On creative destruction, radical disruption, and other extreme makeovers

Usually not the answer (image courtesy of clipart-library.com)

During the past few weeks, I’ve been giving some thought to two radical ideas that are floating around out in our public discourse.

One is coming from the far right: An organizing effort to hold a new Constitutional Convention, presumably to radically remake the U.S. Constitution. In the extreme right-wing fantasy mode, this would include removing federal authority to regulate things like environmental safety, health care, workers’ and civil rights, and various social and economic safety net provisions. As Carl Hulse reports for the New York Times:

Representative Jodey Arrington, a conservative Texas Republican, believes it is well past time for something the nation has not experienced for more than two centuries: a debate over rewriting the Constitution.

“I think the states are due a convention,” said Mr. Arrington, who in July introduced legislation to direct the archivist of the United States to tally applications for a convention from state legislatures and compel Congress to schedule a gathering when enough states have petitioned for one. “It is time to rally the states and rein in Washington responsibly.”

To Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin and president of the American Constitution Society, a liberal judicial group, that is a terrible idea. Mr. Feingold sees the prospect of a constitutional convention as an exceptionally dangerous threat from the right and suggests it is closer to reality than most people realize as Republicans push to retake control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.

The second idea I’ve been pondering is coming from the far left: It’s a call, well, to abolish work. I’m not talking about instituting a 4-day work week, or beefing up unemployment benefits, or tackling stuff like bullying and harassment. These folks literally want to end work, while assuming that all of life’s necessities will somehow be provided for. Nicole Froio advances the idea for Yes! magazine:

What if we abolished the institution of work?

If we were not required to work to pay for basic rights, such as food, shelter, and water, could we embrace radical solutions to change the current state of our society?

…Online, the rejection of the idea of work itself is a growing trend across social media platforms. . . . One TikToker’s message—“Fuck this, I don’t want to work for the rest of my life :(”—received thousands of likes and comments in agreement. On Twitter, where the constant barrage of negative news is constantly dissected and commented on, posters point out how capitalism keeps marching on despite the unconscionable tragedies we’ve all had to digest in the past two and a half years….On Reddit, the “antiwork” community (the r/antiwork subreddit) has 2 million subscribers who can easily access an online library about the abolition of work and exchange experiences with each other about the jobs they don’t want to do. The motto of this subreddit, whose members call themselves “idlers,” is “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!”

Personally, I’m much more concerned about a radical Constitutional Convention fueled by conspiracy-loving extremists than the highly unlikely prospect of everyone suddenly deciding to stop working. On the former, I believe we are in a precarious time as a working democracy. On the latter, while fully recognizing that our world of work needs fixing (my main focus for decades), I have not encountered any viable proposal that replaces working for pay.

In any event, the common threads between these ideas and others at the margins are the superficially attractive notions of “creative destruction,” “blowing things up,” “radical disruption,” and “starting all over” — all so we can get it just right this time.

Such thinking can be enormously appealing when the status quo seems deeply flawed. I’ve felt that way about certain matters myself.

But hold on a minute. What makes us think that we can do a clean sweep and nail the remake simply because, hey, we’re here?

There are many problems with the let’s-blow-it-up mentality.

First, calls for extreme makeovers are often driven by extreme points of view that aren’t deeply shared by the wide swath of people. Quick, dramatic fixes have great superficial attraction, especially when compared to the toil of digging into the nuances of complicated problems. They may sound especially attractive to those who aren’t thinking critically and who assume that only good can result from these efforts.

Second, when inflexible and/or extreme views prompt radical change, they often ignore or overlook the realities of unanticipated bad consequences. When anyone assumes a superior level of knowledge that justifies turning everything upside down and starting all over again, it’s usually wise to slow down and start asking questions.

Finally, extreme proposals for change tend to neglect collateral damage, by disregarding or minimizing the costs to those whose lives and circumstances are upended in the process. This encourages a sort of casual “othering” that easily dismisses the interests of those who are not in our core circles.

Given a choice, I usually prefer evolution to revolution, guided by courage, kindness, foresight, and wisdom. I have been an advocate for change for as long as I can remember, and that journey has taught me — sometimes by reckoning with my own erroneous assumptions — that most serious public challenges are multifaceted in nature and require thoughtful responses based on an understanding of systems and human imperfections.

I realize that I’m talking in somewhat abstract terms here. But if this prompts you to ask questions of, and require details from, the next person who bellows that it’s time for an extreme makeover that starts from scratch, then I will consider this short writing to be a successful one.

On making a difference through writing

On this day of remembrance here in the U.S., I thought I’d pull together a collection of past articles related to the theme of writing, especially those forms designed to make a difference in this world — which, when you think about it, is the larger contribution of just about all good writing. And, of course, the earliest piece starts with coffee.

Using scholarship to make a difference (2020) (link here) — “When I first became a law professor, I was skeptical about the potential of legal scholarship to influence law reform. My intention was to do scholarship in sufficient volume and quality to earn tenure, and then to pursue writing and activist projects that didn’t involve lots of citations and footnotes.”

The privileges of creating a “body of work” (2019) (link here) — “Four years ago, I wrote about Pamela Slim‘s Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together (2013), which invites us to examine — in the author’s words — ‘the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created’…”

On the social responsibilities of writers (2019) (link here) — “I’d like to take a Sunday dive into the nature of writing to fuel positive individual and social change. This may be especially relevant to readers who write about fostering psychologically healthier workplaces that are free from bullying, mobbing, and abuse.”

Even Shakespeare had a writing circle (2017) (link here) — “It was an interesting exhibition, and here’s what specially caught my eye: Shakespeare was part of a writing circle — Elizabethan style!”

Author Jenna Blum: “I didn’t become a writer to not say what I believe in” (link here) — “On Saturday, Jenna was the featured speaker for a program hosted by the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, speaking on the ‘crucial role of women’s literary voices in literature in the current political climate, and the fusing of art, writing, and activism.'”

How do you take and keep notes? (2017) (link here) — “At annual board meetings and workshops of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network in New York City, I’ve taken delight in watching peace educator Janet Gerson‘s use of hardcover sketchbooks to take and preserve her notes, as well as to host her artistic forays and distractions.”

Three great authors on writing to make a difference (2015) (link here) — “For fresh, inspiring outlooks on the uses of writing and scholarship to make a difference, I often listen to voices outside of mainstream academe. Here I happily gather together three individuals, Ronald Gross, Mary Pipher, and John Ohliger, whose names I have invoked previously on this blog.”

Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010, rev. 2018) (link here) — “Hilda’s desire to write novels was evident in college, but getting married, raising a family in Valparaiso, and becoming a high school English teacher would come first. However, she never let go of the idea of a writing life, and over the years she would exchange ideas, essays, and chapter drafts with friends and family members.”

Intellectual activism and social change (2013) (link here) — “For some time I’ve been studying a topic that I’ve labeled ‘intellectual activism,’ the practice of using scholarly research and writing to inform, shape, and influence social change initiatives.”

Mary Pipher on Writing to Change the World (2012) (link here) — “For all in this broad category, Mary Pipher’s Writing to Change the World (2006) is instructive and inspirational. Pipher is a bestselling author and therapist. Her book reflects upon the uses of writing to make a positive difference.”

Collegiate reflections: Working on the campus newspaper (2012) (link here) — “The Torch was the most important extracurricular experience of my college career. The topics of my articles and columns were limited largely to campus issues, but even this was heady business for me. There was something powerful and scary about writing pieces for publication with my byline appended.”

Coffee and work (2011) (link here) — “Coffee seems to be especially associated with writers. Crookes invokes J.K. Rowling, Marina Fiorato, Ernest Hemingway, Henrik Ibsen, and Malcolm Gladwell as examples of writers drawn to cafes and coffee shops to do their work.”

Labor Day 2022: There’s something happening here

On this Labor Day 2022, the world of work is certainly calling for our attention. Among other things, we’re seeing:

Add to that a nation in civic turmoil, a continuing pandemic, a climate marked this summer by record-hot temperatures, an ongoing war in Europe, among other things, and you’ve got, well, very interesting times.

This is not a redux of the Sixties — what’s going on is even more dire than the events and changes of that era — but as I thought about today’s blog post, Buffalo Springfield’s “Stop Children What’s That Sound” came to mind. The lyrics sure do fit our times:

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look, what’s going down?

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look, what’s going down?

What a field day for the heat (Ooh ooh ooh)
A thousand people in the street (Ooh ooh ooh)
Singing songs and they carrying signs (Ooh ooh ooh)
Mostly say, “Hooray for our side” (Ooh ooh ooh)

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look, what’s going down?

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

We better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look, what’s going down?

You better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look, what’s going down?

You better stop
Now, what’s that sound?
Everybody look, what’s going down?

You better stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look, what’s going down?

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