Gunpowder, an empathy problem with technology.

The invention of gunpowder, like many other technologies, have been about the democratization of a particular action or experience. Just like how books have democratized the wide spread and access of information, the invention of gunpowder have, unfortunately, democratized the act of killing. This was an invention that revolutionized the history of warfare, yet in a modern world that's becoming more peaceful than ever, we are beginning to see the negative impact of a technology that was first created to remove the very thing that makes us human - empathy.

In studying the history of warfare, one would realize that before the invention of gunpowder, the capability of a society or civilization to wage war at scale was greatly hindered by people’s lack of ability in hurting one another.

In book The Pursuit of Power, the author argues and comes to the conclusion that getting one human being to purposely wound another in close combat, is no easy task. For one, you must physically overpower the other person. This not only required a lot of training, one also must overcome such an act physiologically. Luckily for us, the author argues and proofs that we are wired biologically to find the act of killing another fellow human rather gruesome, and sickening. 

Hence, the traditional ruling class found in many societies and civilizations have been a small group of well trained, elite warriors. Think knights of Europe during the Middle Ages, and samurai warlords of feudal Japan, as they were the ones that fought for land and resources when things got ugly.

However, this all changed with the invention of gunpowder. While at first, being one of the Four Great Inventions of China, it was purely used for entertainment purposes in fireworks, the technology quickly spread to the West and was eventually weaponized.

From there, gunpowder completely revolutionized warfare. Due to its ease of use and capability to cause serious damage, it meant a ruler of the time can hand such weapon to any peasant in the field, and quickly form a formidable army.

Compared to a knight who had to learn how to fight in close combat while riding a horse, or foot soldiers who had to maintain formation while fighting off enemies in close 1 on 1 combat, the peasant in the field was able pick up a gunpowder equipped weapon, and cause serious damage without much training.

Instead of requiring the physical strength to wield a sword, or pull back a bow string while maintaining aim, a simple pull of a trigger in this case can wound someone in fatal manners.

It's a technology designed to make things so easy, so we barely have the time to think or to be feel empathetic for one another. In a sense, it makes its users skip the natural barrier that's wired in our brains to stop us from killing each other.

And this quickly scales the further you move up in the “technological ladder of modern weapons”. For example, a missile simply requires a person at a complete remote location to hit a button, while wreaking havoc on the lives of thousands if not millions. The person hitting the button is so removed from feeling the devastation thousands of miles away - so disconnected to have empathy for any of those people who will be affected, it unfortunately ends up being an extremely easy action to take.

While it’s upsetting in this case, that the creation of such technology have been focused to remove our empathy between one human being to another, it is hopeful to see that at our core, we are wired to empathize for each other. For a better future, perhaps we should take on the responsibility of designing technology in ways to enhance this core empathy, instead of purposely removing it.