Metaphysical fallout from the nuclear predicament

Title

Metaphysical fallout from the nuclear predicament

Creator

Publisher

Antipodean Antinuclearism: (Re)constructing Richard Routley/Sylvan's Nuclear Philosophy

Date

1984

Contributor

This item was identified for digitisation at the request of The University of Queensland's 2020 Fryer Library Fellow, Dr. N.A.J. Taylor.

Rights

For all enquiries about this work, please contact the Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.

Format

Manuscript

Type

Journal Article

Text

RICHARD ROUTLEY
metaphysical fallout from
nuclear predicament

the

string of nuclear prophets has produced a series of philosophically oriented works on nuclear war ’ The series is
important for its deeper penetration mto the main nuclear predicament, down to metaphysical levels; m this, the series contrasts with the superficialities of much of the political commentary. The most widely circulated and influential text of the
series is undoudbtedly that of the slightest of the ’prophets&dquo;,
A

Schell’s The Fate of the Earth. This skillful piece of mediasome of the apparently
Anders So, conveniently,
main assumptions of Schell and Anders can often be considered together. To criticize their assumptions is not of course
to belittle their work. In particular, Schell’s little book, for all its
political shortcomings, is having a significant and much
needed effect m shifting attitudes towards nuclear arrangements. It is especially valuable for its vivid and horrifying scenarios of the aftermath of nuclear attack Unfortunately it also
exhibits, both philosophically and factually, severe defects.

philosophy unncannily redeploys
deep phenomenological themes of

Some of it is simply rubbish- to take one example, consider
the claim that &dquo;without ... a worldwide program of action
for preserving the [human] species, .. nothing else that
we undertake together can make any practical or moral
sense ...&dquo; (p.173, rearranged). This should certainly be rejected philosophically; for there is no separate moral issue of
such overwhelming importance that all other issues become
morally neutral. Moral issues remain moral issues they do
not cease to be so when compared with more important moral
issues (as Schell effectively acknowledges elsewhere, e g

p.130). And the claim should be questioned on more factual
grounds. Humans form a highly resilient species, like rats a
survivor species, unlikely to be entirely exterminated under
presently arranged nuclear holocausts.
The example was selected, however, because it leads into,
indeed presupposes, two of the major defective assumptions
in the work of Schell and Anders:
S 1. Nuclear war will eliminate I~fe, human life at least,
(the extinction assumption) and

on

earth

S2. In the absence of humans, very many notions, not only
those of mortality and values, but those of time and space for
example, make no sense: or, to put it mto a more sympathefic
philosophical form, these notions depend for their sense on
an actual human context (the extravagant anthropocentric

assumption).22
of S2 which gave Anders’ and Schell’s works
of their apparent philosophical depth, and certainly induce much philosophical puzzlement through the paradoxical
propositions generated. But the frequent applications of S2
It

is

applications

some

S1.3

For without total extinction there
will be humans about, to make past and future, to do good
end evil, and to go on making sense!

depend essentially

on

Granted, assumption S1

by no means ruled out as a real
possibility, as the technological means appear available to
make it true (to render Homo Sapiens extinct).4 Granted, the
prospect of large-scale nuclear war does threaten leading
is

centers of Western civilization with obliteration. Even so, S1

unlikely m the light of present-admittedly inadequate-information Even m Canada, which lies on the polar
appears

route of Soviet missiles, human life should be able to continue
in certain northern areas (according to Canadian medical
studies). Schell’s argument to S1 is extremely flimsy. It de-

pends, for example,

20

on an unjustified extrapolation from the
Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, but for the most part it
does that very North American thing of contracting the world
to North America. (All that matters, all worthwhile civilization,
is in the USA, or at least, to be more char~table, in North
America and Europe, which will also be wiped out, e , its
entire human population will be eliminated in a nuclear holocaust.) Some of the data Schell relies upon, for example the
effect of nuclear explosions on the ozone layer, was significantly out of date even when he wrote Other effects than
ozone destruction, such as variations in the ultraviolet radiation and temperature levels, apparently extrapolate even less
well from North to South A factually superior study of nuclear

produced at about the same time as Schell’s, by
and others, indicates that part of the Southern Hemisphere, such as New Zealand and southern latitudes of Latin
Amenca, could escape relatively unscathed from even the
most massive northern exchanges.
disaster

Preddy

Doomsday prophets may appear to have gained new purchase through recent (if belated) scientific forecasts of a nuclear winter following upon nuclear war But although these
forecasts certainly add a new, and alarming, ecological dimension to the very damaging consequences of large-scale
nuclear war, they do not sustain the extinction assumpt~on.55
On the available evidence, human life will continue, though no
doubt with new complications and simplifications, for example
in many southern mid-latitude coastal regions outside zones
of radiation fallout More generally, life will go on, though likely
seriously and irreversibly impoverished through loss of valuable nonhuman systems and creatures.
Nuclear prophets usually see the world (though with most of it
carried along) as already set, in crucial respects, on the route
to nuclear catastrophe. Much of the way taken is seen as both
inevitable and irreversible Thus both Anders and Schell insist
upon the &dquo;impossibility of unlearning&dquo; the means of manufacturing nuclear bombs. It would seem that extinction,
which they both foresee, would furnish a good medium for
unlearning nuclear technology (something very like this
emerges from van Damken’s theory of an earlier &dquo;h~gh&dquo; technology). In virtue of S2, they would, however, exclude such a
possibility as a case of unlearning, contending wrongly that
the notion no longer made sense. But what they again want to
suggest with the i m possibility-of -u n learning message is the
inevitability of the development and eventual use of the
technology-as if having learned the means all else was determined, and manufacture and use ceased to be a matter of
choice. Certainly such views have been advanced6, but they
are not tenable There are many examples of technological
advances that have not been taken advantage of, and there
are even cases of technological developments that have
been manufactured but not marketed or used. There is not
something very special about nuclear apparatus that puts it
beyond the scope of such generalizations.

Both Schell and Anders do claim that there are very special
things about nuclear weapons, notably that they do not allow
Even if this were true just of nuclear
11 experiment
it
is certainly not of smaller weapons-it
weapons-and
would not rebut the previous argument against the inevitability of nuclear weapons. And in fact Anders and (even) Schell
&dquo;

21

hedge their claims about testing, and the limits to nuclear
scientific work, to large-scale weapons and independent experiments which do not interfere with observers and those
outside the &dquo;laboratories.&dquo; Again they have latched onto major prints, m particular, we have at present no way of testing
the cumulative effects of large-scale nuclear weapons in concert, e.g. for more holistic effects, such as fireballs or firestorms, or changes m coupled atmospheric circulation and
radiation fields. Short of a large-scale nuclear war, and likely
enough with it, these crucial effects must remain largely untested and hypothetical in character. Nontheless enough data
can be assembled to carry through informative modellings,
which point to the improbability of S1, and so undermine applications of S2.
The penetration of human chauvinism, as
thing peculiar to Schell and Anders, but is

m

S2,

a

product of West-

is

not some-

philosophy, European philosophy especially. This
chauvinism is unfortunately alive and still well, Anders version of S2 being just one striking illustration (cf. AA p. 252ff.).
It has also deeply penetrated Anglo-American philosophy,
and has been extended under the influence of Wittgenstein’s
ern

work, where

even the necessary truths of mathematics are
taken to be a product of human conventions, and would vanish with humans! Such are the alleged implications of extinction : but the fact is that the truths of arithmetic are m no way
dependent on the existence of humans or humanoids or of
gods or giraffes. As with necessary truths and falsehoods so
with contingents ones: very many propositions about the
world do not depend upon in any way for their truth-value or
content on humans or their communities.
_

22

In Schell, human chauvinism is dished up in a particularly
powerful and obnoxious Kantian form. Thoughts and propositions, time and tenses, history and memories, values and
morality all depend on the life-giving presence of human
beings-past or future or merely potential humans are not
enough. Thus, according to Schell (p 140, e.g), &dquo; . the
thought ’Humanity is now extinct’ is an impossible one for a
rational person, because as soon as it is, we are not In
imagining any other event, we look ahead to a moment that is
still within the stream of human tame....&dquo; The thought is however perfectly possible for humans; we can have it right now.
Though we no doubt have it falsely, a later rational creature
may well be able to have it truly. Schell erroneously denies
that: there is no &dquo;later&dquo; &dquo;outside the human tenses of past,
present, and future ... &dquo; (p 140) .7 Human extinction eliminates &dquo;the creature that divides time into past, present and

future&dquo;

annihilation cannot &dquo;come to pass&dquo; (p.143). But it
false
that the tenses are human: the tenses depend
simply
on a local time ordering (perceptible to many creatures other
than humans, but not depending at all on that perceptibility for
its viability) relating other times to the present, to now (also a
human-independent location, evident to other creatures, and
borne witness to by such sequences as the passing seasons). Annihilation may also too easily come to pass, for
many humans m the North at least, as it came to pass in
recent geological times that humans began to exist upon
earth Before that there was a time before there were any
human beings.
so

is

Anders’ argument for the demise of time, that &dquo;what has been
will no longer be even what has been,&dquo; is also explicitly (and
narrowly) verificatiomst: &dquo;for what would the difference be between what has only been and what has never been, if there
is no one to remember the things that have been (AA p.245).
There would still remain many sorts of differences; for one,
the history recorded m many other organisms would be different Temporal themes do not lack wlegitimacy because not
registered [or verified] by anyone&dquo;; truth, significance, still
less meaning, are not matters of human verification.
elsewhere, the human chauvinism is mixed with
distorting metaphysical assumptions of our Western
heritage, m particular, verificationism and ontological
assumptions (to the effect that there are severe difficulties m
talking about what does not exist Thus, for example, Schell
takes over dubious metaphysics from Freud, according to
whom ’nt is mdeed impossible to imagine our own death: and
whenever we attempt to do so, we can perceive that we are m
fact still present as spectators&dquo; (p 138) The second clause
goes a good distance towards refuting the first In fact there is
no great difficulty in describing counterfactual situations
which undermine both of Freud’s claims. The same goes for
Schell’s extensions of human chauvinism into one of its main
traditional strongholds, value theory: &dquo; . the simple and
basic fact (sic!) that before there can be good or evil, service
or harm, lamenting or rejoicing, there must be life.&dquo; human
life (p.171 ) These are no facts, but deeply entrenched philosophical dogmas (which have been exposed and criticized
elsewhere, e.g , HC).

Here,

as

other

will disappear with the extinction of
humans: trivially there will be no more humans (unless humans re-evolve or are recreated), and thus no more human
communities, human institutions, human activities, human
emotions, and so forth But it is already gomg too far to sug-

Naturally

23

many

things

gest,

as

no

Anders does, that there will

accordingly

be &dquo;no

love, no struggle, no pain, no hope, no comfort,
sacrifice, no image, no song...&dquo; For there are, and may

thought,

no

continue to exist, other creatures than humans with emotion,
struggles, songs... Nor will the ending of all such human
ventures, if it comes to pass, show that all past human ventures have been &dquo;all in vain,&dquo; meaningless, and already so to
say dead The decay of the solar system, or the heat-death of
the universe even, will not show that worthwhile human activities were not worthwhile.9 Several of the other notions and
themes common to Schell and Anders derive from their
shared assumptions S1 and S2. It is these that underlie the
biblical notion (in Revelations) of a Second Death, redeployed
by both. &dquo;The death of mankind,&dquo; under S1 , is reckoned a
&dquo;second death,&dquo; because by S2 and S1 remamng life is rendered meaningless and already ’ seems to be dead (AA
p.244, S p 166) and is already overhung with death&dquo; (S
p.166). Thus, too, more trivially, a person faces &dquo;a second
death,&dquo; not merely one’s own but m addition that greater
death of the species and all future generations (S p 166.
p.1 15). However, even if nuclear extinction came to pass, the
stronger notion would not be vindicated, because it depends
on the fallacious inference to the meaninglessness of preceding life and on the very questionable representation of this
meaninglessness as a sort of death. There is no such Second
Death: creatures die just once, perhaps all at about the same
time. The idea of a Second Death lacks even a solid metaphysical base.
From S1 ,

together with the minor principle that the extinction
absolute
does not differ m degree, comes the unibeing
versality of peril theme that &dquo;we are all exposed to peril m
the same degree,&dquo; which is accordingly &dquo;d~sgmsed~ and &dquo;difficult to recognize,&dquo; because there is no contrast (AE p 64;
S p.150). This theme falls with S1. In any event, not all peoples are equally imperilled by the nuclear situation, the Indians of southern Patagonia being rather better placed than
the Germans of northern Europe Nor are all people equally
locked into the situation or incapacitated by it; the prospects
are different in different countries and places.
an

Nor, likewise,

are

all

people equally responsible,

a

pernicious

theme which Schell (m contrast to Anders) repeatedly
filtrates. This is the Pogo theme, according to whichS3.
co,

24

in-

Responsibility for the present nuclear predIcament (flasreally) dlstnbutes onto everybody, It belongs to every hu-

man lií

the world

’o

...i

But there is also, mixed in, a weaker, more plausible claim
that gives the lie to the stronger one, namely, that we have
some responsibility (the Nazi situation is compared) An especially blatant example of the Pogo theme’ runs as follows:
&dquo;... the world’s political leaders
though they now menace
the earth with nuclear weapons, do so only with our permission, and even at our bidding. At least, this is true for democracies&dquo; (pp.229-30). The theme is elaborated elsewhere:
&dquo;... we are the authors of that distinction (For the populations of the superpowers this is true in a positive sense,
since we pay for extinction and support the governments that
pose the threat of it, while for the peoples of the non-nucleararmed world it is true only m the negative sense that they fail
to try to do anything about the danger)&dquo; (p.152). But this is
...

of an argument indicting representative government, by
revealing its insensitivity and unresponsiveness to many of
the populace they allegedly govern, not to mention those
affected by its activities who are not represented at all (namely foreigners). But Schell conveniently neglects all such
points: &dquo;... we are all potential mass killers. The moral cost of
more

nuclear armaments is that it makes all of us underwriters of
the slaughter of hundreds of millions&dquo; (p 152) And again [at]
perpetrators ... we convey the steady message .. that life
not only is not sacred but it is worthless; that ... it had been
judged acceptable for everyone to be killed&dquo; (p 153) Little of
this is true. Those who campaign against nuclear arrangements, vote against nuclear-committed parties so far as is
possible, and the like, are certainly not the authors of potential
destruction, and responsibility for the nuclear situation does
not simply distribute onto them. Nor does the responsibilityor the unlikely opinions as to worth Schell illegitimately attributes to everyone-fall on those who have done less.
Responsibility for decisions taken in &dquo;literal democracies&dquo;
even by representatives (m the unlikely event of this happening m the case of anything as important as defense) cannot
be traced back to those represented, since among many
other things, a representative is only representative of a party
which offers a complex and often ill-characterized package of
policies, and a voter may vote for zero or more policies of this
package. Only m the (uncommon) event of a clear single
issue referendum, which is adopted, can responsibility, still of
a qualified sort, be sheeted home, to those who voted for it,
not to everyone in the community. While S3 is false, there is
an important related theme that is much more plausible,
namely, that the present nuclear situation generates
responsibilities for every socially involved person.

25

When

moreover

the

Pogo assumption

is

disentangled

from

the accompanyng themes, part of what results
along the right lines: namely,

is

decidedly

S4 The controllers [not to be confused, in Schell’s fashion,
with all of us] have failed to change our pre-nuclear mstltutlons. The sovereign system Is out of step with the nuclear age, the one-earth system, etc. (the whole earth

theme).

Though Schell remains relatively clear about the serious defects of the state and the frequently immoral purposes for
which the state is used, unfortunately he often loses sight of
this important theme (indicated pp.187-8) Yet S4 forms part
of Schell’s critique of the state which is, by and large, scattered and fragmentary. Schell arrives at the conclusion that
the nation-state has outlasted its usefulness, and that new
political institutions more &dquo;consonant with the global reality&dquo;
are required as a matter of urgency. But he evades what he
admits is the major task, making out viable alternatives. 12 At
most he makes some passing gestures, some pointing
towards the Way Up to world political control
Solutions to the nuclear arms dilemma come, if not easily, m a
similar simplistic way, from Top Down: those who can must
appeal to the Top, to those who govern (cf. p.230). Schell
places his hope m treaties for arms reduction and limitations,
such as SALT, and m world government, through the United
Nations (see p.225ff. and especially p 227, bottom paragraph) Given the record of these organizations and treaties,
the negotiations and regulators, it is by now a pathetic faith.
Nor is a serious need felt for further analysis of the nuclear
situation, to investigate the origins of nuclear technology, to
explore the roots of nuclear blindness, to consider effective
changes to military-mdustrial organization and ways of life.

26

But some of the requisite deeper analysis of the nuclear situation and, more generally, of the roots of war can be found in
Anders and elsewhere. 13 The roots of the nuclear predicament are not confined to the ideologically-aligned arrangements of nation-states, but penetrate also into key components of those states, their military, their controlling
classes, and their supporting bureaucracies Both within the
arrangements of states, what accounts in part for the arrangements, and in key components of the states, a conspicuous
and crucial feature is the drive for power and domination (and,
often, the accompanyng privilege). 14 Thus the push for [nuclear] superiority by the super-states, to be achieved through
military-oriented science and technology, which involves and
enables domination,in several interrelated forms The main

the large nation-state, where enough surplus
be accumulated (from at home and from abroad,
and bled from nature) to proceed with military and bureaucratic ambitions and to found the high-technology research
and development means to ever more expendable power and

power-base
product can

is

energy. 15
In

changing the

structural arrangements to eliminate the proof
nuclear
war, it is not ultimately enough just to downspect
the
main
power-base, the nation-state: it is also imporgrade
tant to alter key components of the state, and, more
sweepingly, to remove trouble-making patterns embedded m
all these social and political arrangements, namely, patterns
of domination-patterns manifested not only in state political
organization, but in white-coloured relations, male-female relations, human-animal relations, human-nature relations-to
remove, m short, chauvinistic relations. However, not everything needs to be accomplished at once: the cluster of
damaging power and domination relations tied into war can
be tackled separately There the problems can largely be
narrowed to certain problems of states and certain key components of states
In what analysis he does offer of the problem with states,
Schell repeats the familiar false contrast of state expediency
with morality, as a contrast between &dquo;raison d’etat&dquo; and the
Socratic-Christian ethics The teaching that &dquo;the end justifies
the means is the basis on which governments, in all times,
have licensed themselves to commit crimes of every sort&dquo;
(p 134). So &dquo;states may do virtually anything whatever m the
name of [their] survival.&dquo; Schell then argues, however, that
extinction nullifies end-means justification by destroying
every end; but again the argument is far from sound, and
depends on human chauvinism (as under S2) combined with
ontological assumptions. Even if all humans were extinguished (as under S1 ) ends could remain, for instance, for
nonhumans such as animals and extraterrestrials, actual or
not. The end-means argument can, however, be repaired to
remove such objections: instead it is claimed that extinction

27

nullifies end-means justification by frustrating the realization
of every relevant end-meaning by &dquo;relevant,&dquo; in this context, those ends the realization of which the state appeals to
m justification of its nuclear policies. 16 A nuclear war, even
without human extinction but with severe enough losses,
would undoubtedly frustrate the realization of relevant state
ends So even from an expediency perspective, super-state
policies are open to severe criticism, for example, as motivationally irrational in the nuclear risks taken.

As to the part of the state and (state) sovereignty m war,
Schell leaves us in no doubt. A sovereign state is virtually
defined as one that enjoys the right and power to go to war m
defense or pursuit of its interests (p 187) War arises from
how things are, from the arrangement of political affairs via
jealous nation-states (p.188). Indeed there is a two-way linkage between having sovereignty and capacity to wage
war. On the one side, sovereignty is, Schell contends, necessary for people to organize for war. On the other side, without
war it is impossible to preserve sovereignty Neither of these
contentions is transparently clear as it stands. The first is
damaged by civil war and the like, the second by the persistence of small nonmilitary states. Now that the macro-state
system is entrenched, it is, however, easy for conservatives
(m particular) to argue from the &dquo;realties&dquo; of international life,
which includes self-interest, aggression, fear, hatred. It is on
this basis that peace arrangements are readily dismissed as
unrealistic, utopian, even (amusingly) as extremist (cf. p.185).

Schell’s further theme that nuclear war is not war threatens,
however, to undermine his case against the sovereign state:
for example, his ends-means argument and the argument
based on its nuclear-war making capacity. Fortunately the
not-war theme needs much qualification, and starts out from
an erroneous characterization of war as &dquo;a violent means
employed by a nation to achieve an end&dquo; (p.189): but this is
neither necessary nor sufficient for war. What is correct is that
nuclear wars are very different from previous conventional

(cf. WP). Schell goes on to claim that war requires an
end which nuclear &dquo;war&dquo; does not have. But nuclear attacks
can certainly have ends (even if large nuclear wars cannot be
won in the older sense: but not all wars or games are won). It
is also claimed that war depends on weakness, on one side
being defeated on a decision by arms. But in a nuclear &dquo;war&dquo;
this doesn’t happen, &dquo;no one’s strength fails until both sides
have been annihilated&dquo; (p.190). But what these sorts of considerations contribute to showing is again not that nuclear
wars are not wars, but that they are not wars of certain sorts,
e.g., not just wars (because they fail on such criteria as reasonable prospect of success and improvement), not rational
wars (in a good sense), and so on. That conventional wars
have persisted into nuclear times does damage to Schell’s
argument that nuclear weapons have also ruined &dquo;conventional&dquo; wars, and his connected theme that the demise of
war has left no means to finally settle disputes between nations, for the final court has been removed (pp 192-193). The
theme depends on a pair of mistaken propositions: that conwars

28

cerning the demise of conventional war, and the idea that war
of some sort has to be the final &dquo;court of appeal&dquo; between
nations (for there are other types of contests that could serve,
and there is also the possibility of more cooperative behaviour, e.g. joint referenda) The theme also imports the
social-Darwinian assumption of Clausewicz (the &dquo;log~c of
war&dquo; theme) that war has to proceed to the technological
limit-as if war and violence were thoroughly natural activities, independent of recognized social settings (for winning,
surrender, etc.), and ruleless activities. On the contrary, wars
are parasitic on social organizations such as states and are
governed by a range of understandings, conventions and
rules. They are a social phenomenon, with a rule structure, if
not a

29

logic.

Much capital has been made not merely from the logic of
war&dquo; but from what is now called &dquo;the logic of deterrence&dquo; and
the &dquo;logic of nuclear [strategic] planning.&dquo; The message that
is usually supposed to emerge is that the massive arrangements the world is now entangled in are perfectly logical,
sound, rational. However, this represents little more than a
cheap semantical trick. Logic in no way justifies the present
arrangements, or anything like them, or renders them reasonable. There are logics of decision (as presented, e.g., for the
classical case in Jeffrey) which can be applied in strategic
planting; but they do not yeld specific results without desirability measures being assigned to alternative outcomes,
that is without values being pumped in, extralogically. There
are various ways these value assignments may be determined, to meet moral requirements or not: but in nuclear
strategic planning they have invariably been settled on the
basis of expediency 17 . For the most part, however, &dquo;logic of&dquo;
tends to be used very loosely, as a word of general commendation, to cover something like &dquo;reasomng and rational
considerations entering into the policy or strategy of.&dquo; In these
terms, Schell, who like others enjoys playing with the term
&dquo;logic of,&dquo; should write of &dquo;the illogic of deterrence,&dquo; for he
emphasizes its unreasonableness. For instance, he stresses
(p.213) the disparity between the supposed rationality of
threatening use of nuclear weapons and the irrationality
(even from a national interest viewpoint) of actually using
them should the threat fail- 18 yet the success of deterrence
doctrine depends on the credibility of the threat of this unjustifiable and irrational use. Indeed Schell wants to go still
further and locate a contradiction in deterrence (e g. pp.2012) ; but the argument depends on an interesting confusion of
contradiction with cancellation,’9 along with the assumption

that deterrence involves cancellation. Nuclear deterrence
may well be irrational, it is immoral, but it is not inconsistent.

The Australian National University

NOTES
*This is a revised version of "Appendix 1 On the fate of mankind and the
earth, according to Schell, and to Anders" of my monograph referred to as
WP, where several points, only touched upon in this review, are further
developed References are by way of authors names or else through
obvious acronyms, given in the list of references which follows
1 The distinguishing term is from Foley’s Nuclear Prophets. where many
leading anti-nuclear prophets are assessed One well-known prophet not so
considered there is Jaspers, presumably because his main work comes out
in entirely the wrong direction It gives heavy philosophical attire to the

better-dead-than-red abomination A main argument against Jaspers so
presented is simple However bad being red might become (at present it is
debatably worse than living under some of the totalitarian regimes the free
West props up), it still gives humans a further chance for good lives, since
regimes fall or can be toppled but the total annihilation removes that all-

important opportunity
2 A detailed comparison of Schell and Anders’
of S2 is made in Foley JS

remarkably

similar

versions

3 Should S2 appeal, as it may. to suitable communities of humans. S1 will
require reformulation in similar terms, and the argument that follows needs
minor adjustment, with appropriate groups replacing individuals
4. Thus the Last Person

environmental ethics (as HC
for instance, the remote death of the Sun, but assumes new urgency It is this sort of argument
that connects environmental ethics and nuclear ethics. at a deeper
metaphysical level The Bomb and Bulldozer are out of the same technological Pandora’s box.

explams),

is no

argument, important

in

longer merely hypothetical, awaiting,

Nuclear

technology is not the only route to human extinction, nor the only
Pandora’s box. Biological and chemical means are perhaps even more
effective, and certainly can be more selective in what gets extinguished.
Nuclear extinction would presumably require a different and more massive

30

exchange than is usually assumed in nuclear war scenarios. with heavy
targeting in particular of Southern Hemisphere sites (including
internationally-recognized nuclear-free zones).

5 Nor do recent scientific studies claim

as much The most intrepid of these
studies, Erlich and others, only contends that in certain worst-case circumstances, "the possibility of the extinction of Homo sapiens cannot be excluded" (p 1299). The study admits that, in the scenario described, "it
seems unlikely
Homo sapiens would be forced to extinction immediately," and the difficulties indicated in the way of long-term human
survival are exaggerated

In

many of the drastic effects predicted for Northern midlatitudes
very much milder forms in equivalent Southern latitudes For
example, temperatures for regions with maritime climates appear likely to
vary by only a few degrees and perhaps negligibly for many agricultural
purposes after 100 days (cf. Turco and others, p 1287 case 29, and p 1286)
Similarly the extent of nuclear darkness and of surface ultraviolet radiation
will be appreciably less in the South and perhaps minor for many crucial
purposes. such as photosynthesis and human outdoor activity. after 100
days (cf the data in Benton and Partridge)

particular,

are

reflected

in

No doubt

some scientifically respectable sections of the environmental and
peace movements have an interest in exaggerating the probable effects of
nuclear holocaust for life on earth, much as many heads of states and
strategists have an interest in minimizing them And there is certainly substantial margin for error and for variation in conclusions drawn For Crutzen
(p 59) is right that "analysis of the environmental effects of a global thermonuclear war remain
uncertain
because of a lack of information on
various important processes [among other things]
The environment
might become extremely hostile, because of hitherto overlooked changes in
the composition of the atmosphere," again among other things Such uncertainty bodes considerable caution as rational The way to err is clear

6 Not

worth,

military

merely by technological determinists of Marxist persuasion Hackformer US general, argues by straight induction that if the US

a

has

a

weapon it will

use it

appalling theme that humans create past, present and
repeated elsewhere, e.g . p 173.
7 The

8 For

a

detailed refutation of these assumptions,

is here (AA pp
perseverance, criticized

9 Anders

see

future (etc )

is

JB

244-5) relying upon a version of the argument from
in detail in Routley and Griffin

interesting converse of this theme is sometimes advanced, that no
responsible. the whole thing is out of control The technological
version of this no-responsibility theme is discussed below (fn 15) More
satisfactory is the theme that nuclear arrangements are out of political
10 An

one is

in terms of vested interests in keeping nuclear
going, which enable responsibility to be distributed The vested interests, which bear considerable responsibility. include the military weapons
industry, and research and academic communities (cf Barnaby) Under
pressures for re-election especially, politicians give in to these powerful
groups, so losing control of political processes The argument is flawed at its
final stage For many influential politicians either belong to or represent
vested interests Thus. though there is no doubt some "lack of control,"
political processes tend rather to reflect vested interests than to run out of
political control

control, but for reasons,

things

31

11 Another example of spreading the responsibility runs as follows "The
self-extinction of our species is not an act that anyone describes as sane or

sensible, nevertheless, it is an act that, without quite admitting it to ourselves, we plan In certain circumstances to commit (p 185) Even for most
of the planners, extinction is presumably not part of "the plan," but an
unintended consequence, and most of us have little or no role in the planning : enough of us even campaign against the planning. Further "the world
chose the course of attempting to refashion the system of sovereignty to
accommodate nuclear weapons" (p 194) the world? This connects the
course with the faulty ideological argument from defence of fundamentals,
e g , for liberty, for the "free enterprise" (USA) nation, and against socialism
12. A more detailed discussion is given in WP8, where too the
the state from nuclear dilemmas is elaborated

case

against

explanation is elaborated in Foley, some of the themes are
straightforwardly in Martin The incomplete list of items
given, to be investigated in a deeper analysis of the nuclear situation, paraphrases Foley JS p.164
13 Anders’

presented

more

These motivating drives form a part of a larger integrated package.
comprising maximization drives for power, knowledge, control, wealth, enfor the "newer" Enlightenment (but Faustian)
ergy, speed, satisfaction,
virtues. Frequently there are attempts (the human failing for excessive neatness and simplicity manifested) to reduce the package to one main component, preference-satisfaction. for instance, or utility And the type of drive
is justified (especially for those who have it, but also as rational, which again
it is not) Rationality, the deeply entrenched myth has it, consists in
maximization of a suitable mix of these virtues
14

Maximization of the objects of the drives runs, however, into limitation
theorems and associated paradoxes The maximization of self-interest (individual or national) runs into Newcomb’s paradox and special cases of it
such as Prisoner’s Dilemma situations The maximization of power, as symbolized in the Christian-Islamic God. encounters the paradox of omnipotence, the parallel maximization of knowledge, paradoxes of omniscience.
There are no consistent objects which are omnipotent or omniscient The
drive for maximum consistency, often taken to be the epitome of rationality.
also leads to inconsistency in the case of more important theories, such as
arithmetic and set theory (by virtue of Godel s theorem and associated
limitative theorems)
15 R & D,
drives the

though directed by military requirements and the arms race, also
arms race Its role is partly disguised by the myth of neutral

science

32

There have been attempts, not only by those committed to technological
determinism, to involve technology more deeply as the main, or single,
source of the nuclear fix (thus especially Mumford, in part thereby anticipating Commoner’sparallel indictment of technology-choice in the ecological
fix) It is technology, the mega-machine, running out of control, that has
brought us to this predicament, the nuclear abyss. Sometimes this serves to
exonerate states and their key components and those who control them, for
they are simply caught up by this out-of-control machine, but sometimes the
state itself is seen as a machine also running out of control But the technological determinism, like other varieties of stronger (nonanalytic) determinism, is false Nuclear technology was selected and proceeded with,
after a well-known political dispute involving distinguished scientists, it was
deliberated, funded and promoted, while other alternatives were not

of the nuclear age were not inevitable. but dechosen
certain
liberately
by
components of the large nation-states And
much as they need not have been chosen, so they do not have to be
persisted with The fashionable inevitability determinism themes admit not
only of refutation by bringing out the many choices made in persisting with
often recalcitrant technologies They also admit of being made to look
ridiculous If the Bomb is determined, as part of human evolution, then if it
functions (as it probably will, a matter also determined), it will serve as a
human population control device, a matter also determined That is. the
Bomb has its fixed evolutionary place in human population regulation
1

Damaging technologies

16 This reformulation
main

17

qualification

can

proposed by N Griffin, who suggested that the
be inferred from Schell’s context

was

the usual game theory setting sees to this almost autothen assumed that each player plays to maximize his or her
matically,
own advantage Thus too the presumption in Walzer, p.277, that "the logic
of deterrence" is based on eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth assumptions

Selecting

for it

is

18 Even the irrationality of retaliatory (or first-strike) use has been contested, e.g., it has been wishfully thought that America will rise like a phoenix

from the radioactive ashes.
There is moreover a simple solution to Schell’s problem of the "missing
motive" for retaliating to a large strike (p 204), namely, not a future retributive one, but an ideological one eliminate the prospect of the future dominance of the rival ideology. Such a motive has been offered for the conjectured targeting of Latin America
19 An

appears

confusion of negation with cancellation or obliteration
thinking, where US missiles are supposed
incoming USSR missiles

analogous
in

recent US "star-war"

to " negate"

Moral paradoxes of deterrence take a different direction For although inupon perhaps questionable interconnections
of intensional functors. One type of paradox (considered in WP 5, where the
immorality of deterrence is argued) derives from a policy of credibly
threatening war without, however. intending to proceed to war. though credible threats [appear to] imply an intention to proceed Another style derives
from acclaimed intention to reduce the number of nuclear missiles when the
persistent practice, which implies an intention, is to increase the number
This paradox is technically removed—how satisfactorily is another matter—
by a distinction between long-term aims and immediate practice, a timehonoured method of removing contradictions by conveniently discerned
temporal distinctions

volving negation, they depend

REFERENCES

33

G Anders, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen, C H Beck. Munchen, 1956,
referred to as AA.

G Anders, Endzeit und Zeitenende: Gendanken
tion, C H Beck, Munchen, 1972, referred to as AE
F.

Barnaby,

"Will there be

a

Nuclear War,"

in

zur

atomaren Situa-

Australia and Nuclear War,

(ed M Denborough), Croom Helm, Australia, 1983, 2-37.
I J Benton and G W

Partridge,"’Twilight

at Noon

Overstated," Ambio 13

(1984) 49-51
B. Commoner, The
New York, 1972

Closing Circle: Nature,

PJ Crutzen, "Darkness after

a

Man and

Technology, Knopf,

Nuclear War," Ambio 13

(1984)

52-4.

M. Denborough (ed ), Australia and Nuclear War Croom Helm, Australia,
1983.
P R Erlich and others, "Long-term Biological Consequences of Nuclear
War," Science 222 (1983) 1293-1300
Jonathan Schell Genius—Philosopher—Rewrite Man," type1982, referred to as JS
Brisbane,
script,

G

Foley,

G Foley, Nuclear Prophets. The True and the False, typescript, Brisbane,
1983
D. Hackworth, "A Soldier’s Report," Australia and Nuclear War, (ed M
Denborough), Croom Helm, Australia, 1983, 209-12
K

Jaspers. The Future of Mankind. (trans

Chicago

E B Ashton).

University of

Press, 1961

B Martin, Grass Roots
ham, 1984
L Mumford, The
1970

Myth

Strategy Against War,

Freedom Press,

Notting-

of the Machine, 2 vols., Harcourt Brace. New York,

Preddey and others, Future contingencies 4. Nuclear Disasters. A
Report to the Commission for the Future, Government Printer, Wellington,
G F

New Zealand, 1982

Routley and N. Griffin. ’’Unravelling the Meanings of Life," Discussion
Papers in Environmental Philosophy 3, Australian National University, CanR.

berra, 1982
R Routley, Exploring Meinong’s Jungle and Beyond, Research School
of Social Sciences. Australian National University, 1980, referred to as JB
R Routley. War and Peace I. On the Ethics of Large-Scale Nuclear War
and Nuclear Deterrence and the Political Fall-Out, Discussion Papers in
Environmental Philosophy 5, Australian National University, 1984, referred
to as WP
R and V Routley, "Human Chauvinism and Environmental Ethics," in Environmental Philosophy (ed D Mannison and others), Research School
of Social Science, Australian National University, 1980, referred to as HC

J Schell, The Fate of the

Knopf,
Earth,

New York, 1982, referred to

K P Turco and others, "Nuclear Winter, Global Consequences of
Nuclear Explosions." Science 222 (1983) 1283-92

34

M Walzer, Just and

Unjust

as

S F

Multiple

Wars Basic Books, New York, 1977.

Collection

Citation

Richard Routley, “Metaphysical fallout from the nuclear predicament,” Antipodean Antinuclearism, accessed May 27, 2024, https://antipodean-antinuclearism.org/items/show/89.

Output Formats