~ The second law of thermodynamics states that things will inexorably move towards total entropy. Or annihilation. Everything wears down eventually, returns to chaos. The more we put things together, the more they fall apart. And so on. ‘The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.’ In this way, entropy has been called “time’s arrow,” the objective signifier of the temporal flow. Simply, if energy has the opportunity to spread out, it will; time, as the unmoved mover, marches forward without heed to any other contingency. This is not always a reason to despair. Without aging, without change, existence loses its essence and we lose our purpose.
And as Asimov portrays in “The Last Question,” the relentless degradation of All unto a finite ending may simply lead to a whole new beginning…
But that’s impossible for us to know. That is knowledge forever forbidden from our mortal experience. And what is more terrifying than a truth that we absolutely cannot know?
The mere sight of entropy’s near-term effects, maybe. Aging.
Entropy implies a continuous cooling into our state of play in the universe; in fact, entropy abides our mortality itself. Even intellectually understanding its necessity, what does Man fear more than his own end? With its dirge constantly ringing in our ears, reminding us of its presence inside of everything within our purview, entropy ends up building itself profoundly into the material conditions of our lives. We feel ourselves getting older and slower while we bear witness to a world growing more chaotic, more weathered and scarred. In a naturally entropic environment such as the only universe we have come to know, with the fleshy human frame feeling less than secure, our instincts can turn towards ‘aggression, repetition compulsion, and self-destructiveness.’ These attributes — components of the death drive — are the psychological effects of the observation of entropy, the father of all anxiety. The incontrovertible loss of our mind, our limbs — our time — amidst all of the uncertainty of our coming possible futures is what makes death itself into an instinct that we strangely yearn for.
Not so strangely, this instinct toward destruction is more likely to manifest itself outwardly, among others; naturally, for the sake of our survival, we kill. These fearful ‘Others’ are outside of our community and culture, outside of our hopes, dreams and values for the future (insofar that one accurately judges their own values relative to the purported constitution of these others’). Capitalism’s churning, unchanging flows astride the ruling class’ pathological wastefulness upon our garden world feels like a one-way ticket, accelerating inequality without end to some inevitably violent breaking point near or far that no one can possibly know of or effectively plan for. Uninterrupted, and quite unassailable, economic austerity plus fraying social bonds immiserate and estrange the masses. Immigration and abortion policy, of all things, come to singularly forge rock solid, intergenerational political coalitions. Our systems are full of what appears as *immutable* chaos; for the many, the future does not look brighter than the past.
Given these conditions, of course we are going to fight each other. Unfortunately, though quite naturally as well, the horizontal peer in these Others become the only influenceable aspect within our field of view. The Other is the locus of the only order we can forge inside of the chaos.
One begins to see how entropy — in all these myriad formations — sources, feeds and amplifies the death drives in this life, consistently clearing a path for pandemonium to manifest in the face of such manufactured scarcity. When everything is ever falling away into disarray, into that inevitable clarion call “in time, all will be dust” declaration, then it is only natural for it to become easier and easier to embrace that inevitability sooner and sooner. Via conflicts of culture and of kayfabe democratic will, the stark divisions among the underclasses wage a war of mutually-assured destruction. Like rearranging tables and chairs on the deck of the Titanic, the final generations of the smallest in power and largest in number squabble amongst themselves before the irreversible cliff. In our atomized panicking, Thanatos, god of death, takes control of the collective psyche, reaping with his scythe to try to permanently cull that chaos we unwittingly sow around us. Racing against entropy’s reach, Man turns over his will to all-vs.-all wars of hierarchical prejudice, extermination, totality.
To gain first foothold in the afterscape? To secure their seeds? For fun?? Or, most pessimistically, to ensure they are truly part of the final generation of humanity that this world will ever see, in all of the nihilistic specialness such a signifer will hold…
All this speculative doomsaying aside, what is the possible antidote for the spread of the unconscious virus that is the death drive, so materially woven into the fabric of our existence by the perpetual condition of entropy and all its damning material manifestations to our consciousness?
‘Eros’ comes to mind. The Greek god of love, sex, desire. Merriam-Webster defines eros as: “the sum of life-preserving instincts that are manifested as impulses to gratify basic needs, as sublimated impulses, and as impulses to protect and preserve the body and mind.” (— compare DEATH INSTINCT)
Jung called eros a desire for “psychic relatedness”, or the desire for interconnection and interaction with other sentient beings. This sum of instincts, to protect, survive and cooperate, is more readily welcomed by us. After all, it is these impulses that we are more likely to want to trust and believe in as opposed to their complement. Eros is the unifying dominant gene that allowed for our collective ascent from the caves, whereas Thanatos is the selfish recessive that enables our persistence beyond the extinction (sometimes ancillary, sometimes very purposeful) of so much other life about us. And yet, they are both always present, always influencing.
To which degree do you submit yourself to either, to both? Entropy demands we set our minds into these ponds of life-and-death struggling.
Do you individualize yourself, focus upon cleaning up your room and your own discontent afore anything else, seeking to order your own lone heart amidst the outer chaos? And then, in extremis, turn to strike your brother down so that you may go on… The compulsions of the death instinct, borne of logical entropic evidence.
Or do you submit yourself to a role within the commune, collaborating in the collective space to heal collective traumas, even in your death, ever-seeking to build a community to last beyond the latest generation’s potential finality? And then, in extremis, lose yourself within the flow of the concert’s directives, no longer a person but an obedient cell of the whole… The impulses of the life instinct, borne in spite of entropy’s impending threats.
The answer is always a balance of each of these instincts. Here, I primarily aim to present eros as an effective counter to entropy’s fallout. And unlike the at-times pathological will of the death drives, it is a conscious ally we can call upon to take flight alongside the best angels of our nature. Eros is desire, and thus imaginative, generative, whereas the other thing is … not.
For me, in all these musings, all roads seem to inevitably lead to the same damn thing: creation. As an antidote to the absurdity of our condition, creative action is humanity’s master deed and immortal value. Speaking of art and child-rearing and the building of collective political movements borne of humanistic solidarity, creation is myriad in its forms and effects, much like entropy. Creation — the building of something to outlive us — is the only real way to combat the death instinct with enough force to temporarily defeat it. In a resistance against entropy’s omnipresence in some small way, every creative act emboldens those inner instincts of ‘psychic relatedness’ and of cooperative survival. In the absolute trusting of that impulsive desire to live ourselves and to love each other, we seed the promise of grace, even into an uncertain tomorrow. What is desire other than the most salient, inspirited drive to begin any creative act? And what is love other than the intrinsic awareness and immaterial feeling of cultivation unto any grand creation? Just as we yearn to communicate our souls into the collective, we instinctively love our children, whether they be in the crib or upon the canvas.
All else being equal, even amidst the ever-advancing decay, even afore a finale defeat at the hands of the inevitable heat death of the universe, eros obliges transient hope in the hellscape, and more pleasurable recreations than its violently bloody opposition. Self-interest, as natural as our breathing, dulls camaraderie; social solidarity, as imperative to our evolutionary past as anything else, often betrays such sole interests. In any act, whether it be political or not, actively self-preserving or just an inert, uninitiated belief, one must ask themselves the question, alongside its infinite reversals: what is more important, my love or their death? ~