Online Discussion Forum For Nuclear Weapons Activists

One thing that seems to be missing from the Net is an online discussion forum for nuclear weapons activists. That’s a shame because, unlike social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, forums are great for in depth conversations on serious subjects like nuclear weapons, and the knowledge explosion which gave birth to them.

In this article I’ll attempt to share what I’ve learned from using forums almost daily for over 20 years and coding my own forum software. Let’s talk about what a forum for nuclear weapons activists might look like.

Let’s start with the most important decision any forum makes, the choice of publishing model.

The “Water Cooler” Publishing Model

The vast majority of forums use what I call the “water cooler” publishing model, in that they are similar to a random chit-chat gathering around the water cooler at work.

In the water cooler publishing model, almost anybody can join and say almost anything, a feature which has both pros and cons.

PRO: On the plus side, the water cooler model can be celebrated for it’s democratic inclusiveness, as literally anybody is welcome so long as they follow some basic common sense rules.

CON: On the negative side, such open inclusiveness is a recipe for low quality content. What always happens is that the most interesting posters get bored and wander off, leaving the forum to be increasingly dominated by the less interesting posters, a process of content degradation which tends to feed on itself and accelerate over time.

At this point in Net history there’s probably not much point in creating yet another “water cooler” type forum as there are already so many and the audience on any topic is thus typically very fragmented.

So let’s talk about a less commmon alternative publishing model which does give a new forum a chance to be unique.

The “Magazine” Publishing Model

The “magazine” publishing model is much like a typical print magazine. Everyone is free to submit an article to the forum editors (typically called “mods”), but only the articles which meet some standard set by the editors are published.

The Invitation Only Publishing Model

Another version of the “magazine” publishing model is an invitation only forum. In this case forum membership is limited to those writers the editors find interesting. Because the writers are pre-selected based on their past performance, the writers can typically be allowed to post whatever they wish with little intervention by the editors.

Quantity Or Quality?

In summary, the “water cooler” publishing model prioritizes quantity of content over quality, while the “magazine” and “invitation only” publishing models prioritize quality of content over quantity.

A key principle is, whatever you publish on a forum you’ll get more of. If you publish junk content, you’ll attract people who enjoy junk. If you publish high quality content, you’ll attract high quality posters. If you try to do both, you’ll wind up with mostly junk.

Nuclear Weapons Forums

There would seem to be two different audiences for a nuclear weapons forum, the general public, and committed activists.

It would likely be a mistake to try to create a single forum to serve both the general public and activists and experts. What’s almost sure to happen in that case is that the activists and experts will quickly become bored by the less informed discussion and will thus bail on the forum, resulting in what in reality would then become a general public forum.

Academics and other highly knowledgable people in particular simply aren’t going to invest their time in any forum that contains lots of posts such as “Wow, nukes are like awesome bad dude, like really!!!” In fact, such experts have probably bailed on forums in general years ago, and thus will require extra persuasion that a new forum really is a higher quality enterprise than what they’ve seen before.

The remedy here is to be clear from the start what audience a forum is going to serve, and then choose the publishing model most appropriate for that audience.

The “water cooler” model seems the most appropriate publishing model for a general public forum on nuclear weapons, while the “invitation only” publishing model is probably a better choice for the activists and experts.

A Forum For Activists And Experts

The most pressing need at the moment seems to be a forum for the activists and experts, so let’s focus on that for the rest of this article. Let’s start by giving some thought to how such a forum might be organized.

Forum Organization

There are many different kinds of organization a forum for nuclear weapons activists might have, and it’s not my intent to argue for a “one true way”. The following ideas might be a place to start a conversation on organization.

What I see so far in the nuclear activist community is that each of the activist groups seems very focused on their own projects. As example, few to none of the activist sites seem to link to any other activist site.

So, with that in mind I would organize a forum for activists around the activist groups. Each major section of the forum would be named after an activist group, like this…

Arms Control Association

Back From The Brink

Beyond The Bomb

Beyond Nuclear

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

etc

I would give each organization editorial control over it’s own section of the forum. This gives each group a sense of control and a stake in the success of the forum, and helps them continue to do what they’re doing on their websites, talk about their own projects.

All the group sections would be displayed on the main page of the forum so that it’s easy for any reader to travel from one group section to another to meet new folks and learn what they are working on.

Invitations

If it were me, I’d go the extra mile and send out snail mail invitations to the desired members as most folks these days seem to pay quite limited attention to incoming emails, tweets and Twitter messages etc.

Digital communications are very easy to send, and also very easy to delete. Everybody is overwhelmed with data so it may take an extra effort to connect with busy activists.

Problems And Obstacles

A key problem arises from the fact that most forums on the Net use the “almost anybody can say anything water cooler” publishing model, and so naturally that’s what new visitors will expect to find. Some readers will be offended that they can’t immediately join an invitation only forum. Cries of “elitism!” and “freedom of speech!!” may populate the editor’s inbox.

Another challenge is that the members such a forum would most like to attract will likely have a dim view of forums in general, due to the low quality content that typically dominates the forum realm. If true experts are to attend and participate the editing team is going to have to go the extra mile in persuading such experts that this forum really is different than what they’ve seen before, and worth their time.

In Conclusion

The above is the gist of what I’ve learned from thinking about forums to a, um, ridiculously nerdy degree for over 20 years.

None of what I’ve shared here is a “one true way”, but some of the general principles discussed here are worth considering before diving in to setting up a new forum.

I would set up a new activist forum myself, but at this early point in my activist career I’m not well known enough to be successful in inviting nuclear activists and experts who have spent years serving the cause. So I’m hoping a better known team will set up a forum for nuclear weapons activists, and I can support that effort.

Nuclear weapons deserve more than Twitter, don’t they? Yes, I think they do.

The Nuclear Resister

The Nuclear Resister shares information about those arrested in non-violent anti-nuclear and anti-war activism.

The project is led by Jack and Felice Cohen-Joppa and provides educational materials such as a quarterly newsletter, an information rich website, and Facebook page.

Here’s a sampling of recent articles from Nuclear
Resister.

On Martin Luther King Day, in support of the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, six activists arrested at Lockheed

Eight arrests at Pentagon mark Massacre of the Holy Innocents

The Pope and Catholic Radicals Come Together Against Nuclear Weapons

Seven activists arrested at Volk Field mourning children killed by drones

The One Dollar Nuclear Weapons Question

Imagine that you’re at a dinner party and someone asks you what your interests are. You reply that you’re a nuclear weapons activist. You briefly describe your project, and then ask them if they’re concerned about nuclear weapons.

If your conversation partner says no, you politely change the subject to their interests.

The One Dollar Question

If the person you’re chatting with says they are concerned, you then ask if they would be willing to donate $1 a year to a marketing fund which will help the public understand how they can help make nuclear disarmament a reality.

One of three things happens next.

1) If the person you’re talking with says they’ve already signed up for a yearly donation to the fund, you shake hands, embrace, and enjoy a new friend who gets what you’re about.

2) If they say yes, you whip out your phone and show them the sign up page, and close the deal on the spot. And then the handshake and embrace.

3) If they say no thanks, you cheerfully reply, “Ok, no problem” and change the subject.

This last person is the most interesting. They said that they are concerned about nuclear weapons, but are not ready to act on that concern, even in the most modest manner possible. This describes most people on the planet.

The last thing we want to do here is start a debate.

If the other person starts a debate, we hear them out, give them respect, and then let it drop. The primary thing that happens in any debate is that each debater winds up clinging more passionately to whatever position they started with. Once anyone has publicly stated a position, their ego typically becomes attached to that position, and push back will typically be experienced as an attack upon their self image, each human being’s most prized possession.

Instead of debate, we accept their decision, which they have every right to, and then, wait…

Planting The Seed

After some period of time this person may very well start wondering why they aren’t willing to spend a single dollar to help save the world from nuclear war. By asking them for the dollar you’ve planted a seed in their mind which may spring from the soil of their concern at the right moment.

It took me a couple of years after watching Countdown To Zero to finally make the leap from concern to some modest action. Every nuclear weapons activist probably knew about the horrors of nuclear war for years before they decided to take action.

The main reason any of us delayed taking action on nuclear weapons is that we didn’t know what just one person could do about such an enormous problem.

It should be the job of activists to give everyone concerned person something they can do right now to make a difference. By asking for just a dollar we’re doing everything we can to make the leap from concern to action as easy as possible.

And if someone isn’t ready to act just yet, even in the smallest way, we’ve given them something to think about. Like the patient farmer, we’ve planted the seed.

Physicists Coalition

Here’s a list of nuclear weapons activists associated with the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction.

Click on a linked name to see further information. Please contact me to request additions, edits, or deletions. Other nuclear weapons groups and their teams can be found here.


Angela Di Fulvio – Assistant Professor

Steve Fetter – Professor – Senior Fellow

Alex Glaser – associate professor in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs

Robert J. Goldston – Professor of Astrophysics at Princeton University

Siegfried S. Hecker – Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Raymond Jeanloz – Professor of EPS & Astronomy

R. Scott Kemp – Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering

Fred Lamb – Research Professor

Zia Mian –  co-director of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security.

Stewart Prager – professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University

Alan Robock

Frank von Hippel – senior research physicist and professor of public and international affairs

A Nuclear Weapons Congressional Candidate?

What if we could elect someone to the U.S. Congress who proudly declared themselves to be a single issue politician focused exclusively on nuclear weapons?

We can guess this would most likely be possible for a seat in the House of Representatives from a left leaning district. A candidate in such a district might make the following case to voters.

FOCUS THE POWER: Freshman members of the House have very little power. Thus, it makes sense to have the Representative focus all of their influence on a single important issue, such as the ever imminent existential threat to everything we hold dear, that is, nuclear weapons.

NO FUND RAISING: The candidate promises to spend none of their time in office raising money. This means the Representative will have a lot more time available, and voters will get every minute of it. It would also mean that when voters are ready to return to a multi-issue Representative the single issue candidate will not have a lock on the seat.

FEED THE MEDIA: Single issue candidates who proudly state they will work on no other issue will be interesting to the media, which will raise the Representatives profile and influence beyond that of the typical freshman Representative.

A HISTORIC VOTE: The candidate can impress upon voters that this is their opportunity to do something historic.

A UNITY ISSUE: The candidate can impress upon voters that nuclear weapons are a topic which has the potential to transcend partisan divides and unite the country.

Ignore Trump And Embrace His Base

The nuclear weapons activist community seems not to grasp one simple political fact.

America is never going to disarm until most people on both sides of the political divide agree that should happen.

Given this reality, as activists we face the challenge of doing everything we can to heal partisan divides and bring the country together. For we liberals, such a process will necessarily involve reaching out to Trump’s base, offering them respect, and acknowledging those cases where they are making a reasonable point. We might start with something like this…

Ignore Trump

Corporate media is going to cover every utterance of the Trump administration because their business model requires them to focus on melodrama to build audience and ad revenues. Trump gets this. Maybe we don’t.

The media is on the job, we don’t need to help them make Trump even more famous, which is exactly what Trump wants us to do.

If we’re talking privately with a swing voter who might be persuaded to abandon Trump, ok, make the case. But blasting out snarky partisan slogans on Twitter to followers who already agree with us accomplishes nothing other than deepening the divide that must be healed if we are ever to disarm.

Trump wants us to talk about him all day long every day. If we oppose Trump, we should do the opposite of what he wants and ignore him.

Embrace Trump’s Base

One day Trump will be gone, but his base will remain. Nuclear weapons activists will need these folks, so let’s show them some respect by being open minded to some of their perspectives. Here’s a few examples to illustrate the point.

Immigration: The population of America has doubled in my lifetime. It’s not unreasonable for citizens to wonder how far we’re going to go in that direction. It’s not unreasonable for them to reject a political class that can’t even ask that question, let alone come up with any kind of coherent answer.

Abortion: Many evangelicals voted for Trump out of deep concerns about abortion. Whatever our point of view might be on this never ending controversy, can we at least agree that it’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the mass killing of unborn children?

Religious Freedom: Some religious people feel under assault by secular culture and so they vote for people whom they feel will represent their views. There’s a name for this procedure. It’s called democracy. Everybody votes in their own interest. Not unreasonable.

Iran: Why are we not talking about a nuclear weapons deal with Iraq? Saddam Hussein is dead. Problem solved.

It’s not unreasonable for some of us to feel that a maximum pressure campaign which bankrupts an Iranian regime which routinely shoots it’s own citizens down in the streets might be a strategy worth giving a try.

The Genius: Some voters feel that Trump is a political genius. This is not such an unreasonable claim given that Trump came from basically nowhere to defeat every political “expert” in every party to take the highest office in land.

A Liberal Reaches Out

Ok, so in full disclosure, I’m Bernie Sanders type liberal who will never vote for Trump in any circumstance.

But being a liberal doesn’t automatically equal me always being being right about everything. Being a liberal doesn’t mean I can never learn anything from anybody unless they already agree with me. Being a liberal doesn’t make me morally superior to those who, out of sincere conviction and authentic patriotism, pull a different lever than I do in the voting booth.

Dear nuclear weapons experts and activists on Twitter….

Please focus on the fact that we need Trump voters if America is ever to disarm. Tweeting something snarky about Trump every day, to followers who already agree with you, does not advance the cause of nuclear disarmament. You mean well, but you haven’t thought it through.

Whether we are liberal or conservative, we need each other. And if we don’t find a way to come together, we’re all going to die together on the same day.

The Nature Of Power

Nuclear disarmament would be a decision made by a relatively small number of people at the top of the political power structures in each of the nuclear weapons states. This is particularly true in those countries where democracy is weak or non-existent.

As example, we aren’t negotiating nuclear issues with Iran, a country of 80 million people, but rather with a small handful of leaders at the top of the Iranian regime. That’s who will decide, the few, not the many.

The Good Guys

My thoughts were drawn to these obvious facts after the Democratic Presidential debate that happened just before the Iowa caucuses, the first votes to be cast in this year’s Presidential contest.

Right after that debate there were Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two of my favorite politicians, on the stage squabbling in front of an open mike about who called who a liar on national TV.

Here’s what could have happened instead.

Sanders and Warren could have used that event to announce that they were merging their campaigns, a move that would have likely won their ticket the Democratic nomination before the first primary vote was cast. Thus united, they could have quickly gathered the Democratic Party behind them, and shifted the focus away from Democrats fighting Democrats, to Democrats fighting Trump.

But that didn’t happen. Even with my favorite politicians. Instead of unity and a march to victory, Sanders and Warren are still focused on which one of them should get the top job, even though the policies they each are arguing for are very similar, certainly within reach of a compromise.

In my mind, Sanders and Warren are examples of two sincere well intentioned politicians who both envision a progressive political revolution. And yet, even they can’t seem to shift their focus from what would be good for them to what would be good for the country. Even they can’t seem to emerge from the same old power game we’ve all seen a million times.

The Big Guys

But this post isn’t really about Sanders and Warren or the ongoing Presidential campaign, but rather about the nature of power and those who seek it.

Here in the United States the power game election season is loud, long, looney and laughable. If Sanders or Warren loses this election they can just try again, or vanish in to a dignified well funded retirement.

But in other nuclear weapons states the power game is a ruthless fight to the death. If you play and lose the power game in Iran, Russia, China or North Korea you can easily wind up in prison or your grave. In these societies getting to the top is high stakes poker, with every one of your chips on the table.

In America, what kind of person wants power so bad that they are willing to run for President around the clock for years?

In the dictatorships, what kind of person wants power so bad that they are willing to put everything on the line, their family, their fortune, their life?

I’m not a psychiatrist, so I’ll offer no theories about what’s going on in the hearts and souls of those who want power so badly.

But that is who we must persuade to give up nuclear weapons, the tiny few at the very top whose entire lives revolve around the need for power.