When I wrote parts 1, 2, and 3 of the Nuclear Anarchism series I expected to receive many comments informing me that I was an idiot for even considering the concept of privately owned nuclear devices. Now that the arguing has died down, this fourth part will address the common objections raised by those responses, as well as any interesting or thoughtful ones.
Several of the respondents claimed that privately owned nuclear devices would never exist, because they are sufficiently expensive to make it impossible for anyone to own and maintain one. Or alternatively, that no one would own one because, while it may be theoretically possible to pay for production and upkeep, they would not be cost effective.
All variants of these arguments are founded on an ignorance of economic development, and the deflationary nature of technology. At their core is the premise that the wealth level of a society will remain flat, forever. This means that there can be no technological development whatsoever, no depletion of existing resources, or discovery of new ones, and no ability for people to save money or concentrate capital towards ungood goals. This is the Malthusian trap I addressed in part 3.
One notable variant of the previous assertion (courtesy of one of our local commentators, Vanmind) is that nuclear technology can only be cost effective with governmental subsidies. Not only does this make the same economic errors as the general form of the cost effectiveness objection, but it also implies that because a government achieved a certain goal through corrupt methods, there is no way for a private entity to achieve the same goal. Just because the government is able to get resources without paying the true cost of their use does not mean that those resources are impossible for a free market to acquire, even if Statist apologists insist otherwise.
Another frequent assertion was that the existence of nuclear weapons is synonymous with the extinction of the human race. Usually no argument was given for why this is so, it was simply to be accepted and not questioned. Tellingly, if any supporting argument was given it was merely a recitation of the standard cliches, such as “We have enough nuclear weapons to killed all life on earth over 5,000 times.”
Radiation was also regarded as the ultimate doom, but no distinction was made between radiation and fallout. When someone believes that radiation and fallout are different from other kinds of chemical pollution, and don’t occur without nuclear weapons, they inevitably conclude that they are unique evils, and impossible to manage except by those with the blessing of the State. The result of this anti-nuclear hysteria is that people wrongfully think it’s better to be exposed to the radiation and chemical releases not referred to as “nuclear” than it is to be exposed to far less pollutants from something with that label.
This is also an example of the scale problem I have mentioned throughout this series. Nuclear war is only existentially dangerous to a planetbound civilization. A spaceborne civilization is intrinsically hardened against that sort of danger. Behind the assertion that “nuclear weapons = death of humanity” lurks a small mind that can only conceive of being chained to a single planet.
Naturally the accusation of utopian thinking was raised, about which I have little to say except this: How is it utopianian to believe that we cannot avoid horrible outcomes? Isn’t it more utopian to believe that bad people will never get their hands on a nuclear device if we leave the nukes in the hands of the least trustworthy group in existence, namely governments?
My answer to this objection is at the root the same as the answer to utopianism, however it deserves more attention. Yes, terrorists armed with nuclear weapons is one of the worst possible situations with modern technology. But the State doesn’t change whether they will be able to get a hold of a nuke or not. Some of the terrorist problem disappears without the State, but not all of it. Most of it is cultural.
There are certain cultures that need to have their premises checked before they get their hands on certain kinds of technology. Currently, most of them are based on religious fanaticism, but in the past violent socialists/communists were at the forefront, though I guess they could be lumped into the religion category. It is important to note that these groups often have some form of State support, however if something is cheap enough State support is unneeded. I don’t recall Timothy McVeigh having a sponsor, for example. Regardless of the source, once the premises which teach a culture “kill the heretics for great justice!” are gone everything else becomes easier. But meme warfare takes time, and it causes cultural antibodies (commonly known as conservatives) to respond, so the longer people refuse to extract their collective heads from the sand, the more likely it will be that overwhelming force is the only answer left.
“Why would anyone ever need a nuke?”
This is one of the more common “questions,” by which I mean it is not really a question at all. Rather, it fulfills the same function as “Who will build the roads?” The person is simply throwing out a random statement as an attack, not because they want to know about the subject.
For those who are asking because they do want to know, there are several answers; partly because there actually are reasons to have nuclear devices, and partly because assuming guilt before innocence is a guarantee of bad outcomes. The claims that nuclear devices are fundamentally different from all other things, and as such are too dangerous to not ban, runs afoul of both magical thinking, and the scale problem.
“Telling people that anarchy requires this eventuality will turn most people against the idea.”
Quite the contrary, anarchy doesn’t have much of anything to do with whether this happens or not. With government “help” it is easier for people to fool themselves into thinking that it will not happen. However, anarchy gives us the best chance to build proper defenses against these situations.
Why it can’t be stopped
Throughout this series I have explained that the existence of private nuclear devices can not be prevented. But maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps some new technology will so completely supplant fission and fusion that there will be no economic reason to use them.
It doesn’t matter.
Even if something completely supersedes nuclear technology, by implication it must have a higher energy density than the binding energy of atoms, which means that it could be used as a superior weapon, putting us back to square one.
Nuclear weapons are actually fairly low on the list of things that could wipe out large numbers of people, are realistic near-future technology, and can be deployed by individuals. A few others that come to mind are nanotech, artificial or modified germs, and spacecraft. Any of these could be used to destroy large swaths of the population of a single planet with relative ease, and the development of any of them will have incalculable benefits driving their use.
Ignoring that, any resources put into developing nuclear technology will reduce its cost, making it easier for smaller entities to afford. Any development in other fields will reduce the cost of those technologies, freeing up resources someone can then put into nuclear technology. The result is that any economic development of any kind will reduce the effective cost of producing and maintaining nuclear devices, making it easier for individuals or small groups to acquire them.
This interaction of technological development and governmental regulation/control/oversight has previously been mapped by David Friedman in his book Future Imperfect. In summary: Any technology is likely to start as expensive and then become progressively cheaper with time as more resources are poured into it’s development.
The implications of this are that the early, expensive period are dominated by governments and contractors who are working on hostile uses for the technology, with limited effort going into counter-measures. Later it becomes cheap enough for anyone to use it regardless of “oversight”. Think of the narcotics trade for an extreme example. Governments are impotent to stop people from getting things they want that are relatively easy to produce.
Without government control the early, expensive period will include many groups whose only interest is to use the new technology for productive or defensive purposes, with the result that when it is cheap enough so that anyone can deploy the technology there is already a solid backbone of defense against hostile uses.
In conclusion, it is better to confront damned facts head on, however horrible they may be, than to pretend they don’t exist until that self-delusion ends up killing people, or destroying their lives. Worse, the denial of damned facts surrenders the truth, and gives ammunition to the worst sorts of slime. I refuse to help such people.
Tags: nuclear weapons