Recognizing irony is key to transcending militarism

Military robots like drones are ironic because they are created essentially to force humans to work like robots in an industrialized social order. Why not just create industrial robots to do the work instead?

Nuclear weapons are ironic because they are about using space age systems to fight over oil and land. Why not just use advanced materials as found in nuclear missiles to make renewable energy sources (like windmills or solar panels) to replace oil, or why not use rocketry to move into space by building space habitats for more land?

Biological weapons like genetically-engineered plagues are ironic because they are about using advanced life-altering biotechnology to fight over which old-fashioned humans get to occupy the planet. Why not just use advanced biotech to let people pick their skin color, or to create living arkologies and agricultural abundance for everyone everywhere?

These militaristic socio-economic ironies would be hilarious if they were not so deadly serious. Here is some dark humor I wrote on the topic: A post-scarcity "Downfall" parody remix of the bunker scene. See also a little ironic story I wrote on trying to talk the USA out of collective suicide because it feels "Burdened by Bags of Sand". Or this YouTube video I put together: The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income.

Likewise, even United States three-letter agencies like the NSA and the CIA, as well as their foreign counterparts, are becoming ironic institutions in many ways. Despite probably having more computing power per square foot than any other place in the world, they seem not to have thought much about the implications of all that computer power and organized information to transform the world into a place of abundance for all. Cheap computing makes possible just about cheap everything else, as does the ability to make better designs through shared computing. I discuss that at length here:

There is a fundamental mismatch between 21st century reality and 20th century security thinking. Those "security" agencies are using those tools of abundance, cooperation, and sharing mainly from a mindset of scarcity, competition, and secrecy. Given the power of 21st century technology as an amplifier (including as weapons of mass destruction), a scarcity-based approach to using such technology ultimately is just making us all insecure. Such powerful technologies of abundance, designed, organized, and used from a mindset of scarcity could well ironically doom us all whether through military robots, nukes, plagues, propaganda, or whatever else... Or alternatively, as Bucky Fuller and others have suggested, we could use such technologies to build a world that is abundant and secure for all.

So, while in the past, we had "nothing to fear but fear itself", the thing to fear these days is ironcially ... irony. :-)

So, how can we transcend militarism?

Simple persuasive rhetoric was tried, and failed, when Albert Einstein said, with the creation of atomic weapons everything had changed except our way of thinking.

The economic argument against war was tried, and failed; see "War is a Racket" by Two-Time Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler:

A basic moral argument against war was tried, and failed; see Freeman Dyson's book "Weapons and Hope" that says nuclear weapons are a moral evil, like slavery.

A deeper religious argument against war was tried, and failed, see "James P. Carse, Religious War In Light of the Infinite Game, SALT talk"

We even tried public education through TV to create an enlightened citizenry (what high hopes back when TV was created) and that even got corrupted into promoting and celebrating violence. See the book by Diane E. Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige "The War Play Dilemma" for ways to deal with that if you have children; I wrote a review of that book here mentioning the key points:

So, people have tried, and tried again, and failed to turn the tide, both people in the military and people outside the military. Still, each attempt has contributed, but together they have not yet been enough yet to turn the tide and help the USA transcend militarism and empire.

What else can we try that does not just beget more violence?

Maybe ironic humor is our last, best hope against the war machines?

As was quoted by Joel Goodman of the Humor Project here:

"There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension. So we must do what we can with the third.(John F. Kennedy)"

The big problem is that all these new war machines and the surrounding infrastructure are created with the tools of abundance. The irony is that these tools of abundance are being wielded by people still obsessed with fighting over scarcity. So, the scarcity-based political mindset driving the military uses the technologies of abundance to create artificial scarcity. That is a tremendously deep irony that remains so far unappreciated by the mainstream.

We the people need to redefine security in a sustainable and resilient way. Much current US military doctrine is based around unilateral security ("I'm safe because you are nervous") and extrinsic security ("I'm safe despite long supply lines because I have a bunch of soldiers to defend them"), which both lead to expensive arms races. We need as a society to move to other paradigms like Morton Deutsch's mutual security ("We're all looking out for each other's safety")
and Amory Lovin's intrinsic security ("Our redundant decentralized local systems can take a lot of pounding whether from storm, earthquake, or bombs and would still would keep working").

There are lots of alternatives I helped organize here for helping transcend an economy based around militarism and artificial scarcity:

Still, we must accept that there is nothing wrong with wanting some security. The issue is how we go about it in a non-ironic way that works for everyone. The people serving the USA in uniform are some of the most idealistic, brave, and altruistic people around; they just unfortunately are often misled for reasons of profit and power that Major General Butler outlined very clearly in "War is a Racket" decades ago. We need to build a better world where our trusting young people (and the people who give them orders) have more options for helping build a world that works for everyone than "war play". We need to build a better world where some of our most hopeful and trusting citizens are not coming home with PTSD as shattered people (or worse, coming home in body bags) because they were asked to kill and die for an unrecognized irony of using the tools of abundance to create artificial scarcity.

Some more related links

The above was originally posted here on March 19, 2010 (although I've added stuff since):

This all suggests that our biggest danger as as society is in putting the *tools* (some being useful as weapons) of a post-scarcity civilization into the hands of scarcity-preoccupied minds. (Especially ones following outdated military dogmas like unilateral security instead of mutual security.) As Albert Einstein said, with the advent of atomic weapons, everything has changed but our thinking. This site is put up towards that end, changing our thinking, through helping change our collective mythology, especially in the non-profit sector.

The (sadly, late) James P. Hogan also indirectly touches on those ideas in sci-fi novel "Voyage From Yesteryear" (and other novels) talking about a "phase change" in human civilization.

Here is one thread by me on slashdot on the importance of building better tools with which to help us think this issue through:
"The need for open source sensemaking tools (Score:5, Interesting)"
(Although Doug Engelbart had suggested much the same decades ago in terms of a co-evolution of communites, tools, and knowledge to address the pressing issues of our age.)

Anyway, when the NSA intercepts this communication through the expediency of clicking on a public unencrypted link, :-) I hope they note this loyal global :-) citizen suggests that all NSA staff and those at other three letter agencies who work indoors (especially in underground bunkers) should probably take 5000 IU Vitamin D3 daily and call their doctors to schedule a 25(OH)D blood test, as recommended here: :-)
But, I'd have to admit I'd say the same thing to the Russian equivalent. :-) But they probably will get a copy of this, too. :-) And maybe if even those crazy terrorists living in caves got some vitamin D, they might not be so crazy, and so the USA would be safer? :-)

And just to show you how these things change, my main graduate advisor at SUNY SB, Lev Ginzburg, had been a Soviet mathematician; he said he learned differential equations helping his father design missile guidance systems (essentially to efficiently and accurately deliver nuclear bombs to the USA to bring death on me and all I knew through the power of mathematics). And there, decades later, I was learning mathematical ecology and so on from him. :-) Again, multiple ironies -- including both the USA and the USSR having great math and a grasp of nuclear energy and advanced manufacturing and space flight, but using it to fight instead of build, and us two, not knowing each other, but unknowingly for a time total enemies back then, and now friends. :-) Or, as good a friend as one can be with a graduate advisor. :-) See:

Also, by me on how and why to have an open movement for change, one that three-letter agencies can be (for the most part) proud of:
"CNC Machinist job related to custom bicycles & CIA version & comments"

These ideas are part of why I have as my email signature the summary of all this which I composed:

"The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those thinking in terms of scarcity."

So, I can claim to have composed my signature, but obviously the origins of similar ideas go back to Einstein and others.

Copyright 2010 Paul D. Fernhout

Date: August 26, 2010 Updated with link to Burdened By Bags of Sand and the Bunker scene: November 15, 2010 Updated Morton Deutsch link: January 29, 2011

License: CC-BY-SA 3.0