Climate Change and Nietzschean Entropy

Nietzsche celebrated the exceptional creature, which can evolve only when insulated from competition, from the mob, over millennia. The narrowness of the environment, and the narrowness of the competition, to which that creature is subject induces the focus in adaptation that is the key to greatness. It is the key to Angraecum sesquipedale and Morgan’s sphinx moth, for example. So too is it key to the greatness of the Spartan solider.

Nietzsche hated above all things the consequences of opening up such a narrow and greatness-fecund environment to competition from outside. When that happens, the exceptional type is brought low. Finely adapted talents prove no match for predators who attack precisely in those areas that were once insulated from competition and which are therefore vulnerable. The great swordsman, a product not only of great training, but also of millennia of cultural development, is felled by a rifle in the hands of a babe.

Needless to say, humanity, in bringing competition to all creatures, is a Nietzschean cataclysm, laying waste to millennia of specialized evolutionary greatness, a legacy to be perused in any catalogue of recently extinct creatures. Except, perhaps, when humanity itself gives rise to great types. Think Wagner, the author Stendhal, and the tulip.

Climate change is a twofold Nietzschean cataclysm within the human cataclysm, because of volatility. It is starting to look as though the major harm of climate change will be a mercurial and unpredictable environment. Storms that come from nowhere. Drought one year, deluge the next. That is a twofold Nietzschean cataclysm because it not only exposes great and sheltered types to new competition, but it also makes the creation of new great and sheltered types out of the wreckage of the old impossible by denying new types the stability of circumstances that they need to adapt. There will be no moth there long enough for the orchid to coevolve a long spur in its nectary, or no orchid there long enough for a moth to coevolve a very long proboscis. Greatness requires focus, you see, and focus requires time. In a world of constant change, the only thing that can survive is that ultimate of Nietzschean demons, the lowest common denominator.

If the oxygenation of the atmosphere and the flowering of life were local orderings of the universe made possible, according to the immutable laws of entropy, by the sowing of a greater disorder among the elements of the sun, then the mixing of oxygen back into the carbon compounds from which life originally extracted it, which is to say, the contemporary process of climate change, is reversion to the mean, our inevitable capitulation to the comingling of everything with everything else that is the heat death of the universe.

Nietzsche was right to celebrate the exceptional type as the ultimate expression of life, because life itself is, according to those immutable laws of entropy, no more than that, no more than an ordering that defies the mean disorder, the mist that rises above the crashing waterfall (as a great man once said), the exceptional, the unique, Nietzsche, standing out against the crowd, soon to be pulled back into it, and torn limb from limb.