Monthly Archives: March 2015

Thinking on Conflagration

It is Holi, 2015. I am reading this.

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21645729-quarter-century-after-end-cold-war-world-faces-growing-threat-nuclear?fsrc=nlw%7Chig%7C5-03-2015%7C

The nuclear bomb was meant to be a frightening inducement to peace, as if humans as a species could be collectively made to behave peaceably under the overwhelming threat of a weapon-overlord.

The context was near-planetary war, in a century shaken by the fact that war had no limits. New technology had made it possible to reach and destroy without having to go to the enemy and engage them face to face with rules and constraints. The enemy was multi-bodied, the enemy uniform or physical characteristic sufficient to mark and condemn all the people who symbolically shared it. Fear had spilled over the trenches long ago, now it would spill over human life itself.

Perhaps some folks did not like that the implacable fight to live that animated most of what science put under its instruments of examination should be mirrored in whatever humans created. Perhaps the idea was to subdue man with the forces of nature (or science) before the very matrix of human life became a battlefield.

What did those well-meaning men (and they were perhaps men, perhaps not all men) think about who would wield such bombs? Who is or would be benign enough to do so?

Besides, it hardly matters if the overlord himself were benign; it is not in this century’s culture to view the presence of a perceived overlord or more powerful entity as benign. The very existence of such a power would be an affront, an actionable trigger.

Nuclear power was never about ‘right’ (what is right); only about ‘the right’ to do something with it, and about some ideological justification for what any one person or community wants. The existence of nuclear power is not a problem; the pervasive desire to harness it as weaponry instead of a source of energy for human needs is a problem we cannot unmake.

There are studies (http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/nir-halevy-how-do-you-make-decisions ) that say, given a chance, humans will choose an equal and best common decision for any relational choice. But what is true in societal, individual-to-individual or peer-to-peer relations is not necessarily true for inter-community relations. For the lifetime of a community is longer than that of a single human, and history induces a different sort of calculation of choices, of political justifications for imagined futures. People calculate rewards and punishments in different ways (http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/kristin-laurin-people-calculate-rewards-punishments-different-ways). A man or woman may invest and sacrifice to build the fabric of the social network he or she lives in, but will not act the same way to extend that network beyond a safe, controllable perimeter. We don’t decide in favor of justice, we decide for ourselves.

I would resist the temptation to speak of schoolyard bullies, of men in their childhood. As long as there is any chance for power, gang war and factionalism, without sufficient overwhelming presence and pressure applied to discourage the bickering and fighting there will be war. There is no other species yet violent enough or powerful enough to subdue the self-sabotaging tendencies of the human race.

Our communication media are full of rhetoric about ‘changing the world’ at every level. We applaud youngsters who deliver inspirational speeches, move us with youthful idealism, or simply speak of things we discarded in favor of stability and security in our life-choices. We elevate and enshrine the idea– at our mundane career levels: work for the underprivileged, for women (while you shop at brand name stores), win a trip to Africa, to India, travel and learn, volunteer, teach the poor, the children (always dark-skinned, by the way), and what a great thing to add to our resumes; at geopolitical levels; at levels of religious or economic empires. And we ignore what it means when our effort and our vision of change or a changed world interacts with everyone else’s. We know better and we mean well, so you better listen, OR we don’t care about you and we have the power so you better listen. What’s the difference? Whose world matters? Whose vision?

This planet is more than the earth of humankind, but in our individual efforts to superimpose one or the other perfect world on it we have reduced its existence to our narrow jockeying for regional power. I watch the roll of history, of the choices being made between possible futures, and wonder how much energy will be spent in opposing one or the other mad ambition before some part of this earth is blighted.


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