Breaking the Second Law

The United States is on the eve of completing a process that had its beginnings years and years ago.  No, I am not referring to the election of its first female President.  I am talking about the process of separating a melting-pot culture with a patchy purplish hue into its stark and clashing colors of red and blue.

In the world of physics, this would be characterized as an entropy-reducing process.  The usual analogy for such a process is arranging the balls that are scattered over a pool table so that the striped balls are lined up on one side and the solid balls on the opposite side.  That is pretty close to what has taken place in our nation over recent decades.

Such a process just doesn’t happen by itself.  That would be breaking the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  The Second Law says that it takes energy to decrease the entropy of a system.  Your refrigerator gets cold inside because of the energy that runs its compressor.  Likewise, the process of separating us into camps of red and blue over the years has taken energy, lots of it.  The energy comes from demagogue radio talk show hosts who profit by maintaining and appeasing devoted hard-core audiences.  It comes from politicians whose main goal is to stay in power — and who better to enlist for that goal than rabid followers?  And it comes from corporations and other rich donors who fuel the process with money, without which none of the above takes place.

So, it’s not Clinton vs. Trump tomorrow, not really.  It is those who would solve problems vs. those who would gain from conflict and division.  Regardless of the election outcome, the forces that separate us today will continue to do so tomorrow.  This is because of the many who have something to gain from our polarization, people with money and energy to pump into our system, to make us cold and hostile to each other.  Those people know their way around the Second Law.

The answer, at least my answer, is to remain civil and rational.  Try not to pick fights with friends, family or Facebookers.  Save your most passionate words for the occasions when you are “speaking to your choir.”  Be as critical of the leaders and positions of your own political persuasion as you are of others.  Don’t just argue about or advocate for specific candidates, as candidates come and go (mostly go).  Instead, voice your expectations of how the political process should work and how the business of running the nation should be conducted.  Voice it to your friends.  Voice it to your representatives.

Unless we think of ourselves as a purple people again, not red or blue, we can’t expect our politicians to treat us differently.  We have work to do tomorrow and many days after to bridge the divide that powerful interests invested so much energy in creating.

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3 Responses to Breaking the Second Law

  1. Guy says:

    Nice analogy. Try another. You spent time on dispersions (emulsions to EK). I spent some of my energy on emulsions (dispersions to EK). Getting oil and water to mix, similarly needs energy and determination. A chemist makes it easier by adding surfactant to reduce surface tension, stabilizing the tiny droplets. Its not a mixture. The properties of the two components are unchanged. In social terms, the persuasion of the surfactant might be replaced by sweet talking, or “soft soap”?

    Perhaps the next question could be, why are some of us red/blue, oil/water?
    To be all the same, we’d need to be down to the single-cell level, amoebae or bacteria. No fun. A commentator here recently pointed out that she was a member of too many groups to count: a human, a female, whitish, Irish, left handed, educated, flat feet, of the set of people who don’t like the gravy to reach their potatoes. That OUGHT to be enough properties to make us a great mix, in constant Brownian motion, rather than a rousable set of rabbles.
    Pollsters & politicians like to divide us into groups who are told to respond to certain messages. They think they have us taped, by colour, race, wealth, postcode. All these categories will tell us how to vote perceiving our own best interest.

    We clearly don’t DO that. Probably never have. Right now, things are confused by the growing recognition that a few people are having a good time at the expense of the rest of us, and “the system” is supporting that. The obvious answer is to turn to revolutionary thinkers like Marx, who predicted capitalism would destroy itself peacefully, or today Thomas Pitketty, who has peaceful solutions to the problem they both identify: that Capital is a monster with an infinite appetite. Doubt he’s on Trump’s reading or guest list. Or Clinton’s. Maybe Sanders’.
    The actual answer given, is when the men in white coats fail to help us with our ills, we turn to quacks. Always have.

    Meanwhile, it ill behoves anyone here in a country which voted for suicide via a diet of bat’s blood and snake oil, to criticise another’s democratic process. [Note: the commenter lives in the U.K. — Craig] But it does seem to me that like any other system, democracy as defined has run its course. Smart people aided my modern communications and money can pervert the system for their own ends. The scum rises to the top in the end. In charge, they will not change the system that supports them. Here, the two main parties agreed to wreck a vote on an improved electoral system, but only offering a silly one. In US, the ultimate blow was landed by the Supreme Court, agreeing that capital had a vote – many votes – by approving SuperPacs as a freedom of speech for money.
    Long ago a Roman or a Greek suggested no-one who wanted high office should have it.
    There’s a movement to propose selecting our representatives AT RANDOM. Very attractive, though I would worry it puts professional servants of the state in even more power, as the only people who know how “it works”.

    All over, we have Indignation parties. Many left, many right, by old labels. Too many raise spectres of aggressive nationalism; worrying, to put it mildly. Europe looks like moving hard right: look at Austria, Poland, Hungary, maybe Italy – and a bet on Marine Le Pen in France would no longer be laughable.

  2. Craig says:

    Thank you, Guy, I think you captured the situation much better than I did.

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