Saturday, January 11, 2014
Throughout Rhodes rich work, the international and collaborative nature of the scientific community is juxtaposed to the national, and therefore seemingly narrow, politics and conflicts between states. With the chaos of two world wars behind him, Rhodes looks to this same community as a potential paragon of hope for a world in which mutually assured destruction is replaced by the open exchange of our most important resource: ideas and knowledge. While he goes to great lengths to trace the political, material, and contextual intricacies of scientific discovery and application, Rhodes remains convinced that our deepening knowledge of reality, and the possible leveling effects of information diffusion, will be our saving grace. He is able to do this, while telling the story of the most terrible of human contrivances, specifically because he believes in the possible future the bomb has helped to create. Extending the logic of state-sponsored violence to the nth degree, atomic weapons demand a recalculation of human morality in light of international conflict. When no amount of armaments, wealth, or man-power can entirely protect a society from the threat of nuclear annihilation, the world must be thrust into a new paradigm of cooperation. Or so the argument goes. It the over-arching terror, the complete destruction, which these weapons assure, that forces us into a post-war world.
History would seem to suggest that Rhodes, and Bohr before him, are on to something. There has never been an atomic bomb dropped in anger since those fateful days in August, 1945. The Cold War shrank to an end, and the prospect of another world war seems remote indeed. Along the way the world has become more overtly interconnected, and seemingly smaller - perhaps we are moving closer to a truly international community. That the full realization of the depths of our man-made horrors might ensure a world in which such devastation is in retreat is certainly an inversion of the obvious lines of thought. In the balance, I wonder if we are truly saved by the development and application of human knowledge? Does such exploration necessarily breed the wisdom to use it? Must we have known our most terrible demons before we become acquainted with our better angels?