churchandstate | Many of us who have been paying attention to the state of the world over the last half century have now begun to realize with growing horror that the progressive deterioration we have been tracking shows no signs of resolution. In fact, to some of us it looks as though there is no way to resolve this deepening crisis. The end of the track is in sight. The planetary factory is in flames, and all the exit doors are barred.
Proposed technical solutions are utterly inadequate to the scale of the problem. Many ideas like geoengineering will simply make matters worse. There is no political constituency for degrowth – none at all. There is precious little political support for even putting a light foot on the brake. This road to Hell has been paved with the very best of intentions – giving our children a better life stands near the top of the list – but here we are nonetheless. The climate is signalling that our future may be a little warmer than we were expecting, once our seven-billion-passenger train passes those gates.
Now that the denouement is in sight, I’m setting aside the anger and outrage, the blame and shame, to focus my attention instead on why this outcome seems to have been utterly inevitable and unstoppable.
Why has this happened? I don’t buy the traditional “broken morality” or “flawed genetics” arguments. After all, our genetics seemed to be perfectly appropriate for a million years, and the elements of morality that some of us see as sub-optimal (the greed and shortsightedness) have been with us to varying degrees since before the days of Australopithecus. I don’t think it’s just a mistake on our part or a bug in the program – it appears to be a part of the program of life itself. It looks to me as though much deeper forces have been at work throughout human history, and have shaped this outcome.
The main difficulty I have with all the technical, political, economic and social reform proposals I’ve seen is that they run counter to some very deep-seated aspects of human behavior and decision-making. Mainly, they assume that human intelligence and analytical ability control our behavior, and from what I’ve seen, that’s simply not true. In fact it’s untrue to such an extent that I don’t even think it’s a “human” issue per se.
I have come to think that most of our collective choices and actions are shaped by physical forces so deep that they can’t even be called “genetic”. I haven’t written anything definitive about this yet, but the conclusion I have come to in the last six months is that a physical principle called the “Maximum Entropy Production Principle”, which is closely related to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, actually underlies the structure of life itself. Its operation has shaped the energy-seeking, replicative behavior of everything from bacteria to humans. All our intelligence does is makes its operation more effective.