Ghosts of the Future: A normative existentialist critique of nuclear weapons, Mutually Assured Destruction and deterrence

  • Kelvin Mason None
Keywords: existentialism, phenomenology, ethics, deterrence, transcendence


This film explores the UK’s decision to replace its Trident nuclear weapons system. Narration draws upon an existentialist ethics to critique a politics and culture of nuclear weapons, Mutually Assured Destruction and deterrence. The film records an academic seminar intervention at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Burghfield in Berkshire in June 2016. Thematically linked ‘war’ and (global) ‘warming’, the seminar explored nuclear weapons and energy as, literally, signature technologies of the Anthropocene. A particular phenomenological approach employs close observation and social participation in place as an ‘incandescence’ to illuminate wider geographies and diverse temporalities. Physically inhabiting space made visible these ‘ghosts’ and highlighted the inextricability of emotion and reason. The film argues that deterrence is antithetic to the key existentialist tenet of transcendence. Deterrence is immoral not (only) because it is defined by abominable revenge rather than justice, but because it shapes an oppressive politics and culture that preclude the attainment of freedom and the acceptance of a concomitant personal responsibility. Owning one’s radical freedom and responsibility is Sartre’s definition of ‘authenticity’, living the truth about ourselves. 

Author Biography

Kelvin Mason, None
Indpendent researcher and writer / para academic
How to Cite
Mason, Kelvin. 2017. “Ghosts of the Future: A Normative Existentialist Critique of Nuclear Weapons, Mutually Assured Destruction and Deterrence”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 16 (1), 149-55.
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