What Built Us Up Will Tear Us Down


Society is a crazy thing.

All it takes is 15 minutes on any news website to make anyone feel incredibly unsure of the world. From governments killing protesters to all-out civil war; bloodshed and child soldiers, tyrannical regimes and regimes that are on their way to becoming tyrannical; economies on the verge of collapse and governments on the verge of collapsing in on themselves. Spend an additional 15 minutes on that site and you can’t help but wonder how much longer modern society has left.

Every dystopian novel talks about the folly of mankind and how it will eventually and inevitably serve as our destruction. It is what it is: we are selfish, shortsighted, aggressive, territorial, hyper-competitive, greedy, and egocentric. We are immediately distrustful of those we deem outsiders and we’re quick to hoard our resources, even if it harms us in the long run. We are simultaneously lone wolves and pack animals, retreating to one or the other at all the wrong times.

The funny thing is, however, that it is those very traits that gave us the modern world in the first place. The very reason we have technology and medicine and climate-controlled homes is because, at the root of it all, we are all those negative things. Our ancestors first and foremost survived because they were the most brutal. The naturally peaceful and passive ones were killed off the second resources got scarce. The more territorial and aggressive ones soon took over the lands of those who couldn’t fight back as effectively. These were the ones who got to pass on their genes. These were the people who became our distant ancestors.

As the centuries progressed, human beings started creating and inventing, not only because they wanted to survive, but also because they wanted to survive better than that douchebag in the other tribe. Innovations occurred – not to better all mankind – but to better the individual and whoever he or she deemed as his “tribe”. America scrambled to build and improve its space program because they really hated that the USSR got Sputnik into orbit. Samsung overhauled their cellphones purely to outdo Apple. Gerry from down the street spent thousands on landscaping because he was sick of having a lackluster yard compared to the Andersons. Countries and corporations and communities alike, all using their aggressive, selfish, territorial nature as their main catalyst.

Businesses expand and evolve because we are so cutthroat and competitive. Advances are made purely to get a leg up on everyone else. We are never satisfied, always in want of more power and more resources. And, through that, we have cars and cell phones and an absurd selection of food at the grocery store.

And it is those aggressive, territorial, competitive, selfish tendencies that lead to disparity and abuse and an eventual breakdown of even the best-organized system. The Roman Empire rose and fell because of the same human tendencies.

The very things that helped build what we have now will be the same things that eventually tear it down. It’s incredibly beautiful, if you think about it.

I have a skewed sense of the world, I know, but it’s a viewpoint that helps me take in all the insanity, all the pain and bloodshed – as well as all the passive, fragile beauty — and recognize that it’s all one big, multi-dimensional piece of artwork. And maybe it’s easier for me to take that step back and admire the whole of Earth’s story because I’m not currently ducking bullets or mourning the abduction of my son by a guerilla army. And I might start singing a completely different song if everything falls by the wayside tomorrow and I’m suddenly clawing for basic survival.

But until then, I am going to admire this incredible story. The driving force that built us up is what will inevitably tear us down. Like a balloon, inflated from nothingness to something remarkable until it pops. And how, even when everything falls by the wayside, there will always be a few people with that unshakable sense of hope. That determination to be better than their ancestors, to rise up when everything else has fallen, to show that humanity isn’t all territorialism and anger and death. Maybe they’re the ones who save the world. Maybe they’re the ones who stagger away from the wreckage and start again. Maybe they are inevitably consumed by the collapsing world around them. What happens to them is almost negligible. Their ending only marginally affects the intricate tapestry.

The rise, the fall, the recovery, the endless cycle forward. The flawed, innovative nature that we downright stumbled upon and have no choice but to claim as our own. No wonder so many novels touch upon this topic. I’m hard pressed to think of a better storyline.

featured image – CNN.com