Science and technology reaches into almost every aspect of the lives we live. As research becomes more efficient and results are released daily, questions of ethics must be asked. Within scientific fields, there are people with knowledge and technology able to prevent, or even cause, crimes against humanity, and the impacts that these people may have on the world as we know it are limitless. So, the question must be asked: What is the role of science when dealing with genocide and human rights?
The idea of Lebensraum, spearheaded by Hitler, spread through Germany during World War II. Lebensraum is the notion that German land was not large enough to support the population, and that the only solution was conquering Eastern Europe. This concept was ingrained into the minds of every “patriotic” German of this era. It was also, more importantly, entirely false. Timothy Snyder of The New York Times writes that Hitler “specifically – and wrongly – denied that irrigation, hybrids, and fertilizers could change the relationship between people and land.” Hitler insisted that these scientific means of sustainability were Jewish ploys, and held no true substance. If the people had invested in the research of these options, however, it would have proven otherwise. Just looking around the world today can show scientific improvements of agriculture can allow a much larger population that what one would have thought in that era.
The blatant refusal to accept potentially life saving hypotheses can be a testament to the use of ignorance and fear mongering to control the masses. Instead of utilizing what could have been the salvation of a severely injured country, Hitler kept his citizens in the dark as a means of raising a hatred for Jews across his country. It seems as though the omission of scientific solutions, in part, led to the desperation that the Germans felt after the first World War, and, the Holocaust that we know today. Obstruction of science, as well as the perpetuation of ignorance can possibly make it easier for genocide to occur.
Another field in which these two topics converge is psychology. In Paul Rosenberg’s article, “We don’t have to be monsters: The new neuroscience of genocide and mass murder,” he discusses various psychological analyses on why genocide takes place, and what could cause a brain to consider that as a possibility to achieve their goals. One neurosurgeon, Itzhak Fried, has labelled a medical syndrome associated with genocide, that describes “participation in repetitive, genocidal, mass murder by otherwise ‘normal individuals’,” as “Syndrome E.” Although there are many theories about what may cause syndrome E, none are entirely conclusive. What can be drawn from these studies is that many aspects of science can help us better understand and even prevent genocide, and if human rights and anti- mass atrocity campaigns work closely with scientific researchers, there is a chance that these projects can encourage new approaches to genocide prevention.
However, there is not only good that can come from the association of science and genocide. As the world becomes more advanced, the potency of future (and even some modern) technology can end in results that violate human rights in horrible ways. In “The Science of Genocide”, Chris Hedges holds that while technology is innately neutral, humans with power are not, and the corruption that can occur with this knowledge can result in genocide that would have never happened had scientists not devoted their lives to these fields. He uses the sobering example of Americans dropping the atomic bombs, which marked a dark day in history. Hedges uses this example to state that as technology becomes more powerful, so do humans; and, inadvertently, so do the consequences of the choices we make.
Although the possibilities of science are infinite, there are projects that manage to merge human rights and technology to help end genocide. A group called Amnesty USA uses technologies such as satellites to see into inaccessible areas. They work to end genocide by incorporating the best that technology and science have to offer. Other organizations, such as The Sentinel Project, use technologies such as website analysis to prevent radical organizations from spreading hate through mass media , and in a way counteract some of the negative results of the accessibility of technology. One group, The Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, not only utilizes the growing field of science to raise awareness of genocide, but also inspires a passion for human rights in innovators. The Tech Challenge is a competition that awards“problem-solvers who developed innovative concepts and prototypes to help us better predict, prevent, and respond to the risk of mass atrocities” with recognition for their outstanding accomplishments. It is through organizations like all three mentioned that we can be sure that although there is greater potential for devastation, there is also a new hope for the end of mass atrocities. Although both the fields of human rights and the sciences are hard to predict the future for, there is potential to combine them and see the most effective means of fighting genocide yet.
Born in Texas, Harrison (more commonly known by his middle name, Ugo) became active with STAND as soon as he moved to his current home of Terre Haute, Indiana. As early as 5th grade he was following his siblings to local STAND chapter events. Now a junior, Ugo has a passion for social justice of all kinds, among other things – namely drawing, music, and sleep.