Liberty and Creativity

Exercising creativity will help establish and improve a free society. And a free society will be most conducive to the expression of ideas and the creation of art, literature, media, inventions, and Do-It-Yourself production.

I: Creativity Fosters Free Society.

The task of liberating society can be described as “building a new world in the shell of the old” or finding opportunities to build liberating networks into daily life. In any sense, the project of liberation is an act of creation, and requires creative thinking to be successfully achieved.

The things we create can be the beginnings of the new world that must be built.

The personal liberation found in creating art and inventions facilitates the individual’s ability to live a free life. And on the social level, encouraging the exercise of creativity undermines the social control of authorities who rely on passive consumers and obedient producers.

One who creates is imagining new ways to live and breaking out of the roles and ideas that have been handed to him. Expanding mental attention into new areas expands freedom – the individual who can think about more things is capable of doing more things. Whether creating narratives from images in the mind, or creating usable items from discarded parts, the mental process involved in creation requires that the world be looked at from different perspectives than one is used to. Such a mindset encourages the exploration and toleration of new ideas, hallmarks of a free society.

Creation disrupts the monotony and sterility of social control. Where governments would put drab brown walls along highways, graffiti artists give passengers something to think about besides blank walls and asphalt. The right sticker on a subway advertisement can make the viewer more apt to question the messages they are getting. Public performances disrupt the routine of habit whereby people fall into acceptance of the status quo. And Do-It-Yourself projects are more likely to make the individual feel he can influence the world around him.

Like a free society, creation can be a participatory process of discovery and a voluntary pooling of individual effort for maximum benefit to all participants. Communication and free expression are more valued than slavish devotion to “The Rules.”

A more material payoff of fostering creativity can be discussed. The products of Do-It-Yourself and Make Culture can form the basis of a counter-establishment-economy, finding ways to make discards into valuable capital for use and exchange. And the more that people think innovatively, the more fronts of attack can be opened against authority. For example, more ideas about how to counter attacks on Wikileaks make it harder for the US government to disrupt it. And if Wikileaks is shut down, the authorities will then be confronted with multiple new ideas attacking them, as if they cut off one head of the Hydra to see two grow in its place.

Reason is only one part of the human thought process, so it is often helpful to communicate feeling to go with it. Doing so makes things meaningful on a deeper level, and playing with emotions can reveal the thought processes behind them.

II: Free Society Fosters Creation.

A free society would have no taxes, no globe-spanning empires, and no regulations that lock the economy into rigid hierarchy and inefficiency. But there would be an emphasis on personal liberty – this would be necessary to establish, safeguard, and improve a free society. Such an environment would be conducive to a flowering of human creativity, as creativity would not be limited by arbitrary authoritarian decree.

The elimination of the state will increase the general wealth of society by two related means. One, the government is not leaching off every minute of legal work to line the pockets of those who help politicians exert control and chase glory. Two, there will no longer be arbitrary barriers to entering the economy or to create new economies, making it easier to start new businesses or new ways of exchanging goods. The absence of state distortions in the economy means that people can work more productively with the same amount of time.

Prices of necessities, like housing, nutrition, and utilities, are kept artificially high by government intervention, particularly in land use and technology. As Charles Johnson noted in Bits & Pieces on Free Market Anti-Capitalism: the Many Monopolies,

certain key markets – importantly, the labor market, housing rental market, and other key markets are rigged markets – and in particular, indirectly-created  captive markets, in which working-class folks in need of houses or jobs are driven into a market where they are systematically stripped of resources and alternatives, faced by artificially high costs, and generally constrained to negotiate with incumbent market players who have been placed in an artificially advantageous position over them

The practical result is that in an economy rife with state intervention on behalf of the most powerful interests, the average person works more and receives less than they likely would in a free economy.

The greater profitability of work combined with the falling prices of basic living expenses in a free society means that basic needs could be met with far less work, leaving more time to create and experiment. The ease of finding someone to pay for art (though there would likely be many people interested in free expression and wealth would be more generally attainable) would have less determination over what kind of art was made, as the artist can more easily live off of other endeavors. So art does not have to be easy to sell (though there is nothing wrong with going for mass appeal) but instead would be a truer reflection of the creator’s desires to explore and create.

But creativity does not have to wait for after work is done. A free society is more likely to value the application of creativity to work. Where the authoritarian says, “Do what you’re told,” the libertarian says “If you want to be involved in this endeavor, find the best way you as an individual can contribute.” Valuing results over obedience leads to less drudgery and submission at work. The individual is less of an automaton, and more of a craftsperson valued for his skills and ideas.

A free economy leaves more time for leisure as people work more effectively instead of working longer. The demand for literature, games, and aesthetics would likely rise. So the exchange of creations could be a more prevalent part of life. And the innovation fostered by the nurturing of creativity in a free economy would likely make creation a greater part of social life.

In freedom, one does not need to perpetually labor for others in order to maintain survival or status. The things you do on your own time are more meaningful than things done on others’ time, and living without masters that require constant requests for approval is living free. The individual flourishes in autonomy.

Individual freedom requires respecting individuality. The freedom to experiment and express new ideas would likely be seen as valuable assertions of uniqueness.

III: Freedom of Communication.

The more easily information flows, the better the environment for creation, adaptation, and commentary.

All work is ultimately derivative – to be completely original, you would have to invent language and create every single environment that has fostered ideas. It is the way in which one combines previous ideas that makes a new idea original. In a free society, communication would be facilitated by innovation, by people having more time to communicate instead of taking and giving commands, and by the end of intellectual property regimes. The greater communication that a free society would foster is another way that freedom encourages creativity.

In a free society, communication and accountability would take the place of copyrights and patents. The regime of intellectual gatekeeping and intellectual property generally serves to enrich certain businesses at the expense of individual creators. Authors sign away rights to get published, film studios are not permitted to make adaptations of works that others “own,” technology workers sign away profits from innovations to their employers, incremental improvements on products can violate patents, companies sit on patents to prevent competitors from developing products, and whoever is able to muster the strongest showing in a government court wins.

Ensuring creator recognition through public accountability works by using the flow of information and consumer choice – through innovation, not disruption. In the information age, plagiarism is easier than ever to detect and draw attention to. Selling creative works without paying the creators will lead to market pressure and social costs. New business models to fund research and development will be created. Those who succeed will sell products and those who do not can create products for their own use without a lawsuit hanging over their heads. promotes a “Creator-Endorsed” trademark to certify that creators of a work endorse the version that carries the mark (Stephan Kinsella discusses the idea in The Creator-Endorsed Mark as an Alternative to Copyright). A dishonest use of such a mark would constitute a fraudulent attempt to make a profit. If one sold a product bearing the Creator-Endorsed mark without the actual approval of the creator, the customer is not receiving the product they paid for. The seller would be dishonestly keeping money that he promised the consumer he would give to the creator. The Creator-Endorsed mark is one example of an effort to help creators make money by the spread of information and by the decision-making power of consumers.

Cases of derivative work are best decided in the court of public opinion. If a work is an obvious rip-off, it will lose support and bring social costs. If a work draws inspiration from other expressions of ideas, it will be up to each individual to decide if it is too derivative or not. There will not be one line fixed by authority, but multiple standards based in communication, persuasion, and individual decision making.

The use of information technology without state restrictions will overall lead to better working conditions for creators. As Kevin Carson notes in his latest Center for a Stateless Society study The Thermidor of the Progressives,

[I]t’s feasible for a larger number of people than ever before to obtain payment (in smaller amounts) for their ideas by marketing them directly to readers and listeners, as opposed to the previous state of affairs in which fewer people gained access to much larger sums of money by winning the approval of the corporate gatekeepers. What we’re seeing is a return to the folk model of making modest incomes by direct production for one’s audience, in place of a model in which the “artist” is the client of some bureaucratic government or corporate patron (with the giant publishing house or record company “keeping” the artist in the same way an Italian grandee kept his pet artist in the Renaissance).

The corporate gatekeepers, those who skim off the work of some while countless others petition for consideration, are now facing competition from the new entrepreneurialism enabled by the free use of technology. Creators can reach a wider audience without the intermediaries of businesses who have their own interests in mind.

The gatekeepers aren’t better at recommending stuff than friends and trusted reviewers. With mass exposure, quality control is democratized. Creators can judge feedback from multiple sources in a conversation between equals instead of looking up the hierarchy for revision. And consumers have more potential seals of approval to put their trust in.

And mass exposure is good for works that aren’t massively popular too. The free flow of information enables niche audiences to more easily find the products they’re looking for. If I’m trying to convince someone to buy a ticket to a concert I’m going to, one of the best things I can do is point them to YouTube. There might be official videos, there might be bootleg concert footage, and there might be videos made using movie clips without permission. All help the potential consumer make a more informed choice, and lead to more interest in the product. And a variety of creators can be better matched to more unique tastes.

As Carson says later in Thermidor:

But even assuming that “piracy” really does cut into the total revenues of the little guy who’s trying to make a full-time career out of music or writing, that’s looking at only one side of the picture. It neglects what Bastiat called “the unseen.” What revenue does come in to artists follows a much longer tail distribution, spread out among a larger number of people making small amounts of money, as opposed to larger amounts being concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of artists.

Let’s consider my case. I don’t waste time worrying about the sharing of pdf files of my books at torrent sites, or how much money it’s costing me. To me, the proper basis for comparison is the money I still can make that I never could have made at all in the “good old days.” In the good old days, I’d have painstakingly put together a manuscript of hundreds of pages, and then put it away to gather cobwebs when I couldn’t persuade the gatekeepers at a conventional publisher that it was worth the cost of printing and marketing… [I]f it weren’t for digital publishing technologies and free publishing venues on the Internet, I would probably have lived and died doing menial labor with nobody anywhere ever hearing of my ideas. If I’d had to persuade a conventional publisher that my books could sell ten thousand copies before I could be heard, my entire writing career would have been confined to letters to the editor. Thanks to digital culture, I’m able to make my work directly available to anyone in the world who has an Internet connection, and market it virally to a niche readership at virtually no cost.

The breaking of monopoly leads to a flowering of alternatives. Creators are able to see their visions realized in the physical world, and writers are empowered to communicate more.

But the creator is a consumer as well. Finding inspiration and sources for projects can get really expensive or otherwise inconvenient if you can’t download it for free and later compensate and promote those you have found to be most helpful.

In anarchy, human creativity would be liberated and countless ideas would be experimented with. Liberty and creativity are bound together in the pursuit of maximum freedom.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory