Nov. 1, 2014

Entropy:
The Decline and Fall of Human Civilization


          Entropy is the concept that eventually everything will break down into chaos, going from concentrated energy at the center, then weakening around the edges, without ever losing any energy. The system, say our universe, never loses any of its energy, it just disseminates out from the center to the edges, scrambling as it proceeds.
          I contend that our civilization—meaning everyone on our entire planet—has not only reached the tipping point of entropy, but has gone over the precipice into unmitigated chaos. Perhaps I ought to explain:
          This struck me yesterday when I went to my bank’s ATM, which I’ve been using for nay unto fourteen years, and to achieve the same thing I’ve always done—withdraw money—I now have to push five extra buttons to achieve the exact same results that I used to get from five less buttons. Why? Because, just like almost everyone else out there, the bank had bored IT guys sitting around with nothing else to do. The exact same thing has occurred with Comcast, ATT, Microsoft, Apple, etc. Everyone used to have a working system that they themselves have cocked up for no good reason other than they can’t figure out what else to do. As was said on Jon Stewart’s show, “Why discuss the 2016 elections? That’s five iPhones from now.”
          But what’s the real problem? ISIS? Ebola? Global warming?
          Entropy. That’s the villain. Everything wears out. Just like attrition. Don’t put oil in your car, asshole, and it will seize up, eventually.
          So what do we do?
          You can’t fight entropy, you must simply run with it. The sun will ultimately burn out and the Earth will freeze, there’s no stopping it. And each of us will eventually die, there’s no stopping that, either.
          But we’re sure as hell trying. When Medicare was introduced in 1965, the average age expectancy was 65-70. Therefore, no one was expected to receive Medicare benefits for more than a couple of years, which we could easily afford. However, in the intervening 40 years, the age expectancy has shot up to 80 and beyond, and that we cannot afford. The elderly are clogging up everything: emergency rooms, intensive care wards, every sort of medical facilities, and, worst of all, our roads and highways. People over the age of 80, with few exceptions, are terrible drivers. Their reflexes have deteriorated to the extent that they can no longer make left turns, make their way into traffic, nor can they even stay up with traffic.
          I used to live in Santa Monica, California, and was there when a 90-year-old man lost control of his car and plowed right through the weekly farmer’s market killing numerous people. Luckily for me, I was 24 blocks away.
          The increased longevity of humans is a very real aspect of entropy. So is over-population, of which the elderly are certainly a part. When I was born in 1958 the world’s population hadn’t yet reached 3 billion; now it’s 7.2 billion and increasing exponentially. In a mere 20 years the population will have doubled yet again to over 15 billion people, and I assure you that the planet cannot support them. It took from the dawn of civilization about 10,000 years ago until 1804 AD, 40 years into the Industrial Revolution, for the world’s population to reach one billion. It took from 1804 to 1927—123 years—for the population to double to two billion. It took from 1927 to 1960 to reach three billion—that’s 33 years. It took from 1960 to 1974 to reach four billion—14 years. It took from 1974 to 1987—13 years—to reach five billion. 1987-1999—12 years—to reach six billion. 1999-2011—another 12 years—to reach seven billion.
          And we’re running out of everything: aluminum, steel, coal, oil, fresh water, fresh air, Amazon rainforests (which, by the way, creates our oxygen), fish, birds, frogs, you name it. We’ve contaminated our water, air and food supplies, and everybody knows it and doesn’t care.
          But, then again, why should you? You can’t stop entropy.
          As Isaac Asimov had his drunk computer programmer in the future ask the world’s largest computer, Multivac, in his classic story, The Last Question, “Will mankind one day without the net expenditure of energy be able to restore the sun to its full youthfulness even after it had died of old age?” Multivac replied, “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.”
          What Multivac really meant was, “No.”
          Of course you can’t restore the sun to its youthfulness after its died of old age, no way, no how. The universe might supply a new sun, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

          OK, so I have a party at my house ever single night of the week. I generally have 3-5 people over, but it’s gotten as high 10. I’d say it averages 4. Anyway, my friends are great, they’re all intelligent, well-spoken, funny and I love them all. But sooner or later in every conversation these days it must devolve into how poorly your electronic items are treating you. Most everybody seems to be in a bad marriage with at least their telephones, iPods, iPads, and computers, but also all of their ISPs, all retailers, and all services. Nothing works anymore. It all used to work, but now it doesn’t. And this is not only a valid topic of conversation, it’s a popular one with which everyone commiserates.
          Another perfectly valid and popular topic is disease and how we ourselves are suffering some malady or another, and how our parents, if still alive, are about to die, or how depressed our siblings, parents or children are to the point of threatening suicide. I’ve been there and I know, and for the sake of understanding others with the same illnesses as I, I’m glad I was there, although I’m much happier not being there, like right now. I have several bi-polar manic depressive friends who will intentionally call me when they feel suicidal because I understand and therefore don’t take it seriously. If you’re going to kill yourself then just do
it. As my doctor friend told me, “If you seriously want to die, take a whole bottle of Tylenol. It will absolutely cause renal failure, and will absolutely kill you in three to four days. It won’t be pretty, kidney failure never is, but we’ll knock you out.” OK. So then if we all know how to actually kill ourselves, like jump off a 50-story building, then why do we keep jumping out of our first-floor window onto the soft lawn?
          Because we want out. Life has become too daunting. We can’t retrieve our phone messages; “White Wedding” isn’t listed under Billy Idol on my iPod, so instead I have to scroll all the way down songs every time to get to W; the anti-virus software, AVG, in my computer has metamorphosed into a virus, has taken over Google, and will not allow me to remove it under any circumstances, so I have to take it to the shop; my 37-inch, 1080p, TV plays any volume I want on broadcast or TiVo, but on DVDs, even at full-blast, I can’t make it loud enough; I have one cat who lived in the garage all summer and lost half her body-weight, another cat who is so old that she barfs every single day, and another cat who hisses at the other two cats. Etc.
          So why are we so afraid to shuffle off this mortal coil? Why do we need pause? Life is a bloody shit-storm that’s only getting worse every single solitary day; who needs it? You can’t stop entropy; you’re going to get old and die just like the sun and there’s no way to stop it.
Which puts me in mind of a song. Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.

          Life is just a bowl of cherries
          Don’t take it serious
          It’s too mysterious
          Life is just a bowl of cherries
          So live it
          And laugh at it all

          Yet some folks find it difficult to laugh at calamity; they think there’s meaning to life, and therefore they must care, deeply, all the time, about bullshit that doesn’t matter. When Kiki went into the garage at the beginning of summer she weighed 12-pounds, when she finally came out, at the insistence of her former owner, she weighed 6-pounds. I’m now trying to fatten her back up cuz fat cats is the best cats, and she’ll now eat anything I give her. But did I worry about formerly fat, now skinny, little Kiki? No. I’ve had many cats over the course of my life and they always, eventually, come back. And, if instead, they’ve wandered off to die, which has never happened to me, then so be it.
          I don’t have a shred of nostalgia or regret in me. I learned this from one of my great heroes, and undoubtedly our last great president, Harry Truman. In fact, Truman did have one single regret—creating the CIA. Every single morning of his presidency Harry received twelve 100-page reports from every department, from the War Department on down to the Agricultural Department. And even though Harry was enormous reader, he found the load unbearable. So he created a department that collated and condensed all twelve reports into one simple, readable, 20-page report, that was aptly known as the Central Intelligence Agency. As soon as Truman left office and, as he always referred to him, “that fellow who followed me in the White House,” because Harry wouldn’t even say Eisenhower’s name because he thought he was such an asshole (although he detested Ike’s vice-president, Richard M. Nixon, far worse), the CIA became an entirely different creature, killing heads of state, spying on its own people, on and on.
          But I digress. Nostalgia and regret are for sissies. Sure, I loved the Piston Bad Boys of the late 1980s and early ‘90s, but I don’t wish I was back there. I probably shouldn’t have gone to the University of Michigan when I was 17, after I’d already been at Oakland Community college for a year, got a 4.0 and made the Dean’s List, then Eastern Michigan University for one semester, where I got a 3.5 and the girls were pretty, but I don’t regret it. It simply caused me to get my ass out to Hollywood faster so I could get on with the multi-decade process of letting them destroy my soul.
Lamenting the passing of your goldfish or your parents or the sun is perfectly natural, but it won’t change anything—when anything is dead it cannot be resurrected. Death is permanent; impervious to our wishes and desires; constant and unyielding. There isn’t insufficient data for a meaningful answer; there’s more than enough.
          OK. But I’m not leaving this tale on that note. When asked of what religious persuasion am I?—and folks have a tendency to make the incorrect leap to my being an Atheist—I reply, “I believe in entropy. Although systems break down and die, the energy is never lost; it never moves beyond the edges of the system because the system never loses a molecule of energy. Our consciousness never disappears; it just merges with all of the other molecules; therefore, consciousness never disappears, it just reforms. Which means that consciousness is eternal, just like all of the priests, rabbis, mullahs, ministers, popes, gurus and swamis have been saying all along, but that’s just not how they’re saying it. We mere mortals have to have to make things into named, defined, palpable commodities or we don’t understand them. So instead of saying, “Consciousness is eternal; read up on entropy,” humans have to name it things like heaven, valhalla, paradise, the great beyond, the land from which no man returns, etc. which is fine; call it what you will, but the fact of the matter is you’re not just dead when you’re dead; you still exist, somewhere.

—Josh Becker

 

 

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