Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Grim Reminder (1178 words)
by John de Waal.

The chapter at the end of the provocative book “Cosmos” by the late Dr. Carl Sagan [Ballantine Books, New York, 1985] is rather pensive because it is here that Dr. Sagan wonders if we, as a species, can survive our propensities for aggression and superstition that the mystics and priests have instilled in us over the millennia. These musings are, if anything, even more appropriate today.
Dr. Sagan writes that, after the human race had been around for about a million years, in about 350 BC, Aristarchus of Samos recognized that it is the Sun, not the Earth, that is the center of our solar system. However, this discovery was not convenient to the fanatical ethnic, religious and/or national establishments, and so it took another 1800 years, until around 1500 AD, that Messrs. Copernicus, Kepler and Newton had the courage to confirm this fact. Thus, you can say, it is only in the last 9/10th of 1% of our time on Earth that we have that knowledge. During times prior we have been accumulating our evolutionary baggage, including our tendency for aggression and ritual, our willingness to submit to leaders, and mistrusting outsiders. Of course, an increasing number of us have developed feelings of compassion and toleration, and we certainly love our children. However, as our history makes clear, the jury is still out on which of our propensities will prevail in our struggle to survive.
Often severely handicapped due to limited experiences we mistrust peoples of different classes, nationalities or skin color, the most recent elections in the US notwithstanding. And so, many nations continue to prepare for nuclear war, ignoring its inevitable economic and de-stabilizing consequences, with the blessings of the religious leaders, while the people acquiesce or are kept ignorant.
Today, one regular atomic bomb has a destructive force of all the bombs used in World War II together (2,000,000 ton of TNT). Russia and the US have almost 26,000 of these weapons; the other eight nuclear countries have about 1,000 between them. 15,000 of these devices are aimed at targets, leaving no place safe on Earth! When a nuclear war would break out, we can kill all 6,000,000,000 of us six times over within six hours. The power to do that is in the hands of people like George W. Bush, a man of questionable ethics and a mediocre intelligence, who through the machinations of an unscrupulous political party and an unthinking electorate was put in this position.
The justification for this huge pile of nuclear armaments is a strategy called the “Balance of Terror”, a strategy not only scary, but downright intolerable. But the arms are there and they do not go away; in fact it is getting worse. Perhaps Mr. Obama will prevail and reverse the situation. The goal should be the total elimination of nuclear bombs, for anything less may yet result in
… An atomic attack! First there will be the blast, followed by the firestorm, than the radiation and finally the fallout. All this will kill most of us outright, but there will be some who survive … for a while. They may be burned, blinded, or mutilated and it will be unlikely that they will find any medical help. Even if they would recover from their injuries, they will experience that the water and the air is poisoned by radioactivity, and that they’ll develop tumors and/or skin cancer because the ozone layer has been damaged. Their children will be born dead or malformed or - since the crops have been destroyed – they’ll succumb to hunger.
This description is based on the survivors of the small bomb by today’s standards (13-18,000 tons of TNT) that was dropped on Hiroshima.
After an all out atomic war, humanity as we know it will no longer exist!
Of course, we hope that this will not happen. After all, the rich and powerful, as well as the mighty leaders who hold our lives in their hands, will also perish (eventually) along with the rest of us. However, leaders with little innate intelligence like Bush, who control the nuclear knob, are driven by the same instincts as the rest of us: ancient reptilian impulses that can trigger a murderous rage. However, unlike us, they are in a position where no one can stop them and they can give their aggression free reign. Thus, a relative slight provocation, a desire to increase their personal wealth or power, can make the above a reality.
Because our leaders typically are demagogs and have control of the organs of mass communication they can whip up the hatred necessary to have the masses follow them, blindly and unquestioning, into war. If you question this, let me remind you of Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Il Jong, also Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Andreas Papandreou, the Shah of Iran, and Ferdinand Marcos. And let’s not forget the leaders of the Irish Republican Army, the Red Brigade in China, Hezbollah and Hamas in the Near East, Abu Nidal, Basque Fatherland in Spain and the Shining Path. Perhaps the worst ever were Hitler, Stalin and Mao, but George W. Bush should also be comfortable in this company, although he can claim the deaths of only three thousand plus American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens. This list is far from complete.
uantitative and comparative studies of the readiness and inclination to quarrel, fight, and go to war of Western civilizations and of Confucian civilization in the East, by British mathematician Lewis Fry Richardson, indicate that religious teachings have a lot to do with our propensity to go to war. He concluded that "Confucian-Taoist-Buddhist religions of China of instruction, and in particular of Confucian instruction, stands out as being either itself a pacifier, or else associated with one, and that the comparative peacefulness of China prior to 1911 was the result."
These conclusions were confirmed by Krus and Webb (2001) who stated:"As the religious factors are paramount in shaping value systems, one may look for the alternatives to the mainstream religions, to systems that erect barriers against the group-sponsored violence[such as]: (1) Eastern religions and philosophies as Confucianism, Buddhism and Hinduism, (2) modern Black and Latin American liberation theologies of James H. Cone and Gustavo Gutierrez, and (3) secular value systems as perhaps best represented by Noam Chomsky."
However, it is not too late for mainstream religions everywhere to change their bellicosity into a more conciliatory and peaceful direction, discontinue their torture worship and their perpetuation of myths. They could concentrate on the human condition here and now and educate, through their followers, our governments and leaders. They could join the voices that speak for the human species and amplify the ever growing choirs that challenge the conventional wisdom. Perhaps then we can hope to see a reverse of the nuclear arms race and postpone, or perhaps even avoid, the disaster that is just waiting to happen. Life is a very precious thing and essential to living!

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