Wednesday, June 19, 2013

We Are Monsters

I was catching up on the news from E3 while I wait for some bread to rise.  The trailer for Destiny is particularly good but it presents a view of humanity which is, well, more than a little bit naive.  The premise of the game is that humanity has been driven back from a sprawling interplanetary empire to a final hold-out city on Earth and that we must marshal a heroic push to "reclaim what is ours."  What follows is a bunch of classic sci-fi battle scenes with psyonic powers and lasers and fantasy styled infantry.


I get that stuff like that sells games.  I get that we'd like to believe ourselves a race of heroes and champions of honor but we're neither of those things.  We're monsters.  We're perfectly prepared to do the unthinkable to each other if the political stakes are high enough.  Look at Syria right now - facing a serious military challenge from a rebellion, the government has turned to the use of nerve gas (if the Obama administration is to be believed).

Nerve gas.  They're killing them like cockroaches or some other vermin.  Spraying and eradicating human beings like an infestation.

Is there really any doubt that this is how humanity would react?  How super-powers would react?  Forget sending heroic and battle hardened men to die in droves to save humanity, break out the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.  Nuke 'em from orbit; it's the only way to be sure.

This is what we are and, if life on earth is any indication, is may be what distinguishes us as a species more-so than any other characteristic.  Humans will happily slaughter whole populations of other humans for little more than convenience.  Other species?  Please; we'll wipe them out if they're making the azaleas wilt.

So this notion that, were humans threatened with anything even close to approaching annihilation, we would respond with anything short of unrestricted, scorched-earth, wholesale slaughter of any and everything that dared to raise a tentacle against us is just absurd.  It plays into a morality fantasy that Americans especially have clung to since the second world war.

We love the idea of a conflict where the enemy is unambiguously evil and we are unambiguously good.  That fantasy is a touch difficult to sell if human kind is carpet-nuking its way across the occupied European peninsula because "screw it, we don't need Paris if it's over-run by bug-eyed tentacled nightmares."

This is, incidentally, the same sort of willing suspension of disbelief or at least critical distance that characterizes President Obama's recent foray back into nuclear disarmament policies.  The President's recent speech in Berlin called for a reduction in the number of US and Russian nuclear weapons, a suggestion that the Russians rebuffed as meaningless as the United States is still actively developing anti-ballistic missile technology.

We would, as a nation, love to believe that our nuclear weapons only exist to protect our shores and that anti-ballistic missiles are only being developed to shoot down weapons fired by rogue states.  But really, if the United States could turn a system that can intercept 5 North Korean missiles into one that can intercept 5,000 Russian missiles, why wouldn't it?  If the United States had nothing to fear from Russian nuclear retaliation, how much more willing would we be push our own agenda to the brink of war?

Even America's star-spangled history is besmirched by instances of profound beligerance and flagrent disregard for human life.  The United States was more than willing to carry out a campaign of ethnic clensing -- some would say genocide -- against Native Americans; we've been complicit in and supplied munitions for chemical weapons attacks well beyond world war one and we remain the only nation on earth to have used nuclear weapons in anger.

We can not help but to be what we are and what we are is a species which is exceedingly good at wholesale killing.  This is not something that defines us as a nation; it is something that defines us as a life-form.  Pretending otherwise, be it in a video game or in a speech in Berlin is just dishonest.

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