Comments on Entropy and Our Times from Dutch Businessman and Politician Herman Wijffels

Our colleague, Herman Wijffels in The Netherlands, just sent me some of his thoughts on how high entropy correlates with many of the distempers and institutional dysfunctions we see around us.

If the analysis has explanatory power, which I suggest it does, then our task is to reduce entropy in culture, society, economics and politics.

Herman is a retired Dutch politician of the Christian Democratic Appeal party and businessman. He served as Chairman of Rabobank, Chairman of the Social and Economic Council and as Dutch Representative/Executive Director at the World Bank Group.

Here is Herman’s email to me:

Dear Steve,

Thank you for sharing this thoughtful paper on entropy with me. I enjoyed very much reading it and agree with your findings. To be honest, my interest in entropy was not so much focused on the personal level, but especially looking at it at different levels of the collective. So, your considerations are a real addition to my understanding of the phenomena.

Let me share some of my thoughts at different levels:

-Energy is one of the most important gifts of Creation/God/Source/Big Bang. Energy is the main input for evolution, for translating potential into reality. By using energy, some of it gets lost, so in the logic of evolution, it has to be used as productively as possible, in a dynamic equilibrium between stability and chaos. As a reference, I would think here of the cosmic path, the harmony of the spheres of the Doa and also of the golden ratio. At this point in time, at the planetary level, we are in a situation of disequilibrium, between mankind and the planet and between people, ecologically and socially. A lot of energy is not used productively, creating chaos, entropy.

-This global situation is reflected at the level of the nation state. Democracies suffer increasingly from polarisation. Parties develop a truth of their own, turn inside and are less inclined to an open dialogue, thus creating entropy and chaos at that level. Energy is wasted in a power struggle, instead of used to further the common good.

-Looking at our economic system, capitalism, the ongoing focus on financial goals, on wealth accumulation, is depleting and destroying natural capital and undermining social capital. Too much focus of energy on internal goals of businesses and too little on external, societal goals is misusing it. Stock buybacks are a case in point.

-Many organizations, as well in the public as in the private sector, are suffering these days from an overload of bureaucracy. Too much energy is needed internally to keep things going at the expense of external orientation and effectiveness.

-All of this is typical for the choices that have been made in the industrial age, ultimately leading to a culture in which egocentrism is a central feature at every level, also at the level of the individual. Unbalanced use of energy and entropy are a logical consequence of this culture at every level, from the planetary all the way down to the personal level.

-Looking at it from this perspective, we are in need of a transition to a new culture, a next civilization, in which common interest and maintaining the ecological and institutional commons do play a more central role. More energy will have to go into sustaining the condition in which life on this planet can flourish.