Alexander Pope, a Catholic in a Church of England land, nonetheless spoke for those in power in the 18th Century, by writing, Ask not the ways of God to scan, the first task of Mankind is Man.
More than two centuries later, Jenny Holzer, a practitioner of technical and financial power in the disempowered artworld, nonetheless harked back to the values of that bygone era, by writing, Abuse of power comes as no surprise.
Both Holzer and Pope were professing the view that while human nature may be interesting, and even endearing, it cannot be trusted. There is Original Sin. There is the Fall. There is the inevitably fallen and corrupted state of human enterprise, including any nation, so that while we must live with things human, and may even love them, we should never attempt to rise above them. Not with the Fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam's Temptation, not with some pretension to supreme knowledge, some comprehension of the Universe, some access to Divine Force.
With this sense of the limitations of humanity, and with a sober review of the tawdry history of Europe, in which war, oppression, torture and plague (from ecological abuse) were standard, there were those pioneers who, far away from Europe, sought to be build a (literally) new world political system. With their founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, they sought to establish conditions whereby people could get on reasonably well, and might even become wealthy, but would not be able to get enough power to be able to abuse it. There was to be a land of free expression, of free enterprise, free rights of contract, freedom to fail and freedom to succeed, with no room for monopolists, autocrats or anyone trying to wield what might be called Omnipotence.
What happened instead was the Nuclear Age.
What happened instead was that a man who asked the ways of God to scan, Albert Einstein, barely escaped from (yet another) religious war in Europe, and decided to get back at his enemies by writing a letter to the President of the United States saying that with sufficient research one could harness the Power of God and obliterate those enemies.
Of course some of those enemies in Europe were also working on this Divine Force, but historical research is now showing that some of the alleged leaders of this work held back, and even deliberately slowed down or sabotaged the research, on what might be described, after all, as humanitarian feeling. Or, shall we say, just some instinctive sense that mankind should not try practising 'the ways of God'.
The irony is that while the atrocities of the European war were horrific, the long term damage to humanity and to higher life on Earth may be much greater from the achievements of people like Albert Einstein rather than those of Hitler. What will be the biological or genetic cost of the Nuclear Age?
The news all around us confirms what Pope warned against.
1 For the first time in history an entire nation - Russia - is at genetic risk. So say the doctors who report a death rate more than double the birth rate, an astonishing increase in the number of severely deformed children, a pandemic collapse in public health, particularly for new-borns and children. And probably the cause for this has been the decades of sloppiness in handling nuclear Omnipotence. Most of the blame for the many disasters has been placed not on nuclear technology per se, but on errors in handling it - that is, on human nature. But this is precisely our point: human nature is so weak, so corruptible, so fallen, so banal, as to not be trusted with the almighty powers of God.
2 In the United States of America, where schoolchildren learn about courageous pamphleteers and freedom of the press, the most influential press, namely broadcast tv, has come under corporate control thus: nbc, owned by General Electric, the largest defence contractor and one of the top four constructors world-wide of nuclear power systems; cbs, owned by Westinghouse, one of the top four constructors world-wide of nuclear power systems; abc, owned by Walt Disney Corporation to form now the biggest entertainment company in the world, and closely linked through Disney himself to the fbi, and through a key shareholder in previous-owned Capital Cities, William Casey, to the CIA.
Would any of these three prime outlets of the press be independent enough to seriously question having human beings handle nuclear weapons, or nuclear power?
3 France is conducting nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific, we all know. In public view, there is a near-universal opposition to these tests. The governments of Australia, New Zealand and even European countries like The Netherlands have all very strenuously, and very publicly, opposed these tests.
But let us observe some of the realities. An Australian official quoted on conditions of anonymity, said that we haven't put up any trade sanctions, and the government has said that that is not an option. Of course not: according to the Australian Business Weekly, the No.1 growth industry is... uranium. And the No.1 producer per capita of nuclear power in the world is... France. Also the No.1 constructor of nuclear power projects in the world is Frametome, a French company.
And if you believe what appears on the cover of the 4 August Economist, or a lead column of theWall Street Journal, a No.1 novelty on the world geopolitical stage is the ambition of China, armed with nuclear weapons, to just about double its size. This includes extending its territorial claims deep into the East China, Yellow and South China Seas, well beyond what is sanctioned by international law, such that in the Pacific, in a manner not unlike that of Japan in the 1940s, there are claims to territory -- and to the principle of territorial sovereignty -- directly in conflict with those of the maritime imperial powers, the us, the uk, the Netherlands and France. And while of course the maritime powers are 'concerned', and while they even arrange conferences with the un Secretary General in Australia on the issue, it might be appropriate for all the West to show a little nuclear capability. The us and uk are too high profile. Let the French do it. And let them take the publicity flak. In any case, now there is a form of sabre rattling as part of a long dialogue of force with the country now flexing its muscles to become top dog by the next century, China.
The 'allies' get into a huddle and decide to let France be the point-man on this one, take the bad rap, but nonetheless send a signal to China that, well, there are a number of countries, not just the us, which don't want China to regain its allegedly lost territories.
Here comes the great delight in that analytical, cynical exercise called newsroom, that exercise in the freedom of inquiry and mistrust (but love nonetheless) of human nature so espoused by Alexander Pope and so adopted in the Constitution of the us.
The nuclear testing by France in the Pacific will proceed regardless of protests. Indeed, the protests serve French interests well because they give them the 'bully-boy' reputation they have long wanted, and will need to become a leader, rather than just straggler, in Europe.
The No.1 security problem for countries like Australia and New Zealand, despite their foaming against French tests, is the ambition of continental China to extend its hegemony throughout the continent, into the whole of Indochina, into parts of India and Nepal, into all of Tibet (of course), into Korea, even into parts of the Philipines and Russia. And worse, into the high seas.
If this were to happen, then the entire structure of Western imperialism would be contradicted, for the principle of freedom of navigation on the high seas would be overturned. Any ship venturing through the South China Sea, or East China Sea, or Yellow Sea or even all-sensitive Straights of Malacca, would be passing through territorial waters of... China. This would break Western grip on sea traffic throughout Asia. It would break the West-imposed dependence of Japan on oil from the Gulf, bauxite from New Guinea, or coal and uranium from Australia. It would end the age-old dominance of the maritime powers of the world, such as the uk, us and France, over and against the land based powers of the world, such as China, or Russia, or... Germany.
For in Europe, there is also this question about the 'United Germany', which did something very un-European, or at least not very favourable to the pre-existing arrangements of the European Space Agency or even the military-industrial Aerospatiale-dasa understandings, by forming an exclusively Sino-German joint venture called 'Euraspace', based on something about Eurasia and Space. Euraspace would have as its key objective the development of a rapid-launch observation satellite system which could enable near real-time scrutiny of any military targets world-wide, despite usual anti-satellite countermeasures. The result - discussed in the Wall Street Journal - could be a confrontation between the expansionist China and the West over access to sea lanes through heavily-trafficked areas like the South and East China Sea. There could be aircraft carrier fleets from the us, uk or France, and all these battle groups would - with this new rapid-launch observation capacity - be easy targets for Chinese missiles. The maritime powers would definitely lose, for the first time since the Atlantic Era dawned in the Renaissance.
One can wonder why all this appears in a media/art magazine, until one recounts what happened recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art in (apparently anti-nuclear) Sydney.
There was an exhibit at this museum called Art Taiwan, which travelled later to the Venice Biennial. A public conference was held, and among the listed speakers was a 'scholar in international relations' from Canberra, Australia's capital. Because of some things we showed at this conference, the scholar approached us, asked for some literature, then asked us to send more. The business card he gave us said he was chief of China assessments at the Australian defence Intelligence Organisation. In an Art Museum?
Which goes to show how much Australia is worried about China. After all, here's a land mass nearly the size of the United States with vast reserves of natural gas, coal and uranium, and only 20 million people allied with the us, uk and France to protect it. It's a sort of Kuwait of East Asia, with a similar high living standard based chiefly on mineral exports, with a similar overall lack of water, with a certain privileged status. And since its biggest neighbour is flexing its muscles, it becomes friendly with all the little countries now slated for swallowing. Australia gets friendly with Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand and Nepal. And in a case like this, the only Divine Force around with enough Omnipotence to protect it comes from... France?
Well, not quite. There's also that one-time nemesis, Russia. 'One-time' because for the first time in history, the Australian Navy made a friendly visit to Vladivostok, a Russian port on the Sea of Japan. It might be useful to have a few nuclear-armed friends in the Pacific.
One reason, which should be clear to those supporting the Dalai Lama, is that the largest world reserves of uranium are in the pacific region: much in Australia, even more (up to 40% of the world reserves) in Tibet. How much of this Divine Force stuff shall belong to expansionist China, with its current allies Germany and possibly Japan, and how much shall belong to the traditional maritime powers the us, uk and France?
The New York Times on 6 August 1995 ran articles about the start of the Nuclear Age 50 years ago, and there was an opinion that perhaps nuclear arms proliferation isn't such a bad thing. Even if regional powers have nuclear weapons, even if countries like Libya, Iran and Israel have nuclear weapons, why not? The column concludes there is a greater mutual respect and less likelihood of all-out war. After all, there had not been any global all-out war since nuclear weapons, the Divine Force, became accessible. It added that at some point there would probably be some accident, or some terrorist event, but not to worry: the world altogether would be safer than ever.
If this is so, then one can conclude that the human race has reached in the past half century a new dialectic of Religion. One camp, the pro-nuclear, believe that some Chosen few can be trained to handle the Divine Force and can be taught in the ways of Omnipotence, with the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil, with the knowledge of Absolute God. These people can become priests of a specialist field called Nuclear Engineering, with attendant Nuclear Weaponry.
Another camp, anti-nuclear, believes that human beings cannot be trusted to handle the Divine Force. They believe that humanity is fallen. They believe, as did those of the 18th century, and the founders of the American Republic, that ours is not the ways of God to scan.
One of the great questions of our time will be, we expect, whether one camp of religious thought, or the other, becomes dominant.