Friday, September 01, 2017

It's So Much Easier To Destroy Than To Build

This is so obvious.  Something we all know.  Yet we need to be reminded regularly.

I was reminded this morning as I took apart the jigsaw puzzle we'd worked on intermittently since June and only finished this week.  Here's what the finished puzzle looked like after two months of 'construction':

And here's what it looks like now - after about a minute of work:

We drop a porcelain bowl that shatters in seconds.

We see this when a wrecking ball or a fire takes down a building.  All the time to acquire the money and materials and designs.  All the time to gather the people who put those materials into place and then maintain them.  The time to gather the furniture, the pictures on the wall, the photographs, the shared events, and other memories of a place.  Years of work and play can become rubble in minutes.

We see this in a violent death.  Years of becoming a human being - the learning, developing, building relationships destroyed in an instant.

And, less obviously, Trump has been trying to dismantle the government.  Pulling out of the Paris Agreement.  Banning transgender folks from the military.  Cracking down on immigrants and threatening to end DACA.

And Trump's also finding out how difficult it is to create things - like a healthcare program where “Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

We've been watching the speed of destruction in Houston this week.

Yet, destroying individual items, buildings, people is much easier and faster than destroying larger systems - a city like Houston, the US government,  the ecosystem of the earth.  With slow-building disasters, you have time to avert them.  But the gradual nature also lulls people into not seeing what is happening and where it leads.

I worked for NOAA during the year that Reagan was elected and came into office vowing to cut back on government.  I'd been there long enough to see that the agencies were made up of people with years of experience all over the country.  They understood weather, oceanography, atmosphere, marine mammals.  They also understood the vast network of people who monitored these things to make weather forecasts, to map the coastlines, to protect seals and whales.

As Reagan planned (unsuccessfully) to dismantle agencies like NOAA, I saw not just interchangeable parts that could be easily rebuilt by ordering so many meteorologists and atmospheric scientists off the shelf.  Rather I saw complex networks of human beings that over the years, working together on various projects in different locations, had built an understanding of how to make the organization work and had built an understanding of who to call on for this expertise and that.  They'd built, through years of interaction, a trust amongst each other.  Something that takes a long time to build.  A commodity we aren't seeing among the people Trump has gathered to help him in the White House.

So, the thought that some NOAA agencies might be axed, was horrifying.  So much that had been built up over so long would be lost and could not be replaced except over another very long period.

I think about this as I hear that Trump wants to cut the State Department by a third.  Wants to get rid of the special envoys for the Arctic and for Climate Change.

Fortunately, human systems, human communities are not as vulnerable to instant destruction (unless all the humans are destroyed).  In fact, bureaucracies are designed to resist quick, impetuous changes.  But that doesn't mean a lot of damage can't be done.

One last thought:  how do we come to understand why some people either don't see or don't care about such destruction of things and people?  Don't understand or don't care about what will be lost?  What can we do, as a society, in the way parents rear their kids and schools educate them, and societal structures encourage or discourage them, that minimizes the number of folks vulnerable to such destructive impulses?


  1. The good and proper use of a puzzle from beginning to end, Steve. Myself, in doing deep digging in my garden this week, I've taken time in wonder at the earthworms' ability to thrive in hardened clay soils.

    So many ideas are thrown out from such moments: Entropy and our agency may be our thought for the day.

    1. Ah yes, the glory of worms. Been enjoying how plentiful they are in the compost heap, merrily turning dead leaves and kitchen scraps into compost. Even sharing them with the grandkids via video conferencing. How much we humans have to relearn our place in the cycles of nature. Things we used to know, before we became technical. Enjoy your weekend.


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