What is social entropy?

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By Enrique Lescure

What is it?

I’ve been asked multiple times today what social entropy is. I admit that I have coined the term, and now I will try to briefly explain what I mean with it.

Entropy is traditionally defined as a term designating that physical systems tend to fall back into their constituent parts as time passes on.

Societies, much like eco-systems or individual organisms, are consisting of interacting networks of individuals, clans, regions, interests, institutions and norms. These tend to form cultures which create in society an overall sense of predictability. This predictability is supported – in complex societies – by force and by laws, dictating what people may not do and what consequences they will experience if they breach these rules. Often, these rules are directly or indirectly for the gain of a ruling elite.

Social entropy however, is a centripetal force that strives to dissolve the “higher” or “medium” institutions of any society, reducing it to its component forms. Being left unchecked, this destructive force will cause lawlessness, riots, and unpredictability. Our societies are dependent on that people are following the norms in terms of getting up, getting to work, paying for goods at the local cornershop (even if they most likely could get away with theft), not stealing or vandalising property nor hurting other people.

I would argue that most societies are characterised by social entropy. It is not like it is a force that only appears when the law ceases to work. Rather, it is humans violating the social norms of predictability in terms of how society functions and affecting in some way the economic predictability of society (causing damage which costs resources and time to repair).

Even such a predictable and well-arranged society as the Swedish welfare state is continuously experiencing social entropy, in the forms of crime, vandalised bus stops and graffiti on unwanted walls. I would not herein state whether or not social entropy is desirable. Some societies are genuinely repressive, some are benevolent (though fundamentally unsustainable) and some are genuinely repressive, but their removal has led into worse states, either of repression or of social entropy.

Where social entropy is allowed to roam free, the society is experiencing a loss of complexity (which usually is termed civilizational collapse and the end of the world by those experiencing it). Examples range from the Roman Empire to the Easter Island, from Medieval Iceland to modern-day Somalia, and from Detroit to Syria.

Revolutionaries usually secretly or openly desire such a calamity, believing it will usher in (their imagined) paradise.

However, experiences show that it takes long time for old civilizations to rebound, and even longer time for newer civilizations to emerge. Experiences also show that revolutions are uncontrollable and unmanageable events that are causing tremendous suffering for the participants.

The Earth Organisation for Sustainability is certainly advocating social change, but that not because we desire chaos, but that we seek to prevent that the inherent unsustainability of the current system would usher in the greatest loss of complexity in human history, to not speak of the greatest loss of ecological diversity since the Dinosaur apocalypse.

krax

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1 Comment

  1. January 18, 2015 at 12:48 am

    […] What is social entropy?. […]


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