Originally published January 19th, 2016 on the Huffington Post
In the 1950s, at the height of the cold war, the U.S. and the Soviet Union realized that their huge nuclear arsenals gave rise to a fundamental paradox: they existed for the prime purpose of preventing their use.
To protect their missiles, both sides loaded them on submarines that were capable of hiding indefinitely in the vast oceans of the world. In this way, the side that was attacked first would always have enough missiles to retaliate, if not destroy, the other side. Since the situation was completely symmetrical, nuclear weapons existed for the prime purpose of assuring that neither side would start a nuclear war that no one could win. This was enshrined in the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD, an apt acronym if there ever was one.
Unfortunately, MAD was not the only paradox that enveloped nuclear weapons.
Both sides protected their land-based nuclear missiles by putting them in silos buried in the ground. Covering the silos with massive amounts of concrete offered further protection. More concrete led to greater or more felt security. In pithy terms, More Led to More.
But putting more concrete only encouraged both sides to load multiple warheads onto their missiles so they could more easily penetrate the silos. More concrete threatened the other side more and led to an arms race, i.e., More Led to Less.
It occurred that less concrete would threaten one’s adversary less and thus lead to greater felt security, i.e., Less Leads to More.
But, since it made no sense to have zero or fewer numbers of nuclear missiles than one’s adversaries, less missiles led to less felt security, i.e., Less Led to Less.
More Leads to More and Less Leads to Less are the two primary modes of thinking that have prevailed for thousands of years. An army with greater numbers of soldiers could generally defeat an army with fewer. But because of their enormous destructive power, nuclear weapons altered these long standing tenets. The side with more nukes was not necessarily superior.
The biggest paradox of all was due to the fact that thinking about nuclear weapons was constantly cycling through all four modes simultaneously. Underlying all of them is the fact that at some point what’s good in the small becomes bad in the large. That is, bigness turns back on itself.
Consider the highly contentious issue of guns. The U.S. has roughly 5 percent of the world’s population, but 40 percent of the guns. If more guns were the answer, then the U.S. would be the safest planet on the globe, which it is not, i.e., More Has Led to Less. More Guns Has Led to More Mass Shootings (i.e., Less). We are in the grips of a self-imposed form of MAD.
In sharp contrast, rabid gun proponents argue that there are no limits to the benefits of guns, i.e., More Guns Indefinitely Lead to More. They also argue that More Regulations Lead to Less Safety, Less Regulations Lead to Greater Safety, etc.
Increasingly, we live in a world where every aspect is governed by paradox. To survive, let alone prosper, means not only recognizing the basic existence of paradox, but that In many cases, Less Is More. How many more mass shootings will it take for us to finally realize that More Is Not Always Better, and to act on this fundamental realization?