Individual Freedom

Independence to the exclusion of concern for others feeds  entropy

Guard Rail

Obviously, guard rails are intended to keep cars from running off the road—and to reduce the severity of an accident when they do. Not so obvious is the observation that their presence indicates a lack of trust. Appropriately so. Bad accidents, even death, may have occurred had we trusted—ourselves and “the other guy.” This image reminds me that, because human beings generally cannot be trusted, safeguards are necessary, increasingly so in proportion to the level of distrust, which in highly mobile societies increases with population density and social complexity. Without safeguards the odds of breakdown increase as more people are on the road with more distractions.

At the same time, the presence of guard rails on roadsides generates trust. These metal barriers actually have served their purpose. Systemically speaking, they are “syntropic.” They reduce the effects of entropy, which is the tendency of systems to dissipate heat. In other words, breakdown. In the case of a highway system, entropy amounts to the dis-integration of roadway integrity. If entropy goes unchecked by safeguards such as improvements in the areas of car design, road maintenance, guards and signage, more and more severe accidents will occur. The many innovations, requirements and regulations surrounding car and passenger safety are prime examples of how syntropy reduces the frequency and severity of mayhem and catastrophe.

I reflect on the human body, mind and spirit which are equally susceptible to the forces of entropy—from tooth decay to depression. At base, advertisers are in the business of selling syntropy: products and services that help prevent, retard, manage or eliminate the effects of entropy. (In living systems, 100% entropy equates with death. Maximum equilibrium). So to gain more confidence in the components of our personal and social lives, ultimately to increase their  health and well-being, regulation is essential. A social example is the national economy. It’s heavily regulated, not so the few can disadvantage the many, but to insure stability and increase public confidence, which directly influences the nation’s health and well-being—and the economy.

The word “regulation” in some spheres—mine was the broadcast television industry—has been seen as a threat to individual freedom. “Don’t tell me how to run my business.” Whether the social unit is a family, church congregation, community, business, corporation, nation or the global family, without regulation entropy will inexorably result in more and more severe breakdowns. The Coronavirus is a good example.

Systemically speaking, zero regulation equates with no growth and maximum entropy. In nature, a species dis-integrate when it acts solely in self-interest. Similarly, in human social systems, entropic disintegration is enhanced when the members act primarily in their own interest, despite justifications and rationals. One’s health, well-being and success, however it’s measured, is never secured independently, because human beings are socially dependent—interconnected and interdependent— physically, emotionally, economically and spiritually. Independence is both an illusion and an entropic idea that’s not sustainable.

Personal, social and international conflicts and breakdowns such as wars, occur in a climate of self-centeredness. “Nationalism” has often been raised as a banner to profess “love of country,” which is a healthy posture. But taken to extremes it becomes entropic when it promotes exclusion, self-sufficiency and righteousness.

Futurist and author Barbara Marx Hubbard observed that “Crisis precedes transformation.” Like pain in the body, breakdowns are a sign that entropy is having its way and catastrophic change is coming, unless something is done to repair, replace or transform the system. The rapidly declining state of infrastructure in the United States is an example. Polarization in health and government is a direct result of self-centered close-mindedness, which to me are indications that systematic transformations are underway.

Sometimes we need to experience what doesn’t work in order to rethink and redesign the system so it does work—like a highway system with guardrails, cars with seat belts, police body-cameras, face masks and vaccines. Learning through breakdowns is difficult, but eventually they contribute to breakthroughs, even resilience as a consequence of learning.

Trouble is, getting to that point can take a lot of breakdowns over a long period of time. The ideal would be to own up to them and take syntropic action so the system can affect a shift to a more viable paradigm and behaviors. As we have seen, the misunderstanding of freedom as license, stubbornness and rigid clinging to ideas and ideologies only feeds the entropic dragon.


If ten people walk beyond civilization and build a new sort of life for themselves, then those ten people are already living in the next paradigm, from the first day.

             Daniel Quinn

About The Image

I was cruising the highway, looking for something to photograph when I came to a stoplight at an intersection. While waiting I noticed how the guardrail divided the bright sky and white snow with a nice clean line.

Since one of my constant visual quests is to find or create simplicity, the fewest number of visual elements within the frame, I backed up the car, put it in “park” with the emergency lights blinking, got the camera and ran about thirty yards hoping the police would not come.

They didn’t. I hand-held several shots, each with the guardrail at a different position in the frame. This is the one I like best because there’s just a hint of snow and the immensity of the sky diminishes the man-made object. With no other objects in the frame, the rail provides some evidence of where we are as a society. Metaphorically and physically.




Photography Monographs (Click on the pages to turn them)

One thought on “Individual Freedom

  1. Human Systems – Systemically speaking, overly complex systems shrouded in layers of bureaucracy where the “lower” members feel they are only “symbolically” in control, are doomed to ever more entropy until the system is dead or painfully reorganizes into another system etc, etc. We human mammals, with our big brains were never meant to live in large cities.
    In nonhuman nature successful organisms living in “large” groups (like ants in a mound) all have social hierarchy’s, mostly caste systems. Even the great apes are socially stratified. Hate to be a dismal scientist, but “what dosen’t work” is US! Our entropy is so great that all powerful leaders see the only way to control it is to gather enough minions to support a totalitarian structure.

    Your examples of “guardrails, cars with seat belts, police body-cameras, face masks and vaccines” are at the base level, examples of complexity which I would think is the enemy of things which are “syntropic”.

    In other words regulation of any sort, increases the amount of entropy in our system, and by your reasoning makes us more vulnerable to the inevitable breakdown. Elimination of regulations and all the little things that make our lives safer and “better” will get us back to the place in nature where we belong….survival of the fittest!

    Of course I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about but it’s fun to think about these things. Thanks for making me think!
    Your old roomie, Paul



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