A Sense of Calm

One of the reasons I keep banging on about thermodynamic cycles here, even for issues that don't seem to have anything to do with thermodynamic science, is that because for me it's the dominant framework within which we're currently living. Because people tend to be allowed to pursue one small fragment of the curriculum to the exclusion of others, with the specious assumption that some people just weren't born to do maths, or write essays, etc., increasingly people don't see the continuity not only between all forms of knowledge, but also between all forms of life. They see science and its ideas, and ideas about people and literature, and academic work and digging trenches (and so on) as a collection of pure and separate activities.

The specific and practical job philosophers do is to thread all of these seemingly disparate things back together. Somewhere along the way philosophy was painted as a fatuous activity of contemplating the meaning of things, rightly ridiculed (if this picture were true) as an indulgence and affront to everyday, common sense life. Perversely some philosophers have tried to defend their work from within this ridiculous framework, eulogising the contemplative life untroubled by practical detail. Love your chains!

The thermodynamic cycle identified by physicists and engineers is a framework that extends into all areas of our life. It's the boom and bust framework - euphoric activity, followed by depressive inactivity. Central to the thermodynamic cycle is energy - you need great amounts of energy to keep re-charging the cycle from boom to bust, and back again. Not just in machines, but for example in people - manic-depressive illness is completely exhausting for its sufferers, as every ounce of their energy is used to drive the cycling between mania and depression.

The media, particularly in its tabloid form, is instrumental in whipping up collective frenzies of euphoria and gloom. This has been recognised, but it's not really addressed, and the public is exhausted in being dragged from pillar to post and back again in one issue after another, while those caught up as the news 'content' regularly have their lives destroyed. But most of us are culpable in our own ways, because the same boom and bust cycle is everywhere, and most of us subscribe willingly to some euphoria, some gloom and doom. We like the spectacle and theatre of it all. And we wonder why we're so tired and why the world takes on such an apocalyptic hue.

Those who treat manic depression best know that above all else what is needed is calm. Bugger all of the manic or depressive ideas the person may be struggling with, ignore all of those and just reinstate calm into their lives. The ideas wither on the vine, if they manage it. (Drug companies peddle all sorts of magic beans for this condition - this in spite of clear, repeated evidence that the simple calm approach works, and works completely.)

That's what we need more of, everywhere. Calm. Culture warriors have almost destroyed politics with their unrelenting, hateful and spiteful zeal. Governments of every persuasion are found to have not a single redeeming feature. You don't have to be too old to remember a time when you could calmly discuss the benefits of liberalism versus socialism, or whatever model, without having to unleash a pack of attack dogs to vomit bile continuously into the community for either side. When you read the incandescent, unlistening and incessant rage of these warriors, you know that nothing will come of it except more hate, more bile, more division. You have to hope they know better, but for some it's clear that their ideology is a hardened cancerous growth that will take them to the grave as the diminished human beings they have chosen to be. They sometimes dress it thinly in sarcasm and pretend to be retaining some sort of joie de vivre, with sneering, contemptuous jokes. Love your chains.

This isn't a call for 'moderation', if by that is meant some Panglossian world where we suddenly discover that in fact we're all the same and all agree. We're not all the same, and we won't ever all agree. It's a call for a recongition that this is the normal state of things, because above all else what drives warriors in every field is the forgetting of this fact. It seems inconceivable to them that everything isn't just as they think it should be, and they get more strident and angry the more they don't get their own way. The mindset of the toddler tantrum. In fact one of the main reasons life is worth living is these differences, and you don't just have to tolerate them, you can actively enjoy playing with them.

Difference is what gives life that element of surprise that must be completely absent from the lives of warriors who start each day ready to launch yet another purge.


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