Humans, Faith and Attack Drones

Glenn Greenwald of Salon wrote a piece concerning the issue of the increasing trend of drone attacks leading to a growing number of civilian deaths. In that piece, Greenwald cited an anonymous counterterrorism official. Expressing exasperation on the coverage of the issue, this official sidestepped altogether the issue of  attacking the veracity of the reports of those deaths (which mounting evidence is making very difficult to do, even for some supporters of the use of drones like Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal). Instead, the official decided to associate criticism of the use of drones with aiding and abetting the cause of Al-Qaida.

Reports like the one above are suggestive of a twofold trend. First, there is a trend towards ignoring the fact of civilian deaths, however minor. Indeed, a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in association with the Sunday Times, made mention of a deliberate tactic of using drones to produce an initial attack, and striking a second time at those that show up at the scene of the attack, regardless of whether those that show up are military or civilian (the report also makes a mention of using drones to target rescuers and mourners at funerals).

The second thing (and one explanatory of the first) that the Salon report is suggesting is the next phase in a broader cultural trend of placing an almost unflinching faith in cybernetic processes. As the sociologist and theologian Jacques Ellul noted in The Technological Society, there has been since the Enlightenment a disengagement of technological processes from social organisation and all forms of human action. This morphed into a gradual process of subordinating all human activity to the demands of technological efficiency, which led Friedrich Nietzsche to lament in the late nineteenth century the human shunning of all organic functions. Soon after Nietzsche another German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, remarked in the early 20th century that humans will one day become the “standing reserve for technology”. What reports like Greenwald’s suggests is that the institutions of state, currently the most powerful of social organisers, has similarly become a subject to the perceived infallibility of robotics.

Are these sociological, philosophical and journalistic fragments together strong enough to make the case that technology does not exist for man, but rather man for technology?


2 thoughts on “Humans, Faith and Attack Drones

  1. Great post Matt. P.W. Singer's “Wired for war; the robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century” is the most terrifying thing I have ever read. Cop this quote (p32): “When the US forces went into Iraq the original invasion had zero robotic systems on the ground. By the end of 2004 the number was up to 150. By the end of 2005 it was up to 2,400. By the end of 2006 it had reached the 5,000 mark and growing. It was projected to reach as high as 12,000 by the ned of 2008.” In short, this century has seen the a complete revolution in modern war, and hardly anyone is talking about it. Now kids who are good at computer games fly deadly predator missions from a console in the US and are making the US air force redundant. Very, very scary!


  2. In reading this I can't help but recall Redemptor hominis, John Paul II's first encyclical and. in many ways. a type of platform for his papacy.
    In the encyclical one paragraph is entitled “What man is afraid of”
    “The man of today seems ever to be under threat from what he produces, that is to say from the result of the work of hís hands and, even more so, of the work of his intellect and the tendencies of his will. “
    He goes on:
    “This seems to make up the main chapter of the drama of present-day human existence in its broadest and universal dimension. Man therefore lives increasingly in fear.”

    Perhaps it was written in the context of the cold war, but it is equally applicable to our current situation.


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