Happy Labor Day to those of my readers who live in the United States. If any other countries celebrate a similar holiday on the same day, well, happy holiday to you as well. And to everyone, Happy Monday.
At my office, we’re celebrating workers’ rights by working a half day today, and based on the fact that quite a few other people are at the train station already—though it’s operating today on a weekend schedule—we’re not the only ones.
It’s just another case of competition leading to inadequate equilibria of over-exertion, to the relative detriment of everyone in the system, like trees in a forest having to compete against each other for light, so they all have to keep getting taller, even though it would be saner if they could somehow agree to stay shorter and collect the light of the sun without wasting so many resources on competing with each other. But they can’t and even if some of them could, they would be vulnerable to any mutant tree that grew taller than the others, and then that one would outcompete and out-reproduce, until all the trees got taller again, until they reached the point where the costs of getting taller were greater than the benefits, on average, and they would level off there, in a state of mutual strain.
Evolution is a bitch goddess, that’s for sure. But trees are very pretty and majestic, so there are at least minor compensations.
As with trees, human businesses compete with each other, and the ones that stayed open on holidays had advantages over ones that did not, until a great many businesses—ones not constrained by laws forbidding it, otherwise, or union rules and agreements—stayed open on holidays, and ultimately, there are essentially no holidays on which everything is pretty much closed, when everyone stays home with their families.
That’s assuming, of course, that people have families with whom to stay home. As for me, the only people I really interact with personally anymore are the people at work, so going in to work is my only serious socialization. When I had my family around, I would have been happy to stay home; my family was probably an equivalent to one of my “special interests”, as they describe it for people with the Syndrome Formerly Known as Asperger’s and related disorders. Now, though, I mainly just loll about on days when I don’t work. If I didn’t have my chronic back pain problem, I might feel like doing other things—maybe going to bookstores or something similar. But as it is, I just try to rest and not pay attention to how utterly empty and pointless my life is.
Hopefully, most of you who are celebrating this holiday are going to spend time with your families and/or friends, maybe having a cookout or something. That’s the way it was when I was a kid. Most of the people in my family worked for General Motors and related businesses, so they had the day off, thanks largely to union efforts and the like, such as—I believe—are celebrated by Labor Day.
However, businesses obviously lost money by having their factories idle when they could otherwise be productive, and so once they could transfer at least some of their manufacturing to other countries, they did, and got more work with less cost, and then so did all the other companies, and the equilibrium led to anyone who wanted to stay competitive keeping their businesses open as often as they could for as long as the costs of staying open were lower than the costs of being closed. And the wheel turned, grinding ordinary lives into powder underneath it.
Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but it still does in fact suck. In the past, there were those who predicted that rising technology would lead to people having more and more leisure time, and yet still being able to produce more than ever in the past. These people had never studied evolution and natural selection carefully enough, it seems. Success is always relative to other success in the environment; there’s always an arms race. Now we work longer hours than ever before, and the most successful people are often the people with the least leisure time as opposed to the other way around.
That’s a bit ironic, I guess. Success breeds more work rather than less, and the society it creates is so mind-numbing and stressful that hundreds of thousands of people every year die prematurely simply from drug overdoses, because drugs are the only reliable source of any solace or escape many people are able to find. This is, of course, one of the reasons drugs are illegal; they harm productivity. Why else would a society be against people doing something to their own bodies, as long as they don’t directly harm others by doing so? The most popular drug in the world by far—caffeine—increases people’s productivity, at least temporarily, and there is no serious thought of restricting it.
Many of the costs of people’s drug problems are entirely due to the fact that some drugs are illegal. In many cases, having been convicted of a felony related to drugs makes a person less able to get gainful future employment such as they might otherwise be able to do. It likewise affects what kind of housing they can get. And so, far from having “paid their debt to society”, these people never stop paying, for the rest of their foreshortened lives. Why would one not be willing to risk death by taking unregulated drugs, when life is an empty competition without any good reward even for the most successful?
Then again, life has never really promised any good and lasting reward. Any creature that found truly lasting satisfaction in a meal, for instance, would live a happy but short and less-reproductive life. Lions and gazelles don’t have job security, and they don’t get to take vacations from each other. Every day is a struggle to survive and if possible reproduce, no matter what or who you are.
Economies no more have souls than ecosystems do, because they are both spontaneously self-assembled systems in which whatever survives is just, well, whatever survives and becomes self-sustaining. They’re conspiracies without conspirators. There is no master plan behind it all. Most conspiracies—even ones that would be recognized by all as such—were not nefariously planned by any cabal behind the scenes. They just happen, and the ones that persist do so because they become self-sustaining, like bureaucracies and governments and businesses and whatnot.
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that we aren’t able (so far) to throw off such self-created situations. Each person and thing can only act in response to the vector sum of all the forces acting on it locally. Even the laws of physics only act locally. Gravity doesn’t actually reach across the universe; each change in a local bit of the gravitational manifold affects the bit next to it, which affects the bits next to it, and so on, spreading out at the speed of light as it changes. This is why there are gravitational waves, and why black holes continue to gravitate even though nothing can actually pass through the event horizon outwards.
Likewise, each bit of the electromagnetic field influences the next bit, which influences the next bit, and spreads along, again, at the speed of light. That speed of propagation can fool people, whose reactions happen at most at a few meters a second, into thinking that things are truly and directly interconnected instantaneously, but they are not. Every point in spacetime is influenced directly—as far as we know—only by the points immediately around it at any given time. The universe itself is, in a sense, just a spontaneously self-assembled system, an unplanned conspiracy.
Humans have the advantage of being able to think about such things and their implications more deeply, and a few of them even do so. But it’s hard for one bit of water in the middle of an ocean to deliberately change the specific configuration of the world’s seas by the effects of what it can do locally. A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon Rainforest™ may indeed affect whether a tornado happens somewhere thousands of miles away months later…but the butterfly doesn’t know this, nor does it know how to flap its wings in just the right way at just the right time to cause or prevent any weather formation. It just flutters around looking for nectar and looking to mate and lay eggs and so on.
Humans are more sophisticated than butterflies, but the equations that govern the interactions of the world are generally higher-order, emergent equations that cannot be solved even in simplified forms, not within the lifetime of the universe. Only the universe itself has the processing power to compute them, and even it can do so only by enacting them.
And while the Schrodinger equation is, apparently, a linear equation, and remains so in perpetuity, it’s still not readily solvable for anything beyond the simplest of systems. And anyway, people are not completely sure what it really represents, they just know that it works really well.
Oh, well. What are you gonna do? Have a hamburger or a hot dog or some potato salad today with your family if you can. Give a hug to someone you love and who loves you. The chaos may be inescapable, but there are still benefits that can be squeezed out of it, if you can learn to surf it for a while. You might even be able to have fun doing it.