Of Drones and Other Dilemmas

We had finally some much needed rain over the last two days. Actually, I ran out of water temporarily a week ago, and when I walked up to my creek, whilst inspecting the alkathene pipe and connections along the way – it has happened before that a connector popped out or that it was blocked – I noticed there was hardly any water flowing. The reservoir I collect my water from was at the lowest I have ever seen, and my two hoses were not submerged. It was an easy ‘fix’ and I had remote access to the water again, but I took away an uneasy feeling: a) I was hoping for rain and b) eventually, I will have to invest in a tank.

It seems that the rain has moved on, but it is very windy at the moment and as keen as I am fishing for kingis off the rocks on the east coast, the swells and winds have rendered it unfishable for me. It has been like this for a couple of weeks and I hope there will be a window of opportunity soon. I just got some exciting news from a local fishing legend. ‘Kingis have been spotted…

In the meantime let me write about two articles I read recently in TIME magazine. Their impact was different from the usual, where I feel a mixture of frustration and exhaustion due to the large degree of repetition and single-sidedness of the essays and articles. What about journalism where the (uninformed) reader has a fair chance of forming an unbiased conclusion? For instance, the Iranian space program is mentioned in the latest issue but the usual dark clouds of arrogance and hatred are immediately spread by stating that (begin quote) ‘there is international concern over whether the country will channel this expertise into long-range ballistic missiles.‘ (end of quote)

The first article, titled: ‘The DNA Dilemma: A Test That Could Change Your Life’ by Bonnie Rochman discusses the accessibility to whole genome sequencing tests for private individuals, how affordable they are today and that soon such tests could be done at home, similar to a pregnancy test. But the main tenor of the article is about how companies have specialized in offering such services for the private sector, people who want to know whether they themselves or their loved-ones are predisposed to developing specific medical conditions. An ethical question is raised in addition, as to how a ‘doctor’ should approach a ‘patient’ when genetic results are revealed that where not looked for initially.

Most of the diseases linked to individual genes are not treatable and not entirely attributed to DNA, and it is indeed a good question to ask, whether every disease-risk should be openly revealed or only those which can be acted on at this moment of time.

Obviously, the concerned parent, for instance, wants to do everything they can to potentially enable their kids to live desease-free and wants to know every risk, but whether they can fathom the enormous stress tag that is attached to obtaining such knowledge or not is arguable.

If you get your kid’s entire genetic code scanned to check for a risk of autism, because there is a family history, would you want to know if the examiner finds out a high risk of colon cancer and early onset of Alzheimer’s? Is this additional information going to change the way you raise your child? 

The author raises in this regard more interesting questions and provides examples which lead to the conclusion that it will depend on the merit of the individual case. There are apparently web-based ventures where one can store all sequencing results and can decide what and when one wants to know. I’m sure that insurance companies will be very interested in sequencing results, after all it could determine if a new-born will ever have access to medical insurance.

I’ve got some questios on my own: Is it that much more complex to search for positive traits, like talent for athletics, the arts or intelligence? Studies searching for genes that are ‘responsible’ for such positive characteristics. Of course it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just appears that there is more done to find out about negative characteristics.

Taking personal emotions and circumstances from this equation, one has to wonder why more research is aimed at finding cures for those – please excuse my coldness here – who have a genetic predisposition for a shorter than average life span compared to finding out why some accomplish extraordinary achievements. Perhaps it is due to the history of medicine and medical research.

Further, how negatively can technological advancements affect us people and our societies? To what extend can we actually speak of advancement? Certainly from a scientific point of view it is one, but are we really making a step forward or are we just detaching ourselves more and more from real life? Think about the acknowledgement and acceptance of death. Death is a part of life and there has always been sadness and grief attributed to it. Have these emotions changed over time? Is it more difficult to accept untimely death today than it was 50 years ago?

The other article is titled ‘Drone Home‘ and was written by Lev Grossman. This, too, is about technological advancement, discussing the greater accessibility for individuals to drones and the highly questionable – from an ethical point of view – increased use of drones for military use.

I’ve got to get one thing off my heart right away, something that is not mentioned in the article but is still topical. Words have meanings and definitions, and it has only been in recent years where I actively understand and can acknowledge that the connotations of  words can be utterly separated from their original definitions. Many use these detached meanings as if it were the most normal thing and while we can all have a freedom to take sides, and to express it, we should at least, when we try to explain our decision, try to stick to the definitions of the words we use. Terrorism is such a word. [The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.]

The same holds for coward and hero. To stay within topic, the definition of a hero is not a person who sits in absolute safety behind a cluster of safeguards and computers and kills other humans remotely without putting himself in danger at all. I’m not only taking about immediate danger, I also mean that such an action is seen as an on-off switch. When the designated targets – usually people – have been eliminated, the switch is off, and any retaliation by the attacked group is regarded as a new offence and not as what it is, a reaction to the assault. The former group shall not be seen as heroes, but one could term them smart (cowards). [A person who is admired for courage and noble qualities.]

A coward is certainly not a person who endangers or even sacrifices his/her life by acting on his/her belief or on what they understand as to be right. Any such a person can get things very wrong, harm people through their actions, but that doesn’t make them cowards. Not in my book and not in any dictionary for that matter. [A person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.]

The article in TIME magazine brings to light arguments and quasi-facts that show the pioneering country in terms of developing and employing an active arsenal of battle military drones in quite a bad light. It not only discusses overt and covert drone strike conducted by the American military and intelligence groups, it also mentions that reliable statistics are basically non-existent, at least not transparent.

The presented quasi-facts are that The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a U.K. non-profit estimates that 2629 to 3461 people in Pakistan alone – it shall be noted that the USA is not in war with Pakistan – have been killed using drones. 475 to 891 of those people were civilians. The New America Foundation, a non-profit public-policy institute based in Washington, states lower numbers, namely 1953 to 3279, of whom 261 to 305 were civilians (sources TIME Magazine).

The striking thing here is that – for now – it is only the American government who employs on such large scales military drones to pursue or better to enforce its national and foreign aims.  If other countries were to do the same, namely adopt the broad-based and egoistic authority that the US does, which is killing humans anywhere and any time remotely, wouldn’t there be utter chaos? Is a military drone attack anything else but an act of war or terror? When foreign drones attack American targets, something that is inevitable, many will classify it is an act of terrorism. It shall also be noted that dealing with drones, the psychological effects that come with these war and spy-machines, is a common everyday experience for lets say Pakistanis. Seeing them, hearing them, never quite knowing if your home is going to be blown away and your loved-ones killed, adding to the statistics of collateral damage.

It is not about judging or creating negative emotions towards a group of people or nation, governments will do what they think is in their best interest and how can we claim that our nation, where ever that is, would act differently if it were a super power. The important thing here is education and free dialogue without taboo. But it is of course about the people, the society. As long as we see ourselves as better than others, or more deserving, as long as we protect ourselves first, by all (cowardly) means, which is a very human attribute after all, there won’t be any equality or freedom other than that defined by ourselves. The survival instinct is not only about biological survival, it is about maintaining a dominance where possible. Dominance over people, over resources over power; nowadays, this is survival.

Drones are, however, not just means of military warfare, they are an extension of human capacity. Just like whole genome sequencing is in the bigger context an extension of what a medical examiner can ‘foresee’,  drones are an extension of what we can do (and see).

By the way, although I possess absolutely no facts or even rumours about the Iranian Drone Program, I hope that the first article I read about it does not focus on the potential dangers of it to the rest of the world. Why focus a discussion on the basis of potential future danger, when the danger is imminent and is conducted in a uni-lateral manner right now? Deal with the problems at hand before dealing with non-existent ones.

Drones are getting more and more affordable, all kinds of sensors which used to be available only to military are getting smaller and cheaper. The same holds for batteries. Their main civilian use is closely linked to what the military uses them for. Namely for hunting and spying on people.

As useful drones are in civilian life, from the real estate agent who can film a property from all angles, to film makers, agriculture or in search and rescue situations, to name just a few applications, I see in them a great potential for at least two very non-commendable applications.

a) imagine the increase in destruction of the fisheries. Be it in large-purse tournaments where people fly drones to spot marlin or in commercial fishing to spot a school of tuna.

b) civilian warfare, which brings me back to cowardice.

A drone gives any person a remote capability to disturb its environment from afar, from a detached and impersonal point of view. Just like a government ‘protecting its dominance and people’, the civilian will always find arguments to protect its property and life, thus disturbing other people’s freedom. The great danger lies in the fact that any coward can do so from a safe place afar, without having to face the cause. Without necessarily exposing the risk of leaving evidence. Exactly herein lies the great potential for danger, most of us are cowards.

Out of fear, unpleasantry or danger, we have certain thresholds and are not ready to say, do or face many things in person. However, such thresholds will be effectively eliminated if we are able to extend our actions in a covert fashion. Technological advancements are good, the driving force of my posts are not to ask for restrictions and less freedom, I’m merely raising the simple question of whether we are not losing step-by-step more of our freedom, more of what it means to live and be human, because we just cannot use technology for the good, we use it to our personal benefit. There are no ethical values or a code of virtue when it comes to our personal benefits and belief.

While I was in Germany, there was an advertisement on TV which touched me. There was this little, dirty child, she was being filmed gathering water from the local well, washing clothes by hand, feeding chicken and pigs. The ad called for donations so that children like her could go to school instead of having to work. My emotions were ambiguous. On the one hand, I believe in education and schooling to be accessible for all kids and adults, but on the other hand, I cannot understand what is wrong with having to perform physical work to live, to contribute to the family. We just can’t all detach ourselves from real life, sitting behind computers, working in jobs that don’t create anything but amplifying money or manufacturing products and services that are not vital to life and expect others to do the real work.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2131532,00.html [DNA Dilemma]

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2135132,00.html [Done Home]

5 thoughts on “Of Drones and Other Dilemmas”

  1. I’m attached to real life, sitting behind computers, don’t create anything but software that is vital to life and I think of this as real work. Doh!

    1. I suppose we all believe strongly that our work is important and needed, that we live the real life and that we are actually good people. I’m certainly not
      the one to judge which wasn’t my intention. I try to point a finger, raising a personal question and thus – hopefully – creating an atmosphere where the
      reader thinks and comes to their own conclusions. As you say, you are attached to real life (whatever that means), and that your work is vital and proper.
      Different people will have different opinions about these abstract statements, but I suppose, the most important thing is that the individual is happy with
      what they do. While this is not directed at you Michael, we can and very often do believe in whatever we want to! And again without and implications, you
      should be happy if you feel the way you do about your job.

      1. I just had the impression in the last paragraph you were suggesting that only physical work is real work and everything else is not vital to life – which I don’t agree with. However, I like the idea of labour saving devices. 😉 Cheers

  2. It really is horrific when a piece of writing starts off good
    then finishes awful. Thankfully, yours doesn’t do that! Haha, thought I was going to say it ended awful, didn’t you?
    Na, it was good through and through. Cheers!

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