The Creativity of the Foreclosed Option

Posted on October 25, 2016 By

by Rachel MacNair

Worf, from Wikipedia

Worf, from Wikipedia

In an episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation, the Klingon Worf was in an accident leaving him paralyzed. According to Klingon tradition, this meant he should commit ritual suicide. He was intent on doing so.

The doctor was appalled. She tried to research Klingon physiology to find treatment, but Klingons had no advice to give. Since they always committed suicide on such occasions, they had no information.

Various creative things were tried for allowing him to live and function with dignity even if not with full use of his legs. Finally, the doctor found a procedure which cured him. Solutions could be found because one option – the option of suicide – was, in the doctor’s mind, foreclosed.

When a specific option is unavailable, others must be sought. Medical breakthroughs, along with treatment options and other caring options for those with disabilities, require that the option of suicide be off the table.

Once a violent solution is on the table, it precludes the development of alternatives. Violence as a problem-solving technique has the apparent advantage of being quick and efficient. One need only ignore the long-term aftermath and other negative impact on society.

Nonviolent alternatives must take more care, attention, resources and time. They have obvious advantages in the long run. But the short-term consequence is more work.

This leads to the ironic outcome that foreclosing an option, taking it off the table, means more options available, rather than fewer.

Vegetarians, for example, who foreclose the option of eating meat, actually have more variety in their diets than those eating standard fare. There’s no reason in theory why those who eat meat can’t also eat the variety of vegetarian options. Often they do. But excluding meat seems to open up creativity in the diet.

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Those who oppose abortion have a much more extensive and complex set of services offered through pregnancy help centers, maternity homes, mentoring, and government social services than the relative simplicity of the abortion clinic.

In the case of war, those who by definition foreclose it as an option entirely – pacifists – have offered a wide array of ways of dealing with problems of violence and injustice: conflict resolution, diplomacy, solving problems when they’re still small and haven’t yet blown up in violence, and a wide variety of other approaches. People inclined to resort to weapons are less likely to be creative in finding alternative ways of resolving problems. Those who oppose war must come up with such alternatives.

Therefore, creativity is another of the side-effects of assertive nonviolence. In the psychology of creativity, this is called “divergent thinking.” Many possible solutions are generated when people don’t limit themselves to the obvious or conventional.

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  1. Bill Samuel says:

    In a number of places where tyrannies have been overthrown by mass civil resistance, those sparking these efforts were not philosophically or religiously committed to nonviolence previously. Rather, they realized that violent attempts to overthrow the regime would be met by the much greater military force of the regime and were doomed to fail. So they foreclosed the violent option, and came up with creative ways to to bring about change using people power.

  2. Vasu Murti says:

    Rachel MacNair writes: “When a specific option is unavailable, others must be sought. Medical breakthroughs, along with treatment options and other caring options for those with disabilities, require that the option of suicide be off the table. Once a violent solution is on the table, it precludes the development of alternatives. Violence as a problem-solving technique has the apparent advantage of being quick and efficient. One need only ignore the long-term aftermath and other negative impact on society…”

    These words apply to the animal rights issue of vivisection (animal experimentation). In 1988, the Los Angeles Times reported about medical data obtained by Nazi physicians on concentration camp prisoners. Such data might now save human lives, but it was obtained through unethical means. A similar dilemma exists concerning vivisection.

    Many lifesaving medicines might be discovered if we were to experiment upon other human beings (like white humans experimenting upon black humans), but there is an absolute ban on doing so, which has led to medical research which does not involve humans. The animal rights position would merely extend this absolute ban to include other animals as well, which would lead to medical research which does not involve animals.

  3. Tom Hoffman says:

    Well said!

    About 6 weeks ago, I sent a brief comment to the AMA about their interim meeting in November, where their long-standing opposition to physician-assisted suicide was to be re-examined. I had to keep my comment brief, and mostly expressed concern that, if suicide were generally accepted, the development of new treatments for conditions which might make people desire death might not seem so necessary. Those who still wished to live might find themselves offered “death with dignity”. I also commented that I am an ethically-motivated vegetarian, and have often felt that the long-standing acceptance of euthanasia for animals was a major reason why veterinary hospice care is only just now being developed.

    (I remember that “Star Trek” episode you refer to- it was a good one! The original series had a similar episode: two planets at war with each other had computerized, simulated battles- but a selected number of people from each population were required to be painlessly executed as “casualties” after each “battle”. When Captain Kirk’s landing party started blasting the execution centers to rubble, the two sides had to figure out new protocols.)

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