Driving home the other day I was behind a van, permanently adhered to which was a bright yellow bumper sticker that read, “I will keep my freedom, guns and money, you can keep the change.” I read this bumper sticker, then three things happened.
One, I said “Okay, clearly that guy is a Republican.” Out loud. In my car. To no one.
Two, I passed the guy; bright yellow bumper stickers are kind of distracting, and I have a hard enough time driving while also listening to the radio, dictating to my smartphone, and thinking all the brilliant thoughts that will eventually make it into my blog.
Three, I mourned whatever educational system had failed this man, because clearly he doesn’t understand entropy.
I get that the bumper sticker was a response to Barack Obama’s “Change” campaign. Ten points for the clever word play. But know, Driver/Van-Owner/Bumper-Sticker-Adherer, that I award these imaginary points begrudgingly. No amount of clever word play can make up for this futile, eyes-shut, fingers-in-your-ears resistance to change. Why? Because everything changes all the time.
On a cellular level, everything is always changing. Even you, Driver/Van-Owner/Bumper-Sticker-Adherer, are not the same person you were an hour ago, a day ago, a year ago. When I passed you, I noticed your long (and somewhat obnoxious) beard. (I’m just sayin’.) You didn’t have that when you were ten. I know this because ten year old boys do not possess the necessary levels of testosterone it takes to grow a beard. That is change.
I am willing to bet that is not the only thing that has changed since you were ten. When I was ten I was in love with a New Kid On The Block and refused to wear clothes that weren’t dyed fluorescent any color. Perhaps you had similar misconceptions that are general to any ten-year-old mind? Did you think you would be an astronaut? Did you think you could live your life on pixie sticks and roller skates? No matter what, I’m fairly certain you didn’t imagine yourself driving up and down the turnpike with an old minivan touting political views on bumper stickers. That’s a reality reserved for twelve year olds, at least.
People change because as they experience things, their perception of life changes. That is why your sixteen year old self is so much more morose than your nine year old self. Why your thirty-five year old self would willingly slap your twenty year old self if given the chance. Why your eighty year old self wishes your fifty year old self had been so different.
This isn’t just true for individuals, it’s true for culture as well. No culture, society or politic can remain static, because none of the people or peoples within it remain static. It is impossible to “keep the change”; even if you don’t change, change will still happen to you. Even if, for the rest of your life, you cast your Republican vote, and every year for the rest of your life Republicans win every election, things will still change.
There is a sociological term called “social entropy.” Entropy itself is a physics term, describing how within a thermodynamic system some amount of energy will always be lost. But entropy is so cool on a conceptual level that pretty much every other branch of study has stolen it for their own purposes. Sociologists have used it to describe what I just described – the inevitable change in culture, resulting in the decay of particulars within that culture, and eventually the culture itself.
Take the Amish for example. The Amish are an American Christian culture who do not use electricity. Anything that connects them with the world outside of their own culture is more or less forbidden, because it would disrupt their relationship with God. They are perhaps the most determinedly resistant people to change because their relationship with the Almighty depends on it.
And yet, even these guys have Visa cards. Why? Because that it how people pay for shit in 2013. Their horse-drawn buggies have battery-operated headlights and taillights. Why? Because in Pennsylvania it is illegal to operate a vehicle on the road at night without two working headlights and two working taillights, even if said vehicle is literally horse-powered. Many Amish women have their babies in hospitals. Why? Because this baby is breech and I really, really need a cesarean. Because I have preeclampsia and will die if I do not get modern medical help. Cause why contract in pain for forty-seven hours when you can go to Lancaster General and get an epidural?
Yes, the Amish still plough their land with wooden, ox-drawn cart. Yes, they still churn their butter by hand. Yes, they still hand-stitch their quilts, hand-milk their cows, hand-wash their clothes, hand-paint their fences, hand-make their fine, maple furniture. (What can I say – the Amish perform a lot of hand jobs.) Yet even these guys will accept a ride in one of them new-fangled automobiles if they have to walk to town in the rain.
The entropy of the Amish culture is succumbing to the progressions of the culture around it – the rest of America. Our entropy is, in most ways, yet to be seen. But, if we’re looking to delay the brand of deadly entropy that is the eventual end to all cultures, we can learn from history. The fall of the Roman Empire is a prototype for what the US has to face in the face of entropy. So perhaps we can learn from history and stand the test of time by learning these three lessons: One, don’t get smallpox; Two, keep the water clean; and, Three, don’t be resistant to change. Because you will start with something little like, say, persecution and genocide of a targeted religious group, just to convert to said group a couple hundred years later.