Harnessing the imagination

One of the most dismal futuristic images I’ve seen was recently painted by Chris Hedges in the opening of an article he entitled A Time for “Sublime Madness.”

Here it is: “The planet we have assaulted will convulse with fury. The senseless greed of limitless capitalist expansion will implode the global economy. The decimation of civil liberties, carried out in the name of fighting terror, will shackle us to an interconnected security and surveillance state that stretches from Moscow to Istanbul to New York.”

Echoing a theme portrayed by William Faulkner in “The Sound and the Fury”, Hedges posits that the only solution to allow us to endure these futuristic images will be “to harness the human imagination.”

Glenn Greenwald, in an article, “Martin Luther King’s vehement condemnations of US militarism are more relevant than ever,” also painted a bleak image of America’s militarism in these powerful words: “But a citizenry whose ‘soul becomes totally poisoned’ by endless war is incapable of considering nonviolence as an alternative. It loses its capacity for empathy (to understand what motivates others’ actions), for self-assessment (to acknowledge the role one’s own actions play in perpetuating this violence), for rationality (to consider whether those being killed are actually implacable foes), and for communion (to see ‘the enemy’ as anything more than dehumanized Others who must be extinguished).”

I like to think of Greenwald’s implicit solutions to its problems as positive ways to utilize the imagination.

In these words one might find solutions akin to Hedges’ imagination for Greenwald in empathy, self-assessment, rationality and communion.

In a previous column, I wrote: “From early childhood until our teeth, sight and strength disappear, we are the products and the sources of our imaginations.”

William Shakespeare wrote, in The Tempest, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” Carl Sagan, astronomy professor and populariser of space sciences, said, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

The “worlds that never were” often cause parents to discourage children from giving full vent to their imaginations. Just as elders have been known to stifle children’s curiosity, grown-ups have also been known to inhibit youthful imagination.

“Imagination is the beginning of creation,” wrote Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. “You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”

Philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character.”

Every problem that a human has successfully solved has at some point required the use of imagination; and yet, this tool—constantly available to us—is often neglected. The creative mental faculty (which we all have) generates endless ideas and stimulates the potential for a successful conclusion to any situation.

The imagination is the source of creativity, problem-solving, planning, and of setting our course in this world if we use it correctly.

Let’s use our imaginations to address the problems identified by Hedges and Greenwald.

1. End assaults on the planet’s resources.
2. Regulate limits to capitalist expansion.
3. Restore civil liberties lost in “fights against terror”.
4. Teach empathy with others who differ from you.
5. Understand your role in perpetuating others’ violence.
6. See your enemies as humans.
7. Concentrate on these visionary images in William Blake’s words:

To see the world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Paul Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. He’s a weekly op-ed columnist for the GULF DAILY NEWS . Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month.

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