Imagine growing up in a culture of fear, a culture in which your every action and every written word are recorded, tracked and stored.
Imagine growing up in a world where, while going about your daily routines, you encounter heavily armed military troops peering through visors atop armored vehicles as you walk by.
Imagine growing up in a world of such moral decay that you have abandoned all faith in your leaders and the governmental rights and processes they manage.
Imagine growing up in a world where war is endless, where images of death, mutilation and destruction are so pervasive you don’t even pay attention to them any longer — if you ever did.
Imagine growing up in a world where the populace is so muted, worn down and disengaged that it allows its leaders — time after time — to drag the masses into brutal wars based on flagrant lies, repeating the same failed history over and over.
If you were growing up in such a world, how would you cope? What would you do? Parrot the propaganda? Buy into the lies?
Perhaps you would bow your head, plug your ears with headphones and peck away endlessly on your smartphone. You would listen to fabricated music, or even create it on your laptop and call yourself a musician. You would dress and present yourself like your peers, being just fine with the sameness that prevails around you. You would stay in line and follow orders.
Your powerlessness would be reflected in the poor state of your physical, psychological and emotional health.
If you rose up against abusive power when motivated, it would be fleeting and inconsequential. You’re so beaten down and defeated by the chronic deception, lying and self-serving guile of your leaders that your own self-respect is now counted among the casualties.
Immersed in a world where too many have allowed themselves to become packaged, processed and homogenized like so much of the food, fashion, music and media shoved down their throats, your yearning for true, genuine expression is too difficult to bear.
This is what fear has done to society.
The epidemic of fear
Fear consumes the post-9/11 world just as it did in the days immediately following the attacks — on both subliminal and overt levels.
As the United States and much of the world prepared to mark the 13th anniversary of 9/11, American President Barack Obama addressed the nation on September 10, 2014. Obama promised to “degrade,” “destroy” and “eradicate” the terrorist Islamic State “cancer” that posed a “growing threat to the United States.” It took him a mere 14 minutes to declare a war that would be fought, in part, in Syria, which, like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, was innocent of committing crimes or acts of aggression against the United States (but were nevertheless attacked and destroyed). It was the start of what some said would be a 30-year war. Thirty years!
In the Summer 2014 Trends Journal, while dissecting President George W. Bush’s 9/11 addresses to the nation, I wrote, “Only a madman would speak such words. Only frightened people would believe them. And believe they did. Scared to death, Americans were dumbstruck with terror.”
What has changed between Bush’s 9/11 speech and Obama’s 13th anniversary declaration?
Now, 13 years later, while the United States and much of the world still suffer from these 9/11 wounds, we’re still victimized by the madmen and women banging war drums.
In the post-9/11 era, fear drives everything. Listing the barricades, video surveillance, police in armor, metal detectors, cyber hackings, X-ray machines at airports, and armed guards and terrorist drills in big cities is just to skim the surface of describing a world in lockdown. The surveillance state (see Summer 2013 Trends Journal) has arrived. And the density and coldness that abound in our world — from our music to our architecture, to our craftsmanship, and to our standards for what passes as creativity — reflect the effects of living in a state of fear.
Finding a way out
We have to ask ourselves: How low have our moral standards sunk? When did it become routine, expected and business as usual that we are led down such destructive roads with so little accountability and no regard for the history that’s so obviously and indisputably repeating itself?
Who’s to blame? How did it happen?
Them, you and me. We all do our part to create the conditions that exist. And at the heart of it, at the very core of our collective despondency and dejection, lies a simple question: What is the way out?
Art is the way out.
Not the soulless, self-indulgent and mass-produced facades of so-called “art” that consume popular culture, but genuine art born out of equal parts vision, heart, skill, craftsmanship and labor.
Power-hungry leaders who govern by lies, stupidity and indifference — while never being held accountable — are defenseless against art. Sociopaths and psychopaths are incapable of finding it in their hearts and are powerless in its presence.
What will it take to reverse negative trends and replace them with elements of joy, beauty, grace and prosperity? It begins and ends with the inner spirit, the sanctum where courage, purpose, self-awareness and the passion to create — and appreciate — beauty lives.
Today, a sustained poor global economy, endless war, immorality among world leaders and political polarization have compelled us to seek refuge in technology at our fingertips. Human embrace, engagement and experience are too often overwhelmed in this techno world. But those human traits aren’t lost; they are just suppressed.
Will the world grow tired of the sameness? Is it ready to awaken?
A trend worth tracking
The Trends Research Institute is tracking the slow rise of unique, powerful art movements born in response to the dreary sameness of the world that pervasive fear has created. Institute analysts are tracking how unique galleries, restaurants, music clubs and creative gathering spots are clustering in big and small cities, attracting patrons seeking reprieve from the homogenized world.
There is growing evidence that a movement is afoot to alchemize entrepreneurism and employ creative expression as a means to inspire a community — and make a living, too.
Stanley Blum, a friend of the institute and source of inspiration for me, is a fine example of the enduring, timeless and transformational power of art in dark times.
For the 95-year-old Blum, 9/11 unleashed “the angst and the creative energy that lay dormant for years.” Living through the horrors of that day awakened him to an insight that changed his life: “It takes courage to accept the chaos and mindlessness around us. We have to reach inside ourselves, depend only on the creativity inside of us, to combat those forces.”
So, at age 80, Blum began expressing himself — in paintings, in poems and by inspiring others of all age groups. Now, five books later, Blum feels the ground shaking. He sees it coming.
“The First American Enlightenment movement is coming,” said Blum. “Periods of growth, freedom and morality will come to life when creativity is unleashed, and we have no choice now but to unleash it.”
The great Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung stressed that changing the world begins with finding, expressing and celebrating one’s own uniqueness. “Individualism means deliberately stressing and giving prominence to some supposed peculiarity rather than to collective considerations and obligation,” he wrote.
Jung referred to the purest, highest quality forms of art as “supra-personal,” positioned to be “constantly at work educating the spirit of the age.”
That translates into change.
Internationally respected painter Eugene
Gregan, a Trends Research Institute contributor, wrote in the Summer 2014 Trends Journal: “The antidote to fear is beauty. To have satisfaction in your life, you must have grace. Grace gives life to creativity. Grace grows out of the discipline of the self. Discipline gives one dignity. Without dignity, genuine depth is not possible…”
“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable,” wrote George Bernard Shaw one hundred years ago. Today the news is filled with fear and hate. There is no talk of joy or beauty. The “crudeness of reality” has, indeed, made the world unbearable. As their leaders join in a march to war, can “the people” give rise to a passion to live in peace? Where is the music to soothe the savage breast? Where is the art to bring beauty to the eyes and meaning to the soul?
The world is ready for a Renaissance. Eighty-five people have more money and the power it brings than 3.5 billion people, or half the world’s population. Is there a de’ Medici among the eighty-five?
In any event, it will take the many to unite in the belief that true art is the way of finding the true meaning of the human spirit.