There is a Dark Side of Creativity

Isaiah McCall

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Several months ago I was running through my local park and noticed litter everywhere. Empty Budweiser cans in bushes, candy wrappers dumped in-front of trash cans and in the corner — in an almost impossible to reach area — was a Wendy’s cup draped on a tree branch.

The litter was bad, but the Wendy’s cup was sickening.

This person (whoever you are…) went out of their way to accomplish one of the easiest and most selfish acts a human being could commit. As if dumping their trash was art, and this person was freaking Picasso.

It made me think: Creativity is great. Everyone seems to agree. But what if a creative person has a dark side? What if someone expresses themselves through crime, negativity, or simple acts like littering? And, in what ways am I expressing myself negatively that I don’t know about?

This inspired me to dive deeper.

The capacity for evil is in our genetics

Researchers Daniel Harris, Roni Reiter-Palmon, and James Kaufman argued that most people tend to think of creativity as a benevolent trait. Unfortunately, however, creativity is a form of power. And as a wise man once told Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

These researchers would have agreed with that sentiment and created the term “malevolent creativity,” which the group defined as:

“Creativity that is deliberately planned to damage others. Such creativity is deemed necessary by some society, group, or individual to fulfill goals they regard as desirable, but has serious negative consequences for some other group, these negative consequences being fully intended by the first group. We call this malevolent creativity.”

Think Nazi Germany, when SS officers would tell Jews to drag wet bags of salt to the other side of a concentration camp for an entire day. Keep in mind, concentration camps were the size of cities. This act alone would kill jews from fatigue. And above the entrance of many of these camps was a sign that said “Arbeit macht frei” or “Work will set you free.” Torture was a spectacle.

Or, recall malevolent creativity at our own hands. When J. Robert Oppenheimer and American physicists worked on the Manhattan Project, creating the most destructive weapon in human history. Oppenheimer certainly realized the sheer transcendent power they were playing with.

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” — J. Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavadgita

Malevolent creativity dates back to when Aztecs were making human sacrifices on top of temples to the vicious acts of murder we see today. But what makes a person a malevolent creative? And what groups should you be afraid of most?

What makes a malevolently creative person?

Researchers first believed a malevolently creative person was someone who was less emotionally intelligent (EQ). Some hypothesized that the less capable you were at identifying and managing your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, the more prone you were to malevolent creativity.

Many studies have linked low EQ with criminal behavior, mental illness and even holding right-wing attitudes.

If you’re rubbing your hands together thinking “A-ha! I got those right-wingers! I always knew they were crooks!” Sorry but no. The reason being that EQ is complete BS. The idea of EQ wasn’t even created by a psychologist, it was popularized by a journalist named Daniel Goleman.

James Kaufman, one of the creators of creative malevolence thinks the EQ argument is weak at best. In an article on Psychology Today, he details that villains like John Wilkes Booth, Stalin, Hitler, and even fictional characters like Hannibal Lecter are high in EQ.

“Is Hannibal Lecter emotionally intelligent? He is terrific at understanding other people’s feelings (and exploiting this knowledge),” Kaufman wrote. “He uses his own feelings to help him think (such as his ability to concentrate and listen to music to prepare for killing the two guards).”

To reiterate, emotional intelligence is a sham. It’s a metric you receive at the end of a BuzzFeed quiz and go brag off to your friends. Even this prominent psychologist seems to think EQ is loosely unproven too.

The truth of the matter is we’re all a little malevolently creative. Some are more aware of it than others.

For me, I remember emotionally crushing my sister growing up. I knew exactly how to get under her skin, so when she annoyed me, I would go there. I’d make her cry and feel good about it. I know that’s still in me. I know I can let that part of me at any given time.

And I’m not scared of it anymore.

After reading the work of Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, I’ve learned to embrace my capacity for malevolence.

The importance of the shadow

Jung believed we all have the ability to commit evil acts. This was an idea he coined “the shadow.”

“To become conscious of it [the shadow] involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real, Yung wrote in Aion. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.”

Most of us like to believe that we’re “good.” We follow a moral code, treat others the way we want to be treated, and when push comes to shove we believe that we’ll stand for what’s right.

Except we know deep down that’s not true.

Maybe we can stand for what’s right some of the time, but what about in a desperate situation? What about when you let your anger get the best of you? Who do you become then? Are you still a paragon of moral virtue?

Instead of denying your capacity for evil and attributing malevolence solely to one group of deplorables — as Hillary Clinton once described Republicans — Jung believed we should admit that we’re all flawed. He believed we should get past our persona, another Jungian term, or the mask we all wear to convince ourselves, and others, that we’re not bad people.

This was the only way to obtain real moral virtue according to Jung.

Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz wrote, “If you feel an overwhelming rage coming up in you when a friend reproaches you about a fault, you can be fairly sure that at this point you will find a part of your shadow, of which you are unconscious.”

Here’s the brutal truth. Most of us are cowards. We’re too spontaneous; too aggressive, careless, materialistic; compulsive; and promiscuous. just to name a few. These are also the traits that make you human. And if you embrace them instead of abandon and hide from them, you stand to gain a real superpower that can change the world.

Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.” — Carl Jung

Final thoughts

Malevolence is in all of us. It’s terrifying to think, but attributing “evil” to just a certain group of people that aren’t you or anyone you know, is exactly how average Germans became Nazis.

It’s why Mandolorian star Gina Carano’s tweet held truth in it.

The truth is often painful.

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Gina Carano’s Instagram posts comparing being conservative in America to being Jewish during the Holocaust.

In these increasingly tumultuous times, it’s paramount that we face the darkness head-on. That we engage in difficult conversations with our loved ones, moreover, ourselves.

I’m not a very spiritual person, but I think the story of Cain and Abel is profound. The story goes, the evil brother kills his sibling and becomes the human that gives birth to the world. We all have a lot more Cain in us than we let on.

Russian novelist, philosopher, and political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it best.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

A Very, Very, Brief Rant About Littering

Show some respect people! Pick up your trash! And if you see anything like that photo down there, take a few minutes to clean it up, even if it isn’t yours. Make the world a better place one small step at a time.

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Not cool.

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USA Today Reporter and Ultramarathoner. I write about Cryptocurrency, Fitness Hacks, and Greek Philosophy. Also a diehard Trekkie | mccallisaiah@gmail.com

Jersey City, NJ
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