(image by Tim Evanson)
"It is often said that the invention of terrible weapons of destruction will put an end to war. That is an error. As the means of extermination are improved, the means of reducing men who hold the state conception of life to submission can be improved to correspond."
- Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1849)
According to the theory of Near Term Extinction (NTE) the human race is about to go the way of the Dinosaurs. Though polls on the subject are scarce, it is safe to assume that the majority of humanity disagrees. Most of us remain at least cautiously optimistic about our long term survival prospects. Notable exceptions can be found amongst various apocalyptic cults, whose followers anticipate near term divine judgement, as well as trans-humanists, who anticipate the rise of post-humans due to exotic new technologies. In contrast to these views, NTE is not rooted in religion or science-fiction but a pessimistic reading of the environmental sciences, probability theory and the law of unintended consequences. Nor it NTE limited to the fringe.
Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and Noam Chomsky are among a growing number of scholars who consider near term extinction plausible, though certainly not inevitable (predictions range from years to decades to centuries). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, environmental crises such as climate change have supplanted global thermonuclear war in the pessimist's hierarchy of doom. Yet these threats are not mutually exclusive. A leaked 2004 report by the Pentagon on global warming anticipates increased risk of "Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting"Once again, warfare [will] define human life." Though such predictions are self-serving -- environmental crises are deemed another threat that can only be contained by militarism -- they are also rational. Under capitalism, competition for diminishing resources may exacerbate violent conflict, creating a feedback loop not unlike global warming itself. This essay will argue that if the human race is to survive, anarchic systems based on participatory democracy must replace top down models of state rule.
In his book The McDonaldization of Society, sociologist George Ritzer portrays rationalism as a paradox: highly rational models frequently produce highly irrational outcomes. The modern workplace, where we spend most of our waking hours, provides a familiar illustration: rationalist modes of production based on efficiency, calculability, predictability and control have reduced human beings to human resources, disposable entities afforded little in the way of self-determination and dignity.
In the realm of international affairs, rationalist models have led to the school of realpolitik. Unlike idealist interpretations of the state, which focus extensively on ethics, realpolitik is primarily concerned with power. The 16th Century Italian diplomat and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, "How we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that [the ruler] who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather bring about his own ruin rather than his preservation." Since the ruler's primary objective is to maintain power -- ostensibly for the "greater good" -- immoral behaviour is not only acceptable but necessary. Brutally practical, Machiavelli suggested that people should either be "well treated or crushed."
The 19th Century anarchist Mikhail Bakunin agreed with Machiavelli's cynical understanding of power but came to very different conclusions about how humanity should proceed. He praised the Italian philosopher for exposing the state with "terrible frankness," and demonstrating that "crime"is the sine qua non of political intelligence and true patriotism," yet rejected the notion that such crime was inevitable. "We are the sons of the revolution"We believe in the rights of man, in the dignity and necessary emancipation of the human species." The state -- as well capitalism -- should be abolished.
Up until the mid-twentieth century, and with the exception of a few rogue philosophers who advocated world government, self-government or no government at all, near-constant warfare between competing states has been viewed as an unfortunate but necessary byproduct of international relations. The invention of the nuclear bomb changed that -- or would have, if the idealists were correct. American military strategist Bernard Brodie was overly optimistic when, in 1946, he wrote, "Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose."
The military establishment, soon to be termed the military industrial complex by President Eisenhower, did in fact have another purpose, namely to expand American power through imperialism. Tolstoy was proven correct: not even the creation of the most "terrible weapons of war" would put an end to the state's quest for dominance.
Noam Chomsky describes current models of international relations theory as "quite rational." Nevertheless, these seemingly rational models may bring about the irrational consequence of "collective suicide."
Few people who consider themselves rational would advocate for the disarmament of the state apparatus in which they live. Yet in the age of nuclear weapons, it is precisely this insistence on "national security" through state power that is most likely to kill us. If, as Bakunin argued, "small states are virtuous only because of their weakness," powerful states demonstrate an ineluctable tendency toward dominating others. The result is militarism.
The history of civilization is sufficiently blood-soaked that many modern intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, have argued that competitive state frameworks must be abandoned if the human race is to survive.
Following the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein implored: