Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Are We Dead?

A performative contradiction arises when the propositional content of a statement contradicts the presuppositions of asserting it. An example of a performative contradiction is the statement "I am dead" because the very act of proposing it presupposes the actor is alive. Performative contradictions cannot be rationally advanced in argument. (Wikipedia)

There are performative contradictions not only in statements, but also in policies. The mother of them all is found in current nuclear weapons policy on the planet. Nuclear weapons cannot be rationally advanced in argument as an instrument of policy.

Why? Simple: computer models suggests that the detonation of a very small number of the weapons in today’s arsenals—doesn’t matter whose—would raise enough soot and ash into the atmosphere to shut down world agriculture for a decade—in effect, a death sentence for us all.

No less a pitiless realist than Henry Kissinger has stated that he tried to make foreign policy with these weapons and found it impossible. Henry Kissinger now works for abolition. 

Even a “limited” nuclear war risks planetary annihilation. A one-sided nuclear attack risks a similar fate. If India and Pakistan get into a nuclear war, we are all dead. If Israel uses a few too many of its weapons, we are dead.

Deterrence is already obsolete, in the sense that it will do nothing to stop a determined extremist from smuggling a nuclear weapon to ground zero of a target. But deterrence is infinitely more obsolete on the basis that not only is military victory impossible using these weapons, they lead only to omnicide.

So: please explain, someone, why the United States is spending hundreds of millions to renew its nuclear weapons program? Why are we not leading the charge to abolish, reciprocally and gradually with other nations by negotiation if possible, unilaterally if necessary? Unilaterally to set an example—to build trust—because we realize it is in everyone’s best interest— because there is no other logical, sane alternative.

The same goes for nations like Iran. If you are a country looking to equalize your power against other nations you perceive as mighty adversaries, why are you trying to do it with nuclear weapons?  It leads nowhere.

Are we so dead in spirit that we are numbly, helplessly going to wait for the mass physical death that will come when somebody, somewhere—and eventually they will—makes a fatal mistake?  Or can we, by non-violent means (anything else is a performative contradiction), by educating, by running candidates, by petitioning, by demonstrating, can we citizens affirm life?

I want to hear clearly the justifications of the leaders, the arguments, the case for the relationship between nuclear weapons and increased security. No citizen, to my knowledge, asked either candidate why the U.S. and Russia still have ballistic missiles targeted at each other on high alert—25 years after the end of the cold war.

That did not seem like a neutral omission; it seems more like an active symptom of psychic dysfunction.  We look down upon North Korea with pity, a nation and people in the grip of mass psychosis. Time to take the beam out of our own eye before we judge the mote in another’s.

Can we awaken from our trance? Can we admit to ourselves the radical shift that has taken place in our environment on the basis not only of nuclear weapons, but also of global climate events, where the environmental policies in one country determine the air quality in another? What does that reality do to the concept of having an “enemy”? I depend for my survival upon my “enemy.”

Conflict will continue even if there were no nuclear weapons on earth. But think of how much international paranoia is connected to actual or potential nuclear weapons. It rationalized the U.S.’s misconceived invasion of Iraq. It intensifies the enmity between Iran and Israel. It keeps hundreds of secret agencies in Washington eavesdropping on us all for ominous signs.

If the planet can emerge from this period of change and turmoil, we will look back and begin to acknowledge just how much our unconscious dread had sucked away not only our collective economic resources, but also some essential piece of our psychic vitality. No wonder there is so much fascination with zombies and vampires, the walking dead. Does their half-deadness mirror something deep within us all?

But something new and vital is germinating from our long winter of death-induced fear. As Paul Hawken has said, millions of non-governmental organizations around the world are working for common values—non-violent political structures, environmental sanity, gender equality, and universal human rights. Someday soon this collective affirmation that we are one human family will further dissolve the need for nuclear weapons—may they rust in peace.

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