By Kole Omotoso
BY sentient instruments is meant instruments which refuse to be deployed in the achievement of evil, sinful and inhuman purposes. These would be instruments such as knives, clubs, base ball bats, guns, 747s and nuclear weapons which are sentient to recognise when they are being used to stab innocent bystanders, to bash people on unoffending heads, to smash weakening knee caps, to shoot unwary toddlers and to blast into smithereens entire cities to show that it could be done.
Impossible, you say. After all, these human manufactures are not the only instruments which inflict injury and suffering on human beings. We have volcanoes which kill and maim with their fires and hot mud slides. There are rivers overflowing their banks and carrying humanities into watery graves. We have typhoons that smash boats and ships like match boxes with dire consequences for humanity. What about creatures that prey on other creatures, not only for food but for play as well? What about diseases and illnesses? What about poisonous roots, barks, branches and leaves? If you cannot sensitise these forces of nature against evil and suffering, how can you do the same to these humanufactures? It is asking for heaven on earth to speak of sentient instruments.
Obviously, the recent shootings at a children’s school in the United States of America leading to the death of twenty 6 and 7 year olds have brought these thoughts forward. More so with the argument of the gun-owning organisation that guns don’t kill, human beings do. If humans are insane and get hold of guns that are thankfully sane, maybe there would be no wiping out of the innocents! But how do you explain a report on the same day from China where a lunatic had attacked a kindergarten school with a knife? The counter-argument about humans killing and not guns is that the knife attack did not result in any death!
Imagine if the Chinese attacker had got hold of a gun, what havoc he could have wreaked on the toddlers? Which brings to mind machetes and their instrumentality in the Rwandan genocide? Over one hundred days, a set of humans set out with their machetes, every morning, as if going to their plots of land to cultivate, and systematically murder their fellow humans. Eight hundred thousand of them at the end of one hundred days were dead. Why is it that the machetes could not prevent the humans from committing such atrocity against other humans?
As if conscious of the limitations humans have in making nevermind how small or how big moral decisions to avert evil and suffering, manufacturing has begun to produce instruments that make the moral decisions for humans. After all, everyday technology puts into human hands more and more life-affirming as well as life-destroying instruments. Who chooses the life-affirming alternatives if humans cannot? The instruments of course must do the choosing. This is why there are instruments that close doors that humans go through and do not close after them. That is why there are cars which would not start unless the driver and the passengers belt up.
That is why it is possible to manufacture bullets that can be traced to the one and only gun that could have shot it. This is just the beginning of the process of humanifacturing sentient instruments. And the difficulties are myriad. One of the solutions that the gun owning organisation suggested to the people of the United States of America is the care of the mentally deranged in human societies. This is because those who have used these instruments to create evil and suffering for other human beings have been diagnosed as mentally deranged. How does a knife, a club, a gun or a 747 airbus detect that human handling it at a particular time is mentally deranged?
To go back to the argument that guns do not kill people, people do. So, people are the issue. How do you get people to stop killing people if you cannot find the reason why people decide to kill innocent people? The killers invariably kill themselves making it impossible to nail them for their act of murder. Even when such killers have survived their crime, their reasons have been beyond rationality. Their reasoning has shown a failure of moral responsibility as a result of mental destabilisation. And hospitalisation comes after the crime has been committed. Will it ever be possible for these mad men, (they have usually been men, young men at that) to be put away before they commit their crimes?
And how valid is the argument that the only prevention in protecting people from bad men with guns is good people with guns? Is the solution then the generalisation of gun-madness rather than gun freedom? Is a society in which toddlers wear bullet proof nappies having been dropped by bullet proof cars what we want? Is this civilisation?