Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Inevitability


Nuclear war is coming. Our officials are currently increasing the chances of that.

I only write ominous op-ed pieces like this in the spirit of hoping I’m an inaccurate prophet. But I’m unable to avoid the difficult conclusion that nuclear war, absent an immediate, fundamental, worldwide change in attitude, is an inevitable part of our future. It could be weeks, months, or years away. But it is coming.

It could break out at any moment between India and Pakistan, the most likely scenario at present. Pakistan is deploying tactical nuclear weapons controlled by local commanders on the front lines in Kashmir, as if the near-miss of the Cuban crisis of 1962 had never happened. War could almost as likely start between NATO and Russia. It might begin with an accident, a misinterpretation of computer blips, a terrorist act, a careless or calculated overreach by a dictator, or a troubled officer with access to sequestered codes. There are too many weapons of too many sizes connected by too many complex but imperfect electronic systems to too many fallible human beings.

If it happens, all our incremental steps toward a semblance of world order will disappear in a few minutes of unimaginable destruction, to be replaced by a barbaric chaos where medical facilities are overwhelmed and water and food supplies are contaminated. Those still alive at the periphery of the blasts will envy those annihilated at the center.

The effects will be experienced around the world, even from a so-called “regional” war. As the ash and soot and radioactive particles from the detonations rise into the upper atmosphere and disperse upon the winds, we will learn just how small a planet we inhabit together—a lethal lesson with no do-over.

The political fallout will be equally grave and far-reaching. Those leaders who made lukewarm but ineffectual efforts to control the weapons, who paid lip service to non-proliferation treaties, who made high-minded speeches while convinced that disarmament initiatives would mean the end of their electability, will feel a remorse that screams within like the howling mobs that will surround their offices and palaces demanding to know why the leaders let disaster happen.

Not a day goes by that I do not ponder why it has not happened already. However ignored, this issue has hung over our lives like a gray pall. Working to prevent nuclear war has provided invaluable moments of shared hope, but feelings of foreboding have dominated. Morbid preoccupation seems less neurotic than total denial. Anyone who admits the urgency of this issue cringes and waits and wonders when, say, the radio goes temporarily dead—has it finally happened? There’s also the magical thinking that says that since it has not yet happened, there may indeed be miraculous hidden forces at work, helping us avoid the worst until we grow mature enough to realize our folly.

History suggests to us that divine intervention will not prevent the worst. It did not stop the Nazi holocaust. Nuclear weapons were conceived and created by people. People are equally capable of realizing that such weapons have not led, and cannot lead, to the global security we seek. It is this logical conclusion, sidestepped and diluted by hundreds of thousands of “experts,” but clear enough to the average 10-year-old, that can be the shared basis of universally applied, reciprocal negotiations toward absolute and total abolition. The world would rejoice in relief if it happened.

Meanwhile we remain stubbornly blind. How much more deeply could we fail our 10-year-olds than by introducing them to a world where such hideous and unmerited suffering hangs over them? The bumper-sticker question persists: do we hate our enemies more than we love our children?

We have kept these weapons at the ready as our primary way to avoid looking at our own darkness. We have projected evil motives upon a series of less-than-fully-human stereotypes, from the toothy, sadistic, slant-eyed Orientals (suddenly transformed back into agonized human beings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki), to brutal, corrupt, vodka-swilling Soviets, to bearded, misogynistic Islamic thugs. And the real people behind these crude and false stereotypes have projected the same malevolence onto us. Out of this “us-and-them” animosity has arisen the systemic evil of world-destroying weapons.

Our mutual fear can only be mastered by living the golden rule common to all major religions, of doing as you would wish to be done by. Refusal to heed this practical advice has borne a perverse shadow-version of the universal rule of interdependence: if you do harm unto me, I will destroy you utterly—even if it also destroys me in the process!

We need to see, with the same visceral fright that we respond to a poisonous snake rearing up and baring its dripping fangs, the immediacy of the danger we face.

On this earth the universe has tried an experiment in consciousness, an experiment in learning to see what causal conditions lead to life and what lead to death.

We have been gifted with the capacity to see. Instead, we are very close to doing ourselves in. We ignore the life-affirming realism of Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King in favor of the illusory “realism” of Kissinger, Cheney, Trump and Cruz. Millions on the planet continue to work their hearts out to wake people up to reasonable alternatives based in common interest and common sense.

May they prove my pessimism wrong.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ground Zero is Everywhere


The philosopher Krishnamurti once asserted that we are each totally responsible for the whole world. Global climate change, among other issues, has made this provocation seem more and more undeniable. It is impossible to shift elsewhere the responsibility we each bear for our own environmental footprint. There is no way not to make a difference.

The amount of psychic energy that Americans have invested in our current presidential race suggests that citizens feel so weighed down by the burden of our multiple challenges that we invest our preferred candidates with magical powers. We pledge our allegiance to whatever authoritative, or authoritarian, parent figure we assume can best tackle threats too large and amorphous for any one of us to get our arms around.

When Senator Sanders makes it an explicit theme of his campaign that he cannot achieve a political revolution alone, he’s acknowledging a condition of interdependence and shared responsibility that is not only domestic but also global—a new and unavoidable level of civic engagement. While his major issue has been the need for greater citizen involvement in fighting income inequality, other challenges that candidates have addressed more reluctantly also require a different level of participation. Over a half-century ago we came within a hairbreadth of annihilation as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis. To some extent the U.S. and Russia have taken its lessons to heart, with improved communication between their leaders and welcome cutbacks from the grotesque numbers of warheads that had been deployed on both sides.

Now India and Pakistan have chosen to ignore the grave lessons of the Cuban near-disaster of 1962. Unable to resolve a conflict over territory in Kashmir extending back to the partition of the two nations in the late 1940s, a conflict that has already resulted in three wars, Pakistan has deployed tactical nuclear weapons on their border with India. These weapons are under the control not of the head of state, but of local commanders. Should the region slide into a nuclear war and subsequent nuclear winter, it would affect the entire earth. Like it or not, ground zero is now everywhere.  “Over there” has become “here.”

Broad anthropological studies and world gatherings of scientists (see the 1986 Seville Statement) have asserted that we humans are not doomed by our biology to behave violently. Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature presents a hopeful spectrum of global trends toward less violence and war. Pinker asserts that the present moment is one of the most peaceful eras in all of history. Sadly, this must still be qualified by the phrase “relatively speaking.”

A recent issue of the New Yorker carries a riveting report on the heroic efforts of activists to smuggle tons of paper records out of the offices of Assad’s security services, records which document with Nazi-like bureaucratic zeal the horrific war crimes of the Syrian regime. Human cruelty, as the survivors of Assad’s torture chambers attest, can become truly devilish in its creativity. In the South Sudan, tribesmen have been using the rape of children, including infants, as a weapon of war. The sadism of Sudanese soldiers, the keepers of Abu Graib, or the Assad functionaries who blowtorch and castrate dissidents testify to the distance we have yet to travel if our small planet is to become a place where each is responsible for all and love really does trump hate.

Torture and rape are unbearable enough, but a nuclear war anywhere could throw billions of people into the misery of worldwide starvation. It is a dangerous illusion to assume that our political leaders and foreign policy experts will magically prevent apocalypse—that the generals on the front lines in Pakistan or anywhere else are sufficiently trained and disciplined never to fall into fatal error. With each further deployment of battlefield nuclear weapons, weapons that the United States and other nuclear powers are also developing, the temptation grows to cross the nuclear threshold. As Lao Tzu said, “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” All nations share an interest in stepping back from a catastrophe where victory is a mirage that disguises defeat for all.

One presidential candidate, until he changed his mind after a couple of days of negative feedback, rashly proposed that Japan and South Korea be encouraged to become new members of the nuclear club.  And even as President Obama convened an international conference to discuss the sequester of fissile materials against terrorists, he has also quietly agreed to an obscenely expensive long-term renewal of U.S. nuclear weapons systems. Instead, our country could still set an example for India and Pakistan, helping them understand how dangerous it would be if they repeated the same folly into which we drifted during the Missile Crisis of 1962. Setting an example demands that citizens become more engaged with foreign policy, acknowledge that there is good and evil in all of us, and bear the truth that ground zero is everywhere on one small planet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Unmentionable


The silence is deafening. Not once has a professional journalist raised the question about the issue in all the debates of either party. If any citizen broached a concern about it in close encounters with candidates during the primaries, it’s news to me.

I’m speaking, of course, about the plans of the United States government to spend upwards of a trillion dollars over the next few decades to renew our already bloated nuclear arsenal.

In the long, painful history of war, every weapon invented has eventually been used. There is no reason nuclear weapons will be any different—sadly we witnessed this in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But wait, maybe there is a reason it could be different with nukes. That reason is a ray of hope and sanity: computer models suggest that a war that used as few as .05% of nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals could cause worldwide climate change and subsequent famine. What makes this hopeful, and not a further nightmare?

Because the absolute negativity of nuclear winter is something all nations share as the context of negotiation toward less and less rather than more and more, or newer and newer, weapons systems. Our military rationalizes renewal by saying they are developing smaller and more precise nuclear weapons. This only makes more likely the possibility of crossing the nuclear threshold in the midst of battle. The hope that escalation can be controlled is a mirage.

Many of us have serious reservations about letting someone like Mr. Trump anywhere near such weapons. The truth is that they are way too powerful for any human, no matter how smart or professionally trained, to use as a strategic tool.

Obsolete establishment logic goes like this: the only way to make sure these horrendous weapons will never be used is for the U.S. to possess overwhelming nuclear superiority. Politicians cling to this unworkable status quo because disarmament plans with teeth are a political third rail. Admitting the futility of nuclear strategy suggests to the electorate appeasement or cowardice, leaving aside the threat to the bottom line of weapons manufacturers. Dr. Ashton Carter, our Secretary of Defense, recently gave a speech to the Commonwealth Club firmly declaring the unavoidability of the trillion-dollar upgrade.

We don’t have to be experts to see that this is nonsense posing as sober-sided necessity. Carter’s confident assertion only becomes an incentive for other nuclear powers to keep up. We build, they build, toward an inevitable omega-point of misunderstanding, misjudgment, and mass death.

Meanwhile where is that trillion dollars really needed, if we are to have any realistic chance of preventing tragedy? Wouldn’t it be to mitigate the effects of global climate change, the disruptions of which strategists predict will be the major cause of future conflicts? Wouldn’t it be to accelerate the process of global transition to sustainable energy and agriculture? A trillion would be more than enough.

Whether in Russia or China, in Israel or North Korea, in India or Pakistan, in Britain or the U.S., the empire of deterrence has no clothes. The U.S. should lead by example and begin to cut back on present levels of armaments, instead of doing just the opposite as the primary driver of a race toward the ever-receding goal of superiority.

We should participate vigorously in existing conferences on nuclear weapons built around helping the nine present nuclear powers to live up to our obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. We should aggressively advocate for new conferences, weapons sales bans, and weapons-free areas. Twenty-four American cities or counties, points of common sense in a sea of darkness, have declared themselves nuclear-free zones.

The community of nations—and without nuclear weapons we would indeed be more of a community—choosing together to turn away from certain mass death and toward life for all will be a useful precedent for finding solutions to other international challenges including global climate instability.

Let’s mention the unmentionable, and urge candidates to tell us where they stand on nuclear weapons renewal as a crucial test of our national vision.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Looking for America



In the New Hampshire primary, we have raised up an authentic firebrand in one party, and in the other a classic purveyor of fear and simplistic solutions—results that remind us of what we have always half-known: we are a country split by a profound doubleness: on the one hand, we are the city on the hill upon whose gates a world of refugees is knocking to get in. On the other hand we are a young nation that has never really come to terms with how we built our unequaled economic and military power: by slave labor and imperial violence. These twin evils continue to bear fruit in the widening split between rich and working poor, and in addiction to the war and corruption that feed our military-industrial-political-media complex.

It would be an overreach to say that our disaffection with self-entitled political royalty like the Clintons and Bushes arises directly from a fully informed consciousness of the twin evils of our national heritage. But we are clear that all is not well, even if we remain reluctant to face the causes directly. This vague unease has benefited both Trump and Sanders.

Can our polarized body politic identify a core consensus of values that transcends our cultural deadlock? One place to begin is a speech Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Riverside Church in 1967, one year before he was assassinated. King is clearly reading his text, rather than riffing spontaneously as he did in the more famous “I Have a Dream.” Listen and follow the transcript: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

King declares the unequivocal evil of the United States intervention in Vietnam. But he goes further, using Vietnam as an example of something diseased in our nation’s collective psyche, and tying our military adventurism to our willingness to accept racial injustice and poverty at home:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. . .

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. . . The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.. . .

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. . . “

King’s prophetic eloquence could not be more relevant in 2016. The U.S. wants its own way, not realizing that the success of our way depends now upon the success of the entire community of nations. This is undeniable when it comes to the issue of climate instability, but it is also true regarding the endless cycle of war. We are stubbornly convinced that it is our destiny to fix the horrendous chaos of the Middle East, but we are fixated on the notion that “solutions” inevitably require military intervention. No longer can the United States resolve the daunting chaos of the international scene by being the primary seller of arms to a bewildering mass of parties in murderous conflict. No longer can we maintain the double standard that says we can renew our own nuclear arms at obscene expense to be “safe,” even after we signed treaties requiring us to move deliberately toward worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons.  Sadly, no longer can we say that we are morally superior to some other nations when it comes to sanctioning torture.

Has it begun to dawn on us finally that war leads only to more war (even Trump seems to agree with Sanders about the waste of Iraq), and the trillions we have spent could have funded—and our remaining resources still could fund—not only a global Marshall Plan to address the poverty and ill-health and alienation that are the root causes of terror, but plans to rebuild our own infrastructure to prevent more disasters like Flint? Trump and Sanders in their stark difference both from each other and from establishment candidates exemplify our national duality: fear-mongering and oversimplification from Trump, idealism and authenticity from Sanders. Every four years we have a fresh chance to look both for the real America and for the best possible America. Fifty-seven years ago, King pointed the way.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Another Look at Building 7




Another Look at Building 7
Winslow Myers
The shock of President Kennedy’s assassination back in 1963 on my impressionable 21 year old mind led me to the usual articles, fictional films, and documentaries about who did it and why. Did Oswald act alone? Was there something on the grassy knoll? More than 50 years later, definitive answers are as elusive as ever. Then in 1968 we lost both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Again, conspiracy theories became legion, but nothing has ever been nailed down. 

John Kennedy’s mysterious death began decades of mistrust between citizens and government, intensified by evasions and outright lies on the part of many subsequent U.S. administrations, from Watergate, to the Gulf of Tonkin, to overestimates of success in Vietnam, to the realization that a gigantic secret bureaucracy is trawling who we email and telephone. 

Our leaders often urge us to become civically engaged beyond mere voting, as Obama did in his latest State of the Union address. But there has been a divisive tension between a presumed need for secrecy and an informed citizenry—a tension that encourages conspiracy theory at its most paranoid. 

A further grave wound to our civil cohesion came on September 11, 2001. The dust had barely settled before the conspiracy theorists were once again hard at work. Such theories, considered far-fetched by most Americans, gained some traction by way of the Bush administration’s perverse response to 9/11.  While 15 of the conspirators who brought down the twin towers were Saudi, George W. Bush and colleagues began to beat the drums for an invasion of—Iraq. 

Like millions around the world, I could see no connection to 9/11 and no good reasons for war. Aluminum tubes? Uranium in Niger? Weapons of mass destruction? The evidence seemed flimsy. But the U.S. attacked anyway, cobbling together a “coalition of the willing” to employ “shock and awe.” The result was the greatest foreign policy disaster in our country’s history. The Iraqis didn’t greet us as liberators. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Every rationale the cocksure Bush administration gave for the invasion has been proven bogus. And the blowback, all the way forward to the contemporary rise of ISIS, is still unfolding. 

Though it was obvious that what Bush and Cheney told us about Iraq wasn’t true, when the 9/11 Commission Report was published in 2004, I registered the gravitas of the Commission members and accepted their findings. However, at the urging of a friend in the construction business, I recently watched the 15 minute film narrated by Ed Asner, about one huge loose end in the events of 9/11: the collapse of World Trade Center Building No. 7: (Solving the Mystery of Building 7, produced by AE9/11Truth  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dkc5w-eP39E). (Make into link?)

Leaving conspiracy aside, the hard facts are very troubling. Everyone remembers the horror of the twin towers collapsing on the morning of 9/11 shortly after being struck by two hijacked planes. But a third skyscraper, Building 7, collapsed at 5:20 that afternoon. The impact of the two jet airplanes and the large quantities of burning fuel were given as the reason for the fall of the twin towers, but there was no airplane or jet fuel involved in Building 7’s collapse. Strangely enough, the 9/11 Commission Report published in 2004 didn’t even mention Building 7. A 47-story building collapsed straight down into its own footprint for no apparent reason, and there wasn’t a word about it in the initial 9/11 official story.

Finally, after loud protests, the government produced a lengthy report in 2008 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that claimed office fires were responsible for the collapse of Building 7. The two thousand architects and engineers of AE9/11Truth, however, don’t buy the NIST explanation. In the Asner film, some of these experts in their respective fields present credible explanations in the areas of structural steel, demolition, fire fighting, fire protection, metallurgy and explosives. Their evidence is overwhelming that the building came down in a controlled demolition. 

As someone who would prefer to avoid conspiracy theory, I find it congenial to stay with the established scientific facts. I’d like to see experts on opposing sides of the issue going toe to toe and arguing openly about who is right. The issues are based in established principles of science and engineering. It shouldn’t be that hard to determine the truth.

Pondering the implications of the collapse of Building 7 ought to remain a separate step altogether, avoiding the temptation to wonder about inside jobs, Al Quaeda, and all the other suspicions native to our experience of deception from whatever quarter. But if a further step leads downward into that darkness, it will be easier to face it armed with the truth about how the collapse actually occurred. Kudos to those persistent architects and engineers calling for a new independent investigation of what happened to World Trade Center Building No. 7.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How Does It End?

 

As North Korea dug tunnels at its nuclear test site last fall, watched by American spy satellites, the Obama administration was preparing a test of its own in the Nevada desert. A fighter jet took off with a mock version of the nation’s first precision-guided atom bomb. Adapted from an older weapon, it was designed with problems like North Korea in mind: Its computer brain and four maneuverable fins let it zero in on deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapon sites. And its yield, the bomb’s explosive force, can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage.
                                                      The New York Times, January 10, 2016
        
Is there no bottom to the depth of our hypocrisy, we masters of war and merchants of death? We whited sepulchers who grind the faces of the poor, who tax them to pay for world-destroying weapons to “pacify” millions across the waters who are more desperate than our own poor? Who would “make the desert glow,” forgetting that it is our own small planet we would irradiate?

The New Yorker cover this week showed an infantile Kim Jong-un at play in a sandbox with nuclear toys. Talk about mote and beam! By what logic do we assume we are one jot or tittle different from or better than the North Koreans? What makes our own arrogant and pompous leaders one wit less adolescent than theirs? We are subject like the North Koreans to the same self-perpetuating paranoia, the same lack of moral imagination, the same suppression of truth-telling, the same wildly unnecessary secrets and lies, the same demagogic rationalizations of the status quo, the same folly of an endless arms race, the same nuclear dictatorship that leaves citizens without a voice when world-ending decisions are made. It’s my planet too!

Pontius Pilate, confronted by one mute, disheveled, apparently revolutionary Jew, knowing not what he had before him, washed his hands of him. We have the death of the whole planet clearly before us; how much more reprehensible is our own smug hand washing!

How long will the nations and the generals and those who call themselves statesmen stall and stall again, grossly abrogating their obligations to live up to signed treaties committing them to the abolition of these weapons? How long will they passively acquiesce to the march of doom quickened by the mindless greed of the arms makers? Who will throw these moneychangers out of the temple of our one irreplaceable planet and restore it to life-reverence? 

We partake in a cult of death as nihilistic as ISIS, disguised like a thin layer of rose petals on a pile of horse manure, by our obtuse pretensions to exceptionalism—we assume our thousands of nuclear weapons are a force for good, while those of North Korea or Iran are a force for evil.

Who will speak for the right of mothers and children not to be irradiated and poisoned even by the atomic tests—any nation’s atomic tests—let alone annihilated by a war into which we could slip so much more easily than we can possibly imagine? We adults ourselves are children, in the worst, not the best sense. We are active and complicit deniers of the real. Even the missile crisis of October 1962, behind us by a half-century, failed utterly to wake us up. How much closer do we want to come to ending everything that we love?

How long will we call ourselves Christians, setting aside an hour a week to worship Christ, or a day a year to remember King, our own living embodiment of the teachings of Jesus, at the same time that we deploy submarines that can wreak destruction on a scale unimaginable by ISIS terrorists.  We never come within a country mile of considering what the Christian message of creative non-violence might do to help us, all of us on the planet, to survive in the context of realistic international diplomacy—help the West reconcile with the “Muslim world” and not reduce it to fearful stereotypes.

The fundamental illusion that confronts us, whether trying to act upon the challenge of domestic gun violence, or radical Islamic terrorism, or the prevention of nuclear war, or global climate change, is the illusion of “us-and-them.” By paying only lip-service to figures like Gandhi and Jesus and Martin Luther King, we deny ourselves the practical usefulness of wanting our “enemy’s” security as much as we want our own, wanting it because we see our life-and-death interdependency with our “enemy”—this is irrefutable on the level of climate change and nuclear war. We have met the enemy and he is us. If it is irrefutable on that level, the logic works at any level of conflict: we need police and a military trained to de-escalate and resolve conflict, not perpetuate it by the constant use of overwhelming force.

Will we all be secure if more and more nations have nuclear weapons or if none do? Any general worth his stars in any military on earth ought to be calling for the negotiated abolition of these weapons down to zero—and not after they retire and it becomes safe to speak out.  Redirecting the vast sums sucked up by nuclear weapons to a global Marshall Plan addressing real human needs would enhance the survival of our own nation and all nations.



Friday, January 8, 2016

The Pyramid of Violence




President Obama’s frustrated tears over the endless flood of victims of mass shootings seemed human and appropriate.  When it comes to gun violence, our country is in the grip of a collective madness. Imagine constitutional law prohibiting automobile regulation: no licenses, age limits, training, turn signals, insurance, or traffic lights. In the highway anarchy that would ensue, millions of us would begin to demand some common-sense changes to end an unacceptable chaos.

But because one powerful organization with murky motives holds sway over a majority of legislators, nothing is allowed to change in the gun-control arena. The Second Amendment actually uses the word “regulate”: “a well-regulated militia. Were I a Supreme Court originalist, would it be so difficult for me to consider such language a solid precedent for stricter gun control? It seems hard to tell for certain what motivates Wayne La Pierre’s objection to even a sliver of gun law reform. Signs point to an unspoken confederacy between dealers, manufacturers, congress people, and the NRA, using the Second Amendment as convenient cover for making millions.

Something similar exists in the gross lack of progress toward the reduction and worldwide abolishment of nuclear arms. Legislators represent states where weapons manufacturing counts for significant employment, so the momentum for renewing our nuclear arsenals contributes to a perpetual motion machine divorced from common sense. The tail of presumed economic necessity wags the dog of international policy. Decades pass as the world grows ever more dangerous. Generals like Colin Powell, admirals like Eugene Carroll, secretaries of state like George Shultz or Henry Kissinger, retire from office and suddenly start speaking out for abolition, because they know from experience that the weapons are strategically useless—either against other nuclear powers, or against terrorism. Demagogues use fear to silence anyone who dares to say our international system of deterrence is without clothes, forgetting that if even one percent of the world’s arsenals are detonated, the entire earth will suffer the agricultural effects of the tons of nuclear soot in the atmosphere.

In a recent TEDx talk, Daniele Santi imagined a pyramid of violence with nuclear weapons at the top. “As the pyramid spreads downward, it reaches into our daily lives. Conflict and mistrust between communities, crime, domestic violence and abuse, even a single rude comment to someone, are all part of a larger culture of violence. The broad base of the pyramid is the silent violence of apathy, our willingness to live comfortably while ignoring others who are in pain.” The notion of a seamless continuity between world-ending weaponry, down through the pain of the thousands of unnecessary gun deaths plaguing a nation which prides itself on its exceptionalism, to the wide bottom holding up everything above it by means of the “silent violence of apathy”: this is a profoundly useful metaphor to help us begin to overcome our assumption that we cannot make a difference.  We can’t help making a difference. We make a difference by doing nothing—by allowing ourselves to be the foundation on which the pyramid is built.

Much evidence (see Stephen Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature) suggests that we are gradually evolving toward less violence as a planet, even taking into account the horrors of groups like ISIS and Boko Haram. An overwhelming majority of earth’s citizens heartily fear and hate war. Thousands of organizations are working for environmental sanity, for an expansion of universal human rights, for equality of race and sex. The international system is awakening to the need for a new level of cooperation on climate change if we are going to pass the planet on to our grandchildren in reasonable shape.

Nuclear weapons, as the late philosopher of nuclear extinction Jonathan Schell emphasized, are a smaller subset of the environmental challenge. If nations can see the need for progress on the larger issues of rising seas and starvation-inducing droughts, nuclear abolition starts to look almost easy by comparison. It even looks easier, at least numbers-wise, than reducing the grotesquely unnecessary pile of weaponry owned by American citizens. There are only about 17,500 nuclear weapons in the world. In 2009 it was estimated that there were 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns in private possession in the U.S. alone. Just as the planet would be safer if no nation possessed nuclear weapons, the United States would be safer if strict regulation limited guns to hunters and a few others who needed them for protection. And far fewer of us would need them for protection if there were less guns overall—duh!

Change begins with you and me, especially if we have participated in the “silent violence of apathy.” We can change our thinking from an us-and-them mindset (“They” are trying to take our guns; “they” will attack us if we don’t have thousands of world-ending weapons) to a mindset that says “we’re all in this together; let’s work toward the common goal, at every level of the pyramid, of creating a safer world for ourselves and our kids. Absent this change of thinking, get ready for more tears.