Self-destructive behavior might also be a part of our psyche that tries to defy death.
In response to my last posting, I got some e-mails from readers asking about the folks I used as examples (including myself) of self-destructive behavior. What happened to those folks? What was the outcome of their life story?
Well, self-destructive behavior doesn't always end up causing utter self-destruction, only that it caused misery and discomfort for most. My sister raised a family and became a kindergarten teacher. She did well, but spent a lot of her life regretting some life choices and was angry a lot, particularly at people who were successful, which included her younger brother.
My hippie brother finally realized that there was no future in the commune and went out on his own, went back to school (well into his 40s!) and now is an academic. One of his friends moved to LA and got a job doing a television show. I recall at the time my brother implying he was a "sell-out" for being successful. Decrying success is sort of idiotic, particularly when you crave it yourself. Just because you don't achieve it, it is nothing short of sour grapes when you run others' down.
Crabs in the bucket.
And it illustrates how people will tear you down if you try to become successful - it is the crab-bucket mentality, which is why, if you want to be successful, you often have to leave friends and family behind, or at least keep them at arm's length. If you go through life trying to please your friends and family - or trying to defy them - you will be taking actions that are not aligned with your own best interests.
Others, well, I am not so sure, what happened to them. People do what they have to do, in order to survive. And even after making poor life choices, people struggle and figure out ways to put food on the table. The point is, it can be far less a struggle if you make fewer poor life choices. And doing things that are self-destructive to "get even" with others is really a poor life choice.
We all have regrets.
If I hadn't spent a decade smoking pot and being an underachiever, my life would have turned out differently for sure. But of course, I would be a different person. Do I have regrets? Non, Je ne regrette rien. Actually, we all have regrets, and I suspect the little sparrow might have a few, despite her protests to the contrary.
But this got me to thinking about another aspect of self-destructive behavior - the idea of defying death. In Mexico, they have a big annual celebration, the day of the dead (dia de muertos). The celebration has a number of origins and purposes, but one of them is to mock death - to look death in the face and not be afraid, because after all, it is inevitable. By mocking death or defying death, it provides us with a psychological way of dealing with it. Perhaps.
So the smokers smokes a cigarette and says, "see, that didn't kill me!" or the party-boy downs another beer bong and all his mates cheer him on. Teenagers spend endless hours trying to skateboard down someone's stair railing - often with quite predictable results. Maybe there is a reason - an evolutionary reason - why we engage in self-destructive behaviors.
Like I noted before, this is how terrorists recruit suicide bombers - a job choice that is pretty hard to sell at "career day" at the local high school. Just play upon peoples' low-self-esteem and their natural inclination to self-destruction. It is easier than shooting fish in a barrel. And without young people in the tribe willing to "die for the cause" there would be no tribe left. Self-destruction may, in fact, be a survival skill, not for the individual, but for the species. Maybe that is why individualism is, at its most basic, anti-civilization.
So what is the point of all of this? Perhaps not much. But perhaps if one can avoid or at least minimize self-destructive behavior, maybe one can be happier in life and have fewer regrets later on. Seeing how life plays out here on old people island gives one a perspective on this. Nary one oldster wishes they smoked more cigarettes in their earlier days, as they wheeze and cough and slowly smother to death. Folks who ran out of money later in life regret foolish spending they did earlier.
Of course, this is assuming that people make the connection between their actions and their subsequent conditions. With smokers, it is hard to avoid. Once you have lung and heart-related illnesses, it is hard to argue that outside forces were at work, when you smoked three packs a day. Well, some still play the blame game. Somehow the government did it, right?
And the spenders, well, some of them will claim that the government or the rich "took their money away" when in fact they blew it all on cars and boats and vacations and credit card debt. Yea, I did that too. I don't blame the government for my woes.
Sadly, a new generation is being groomed to blame others - by both political parties. Kids sign up for student loan debt, and than are encouraged to blame the government or wall street for their debts. People get into credit card crises (as I have, more than once in life) and are encouraged to blame the "evil 1%'ers" - as if taking money away from Jeff Bezos will pay off your Citibank card. People really think this way. They do.
And I suspect, that down the road, they will regret that sort of thinking, and wish they had instead buckled down and paid down their debts - or never took them on in the first place - rather than wasting their time and energy hoping for massive social change.
Because, quite frankly, the only massive social change we've seen in recent years has been entirely in the opposite direction.