There’s was an op-ed in yesterday’s “New York Times,” and its headline caught my baby-blues. It was titled “The Presidents Self-Destructive Disruption” and is by a political scientist called Greg Weiner. These days, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a disparaging article about Trump—at least in the ‘failing media’— so the first part of the headline didn’t really interest me. What got me was the phrase “self-destructive disruption.”
We hear a lot about disruption every day. In fact, at lunch yesterday I went to an over-priced salad place and tried to pay for my $14 salad with a twenty. “We don’t take cash,” they told me. Even cash—something that’s existed for millennia, back to shiny shells and cowries—has been disrupted.
Usually, unless you’re the one disrupted, unless, say, you owned a yellow taxi medallion, disruption is looked upon as a positive thing. It’s really only an au courant way of saying that there’s a new way to do an old job.
But back to the op-ed in the “Times.” And you’ll have to make some leaps here to get from Presidential politics to our business, but hold on. Here’s the part that got me: “… the foremost expositor of the authority of custom, preferred “the collected reason of ages... with the infinite variety of human concerns” to “personal self-sufficiency and arrogance…[of]…those who have never experienced a wisdom greater than their own.”
I suppose this is a complicated way of saying that sometimes custom, human-nature and ‘the way we’ve always done it’ has persisted because those ways held some obeisance to basic human needs. The people who disrupt those things, like paying with cash, are trying to disrupt something deep in human nature—something that probably can’t, fundamentally, be disrupted.
I know this is essentially a conservative point of view, the notion that there are some corpuscles and human behaviors that are evolutionarily imbued and not likely to alter because of a pixel or an app.
At “The New Yorker Festival” this weekend, for instance, thousands of people paid millions of dollars to be read to—to listen to stories, something as old as human society itself. I’m not sure the beauty and necessity of everything needs to be disrupted, or should be. I think when the last ding-dong of doom finally tolls for the last retailer in America, because Amazon has eaten everything, people, a few months or years later will slowly emerge from their caves, homes and apartments, blink at the light of day, and search the wilderness for the community and the “hunting-ness” that comes from a retail experience.
Our “hourly, abuse of language [tradition] is also deeply problematic for a republic that conducts its business with words and cannot do so if their meanings are matters of sheer convenience.”
And that’s my point—before we proclaim something dead, or something is inalterably changed and changed forever, let’s think about the basic human needs that may or may not be any longer met.
Nobel-laureate Bob Dylan wrote many years ago, “the old ways are rapidly changing.” And let’s hail and salute progressive change. But not if along with change we throw out the human bits of society that are real and essential and elemental, and life itself.