Saturday, March 13, 2010

That's not entropy, man

John Gray finds fault with Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization (review). Some of his points may be well taken. But he says something rather odd:
How could human empathy possibly defeat the force of entropy, an irreversible physical process?
It seems Gray equates behaviour by human groups, nations and civilisations as a whole, and the outcomes of those behaviours, with the second law of thermodynamics. Eh? A defining characteristic of humanity and indeed life in general is that it/they exist despite the second law by using energy from outside the immediate system of which they are part (i.e. from the sun and to a lesser extent radioactivity from inside the earth).

It is not hard to find grounds for pessimism regarding progressive action on climate change and much else. But entropy is not the issue. If there is to be progress it is likely to be grounded on a whole lot of rational self interest, including the possibility that there is more money and power to be derived from generating and using energy in smarter ways. And there may, even, be a role for empathy.

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