‘Madness Not To’ – by Jane Roberts

 

And so, Councillors, the dilemma facing us, in the six weeks before planetfall, is this: are weapons to be a token of esteem, or a token of disgrace?

Those who sent us put weapons into the Arks because, as one document memorably puts it, they thought it would be ‘madness not to.’ They were thinking of our survival, against whatever we might find at our destination, and whatever we might have become by the time we got there.

We could, of course, jettison all the weapons on the Arks before planetfall. We do not have to take a single one down with us. What we cannot do is jettison the desire for weapons, the hardwiring of the human brain to see them as a means of gaining and keeping power. The incident at first awakening was a sad and salutary reminder of that.

But perhaps we can direct those impulses in more useful directions.

You know, Councillors, that in my view we should not even contemplate turning weaponry over to Artificial Intelligence. What has been programmed in can be programmed out, or corrupted and diverted to whatever purpose the human brain can devise. Which is not to say, Councillors, that the human brain itself cannot be manipulated, but it is harder, it takes longer, and the results are much less certain. Ensuring weaponry remains in human hands may be our best deterrent against those wishing to achieve other, particular results.

Our choices, Councillors, will decide more than just who has access to weaponry. We can work out a system, lay down qualifying criteria, create bodies to administer physical, psychological and emotional tests. And we can choose if we will put weaponry into the hands of those who pass, or those who fail. Do we want a highly educated and highly trained elite, able to think for themselves and understand the enormous responsibility they hold? Or do we want killers incapable of thinking beyond given orders, unable to formulate their own plans for the power in their hands? In either case, we must decide the physical, psychological and emotional measures we will countenance to achieve our desired outcome, and the moral framework that will support it.

We know, with complete certainty, that there is no sentient life on the planet below us. There is no threat to us there. We know, with almost as much certainty, that there is little chance we will encounter sentient life from anywhere else, just passing this way. Our safety lies in the enormity of space. The only target for our weaponry will be ourselves.

Whatever our decisions, they will need reinforcement. On Earth, weapons large and small were accepted as inevitable and even desirable. Our ancestors held the concept of the ‘just war’ and made heroes of those who applied their weapons, individually or as part of a group, in the service of the winning side, or the most widely held set of beliefs.

We do not have to follow their example. Our colonists were not even born when Earth died, and have slept for almost all of their lives. They are like newborns. Their education is in our hands. We can say, weapons are such a threat to our survival that only the very noblest of us may use them. Our future children can aspire to this level of excellence. They will view it as a matter of honour to be allowed access to weapons; they will strive for it, they will plan and scheme and probably cheat for it. Their parents will bribe for it. Entertainments will be made extolling those who succeed, and children will play with figurines depicting them. Our industries will compete to make weapons worthy of these noble creatures. Entire economies may be founded on such a system.

Or we can say, killing and maiming is so degrading, and so dreadful, that it will fall only to those who have no choice. Those who fail the tests. Those whose parents cannot bribe their way out of it. Those whom we must encourage to believe they have no alternative, no purpose other than to do this particular, despicable thing. There will be no glorious entertainments, no expensive figurines. The weapons will be basic, dull and heavy, notable for nothing except their appalling ability to destroy life. No gifted, talented entrepreneur will wish to enter that industry. No-one would be proud of an economy based on such a mean foundation.

It is up to us, as all that remains of the Council after the incident, to make a choice before the general awakening.

Either way, a price will be paid by our precious newborns. Either way, we are manipulating their destinies. But Councillors, the decision must be made. To make no choice, is to make a choice. Those who sent us never had this opportunity. Weapons were part of their evolution. But we do have it. And this one choice will decide the shape of our future education, culture and society. We must decide, Councillors, before the general awakening. It would be madness not to.

 

Critical Reflection for ‘Madness Not To’

 

This piece came out of the Terra Two Workshop during the York Festival of Ideas. We discussed what we would take with us to create a new world, and one person said, almost as a joke, ‘Guns, of course, we’d need guns.’ So I wondered what would happen if we had a choice whether or not to take weapons. Then I thought, you can remove the weapons, but you can’t remove the idea of weapons; a stick is a weapon. I thought about how much of our life is shaped by the idea of weapons: art, literature, toys, films, music, industry, diplomacy, economics, clothes…the list is endless. So it seemed to me that a decision about who would have access to weapons, and how that choice would be made and enforced, would have incredibly far reaching consequences for all aspects of life in this new world. Who would take that decision?

And with what motives?

 

 

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Jane Roberts holds a BA in History and an MA in Women’s Studies from the University of York. Published as Jane Ayrie, her prose and poetry have appeared online and her short fiction has been anthologised.    She is currently working on a novel on the theme of future human diasporas.

 

 

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