Construction vs. Destruction

I’m not exactly a “handy” man. In fact, I find myself singing Billy Bragg’s “Handyman Blues” fairly often, and loving it.

But I’ve done my share of construction, both permanent and temporary. I’ve constructed close to 20 different stage sets in my time in college and community theatre, and I’ve been helping my family do home repairs since I was big enough to lift a hammer. On the other hand, I’ve also helped tear down close to 20 different stage sets and different things around my childhood and adulthood homes.

The first thing you realize, usually during your first tear-down, is that hey, this is so much easier than building something! I remember distinctly destroying a dilapidated old particle-board lean-to at my childhood home, and that was downright fun. One or two swings of a grub-hoe and the entire wall collapsed; it made you feel like Hercules, especially when you’re ten years old. But as I look at the state of things today, particularly in the Middle East, I can’t help but be reminded of how much easier it was to swing a grub-hoe than it is to perfectly level out a new piece of construction.

As Naomi Klein put it perfectly in her exemplary 2007 work Shock Doctrine when she called the current system of war-for-profit “Disaster Capitalism.” After bleeding the American Middle Class dry with wage cuts, pension disintegrations, credit binges and housing crashes, the rich and richer decided the best way to keep making money was to look outside the country, but darn it if those other countries got uppity when we tried to make them act in the US’ best interests instead of theirs. What followed was a half-century and more of coups, overthrows, and financial arm-twisting that would make and UFC fighter flinch. Unfortunately for those global elites, however, they were too blinded by their own desire to amass more and more and yet more wealth that they didn’t see the next logical step in this pattern. Simply put: you can’t keep doing this to people.

And so, as Robert Kennedy Jr explains, they start to fight back. In another amazing case of global blindness, the rich and powerful declined to read the lessons of their own American history, where a small group of committed rebels and guerrillas could topple even the world’s strongest superpower. As such, we’re seeing the US being bled dry in an eerie parallel to the great empires of humanity: Rome, England, and even those pesky Soviets were whittled down to irrelevancy and collapse by fighting a little war here, a little fight there, a little police action everywhere to keep their bloated empires afloat. But how exactly do these rebels keep finding willing sacrifices to their cause?

That’s where it gets really fascinating.

Groups like Al-Qaeda, The Islamic State, and even some of the right-wing white-power terror groups all have a similar calling card: disaster. Every one of them preaches to the frustrated and the dispossessed that all of their problems come from some tyrannical state, which in both the cases of Islamic and Christian fundamentalists turns out to be America. The dizzying irony of this situation is that, for all of their investments in disasters as a way to ensure a steady stream of income, not one of these muckety-mucks in America’s ruling class figured they could be out-disastered by a small group of people looking to profit themselves off of the original disaster created by the first disaster merchants.

In short, folks like the Islamic State or Cliven Bundy are beating the big disaster-capitalism machine at their own game.

The promised spoils are always rich: money, power, women or, in the case of Bundy, never having to pay back taxes. And above it all, the refrain is always the same: if it wasn’t for that darn government, you’d be successful. You’d be rich. You’d be winning. Does any of this sound familiar? It should. In their quest for greed, the disaster capitalists didn’t seem to realize that their disaster would spawn children of the disaster who then saw how much worse things were and be motivated to fight against the original disaster. This is the biggest issue with campaigns or motivations based solely around tearing things down: eventually, you run out of stuff to wreck. And if, by then, people don’t have what they want, what do you do?

It’s so much easier to destroy than to create, and those looking to exploit destruction for a quick buck may have met their match in a monster of their own creation. As Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind” and the disaster capitalists have spent more than a half-century plucking out eyeballs all over the world. Unfortunately, they never thought to think that someone might come for their eyes, so now we thrash about blindly: bombing here, waging war there, only feeding the monster we’ve created. There is a reason the government rebuilt Europe after World War II instead of letting corporations do the job.

We need to move forward with a plan that doesn’t involve violence, war, or anything else that makes folks like Dick Cheney lick their chops. We need to stop pressing disaster and destruction as a mean to somehow lead to prosperity. You can’t destroy the village in order to save it, and for some reason we’re still grappling with that basic lesson we should have learned in Vietnam. When I swung the grub-hoe through the wall of that lean-to, I didn’t make the wall stronger… but later, when we spent the money and built the new shed out of steel, we had something that is still strong and secure when I drive past my childhood home even today. It may be easier, and more profitable, to tear down, but nobody wins unless we make the hard choices and commit to building up.

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