I take the non-aggression principle to be a “relatively-absolute absolute”
I believe that societies that follow the non-aggression principle (NAP) are better than those that don’t. To me, the NAP is a “relatively-absolute absolute”. I learned the concept of relatively-absolute absolutes from James Buchanan. These are persistent truths about the world of humans; they are not necessary in some absolute sense like, say, the conservation laws but are generally true and fundamentally important for human flourishing.
We live in a world of competition. Competition is an absolute absolute. Evolution, the great organizing principle of all life (terrestrial or otherwise), is about competition. To win in that game, you have to compete, and to compete you may have to cooperate. Game theory, that branch of mathematics that deals with strategic interactions, provides us the tools for understanding how the world works and therefore helps us flourish — or at least avoid being destroyed.
In the previous post (Human Rights are Property Rights), I had referred to Thomas Schelling’s point that if the weapons are protected, the people are safe from preemptive first strikes because the enemy wouldn’t want to incur the cost of a retaliatory strike. Meaning, if the other party cares about its children, then your children are safe provided you protect your own weapons.
That brings me to a favorite song by Sting — Russians. It’s from 1985. Listen. The background musical theme is from the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. “I hope the Russians love their children too.”
Sting’s song is considered by some to be an argument against MAD — mutually assured destruction. But in fact the song very simply illustrates why MAD works. Or we should say, why MAD has worked for the last 70 years. It may not work any more.
MAD requires that the combatants are rational, and that they are more interested in their own survival than in the destruction of the opponents. But what if one of the combatants has only one motivation — to destroy the enemy even if it means that it itself will be wiped out? Essentially, it’s the strategy of the suicide bomber.
In a world of the likes of US, China, Russia, Israel and India, MAD has worked. But in a world of Islamic nations armed with nuclear weapons, it will not work. The Qur’anic command is to destroy non-believers, and if in the process the Islamic warrior is destroyed, he ends up in a nice place with 72 virgins for every male. In such a world, people who believe in that ideology are not deterred by the prospect that their own children will die.
Sting explained in 2010 the inspiration of the song — watching Soviet TV.
“I had a friend at university who invented a way to steal the satellite signal from Russian TV. We’d have a few beers and climb this tiny staircase to watch Russian television… At that time of night we’d only get children’s Russian television, like their ‘Sesame Street’. I was impressed with the care and attention they gave to their children’s programmes. I regret our current enemies haven’t got the same ethics.” [Wiki.]
Note the last line above. The Russians love their children more than they hate others; the current enemies hate others more than they love their children.
Thus one may have to preemptively disarm Islamic nations — an act that goes against the non-aggression principle. That’s why the NAP, at the level of nation states, is only a relatively absolute absolute.