What is more violent: the atomic bomb or the death command?
When i used to play RPG there was a silly character in one system or another who had the most unbalanced power of all me and my fellow players had ever seen. It was called the “Kill Command” or something like it, and it basically meant that the character would be so imbued with the powers of the Gods of War that he would simply say to his enemy “DIE” (in the most dramatic way, i suppose) and it would. That simple.
But in order to make our question more understandable, let’s simplify that. Let’s define the Death Command™ as: the capacity to instantly kill with only one thought.
So, what is more violent? The Nuclear Bomb or the capacity to kill with thought?
There is a quantitative approach to the question: discover how many deaths are actually produced, compare both, the biggest score wins. So to decide what is more violent, we should count how many “killer thoughts” our subject can produce, and whichever count is bigger is more violent.
This is tricky: probably, very few things can produce a larger proportion of direct kills than a nuke. Even thinking about that much people would be very troublesome, no matter if all that was needed was remembering first names (without having to really think about the person in much detail). According to that measurement, there is probably no way the Death Command could win our contest.
But suppose that we could think about that much people, and suppose we could think about exactly the same amount of people the bomb kills, and in a portion of time relatively comparable. In this case, what would be of our comparison?
For example, faced with a burglar the atomic bomb is infinitely less violent than the kill command, for using it equals destroying your own home, which is worse than letting the burglar alone. What was the top of the violence scale in general in this situation amounts to no violence at all.
In the equality of numbers case above, then, maybe the Kill Command is more violent. But i suspect that even with a significant inferiority in numbers the Kill Command would be more violent, for it is at the top of the applicability scale. That is, if your worst enemy could have one of the two powers, you would prefer her to have the nuke… otherwise, you wouldn’t be preferring anything any longer.
What i feel is important about this distinction is that it shows how control, precision, certainty and other seemingly “peaceful” qualities can be, really, very violent.
Usually, those would be considered as simple side effects that somehow enhance the effect of violence, but i feel we should consider the violence potential inherent to those things. For example, nuclear reactions do not necessarily cause mass destruction: if you blow a bomb in space, for example… Actually, we are all alive and well only because the sun is constantly blowing up many and many of those nukes.
The real crucial question is that, maybe, many of the things we call “Good”™ and “peaceful” are simply forms of control, and, therefore, forms of enhancing violence. For example, picture a pastoral, idyllic, quiet scene of a field with neatly planted and tended crops. Nothing could be more peaceful, and, still, this is the very thing why humanity behaves like an uncontrollable virus, spreading throughout the land, causing innumerable species extinctions and changing the face of the earth. As anyone who ever played an real-time strategy game can tell you, a stable and controlled economy can be more destructive than the most threatening guns.
Therefore, we got to consider very, very cautiously our ideas of violence, and how those apply to all the ethical decisions we do every day.