Posted: Sat, January 19, 2013 | By: Gennady Stolyarov II
As a libertarian and individualist, I am thoroughly opposed to the inherently unjust killing of any innocent person. Yet war – organized, armed conflict within a nation or between nations – unavoidably causes the suffering, maiming, and deaths of innocents. I have argued in my videos “A Complete Denunciation of War” (here and here) and “Refuting Ayn Rand on War” that whatever the ostensible abstract aims any war might have, the end result is always the concrete suffering of those who deserve it least: the innocent victims for whom the injustices that brought about the war (such as an oppressive dictatorship) are compounded by the destruction and carnage inflicted by the war itself. The human and economic tolls of war are alone enough to fully justify a complete opposition.
But there is a further reason to oppose wars among human beings: they distract us from the real war that we should all be fighting, against the real enemy that threatens us all. By killing and injuring one another, by destroying the property and infrastructure on which our fellow humans rely, we only clear the way for our mutual enemy to destroy every one of us.
It is difficult to find a single name by which to refer to this mutual enemy, for it consists of many elements with distinct modes of operation. Yet the result of each of these modes is the same: our destruction. While the enemy is difficult to name, it is not difficult to identify in our daily lives.
War among humans is just one of the ways in which the real enemy manifests itself. The cousins of war – murder, theft, rape, political oppression, and plain destructive inanity of a million petty sorts – are ongoing even during times of ostensible peace. But the real enemy’s tactics are not so limited as to rely on destruction inflicted by men alone.
Myriad diseases afflict humans – diseases of infection, internal breakdown, senescence, and self-inflicted folly. Natural disasters – earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, blizzards, volcanoes, and tsunamis – inflict colossal damage so often that news of some such calamity occurring somewhere in the world are almost uninterrupted. And then there are the grave existential threats to all humankind: the possibility of a massive asteroid striking the earth and obliterating most higher-order life forms, the possibility of a new ice age imperiling agricultural production and dramatically shrinking the range of habitable land, the possibility of a major epidemic akin to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 killing hundreds of millions of people, or more. And, in the face of the tremendous damage and threats from all of these perils, what do humans do? They turn on each other and amplify the damage over petty geopolitical and ideological quarrels? How bizarre and absurd!
And even in eras where, by a stroke of luck, some humans in some parts of the world enjoy a welcome reprieve from some or even many of these perils, the real enemy manifests itself in more mundane ways. Machines tend to break down; structures tend to break; information tends to be forgotten, lost, or destroyed; food tends to rot and spoil; humans and their animal companions tend to senesce and die – unless something is done about it. In “Progress: Creation and Maintenance” I explained that human creation and creativity are not sufficient for civilization to flourish and advance. We must also preserve and maintain what has been created in the past – or else we shall return to using our unaided minds and bodies against the full range of horrifying perils that surrounded our primeval ancestors.
What is this enemy? While it works in ways that are both sudden and gradual, manifest and insidious, broad and targeted – perhaps the best name for it is ruin. The forces of ruin are the forces of death and decay; they are the many processes by which living organisms and their creations – in their beautiful and immense sophistication – are erased and decomposed, dissolved into the jumble of primitive elements whence they arose. For everything that aspires to be higher and greater, the forces of ruin act to bring it down, to rot in the earth. Everything that is built, grown, and nurtured, the forces of ruin threaten to weaken, diminish, crush, and demolish. Wherever and whoever you are, whatever means are at your disposal, the forces of ruin are targeting you using any vulnerability they can exploit. Will you acquiesce to your annihilation, or will you resist and strive to win back the ground that ruin has conquered and to defend what it has not yet despoiled?
Each human being possesses an intellect that can be harnessed as a weapon of immense power in the war on ruin. Technology and reason are the two products of the intellect which can be deployed as tactics and strategies and win battles against the forces of ruin. Over the long, arduous ascent of man, some of these destructive forces have already been diminished or even eradicated altogether. Smallpox, typhus, and polio are among the minions of ruin that humankind has vanquished. Humans are making gradual but significant inroads against crime, diseases, and even human war itself on many fronts – but the present rate of advancement will not be enough to save us (rather than some remote descendants of ours) from ruin.
To save ourselves, we will need to greatly accelerate our rate of technological and moral progress. To do this, we will need to think more creatively than ever before, utilizing all of the hitherto discovered valid technological, economic, political, ethical, and esthetic insights at our disposal and launch a multifaceted bombardment of human ingenuity to eradicate one peril after another. This program cannot be centrally planned or coordinated; it requires the independent, highly motivated action of millions – and hopefully billions! – of autonomous human intellects, each willing to wage a guerilla war against the forces that have held all of us and our ancestors as their slaves and pawns since time immemorial.
To embrace the challenge, in all of its urgency, enough of us need to be free to do so – unbound by the constraints imposed by other men who think they know better and who would wish to keep us in line to serve their momentary interests, rather than the paramount interests of our own perpetuation. Those who wish to impose their vision of the good life through regimentation upon the rest of us overlook the vital fact that, with human independence and creativity thus shackled, entire societies have become sitting ducks – waiting for the forces of ruin to sweep away static, inflexible, primitively “engineered” communities of men. Only the liberty of each of us to act and innovate can lead to a sufficient variety and intensity of ideas and approaches as to keep ruin at bay.
Ruin is deadly serious, but it receives precious little human attention. It is the proverbial elephant in the room (except, unlike an elephant, far more vicious and deadly) which most people have been culturally taught to ignore, so as to maintain comfort and a more immediate focus – so as not to let massive threats interfere with their everyday pursuits. During most of human history, this enemy was so powerful that humans had no real chance against it, and their religions, philosophies, and social norms evolved to teach them that they might as well not try. They might, like the Stoics, decide to accept their inevitable destruction with grace and equanimity – or they might, like the Christians, convince themselves that their destruction would not be ultimate and that they would persevere in another form. In practice, these invented consolations served to capitulate our ancestors to the enemy. We can forgive our ancestors for devising these coping mechanisms in the absence of any real hope. But we cannot forgive ourselves if we, in our more advanced technological and intellectual condition, abandon the fight only because our inherited norms suggest it to be useless to begin with, or even undesirable to pursue.
There are many perils that each of us can choose to confront, and many tactics that we can begin to actualize. One size does not fit all, and the struggle against ruin should be waged by each individual unleashing his or her strengths in the area where he or she thinks them to have the greatest impact. But a good beginning would be to stop undermining and destroying one another. The pettiness and absurdity of human wars in both their causes and in their methods (as if men with guns on a field somewhere, or explosives dropped from the sky onto a city would ever solve any serious problem in a meaningful way!) would be laughable if it were not so tragic in its toll. The same goes for the intellectual, economic, and political straitjackets that humans in virtually every society create for themselves – artificially restraining meaningful exploration of ways to conquer ruin instead of just succumbing to it in a structured fashion, with a privileged few at the top maintaining the illusion of control. An anthill, after all, is powerless before the magnifying glass and the rays of the sun – no matter how much absolute power the ant queen perceives herself to have over her minions. We must be more than ants to win this war. We must all be individuals and recognize each of our individual lives as sacrosanct. We must direct all of our anger and hatred not toward other men – but toward the menace of ruin. The more of us do this now, the greater our likelihood of winning not just some remote bright future for our descendants – but our very lives from the ravages of senescence, disease, and calamity. I can imagine no greater victory or more glorious objective. The spoils of any inter-human war are supremely uninspiring and meritless by comparison.