The Quintessence of Creative Maladjustment 

I am a creatively maladjusted polymath. A declaration that has earned me looks running from puzzled to baffled to ‘that’s not some kind of psycho killer’ is it?

Over the past several years I have tried to write a neat tidy piece about the nature of being creatively maladjusted and why it is vital to the quality of our future to ensure the voice of the creatively maladjusted are considered.

Those attempts languished incomplete when I could produce neither neat nor tidy. 

When it became clear that this attempt was not going to produce neat or tidy I choose the ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ approach and moved forward.

Because being creatively maladjusted denies one neatness and tidiness; reflecting the complexity of the world today and of human beings.

When I started the piece I wanted to keep it reasonably short because feedback has made it clear that people prefer not to read more than 300 – 400 words. 

Yet as a creatively maladjusted polymath people’s insistence on short and simple, black and white, is why things are continuously degrading. Human beings are complex, the world grows ever more complex, issues are increasingly composed of various shades of grey with little or no black and white and the effects of the interactions between people and issues grow.

You cannot – at least if you are creatively maladjusted – chastise people for a behaviour and then turn around and behave that way.

It is not neat, tidy, short and sweet, black and white. But then life and reality are complex, convoluted shades of grey and by and large unedited and not polished smooth.

Quintessence of Creative Maladjustment 

On December 18, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at Western Michigan University as part of a series of talks at WMU on Psychology. 

At that point in time the buzz-word favoured in psychology to explain undesirable behaviour by individuals was maladjusted.

In psychology “adjusted” refers to the desire to fit in, to be accepted. While we think of teenagers as being obsessed with fitting in, adults are also driven – despite denial – to fit in. 

From earliest childhood parents, teachers and society instruct us on how to fit in. As we grow out of childhood it is the Media and the advertising industry who reinforce the lessons of childhood, telling us how and who to be in order to gain the approval of others – to fit in.

The desire to fit in, to be well-adjusted, is reinforced by rewards while not fitting in extracts a cost from the ‘maladjusted’ individual. 

In his speech, King noted that while “Everybody passionately seeks to be well-adjusted…….,” “…..there are some things in our world to which men of goodwill must be maladjusted.”

Part of being well adjusted ls ‘normal thinking’ where problems become insoluble dilemmas.

King felt that to solve the problems of human life, especially the deepest problems – such as racism, poverty, and war – we have to become, in a sense, abnormal. That we have to stop accepting what everyone else believes, stop going along, let go of our focus on being well adjusted, of fitting in, of being normal and become maladjusted. 

Being Maladjusted allows one to see issues and problems in a new light, allows for new creative solutions to old issues, regardless of seeming impossibilities and past failures by allowing one to recognize the true problems [and solutions] masked by what everyone believes – what everyone knows for sure.

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”  Mark Twain

The masking effect of what everybody knows not only obscures the true nature of issues and problems, it also masks the existence of problems and issues, serves to hide the extent and effect of changes that have occurred and obscures issues arising from those unseen/unrecognized changes.

To King the growth in the cost and the effect of the consequences resulting from our failure to effectively address issues and problems, added to the costs and effects of the blind spots imposed by what everybody knows, threatened the survival of our current way of life.

There is a need now more than ever before for men and women in our nation to be creatively maladjusted.       Martin Luther King Jr

The body of what we factually know and understand continues to grow and the increase in our understanding has revealed that issues and problems are not black or white but composed of a multitude of shades of gray and there can be complex interactions between issues.

The environment, the world we live in, grows increasingly complex. The interactions, the number of shades of grey and scope of issues in the way our world functions increases. The divergence between what we believe we know and actual Reality widens.  

Unfortunately there is no updating mechanism to bring what we believe and what we believe we know into alignment with what reality actually is, as determined by experienced outcomes, results and facts. In fact human nature serves to prevent correction of false beliefs and incorrect knowledge.

Humans are susceptible to confirmation bias, a type of cognitive bias that involves favoring information that confirms one’s previously existing beliefs or biases. 

Confirmation bias leads humans to search for, interpret, favor and recall information in a way that affirms prior beliefs. People also interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position, test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives.

The bias preserves belief even after the evidence for the belief is shown to be false,  maintains or strengthens beliefs in the face of contrary evidence and gives rise to illusory correlation  – a false perception of an association between two events or situations.

The bias increases when desired outcomes, emotionally charged issues and deeply-entrenched beliefs are involved. 

All of which results in our beliefs often being based on paying attention to the information that upholds our beliefs while at the same time ignoring information that challenges them.

Conformation bias allows humans to avoid thinking by ‘knowing’, no matter how contrary to the facts what they know is.

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.”

Henry Ford

The hallmark of a creatively maladjusted polymath is thinking’ or perhaps more definitively the inability to not think. Starting with the question “What is Thinking?” 

When Descartes said “cogito ergo sum” – I think therefore I am – what did he mean by thinking? 

In his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), Descartes states that to guarantee our beliefs about reality are accurate we have to limit what we believe, what we accept as known, to what is indisputable or is based on indisputable. The six ‘meditations’ are about method and conclusions of the thinking process.

Throughout the meditations Descartes argues we can only claim to know that for which we have justification, that we cannot use anything outside of our ideas for justification and that we judge our ideas using a method that avoids error by tracing what we know back to a firm foundation of indubitable beliefs.

Descartes in the posthumously published work “La Recherche de la Vérité par La Lumiere Naturale” [The Search for Truth by Natural Light] wrote: [S]entio, oportere, ut quid dubitatio, quid cogitatio, quid exsistentia sit antè sciamus, quàm de veritate hujus ratiocinii : dubito, ergo sum, vel, quod idem est, cogito, ergo sum : plane simus persuasi.

Which translates to English as [I feel that] it is necessary to know what doubt is, and what thought is, [what existence is], before we can be fully persuaded of this reasoning — I doubt, therefore I am — or what is the same — I think, therefore I am.

In an article in praise of Descartes French poet and academician Antoine Léonard Thomas, noted for his eloquence, restated Descartes as “Puisque je doute, je pense; puisque je pense, j’existe.” In English, this is “Since I doubt, I think; since I think, I exist” or “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am”, or in Latin, “dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum”.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.                                      William James

What most people do is to apply what is believed to be known when what is believed is formed without an examination of the facts.

As Descartes and other philosophers have noted, true thinking requires an examination of the facts [doubt and questioning] and then coming to a logical or informed decision based on those facts.

Without starting from a base of indisputable fact and using facts to build from there one cannot perform logical thinking. While theoretical thoughts can be useful, the probability that decisions made on conjecture and hypothesis will be effective approaches zero.

True thinking on a subject or issue requires one to set aside one’s preconceived notions or prejudices [what is believed or believed to be known] and proceed from facts. Without meeting both conditions you are merely rearranging prejudices, not thinking. 

Without understanding the basic requirements of thinking one cannot engage in reflective, independent and critical thinking; one cannot – or does not – think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas. 

Critical thinking is not about passively receiving information but requires active learning and the use of one’s ability to reason.

Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions, rather than accepting them at face value, and always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not. This behaviour allows critical thinkers to identify, analyse and solve problems systematically rather than by intuition or guess and bygolly. 

The ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe, or perhaps more accurately the inability not to engage in critical thinking, is not a comfortable place to be in a society which practices killing the messenger. Particularly any messenger who dares to speak of things society does not want to think about, much less talk about, and challenges the image society and people have of themselves.

King noted that it was not simply creative maladjustment that was required. One also needed the ability to be comfortable in a minority of two or three.

People complain that ‘politicians lie’, yet should a politician dare to state something voters do not want to hear or broach a subject voters do not wish to address, voters vote for the person who tells them what they want to hear and avoids anything that voters do not want to face..

Being Creatively Maladjusted results in one no longer accepting what everyone else believes, the beginning of the path leading to one no longer going along.

When you speak of things and ideas that society does not want to hear, think about or acknowledge society will ignore you. Should society not be able to ignore you they will scorn you. If you persist society will attack, and when they cannot attack the facts they will attack you personally. 

In a society that values materialism as much as ours the temptation to reap the rewards to be found in recanting and sparing society the need to face the things they want to avoid even recognizing tests both one’s maladjustment and character. 

The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.

Martin Luther King

Human nature and behaviour explain why King felt creative maladjustment was necessary to be able to see problems from all angles in order to allow us to look for and accept new creative solutions issues, But why did King see pending doom if we continued in our complacent behaviour?

Listening to those who don’t accept evolution speak about Darwin leaves me wondering if they have bothered to read ‘his 1859 book ‘On the Origin of Species.’ 

Judging and choosing what one believes about Darwin’s theory without bothering to read ‘On the Origin of Species’ does avoid the need to set aside one’s preconceptions, avoid those pesky things called facts and preclude any need to think.

Darwin’s theory of evolution did not appear to him out of nowhere. Rather it substituted the struggle for existence [natural selection] for the effect of the artificial selection involved in selective breeding. 

Natural selection is not about  traits that are somehow inherently superior but favors traits that help an organism survive and reproduce more effectively than its peers in a specific environment.

Darwin did not see survival as a matter of fitness or strength or intelligence but dependent on the ability and willingness of a species to adapt to the environment it it lives in or to changes in that environment.

The corollary is that traits that are helpful or successful in one environment might actually be harmful in another or changed environment.

Why  should humans today  be concerned with Darwin and ‘Origin of the Species’?

For most species, their environment is the ecology they live in. For humans the environment is not simply a matter of ecology but also includes the social, cultural and economic forces that shape our lives.

Not only has our environment – the world – undergone significant changes, the rate of change has significantly increased and continues to accelerate. Despite the significant changes in our environment and the increasing rate and scope of the changes humans have not adapted our behaviour to the new environment created by those changes.

Of particular significance is our failure to recognize and adapt to the new digital economy. New not as in ‘new X’ which is the old X plus some minor change but New as in never seen before.

When the changes in the economic fundamentals passed a tipping point and resulted in a never seen before economy, an economy with markedly different economic fundamentals from the post WWII, our failure to recognize or adapt our behaviour to the new economic Reality did not change either the Reality or the effect the new economic reality has on us. 

Our failure to recognize the new economic reality leaves us floundering economically and suffering the negative consequences as we try to manage our nchanged economic reality using the tools appropriate to an economy that no longer exists 

While the consequences of our failure to recognize and adapt to our new, never seen before, economic reality are dire,we cannot afford to complacently accept the cumulative consequences of our failure to adapt to and effectively deal with the other changes and challenges we face as a society, a country and a species.  ’     

In his 12-volume A Study of History [published 1934–61] British historian Arnold J. Toynbee argues that civilizations are born in response to some set of challenges of extreme difficulty. He felt that the challenge must be a golden mean; that excessive challenge would crush the civilization, and too little challenge would cause it to stagnate.

Man achieves civilization, not as a result of superior biological endowment or geographical environment, but as a response to a challenge in a situation of special difficulty which rouses him to make a hitherto unprecedented effort.”          Arnold J. Toynbee

Solutions to the challenges faced by civilizations, solutions that often reoriented the entire society,  were devised by “creative minorities” who inspired (rather than compelled) others to follow their lead. The minorities were the leaders and the majorities the followers because the majority was not capable of discovering the solutions on their own.

Toynbee argued that civilizations continue to grow only when they meet one challenge only to face another, in a continuous cycle of “Challenge and Response” and it is the failure to respond effectively to the challenges, to do what is necessary, that causes the deterioration and downfall of a civilization.

To Toynbee the breakdown of civilization comes from the loss of creativity that results as the“Creative Minority“ degenerates into a “Dominant Minority,” leading to nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority.

Toynbee believed that societies don’t die from natural causes but from suicide or murder, and that death was nearly always from suicide.

The environment a civilization develops and exists in is not fixed and unchanging but is continuously in flux, continuously changing. The effects and consequences for a civilization, a country or society are a product of the degree of change, the rate of change and changes to the rate of change. The nature of the product introduces/imposes time as a factor in what the costs of failing to adapt and/or deal with changes in the environment.

The more profound a change is, the higher the rate of change is and a rate of change that is increasing results in less time to adjust and adapt or manage change.

We have moved from timeframes of centuries to timeframes of generations to timeframes of a generation to timeframes of decades to timeframes of a decade for adapting to changes or suffering the consequences, ie suicide of failing to adapt to and address change.

And while our timeframes for change are shrinking because of the effect increasing knowledge has, that same increasing knowledge has increased both the rate of humans survival to old age [antibiotics, vaccines] and the length of the human lifespan. 

The increasing numbers of humans place a strain on our environment while the increased survival rate and longer lifespans impose significantly increased costs to support the increased numbers of increasingly old people at the same time as the  increasing number of older citizens presents a significant barrier to change and changing.  

The history of human behaviour makes it clear that humans are averse to change, liking or accepting change only when it is someone else changing to adapt to us

Conformational bias, cognitive biases, perceptions, beliefs, being adjusted, comfortable, complacent and the fact that few truly think – at least in a manner that starts with doubt and questioning – allow humans to use wilful denial to fail to see the effects and consequences of change or the need to adapt or change behaviour to deal with change. 

Given the significance of the degree of change and the effects an accelerating rate of change, our failure to acknowledge, much less adapt to change, leaves us wilfully ignoring that we are standing in front of a train that is accelerating and adding cars as it accelerates

 In Darwinian terms our failure to adapt to our changed environment leaves humans without traits that promote surviving and thriving in our new environment at the same time the traits that were successful in our old environment are causing harm to us in the new, changed environment.

Toynbee would say our failure to address the challenges of the changes effectively, leaves us committing suicide.

Martin Luther King expressed it as: “The saving of our world from pending doom……

One of the factors King didn’t speak to, perhaps did not see, was how unpopular – therefore avoided and ignored – the creatively maladjusted view would become.

The Creatively Maladjusted View stands in stark contrast to the comfortable and complacent view of our adjusted society. That contrast gives rise to a level of change and discomfort [materialistic, mental and ego] for citizens that makes the creatively maladjusted viewpoint amathema and placing it at the top of the list of things people do not want to address, think about or hear.

  • We have the government we deserve; the government our choices, actions and inactions have earned and created.
  • The society we live in is the product of our behaviours, actions and inactions, not of some mysterious ‘Them’.
  • Our leaders reflect our consciousness. The first step to improve our leaders is to improve our actions. Our power to change the world lies in our power to change ourselves.
  • Democracy is not some magical, wonderful system; to function well democracy requires citizens who are prepared to do the hard word to be informed and to make informed decisions even if those decisions and/or their consequences are uncomfortable or hard. 
  • By its nature the Media contributes to the creation and growth of issues, problems and challenges while it serves to block effective addressing of those issues, problems and challenges.
  • Tao of James: Studying and thinking about the economy and economics is a useful exercise; treating economic thought as certainty is fatal.
  • Capitalism is feral; ignoring or failing to consider that fact will see capitalism consume you and allows capitalism to promote behaviour that lures one over a cliff, into quicksand or a pitfall..
  • John Kenneth Galbraith was correct “Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists. Economics is based on assumptions and as a result is not a science since any hypothesis cannot be tested; based on assumptions and lacking exactness, precision or specificity economic thought and theory cannot be subjected to quality control. Galbraith: “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” Whether economics or astrology if you format the predictions properly conformational bias will have humans seeing an accuracy that does not exist. 
  • We have gone past the unhealthiness of a society infected with materialism into the destructiveness of greed and self-centeredness
  • Canadians love their children and would do anything for them….. except pay for their lifestyle, not consume the children’s standard of living and not burdening  them with onerous debt and its interest payments.

The discomfort level engendered by the views of the creatively maladjusted places those views solidly into the category of what people do not want to hear about, do not want to talk about, do not want to think about, do not want to believe or face.

In a society where shooting the messenger is entrenched and wilful denial widely practiced, speaking or writing about what the creatively maladjusted see or think on issues and challenges will not profit you but will cost you.  

Especially when that viewpoint requires setting aside comfortable or comforting beliefs, embracing doubting, questioning, facts and the hard work of truly, critically thinking.

Reality does not care what your ideology says is true, what you believe is true or what you want to be true; Reality does not care what we think; it exists separately from us and simply is what it is.

Refusing to acknowledge or deal with reality does not allow one to avoid reality. Rather it results in increasing consequences and costs as reality imposes itself.

As discomforting as dealing with reality may be it will be nowhere near as painful as reality dealing with us will be. .

Tao of James

We are experiencing two radically different realities with no middle ground. The two systems are the contrast between dark and light, selfishness or service, hate or love.

We can delay facing and dealing with reality. That delay is not free, but bought with costs and consequences that increase as time passes. 

The wider the gap between what IS and what we believe or wish, the higher the cost, the greater the discomfort and pain, when reality imposes itself on us.

When it comes to “the saving of our world from pending doom,’ a doom our choices and actions have created, the question is how to ensure people see the difference between what they believe and what is, to understand that the cost and pain of dealing with matters is less than the cost and pain arising from refusing to face and deal with issues and begin the process of facing and dealing with reality?

How do we instill the knowledge that a  great life is not one that only makes us comfortable. It’s one that stretches us and forces us to confront the world as it is, to see not ignore or fail to recognize problems?

We need to embrace the whirlwind, eschew the mediocrity of the comfortable, complacent tyranny of Normal and commit to excellence. Because, in our changed and changing world, the rewards of mediocrity are poor and success requires excellence.

Eventually Reality achieves correction and that reestablishing of balance makes no exceptions.

Martin Luther King → Mark Twain → conformational bias → Henry Ford  → Rene Descatres → dubito ergo cogito ergo sum → critical thinking→ Darwin → Arnold J. Toynbee → Tao of James

Doubt and questioning lead the creatively maladjusted down intreesting, creative, thoughtful and thought provoking paths. Whether they want to go down those paths or not.

When you are creatively maladjusted, the doubts, questions, facts, outcomes experienced and information will pull your thinking and thoughts to very uncomfortable places and ideas.

Places, ideas and discomfort where our comfortable and adjusted society, having the ability to choose, does not go; as it complains about the consequences of having chosen to avoid the discomfort of those thoughts, places and ideas while it ascribes those consequences to sundry rationalizations that allow the comfortable self-deception of denying  any responsibility for the consequences of their choices.

He [mankind] is free to make the wrong choice, but not free to succeed with it. He is free to evade reality, he is free to unfocus his mind and stumble blindly down any road he pleases, but not free to avoid the abyss he refuses to see. Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every “is” implies an “ought.” Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction.                                                              Ayn Rand

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