Management, creativity and control in Canada


It took a Harvard credentialed couple to tell us that creativity is a good thing—according to a recent article.

Cognitive scientist, Stephen Pinker, and his philosopher-novelist wife, Rebecca Goldstein, lectured on creativity at Mount Allison last week. It hit all the right notes: creativity requires passion, deep immersion, taking risks, building on existing knowledge—and playfulness.

What wasn’t fully explained was that creativity requires a supportive environment that values the creative personality as well as the creative results. Is New Brunswick one of those places?

Certainly New Brunswick fancies itself a creative province. It’s home to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and hosts the Northrop Frye Literary Festival every year. Saint John has an active visual arts scene. And the province certainly has the wealth and cultural mavens to support the arts. But frankly, I don’t see much risk-taking here.

Coincidentally, I’m also reading a book on the same topic, Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion. At the beginning of one chapter he quotes the Bible. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Hedges’ interpretation of vision and creativity might be somewhat different from Pinker’s and Goldstein’s. Hedges is no fan of career-enhancing positive thinking. He’s a realist who believes that creativity comes from having the guts to first accept the negative and then to criticize, two traits missing in our management-centric society—in which harmony is valued over everything else.

Why the push for harmony and the drift toward illusion? Hedges sees these as agents of control. In a corporately-managed world, the main mission is maintaining obedience and order, leaving the controllers at the top of the pyramid to focus on tweaking the process of generating maximum power and profits. To keep the game going, illusion must replace reality.

Nowhere is this more evident than in politics. Here in Canada we’re still under the illusion that we’re living in a representative democracy. Yet the evidence directly contradicts this. Paul Martin was the son of a Liberal cabinet minister and is the owner of an international shipping company. He was the protégé of Paul Demarais, one of Canada’s hidden mandarins of corporate power whose ironically-named Power Corporation deals in pulp and paper, mass media and financial services, and whose son André is married to Jean Cretien’s daughter. They’re all well-connected but not necessarily to the people.

Conservative Stephen Harper has deep ties to Alberta’s oil industry, but unlike the ever-pragmatic Martin, Harper is even more disconnected—and dangerous. At his core he’s an ideologue who opposes central federalism in favour of decentralizing and modernizing Canada. His ideal version of the country is neo-conservative, in which each region stands on its own without handouts from Ottawa, while the federal government concerns itself with punishing crime, protecting corporate wealth and protecting the country’s borders and international trading status—while privatizing and deregulating Canadian industry.

His style is even less democratic than Cretien’s or Martin’s. By February, 2011, the country was led not by Parliament or even Cabinet, but by the Prime Minister’s Office and his paid staff, which is mostly populated by younger even more ideological versions of Himself.

A great deal has been written about “the Harper government’s” use of power. (Someone recently calculated up to 50 significant abuses to date.) But fortunately for the Conservatives, the Canadian public seems to have been infected by a very American-like case of mass amnesia, and a willingness to accept “strong and wrong” over reasonable and democratic, a much messier process.

Harper is at heart a manager, not a leader. He’s good at forcing consensus and managing power. Canadians, of course, prefer to have a leader, but in the absence of one seem willing to support the strongest manager.

This is a hazardous choice. Strengthening control at the top is not the answer to creating a new vision for Canada. That path leads quickly to proto-fascism, not creativity.

The police-state strategy used to control the G20 protesters in Toronto is a good example. Risk-taking and independent thought do not flourish under repressive regimes.

Of course these are exactly the traits the elite management types running large corporations don’t want. They want a compliant workforce of highly-trained specialists who go home every night to watch “reality” TV, mind their Facebook accounts, go shopping on the weekend for the best brand names, sign up for unhealthy mortgages and new car loans and send their kids off to college be indoctrinated into the same blindly specialized, self-imposed prison.

Against that, Pinker and Goldstein’s timid attempts to promote creativity seem a bit like peeing into a gale. So why should I care? First, I have kids (including a newborn baby girl). Second, the environment is going to hell in a hand-basket. Third, we’re all being put to sleep as we lose our hard-won citizens’ rights.

Harper keeps ranting that the opposition might form a coalition, as if that’s some kind of risk. I think it’s high time we got a little more creative and formed a coalition ourselves—by taking back our democracy from the narrow-minded managers and political cops working for a hidden corporate elite.

We might begin with a critical assessment of this arrogant, fear-mongering Harper government.

(An interview with Chris Hedges on "Death of the Middle Class")


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