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Is Disruption a Good Thing?

Adrian Daub has some thoughts.

Adrian Daub, “The disruption con: why big tech’s favorite is nonsense,” The Guardian, 24 September2020.

Mr. Daub explains the concept of “disruption” fuels innovation in technology and an impatience with the past and the present.

He explains, “The concept of disruption is a way for companies, the press or simply individuals to think about questions of continuity and discontinuity – what lasts and what doesn’t, what is genuinely new and what is just the next version of something older.” Further, “When we speak of disruption, we are usually thinking about the perils of continuity; we express the sense that continuity works fine until it doesn’t. To some extent, this sense that things staying the same for too long is dangerous and makes us risk falling behind, is characteristic of modernity – not in the sense of a specific time period so much as the condition of being modern, living in a modern age.”

Only what is new or about to become new matters. The past and its priorities and institutions must be overcome to make way for whatever is new, chic, fashionable, and soon to be eclipsed by something newer. Mr. Daub writes, “Disruption tells a story that explains how things that seem as if they will last forever nevertheless come to be short-lived.”

This desire to disrupt and innovate has its origins in Marxism: “This idea made its way from the Communist Manifesto into business jargon by way of the economist Joseph Schumpeter, who, in a 1942 book, coined the phrase “creative destruction”. Although hardly a communist himself, Schumpeter derived the term from Marx and intended it to be descriptive rather than affirmative.” When we think of disruption from within a Marxist framework, it becomes clearer what is meant by the term. Not all innovators are Marxists, of course, and not all innovation is to be rejected.

But the mindset of disruption seems to demand the destruction of existing institutions, products, morals, and ways of life, to be replaced by something new – conceived by young radicals and funded by billionaires who like to feel like they are the movers and shakers of history: “The world is out there, stupid and driven by habits, ready to be disrupted.”

Disruptors want to change the world, and to make way for their ideas and products, they must destroy the status quo: “For the ultimate upshot of the disruptor’s super-historical impulse is the expectation that, rather than your idea conforming to the world in some manner, the world ought to accommodate the sheer genius of your idea.”

Mr. Daub concludes by observing, “tech hasn’t so much changed the rules as it has captured the norms by which the field is governed. And ultimately, ‘disruption’ probably refers to this disruption of our judg-ments and categories as well. But only the disruptor has this privilege. Anytime the disruptees suggest that they might like to have the world adjusted to ensure their survival, they’re told that this is a sign of their weakness and resistance to change.”

Like most issues and worldviews, one can readily appreciate the positive aspects of the disruption worldview. Jesus was a great disruptor, and all His followers should be as well. But the disruption Jesus offers brings not mere personal aggrandizement, notoriety, or advancement, but a Kingdom brimming with righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit, and which brings with it institutions, values, and morality which are intended to be permanent fixtures in human life.

Christians don’t need to shun or fear the idea of disruption, merely to keep one eye on the disruptors and the other firmly fixed on Jesus.

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