Respecting Limitations

“Nuclear weapons are simply the destructive edge of our technology gone wild in its distorted blend with science – what Lewis Mumford calls the final apotheosis of the contemporary megamachine…
I am suggesting that everyone on earth is now in some measure subject to the logic of the hostage and the aura of nuclear terror…
One can only cease to feel oneself a passive guinea-pig victim by rejecting the global experimental death-trap of the nuclear weapons system. One is again an active human being, a creature of worth who rejects deadly experiment, however uncertain the outcome of one’s antinuclear efforts.”
Robert Jay Lifton, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism


Our task is to imagine the real. We must find the courage to feel what we know.

This is what mindful ecology is asking us to do. It asks us to use the informed rational mind as the firm foundation on which the imagination can ponder implications of what has been learned. When we apply this to ecological information we begin to develop a feel for the value of what is threatened, which is another way of saying we develop a sense for just how cruel and wrong the way we treat the earth and its inhabitants, as well as each other, really is.

Now that we have taken a look at the role of fear and violence in thought reform, aka brainwashing, perhaps we are ready to begin understanding how nuclear weapons have been shaping our collective psyche for the last half century or so. We are all in the kidnapper’s closet and suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome. If the bankers and manufacturers of war material decide they need their politicians to start world war three, there does not seem to be a darn thing you and I can do about it. But that is ok. We hold those who hold the thermonuclear gun to our head in great respect. It has been this way now for about half a century.

It has had a profound effect on our minds. All of us.

It is hard enough to know how Homo Colossus is killing so much of what is beautiful and precious on this earth. When we add to our knowledge the types of hurt our nuclear weapons can inflict on her as well… Don’t do that. Don’t go that far. I guess this is what we are going to need to communicate to those who have the ability to push those buttons: don’t hurt her this way. I fear that if they do, the response might be to create a wholly unmanageable populous. There is a threat to the whole species wrapped up in these weapons. No one knows what happens to a self-conscious species threatened with the destruction of everything it holds dear.

There is a serious disconnect between the tens of thousands of years radiation can remain deadly and the passing diplomatic arguments of our headlines, any one of which might spiral out of control and lead to an exchange of nuclear weapons. Even the most dense among us senses something is profoundly wrong about solving a second grade schoolyard fight by murdering your schoolmates. That same sense teaches us no argument about stocks and bonds, refugees and race, or any other issue-of-the-month will ever be sufficient, in retrospect, to justify a nuclear weapon driven world war.

Yet we are pretending this is not the case. Just exactly as we are pretending it is not the driving of our cars and the manufacturing of our mostly useless crap that is eating the earth alive. If you are not mad, you are not paying attention. If you are not scared, you are not feeling the implications of your thoughts. If you are sure these things do not involve you, well, good luck. Sometimes ignorance and denial are blessed with the highly improbable outcomes. Our existing global policy of enforced make-believe just might lead us through the rest of this century just fine. Honestly though, the odds are against it. The alternative is to courageously examine the evidence. Those who do learn that they become changed by it. We are changed when we allow our hearts to feel what our rational minds conclude about the most probable outcome of our current trajectories.

Evolution provides a vibrant dissensus around the single task given to all living things: to find a means of maintaining an ongoing continuity between the generations of the past and those of the future. This is exactly what is threatened by the ecological crisis. To be clear, the ecological crisis is an emergency level disruption in the relationship of mankind’s overgrown technological footprint, Homo Colossus, and the environment in which it exists, planet earth. When Homo Colossus strides across the earth, ecosystems die. Nowhere is this truth more undeniable than in the potential harm our thermonuclear warheads contain. To unleash even a small proportion of our arsenals would tear the earth’s biosphere-skin in a way unimaginably horrifying. It is a sacred obligation to see that this does not happen. Our job, as Robert Lifton never tiered of teaching, is to imagine the real. Here, too, in the unimaginably horrifying, we must take the ecology our heads understand and contemplatively allow it into our bodies. We must find the courage to feel what we know.

What is the ecological crisis? In most of its details this crisis is one brought about due to missing the need to respect limitations. We have looked at trauma and abuse as the subjective cause for our outward behavior. Perpetrators of abuse refuse to recognize the limitations on their own desires imposed by a rational recognition of their own subjectivity within others. The same lack of respect for limits we display among our interpersonal lives also dominates our relationship with the non-human world.

Our greed, lust and violence each have a hot, physiological aspect which tends to burn itself out, and a cold, intellectual aspect which bears a type of uncanny eternity in our minds. This uncanny eternity tempts us to ignore limitations. In the mind: economic growth can continue forever, how great and powerful an empire can become knows no bounds, and the ongoing elevation of living standards through the globalization of the shopping mall can carry on for the rest of the century; we will double the number of cars on the planet by 2035 or so and double again by 2050, well on our way to happy motoring for all. Outside of the isolated mind, however, out where engineers and scientists interface with the reality of our molecular world, all these things and more immediately run up against stubborn resistance, if not outright impossibilities. It is highly improbable that business as usual will be able to make these things come to pass.

The people know it, the people’s leaders know it, but no one is talking about it with seriousness proportionate to the importance of the subject. This too, I believe, is un-sustainable.

What I want to do with this series of posts about nuclear issues is provide a human tone to the public conversation. I am not looking to persuade readers to my political views. I am hoping to dig deeper than such things, to come from the position where one human being talks with another human being as whole people, not embodiments of ideology. The Atomic Scientists recently moved the Doomsday Clock (pdf) forward an unprecedented half a minute. That resonated with me. My informed intuiting is ringing the alarm bell again; it is telling me we are in very, very dangerous times. Part of what is making them uniquely dangerous is that we do not have any space in which to have serious conversations among ourselves about these things. The time when the news media were being run to inform instead of make a profit is far behind us. In a time of post-truth, when every message in the public square is carrying a secondary agenda to increase the profits or power of those authoring them, we might very well lose our ability to discern what is real from what is not.

Just as it is silence and secrets that keep the victims of an abusive home enslaved to their victimhood, so the threatened family of man needs to learn to speak up about what is wrong if we are to regain our dignity.

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