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The Second Law of Thermodynamics – Part 2 of the Café Series

This is the second installment of the Café Series, a conversation that takes a modern day Socrates and a group of friends through a series of questions on their way to the large-looming issue whether human existence as such can be justified given mankind’s appetite for destruction of self, others and nature.

Let’s pick up the conversation right where we left it last time.

Tommy [pondering]: Well, you might be right. But, what is it, then – is quitting the news good for us or bad? Now I want to know, also! Should we turn our attention away from the world? And what would that mean?

Socrates: That’s a lot of questions, Tommy. Tell me: What do you think?

Tommy: Well, I am not so sure. I have also seen that it makes Em pretty miserable. She often tells me about yet another terrible thing that happened or some injustice in the world, and she seems so, well, discouraged, I guess? And yeah, it sometimes doesn’t make me feel better either when I spent a lot of time reading about this catastrophe here and that emotionally charged political controversy over there. So now that I think about it more, it might actually be better to withdraw from it all.

Em [lightens up]: Yes, thank you!

Socrates: Fair enough. Still, Tommy, let me ask you this: Do you want the things you and Emmelie and Annabelle are talking about solved? Like, do you actually care about them?

Tommy: Of course I do, yes! Who wouldn’t want that?

Socrates: Then, do you not think that by not paying attention to the news anymore, you would basically say that you do not want those issues to be solved?

Tommy [confused]: What? No, that’s not what I just said at all. I do care, a lot actually!

Em [with a sigh]: Oh man, here we go again. Be careful, he’s just gonna make you feel stupid, Tommy! [turns to her phone and starts scrolling]

Socrates [reassuringly]: That is not my aim, no. Tommy, is it alright with you if I ask you a few more questions to explain what I meant?

Tommy [suspicious]: Alright, yes. Shoot.

Emmelie shakes her head in disbelief and fully turns her attention to her phone.

Socrates: Thank you. Okay, this is going to be really simple: When you do not pay attention to something, does it cease to exist?

Tommy: Well, no. I guess not. What do you mean exactly?

Socrates: Let’s say you have a bed in your room at home. I assume you have one? [Tommy nods with arched eyebrows, seemingly questioning the sanity of Socrates]. Then, if you were to not look at it anymore, would it still be there? Say, after a week?

Tommy: Obviously it would still be there, yeah. What a ridiculous question.

Socrates: So we have agreed that things do not go away from ignoring them. They persist. Then, if you did not pay attention to your bed for that week, what would happen to it?

Tommy: Nothing would happen to it. It would just sit there, right? [looking at the others]

Annabelle is paying attention to the conversation, and gives Timmy a supportive glance, while Emmelie is still on her phone. Hugh is sitting still in his corner, drinking from his iced latte.

Socrates: Maybe you are right, nothing major would happen to it in a week. But wouldn’t there be some dust beginning to collect on it?

Tommy: Yeah, I guess that would happen. But what does it matter?

Socrates: The dust collecting on your bed, would it make your bed better or worse?

Tommy: Neither! It’s just some dust, man!

Socrates: Well, would you want to lie down on it more or less than before?

Tommy: More, for in your scenario I haven’t slept in a week! [laughs whole-heartedly]

Socrates [chuckling with him]: Yes, yes, I see that I haven’t been very precise in my speech. Let’s consider what also might happen in that week. If you were to not pay attention to your bed, not looking out for it, what would you say would also happen to it besides it collecting some of the old skin whirling around in your room?

Tommy: Well, if we are this serious, usually even one day is enough time for me to throw some of my worn clothes on it. So if I weren’t looking at it, not seeing it, really, I guess I would just throw a bunch of stuff on there all the time. And Em might, too! [giving her a glance, which she returns] I still don’t get what this whole conversation is all about, though. You’re lucky we got some time on our hands.

Socrates: Okay, I hear you. But let us continue: would that make your bed better for it?

Tommy: Neither, for how could a bed be better or worse from some clothes?

Socrates: Good answer. Still, what I mean by that is this: Would you like to lie down on that bed, on which you and others have now thrown dirty clothes and other items all week, more or less in comparison to a week earlier?

Tommy: I would probably just sleep at Em’s, man! [burst of laughter] But yeah, alright, I would want to lie down on it less than before.

Socrates: Fabulous, then we can move on. We have seen that when you do not pay attention to something, then it certainly does get worse, and it gets worse faster if another person does the same alongside you. Neither does the ignored thing disappear nor does it stay the same, but quite the contrary: it deteriorates. Would you agree with me?

Tommy: It seems so from what you and I said, yes.

Socrates: And would you say that you did care about your bed in that time of neglect?

Tommy: Certainly not, yes. But that is quite obvious, let’s get to it, Socrates!

Socrates: Patience, all in its due time, Tommy. We’re almost there. Let’s take this simple example and use it as a template for the question we started out with: Say you did not pay attention to one of the issues we were talking about, like climate change or the way people talk to one another online. Would you agree that the same would go for that as for your bed in the example? That if you didn’t pay attention to it, refused to see it even, it would certainly not stay the same, nor would it just disappear as a problem, but get worse?

Tommy: Well, not necessarily, for other people could do something about it.

Socrates: But remember, or ask Emmelie here – for she will remember, that earlier we had already established that if one thinks something is a good thing to do one would, logically speaking, have to want everyone to do the same. It’s like when Emmelie also throws worn clothes on your bed, just on a much larger scale. If you think it a good idea you would have to think it would be good for her to do it, also, if you don’t want to be inconsistent.

Tommy: Okay, then, I guess so, it would certainly not get better by me looking away. But would it get so much worse?

Socrates: You are right, it might just be a bit of dust settling down or one or two pieces of clothing being added to the pile. But nonetheless, it would worsen. Do you now see how I wondered if you truly cared for the terrible things all you guys lamented so passionately earlier?

Tommy [after a long pause]: I do, yes. [with a hint of red appearing on his cheeks, going quiet]

Hugh [quietly, almost undiscernible]: If nobody were to be talking to one another online, though, then there wouldn’t be… [gets cut short]

Ann [forcefully]: Okay, but it’s not that simple, Socrates! You just mentioned climate change! Even if we did decide to make ourselves pay painful attention to all the terrible news, we couldn’t do much about it anyways! It’s not like your little bed example, in reality it’s out of our hands! All the politicians who have the power don’t care about saving the planet anyways, doing nothing whatsoever, and we’re here, meant to listen to how another species goes extinct or some country suffers from yet another torrential downpouring! [raising her voice, gesticulating] And you probably would also dare to tell us that we are obligated to painstakingly run all our actions through a filter of sustainability while the rich and powerful just don’t fucking care?! It doesn’t even matter whether we pay attention anymore, man, and your philosophizing matters even less. We might as well not fuck up our mental health and stop listening to all the bullshit and just live our lives! Wake the hell up!

At this high point of emotion, we leave the scene for now, for even Socrates is lost for words for a moment.



Thank you for your interest!

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