Fighting God

Quoting Orson Scott Card, P. W. Singer notes in Wired for War that two of humanity’s “primary occupations” are war and religion. These two aspects of life are simultaneously very distant while abutting each other. While analysts cite many causes of war, there is no agreement concerning why we seem to be constantly belligerent. As a species we are keenly aware of small differences, perhaps like ants, and use those minor points to excuse the exercise of violence. Yet we are also a profoundly religious species as well, believing in supernatural powers that sometimes deliver us from, sometimes into, war. The Bible, just by way of example, contains many accounts of war. Often they are undertaken at the behest of deity. Religion and war coexist a little too comfortably.

Although Singer’s purpose in this book is to analyze the impact of robotic technology on the practice of war, he also finds indications about the origins of war itself. In today’s affluent world, dominated by technology, we should expect that armed conflict would be on the decline. Instead, it would be difficult to find any historic era when unfair distribution of basic goods has been more pronounced. As Singer notes, social disruption today tends to begin in cities, places where those in squalor daily see the opulence of their neighbors’ lifestyles. Our culture awards the aggressive—those with bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger payrolls. To these we defer. At the same time, the vast majority have difficulty finding enough to survive, let alone thrive. Still, we offer tax breaks to those who don’t need them and remind the poorest of their social obligations. This is often done in the name of religion. God is the ultimate capitalist.

The sum result, it seems, is not to lessen human hopes for religious deliverance. The belief in fairness, biologists inform us, is deeply embedded in primate evolution. We believe in fairness, and when it is elusive we thrust it toward the heavens, trusting in divine justice. Millions have died awaiting that justice that isn’t forthcoming. Again, another quote from one of Singer’s sources, “Amid galaxies of shining technologies there is a struggle to redefine human meaning… Half the world is looking for God anew, and the other half is behaving as though no god exists” in the words of Ralph Peters. Although the reference here is to technology, it could just as easily be to money or war. It appears as though we have an actual trinity of casus belli that are inseparable: technology, money, and God.

Some of our earliest technology

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