Systems, Self, Thermodynamics, Change

On the one hand, I like to imagine that I can make my world beautiful — change my circumstances, sure, but more importantly change my mind-set. I can choose to see the world as I want. To some extent, this is certainly true.

But I don't want to misread the role of self and mind in the world — for both mind (whatever that is) and self (whatever that is) are just that: in, and of, the world.

And the world is an ever swirling set of circumstances. We see weather maps and know the flux and flow of the universe. But at the same time we imagine ourselves exempt from this flow: nature swirls while we stand strong.

But that's just silly. We swirl along with everything else. This is one thing I loved about Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life" — it makes the events of humanity, its banality and wonder, continuous with the events of the cosmos. Just as earth and universe collide and swell and dehisce and conjoin and find synergies and repulsions and parallel lines, so do we.

This "we" is not distinct from this teem; it is constitutive and constituent of the Teem of Life.

There are systems — unsystematic systems, if you will, emergent systems — of which we are a part. These include systems of weather, planets and suns, markets and capital, genetics and disease, government and digestion and harvest.

To imagine that I can will myself out of these systems is the wish of religious transcendence. But I am of this world, with this world; I am worldly and don't want to transcend. At least, I don't think I do. Transcendence seems too close to death for my liking.

And so it seems to behoove me, to behoove one, to examine and know and grapple with the systems that exceed us, to understand how the flow of capital shapes my everyday life, how the construction of roads and laws and technology shape my dreams and desires and traffic patterns. And then it behooves me to try and shift the flows I don't like, that interfere with my health and vitality. How? Fuck if I know. I try little things to alter behaviors of those around me. I work as little as possible. I write my ideas, trying to foment whatever change I can in my tiny corner of the cosmos.

But then there is me. I — and you — have to change, too. I have to be affirmative, healthy; I have to not drive like an asshole, not be a douche to my kid, not alienate my friends and lovers. I have to heed the now, this very local world, this radical particularity of circumstance in which I find myself, moment to moment, day to day.

Systemic change must happen locally — but still be systemic. That, methinks, is the trick. To not just add a flower to the sty of life but behave in such a way that realigns the terms of flow. We are, after all, constitutive of the teem; we, in our way, make the teem along with everything else. So rather than just deodorize the stench, we need to hedge the flow of shit in what we do, in our lives, every fucking day.

This is not easy. The world has momentum — tremendous momentum. I will never cease to be flabbergasted by the things people choose to discuss amongst themselves, the assumptions people make as they head out into the world. Just like the pull of planets and the flow of markets, the shit people talk about, think about, has inertia. To try and hedge this, steer it otherwise and other ways, takes a lot of work.

Perhaps it's easier when people join together to make more of a wave, more of a wall, more of a hedge, more of a force. The risk, of course, is that said joining will birth its own unpleasant inertia. But I think there is no choice — not if we, or I, want to change things.

Change is really a matter of thermodynamics.


Anonymous said...

You consistently give voice to the ways in which I view the world, much more eloquently than I ever could. I wish I had something meaningful to add, but I all I can say is that your writing makes me feel less alienated.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above statement. I also can relate to what you discussed about interconnectedness. Today I was locked out of my car for 11 hours. However inconvenient, being outside and soaking up all of that sun revitalized and energized me in a weird way. Not having electronics was also a blessing because I had to actually THINK. Not in my usual computerized and cellphone haze, but real ABSTRACT thinking. Sometimes when shitty things happen to you it can a real eye opener I guess..

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Pure....thanks for the comment and glad my ramblings have some value to someone.

@ 699: I think it's not as much the shitty thing as the disruption of routine that makes us — lets us — actually think.

G. Iulia said...

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drwatson said...

Ever read "Entropy" by Pynchon? I can't ever get through his long novels. I teach this story and I think it's absolutely amazing and the focus is on thermodynamics in a different sense - he's into the breakdown of systems - so maybe not a different sense - maybe a complimentary sense.

Nathan said...

Adam Curtis' "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" provides a nice geneaology of systems thinking that I think you'd find fascinating. Episode 2, "The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts" deals with that subject most explicitly. You can watch the full episode on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yq0xVuRG4ng