Thursday, April 25, 2019
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Resisting An Underlying Moral Vacuum

There are moment in life when one, seriously, wonders whether our species, overall, is mentally ill in some underlying ways. Then again, any definitive determination is likely relativistic since it largely depends on the standards that a given society and culture use to define mental illness, it would seem.

In any case, there, certainly, seems to exist some sort of major intrinsic flaws that humans harbor in general. How could there not be when we, continually, have, along with many constructive ones, the same sorts of ugly dysfunctional behaviors happening again and again through the centuries?

In an offhand way, this being the case reminds me of a particular shark species that renders live births before which the biggest babies developed teeth and ate their smaller siblings while in the womb. Imagine! (One can craft all sorts of analogies off of this pattern.)

Yet, this animal type has endured for an incredibly long period of time since the action in no way wipes out the sharks in entirety. Indeed, this little quirk, actually, seems to ensure that the ones that do manage to survive to be born are stronger, bigger and more capable after birth than they would have been had they not consumed their kin.

So, any human sense of moral correctness is, appropriately, swept aside in terms of the actual results as nature, itself, is amoral, and it is anthropocentric and Disneylandish to consider otherwise. (Alternately put, such actions as the sharks' seem favored from an evolutionary standpoint or else they would not exist or would have no effect whatsoever -- just like the Hapsburg earlobe or any other number of neutral conditions.)

So regardless that some activity might be considered distasteful or shockingly unconscionable, it is merely functionally viable in the larger scheme when it aids furtherance of life. As such, the most adept victors in life's struggles to move forward, whether brutal or not, wind up having a better chance at surviving and living to breeding age to sometimes pass forward the very traits, whether deemed repulsive or not, that gave them the advantage in the first place.

How tragic, though, this actuality is when the unwary victims aren't the smaller unborn sharks but are people who face ethical turpitude. How especially this is so when involving noncombatant civilians, as well as other life forms largely viewed as being benign. As such, one wonders about the perverse, although possibly functionally beneficial, foundations that impel acts of violence for the sheer pleasure of it or the twisted thrill that could arise from having domination over life and death of others. (Do members of any other species besides ours kill for the pure joy of it?)

Further, the same sort of warped thinking that could apply to the act of bombing cities from jets in the clouds or seeding farm fields and waterways with mines, while there is awareness about whom will be impacted in the process, assuredly could apply in some manner to certain climate change victims. In other words, they are all simply seen as collateral damage and are of little consideration, if any whatsoever at all, by many of the worst offenders.

So despite being outrageous, Barack Obama's continual refusal to sign the international cluster bomb treaty is understandable even as the U.S. military has a stockpile of nearly one billion cluster bomblets that kill and maim citizens of other countries. Concurrently, the U.S. stockpiles 10.4 million antipersonnel mines and 7.5 million anti-vehicle mines while he, likewise, snubs ratifying the anti-landmine treaty. 

In addition, the Pentagon has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to complete research and development on ever new, more lethal designs for mines, which sets an alarming precedence to legitimize global resumption of landmine proliferation. After all, who knows when they might come in handy during a preemptive invasion.

At the same time, it is tragic that the United Nation's worldwide anti-mine programs face a budget shortfall of $565m in 2010. As such, there is little hope of clearing away the estimated 119 million to 20 million mines buried across the world or providing a timely education about them to populations at risk to be slaughtered or mangled on their account.

So, even as the "United Nations and Afghan officials have launched an awareness campaign that plans to educate over six million children about the dangers of landmines, which kill and injure over 60 people (more than half being children) in [Afghanistan] alone each month", there is little hope that such programs can be as constructive as originally planned. Simultaneously, "Afghanistan has one of the highest landmine-casualty figures in the world, and most of these mines were actually placed in the country by the United States military." [1]

"These eventually explosive weapons were designed to not detonate upon ground impact, and can lie undetected for years. Landmines are a particularly dangerous and indiscriminate weapon, as any person (in most cases, a civilian) is liable step on one, even if peace has since been declared in the region." Therefore, we can anticipate that the current rate of damage and death will continue despite that "... over 70,000 Afghans have been killed by landmines in the past two decades, and now mine-clearing agencies say that children and returning refugees are particularly vulnerable to the threat." [2]

At the same time that various countries are adding to their destructive arsenals of weaponry in anticipation of future wars, their industrial institutions continue to make plans for further profits in additional ways that will, doubtlessly, cause other types of devastation, for example by raising the global carbon load. Assuredly, the actions shared by US car-maker General Motors and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC), its Chinese partner, to manufacture 225,000 vehicles a year for India's growing market will do so. Indeed, this venture is already planned in spite of the fact that portions of that country will be hardest hit by climate change effects during this century, which will bring dreadful consequences for a large percentage of the Indian population.

Furthermore, the second largest source of greenhouse gases is thought to be transportation. For that reason alone, the creation of markets for cheap cars becomes a major issue relative to ecological concerns aside from the fact that any sizeable increase in personal vehicles on the road will cause post-peak oil to arrive all the more quickly if it hasn't already.

Yet, these grave matters are, obviously, not factored into considerations since profits, whether by the military-industrial establishment or other conglomerates, trump all other sorts. Similarly not assessed in the overall picture is the fact that "Quakes, volcanic eruptions, giant landslides and tsunamis may become more frequent as global warming changes the earth's crust." [3] At the same time, climate change effects will definitely cause a rise in ocean levels so as to submerge many low lying coastal regions and islands across the world where millions of people currently reside and eke out a living.

However, the public cannot expect government leaders or their corporate counterparts to factor in human or ecological welfare when they make plans to produce and sell further armaments or vehicles in addition to undertaking other disastrous plans. After all, it would mean their giving up immediate earnings for long term benefits and that outcome seems just too hard to accept.

So instead, we are all simply to be individual cogs in a giant economic wheel mindlessly turning around as part of a money-spinning machine that is heading us all towards our combined doom. Are we, after all is said and done, nothing more than the image that Mordechai Vanunu fashions in "I Am Your Spy"?

"I Am Your Spy
"I am the clerk, the technician, the mechanic, the driver.
They said, Do this, do that, don't look left or right,
don't read the text. Don't look at the whole machine. You
are only responsible for this one bolt. For this one rubber-stamp.
This is your only concern. Don't bother with what is above you.
Don't try to think for us. Go on, drive. Keep going. On, on.

"So they thought, the big ones, the smart ones, the futurologists.
There is nothing to fear. Not to worry.
Everything's ticking just fine.
Our little clerk is a diligent worker. He's a simple mechanic.
He's a little man.
Little men's ears don't hear, their eyes don't see.
We have heads, they don't.

"Answer them, said he to himself, said the little man,
the man with a head of his own. Who is in charge? Who knows
where this train is going?
Where is their head? I too have a head.
Why do I see the whole engine,
Why do I see the precipice--
is there a driver on this train?

"The clerk driver technician mechanic looked up.
He stepped back and saw -- what a monster.
Can't believe it. Rubbed his eyes and -- yes,
it's there all right. I'm all right. I do see
the monster. I'm part of the system.
I signed this form. Only now I am reading the rest of it.

"This bolt is part of a bomb. This bolt is me. How
did I fail to see, and how do the others go on
fitting bolts. Who else knows?
Who has seen? Who has heard? -- The emperor really is naked.
I see him. Why me? It's not for me. It's too big.

"Rise and cry out. Rise and tell the people. You can.
I, the bolt, the technician, mechanic? -- Yes, you.
You are the secret agent of the people. You are the eyes of the nation.
Agent-spy, tell us what you've seen. Tell us what the insiders, the clever ones, have hidden from us.
Without you, there is only the precipice. Only catastrophe.

"I have no choice. I'm a little man, a citizen, one of the people,
but I'll do what I have to. I've heard the voice of my conscience
and there's nowhere to hide.
The world is small, small for Big Brother.
I'm on your mission. I'm doing my duty. Take it from me.

"Come and see for yourselves. Lighten my burden. Stop the train.
Get off the train. The next stop -- nuclear disaster. The next book,
the next machine. No. There is no such thing.

"-1987, Ashkelon Prison"
Perhaps we, overall, are nothing more than Vanunu's bolts since, despite the soundness of his plea, many people mechanically conform to whatever policies confront them. They automatically and passively go along with the programs that are customarily in place even when it is obviously harmful to do so.

As such, there seems a sort of disconnection that they represent -- a kind of dialectical dualism or cognitive dissociation wherein they can sometimes perform small acts of daily kindness, but can't quite tie their broader actions to their bigger effects. How could this not be the case?

In relation, one might wonder about how anyone in his right mind could design, manufacture or dispense bombs, nuclear or not, and mines that could wreck havoc upon others -- perhaps children running across a field or farmers sowing seeds in it. Is he so disconnected from the meanings of his actions that they are immaterial? Does he simply not care about foreign children or farmers when they are strangers in far away lands? What kind of madness, actually, is at heart of such an unprincipled act?

So even if the populations that face weapons of mass destruction are innocent or many of the climate change victims have very small carbon footprints, it makes no difference to the biggest, most aggressive manufacturers and polluters. They simply go about their daily affairs unaware or largely dismissive of the ruinous havoc that they render in their wakes. Thus, we collectively lunge headlong toward our globally shared plights.

More to the point, what does it take to develop, on a large scale, the sort of firm resistance to the status quo that Mordechai Vanunu describes? It clearly has to be created as too much is in peril across the world for it not to be effected even if positive outcomes are highly unlikely.

Besides, why not try in spite of the risk for failure? After all, “the only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing - for the sheer fun and joy of it - to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.” -I . F. Stone

Emily Spence is an author living in Massachusetts. She has spent many years involved in human rights, environmental and social services efforts.


[1] Reisendame, "There is no peace when you could be sleeping next to a landmine" at (reisendame.wordpress).

[2] Reisendame, "There is no peace when you could be sleeping next to a landmine" at (reisendame.wordpress).

[3] Richard Meares, Global warming may bring tsunami and quakes: (scientists | Reuters).

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