The Imbalance of Creation and Destruction

It is a truism to say that it is easier to destroy than to create. It is simpler to burn down a house than to build it, and a reputation, built over a lifetime, can be destroyed in minutes. Writing books is hard, burning books less so. Donald Trump can destroy but not create.

Of course, destruction is also a kind of creation, although often destruction might just be a return to the ex-ante. When we destroy the international system it may be argued that we are merely recreating the world of the 19th century. But that is not the complete truth, because when multilateralism goes, we recreate 19th century conditions but with nuclear arms. When we kill the rose, the weed that follows may be new.

Creation is exhilarating, as we know, yet destruction carries it own attraction too, unfortunately. In a sense this is strange given our inbred desire to improve. The reason is less Freud’s Todestrieb, and more the envy humans hold alongside the desire for progress. Most fundamentally, though, destruction is the purest exercise of power, and we truly love that. Moreover, killing something gives kinship forever. The hunter creates an unbreakable bond when putting the magnificent tiger to death! In a different context Ibsen said: Eternally owned is but what’s lost. That could be the destroyer’s motto!

Given the competitive advantage of destruction over creation, one can ask how it has been possible for human society to progress to the extent it has. Why did the fatal attraction of destruction not always win out?

One reason is surely that humankind did not take Nietzsche’s advice to heart to abandon what he called self-denying slave morality. Imagine thousands and thousands of Napoleons living their destructive ‘master’ grandeur uninhibitedly. Surely, human progress would have been impossible, and Napoleon himself, of course, saw this as well. His only truly lasting legacy is the Code Civil, which is a wonderful example of codifying slave morality. The progress of civilisation is entirely contingent upon restraint and self-restraint on our destructive impulses.

Even eclipsing this in importance is the fact that good ideas are hard to kill. A cannonball may destroy the house, but still it will not be forgotten how to build a house well. Europe was destroyed by two world wars, yet within 15 years of the last it was blooming again. It had not been forgotten how to build prosperity.

What sets humans apart from other animals is not only our capacity for good ideas, but also our capacity for passing them on. Instead of the endless procession of statues to slavers and warriors surely we should have monuments celebrating the resilience of good ideas. They are the ultimate proof of mind over matter!

The Other

When tragedy is big enough

the numbers numb.

A million dead cannot be mourned

– in singularity   –

My God! there were so many.

 

‘It is what it is’ makes no allowance

for reflection or regret;

it adds indignity to ignorance,

and gives the lie to a most basic truth:

that other lives have value – same as yours!

 

Such statement from the one who took a sacred oath

is wrapped in our failure

to pierce the veil of the preposterous;

gains credibility because we see one tear, but not the many.

So our heads, with all their calculation, must tell us that a million deaths are each a tragedy,

and that the anger and demands must capture that which our hearts can never hold – the suffering of multitudes, each Other being one like us.

The Boomers’ Last Dance

There is something beautifully melancholic watching the old folks dance under the Moonlit sky; the whisper of the waves adding a second beat.  A ray of light shows faces, and we see they are familiar, Bernie, Joe, Elizabeth, Mike, Amy. Of course, we say to ourselves, these boomers would never leave the dance floor without a nostalgic and sad set of last dances. And a dance contest it is, too.  The tired bones seek the honour of the ultimate square off with their contemporary from the opposing group, the reigning champion. They all condemned Pete as a greenhorn interloper not worthy of the contest, although Pete, in fact, is a crypto-boomer. Not for boomers to leave the dance floor to others, though, and now he is gone. (I know, I know, I am being kind to Bernie, Joe and Mike. Technically they do not even qualify as boomers, although their mind-set does).

It is hardly news that the boomer generation is egotistical through and through. From the time its denizens could throw their first paving stones the generation has been setting society’s agenda. Many years ago someone said that when boomers become old designer cemeteries will become the new craze. We are not far from that.

The songs the boomers dance to are pre-boom ‘As time goes by’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – all forgotten is ‘I hope I die before I get old’ although the refrain ‘talkin’ ‘bout my generation’ still goes straight to boomer hearts! Boomers celebrated their youth, and continue doing so, and, of course, the youth of succeeding generations is of miniscule interest in comparison. The accusation of ageism is a beautifully self-serving boomer invention designed to neutralise any suggestion that their time is up.

But up it is! What we experience is last gasp boomerism, and it could thus be ventured that we should not worry too much about the next election, because it is, after all, only about the next four years. Yet, four years is a long time in politics and the danger is that the destruction that has taken place apace over the last few years will continue and will lay waste to the foundation of the society that following generations will want to build – not to speak of the possibility of incompetent or negligent triggering of the apocalypse. As the boomers slow dance into the dark it must be made sure that they do not take the future with them, although it would be so boomer to go out with an ‘après nous, le déluge’!