Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rickover’s Paradox and the Uselessness of Government as the Protector

State agents, including those in the military and law enforcement, are really all about self-preservation and institutional preservation. William Norman Grigg explains:
This brings to mind the concept of Rickover’s Paradox, which I encountered in a science fiction novel decades ago. According to author Vonda McIntyre, [it] was used to test the moral attitudes of officer candidates at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The most famous version of this conundrum is the following:
Two individuals, the only survivors of a tragic shipwreck, are adrift in a small, damaged lifeboat. The water is pitilessly cold and infested with ravenous sharks. The boat itself is irreparably damaged in such a way that it will only be able to carry one of its occupants. If nothing is done, both occupants will perish. But whichever is cast into the sea will die very quickly.

One of those aboard the stricken lifeboat is a highly trained officer with valuable – perhaps irreplaceable – technical skills. A huge sum has been spent on his training, which makes him all but irreplaceable.

The other refugee is an innocent and law-abiding person of no particular achievements or aptitudes. Few if any would notice that person's absence, and the community at large would be impoverished in no discernible way if he were thrown overboard.

Since only one can be saved, which of the two should it be?

The only morally sound answer to this predicament – assuming that the military is actually the institution it pretends to be – would be for the officer to sacrifice himself on behalf of the civilian. This isn’t because there is a natural duty on the part of any individual to sacrifice himself for another, but rather because the officer had freely chosen that duty, and refusing to carry it out would invalidate the entire stated purpose of having a military establishment in the first place. Any other course of action would be based on the assumption that the civilian population exists to defend the military, rather than the reverse.

Although this parable is supposed to instill an attitude of chivalry on the part of military officers, it actually underscores the uselessness of the state as a protective institution, because human beings are not wired to sacrifice themselves on behalf of strangers – and the state is structured in such a way that those who work on its behalf always place individual and institutional self-preservation above every other consideration.

Taking Rickover's Paradox one step further, I really consider a super-refined example of this as being nuclear bomb shelters. For sure they are in and around Washington D.C., but they are not there to protect "the people." They are there to protect the elite in government, that is, those most likely to have pissed somebody off in the first place, which resulted in some group wanting to nuke the US. First and always, the state protects itself, even when it is the original creator of a problem.

1 comment:

  1. Touche! Without the elites the shelters were built to protect, we wouldn't have a need for the shelters to begin with. On multiple levels, war and nuclear weapons only exist because the state created them. In a private society the thin veil lifts to show what they really are; murder and tools for mass murder.