Thursday, March 24, 2011

Punishment in Droneland

The news yesterday that Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry minister Banri Kaieda had threatened to punish Tokyo firefighters if they failed to comply with orders to carry out a spraying operation at the Number 2 reactor of the Fukushima Daichi plant was hardly surprising. Nor was the subsequent apology which was nothing more than a hollow face-saving measure. Behind the scenes, I'm sure, "punishment" will go on. When you sign up to be a drone, you don't dress in the Queen's clothes; a drone never even thinks to say "No, I'm not going to do that." A drone has only one purpose: to work for the good of the hive.

But what the punishment means within droneland is anybody's guess. All military-like organizations have their means: ostracism, bullying, assigning the punished the nastiest work; never again promoting them — the form of punishment is really only limited by the sadist's imagination.

I like what the late Richard Feynman had to say about disrespect for authority. He started with the simple observation that we're all human beings — every one of us has to get up in the morning, eat, shit, walk on two legs, cry wolf, etc. Just because someone's wearing a uniform or a funny hat doesn't make them inherently more magical or powerful.  There's no reason to bow to someone —whether it's the pope or five-star general — just because they're wearing a pope cone or five-star general thingies on their shoulder.

Now, I don't want to disparage the bravery and self-sacrifice and loyalty to the colony that so many workers in and around Fukushima have exhibited. But I do think it should be within anyone's free will to refuse to carry out insane commands. I'm not going to Afghanistan to kill people, so don't ask me. I'm not hosing down that reactor either no matter how many days off or how many yen you're willing to dangle in front of my nose.

Last night, at a local shipbuilding company, I was in the middle of a conversation with a student about just this topic when another student, whom I rarely see, trudged into the classroom. His face was a whitish-purple behind his white allergy mask; his hair disheveled and greasy; his uniform dirty; his hands a pink color from what looked to be a rash.

We both looked at the newcomer with a mixture of fascination and horror, asking almost simultaneously what had happened to him. Just work, he said. He had spent the afternoon inspecting paint jobs in various dark and cramped nooks of the bulkheads of a carrier. He had the blinking, dazed look of a man just released from a prison hold.

I'm sure that that man would go anywhere and do anything on that ship that his superiors ordered him. I don't doubt his loyalty or bravery or heart. But I do think he should watch the Feynman video. We need fewer foot soldiers and drones in this world, not more.