Thursday, November 2, 2017

Political Inertia

Inertia is defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as "a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force." Most often times, we think of inertia within the world of physics, as a way to describe the inherent quality of objects to resist a change in angular motion. However, inertia does not solely exist in the realm of physics. Inertia is found in the realm of politics as well.

Inertia retains the same inherent quality in the realm of politics as it does in the physics lab. In politics, inertia describes the resistance to change of different institutions in practices and routine. For example, the international financial system experiences regular shocks and dips varying in severity such as the Great Depression and the Great Recession. Despite these obvious and predictable trends that prove detrimental to the well-being of many around the world, this financial system has remained relatively unchanged, with the basic underlying structure of the system remaining almost untouched.

Likewise, war may be used as another example of this sort of political inertia. While many terrible events may seem like they will lead to eventual conflict between two or more nations, most of these theoretical wars do not occur. However, when a war does break out, there is a tendency for war to continue and persist even if the financial and societal strains of war seem to be beyond what a country or countries can endure.

Societal change exemplifies the inertia of a particular political system within a society. The inertia of our own political system within the United States has been seen and is still seen on the fronts of LGBTQ rights, gender equality, and racial equality to name a few. Many times we hear in the news stories of how changes to the way social interactions work here in the United States are met with resistance, sometimes in the form of violence. When the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed here in the United States - these amendments granted slaves their freedom and rights as American citizens - the political system of the South and other areas of the United States responded with Jim Crow laws and the Supreme Court "separate but equal" ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson. Inertia is strong within political systems even in the face of change by things like the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.

Now that we see that inertia exists within the political spectrum, how is this inertia defined? What are the base units that contribute to this quantity? While most, if not all, political scientists do not decide to utilize the physics breakdown of inertia (I=mr^2), I will attempt to define this political inertia in these terms.

The inertia of a political system is created by the sum of the inertia of each individual within that system. This means that each one of us has our own moment of political inertia. For the sake of simplicity, we will define our mass m as being the number of times we participate in some routine in one particular year, and our distance from the axis of rotation r as the number of years we participate in the routine. r is representative of the number of years of participation in the routine because the longer you do something, the harder it is to either stop that particular action. The number of years you do some sort of routine seems to have a sort of exponential effect on the ability of someone to abandon that routine. Someone who has smoked a cigarette once a day for one day will most likely have an easier time not smoking than someone who has smoked once a day for ten years. Likewise, someone who smokes a cigarette once a day for ten years (m=1, v=10, I=100) may have an easier time quitting than someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day for ten years (m=2, v=10, I=200). While this may not be the best example, this general principle appears to apply to many aspects of a persons life.

Thus, the more individuals within a political system who participate in a particular activity or routine at high frequencies for a long periods of time, the greater the overall inertia of that political system to changes to things that affect those routines.

While this may not have been the most scientific analysis of inertia, it was interesting to see how inertia may be applied to the realm of politics. For more information about this topic and an exploration in the source that helped/inspired me the most to write about this, follow the link below:

Thanks for reading.

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