High Frontier Vs Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative)

Mensa writings (1985-87)


From Mensatana, c. 1987
High Frontier vs. Star Wars

by Paul Stephens

Recently, I saw the results of a poll conducted by Reason Magazine. One of the questions gauged the reader’s interest, pro or con, on the subject of “Star Wars/High Frontier.” If President Reagan or his theoreticians have stolen the title “High Frontier” from Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, this fact is not yet widely known to the American people. O’Neill’s conception of a “High Frontier” (the title of his book published in the 70’s) has nothing to do with the Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars.” In fact, they are in direct competition with one another for financial and technological resources, and carrying out one of them virtually precludes the other.

High Frontier, in O’Neill’s formulation, calls for building permanent human habitats in outer space, materially supported by the construction of huge solar micro-wave-transmitting power stations and factories in earth orbit. These power stations would beam down electricity in the form of microwaves to receiver-arrays on earth. Most of the construction materials would come from the moon (having a much smaller “gravity-well”, and being rich in aluminum and silicon). Although far-fetched and still not taken entirely seriously, O’Neil’s plan captured the imagination of science fiction fans and advocates of space development and exploration in the 1970’s. Even environmentalists, pacifists, the Russian followers of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (who saw earth as “the nest” from which a full-fledged humanity would someday emerge), and others could relate to O’Neill’s humanistic vision of a kind of scientific Utopia for the future.

The Strategic Defense Initiative, on the other hand, is the reductio ad absurdum of militaristic paranoia. Contrary to many existing treaties and common sense, this program would carry the arms race into outer space, costing hundreds of billions or trillions of scarce public dollars, and render obsolete existing weapon systems built, supposedly, to preserve peace through “deterrence.” No tangeable benefits of any kind are envisioned from space-based weapon systems. Instead, a period of destabilization, arms build-ups, mutual suspicion and paranoia would be the inevitable result if we continue to develop and deploy such systems.

By all accounts from reputable, disinterested scientists, the actual technological systems now under development simply aren’t feasible. It is much more costly to fortify against attack than to double or triple the attacking force. Through the use of decoys, atmospheric delivery systems, and other strategies on the part of potential attackers, the space-based defense system can easily be nullified or outflanked, like a kind of space-age Maginot Line. At worst, it could invite or even necessitate attack before it is completed, for it constitutes a return to American arms superiority and the capability of dominating and intimidating other countries— particularly if something like the Reagan Administration is still in power. Precisely because such systems represent a means of strategic intimidation, space-based weapons were long ago outlawed by treaty.
The Reagan Administration’s attempt to revive this discredited thinking and technology is merely one more indication of his (and his advisors’) incompetence, chicanery, and paranoia. Having already usurped the ideals of the cowboy and the American West, Mr. Reagan (because he acted in Hollywood “Westerns,” I suppose) has blithely assumed that anything which pertains to a “high frontier” must have something to do with “star wars” or, for all I know, the gunfight at the O.K. corral. If the American media has fallen for this “package deal,” surely it is up to the rest of us to expose it.

Perhaps this is a case of Mr. Reagan, as auteur. wanting to direct Dr. Strangelove II: Cap the Knife. Or is it another massive payoff to his defense industry friends and supporters in California? Whatever it is, it should be seen as being dangerous, irrational, and foolish.
Implicit (for whatever reasons) in the mindset of the Reaganites is a virtually total disregard for “lower classes” and the universal interests of humanity. To embrace the United Nations; to make peace with the Russians; to rid the world of the threat of nuclear war — these things are simply not priorities for the Reagan Administration. Their mindset requires a “bogey-man” – some “enemy” or malevolent force or ideology which must be fought to the death.

Thus, we are made to believe that it is better to be poised on the brink of nuclear war, hating other nations and their people, than to work for peace. Any suggestion that all nations, cultures, and traditions have an equal moral value, complexity, and legitimacy is likely to face hostility or even violent opposition from this Administration. The most obvious truths must be forever obscure to the Reagan-class mind.

The wise and sane alternatives are obvious: the human species ought to care for itself and its long-term interests. Every nation and race shares a common future, common needs, and very similar aspirations. Peace is the natural state of affairs. It is war which is the irrational, contrived abberation; the expression of self-hatred and species-hatred; the ultimate degradation of all our highest values and aspirations.

War is the triumph of evil over good; of death over life. And it is war which our present political leadership insists we should prepare for, and rely on as an instrument of “policy.” Their view is simple: You don’t like somebody? Then attack him. Invade his country. Overthrow his government. Or support dictatorships which would otherwise be overthrown.

On a practical level, Mr. Reagan and his political allies would murder an Allende while succoring a Marcos or a Somoza. They make it a point to be oblivious to world opinion. With inconceivable arrogance, they see themselves as defending “the free world” and bringing the “benefits of American civilization” (and especially American weapons) to the rest of the world.

This is nothing new. Ever since the Mexican War and especially the Spanish American War of 1898, we’ve had a tradition of stupid jingoism being acted out in spite of every kind of rational, moral, and humanitarian objections. Since building up our vast nuclear arsenals, there is no legitimate “defense.” There is either peace or mutual annihiliation. Right now, there is a “balance of terror” and little else. Is it any wonder that any splinter group of dissidents now sees terrorism as the only efficacious means to bring about change? What are nuclear arsenals but the greatest instruments of terror the world has ever known?

Anyone who acts to perpetuate war and our reliance on it should be regarded with the greatest suspicion. We have no further use for war and its appliances. There is no longer anything to be gained from it. The only thing worth fighting for is a nation’s freedom and its territorial integrity. Those who attempt to take away the freedom or violate the territorial integrity of others cause wars, and they are guilty of the greatest possible immorality.

The only sure way to avoid war is for everyone to refuse to participate in it. And we should begin by refusing to participate in “Star Wars.” Space exploration and habitation is a completely different matter. As Carl Sagan recently pointed out, the financial and technological resources necessary for the development of one regular strategic defense system (like the B-1 bomber or MX missile) would be sufficient to build and carry out a’ manned mission to Mars, with Soviet, European, Japanese, and other nations’ support and cooperation. And this would have all the “spin-off” benefits of SDI, plus the advantages of peaceful cooperation and scientific knowledge in many vital fields, including planetary ecology. Lets work for the future instead of being enslaved by the past.

Paul Stephens,  Great Falls, Montana

Small ICBM deployment-USAF hearing July 1987

Mensa writings (1985-87)

Testimony by Paul Stephens

Reprinted in Mensatana, December 22, 1987
Mensans sometimes wonder how they can use their intelligence for public benefit. Here is an example of how one person responded to an issue of public concern. This testimony was given at a local Environmental Impact Hearing conducted by the US Air Force concerning the deployment of another nuclear weapon system in Montana.

My name is Paul Stephens. I’m a fourth-generation Montanan whose family has lived in this area since 1883.

Our President claims to want to earn a place in history by successfully negotiating real limitations on nuclear arms. If he does so, those following in the next Administration will find themselves scaling back and dismantling the build-up pro­posed here. This suggests another “boom and bust” cycle, or an experience like Conrad, Montana where construction was begun with the ABM system in the 1970’s.

Dr. Paul F. Walker, Co-director of the Institute for Peace and International Security in Cambridge, Mass, spoke here recently informing us that Malmstrom AFB (and indeed, all land-based ICBM’s) are no longer a vital part of our strategic posture. We’d be better-off without them. All are vulnerable to a first-strike, and this, in turn, limits their function and strategic value to that of a first-strike weapon — something which both sides claim they neither want nor need. They are neither an effective deterrent nor a sure means of retaliation.

The pin­point accuracy of the Midgetman and its use of “penetration aids” also characterizes it as a first-strike weapon — something which should be abhorrent to all Montanans. $50 billion could he used much more effectively elsewhere — even for “defense” purposes. Give the State of Montana the $1 billion which the Air Force will spend here, and I guarantee we will spend the money much more wisely and productively than the Air Force will. Our economy will benefit much more from productive investments than non-productive or destructive ones.

It’s true that our state and national economies are in bad shape, but more missiles will not correct the problems. Indeed, high levels of military spending are a large part of our economic problems. Why, then, are we even considering the deployment of the Midgetman System here in Montana, or anywhere? According to Dr. Walker, it is a political “deal,” a “payoff.” The Air Force wants more MX “Peacekeeper” missiles. But the smaller, more expensive “Midgetman” sounds safer, less threatening. The Scowcroft Commission Report compromises, advocating the deployment of 500 Midgetman and additional MX missiles (which incidently  violates the Salt II Treaty, which limits us to one new missile).

Dr. Walker says that if rationality prevails, the Midgetman will be defeated. Yet, this proposal is for Montana to receive 200-250 Midgetman missiles and 8 MX deployed on railroad cars. The very real “growth possibilities” here amount to turning Montana into a nuclear sponge.

Dr. Walker estimates that our present 200 Minuteman missiles are targeted by 400 or more Soviet nuclear warheads. However, the Midgetman would require that 4000-5000 additional Soviet warheads be targeted here, in order to neutralize this new system. Under these conditions, any sort of nuclear exchange would devastate Montana beyond any recovery.

The U.S. Air Force claims its missiles are fail-safe, and incapable of accidental launch or explosion. Are they equally confident about the Soviet missiles and Soviet precautions against accidents or sabotage? Clearly, the only safe course of action is to build down our nuclear arsenals with the intention of eliminating them entirely, rather than deploying newer and ever more complex systems.

We should point out here that at $50 billion, the proposed Midgetman system is the most expensive strategic weapon system in our history. More importantly, it is three times as expensive per warhead as the MX, Minuteman, or Poseidon systems. It is a criminal economic waste in an era of high budget deficits and drastic cuts in civilian public spending.

Among the few people who claim to be informed about the issue, and who still favor Midgetman deployment here are those who imagine that it will help our local economy. Professor Tom Power of the Economics Department at the University of Montana in Missoula addressed this issue very well in a public radio commentary of June 29, 1987. He says, in part, and I quote:

“In 1980, almost 40% of the Great Falls economic base was the military. Now that percentage will increase, and the economy will suffer every time that peace threatens to break out. Residents will quietly pray that world tensions will remain high; that rabid militarists will remain in control of the White House and Congress, and that the anti-nuke forces will fail miserably. There is something perverse going on when the needs of the local economy corrupt people’s vision in this way.”

Concerning the “boom-bust cycle,” Professor Power says:

“We may gear up for the missiles, and either not have them appear, or have them eliminated after they are deployed. This will put Great Palls in a strange moral and political position. Its residents and politicians will find themselves committed to the arms race, and fearful of any serious arms reduction proposals. The militarization of Great Palls will be nearly complete….

“Between 1970-1985, Great Falls’ population declined by about 2000. Its economic base also declined as the military role declined, primary metals shut down, and agriculture withered. Yet, real per capita income rose by almost a quarter. [We] did almost as well as the rest of the state…. There is nothing seriously wrong with the Great Falls economy that needs fixing. There certainly is nothing so wrong that its worth keeping the arms race going for a little local economic stimulation.

“The spokespersons for the Great Falls business community will not see it this way, of course. To them, any growth is good and stability is always bad. Hopefully, others within the Great Falls community will be a little bit more critical, and will not welcome these missiles as an economic blessing when in fact they are part of a much larger curse that weighs down the entire national economy and threatens ours and our children’s futures.”

It is clear enough to me that our best course is to cancel the Midgetman program immediately, and to seriously negotiate towards complete nuclear disarmament. Montana and the rest of the world will all benefit from the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Paul Stephens July 22, 1987

Against the “War on Drugs” (c. 1986)

Mensa writings (1985-87)

Against the “War on Drugs”  (c. 1986)

Like most people who became adults in the 1960’s, I’ve literally “grown up with drugs.” My father was an alcoholic, smoker, and amphetamine addict. So was my uncle. Being raised in the secular, scientific tradition, I was early led to believe that any physical or emotional problem could be solved by ingesting the proper chemical “medicine.” . Being highly-intelligent, 1 soon came to believe that I knew better than others what was best for me. And if I didn’t know, I claimed the right to find out: by reading, questioning, and experimenting with whatever substances were available. I don’t think I ever believed that anyone else had the right to tell me what I could or could not experiment with. And growing up in “lawless Montana,” my respect for .government and its desire to control our personal lives was entirely non-existent.
Thus, I obtained some marijuana from an intelligent colleague in the Philosophy Department at UCLA at my first opportunity. Later, I obtained some mescaline and LSD from another student in the same department. I should say that there was no commercial aspect to these transactions. I merely reimbursed them their cost. And they positively advocated the use of these substances to me. They genuinely believed that I would benefit from using them! Even professors at this time (1969) freely circulated articles from learned journals on the use of psychedelics (mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD), and significant academic research was being devoted to these substances. It no more seemed immoral or illegal to use them than it would be immoral or illegal to read a book or participate in an academic research project.
To be sure, the free access to these substances was already restricted, and one could, technically, be arrested for distributing or using them, but this was rarely if ever known to happen, and to express worry on this account was to risk being labeled “paranoid.”
And so, for several years thereafter, I used marijuana and hashish quite regularly, and psychedelics some 50 times. The most unpleasant experience I ever had was learning afterwards that some close friends of mine had been killed in an auto accident while I was “tripping” on LSD. Because of the psychic, mystical nature of these experiences, one could readily imagine that one was connected to or responsible for catastrophic events happening some distance away, and apparently unconnected to one’s immediate reality. I felt a certain amount of guilt on account of the deaths of my friends, even though I was in no way involved with it. That was the last time I used LSD.
Cannabis (marijuana and hashish), on the other hand, seemed to be something like the mythical Soma of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Huxley, like many other intellectuals of his time, was himself a strong advocate of the serious, structured use of psychedelics. Hermann Hesse used them extensively, and it was no accident that his books became required reading for the “hippy intelligentsia” of the 1960’s, their predecessors, and successors. The use of hallucinogens is as ancient as civilization, itself, and cannabis (a very mild halucinogen and stimulant of the imagination) is found in warm climates in every part of the world; Indeed, Islam encourages the use of cannabis while absolutely prohibiting the use of alcohol. That, it seems to me, is an accurate evaluation of the merits and dangers of the two substances.
By using cannabis, I was intentionally declaring my solidarity with the Third World, and darker-skinned peoples of the tropics. The white male imperialistic opposition to cannabis (as found in the Reagan Administration, or Nixon’s “Operation Intercept” 15 years ago) seemed to be consistent with our policy in Vietnam or Central America, and thus my use of cannabis v/as a political act as well as a social and intellectual one.
It was this political aspect which convinced many of us that we were doing the right thing. Marijuana, and the collective smoking of it, produced a social camaraderie and solidarity which was new and very satisfying to those of us raised within the confines of an over-intellectualized Protestant individualism. Marijuana in the work-place became a way to better coordinate our efforts by establishing our identity as a crew or team. And most of us discovered that we were actually able to learn quicker, improve our reflexes and physical dexterity, and otherwise upgrade our physical performance and emotional satisfaction through the use of these substances.
To be sure, the scientific evidence for this is ambiguous. Sometimes, it is only that subjectively our performance has improved. And some studies seem to indicate that perpetual use of cannabis over a decade or more may result in brain damage or other harmful effects to the nervous system. I suppose that such consequences are proportionate to the quantity of cannabis in the blood-stream, one’s diet, and other variables —much as alcohol use can be benign in some cases and deadly in others.
I never smoked more than, say, 2 or 3 very small joints a day, but I’ve known people who might have smoked several grams of hashish or 20 large joints a day. Obviously, such quantities could not be described as “beneficial,” and the very act of smoking any organic substance has harmful consequences to the respiratory system, and poses the threat of cancer. Cannabis can also be taken orally, and with purely pleasurable and much less harmful consequences. It is one effect of criminalization that the oral use of cannabis has practically disappeared in this country, since smoking provides the largest dosage in the shortest time of a scarce and expensive substance. (In a free market, cannabis would be no more expensive than lettuce or cabbage, and thus capable of being refined and processed at a very low cost to the consumer).
My experience, then, is that psychedelics should be used carefully and with the greatest respect and most intelligent supervision, while cannabis is the “beer” of the drug-world, widely-used by working-class people, gourmets, intellectuals, and especially artists and other creative people. But it should be used with care and moderation. In both cases, the criminalization of these substances has literally destroyed the social fabric. Millions of lives have been ruined by arrest, punishment, and forced conversion to criminal and underworld values and lifestyles. This, it must be emphasized, is the direct consequence of police-state tactics on the part of governments, and usually for specifically political reasons.
Cocaine, like heroin or other narcotics, may constitute a different kind of problem. The people who use it are, or quickly become, self-destructive. They need to be protected from themselves — not by arrest and prosecution, but by treatment, sympathy, and a structured conversion to healthy values and lifestyles. Here, again, the “war on drugs” promises to be entirely counter-productive, and to make the problem worse instead of better.
It is very strange to me, as a 6th or 7th generation American, that anyone in this country should support a police-state as the solution to any kind of problem! Whatever happened to the ideas of free choice and moral autonomy? Since when has punishment, repression, trade restrictions, invasion of privacy, and other typical old-world, totalitarian methods been acceptable to Americans? Have we all become Puritans, Racists, Czarists, or what? Since when did I give up my God-given rights to gather, harvest, cultivate, or prepare one of God’s sacred creations? I can see passing laws against amphetamines or Valium, but against poppies, bushes, and trees? Isn’t this more than a little bit ridiculous?
The real issue here, it seems to me, is an ethical, moral, and philosophical one. Since when have governments become our masters rather than our servants? Since when have governments received a mandate to harm people, rather than to benefit them? It is particularly ironic that Ronald Reagan, who reached the Presidency on a program which he described as pro-freedom, pro-individual responsibility, pro-^free trade, and even “libertarian” should be the architect of what can only be described as the most fascistic, totalitarian, statist administration in the history of the United States. Taking up where the Roosevelt’s left off, he has re-instituted the gunboat diplomacy of Theodore and the corporate fascism of the New Deal. In fact, he is the first President since Franklin Roosevelt to dare to continue in this direction of elitist authoritarianism. which is so unpopular with the American people. But it is a testimony to the power of the media and propaganda techniques that he is still a popular President and obtained something like a 90% majority of the House for his “war on drugs” legislation. Unfortunately, it will be the American people who will suffer and have to pay for the policies brought forth by these self-serving lies and propaganda.
The philosophical issue arises when one considers why it is so hard for government leaders to respect the moral autonomy of the people? Why do some people feel that they have to dictate and control the lives of others? And most of all, why do some people feel they have to punish and blame others for our common problems?
The first thing one learns in psychotherapy (or religion) is that those who most loudly proclaim their own innocence and virtue, blaming and “correcting” others, are most likely to have the worst problems within themselves. Why does one feel a need to be President, a prison warden, a prosecuting attorney, or a judge? This is the question which we, as Americans, must insist be answered before these people gain power over our lives!
Government, to an American, “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Who, among enlightened, healthy, responsible people has given his consent to this “war on drugs,” aid to the Contras, or any of a hundred other abominations which the Reagan administration has promulgated? How can they get away with this? Who is being fooled by the illusory merits of more punishment and repression? No one that you or (would like to know, I’m fairly sure.

The roots of this problem are deep, and apparently still obscure. Why, then, is there no effort to uncover them? Why are the recommendations of enlightened, responsible people being disregarded? These are the kinds of questions which need to be answered. Whether or not drugs are harmful or beneficial is largely irrelevant to these broader questions, and of much less permanent significance.

Paul Stephens     Great Falls, Montana

Fear of Intelligence and Inertial Resistance to Change (c.1986)

Mensa writings (1985-87)

Fear of Intelligence and Inertial Resistance to Change  (c.1986)
Would-be social reformers have the toughest job in the world. If one actually possesses the vision and intelligence to put forth some dramatic new conception of society and interpersonal relations, one is likely to be persecuted or even martyred, not listened to or even taken seriously enough to be the object of criticism or opposition. Two factors seem to often appear as obstacles: fear of intelligence, and an inertial resistance to change. When I tell people I am a member of Mensa, and that there are some 5 million people in the United States who are also eligible to join, I rarely get a positive response, like: “Oh, isn’t that exciting? Tell me more about it!”
Reactions are more likely to be indifference or embarrassment, like I was admitting some dirty little secret. The fact that seems to require explanation is that there are only 53,000 actual members out of that 5 million.
Feminists have long made the complaint that intelligence in women has not been a social value; that women more often hide their intelligence rather than displaying it and thus (they believe) opening themselves to ridicule and contempt. However valid this may be for women, it seems to be equally valid for men. And those who are proud of their intelligence and freely display it often pay a fearful price in social alienation, ridicule, and outright rejection by lesser minds.
I suppose the reason for this might be a well-learned and carefully-remembered fear of intelligence. Intelligence, here confused with shrewdness or the ability to successfully manipulate others for one’s own purposes, is seen as power in the hands of a real or potential enemy. If one is not intelligent, one tends to fear those who are, just as the physically-underdeveloped person might feel an inferiority, inadequacy, or envy relative to his or her physically more-impressive rivals. Many intelligent people have exactly this attitude towards the athlete or “jock” — an attitude which forgets the principle of balance among physical, intellectual, and artistic capacities. Thus, they should understand why people sometimes resent their intelligence.
This principle of balance, inherited from the Classical Greek world-view, is also found in the Buddhist and Taoist belief-systems of the Far East. If one adopts an experimentalist attitude about one’s own life, one quickly learns this principle. We can only go so far in one direction without neglecting others. We can only develop specific capacities in a limited way by themselves. As we develop the “whole person,” we find that there is little or nothing that we cannot do, and that a carefully thought-out equilibrium can be attained at any level of achievement.
As a classic “under-achiever,” I often marvel at the middle-class professional person’s pursuit of balance, which may include 10-20 scheduled events in a single day, from breakfast, luncheon, and dinner appointments to a round of professional duties, a game of tennis, psychotherapy, a cocktail meeting, and a theater or concert attendance. Typically, I partic­ipate in one or two scheduled, organized events in a day, and often find even that much burdensome. But I also read 20 periodicals, write 20 or 30 pages a week, and always have time for the most trivial or purely social conversations.
I am active in the peace movement, a member of a Unitarian fellowship, and a regular contributor to Mensa events and publications — more than enough for one person, I can assure you! By abandoning other kinds of pursuits and values which are not consistent with my intellectual interests, I have freed myself to pursue whatever is interesting to me. Although my yearly income is probably less than the average teen-ager’s, people still envy or resent my freedom to pursue my own interests, as though their own lives of “quiet desperation” were some sort of universal punishment which everyone should have to suffer!
The problem with living in a society where intelligence is not respected or rewarded is that ignorance prevails. One need only look at government policy, business decision-making, education, or any other area of public concern to realize that this resentment of intelligence is the cause of most social problems. Not only do people get themselves into deep trouble through their ignorance: it seems as though they do so on purpose, thinking perhaps that this will give them (or their professional interests) that much more scope for action; that much more power to control the lives of others. Personal freedom, initiative, and community responsibility are usurped in the process.
Recently, I was attempting to explain my preference for a diversified, decentralized education system to one whom I thought would be receptive to this idea. Instead of school boards and state education bureaucracies, public schools would be organized and maintained by local community school associations of parents and teachers, who would be totally responsible for their particular neighborhood school and its administration including selection of texts, curricula, and educational philosophies. Independent and religious schools would also be encouraged, and students wishing to attend them would receive a comparable subsidy to cover the (reasonable) costs of teachers’ salaries and building maintenance in the form of a voucher which could be used at any school, public or private.
The person I was trying to convince (herself a retired teacher, and the product of a one-room country school), was worried that many parents might choose “inferior” schools or teachers, thus depriving their children of a quality education! A supporter of the present system (here in Montana it works as well as it did anywhere, 30 years ago) she was trained in the “progressive” theories of John Dewey, which she hopes might still be implemented by the state bureaucracies. Although devoutly religious, she maintains that religious schools should get no subsidies, and that only one educational philosophy and social theory should dominate all of public education.
My reply was simply that now, everyone is deprived of the education they want and need, unless a family is rich enough to be able to afford the private school of its choice, in addition to the taxes paid to support the wretchedly inadequate public schools. In a diversified system competing for students and public money, parents depriving their children of a quality education would be virtually impossible. More importantly, the rest of us would have the opportunity to choose the best schools available — the ones which best fit our personal needs and values. Our children would no longer be taken away from us, and educated in ways we disapprove of. Certainly that consideration alone should outweigh all others.
But in the enshrinement of ignorance, such considerations are thought to be anything but relevant. Here again, a false conception of “equality” (the equality of universal mediocrity) is far more compelling than the pursuit of excellence, individual conscience, moral values, religious beliefs, and equality of opportunity. How can this be? I can hardly believe that in the presence of both kinds of systems, any group of voters and taxpayers would fail to choose my system!
The problem may be simple resistance to change. Once the two systems are implemented and compared, the benefits of diversity, community, and decentralization will be obvious to all. Except that most people are afraid of intelligence and change, and anything which seems to result from intelligent thinking; any change which makes comparisons which put bureaucracies, teachers’ unions, and other established interests to shame simply shouldn’t be permitted to happen! And that is why I am not very optimistic about reform in public policy, and why I retain a libertarian desire to minimize government involvement in useful, beneficial human services.
Paul Stephens   Great Falls, Montana



The Road to Peace (7-17-86)

Mensa writings (1985-87)


The Road to Peace (7-17-86)

“We know that wars will probably happen no matter what we do or say. We know we will be persecuted for our refusal to participate in them. We know that the state, our neighbors, and community will do everything possible to destroy our reputations and careers, and punish us in worse ways if we are not able to defend ourselves, or otherwise avoid that fate – often by paying some sort of tribute in money or “service.” It takes a lot more courage to be a pacifist than it does to be a warrior, yet the pacifist is generally thought to be a weakling and a coward.”

We often hear about peace-making, “conflict-resolution,” “arms negotiations,” and treaties of convenience and mutual interest intended to establish peace in some region of the world, or between what are perceived to be opposing “sides.” Some ages are remembered as being (relatively) peaceful and harmonious, while others are remembered for their devastating wars.

History records the tragedy of the Peloponnesian War in Ancient Greece; the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage; the Hundred Years War between England and France; the Thirty Years War between Protestantism and Catholicism; and so forth. When the two greatest powers in a region go to war, and the war is protracted, there is literally hell to pay. The amount of suffering, pain, death and deprivation can be staggering. The real costs of war are incalculable, and in the case of a total war, far greater than any possible gains which might be realized from a victory. It is only in the abstract realms of political ideology, religious belief, and/or racial/ethnic division that wars “make sense.” Only the fanatic really believes in it, and willingly participates when one occurs.

Yet, we are taught, about “martial virtue” from our earliest experience. We are taught to march, wear uniforms, choose “sides” or “teams,” regard outsiders with hostility or suspicion, participate in civic rituals designed to create rivalries and conflicts with other communities, etc, etc. Some of us are gravely troubled by this experience, and trace to it every sort of evil associated with war.

If people weren’t conditioned to believe in war; to prepare for it; and to regard it as proper and inevitable, then it seems to me that wars might never happen. Youthful idealism? Liberal foggy-headedness?  The very denial of reality, itself? We’re charged with this, and more. And we know that our numbers are small; that we are virtually powerless in terms of the voter’s influence on government, influence on public opinion, and most of all, influence on history.

We know that wars will probably happen no matter what we do or say. We know we will be persecuted for our refusal to participate in them. We know that the state, our neighbors, and community will do everything possible to destroy our reputations and careers, and punish us in worse ways if we are not able to defend ourselves, or otherwise avoid that fate – often by paying some sort of tribute in money or “service.” It takes a lot more courage to be a pacifist than it does to be a warrior, yet the pacifist is generally thought to be a weakling and a coward.

When I was on the East Coast, I remember hearing Montana environmentalists being characterized as “a breed a part” insofar as they had to stand up to the loggers, miners, oil-drillers, and others who hated them enough to want to fight them. The same may be true of Montana pacifists — it’s’ a little different marching to the gates of Malmstrom AFB [then home to a nuclear strike force of 200 Minuteman missiles carrying up to 600 warheads – today, it’s 150 single-warhead missiles] compared with demonstrating on the Mall in Washington, D.C. or a college campus!

Even the 1960’s hippies, universally known for their doctrine of “peace and love,” took on a rather different character here in Montana. They began to carry large sheath knives, and if you got into a disagree­ment with one of them, it wasn’t likely he’d refuse to go outside and settle the matter in the parking lot, or even with firearms, if it came to that! I was one of the very few who thought he could maintain some self-esteem while politely refusing such invitations. And so it is with the pacifist, today.

If we take our peace and freedom and justice seriously, we’ve got to be prepared to act according to our beliefs, and organize our thoughts, our communications, our budgets, our livelihoods, our lifestyles and even our entertainments in such a way that they will further peace, and whatever else we might believe in. Such is the responsibility of membership in a free society.

How might we better serve this cause of peace? Before we can really do something, we must understand the problem clearly, and be able to relate cause and effect in such a way that our efforts will have the effects desired. Thus, I question the motives of peace “demonstrators” who confront and antagonize, and whose thoughts and reasoning are so esoteric and far-removed from the ordinary person’s understanding that no useful communication takes place. During the Vietnam era, I know it was the case that most people in Montana thought that anyone against the war was anti-American, crazy, a Communist, or worse. The very fact of demonstrating and being against the war on the part of a variety of long-haired, drug-using “hippies” convinced many people that the war was right, and that we should support it!

If one understands what is happening here, and one really wishes to end a war or prevent one, one’s only rational response is to change one’s behavior so that people are affirmed in their suspicion of war-making politicians and generals, and in their desire for peace and harmony with other nations. So peculiar is the American culture that literally millions of people kept marching in the streets and offending the sensibilities of others more or less for the fun of it, or out of a frustration which apparently could not be channeled into any more constructive action. And thus, I sadly believe, the Vietnam war lasted longer and cost much more than would have been the case had no radical demonstrations or civil disobedience occurred!

Teach-ins, constructive use of the media, and traditional political action would have done the job much more quickly and effectively, I’m sure, and the success of fundamentalist conservatism using precisely these methods provides strong evidence in favor of my contention. If intelligence has anything whatsoever to do with the cultivation and application of reason, then we, as intelligent people, should certainly believe that reason is efficacious in political decision-making, and that reason is a universal to which anyone, regardless of intelligence or lack of it, must finally accede.

Some people think that “you can prove anything with reason,” but that is just not the case. Reason isn’t a mechanism so much as it is an attitude; the desire to understand as fully as possible, to use one’s understanding as a guide to future action, and to intend, in every case, the universal good of all. “Reason” that brings harm or destruction is practically a contradiction in terms, and thus not “reason” in any legitimate sense of the term.

All of the foregoing applies to conventional as well as nuclear war. The difference with nuclear war is that it is total and final Once it occurs,, there will be practically nothing left of what we know as civilization. There will be no recovering from it as we have recovered from past wars. Life will have become, indeed, “solitary, cruel, nasty, brutish, and short” as the British philosopher (and Rationalist) Thomas Hobbes said of “the State of Nature.” Following a nuclear war, there will be little, even, of Nature remaining, and the “shortness” may be measured in minutes, weeks, or months instead of years. Such has been our “progress” in technology and politics since the 17th century!

We must remember, though, that Hitler and Stalin were “rationalists”, too. It’s just that they were also psychopaths and intent on destroying something, even if it was their own nation, party, or circle of friends. If they lacked a “spiritual dimension,” it wasn’t because they weren’t superstitious or convinced of their own “God-chosenness” or its materialist equivalent. And thus, the Nazi or Bolshevik “logic” proved to be a sophistry; a means by which a political organization might wield power oblivious to every kind of criticism and opposition. And we are not so very far from this condition in the United States, today.
Paul Stephens
Great Falls, Montana

De-Nuclearization (May 9, 1986)

Mensa writings (1985-87), Uncategorized



“Besides injury and loss of life, we can expect a general demoralization about the future. There may be major dislocations to the Soviet economy which in turn could jeopardize international stability, international economic relations, cultural exchanges, the peace effort, and so forth. More likely, it will have the opposite effect, allowing us to cooperate and help one another rather than confronting each other as adversaries.”


Anti-nuclear activists now have some dramatic evidence to place before the court of public opinion. A fission nuclear power plant at Chernobyl near Kiev, The Ukraine, has apparently “melted down” and burned out, with catastrophic release of radioactivity over an area inhabited by millions of people. It is almost a “worst-case scenario” from the standpoint of theoreticians who have attempted to determine the potential hazards of the nuclear industry.

A few years ago, there was an article in Scientific American analyzing potential harm from such accidents. For that writer, the case of a nuclear warhead being exploded directly on a nuclear power reactor facility with on-site storage of spent fuel rods was determined to be the worst possible case of nuclear disaster. The spent fuel rods consist of highly radioactive plutonium, strontium, cesium, and other elements of great longevity, and their vaporization and dispersal over a wide area might result in millions of deaths and the total abandonment and quarantine of thousands of square miles of land — for decades or centuries to come.

Although the Soviet reactor accident is of lesser consequence, it is one of the worst possible disasters short of those involving nuclear weapons. Because it was a graphite, water-cooled design now known to be inherently unsafe, many advocates of nuclear power will want to claim that their own designs are safe, and that nuclear power is a viable energy strategy. This could be a fatal error. One never knows everything that could go wrong until it actually does go wrong. Only then can it be called “an accident” or “a catastrophe.”

It was the combustion of the reactor pile, releasing huge volumes (hundreds to thousands of tons) of highly radioactive fuel rods, coolant, and reactor assembly in the form of smoke and steam that made the Chernobyl disaster so great. This type of reactor utilizes huge masses of graphite to moderate the nuclear reaction (graphite absorbs neutrons, thus slowing the “chain reaction” of uranium fission). But graphite is combustible, and must be cooled — in this case, by ordinary (light) water. (So-called “heavy water” is used as a moderator, as well as a coolant). This may have been the fatal flaw, for when a coolant pipe broke, that part of the reactor overheated, made steam of the water, which reacted with the graphite in burning, and released explosive hydrogen as a by-product. It is thought that a hydrogen and/or steam explosion destroyed the building.

It was not, per se, a nuclear explosion, but the effect was to disperse huge quantities of highly-radioactive materials into the atmosphere. The smoke and steam from the combustion of the reactor provided a mechanism for a continuing release of large quantities of radioactive materials over many days. If there was a total melt-down, much of the heavier uranium metal would have liquefied, pooled, and burned its way into the ground. This material would burn down through any structure into the earth until sufficiently diluted to cool down. It is believed that the initial contact with ground water by this fissioning molten metal would cause a steam explosion, venting another huge dose of radiation into the atmosphere and contaminating the ground water for miles around, including a nearby lake and rivers at Chernobyl.

Besides injury and loss of life, we can expect a general demoralization about the future. There may be major dislocations to the Soviet economy which in turn could jeopardize international stability, international economic relations, cultural exchanges, the peace effort, and so forth. More likely, it will have the opposite effect, allowing us to cooperate and help one another rather than confronting each other as adversaries.

In the early years of the “nuclear age,” scientists, philosophers, statesmen, and other concerned citizens attempted to determine the value and feasibility of “harnessing the atom.” Although nuclear weapons were obviously bad, and a matter for international concern in order to limit or avoid their use, nuclear power and other “peaceful” uses of nuclear energy were welcomed as being “modern,” “futuristic” applications of “high technology.”

Thousands of scientists and engineers soon found employment in the nuclear industry. In Europe and the socialist countries, state enterprises embarked on nuclear power generation programs, often integrated with the production of nuclear weapons. Even in the United States today, it is the Energy Department which finances the construction of nuclear warheads, along with providing vast subsidies and “regulation” for the nuclear power industry. This is dominated by large corporations such as General Electric and Westinghouse, along with a number of engineering and construction firms, defense contractors, etc. Literally hundreds of billions of dollars of scarce public money has been spent on nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation since the 1950’s. It wouldn’t have happened if governments hadn’t favored it, and heavily subsidized those economic interests which stood to profit from it.

On purely economic grounds (where one usually finds nuclear power defended or advocated), there is very little to be said in favor of it. Present projections are that nuclear power is considerably more expensive than conservation or small-scale, renewable technologies. The rigorous studies by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado advocate discontinuing nuclear power generation with all reasonable haste. When we consider the future costs of decommissioning reactors after 30-50 years, we find that the present generation is benefiting itself at the expense of its own children and grandchildren — who will have substantially more people and fewer resources to deal with the problem. Expensive as nuclear power plants are to build, the costs of tearing them down and safely disposing of the radioactive structure and spent fuel (which must be done, eventually) is likely to be even greater. Indeed, there is still no foolproof strategy or technology for safely disposing of the radioactive materials! No community in the country wants to serve as a nuclear waste repository, nor is there any acceptable marine disposal strategy. Whatever mechanisms are employed, they must be secure for hundreds of centuries, and are sure to be incredibly expensive.

The risk of a catastrophe like Chernobyl has been the least tangible objection to nuclear power generation up to now. The “experts” could always say: “Nothing’s going to happen, and if it does, it will be someone else’s fault — not ours!” This kind of thinking is not consistent with scientific understanding or the utilization of potentially catastrophic technologies. Accidents happen. They cannot be avoided. And if the consequences include the deaths or injury of millions of people, the tech­nology poses a threat which must be avoided and prohibited in every case.

The fact that nuclear energy is also uneconomical gives lie to the nuclear industry’s claims of “benefit” and “necessity.” Astronomical costs, soaring utility bills, and a very few hazardous jobs are the most obvious “products” of our nuclear industry. One suspects that the vast pro-nuclear lobby is relying on a superstitious awe in the minds of voters and politicians rather than a frank appraisal of costs and benefits. Our future survival may require an outright moratorium on nuclear weapons and power plants for 50-100 years. If “safe, reliable, economical” nuclear technologies are ever developed, our descendants can decide for themselves whether or not to use them. We have no right to make that choice for others, depriving future generations of all options including survival, itself.

-Paul Stephens

Mensatana Writings (1985-87)

Mensa writings (1985-87)


The first body of writing I produced covering public issues was written for a publication I edited and produced myself:  a newsletter for the Montana Mensa group called “Mensatana”.  I’ve just been looking them over, and after doing a much more ambitious Montana Green Bulletin (e-mailed weekly) for some 8 years, I only knew that this earlier set of writings had a similar purpose.  I did not then own a personal computer.  Nor did I use one at the library or other venue.  So, this was all literal “cut and paste” with scissors and correcting fluid, and a typewriter which did store and edit text, but little else, nor was it connectable to a modem or other computer.

I recently got my good scanner working again for the first time since about 2006, when I somehow lost the OCR driver disk, and wasn’t doing much scanning anyway, so I didn’t worry about it.  The first things I scanned were some of the best of these Mensatana articles (note the word “satan” in there – which probably didn’t help me to popularize Mensa at all!)  I’ll be adding them here, and posting them on Facebook.  I think I have two FB friends with a background in Mensa, so they should especially enjoy this.

Paul Stephens – Nagasaki Day, August 8, 2016
“Mensa itself holds no opinions…. ” (c. 1986)

One of our members wrote me a short note which began with these words, and it seems appropriate that we should discuss this fundamental principle of the Mensa organisation. In another Mensa publication, it was reported that a 9-year-old had made the comment that this principle is itself an opinion, and so Mensa really does have opinions! Or, at least principles, which are not so very different from opinions.
This reminds me of the philosophical statement: “There are no absolutes,” and that this itself is an absolute. It’s something like Russell’s Paradox of the barber. “No man shaves himself. The barber shaves every man. Who, then, shaves the barber?” These kinds of statements are now handled well by the logic which Russell himself developed, with set theory and the like (although I am certainly no expert in this area, myself). As for Mensa holding no opinions, several observations may be made.

First, Mensa holds no opinions because it is not a thinking, cognitive being! It is a formal membership organization. It is, specifically and abstractly, a table around which we sit and talk. Surely the founders of Mensa did not intend that no Mensan should have opinions, or that no ideas should be discussed (although it isn’t entirely clear that certain American Mensa officers believe this, today!) The whole point of Mensa is that its members certainly have opinions, and discuss and debate them in every imaginable fashion. Here in Montana Mensa, 1 can assert with some confidence that the exchange of Ideas is not a priority, or the reason why most people have joined Mensa, and this is unfortunate for Mensa, for the recalcitrant members, and for those of us who did join for that very purpose.

Apparently, my correspondent believes that I state my own opinions too forcefully, blatantly, or arrogantly. If this is the case, I apologize to her and everyone. I am a feeling, passionate person who has very few other outlets for his passions. I would rather read a book than go to a party or scour the bars for potential romantic entanglements. No doubt this represents some sort of social impairment on my part, but it also leaves me the time and talent to successfully edit Mensatana and correspond with a wide variety of people on an even wider variety of issues. I am also politically active in the peace movement, spiritually active In Unitarian-Universalism, and aesthetically active in my writing, music, and most other arts.

In one sense, nearly everything I do (or anyone else does) is based on OPINIONS – otherwise known as Beliefs, Values, Prejudices, or whatever. It now seems to me that many Mensans may have a confused or improper view of “Mensa itself holds no opinions. . . .” It almost seems as though these people think that no one should have any opinions, or that having opinions is somehow an indication of prejudice and thus incompatible with having high intelligence!

The reason why “Mensa Itself has no opinions . . .” is fairly obvious to me. Mensa has no opinions because if it did, it might alienate those present or potential members who have some different opinions. The point with Mensa (and probably the main reason I belong to it, since many of my opinions are demonstrably unpopular) is that NO ONE SHOULD BE EXCLUDED BECAUSE OF his or her opinions. And that seems to be particularly difficult for many Mensans to understand and live by. The self-righteousness of the highly-intelligent is legendary. Once one has these astronomical test scores, no lesser mortal will ever stand in one’s way. Here is the scientific proof! We are smarter than other people! Show your scores, or keep your mouth shut!

To whatever extent such character malformation exists, we do have a problem. But it won’t be resolved by hinting that no one should too strongly express his or her opinions, believe me.
Paul Stephens