The Genealogy of Creative Destruction

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The notion of creative destruction derives from the Hindu god Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer, who embodies the paradox of the principle of creation-destruction, the continuous balancing of birth and annihilation which is a necessity for the continuity of the Eternal. This necessary coupling of creation and destruction was introduced into German philosophy most likely through Herder (perhaps the first great multi-culturalist in Western thought), and would influence Hegel’s` central concept of dialectic movement (Aufheben) where development requires creation of the new through the perishing of the old. It was Nietzsche who made creative destruction a popular trope of early modernism (through its articulation in Schopenhauer) with the important difference that for Nietzsche the process of creative destruction was not necessarily part of historical development (like Hegel) but a kind of sacrificial event which he related to Dionysian violent creativity which was necessary for humanity’s negative evolution to proceed.

Today, the expression "creative destruction" is mostly associated to the economist Joseph Schumpeter and his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, where the term “creative destruction” is used to describe the inevitable process of economic change through innovation and resulting changes in labor and markets. As such, creative destruction, as an economic principle, came from Marx, who articulated the same ideas in The Communist Manifesto, the Grundrisse, and Capital.

We are of course in the midst of a monumental shift in the global economy where the Marxist-Nietzschean dialectic of creative destruction is at work though posthhuman technological progress: millions of jobs will be destroyed through the advent of automation which will result in fundamental changes in capitalism itself (some have predicted the end of capitalism or at least a quite different postcapitalism). This creative destruction, which most economists saw/see as the inevitable result of technological innovation, seems to be occurring no matter what rustbelt Americans or Brexit Brits voted for. Shiva’s dance continues. 

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Agnotology and the destruction of knowledge

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia highlight the possible epidemic of the growing cultural production of ignorance. Historians of science Robert N. Proctor and Jimena Canales have proposed that we are now so inundated with false informational venues through digital media that we need a compliment to epistemology which they call agnotology. Epistemology is of course the study of knowledge: the point being that we also need to study and analyze what we do not or are simply prevented from knowing. The putative catalyst for the events in Charlottesville is a familiar one the last few years: the removal of a Confederate monument from a public venue. Putting aside all the dimensions of the rise of White Nationalist and other so-called Alt-right groups and their intersections with the rise of Donald Trump, we must also understand that many of these monuments were erected after the end of Reconstruction in many former Confederate cities in an ideological push by Southern states to rewrite the history of the Civil War. The main point being the comprehensive new narrative that the Civil War was not fought for slavery but for the “noble cause” of freedom, states rights, etc. The results of this ideological propaganda, which was so dramatically captured in D.W. Griffith 1915 film, The Birth of Nation, included the honoring of Confederate heroes with public monuments. This narrative, which is still disseminated today is a great example of cultural ignorance at work. The mention of slavery as the cause of Southern rebellion is anathema to this day in much of the South, and no white Southern politician can expect to be elected but with the endorsement of this ideological explanation for the War between the States. Some have suggested (including Trump himself) that we always need to honor history, but that must always include the mechanism of agnotological critique. The issue is not the destruction of monuments but the destruction of cultural memory. Perhaps a statue of Robert E. Lee surrendering, honorably, to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia could replace the statue in Charlottesville.



The Destruction of Feeling in a Rhetorically Nuclear Age

In Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism, Robert Jay Lifton and Richard Faulk warn readers of the repercussions of abusing the rhetoric of nuclear war. Such rhetoric causes those exposed to it to be psychologically numb to nuclear war’s severity, which in turn increases the likelihood of resorting to nuclear options. The names “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” conjure images of the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rather than the terror they induced when dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, the way in which politicians spew nuclear rhetoric both terrifies and numbs us. Threats of nuclear war increase the likelihood of it happening, and if the rhetoric is empty, we are told it’s the end of the world as we know it but we feel fine. Language then has gravity and force—has the potential to be a stick-batted stone that cracks skulls and numbs psyches—making it crucial we stay awake, lest we fall asleep with fingers resting heavy on the proverbial button.

But staying awake is difficult when the destructive power of a nuclear weapon is unimaginable. In an attempt to imagine the unimaginable, Lifton and Falk interviewed Hiroshima survivors who explained the nuclear blast was a “sudden and absolute shift from normal existence to this overwhelming immersion in death.”[1] Hiroshima survivors glimpsed the image of extinction[2] and said they didn’t only feel like they were dying but the world was dying—that they were turned into “walking ghosts.”[3] And this is a psychological shift that lasts lifetimes and generations—not to mention the physical effects of radiation.

In other words, the repercussions of the nuclear option are so severe it ought not be considered an option and ought not be worth discussion.


[1] P. 39

[2] p. 63-64

[3] P. 40 

From the Destruction of Truth to the Care of the Real

One of the great ironies of today’s post-truth age is that it functions through the grotesque appropriation of the postmodern/poststructuralist questioning of reality: e.g., global warming is a “mere construction.” The main apparatus through which false truths are disseminated and what fuels their success is the idea that the “truth” is being conspiratorially kept from the general public. It is therefore up to the “unbiased” to report the real truth. What a strange world we are living in when what was originally the main function of cultural critique—to debunk, expose, demystify, and deconstruct given political, economic, and cultural truths as so many mythologies—is now in the hands of right-wing demagogues.

In such a ludicrous, contemporary situation we need to reassess the role of critique as has been argued by Bruno Latour: “The critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles. The critic is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naïve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather. The critic is not the one who alternates haphazardly between anti-fetishism and positivism like the drunk iconoclast drawn by Goya, but the one for whom, if something is constructed, then it means it is fragile and thus in great need of care and caution.”[1] What is needed, in this age of parallel realities and incongruity of truth, is not the destruction of myths, social constructions (what was called the hermeneutics of suspicion), etc., but the creation of assemblages, gatherings, locations of systematic workings, and, most importantly, the critic needs to participate and facilitate the care and stewardship of the real, which is always reducible to the human, the humane, and after all debates are debunked, the lived real.


[1]  “Why Has Criticism Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 (Winter 2004). pp. 225-248, cited in “Real Fictions: Hal Foster on Alternatives to Alternative Facts,” Art Forum (April 2017), pp.166-175.


War (What Is It Good For)

Edwin Starr’s 1970 hit “War” has become an anti-war mantra, remade in the ‘80s by both Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and in 2016 by the rock band Black Stone Cherry. Asserting that war is good for “absolutely nothing” because “it means destruction of innocent lives” and “it’s an enemy to all mankind,” in 2001, after September 11, the song wound up on a suggested no-play memorandum from Clear Channel Communications (now iHeartMedia) for its questionable lyrics. But the song poses one of the most difficult questions—one that humankind has sought to answer since before the Common Era. Seeing war as a necessary evil of the human condition, the Ancient Greeks were regularly engaged in warfare both abroad and at home. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus posited, “War is the father and king of all: some he has made gods, and some men; some slaves and some free.” India’s Bhagavad Gita supplies us with appropriately difficult explanations for the difficult questions of war: what is a just war? What is victory worth if—even in the name of wealth or truth or life—it destroys what we love?  As our methods of war change, these questions remain.


The Destruction of the Possible

At documenta 14 in Athens, Greece, contemporary theorist Franco Berardi discussed the possibility of a future in light of our contemporary human situation where destruction is both easier (given our technological means), and justifiable (given our post-capitalist ethics of convenience) . His lecture, “The Destruction of Europe,” begins with positing the issue of “the possibility of being able to do something.” “What is possible is what is not impossible,” Barardi explains. Thus, to understand what is possible it is necessary to define what is impossible. There are mathematical impossibilities, logical and natural impossibilities, “as far as we know.” But is the future possible? Barardi explains that the future is only possible if its possibilities are “inscribed” in the present. “The concept of possible is referring to a plurality of developments which is not infinite. In the texture of the present many possibilities are inscribed,” but not an infinite number of possibilities. What is possible is what is endowed with power and potency. We might add: What happens to the possibilities of a/the future when we are mired in a constant mode of 24/7 destruction. While lingering in the false consciousness of technofetishism and Touch-Screen Seduction Syndrome (TSSS) so much is being destroyed, both material and otherwise; both tangible and intangible: sleep, political agency, true deviancy and dissent (not commodified Fifty Shades of Grey pseudo-subversion), quiet, true uniqueness (not grounded on Instagram/Snapchat Delusional Autoimmune Disease (ISDAD)), animality, mourning, secrets, tradition, thinking, the physical, the real, the impossible.


We Are Here (Pale Blue Dot)

We seem compelled to project our own nature onto Nature. Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work worthy of the interposition of a deity.
— Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan’s genius and humility throughout Cosmos: A Personal Voyage teaches us that the very nature of creation is destruction. From the stellar nurseries where stars are born from dense, collapsing molecular clouds of dust and gas, to the black holes that violently mark stars’ deaths with gravitational forces so strong that no matter or radiation can escape, destruction necessitates the life cycles of the stars. Our own births are also violent, and in death our bodies’ putrefaction is the result of a destructive force so vile to us that we are wont to burn it, box it up, and bury it. Yet, this destruction releases the energy needed to feed the creation of new life. Perhaps humanity’s tendency to place itself at the top of the food chain prevents us from accepting and appreciating this natural order, and perhaps our tendency “to project our own nature onto Nature” permits us to justify our own propensity for violence toward one another and our planet. Let Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot humbly remind us that we are fragile and so is this world that we continuously create and destroy.