I’m sorry to say this, and I sure hope I’m wrong, but….
Activism alone is unlikely to ever rid the world of nuclear weapons. This post will attempt to explain why.
Nuclear weapons activism is based on the premise that information, logical argument and other processes of reason will persuade humanity to give up nuclear weapons.
Regrettably, after 70+ years of rational rhetoric there is not much evidence that such a process is ever going to work. The list of nuclear weapons states continues to grow, the major powers continue to upgrade their arsenals for the future, and the general public around the world shows very limited interest in the subject.
Here’s a little story to illustrate the profound depth of the problem.
Academic Philosophers Bored By Nuclear Weapons
I once spent months on a group blog by academic philosophers, that is, a gathering of highly educated very intelligent professional people who have devoted their lives to the study of reason. If reason, facts and evidence were enough to focus humanity on nuclear weapons surely such an elite collection of rational minds would already be on the job, right?
But that was not the case.
Out of a thousand or more articles on this group blog by professional philosophers, only ONE brief article was about nuclear weapons, and that article was published ONLY because I mercilessly hounded and embarrassed the editor in to doing something to shut me up.
And yes, I tried lots of other academic philosophy blogs too. Same thing.
The point here is that if a collection of highly educated logic experts can’t find their way to a focus on an ever present existential threat to everything they hold dear, we probably shouldn’t be expecting the general public to arrive at nuclear weapons activism through the processes of reason.
It’s Not Just Philosophers Who Are Irrational
To be fair, academic philosophers are just being human. The truth is, irrationality is a completely normal part of our daily lives.
As a quick example, consider the pre-dominant form of highway travel, speeding and tailgating. Even the briefest logical examination of tailgating reveals it to be an utterly pointless and needlessly dangerous practice, and yet so many of us do it so much of the time.
If we are going to insist on routinely and needlessly risking our lives on the roads and highways for no good reason at all, what are the chances that reason alone will liberate us from the nuclear weapons era?
So What Will Work Then?
If the nuclear weapons status quo is ever to change it probably won’t be because of something we did, but rather because of something that happens to us.
The most likely agent of change is probably going to be the next nuclear weapon detonation. Such a huge historical event will likely shift our relationship with nuclear weapons from the surface level of intellectual abstraction to the deeper emotional realm where we really live as human beings.
Today we experience nuclear weapons mostly as an idea. When the next bomb goes off nuclear weapons will become real in the global psychology. And once nuclear weapons become real to us the possibility for real change will arrive.
What Does This Mean For Nuclear Weapons Activists?
If the above reasoning is correct, and let us pray that it is not, such a reality would seem to reframe the role of nuclear weapons activists.
In such a scenario our real job as activists may be less to play the role of persuasive agents of change etc, than it is to prepare to serve a terrified public on a coming day of decision.
It’s possible that as nuclear weapons activists we are on the wrong channel, the logic channel, a channel incapable of delivering the results we seek.
If it is true that human beings as a species are largely incapable of reasoning our way out of the nuclear weapons era, it follows that sooner or later there will be an accident or these weapons will be deliberately used.
On such a day the subject of nuclear weapons will suddenly go from being a topic that bores even the most intelligent and best educated among us, to the only thing anyone is talking about.
If that comes, the public will no longer need persuading that nuclear weapons are a serious threat. And so for example, most of this website will suddenly become irrelevant.
What will be the role of nuclear weapons activists once consciousness raising is no longer necessary?
I don’t claim to know, but perhaps the question is useful?