Everyday entropy: violence

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Rainforest logging

Extreme violence is irreversible.  Like deforestation and human displacement, violence on a grand scale leaves the whole system in a new state so that the old state can’t be retrieved.  Extreme violence never accomplishes its intended goal.  Whatever the goal, violence spreads so chaotically that it only achieves specific results by chance or tangent.  The war in Afghanistan did everything but find Osama bin Laden and eliminate al Qaeda.  It didn’t even eliminate the Taliban.  The war on drugs has done everything but end drug use and improve public safety.  The use of violence to achieve practical goals is the application of information logic to momentum space, and it doesn’t work.  In information space, if you work very hard on a puzzle, and solve all of the problems associated with it, you will obtain the answer.  There is a set of periodic and harmonic phenomena that actually work this way, like tilling in the fall, planting in the spring, and waiting for the plants to grow in summer.  Likewise, baiting a trap and waiting for prey is a typical informational model that works well for predictable animal behaviours.  But note that these phenomena are harmonic: action, reaction, result.  This type of information model breaks down as soon as you get into an entropic system with more than two dimensions.  You can see why an ordered mind like Robert McNamara’s would think that if a little violence works a little bit, a lot of violence should work a lot.  (He worked logistics in WWII so his impression was that if you put enough material into the field then you would win the war, not understanding that the Russians beat Hitler.)  Also, even a little violence spreads entropically.  Abuse and assault have their own momentum, either diminishing the victim’s freedom or adding a monstrosity to their personality.

You have to remember that momentum and information are conserved, so that when you displace refugees their momentum carries on wherever they go, and that information reverberates through generations.  They had no privilege in the place where they were, but their displacement, like the displacement of a forest, or the displacement of an avalanche, reverberates until the displaced energy reaches equilibrium.  Once you start a war, there is no going back to peace.  Peace may come about, but not from the war.  When Trump’s Secretary of Defence tried to sketch out his plan for the wars in the middle east, he said “I want to get to a point where casualties are very low.”  At that point, he said, it would probably suffice for the United States to intervene only sporadically, in order to contain outbreaks of violence.  (New Yorker may 29 2017, p. 45).  For a warrior, peace is a strange notion. The sum total of Mattis‘ imagination and ambition is not a world without war, but a war without casualties.  That this statement is a contradiction in terms doesn’t occur to him.  The history of US interventions that setting off cycles of violence beyond military control seems beyond his understanding.  All he has is a vision of reverse entropy – that his special way of shaking a bee hive will somehow make the bees get inside and go to sleep.

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