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Civil Entropy, Here to Stay

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Decay is innate in all things. Entropy is inherent in society in the same way it is found in the natural world. Life can be viewed as a way to manage organic entropy with evolution being the beautiful mechanism which pushes forward change in nature. Equally real civil entropy currently lacks a effective way to manage or even benefit from this organic process.

Society, and the structures which guide it, aims for stability. Words like equilibrium and balance are turned into fundamental goals and ideals. There's always been an implicit assumption that equilibrium is desirable because it is stable, predictable and safe. There is currently an acute need to take a second look at these assumptions because right in front of our eyes there are serious suggestions they are mistaken. Equilibrium and balance tend not to exist in the natural world - evolution is a constant process of change making new from old. Why should civil society be exempt?

Fear is behind the existence of civil entropy as a destructive force. Our survival instinct makes us most aware of information relating to our safety. Throughout the majority of our history the rate at which we have received information has been moderate. Since the explosion of the digital revolution, all this changed. Suddenly there is an onslaught of data from everywhere, at all times. There must be some mechanism to prioritise this news so we can make sense of it. Our built-in skew towards information relating to our safety means our fears will likely take priority.

We have such a great myriad of channels to share those fears and anxieties through. Every additional negative event causes an exponential release of information throughout traditional, digital and social media. This torrent gains momentum and often quickly reaches a critical mass. At this point the news becomes a cause rather than an effect. Because the pace at which we receive, spread and multiply news is now incomparable than at any point in our history, information has gained a volatile reflexive characteristic enabling it to directly influence the events it is reporting on.

Information has become an actor, not just an observer.

The scale and magnitude of entropic spirals depends on the rate at which information is shared. As the relationship between new and old, digital and social media matures and intertwines this velocity will increase further and further. Due to the natural negative-skew of news it leads to an ever more fragile system where a coincidental occurrence of bad news can result in large scale disorder and irrationality based on fear.

All of the ostensibly unconnected events of the past few years (the financial crisis, trouble in the Middle-East, numerous wars and freak natural catastrophes) work to lower the threshold of social volatility. Previously the fears and anxieties arising from such events would stay within us, our families or at worst a limited local circle. Now those same fears can be the critical connections between these otherwise unconnected events which sparks a spiral of decay.

One of our greatest challenges is understanding the reflexive capabilities of information in our socially connected world. Managing the feedback loop is not a case of control or limitation - the weave is far too intricate and interconnected.

Life, in all its beauty and complexity, works to manage entropy in nature. Through evolution it flourishes in the face of this seemingly negative force. Information is progressively taking on a life of its own and a capability to influence the events it has until now innocently observed. There is no such thing as equilibrium in society or in the economy. Attempts to chase such a notion can only take away from the need to find our own mechanisms capable of managing the ever-increasing volatility of our society. We need to find an equally elegant form of civil evolution to turn civil entropy into a force for good, not a force for destruction.