Entropy (n) lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.

A Never-Ending Battle

Canaries, Coal Mines…

Believing is easy. Knowing is hard.

“Coasting” “The bill doesn’t come due until after we’re dead” … so why care?

“Eternal vigilance…”

I was reflecting the other day on a couple of my more recent blog posts and what they had in common. Looking at issues like climate change, social justice, LGBTQ rights and that observant comment by Tim Gill that it is a never-ending battle. The more I think about it, the more I have to acknowledge that he’s right. This is a struggle which has no finish line, no last battle, no deft move of rook or bishop after which we could triumphantly declare, “Checkmate!”

The obvious question is: “Why?” Certainly we’ve made some progress since going from hunter-gatherers to farmers and ranchers and explorers and scientists and politicians (was THAT an improvement?) and so on. Means of organizing ourselves have evolved from patriarchy and the rule from force authority to representative government in at least some countries. These have had varying degrees of success, but at least we keep trying. Steven Pinker in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, asserts that humankind in the 21st century is the least violent and most civilized it has ever been.

Lately, though, I feel as though we’ve hit a wall. There’s been a great deal of reaction going on lately, some of it ascribable to Trump, but not all. It’s gotten meaner out there. The temperature on the weather report isn’t the only one that is rising. I could ruminate about the impact of the Trump administration on civility in government, but that isn’t the point of this piece.

The point of this piece is one word. The word is: “Entropy.” Even as closed physical systems increase in disorder over time, so do human systems, if not pushed to do better. The tendency is toward the lowest excited state, the same as with electrons in their orbitals about atomic nuclei. Taking the least action necessary is very often the preferred option, and that “least action” is frequently NO action or action which only benefits first-person, singular.

Such behavior in the long term and frequently even in the short term is a formula for disaster. While I haven’t first-hand knowledge of such, early Homo sapiens was well advised to take care of his fellow humans back in the days when their primary and overriding concern was survival. We weren’t the fastest or strongest of the predators out there, but we were far and away the smartest. Cooperation, organizing, working together for the common good was the clear means not just to maintain our existence on this planet, but eventually to dominate it.

The problem has become, now that we’re the preeminent species on Planet Earth, some of us have gotten lazy. Our focus too often has shifted from survival to self-indulgence, from the group to the individual, along with a lack of concern for events going on around us. To quote George Harrison, it’s all about “I – Me – Mine” for a certain fraction of the population, and moving them off the dime can be an exercise in frustration if not utter futility.

And it’s not as though we don’t have enough problems to solve. From the living corruption which is Donald Trump to the daunting challenge of anthropogenic climate change, humankind has done a superb job of fouling its own nest. Sadly, because there are those who either will not participate in solutions to these and other problems or will deny that there is a problem at all, we wind up with a situation where the fight is never over, the battle never ends, and the finish line is always removed from where we currently are. The damnedest characteristic of this whole mess is that such may truly be the natural state of the human animal.

So it may be. Those of us who are engaged with these and other problems and determined to resolve them amount to the Little Red Hen: gathering the wheat, making the flour, and baking the bread, while the other barnyard animals await the arrival of the final product when it emerges from the oven, having done nothing to contribute to its production, yet thinking they are deserving of a slice, if not the whole loaf. The job is mostly thankless and may be endless, so long as the hangers-on don’t care to engage. Yet here we are, still slogging away, mostly I suspect because we believe we can do more than just deal with the messes we’ve made. We can improve things, lighten our collective load, and make our lives better yet.

I haven’t quit yet, and I don’t see you slowing down either. Let’s get on it.

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Comment by Loren Miller on February 4, 2020 at 6:49am

This should surprise no one, Michael.  The Kochs (now KOCH [singular]) are lucky if they can think past the next quarterly report.  Considering the impacts of their actions years if not decades into the future is simply not in their consciousness.  The real irony is that there are all sorts of capitalistic opportunities to be had in investing in a clean, green future.  The problem is that they can't be seen from the rut they've dug for themselves.

Comment by Michael Penn on February 4, 2020 at 6:41am

One problem with those that foul our earthly nest is they spend enormous amounts of money to be able to do so when the same money could be used to keep everything clean. I've often said that Koch Industries and supporters should be made to drink the waters that they willingly pollute. Many seem to not understand that Trump and his current GOP are bought and paid for by this group and others like them.

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