War and the Path of Technological Development

April 6, 2009 at 1:56 am 1 comment

I was reading and commenting on Ethics, morality, and legality of robitic wars over on Salman’s blog, and I left a comment over there, but I have more to say. I kind of feel like I might be expending too much typing energy on this topic when I could be writing another page of my Div III, but what are you gonna do…

The short of my comment over at that spot is this: I’m worried. Worried about what might discussion of the new technology of war might affect, and what it might cost us if we don’t talk about it. I don’t want it to cost discussion of the ethics of war in general. Aw, hell, I’ll just cut and paste the comment:

I don’t want people worrying about robots killing at the expense of worrying about people killing.

I don’t know how to anticipate how one will affect the other– Singer has some speculation on this, as in his discussion of the depersonalization or disconnection of both the warrior and adversary. But it seems to me that War has been getting less personal for its entire history. Trench warfare and chemical warfare in world war one, air warfare in world war two, the atomic bomb, .50 caliber sniper rifles, tomahawk missiles, etc. are all technological progressions in war that have led to depersonalization and disconnection. All Quiet on the Western Front was written not about the last few major wars, but the one at the very beginning of the 20th century.

Maybe that should be the first issue to impact speculation on the effect of robotic warfare– that it doesn’t just change the context of war, but that the context of war has already changed. The situations in which drones are used are different from WWII, Vietnam, or even the first Gulf War. Increasing perceptions of disconnect and depersonalization has been happening throughout the last century(for another literary instantiation of this, I would recommend Anthony Swafford’s Jarhead). Maybe robotic warfare isn’t as revolutionary is its technological trappings would have us believe, and we should take the opportunity of the shock caused by the novelty of robotic weapons to re-open discussion about the ethics of war, period.

Now that I’m writing over here, in my own space, I’m going to say more. I get the feeling that in many discussions of technological development, discussions over things like Transhumanism and Uploading and whatnot, people become distanced from where a lot of the market and funding for the technological front lies. Since the second world war at the very least, much of that front has been taken up by the military.

Now, for anyone reading this from my hometown of Tucson, I doubt this comes as a surprise. A lot of people in Tucson are employed by either Raytheon or Davis Monthan AFB, and the marriage of technology and the military is in everyone’s backyards. Out here on the East Coast, I feel like that sort of thing isn’t as prevalent. In any case, the idea that the technology of the glittering tomorrow may first be put to use killing other people is something that gets pushed somewhat under the carpet. True, in books like Radical Evolution it is no secret that a lot of the technology under discussion is funded or connected in some way with DARPA, but the discussion centers more on what it is on our side of war that may be technologically improved, not what may happen with technological improvements in war, warts and all.

What I’m saying is this: it’s attractive and easy to talk about the great things that technological improvements bring, even while acknowledging the military impetus behind technological development. It’s much more difficult to ask if our path of technological development is progressing in the right way. This is more than an ethical question, I think, and it’s certainly more than a question about being comfortable about how the technology I use as a consumer is developed, as well. It would be easy, again, to take a radical stance and align oneself with the luddites of old in protest of the link between technology and death.

The difficult questions, I think, are these: Is there a way in which technology could make better progress without its relationship with the military? Should we, or how should we, look to divorce technology and war?


Entry filed under: Ethics, Technology, War.

An Update?! Now

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. jojo  |  April 6, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Good Thoughts Donald!

    Yes, the depersonalization of war changes attitudes. I have been re- reading “T History of Islam”and am up to the 16th century. The West’s use of cannons & rifles was regarded as cowardlyat the time.It did force change and allow for Western Imperialism. The same continues to be true today.

    Afghanistan (and the future Taliban) could not have defeated the Soviets without American Technology (wasn’t Tom Hanks great as a drunken congressman?- Of course we get many of our ideas from media these days but that’s another blog-right?). Did you read the Sunday Doonesbury yesterday? – The local CIA operative blows up a competitor Afghanistani renegade warlord’s home while drinking coffee with a Western-leaning Afghanistani warlord a couple of blocks away. The Afghanistani is amazed by American technology but comments that he cannot understand why we are still losing the war.

    Obama may understand that the secret is to HELP people by providing infrastructure and opportunity and not dictating terms. At least that is my hope. The cynic in me says that, “Nothing ever changes”.

    By the way, I wrote a Quarry song about El Salvador in 1980 that goes:

    “War is stupid say it’s true,; When you’re dead there’s no more you; It’s always red and white and blue; We’re cannon fodder for the few (the lucky few)… So they went down on their big sticks; they thought that it was just for kicks; but it starts a conflict… another ugly conflict in (_______fill in the blank).”

    By the way, if I understand it correctly the miltary-industrial folks are responsible for the web (or was it Gore?)- so, I guess there are some useful spin-offs…”

    Love Ya! Happy Easter!


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Everything on this blog should be taken as a draft, the spilling over of mental activity flung far and wide. The author is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, MA who enjoys many things but devotes most of this space to matters academic.
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