I was supposed to start my “Examining The Creative Mind” series today. Molly Field was going to enlighten us about her creative process by answering some interview questions I had sent her. She asked me to postpone publishing her contribution due to the Boston Marathon bombing. She wanted to observe a day of silence if she wasn’t going to be writing about what happened. I will publish her interview on Thursday instead.
I’ve struggled about what to say about this new violent incident, mostly because I haven’t recovered from the previous violent incidents yet. They are happening so often now. It scares me and it makes me sad and angry at the same time. I know many people are going through similar emotions. I am not sure I have anything new to add to the conversation or anything important to say. Just being silent felt like the best option, or at least the only option with any value. I know many other bloggers will be expressing their opinions and feelings about what has happened with a grace I don’t seem to possess today. I do feel compelled to say something that has been bothering me for a while now.
Last night I kept thinking about this class I took in my Master’s program. It was called The Psychology of Spirituality. It was an online class. There was only one other student in the class, his name was John and he was a philosophy professor. I knew him in real life too. We had a mutual friend and would often bump into each other at our mutual friends parties. We would get into huge philosophical debates and drink way too much beer as our arguments escalated into good-natured attempts at one-upmanship. Anyway, this class was the perfect forum for us to continue our debates and we were prolific in our writing. We were so involved in the class that I am sure it seemed like more than two people were contributing to class assignments. We argued about spirituality, “God”, and human nature.
In one section, near the beginning, we began what became a class long discussion on evil and destruction. As a psychology student, I truly believed that evil did not exist exactly and that most people were inherently good and striving for positivity. I believed, that people were evolving, that we were moving towards greater consciousness and goodness. My perspective was very humanistic in nature which was no doubt the result of my counseling classes and the influence of Carl Rogers. John, on the other hand was adamant that evil and destruction were necessary for life to continue and that evil was really a matter of perspective anyway. I just want to stop right here and say, arguing with a philosophy professor is a fool’s errand. Philosopher’s are trained to argue using logic. They are usually incredibly intelligent people. They have learned to think. John was smart and his arguments were solid. Look to nature he told me.
John informed me of many examples. Destruction is as much a part of life as creation is, he argued passionately. A forest fire clears out the dead wood so new growth can emerge. A Lioness catches her pray and feeds it to her cubs. This is destructive and evil behavior, isn’t it? Yet, it is also part of life. Without this destructive evil, life might not exist at all. John scoffed at my appeals for peace and growth towards a more loving and empathic society. He directed me to read The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche. He told me we all were trying to gain power and dominance over each other. That what looks like destruction to one person is creation to another. That a mad man with a gun who shoots a bunch of people is just becoming more of who he is, embracing his will to power, and that his act is one of creation from his perspective. The major point was that real death was what happens when we lose the will to power.
All of John’s arguments make sense on paper and in the comfortable seat of a philosophy class, or even at a party where two people are feeling smart for arguing about existentialism and contemplating what it means to be human. Ideas and theories can be thought about in the abstract, but they don’t always make as much sense in your real life. These arguments feel more like excuses when you think about children being killed and people being murdered in a movie theater, or when you read about children being raped and killed by adults.
While I was in the Psychology of Spirituality class I eventually conceded the argument even though it never sat quite right with me. At the time I just couldn’t come up with an argument as clever as his was to refute his points. I mean, he had Nietzsche in his corner. All I really had, was a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I willingly agree that some destruction is needed for creation. We will tear down a building to erect a new one. We will likely run print media out of business with the Internet and technology we are inventing. Men wearing helmets and team jerseys will break each others bodies in order to win a football game. Destruction and creation are two sides of the same coin. Humans do have a will to power and to dominate. I spend time trying to gain power by writing this blog. I have the urge to paint something that will move people or improve my financial status. It’s true. I dig in the earth and uproot weeds so I can grow my tomato and squash plants. I steal my chickens eggs and eat them. I create and destroy daily. I am Shiva. We all are. At least, that is how it seems.
I thought about this yesterday while I was in my garden, avoiding the news coverage because I couldn’t handle the images and the pain resulting from the Boston Marathon bombing. I thought about all of the people I know who spend most of their days creating something. They go to work, they make food, they exercise their dogs, they paint, they have children, they volunteer to help people less fortunate than they are, they write compelling articles trying to change the hearts and minds of the people at large. They create life. Most of the people I know are destructive on accident or as a by-product of trying to do something good. They contribute to pollution by driving to work so they can earn enough money to buy food for their family (food that is likely a product of some other types of destruction). None of us can escape the circle of creation and destruction, this is true. I see it with my own eyes.
So, why does the argument bother me in the pit of my stomach so much? I don’t have an articulate answer to give you. I just look at these violent incidents and wonder where is the will to power exactly? Where is this kind of destruction making room for new creativity? The destruction seems useless. A man shoots a room full of people and then kills himself. I find no perspective that explains how this type of dominance and destruction results in anything beneficial for the murderer. I’ve never been a big believer in the idea of good and evil from a religious perspective, but I think destruction for no purpose is probably the real definition of evil. A lioness kills a zebra and eats it. She doesn’t kill it without purpose or benefit. A forest fire results in new, healthier growth. How does killing a bunch of people and then killing oneself benefit anyone involved?
These acts of violence in our country are just death. There isn’t any redeeming value in the act. Bombing a marathon doesn’t serve any higher purpose either. It just breaks people. It tears their limbs, it breaks their hearts, but there really isn’t anyway to see it as a creative act, is there? Sure, there will be stricter rules and more police, and maybe dogs sniffing for bombs in public activities like this for a while, but is that really creating something? Does new growth come from these acts of destruction? Some will point to the parents of Newtown who are working so hard to change the gun laws in our country as an example of creation as a result of destruction. They might be right, but I am compelled to say the person who causes this destruction is absent from the creative process all together. The victims are creating meaning for the death of their loved one and working hard to change things for the better. They are turning destruction into creation, but I would argue they were probably doing that already in their lives. I wonder, would this mean that some people are only destructive? It’s seems impossible to be creative without destruction, but is it possible to be destructive without creating? Would that be the definition of evil? Is evil necessary?
I am not really a philosopher. I don’t have a logical mind. Anyone who has taken a math class with me can vouch for that. I often make decisions on a gut feeling. My body recognizes patterns and incongruities much faster than my mind does. I operate at an intuitive level. So, here I am, years later, still mulling over an argument I had with a philosophy professor. I am still unable to formulate an opinion in a philosophical, logical way. All I have is that nagging feeling in my stomach that something about this argument doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not religious, but I think of myself as spiritual. I still operate under the fundamental belief that most people do things for some kind of greater good and that as a whole, the human species is evolving into one with greater compassion, empathy and responsibility toward life. I still believe that real power does not come from physical violence and domination, but from a place of love and grace. I just haven’t really found a way to reconcile these beliefs with all of the bad things that happen in the world. I can’t decide if these people are really evil. I can’t decide if these acts contribute to the creation and development of humanity, but my gut says they don’t.