Click on a Theme below to go to a summary of the four posts about that Theme.

Destruction, Additional Subthemes

Subthemes: Pandemics and Drugs, Indiscriminate, Civilians, Entropy, Humans Cope

The four posts associated with the theme of Destruction each suggest their own set of sub-themes:

A grim charge of men into machine guns, the collapse of a small town in the face of social and economic forces, the oppression of flood waters, and the desecration of a self-congratulatory despot’s monument each yield immanent instances of destruction. The sub-themes developed below arise from combinations of those art works or from more general consideration of the concept of Destruction.

Pandemics and Drugs: Disease does not appear in the four works of art selected for the theme of destruction, but by far the most lives have been destroyed by bacteria and viruses. Even appalling death tolls from global fighting over multiple years doesn’t begin to reach the casualties from the flu, dysentery, smallpox, the plague and other medical scythes. The Covid19 pandemic isn’t glimpsed in any of these pieces of art, of course. Nevertheless, it has destroyed so many lives, so many businesses, and so many dreams that the world grieves, and the unfettered virus will long continue to deepen the burial pits. That an infinitesimal virus can unleash such havoc seems completely unjust, yet our world faces waves of viral viciousness.

We also die at horrific rates from illicit drugs. Indiscriminate prescriptions for opiods have ruined tens of thousands of families, and overdoses have claimed as many lives. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 750,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. But opiods have no monopoly on human destruction. Beyond deaths and disablement from the doses, fights between gangs over drug distribution have dispatched thousands more to their graves.

Indiscriminate, Civilians: We don’t see civilians die in Spielberg’s gruesome scene, but we grasp the goal on both sides: total destruction of the other. The wars of the 20th century claimed millions of innocent civilians as military leaders cared little for who suffered from the vast firepower. Dresden, Fat Boy, the Stalingrad siege, and Nanking’s unspeakable cruelty, all manifested the encompassing horror of total war for anyone caught in the whirlwind. “Collateral damage” euphemizes the blood, entrails, rape and snuffing out of innocent civilians. Even now, land mines all over kill or maim an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people every year, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. If our nations ever sink to nuclear war, we may not make it to reckon the destruction.

Entropy: Everything physical wears down, loses energy, slides toward entropy – the inevitable disorganization of physical matter. We can view that inevitable descent to eventual total cold as the ultimate destruction. Entropy is a way of life. In terms of physics and chemistry, eventually the universe may be totally cold, dark, and silent. The entropic push of nature will win and destroy all.

Humans Cope: Whatever the scale of destruction, even to the levels of Holocausts, collectivization and genocides, people survive. Sisley placed two men in the skiff perhaps to remind us of our remarkable capacity as humans to survive. They may be shattered by the nightmare of natural or man-made destruction, but people repeatedly live with toughness in the face of unremitting fire bombings, V2s and B-52s, machetes, and terrifying locusts. We all endure the (hopefully) slow-moving destruction of growing older. Yet despite the chaos of natural and man-made destructiveness, people emerge from the rubble, ride out the storm, live through the contagion. We endure.

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