Some People Just Want To Destroy Things

On a walk not long ago, I came upon three young people. What happened next got me thinking about Copiosis and our implementation plan.

The three comprised of two young men and a young woman. Two of them sat on a retaining wall along Portland’s Eastside Promenade, a park and walking path built along the Oregon’s Willamette River. The third stood engaged in an activity that struck me dumb.

At first, I thought he stood at the railing, opposite his compadres, taking in the magnificent downtown view. But then, I noticed he was looking down at his hands. In one hand was a HUGE black marker. The other hand held the galvanized rail. It keeps people from getting too close to the river bank, which drops about 30 feet to the water below.

While I approached and others passed by, the guy scrawled a black-inked message – graffiti or a tag – on the railing’s surface.

Am I an old geezer?

Thanks to my Positively Focused practice, I wasn’t too confronted by this. Instead, what I saw fascinated me. One, because Portland experienced a MASSIVE increase in graffiti incidences in the last few years. COVID brought an even larger increase. Second, because of this, I’ve wanted a chance to talk to someone adding to this increase. So I got I manifested this opportunity. 😂

Getting closer to this guy didn’t bolster confidence he would appreciate an interruption. I smelled the pervasive stench of weed. None of the three looked menacing, but they also avoided eye contact. So instead of stopping to chat, I kept walking.

Yes, I chickened out.

But I also thought these young people might think me just another old geezer who doesn’t get it. I recently saw the phrase “OK boomer” blazoned on a rail car. It’s an ageist statement meant to dismiss a generation’s perspective. That generation just happens to be mine, for better or worse.

So part of me passing up this opportunity kept the peace. Live and let live, right? Another part of me though really wanted to understand. I mean, what’s going on in this guy’s head? Why does he think it OK to deface a piece of public infrastructure?

Do I just not get it? Am I really an old geezer judging younger generations for what I think represents their moral decrepitude?

Downtown Portland seen from the Eastside Promenade.

Why do they do this?

Many reasons explain why people graffiti. This anonymous guy, who worked in graffiti removal for over 10 years, offers a complete explanation. He says graffiti represents communication. But it also heralds potential notoriety. Shepard Fairey, probably best known nowadays for his iconic Obama campaign posters, got started as a graffiti artist. He’s now rich and living a life of notoriety. Some people who graffiti probably hope to replicate what he did.

Graffiti also acts as warning communications to rival gangs. Protecting territory by marking it pretty much extends to all animals. For some, pheromones and urine offer such communication. For rival gangs, it’s paint on a wall, sidewalk, fence or piece of art. Usually something owned by someone else.

But the biggest reason graffiti happens according to the guy I linked to above is anti-social behavior. Such behavior stems from a belief in an Us Vs Them mentality. A couple quotes from his article stand out:

An unfair society with few options for many underprivileged kids creates a sense of not belonging, not being heard, or nowhere to put their energy.

Many kids from low income neighbourhoods don’t have the same access to activities after school like many affluent families do. Add boredom and loneliness to this and the resentment towards those affluent building owners starts to make sense…A social outsider can find a family to not just belong to, but be seen as champion among them. A hero doing a victimless crime in an unfair society.

That rings true.

The trouble with “anti-social”

Furthermore, the author quotes a study which found people who graffiti meet criteria people with conduct disorder, delinquency and antisocial personality disorder exhibit. Those who graffiti score at the far extreme of antisocial behavior scales according to the study. Such people destroy others’ property with no remorse. 

They disregard ideas of right and wrong. They often sport callous, cynical and disrespectful attitudes. Meanwhile, they use charm to manipulate, exhibit arrogance, and often possess extremely opinionated views. The author concludes this part of his analysis saying “I think this draws a clear enough picture of what it would take to deface a city and still be able to fall asleep afterwards.”

A walking path in North Portland marred by “tags” and other graffiti. Portland saw a HUGE increase in graffiti vandalism during the COVID pandemic.

Indeed, he answered my question about how someone could damage other people’s property with no guilt, shame or remorse.

Reading carefully, you can see such behaviors and attitudes leading to graffiti share roots in disenfranchisement. Seeing oneself as a victim of a callus society tends to make one callus. Then, one attracts similar-minded people or ideas. Ideas that frequently lead to disastrous mayhem.

Trouble for our implementation plans?

Believe it or not, this completely relates to Copiosis. After all, society exists. We can’t implement Copiosis on a blank slate. While our implementation happens, for sure, some people will try to stymie it. They may even try to destroy it.

I listened to a podcast featuring Anne Applebaum. Applebaum is a staff writer for The Atlantic and a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. Her recent book, “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism” talked partly about people’s tendency to destroy.

In the podcast, Applebaum said even America’s founding fathers knew some people just want to destroy things. Moreover, others yearn to join such efforts, turning a sole actor’s acts into a movement. Excitement, the adrenaline rush of radical change – for better or not – and of belonging to such a movement greatly amplifies such acts.

I agree with Applebaum. While many will find Copiosis alluring, some will find destroying it even more alluring. So we must create something resistant to such people.

That’s why, for example, our implementation plan incudes fielding an online version. Such a version can offer insight on ways people might try to game or even destroy Copiosis.

Of course, no online simulation can unearth all the ways people might invent. For that reason, our implementation must include a nimbleness. Flexibility and rapid iterating must get built in to how we implement Copiosis so our plans stay resilient.

Graffiti made this city sign made completely intelligible. Is this a sign of civil unrest? People feeling desperate and helpless?

Everything makes us stronger

While people will likely try derailing our plans, all such acts strengthen the implementation. Such people consciously or unconsciously make our processes more robust. Which explains why I eagerly await such experiences.

Besides, I said in the past and still hold to this: should people start trying to destroy our implementation, that must mean we’ve gotten to the point where people notice what we’re doing.

By then, I think more people will want what Copiosis offers than oppose it. And the number actively trying to destroy our efforts will generate news, which will, further increase awareness.

Destruction comes as a part of physical reality. Even Copiosis represents a kind of constructive or creative destruction. It will significantly disrupt the status quo in ways some might interpret as “destruction”.

And so I can’t vilify the anti-social or the fearful, or the cynics who will want to destroy Copiosis just to destroy something. Their acts are just part of the path.

The path to a world where even those people can enjoy life in ways they can’t today. Maybe in seeing that possibility, they’ll feel hopeful enough to give up the pain and insecurity making them act the way they do.

Stranger things have happened.

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