The Tension Paradox

Tension is an ugly word. It means problems and headaches.

So why do we seek it out?

Human beings are designed to avoid tension. In caveman times, tension would more often than not lead to someone getting brained with a weapon they’d have to invent. The only reason we have survived this long is by being able to defuse, avoid, bury and ignore tension. The sublimation of tension allows people to stop beating on each other and start the business of civilization.

And yet we can’t get rid of it. Our brains won’t let us. Tension is a zero-sum game: it doesn’t disappear. It has to go somewhere. That’s why we have professional football, a stand-in for continuous warfare or gladiator battles. That’s why we have reality shows, a stand-in for our own rooting interest in the world’s problems. Most of the great works of art, by male and female, were done in a period of the artist’s intense sexual frustration.

Tension focuses our attention on something. Anything. And it pulls out the best in us.

Because this is magic. This is genius. This is, as Deskey is fond of saying, what makes us human. To find elegant answers to ugly problems, and change the world.

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