Sunday, August 18, 2013

Steve Aylett on the Quest for Originality

In a new interview (click here), British author Steve Aylett discusses his current project The Heart of the Original. 

Here are a few lines from the interview that I found particularly interesting:
What do you perceive to be the main obstacles to originality?
There’s a strange discomfort that people feel when confronted with an original idea, which is to do with the very fact that it didn’t exist before and so there’s no ‘place’ for it yet. It can be accommodated but many people aren’t willing to do that. There’s also some laziness involved and a need to stay with the familiar. That’s just in regard to original ideas coming from outside, so you can imagine how most people are in regard to coming up with original ideas themselves.
Do you believe people are becoming more, or less original in their ideas?
Less. The world is getting more conservative and fearful every day. People are willing to ‘buy’ one or other badge of individuality but the real thing is being starved out at a younger and younger age.
These observations serve as interesting points of departure for considering contemporary culture, education, and perhaps politics. What registers most strongly with me is the sense that culture is in transition, shifting into a mode where there is less originality and more conformity: in thought and institution (that is, in terms of the culture of social organization, and in terms of our cultural institutions--eg. entertainment, religion, marriage, what it means to be an adult or child).  Arguably, the internet is a source for greater diversity of thought and opinion, an open forum for the cosmopolitan exchange of ideas; however, in actual practice... I wonder. Do people use the internet to seek challenging new ideas, or rather use it as a place where they seek confirmation of their already established ideas, beliefs and prejudices?

Aylett's second point is somewhat chilling.  Coupled to the mitigation of behavior and thinking that is original early in life--"being starved out at a younger and younger age," to quote Aylett--I wonder if there is a tendency to cling to the more mundane and undesired "overt" behaviors and thinking patterns of childhood? On one hand people are at a younger age abandoning their rebelliousness, their desire to experiment with life and experience, while on the other hand people, to make up for this perhaps, are clinging to more archetypical core behaviors and attitudes that are simply immature. Are we exchanging risky patterns that are necessary for growth and learning in return for safe patterns of mock rebelliousness, i.e. childishness, and in so doing are we remaining children for longer periods, into our 20s, 30s, and beyond?

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