Hubris vs. Wisdom

Published: November 25, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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Last week a decision was made that could lead to important changes in Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. The first-step in A Joint Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program appears to have been agreed to. As stated in the preamble to that agreement:

“The goal for these negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons. This comprehensive solution would build on these initial measures and result in a final step for a period to be agreed upon and the resolution of concerns.

“This comprehensive solution would enable Iran to fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the NPT [non-proliferation of nuclear weapons treaty] in conformity with its obligations therein. This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program. This comprehensive solution would constitute an integrated whole where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

“For their part,” The New York Times writes (Nov. 24), Obama administration officials acknowledge that any major breakthrough in ratcheting back Iran’s nuclear program will require negotiating the follow-on accord.

” ‘Now the really hard part begins,’ [Secretary of State John] Kerry said on Sunday before a meeting here William Hague the British foreign secretary. ‘That is the effort to get the comprehensive agreement which would require enormous steps in terms of verification, transparency and accountability.’ ”

While we all hope that Iran complies with the spirit as well as the letter of the agreement, more action needs to take place from those countries that currently possess nuclear weapons. To that end, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation distributed a proposal to the United Nations General Assembly “to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Since beginning this website in March 2008, I have offered some 28 commentaries on the importance of reaching the goal of what Founder and President David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation refers to as “Nuclear Zero” – zero nuclear weapons on the planet.

Why am I such a pain-in-the-a$$ about this subject? Well, as David Krieger points out, there are “…7 billion reasons why.Nuclear Zero is crucial if the world is to be safe for the 7 billion people living on our planet.”

However, Krieger’s argument has been distilled in a compelling essay he wrote on the difference between hubris and wisdom.

“In the Nuclear Age,” Krieger says (Nov. 2), “humankind must not be passive in the face of the threat posed by nuclear weapons. The future of humanity and all life depends upon the outcome of the ongoing struggle between hubris and wisdom.

“Hubris is an ancient Greek word meaning extreme arrogance. Wisdom is cautionary good sense.

“Hubris is at the heart of Greek tragedy – the arrogant belief that one’s power is unassailable. Wisdom counsels that no human power is impregnable.

“Hubris says some countries can hold onto nuclear weapons and rely upon them for deterrence. Wisdom says these weapons must be eliminated before they eliminate us.

“Hubris says these terrible weapons are subject to human control. Wisdom says that humans are fallible creatures, subject to error.

“Hubris repeats that we can control our most dangerous technologies. Wisdom says look at what happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

“Hubris says the spread of nuclear weapons can be contained. Wisdom says that the only sure way to prevent the spread or use of nuclear weapons is to abolish those that exist.

“Hubris says that political leaders will always be rational and avoid the use of nuclear weapons. Wisdom observes that all humans, including political leaders, behave irrationally at some times under some circumstances.

“Hubris says we can play Russian roulette with the human future. Wisdom says we have a responsibility to assure there is a human future.

“Hubris says that we can control nuclear fire. Wisdom says nuclear weapons will spark wildfires of human suffering and must be eradicated forever from the planet.”

Is Krieger’s goal of Nuclear Zero difficult to achieve? You bet, but it’s not impossible.

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare,” Roman philosopher and politician Seneca wrote, “it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”



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