Dreams! A resolve to change things; a desire for new improved directions both personally, nationally, and even internationally are the inevitable and hopeful companions of an unfolding New Year. In this optimistic miasma, we forget the probable lingering downside of “creative destruction” that is often part of these hopes and dreams.
Joseph Schumpeter coined this phrase in viewing economic progress, but is applies broadly throughout all aspects of life and death.
One of the greatest sermons that I ever heard was entitled “The Hand That Wrecks the Cradle.” Given for Mother’s Day, it reflected the hard truth that the main job of parents (including dads) is to lead their children into adulthood by gradually “destroying” the supports to childhood, from the cradle to the crib to the full bed, from diapers to conformist high school clothing. And finally to redecorate that bedroom left behind as a youngster leaves home to face the vicissitudes of life.
For adults the picture is the same. Marriage means the dissolution of many prior relationships. Children bring more changes, until finally we are often confronted by the optimistic move to a retirement community, but with it the creative destruction of the family home in which reside so many precious memories.
Progress as a nation carries the same twins of creation and destruction. How well I recall the iceman with his horse-drawn cart forlornly looking for our card with an order for ice, which we no longer needed due to a newly purchased “fridge.” His and other horse-drawn carts are no more, of course; destroyed by progress.
In Fresno, we have seen the street car replaced. And the elevator operator giving place to automatic lifts. Or the gasoline attendant and the faithful milk delivery person. All displaced by a more automated world.
Nationally, and as cited by Schumpeter, we have seen the stagecoach replaced by the railroads and airlines, the horse and buggy by the auto; and sailing ships by steam vessels.
While most creative destruction seems inexorable, there are times when disasters normally standing alone can be transformed by efforts, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, to turn such tragedies into affirmative events.
The creation of Megan’s Laws to publish lists of sexual predators pioneered by her parents after the tragic death of Megan Kanka by a sexual predator is such a step. Or our own local attorney, Doug Griffin and his wife Doris, turned the tragic death of their daughter, Molly, who was killed by a drunken driver, into “random acts of kindness” on her birthday.
On the negative side, internationally, I have serious reservations about whether attempts to turn events into creative lines have been effective. I think of two devastating world wars. Dreamers (like Woodrow Wilson) tried to make them affirmative with the formation of the League of Nations after World War I. And diplomats created the United Nations after World War II. But the existence of a world torn by conflict casts doubt on these efforts.
Of course, predicting the future is always a risky business. But certain things seem clear. The gasoline-powered auto will be replaced by electric vehicles. And perhaps individual autos replaced by services like Uber. Our homes will be fully automated, replacing the many individual service manufacturers and service personnel. Robots will take over the duties of repetitive tasks. And long distance truck driving will be done by computer not teamsters.
Only one thing is certain: That to achieve our dreams and our objectives, personally and nationally, we must accept creative destruction. From the coal miner to the elevator operator, and from the infant to the aging adult moving to a rest home, most process is accompanied by the oxymoron, creative destruction. Progress means facing this reality, accepting it, and adjusting our lives accordingly. And perhaps even taking tragedies and transforming them into creative events.
Retired attorney Phil Fullerton lives in Fresno. He can be reached at email@example.com.