18 December 2006

Critical Mass

You are almost certainly familiar with the concept of critical mass, one of those "coined by Science" terms that creep into everyday use. Critical mass refers to the moment where enough material is aggregated to initiate a spontaneous reaction, first used to describe what would happen prior to a nuclear explosion.

The concept is useful in sociological terms, for any number of human activities have a pattern of slow development until an adequately-sized group is formed. Think tipping point. Think hundredth monkey. Think quorum.

Now think about this: What do We call the moment in which an active mass becomes inert because its size is no longer enough to sustain action/reaction? In science it can be called the energy threshold, but what is it called in sociological terms?

Stagnation. Social decay. De-evolution. Ennui. Anhedonia. Chaos. Defeat. Collapse.

Pick one or define your own. It all amounts to the same thing: At some point, a group--even a society--can lose enough active members and fall into an inert or disrupted state. It can happen actively, as in revolution, or passively, as in stupid leadership combined with indifference.

We are obviously far from the first and smack damn dab in the middle of the second.

And I'm not talking about the people who leave Our Island of Enchantment for the Land of Sunshine or some other sappy motto. I'm talking about dropping out, opting out, giving up on Us no matter whether you choose to stay or go.

How many of Us are left to sustain the critical mass that can try to propel progress? How close are We to dropping below critical mass? And if--when?--We do, will anybody notice?

I assume, of course, that the sub-critical mass threshold has not been passed. I assume. That in and of itself is upsetting.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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