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Entropy, Negentropy and Our Moral Imagination

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Scientists are not the only ones these days pointing out the fact that our planetary civilization is hugely entropic: we are burning up useable stuff at ever accelerating rates. China's latest move to reduce exporting rare minerals used for all our tech toys from iPads to cellphones is just our most recent reminder that a lot of the Earth's resources we are pumping, mining, chopping, consuming, burning, eroding and evaporating will not be available to us in the future. The world economy is built on this irreversible loss of useable energy and the latest global forecasts indicate that a number of developing countries are really cranking up to get in on the profits to be made in the entropy game. Even if we didn't have residual toxins, pollution and climate impact, we would still be heading towards scarcity of useable resources. Some, the Pentagon among them, predict that the next big conflicts will not be over ideology, religion or land per se but over water, gas, minerals and, potentially, food.

We have told ourselves that the road out of ruinous poverty and toward sustainable nationhood with the capital resources to fund healthcare, education, housing and employment is more trade and more consumption -- sell more stuff, use more stuff, burn more stuff and you will be on your way to thriving.

There are theorists who argue that the only way to stop this deficit consumption of Earth's useable energy is to redesign the entire global economic order so that it moves from entropy to entropic balance. Systems that balance their energy loss with the intake of fresh energy maintain equilibrium. Nature is our teacher here because it does a brilliant job at using life and the product of life to create more life and sustain life to an incredible degree of abundance. Until we came along, raided the abundance and created huge entropy deficits!

I cannot tell you whether we can employ greening strategies at the kind of speed necessary to make proper use of natural flow like wave, wind and solar radiation at a scale needed for 7 billion to 8 billion people. Or that we can rapidly ramp up recycling initiatives that not only recycle our trash but rebuild our homes, offices, furniture, clothes and vehicles, etc. If it were possible to reach negentropic equilibrium by fast-track greening strategies it would require a fundamental moral choice to redesign the present so that we did not place our unsustainable deficit energy consumption on the backs of future generations and seriously compromise their capacity to survive. But this is where I go out on a limb.

If, in fact, the moral construct was as simple and as cogent as "unto the seventh generation," as conveyed in Native American traditions, then we would have a liberating directive to end the injunction to make myopic choices based on the need for immediate profit. I contend that we live in a moral universe and that moral principles are axial templates within consciousness itself: they are the master templates of wisdom; they are the codes for Nature's abundance; they are the latent possibilities for endless ingenuity and creativity; and they are design fractals which guide the evolution of higher consciousness in human beings.

At root, what is needed is our moral development as a species and not more dazzling displays of cleverness funded by greed or desperate measures to correct the negative impact of on-going behavior that is essentially devoid of conscience. Moral development is not about petty strictures but about our greatest asset, which is harnessing the power of imagination in service to ideals worthy of those who truly care about the future. Life itself emerges from principles of order, beauty and truth and when we attempt to hijack those principles we create disorder and invert truth and beauty.

Consciousness is still our most spectacular resource which will open up more energy for our use than we ever imagined possible. But it is not for sale, its highest resources, which maybe limitless, are only available to those dedicated to serve, not steal from, the evolving story of life.

Consciousness is not a neutral playground where we create our own realities. It could never be coherent if that were the case and it would devolve into a universe of competing realities. Dictatorship is precisely the form of subjective manifestation that divorces itself from moral principles with dire consequences. We do not hand over control of the household to a 2-year-old and acclaim the power of the infant to create a reality! But when one returns to the notion that it is inherently a moral universe then there are consequences to subjectively induced states of mind and forms of action. The moral core of the universe produced the exquisite balance for life on Earth with its harmony and unfathomable beauty. Only a moral imagination can restore what our immoral greed and flagrant excess has wrecked.

Francis Bacon is the one who said that we must "put Nature on the rack" and torture her until she reveal her secrets. Well we have done that and the reality we have created has resemblances to hell. But the reverse is also true: Honor and serve the Holy Order of Nature, and vow to serve the cause of Life, and she will let us know that our entropy issues are but a speck of dust in the ocean of her creativity.

An invited contribution to the Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality.

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