Dearest Rachel –
When I was a kid, I collected some book about the ‘Official Rules.’ I don’t recall if that was what was titled, but I think it may have been. These weren’t rules for a game, or instructions for anything in particular; just observations on how life worked, or didn’t. Stuff like Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”), and O’Toole’s Corollary (“Murphy was an optimist”). It’s where I learned about Parkinson’s Law, as well as a cynical but pithy summation of the actual laws of thermodynamics:
- 1. You can’t win.
- 2. You can’t break even.
- 3. You can’t quit the game.
Granted, I’m not sure how the third one factors in, but the first two pretty well cover the conservation of energy and the progression toward entropy that are essentially universal axioms.
So where am I going with this? Great question.
I could start on our own little microcosm, where we did our level best to defy rule number three. We determined that it was a waste of time to keep things clean and organized, as the mess was just going to come back. And while we didn’t make any effort to ‘quit’ the game, we did our level best to not bother playing. Even such minor things such as recycling paper ultimately became futile, as the mail seemed to come in faster than you could process it (especially since you felt the need to rip all the plastic windows out of the envelopes, insisting that they weren’t recyclable, and needed to be kept separate. What would you have said to see Jan and I just throwing the unopened junk mail straight into the bin without bothering to separate everything?
But quite honestly, you’ve heard all this from me already as we’ve gone through the entire house. And when you were actually around, you got the occasional passive-aggressive nudge from me about it all. I’ve no need, or desire, to belabor that point.
No, after putting together my last letter to you, I went to bed, and started thinking about this topic on a somewhat more macro level. Sure, the Fall doomed so much of humanity, but in the process, it caused (I almost wanted to say ‘forced,’ but that indicates a lack of agency that suggest we weren’t responsible for things, including the Fall itself that brought us to this point) us to try and better ourselves on our own. Indeed, the book of Genesis itself introduces us to individuals along the way who were the first to introduce humanity to this or that point on the tech tree, so to speak. In the process, these people wind up achieving a form of a immortality in their name is being remembered some four thousand years hence for unlocking these achievements.
Granted, as the Steve Taylor song goes, “I’d rather be immortal by not dying,” but you pretty much take what you can get, I suppose.
It isn’t long before God Himself even says, in effect, “We need to do something about these humans, or else there’s going to be nothing they can’t do.” Et voila, no entiendo lo que dijiste, and such was the end of the Tower of Babel.
For the time being. Because while the Lord intended us to spread out across the globe, to fill the earth and subdue it – the one and only commandment we as humanity have actually managed to fulfill and then some – now that we have, we’ve gone back to congregating in cities, and constructing huge buildings to better accommodate our need to do so. And to better facilitate this urge, we continue to develop technologies to upgrade and maintain these cities: means of transportation for both cargo and people; sewage and purification systems to keep things clean; communications systems to better keep up with the outside world and its effects on the local scale.
All of which are subject to wear and tear, until everything eventually falls to Ozymandian ruin.
Of course, it’s not as if we’re necessarily building things as monuments to ourselves, as such, as just making our individual ways in the world, meeting our own needs by determining how to meet others’ (and determining what we can charge those others for what we do to meet them). Our world – at least the way I see it – is more mercenary that memorializing. But regardless of the cause, the effect is the same; we continue to build Babels – or at least, establish local franchises of Babel, Incorporated – throughout the world, in defiance of the laws of entropy. While the natural world continues to tend toward decline and decay, we keep insisting that we can keep improving, with the sum total of cumulative knowledge growing exponentially with every day.
And despite the fact that this is a massive collective effort on our part, we seem to forget that this is a deliberate attempt to be an exception to the physical laws of nature; we attempt to convince ourselves that the cosmos itself brought us to this point by pure eventual happenstance, like the infinite number of monkeys that brought us Hamlet and Macbeth. Which simply isn’t so.
All I envisioned as I closed my eyes last night was the slowly-forming cracks in the concrete of the parking garage underneath some great apartment complex – or even some famed superstructure like the John Hancock or the Sears Tower. We can only defy entropy for some long, though; these things will come to an end at some point.
And God help those nearby when they fall.