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5 March 2003

Destructive Weapons of Mass Distraction
vs Distractive Weapons of Mass Destruction

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Introduction

When the focus of the world is on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and their possession by rogue states such as Iraq, there is a corresponding case for reviewing weapons of mass distraction. The latter have a much longer history, dating back to the circuses of the Roman Empire. One modern form is associated with the broadcast media.

It might be inferred that weapons of mass destruction are focused on the destruction of material of any kind -- of which massed humans are but a particular feature. However some of these weapons are specifically focused on the destruction of human masses, preserving artifact and buildings for the victor. In the case of the weapons of mass distraction, the question is whether such distraction is effectively associated with destruction of masses through the destruction of the patterns that give coherence and meaning to their communities -- what makes them human. To what extent is distraction then a form of destruction, just as destruction selectively used may be a form of distraction -- as illustrated by the focus on the war on terror as a substitute for action on poverty, injustice and the degradation of the environment [more].

Distraction and failure of appropriate attention are considered by many spiritual disciplines as being the ultimate cause for much of the suffering experienced by humanity. The deployment of weapons of mass distraction may then be considered as a crime against humanity -- in a similar class to weapons of mass destruction.

Varieties of weapons of mass distraction

Broadcast mass media: The use of communication media to distract the masses has a long history of which propaganda is the most blatant form -- much scorned and criticized by the West when used by totalitarian regimes as a weapon of mass distraction. Propaganda has now been universally reframed as "news management" and is a prime preoccupation of the highest levels of government strategy. It has been best critiqued as "spin". Given the consolidation of the media corporations, and strong encouragement towards self-censorship, the degree of control exerted through spin to distract the masses is now extremely high. Somewhat distinct from government control of media content is the control exerted by commercial bodies seeking to increase sales of products and services. This control focuses on distraction, avoidance of the association of products with "bad news", and general subservience to commercial priorities and interests. The most extreme example of mass distraction is the purveyance of pornographic materials of varying degrees through every available channel. Those controlling the broadcast media serve their interests by skillfully bypassing issues that are destructive of community, the environment and human beings.

Democracy / Politics: As recent abuses of the democratic process in western "democracies" have illustrated, democracy itself has been converted into a weapon of mass distraction. Due process is used to distract the masses from the breaches of promises made in democratic elections. The degree of vote buying has become blatant at the highest levels -- even within the United Nations Security Council. Equivalent vote buying has long been reported at every level of democratic societies -- and may well be more prevalent than most have been distracted into believing. Parliamentary debates are to a high degree influenced by the effective purchase of votes by lobbies -- whether for cash or as a part of a broader pattern of subversion of democratic principles. The financing of political campaigns is now primarily characterized in practice by processes that effectively undermine the democratic process. Those with criminal records are frequently to be found in elected positions -- with a significant proportion of those in the highest positions having been indicted for major offences involving abuse of power. Increasingly decisions of the greatest significance for the masses are made without consulting them -- because leaders of democracies "know what is right" and see no need to be distracted by views of the masses to the contrary.

Health: Health programmes are increasingly converted into weapons of mass destruction. Most publicized has been the deliberate confusion surrounding the health hazards of smoking and unhealthy modern diets. Every means possible has been deployed to delay and procrastinate recognition of the degree of hazard -- including manipulation of the research process and interpretation of its results. Masses in their millions are expected to die a premature death as a result. Lately the complicity of expert committees of the World Health Organization in distraction from the destructive consequences has become evident. The major example of the use of health policy as a weapon of mass destruction is in the case of withholding of health aid to the millions in Africa currently facing death from AIDS. The complicity of governments and pharmaceutical corporations in this process is increasingly evident.

Natural resource management: The masses have been successfully distracted from the manner in which resource management is being designed and used as a weapon of mass distraction. The survival of the masses and their communities has been made increasingly dependent on the use of non-renewable energy resources. These are limited and as they become exhausted mass destruction will increasingly follow -- in competition for what remains. Warnings regarding this challenge are deprecated and dismissed. In the case of fresh water supplies, the capacity for mass destruction as supplies dwindle is becoming increasingly evident. Failure to act effectively and in a timely manner in these cases constitutes a weapon of mass destruction. Similar challenges exist with respect to arable land, unpolluted air and marine living resources (fish stocks).

Food security: The vulnerability of the food chain due to irresponsible management of food production and supply has become evident in the case of widespread starvation (notably in Africa), pollution of the food chain (BSE), and the inadequately researched introduction of genetically modified species. Withholding of food aid, or the supply of food of dubious quality, constitutes a weapon of mass destruction as does the irresponsible cooptation of foreign lands to support rich lifestyles (ecological footprint) or the overexploitation of vulnerable food stocks (overfishing) in which agencies such as the FAO have been complicit. Masses in their millions die as a direct consequence or as a result of associated malnutrition.

Environmental management: The masses are distracted by television documentaries celebrating the beauties of wild environments, plants and animals that are increasingly rare. The irresponsible introduction of pollutants into the environment, the destruction of vital ecological processes and the degradation of ecosystems have direct and indirect consequences for the health of people -- and other species on which the masses depend. These environmental management practices constitute weapons of mass destruction whose effects are becoming more and more evident.

Construction: It is increasingly evident that building construction policies can be used as weapons of mass destruction. Poor quality materials are used with the complicity of appropriately rewarded officials. Construction is permitted, and even encouraged, in areas subject to floods, landslides, earthquakes, avalanches or volcanic eruptions. The masses are distracted by fabricated stories concerning the exceptional and unforeseeable nature of such events -- with no reference to how inappropriate construction was permitted in the first place.

Justice: The extent of miscarriage of justice has become only too evident -- even in countries priding themselves on their judicial systems. Individuals are imprisoned on the basis of evidence fabricated by the police or concealed from the defence. Impunity is a characteristic of the judicial treatment of indicted members of elites: mistrials are declared, convictions are quashed, evidence is suppressed, etc. The judiciary is amenable to bribery and threats (notably by criminal networks) or is strongly swayed by political allegiances (as evidenced by commentary on right-wing appointments to the Supreme Court in the USA). The hype associated with due process, in countries supposedly subject to the rule of law, is increasingly used as a weapon of mass distraction to conceal the breaches of international treaties regarding minorities and the manner in which individuals can be picked off arbitrarily at the discretion of those in power. The dimensions of such injustice are openly rehearsed in movies.

Law enforcement: The various "wars" conducted against the destructive impact on the masses of crime, drugs, prostitution, illegal immigration, and the like, have proven by their dubious track record to be weapons of mass distraction. Through the complicity of those involved, and the effects of such continuing challenges to society on the masses, ineffectual (or brutal) law enforcement has also been converted into a weapon of mass destruction.

Human rights: Much effort has been invested over past centuries into the careful construction of legal instruments to protect human rights, especially for those most vulnerable. Recent events, with the use of escape clauses or reneging on international treaty provisions, demonstrate that much of this process of devising and implementing such legal instruments has effectively been a weapon of mass distraction. The consequent, and possibly deliberate, failure to give meaning to these initiatives -- withholding justice to millions -- is effectively a weapon of mass destruction. This becomes especially ironic when the use of weapons of mass destruction is envisaged to release masses from inhumanitarian treatment -- in the form of "humanitarian intervention" -- without questioning the cost in human lives.

Research: Humanity has justifiably prided itself on its scientific research and development. Increasingly however the process itself has been undermined by the degree to which such research is primarily financed by efforts to develop more sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. Research skills are employed to increase the sophistication of weapons of mass distraction. "Rent-a-prof" researchers of the highest academic distinction are contracted by corporations and governments to give legitimacy to the dubious research conclusions that underlie strategies that are effectively weapons of mass distraction or destruction. Protest against such corruption of research has become uncommon.

Morality: The past centuries have seen many interwoven efforts to provide a moral and ethical dimension to societies and decision-making. Different kinds of institutions have set themselves up as defenders of their understanding of this dimension (religions, associations, media, etc). But in many cases they have stressed their perspective in ways that constitute weapons of mass distraction -- drawing attention away from dimensions that others find meaningful, demonizing alternative perspectives, and thus setting the stage for conflict. A cloak of morality has often been used to conceal isolated or systemic sleaze -- as evident in the child abuse scandals in religious institutions. Upstanding institutions have been used to provide cover-ups for misdeeds -- as evident by the incredible amount of official documentation that remains classified for periods up to a century. Government leaders increasingly make dubious appeals in terms of the highest values -- to justify their continuing construction, sale and use of weapons of mass destruction -- whilst failing to develop the basis for any meaningful dialogue with those who subscribe to different value priorities. Claimed morality is used as a weapon to distract to from hypocrisy and double standards in practice.

Management: Considerable capacity and skills have been developed for the management of large institutions, corporations and projects -- and public relations has been extensively used as a weapon of mass distraction in presenting the socially responsible face of such capacity. Major project disasters such as at the Bhopal refinery (16,000 dead) provide glimpses of the irresponsible and unacknowledged face of the management process. This has become more evident in the case of the spate of major corporate accounting scandals in the USA in 2002 (Enron, etc) and the associated complicity of auditors. It becomes specifically evident in the case of space shuttle disasters -- of which two have occurred (1986, 2003) as a consequence of a characteristic pattern of management repression of negative feedback that must be considered a weapon of mass destruction.

Education: Recent centuries have done an immense amount to focus on literacy and education of the masses. The earlier political and religious tendencies to deprive the masses of education are now reasserting themselves in disguised form: through new educational processes (consumption-orientated curricula, perfomativity of neo-liberalist outcomes), reliance on dumbed down educational products, and the dumbing down of critical thinking and critique. Specialization, whether to the exclusion of contextual insight or to ignore the relevance of alternative perspectives or issues, is also a form of distraction. This redirection of education tends to make of it a weapon of mass distraction. But the resulting ignorance makes of it a weapon of mass destruction through its inhibiting effect on the creative exploration of counter-(intuitive) alternatives in responding to the challenges of society (eg alternative energies, new approaches to territorial distrubtion, property, use of underground spaces)

International institutions: Over the past century, much effort has gone into the establishment and operation of intergovernmental bodies to respond to the various challenges faced by humanity. The success of their programmes has been modest in comparison with the increasing dimensions of the key challenges (illiteracy, disease, hunger, unemployment, injustice, etc). The institutions have engaged in a pattern of propaganda concerning their own actual and planned achievements ("Health for All by the Year 2000", "Food for All by the Year 2000", etc) which, under the circumstances, can be usefully termed a weapon of mass distraction. The self-serving nature of their operation makes it difficult to avoid the impression that they constitute a form of "international nomenklatura" whose irresponsibility can never be effectively called to account -- whatever the mass destruction their policies ensure. The track record of some of these institutions, notably the World Bank and the IMF, is such that the disastrous effects of their policies on communities and livelihoods in many developing countries entitles them to be perceived as viable weapons of mass destruction.

Religion: The classic quotation that "religion is the opium of the people" could be presented in this context by the phrase that religions are weapons of mass distraction -- or can be so used. It is a fact that some 40 recent regional conflicts around the world are partly reinforced by the respective religious affiliations of the opposing parties. Through its failure to move beyond its role as a weapon of mass distraction, religion is effectively being used as a weapon of mass destruction -- notably through the planned "crusade" by a coalition of Christian countries against a succession of Muslim countries, themselves called to Jihad (in its violent manifestation). Underlying this is the agenda of some radical groups to trigger Armageddon -- the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

Commerce: Commercial advertising campaigns in favour of particular products have been noted above as weapons of mass distraction. It is increasingly recognized that some of these ("green-washing") campaigns are designed to obscure the dubious role of corporations in stripping countries of their natural resources -- destroying livelihoods and lives in the process. Combined with the involvement of some corporations in the arms trade, the construction of arms factories and of nuclear power stations, this indicates the extent to which corporations are responsible for weapons of mass destruction. Many cases are reported of the physical mistreatment (or death) of those who unwisely fail to respond to any bribery necessary to the enabling of such initiatives.

Security and intelligence services: A stream of movies has enabled the masses to explore every possible scenario relating to the credibility and honorability of security services in responding to internal and external threats to community survival -- and the survival of civilization. Such movies have been used as weapons of mass distraction to the extent that they have seldom been able to draw attention credibily to the viability of options that would mitigate against the escalation of conflict and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Given that policy makers have been equally distracted by such scenarios, security and intelligence services are used with increasing brutality, indifferent to "collateral damage" on civilian masses, and increasingly acquiescent in the use of weapons of mass destruction. This mindset is echoed in the failure of penal institutions, the dramatically increasing levels of incarceration, and official acquiesence to the associated brutality and sexual humiliation.

Sport: As a feature of the imperial Roman weapon of mass distraction, sport is a major attention attractor -- now exemplified by the Olympic Games. Exposure of the recent pattern of tawdry bribery of IOC members over the location of the games is an indicator of the degree of corruption disguised by distractive hype at every level and in every kind of sport -- from wrestling to horseracing. Through its effect on communities -- whose collective identities are intimately associated with individual players and teams -- corruption and bribery of judges, referees, and players, may be considered a weapon of mass destruction -- destructive of sustaining hope and the values distractively hyped by sports at the highest level.

Population planning: An exploding population is placing tremendous pressures on increasingly limited resources. Religious doctrine is used as a weapon of mass distraction to undermine any collective initiatives in response to this situation and to frame those involved in contraception and abortion as murderers. Such doctrines, and the governments persuaded to support them, create situations which vastly increase the number of abortions that could have been avoided by appropriate use of contraceptives. Aborted population planning thus becomes a weapon of mass destruction. Cultural bias in favour of male progeny also results in mass destruction of female babies. But (as demonstrated with rats) failure to act on increasing population will ensure that a crisis of crises -- involving all the dimensions above -- will force populations to turn on themselves to constitute weapons of mass destruction.

-- Who is most instrumental in sustaining weapons of mass distraction and destruction ? --

---- Qui custodiet custodies? ----

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