In a metaphorical sense, any number of non-scientists cite the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics to make some inaccessible point on the preternatural order of things. Creation Science(?) believers, for example, awkwardly allude to the 2nd Law as proof that, left alone, things always move from more to less complexity: QED, if evolution has any legitimacy at all, they purport, it's nothing more nor less than than an Intelligent Design device chosen by the Creator. Maybe so. What they neglect to note about the Second Law, however, is the preeminence of the First: i.e., they only apply to a closed system. When energy from an external source is introduced, disorder (or entropy as it's called) often tends to decrease. In other words, given enough time, energy, the right elements and the right circumstances, even something as seemingly unlikely as life it itself not only could, but would, slowly emerge naturally.
But I digress; perhaps we'll come back to evolution in some future post. For the balance of this one, let's stay on the entropy (or the naturally occurring tendency toward disorder) theme.
Just as a broken egg doesn't reassemble itself, spilled milk stays spilled and weathered steel returns to a shine only when the entropically-formed rust upon it is removed, some forms of disorder are irreversible. Now, here's the important bit. In classical physics, in a condition of pure entropy (or ultimate disorder), when everything is exactly the same as everything around it; when there's no difference in temperature, density, weight, illumination...it's all exactly the same...and it's all completely dark and dead. Where there are no differences nothing can happen; work, energy and matter itself all depend upon differences. Work can only get done in an environment of relatively low entropy. It's not just, as the French say, vive la différence; indeed, in a real sense, it's différence that makes being alive possible!
If the parallels here aren't yet jumping off the page yet, let's go ahead and cut to the chase. The history of civilization is hallmarked by a recurring struggle from disorder (or entropy) to order (well-operating systems wherein work gets done and lives are made better). But, just as in nature itself, entropy tends to increase (that is, differences among individuals and their respective circumstances tend to fade) over time. Ironically, this happens in human culture, in part, as a result of accumulating abundance and an over-wrought sense of fairness (over how the ensuing wealth should be distributed). In other words, in our zeal to achieve equality, we eventually reach a point where the impetus toward above average achievement (hard work) dissipates and the regime heads toward collapse (or "heat death" in cosmological terms). Common politically-charged ways of putting this phenomena are found in dictums like "making the rich poorer doesn't make the poor richer" or "taxing job creators (the top 2%) is not the right way to create jobs", etc. And the common predicate behind these notions turns upon a belief that the stratification of power and wealth is a necessary ingredient in a well-functioning economy: like heat, financial entropy moves from higher to lower levels of concentration; employers tend to be richer than employees, and without the rich (or, at least, those aspiring to be rich), there are no jobs for anyone!
A reverse case can be made as well: too little entropy (too little perceived equality) leads to a differently unstable society. Returning to lessons of history, we all know that the durability of a nation is directly proportionate to the size and strength of its middle class. Too little entropy—too much difference between the rich and poor— almost always trace a short route to abuse, exploitation and upheaval. In the end, peoples aren't really that different than any other population of species in nature: we live in an uneasy equilibrium of order and disorder, of hierarchical systems and chaos, of upwardly-mobile systems and corrupt or otherwise dysfunctional associations. Like it or not, for better or worse, the world need chiefs as well as Indians `lest they may all freeze to death in the next winter.
So, where does that leave us? How are we to know what's best: are "we better together", or does progress really turn more upon the individual initiatives of individuals? And the answer, of course, is both: societal entropy demands that we strike the right balance, to maintain a stable equilibrium between perceived and natural "fairness" if nothing else.
And the point of all this rambling (if indeed there really is one) is this: When we examine this same dispute within our current leadership, the key question devolves to whether our more collectivist current direction is the right one right now? Humanitarian concepts of fairness matter but so do orders of nature. Avoiding longer digression into tales of Golden Geese or a hunt for John Galt, suffice it to say that extraordinary progress almost always turns upon extraordinary effort which, in turn, almost always turns upon extraordinary risks and rewards. The right balance, then, would be a close call IMHO except for one thing: "right now" America is a deeply divided people; the problem is not really in government gridlock (though bellicose senators' threats of a [thermo] "nuclear option" aren't helpful). As Pogo used to famously say, "We've met the enemy and it's us." Unless and until a larger majority can agree upon what the right direction really is, we're not likely to make self-directed moves in any. Absent positive energy being brought into the system, natural entropy will gradually slide us in to an irreversible mediocrity where nothing extraordinary can happen (and, follwing that, devastating collpase). So, in closing, my biggest complaint about our current leadership is that it seems to me hell-bent on deepening the divide between us. As Bill Bennet recently put it on CNN...
"The parameters and focus of the national and political dialogue has become predominantly about gender, race, ethnicity and class. This is the paradigm, the template through which many Americans, probably a majority, more or less view the world, our country, and the election. It is a divisive strategy and Democrats have targeted and exploited those divides."