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Saturday, June 9, 2012

When "Pre-emptive Violence" Is Automated ....

The passing of science fiction visionary Ray Bradbury is a good moment for all of us to pause and think deeply about the unexamined characteristics, and social consequences, of technology.

In particular, I am thinking today about what happens when you combine a political idea like "pre-emption" with a computer technology like unmanned aerial vehicles (drones).

An ideology that has grown in the past twenty or thirty years is that of "pre-emption" -- namely, "get them before they get us." Let's be clear: the word "pre-emption" really means "pre-emptive violence." It has spurred a whole discourse about the logic of saying "your violence is unacceptable, therefore I will use violence to stop (or prevent) it."

Practitioners of "pre-emptive violence" come in all shapes and sizes. One flavor is the "Strauss" school of foreign policy, which is generally recognized to have informed the Bush aggressions in the Middle East. Another flavor is what we in the West refer to as "terrorism," such as that practiced by Al Qaeda. Unless you have been asleep for the past decade, you are aware that, with each passing day, there is more and more recognition that all forms of "pre-emptive violence" are related, and that all are forms of "terrorism."

Beyond recognizing the inherent contradictions of "pre-emptive violence," we must confront an urgent problem related to technology: the automation of "pre-emptive violence" -- e.g. via drone technology -- is leading to a spiral (or "loop" or "recursive process"*) that we may not be able to get out of.

I've written frequently in the past about the moral problems inherent in the violence being carried out every day by the United States using drones. But today, please consider a consequence that goes beyond the moral: as more and more drones are put in the air, with more and more automated logic, and "signature strikes" become more and more prevalent, and the populations subject to those "signature strikes" devote more and more of their time, energy, and commitment to pre-empting such strikes -- almost certainly with advanced technology of some sort or other -- how long will it be before people are no longer "in the loop" and have lost the opportunity to intervene in the spiral of violence?

Please: I'd like the apostles of "pre-emptive violence" to explain how this ends.

*Note: alert readers will notice that I lumped together "loops" and "recursive processes," though these two concepts are not exactly the same. Watch for a future blog post on the implications of this difference!

Related posts

With drones, people become just dots. "Bugs." People who no longer count as people . . . .

(See Drone Victims: Just Dots? Just Dirt? )





The biggest idea coming out of the 2013 Drone Summit? We will only deal successfully with the crimes being committed using drones when we understand them as part of the much larger war against communities of color . . . .

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color )






Many of us who weren't in Pakistan to participate in the massive rally against U.S. drone strikes participated in this protest by holding rallies where we were (for instance, in London), or by participating virtually via the #PakistanAgainstDrones campaign on Twitter.

(See What Would a Global Movement to Ground the Drones Look Like?)


Nautilus shell image: Fantastic Forwards