The Upside Of Entropy

One thing I don’t do too often on this blog is tell people what to do. I may tell people what I do, and I certainly devote plenty of bandwidth to telling people how I think things ought to be done, but that is not the same thing. (I’m not saying I never do it — last year’s Boycott Petroleum post comes to mind, though really that was more about me saying how stupid I thought the whole “Boycott BP” effort was.) I’m sure some readers can find examples of me putting my bossy pants on, but in general I feel like there’s no shortage of people telling everyone else what to do these days, and I don’t need to be one of them.

But it’s clear that something does need to be done. Today I had another one of those patented conversations with My Conservative Friend™ — the kind where we always end up agreeing with each other. He said, “the world is a different place now. People need to just accept that. The way Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower did things won’t work anymore. Too much has changed, too much is broken.”

I tend to agree with that sentiment. Our politics is broken, our electoral system is broken, our economy is broken, our communities are fractured, our planet is dying. In this new landscape, how do we influence the policies which will guide this nation into the future and allow the people to live meaningful lives?

I have plenty of liberals telling me we need to boycott this or that, which I find ridiculous. Effective boycotts are rare, just ask the American Family Assn. I have my own personal boycotts of conscience, as I’m sure everyone does, but we’re far too fractured to muster the economic muscle needed to influence corporate policy, except in really rare circumstances.

Corporate power is increasingly centralized and captured in our governing institutions, which makes political solutions even more impossible. The same people who profit from our broken system are in charge of it. Countering the corporate behemoth seems near impossible these days, what with recent Supreme Court rulings giving the corporate class more power at the expense of the people. What to do?

I was recently reminded of the Eschaton concern troll who littered comment threads with disparaging remarks about useless liberal bloggers. We all needed to model ourselves after Gandhi and weave our own cloth, eat homemade tofu and live in a yurt, he said. He reminded me a lot of my recent commenter who said we all need to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau, FCC and the like. These are nice ideas but ultimately naive; if you want to spend your days churning your own butter or waiting on hold with the BBB to stick it to the man, more power to you. But the reality is, these are not viable solutions for effective change.

Last time I addressed this topic I concluded that real change occurs in the cultural front: books, art, music, film, etc. I still think this is true, but technology has allowed even this aspect of our life to fracture. Anyone can publish a book or produce a film and get it seen by the masses. What was once a centralized media and entertainment landscape is now wide open.

But if the fact that we’re a splintered nation is the problem, perhaps it’s also the solution. Perhaps there is an upside to entropy — the natural law that as something becomes more centralized, a countervailing force will splinter it into smaller pieces. I happen to believe this isn’t just a natural law, it’s a universal law which applies to everything.

I see entropy at work today. We’ve splintered into groups, organized ourselves into smaller communities, virtual and otherwise. Individuals have more control and are finding ways around the established roadblocks.

Last year I had a conversation with a Very Famous Person™ who is generally regarded as a “forward thinker” on a lot of this stuff. He told me he sees the utter collapse of industry as we know it and the emergence of a new industry, one that is driven by these smaller communities. New products that aren’t harmful to the health or the planet will be created by members of the community. He told me social connectivity is the game-changer. Yes, walls are being put up, but as fast as they do people build ladders around them.

And I see this happening around me in a hundred different ways. We homeschool our kids, we buy food at the farmer’s market, we have 500 different channels to watch on TV instead of 10, we get our news from blogs and Tweets not just the corporate fish-wrap and Villagers in Washington. We’re starting down the path of decentralization, it’s only just begun but a profound societal shift has been put in motion.

And there will be a downside, we may feel less connected to our physical communities and more connected to our virtual ones. But there’s also an upside. The people are getting their power back and we will find a way around those walls.

I know this is a rather dense topic to lay on everyone on a Thursday afternoon. I don’t have any answers, just lots of ideas.


Filed under politics, rants

21 responses to “The Upside Of Entropy

  1. I find myself in agreement with most of what you say here. I do get annoyed with those who call for “action” from the left activists then propose something like an on-line petition or calling the White House to ask them to reverse course.

    While I do think there is some reason for hope in the fragmentation of our connections to the establishment, it goes without saying that those in power aren’t fragmenting and they will continue to hang on to their position until the bitter end. Does it do us any good to get our news from tweets and blogs instead of the lamestream media if we cannot do anything to change the situation? Can the brave new world your VIP describes come to pass without the utter collapse of the power elite and our political/economic system? Shall we just wait until that happens and hope we have grown our local economy enough to replace it?

  2. Can the brave new world your VIP describes come to pass without the utter collapse of the power elite and our political/economic system? Shall we just wait until that happens and hope we have grown our local economy enough to replace it?

    Good thoughts, indeed. Well, in the music industry we’ve seen the power elite collapse thanks to the technological changes which have given power to consumers. And as my VIP noted, consumers are not the same as purchasers. People have shared files and downloaded freebies, artists are offering music for free to build their own “community” of listeners, and the power is no longer with the big media companies. That doesn’t mean, as you point out, that the big companies have not tried to retain control: they have. Desperately. They’ve signed agreements and filed lawsuits but in the end they are stuck in a dying business model and the world is changing around them.

    Shall we just wait? No, I don’t think we’re waiting. I think we live in an age where writing computer code is as revolutionary as petitions and rallies were back in the day.

    I don’t know how this will shake out. I don’t mean to imply that it’s going to be rainbows and lollipops for everyone.

    The times they are a-changing.

  3. Proud Socialist

    Big Change brings Big Chaos. Wake me up when the dust settles, I’ll be in Cryochamber 1138.

  4. LOL. Recently caught that old Woody Allen flick “Bananas” on cable. It’s so far off the mark and yet so right on the money.

  5. Here’s another view

    As Chris says “We will have to take care of ourselves. We will have to rapidly create small, monastic communities where we can sustain and feed ourselves. It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and cultural values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out. ” Perhaps that is the upside.

    • Thanks for the link to the Adbusters story. I think I’ll go slit my wrists now.

      Seriously, that was some bleak prose. “Dying civilizations often prefer hope, even absurd hope, to truth”? Really? How does he know? Did he check with the Mayans? I’m sorry, but I find such negativism self-indulgent and defeatist. I have no patience for it.

      Maybe I’m just a glass-half-full kind of girl but if I had a nickel for every thinker who presented a Mad Max-style dystopian vision of the future I’d be living in one of those gated communities Hedges writes about.

      Yeah stuff sucks but there’s also some positive signs of change. It’s happening whether we realize it or not, whether we organize it or not. It’s happening organically.

  6. Wow. Didn’t realize I left such a lasting impression. 😉

    Anyway, while I agree that humanity is, generally speaking, splintering itself into smaller and smaller groups in response to more and more globalization, I don’t necessarily think it’s going to end up being a good thing.

    If history is any indicator, it may just be the straw that breaks our backs. As a species, we’re not entirely tolerant of things that we perceive as “different” or “opposing”. Multiple examples abound, the easiest being religion (with politics a close second).

    Further, those of us that know how to effectively use the “proper channels” you seem to hold in great contempt find it rather difficult to even MAINTAIN a proper channel with multiple groups clamoring to do the same thing multiple ways and often running into unnecessary time-consuming differences in the process.

    Without the self-discipline sorely lacking in today’s global culture, I don’t see the rosy outlook you and your Very Famous Friend seem to see. How do you think humanity can best conquer the aforementioned (and historically accurate) character flaws it has in order to make this vision of y’all’s succeed?

  7. But religion is dying. Yes there is sectarian violence around the world, but these fights are always about things other than religion. They’re about access to resources and territorial boundaries and power. I really don’t think Al Qaeda is fighting us because they hate our freedoms and our loose women and our love of Jesus. They’re fighting us because of years of Western exploitation of their resources. And I really don’t think the problem in Israel is because one group worships the Koran and one group studies the Torah.

    Religion has become fractured, especially in the West and as it has done so it has weakened. We live in “post-Christian” America now … people are more likely to be at the shopping mall or a football game on Sundays than at church. 100 years ago that was unheard of.

    • In order (that’s just what I do – it’s easier for me to answer paragraph-by-paragraph):

      * Really? Religion is dying? You, uh, don’t get out of the city much, do ya?

      No, really, take a drive to Crossville on a Sunday. Or any day, really. Religion is alive and well, and it’s how the Republicans have been kicking your asses lately. They’re organizing every Sunday and Wednesday, and using the pulpit to decry the evils of you dastardly, money-grubbing, wealth-redistributing, socialist-loving liberals.

      Looks like they’re doing pretty well so far, and if it weren’t for Sarah Palin, they’d still be on a fairly strong winning streak.

      I wouldn’t be so quick to decry the power of domestic Christianity. It’s quickly turning into the nation’s most effective conservative PAC.

      Ah, America. Land of the juxtaposition. Anyway.

      * Don’t forget population growth. While what you say IS true (for the most part – Sunday baseball was, is and always will be quite popular in the Northeast), it is also true that there are far more Americans headed off to church nowadays simply due to population increases.

      And those parishioners are pretty skilled with the Twitter and the BookFace and what-have-you. Both ranks AND organizational capacity have increased, and thanks to being able to land Fed funding for religious-based non-profit activity due to Dubya, they’re pulling down a lot more cash.

      Add in the concept of the megachurch and its effect on local/regional politics, and you have… my counterargument. 🙂

  8. The Left would do well to help foster an understanding in areas not particularly close to urban strongholds. Nobody in my county reads The Scene. (not that they are really a Lefty paper anymore)

    MY VIP seems to think that the world will soon be divided such that it will require us to join forces/resources with both Canada and Central and South America to insure relevancy…forget domination.

    I think you’re right about religion Beale, at least I hope you are.

    • * Dividing ourselves into Right v. Left is the bulk of our problem, in my view. Does everything HAVE to be The Patented Way of the (insert political party here)?

      Not only would I say “no”, I’d argue that NOTHING has to be “Right v. Left”. We simply choose as a society to make it that way because it’s easier for the human brain to conceptualize a TANGIBLE opponent rather than an enemy that’s an intangible concept or ideology.

      People are easy to fight. Logic, not so much. (But damned if we don’t try.)

      * Oh, America’s going the way of Rome in about 200 years. That’s my call, anyway. Alliances won’t matter, because we’d be allying largely with inferior teammates excepting Canada, and I have to wonder how long they’re gonna take our crap before deciding the Canadian dime should be a lot more prevalent in the US than it already is. (Canadians have AWESOME money.)

      * Eh, that wasn’t directed at me.

  9. Also, as any scientist in any discipline will tell you, there is strength and stability in diversity. This is true in human genetics and natural ecosystems. I happen to think it’s a universal law that applies to human society as well.

    • Okay, really? Given our well-documented and quite lengthy history of racism, bigotry, misogyny/misandry/misanthropy, and all of the other violently discriminatory things we’ve done to each other (and continue to do to this very day), you think human society can handle diversity?!

      Cite an example, ’cause I’m just not seein’ it. I’d love to be able to see it, but frankly, people suck.

  10. We have a black president. Just because some people are assholes about it doesn’t mean the entire nation tilts in that direction. Anti-miscegenation laws are no more. We have gay marriage in a few states .. and that too will grow. It’s no longer acceptable to say and do the things that were once acceptable even 50 years ago. Yes it chaps Limbaugh’s ass that he can’t be an asshole and not get called on it, but the bulk of the population is not like that. And his motivation is not a hatred of minorities so much as his own bloated ego and self-interest. If there was money in not being a bloviating idiot he’d do that.

    Yes inequality exists, yes there are assholes in the world, but we are lurching toward enlightenment. You have too narrow a focus.

    Look at the big picture. Look at where the country was 150 years ago and look at where it is today.

    And it is a scientific fact that diversity equals stability. That not everyone in the world has wised up to that fact is immaterial.

    • In order, as usual (and your boy Mack sucks – really, I don’t know how anyone that passive-aggressive and whiny can call themselves an “alpha male”, but anyway):

      * Really? I didn’t notice. I don’t care the slightest bit about skin pigmentation. It’s worthless as an indicator of social value. So why should I care? To me, it’s just another person that got elected.

      Maybe YOU see some big milestone value in that, and if you do, jingles. I wasn’t raised that way. And frankly, I find it kind of offensive when people start going on about any skin color for any reason.

      * It’s natural that those laws are gone now thanks to civil rights reform (that took place well before I was born – by the time I popped out Title IX was older than I was), but the attitudes still remain. My first example in this case would be the Bardwell incident in Tangipahoa Parish in 2009.

      And that’s just specific to laws against mixed-race marriage. Many, many, MANY other instances of racism and bigotry can be added to that list, and we both know that. Still, if ya want me to, I can post ’em. Just give the word.

      * WOW. So, you DON’T get out much, then? Yeah, most people are dicks in one way or another. Even you and me.

      At least I can admit it. If you’re ever down in good ol’ Knox Vegas, I’ll be happy to prove it too. And buy ya lunch. (Provided you’re into BBQ. Otherwise, pack your own. But I’ll still show ya around.)

      * No, I have a realistic POV that is backed up by history. Thousands of years of history. Global history. You’ve got about 40 years’ worth of ONE country’s civil rights reform.

      We can stack ’em up if you wanna stack ’em up, but I think we both know how that’s going to turn out – even if only one of us can admit it.

      * Okay. 150 years ago, we were in the midst of a brutal amount of infighting over a ridiculous assortment of reasons, including whether or not one people should be able to own another.

      Today, we are in the midst of a brutal, albeit largely bloodless, amount of infighting over a ridiculous assortment of reasons, including whether or not same-sex couples can be married.

      Same problems, different issues, less bloodshed. And it only took 150 years to get that far! 😉

      See what I mean?

      It’s highly advisable to keep one’s eye on the proverbial Big Picture – but not while wearing rose-colored glasses. The lenses often tend to have blemishes and blind spots.

      (Your boy Mack and one of his anonymous commenting buddies got butthurt that I had a link to my computer website in the “Website” fill-in blank – is that going to be a problem with you, too, or am I okay with that? It’s not like any of you are gonna buy my damned computers anyway; I just like to be as complete with my info as possible. But whatever. It’s no big deal. So long as someone’s got the fortitude to say something to me first before getting whiny about it.)

  11. Hows this Brian? You are a self-important, substance-less hack with no idea how valuable people are. You lack compassion, faith, empathy, and courage. If circumstances ever put us in the same place at the same time, I’m going to whip your ass. Not because you need it, (though you do) but because it will make you a better person. It’s humbling, and you need a strong dose of that.

    Aggressive enough for ya?

    With that, I am done with you. You are a time-suck, and I’ve got a bong to clean.

    • That’s so cute, that you think you’re the first. Call me and we’ll set up a time to do this. I’ve got the yard for it.

      I’m not kidding, either. It’s one thing to type big words. Another entirely to prove ’em. And you, um, don’t really do a lot of that, do ya, homey? 😉

      This oughta be good for a laugh. Don’t tarry.

      – P

  12. Proud Socialist

    democommie… get in here quick, we need some sanity!

  13. You are a time-suck, and I’ve got a bong to clean.

    I must be the only person on this blog who doesn’t smoke pot.