Bullshit Thermodynamics

If we agree that, as Alberto Brandolini proposed in 2013, it takes an order of magnitude more effort to refute bullshit than it takes to produce it, this implies that societies are subject to the laws of thermodynamics.

A sea half of water and half of poison is not in balance.
A body half alive and half dead is not in balance.

Seth Dickinson, Book of Unveiling

I think nihilism is the sociopolitical equivalent of entropy. Both are natural — even necessary, in moderation — yet lethal in excess. Civilization, like homeostasis, is not a stable equilibrium. Living systems require energy to maintain their internal relationships. Without upkeep, organisms and societies alike dissolve into randomness.

We don’t need cosmic certainty or divine truth to counteract nihilism, but if we don’t have at least some shared concept of reality, we’re aliens to each other.

To say that reality can be known and measured is as much a political statement in 2020 as it was under the 16th-century Roman Inquisition. Only this time, rather than Catholic dogma, it is imperial postmodernism that has politicized the concept of knowledge.

It wasn’t the top-down machinations of secret societies that brought Earth civilization to its knees. The interests of power have always been malign, but our whole species has wallowed in collective negligence for centuries. Now the bills have all gone to collections at the same time, and we’re going to need some machinations to survive.

The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic.
Alan Moore

We’re here because we’ve never had a plan, so now we need one.

But towers of stolen wealth still dot the landscape. Those atop the towers have seen truth on the horizon: any plan for the future of the human project would first require an end to their exploitative customs. Some have felt the warming seas lapping at their foundations. Naturally, they’ve decided they’d rather doom us all than climb down.

As they prop up their towers with the scorched, brittle timber of the commons, the aristocrats transform the infinite game of civilization into a finite one, with zero-sum victory conditions. They’re playing for keeps against the rest of us, and they’ve learned they can paralyze whole populations just by raising the cognitive price of seeking the truth.

[It] isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.
Sean Illing, Vox

That social media users seem happy to contribute, at no extra charge, is one of those jokes that will only be funny to 23rd-century historians, and then only ruefully. On the internet, the powerful don’t just control wealth and resources; they control epistemology.

We’re back to having god-kings. Khufu would be impressed.

If this strategy is followed to its logical conclusion, the amount of bullshit being propagated by our hopelessly naïve filtering algorithms will eventually exceed the capacity of the human intellect to parse salient information from torrents of raw data.

There will be a heat death of consensus.

I don’t know what sort of culture can even exist after something like that, but I bet it’ll make this one look like a picnic. Hell, we may have gotten there already.

We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
Unnamed Official, New York Times

I wish I could think of a healthy way for all of us to deal with this. For my part, I’ll just have to rely on the proud Greek tradition of being obnoxiously stubborn and loudly proclaiming that the gods are wrong until they drown me in the Aegean or strangle me with serpents.