All Commentary
Tuesday, September 1, 1992

Thoughts on Creativity While Watching the Twilight Zone

Tom Giovanetti is a freelance writer in Dallas.

In one of the better known episodes of The Twilight Zone, the head of a manufacturing company callously replaces experienced workers with “more efficient” computers and automated machinery. The CEO is gleeful at the prospect of an automated production line since machines “don’t call in sick, take breaks, or require maternity leave.” In this episode, which stemmed from the concern that automation would make human beings obsolete, the machines eventually drove the CEO mad, and he himself was replaced by a machine. In the justice of The Twilight Zone, the CEO got his comeuppance because he did not properly value the inherent dignity of human beings.

Of course, we know that technology does not make human workers obsolete. Though there is always some temporary displacement of lower-skilled workers when new technology comes along, the technological revolution is relieving human beings of the more monotonous and dangerous tasks in the workplace and freeing them for more creative ventures.

But no matter how advanced technology becomes, it is doubtful that machines will ever possess creativity. The idea of a computer performing a task with creativity or inspiration seems best left to the imagination of science fiction writers. Without doubt, computers are superior to human beings at certain tasks. Anyone who has watched a computerized drill press or robotic welder cannot but marvel at the ability of machines to outperform human workers at repetitive tasks. Computers can process data and reach conclusions based on that data much faster than human beings. Computers reach more reliable conclusions in some areas because they base their conclusions on data alone and are not confused by emotion. But computers probably will never be creative. The increasing complexity of computer hardware and software is a testament to human creativity, not to some talent or dignity resident in silicon.

Creativity is one of those inherent human traits that distinguish us from machines and animals. The Bible tells us that man is made in the “image of God.” Though theologians have puzzled for centuries over the meaning of the phrase, “image of God,” certainly one of the characteristics God has shared with us is his creativity. The first thing God chose to tell us about himself is his creation of the universe in its almost infinite diversity. And part of God’s plan for man (the pinnacle of his creation) is that man be creative. God’s job for Adam was to name the animals, to tend the Garden of Eden, and to otherwise maintain the new creation–tasks that certainly demanded creativity. But even apart from theology, it is evident that human beings are happiest when their lives involve creativity.

Because creativity is an essential characteristic of man’s nature, the quality of a person’s life may well be determined by the degree of creativity present. A stereotypical “life of misery” that we might conjure up—say working 12 hours a day in a coal mine or working in a Dickensian sweatshop—would be characterized by drudgery and monotony, and by a distinct lack of creativity. On the other hand, what we might imagine as a life of pleasure—such as being a writer or artist, or running our own business—would be characterized by a demand for creativity and imagination. We crave creativity, even if we do not think of ourselves as “creative.” Our need for variety in life is an expression of our desire for creativity, both in ourselves and in others.


The Market Rewards Creativity

Part of the dignity, legitimacy, and superiority of the free market is that it encourages creativity in its participants. The amount of creativity in an economy depends on the degree of freedom allowed by that economy. Where there is no reward for creativity, or where creativity is punished, the creative spark dies. A free market produces better, cheaper, and more diverse products and services than a command economy at least partly because the free market both permits and rewards creativity.

Indeed, while a command economy punishes creativity, a free market demands creativity. In today’s free market, it is scarcely possible for a company to remain in business without investing in research and development for new products and services. Creativity also finds ways to produce products and services more profitably. Any attempt by a command economy to compel creativity of its subjects is about as fruitful as trying to force an artist to paint beautifully.

Free markets have proven to be wellsprings of technology because free markets, by design, reward creativity. After the collapse of the Communist regimes, is there any remaining doubt about the technological superiority of free market economies? Odd, isn’t it, that one of the supposed advantages of command economies was that they would allocate resources more efficiently, and thus excel in technological production? it didn’t happen, in part because command economies do not take into account the nature of man. Rather than allowing the strengths in human nature to be freely expressed, command economies imagine that somehow human nature can be forcibly changed through bureaucracy.

The evil in a command economy is that it attacks the image of God in man, in part by denying man an outlet for his creativity. A command economy is the logical outgrowth of a philosophy that denies the divine and attacks the image of God within man. It was entirely consistent for Communism, which forbade (note past tense!) free religious and artistic expression, also to mandate a strictly planned economy.

Technology is not a measure of man’s independence from the divine, nor is it a menacing “outside” force that threatens the essential dignity of man. Technology is a product of man’s creativity. True, technology can be used as a force for evil, but in free economies the overwhelming impact of technology has been to improve the lot of mankind through increased food production, better medical techniques, and safer, more rewarding work. Technology is an example of what can be accomplished when free men express the image of God within them without the restraint of government.