Posts Tagged ‘Weaponry’

Is militarism the gift that just keeps giving? To war profiteers it is. From an article in Harper’s Magazine (Nov. 2021) entitled “Ad Astra” by Rachel Riederer, I learned a host of truly awful aspects to U.S.-styled militarism. Foremost among them is that time (July 8, 1962) the U.S. detonated a nuke in space to see what would happen. This event, known as Starfish Prime and a part of larger projects Operation Fishbowl and Operation Dominic, occurred toward the end of above-ground nuclear testing, an era that contributed significantly to the Cold War and was fraught with atomic angst (which resurfaced in the 1980s and yet again in the 2020s — as a culture, we repeatedly forget then remember). If I learned about these miserable activities earlier in life, I’ve since suppressed them forgotten; learning of them now is still absolutely horrifying. Another aspect is the existence of the Outer Space Treaty (OST) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1967. The main objectives of the OST include nonappropriation of celestial bodies (meaning that potential resources in space are a commons to be exploited freely, if not equally) and nonweaponization (meaning that weapons could not be deployed in space). Starfish Prime predated the OST.

Considering how long this madness has been going on, I paused to wonder whether 45’s creation of the Space Force wasn’t another example of a chief executive inadvertently crystallizing the moment (now the fourth in a series of blog posts). It was risible at the time, but that might have been naïveté on my part, as the article mentioned above suggests. The question for me was never whether the U.S. should deploy weapons and fighters in space (unequivocal “no!”) but whether it’s inevitable that the U.S. (or another country) does it anyway in defiance of the OST. Such a deployment would be a giant boondoggle, adding to the crazy portion of national resources already devoted to “defense.” Given the maniacal direction the military-industrial complex has been pointed for many decades, along with foolish investment in whiz-bang hypercomplexity (e.g., orbital communications and surveillance), I get that the U.S. has assets in place to protect. However, those assets are fragile and highly vulnerable to interference and attack should someone get it in their heads to move in earnest against the U.S. Furthermore, it should be obvious to anyone paying even a little attention that the leviathan humans created (i.e., industrial civilization) is creaking and groaning under its own weight and momentum and cannot be sustained much longer. Extending armed conflict into the final frontier, as it were, just might be the last, insane hurrah of leaders and despots behaving like boys with toys, unconcerned with the damage done by their actions.

On a darkly humorous note, I saw that Caitlin Johnstone named the various branches of the U.S. war machine armed services:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Marines
  • Coast Guard
  • Space Force
  • Mainstream Media

As part of patriotic concerts every summer, I perform some version of the Armed Forces Salute/Medley, an audience favorite. Thus far, no one (so far as I know) has arranged a new version including a tune for the Space Force. I suggest the main title theme from Star Wars should be appropriated adopted unapologetically. No suggestion for the mainstream media, whose inclusion wouldn’t work for jingoistic audiences.

Update: I was just a few days early. The Space Force now has an official song:

Cynics knew it was inevitable: weaponized drones and robots. Axon Enterprises, Inc., maker of police weaponry (euphemistically termed “public safety technologies”), announced its development of taser equipped drones presumed capable of neutralizing an active shooter inside of 60 seconds. Who knows what sorts of operating parameters restrict their functions or if they can be made invulnerable to hacking or disallowed use as offensive weapons?

A sane, civilized society would recognize that, despite bogus memes about an armed society being a polite society, the prospect of everyone being strapped (like the fabled Old American West) and public spaces (schools, churches, post offices, laundromats, etc.) each being outfitted with neutralizing technologies is fixing the wrong problem. But we are no longer a sane society (begging the question whether we ever were). So let me suggest something radical yet obvious: the problem is not technological, it’s cultural. The modern world has made no progress with respect to indifference toward the suffering of others. Dehumanizing attitudes and technologies are no longer, well, medieval, but they’re no less cruel. For instance, people are not put in public stocks or drawn and quartered anymore, but they are shamed, cancelled, tortured, terrorized, propagandized, and abandoned in other ways that allow maniacs to pretend to others and to themselves that they are part of the solution. Hard to believe that one could now feel nostalgia for the days when, in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, calls for gun control were met with inaction (other then empty rhetoric) rather than escalation.

The problem with diagnosing the problem as cultural is that no one is in control. Like water, culture goes where it goes and apparently sinks to its lowest ebb. Attempts to channel, direct, and uplift culture might work on a small scale, but at the level of society — and with distorted incentives freedom is certain to deliver — malefactors are guaranteed to appear. Indeed, anything that contributes to the arms race (now tiny, remote-controlled, networked killing devices rather than giant atomic/nuclear ones) only invites greater harm and is not a solution. Those maniacs (social and technical engineers promising safety) have the wrong things wrong.

Small, insular societies with strict internal codes of conduct may have figured out something that large, free societies have not, namely, that mutual respect, knowable communities, and repudiation of advanced technologies give individuals something and someone to care about, a place to belong, and things to do. When the entire world is thrown open, such as with social media, populations become atomized and anonymized, unable to position or understand themselves within a meaningful social context. Anomie and nihilism are often the rotten fruit. Splintered family units, erosion of community involvement, and dysfunctional institutions add to the rot. Those symptoms of cultural collapse need to be addressed even if they are among the most difficult wrong things to get right.

What if everyone showed up to an event with an expectation of using all their tech and gadgets to facilitate the group objective only to discover that nothing worked? You go to a fireworks display but the fireworks won’t ignite. You go to a concert but the instruments and voices make no sound. You go to a sporting event but none of the athletes can move. Does everyone just go home? Come back another day to try again? Or better yet, you climb into your car to go somewhere but it won’t start. Does everyone just stay home and the event never happens?

Those questions relate to a new “soft” weapons system called Scorpius (no link). The device or devices are said to disrupt and disable enemy tech by issuing a narrowly focused electromagnetic beam. (Gawd, just call it a raygun or phaser. No embarrassment over on-the-nose naming of other things.) Does the beam fry the electronics of its target, like a targeted Carrington event, or just simply scramble the signals, making the tech inoperable? Can tech be hardened against attack, such as being encased in a Faraday cage? Wouldn’t such isolation itself make tech nonfunctional, since electronic communications between locations is the essence of modern devices, especially for targeting and telemetry? These are a few more idle questions (unanswered, since announcements of new weaponry I consulted read like advertising copy) about this latest advance (euphemism alert) in the arms race. Calling a device that can knock a plane (um, warplane) out of the sky (crashing somewhere, obviously) “soft protection” because the mechanism is a beam rather than a missile rather obfuscates the point. Sure, ground-based technologies might be potentially disabled without damage, but would that require continuous beam-based defense?

I recall an old Star Trek episode, the one with the Gorn, where omnipotent aliens disabled all weapons systems of two spaceships postured for battle by superheating controls, making them too hot to handle. Guess no one thought of oven mitts or pencils to push the “Fire!” buttons. (Audiences were meant to think, considering Star Trek was a thinking person’s entertainment, but not too much.) Instead of mass carnage, the two captains were transported to the surface of a nearby planet to battle by proxy (human vs. reptile). In quintessential Star Trek fashion — imagining a hopeful future despite militaristic trappings — the human captain won not only the physical battle but the moral battle (with self) by refusing to dispatch the reptile captain after he/it was disabled. The episode posed interesting questions so long as no one searched in the weeds for plausibility.

We’re confronted now, and again, with many of these same questions, some technical, some strategic, but more importantly, others moral and ethical. Thousands of years of (human) history have already demonstrated the folly of war (but don’t forget profitability). It’s a perennial problem, and from my vantage point, combatants on all sides are no closer to Trekkie moral victory now than in the 1960s. For instance, the U.S. and its allies are responsible for millions of deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere just in the last two decades. Go back further in time and imperial designs look more and more like sustained extermination campaigns. But hey, we came to play, and any strategic advantage must be developed and exploited, moral quandaries notwithstanding.

It’s worth pointing out that in the Gorn episode, the captains were deprived of their weapons and resorted to brute force before the human improvised a projectile weapon out of materials handily strewn about, suggesting perhaps that intelligence is the most deadly weapon. Turns out to have been just another arms race.

Guy McPherson used to say in his presentations that we’re all born into bondage, meaning that there is no escape from Western civilization and its imperatives, including especially participation in the money economy. The oblique reference to chattel slavery is clumsy, perhaps, but the point is nonetheless clear. For all but a very few, civilization functions like Tolkien’s One Ring, bringing everyone ineluctably under its dominion. Enlightenment cheerleaders celebrate that circumstance and the undisputed material and technological (same thing, really) bounties of the industrial age, but Counter-Enlightenment thinkers recognize reasons for profound discontent. Having blogged at intervals about the emerging Counter-Enlightenment and what’s missing from modern technocratic society, my gnawing guilt by virtue of forced participation in the planet-killing enterprise of industrial civilization is growing intolerable. Skipping past the conclusion drawn by many doomers that collapse and ecocide due to unrestrained human consumption of resources (and the waste stream that follows) have already launched a mass extinction that will extirpate most species (including large mammals such as humans), let me focus instead on gross dysfunction occurring at levels falling more readily within human control.

An Empire of War

Long overdue U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has already yielded Taliban resurgence, which was a foregone conclusion at whatever point U.S. troops left (and before them, Soviets). After all, the Taliban lives there and had only to wait. Distasteful and inhumane as it may be to Westerners, a powerful faction (religious fanatics) truly wants to live under a 7th-century style of patriarchy. Considering how long the U.S. occupied the country, a new generation of wannabe patriarchs came to adulthood — an unbroken intergenerational descent. Of course, the U.S. (and others) keeps arming them. Indeed, I heard that the U.S. military is considering bombing raids to destroy the war machines left behind as positions were so swiftly abandoned. Oops, too late! This is the handiest example how failed U.S. military escapades extending over decades net nothing of value to anyone besides weapons and ordnance manufacturers and miserable careerists within various government branches and agencies. The costs (e.g., money, lives, honor, sanity) are incalculable and spread with each country where the American Empire engages. Indeed, the military-industrial complex chooses intervention and war over peace at nearly every opportunity (though careful not to poke them bears too hard). And although the American public’s inability to affect policy (unlike the Vietnam War era) doesn’t equate with participation, the notion that it’s a government of the people deposits some of the blame on our heads anyway. My frustration is that nothing is learned and the same war crimes mistakes keep being committed by maniacs who ought to know better.

Crony and Vulture Capitalism

Critics of capitalism are being proven correct far more often than are apologists and earnest capitalists. The two subcategories I most deplore are crony capitalism and vulture capitalism, both of which typically accrue to the benefit of those in no real need of financial assistance. Crony capitalism is deeply embedded within our political system and tilts the economic playing field heavily in favor of those willing to both pay for and grant favors rather than let markets sort themselves out. Vulture capitalism extracts value out of dead hosts vulnerable resource pools by attacking and often killing them off (e.g., Microsoft, Walmart, Amazon), or more charitably, absorbing them to create monopolies, often by hostile takeover at steep discounts. Distressed mortgage holders forced into short sales, default, and eviction is the contemporary example. Rationalizing predatory behavior as competition is deployed regularly.

Other historical economic systems had similarly skewed hierarchies, but none have reached quite the same heartless, absurd levels of inequality as late-stage capitalism. Pointing to competing systems and the rising tide that lifts all boats misdirects people to make ahistorical comparisons. Human psychology normally restricts one’s points of comparison to contemporaries in the same country/region. Under such narrow comparison, the rank injustice of hundred-billionaires (or even simply billionaires) existing at the same time as giant populations of political/economic/climate refugees and the unhoused (the new, glossy euphemism for homelessness) demonstrates the soul-forfeiting callousness of the top quintile and/or 1% — an ancient lesson never learned. Indeed, aspirational nonsense repackages suffering and sells it back to the underclass, which as a matter of definition will always exist but need not have to live as though on an entirely different planet from Richistan.

Human Development

Though I’ve never been a big fan of behaviorism, the idea that a hypercomplex stew of influences, inputs, and stimuli leads to better or worse individual human development, especially in critical childhood years but also throughout life, is pretty undeniable. As individuals aggregate into societies, the health and wellbeing of a given society is linked to the health and wellbeing of those very individuals who are understood metaphorically as the masses. Behaviorism would aim to optimize conditions (as if such a thing were possible), but because American institutions and social systems have been so completely subordinated to capitalism and its distortions, society has stumbled and fumbled from one brand of dysfunction to another, barely staying ahead of revolution or civil war (except that one time …). Indeed, as the decades have worn on from, say, the 1950s (a nearly idyllic postwar reset that looms large in the memories of today’s patrician octogenarians), it’s difficult to imaging how conditions could have deteriorated any worse other than a third world war.

Look no further than the U.S. educational system, both K–12 and higher ed. As with other institutions, education has had its peaks and valleys. However, the crazy, snowballing race to the bottom witnessed in the last few decades is utterly astounding. Stick a pin in it: it’s done. Obviously, some individuals manage to get educated (some doing quite well, even) despite the minefield that must be navigated, but the exception does not prove the rule. Countries that value quality education (e.g., Finland, China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea) in deed, not just in empty words trotted out predictably by every presidential campaign, routinely trounce decidedly middling results in the U.S. and reveal that dysfunctional U.S. political systems and agencies (Federal, state, municipal) just can’t get the job done properly anymore. (Exceptions are always tony suburbs populated by high-earning and -achieving parents who create opportunities and unimpeded pathways for their kids.) Indeed, the giant babysitting project that morphs into underclass school-to-prison and school-to-military service (cannon fodder) pipelines are what education has actually become for many. The opportunity cost of failing to invest in education (or by proxy, American youth) is already having follow-on effects. The low-information voter is not a fiction, and it extends to every American institution that requires clarity to see through the fog machine operated by the mainstream media.

As an armchair social critic, I often struggle to reconcile how history unfolds without a plan, and similarly, how society self-organizes without a plan. Social engineering gets a bad rap for reasons: it doesn’t work (small exceptions exist) and subverts the rights and freedoms of individuals. However, the rank failure to achieve progress (in human terms, not technological terms) does not suggest stasis. By many measures, the conditions in which we live are cratering. For instance, Dr. Gabor Maté discusses the relationship of stress to addiction in a startling interview at Democracy Now! Just how bad is it for most people?

… it never used to be that children grew up in a stressed nuclear family. That wasn’t the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives. And they’re spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development.

Does that not sound like self-hobbling? A similar argument can be made about human estrangement from the natural world, considering how rural-to-urban migration (largely completed in the U.S. but accelerating in the developing world) has rendered many Americans flatly unable to cope with, say, bugs and dirt and labor (or indeed most any discomfort). Instead, we’ve trapped ourselves within a society that is, as a result of its organizing principles, slowly grinding down everyone and everything. How can any of us (at least those of us without independent wealth) choose not to participate in this wretched concatenation? Nope, we’re all guilty.

In an earlier blog post, I mentioned how killing from a distance is one way among many that humans differentiate from other animals. The practical advantage of weaponry that distances one combatant from another should be obvious. Spears and swords extend one’s reach yet keep fighting hand-to-hand. Projectiles (bullets, arrows, catapults, artillery, etc.) allow killing from increasingly long distances, with weapons launched into low orbit before raining down ruin being the far extreme. The latest technology is drones (and drone swarms), which remove those who wield them from danger except perhaps psychological torment accruing gradually on remote operators. Humans are unique among animals for having devised such clever ways of destroying each other, and in the process, themselves.

I finally got around to seeing the film Black Panther. Beyond the parade of clichés and mostly forgettable punchfest action (interchangeable with any other Marvel film), one particular remark stuck with me. When the warrior general of fictional Wakanda went into battle, a female as it happens, she dismissed the use of guns as “primitive.” Much is made of Wakanda’s advanced technology, some of it frankly indistinguishable from magic (e.g., the panther elixir). Wakanda’s possession of weaponry not shared with the rest of the world (e.g., invisible planes) is the MacGuffin the villain seeks to control so as exact revenge on the world and rule over it. Yet the film resorts predictably to punching and acrobatics as the principal mode of combat. Some of that strategic nonsense is attributable to visual storytelling found in both comic books and cinema. Bullets fly too fast to be seen and tracking airborne bombs never really works, either. Plus, a punch thrown by a villain or superhero arguably has some individual character to it, at least until one recognizes that punching leaves no lasting effect on anyone.

As it happens, a similar remark about “primitive” weapons (a blaster) was spat out by Obi-Wan Kenobi in one of the Star Wars prequels (dunno which one). For all the amazing technology at the disposal of those characters long ago in a galaxy far, far away, it’s curious that the weapon of choice for a Jedi knight is a light saber. Again, up close and personal (color coded, even), including actual peril, as opposed to, say, an infinity gauntlet capable of dispatching half a universe with a finger snap. Infinite power clearly drains the stakes out of conflict. Credit goes to George Lucas for recognizing the awesome visual storytelling the light saber offers. He also made blaster shots — the equivalent of flying bullets — visible to the viewer. Laser beams and other lighted projectiles had been done in cinema before Star Wars but never so well.

Any given species has its unique behaviors and preferred habitat, inevitably overlapping with others that are predator or prey. The human species has spread geographically to make nearly the entire world its habitat and every species its prey (sometimes unintentionally). But it’s a Pyrrhic success, because for the ecosystem to work as our habitat as well as theirs, diversity and abundance is needed. As our numbers have expanded to over 7 billion, nonhuman populations have often declined precipitously (when we don’t farm them for food). When we humans are not otherwise busy hunting, harvesting, and exterminating, we harass them and claim their habitats as uniquely our own. Our unwillingness to share space and/or tolerate their presence except on our own terms is audacious, to say the least.

To take just one example, we have developed many devices to discourage birds from roosting and nesting where we don’t want them. A list of top ten ways to deter “pest” birds is found here:

  1. Reflective Foil/Flash Tape and Balloons.
  2. Bird Spiders.
  3. Bird Spikes.
  4. Bird Slopes.
  5. Bird Netting.
  6. Bird Gel.
  7. Electric-Tracks.
  8. Misters.
  9. Sonic Repellers.
  10. Solar Powered Bird Repellers.

The devices are billed as humane, and perhaps they are. A somewhat nastier list is found here, though the remarks about “none listed” under Repellants, and Toxicants and “not allowed” under Trapping ring false. (How is Trapping so different from Live Capture? Does one specifically avoid injury?) Yet another list is found here. I will admit that in some instances, such as proximity to airports, windmill farms, or toxic waste dumps (of human origin), keeping birds from harm makes sense, except that they are still displaced from their habitats, which we have claimed and ruined for them.

Our overreach is now so great, however, that we have turned on ourselves. Undesired, unsavory, and untouchable populations are harassed like animals and told, essentially, go be undesirable somewhere else. Apparently, the homeless can’t even go live under a bridge anymore.


This is happening in my neighborhood, too. Public outcry against such measures appears to be vehement in some instances. Harassment of notorious park bench sleepers started out less egregious, perhaps, with slanted benches, leaning benches, and divided benches. But wait, it got worse. Now we have spikes built into park benches that are (get this!) coin-operated and rigged to deploy when one’s paid-for interval runs out:

Outcry over such innovations appears to be nearly universal, but frankly, I expect to see these and other NIMBY devices with greater frequency. They clearly don’t aim to address homelessness or minister to the homeless. Instead, they harass and displace. This website, despite a few preliminary flourishes, appears to approach homelessness in much the same way, namely, as a pest infestation to be eradicated.

It would be a legitimate function of government to provide a safety net troubled populations could not fall through, but alas, our government functions instead to reward the wealthy and powerful with more wealth and power rather than serve the health and wellbeing of society as a whole, including the problems of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us. That’s hardly a lobby that will get anyone elected.

From the Beyond Disbelief Dept. at the Chicago Tribune comes the news (slightly late to me as always) that

Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott rejected Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s request that firearms be banned during the Republican National Convention in August. Scott argues that all citizens, including, presumably, inebriated party-weary conventioneers and angry protesters, will be safer if everyone is packing heat.

I’ve always been of two minds about the gun debate. First, the genie’s already well out of the bottle and will never be stuffed back in again, so the idea of regulating guns any more tightly that they now are only removes them unjustly from the hands of citizens. Ne’er-do-wells, whether they be from among the military, civilian police, state militias, felons (lots of overlap in those categories), or merely everyone’s crazy Uncle Ted (Nugent, clearly), will always figger ways to possess guns. Second, the utility of guns for self-protection is questionable, as many gun owners end up injured with their own weapons (I couldn’t verify this meme, so don’t hold me to it) or simply succumb too readily to solving problems with violent force. So while I think it preposterous to restrict gun ownership too heavily, to say nothing of that niggling problem with the, um, U.S. Constitution, I don’t own one nor do I particularly want one — yet. (A decision on private ownership of flying killer robots, or DIY drones, is to be expected sometime soon.)

The insistence of the Florida Governor that everyone packing (but concealed, since that makes it safer!?) at the Rep. National Convention will make everyone safe rather than provoke a wild-west shootout just boggles the mind. It reminds me of the other doctrinaire position taken by many economists of either the armchair or professional variety, namely, that a deregulated economy will sort itself out in time. We can see just how well that’s working out, though one could reasonably argue we’ve never really, truly had a laissez-faire economy.

According to the article, the list of items banned from the convention includes clubs, spears, lumber, hatchets, gas masks, chains, and squirt guns, but apparently real guns made the cut. This put me in mind of something I read recently. I took my own advice and read Metaphors We Live By, jointly authored by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Lots of interesting stuff in the book, but one bit that applies here is a discussion of what it means to distinguish between categories of gun. They show that because “our conceptual system is grounded in our experiences in the world,” the very idea of defining something is based on interactional properties and can never be purely objective or outside of human experience. With respect to guns, they identifies five such interactional properties:

  1. it looks like a gun (perceptual properties)
  2. it handles like a gun (contextually relevant motor activities)
  3. it serves the purpose of a gun (purposive properties)
  4. it works like a gun (functional properties)
  5. it was built to be a gun (history of function)

People with normal cognition (not Republicans, apparently) can see how a (real) gun, a fake gun, a broken gun, or a squirt gun fulfills or falls outside these interactional properties and is therefore either a gun (no modifier necessary) or a ______ gun (modifier necessary), making it a “not-gun.” The broken gun is a very interesting case, since its history of function trumps the properties it fails because of being broken. In fact, until the doctrinal spin machine goes to work, it should be abundantly clear that to allow squirt guns at the convention and risk getting wet is far preferable than to allow real, working guns and risk getting pumped full of lead.