G’Day World #327 – Puny Humans Must Die

Today I talk about what I’ve learned recently from the following books:

  • Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)
  • The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers by Paul Kennedy (1988)
  • Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky (2002)

I also talk about

  • an alternative to Hiroshima
  • the Roadrunner supercomputer
  • why a high IQ is linked to atheism
  • my ideas for an Australian version of TED
  • the future of media
  • why science needs a celebrity makeover

Today’s music:

End of DaysConquest
“Secrets of Life” (mp3)
from “End of Days”
(Dark Star Records)

More On This Album

Wolves and WishesDosh
“If You Want To, You Have To” (mp3)
from “Wolves and Wishes”

More On This Album

12 thoughts on “G’Day World #327 – Puny Humans Must Die

  1. A few things:

    I may be being flippant but is it any worse to drop an atomic bomb than a thousand conventional bombs? I take the point though that it was frankly obscene to kill so many people in what amounted to a demonstration.

    Australia doesn’t really have any truly left wing political parties or media but that’s unusual for a “Western” country. Most European countries have very vibrant left wing political parties and this is often accompanied by a fairly strong left wing press. Actual communists sit in the legislative houses of a lot of European countries and often exert a lot of influence over policy. Especially so when communists make up the balance of coalition governments.

    I’d argue that communism probably shared the spoils of the 20th century with capitalism. I’d have to get some facts together to support my case but I think communists have good reason to look back at some major victories which are now just taken for granted as part of our society.

  2. Charlie, I think you’re right on that last point. I’m pretty sure the 40 hour working week and paid vacations were both introduced by communists.

    Re the bombs – well you’re right of course, dropping 1000 regular bombs on a civilian population would be almost as bad – but without the radiation kicker for the people who survive.

    Australia does have a communist party but they aren’t a political party. I should get them on the show for a chat.

  3. 40 hour week ?? whats one of those ?

    I dont know anyone who does a 40 hour week, and Im sure Cam, that includes you.


  4. Yeah I was thinking about that just yesterday. Angus and I were talking about how technology was supposed to make us all work less and yet we’re all working longer hours instead. But the 40 hour week was instituted for people doing manual labour, not puny “knowledge” workers like us. This isn’t REAL work, this is a joke.

  5. 40 hr week. I barely manage a 35 hr week most of the time. But then I am travelling over 5 hrs a day return for work as well so maybe that should be included

  6. WW2 was a total war conflict. The atomic bombs, though sensational for their method of destruction, when put in the context of the greater conflict do not standout via the vice of the numbers they killed. Neither side in the war fought it morally; millions of sons and the future course of civilization were at stake. People were desperate enough to be savages, and were willing to disobey impartial conventional morality so as to satiate practical desires (sons) and to serve abstractions.

    Moving on…

    How does China’s prosperity upon embracing capitalism (and its classes) prove that people can be motivated into producing as much in a classless society, or in any economy where there is not social mobility?

    Furthermore, communism, an utopian system, is based on the claim that people are born good and are corrupted by the world. It envisions an eventual, inevitable, world wherein everyone is morally perfect and there is no government since there is no need for one. That sounds an awful lot a like secular religion to me. If we only do this, this, and this, then there will be heaven. Nevermind what scientists say about nature and nuture both being important. We are all born angels, nevermind the lack of evidence to this effect.

    I could say more, but theres my counter rant for now.

  7. Jared, interesting points but I think you’re wrong on all counts.

    Even in “total war” though, we have conventions to ensure that civilians are protected as much as possible. In this case, dropping atomic bombs on civilian populations was governed by international law found in the Hague Regulations on Land Warfare of 1907 and the Hague Draft Rules of Air Warfare of 1922–1923. Under these acts, it was illegal.

    International law aside, it was morally reprehensible. They *do* stand out because the majority of the other deaths in WW2 were soldiers, not civilians. Defending the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the same as defending the Holocaust as legitimate. Nobody in their right mind tries to justify the Holocaust as “total war”.

    As I said in the podcast, wouldn’t the US have achieved the same objective (ending the war) by showing the Japanese footage of a test nuclear bomb going off in the desert and making the threat?

    Re China – I don’t think it’s accurate to say China has “embraced capitalism”. It is still a communist government. But they have obviously liberalized the control of the economy, sold off assets to foreign investors, allowed for some private enterprise, etc. I believe the Chinese government refer to their current system as socialism / marxism but with some modifications.

    I do believe most people are “born good” (with the obvious minority who are born with problems). I totally reject the Christina doctrine that people are born evil.
    We do, of course, carry with us certain genetic traits inherited from ancestors who needed to fight and kill to survive and ideally we need a social system which prevents the abuse of those inherited traits.

    I think you’re completely incorrect to state that communism suggests everyone is morally perfect. Where did you read that? Everything Marx and Engels wrote suggests that human history is a battle between the classes. And they don’t suggest anarchism (no government), they suggest a communist government. Where are you getting your information?

    Communism is about creating a social system that prevents the minority from controlling 95% of the wealth of the country, distributing it evenly amongst the people. How does that make it a religion.

  8. In total war there are no rules by definition. However, total war is itself immoral, and so I do not mean to justify the droping of the A-bombs by the fact that total war was in effect during WW2. The arguement I attempt to make is that given the context of the dropings, they were understandable and don’t stand out in terms of their immorality.

    It is true that most of those killed in WW2 were soldiers, but it also true that over 20 million of the dead (out of the 50-55 million total) were civillians (the A bombs killed 220,000). Through genocide, bombing, rape, butchering, and other means, massive numbers of innocents were killed. Meanwhile millions of young men were out in the field, millions of them died. Millions of mothers, fathers, lovers, and others worked exaustively to supply the military complex. Waiting with or without hope for the return of their loved ones. Infrastructure was being ravaged, governments were falling into debt. By 1945, Europe was at peace, but Japan was still ravaging through China (killing over 200,000 a month), enslaving Koreans, and unwilling to surrender without highly lenient terms which might not have ensured a long term end to its aggression. Without the bombs there is a good chance I would never have been born, since my grandfather had good chance of dieing if there had been an invasion. How easy is it to take the moral high ground in a world gone mad where such innocent visceral personal bonds spur you to do wrong? Are

    Could the US have simply have made Japan surrender by showing them footage of the Trinity exploading?

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki only managed to push the governing cabinet (Japan’s big 6) into a tie which the emperor broke. They might have just mistaken Trinity footage as doctored, though even if they didn’t, them knowing about the test might not have been enough.

    Another arguement I have heard is that there should been a larger lull between the two bombings.

    A counter arguement to both yours and this other arguement is that the shock value of the bombings would have been reduced if the Japanese had been given more time to reorient themselves, and this would have reduced the likliehood of their surrender after two bombs.

    Moving on to communism…

    Over 70% of China’s GDP is in the private sector. Sure sounds capitalist to me. China is no more communist than it is a republic. True, the Chinese government is doing a very good job of guiding the Chinese economy, but that doesnt alter the fact that the economy is private, has classes, and so is capitalist. That the driving force of this economic prosperity is social mobility, is proven by how the Chinese economy finally turned around under Deng after decades of stagnation.

    Are we all born good?

    Mature people are less selfish than immature ones, and there is positive correlation between maturity and age. This seems to fly in the face of the arguement that the world corrupts the noble savages whom we are all born as. I think humans are mostly mixed bags. Our desires to help others and help ourselves are both inherent, and they often conflict with one another. It is true that some cultures produce more virtue than others, but no culture can succeed in turning men into angels. I don’t mean by this to imply the Calvinist notion that we are all icky sinful creatures deserving of disgust. The ability to be good despite imperfection is in my eyes more beautiful than any conception of a bland perfect being who need not struggle to do anything.

    Marx claimed that after the “first phase” of communism, wherein the most productive property was held in common but some property was private, would come the “higher phase” of communism where complete equity would be achieved and there would be no state. This prophecy of a “higher phase” makes communism similiar to religion, as does the fact that communism has a history of being used to justify mass persecution of heretics, along with promoting a narrow pursuance of failed strategies while being blind to evidence of better ways.

    It is true that some communist countries have done alright. Albeit those have decent rulers are small (e.g. Cuba and Vietnam). On the otherhand all large and some small communist countries have failed. True capitalism isn’t perfect either.

    I don’t think an ideal economic system lacks a substantial private or public sector, being that those two systems have many opposite pros and cons. I look most fondly on the economies of places like Iceland, Denmark, and Norway.

    The American sedition act expired in 1801 due to the democratic overthrow of Hamilton’s federalists by Jefferson’s republicans. For the most part America had freedom of speech between then and 1960. In a technical sense anyway. There has always been a “tyranny of the majority”.

  9. Jared,

    If in “total war there are no rules by definition”, why did we have the Nuremberg trials? It was established by the Allies to punish violations of international law and the laws of war. Why shouldn’t the bombings of Japan be subject to the same laws?

  10. Cameron,

    Good point.

    The Nuremberg trials were held because though both sides did horrible things, the allies thought that while the ends justified the means for them, the same was not true for the axis. The allies won the war and so got to do what they pleased, and the Nuremberg trials were on that agenda.

    In the end manmade law is built on the assumption that certain people will obey and enforce it. However, there are no laws of nature which force them to do so. Civilization is an invention comprised of understandings, all of which under certain circumstances are bound to collapse. Total war is where winning becomes a greater percieved imperative than anything else. Unfortunately, total war is something humanity has visited upon many times. It is spurred on by greed and ideology. Though we are not angels, I have no doubt that we can improve, since we already have to a great extent. Though the energy and enviromental crises are probably going to destroy us, or at least lead us into a new dark age.

  11. Shantaram from my understanding is a Novel although this isn’t clear when you read it. The later reprints have on the front cover “A Novel”

    I remember him being interviewed on Triple J and talking about writing it in a German prison pre 911 with Al-Quadia prisoners with him. It was discovered and destroyed and he had to re-write it, which may explain why some people feel it is overwritten.

    Great read though

  12. Travis, yeah, after finishing SHANTARAM I read up on it and learned that it’s based on his real life experiences but that the characters are fictional. It doesn’t take away from the book though. I loved it. Definitely one of the most wonderful novels I’ve read.

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