If you’re human, you’ve likely flirted with some self-destructive habits in your life. Malnourished your body? Derailed an achievement to avoid stress and fear? Sabotaged a potential relationship? Doubted yourself?
So we’re clear, a self-destructive behaviour is one that you engage in even though it causes you harm.
For me, this kind of behaviour has taken many forms but not all of them resulted in permanent harm. Some of them, after a period of suffering, launched me into a new way of thinking.
For example, there was this guy. He was…
Well, I became obsessed with him. We [he] seemed perfect for each other [me]. For two years I couldn’t [wouldn’t] let go of the idea of him. I was convinced [deluded], despite the puny amount of attention he’d occasionally toss my way, that the right time would come and we would be together.
In my self-destructive and obsessive form of “love” there was a seed of malignancy slowly growing.
That seed was resentment. I resented that I was powerless to winning his affection. I resented that he periodically gave me false hope. I resented that this stagnant longing deprived me of my peace of mind.
It took a long time, but in an instant I woke up.
I was face to face with him at an event. He was being his usual kind self until, predictably, he uttered the words. The ones I longed for but that history had repeatedly proven to be insincere. His enthusiastic willingness to hang out that I’d come to learn, again and again, was no more than lip service to my eager ears.
Only this time, I didn’t cling to these words all starry-eyed. This time I called him out on them with a fixed stare. His faced reddened. His guilt slithered into hiding. His words turned to quicksand and despite his efforts to reinforce them, he only sunk deeper into his false claims.
In that instance I knew I’d ruined any potential for a relationship, let alone a friendship.
My resentment had broken the surface, wrapping itself around me like armour and poof! My terminal obsession ceased to exist. I walked away feeling completely liberated, no longer powerless to his charm.
Sure, I could have simply acknowledged he was not being honest and walked away. Saved him the discomfort of my bluntness. But, I don’t believe that would have helped me. In order to break free of my wellspring of desire, I had to destroy all hope.
Creative destruction is a dualistic force that forever re-creates itself at the cost of destroying itself.
An economist, Joseph Schumpeter, coined the term while studying the work of Karl Marx. As understood through the works of Marx, the term implies that capitalism “must ceaselessly devalue existing wealth … in order to clear the ground for the creation of new wealth”. In Schumpeter’s analysis, the economy is fuelled through innovative technologies that out-compete current technologies. But in doing so, Schumpeter believed capitalism would ultimately lead to its own demise by undermining its own framework.
As Yanis Varoufaukis further explains through the works of Marx, a capitalist system that strives to replace wage-labourers with innovative mechanized technologies will never triumph, since capital without the wage-labourer becomes irrelevant. If the current wealth can’t be used to acquire more labour to generate more product, because no wage-labourers are required to obtain it, then new wealth cannot be generated. Furthermore, if labourers can’t make a wage, then who’d be able to buy the output generated from the machine?
In this sense, creative destruction explains
how industries change.
Take the music industry for example. The vinyl record was replaced by the 8-track, which was replaced by the cassette tape, which was replaced by the CD, which was replaced by the mp3, which was replaced by streaming. Now the idea of building a music career through sound-recording sales is almost extinct. If musicians can’t make a wage from recording their music, the industry of selling recordings cannot exist either.
But the essence of creative destruction was established long before the rise of capitalism.
Yin and yang symbolism, dating as far back as the 3rd century or earlier , carries an inherently creative-destructive nature: opposing forces each pregnant with the a seed of the other. Take this catchphrase associated with the yin and yang symbol for example, Disasters turn into blessings. The disaster no doubt the destructive force and the blessing - a gift bestowed upon us - the creative one.
We see this force occurring in nature as well, through the process of ecological succession.
From a disaster, such as a forest fire, the process of secondary succession begins. Annuals establish on bare soil. They die back creating the conditions for perennials and shrubs to establish, which then create the conditions for softwood species to establish. As the forest grows, the understory creates conditions for hardwood species to establish. As the forest matures even further into old-growth, it becomes more vulnerable to damage by wind, insects and fire. To renew itself, a disturbance occurs returning the system to an earlier stage of succession and the cycle begins again.
In the garden, a creative destructive force is also at play.
When we plant a seed, in order for that seed to grow microorganisms decompose, or destruct, matter to make nutrients available to the roots. Thus, decomposition of organic matter provides the nutrients to grow and create new organic matter.
What happens when we deprive the soil of nutrients repeatedly? We increase the power of the destructive force, meaning the creative force to grow will also take more energy. We see this in industrialized agriculture, a manifestation of the capitalist system, where soils have been so drastically depleted that it takes incredible amounts of energy input in the form of fertilizers, irrigation and pest control in order to yield a crop.
The common thread we see is that to have growth,
there must be a death.
As you may have noticed, the creative destructive force is ubiquitous. I mean, who are we to argue with ancient Chinese philosophy, right? Obsessive love is pregnant with resentful hate. Incessant economic growth is pregnant with incessant mass poverty. The death of one plant community is pregnant with the growth of another. Decomposition is pregnant with regeneration.
When it comes to your day-to-day life, can self-destructive habits awaken your creativity?
Can something that harms you work in your favour? It sounds absurd. The key is seeing the destructive behaviour in the context of a creative destructive cycle. Each opposing side of this cycle is pregnant with a seed of the other. If we cling to that destructive part, we continue on a downward spiral and yes the result can be horrific, if not fatal. But what if you challenged yourself to find the creative seed hidden in your destructive tendencies?
Take doubt, for example. This is a big one for me. What is the creative and opposing seed in doubt that could launch you into action? Doubt is resistant. Doubt in uncertain. Doubt says, “Best we sit this one out”. The opposite of resistance is openness and acceptance. The opposite of uncertainty is certainty. The opposite of sitting it out is getting off your ass and going for it. Without that desire to go for it, there wouldn’t be any doubt in the first place.
Perhaps it sounds over-simplified, but just as my hateful resentment was what I needed to indulge in to break free an obsessive form of love, the awareness of seeing and acting on the opposing force can be a game-changer. It might not happen overnight. It might take a lot of practice, time and a little faith. But just keep asking yourself the question, what part of me needs to die in order for another part of me to grow?
I challenge you to find the hidden seed of creative force in your destructive habits.
Isn’t it true, the periods of greatest struggle in our lives are often proceeded by the periods of greatest growth? Conversely, just when everything seems to be going great - disaster strikes. The beauty of the creative destructive concept is that it gives us a framework to accept disaster as force that will ultimately lead to growth, and unearth creativity when we hit rock bottom.
It could also explain why the best albums, 8-tracks, cassette tapes, CDs, mp3s and streamed music ever recorded came after a major heartbreak.
Know someone who’s going through a tough time right now and could benefit from this perspective? Why not share it with them?
Or maybe you’ve had a lightbulb moment where you see the creative-destructive force playing out in your life. I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.