Yesterdays post was about the book State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program by Vil. S. Mirzayanov which was about the development of chemical weapons and nerve gasses. The whole subject is distasteful and the worst part wasn’t the perfecting the techniques for killing — that has been going on since the very beginning of life itself. What was most disturbing to me was the keen intelligence of the author and yet his willingness, even eagerness to participate in this kind of research and development. It saddens me because I have encountered that attitude time and time again when meeting with famous scientists. What bothers me is what fine people they are and how dedicated they seem to be in trying to make the world a better place. The people I have known have been associated with designing and deploying H-bombs and not nerve gasses but the end results of their research is going to be the same — lots of mostly innocent human beings dieing agonizing deaths.
What may seem strange to most people is that these scientists were not doing their creative work for the money! The author of this book, Dr. Mirzayanov, when in prison, tells the story of a conversation with a murder who claimed to spend more on women every night, before entering prison, than this world-class research scientist earned in a month.
I don’t believe these brilliant scientists were evil and that their motivation was in the least motivated by wanting to destroy other human beings. The ones I have met have been some of the most pleasant people one could hope to meet. And yet … they create these horrible weapons.
It isn’t because these extraordinarily intelligent men haven’t thought about the outcomes of their research and development. J. Robert Oppenheimer famously said on seeing his first atom bomb explode at Alamogordo, ”Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” And yet he went on developing weapons until forced to quit because of his suspected possible loyalties to communists. I met privately with him at his house in Princeton and we talked for half an hour. I found him to be one of the friendliest and most considerate, of my personal feelings about things, of anyone with whom I have ever spoken. This was heart felt honesty. You can convincingly fake being nasty much easier than fake being a really decent person and he was a decent person.
One would doubt that these scientists (politicians and everyone else) motivation be, the gaining of respect of the other people in their chosen fields of science, when so many of their companions end up treating them so very badly? Dr. Mirzayanov’s gives many examples, in his book, of ugly behavior by those with whom he supposedly is on the best of terms. He is photographed with looking as comfortable with some of these others as a couple of lovers and yet they easily get ugly and deceitful. Oppenheimer had very similar problems with his companions, such as with Edward Teller.
Perhaps they were seeking public fame. This seems unlikely because most scientist types, and certainly the ones mentioned in this post were reputed to be very private people. Perhaps they wanted some personal self adulation and the public adoration was only some sort of proof of their self aggrandisement.
Or is it possible, as I wrote a couple of days ago in, Is a perfect world possible?
Perhaps unlimited debauchery is the natural human condition.
Each human being is only seeking their own form of debauchery and for these scientists it is found in research. The simple fact that their work is destructive of humanity doesn’t compute in their equations for unlimited satisfaction for their personal form of debauchery.