Tuesday, October 05, 2010


I was listening to an NPR discussion about the use of autonomous robots in war.

It occurred to me, what is the possible meaning of programming ethics into autonomous war machines and then agonizing endlessly over untoward consequences, as if one has not thought long and hard about the reasons we go to war at all? Do we actually foist our inconvenient ethics onto our own created tools, and blame them for acts we cannot bear to be responsible for?

The hypocrisy of thinking men and women sanctimoniously discussing savageries they endorse (when "ethical" of course) causes neck-breaking double take in calmer souls.

The causes for war generally seem to be bound up in the human condition: Two groups violently loathe each other on religious or other cultural grounds. A good, toned-down, non-violent example is the Indian and Pakistani display of stylized mutual contempt at changing of the guard ceremonies well-attended by tourists on both sides of the border.

Although sometimes, war happens when the logic of the past is applied to the illogic of the moment — World War I, and other Guns of August insanity — it can't be said that Pearl Harbor was the reason Americans entered the Second World War. American racial loathing for non-caucasians was already at such high fester (remember the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, and the fact that the KKK still wore their sheets and burned crosses openly in 1941) that the loss of a few outdated battleships in an American colony in mid-Pacific (annexed 1898) was all it took for Game On!

Wars are fought by apes. Apes think there are Laws of War...! (Almost right. There's only one, just as there is only one side in any conflict. It takes unusual dispassion to discern another point of view in times of war. The postulate about apes and their alleged "laws" stands.)

The primate origins of our conflicts are so at odds with our "better angels" (Lincoln's words) that the eventual annihilation of our species seems assured. Yet almost all religions teach us it is right to fight — in a "just cause." The Baghavad Gita, e.g., is God's assurance to the archer Arjuna, culture hero and reluctant warrior, that he possesses an immortal soul not subject to the vicissitudes of soldierly calamities; therefore, he must oppose evil; therefore, he must fight.

Attention Jane Goodall: Apes think they live forever.

Personally, I'm rooting for Skynet to clean this mess up.

Hawaii gave us ukuleles. We gave them Spam.

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