Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Evil Entropy, Son of Chaos

Chaos is the villain? Chaos tries to limit your choices down to just one?

Last post Greg Mitchell told us about his novel Rift Jump, in which he portrayed Chaos in precisely that way.  I haven't read Greg's book yet  (shame on me), so maybe that particular statement wouldn't have struck me as fundamentally wrong if I'd read it in context. But among all the things he said, that one particular thing did strike me as off.

I think that's because so much of what I see as doing good comes down to restricting your choices. For example, if you see a small turtle crossing a road, there are dozens of things you can do. "Nothing" would be the most boring, but think of how many free choices there are that hurt the turtle. You can stomp on it or set it on fire or throw it in a vat of acid or wait for an oncoming car and throw it under its wheels. But a good person rejects all the options that cause unneeded suffering (some people would strike the word "unneeded" from the phrase I just used). So the good person to remain good has, in fact, fewer choices than the set of all possible choices. She can merely do nothing for the turtle or something else at least as innocent, such as gently removing the tiny uncomprehending animal out of the path of danger.

Evil, of course, will try to destroy, as much as good will try to help. But Chaos? Chaos is allowed to do whatever it wants, all choices are open to it--it can be merciful one moment and randomly toss you over the Empire State Building the next. Chaos is full choice--it could even be thought of as being Choice personified--the ultimate expression of any refusal to restrict one's own will.

Further, let me propose that the path of goodness is even narrower than not allowing for doing harm. Good people don't just avoid wrongdoing, they actually seek out the positive good of those around them. In other words, they deliberately are trying to eliminate choices that are neutral or accomplish only a little to benefit others. Instead, don't truly good people seek to maximize the well-being of others actively, trying to make that single best choice in every circumstance?

I don't mean to say good people are automatons without choice nor that there is always just one right thing to  do in any given situation. No, almost always there are multiple good options--but even so, that set of good options is generally smaller than the options evil has at hand. And it is even smaller still than the set of all choices.

So I thought, "OK, I don't agree with Greg, no big deal." But my mind wouldn't let me put aside the subject. Then I remembered that chaotic motion of atoms leads to entropy. And entropy is a state in which all meaningful choices have gone away, because everything is essentially the same as everything else.

Entropy, by the way, is a condition in which everything in a given system, all particles and energy, is distributed with evenness. Imagine a universe like that, like a warm gas stretching throughout all space, no spots hot or cold, no stars, no planets or people, no energy that can be used at all. Entropy is a place where all ability to act, all choice, has been completely removed. Entropy isn’t truly evil, but it’s bad, a state where any human who desires to live would never want to be (but “evil entropy” makes a much better title than “bad entropy”…).

Without getting into a long discussion of entropy, think of this as a household. A person who always vacuums on a regular schedule and does the dishes after eating and hangs up clothes after washing them and keeps in good maintenance the refrigerator and does a myriad of other things, will seem at first glance to not have a lot of free choice, I mean, after all, wouldn't it be more fun to throw the dishes in the corner, sometimes?


If you reduce your activities at home to those that are “good” as in productive, helpful, and orderly, you will wash your shirts when soiled and hang them up in the closet, put your socks in the sock drawer, and keep your glassware safe in the cabinet. If you start acting chaotically, eventually some of your socks wind in the cabinet and some glassware winds up in the sock drawer, a little of each will be in the closet and shirts will be everywhere…and generally none too clean (I’ve actually known people who use this housekeeping method…ahem). Which makes it a bit harder to use any of them, especially when chaotic tramping around starts breaking glassware everywhere and everything in the end gets covered with shards of broken glass. Oh, it’s all dangerously exciting at first when glass gets broken, but as it continues breaking and breaking and getting tracked around the chaotically-distributed clothes, eventually you reach a point where none of the items you once had can be used anymore.

Prior to that state, many choices would have been available concerning your household goods, such as which socks to wear, which shirt, or even in what order to put them in their respective places. But once they are all evenly distributed, after Chaos has done his work, there are no more meaningful choices left.

Or think of it as spices…if you are careful to keep all your spices separate, you can enjoy each spice separately. Keeping the salt in the salt bin and the sugar in the sugar is good for both, because you can choose to mix them in proportions if you want to at a later point. But once you chaotically and randomly dump all your spices all over the place, everything will eventually taste the same, since even though in theory you still have free choice to taste whatever you want, all meaningful choice of taste will be gone, and it won’t be easy to get it back.

Could it be in the moral arena as well that "being good,” following the rules and keeping order fights a kind of moral entropy and preserves the value of choices? Morality often is seen a bit simplistically as a set of dos-and-do-nots and to a degree that's true. I’d like to suggest that while following dos-and-do-nots may restrict choice up front, it also keeps you from winding up in a place where your choices become completely meaningless--as in a bare prison cell--or a situation where no one trusts you or wants to have a relationship with you. So imposing a moral order not only fights the “chaos” of everyone doing whatever he or she wants, but also that sort of moral entropy that is created by violating principles of morality, which has the effect of taking away the value of any choices.

So if that’s true, I was wrong above. Entropy really IS evil, at least the moral variety, or better said, it’s the state that evil longs to bring us to—evil in the moral sphere offers us a multitude of choices, like Chaos, anything goes, but following all of them in the end leads to the same state, where meaningful choices get reduced to nothing. Whereas moral good restricts choice up front, but does so with the effect of preserving the ability to make choices that are meaningful.

Maybe that's where Greg was coming from when he said Chaos is trying to limit your choices to one...I guess I need to read Rift Jump to find out...

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2 comments:

  1. I personally consider entropy my enemy, and engage it daily in fierce battle.

    I want to offer a political example to your musings but I fear starting something off-topic, so I won't.

    I will say, historically, evil tends to follow a one-track path of self-love that is mindlessly repetitive. Nothing new under the sun and all that.

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  2. Hey, Robynn, why not share a political musing? I'm interested!

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