Friday, December 07, 2007

Ever-Present Necessity


CKR makes some speculative connections between a book of stories about Estonian serfdom, and the persistence of ancient viruses in human DNA, and the exigencies of our "post-9/11 world":

People balance their spirit, their will, against the ever-present necessity imposed on them. We can feel a bit of this in apprehension as we approach the airport’s TSA checkpoint; the care we must take in behavior, speech, even thought as the monitor waves us through; the humiliation of stuff we must quickly gather up as the bins emerge from the x-ray machine. But then it is over. Just a few minutes of that world that Kallas’s characters lived in.
I'd barely had time to think about that, when I read this:
The CIA videotaped its interrogations of two top terror suspects in 2002 and destroyed the tapes three years later out of fear they would leak to the public and compromise the identities of U.S. questioners, the director of the agency told employees Thursday....

"The tapes posed a serious security risk," Hayden wrote. "Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaida and its sympathizers."
This claim recalls the Pentagon's earlier argument for suppressing evidence of prisoner abuse.
It is "probable that al-Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill...."
In other words, they'll point to our use of torture as evidence that we're torturers, instead of placing these acts in the context of necessity, or divine right, or manifest destiny, or whatever it is that supposedly makes our stolid bureaucratic cruelty so wise and wonderful. The funny thing is, this argument concedes that torturing people makes us less safe. Which is what the rest of us have been saying all along.

CKR makes an important connection between the apprehension many of us feel as we approach TSA checkpoints, and an earlier world - or a parallel world, or even a "real" world - of force that, in Simone Weil's words, "turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing." At these times we feel how precarious our status is in regards to the law, since it has the power to create guilt as well as punish it. That'd be one effect of what Foucault called the inspecting gaze.

Overall, CKR's vision of a behavioral virus strikes me as Deleuzian, which is to say that it combines a handy biological metaphor with genealogy a la Foucault (cf. Discipline and Punish) and, ultimately, Nietzsche (cf. On the Genealogy of Morals).

Which I find interesting, to say the least. Whether CKR will be pleased with the comparison is another matter entirely....

(Illustration from De Naturae Simia by Robert Fludd, 1626. Via BibliOdyssey.)

3 comments:

gypsy howell said...

Our government overlords used the same rationale in not releasing the Abu Ghraib photos and videos- because it might "inflame the Iraqis." As if the victims and their families didn't already know about these barbarities.

I suppose we should on some level feel relieved that our government still feels the need to hide this behavior from us. I really fear the day when they don't care if we know.

Phila said...

Our government overlords used the same rationale in not releasing the Abu Ghraib photos and videos- because it might "inflame the Iraqis."

Yeah, I quoted them to that effect above. Does seem like something they should've thought of beforehand, huh?

I really fear the day when they don't care if we know.

Likewise. And I do think they're trying to get us to that point, which is why I've often argued that the US torture policy is intended to break our will, not the terrorists'.

four legs good said...

Phila, I tried to email you more good news, but the address I have is bad.

Can you email me?

fourlegsrgood@yahoo.com