Political tensions in the world are at the forefront of my daily life. There isn’t a moment where I can look at a magazine, check the news or listen to a friend without hearing some narrative regarding our imminent destruction. Being bombarded daily with the impending lack of humanity and the reduction in the amount of life I may have to live, I have been curious as to the possible threat of nuclear war in current times. Crazily enough, this curiosity had been with me for much longer. When I was younger I had a terrible fear of nuclear weapons. Images of the destructive power of these weapons stole sleep from me and changed my direction towards a temporary path trying to understand the idea of what they were and how they functioned.
Fast forward 30 years and I have had enough education to understand the physics behind the device. What a relief! Through studies I ended up with a rudimentary understanding of nuclear technology and ballistics. Even after years of study I found myself with little comfort. The human aspect of this weapon was to blame for my fear. I don’t want to fall behind the ignorant ideologies of the National Rifle Association and shield my eyes to the real damage capability in these weapons but, unless there is some accident or natural disaster, there is no major threat that could come from these devices individually.
I had started my adventure in understanding with the knowledge that the minds of those in charge scared the heck out of me. I turned my mind to something I may have been able to influence or control, machines. At the end of this I had to turn back to the minds of the individuals who hold the key to our survival. Realizing that they had total control and I would never work in a nuclear weapons storage facility, I went back to school.
So here we are reader, dipping our toes into ethics and I chose to write a little ditty about mutually assured destruction (MAD). Neat…
Whether any scenario surrounding MAD utilize or lack nuclear capabilities, our current political climate and the social contracts that we are governed by dictate our [societies] actions in response to a threat. We have agreed to allow those in power to act in our stead. Our choice to elect them shows our given faith in their choices and actions during difficult situations. These ideas are built on the theory of a social contract.
A social contract is the idea that involves the dawn of civilization. Societies were made up of individuals that had a common agreement to increase their personal welfare and economic safety so as to avoid any additional natural stresses that would otherwise eliminate them individually. They created a contract which at times may be unspoken but carried with it the guarantee that all those operating under its umbrella were granted some sense of safety.
Through these contracts, small bands/tribes/clans found that working together increased the likelihood of their survival. While they may not have had identical ideologies or morals or practices, they chose to forego some freedoms to exist together. This union increased the ability of all involved to thrive and survive. We can fast-forward in time and see the evolution of these contracts (unions of large peoples and their agreements, states and societies) as they adapt to new stresses. Sadly, war and conflicts have been a commonality of human’s existence inside and outside of society. As societies grew, conflicts grew into wars. They expanded in size and gravity as war and politics became intertwined. As societies grew, war was a necessity to control populations and expand lands to ensure space for growth. This idea was accepted as a “norm” until the early 20th century.
With the growth of modern science in the early 1900’s and the largest conflict casualty wise the world had ever seen, World War 1, humans were interested in developing a weapon that could be used as leverage to persuade peace and/or leverage destruction against those that wished to spurn large scale conflicts. Enter World War 2 and the nuclear bomb. Humans built it, dropped it and showed what the future of warfare was to be. Total destruction and complete annihilation. There are many different thoughts as to why the bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan, but I want to fast forward some more and get to the cold war where the concept of MAD was defined and nearly applied to some powerful societies.
Communism and democracy. It was the epic showdown of East versus West. Until this point in civilization, war was used as a tool. In the past we had no capabilities of the destruction of a civilization unless actions were taken to slaughter an entire societal population. This was never seen as a viable option because, well… it took time and society needed people being productive. Casualties would mount on both sides of a conflict the longer it went on, and the longer it went on, the greater the loss of life. If one society wanted to wipe out another, they would lose more people than if they subjugated or enslaved them. War was a game of chess and those best at strategy usually won.
After the invent of nuclear weapons, the idea of a chess-match had vanished. The country who held the nukes could figuratively explode the chess board while the other player ran away screaming. During the Cold War, there were two countries who held nuclear capabilities and they were playing chicken with each other. The chess board was sitting empty and in its place, a planet sat in the middle. (further reading can clarify motives and historical facts, I shall just move on to avoid any ramblings and footnotes)
So, please, let me explain as the idea of MAD makes sense to some but to others it is a nasty political/military ideology:
First strike capability: A nuclear attack that is preemptive. We attack first so our enemies do not have the ability to attack us…
Second strike capability: A societies ability to respond to a nuclear attack. It can also be viewed as a deterrence. We have the might to destroy you if you attack us first, even if you destroy our population…
Mutually assured destruction: The guarantee of both/all countries involved in a nuclear attack being destroyed, totally. No one wins
Both countries involved in the Cold War had the capability to destroy each other. It was broadcast on live TV and the fate of each society hinged on the ability of their collective leadership. This is where I see a breakdown of the social contract.
Humankind never imagined the destructive capabilities that nuclear weapons were capable of and our social contracts never included the idea of instant, total destruction The idea of a social contract is the preservation and continuation of society, inclusive of all lives inside it. It is supposed to eliminate stresses and elevate those involved lives above the ideas described by Hobbes as, “nasty, brutish, and short.” The invent of these weapons did not provoke the idea of MAD or the breakdown of societies agreements, those in power were arrogant in their use and their future potential. Societal ignorance and virtuous ideologies damned the system to break down. We have not adapted to the idea of a global civilization and we rely on the idea that those in control are acting rationally. The lines that had been drawn generations ago have begun to erode and we still lack the adaptability to preserve life and liberty for all. What happened?
Since the dawn of globalization, there has not been a proper definition in our social contract regarding nuclear war. We have treaties and agreements, but they are open to interpretation and physical interference. The idea of MAD came from the thought of what if: What if we fire first, what if they do… This is ignorant of the needs of those involved in this society. We are promised life first and that right needs to be upheld. Without a clear definition of our actions relating to different nuclear arms scenarios, our society is left in a limbo. We have a “response over action” political landscape that is described but not implemented into law. To put it honestly, we just don’t know what to do. There has not been a vote by those present as to how each country who is currently armed should respond to such a threat if it becomes a reality. The current practice is to sit and wait, prepared for attack. If we applied this same ideology to the history of humankind, we would more than likely be extinct.
One example that pops into my head is: Thousands of years ago, two villages existing on an island with limited water supplies, had the power to destroy each other by depositing a potent poison in their individual water supplies. Each knew of the others ability to kill the population and didn’t attack the other out of fear of mutual destruction, yet they never met to discuss the terms of the agreement. Those living in each village knew of the possibility of complete annihilation but were too busy preparing for wintertime by foraging for food to bring the issue to a vote or press the leaders for action. One winter, food shortages ran short in one village (Let’s call it village B, the other village A). The leader of that village B, desperate to ensure his villages’ ability to survive, poisons village A’s water source. As the members of village A start to die, the leader of village A retaliates and in turn poisons village B’s water source. All members of both villages perish. Possibly, this could have been avoided if there were an agreement between them, such as if they had agreed to a physical confrontation versus poisoning the water. In this scenario both societies may have survived, albeit in a decreased population total.
Like these imagined villagers, we have no such law preventing nuclear war, we only attempt to control the proliferation of nuclear arms. The global society must ensure a rank and file system for all involved. Previously, there were two countries that had a stand-off with their nuclear capabilities and, luckily, came out with the knowledge that the safety of their population and the continuation of their culture, as well as the possible destruction of the planet, outweighed the pride of the ruling officials. Personally, I figure they just wanted to avoid possibly anarchy and global justice coming for their heads, but that is an aside. This was a single instance, but countries are still developing nuclear arms attempting to utilize the practice of deterrence as a way to preserve their own sovereignty. Our elected officials do not hear the voices of those they represent and with the possibility of instantaneous destruction, we have fled from the chance to find an equitable response to any threat globally. Our chance to combine our voice hasn’t been optioned.
Rawls and his original position and veil of ignorance almost supports the response to the possibility of nuclear war and our political ideologies so far. The idea of justice, according to Rawls, must be made from a point of ignorance where all parties involved assume to know nothing of the other. In this instance, rationality is defined. Out of that rationality, societies form based on like/same rationalities.
In Rawls’ opinion, if one society could end another, each society has the same right to defend itself. Kill or be killed, the rights of the society and its pursuit of liberties trump the wants of another that wishes it harm. Equality of distribution, regardless of the characteristics the society inherits are a valued principle. In my own interpretation of his work, we can apply the idea of pain as a requisite to society and we can view it as a constant. We all suffer some sort of pain in life. Society can either enhance or decrease these feelings and these societal pressures are directly associated with our liberties and the pain that accompanies them, but clearly increase the potential of life compared to living outside of it. Knowing that pain is inherent in life and society can only add or decrease its effects, we have no reason to try and rationalize what levels of danger or attempt to modulate the fear involved with individuals. Society, as a whole, is the focus.
There is a thought that the sum of the whole is greater than the parts. Even in a complete nuclear war, there is still a chance that some will survive, so, our actions, no matter what the consequence is to the individual(s) is/are, our actions can be modified to ensure survival of some. A current idea is that the action of our leaders is only weighted by the remaining members of society and their protection/happiness/safety in the outcome of war. They have shelters and safe places to exist in times of war. They have security, food sources and economic superiority. The rest are expendable if they are not included into the equation of society from the onset of war and are not included in these safe places. Those not prepared are a commodity and viewed as a whole only until dissected from society. In my opinion, we have become an economic value instead of a necessary part of the whole.
There are caveats to this idea. Rawls’ idea of a social contract cannot be accomplished if the means of such actions are based on the growth or benefit of a singular group within society. If we look past the national/international ideas of history and focus on a global society, our inaction regarding nuclear arms and MAD are ignorant; they are an act of hubris. People are not commodities, yet they are sent to war to fight for ideologies they cannot understand. They are not given the same chances for survival compared to those in power. They fight for a future that benefits only some and returns the world to its historic roots. Regarding MAD, we hold a position of peace based on the practice of possible total annihilation and threats and the destruction of the majority of our [global] population in the aftermath of war.
Rawls’ theory only gives credence to the actions of our leaders when we know of their rationality. What if we knew beyond any doubt our leaders were not rational. What if they were drunk during the onset of conflict, if they held a persistent bias towards our warring opponent or if they had a mental illness (including personality disorders… which I think many do have). What then? How would we act if we knew our leaders were irrational? Their current actions show the rest of us (the parts) that their actions have superseded their rights granted to them. They are not rational and are only focused on their own survival. This thought does not just apply to the idea of MAD, it is evident in all aspects of our culture.
One final response to this train of thought is to do a quick examination of Locke and his idea of the deterioration of society. Yes, it is a defense of my attempt to make sense of this topic in 5 pages. I really feel, in the practice of MAD, that we have reached a point of anarchy. Regardless of my own political ideologies which branch away from libertarian towards an anarcho-social democrat, those in charge have left the safety of ALL humankind on the planet on the drawing board. Having a population that is so disconnected within its own society, focused on faraway places and not worrying about their neighbors put us in a situation where we have little ability to fight the actions of those in power. We are stuck in a society of political rock-stars and nearly god-like figures who control far too much power. They only need a fraction of those ruled to agree, and in some cases no choice is offered for the parts to choose from. They edit our agreement without consent. The original contract we have built society off has degraded with the invent of nuclear weapons and now we just wait. We wait for the next nuclear power to rise and try to develop new tactics of exerting our power over those less fortunate, though armed with nuclear weapons, to avoid conflict. We, as a society, are complicit in our inaction and our choice of proxy.
It is our duty to decide to tear it down, peacefully of possible, and start with a new contract. We need to include all in our decisions and allow freedom within liberty to build a new border. If there is a disregard for human existence and those in power would wish to sacrifice us(globally) to prove a point, we no longer must regard the rules we once agreed upon. This contract is void.
  The original position is a place at the beginning of humankind where people are reduced to a basic, blanks slate. The veil of ignorance is a state of being where a rational person makes a decision based on ignorance of other persons beliefs, race, sex etc… In this state a person is able to choose conditions to build a framework of society which would be fair and equitable for all without inherent biases that can put one person’s rights above another.