The Common Good

Swords, Plowshares, and the 'Drone Dilemma'

I have followed, with great interest, as my friend, Ian Ebright, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for, and then completed, his short film on American drones called “From the Sky.” It’s a sensitive and nuanced treatment of those on the receiving en of our hi-tech military aggression.

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Drones can kill — or pollinate crops. Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

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This, combined with all I’ve read at Sojourners and in Time magazine, among other places about these low-risk (to us), high-efficiency (for us) killing machines, helped solidify in my mind a fairly resolute sentiment: Drones are bad.

And then I read, with great interest, my most recent issue of Popular Science, which details the physics and engineering behind these new insect-size drone bots, which replicated insect flight for the first time in the machine world. These highly nimble and portable gadgets are already being used for everything from reconnaissance and recovery on disaster sites to pollinating crops in areas where the indigenous bee population has been decimated.

So, of course, these exciting new breakthroughs left me with only one resolute sentiment: Drones are awesome!

Wait, what?

This dilemma I find myself wrestling with points to a deeper and, I’m afraid, far more complex issue than drones themselves. It forces us to content ourselves with the reality of what we do with the resources and tools at our disposal. Yes, it’s easier to focus on drones as either great or terrible, but they’re amoral, inanimate objects. They take on only the moral importance given to them by the intent behind our use of them.

It’s like trying to argue whether a brick is a good or bad thing. The same brick can both be used to smash in an innocent person’s skull, and also to build the hospital in which she recovers. Same goes for money, or any other tool. They cannot be moral objects. That’s on us.

The point of this, I suppose, is that we’re always going to invent, to create, and to push the envelope of technology to explore new frontiers. And we also will find ways to exploit these tools for personal gain, gratification, maintenance of empire, and so forth.

Ultimately, focusing on the tools, or even the development of those tools, misses the point. What has to change is something more fundamental within our individual and collective natures. And we cannot depend on architects, engineers, or scientists to do this for us, any more than we can hope that the military-industrial complex will have a radical change of heart. After all, we have built it for the very roles it now fills.

Rather, the responsibility for such basic ethical shifts falls, I would argue, to the artists, the poets, the prophets, and the pastors among us. All of the criticism in the world of our present shortcomings will not substantively effect the compassionate revolution we seek. It will have to come from us choosing to embrace a divinely inspired alternative vision of who we are and what we can be.

The inspiration of such a vision must be so compelling that it overwhelms the sense of lack, fear, insecurity, and greed that drive our baser behaviors. It has to be so insistent, so palpable and so galvanizing that it seduces us, rather than forces us, to lay down our swords and then melt and re-imagine them as plowshares, in the words of the prophet, Isaiah.

On first blush it may seem facetious to combat a battalion of bloodless drones with creation and of human inspiration. But over the course of history, it is such beauty that is necessary to invoke the kind of perfect love that casts out all fear.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado, with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of "Banned Questions About The Bible" and "Banned Questions About Jesus." His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

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