Boyling Over

Lawrence Auster asks:

“Is some kind of intensification of the world going on? At the very moment that uprisings are proceeding in several Muslim countries simultaneously, uprisings are proceeding in several states of the United States simultaneously.”

Yes, some kind of intensification of the world is going on, and I think we can find an apt metaphor in the laws that relate the volume, temperature, and pressure of a gas in a closed container.

As you reduce the volume of the container, or add more molecules of gas, the average distance between particles decreases, and the energy density of the system increases. Pressure also goes up, because collisions with the walls of the container become more frequent, and because collisions between particles inside the container happen more energetically and more often, the pace of chemical reactions rises as well.

This is exactly what has happened to the world, and very dramatically so, in the last few years. Not only has crowding increased in the world’s crowded places, but far more importantly, the revolution in electronic communications — in particular, the advent of massively interconnected, global social networks that operate with zero latency and with little regard to political boundaries — has decreased the average distance between individual human beings by orders of magnitude in a very short time. In effect, the world has been compressed to a small fraction of its former volume, almost in the blink of an eye — and what we see now is the sudden increase in pressure, temperature, and chemical reactions that the gas laws tell us should happen under such circumstances. And as those reactions happen, they in turn liberate even more energy into the system, creating shock-waves of localized increase in pressure, and raising the overall temperature and energy density.

So yes, a very rapid “intensification” of the world is underway — and we should expect it to continue.

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  1. the one eyed man says

    I don’t see any connection between the events in the Middle East and those in the Midwest. Concurrence does not equate to causality. There are plenty of examples in American history over the past century of massive protest against union-busting. The only difference is that now you have a sitting governor seeking to strip workers of their right to collective bargaining, as opposed to corporations trying to achieve the same thing.

    I do agree that there is a strong correlation between the ubiquity of social networks and the uprisings in closed societies such as Egypt and Libya, as there is now a venue for people to communicate which is beyond state control. In an open society like ours, electronic communication may have a marginal effect on the ability of people to organize quickly, but I don’t see a fundamental difference in how groups would gather to express their grievances.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Yes, people still do have to gather; you’re right that that hasn’t changed. But what has changed is the amazing rapidity with which such gatherings can now coalesce and metastasize. I don’t think that’s marginal at all. In particular, what is suddenly and dramatically different is a basic change in the communication paradigm: whereas before non-central media communications were one-to-one, they are now one-to-many.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    Do you really see a difference between the protests in Madison and, for example, the protests against the war in Vietnam?

    As one example: Nixon invaded Cambodia in 1970, and five days later you had Kent State.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Well, it isn’t hard to organize a protest on a college campus. What’s changed is that the same sort of thing can now happen at the scale of entire states or nations in a matter of hours.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  5. bob koepp says

    OK, but drop the nonsense about this being “in perfect accordance with fundamental and broadly generalizable principles of natural law.” A nice analogy can be ruined by such a statement (at least, for me, it was…).

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  6. A well-crafted analogy, Malcolm. With a little wordsmithing, I can imagine an expansion to the analogy that would include “higher concentrations of hot air”, as well as “explosive levels of sulfurous gases emanating from accumulations of growing piles of bullshit”.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Yeah, fair enough, Bob. I’ll take that out. Needed something to close with, but that’s a little much, I admit.

    Posted February 23, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink