by Audrey Borowski
As the commander of the weather plane that supported the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, Claude Eatherly did not feel any particular animosity towards the Japanese, involved as he was in committing arguably one of the most barbaric acts of the Second World War with complete indifference. Eatherly carried out his mission, oblivious to its ultimate finality. How had it come to that? How was it possible that, as the philosopher Günther Anders later wrote, ‘the amount of wickedness required to accomplish the ultimate crime, a disproportionate crime, was equal to zero’?
The work of Anders (1902-92), a German philosopher and essayist of Jewish descent, bears testimony to some of the 20th century’s major disasters and their effect on the intellectual landscape of the time. Anders set out to theorise those disasters and the impact of technology on modernity and the human condition, in particular technology’s gradual domination over all aspects of human activity – the commodification, dehumanisation and even derealisation of the world that had resulted from that domination. … (continue at Aeon)
One thought on “Suggested reading: Philosopher of the apocalypse”
That opening paragraph was really powerful, leaving in me a feeling of revulsion. Did I always feel the same way? As a young soldier I was an enthusiastic participant in the infliction of mayhem. But I have changed. Why? Undoubtedly my moral sensitivity has grown with increasing experience of life. A milestone on that path was having children, an experience that flooded my awareness with a realisation of the value of life.
But there is more to it.
We are tool using animals, or perhaps, as Robert Ardrey put it, weapons using animals. Tools increase the reach and impact of our actions until 1) they lie beyond the horizon of our moral/emotional concerns and 2) we are out of reach of the consequences. Add to this the fact that tools intoxicate us and liberate us(seemingly). Thus we act unfeelingly, especially when young, when our moral/emotional boundaries are smaller. This is multiplied by the cocooning effect of hyper specialisation reducing us to seemingly unaccountable insignificance. (I am just a small cog in the wheel, someone else will do it if I don’t, nobody listens to me anyway)
We are a dyadic species. The better part of us revels in the creativity of tool use. We strive to create and we strive for excellence in creation. But the other, darker side of us, thrills in the destructive power of tool use. Which dominates is a product of our life experiences that condition us emotionally, morally and socially.
But can we choose to re-interpret our life experiences, seeing through the enveloping fog of everyday experiences, to apprehend a brighter, clearer, compassionate moral world?
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