Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Politics & Entropy: What's in a Name?

“ Any method involving the notion of entropy, the very existence of which depends on the second law of thermodynamics, will doubtless seem to many far-fetched, and may repel beginners as obscure and difficult of comprehension. ”
--Willard Gibbs, Graphical Methods in the Thermodynamics of Fluids (1873)

The current elections spectacle has evolved into a mishmash of strange contradictions, misapplied rhetoric and pure BS, which may be all that certain elements of our political system could have reasonably expected.

Where did issues and honesty get replaced by ideology and spin?
Did that begin with the Supreme decision that campaigns don't necessarily have to be truthful?
Or, maybe with the 1987 decision against the so-called 'Fairness Doctrine' for networks using the public airways?
Or, when 'journalism' got redefined as undisguised advocacy?
Or, when powerful people got caught doing wrong, then got rich and famous about writing about it?
Or, when so-called 'patriotism' and 'morality' slogans began being the band-aid that covered up the painful blister?
Or, when serious, obvious problems are consistently ignored in favor of palliatives and placebos?

And, how did a a national election become a discussion about a relative unknown VP candidate, and not about the person who impetuously picked that person?
This whole thing seems to be a deception of monumental proportions that is only aided and abetted by the media -either the so-called 'mainstream' or the blatantly partisan!

Under the current flood of misinformation, how long can our democracy really expect to survive and thrive?
As a free country the US has only about 234 years of history, far less than the Roman Empire and several Chinese Dynasties, none of which was considered a democracy capable of providing stability, prosperity, peace, freedom and good prospects for the pursuit of happiness for every citizen.
All those things seem to be taken for granted these days, without the thought that any effort is needed to actually sustain them.
OK, so much for this mini-rant.
On to stuff that tries to address change, the need for it and the rate at which a society can readily absorb it.

Over 40 years ago, I was required to write a college term paper on a topic germane to one or more of several books of required reading.
The topic that came to me one evening was so compelling that I spent most of that same night drafting the essay.
The title I selected was 'The Second Law of Secularization', which attempted to compare the rate of acceptable social change to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, a rather arcane scientific and engineering concept that introduces the subject of ENTROPY.
I turned that paper in 6 weeks before it was due, a feat I never approached before or after.

Entropy is a concept that can't be directly be encountered. Instead, it is a way of understanding what happens when work, requiring the use of energy, is undertaken. All work, useful or otherwise, requires some energy to be expended. Efficient work work requires less energy use than inefficient work. That's about it, which should be adequate for the purposes of this blog.

Point is, we don't want to use too much energy at one time -like an explosion, or a chaos causing event. And, we want to be careful to use energy wisely by doing work that is essential or necessary as our first priority. Inefficient or wasteful use of energy too often carries penalties that are uncomfortable, either to us or our offspring. But work itself is useful, desirable and necessary. The trick is to find that balance which satisfies our current needs without sacrificing our future needs. Finding that balance takes a measure of wisdom, born of experience.

So, now visualize applying this concept to our society and its evolving needs. Do we want to ignore the fact that social needs exist and must be addressed? Or, do we want to recognize that new needs are being created that need addressing? Think about it. Nothing ever stays the same, does it?

Our method of bringing about the changes that are needed to address current problems and concerns is through our political system. That is what we have to work with, right, wrong or indifferent. Who gets to decide when changes are needed? Who gets to decide how much change is enough, or can be afforded? Who gets to decide who pays for changes our society adopts?
The answer to all these questions is the same; we do. How we do it depends upon whom we elect and what measures we support. That's what elections are about. That's also why it is important to find a way to talk about issues honestly, then take action decisively. There will always be debate about what is necessary, when it is necessary and who pays. But, there should be no debate about whether periodic changes are necessary, and it is ludicrous to suggest otherwise.

Our leaders are the ones we select to lead us through any change process determined to be necessary.
We need to care of who we assign to these duties.
No one party has all the answers, and no one branch of government has supreme power over the others -although the Executive seems to be enjoying an increasing major advantage these days, which is a concern.

There has been a growing divide between factions calling themselves 'conservative' and 'liberal'.
That is largely an artificial distinction which does a disservice to both our major political parties and to our language itself!

Look at these brief definitions of these terms:


-resistant to change
-having social or political views favoring conservatism
-cautious: avoiding excess; "a conservative estimate"
-button-down: unimaginatively conventional; "a colorful character in the buttoned-down, dull-grey world of business"- Newsweek
-a person who is reluctant to accept changes and new ideas
-bourgeois: conforming to the standards and conventions of the middle class; "a bourgeois mentality"
-a member of a Conservative Party

Conservatism is a term used to describe political philosophies that favour tradition and gradual change, where tradition refers to religious, cultural, or nationally defined beliefs and customs. The term is derived from the Latin, com servare, to preserve; "to protect from loss or harm". ...


-broad: showing or characterized by broad-mindedness; "a broad political stance"; "generous and broad sympathies"; "a liberal newspaper"; "tolerant ...
-having political or social views favoring reform and progress
-tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition
-a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties
-big: given or giving freely; "was a big tipper"; "the bounteous goodness of God"; "bountiful compliments"; "a freehanded host"; "a handsome allowance"; "Saturday's child is loving and giving"; "a liberal backer of the arts"; "a munificent gift"; "her fond and openhanded grandfather"
-free: not literal; "a loose interpretation of what she had been told"; "a free translation of the poem"
-a person who favors an economic theory of laissez-faire and self-regulating markets

Liberalism refers to a broad array of related ideas and theories of government that consider individual liberty to be the most important political goal. Liberalism has its roots in the Middle Ages and Age of Enlightenment.

It seems to me that both definitions contain concepts we all support and value.
As with the concept of ENTROPY, the trick is to find the balance which allows some necessary change at a rate that can address a problem, be tolerated and afforded.

I'm tired of listening to people throw these words around as if they were mutually exclusive!
But, I do understand there are some who do see the world in such black and white terms that it prevents meaningful dialogue from finding ANY balance.
That's called stalemate, and it does no good for anyone, except those intent upon never reaching a compromise and thereby perpetuates impasses.

Clever slogans like 'Pro Life' & 'Pro Choice' seem to fall into this category, don't they?
Is there anyone who doesn't believe in both? Think about it.

Everyone wants some change! Some want it all in their direction, others don't want to pay for it, and some don't seem to recognize it is happening anyway and must be accommodated!

The one change I wish for is more honesty, period.
We may not like to always practice it, but it is a standard upon which we can build a truly lasting democracy!
That ought to be one thing we can all agree on and decide to leave our children, and their children....

“ My greatest concern was what to call it. I thought of calling it ‘information’, but the word was overly used, so I decided to call it ‘uncertainty’. When I discussed it with John von Neumann, he had a better idea. Von Neumann told me, ‘You should call it entropy, for two reasons. In the first place your uncertainty function has been used in statistical mechanics under that name, so it already has a name. In the second place, and more important, nobody knows what entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage. ”
--Conversation between Claude Shannon and John von Neumann regarding what name to give to the “measure of uncertainty” or attenuation in phone-line signals (1949)