ‘of being creative’.

The term ‘creativity’ doesn’t tell us who is being creative. Creativity is not creative. You have to pair it with a being that has agency in order to make creativity come to life. The person being creative is using creativity.

On the other side of the equation, we have the term ‘malevolent’. This term also has issues in a broader context. It means ‘wishing evil to others; or ‘having an evil disposition toward another or others’. Since the Middle Ages, the term evil has focused on moral badness though prior to that time ‘evil’ had a much broader definition.

Moral badness can only exist within a creature who possesses morals, an understanding of a social structure that defines morality. Again, you need an actor, an agent, to behave morally.

So if creativity is not an actor, how can creativity do things? If creativity is not an actor or an agent, how can it behave morally? How can it wish evil to others? How can creativity be anything, whether evil or comedic or inspiring or [insert thing]?

You may as well talk about malevolent sentimentality. Malevolent audacity. Malevolent obesity. It’s just ridiculous.

Creativity can’t be malevolent.

Defenders tell me I’m the problem

Of course, because I ‘can’t see’ the new shapes of creativity, I’m the problem. I was told that I have a problem seeing the fulness of creativity. This in the face of the person telling me about my limitation not even recognising the linguistic structure of the phrase. Perhaps I ought to have told him that he had a problem ‘seeing the phrase’.

The big-picture problem with the phrase is that it’s a short step from telling people that ‘creativity’ is malevolent to outlawing creativity. That’s what happened in the Middle Ages. Art was outlawed for fear that it would be confused with pagan worship. Almost all artistic practice was destroyed. That’s what the Renaissance was: The rebuilding of creative practice in service of art. What it does is divide humans into “those who are helpfully creative according to the ruling class’s definition of helpful”, and those who are not.

I’m calling it now: It’s a day, not far away, in which uncontrolled creative practices will be outlawed for fear they will be confused with terrorism, racism, conservative perspectives or whatever it is that the ruling class decides is cancel-worthy this week. I’m calling it now because that’s the pathway that malevolent creativity takes us on.

Instead of examining the actor doing the nasty stuff, which is the proper domain for discussions about their uses of creativity, this bullshyte area of study plonks it into studies of creativity. It is better plonked inside psychology. Perhaps study the creativity of psychopaths in order to better understand how the minds of psychopaths work. Or go and study murderers like Ted Bundy to understand how creativity relates to mathematics (as another example): He couldn’t see the problem with murdering people because there are ‘so many’ people! It’s not the creativity that was the problem. It was a conception of numbers. Perhaps mathematics would be malevolent too, if it weren’t one of the sexy members of STEM.

In any case, the vision of malevolent creativity is misaligned. It is a desperate attempt to create something new out of an old, worn-out trope. To get funding. To make universities somehow relevant. To give those who would otherwise use their own creativity to improve the world by making something new, to ignore their inner artists and focus elsewhere.

Study how people use creativity, fine. Don’t tell us that creativity is evil.

Humans are inherently creative and terminology is not inert

Every problem you solve, you use creativity to do it. That problem might be getting an apple tree to grow; it might be wiping people out of existence. Remember the Hermetic Laws: Everything exists on a spectrum.

If we begin to categorise an incredible power like ‘creativity’ into little boxes of type, defined by a ruling class’s definition of what is ok, we suddenly destroy that power. We create new ways of judging people and their creative outputs. Regardless of the end-point of that creativity, creativity is an amazing facility. Let’s not destroy it.

It is important to understand that language IS. Language changes, yes. Every word in the language carries a history that imparts itself to those who use it whether those people realise the history or not. Think about how you relate to the word ‘work’, and then go and read Work: The last 1000 years to really understand that.

Words are magical, because they are not inert. They inspire emotions, emotions inspire thoughts, thoughts inspire actions, actions create behaviours, situations, things. Thoughts become things. Any manifesty person will tell you that. Hell, even Julia Cameron will tell you that!

This is why malevolent creativity is destructive. It is a shortcut that tells people that their creativity is (or could be) evil. That creativity can be evil. If creativity can be evil then surely we ought to control it? And how do we control it? By making rules that stifle creation.

That’s not a world I want to live in. Do you?

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