Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wherefore this penchant for self-destruction?

Laissez le bon temps rouler
Has there ever been a time in your life when you confused recklessness with passion? Have you ever mistaken Devil-Be-Damned abandon with lust for life?  Have you ever justified self-destructive behavior with some variation of the phrase "I'm being true to myself," or, "I won't be compromised" or "I live life to the fullest?"

I certainly have.  Nor can I say that I regret it.  All part of the tapestry, eh?

The world is full of prominent examples of people who spurn restraint, who hasten and invite death every day of their lives:  Glenn Beck or Timothy Treadwell or Shane MacGowan, for example.  The range of behavior is vast:  everything from inciting hatred, to standing face to face with grizzly bears, to drinking oneself to death. 

Glenn, Timothy, and Shane:  clowns to some; heroes to others
But why do people behave in this manner?  What demons possess them?  There are as many reasons as there are people, I imagine.

In my own case, my first self-destructive period (drinking, drug use, promiscuity) occurred during my late teens and early-to-mid-twenties, when I was attending college. I was too young to know any better, frankly.  And reckless behavior was a way to pretend that I didn't care that I didn't have a girlfriend.  (Which is not to say I didn't have girls, mind you.  Lots of those.) When I graduated and moved to Portland, I put away childish things... for a time.

My second period of self-destructive behavior occurred a few years after my divorce, when I began to believe that I might not find a life partner.  Loneliness, and fear of loneliness reared up and I fell back to the behavior that I had learned in college:  I pretended not to care that I was alone.  That period ended when I found Maty.  (And, even then, it took some arm-twisting on her part.)  

If we assume that everyone has this propensity to some degree, what does it indicate?  It seems to run against the grain of nature, doesn't it?  Or has this behavioral bent always been with us?

And why does society ascribe a tragi-romantic virtue to people who behave in this manner?  Why do we admire them?  And what is it that causes us, from time to time, to tell ourselves "If I continue down this path, it will surely lead to my destruction," just before we shrug and plunge right in?


Dan Binmore said...

I still am not sure that I confuse the two, I certainly would far rather risk too much self-destruction than risk not enough passion. The reason society assigns romance to these people is that they have the courage to take risks, and those risks have rewards.

The problem is if you are doing self-destructive things without the passion. If you don't live a richer, more exciting, more wonderful life by taking these risks, then it's a waste of time. If you are drinking to cope, then you are using a bad method. If you are drinking to laugh, joke, and sing songs with strangers, then that's a hell of a lot better than staying home and watching tv.

I'd rather be Shane MacGowan than Harry Reid, but I'd also rather be suburban Mr. Boring than some of the miserable alcoholics I have seen in my social work.

This is a fantastic topic for discussion.

Molly said...

Bravo! Because I am in the middle of self destructive behavior, I must keep this short. No truer words do you speak and truer words do I currently live.