Friday, October 2, 2015

A (Not So Hidden) Assumption

Another mass shooting in the U.S.; Russia attacking whomever it thinks most threatens Assad; the carnage across vast swaths of the Middle East, where a Hobbesian chaos reigns so complete that one can no longer tell the players apart enough to decide upon rational strategic policy—these disparate events are united by one primal cultural assumption: that humans murdering other humans represents an effective way to resolve conflicts.

Someday we will understand how the grotesque distortion of reality within the mind of an insane person spraying bullets randomly among his innocent fellow-citizens is not all that different from Assad dropping barrel bombs on his fellow citizens. Or Putin dropping bombs on whomever his planes are targeting today—or Obama firing extra-judicial missiles from drones.

Killing solves nothing. But the not-so-hidden pervasive assumption is that killing solves many things—based upon might makes right.

This is such a given in the media that “objective” reporting of the “facts” doesn’t even need to set violence in the context of values—except when the murderousness results in unavoidable tragic consequences like a mass exodus of refugees. Journalism proudly seeks the objective, the “real.” The “real” is a cold accounting of death and dismemberment without any possible blurring of the “facts” by human values like pity, compassion, and shame.

Whether motivated by fear, revenge, offense as best defense, or any of the major rationalizations for the insanity of war or the insanity of “private” murderousness, humans live, move and have their being within a vast sea of justification of killing.

It extends into the highest reaches of our technological prowess, and thus we have designed and deployed extraordinary instruments of death like the Trident submarine, 600 feet of pure potential destruction, a kind of holocaust in a can administered with an elite and proud professionalism that we would be happy to see emulated elsewhere in our institutions and activities. We justify the necessity of this deterrent bulwark, just as the others who possess these infernal machines, the Russians, the French, the British, the North Koreans, feel equally justified in keeping at the ready their own apparatus of mass murder.

This is our human paradigm on a small planet. But paradigms can shift. We once thought that drilling holes in peoples’ skulls was the most effective way to heal chronic headaches, or that werewolves were as “real” as present journalistic “objectivity,” or that the sun revolved around the earth, or that cholera germs were airborne and not waterborne.

We humans evolved from mammals who slowly learned compassion and care for their young over millions of years. Within the ecological systems into which these creatures fit, there is constant conflict, but also a level of cooperation in favor of the survival and health of the system as a whole. From this life support system we still have much to learn. And the capacity to learn is native within us, for we evolved from the same system.

It is difficult to gauge how much power for positive change is contained in the mere assertion that killing solves nothing. Surely the vast majority of people believe it to be true. An impractical thought experiment can be performed: imagine that every news story about war and murder simply began with the phrase “Killing solves nothing.” To have a wide-ranging dialogue about whether killing solves anything is to open the door to as yet unimagined or at least unchosen possibilities—and perhaps, someday, to close the door for good on humans killing each other.

Nuclear weapons are a perfect place to start, because it is so crystal clear that their use in conflict resolves nothing, and would inevitably make things a great deal worse, worse even to the extent of our very extinction. It is past time for an international conference, attended by those in the military and in high civilian positions in the nuclear nations who are the decision-makers, to address the perfectly feasible abolition of these obsolete weapons. Success in this regard, so much easier than the level of cooperation required to mitigate global climate instability, could become a model of non-violent conflict resolution replicable in regional and local domains, including addressing the NRA-driven gun-culture in the U.S. with common-sense laws. Killing solves nothing.

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