God is dead…Physics is all that we are. – C.R. Dudley
Newton’s First Law of Motion or Inertia: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
When presented with such scientific and/or mathematical postulates, even ones as elementary as the preceding example, our minds tend to shift into an analytical mode that contains little emotion or ostensible humanity. It can almost be said that to understand formulas and theories describing the underlying “laws” of the phenomenal world, one must temporarily suspend engagement with this world and adopt a state of mind more akin to a computer program than that of an emotional and reactionary participant in the thing being analyzed.
But this is only due to the limitations of language and its effects on our outlook. We read the above as a rather lifeless albeit accurate maxim of physics simply because that’s how it’s been presented to us all along: as information to memorize for the purpose of passing exams. If an illustration is needed to clarify the words or the formula, we invariably choose things like apples or undefined masses of matter labeled by a variable such as X. Rarely, if ever, will you encounter a professor who opts to illustrate the application of the formula with things like groups of people or attitudes or sociopolitical trends.
And yet…there is nothing in existence that falls outside the parameters of the catch-all designation “the workings of the Universe”. Not even “God” or your “immortal soul”, so if you were thinking you had the perfect fly to contaminate my ointment, you need to just simmer down. Of course, the “workings of the Universe” aren’t nearly as formulaic as our descriptions of each isolated event imply. In fact, we tend only to look at an effect as the natural outcome of a cause without understanding that it’s actually an ongoing perpetual circular motion of an effect following a cause which in turn causes the effect to become a cause affecting the next event. It is an infinite process. But since most of us tend to view reality in relation to the confines of our own lifetimes, the built-in stabilizing element of the system is considered unimportant. If the force of motion – whether inducing a positive, negative or neutral effect on our lives – is strong enough to keep such aspects energized for the better part of a century (not even a drop in the bucket of “eternity” which cannot be contained by even the most massive of buckets), then what comes next is of no significance to us. (“What does the future of the species matter to me if I won’t be alive to experience it?”)
The mass hallucination called the United States of America is younger than 3 successive human lifetimes as roughly defined in the previous paragraph. A mere baby among many older and often wiser mass hallucinations across the globe. Truly, it hasn’t existed long enough to have achieved a level of “greatness” that needs to be recaptured “again”. But the actual people living within the mass hallucination represent varying levels of intellectual, emotional, social, political and cultural evolution. As usual, those who have stagnated in their evolution are the most vocal and forceful in demanding that nothing be done to upset the status quo. And in their minds, the “status quo” is a white, male-dominated top-down system that affords them the best opportunities and the least criticism for the cowardice underlying this fucked up vision of Utopia. In a sense, there was a moment in modern times when this was almost the way things operated and that probably occurred sometime in the early 1950s. Just before a large swath of Americans re-learned the power of protest resulting in the counter-culture movement of the sixties, things weren’t just easier for white Christian males, they were unquestionably so, as if it were the God-given right of the majority to be the majority. But just a quick glance back at the simplest maxims of Newtonian physics shows us why this was an untenable situation that could not have persisted indefinitely. Forward motion brought the situation to where it was at that time, but the motion didn’t stop simply because a few people found themselves in an undeservedly fortunate position. It kept going, ensuring that this desire for rights and freedom and economic security started to infect everyone who lived within the nation’s borders: women, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT, Asians, Muslims, etc. Therefore, anyone who proudly dons a stupid baseball cap bearing the acronym “MAGA” is fully ignorant of the most basic laws of physics. If there hadn’t been preexisting communities of minorities throughout the country at the time of this pinnacle of white male dominance, some other division would have eventually arisen to restore balance to this unevenly skewed landscape. Perhaps guys with mustaches would have banded together to protest the unfair advantage held by the clean shaven. Whatever. See, the specifics of who one considers inferior or a threat to his lifestyle are irrelevant. Bigoted whites don’t hate blacks specifically because they’re black. They hate them because there is an observable physical “difference” and ignorance is incapable of grasping subtleties such as interconnection or the troublesome implications of a genetic distinction as infinitesimal as .0001%. In other words, what they really hate is change. As such, it is the scariest thing imaginable for them to internalize the fact that change is actually the only constant “law of the Universe”.
At the present, American politics is in a seeming ideological stalemate. The way to describe this in the language of classical physics is the situation of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. But fortunately, that is a paradox in itself. If a force were truly irresistible, it would follow that no object could be considered immovable when acted upon by said force. If an object were truly immovable, there would be no such thing as a force that it couldn’t resist. So we will move on. And we will move forward. There’s no sense speculating about what the “end result” might be, because as we’ve already covered, there is no such endpoint to this or any other process. But we can at least take comfort in this: tribalism and its constituent aspects of bigotry and hatred for “outsiders” (otherwise known as xenophobia) is what appears to be the “immovable object” right now. But this is only because the soon-to-be temporarily “irresistible force” of progressive acceptance and cooperation hasn’t yet gathered enough strength to demolish the object. It’s powerful enough to move it – we might have witnessed that in a few of last night’s election results – but this object isn’t a can to be kicked down the road, it’s an eyesore to be destroyed. We who embrace change can be patient and hopeful in the knowledge that sooner or later, the spirit of cooperation and compromise will prevail in the eradication of the object, just as those who stubbornly cling to it know that its elements will begin to gather and coalesce into a similar stagnant phenomenon immediately upon the disintegration of its current form. “Luck” means being alive during that sweet spot in history and geography when either the winds of change blow unhindered or they’re kept at bay by a massive blockade. Which of those is considered a fortunate situation depends upon your personal values. Those who value freedom and inclusiveness find the unobstructed flow of the wind to be most soothing while those who value predictability and stagnation cling fearfully to metaphorical rocks. However, every rock must disintegrate sooner or later but the wind will continue to blow.
So cheer up, my fellow good-hearted citizens. Physics is on our side.