by Julius WiedemannJun 22, 2021
We have never lived in such times of peace, and yet we have never seen so much violence. From the historical series about empires at Netflix, we can imagine the amount of brutality humanity has endured until today. For tens of thousands of years, we have gone from war to war, from conflict to conflict, so the dynasties and empires could have been built and also torn apart. The global spending on the military in 2020 is estimated to be around $2 trillion, curiously about the same market cap of Apple. The technology industry has transformed wars, but also the visibility. It is one thing to have a conflict in Rwanda, completely unknown to us, and another thing to have a drone attack in a small village in Afghanistan, shown live to the world. The video-game-like display of conflicts can be as disturbing as technologically mind-boggling. Simply because the technology that we are using for FaceTime and Zoom calls, the same is being used to monitor people on the other side of the world. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has confirmed over 14,000 drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia from 2010 to 2020. It is about four strikes a day, in situations where attacks incur no risk to the attacker and maximum lethal precision to the target.
Academics doing research on violence have stressed the fact that we have never had so much peace in the world, even counting all the small and bigger violent attacks we see today on TV. Violence in Brazil, for instance, kills more than the conflicts in Syria. But Syria is bigger news. It is a question of perception, because journalism, from a certain point of view, focuses more on bad news than on good ones. For a branch of hard news, real journalism is about negative information, whereas good news is associated with advertising. Therefore, there is a thesis that hard news became primarily a negative outlet for that reason. Steven Pinker, a best-selling author, has been an advocate that we have to look at data before reaching conclusions, and before absorbing what media communicates. He advocates that we have to be pragmatic about serious studies that show that even with all the conflicts we are exposed to today, life on earth keeps improving.
Other serious academics, such as Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, have stressed enough that current disruptive technologies could shift the lethal capabilities of nations, and unleash even more destructive power everywhere. The question of technological developments is also a question of the impossibility of regulation across countries. Even if a lot of people and a part of the world decide to penalise a country for developing frightening weapons, it is just a question of time that this technology will be improved by others. From automated weapons that find targets using machine learning, to high-tech drones that can find targets inside homes, we will not cease to pursue new methods to achieve power.
According to Statista, shooter and fighting video games represent about 30 per cent of all video game sales in the United States. The online registered users of the game Fortnite have jumped from 30 million in December 2017 to over 350 million in May 2020. One could claim that having such possibilities to exercise inner violence might be an advantage these days. It is better to shoot virtually then eventually decide to shoot in real life. But it is astonishing to know how and why most of these conflicts are conducted. We should choose to create more cooperation. It must be intriguing to know how to solve a problem at the same time seeing the problem only grow in our perceptions.
The war photographer, Gabriel Chaim, has now over a decade of experience in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and some other countries, and his videos have been extensively published by CNN and projected in the concerts of the band U2, to try to raise awareness for some of the most terrifying conflicts on earth. One of the consequences of seeing so much violence is that we become cold about them. We can’t feel almost anything anymore simply because we feel powerless, and suffering becomes banal. What we actually end-up seeing on TV is nearly nothing. In a recent conversation with him, where he was telling the stories he went through, the detachment that we feel these days looking at all these conflicts, it feels as if we were looking at video games. His work is to try to make people think deeper about it. These wars are real, and the suffering of the civilians is not calculable. And the problem is that most of the people who suffer have little to do with the conflict and with the interests in the outcome.
Chaim says it is impossible to enter a war without hating someone. In this day and age, it is also hard not to choose a side when we are watching conflicts through the eyes and interpretations of other people. Most media houses try to accomplish a good job reporting conflicts, however biased. But the technological apparatus many times makes us feel hostages of so much conflicting information. We need to be aware of the sources we are looking at, and even with all the confidence the conflicts are diminishing, still exercise our influence through digital means to pressure governments and institutions to find new agreements and peace.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.