Entropy is defined as:
a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.
You can simply define it as a gradual decline into disorder. Everything in the universe will eventually decay. We see this in everything around us. Of course, some things seem to defy this rule for a short time. But in the end, the show of the universe will fade to black.
There is one interesting anomaly in the universe that defies this rule – life. In fact, that’s probably the best definition of life – that which defies entropy. Of course, it can’t do this forever. Eventually it fades. But for a brief while life flourishes and beats the tremendous odds against it.
Life started as simple cells, but over time it evolved into larger, more organized structures. Life spans and adaptability to environments increased – helping that organism accomplish more during its lifetime. Eventually, these animals became so complex that they started to form social hierarchies. Humans continued this trend with the creation of society.
Society evolved from being just large enough to help its members through difficult winter to massive enough to support projects like space travel and genetic research. A complex network of groups, clubs, departments, and other assorted private and public bureaucracies formed to make all of this possible.
As Above, So is Below
Society is a perfect example of recursive spontaneous structure. Since tissues and organs were logical and useful divisions of labor, small families, groups, and even governments formed. These organizations acted much like the tissues and organs in our bodies – governing one function of the overall body. The phrase body politic seems to allude to this not-so-accidental arrangement.
So does that mean society, and the government it creates, is merely a representation of this seemingly complex but useful order that resides with in us? I would maintain so. This does not, of course, imply that this spontaneous system of order is more perfect than the assemblage of parts that it contains. It suffers from the exact same diseases we do, just manifested in different ways.
When a government official or office becomes corrupt, it simulates a cancer cell in the body. When society as a whole holds incorrect preconceived notions despite contradictory evidence, it has an affliction akin to what we might call mental illness. When part of society is cut off from the rest, or suffers unjustly, it is not to dissimilar from circulatory problems or nerve damage.
Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater
When something goes wrong with government or society its tempting to blame the organizations as a whole. And sometimes problems are so systemic that they can be related to diseases of the body. But just because the body is ill doesn’t mean that it is necessarily dysfunctional or not worthy of saving. We don’t dispose of people at the first sign of illness. A foreign body may have co-opted cells to do their bidding, but that doesn’t mean that the system is flawed.
Starting over is tempting, but with millions of years of biological evolution behind us, it is worthy to pause and contemplate the necessity of reinventing the wheel. Is the whole system flawed, or is its current implementation to blame? These are the questions that politicians and philosophers debate, but can these topics cannot be fully contemplated without taking into account the smaller picture: the biological systems that served as their natural template.
So How Is It All Going to Fall Apart?
No one can answer that with any certainty, even though one of the two possible answers seemingly violates the laws of entropy.
Is societies greatest invention the ability to defy the inevitable grasp of entropy? Despite efforts to decentralize government, it grows stronger. And from this strength it reinforces the order it desires upon itself in a seemingly endless cycle.
Is this cycle of innovation, greed, and power resilient enough to last forever? That’s the problem with human perception. We’re generally terrible at predicting the future and almost equally bad at analyzing the past. Given those restraints, it’s probably impossible to know the answer to that question.
We are invariably influenced by the very biological systems (and their societal analogs) and sustain us throughout the day. How can we possibly be impartial in such a vital, and introspective question?