Undermining Weapons, Or Not?

I woke up early this morning intending to go for a walk. For the last few weeks I have been hard at work proof-reading the text of Underminers ready for the final publication on the website as a single download (with fanfare!) and then an e-book, and then probably a physical book. More anon. So, there I was, ready to go for a walk with coat and head-torch poised; and then I opened the back door to be greeted by the gentle hiss of incessant rain and a waft of cold air to accompany the darkness.

Sunrise wasn’t to be until after 7, if I ever saw the sun. It was 6.15.

At 6.20 I had a mug of tea and was writing a long note to myself about the nature of weapons. You see, the reason I woke up early was because of weapons. The long proof-reading period has been quite satisfying with very few changes springing to mind, except for the odd grammatical alteration or reinforcement of a point (and sometimes toning one down). Then this morning I suspected there was a gaping hole: where had I talked about undermining weapons; after all, without weapons it is rarely possible for one group of people to dominate any other group of people, at least in the opening stanzas of a heirarchical society.

I searched through the manuscript to find very few references to weaponry and even fewer to actually tackling the weapons themselves. Yep, that gaping hole really seemed to be gaping. Then I started the note to myself. You can decide for yourselves whether I have nailed the problem…

Is this important enough for a whole section? In many parts of the world the initial Tool of Disconnection used is “Abuse Us”; the stage of “development” of a society is relevant to this, for it seems to be that the earlier in the civilized story, the more likely the use of more direct forms of control and disconnection are used. Forced labour, forced religion and other ideologies, forced hierarchy and so on have historically been in the gift of those who have the most effective arsenal of weaponry (quantity, quality, ability – whatever it takes to be pre-eminent). Later on in the civilized story the means of controlling a population tend towards the more subtle – unless more direct control is needed.

Ultimately though, is it the weapons per se that are the control mechanisms, or is it the desire to control and the knowledge that control is possible? In a world where the AK-47 and M16 have superceded the machete and the firebrand as the killing tool of choice for young, oppressive regimes, it would seem obvious that to stop the flow of weapons would also reduce the level of oppression. To a certain extent this is true; but what of the machete? This multi-purpose, ostensibly peaceful tool is used under a variety of different names (panga, cutlass etc) for clearing brush. During the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 the machete was responsible for at least half of all of the recorded 800,000 murders. Stopping the flow of machetes from Europe and China may have reduced the scale of the massacre, but who is to say that other potential weapons such as clubs, axes and rifles (from http://jpr.sagepub.com/content/43/1/5.full.pdf+html) would not have been used instead; and anyhow, 84% of households already had a machete 10 years before the massacre took place – it was and still is an agricultural tool.

It seems that the problem of weaponry as a tool of mass control is not so much with the nature of the arsenal, as the nature of the people controlling that arsenal. We know that people can be persuaded to kill with sufficient authoritative systems in place, and thus a far more effective means of undermining the use of weaponry in any society is to remove the authority that controls the level of abuse on a mass scale. Later on, in Chapter 7, the industrial machine, which includes the systems of weapon manufacture will be challenged head-on, but first and foremost, it’s authority we need to look at for all sorts of reasons, not just how people are ordered to kill others.

Chapter 6 is going to be changed, but nowhere near as much as I first thought.

3 Responses to Undermining Weapons, Or Not?

  1. simo says:

    This completely misses the distinction between defensive and offensive weapons… which is the most fundamental mistake one can make about everything, since defense is all about not being vulnerable, and not being vulnerable is everything about “undermining”.

    • farnishk says:

      I’m not sure it does miss the point, for two reasons. First, there is an amendment in the text – the blog was just a first sketch – which reads: “As a friend of mine pointed out, “A knife in a bushcraft setting is an invaluable tool; in an inner city a threat of violence.” He went on to add an important proviso: “Weapons can be used as much for self-defence against aggression as for committing aggression for dominance.””

      Second, one has to be very careful about falling in to a “parable of the tribes” scenario, by which a tribe arms itself in order to defend itself against an outside form of aggression rather than finding another way of removing the threat, thus becoming the aggressor in turn. This is almost inevitable if human history is anything to go by. The first chapter of David Mitchell’s brilliant “Cloud Atlas” describes this beautifully, and horrifically.

      Fair point, though.

  2. simo says:

    Let me know if you are interested in further input from someone with an autodidact military, errrr, “background”… For now I’ll keep it short:

    Orwell on weapons that favor oppression and those that favor liberty

    Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while (snip.. the rest above..)

    Basically, some people have broken away from the false conundrum of “if I learn to defend myself and those I love and the Nature around me, I’ll become a danger to other clans/tribes who will not be able to keep me in check”: defensive techniques can be devised against anything, even M1A1 Abrams and F117s, though at a cost. And even that cost will go down tremendously when oil disappears and with it the offensive weapon systems. Yes, even the “powerful” US of A has failed at most wars, and is going down as we speak, even though there is still plenty of oil propping up its offensive machinery.

    The “knife” that you cite is a good example of an (ineffective) offensive weapon, though my assertion will be counterintuitive to people who do not use a formal definition of “offense” and “defense” :-)..

    Anyway, the above gives a good hint at what is the best (in fact the only) defensive weapon, though Orwell’s thinking was not as clear and state of the art as it is in (some) peoples heads in the new century, despite his (Orwell’s) participation in the Spanish Civil War and other life experiences which should have taught him better…

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