I went for drinks with my brilliant startup programmer friend the other week. It’s something I do from time to time and it makes me feel full of life (nothing like my dreary writers group!) and we talk about great things and we drink too much. Despite making his life as a programmer, his background is in physics and while discussing the current state of our union, he mentioned that it’s just the universe increasing in entropy.
Now I also loved physics as a high school and college student and while I didn’t major in it, I certainly got my fill as an engineer and I too know that the saying is ‘the entropy of a system always increases.’ I was mistaken however when I repeated my understanding of it(as I think many understand it) as the disorder in a system increasing (which also made sense given our current political atmosphere).
He corrected me by describing entropy as the release of energy, or restated it as a system will always find a lower energy state.
Now we were pretty drunk at this point but I tried to hold fast to my ‘but isn’t that still chaos?’ idea.
Your car wants to break down, it wants to stop working, right? That’s an increase in chaos.
No. You might experience chaos personally as it sputters and dies, but it, or its individual parts, are releasing energy and are then finding a lower energy state by not working anymore.
Ok, ok, so how is our current political system not going towards chaos?
It’s just a lower energy state. People don’t have to understand anything anymore, so they don’t. Less trying, less effort, less energy. They just latch onto a narrative. People stop voting, or they vote with the least amount of information possible, despite more being available. It would take more energy for everyone to engage and to get good people in place to fix the things. The low energy path is putting in more of the same, or encouraging the same system down its current path, until it inevitably breaks, you put an ego maniac in place whose proud of not reading and your pistons finally seizing and the car stops.
And then chaos! Right?
Well maybe, what is the next path to the next lower energy state? Is it riot and revolution and rebuilding, or is it a shuffling of the cards where only good people get through the door because that’s an easier system? I don’t know. I wish I could project but things only really happen if the system makes it easy and we’ve built a system for corruption. What does it look like when that system chokes itself out?
Enter the lake wobegon or dunning kruger effect: Dumb people tend to think everyone else is dumb and we’ve made it ok to be dumb, or at least validated the dumb persons idea that dumb is just as good as smart (a lower energy state, surely) when it comes to discourse. How is this increasingly relevant idea going to play out? Intellectual civil war? Books vs guns?
I wish I was Robert Reich here and could logically identify the historical trends that are about to reemerge but I can’t. I can say though that you should go have beers with your friends. You’ll talk about some crazy things for awhile and you’ll feel better about the world because there’s someone out there who likes talking about the same things as you and you can reinforce all of your cognitive biases because that’s the easiest path.