25 November 2009

'The Fallen' are just plain dead

Despite the techno-warfare predictions of countless sci-fi novels and questionable computer games, militarism has no place in the future of humanity. Why not? Because if warfare survives then we won't. Militarism will become increasingly old-hat, and so will its language.

It is not logical to posit a medium to distant future of nanotech-based weaponry with soldiers clad in robotic exoskeletons blasting each other to smithereens by disrupting each others bodies at the molecular level, or other exotic and hideous means. This is an example of the lack of scope in much of science fiction, and part of the tacit assumption that the future will be just like now - only more so. Civilian technologies have emerged from death-tech in the past but if we are to survive then it will be partly as a result of the availability of technology to all rendering militarism redundant.

Nanotech could be taken as a case in point. Let's assume that some sizable percentage of all wars fought are over some kind of resource. What would be the point of fighting a war about oil, for example, if molecular manufacturing means that any citizen can make whatever they need from the comfort of their own home?

On a wider scale the planet will increasingly face existential risks. Troublemakers could easily construct world-killing devices in small and secret labs. We would never know what hit us. Not even time to get one of your exoskeletal socks on.

Every advance affects every other advance and the effect is exponential. Either you find a way to arrest war at the root, even memetic, level or there is no future to flounce about in with your implausible gun.

I find war euphemisms incredibly ugly. I hear much of 'The Fallen'. What happens if we deconstruct this particular euphemism? Let's find out:

It is likely that I am a person of limited financial means. I may not have done particularly well at school and, if tested, it is likely that my IQ is average to low. I may have a family member in the military, a brother perhaps, who I look up to. I do my training for warfare and quickly become institutionalised. I fit in here. During my second month in Afghanistan a bullet fired from a Type 56 rifle enters the back of my cranium, at the occipital bone, causing it to explode due to hydrostatic shock. When the headless body arrives back in the motherland it appears that it has 'fallen'. The type of falling involved is unclear but unquestioned. Most do not surmise that it is the type of falling where, after a short twitching delay, a headless body slumps into the sand. Most assume that it is a more poetic type of 'falling', where a valiant and idealistic young man sacrifices his short life for his country and, sort of, 'falls' from life into gallant death.

Just to say that he is dead would, surely, be less of an insult. His consciousness no longer exists but how can his family bear this sickly verbiage?

This is just one example of many I could choose. Deconstruct away at your leisure but do deconstruct. The 'Fallen' euphemism is an example of an insidious class of 'heroic death' memes which abound in militarised societies like ours. The general populace are infected with the meme via the vector of easily accessible and highly-compliant media channels. The pomp, the ceremony, the ageing and complicit royalty. All very predictable, and very very familiar.

But it's not just about bad judgement of the hierarchies and the complicity of the citizenry. It's the soldiers themselves. They are the most complicit. They are the most infected with the meme, and it will ultimately kill some proportion of them. We also have to face the ugly truth that some percentage of them, it would be interesting but tricky to found out how high a percentage, go to war because they want to be involved in chaos and carnage. This being the case it means that their brains are malfunctioning.

This is where we are now but I'm an optimist and I don't think that this can persist. I'd like to use language to de-glamorise war. We'd have to input this language early in the life of a child. The language would be clear and stark. Wars kill people. Guns and tanks are tedious. Soldiering is for failures.

War is about as un-futuristic as it gets.

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