Friday, August 9, 2019

Built to Unbuilt


Violence and destruction do not belong in highly developed places. It's an affront to all the hard work that has went into building that place and a slap in the face to those who maintain it. If the masses must hash something out with their elites, why can't both sides agree to a battlefield which produces the least amount of collateral damage?

Wishful thinking of course, but I also wonder if there is something deeper here. A reason why developed places are exactly where violence and destruction feel most at home. Because it's easy to file the destruction under collateral damage or "caught in the crossfire" when that's not the whole story.

There is a deep down predilection in many to want what is built, to become unbuilt.

The term anarchist is thrown around and those people certainly exist, but I'm describing way more than anarchists. Maybe Palahniuk's Fight Club is the best introduction to the pathos. Durden's men certainly become true-blue-anarchists by the end, but they don't start that way, and ultimately it was inside of them the whole time, they just didn't know it yet. They weren't awake yet.

However, whereas Durden expressed a desire to destroy "everything beautiful" (which included natural wonders such as the "Amazon Rainforests" and "the ozone"), what I see as common is different. What I see is people desiring to keep or increase the natural at the expense of the manmade. This sentiment is featured in multiple mass shooter scribblings. The Christchurch shooter wrote "the Europe of the future is not one of concrete and steel, smog and wires but a place of forests, lakes, mountains and meadows." The Gilroy shooter posted "why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make room for hoardes of mestizos and Silicon Valley white twats?"

This undercurrent of anti-built-environment is quite widespread. It's a feeling of "this shouldn't be here," as if a building or a road is violating natural law simply by existing and must be punished immediately. There is no shortage of post-apocalyptic landscapes depicted in popular video games and movies. When you watch I Am Legend, does a part of you cheer when you see a lion prowling the streets of New York City? When you see the rainforest of Jumanji invading a millionaires home?

I think many do, maybe even the majority do, even if they can't admit it. And in that sense, the seemingly radicalized mass shooters are not all that radical at all.

For the ancient Jews, destroying or at least abandoning modernity had a central place in their recorded lore. Exodus describes them choosing primitive desert living over the surprisingly advanced development of ancient Egypt. And it is the destruction, as opposed to the construction, of their temples that form the centers of gravity upon which their cultural stories rest on. It makes you wonder if some wish they were wandering around in the desert still.

The reasons for turning a cold shoulder to development and modernity can be many. For some it could be a righting of injustice. For some it's a fulfillment of their own self-hatred. For some it's simply rooting for the underdog.


The recent unrest in Hong Kong underlines the fact that all this is not just hypothetical, and that if anything, the masses turning away from what has been built is accelerating. Hong Kong is a modern city that runs well. I'm not at all saying the protests are unjustified, I'm only pointing out the jarring juxtaposition of a city that is well run and a people who don't accept that as the status quo.

Unrest makes sense in Caracas because people have no food, does it make sense in Paris? I suppose you could say the same thing about the thirteen British colonies settling the new world. The Brits wondered, why are you so unhappy, you have everything you need!

Ukraine in 2014 also seems to have been a turning point. Ukraine is usually not considered a first world country, but it's certainly not a third world country. If a major, modern city like Kiev is seeing flames lap the sides of buildings, is anywhere safe? Is a Maidan style protest unthinkable in Portland?

To me, it all fits in with a widespread and growing frustration with rapid change and progress at all costs. You start to want to stop the merry-go-round and maybe even go back a few steps. It's programmed inside of us already and events can bring the sentiment out further. Ironically, tearing down the status quo would be the biggest change of all, but who says all this is rational.

These buildings, the subways, the bridges, the wells, the dams, the roads are just targets or venues to the anti-status-quo actor, the function is disregarded or least considered a lower priority. What they are fighting for is on a separate plane, a higher plane.

Those most infected by this sentiment are young people. Boomers grew up with the threat of a nuclear holocaust happening at any time. That never came to pass of course. More recent generations have grown up with the threat of killing the natural word held over their heads. Those generations are still terrified of this.

What the young people don't understand is the power of nature to reclaim what's hers. That it takes constant and herculean human effort to keep her at bay. If humanity does nothing, we lose everything. No extra action is needed if destruction is desired. But maybe the Durden inside all of us demands it.

5 comments:

  1. From a very simple minded woman here ... I read a lot of the hatred spewed by the left now and there is definitely a focus on who built America. Again, I'm simple (lower IQ), so it's harder for me explain what I'm reading. I hate, absolutely hate, that there is any debate about who built America and how - it simply doesn't matter to me. I hate this focus on immigrants and the left trying to classify every American as an immigrant and therefore we must let the world in. It's all so twisted. Your article makes so much sense. The left leading the charge (in my simple mind) seems to be pitting our history against our future. Resentment towards what America has built and the left (immigrants, slavery, Native Americans) not bearing the fruits or receiving their fair share of the wealth, so it must all be torn down & destroyed, as "whites" are the only ones that have benefited from what the left sacrificed & built. It's insane & terrifying. It's also not just within our country, but an enormous resentment by foreigners towards America. They all want what the U.S. is - they don't have that, so they want to destroy us too - they know flooding us with the 3rd world will destroy us. Just my simple thoughts.

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  2. I believe that good stewardship of the planet involves both preservation of large natural ecosystems and the building of dense, highly functional cities. The cases of violence against the built environment seem to involve protest against the authorities who are perceived to have built it. (Or war.) I suppose that the imagery of a falling structure is pretty good for getting attention. It can happen anywhere, no matter the circumstances. But I agree, maintaining the humanly built environment in a functional condition is a huge thing, easily taken for granted.

    On the many writings about the destructions of the temple in Hebrew scriptures, I guess I see that a way of processing a huge loss. It's like what we do at funerals when we talk about the loved one who is gone.

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    1. Great point, I don't think the protesters have a "plan" exactly for after the building is down. Tearing down and building up are different skill sets? The Hebrews seem to be a barometer for humanity in general. How they processed those losses is likely the way modern humans will process similar losses in the future, if it happens

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    2. I agree, tearing down and building up are different skill sets, and also different emotional states. I think that the power of fear and hate in large groups of people can explain a lot. We can be manipulated through messages that trigger those emotions. Gregg Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox makes that point.

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