Last year, I posted an entry entitled Nice Things, Nice People. The thrust of the piece was my heartbreak for a misguided (read malevolent) bit of street “art” that was as capricious as it was destructive. Then, last month, I came across this article in the New York Times:
Joshua Lott for The New York Times
“The cause of this recent spike in graffiti on public lands is unclear, but some park personnel say there is reason to believe that it coincides with the rise of social media. “In the old days,” said Lorna Lange, the spokeswoman for Joshua Tree, “people would paint something on a rock — it wouldn’t be till someone else came along that someone would report it and anybody would know about it.
“She added, “with social media people take pictures of what they’ve done or what they’ve seen. It’s much more instantaneous.” And that instant gratification could stimulate the impulse to deface”
At Saguaro and other national parks, people have been defacing any number of objects including cactuses, ancient petroglyphs and other assorted natural treasures. If you’ve ever seen saguaros up close, you know how majestic they are; some rising to 70 feet tall, they grow their first arm when they’re about 75 years old! If the theory is true and technology is driving this recent rash of vandalism, here is but another foolish act of wanton destruction and exhibitionism.
The Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 56a) suggests the Second Jewish Temple was destroyed, in part, because (Jewish) zealots called Biryoni burnt wheat and barley stores deliberately causing a famine. This famine made nearly impossible any viable attempt at a peaceful solution with Rome, forcing the Jews of Palestine into open confrontation. It was in response to these vandals that Rabban Yohanan ben Zakai elected to be smuggled out of Jerusalem in a sarcophagus on his way to founding the yeshiva at Yavneh (the advent of post-exilic Rabbinic Judaism).
The world is smaller these days. There are no hills to which we can escape, satellites and cell phones blur distinctions between cities, countrysides and deserts. If this was largely true in the past when some occasional troublemaker would wreak havoc with a pocket knife, it is especially true when any fool in the wilderness can whip out a smart phone and immediately broadcast his misdeed to an unending landscape of voyeurs.
The human appetite for destruction has not increased; some among us have always been drawn to vandalism, anarchy or even violence. Cities (including Jerusalem, the city of cities) have suffered not only from outside aggressors but also from internal sabotage and incivility.
Rabban Yochanan had the foresight to recognize when it was too late. He lived to learn and teach (and fight) another day. But who says redeeming acts must only come when it’s too late, when all other hope is lost?
In our day, we are fast running out of spaces to which we can flee. Certain aspects of human nature are always going to push certain people in certain directions. At some point, those of us who wish to preserve the nice things must make it harder for those who wish to destroy them.