In the midst of the various riots and spikes in violent crime sweeping the nation, we find a few hopeful words about the future in our friend Jim Geraghty’s latest edition of the Morning Jolt today. On the subject of statues and monuments being torn down by angry mobs, Jim opens up with the positive message of “destruction is easy. Creation is hard.” This is basically an accepted truism that’s been with us for all of recorded history. The creative process is difficult, whether you’re talking about a work of art, a building or a new society. And those who labor over generations to create have historically been frustrated (if not chopped to pieces) when the destructive army of Khan comes riding over the horizon in their direction. The same applies to modern-day movements, such as Occupy Wall Street and the anarchists that regularly plague various economic summit meetings. But how will history remember them?
History is full of destructive forces than can inflict great pain and suffering, but that cannot leave any lasting legacy: the Axis Powers, the Manson Family, al-Qaeda and ISIS. Destructive forces can shape our lives, but they do so mostly in temporary ways. Once their destruction stops, they get forgotten, left on “the ash heap of history.”
Did Occupy Wall Street leave a lasting impact on American life, or, with the passage of time, does it seem more like a cringe-inducing gathering of young people play-acting as revolutionaries and just leaving a mess in Zuccotti Park? Can the Weather Underground or FALN really say they changed America for the better? Angry mobs and violent gangs can’t build anything. If they could, they would choose to be something besides angry mobs and violent gangs.
These forces driven by destruction can rarely ever invent, renew, cure, or improve the lives of others. They have difficulty distinguishing the symbolic from the real; tearing down a statue of Christopher Columbus does not erase Christopher Columbus from history. Who is going to do more to influence the way Thomas Jefferson is remembered by the rest of America? The protesters at a high school in Portland who tore down his statue, or Lin-Manuel Miranda and Daveed Diggs? What force shapes our futures more: destruction or creation?
As noted above, creation is generally seen as a positive force and destruction as the opposite. There are exceptions of course, particularly if you happen to be creating an improvised explosive device for a marathon or destroying the Berlin Wall. But for the most part, those who build are admired where those who destroy are viewed as the Vandals. While the original Vandals arrived with horses and spears, their modern-day counterparts wield spray cans of paint and ropes to pull down the constructions of others.