Social Entropy

The collapse of the complex social and cultural structures of society. This is the social equivalent—welcomed at first as exciting diversity—of the chaotic disordering of natural systems and organisms when they are destroyed or burn. The process of destruction always has a positive side—burning wood gives out heat, for instance, and plants are broken down into energy when eaten—and social entropy, too, has its attractions, since a society’s orderly structures can be broken down in an exhilarating time of licence, spontaneous self-fulfilment and economic growth. The inhibitions are down: society consumes itself—burning up its inherited social structures to meet today’s wants.

The critical question is whether some of the original order will remain—equivalent to the DNA of the organisms in an ecology—a point of reference, a guide to recovery. There is a lot of coding for social order in the human mind, but there may not be the benign external conditions required for recovery—as John Gray writes, “to put together the delicate spider’s web of traditions that new technologies and unfettered markets have blown away”.S87

And yet, the powers of renewal, when the conditions do exist—in the case of the natural environment at least—are wonderful, as Walt Whitman’s poem, This Compost, reminds us:

Now I am terrified at the earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of disease’d corpses,
It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.S88


Related entries:

Kaikaku, Resilience, Capital, Needs and Wants, Gaia, Public Sphere and Private Sphere.

David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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