Built In Assumptions

When we create, we draw upon our influences.  No artist can deny that.  The range and scope of our influences, the things that we took in at an earlier time as our signature absorption of our particular culture, provide the raw materials for the creations that we, in turn, will bring forth.  Culture is, to this extent, self referential and self reinforcing.  We perpetuate ideas by taking them in and then reworking them into new art.  The same essential ideas re-emerge, in new guises.

Our influences also limit the range of possible creations.  Our built in assumptions, unless challenged and expanded upon, or questioned and replaced, can exert significant, unconscious boundaries on the types of creations we might make.

You can readily observe this phenomenon if you know some young teenagers.  When young teens begin to write stories, the works they produce bear more than a passing resemblance to stories told to them in earlier years.  The same themes and outcomes are apparent.  The raw materials that are their base assumptions about the world and how it works are evident in their own stories.  Even if they have a different moral compass and hold other values dear, the material of their stories clearly shows what their working assumptions about the world and how you succeed or fail in it happen to be.

Without decades of experience of the world and their own long lifetime of observations to draw upon, at this young age, teens more or less assume that things are a particular way because they have always been so and that this is the natural order of things.  Their frame of reference is too brief to question those assumptions.  They don’t know if things used to be different, historically, or if other future possibilities exist.  Their world views of the likely future and view of history is that it will be, or was much the same as today, only more so.  I’m generalising wildly, of course and there are likely to be exceptions, but I think this, in the main, holds true of the cohort as a whole.

Consequently, the stories teenagers create (especially boys, it seems) are frequently about conflict and violent domination, set in a world of sometimes extreme scarcity, rather than abundance.  Killing and maiming others is often portrayed as a survival tactic.  It’s a pretty bleak kind of world to write about.  These kinds of stories emerge even if the teen grows up in a pacifist household and sincerely holds peace loving ideals.

It’s possible that some of the aggression and competition apparent in these teen stories can be attributed to the presence of testosterone, but I think that much of it has to be due to the subtle, consistent indoctrination offered up by television, movies, stories written for the young, computer games and other narrative devices.  The parental household dialogue can also be mistaken for being quite pessimistic, when parents respond to the daily news or economic and political affairs; even if the parents are somewhat more optimistic for the future than their casual reactions to the news media would lead their kids to believe.

What children and teens quietly take in is a constant diet of bleak conflicts, characterised by extreme, seemingly random, deliberate violence, set in a world where scarcity has been engineered as an economic system choice.  Killing and maiming are discoverable, in high definition colour, on every news bulletin.  Injustice is there for all to read and watch and people are encouraged to compete with each other, for crumbs.  Observing their own parents, teens will note that their household is dominated by work concerns and discussions about money.  Frustrations brought home from the office are played out in front of the kids.  Why wouldn’t kids come to assume that this is the environment they have been born into – a kind of planetary scale gladiatorial contest, where survival depends upon the use of violence and guile, with no holds barred and that even in winning such competitions, there will be another tomorrow and the rewards for winning will be both meagre and temporary.  If that’s all you know, it will strongly influence the stories and art you create.

When you consider the messages reinforced by our culture to young people, it’s easy to begin to think that war and poverty are inevitabilities, instead of deliberate, optional, human choices, made by a small number of self-interested leaders and imposed upon millions of innocent bystanders.  You could be forgiven for thinking, given the hero worship lavished on all sorts of entrepreneurs and billionaires with questionable ethics, that the rich are rich because they always earn it fairly and squarely, since they’re better than the rest of us.  You could conclude that a necessary personality trait for succeeding in business is that you must be a thorough going arsehole.  I am stating this as an observation, not as an endorsement of a world in which we must all be arseholes just to survive.  In fact, it’s utilitarian in the extreme, but wholly naive, to believe that you, alone, can be the only successful arsehole in a world saturated with them, but the exception is what people believe in.

Could it be that there is some wider agenda in feeding us on this particular diet of narratives?  Is it accidental, deliberate or yet another manifestation of the unconscious replay of what a previous generation were told were the truths about the world?  Are we trained to think, over a lifetime, by the media, our entertainment industries and other cultural artefacts, to simply believe in, uphold and shore up the status quo for the benefit of those that enjoy its benefits disproportionately?

I contend that if they only put blue paint on your palette, then you only paint blue pictures.  The range of stories and narratives that predominate in a culture go on to strongly influence and constrain the range of creative expression exhibited by younger generations.  What we feed them is what they, in turn, serve up.

It turns out that much of our cultural narrative owes its character to the fact that, unbeknownst to most of us, people with psychopathic tendencies (in that they feel no empathy for others) have tended to become our charismatic, ruthless leaders.  As they call the shots, they tell a narrative that asserts that this is normality and that no other normality is possible or desirable.  They would say that, wouldn’t they?

Those with such tendencies tend to say (in fact, do say:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nick-simmons/interview-with-the-psycho_b_5534192.html?utm_hp_ref=tw ) that there will always be war and aggression, because psychopaths are necessary, when the chips are down, to act without thought, to cause things to get done, without the “delay” that would be incurred, if they thought about how their actions will affect others.  They paint themselves as saviours of all of us.  The psychopath being interviewed in the article even has the audacity to equate perfect pitch, a generally benign human trait, with psychopathy, which is frequently malignant.  Saying that psychopaths are necessary to humanity, as they just might save us when the species is under threat and equating their psychopathology with a musical ability, is a seductive and manipulative point of view.  It disguises the fact that most actions of those with psychopathic tendencies are wholly self serving.  Psychopaths rarely consider the consequences or collateral damage associated with their decisive actions and hence are never able to answer the questions, “is this the right time to do this?”, “should we do it in this way?” and “is this thing worth doing at all?”.  Perhaps the delay is a worthwhile thing after all.

In fact, there is a considerable body of evidence that allowing charismatic, psychopathic leaders to act without constraint or thought of the consequences to others is threatening the very survival of life on earth, in significant ways.  They’d sell us all out, for temporary personal gain.  Our cultural narrative needs to turn away from the hagiographic praise for those that act without conscience or empathy, to one that questions their actions, motives and the promised, but seldom delivered, benefits for all mankind.  In many, many cases, the actions that these leaders paint as imperative are nothing of the sort and we’d all be far better off if they stayed home and did nothing.

One might wish to believe that the news media itself is not run by those with a psychopathic tendency and that they only reflect the psychopathy of our leaders and public figures, but read this account of the News of the World, under Andy Coulson’s leadership:  http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2014/jul/28/-sp-bullying-hypocrisy-andy-coulson-reign-news-of-the-world-hack-attack-nick-davies  You will note, from the article, that several of the main players in the news department were described as devoid of empathy and that they answered to a board of a similar persuasion.  A quote from the article clearly and bluntly states: “There was no room for doubt or conscience.  Human feelings did not come into it.”  It also says, “This was not just about hypocrisy.  It was also the key to a crucial editorial distortion: regardless of the reality of the world they lived in, the News of the World was pretending in print that the nation lived by an antique moral code.  It was fiction.  It was also the cornerstone of their justification for their most destructive work.”  These are the people that create our popular culture and set the agenda about what we all discuss, daily and how we see the world.  It’s a distorted viewpoint, written and published by distorted people.

The raw material for our children’s future stories and creations needs to be based in fact.  A recent study concluded that young children who are exposed to religion have a hard time differentiating between fact and fiction.  Five and six year old children from different schooling systems were presented with three different types of stories – religious, fantastical and realistic. The aim was to gauge how well they could identify narratives with impossible elements contained within them, as fiction.  The study found that children who went to church or were enrolled in a faith based school were significantly less able than secular children to identify supernatural elements, such as talking animals, as fictional.

By relating seemingly impossible religious events achieved through divine interventions (e.g. turning water into wine) to fictional narratives, religious children would more heavily rely on religion to justify their false categorisations.  Is this the raw material for future narratives we want to feed to our children?  When a cohort is unable to reliably differentiate fact from fiction, all manner of manipulations are open to those that don’t care what effect their manipulations might have on their prey.  People can be convinced of any absurd proposition (such as that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, to cite just one example).  When you feed young people on a diet of official, mainstream media fictions, the result is that net bamboozlement simply increases.  This makes them vulnerable to harmful manipulations.  It’s not good to become prey to those that predate.

Another recent article I came across, which describes how conservatives think, was this one: http://www.alternet.org/scientists-discover-fascinating-psychological-reason-why-conservatives-areconservative?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

This article provides some alarming and controversial conclusions.  These have a significant impact on the stuff of stories that our children take in as base assumptions, which they will subsequently use to form and propagate their own world views and gamut of possible outcomes for humanity in the future.

This somewhat scholarly article concludes that the conservatives in charge are psychologically, perhaps even physiologically, different creatures to creative, progressive, open-minded, flexible-thinking, artistic people.  Conservatives have a biological need for structure, order, closure, hierarchies, enforcement of law, and imposition of their will.  They need everything to be locked down according to their desires.  Unfortunately, humans don’t have the capability to do this without extremely harmful unintended consequences.  While conservatives think they want to rule the world, the actual responsibility for doing so is beyond their capacity to cope with it.

This is not to equate conservatism with psychopathy, though it is obvious that, in some particular cases, there is a considerable overlap.  The article does not address psychopathy and there is no evidence to conclude that all conservatives lack empathy, are not creative and treat other human beings as prey, or playthings to be manipulated.  It is possible to be conservative and yet be caring of others (as long as they are not outsiders and can be trusted) and not especially manipulative (though the conservative mindset is characterised by a love of rules, structure, law enforcement and order maintained by force and threat).

The biology of conservatism, which is, the article asserts, hypersensitive to threats, was an evolutionary winner in the Pleistocene era, when wild animals and any number of natural catastrophes could kill us all at any moment, but is madly maladaptive in a world full of the means for planetary scale destruction of all life, through enforcement tools like nuclear weapons and through the domination and conquering mindset, which lays waste to the environment and sees enemies, where there are only other earthlings.

The biologically conservative mindset, the article goes on to say, is fundamentally threat-oriented, in that it wants to eliminate perceived threats by killing, destroying, obliterating, burning or poisoning them out of existence.  These conservative thinkers rarely consider the effect on bystanders and the collateral damage so caused.  For example, winning a nuclear war but leaving the “battlefield” uninhabitable still feels like a good idea, to those that require a settled closure to the perceived problem of “otherness” – other races, customs, idea and beliefs.

People who think conservatively tend to treat soil systems and medicine the same way – divide and conquer, dominate and control, remove and replace.  Real biological systems don’t work this way.  To maintain healthy organisms, eco-systems, bodies and soils, you have to be accepting of a certain amount of diversity and apparent chaos, because these systems are, in reality, highly complex matrices of evolutionarily successful organisms, all doing what they do, in concert, to survive.  Stepping in and trying to isolate, control, purify and improve along a single dimension, by force or brutal violence, is actually contrary to the natural state of these systems, which exist in equilibrium – harmony and balance, achieved over millennia of evolution.  These delicately balanced systems are not tolerant of the imposition of human will for arbitrary purpose (or more correctly, for the purposes of making conservative people feel they have achieved control).  In trying to eliminate the threats perceived by conservative humans, the whole system is degraded and threatened with destruction.

The most alarming assertion and the bleak prognosis of the article above is that those who are biologically conservative can never be changed.  They’re wired this way.  Yet, there appears to be no limit to the scope of their desire to intervene.  The implications of this, if thought through, are staggering.

The other kinds of humans – the creative, sensitive, highly emotional, passionate, mercurial, progressive, artistic types, that are comfortable with change, innovation, new ideas, ambiguity, compromise, settlements that involve not getting everything you want, who can accommodate a plurality of viewpoints, ideas, beliefs, cultures and ways of being, are actually the ones that cause all the improvements in the condition of man.  To be conservative in your thoughts is to be, almost definitionally, sclerotic.  The creatives, in contrast, are the imaginative visionaries and seers that solve the hard problems and seek betterment for all, rather than sticking to what they know, keeping everything locked down, under control and the same as tradition demands, ensuring that outsiders are kept at bay.  I suggest that this other kind of biology, the creative type, has a distinct evolutionary advantage, at a point in human history, where the conservative mindset has brought us to the brink of extinction and created unbearable suffering for millions of innocents.

Returning to the central thesis of this post, which is to discuss the palette of raw materials that we provide as narratives and the base assumptions that we indoctrinate our children with, either by default or design, we can ask some fundamental questions.  Here are a few:

Why is it unlikely that war will, in the future, be recognised as too costly, in human lives, environmental destruction and on the economy?  Could a perfectly plausible narrative about the future not be that war will become rare?  If war is too risky, due to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, could we not conclude that rationality will ultimately win the day and that wars will be seen as a stupid option, even to psychopaths or simply to conservatives that wish to impose their will on others they perceive as less worthy than they are?  If so, why don’t our present day narratives and stories reflect this view?

Why won’t we learn to co-exist as earthlings, rather than as nationals of nation states?  The nation state is a human construct.  We can remove it, just as we created it.  In fact, the notion of governance being necessary and inescapable is also open to question.  We don’t need it to prepare a meal for ourselves.  Why should we need governance at all and governance by whom?  Psychopaths and conservatives?

Why, also, is it considered unlikely that we will recognise that we already have abundance, sufficient for all and that scarcity is a false construct overlaid on the riches, to divide haves (who have too much) against have-nots (who don’t have anything)?  A more plausible scenario, for the future, is that we wake up to this fact and set about redistributing our abundance more equitably.  What reason is there not to do so, other than the constraints of arbitrary money games that we, ourselves, have invented and can just as easily modify or discard?

Who says environmental destruction is inevitable, if we can curb greed, planned obsolescence and take recycling, repair and reuse seriously?  This is the sort of idea that should be in our cultural narratives, which we pass down to our children – possibilities, rather than inevitabilities.

Why should there always be a stratum of elites that “own” all the money and resources, when more equitable and just forms of human organisation are available?  There is no law of physics which underwrites selfishness and greed.  We should see those traits for what they really are, in the human population – aberrations.  I’ve never yet heard anybody seriously ask how much they will be paid, if they pass the butter to somebody that asks for it, at the dinner table.  We are, by nature, a population of generous, giving, sharing and dare I say it, basically communistic creatures, by inclination.

As much as the economists and business would have you believe that we are all solely driven by self interest and monetary gain, there is just as much evidence for altruism and selfless acts of compassion.  The story those lacking in empathy tell is that we all lack empathy, or ought to.  The real story, apparent to the majority of humanity, is that we are not.  Again, this is the sort of narrative that needs to be seized upon, by the creatives and included in the palette of base assumptions that we give to our children.

Who says the uncompassionate and merciless will always be the winners, in the game of life, if we can begin to isolate them and limit the scope of their harmful actions and their agency in committing them?  The story of our future selves that we could just as easily tell is that the meek shall inherit the earth.  We can begin to talk about gentleness and kindness as being the route to success and true happiness, in life and for the accumulation of material objects, through ruthless, brutal competition, the losers’ way.

All of these equally and perhaps more plausible possibilities, to describe our collective future, generally fail to find their way into film scripts, games, stories and the media narrative, today.  Artists can change that.

The arguments against a brighter future are actually not compelling.  They all rely on the argument that this is just a consequence of our debased human nature, but is human nature debased?  If it were, why would we observe so much compassion, caring, volunteering, altruism, emotion, love and concern?  Surely that’s our true nature and the violent, dysfunctional one is a projection of some very unwell psychopaths that happen to run things and who have control over the primary story telling apparatus of our age.

While we continue to repeatedly reinforce the message that the future will be a bleak, violent, unjust dystopia, that’s all we’ll get, because we’ll close off all thought about other brighter possibilities.  If we put a better future into the realm of unthinkable thoughts, because there are no stories and narratives told which expound on them imaginatively, then kids will grow up with a limited vocabulary to describe anything other than the dysfunctional systems and organisations we currently endure.  We’re better off feeding them on a diet of pure possibility.

The future is built on the stories we tell ourselves and our children.  The stories are constructed on the edifice of our built in assumptions about the world.  Artists can do important work in changing the assumptions we all hold to be self evident, when in fact they are nothing more than the artefacts of systematic indoctrination.  Artists are the people with the ability to think other, more positive and benign assumptions and to train our kids with these thoughts instead.  We can change the base assumptions.

Artists are at the front, in the information war, to instil other possibilities in the future narrative of mankind.  Even the biologically conservative can, in time, come to accept that tradition demands peace, inclusion, openness, acceptance, tolerance and diversity, just as it always has.  They may be more inclined toward their harsh and violently divisive ideas always, but at least artists can feed the creative creatures among us with optimism and hope, along with ideas for how to create a better world that can really be designed and brought to fruition.

If the article I quoted above turns out to be correct and conservatives can’t be changed, we will have to deal with those of a threat oriented mindset until evolution selects them out, gradually and over time, if, in fact, evolution ever does.  There may be, it has to be said, residual fitness and adaptive advantage for this type of person, no matter how repugnant they can be to more creative creatures.  Evolution preserved them for a reason and may yet continue to do so.

My feeling, though, is that the creatives need to be in the ascendant and may yet assert their fitness and adaption to circumstances, rather than ceding the planet and its future to the other type, who seems hell bent on destroying it.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, artists can change the conversation, even if some people refuse to participate in it.  We’re not going to change the minds of those without a mind capable of being changed, but we can have agency and impact, as creatures that create better possibilities.

A better future begins with better built-in assumptions about it and about us.

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Demotivating Motivational Speakers

It’s amazing that a talk about rewards and incentives, intending to debunk them as a tool of modern business and using this as a springboard to introduce supposedly better motivational techniques, more in tune with scientific discoveries about what really motivates us, can end up raising some important questions that, as far as I am aware, have not been answered.

Here is the TED talk, by Daniel Pink, entitled “The Puzzle of Motivation”:


Let me set out my stall.  I believe the science.  Rewards and incentives don’t work in a huge number of real world business circumstances.  The science says they don’t work in the majority of them, in all probability.  In fact, a system of rewards or incentives makes performance worse for any task that requires a little initiative, creative thinking or a novel or innovative approach.  They fail miserably for any task that requires a level of intellectual engagement or cognitive application.  Why?  Because rewards narrow the focus on what is perceived to be the immediate goal, blinding the person so incentivized from all other possibilities, including the optimum answer.

So, science knows, with repeatable, evidential certainty that rewards only work for highly prescribed, scripted, mechanical tasks, where the work is repetitive and simple.  For intellectual or imaginative tasks, rewards not only don’t work, they hinder.  Paradoxically though, business still thinks rewards work in all cases where they are applied, despite the ample proof to the contrary.  There is clearly a discrepancy between what science knows and what business does.  This is a curious anomaly, until you start to think about what the main motivators of people turn out to be and what the implications for business are, in reality – more on this matter later in this post.

Given that carrots and sticks don’t work to create motivation for any task that requires creativity, then what does work?  Clearly people create.  What motivates them to do so?  According to Daniel Pink, motivation comes down to three important factors:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Artists have always known this intuitively.  It has been their modus operandi for centuries.  Can you imagine how awful art would be if every artist was rewarded for piecework?  You’d get a production line that produces the same art every time.  That loses the very essence of artistic creativity and reduces the practice to little more than a process for producing identical results.

If you want to be surprised and delighted, artists need more autonomy than that.  They need to be able to master their art and to work with purpose and conviction.

Let’s examine these three factors one by one:


We’re adults.  We drive cars, vote, organise how to eat every day and know what to do with ourselves, when and how, without external direction.  We don’t need to be governed in our everyday actions.  The same applies to our work.  We’re quite capable of organising our work tasks and our application to them, to get things done.  Since we were children, we were self-organising, in our play and in our learning, to a large extent.  It is only when systems and organisations step in, which try to take our autonomy away, that things become sub optimal.

Suddenly, we have to work to somebody else’s schedule and task priorities.  We no longer control our time, attention and application.  We don’t get to take time out when our bodies or minds are fatigued.  Essentially, most modern regimented learning and management in business settings utterly thwart or take away our autonomy – our capacity to get things done without external interference or direction.

Even in collaborative activities, we generally knew how to organise each other when we were children, yet somehow as adults, in a job, we have to follow Gantt charts, have meetings and report status, as if that was some kind of substitute for genuine progress.

It turns out that when people get their autonomy back, with freedom about what to do, when and how, our motivation returns as well.  I guess it begins to feel like childhood play all over again.  The more it feels like self-directed learning or play, the higher our satisfaction and it has been shown that our performance improves too.

I’ve seldom seen artists that work in anything other than an autonomous way.


It’s exceedingly commonplace for people to want to be good at what they do.  People are motivated, intrinsically, to improve their skills in their chosen field of endeavour.  We like to get better and better and enjoy the challenge of producing something superior to what we could produce before.  There is a Zen satisfaction in obtaining a depth of knowledge and mastery of our skills.  It seems we’re wired for progress and personal growth.

In employment settings, however, how often do you find yourself diverted from this goal?  You have to keep working at the same level, or enrichment and learning opportunities are denied to you, or else you are constantly distracted and moved from improving your performance in a task you love, to perform some other sorts of tasks.  Signing leave chits was never my idea of becoming a great innovator, for example.  Neither was being told that somebody else was in charge of producing all the bright ideas and company direction.

It has been discovered and confirmed that if people are left to hone and perfect their skills, in whatever area interests them most, they are motivated to do so and produce far better results than those without that opportunity.  We like to make good things well.

Again, artists have always been this way.  They spend entire careers mastering their materials and techniques.  It’s just what they do.


Finding your purpose is something that many people struggle with, but a clue is in noticing things that light you up, enthuse you and turn your work drudgery into a pleasure you cannot believe somebody pays you to do.  It may have to do with a higher meaning or calling, or it might be something that makes you content with the idea that you’re playing your part and making wider changes for the better that impact other people positively.  Working with purpose is equivalent to tapping into your deepest and most powerful motivation.

When we are working with purpose, we attempt to solve the most difficult problems and persevere with the most daunting, demanding and challenging of tasks that less motivated people would simply give up on.  It’s the kind of motivation that lets us dig deep from inside of ourselves to produce our best work.  Working with purpose makes the impossible, possible.

Artists know this inner drive, driven by a higher purpose, as their creative muse or in some cases, the source of their creative angst.  The need to strive to do something for some purpose greater than oneself is a strong artistic motivator, which has lead artists to create works of the most staggeringly beautiful and ambitious kinds.  The Sistine chapel springs to mind.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in Business

If you want autonomy, mastery and purpose as the primary motivators, in a business context, so that you get the highest levels of performance possible, they say you should take money issues off the table first.  Don’t be cheap.  If you want a work force that acts autonomously, pursues mastery and works with purpose, then you cannot let money get in the way of that.  You shouldn’t try to buy this kind of performance cheaply, nor should you allow money to constrain their autonomy, their pursuit of mastery or to interfere with their purpose.  In other words, you need deep pockets, generosity and the willingness to cede control over people.

This, I am afraid, is where most employers fall down.  They find it exceedingly difficult to not manage, to trust their people to get the work done to a high standard, to give them all the resources they need to succeed and to not drive wages and conditions down to the lowest possible level, to retain more of the earnings as profit.  It is this aspect of the theory of encouraging autonomy, mastery and purpose in business contexts that I find most demotivating.  Businesses are not serious about doing it.  They’d rather pay token rewards, which might even harm performance, than to set themselves up to fully support an autonomous workforce, which is striving to achieve mastery, while working with purpose.  They want AMP’d up people, but aren’t willing to pay the necessary price or give up control.

Daniel Pink’s theory goes that if employers just give their employees the opportunity to work with autonomy, mastery and purpose, then their performance will be at peak levels at all times and the employer will make more money.  What’s wrong with this picture?  There are contradictions and conflicts of interest built into this theory.  What’s good for the employer is not good for the employee and vice versa.  The seeds of failure are inherent in the employer/employee relationship and all the cultural artefacts that we have accepted over centuries, related to this power inequality.

In the first place, how can you give somebody autonomy?  Autonomy, almost by definition, is something that has to be taken and the taking requires no permission.  If it requires the assent of somebody else, then you aren’t autonomous.  In fact, if anybody can interfere with your work in any way, you’re not genuinely autonomous.  I think that most employers would struggle to claim that their people are truly autonomous.  If they were, “employers” would be prepared to allow their “employees” to do whatever work that interests them and to offer the results to anybody, not just the nominal “employer”, if that made most sense.  Clearly, no employer is going to countenance a notional employee selling his or her work products to somebody else, even if that makes the most sense to them.  You effectively cannot be fully autonomous in any arrangement of employer power over employee.  The autonomy will always find its limits and sometimes they will be severe.

Secondly, how can you be the master of somebody that achieves mastery?  They’re their own man, as a master.  They don’t need an employer to act as their master.  At best, if both the employer and employee achieve mastery, the relationship can be a partnership of equals, but while the employer insists that the employee remains dependent upon them for money and resources, mastery cannot be claimed.  It remains a subservient relationship, with the employee an apprentice or journeyman, in perpetuity.

If, on the other hand, mastery truly is achieved by an employee, then we have the anomalous situation where the lesser skilled person claims ownership over the one that has achieved mastery.  This is clearly upside down.

Finally, how can you create purpose where none exists?   Why should the employee’s purpose be the same as the employer’s purpose?   They’re very likely to have very different circumstances, history, values, ethics, morals and goals.  In life, you either have purpose or you don’t and you find it within yourself.  You usually don’t adopt a “purpose of convenience”, from an employer.  You might say you share their purpose, but unless it comes from the deepest place within you and co-incidentally corresponds with the employer’s purpose, then you’re living a charade.

The important point is that only your genuine purpose will motivate you.  An adopted purpose, taken on for the convenience of a working relationship, will fail to move you when it needs to.  Purpose is simply not something an employer can provide or give permission to exist and be expressed.  It almost has no meaning, in a business context.

Those objections aside, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that somebody has achieved autonomy, mastery and purpose.  If that is the case, what is the reason to manage them?  What would a manager even do, that adds value, in this case?  Their role would be extremely limited.  They couldn’t act as task master, mentor, guide, expert, authority or vision setter, because the person, having become AMP’d up, would have no need of those things, except from somebody who has achieved a greater level of mastery, perhaps.  A functional middle manager or even a general purpose CEO is not a good surrogate for a genuinely qualified, admired and respected mentor in the same field of mastery.  That being the case, to whom should the AMP’d up employee defer and for what possible reason?  Autonomy, mastery and purpose imply a very high degree of independence.

Given the independence and attainment of the autonomous, masterful and purposeful person, why should their work output belong to an employer?  How else would their unique work output come to exist?  Not through directed, purposeless employees that have not achieved mastery, for sure.

For that matter, why is a salary sufficient compensation for this level of masterful contribution?  This is the paradox and why businesses prefer to carry on rewarding for mechanical, directed performance.  It’s easier to lay claim to ownership of the results, if the people working for you are not autonomous, have not achieved mastery and do not work with purpose.  Claims to sole ownership over the work products of AMP’d up people is pretty hard to justify convincingly.

I find the application of motivations that artists have always relied upon to business contexts, where the employer is assumed to own the lion’s share of the value created by masters they employ, quite depressing and demotivating.  You’d have to be stupid to be working to your own agenda, mastering your craft or art, for a burning internal purpose, yet be willing to hand over all the value you created for a meagre salary that stops as soon as you stop working.

Capital, without the application of labour, knowledge, passion, skill, purpose and mastery, is actually valueless.  A pile of money doesn’t do anything of its own accord.  Neither does a room full of idle machines, a desktop full of tools or a warehouse full of raw materials.  These are the things that shareholders own.  They do not own autonomous, masterly people working with a higher purpose.  They don’t own that at all.  Even if they rent the time of such people, it’s a consumable.  They don’t own the person.  Where things go astray is when shareholders assert that their ownership of the capital used to create a work product entitles them to all the profits derived from that work solely, in perpetuity.  They even lay claim to the intellectual property generated by the autonomous, purposeful master.  This is a grave injustice and something of a con trick enforced by an unequal power relationship.

I suspect that others who have achieved autonomy, mastery and purpose would feel similarly taken advantage of and duped, if asked to give up the work products that result from this internal self actualisation, for an ordinary worker’s salary.  The pursuit of autonomy, mastery and purpose is not without personal costs, sacrifices and risks.  It’s hard work.  It’s a path that can go wrong and turn out badly.  You can fail many times, before finally succeeding.  Why should somebody else reap the rewards of success, if the risks and costs are not borne by them?  If you fail in your quest for autonomy, mastery and purpose, an employer imagines that they can simply find another one like you.  You, on the other hand, face an existential crisis.  This explains why so few employers tolerate failure or support an individual as they make missteps, take wrong turnings and eventually find their way.  It’s far easier for an employer to switch horses, when the going gets difficult.

The reality is that if the employer has the choice between earning from the work of an AMP’d up person, or from an automaton that they must micromanage and direct, for roughly the same cost (salary).  They do not want to pay a differential between the two, even though one is clearly more valuable than the other.  The upside of having an AMP’d up person on the payroll is far higher, in terms of potential earnings, so that’s why employers want to employ AMP’d up people at automaton prices.  They both want to pretend that the person is a commoditised and replaceable production unit, but reap the superior rewards of the AMP’d up person’s work products.  This is why the pursuit of autonomy, mastery and purpose, in a business context, is such a bad deal for the employee.  AMP‘d up employees are not adequately compensated, compared to other less AMP’d employees.

Daniel Pink’s utopian workplace motivation solution turns out to be hollow.  It simply cannot exist in a business culture that retains its working assumptions about who, in the hierarchy, gets all the money and power.  In fact, working with autonomy, mastery and purpose is a solution that is wholly incompatible with command and control company hierarchies, as they are known and practised today.  Companies cannot both insist that its employees are free agents and yet demand that the profits accruing from their work products belong solely to the company, due to the “superior” position of the managers and shareholders, in the relationship.  Their claims to superiority are without foundation.  Their capital is valueless without the mastery of their autonomous, purposeful partners.

Results Only Work Environment

A second workplace motivation panacea mentioned in Daniel Pink’s TED talk is ROWE – Results Only Work Environment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ROWE).  In this human resources ruse, people are encouraged to do whatever it takes to get the work done, trusting their own judgement, organisational skills and priorities, but they only get paid for results.  In other words, the person takes the risks of failure to deliver (which can happen for unforeseen reasons) and the employer is nothing of the sort.  They are a buyer of finished work products and a monopoly buyer at that.

This is very similar to being commissioned to paint a painting for somebody.  You only get paid if the work you do is satisfactory to the commissioner.  Artists, aware that they can be short changed in any number of ways through this arrangement, frequently insist on part payment up front, before commencement and progress payments at agreed stages, for highly ambitious commissions.  The money paid at the end, on completion and acceptance, generally only produces the profit.  Costs are covered far earlier in the commission.

There is a significant danger of undervaluing work results under a ROWE, because it is in the interests of the company paying to pretend you didn’t meet their expectations, met them too late or the results didn’t meet their brief, even if they really did.  There is no third party arbiter, trusted by both parties, to decide such disputes.  For a market to work there needs to be more than one buyer in the market for the work products.  If the work is bespoke, then the price point for the work cannot be found fairly, because there is only one buyer in the market.  Firms that insist on being the sole buyer of work products, under a ROWE arrangement, are actually acting as monopolists, in effect.  The obligation placed on the provider to bring the results of their work to just one business is a difficult one.

Furthermore, if a business is only paying for results, then the price of those results needs to include the cost of the provider’s holidays, sick pay and so on.  This is so that the producer providing the results is not left without cover for life’s unexpected disasters, from which nobody is immune.  Buyers of work products in a ROWE arrangement are typically unwilling to allow a margin to the provider to cover those real world eventualities.

If the employer demands that the employees at their place of work operate under the rules of a ROWE arrangement, it begs the question:  what is the employer actually providing?  It’s probably not better creature comforts and tools than a freelancer can provide for themselves.  It includes an obligation to commute, which isn’t necessary for a freelancer working from their own premises.  Perhaps the employer undertakes to fill your inbox, but that’s based on real world demand for the value you create, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to fill your inbox at all.  Perhaps the employer has a more recognised brand or access to markets through their own connections and reputation, but on what is that reputation based?  It’s based on your work products, of course.

They may claim to be able to aggregate and offer resources to enable your work products to be realised, but are those resources available to you when you need them and under your control to do what you need to do with them, as dictated by your newly found autonomy, or are they controlled?  If you are paid by results, you need to know that you have control over the raw materials and resources that you need to complete that work, or you are in peril.  It seems like ceding control over the inputs to your work can create a problematic situation, when the same provider is valuing and paying for only your finished work products.  You are sandwiched in the middle.  If you are a provider working under a ROWE arrangement, are you an encumbered, constrained agent or one given all you need to actually produce results?

Perhaps the only value of the company, in a ROWE arrangement, is aggregation of talent and resources, which has some value, but also carries with it some significant risks for the provider.  The company’s value could be in articulating a purpose that others can support, but either way, the value has to be balanced against individual contributions from providers.  It can’t be the case that the employer assumes they own the lion’s share of the value created and that the provider’s compensation is incidental.

Just Rewards

When it comes to purpose, most people have a goal of achieving some level of financial independence commensurate with their autonomy and mastery.  Employers, on the other hand, wish to retain the geese that lay the golden eggs.  Consequently, they have a vested interest in keeping their employees financially dependent upon them (except when times get hard, at which time they wish to reserve the right to let their employees go at minimal cost).  Consequently, you have a difference in goals.  Providers wish to earn independence and employers wish to maintain a situation of dependence.

It comes down to the appropriation of value created.  In a business context, if you are reliant on AMP and ROWE ideas, it should be the case that the unexpected, exceptional earnings produced by the work products results in a fair sharing of the value thus earned.  As an independent artist, the ownership of exceptional earnings unquestionably belongs to the artist.  In most business contexts, ownership of exceptional earnings is assumed by the employer.  This is an important difference, where long-lived intellectual property is produced.  An unscrupulous employer can earn many times the fair value of the agreed work products, simply by continuing to exploit the intellectual property.  Musicians of the sixties and seventies that allowed record companies to take ownership of their master tapes for albums that are still in print today learned this to their considerable cost.

Ownership of the full lifecycle earnings that result from work products that are produced autonomously, with mastery and purpose, or which are exchanged under a results only work environment needs to be considered carefully.  Otherwise, the arrangement is not favourable to the provider.  This is one of the reasons why so many artists remain independent.  They retain ownership over the earnings of their intellectual property and work products, over the lifetime of these artefacts.


Motivational speakers speaking about how motivation works, such as Daniel Pink, can produce demotivating feelings in those that are aware of the limitations of the solutions proposed to increase workplace motivation.  What remains unaddressed are the ownership and fairness of returns issues that arise.  Artists have navigated these waters for some time (not always successfully, it needs to be said).  It is only quite recently that these new, experimental, motivational techniques are being applied to the world of employed work.  Unfortunately, it appears to be a poor fit.


Side note:  The music business, according to some reports, is going backwards in respect of autonomy, mastery and purpose and a results orientation.  http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/music/so-you-want-to-be-a-rock-star-better-get-a-day-job-and-be-prepared-to-borrow-your-mums-car/story-e6frfn09-1226997902853   In the music business today, according to this report, unless you sell your music out to support some corporate brand (thereby at least killing off your autonomy and higher purpose), there is no income for artists to be had.  If that’s the way music fans want it, there will be no new music for sale within the space of a generation.  It’s hard enough for musicians to show up every day to produce their very best music.  Most people in day jobs don’t produce their best work each and every day.  Also, people in day jobs are arguably not as harshly judged on their work’s quality, each and every time they do something new, but musicians are.  It is insulting to make music production a non paying job and still expect the same high quality output to be produced.  If the current broken business models persist, people who are musicians will still apply autonomy, mastery and purpose to the making of their music (as artists), but those that want to consume it won’t be able to have it.  Why should musicians provide it, to enrich others, if they make nothing from it themselves, even if they make music just to experience mastery, autonomy and purpose?  Music fans and music aggregators/distributors need to choose the future of music production that they want and let the musicians know what they decide.  Why is it a commonplace assumption to think that musicians just have to suck up the fact that an income is being denied to them for their work, even though money is still being made through the sale and consumption of music and it’s going somewhere else?

Side note 2:  Standing desks, in corporate settings, are pure theatre, designed solely to ingratiate an employee with management.  It’s an ostentatious way of making people look engaged, energetic, and vibrant, by addressing every business issue, no matter how trivial, with urgency, super-hero tirelessness and a willingness to sacrifice personal comfort for the benefit of the company.  It’s a suck up.  How do we know?  Standing desks did not emerge in genuinely autonomous, mastery oriented and purposeful work settings (like artist’s studios, for example).  I want to see these standing desk users still using them in their mid 50s, prior to their hip replacement, when everything aches, is stiff or creaks.  I don’t think this fad will last.

The corporate theatrics get weirder:  http://techcrunch.com/2014/07/23/cubii/ . This is an article about an at-the-desk exercise bike.  Firstly, what concentrated, creative, desk work can you really do while pedalling furiously?  If you are doing thinking work, then why be at a desk?  Go for a walk.  This is a non solution to a non problem, but it can make you look good in front of your boss, if that is your goal and purpose, provided the noise of the cycle doesn’t drive your co-workers to homicide.






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Two Thoughts

I encountered two thoughts, this weekend, that have been on my mind, because I think they represent good advice for artists and for people in general.

The first thought was that you shouldn’t be afraid of the future, you should be excited by it.  It represents fantastic possibilities and if you grab the opportunities to have a happy life that are presented to you, your future can be unimaginably better.  Too many people fear their future and regard it with dread and trepidation, as if only doom awaits.  If you have more days on Earth, be excited about what you might be able to do in those days.

The second thought was that too many people act out of fear and let fear run their lives and make their decisions for them.  Far better to act out of love at all times.  Whatever you do, whatever you decide, always do it with love.  Love eradicates fear.

I thought those were two powerful thoughts.  I hope you do too.

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Oil Painting With Baby Wipes

Every artist that works with oil paint knows that spills and smears happen and that having some of those moist baby-wipes in your kit is a very sensible precaution.  You know the ones.  They’re frequently used to clean messy baby bottoms and to remove food and other unfortunately placed bodily fluids from clothing, surfaces, car seats, you name it.  What I didn’t realise, until recently, is that those moist towelettes can be used in your oil painting.


I had the problem of rendering a jumper the model was wearing in a number of shades of a particular turquoise.  Ordinarily, this would have meant mixing a number of shades of the colour and applying them in different areas, to indicate the highlights and shadows.  Being a mixed colour, adjusting the shades of it, without making it look too milky, through the addition of white paint, or having it drift toward being too blue or too green was the challenge.  I also didn’t have much time.

The solution was to mix a single mid tone colour and apply it fairly evenly on the canvas.  I left my canvas white underneath.  Some portraits are given a solid colour as a base, but this time I left the canvas pure white, as it came from the manufacturer.  Having applied the paint evenly, I then took a baby wipe and wiped off paint, where the highlights were supposed to be.  This gave a translucent, glowing, almost glazed finish to the paint.  The areas of colour were highlighted simply because more of the white canvas behind it was allowed to show through.

To complete the effect, I went back over the dark areas and areas in shadow with the original mixed paint, making it thicker and more opaque.  The result was a jumper rendered with a single colour, but using the transparency of the paint to create the tonal contrasts.  In the lighter areas, more of the white canvas showed through a turquoise tint.  In the middle tone areas, the mixed colour was evident, but thin.  In the shadows, a thick, impasto application of the colour simulated darker tones.  I added some yellow to the mix and added these to the darker areas, just to bring in a contrast with the single turquoise shade and to harmonise the jumper with the lemon yellow background of the painting, but these touches are incidental to the technique I am describing.

Here’s the detail of how it turned out.  Give it a try!

Ellie Detail


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The Inflexion Point

John Lennon, it turns out, was right.  We live in a pathocracy.  The gospel, according to John Lennon, goes like this:  “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives.  I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that.  That’s what’s insane about it.”  John was onto something important.

Sceptical?  Most people are disbelieving, when this proposition is first put to them.  They can’t or don’t want to believe it.  Unfortunately, none of that changes the truth of the matter.  In fact, the psychopaths in charge, the pathocrats, rely on our denial to operate as they wish.  “Do what thou wilt” is their value system, after the deranged teachings of the deceased Aleister Crowley.  Could there be a more succinct statement of psychopathy?  Yet, this is a creed to which many of them subscribe.

How can you tell if you are living in a pathocracy – a society run predominantly by a small cabal of psychopaths and sociopaths, subjugating normal people?  Below is a list of telltale signs that you might be (taken from http://pathocracy.wordpress.com/definition/ ):

  1.  Suppression of individualism and creativity.
  2.  Impoverishment of artistic values.
  3.  Impoverishment of moral values; a social structure based on self-interest and one-upmanship, rather than altruism.
  4. Fanatical ideology; often a corrupted form of a valid viable ‘Trojan’ ideology which is perverted into a pathological form, bearing little resemblance to the substance of the original.
  5. Intolerance and suspicion of anyone who is different, or who disagrees with the state.
  6. Centralized control.
  7. Widespread corruption.
  8. Secret activities within government, but surveillance of the general population. (In contrast, a healthy society would have transparent government processes, and respect for privacy of the individual citizen).
  9. Paranoid and reactionary government.
  10. Excessive, arbitrary, unfair and inflexible legislation; the power of decision making is reduced/removed from the citizens’ everyday lives.
  11. An attitude of hypocrisy and contempt demonstrated by the actions of the ruling class, towards the ideals they claim to follow, and towards the citizens they claim to represent.
  12. Controlled media, dominated by propaganda.
  13. Extreme inequality between the richest and poorest.
  14. Endemic use of corrupted psychological reasoning such as paramoralisms, conversive thinking and doubletalk.
  15. Rule by force and/or fear of force.
  16. People are considered as a ‘resource’ to be exploited (hence the term “human resources”), rather than as individuals with intrinsic human worth.
  17. Spiritual life is restricted to inflexible and doctrinaire schemes.  Anyone attempting to go beyond these boundaries is considered a heretic or insane, and therefore dangerous.
  18. Arbitrary divisions in the population (class, ethnicity, creed) are inflamed into conflict with one another.
  19. Suppression of free speech – public debate, demonstration, protest.
  20. Violation of basic human rights, for example: restriction or denial of basic life necessities such as food, water, shelter; detainment without charge; torture and abuse; slave labour.

Do you recognise this country?  Maybe you live in it.  If you’re an artist, it might go some way to explaining why so many artists are starving, for one thing.

If you don’t recognise this dystopian country (and it’s not just one country, incidentally), you’re either asleep, in active denial or perhaps you’re one of the psychopaths.

We live in a society predominantly run by psychopaths.  This blog post is not the first to notice this at all.  There is a growing body of literature on the matter.  Watch this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgGyvxqYSbE

Psychopaths rise to positions of power and influence, because you can win any game you’re prepared to cheat at.  They see the rest of us as prey, to be used and discarded as they see fit.  In fact, they often enjoy seeing others suffer.  Research shows that primary psychopaths are born not made.  Having been born with an inability to understand or feel emotions, upbringing can greatly influence what kinds of ill deeds the psychopath will ultimately engage in, however.

There are secondary psychopaths too, who adopt the ways of the psychopath as a survival tactic.  It can be difficult to tell if you are dealing with a primary psychopath, who can’t be changed, or a secondary one, who might be changeable, but not easily.

I’ve written before about the human tendency to mimic the pathocrats: http://tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/blundering-toward-mass-psychopathy/ and http://tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/the-corruption-of-ordinary-people/

You find psychopaths everywhere, in positions of power, because they crave power.  They crave it for its own sake.  People that put short term profits or personal gain ahead of human mental and physical well being are everywhere and that’s very easy to observe for yourself.  It’s far harder to ascribe the observations to the presence of individuals unable to feel emotions or to those mimicking that behaviour, in order to protect themselves from harm.

Average, decent, non-psychopathic people struggle to believe they’re frequently amongst psychopaths.  The reason is that it takes courage to acknowledge and face down evil.  There is less mental effort and emotional turmoil involved in simply denying it.  This provides the psychopaths the cover they need to continue to prey upon the gentler and more trusting people in society.

On the other hand, if one keeps up with current events, even in the strictly controlled mainstream media, there is a growing sense in which the pathocracy no longer concerns itself with maintaining the fictions that gave them the cover stories, masks, benefit of the doubt, consent and goodwill they needed to maintain themselves in their positions of power and influence.  They have become careless and are out in the open.  They’re also out of control.  The NSA, for example, spies on us all at scale but defies us, with an attitude of, “just what are you going to do about it?”  They know our impotence in the face of their totalitarian control.  The pathocrats don’t try to hide as much as they used to, because they think they have won and that their seemingly invincible positions are unassailable.  They might be wrong about that.

You might wonder why an evolutionary adaptation, such as the inability to sense emotions, would have survived over millennia.  Clearly it confers some kind of competitive advantage, rather than being an unmitigated handicap, or it would have disappeared from the population, given enough time.  It may, in fact, be in the process of disappearing.  When the world consisted of individuals trying to succeed against other individuals, on a planet much bigger than both of them, the ability to be ruthless, violent and to lie and cheat might have (and did) allow individuals with this trait to preferentially survive and breed.  That said, they’re still a minority.  However, now that pathocrats have the ready means to threaten the survival of all life on the planet, it has become a maladaptive trait.  Given their ability to cause extinction, it’s no longer a trait that the majority of people, who do not share their inability to feel, can tolerate.

Psychopaths and pathocrats have become a danger to us all and to themselves.  They will, impulsively and on a whim, kill us all.  In doing so, through nuclear annihilation or environmental destruction or both, they won’t care about doing it.  They are unable to care.

The potential for this has been amply demonstrated by the dropping of the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, which caused widespread death and suffering, particularly among innocents and also left a barren, contaminated site that cannot be safely inhabited for centuries to come.

First the pathocrats will kill all the non-psychopaths (perhaps even in the name of population control, to save the planet) and then when only psychopaths remain, they will kill each other, until there is only one man standing (psychopaths are predominantly male).  A world consisting only of psychopaths becomes an endless dog-eat-dog war zone and a fight to the death.  Having destroyed all other life, this remaining psychopath will also, inevitably, perish.  There can be no other outcome.

Something becomes abundantly obvious, when you think this through.  We’ve reached an evolutionary inflexion point.  We can’t let the pathocrats run amok any more.  There is too much at stake.  Whenever a minority of organisms threatens the continued existence of a majority of them, nature and evolution usually step in to treat the one less likely to sustain life as a disease to be eradicated.  Yes, the disease sometimes wins in the short term, but preservation of the continuance of life is the predominant arrow of evolution, over the long run.  Death cults or death cultures usually lose, in the end.  What can be done by ordinary people today, though, to stem the threat of annihilation at the hands of the pathocrats?

Firstly, don’t imagine that they can be fixed.  No amount of love, understanding, sympathy or empathy will change them.  They were, in the case of the primary psychopath, born that way.  As immoral as abandoning anybody to their fate feels, especially because their condition probably wasn’t their choice, we’re dealing with a group of people that will use your kindness and compassion against you, in this case.  It helps if those with a predilection for being unable to sense or feel emotions are not sent away to boarding school, bullied, assaulted as children or otherwise traumatised, but there’s not much you can do if they have been.  To a non-psychopath, it’s painful to give up on anybody, but the cause is a lost one.  Rationality and survival require that you recognise that psychopaths are stuck with being that way.

The next impulse might be to identify them, round them all up and somehow eliminate them.  You’d have to be a psychopath to favour that solution.  It’s a hopeless idea anyway.  The true psychopaths would easily subvert such a plan and turn it around to their own advantage, so that those with a conscience would be rounded up and hung, for example.  Don’t even go there.

We appear to be stuck with the bastards.  Primary psychopaths will despise your sympathy, so that isn’t going to do anything purposeful.  You’ll just put yourself in harm’s way and get heartbreak for your trouble.  Secondary psychopaths, who act in the manner of psychopaths, may give up their ways, if they feel it safe to do so.  Although arguably more contemptible and cowardly for their choices, they might be people that can be rehabilitated, once the primary psychopaths are no longer pathocrats (i.e. in power) and the secondary psychopaths don’t need to act like bastards to be spared the harm meted out by primary psychopaths.

If we are stuck with psychopaths, how can we protect ourselves against their excesses and the danger they pose to existence?

One tactic is that you can expose them as psychopaths.  They hate that, because it limits their scope for action, but as previously noted, the pathocrats are becoming less concerned about who knows what they are and what they plan.  They imagine they are immune from any sort of retribution or limitation of their actions.  It’s also dangerous to corner a psychopath and leave them with no escape or options.

That said, most psychopaths rely on hiding in plain sight as their stealth tactic, so that they can prey on people.  They want to appear as reasonable, even benevolent sorts of fellows, so that they can continue to be nothing of the sort in reality.  If you call out their psychopathy, you blow their cover and they can’t use it anymore as a cloak to abuse others.

A good way to identify a psychopath is to see if they display empathy when empathy is required.   Their attitude to grief, death and mourning is often revealing.  A visceral, disdain for peace, love and compassion, except for the most superficial and showy versions of these, is also usually a good marker.  Ask them about hippies.  If they class them as dirty, speak of them in derogatory terms or regards them as rat bags, the dehumanisation of these people and a disdain for their opinions is already evident.

In addition, psychopaths usually have no ability to genuinely respond to the emotional impact and content of music, except by faking it unconvincingly.  Many of them eschew music completely.  It’s just a meaningless, confusing noise to them.  For the non-psychopath, a person unmoved by music is a good marker.

You often hear psychopaths framing their world view in terms of conflict and adversarial relationships.  They like to talk about “the enemy” and “it’s a jungle out there”.  They frequently use phrases like “man up”, or “suck it up”.  None of these, on their own, are diagnostic signs, but they are clues.

Once you accept that we are predominantly lead by pathocrats, in politics and in the corporate world, you can begin to minimise their power by being carefully selective about which rules you obey, whose authority you uphold, which challenges and defiances are safest to make and how to undermine their networks of support and power.

Once you spot a psychopath, you can organise your life so that they are not a part of it.  If you have a psychopathic boss, quit immediately.  If your partner is a psychopath, do whatever it takes to distance yourself from them, before they can do lasting harm.  If your political leaders are pathocrats, organise to defuse their influence on your life.

As a species, we need to begin to recognise and shun these people.  They’ve lasted this long, in evolutionary terms, because they keep breeding and psychopaths are mostly men, so women have a special role to play in identifying psychopaths and not breeding with them.  Women that try to change or save a psychopath, or who are so severely lacking in self esteem that they become co-dependent on a psychopathic spouse pose a risk to all of us, it’s sad to say.

That is not to condone eugenics, though.  Eugenics is another one of those psychopathic solutions, open to subversion and which is so inhuman that it corrupts the non-psychopathic so comprehensively, they might as well have not bothered to adopt the idea in the first place.  If they’re bred out at all, it will be because they become recognised as deeply unattractive, narcissistic, dangerous partners, instead of how they’re mistakenly seen now – as heroic, thrusting, entrepreneurial, successful, self-made men.  You have to define success in a very perverted way to maintain that point of view.  It isn’t any measure of success to finish up the winner in a competition which results in the destruction of all life.  Standing astride a smouldering ruin of a planet is not a win, no matter how sharp your suit or how fancy your sports car.

The one fortunate thing about becoming aware of the psychopaths among us and who rule over us as pathocrats is that they are very predictable.  Once you accept that they are in it for themselves, at all times, you can easily second guess their moves and motives.  This makes it much easier to neutralise their cunning plans to put one over on the rest of us and to limit the scope of their harmful actions.

It has to be recognised, however, that it’s exceedingly exhausting to live under pathocrats and to live and work among psychopaths.  The situation is exacerbated by mobs which adopt the pathologies of the leader.  This applies to corporate cultures, political affiliations, military or security forces and any other group that permits people to abrogate their responsibility and culpability for acts carried out in the name of the group’s stated vision and mission.

If you try to become a secondary psychopath, as a survival strategy, you will discover that it causes you great internal conflict.  Going against your conscience, just to fit in to the company culture or other societal or group expectations, ultimately burns you out.  You get ground down both by having to deal with the non-stop skulduggery of pathocrats and pseudo psychopaths at all times, or else by having to conform to their twisted value system to prevent becoming their prey.  Both harm your psyche.  Whereas the pathocrats or their supporting psychopaths can carry out inhumane acts without feeling the pain of doing so, if you are only acting the psychopath to maintain the favour of pathocrats, you will suffer personal agonies, each time you carry out one of their sadistic and harmful orders.  The abuse of your own feelings and conscience carries a heavy long term cost to your health (not to mention the health of others around you).

Artists have a special role to play in rolling back the bounds of the pathocratic state or organisation.  Artists can continue to be creative and individualistic.  It turns out that the brightest and most intelligent are rarely psychopaths (why this should be so is not fully proven or understood), so if you are an artist with particular intellectual gifts, use those gifts to enrich the culture as much as you can.  The artists that engineer things can build technologies that prevent the pathocrats from spying on us all, for example.  You don’t have to design their weapons systems just because they’re willing to pay you.  You can use your creativity to do something more positive.  Above all, you don’t have to take the pathocrats’ money.  Other sources of human wealth are possible, even if the entire supply of currency is in the control of pathocrats.  Above all, you can nurture life in all of its diverse forms and exhibit passion.

Don’t accept the characterisation of an artist as being emotionally volatile, hence out of control and therefore suspect and irrational.  The point is that psychopaths are wholly unable to express genuinely felt passions and emotions and that’s why they feel so uncomfortable around such displays.  See through the propaganda put out by generations of pathocrats and understand that demonstrating your real and genuine emotions, unashamedly, is one of the best ways to identify and isolate those that lack the ability to do so.

Most importantly, we can stop aping the pathocrats.  You don’t want to get rich – not if it means losing your humanity and becoming as destructive and damaging as those that do get rich, through their inability to feel and to empathise.  If you aren’t wired that way, why uphold that aberration as the highest good?  Why try to achieve, by painfully crushing and suppressing your emotions, what pathocrats achieve easily, through simply not having any?

Perhaps ironically, both psychopaths and non-psychopaths favour hierarchy and authority, because it provides the illusion of safety for both groups (though for entirely different reasons).  However, there are strong arguments to suggest that such hierarchical regimes really only favour the psychopaths, at the expense of the non-psychopaths, whose safety is imperilled by the actions of the ruling pathocrats.  In fact, anarchy (in the sense of there being no authoritarian hierarchy in charge, governing the people) is the far safer option for non-psychopaths.  If there is no power structure, then pathocrats cannot easily obtain power.  That’s not an intuitive result, but true, nevertheless.

Awareness of the pathocrats, psychopaths, wannabe psychopaths and the pathocracies that they construct is our only viable defence.  Being awake to their affliction and consequent behaviour is all we have.  If we just leave them to it, they will lead us to catastrophe.

Artists have a special contribution to make.  They can do the following:

  1. Relentlessly perform acts of supreme individualism and creativity.
  2. Enrich the artistic values of the society they live in or the corporate culture they work in.
  3. Speak freely, with courage.
  4. Create an alternative, uncontrolled media to the one the pathocrats control.
  5. Stop working for the pathocracy’s controlled media.
  6. Be emotional, emotionally affective and passionate.
  7. Make a lot of passionate, emotionally charged music.

The presence of people wholly unable to sense or feel emotion has become a pressing problem for humanity and all life, because of the amplification of harm available to these individuals (via nuclear weapons, the ability to impose severe hardships by force or rule of law and through the insouciant destruction of the environment).  We must, as a species, discover a method of living with, but neutralising the effect of the psychopaths among us.  It won’t be easy.

Some useful links:






Note:  I have used the British spelling of “inflexion” in this article.

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The Artist’s Role in Consumerism

Compared to earlier times, most of the Western world’s middle classes are now drowning in stuff and in debt.  Their houses are too small to store it all, even as real wages have stagnated, over a period of decades.  There has been an explosion in the provision of off-site, lock-up self storage – an industry that barely existed, in earlier times.  Many people own more books than they can ever read, have access to more TV shows and DVDs than they can ever hope to view, possess more music than you can ever listen to and have more apps on their mobile devices and computers than they can ever hope to use.  Some people solve the problem by simply throwing away perfectly serviceable, usable stuff, at intervals, but it’s a recurring issue.  Why have we become such churners of stuff and why do we spend so much of our money on fuelling this aberrant behaviour?

The answer is consumerism and it has to be said that artists have played a significant role in the rise of this phenomenon.  Our art has been used to create the products that people throw away and to increase desire for those products in the first place.  Our art, far from being appreciated and valued for its own qualities, is increasingly valueless, unless it can be pressed into the service of creating short lived consumer products, or advertising to promote the sale of these.  Our art is becoming (or has already become) a disposable commodity.

As artists, do we strive to make the world a happier, more beautiful place, or do we deliberately (or accidentally) amplify misery and harm?  Shouldn’t we care about how our art affects people, our society and our environment?  Do we want to be agents of environmental and cultural destruction?  Are we mere hucksters for banksters that loan the consumer credit to buy all this stuff, at onerous rates of interest?  Are our actions, as artists, merely increasing wealth inequalities, through the seductive, attractive appeal of the art we produce being used to transfer net wealth from ordinary consumers to the producers of all this tat?  Is our art being incorporated into meaningless, valueless objects of sheer, lustful desire?

We’ve had planned obsolescence since the 1920s, when all manufacturers of light bulbs conspired to shorten and limit the life of the electric light bulbs they made and sold.  It increased their profits by double, over a period of only five years.  Who lost?  Well, the consumer now had to buy and throw away two and a half light bulbs, for every one they previously had to buy.

Things have only intensified, since those days.  Planned obsolescence has now reached its zenith, with many high priced items now cheaper to throw away and replace than to repair.  We have been encouraged, by a relentless bombardment of ads and media commentary, to change our things annually, as fashion statements.  Items that still have utility and value to somebody are, instead, destroyed or discarded.  You can find recycling plants that are destroying brand new printers, for example, still in their boxes and never having been sold or used, in preference to selling them at discounted rates or giving them away to the needy.  By destroying brand new items, they protect the market for their new products.  A discount or a giveaway is thought to simply prevent a sale of a brand new, more profitable one.

Our throwaway society is now officially out of control.  Landfill sites are full, incinerators are difficult to establish and the emissions are hard to detoxify and we damage the planet as we draw more raw materials and resources from it, just to return them as junk, in a very short time.  We’re chewing through the environment and turning it into worthless, useless shit, at an alarming rate.  Our consumption results in the production of mountains of toxic, noxious waste, using non-renewable energy in the process and producing needless waste heat, where there was previously only unprocessed, innocuous dirt and buried, decaying dinosaur slime.

In order to pay for this manic churn, people are increasingly borrowing money to fund their insane purchases.  The debt burden causes long term hardship and unhappiness.  People’s freedom is hampered by their obligations to repay their debts, at alarming rates of interest.  By submitting to fashion, we are destroying our environment, our wealth and our happiness.  How can this be rational?

The answer is that it isn’t rational.  In fact, we have been made mentally ill on purpose.  Corporations have spent billions to manufacture fear and dissatisfaction in our minds.  These are feelings that would not have existed at all, or have been rather more attenuated, had it not been for the deliberate, systematic, relentless, orchestrated, cradle-to-grave campaigns of marketing to make you feel this way.  You have been programmed to consume to increase the profits of the corporations.  They don’t care about you, your environment, your freedom or your happiness.  All they care about is emptying your pockets.

What is the net effect of this almost century long campaign of cultural influence?  We have a population increasingly prone to anxiety disorders and ill health arising from the stress of constant dissatisfaction and fear.  How have we responded to the epidemic?  We’ve seen it as an opportunity to sell more prescription remedies.  Statins, blood pressure pills and antidepressants.  We eat them like sweets.

What we haven’t done is addressed the root cause and asked whether we want a world that is constantly programmed to want more, regardless of how much they already have and to buy products the manufacturers tell them will alleviate, or insulate them from, the fears that these companies, themselves, have inserted into people’s consciousnesses.  Is that the life we want our children to lead?

We’re conditioned to consume from childhood, because we’re easiest to influence when we are innocent and trusting.  We also have unique leverage over the family’s finances, because parents are keen to make their children happy.  By inserting dissatisfaction and unhappiness into young minds, it is possible to make parents spend more, in a futile attempt to create happiness and satisfaction instead.  It never works, of course.

A consequence of our programmed relationship with the artefacts of human ingenuity is that we never develop a reverence for made objects and the makers that created them.  We think of everything as worthless, temporary, breakable and disposable.  We never develop a meaningful relationship with the durable tools of creativity – paint brushes, pianos, block planes, chisels, etc.

The most powerful tool of creation ever invented, the computer, is itself a disposable, short lived item that needs to be replaced at intervals of less than three years, taking our data, software and our relationship with our actual tool of creation with it.  We have to buy a new computer and get to grips with that one, as if we were just born.  We never experience the feeling of the tool melting away, as we get into the flow of creating with it.  It’s always a slightly foreign object, in our hands.  Instead of becoming familiar and comfortable with our tools of creation, we succumb to insatiable desires to collect and consume, then discard and replace.  This harms our own creative efforts immeasurably.

We’re infantilised by consumerist marketing.  Having discovered how to sell to children and turn them into pre-programmed, but avaricious, rapacious consumers, the same techniques are used to cause adults to behave as children, impulsively indulging their own whims and narcissistic desires.  Imelda Marcos, with her rooms and rooms full of barely worn shoes, is no longer a bizarre exception.  She was merely a forerunner.  By turning adults into childlike consumers, it influences our general behaviour and our relationships with others.  We’re no longer able to relate to each other, as mature, thinking grownups.  Instead, we become overgrown man-children and shopping obsessed women.  We organise our lives around obtaining more stuff and then showing it off, up until the point, reached too soon, where we need the next fix.

Even the artefacts of our culture (pop or otherwise) have been commoditised and turned into valueless, disposable, temporary items.  All music and film, fashion and art is sold as if it were disposable and replaceable.  The back catalogues of artists are considered passé and worthless.  We forget last year’s films, albums, bands and models as soon as this year’s offerings are available (or pre-released).  Bands and artists come and go, enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame and then consigned to obscurity.

Record companies are no longer interested in developing an artist over a long career.  Instead, they want television tie-ins and disposable heroes that allow them to rake in quick returns on their investments.  We first bought our records on vinyl, then bought them again on cassette for our Walkmans, then we bought them as CDs for our new digital music listening environments and finally in MP3 format, to use in our iPods and iPhones.  Now, we’re being asked to buy them all on vinyl again, for retro nostalgic reasons, but it’s all just churn.  More stuff to throw away.  More ways to pay multiple times for the same thing you already used to own.

We constantly encouraged to notice and buy the products of the new, new thing and expected to discard our old tastes.  In embracing the new and discarding the old, our collective memory is foreshortened.  We no longer learn the lessons of history.  Old wisdom, hard won and fought for, is thrown out and forgotten.  Ask the average twenty-something who Nixon was and why Watergate had significance and you’ll be met with blank stares.  You’ll struggle to get them to watch “All the President’s Men” or to even find a copy.  Getting them to understand the connections between that Whitehouse behaviour and current events is simply impossible.

Artwork is not seen as having intrinsic value.  A painting doesn’t count at all unless you can buy the image on a t-shirt or mug.  A movie doesn’t have much value, unless you can buy the action figures and licensed lunchboxes tied-in with it.  Art has become something that is only valuable and valued to the extent that it can cause consumption and sales of something else.  Its utility is purely commercial, not aesthetic.  Far from increasing the store of beauty in the world, much art serves only to transfer wealth from consumers to owners of capital.

The marketing is seductive and deceptive, too.  Computer games with names like “Call of Duty” or “Medal of Honour” appear to encourage and uphold what were usually regarded as positive moral values to which we should all aspire.  However, the content of these games is not positive or moral.  They present a dystopian world, where morbid fantasies about killing and destroying can be indulged and played out, at least in a virtual sense, pandering to the most brutal instincts of consumers.  We promote and enable the desire to act in anti-social ways, without conscious thought, penalty or consequence.  Is the bringing to life of this wholly destructive fantasy not disturbing?  Are we not changed in some material way, in our psyches, if we vent our basest instincts and rehearse them on a regular basis?  Why not create a rape game, if not?  I think that’s a fair question.  I don’t think that engaging your mind in anti-social fantasies, on a casual, recreational, careless, emotionally-detached basis, is actually healthy.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

Who brings these games to consumers?  Artists do.  Animators, sound designers, programmers, engineers, graphic artists, character designers, storyboard artists, writers and musicians collaborate to create a product that plays as a computer game, on a console, computer or mobile device.

In the name of increasing consumption and profits, we’re being entertained to death.  We are being distracted from the important things in life, such as self actualisation, relationships, learning, nurturing a family, increasing the stock of beauty and wisdom in the world and taking care of our environment, so that future life remains viable.  These are the things we don’t do at all, while we’re entertained.  We’re entertained by artists.

Take a look at any group of people in a restaurant or train station platform.  They all have their heads in their mobile phone screens, with their ear buds in.  They don’t communicate or interact with people in their immediate vicinity.  They don’t even make eye contact.  They’re isolated and alone, even in a crowd, insensate to the sights and sounds around them.  Our distraction is total.

Our distraction, of course, leaves a vacuum in our lives to be filled by still more manipulators and profiteers.  They see our inattention as their opportunity to further shape reality to their own benefit.  They know we won’t lift a finger in protest or resistance.  They take advantage of the submissive void created by our preoccupation with consumption.  Profitable wars can be contrived, by war profiteers, but if marketed the right way (appealing to fear), we consent.  Our public finances are drained in a transfer of wealth from all of us to the providers of war materials, but we don’t care enough to notice.

It’s a very short step from playing computer games to online gambling, where our wallets are under attack as never before.  We neither feel alarm nor care about the attack.  We’re fulfilling our pre-programmed role.

As creators, even our relationship to our creative tools has been distorted.  Because we consume impulsively, we buy one of everything we think we might need.  We present ourselves with too many tools and options, failing to master any of them.  It degrades the quality of our creations, if we never develop an intimacy with the extensions of our hands and intellects, our creative tools.  In fact, you very quickly learn that you have to limit your options, bring only a few brushes and putting only a limited number of colours on your palette, to make any meaningful creative progress at all.  Less is more.  You have to leave some of the tools at home and work your way through your options, slowly, deliberately and methodically.

The thing is that, if your art is used in support of increased consumerism; you’re part of a deception.  You’re an accessory to a thinly disguised and dishonest attempt to cause people to spend their money on things they don’t really need, without really knowing why they are doing so or for what purpose.  In participating in this deception, you become dishonest, predatory and your actions are not harmless.

If your art is used to seduce people away from the things that would really make them happy, you’re hurting them.  Why is your art co-opted to serve such a purpose?  For profit.  That’s all.

As artists and coders, myself included, you can easily fool yourself into thinking you’re doing one thing – making your art in a pure way – but actually doing another – serving the profiteers at the heart of consumerism.  It’s an easy mistake to make.   We’re as programmed to consume as the next man, after all.  You think you’re being paid to produce art and for creating, but your creations and art are pressed into the service of influencing consumers to consume, or to produce seductive products that nobody really needs.  We’re willing accomplices, prostituting our art to earn a living, so that we can continue to create.

We don’t like to think that our work causes consumers to be more effectively and efficiently preyed upon.  The story we tell ourselves is that these pre-programmed consumers are willing accomplices too, but are they?  Do they have any free choice left at all, if their entire existence is organised around training them to spend irrationally?  Do we have any free choice left at all either, for that matter?  It’s not a very savoury or comfortable idea, when you come to think about it.  We think we’re rebellious artists, taking a stand against the man, but often we’re just fuelling more consumption, with all the ills that this brings.

The way that adults were encouraged to act like children was by making everything feel like it’s a game.  They call it “gamification”.  Gamification caused us to come back to buy more, that we didn’t want or need, just so that we could succeed in the game.  For example, the Monopoly scratch promotion that is run annually at McDonalds is worth three quarters of a billion dollars in increased sales, such is the draw of completing the Monopoly board and winning prizes.  We consume more burgers, not because we’re hungry, but because we want to win the game.  Meanwhile, McDonalds takes our money for the privilege of playing.

Gamification has even infected corporate life.  Rather than just doing your job, in an honest way, employees and partners are now encouraged to participate in rewards and leader boards, incentives and games of relative performance comparison, often organised on line in the company’s intranet, to encourage you to produce more on behalf of your employers.  A significant portion of your real working life is now governed by the need to beat your colleagues at the game.  This distorts your relationships with colleagues and customers alike.  Your challenge/achievement dopamine is constantly stimulated so that the corporation can extract more value from you for relatively little additional compensation.  All they want from you is more for less.  The constant competition is exhausting for all of us.

The effects of overstimulation of your brain’s dopamine producers and receptors, over a sustained period, are largely unknown, but desensitisation is suspected strongly.  The more you are gamified, the less you will respond to it (hence you will feel like and be treated as a failure on the job) and the less pleasure you will derive from other aspects of your life.  Your ability to feel pleasure is being bled dry.  You are, effectively, being deliberately burnt out.

As consumers, we all pay more for everything to support gamification.  The costs of gamification are included in the prices we pay.  Artists, of course, make the games and the game artefacts for gamification, in which the house always wins and the consumer is always made yet poorer.  Consumers are, in effect, exchanging more of their labour for nothing very durable or substantial.  The opportunity cost is that they have even less money available to buy things that can help them create and earn.

Under consumerism, we’re busy converting our sweat and even our future sweat (via credit cards) into disposable, ephemeral, narcissistic impulse purchases of disposable junk or evaporating, momentary experiences.  Credit defers the pain of parting with your cash, which represents your hard work, but it amplifies the pain, because you owe the interest as well as the principal, in the future.  More and more of your future income is assigned to previous purchases, many of which have already broken or been thrown away.

Artists have been complicit in selling their work relatively cheaply, to aggressively market sugary cereals to children at premium prices, using fun cartoon characters, slick ads, toys hidden in the box and in-store displays.  Tony the Tiger was made by artists.  The consumption of these sugar-saturated cereals has resulted in a generational epidemic of obesity and related morbidities.  Why did we participate?  Did we really need the money?  Couldn’t we have done something better with our art?

It used to be the case that the movie was the story and the piece of art that was made to convey certain ideas and morals.  Then movies became vehicles for licensed merchandising.  Now, the need to sell merchandise has begun to subvert the story of the movie, so that the actual entertainment value of the movie is seriously degraded and compromised, just to sell more tie-in stuff.  The Transformers franchise is a case in point.  The story lines no longer even make sense and the continuity with previous episodes is broken irretrievably, so that new toys could be made and sold.  In so doing, the movies themselves have become unwatchable, stupid junk.  The story has been hollowed out and becomes meaningless, the more the movie becomes just one big advertisement for merchandise.  Why should anybody waste their precious, finite and scarce time and attention on this?

The introduction of children-only television channels such as Nickelodeon saw the cannibalisation of “Watch with Mother”, slaughtered on the altar of monetisation for profit.  Who participated in this loss of an intimate moment between mother and child, in which bonding, sharing, care and comfort could take place, only to be replaced by He-Men and action figure ads?  Animation artists, voice actors, musicians, storyboard and background artists, editors and compositors did.  You name it.

Ironically, even as we throw away the stuff we’re told we’re supposed to throw away now, we’re nostalgic for it and the moment in our lives that it represented.  Consequently, we wind up overpaying for retro collectibles, which somehow escaped their own obsolescence, often miraculously.  Everything retro is flimsy, though (it was made with built-in planned obsolescence, after all), so we have to treasure these old artefacts and treat them as some sort of shrine, not usable objects.  If we actually used our new old stock, it would wear out prematurely, become unrepairable for want of old parts and be gone forever.  We have to worship old stuff, because we have nostalgia for it, not because we want to use it.  We can’t use it.

We have to ask ourselves, as artists, some fundamental questions.  If we get involved in the activities of licensing our art in the service of selling, in creating disposable products, if we voice, produce and animate the advertisements, design the packaging, provide graphic design services to push more consumption or participate in the product design of thousands of meaningless, nearly identical,  fashion statement items, are we part of the problem?  Are we culpable in producing ever more waste, fear and dissatisfaction, through consumerism?  Are we electing to become accessories to mass bamboozlement?

It’s notable and ironic that all of the people that most enthusiastically participate in the orgy of consumption encouragement live in lavish, substantial, old houses and they have expensive cars.  It tells you what their real priorities and interests are.  Invariably, the high priests of selling disposable, planned obsolescence, through the manufacture of dissatisfaction and fear, to you and I, choose a Rolls Royce or similar vehicle, renowned for its hand crafting and durability.  They buy differently to what they sell.  It has become the case that only the wealthiest can afford to buy things of lasting value and quality.  It didn’t have to be this way.

What’s the solution?  How can an artist eschew fear and dissatisfaction being imposed on the general population and all the harm that results from planned obsolescence, frivolous design, marketing, advertising, jingles, sales-pitch voiceovers and playing along with the one-hit-wonder culture?  There are no easy answers.  Being outside of this system is a recipe for not earning, because our culture and economic system is so geared up for consumption that no other alternative activity is valued or tolerated.  We can only solve this as a unified body.  I wonder if we have the courage and will, or the awareness of what’s really happening with our artistic contributions.  Are we creating the world we want, when we create our art?

As tainted as artists are in the century old story of consumerism, what I hope is beyond dispute is that we will need to reclaim our mental and physical health by stopping the constant daily assaults on our self esteem and our capacity to work.  I also hope we recognise that ceasing the rape of the planet and the production of unconscionable waste is beyond argument.  We will have to take action, as a community and society, to curb the excesses of consumerism.  We have no choice.  It’s not sustainable.

We’ve been seduced into believing that the accumulation of money is all that matters, that ownership of stuff is the highest goal and that surrounding yourself with conspicuous consumption is the only way to care for your ego.  In fact, the only currency that matters is life.  We are threatening life itself in meaningful and significant ways, while we remain wedded to these erroneous notions of what matters most.  We have to reorganise our society around the enhancement and nurturing of life, not around producing death and dead things, in a mad frenzy to have more.

It’s time we took a long hard look at ourselves as artists and our participation in the consumerism culture.  Are we doing any good, through the use of our art to stimulate consumption, or are we doing inestimable harm?  Is a successful artist, these days, anything more than a consumer brand?

If we tacitly support the idea that art has no intrinsic value, unless it can be used to make people spend on other things, we devalue our own work as artists and the intrinsic value of our artworks as things of standalone, lasting, aesthetic value.  We assign a price of precisely zero to aesthetic enrichment and viewer delight, if our art is always seen as just a part of an elaborate deception to convince consumers to exchange their money, which represents their effort, into disposable, temporary, worthless junk.  Knowing you’re doing harm eats at your integrity and soul.

What are we going to do about this?

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Because They Think It’s Easy

If you are an artist, I have some terrible news for you.  If you think that writing, drawing, painting, animating, film making or music production take skill, application, years of training and a good deal of creativity and discipline, you’re sadly mistaken.  I have to tell you that there is a very large constituency of potential customers and audience members out there that fervently, honestly, sincerely believe, with all their hearts, that you don’t have to do any of that, anymore.  The software and/or technology does it all for you.   All you have to do is the equivalent of pressing “play”.

For this reason, they feel no guilt in stealing the content you made.  After all, they believe you didn’t make it.  Your tools did.  They also think that electric drills and routers make furniture and guitars and that kitchen appliances and cars are made by robotic factories, not people.  Things, in their way of thinking, ought to be cheap, because there is nothing to it.  The making of content, art, and physical things is all done by machine, these days.  Don’t you know?  None of what you thought was hard work is real work at all, apparently.

How did this nonsensical notion take root?

Marketing, corporate self interest and lack of education are to blame.


A convenient, but utterly false myth, propagated by those that want to sell you power tools, music synthesisers and desktop software applications, is that their tools do all the hard work and everything you make with them is “limited only by your imagination”.  The idea is that imagining things is free and effortless and something everybody can do.  However, the tool they’re selling is, in contrast, very valuable (i.e. worth more than the list price), because it does the real work.

This is why software development, as an industry, is becoming (or arguably has already become) such a disaster zone.  Everybody has been encouraged to believe there is nothing to it.  The abstractions and processes, disciplines and insights have been de-emphasised as being at the core of the task, because you can’t easily sell or profit from those.  Only shrink wrapped or boxed products have value, because that’s what the marketers want you to think and it’s what they have to sell.  They’ve been telling this story since before many people that believe the nonsense were even alive.

The truth is that the tools are a bit crude and limited, in actuality.  You cannot simply purchase one and become an instant expert.  The tools actually get in the way of the highly skilled, who reach the limitations of them regularly.  Like any skilled craft, you have to learn how to get the best out of your tools and how to work around them, when they become a limitation, over a period of years, ensuring that you keep your hand in regularly.  All human creation is this way, irrespective of the tools used.  Yet, the marketers have sold the lie that somehow, through the magic of their products, there is a short cut to getting results of acceptable quality, without putting in the effort, the learning or the practice.

It’s a lie and they’re liars.  You can’t.  Buying Microsoft Word doesn’t turn you into Shakespeare.  Buying Pro Tools doesn’t turn you into Mozart.  Owning the tools doesn’t create a single thing for you.

Corporate Self Interest

The idea that artisanal skills are not to be valued highly dates back to the Industrial Revolution, when thousands, if not millions of workers were thrown out of their sole-trader, craft-based businesses and forced into the mills and factories, to provide a source of cheap labour for the owners of capital.

The idea that musicians and artists were not valuable dates back to when they were in the employ of wealthy patrons, so that the patron could look good, co-opting the art and music as their own, while treating their indentured artists on the same level as mere servants.  Clearly there was a divide between somebody capable of shining the patron’s shoes and another person capable of composing a mass for the patron’s private chapel every Sunday, but no such distinction was recognised or acknowledged.  In a class ridden society, the true value of everybody outside of a small circle of elites was artificially denigrated.  That’s how the wealthy kept power and control for themselves.

Keeping skilled workers cheap, by de-skilling some of their tasks and telling them their non-automatable skills are replicable, abundant and easily replaced is an old trick and one that is still applied by movie studios, online retailers, record companies, software start-ups, factories and other similar tyrannical, totalitarian hierarchies.  It means that, as an owner of the factory or machines, even if those machines are servers in data centres, you get to keep more of the earnings of the collective effort of your skilled people for yourself.  It’s a pure con trick.  People working for such tyrants could easily overthrow the management and keep the earnings for themselves, in a co-operative organisation, but the lie has been so oft repeated and people divided, so ruled, that the rebellion is never likely.

As part of this lie is the denial of the role and value of humans and human ingenuity in the production process.  The machines are worshipped, but the machine makers and operators are denigrated.  This is why corporations are so brazen about co-opting design ideas and intellectual property as their own.  If it wasn’t for the facilities and machines they provided, they claim, there would be no innovations.  Of course, innovation doesn’t work this way at all.  Ideas are literally bullied out of the people that have them and then exploited handsomely by those that take them, for little consideration.

To take just one example, does anybody truly believe Jeff Bezos has the technical skill or enough life time to construct a web site the size, complexity and scale of Amazon?  Do they believe that the ownership and monies that accrue from it are distributed amongst those that really conceived of it and brought it to life in proportion to the importance of each engineer’s contribution?  It’s like the old adage.  Somehow, the gold mine is in somebody else’s country, the gold is mined by miners and yet the gold belongs to the mine owner.  How so?  Just because of a few pieces of paper saying he is entitled to it and because he bought the picks and shovels?

The truth about capital is that you can’t make practically anything by machine alone.  Capital won’t get you there.  Owning the machines and the software doesn’t produce a thing.  Even if your machines do produce something in a fully automated fashion, somebody keeps the machines running and topped up with raw materials.  There is no machine yet made that can install itself, provide its own raw materials and maintain itself.  These things are human activities and everything made has human input.

You certainly can’t let the software loose to make good art.  Even with the current sophistication of some software tools, you can’t get good, interesting, high quality art out of them, simply by turning them on and walking away, any more than a finely made hammer can design and build a house.

The myth of mass production, by automation and of machines replacing the necessary skills and intelligence of people has been propagated so that the owners of capital can appropriate the profits made from the application of the skills of “their” workers for themselves.  They consistently assert that ownership is what matters, but ownership on its own does nothing.  Try it for yourself.  Buy the best Digital Audio Workstation software you can find and push the play button.  Did you get any new and original music?

At the same time as the owners of capital were telling their workforce that the machines don’t need them and to be grateful for any crumbs the owners deign to throw them, they were telling customers that their products were superior to handmade items, consistent in their quality, uniform in their dimensions and characteristics and not easily replicated by any other company.  They were inflating the value of their goods to customers, while telling the employees that produced them that their contribution to the production of these goods was negligible.  In accounting terms, this is called “margin” – the difference between production cost and selling price.  Whatever you can do, including lying, that makes the production cost low and the selling price high is more money that the owner of the corporation can retain in their own trouser pockets.

If you’re really fierce and brazen, you don’t have to provide expensive machines and premises at all.  You can simply demand that the producers furnish their own materials, tools and premises and promise to buy their output exclusively and take it to market for them.  Thus, the weavers of tweed cloth were paid a pittance, but the cloth was sold on in major markets like London, by monopolists, at high prices, as if the goods were luxuries.  Pretending that demand is low, to the producers, so that the production can be obtained for a song, while telling consumers that production is scarce and rare, thereby commanding a premium price for it, is an age old margin manipulation.  It’s a wheeze.

It’s not always the case that consistency and uniformity equates to better product, by the way.  If all music was consistent and uniform, or all paintings and books, that would make for a pretty dull world.  What people actually want are personalised, individualised items.  They want something new, fresh and interesting.  That sort of customisation takes people, somewhere along the line.

The low returns made by artists, musicians and makers is a consequence of centuries of effort and narrative to keep the people under control, in thrall to their employers (corporations) and dependent on corporations for the provision of every necessity or frivolity in life, so that corporations and their owners make all the money.  This is nothing short of a con trick.

There are modern corporations whose entire business model and revenue streams depend on co-opting creative outputs from individuals very cheaply (or ideally, for free), but selling that intellectual property cheaply, but in massive quantity, so that they make all the money.  Spotify’s claim to fame, for example, is that it’s cheap enough to deter outright theft, but they make sure the lion’s share of the money earned from distributing other people’s creations goes to themselves, not to the creators.  They can do this because they aggregate the customers and the content and act as gatekeeper between the two constituencies.  By the same token, each consumer and artist is treated as a powerless unit of one, in any negotiations on terms.  These aggregators leverage the accumulated product offerings and customers for their own benefit, simply by standing in between the two groups.  If any customer could find any artist and obtain a license to enjoy their music directly, what would be the value of an aggregator?

Corporate self interest dictates that they spend time, energy and money on ensuring you don’t get any inconvenient ideas like “handmade is better”, or that the makers deserve a bigger share of the profits, that anybody skilled enough can start up as a competitor and that people should be anything more than passive, stupid, complacent, docile consumers and workers, who keep the money flowing upwards to the rentier.  That’s their narrative.  It’s the story they tell to keep things the way they are.

By never attempting to make or create anything, most people have no idea what the task involves.  It’s relatively easy to get vast populations of passive consumers to believe that making and creating are no work at all and that it is all done by software and machines.  The proposition is never tested.  People that have become passive consumers never attempt to create or make a thing, to confirm their beliefs.

People that think factories make things feel no guilt about wasting them, stealing them, throwing them away, breaking and not repairing them and buying new ones, needlessly, as a fashion statement.  This is good for corporate bottom lines, but disastrous for each consumer’s retained net worth and for the environment.  It’s not hard to imagine why people that benefit most from this aberrant consumer behaviour might be busily reinforcing the notion that factories make all things.

Similarly, people that think computers make music and art, without knowing how that could even happen, are content to value it at zero, appropriate it for their own use at no cost to themselves and regard artists and musicians as disposable, replaceable and in endless supply.  The reality, though, is that artists and musicians are unique, we can’t live without art and music and while there are many artists and musicians ready and willing to try to live on thin air, just so that they can create, each individual artist or musician creates something that nobody else can replicate.  The supply of their particular art is exceedingly scarce, in fact.

This is why paintings by Van Gogh are so highly prized today.  Nobody is making them anymore, despite the queue of competent artists willing to give it a try and the presence of so much capital and so many sophisticated software tools and machines that a factory ought to be able to do it.  While factories could (and do) slavishly reproduce Van Gogh’s paintings, no amount of capital can create a brand new one.  History tells us that Van Gogh was not disposable, replaceable or in endless supply.  Rather the opposite.

Lack of Education

If you go through an education system that values only the passing of exams and the three “R”s, with only a derisory amount of education in art and creativity, you could be forgiven for being an idiot.  If you are never taught art, music, making things or how software actually works, or taught that these things don’t really matter, then it’s easy to bamboozle you into thinking it’s all about buying the right software and/or machines and suddenly the products worthy of buying magically appear.  You never learn to value the products of art and creativity, because you have no idea about what’s involved in their production.

Education has discouraged or under-valued free thinkers and creativity, because the education system, funded or politically influenced as it is by the owners of capital, has been concerned with producing compliant workers to slot into industry, like interchangeable parts.  We’re taught to be convenient fodder for the owners of capital to exploit at their leisure.  This is why we think that form filling, administration, office work, financial and property speculation, accountancy, advocacy and production line work is real work.  That’s mostly what we train people to do.  Ironically, it’s not very valuable and people are easily replaced, so employment security has never been lower.

You are never expected to strive to dig out original and challenging ideas or creations from the depths of your soul.  If you learn to do that, it’s by accident and not encouraged by the education system very vigorously.  It’s treated as an aberration and you are screened out from access to higher accomplishments and rewards, in academia.  Arts are not treated as seriously as Maths and Science, yet without creativity, Maths and Science stagnate.

The Result

The result is that people who do make and create are thought to be fraudsters and their creations worthless by a large sector of society who do not make and create things.  Art is thought to be a waste of time – an idea that is confirmed by the lack of money earned by artists as a group.  They see the poverty as a confirmation of their prejudice, not as an artefact of a widespread manipulation.

The artists’ tools are thought to be doing all the work and this is never tested, because those that think this way never try to make or create anything.  They think factories, software and machines make everything, so trying to make anything at all by hand seems illogical to them.  Why would you even do it manually, when machines can do it so much more cheaply and better?  Artists and creators that claim they work hard on their creations are either lying, or taking the long road needlessly.  That’s the common myth.

Artists, makers and musicians are condemned, by their nature, to pursue making and creating things, because they can’t be any other way, yet they are forced to endure the punishments of an economy that is rigged against them and their intellectual property and in favour of the owners of capital and physical property.  Their potential audience and customers, the general public, has been taught that the contribution made by creators is not real work, that their contributions are valueless and optional and that if they stopped making and creating, it would be no big deal, because machines could easily do it instead.  The lies have been effective.  The proof is in the royalty statements of musicians and authors, for example.

I don’t know what to do about this regrettable state of affairs other than attempting to explode the lies and distortions.  Unfortunately, the lies and distortions are such ingrained, widely accepted assumptions, after centuries of reinforcement, that any narrative to the contrary is viewed as insanity.  Yet the undeniable truth remains.  Art and creativity are hard work, they are necessary for humanity to thrive and only the makers can truly own their means of production.

The owners of capital hate those facts a lot.

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