Artists are pretty good at imagining. They often have very good imaginations. However, have you ever stopped to wonder why some people don’t use their imaginations very much, if ever, or indeed if the imagination you do exercise is all there is – that it’s as good as it gets?
What if you discovered, perchance, that everything in your environment and placed in your consciousness was designed to prevent you from imagining, or more accurately, re-imagining your life, your society, your connections and relationships and the world you live in? What if you discovered that you were living in amongst the machinery of alienation, purpose-built and conceived to keep you from thinking there might be alternatives? Indeed, the machinery might actually be there to actively and deliberately prevent you from even trying to conceive of alternatives to what you think of as ambient and just the way things are.
Look around. What do you see? Houses that all look pretty much the same as others? Do you see rows and lines? Is every house in the same kind of brick, with the same coloured walls (variations on off-white, mainly)? When you vote, is it while sitting by a babbling brook in the sunshine, or are you enclosed in a voting booth, erected in a bureaucratically designed classroom, whose usual rows of desks have been piled up on one side, or else a church hall? When you walk down the average British High Street, or American Mall, can you even tell what town you’re in? The very nature of your environment constrains your imagination.
You are required to wear uniforms in various institutions to prevent you from imagining other ways of accomplishing the stated aims of the institution. If you were a doctor working in a hospital, are the rows of beds in linear wards conducive to creative thoughts about cures and treatments, or do they deaden your creative powers? How would your approach to medicine change if the setting and situation were a cottage by a medicinal herb garden, or on a beach?
Think about the words the editors use in the news reports. “Workers” always strike, inconveniencing “the public”, but the public are the workers, in a large percentage of cases. And workers are consumers. But we never speak that way. Our imaginations are constrained from thinking impossible or undesirable thoughts, but undesirable to whom?
Why are cities architected in such a way that everything looks like intimidating square boxes or glass houses? Is it just good engineering, or the dominant view of beauty in society, or is the uniformity designed to keep your mind in line, to prevent re-imaging the place you are as some better place?
It’s only once we see these mechanisms of imaginary constraint (and I mean that in both senses) that we can begin to think thoughts of freedom and of improvement. Otherwise, we acquiesce, in the belief that the forces ranged against our imaginations are too great and too well entrenched. It’s only when you see that the uniforms, regulations, constraints, enforcements, blanket surveillance and repetitions are all a show, an engineered situation if you will, designed to get you to stop thinking about different ways of being and living, that you can feel those moments of true hope and limitless possibility that a sudden explosion of creative and imaginative thought can bring with it.
What if this curtailment of imaginative thought had become such an accepted norm that the people that perpetrate it on themselves and on us aren’t even aware of its origins in controlling and constraining new ideas? The Conservative political project may have its origins in nothing other than preventing upstarts like you or I from questioning the way things have been institutionalised and established by what they consider to be our superiors. If that’s so, the elaborate mechanisms of idea prevention are all reinforcing a violent and illegitimate injustice. We’re told that capitalism is the only option, that we can’t keep on borrowing endlessly as a nation, that nothing can be done about flooding and global warming, that we must constantly justify our existence on the planet, that everyone better have a job, no matter how meaningless and soul destroying and that subversive ideas are unrealistic, utopian, wildly impractical and not worthy of serious contemplation. But is that correct? Aren’t our daydreams and our flights of fancy guides to a better future?
Why do we ignore them? Is it because we all live in identical houses, have identical desks in identikit cubicles, commute along the same journey at the same time every day, watch the same news and eat the same food from the same supermarkets, all arranged in the same way? Isn’t the very uniformity and regularity of our routine lives deadening our intuitions to insights that could prove fruitful for all?
Artists are good at imagining, but even artists constrain themselves to their studios, their canvases or their medium. Rarely do we spread the word about how to be imaginative. Rarely do we see ourselves as anything other than the stereotypical artist. We don’t embrace diversity, because we have little everyday experience of it. Imagination is such a precious facility, but one that could be so much better used and cultivated. We could nurture imagination in our children, who are born with it in abundance, instead of dressing them in uniforms, sitting them in rows, commoditising their unique skills and personalities, drilling them in repetitive, rote learning exercises, designed to systematically bore them all to death and extinguish their innate curiosity.
But we don’t, because we don’t think it’s realistic, without wondering why we think it’s unrealistic. We don’t see that we’re prior victims of this regularisation and destruction of the imagination and that, as such, we spread the affliction blindly and unknowingly, to younger members of society. We perpetuate an imagination killing regime without being aware that we are, or knowing why we do, or remembering why the whole policy was brought into being, in the first place.
It’s time to snap out of it, awaken, realise what you’ve done to your own imagination and those of others and begin re-imagining imagination. We must make it possible to think alternative, dangerous ideas, because some of those thoughts are going to save us all, ultimately, long after the people that wanted to keep us all in our places (of class, wealth, hierarchy, status, whatever) are no longer around or preserved by the edifice they’ve left in place. We can’t afford the luxury of tradition, where ideas are concerned. We’ve never needed bright, imaginative possibilities more than we do today.