Sunday Thought Exercise – M.A.D.ness or no?

18th Century German illustration of Moloch.

I know it’s a day to relax, enjoy a late-morning cup of coffee, and perhaps forget about the troubles of the world, so I hope you’ll forgive me for asking you to think about nuclear weapons.  This article from 2009 has stuck with me ever since I first read it.  Not only is it an interesting analysis of global stability vis a vis nuclear proliferation, but it raises a sociological or philosophical question or two.

In short, the fact remains that, while we view atomic weapons as terrible things, no two nuclear-armed countries have ever gone to war, not even conventional war, since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In grade school, we learned the somewhat counter-intuitive concept of Mutually Assured Destruction with regard to the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but as Jonathan Tepperman points out in his article, the principle has worked globally for over sixty years. Rather than support or criticize Tepperman’s article, I find myself asking the science fiction writer’s question.  Assuming we take the oft-used premise of an alien civilization analyzing the human race as a whole, what does this global, atomic stalemate say about us?  Does it imply that we must invent machines that supersede own humanity, even to the extent that we must hold a gun to our own heads to make ourselves behave?  

Why do I ask on this particular blog?  Because the relationship between Man and his machines is part of examining the “digital utopia.” For those who don’t follow these issues, the ideas, politics, and sensibilities of many leaders in Silicon Valley extend way beyond the matter of how to get more gadgets and apps into our hands. As we experience a period of upheaval in many political, economic, and social systems, there is an unmistakably technocratic drumbeat out there to which the next generation is plugged in  and tapping its feet.  This is a subject that will be examined in detail in future posts, but for now I invite your responses to the above question.

© 2012, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • Honestly, I don’t know where Americans of any stripe get off seeing themselves as the stewards of the nuclear age. Both you and Tepperman tiptoe around the fact that the US is the *only* nation ever to use nuclear weapons to attack another. For that alone we should be sat in the corner to look shamed while the rest of the world decides how civilized folks behave.

    Nuclear proliferation has continued despite our best efforts, and will ultimately be futile (nuclear nations are inarguably safer). We like foreign policy better when we get to be the bully, though, so I’d expect we’ll continue trying to retain our advantage rather than deal with other nations as equals.

    In fact, if the US left off being the world’s policeman we might solve any number of thorny problems — economic, political, international, PR….

    I won’t hold my breath.

    • I’m not really tiptoeing around the fact of America’s use of the bomb or its bullying stance, so much as overtly skipping it. My question, posed from the macro POV of the alien observer, is whether or not this peace attained through the threat of ultimate annihilation says anything about the race in general. And for the purposes of this discussion, if America weren’t the bully, another nation likely would be, so I’m dismissing that issue entirely.

      Off topic, though, I strongly suspect that America’s role as policeman will be changing over the coming century, and that the potential exists for a lot less bullying.

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