#210 The Logic of Doomsday


Welcome into the making sense podcast. This is Sam Harris. Okay. This is yet another occasion where I'm putting the whole podcast outside the paywall. We've been doing this a lot during the pandemic. There's certain topics where I feel a responsibility to reach the widest possible audience and I seem to be doing podcasts on these sorts of topics of late. So the topic, today is the threat of nuclear war. And as you'll hear, I think the prospect of our blundering into a nuclear war. Either by accident or political miscalculation. Probably the greatest risk we face. And it's dangerous. Compounded by the fact that almost no one appears to be thinking about this risk. So this podcast another PSA. I'll just remind you if you value what I'm doing over here. Subscribing is what makes that possible and. It's what helps platform grow. And it's what makes it a place where I can talk about anything. Now as chance would have it. We're coming up on the seventy fifth anniversary of the atomic bomb in about a week. July sixteenth is the seventy fifth anniversary of Trinity. The explosion of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity Test Site Alamogordo New Mexico? Whatever the merits or necessity of our building the bomb and even using it Dan? The war with Japan can certainly be debated, but what is absolutely clear. To anyone studies the ensuing seventy five years. Is that these were seventy five years of folly. Nearly suicidal folly. And this has been a chapter in human history of such reckless stupidity. That, it's been a kind of moral oblivion and. There's no end in sight. Rather we have simply forgotten about it. We have forgotten about the situation. We're in every day of our lives. This is really difficult to think about much less understand. The enormity of our error here is stupefying in some basic sense. It's like we were convinced. Seventy five years ago. To Rig all of our homes and buildings to explode. And then we just got distracted by other things right and most of us live day, totally unaware that the status quo is as precarious as in fact is. So in the history of this period is written. Our descendants will surely ask. What the hell were they thinking and we are the people. Of whom that question will be asked. That is if we don't annihilate ourselves in the meantime. What the hell are we thinking? What are our leaders thinking? We have been stuck for nearly three generations in a posture of. Defending civilisation or imagine that we are by threatening to destroy it. At any moment. And given our capacity to make mistakes. Given the increasing threat of cyber attack. The status quo grows less tenable. By the day. The first book I ever read about the prospect of nuclear war was Jonathan shells the fate of the earth? which originally came out in the New Yorker in nineteen, eighty two. Is, interesting that shells work here stands exactly at the midpoint on the time line between the world of today. And the invention of the bomb. So, thirty seven years had elapsed since the trinity test. When Shell wrote the fate of the Earth. And another thirty seven years. In a few months and change have elapsed since he wrote that book. If, you haven't read it. It's a beautifully written and. Amazingly sustained exercise in thinking about the unthinkable. And I'd like to read you a few passages to give you a sense of it. Is from the beginning starting in a few sentences in. These bombs were built as weapons for war, but their significance greatly transcends war and all its causes and outcomes. They grew out of history if they threatened to end history. They were made by men if they threatened to annihilate man. There a pit into which the whole world can fall. A nemesis of all human intentions, actions and hopes. Only life itself which they threatened to swallow up can give the measure of their significance. He had in spite of the immeasurable importance of nuclear weapons. The world has declined on the whole to think about them very much. We have thus far failed to fashion, or even to discover within ourselves and emotional, intellectual or political response to them this peculiar failure of response, in which hundreds of millions of people had knowledge the presence of an immediate unremitting threat to their existence, and to the existence of the world. They live in the nothing about it. A failure in which both self interest and fellow feeling seemed to have died. Has itself been such a striking phenomenon that has to be regarded as an extremely important part of the nuclear predicament as this has existed so far. and quote. So, they're shell gets at the strangeness of the Status Quo where the monster is in the room and yet we have managed to divert our attention from it. And I love this point. He makes his violation. Both of self interest end fellow feeling. Our capacity to ignore this problem somehow seemed psychologically impossible. It's a subversion of really all of our priorities both personal, and with respect to our ethical commitments to others. A little bit later on. He talks about this. State of mind a little more? Because denial is a form of self protection, if only against anguishing thoughts and feelings. Because it contains something useful, and perhaps even in its way necessary to life. Anyone, who invites people to draw sign the veil, and look at the peril face to face is at risk of trespassing on inhibitions that are part of our humanity. I hope in these reflections to proceed with the utmost possible respect for all forms of refusal to accept the unnatural and horrifying prospect of a nuclear holocaust. So their Shell is being more tactful than on being here, admitting that this

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