Saturday, December 28, 2019

Destroying Yourself to Prove a Point

You can't "get even" with society, your family, or your peers by destroying your own life.

Self-destructive behavior is an interesting phenomenon.   We all do it, to some extent, whether it is gambling, drinking, smoking, driving too fast, eating too much (or eating the wrong foods), spending too much, saving too little, borrowing too much, or whatever.  The urge to commit slow-motion suicide is all-too-common among people.

Take smokers.  Sure, they are  addicted.  But you know the type - who smoked defiantly, as if to say, "Take that, society!  You can't tell me what to do!"    They take almost a perverse pride in their own destruction.

Or take young folks who get blackout drunk at a fraternity party - and then boast of their drinking "skills" later on, even as they destroy billions of brain cells and their liver (and end up puking behind the dumpster at the frat house).   They seek status in perceived bad-assedness.   It is quite common, in fact, among all levels of society.

We were watching some "off road failures and saves" videos the other night - people who take extreme 4x4 vehicles off-road into some pretty hairy situations, such as fording streams or driving up steep inclines.  In these videos, often the rigs end up drowning in the stream - the engine sucking in water, which basically destroys it.  Or the vehicle rolls over several times, rendering it useless.   The reaction is interesting - people laughing and giggling, including the drivers/owners of these rigs.  They just destroyed thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars of their own property, and are giddy about it.   It is not much different that frat brothers laughing at themselves and each other as they get falling down drunk.

I mentioned before a brother who "rejected materialism" which was a way of rejecting my parents' social values.  My parents' generation strove to climb the social ladder, be accepted into "polite society" and the restricted country club.  The were one or two generations removed from poverty, and didn't have any glamorous ideals about non-materialism.  My parents had big plans for my brother - he was to become a lawyer!  They ended up stuck with me.  Sorry.   My brother rebelled against this, and rebelled against success itself, as if decrying personal accomplishment would somehow "get even" with society or my parents' generations values.

My sister was the same way - she was groomed to marry "a young executive on the move" much as my Mother did.   Parents only know what they experience.   My sister rebelled against his and married someone who was "a nice guy" but not a very good provider.   Before she died, my sister confided to me that she remained married for a decade longer than she intended, so as to not "prove Dad right" when he said it was a poor match.   Sadly, her life was cut short - and she was pretty angry about how things played out.

I use these two as exemplars, not to tear them down. We all do this, to some extent or another.   Myself, I spent a decade embroiled in an orgy of drug and alcohol abuse, as a youth, until I literally sobered up and wondered what the heck I was doing with my life.   Others never get that wake-up call, but rather continue down the path of self-destruction - often aided, abetted, and goaded on by their peers, much as at a fraternity house.

There is a lot in our culture and media that promotes self-destruction, too. Young people are encouraged to engage in nihilism, whether it was during the rock and roll era, or heavy metal, or punk rock.  Even the "fabulous" disco era was marked by promiscuous sex and heavy drug abuse.  Studio 54 wasn't all about dancing and having a good time, but about debasing yourself as much as possible, particularly in the infamous balcony.

Kids adopt identities in high school which are often self-destructive, sometimes literally harming themselves, thinking that it is somehow "glamorous" to tear oneself down.  My own Mother, for example, thought that it was glamorous to be self-destructive.  "All the great authors killed themselves," she would say, as if cowardice was a sign of nobility.  That crappy Shakespeare - must not have been a very good author, eh?   Needless to say, she spent much of her life in self-destruct mode, trying to tear others down at the same time.   It was a pretty stupid thing to do, in retrospect.  Then again, mental illness never makes much sense.

The urge for self-destruction is how terrorist groups are able to recruit suicide bombers so easily.  They make blowing yourself up seem glamorous and desirable.  In the abstract, this seems absurd, but then again, you can convince people under the age of 25 just about anything.  That, in a nutshell, is why we never send old people off to war - they would question the whole deal from the get-go.  Self-destruction sells, particularly among young people, who think "dying for a cause" is a great and noble thing to do.  Older people think it is much more noble to get someone else to die for their cause, which is why those Imams with the radical jihadist videos are so old.   They ain't stupid.

Selling self-destruction isn't hard to do, as we all suffer from low-self-esteem.   It is like shooting fish in a barrel.  It isn't hard to destroy someone's life through credit card debt (or today, student loan debt) as people willingly sign up for this nonsense, convinced perhaps that they deserve to be punished.  Read any posting on a student loan debt forum - it is all about low-self-esteem.   Yes, they are angry at the banks and schools and government, but mostly angry at themselves.   Everyone else, it seems, is successful in life, while they are getting probably what they deserve.

How do you avoid this trap? Well, it isn't hard to spot the signs.  If you are doing something that really isn't in your own best interest and something that you really, in your heart of hearts, don't like to do, just to "fit in" or be self-destructive, maybe it is time to move in a new direction.  If you are doing something you don't like to do, just to appease your peers, maybe it is time to pack it in and move on.

Because the bottom line is this: If you engage in self-destructive behavior long enough, you will succeed at your task. And then you will have no one but yourself to blame at that point (but nevertheless, I'm guessing you'll blame the government and people with opposing political views to your own, anyway).