Sunday, November 21, 2004
What’s in the name “creative destruction?”
So I interrupted the last installment noting a “need” for going away. That’s the thing about the needs we humans seek to satisfy by forming collectives, you see. Needs, desires, wants, impulses, ambitions, aspirations, goals, objectives and acts are interesting in so far as they are irksome and occasionally difficult to acknowledge, or even comprehend.
But no escaping them.
How we choose to frame them will have a lot to do with how we respond to them. And how we come to name them too plays a crucial role in determining the nature of our reactions.
So in approaching the notion of “creative destruction,” the politics of it aside for the moment, we are basically left exactly where Juliet was when she made her most poignant lament--on that balcony: “what is Montague, it's not a hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man...tis his name that is Juliet's enemy."
Names are important, and there is more to them than initially meets the eyes. Or else we wouldn’t be struggling to refer to the crushed bones, and the torn, incinerated mussles and tissues of a mere child as “collateral damage.”
Let’s run an experiment with names and see where that lands us. What we are after here is determining how the “mundane,” really makes all the difference in the way we live our lives and how the “myths” we use to talk about the mundane, can ultimately wreak havoc on the structure of the reality we cherish most.
Think yourself an “identical” businessperson opening a gas station in two different cultures simultaneously --two distinct and interrelated universes.
In one your modus operandi is “normalizing the exceptions,” and in the other “exception-less-ing the exceptions.” That’s our new name for our “reality.”
I know it can’t make much sense initially. But I am at a loss for words. (“Exceptionless exceptions,” is a term coined, I believe, by an Israeli Jurist, Mr. Oren Gross) Be good sports and play along. Assume as well that the people you interact with in each universe share your outlook. And please note that I believe the virtues and the vices we’ll encounter exists in both universes. I am simply going to deal with archetypes because it is easier this way to make my point.
You have a very demanding, entitled family with many wants and needs, and boisterous to boot. On any given day you burn a lot of cash on various expenditures and so now you hope to make things easy on yourself and the family by making a killing in your new gas station.
You are hoping to satisfy a single need initially. Cars run on fuel and at some point they run out. You are counting on this simple “lack” and the anxiety it generates to cause people to stop by at your station.
Imagine what happens in the first universe—the one that normalizes exceptions.
Everyone stops by for gas, but then you notice that of all the people who stop by, a certain percentage also requires oil. Not everyone mind you, but a fair number. So, instead of waiting for them to ask, you get some oil and put it out there on a display for everyone to see.
Then as normally happens, some cars have one driver and others come with passengers. A certain percentage of those will want to use the restroom, others are hungry, some are bored, some pregnant, some have babies who need diapers changed and so on and so forth.
So now, you’ve decided to acknowledge them-- whether you’ve really cared to or not—as real and consequently, instead of yakking to everyone individually, you try finding ways for each to satisfy their wants and needs without coming to you first.
You open up a restroom, and perhaps enlargen it for the occasional pregnant woman with the child in need of a diaper change and since you understand that in the middle of the road some might get scared and you add a whole bunch of lights. And then you get some food going, initially sandwiches, then depending on the response, perhaps other stuff.
You get tired of doing all the work, and you hire help. There is a musician who lives close by and doesn’t want to work all the time but doesn’t mind some extra cash either. So you get him to come in and occasionally clean the restrooms because a certain percentage of those who’ve stopped by are normally sloppy and always make a mess.
He gets his girl friend, an insolvent painter, to stop by and prepare some hot food every now and then and it occurs to you to get some music going on the busier days. There is music subsequently. And after some of the bored customers have had a chance to get some hot food in the bellies and listen to some melodies, the three of you notice that they have become more talkative than usual and slightly chummier. So the woman painter tells you that perhaps she should bring in some of her work to see how people react to them.
Then, sure enough, people want to talk about them. Some thing odd begins to happen. The musician and the painter who would have lived an isolated life in the middle of the boonies now have one day a week when they can shine. So the fellow practices more, and tries to come up with more interesting tunes to get more excited reactions from a captive audience and the painter works more diligently at painting since she has now noticed how people have made her otherwise ordinary life in to something amazing and her of course, personally into a star.
They feel good about themselves, their work and each other. The extra cash doesn’t hurt either.
So on that one day, there is excitement. No one wants to appear boring. So they try finding better and more sophisticated ways of talking about their experiences, and all the things they’ve encountered during the week and each other.
So the three of you begin visiting a writer who lives a rather isolated life near you and begin to discuss more interesting stuff over coffee—only occasionally. Your wife (or husband) and the kids too come in and notice how some can (and do) paint while being poor, and some can (and do) talk about drawings as visual feasts without having the prettiest of outfits, and how certain others can (and do) play music while also cleaning restrooms for a living and so they also begin to try to talk about various things that might have never occurred to them before.
So they actually end up being less obnoxious as well sensing how there is normally more than initially meets the eyes about everyone they encounter. A bit of broadened horizons never hurts anyone. Not everyone will react that way, of course, but only a fair number who try.
So the three of you and the writer come up with a plan to have him write some articles for a newspaper to let others know what is happening at the gas station and all the music and the warmth and the paintings and the mingling.
The extra cash and the exposure reawaken the dream of the writer for finishing and publishing that novel he has been working on ever since S/he had been a teen.
There is a developing sense of a community—enthralling and welcoming—once a week when the otherwise isolated individuals come to feel appreciated and begin to respond to each other in more receptive ways.
So in responding to each other’s needs, wants and desires, and by exploring all the various ways numerous cravings are being catered to, explored and discussed, they try to constantly come up with different, and new things and modes of cooperation and novel manners of talking about them.
By being more interesting, more entertaining, and always keeping an eye out for ways of taking the next step—the very logical next step—small, humdrum and not really all that dazzling whenever the opportunity presents itself, people alter the routine in ways that are possible to achieve only when people come to rely on each other and to cooperate inevitably discovering methods that is there to see when one is attentive to the inner dynamics of his or her activities.
Then by pure luck the fellow who owns the factory that sold you all the lights used to brighten your station sees the story the writer has done about what’s happening in your life and decides to show up to see what the hoopla is all about.
The two of you hit it off and you begin to talk about the various chores and so you just sort of blurt out how everything is going nicely but it is nevertheless a hassle having to get a lather to go change a number of those light bulbs that burn out quite often since as a general rule a certain percentage of the bulbs always burn out prematurely after a given period of time.
Not all of them, mind you, but a fair number.
And while you are at it, you also tell him how a certain number of the light bulbs you’ve purchased are broken to begin with once you take them out of their packages.
The factory owner has no idea what you’re taking about. So he asks you to keep some stats and give him a call with more exact information. He goes back to the factory and begins to sniffs around and sure enough, problems become more visible to him. He comes to institutes a quality control mechanism. Then he gives the truck company that has been delivering bulbs for years a call.
And there at the truck company, they too begin to look into the potential problems that cause light bulbs to break during delivery. And so the supply chain begins to reevaluate their ways of doing things as well. There will be changes in the packaging too as a result of all these.
What we are seeing is the emergence of new ways of looking at things. New ways of doing things and brilliant ways of talking about things, and the sort of cooperation that gives rise to an enchanting mode of being in the world.
There is constant, perpetual hustle and bustle. People tinker and putter and experiment and sure enough, a certain percentage of their activities always create wondrous products.
Not all of them, mind you, just a fair number.
There is nothing really extraordinary about their activities. Millions are doing what they normally do everyday, but always with an eye on the exceptions and the various ways it might be possible to absorb the exceptions into the normal routine.
All based on the attitude that assumes it given that a certain percentage of everything that everyone ever does or wants to do always falls outside of the expected norms and it ultimately pays to normalize them.
The resultant vector emerging out of the millions of very small, ordinary exertions and the incremental changes in the really mundane, prosaic, humdrum routine of the every day life is what manifests as an awesome and fantastic achievement over time.
Now let’s go to the second universe and see what happens there. Remember, you are the same person, which means you are basically capable of noticing the same things as those you noticed in our first universe.
The one crucial difference is a disposition that presupposes “exception-less-ing the exceptions.” And remember both our universes are archetypes for the sake of simplicity.
So you notice that some of those needing fuel also require oil. But since a certain percentage of the people you encounter always will want some brand other than what you have to offer, why bother, right?
How much money can they add to your earning anyways? Don’t you spend, on any given day, more on shoes and toys for your kids than all what you can earn from some nagging old man in search of the exact brand of oil he has been using ever since he purchase the-by-now old and ugly looking donkey which used to pass as an automobile eons ago?
And then there is that woman with a small child who needs his diaper changed. You see her, the child and the needs. You raised a child of your own remember. And you still remember how hard it was on those trips you took. But what the hell?
You were not the one who got her pregnant to begin with, right? So why do you have to bother putting up with the shit? Especially since a certain percentage of women who change diapers are too distracted to clean after themselves. How much money can she spend in your gas station any ways to justify all the extra effort? No value adds, really! On any given day, you spend more money on your wife’s make up. So, you lock your bathroom and claim you have none.
You see the musician pass by your station everyday. You are tired of being all alone, so it occurs to you to ask him to come work for you. Then you think if he were any good, he would have been famous by now. A lazy ass really, you choose to think. And since a certain percentage of the musicians who are not really good at what they do and are poor and in need of money will always rob and steal, you decide against hiring him.
You are not going to hire him. But that gets you thinking about the possibilities of being robbed.
A certain percentage of people on the road are thieves. What can you do? Add a bunch of lights around the gas station? But no! A certain percentage of all the thieves who end up robbing a place have normally first kept it under surveillance first. So adding light is certainly out of the question.
Besides, isn’t it true that a certain percentage of the criminals who have ever robbed and killed their victims have also used a sharp object? And out of those a certain number have used broken light bulbs to cut the veins of a gas station attendant? At least two or three cases are fresh in your memory.
So it’s settled then. No lights. You need a muscle now. But can you trust just any one? Isn’t it true that a certain percentage of the people who are strangers and get hired to do a job have ended up being crooks? What guarantee is there that he won’t rob you?
None really, when you think about it! There are no such guarantees in life.
Luckily, there is that brother in law you couldn’t stand though. He is your logical choice for the job. Better safe than sorry.
So now your family nags you about money when you are at home. You end up spending hours and hours having to put up with the brother in law you loath to see at work. So the musician’s girl friend that stops by every now and then in one of her foul moods begins to look even better to you every day. And she is having a rough time of it at home.
She paints, but no one pays any attention to her. The musician isn’t playing anymore because he is unhappy and self absorbed. Besides, he is screwing around on her with the occasional needy woman he meets at that occasional wedding he plays the always identical melodies in.
Besides, the music was what attracted her to him in the first place. When he played and practiced music, he was more attentive to her, and appreciated her paintings and was full of complements and praises and found her sexy and appealing. He now plays the same tunes over and over again. He does drugs, abuses her and insults everyone and everything-- his luck, animals and even the soda cans that cross his path.
And he ceaselessly dreams of becoming that famous musician everyone applauds all the time, but he never actually bothers taking the very small steps it takes to improve his skills and gain exposures. So they have become quite the dreamers. Idle dreams, really, that never amount to much.
They ignore each other and their life together is going no where. She is feeling lonely and though young, talented and beautiful, she has come to feels ugly, old and useless. So now you and her—the two unhappy creatures that are in a rot-- begin to find solace in each other’s company in that gas station bathroom no one else uses for a few minutes every now and again and come to feel miserable afterwards.
Your relationship, as “wrong,” as it is, could have been different when she first showed you a painting of hers she was excited about. And even though you liked it, you couldn’t bring yourself to say anything nice and encouraging and so you ended up uttering mean, callous things because somehow you had come to believe that since a certain percentage of all the artists who created memorable art have had noble souls, noble souls alone are really responsible for potentially great art, and so this young slut who fucks you in a gas station bathroom can’t possibly be any good at creating anything.
So she deserves whatever nastiness you hurl at her.
So now you have become adamant about viewing all women as potential whores! Isn’t it true that she has a boy friend and here she is screwing you in the bathroom! You reason that a certain percentage of all the people in relationships always “cheat” for various reasons. So what is there to keep your own wife from cheating? Especially since you are doing exactly what frightens you most about what she might do.
So now, you have become suspicious, distrustful, and always wanting to keep her under control. And while you wanted to hire the writer to work with your kid, you can’t trust him either with your wife, because, sure enough, a certain percentage of the men you meet always lust after some one else’s wife or worst yet, are child molesters. And a certain percentage of the women you encounter will do exactly what their husbands or lovers do in their absence.
Consequently the writer can’t earn enough money and feels useless and curses the day he ever purchased that first book which made him want to be a writer to begin with. So the novel that he began in his teens ends up still sitting in some box collecting dust.
The result: here you are in your cold station, with no oil and no clean restrooms any one can use. There is no hot food, no sounds of music, and no paintings, and no community. There are no lights. No quality control system in place in the bulb factory. No one comes to ever work on repackaging the light bulbs. No ongoing reevaluation of the supply chain. . No interesting ways of talking about things.
There are only obscene expectations so everyone is perpetually disappointed and such high standards that no mere mortal could possibly live up to. So then emerges a universe of unhappy creatures making fun of each other all the time and being mean spirited and inactive, and merely managing to share in each other’s misery.
No real sense of a community either. Only rigidity, big dreams, false hopes, mistrust, exhaustion, despondency, mediocrity and endless, nauseating banter among the same family members about money, appliances and furniture.
And, of course, those perpetual excuses!
Enter Michael Ledeen. He looks at the first universe and tries to make sense of it. But he “chooses to “see” and “comprehend” through the prism of a mind’s eyes (de)formed by his past experiences and readings. Perhaps in the shadows of those light artifacts he genuinely deciphers the ghosts of the Athenians in action. Or, may be he is just interested in cheaper oil and gas. May be it is his personal ambitions or the fact that he simply adores the sound Packman made gobbling those dots. Or a lingering spiritual emptiness, perhaps!
Who knows what accounts for any of us saying or doing what we say or do, really?
Mr. Ledeen would call the perpetual motion and the hustle and the bustle of the first universe “creative destruction.” And yes, in a certain sense, he is right. Old ways are constantly giving way to the new. The old structures are being dismantled one brick at the time and are being replaced--gradually, methodically and with simple, logical moves--with something novel.
What he sees though is destruction, and to him destruction is destruction is destruction, albeit a “creative” one. So why bother with the extra effort, right? Bomb a new structure into existence. “Creative destruction,” is his “middle name,” remember? And “Leos have a track record” so we should trust him.
But even assuming the noblest of intentions, no one can bomb away with cruise missiles the structures that have taken years to build because of particular dispositions. There is no “mother of all bombs” big enough for decimating attitudes about the everyday life.
It takes a lot more than that but is not quite that much of an impossible undertaking some others make it sound like. Perhaps all that might initially take is a persistent dismantling of things one step at the time, one day at a time-- with a little bit of outside help.
But I fear all Mr. Ledeen and Co will successfully manage to do, besides all the needless torment and death they actually cause, is a successful decimation of the magic that had made possible the “stuffness” of what he calls “creative destruction”
Human collectivities are fragile entities after all. We are all mere mortals. Mortals that have come to miraculously settle on some convention that is really quite arbitrary when you think about it. Conventions can go all sort of different ways. Normally it is always easier to destroy what’s decent than build what’s good.
By the time they have successfully replaced the “soul” of a society—those attitudes and dispositions which facilitate normalizing exceptions-- with a new one that generates exceptionless-ing exceptions, the structures in place that have enabled self actualization--no matter how problematic and imperfect-- of always (potentially) creative human beings will have vanished.
And that, my friends, would successfully give “collateral damage” a whole new meaning.