The Gist: Political Entropy
Entropy increases and political problems tend to compound. Tired parties can sometimes reach a point where they simply can't do anything new. It's a bad formula in a crisis. This is the Gist.
The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics says “spontaneous change in a closed system always proceeds in a direction that increases randomness or disorder.” Or, as Yeats put it, “Things fall apart.”
And yet in political circles there is a powerful presumption that politics works in the opposite direction- that, over time, the arc of history bends towards justice (or at least improvement). I mean, that might happen, sure, but not without an awful lot of energy being pushed into that arc. History is so full of terrible people doing terrible things that not since Noah has an arc required such a excessive effort to move it.
It’s worth recognising that, if we are moving into a period of shocking events and sudden realisations (From “Why has my oven stopped in the middle of heating my dinner and my light bulbs have left me standing in a pitch black kitchen?” to “Why has my beachfront house filled up with water?”) then a state run energetically can make people’s lives significantly better. There are things we need urgently done that can’t and shouldn’t be left to personal responsibility. There are things that need a collective response. That’s why it’s worth having political power in the hands of people who are both competent and know what they want to do with that competence.
Typically, you would hope to have some fresh faces bubbling with new ideas at the Cabinet table. A growing problem is that the faces around the cabinet table are looking as fresh as last week’s mackerel.
But more profoundly, our longest established political parties- the institutions built as lenses to capture and focus political impulses- seem to have lost their puff.
Let’s take a spin around the mulburry bush- About a month after the Taoiseach said his office didn’t have ‘bandwidth’ to manage Slaintecare and saying it was a matter for Health officials, Health officials responded by disbanding the Advisory council of experts that was so unhelpfully pointing out their failures.
The Taoiseach, on returning home from delivering a thundering speech to the UN General Assembly on the need to take urgent and radical steps to combat climate change, was asked if he’d support removing the Car Park that was built on Leinster House’s formal gardens in 1948 and reinstating it as a green space.
What about the vested interests?, he effectively spluttered. Former TDs get free town parking for life! You can’t disturb a person who is already enjoying advantages!
“Climate change is the single greatest challenge facing our generation.”, the Taoiseach told the assembled leaders of the world in the UN. What he failed to mention was defeating the problem of Parking in Town was, apparently, the greatest challenge facing the last generation and that took precedence.
A man who cannot imagine improving anything if it will discommode anyone with a vested insteret, no matter how minor, seems unlikely to have the temperament to prepare a nation for a climate emergency.
But the Taoiseach’s embrace of not doing pales in the face of Fine Gael’s Entropy Problem.
It has positioned itself so successfully as the party that won’t play well with others that it is the last choice of every other party across the spectrum to partner with.
In a political system where coalition building is the key to government, this is the surest route to isolation from power.
But step back from the day to day and you see the two and a half parties of Ireland’s two and a half party system (FF, FG and Labour) all limping along at a fraction of their once presumed position.
Today’s Sunday Business Post publishes a Red C poll that sees each of the three being lapped by their main rivals. FF by FG. FG by SF and even the Labour Party slipping behind the recently-constructed-in-flight Social Democrats.
The Irish state is going through its decade of centenaries, with the final 100 year markings of the state’s foundations yet to come. 100 years is a long time for any organisation to endure, and for good reason- it’s just hard to attract talent for multiple generations when you’ve become the status quo.
Fortunately for society, change comes as old people (and their institutions) are replaced by the next generation. Unfortunately for society, not all change is for the better.
But what can be assured is that as sure as day follows night, the possibility of causing social change will only grow more attractive than working to keep things as they’ve always been.
And parties who have allowed themselves to stand for the past aren’t likely to have much of a future.