Another day goes by, another story in the global media tells us of the unthinkable ills that one or more of our species have chosen to inflict on other human beings.
Terrorist attacks are becoming the daily norm – a rampaging lorry on a packed boulevard in Nice; a gunman in a shopping centre in Munich; a knife attack in a disabled facility in Japan. The list unfortunately goes on and on. And, as George Galloway often points out, not all of the perpetrated atrocities hit our screens. Such is the regularity of attacks in the Middle East and destabilised parts of Africa that it is only on slow news days, of which we have had few in recent weeks, they get reported in the mainstream western media.
As a species, we are often depicted as the most intelligent on the planet, but if you were to gaze at the daily churn of news stories, you would be forgiven for having the polar opposite view. Ironically, our brain power appears to be focused on finding new and innovative ways to self destruct and inflict unimaginable pain and suffering on our own.
Our intelligence as a species is probably best demonstrated by our incredible propensity for creativity and invention. We have evolved from the primative cave to an unrecognisable, interconnected urban community stretching across the globe. The beauty of nature has been forfeited but the human development of the world we live in today is a marvel in itself.
Key to this development over the centuries has been conflict. As the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention” and never is that necessity greater than in times of war. Wars accelerate technological development to create tools for the purpose of solving specific military needs, which often tend to later evolve into innovations for solving needs in the civilian world.
For example, in 1914 the small US firm, Kimberly-Clark, identified a material five times more absorbent than cotton, which could be mass-produced at half the cost. They trademarked it and began mass producing wadding for surgical dressing for the army and the Red Cross during the First World War. Once the war had ended, a domestic application for these super absorbent bandages was found: the sanitary towel was created. Similarly, inventions ranging from wrist watches to stainless steel; zips to microwaves; penicillin to computers; were all born from war.
Wars do promote innovation, but all too often the needs fulfilled are destructive rather than constructive, and on occasion the destruction caused is just too high a price to pay. Hiroshima and Nagasaki lay testament to that. The Americans will argue that the atomic bombs dropped ended World War II and saved many lives in the process but in truth their actions are a scourge on humanity. Maybe the devastation caused has deterred the further use of nuclear weapons; it certainly does seem miraculous that no one has pressed the big red button since.
The grim truth is that it appears to be only a matter of time before someone in the 21st Century unleashes a nuclear or biological weapon to similarly devastating consequences as we saw in 1945. Heightened international tensions and nuclear proliferation is a toxic mix. In this respect, we appear to be entering a period of worrying instability and division in the world.
The weakening and probable fragmentation of Europe, which will no doubt be expedited by Brexit, will only strengthen the hand of those who wish to create conflict. Vladimir Putin’s shadow hovers over the Baltics (having already annexed Crimea) as Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric fans the flames of hatred and intolerance in the US. Meanwhile North Korea engage in nuclear testing and the development of ballistic missiles on their submarines and China asserts itself by claiming territory out into the South China Sea. Everywhere you look there is conflict or at least a worrying potential for an escalation of hostility between superpowers with the potential to build and use weapons of mass destruction.
Unwittingly or otherwise, we have created a world where weapons are ubiquitous, some more dangerous than others but all can create some degree of impact and suffering.
The world will continue to spin and orbit the sun for millions of years to come; that much is fairly certain. What we do not know is how much damage the human race will choose to inflict on themselves in the meantime, using the poisoned chalice with which we have been bestowed.
Therein is the human dichotomy; both the most intelligent and yet the most foolish species on the planet.