July 24, 2017
(took me a while to chew on this one, sorry.)
entropy n., The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
Dr. King said that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. I agree. Some feel, especially in our current political climate, this notion is idealistic. Perhaps even naive. Forgetting for the moment the visible, active, and coordinated violence against the movement by the state of that time. Pretending for the moment that we do not naturalize tens of thousands of foreign nationals every year, making them United States citizens, subject to the full rights and protection of our Constitution. Ignoring for the moment that, given the status quo, in just three and one half years (not counting mid-terms) we must only change the minds of less than eighty thousand people total, across three states, to turn the most powerful office in our country over to a whole other person, with a whole other family. Setting all of that and universal suffrage aside, imagine King was wrong.
We may argue for the existence of and the rules governing all manner of derivative Creations, but they are all subordinate to at least one. A moral universe, a political universe, any categorical margin we create, is first bound by the physical universe in which we live. And while I, as Dr. King, am a person of faith, I disqualify contrary arguments from positions and promises of faith for one reason: the hereafter has yet to strike an empirical balance with the world in which we live and observe. Whether a Creator exists, this physical universe is our absolute proving ground.
A moral universe only ever bends in a direction commensurate with the will of its attendants. That’s us. And though we may interfere with the physical universe, its arc bends toward a singular, immutable, inexorable conclusion. Entropy. All of the stars are going to burn out, the planets will harden and cold, nuclear reaction will slow and eventually cease, nothing but the ice and darkness of deep space for as far as the eye, organic or mechanical, could possibly dream of seeing. This is our future.
There are some who point to our fate and the seeming insignificance of our role in the cosmos as reason for nihilism, a denial of existence. I disagree. John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote:
“What’s true of us is true of nature. If we are conscious, as our species seems to have become, then nature is conscious. Nature became conscious in us, perhaps in order to observe itself…Whatever the reason, that thing out there, with the black holes and the nebulae and whatnot, is conscious.”
Whether you believe or not in a preexisting purpose for being, it is impossible to dismiss our intrinsic and natural reasons for being.
We seek to make our own order from nature. We build yurts and skyscrapers, roads and dams. We seek out the other side of oceans. We try and bend other people to our will; at times willing to sacrifice freedom for dystopian visions of peace. Our spirit for conquest is only very recently undergoing a renaissance of mitigation. I argue this welcome change is the result of having driven the pendulum too far. We crave balance, even though our selfishness shields us at times from seeing our ultimate goal, the forest for the trees. The point is that human beings crave a vision of order that flies in the face of the natural conclusion. The purpose of life is to end. Still, humanity flails to grasp a substantive rejection of the natural order: What does this mean?
What does it mean that we simply will not stop trying to organize our world amidst its inevitable decline? I say organize in the sense that we make and remake systems according to our own ideas of order and purpose. There is a lot of noise being made over our destructive streak when it comes to nature. We are unquestionably mired in generations worth of abuse of our ecosystems and climate. Reasonable people agree with the science that supports the notion of our having crossed the line of environmental sustainability. Though I cannot help but wonder at the difference (in principle) between where we are now as opposed to when we first fashioned tools and began a new level of decimation of the local animal food source. What about the first agriculture? These are not different in principle, only different in scale, compared with our crises today. The fact we have come to recognize our capacity for damage and seek to remedy our mistake is not a rejection of this ordering principle but a more fully developed version of this essential aspect of who we are as a species.
Reordering nature according to our own vision, toward our own purpose, is the chief separation between our minds and the rest of the animal kingdom. Tools, agriculture, energy, are all expressions of this notion. Clean power and sustainable agribusiness are refined iterations of efforts that may yet scorch the Earth. It matters that we’re learning. We were always going to learn, it was only ever a question of how much it was going to cost us.
It is easy to look only at the dissonance in our society and claim the sky is falling. It is lazy to state that the global quality of life statistics are on the upswing and pretend there isn’t work to be done. Each of us must balance the anxiety we feel over the tempest with our innate capacity to order and navigate this ship we’re in. Take a deep breath, step back, and consider a much broader perspective. We survive on such a narrow margin in the cosmos. We thrive on rearrangement of tumult, one after the other. (Why do you think Candy Crush is so hopelessly addictive?) Our species thrives in rejection of cosmic principle, astronomical insignificance, and inexorable failure. How small then it is turn around and be conscious?
Be deliberate. It is in fact your whole reason to exist. That you are alive and wandering about is just one of billions of notes sounding in the relative emptiness of our neighborhood. If you do nothing but stare at the ground and shuffle along, your life is static. White noise. Turn up and choose your tone as an alternative and you get to resolve the clamor around you. Even if you can only wrangle yourself in tune. Everyone begins somewhere. Why not here?
I recognize this may seem abstract and complicated, vague. If only because it’s difficult to prescribe independent of a specific cause. In fact: “Do something (anything), as long as it’s on purpose.” may do very little to rally the masses to action. But hey, the world is ending. The whole universe, actually. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. But if there’s one thing humanity has always done well, it is to ignore this fact and aspire toward something greater and exceeding our grasp entirely. Why not you?