Everyday entropy: fascism

Unconstrained expansion

Even for scientists, entropy looks like a conspiracy or betrayal. A perfectly working system transforms itself into a dysfunctional system in the absence of external influence.  Everything is going great, and then the tide turns imperceptibly from within, and the system fails catastrophically.

In the face of this rising sense of chaos, fascism is seductive. Kill everything that is out of order, and order will prevail. Except entropy is endemic.  Over time, whatever is orderly will degenerate into chaos, and fascism will become the disorder it despises. But is there a rigorous response to chaos of the third order?  How do you investigate what is indeterminable?  Computer modelling looks like a way out, using chaos theory to approximate the chaotic process. But climate change has shown that nobody trusts models, and with good reason. They’re aesthetically attractive but totally unreliable beyond what was pretty predictable anyway. Until the spring came early and the glaciers melted, global warming wasn’t politically relevant.

But remember that chaos will also degenerate into order.  Entropy, interference, diffusion and dispersion are consistent even if they aren’t measurable, and they feed into resonance and harmonics. They also follow logarithmic curves, and we know these curves intuitively from things like bouncing balls and cooling cups of tea.  So the half of the universe that can’t be measured or predicted still behaves with a kind of consistently that we understand intuitively if not mathematically.

It may not be fair to compare Trump to Hitler, but the thing is that it may be fair, and that’s a very bad sign. More importantly, the feeling of betrayal that pervaded the Nazi rhetoric has come to America and returned to Europe. There is a pervasive notion that someone has taken the value out of work, whether it was the immigrants or the Chinese or the liberals or the elites in New York and Brussels; someone has taken the energy out of the homeland. If you didn’t understand that entropy grows from within, you would demand a reckoning for the hobgoblin undermining the wealth of the nation. Liberals mean well, but are also ignorant about the source of the ill will.  The sense of betrayal may be irrational, but the entropy is real, and both are growing.

The racist and nationalism may be stupid and irrational, but the search for a scapegoat makes sense if you don’t understand that entropy is an inner transformation, not a force from outside. Middle America has expanded itself into a state of maximum entropy, with an immensely diffuse infrastructure that can’t generate any more value from further expansion.  Now it is grinding to the point of catastrophic failure.  The people living in the vast expanses of suburb between the Appalachians and the Cascades can’t understand that the space they own doesn’t have intrinsic value.

But the expansion is nobody’s fault.  It’s what people do spontaneously when they have money on hand.  They buy a bit of property.  The Romans did it.  Celebrities do it. Each individual moment of expansion seems trivial, but taken together their cost is spectacular.  Someone took a great profit from the development of all that suburban property, and that profit can’t be made again.  What’s left is a diffuse economy where the flow of goods, services and information all consume more energy than they create.  For reasons that are not intuitively obvious or predictable, it looks like entropy.

The solution, curiously, is the same as the escape from the vortex ring state.  Stop trying so hard, go into free fall for a moment, and find some clean air.


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