April 29th, 2008 by Lex

This is a follow up on the Destruction post, although it takes a nearly opposing point of view.

When faced with a shock to the system, we go into an animal defensive. Our alerts, on either a personal or societal level, ring until we are deaf with fear. We hide in the shell until the danger passes. The danger: wars, thugs, layoffs, rejections, asymmetries. Anything that upsets the system. As mentioned before, the destruction takes away a chunk of the shell; it does not create anything by itself.

But once the shock passes, we look up from underneath the cover and rebuild. We use the steel beams of the WTC as monuments, we forge skyscrapers at nuclear ground zeros. We shrug off Bear Stearns, and invest in our future. Or at least we should. This is a normative argument: we must use creativity to push back the blackness of destruction. It is a struggle of the living against the dead. It is again an animal struggle.

And in our process of redemptive creation, we find the newest thought. The newest art. The sounds of the phoenix. Life is vivid, we are reminded. Here it is. So how to reconcile the positive effects of healing, and potential strengthening, with the black hole of destructive processes? How to correctly draw causality, a thin line in the sand between inspiration and evil? I don’t yet know.

April 10th, 2008 by Lex

Question. Is Destruction a creative process? Let’s sidestep the nuances of the question (inherently creative, specifically creative, occasionally creative) for now.

Answer. No, destruction is never a creative process.

Definitionally, destruction is the opposite of creation. It is a process of undoing, of taking away what was there, breaking down something into nothing. It is the logical negation of the creative process, which places something where there is nothing.  You build the sand castle. I knock the sand castle down. I did not “create” a sandy pile from a castle; rather I took your effort and negated it.

We see destruction in daily life among many disciplines. We are numb to it, because it is often an “exercise” that we have to go through. For example, the recent layoffs across the US economy, particularly in the financial and housing sectors. We are offered platitudes, and other trite commentary often taken for wisdom. How helpful is “what does not kill you makes you stronger” or the concept of “creative destruction”? Mostly, not very helpful. We try to ascribe to destruction positive aspects so that we can cope with it. The metaphor of the immune system comes up often. Dealing with an immediate challenge today and the destruction of some aspect we like will in the long run be meaningful, and will also put us in a superior position relative to that of today.

Look, the immune system is a concrete real thing. It is not an overarching karmic balancer that turns a destructive vector into creative one. While we may choose to respond in a way that strengthens, the receipt of a destructive action is a negative event. It undoes some part of you. Why celebrate it? Why is death necessary for rebirth? A sober re-imagining will do.

In the visual arts and other creative disciplines, destruction is often isolated and appreciated on its own merits. For example, a performance artist may build a structure and then painstakingly annihilate it. She will destroy the object, and the traces of that object’s creation, making a statement about the creative process. Or perhaps a statement about time, and impermanence. Does this mean that destruction is creative? Again, not at all. At most, such a gesture is crude. It mocks others who take joy in creating, and in their commitment to building. Surely one can show what it means to be good by an example of evil. Darkness implies light. But that does not mean that there is light in darkness. Similarly, destruction on its own is devoid of the possibility of creation. The fact that it touches on something aesthetic by mere logic does not grant it intrinsic value.

Nonetheless, destruction is a tool, just as creation is a tool. Either can be used to affect things in a desirable way. For example, through exercise we destroy fat on our bodies to create a healthier lifestyle. Thus the action of exercise yield a process of destroying something negative and creating something positive. One can imagine destroying something positive and creating something negative, or any combination of the two. Therefore destruction is not inherently good nor bad. Rather, it is simply never creative.